Healthier and Better Looking Than a Suntan!

A healthy diet and a healthy circulatory system can give your face a healthy glow that looks better than a suntan. When you eat plenty of dark leafy green and dark yellow or orange vegetables, their colorful carotene pigments tend to build up in your skin. Not only do these natural antioxidants help to protect your skin from sun damage, they give you a golden glow that is more attractive than an ordinary suntan. The bright red color of oxygenated blood flowing through your skin also adds a healthy-looking rosy glow.

Scientists have found that a mild case of carotenosis actually makes a light-skinned person look healthier and more attractive.  A scientific study found that this golden glow is more attractive than an ordinary suntan.

You can also get a slightly orange blush if you drink huge amounts of tomato juice, which contains the red pigment lycopene. Like carotenosis, this condition is harmless and will go away by itself.

A healthy circulatory system also gives your skin a healthy glow. As you’ve probably noticed, people who have anemia or a circulatory problem typically have an unattractive pale or blue-gray complexion. In someone with healthy circulation, the bright red color of oxygenated blood shines through the skin to produce a healthy glow. It’s all the more reason to eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet and get plenty of exercise!

The effects of carotene and blood circulation are more obvious in a light-skinned person. However, a healthy diet and exercise are no less important for the health and appearance of a dark-skinned person!

Don’t Buy the Snake Oil, Or the Butterfat!

I wrote this as a letter to the editor of Mother Earth News, which is a generally good publication that sometimes publishes bad dietary advice:

In The Fats You Need for a Healthy Diet (August/September 2011 of Mother Earth News), Oscar H. Will, III, provides dangerously misleading dietary advice. Saturated fat does not “do a body good.” You don’t need to get any saturated, monounsaturated, or trans fatty acids whatsoever from the diet. Only two fatty acids are essential, which means that they must come from the food. One is an omega-6 fatty acid called linoleic acid. The other is an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. However, the dietary requirement for these fatty acids is so small that you can find true cases of deficiency only in extreme situations, such as people who were being fed nothing but sugar intravenously. For those patients, the requirement for essential fatty acids could be met by rubbing a small amount of vegetable oil on the skin. Fat deficiency is practically nonexistent because even a diet based on low-fat grains and vegetables provides enough of the essential fatty acids

The usual problem is that the person is eating too much fat. Excess fat of any kind promotes obesity, atherosclerosis, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. The omega-3 fatty acids tend to have a blood-thinning effect, which offsets some of the effect of their contribution to atherosclerosis. An excess of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, possibly because of their effect on the immune system.

Even vegetarians and vegans often eat too much fat, and they tend to eat a disproportionately large amount of omega-6 relative to omega-3 fatty acids because of a large intake of nuts and oils. The obvious solution to this problem is to restrict the overall fat intake and add a small amount of ground flaxseed to the diet. Flaxseed is an excellent source of the relatively scarce omega-3 fatty acids.

Conjugated linolenic acid is found almost exclusively in foods of animal origin. Yet nutritional epidemiology studies show that those foods promote the sorts of diseases that the dairy industry is claiming that conjugated linolenic acid is supposed to help prevent.


Frying Onions Without Oil

Nearly every time I cook a meal, the first step is to fry some onions. When people hear that I cook without fat, they want to know how I fry my onions. Believe it or not, I fry onions in a dry pan. Sometimes, I even fry onions in a plain stainless steel frying pan or pressure cooker. You don’t even need a nonstick coating or any of that oil-in-a-can stuff.

The secret is to keep a cup of water handy. When the onions start to stick, I add a splash of water, which boils off almost instantly. Sometimes, I keep on frying the onions until they are nicely browned. This caramelizes the sugars and gives a rich flavor. If you want to cook something fancy, you can also fry things in a splash of wine!

Michele Bachmann’s Migraines

Dear Michele Bachmann:

I’m not one of your fans, but my heart goes out to you if you really do suffer from migraine headaches. Michele, I cannot say that I have felt your pain. But I have felt pain that was probably similar to yours. Some reporters are calling migraine a stress-related disorder. In many cases, however, it’s really a food-related disorder. You might be able to end your suffering just by identifying and avoiding the foods that trigger your headaches. Another possibility is that your headaches are being caused by the very medications that you are using to treat them.

Although migraine pain can be unbelievably severe, the pain isn’t necessarily the worst part of a migraine episode. I’ve known people who go practically blind from the migraine aura, sometimes while they are driving. One of my friends would speak gibberish during her migraine auras. Some people get paralyzed on one side of the body. And then, there’s the nausea and vomiting and inability to tolerate light and noise. Sometimes, the migraine will start while you’re sleeping. I’d wake up and think, “Holy crap, am I hung over!” Then, the horrible realization would dawn on me that I don’t drink and that the living hell could last for days.

Migraine can be a disabling condition. However, most migraineurs just put on their sunglasses, stick close to someplace where they can vomit, and just somehow manage to drag themselves through their day. Medications can help a lot. Some people can get relief from an over-the-counter combination of aspirin, acetaminophen, and caffeine if they take it at the earliest sign of a migraine attack. Other people need a prescription tablet. Some people with severe migraines need to keep a sumatriptan injector with them at all times.

The good news is that many people can get substantial relief from their migraine attacks if they make some simple changes in diet. The good news is that most patients can eliminate their migraines if they simply eliminate the dietary triggers of their migraines from their diet. I went from having about one migraine attack per week to having maybe one mild attack per year, simply by eliminating gluten-containing products (wheat, rye, and barley) from my diet. Other people can eat wheat with no problem but get migraines from some other trigger.

If your doctor can’t stop your headaches, talk to a registered dietitian to help you work out an elimination diet. The dietitian will give you a plan that eliminates animal products and fatty foods and the foods that are most likely to trigger allergic reactions. Once you are headache-free, you can reintroduce suspicious foods one at a time to see if they were responsible for triggering your headaches.

Remember also that you can get into a pattern of chronic headaches from the drugs that are used to treat headaches. Any kind of prescription or nonprescription headache remedy could be responsible. The only solution to that problem is to stop taking the medication completely and suffer through the withdrawal phase.

I hope that this information delivers you from the evil of migraine. If it does, you owe me a favor, and I’d like to call it in. I’d like you and your husband to stop being mean to gay people.

Note: Since I wrote this post, an exciting new way to deliver a traditional treatment for migraine headaches and other face-pain syndromes has become available. It involves a safe and easy way to deliver a dose of topical anesthetic to a spot far back in the nasal passages. Underneath that spot is an important bundle of nerve cells, called the sphenopalatine ganglion. The technique is quick, easy, and comfortable and does not involve a needle. The effects can be prolonged:

Several brands of catheter are available to do this treatment.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

Type 2 Diabetes Keeps Fat People From Getting Even Fatter

Most people with type 2 diabetes are at least pleasantly plump, so why do so many severely obese people have no trouble with their blood sugar? I’ve known for decades that unexplained weight loss is a common sign of diabetes. A few years ago, I began to suspect that type 2 diabetes is what happens when one of the body’s natural defenses against further weight gain gets out of control. These suspicions were deepened when I realized that the drugs that are used to treat type 2 diabetes often cause weight gain as a side effect. The drugs are disabling the body’s natural resistance to further weight gain!

This interesting article from Endocrine Reviews argues that in type 2 diabetes, the problems with fat metabolism start long before the person starts having abnormal blood sugar levels. It explains how too much fat in the body and too much fat from the diet could end up causing type 2 diabetes. It explains how eating less and exercising more could solve the underlying problem.

The idea that type 2 diabetes starts off as a problem with fat metabolism makes a lot of sense. It helps to explain something that scientists have known since the 1930s: that you can cause insulin resistance in healthy volunteers by feeding them a high-fat diet for a week. You can restore their insulin sensitivity by feeding them a starchy diet for a week. A switch to a low-fat, high-fiber, high-carbohydrate, purely plant-based diet produces a dramatic improvement in people with type 2 diabetes, even before they have had a chance to lose much weight.

The traditional cure for type 2 diabetes was to eat less and exercise more. A more sensible approach is to start off by eating as much high-fiber, low-fat, plant-based food as you feel like eating. This kind of diet will rapidly correct your insulin resistance. As your insulin resistance improves, you’ll feel more like exercising.

Of course, if you have any major health problem or are taking prescription medications, you need to talk to a registered dietitian and your prescriber before making any major change in diet. You may need to have your dosages adjusted, and you may be able to stop taking some of your prescription medication.

Note: I explain this topic in more detail in my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2

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Photo by 95Berlin

The “Three Sides” Diet

Back when I worked at a company that had a cafeteria, I didn’t have to pack my lunch. I could put together a tasty, low-fat salad from the salad bar. If I felt like eating a hot meal, I could get a big plate of food from the “hot” portion of the cafeteria line. The “main dishes” usually included some sort of meat or dairy product, so I’d get the “side dishes” instead.

My usual lunch consisted of “three sides”: usually a starchy side dish such as rice plus two vegetables. I got a big plateful of tasty, zero-cholesterol, low-fat food, and I spent less than the people who ordered the main dish. I can find a satisfying meal at nearly any restaurant, just by ignoring the main dishes and ordering the side dishes instead.

Photo by mack reed (factoid)

Meat, But Not Sugar, Increased the Risk of Type 2 diabetes

Most of the people I talk to seem to think that they’d be healthier if they ate less carbohydrate. Most of them seem convinced that a high-carbohydrate diet makes people fat. They know that if you eat starch, it gets broken down into sugar. They know that when sugar flows into your bloodstream, your pancreas is supposed to release insulin to enable the sugar to enter your cells, where it can be burned for energy. That part’s true. However, they think that if you eat a lot of sugar or starch, you’ll somehow wear out your body’s ability to make or respond to insulin and thus you’ll end up diabetic. They couldn’t be more wrong. In reality, a high-carb, low-fat diet cures the most common type of diabetes.

If eating a starchy, low-fat diet made people fat and caused diabetes, then we’d see lots of fat, diabetic people in populations that eat a starchy, low-fat diet. We don’t. Instead, we see that the people of China and Japan, whose diet is based heavily on rice and vegetables, tend to be slim and remarkably free of diabetes and heart disease. We see the same thing in other populations that base their diets on other starchy staples. For example, the indigenous people of Peru eat a diet based heavily on potatoes. The Tarahumara of Mexico eat mainly corn and beans. The people in the New Guinea Highlands eat practically nothing but sweet potatoes. The story is the same wherever we look. In reality, the populations that eat low-fat, starchy, high-fiber diets are thin and healthy. The people who eat lots of fatty animal-based foods are the ones at risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

If eating a lot of sugar caused diabetes, then the people who eat the most sugar would be more likely than the average person to develop diabetes. On the contrary, a study of nearly 40,000 women age 45 and older in the United States found that the women who were eating the most sugar were no more likely to get diabetes than the ones who were eating the least sugar [1]. The women who were most likely to get diabetes were the ones who were eating the most meat! [2]

Reference List

  1. Janket SJ, Manson JE, Sesso H, Buring JE, Liu S. A prospective study of sugar intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Diabetes Care 2003;26:1008-1015.
  2. Song Y, Manson JE, Buring JE, Liu S. A prospective study of red meat consumption and type 2 diabetes in middle-aged and elderly women: the women’s health study. Diabetes Care 2004;27:2108-2115.

For more information about diabetes, see my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.

Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2

Stop Worrying About Calcium Deficiency

The committee that put together the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 were trying to solve a nonexistent problem: calcium deficiency. Unfortunately, their suggested solution to this nonexistent problem would make some of our most serious real problems worse. If people follow these guidelines and eat more dairy foods, they will actually increase their risk for osteoporosis and several other common, serious health problems.

The human body is surprisingly good at maintaining calcium balance on a low-calcium diet. To find cases of true dietary deficiency of calcium, you have to look at people who were consuming extremely abnormal diets. Most cases involved babies who were being fed some bizarre substitute for breast milk. In reality, cases of rickets (soft bones) in children are nearly always due to a shortage of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.

When you think about it, most of the world’s large land animals manage to get enough calcium from their plant-based diet to grow an enormous skeleton. Nor does any species other than our own consume the milk of another species, or any milk at all after infancy. So why should we expect human beings to need dairy foods, or to need a calcium intake that can be achieved only through eating dairy foods or taking supplements? It makes no sense.

Scientists have known for decades that osteoporosis occurs mainly in countries where people eat a lot of dairy products and have a relatively high calcium intake. In fact, there’s reason to believe that eating too much animal protein and too much calcium actually causes osteoporosis.

The populations with a high risk for osteoporosis also have high rates of death from coronary artery disease. Fortunately, the same kind of diet that prevents heart attacks also helps to keep the bones strong. That means eating a low-fat, plant-based diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables.

It’s also important to get enough vitamin D. A few minutes of exposure to midday sun on the face and arms during the spring, summer, and fall should provide enough vitamin D for most light-skinned people in the United States. If you are dark-skinned, live in the far North, or have some other reason why you can’t go out in the sunshine, your doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner can monitor your vitamin D levels and advise you about vitamin D supplements.

The Glycemic Index Won’t Help You Lose Weight

Lately, many nutrition gurus have been trying to tell me that eating a diet with a low glycemic index is the secret to losing weight. But if that were true, then carrots would be more fattening than fudge is.

Unfortunately, the glycemic index is being used to steer people away from the sort of food that can really help them lose weight and control their blood sugar: unrefined starches and vegetables. If you survey the world’s populations, you’ll find that the people who are eating diets based on unrefined starches and vegetables have low risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer—even though the glycemic index of their diet is high. In contrast, the people who are eating the most fat and protein—both of which tend to decrease the glycemic index of a meal—are the ones who are getting fat and sick.

The glycemic index was originally developed to fine-tune the system of carbohydrate exchanges that people with type 1 diabetes use to calculate how much insulin they will need to inject after a meal [1]. The glycemic index measures the effect that 50 grams of carbs from any given food has on your blood sugar. For example, if you ate 50 grams of carbohydrate from beans, your blood sugar wouldn’t go as high as if you ate 50 grams of carbohydrate from potatoes instead. In other words, beans have a lower glycemic index than potatoes do.

Like potatoes, carrots have a high glycemic index. However, you’d have to eat about 4 cups of shredded carrot to get 50 grams of carbohydrate. Thus, if you ate just one carrot, it would have only a small effect on your blood sugar. To correct for this problem, some people use the glycemic load, which is the glycemic index multiplied by the total amount of carbohydrate in the food.

The glycemic index and glycemic load are of surprisingly little value to dieters. One reason is that the glycemic index of any given food is so hard to predict. For example, you could increase the glycemic index of a potato by mashing it. Then, you could decrease the glycemic index of the mashed potato by adding milk and butter. Fats and proteins tend to decrease the glycemic index of a food. Although adding butter to a food decreases the food’s glycemic index, the butter does not make the food less fattening!

Even if you eat a meal that has a high glycemic load, that doesn’t mean that your blood sugar is going to go dangerously high. It all depends on your insulin sensitivity. People who habitually eat a low-fat, starchy diet tend to have much smaller blood sugar swings than people who eat a high-fat, low-carb diet. Scientists have known that fact since the 1930s! In fact, a diet based on high-glycemic-load vegetables and unrefined starches can restore the body’s insulin sensitivity, thus curing type 2 diabetes, within a matter of weeks.

Reference List

  1. Jenkins DJ, Wolever TM, Taylor RH et al. Glycemic index of foods: a physiological basis for carbohydrate exchange. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:362-366.

Note: For more information about the control of weight and blood sugar, see my book Thin Diabetes, Fat Diabetes: Prevent Type 1, Cure Type 2.

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How Low Should Your Cholesterol Levels Be?

Ideally, your total cholesterol should be below 150 mg/dL. According to William Castelli, who was the medical director of the Framingham Heart Study for many years, people with a total cholesterol value of less than 150 mg/dL simply don’t get heart attacks. And once someone’s total cholesterol is that low, the ratio between the “good” and “bad” cholesterol simply doesn’t matter.

The total cholesterol value is the single most important clue to a person’s risk of heart attack. Once the cholesterol levels in the blood rise to, say, the mid-160s, then the ratio of good versus bad cholesterol (HDL versus LDL) really starts to matter.

William Castelli once explained, “Four out of five people on this earth can’t get their cholesterol over 150; they don’t get heart attacks. One out of five people can’t get their cholesterol down to 150. They do get heart attacks. And almost all of them live in affluent countries.” The “four out of five people” Castelli meant live in societies that eat a low-fat, high-fiber, largely plant-based diet. That kind of diet keeps blood cholesterol levels naturally low.