Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tender cuts of meat for the grill: Filet mignon and bison

Filet mignon is one of the tenderest cuts of beef. It is also one of my favorites. Filet mignon comes from the tenderloin area (see this picture), which is not a weight-bearing area and thus is very tender. The bison cuts I get here in South Texas are close in terms of tenderness, but not as tender, probably because they are from the round area.

One steak of either filet mignon or bison will yield about 100 g of cooked meat, with 30 g of protein and 10 g of fat. About half of that fat will be saturated and half monounsaturated (as in olive oil). It will provide you with plenty of vitamins (particular B vitamins) and minerals. Good amounts of selenium, phosphorus, zinc and potassium.

On the photo below (click on it to enlarge), the bison steak is at the top. The other pieces are all filet mignon cuts. They are all medium-cooked. I cooked two plates of these, for 6 people. All ate to satisfaction, with a side salad. The leftovers are delicious for breakfast in small amounts.

For the filet mignon, I think you really have to go to a specialty meats store (butcher) and make sure that they cut the smaller tail end of the tenderloin muscle. You will be paying a lot for it, so it makes sense to be choosy. Experience butchers will cut it right in front of you and won’t mind your choosiness.

Below is a simple recipe; simple like most of the recipes on this blog. I like my meals quick and delicious.

- Prepare some dry seasoning powder by mixing sea salt, garlic power, chili powder, and a small amount of cayenne pepper.
- Season the steaks at least 2 hours prior to placing them on the grill.
- Grill with the lid on, checking the meat every 10 minutes or so. (I use charcoal, one layer only to avoid burning the surface of the meat.) Turn it frequently, always putting the lid back on.
- If you like it rare, 20 minutes (or a bit less) may be enough.

These are as tender as any piece of beef can possibly get. No need for any tenderizer juices during seasoning. If you are doing both filet mignon and bison together, either eat only bison or bison first. Because once you taste the filet mignon, the bison cut may taste a bit hard!

For me the filet mignon is a 10-dollar per pound treat for special occasions. The price of the bison cut is about the same, at least here in Laredo, Texas, where I get it shipped from Dakota via my local supermarket. You can also get it online.

By the way, some folks like to say that bison is the “salmon of the prairie”. This is in reference to bison’s omega-3 content. Well, here is the polyunsaturated fatty acid composition of 100 g of bison steak: 29 mg of omega-3, and 197 mg of omega-6. For salmon it is 1424 mg of omega-3, and 113 mg of omega-6.

Salmon of the prairie or not, I love it!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Grains as Food: an Update

Improperly Prepared Grain Fiber can be Harmful

Last year, I published a post on the Diet and Reinfarction trial (DART), a controlled trial that increased grain fiber intake using whole wheat bread and wheat bran supplements, and reported long-term health outcomes in people who had previously suffered a heart attack (1). The initial paper found a trend toward increased heart attacks and deaths in the grain fiber-supplemented group at two years, which was not statistically significant.

What I didn't know at the time is that a follow-up study has been published. After mathematically "adjusting" for preexisting conditions and medication use, the result reached statistical significance: people who increased their grain fiber intake had more heart attacks than people who didn't during the two years of the controlled trial. Overall mortality was higher as well, but that didn't reach statistical significance. You have to get past the abstract of the paper to realize this, but fortunately it's free access (2).

Here's a description of what not to eat if you're a Westerner with established heart disease:
Those randomised to fibre advice were encouraged to eat at least six slices of wholemeal bread per day, or an equivalent amount of cereal fibre from a mixture of wholemeal bread, high-fibre breakfast cereals and wheat bran.
Characteristics of Grain Fiber

The term 'fiber' can refer to many different things. Dietary fiber is simply defined as an edible substance that doesn't get digested by the human body. It doesn't even necessarily come from plants. If you eat a shrimp with the shell on, and the shell comes out the other end (which it will), it was fiber.

Grain fiber is a particular class of dietary fiber that has specific characteristics. It's mostly cellulose (like wood; although some grains are rich in soluble fiber as well), and it contains a number of defensive substances and storage molecules that make it more difficult to eat. These may include phytic acid, protease inhibitors, amylase inhibitors, lectins, tannins, saponins, and goitrogens (3). Grain fiber is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals, although the minerals are mostly inaccessible due to grains' high phytic acid content (4, 5, 6).

Every plant food (and some animal foods) has its chemical defense strategy, and grains are no different*. It's just that grains are particularly good at it, and also happen to be one of our staple foods in the modern world. If you don't think grains are naturally inedible for humans, try eating a heaping bowl full of dry, raw whole wheat berries.

Human Ingenuity to the Rescue

Humans are clever creatures, and we've found ways to use grains as a food source, despite not being naturally adapted to eating them**. The most important is our ability to cook. Cooking deactivates many of the harmful substances found in grains and other plant foods. However, some are not deactivated by cooking. These require other strategies to remove or deactivate.

Healthy grain-based cultures don't prepare their grains haphazardly. Throughout the world, using a number of different grains, many have arrived at similar strategies for making grains edible and nutritious. The most common approach involves most or all of these steps:
  • Soaking
  • Grinding
  • Removing 50-75% of the bran
  • Sour fermentation
  • Cooking
But wait, didn't all healthy traditional cultures eat whole grains? The idea might make us feel warm and fuzzy inside, but it doesn't quite hit the mark. A recent conversation with Ramiel Nagel, author of the book Cure Tooth Decay, disabused me of that notion. He pointed out that in my favorite resource on grain preparation in traditional societies, the Food and Agriculture Organization publication Fermented Cereals: a Global Perspective, many of the recipes call for removing a portion of the bran (7). Some of these recipes probably haven't changed in thousands of years. It's my impression that some traditional cultures eat whole grains, while others eat them partially de-branned.

In the next post, I'll explain why these processing steps greatly improve the nutritional value of grains, and I'll describe recipes from around the world to illustrate the point.

* Including tubers. For example, sweet potatoes contain goitrogens, oxalic acid, and protease inhibitors. Potatoes contain toxic glycoalkaloids. Taro contains oxalic acid and protease inhibitors. Cassava contains highly toxic cyanogens. Some of these substances are deactivated by cooking, others are not. Each food has an associated preparation method that minimizes its toxic qualities. Potatoes are peeled, removing the majority of the glycoalkaloids. Cassava is grated and dried or fermented to inactivate cyanogens. Some cultures ferment taro.

** As opposed to mice, for example, which can survive on raw whole grains.

Healthy Chick Melodies - Broken Social Scene

The past few months have been ridiculous as far as good music goes. I've had to refrain myself from writing a few reviews on some new albums and remind myself that this blog is for health and is only allowed here and there! But I'm just as passionate about my love for music as I am for my love of food, health and yoga, so it all works out, right?!

Without going into details, Local Native's latest album, Gorilla Manor, has completely rocked my world. By far the best album of 2010 thus far. Can't say enough about it. The Morning Bender's, Big Echo, another amazing album that I get excited about each time it comes up on my playlist. MGMT's, Congratulations, has me completely googly-eyed in love. Those boys have totally blown me away with this album. I was not expecting their sophomore album to be this good! The National also just released their new album, High Violet. I'm excited to give it a listen!

Anyway, I have anxiously been awaiting another Broken Social Scene album, and it's finally here! Just as I had hoped, its as amazing as ever.

What this Healthy Chick is listening to...NOW!:
Broken Social Scene's NEW album, Forgiveness Rock Record. Broken Social Scene is my favorite multi-member indie collective band. There are 6 band members with some superstar guest contributors (what makes BSS soooo great!) on this go-round! And more exciting news, BSS just announced that they will be releasing EP (8 tracks!) for this album called Lo-Fi for the Dividing Nights in May. Yay!!!

A few months back my girlfriend and I were able to score tickets for us to see Broken Social Scene in May. They will be playing at Webster Hall next week. We are SO excited and hoping that some of their guests will make some appearances!!! Tonight I'll be seeing Frightened Rabbit (they also just released a new album which is ridiculous) as well as Yeasayer next week!!! So many great shows and its only Spring!

A few of the yummy songs on this album that I'm loving this very moment are "Sweetest Kill," "All to All," "Texico Bitches," " Forced to Love," and "World Sick." If you want a song from Forgiveness Rock Record, shoot me an email @ with the subject: Send me BSS! and I will surprise you with a song or two!!

What are you listening to right now? I'd love to hear, please share below!

Keep it fresh!
- Lauren

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Preserving your knees and hips - avoiding the joint replacement syndrome

On my way back from the New Orleans Jazz Festival, I read an interesting article in the NY Times called Caring for Hips and Knees to Avoid Artificial Joints (  This is an area of great interest to me because as the article points out, 400,000 of these procedures for bad knees and hips are done yearly.  The article is typical advice that I see from the medical community that thinks inside the box.  They recommend the following which you can read in the article

  1. Control Your Weight
  2. Go Low Impact
  3. Avoid Injury
  4. Get Fit
  5. Be Skeptical

Overall, most people will read this and since it really is very general, most people will not learn much from this.  Since this is my blog, I will go much further and perhaps, not make too many friends in the orthopedic community.  I will address each of these points and give you much better direction on this.

We are all built differently and body style determines how we are to function throughout our lives and also predisposes us to having problems in our knees and hips.  This is especially true for those of you who are built asymmetrically (most chiropractic clientèle). Early detection and intervention with foot orthotics, education and  even myofascial therapy goes a long way to preserving our body parts.  We can start by screening kids at the age of 6 either in the chiropractors office or teach pediatricians a little about the musculoskeletal system so they can give advice that is better than the typical growing pains diagnosis I hear from many patients.If we addressed body style early on, we could eliminate many of the suggestions in the article.

  • Control Your Weight - It has been established that being overweight, especially severely overweight will wear down the joints.  While this is certainly true, many overweight people never need joint replacements.  What is different about them?  The bottom line is structure determines function.  If you have poor structure, and you add weight to it, it will fail much sooner.  If you lose the weight, and have poor structure, your joints will likely go bad anyway.  My recommendation is that you address structure first and our office specializes in this.  During the months of May and June, we are having our annual Spring Feet Checkout so people can be looked at for free to determine of foot problems are leaving them prone to having knee, hip and back problems.

  • Go Low Impact - Many people go high impact and never need joint replacements.  On the other hand, Sports like basketball, especially in adolescent girls is known to damage cruciate ligaments because as they mature, their hips get wider and any foot problems will exacerbate this.  The ultimate cause has to do with the way their core responds to their body style.  Ultimately, girls with these issues have an unstable core which loads the knee joint.  Recommending a sedentary lifestyle is not a great idea.  Why not actually understand, diagnose properly and then come up with an intelligent solution to a functional problem.

  • Avoid Injury - Duh. Get your body mechanics checked out, get it fixed and then load it up.  Common sense at its best. Certain sports like football take out knees from impact by others upon the knee.  Tackle football is likely not healthy for knees as many pro football players will attest to in their later years.  Many baseball players on the other hand still have their original knees and hips into their golden years.

  • Get Fit - A stable core will improve knee function.  Foot orthotics will improve knee function.  If your core is unstable, it will load the knee, the legs will tighten and so will your shoulders and neck.  The knee is rarely the problem, and the structure usually is

  • Be Skeptical - Sure, there are many things like Condriotin Sulfate which have been said to help arthritic knees and other joints as well as other potions.  Taking this further, many people with knee pain going to orthopedic physicians have meniscus surgery again and again and again.  Eventually, at great cost, they replace the once healthy joint with another prosthesis that comes with no warrantee and will likely need replacement again years later.  Since the original body mechanics that destroyed the joint in the first place were never addressed, these joints are likely to fail sooner than later because we addressed the symptom of the bad knee and not the real problem of how did it get there in the first place.

  • My advice for people with bad knees is not to let that happen to their children.  Make them aware that unless they have themselves checked, they too are likely to suffer from this since they come from the same gene pool and are likely not only looking like you but are walking like you too.

    Check out out website at or our site for runners at for further helpful information.

    I am a Doula

    Last week I spent 3 days training with film maker, author and doula Debra Pascali-Bonaro and 21 amazing women from Northern Jersey and CT for my DONA training. I have been trying to figure out how to put this experience into words...and it isn't easy. I am a doula, a 'woman's servant' a trained professional who brings emotional and physical support to a birthing woman. I am her personal advocate and her stability.

    I would love to come up with my own words for this experience but I still can't wrap my brain around it. The best I can do for now is repost a beautiful entry by Nicole Deelah from Bellies and Babies.

    "I don’t practice medicine; I don’t do medical exams or perform medical tasks. I am in the business of support, education, and natural, normal birth.

    I believe that childbirth is a natural and normal event. Variations in birth do occur; but, with proper support and advocacy, even those variations can be looked upon as satisfying and empowering events. I am an advocate of natural childbirth, but work to empower women to make their own educated decisions regarding labor and birth. I firmly practice the advocacy of informed choice.

    Pregnancy and childbirth is a time when women can be motivated or de-motivated to fulfilling their roles as strong, capable and competent individuals, which then translates into their mothering roles after birth. The difference often lies in how they are treated during their pregnancy and birthing time.

    Empowering women with options and support enables them to take ownership for their healthcare and their bodies, which, later, gives them the confidence to take responsibility as mothers. A doula-relationship allows for that mental and emotional wellbeing while also freeing the medical professional to focus solely on the physical wellbeing. This holistic approach to pregnancy and birth has been proven to be the safest and most satisfactory approach for all involved.

    I believe that a doula can help a woman to reclaim the beauty, strength, and humble respect of the rite of passage to motherhood called childbirth."

    I couldn't have found better words...not yet anyway. I have wanted to take the DONA training for many years, I knew that it was the perfect addition to my health coaching and my yoga training...yet I wasn't sure if I actually wanted to be a doula. Now I know that my instinct was right. I needed this training to round out my training, experience and vision of where I am going. Being a doula will be one aspect of my practice and it will bring so much more to my coaching and teaching.

    I can't begin to express the gratitude I have for Debra and my fellow trainees for reminding me of this light and inner power.

    Keep it Fresh!

    Welcome Home!!

    Welcome home to Lauren who just got home from 10 days at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in Paradise Island, Bahamas. We can't wait to hear all about your trip!!!

    Terra & Jill

    Monday, April 26, 2010

    Blood glucose control before age 55 may increase your chances of living beyond 90

    I have recently read an interesting study by Yashin and colleagues (2009) at Duke University’s Center for Population Health and Aging. (The full reference to the article, and a link, are at the end of this post.) This study is a gem with some rough edges, and some interesting implications.

    The study uses data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). The FHS, which started in the late 1940s, recruited 5209 healthy participants (2336 males and 2873 females), aged 28 to 62, in the town of Framingham, Massachusetts. At the time of Yashin and colleagues’ article publication, there were 993 surviving participants.

    I rearranged figure 2 from the Yashin and colleagues article so that the two graphs (for females and males) appeared one beside the other. The result is shown below (click on it to enlarge); the caption at the bottom-right corner refers to both graphs. The figure shows the age-related trajectory of blood glucose levels, grouped by lifespan (LS), starting at age 40.

    As you can see from the figure above, blood glucose levels increase with age, even for long-lived individuals (LS > 90). The increases follow a U-curve (a.k.a. J-curve) pattern; the beginning of the right side of a U curve, to be more precise. The main difference in the trajectories of the blood glucose levels is that as lifespan increases, so does the width of the U curve. In other words, in long-lived people, blood glucose increases slowly with age; particularly up to 55 years of age, when it starts increasing more rapidly.

    Now, here is one of the rough edges of this study. The authors do not provide standard deviations. You can ignore the error bars around the points on the graph; they are not standard deviations. They are standard errors, which are much lower than the corresponding standard deviations. Standard errors are calculated by dividing the standard deviations by the square root of the sample sizes for each trajectory point (which the authors do not provide either), so they go up with age since progressively smaller numbers of individuals reach advanced ages.

    So, no need to worry if your blood glucose levels are higher than those shown on the vertical axes of the graphs. (I will comment more on those numbers below.) Not everybody who lived beyond 90 had a blood glucose of around 80 mg/dl at age 40. I wouldn't be surprised if about 2/3 of the long-lived participants had blood glucose levels in the range of 65 to 95 at that age.

    Here is another rough edge. It is pretty clear that the authors’ main independent variable (i.e., health predictor) in this study is average blood glucose, which they refer to simply as “blood glucose”. However, the measure of blood glucose in the FHS is a very rough estimation of average blood glucose, because they measured blood glucose levels at random times during the day. These measurements, when averaged, are closer to fasting blood glucose levels than to average blood glucose levels.

    A more reliable measure of average blood glucose levels is that of glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c). Blood glucose glycates (i.e., sticks to, like most sugary substances) hemoglobin, a protein found in red blood cells. Since red blood cells are relatively long-lived, with a turnover of about 3 months, HbA1c (given in percentages) is a good indicator of average blood glucose levels (if you don’t suffer from anemia or a few other blood abnormalities). Based on HbA1c, one can then estimate his or her average blood glucose level for the previous 3 months before the test, using one of the following equations, depending on whether the measurement is in mg/dl or mmol/l.

        Average blood glucose (mg/dl) = 28.7 × HbA1c − 46.7

        Average blood glucose (mmol/l) = 1.59 × HbA1c − 2.59

    The table below, from Wikipedia, shows average blood glucose levels corresponding to various HbA1c values. As you can see, they are generally higher than the corresponding fasting blood glucose levels would normally be (the latter is what the values on the vertical axes of the graphs above from Yashin and colleagues’ study roughly measure). This is to be expected, because blood glucose levels vary a lot during the day, and are often transitorily high in response to food intake and fluctuations in various hormones. Growth hormone, cortisol and noradrenaline are examples of hormones that increase blood glucose. Only one hormone effectively decreases blood glucose levels, insulin, by stimulating glucose uptake and storage as glycogen and fat.

    Nevertheless, one can reasonably expect fasting blood glucose levels to have been highly correlated with average blood glucose levels in the sample. So, in my opinion, the graphs above showing age-related blood glucose trajectories are still valid, in terms of their overall shape, but the values on the vertical axes should have been measured differently, perhaps using the formulas above.

    Ironically, those who achieve low average blood glucose levels (measured based on HbA1c) by adopting a low carbohydrate diet (one of the most effective ways) frequently have somewhat high fasting blood glucose levels because of physiological (or benign) insulin resistance. Their body is primed to burn fat for energy, not glucose. Thus when growth hormone levels spike in the morning, so do blood glucose levels, as muscle cells are in glucose rejection mode. This is a benign version of the dawn effect (a.k.a. dawn phenomenon), which happens with quite a few low carbohydrate dieters, particularly with those who are deep in ketosis at dawn.

    Yashin and colleagues also modeled relative risk of death based on blood glucose levels, using a fairly sophisticated mathematical model that takes into consideration U-curve relationships. What they found is intuitively appealing, and is illustrated by the two graphs at the bottom of the figure below. The graphs show how the relative risks (e.g., 1.05, on the topmost dashed line on the both graphs) associated with various ranges of blood glucose levels vary with age, for both females and males.

    What the graphs above are telling us is that once you reach old age, controlling for blood sugar levels is not as effective as doing it earlier, because you are more likely to die from what the authors refer to as “other causes”. For example, at the age of 90, having a blood glucose of 150 mg/dl (corrected for the measurement problem noted earlier, this would be perhaps 165 mg/dl, from HbA1c values) is likely to increase your risk of death by only 5 percent. The graphs account for the facts that: (a) blood glucose levels naturally increase with age, and (b) fewer people survive as age progresses. So having that level of blood glucose at age 60 would significantly increase relative risk of death at that age; this is not shown on the graph, but can be inferred.

    Here is a final rough edge of this study. From what I could gather from the underlying equations, the relative risks shown above do not account for the effect of high blood glucose levels earlier in life on relative risk of death later in life. This is a problem, even though it does not completely invalidate the conclusion above. As noted by several people (including Gary Taubes in his book Good Calories, Bad Calories), many of the diseases associated with high blood sugar levels (e.g., cancer) often take as much as 20 years of high blood sugar levels to develop. So the relative risks shown above underestimate the effect of high blood glucose levels earlier in life.

    Do the long-lived participants have some natural protection against accelerated increases in blood sugar levels, or was it their diet and lifestyle that protected them? This question cannot be answered based on the study.

    Assuming that their diet and lifestyle protected them, it is reasonable to argue that: (a) if you start controlling your average blood sugar levels well before you reach the age of 55, you may significantly increase your chances of living beyond the age of 90; (b) it is likely that your blood glucose levels will go up with age, but if you can manage to slow down that progression, you will increase your chances of living a longer and healthier life; (c) you should focus your control on reliable measures of average blood glucose levels, such as HbA1c, not fasting blood glucose levels (postprandial glucose levels are also a good option, because they contribute a lot to HbA1c increases); and (d) it is never too late to start controlling your blood glucose levels, but the more you wait, the bigger is the risk.


    Taubes, G. (2007). Good calories, bad calories: Challenging the conventional wisdom on diet, weight control, and disease. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

    Yashin, A.I., Ukraintseva, S.V., Arbeev, K.G., Akushevich, I., Arbeeva, L.S., & Kulminski, A.M. (2009). Maintaining physiological state for exceptional survival: What is the normal level of blood glucose and does it change with age? Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, 130(9), 611-618.

    Friday, April 23, 2010

    There are more geniuses among men than among women, and more idiots too

    Deary and colleagues (2007) conducted an interesting study on differences in intelligence scores among men and women. In the context of this blog, this study highlights yet one more counterintuitive and intriguing aspect of Darwinian evolution, adding to points previously made in other posts (see here, and here). Evolution may look simple at first glance, but that is a bit of a mirage. In my opinion, to really understand it one has to understand the mathematics underlying it, a lot of which comes from the field of population genetics.

    What makes the study by Deary and colleagues (2007) particularly interesting is that its participants were opposite-sex siblings. This helped control for the influence of environmental factors. The downside is that the effect sizes might have been decreased, because of the high gene correlation among siblings, so we could expect larger differences between unrelated groups of men women. The differences, as you will see, are not in overall scores, but in score dispersion.

    Let us get straight to the point made by the study. On average, men and women seem to score equally well on intelligence tests. The main difference is that there is more variation in the scores achieved by men than by women, which leads to an interesting effect: there are more geniuses and more idiots among men than among women.

    This does NOT mean that a man’s genius is of a higher order; just that there is a tendency for more men to be geniuses (and idiots) than women in any random population sample. The women who are geniuses can be super geniuses, like two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, the first PERSON to receive such an honor. Albert Einstein is said that have greatly admired her intelligence.

    As an illustration of this score dispersion effect, Deary and colleagues (2007) note that: “… for example, in terms of indices of scientific achievement, men were awarded 545 out of the 557 Nobel prizes awarded for science.” On the “idiot” end of the scale: there are a lot more men than women in prison, and one common denominator of prison inmates is that they tend to score very low on intelligence tests. (This is not to say that all criminals have low intelligence; perhaps mostly the ones that get caught do.)

    Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that there are multiple types of intelligence, and even multi-indicator intelligence coefficients are usually poor approximations of an overall measure of intelligence (if there is one). This does not invalidate the main point of this post, which is related to score variability.

    The table below (from: Deary and colleagues, 2007; click on it to enlarge; full reference at the end of this post) shows scores obtained by men and women (1,292 pairs of opposite-sex siblings) in various subtests of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.

    Note that nearly all of the differences between means (i.e., averages) are significant, but the direction of the differences (captured by the signs of the Cohen’s d coefficients, which are measures of effect size) varies a lot. That is, on several subtests (e.g., “Arithmetic”) men score higher, but in others (e.g., “Numerical operations”) women score higher. It all comes down to men and women scoring equally well overall.

    Now look at the columns showing the standard deviations (“SD”) for men and women. In all subtests but two (“Coding speed” and “Numerical operations”) the standard deviation is higher for men; in many cases significantly higher (e.g., 44 percent higher for “Mechanical comprehension”). The standard deviations are about the same for “Coding speed” and “Numerical operations”. What this means is that variability in scores is nearly always higher, often significantly higher, among men than among women. I prepared the schematic figure below to illustrate the effect that this has on the numbers of individuals at the extremes.

    The figure above shows two (badly drawn) quasi-normal distributions of scores. (This post shows a better illustration of a normal distribution.) The red curve refers to a distribution with a lower standard deviation than the blue curve; the latter is flatter. Each point on a curve reflects the number of individuals obtaining a particular score, which would be indicated on the horizontal axis. The number of individuals with that score is on the vertical axis. As you can see, the numbers of individuals scoring very high and low (geniuses and idiots, if the scores reflected intelligence) are greater for the blue curve, which is the curve with the higher standard deviation (higher dispersion of scores). The farther one goes to the left or right (the extremes), the bigger this difference becomes.

    What does this have to do with evolution?

    Well, there are a few possibilities, two of which appear to be particularly compelling. Maybe this effect is due to a combination of these two.

    One is that ancestral women, like women today, selected mating partners based on a wide range of traits. Ancestral men on the other hand, like modern men, focused on a much smaller set of traits (Buss, 1995). The end result is more variation in traits, generally speaking, among men than among women. This refers to traits in general, not only intelligence. For example, there seems to be more variation in height among men than among women.

    The other possible explanation is that, in our ancestral past, staying out of the extremes of intelligence was associated with higher survival success in both sexes. It seems that the incidence of certain types of mental disease (e.g., schizophrenia) is quite high among geniuses. This leads to more deaths due to related issues – suicide, depression leading to the metabolic syndrome, etc. And this is today, where geniuses can find many opportunities to “shine” in our complex urban societies. In our ancestral past the cognitive demands would have been much lower, and so would the practical value of being a genius.

    If staying out of the extremes has indeed enhanced survival success in our evolutionary past, then it is reasonable to expect more women to fit that pattern than men. As with almost any “thing” that enhances survival success, women (especially pre-menopausal) naturally have more of that “thing” than men (e.g., HDL cholesterol).

    The reason is that women are more important for the survival of any population than men; today and 1 million years ago. A population of 99 women and 1 man can potentially generate 99 children every few years. Here inbreeding in subsequent generations will be a problem, but that is better than extinction. A population with 99 women and 99 men (or even 1,000 men) will not generate significantly more children.


    Buss, D.M. (2003). The evolution of desire: Strategies of human mating. New York, NY: Basic Books.

    Deary, I.J., Irwing, P., Der, G., & Bates, T.C. (2007). Brother–sister differences in the g factor in intelligence: Analysis of full, opposite-sex siblings from the NLSY1979. Intelligence, 35(5), 451-456.

    It's all Happening!!!

    See those butterflies?? They're dancing around in my belly right now.

    Today is my last official day in the corporate world. This may sound glib, but I would be lying if I said I was sad or anything less than excited. Actually, I can't even sit still as I wait for IT to come and check me out so I can leave. I want to jump up and down, dance and shout out to the sunshine. Today has finally come!!

    While I can't wait to leave, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work in corporate pharma. It showed me my path first hand. It taught me that I am an anomaly for not filling prescriptions and popping pills and I shouldn't be weird because of this! I am not sure my path would be so clearly lit if I hadn't had an insider's view. It helped me to clearly define my views, opinions, ethics and morals regarding health and medicine. These clear definitions will allow me to move forward and clearly advocate change in maternal health, birth and parenting whether that is through organizations such as the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice or Amnesty International.

    Each day the universe opens a new door for me to step through and each day I feel more empowered to make a difference in people's lives. I spent the last three days training with filmmaker, author, doula and extraordinary woman, Debra Pascali-Bonaro of Mother Love Doulas and 21 other amazing women. It was transforming to say the least...and exactly the energy and inspiration I needed to get through my last week of corporate work. (3 days off in your last 5 isn't too shabby!).

    I will update the blog on this training soon, but for right now, I am simply going to celebrate.
    Om Shanti Shanti Shanti!

    Keep it Fresh!
    ~ Terra

    Wednesday, April 21, 2010

    Interesting links

    Below is a list of links to web sites that deal with health issues in general. I have moved them from the previous “favorite links” area to this post so that I could save some space on the main page of the blog. Some of them are excellent sources of research-based and reliable information. Others are somewhat light in content, but still interesting. I certainly do not agree with the ideas espoused by all of them.

    Alan Aragon

    Animal Pharm

    Ancestralize Me!

    Anthony Colpo

    Arthur De Vany

    At Darwin's Table

    Athletics by Nature

    Barefoot Ted's Adventures

    Beef and Whiskey

    Big Muscles Fast

    Blaine's Low Carb Kitchen

    Blood Sugar 101

    Bob Delmonteque

    Body by Science

    Body Recomposition

    Brad Pilon's Blog

    Canibais e Reis

    Cholesterol and Health

    Colorado State University's Physiologic Effects of Insulin

    Conditioning Research

    Cooling Inflammation

    Cut the Carb

    David Mendosa

    Diabetes Update

    Diet Doctor

    Discover Magazine Online

    Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution

    Dr. Gabe Mirkin

    Dr. Michael R. Eades

    Dr. Nemechek's Integrative Medicine

    Dr. Ron Rosedale

    Entropy Production

    Ernestine Shepherd

    Evolution for Everyone

    Evolutionary Psychiatry

    Evolving Thoughts by John Wilkins

    Exercise Prescription on the Net

    Experiments in Lifestyle Design by Tim Ferriss

    Fat Head

    Fit 2 Fat 2 Fit

    Free the Animal

    Grassroots Health

    Girl Gone Primal

    Gnolls by J. Stanton

    Health News Review

    Healthcare Epistemocrat


    Homo Consumericus

    Hunt, Gather, Love

    Hunter Gatherer


    ItsTheWooo's The Scribble Pad

    John Hawks Weblog

    Julianne's Paleo & Zone Nutrition Blog

    Lean Gains

    Low-Carb for You

    Lucas Tafur

    Mark's Daily Apple

    Matt Metzgar's Blog

    Maxwell Murphy

    Metabolism Society

    Michael Barker's Type 2 Ketosis Prone Diabetes

    Muscle and the City


    My Carb Sane-Asylum

    My Carb Sane Chronicles

    Natural Messiah


    Nigee's Diet & Nutrition Blog

    Nourishing by Heart

    Nutrition and Physical Regeneration

    Nutrition, Health & Heart Disease

    Omega-6 Fat News Commentary

    Paleo Clinic

    Paleo Diet

    Paleo Hacks


    Patrick Ward's Optimum Sports Performance

    Pay Now Live Later

    Philosophy of Weight Management

    Prague Stepchild

    Primal Montain

    Primal Wisdom

    Principle Into Practice

    Protein Power


    Rambling Outside the Box

    Ramblings of a Carnivore

    Raw Food SOS

    Ray Peat

    Robb Wolf

    Ron Brown's The Myth of Loose Skin

    Sandwalk by Laurence Moran

    Scooby's Home Bodybuilding Workouts

    Seth Roberts's Blog

    Skyler Tanner

    Sock Doc - Natural Injury Treatment & Prevention

    Son of Grok

    Spark of Reason

    Stella Style

    Survivorman - Discovery

    That Paleo Guy

    The Carnivore Health Weblog

    The Daily Lipid

    The Evolution & Medicine Review

    The Heart Scan

    The Healthy Skeptic

    The Livin' La Vida Low-Carb Show

    The Paleo Diet

    The Paleo Diet Blog

    The Weston A. Price Foundation

    Theory to Practice

    Vitamin D Council

    Vitamin D Wiki


    Whole Health Source

    Wikipedia - Strength Training

    Wildly Fluctuating

    Zero Currency, Moneyless World - By Daniel Suelo

    Zeroing in on Recovery

    Zoe Harcombe

    180 Degree Health

    Is salt and sugar really making our society ill?

    Yesterday, Reuters reported that our intake of salt and sugar is helping to make us ill, raise our cholesterol and our blood pressure (  There are many food gurus that have been critical of the american diet for some time.  People like the taste of salty and sugary foods and the food industry has given them what they wanted.  There is a movement in government to attempt to regulate the amounts of this gradually in our foods.  

    In the restaurant industry, items that do not sell do not last.  If foods that have excess sugars, starches and salt is what sells, it is only natural for them to produce what people want.  Unfortunately, we pay for it years later with higher medical costs which may have been prevented.  It has been recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration begin to regulate the amounts of this in food.  While I applaud their ideas and their efforts, this is just a small part of a greater problem.  Most processed foods are full of salts and sugars, with one of the worst being corn based fructose sweeteners, which our body does not understand and cannot process well. We pay farmers to grow corn for the purpose of making corn sweeteners and pay them not go grow other things.  People who are poorer often do not buy certain foods that are healthy for them because of their cost.  On the other hand, Kraft macaroni and cheese which is all chemicals and salt is dirt cheap.  Even when I was a student and much poorer, I would often use this this as a cheap meal.  What would happen if we asked farmers to grow food and then made it so the cost was less in the supermarket, perhaps less than Kraft macaroni and cheese?  My guess is people would eat food that is better for them.  

    I also think that we can make prepared meals healthier as well by using less salt and other preservatives.  We probably need a different model for todays busy lifestyle so the fast food we purchase not only tastes good but is good for you.  If we think of all the money we spend on disease, doesn't it make sense that preventing it with better diets will be a better way to live.

    Since it is spring, I am again trying to create a successful garden in my back yard.  Many of us were disappointed last year because of the weather but this year can be a winner.  The best food is that which is right off the plant.  If you have never tried to create your own garden, perhaps, this may be your calling for better food, which you now control since it came right from your garden.

    What do you think? I value your comments.

    Tuesday, April 20, 2010

    What is "Going Raw?"

    Sure, you might feel like you're being healthy when you order a nutritious salad (meaning: not a pile of iceberg lettuce saturated in creamy, fatty dressing, but actually vegetables), but would you want to commit to eating all raw food, all the time? The raw food movement, sometimes called the Live Food movement, is focused on eating only raw and unprocessed foods, often organically grown. Although many are only familiar with the vegan version of this movement, there are vegetarians (lacto-ovo and others), as well as omnivores who participate. A smaller component of the movement actually promotes a carnivorous (only animal product) diet. Similarly, fruitarians- those who try to only eat fruit- are a part of the raw food movement.

    One of the main tenets of the belief that raw food is better lies in the loss of nutrients through cooking or processing food. While this is certainly true to a very large degree, it does not hold across the board. A more holistic approach might be to look at each food individually to determine whether it should be eaten raw, slightly cooked, or thoroughly cooked. As with most things in life, knowledge is power.

    For some foods, scientists have discovered that light steaming actually makes nutrients available in food that the body would not otherwise be able to digest- broccoli is one such food. If the focus is truly bio-availability, then knowing that the nutrients in spinach are most readily absorbed by the body when it is lightly steamed and eaten with vinegar makes it hard to argue for eating spinach raw. With both of these foods, overcooking leads to a loss of nutrients, so attention paid to each individual food will allow you to gain the most nutrients from them. Likewise, freezing blueberries unlocks many of their antioxidant properties - increasing their health benefits, which is what exploring healthy diets is all about.

    So, is raw right for everyone? Probably not. Is raw right for you? never really know until you try it. What it all boils down to is bioindividuality. What works wonders for one person may not for the next. You simply have to experiment to find out. Stay tuned for some updates from Jill on going raw. While I go vegan for 21 days for our Vegan Challenge group starting April 26, 2010, as an experienced vegan, Jill is going to take it one step further and go raw.

    We'll be sure to keep you updated on our highs (and lows)!

    Keep it Fresh!
    ~ Terra

    Monday, April 19, 2010

    Juice Fasting 101 (Part II)

    Hopefully by now you have had a chance to research some juicers (link to previous post) and experiment with some concoctions. So now you are ready to try your hand at effectively juice fasting. Again, I do not recommend anyone enter a prolonged fast or without first consulting a professional.

    What to do:
    Prep - First of all, its not a good idea to enter a fast after days of drinking and eating whatever you want, so you should take a day or two to eat cleanly first before fasting. This will start detoxifying the body and reduce cravings, making fasting easier. This means fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and other whole foods. Avoid processed and refined foods.

    The fast - Depending on how you feel, you can fast for up to 5 days. I recommend 3-5 days. Three should be sufficient for cleansing, but 5 days might be too much for a beginner. Generally the first two days are the most difficult. You will feel sluggish and hungry as your body adjusts and rids its self of toxins. Usually things get easier on day three. Your energy levels will return to normal and your hunger will subside.

    You have two options when it comes to detoxing: 1) All out fast - liquids only, including juices, water and tea. Look for herbal teas that promote detoxing or aid fasting like Yogi detox or healthy fasting tea or Guayaki yerba mate teas. You can steep them with fresh ginger root, cinnamon or turmeric to add flavor and other help reduce inflammation. 2) Evening meals - you can juice in the morning and afternoon and have a small meal of raw fruits/veggies in the evening. This one you can do for 5-7 days. Either way you will be avoiding all processed and refined foods. Soy, wheat, caffeine and sugar should be avoided as well.

    If you choose option 2 and want to do small meals in the evenings, i suggest drinking broths or eating blended or pureed vegetables. It will be easier on the digestive system and will allow your body to assimilate the nutrients easier, without the added burden of breaking things down.

    Broths- if you drink broths, make your own so that you don’t have all the sodium of store bought varieties. You can make a big pot before you start your fast and reheat as needed. Boil some water and throw in whatever nutrient dense veggies you have lying around (carrots, cabbage, greens, onions, just things that will add flavor and nutrients). Adding seaweeds and dried mushrooms are a really good way to add lots of minerals and nutrients to the water, I highly recommend it. Again, you can add fresh ginger, tumeric, cayenne, etc. to help ease digestion and reduce inflammation. You can boil/simmer for an hour or so.. long enough so that all the nutrients from the veggies seep into the water, but not too long that you kill them off. You can leave the remaining veggies in the soup or remove and puree them and use just the broth.

    Blending - Throw some banana, greens, avocado, mango, etc in a blender and have a smoothie meal. Or boil some veggies and puree them and heat it up for a delicious soup. Otherwise stick to raw or lightly cooked fresh vegetables such as salad with squeezed lemon juice or steamed veggies and whole grains.

    Breaking Fast
    - You will definitely want to take 2-3 days to eat cleanly again when you reintroduce food, eating mostly fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw is good, but can be difficult on the digestive system so if you weren’t following option 2 already, you can now start to reintroduce raw foods with some blended drinks or pureed soups if youd like. Again, stick to lightly cooked or raw veggies (steamed or blanched) for meals and slowly add in some whole grains and beans (preferably soaked over night to ease digestion), but continue to avoid processed foods, soy, wheat, sugar and caffeine until you feel you are fully detoxed.

    The thing to remember most of all is that you do not have to fast to reap the benefits of juicing. Drinking green juices everyday can help improve your overall health and well being! Feel free to post your favorite concoctions in the comments section!

    Keep it Fresh!

    Sunday, April 18, 2010

    Dinner with Taubes, Eades and Hujoel

    Gary Taubes gave a lecture at UW last Thursday. Thanks to all the Whole Health Source readers who showed up. Gary's talk was titled "Why We Get Fat: Adiposity 101 and the Alternative Hypothesis of Obesity". He was hosted by Dr. Philippe Hujoel, the UW epidemiologist and dentist who authored the paper "Dietary Carbohydrates and Dental-Systemic Diseases" (1).

    Gary's first target was the commonly held idea that obesity is simply caused by eating too much and exercising too little, and thus the cure is to eat less and exercise more. He used numerous examples from both humans and animals to show that fat mass is biologically regulated, rather than being the passive result of voluntary behaviors such as eating and exercise. He presented evidence of cultures remaining lean despite a huge and continuous surplus of food, as long as they stayed on their traditional diet. He also described how they subsequently became obese and diabetic on industrial foods (the Pima, for example).

    He then moved into what he feels is the biological cause of obesity: excessive insulin keeping fat from exiting fat cells. It's true that insulin is a storage hormone, at the cellular level. However, fat mass regulation involves a dynamic interplay between many different interlacing systems that determine both overall energy intake and expenditure, as well as local availability of nutrients at the tissue level (i.e., how much fat gets into your fat tissue vs. your muscle tissue). I think the cause of obesity is likely to be more complex than insulin signaling.

    He also offered the "carbohydrate hypothesis", which is the idea that carbohydrate, or at least refined carbohydrate, is behind the obesity epidemic and perhaps other metabolic problems. This is due to its ability to elevate insulin. I agree that refined carbohydrate, particularly white flour and sugar, is probably a central part of the problem. I'm also open to the possibility that some people in industrial nations are genuinely sensitive to carbohydrate regardless of what form it's in, although that remains to be rigorously tested. I don't think carbohydrate is sufficient to cause obesity
    per se, due to the many lean and healthy cultures that eat high carbohydrate diets*. Gary acknowledges this, and thinks there's probably another factor that's involved in allowing carbohydrate sensitivity to develop, for example excessive sugar.

    I had the opportunity to speak with Gary at length on Thursday, as well as on Friday at dinner. Gary is a very nice guy-- a straightforward New York personality who's not averse to a friendly disagreement. In case any of you are wondering, he looks good. Good body composition, nice skin, hair and teeth (apologies to Gary for the analysis). Philippe and his wife took us out to a very nice restaurant, where we had a leisurely four-hour meal, and Dr. Mike Eades was in town so he joined us as well. Mike has a strong Southern accent and is also a pleasant guy. Philippe and his wife are generous and engaging people. It was a great evening. The restaurant was nice enough that I wasn't going to be picky about the food-- I ate everything that was put in front of me and enjoyed it.

    * I'm talking about prevention rather than cure here. I acknowledge that many people have had great success losing fat using low-carbohydrate diets, including two gentlemen I met on Thursday.

    Ketones and Ketosis: Physiological and pathological forms

    Ketones are compounds that have a specific chemical structure. The figure below (from: Wikipedia) shows the chemical structure of various types of ketones. As you can see, all ketones share a carbonyl group; that is the “O=” part of their chemical structure. A carbonyl group is an oxygen atom double-bonded to a carbon atom.

    Technically speaking, many substances can be classified as ketones. Not all of these are involved in the same metabolic processes in humans. For example, fructose is technically a ketone, but it is not one of the three main ketones produced by humans from dietary macronutrients (discussed below), and is not metabolized in the same way as are those three main ketones.

    Humans, as well as most other vertebrates, produce three main ketones (also known as ketone bodies) from dietary macronutrients. These are acetone, acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate. Low carbohydrate diets tend to promote glycogen depletion, which in turn leads to increased production of these ketones. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscles. Liver glycogen is used by the body to maintain blood glucose levels within a narrow range in the fasted state. Examples of diets that tend to promote glycogen depletion are the Atkins Diet and Kwaśniewski’s Optimal Diet.

    A search for articles on ketosis in scientific databases usually returns a large number of articles dealing with ketosis in cows. Why? The reason is that ketosis reduces milk production, by both reducing the amount of fat and glucose available for milk synthesis. In fact, ketosis is referred to as a “disease” in cows.

    In humans, most articles on ketosis refer to pathological ketosis (a.k.a. ketoacidosis), especially in the context of uncontrolled diabetes. One notable exception is an article by Williamson (2005), from which the table below was taken. The table shows ketone concentrations in the blood under various circumstances, in mmol/l.

    As you can see, relatively high concentrations of ketones occur in newborn babies (neonate), in adults post-exercise, and in adults fed a high fat diet. Generally speaking, a high fat diet is a low carbohydrate diet, and a high carbohydrate diet is a low fat diet. (One occasionally sees diets that are high in both carbohydrates and fat; which seem excellent at increasing body fat and thus reducing life span. This diet is apparently popular among sumo wrestlers, where genetics and vigorous exercise usually counter the negative diet effects.)

    Situations in which ketosis occurs in newborn babies (neonate), in adults post-exercise, and in adults fed a high fat diet are all examples of physiological, or benign, ketosis. Ketones are also found in low concentrations in adults fed a standard American diet.

    Ketones are found in very high concentrations in adults with untreated diabetes. This is an example of pathological ketosis, even though ketones are produced as part of a protective compensatory mechanism to spare glucose for the brain and red blood cells (which need glucose to function properly). Pathological ketosis leads to serum ketone levels that can be as much as 80 times (or more) those found in physiological ketosis.

    Serum ketone concentrations increase proportionally to decreases in stored glycogen and, when glycogen is low or absent, correlate strongly (and inversely) with blood glucose levels. In some individuals glycogen is practically absent due to a genetic condition that leads to hepatic glycogen synthase deficiency. This is a deficiency of the enzyme that promotes glycogen synthesis by the liver. The figure below (also from Williamson, 2005) shows the variations in glucose and ketone levels in a child with glycogen synthase deficiency.

    What happened with this child? Williamson answers this question: “It is of interest that this particular child suffered no ill effects from the daily exposure to high concentrations of ketone bodies, underlining their role as normal substrates for the brain when available.”

    Unlike glucose and lipoprotein-bound fats (in VLDL, for example), unused ketones cannot be converted back to substances that can be stored by the body. Thus excess ketones are eliminated in the urine; leading to their detection by various tests, e.g., Ketostix tests. This elimination of unused ketones in the urine is one of the reasons why low carbohydrate diets are believed to lead to enhanced body fat loss.

    In summary, ketones are present in the blood most of the time, in most people, whether they are on a ketogenic diet or not. If they do not show up in the urine, it does not mean that they are not present in the blood; although it usually means that their concentration in the blood is not that high. Like glucose, ketones are soluble in water, and thus circulate in the blood without the need for carriers (e.g., albumin, which is needed for the transport of free fatty acids; and VLDL, needed for the transport of triglycerides). Like glucose, they are used as sources of energy by the brain and by muscle tissues.

    It has been speculated that ketosis leads to accelerated aging, through the formation of advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), a speculation that seems to be largely unfounded (see this post). It is difficult to believe that a metabolic process that is universally found in babies and adults post-exercise would have been favored by evolution if it led to accelerated aging.


    Williamson, D.H. (2005). Ketosis. Encyclopedia of Human Nutrition, 91-98.

    Friday, April 16, 2010

    Friday Friend Shout Out: The Jersey Shore Wellness Network

    Today's Friday Friend Shout Out goes to Carrie Holmes founder and director of The Jersey Shore Wellness Network. The mission of the Jersey Shore Wellness Network is to create and promote a collaborative community of wellness providers and businesses committed to providing discounted products and services that facilitate and support growth in the multiple dimensions of wellness: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and environmental.

    The goal of the Jersey Shore Wellness Network is to give people access to top quality wellness products and services at an affordable price. - Who doesn't love that?? JSWN knows that wellness is more than simply buying organic or taking a yoga class. It's a lifestyle choice. JSWN was created to help and support people making the wellness transition by offering a network of providers who offer discounts on healthy products and services. Everyone wants to save money and everyone should make the transition to a healthier lifestyle.

    3 Healthy Chicks think this is awesome and would like to welcome the Jersey Shore Wellness Network to our community. You're doing great things and we thank you!

    To learn more about JSWN, click here.

    Keep it Fresh!

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    Copper in Food

    Sources of Copper

    It isn't hard to get enough copper-- unless you live in an industrial nation. I've compiled a chart showing the copper content of various refined and unrefined foods to illustrate the point. The left side shows industrial staple foods, while the right side shows whole foods. I've incorporated a few that would have been typical of Polynesian and Melanesian cultures apparently free of cardiovascular disease. The serving sizes are what one might reasonably eat at a meal: roughly 200 calories for grains, tubers and whole coconut; 1/4 pound for animal products; 1/2 teaspoon for salt; 1 cup for raw kale; 1 oz for sugar.

    Note that beef liver is off the chart at 488 percent of the USDA recommended daily allowance. I don't know if you'd want to sit down and eat a quarter pound of beef liver, but you get the picture. Beef liver is nature's multivitamin: hands down the Most Nutritious Food in the World. That's because it acts as a storage depot for a number of important micronutrients, as well as being a biochemical factory that requires a large amount of B vitamins to function. You can see that muscle tissue isn't a great source of copper compared to other organs, and this holds true for other micronutrients as well.

    Beef liver is so full of micronutrients, it shouldn't be eaten every day. Think of it in terms of the composition of a cow's body. The edible carcass is mostly muscle, but a significant portion is liver. I think it makes sense to eat some form of liver about once per week.

    Modern Agriculture Produces Micronutrient-poor Foods

    The numbers in the graph above come from NutritionData, my main source of food nutrient composition. The problem with relying on this kind of information is it ignores the variability in micronutrient content due to plant strain, soil quality, et cetera.

    The unfortunate fact is that micronutrient levels have declined substantially over the course of the 20th century, even in whole foods. Dr. Donald R. Davis has documented the substantial decline in copper and other micronutrients in American foods over the second half of the last century (1). An even more marked decrease has occurred in the UK (2), with similar trends worldwide. On average, the copper content of vegetables in the UK has declined 76 percent since 1940. Most of the decrease has taken place since 1978. Fruits are down 20 percent and meats are down 24 percent.

    I find this extremely disturbing, as it will affect even people eating whole food diets. This is yet another reason to buy from artisanal producers, who are likely to use more traditional plant varieties and grow in richer soil. Grass-fed beef should be just as nutritious as it has always been. Some people may also wish to grow, hunt or fish their own food.

    Insulin responses to foods rich in carbohydrates and protein

    Insulin is often presented as a hormone that is at the core of the diseases of civilization, particularly because of the insulin response elicited by foods rich in refined carbohydrates and sugars. What is often not mentioned is that protein also elicits an insulin response and so do foods where carbohydrates are mixed with fat. Sometimes the insulin responses are way more than one would expect based on the macronutrient compositions of the foods.

    Holt et al. (1997; full reference at the end of this post) conducted a classic study of insulin responses. This study has been widely cited, and paints an interesting picture of differences in insulin responses to various foods. But you have to be careful where you look. There has been some confusion about the results because of the way they are often reported in places like Wikipedia and on various Internet sites that refer to the study.

    The key thing to bear in mind when reviewing this study is that the amounts of food used were designed to have the same calorie content: 1000 kJ or 240 kcal (i.e., 240 calories). This led to wild variations in the size of the portions that are compared and their weight in grams. Also, some of the food portions are probably not what people usually eat in one sitting.

    In Holt et al.’s (1997) study the participants were 41 lean and healthy university students. They were fed 1000 kJ (240 kcal) portions of the test foods on separate mornings after a 10-hour fast overnight. Blood insulin levels were measured at different times within a 120-minute period after each meal. An insulin score was then calculated from the area under the insulin response curve for each food; white bread was used as the reference food.

    Part of Table 2 on page 1267 is shown below (the full text version of the paper is linked at the end of this post), just to illustrate the types and amounts of food served, and the macronutrient breakdown for each food. I hope you can see what I meant when I said that some of the food portions are probably not what people usually eat in one sitting. I don’t think it would be hard to find someone who would eat 158 g of beef steak in one sitting, but 333 g of fish is a little more difficult. Fish has a higher proportion of protein than beef steak, and thus is more satiating. The same goes for 625 g of orange, about 6 oranges. Foods that have more fat have more calories per gram; hence the smaller portions served for high-fat foods.

    Table 4 of the article is a bit long, so I am providing it in two parts below. AUC stands for “area under the curve”. As you can see, for isocaloric portions of different foods (i.e., with the same amount of calories), there is a huge variation in insulin response. The insulin AUCs are shown on the second numeric column from the left. Also note that the insulin responses (AUC) for white bread varied in different meals. This complicates things a bit, but at least provides a more realistic view of the responses since each participant served as his or her own control.

    Look at the third column from the right, which shows the insulin responses per gram of each food, compared with the response to white bread, always shown at the top for each group of related foods (e.g., protein-rich foods). The gram-adjusted response for whole-meal bread is rather high, and so is the glucose response. The gram-adjusted insulin response to potatoes is less than one-third of the response to white bread, even though the non-gram-adjusted glucose response is higher. The insulin response to beef is also less than one-third of the response to white bread, gram-for-gram. Even cheese leads to a gram-adjusted response that is about half the one for white bread, and I don’t think many people will eat the same amount of cheese in one sitting as they would do with white bread.

    In summary, insulin responses to protein-rich foods are often 50 to 70 percent lower than responses to equivalent amounts of refined carbohydrate-rich foods. Also, insulin responses to unrefined carbohydrate-rich foods (e.g., potato, fruits) are often 70 to 90 percent lower than responses to equivalent amounts of refined carbohydrate-rich foods.

    Why do insulin levels go up in response to dietary protein?

    One of the reasons is that insulin is needed for tissue protein synthesis. That is, increased circulating protein (as amino acids) and insulin have a net anabolic effect, promoting muscle growth and inhibiting muscle breakdown. (Muscle protein synthesis and breakdown happen all the time; the net effect defines whether muscle grows or shrinks.) In this respect, insulin acts in conjunction with other hormones, such as growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1.


    Holt, S.H., Miller, J.C., & Petocz, P. (1997). An insulin index of foods: The insulin demand generated by 1000-kJ portions of common foods. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66, 1264-1276.