Category Archives: In Real Life

Update: The Truth about Beef

The Truth About Beef Revisited

Last year, my post The Truth about Beef examined the claim that grass fed/grass finished beef was superior to common grain fed beef because of higher Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratios. At the time, the most reliable information I could cite showed about a 10mg difference in the amount of Omega-3. This is a nutritionally insignificant amount, and should never be cited as a reason to say grass fed beef is healthier or better for you than common supermarket beef. Yet, bloggers continue to claim grass fed beef has “67% MORE Omega-3!”.

Pete B, the author of Grass Based Health, examines the issue in more detail. With links to research, he reveals more detail on the levels of both Omega-6 and Omega-3 found in grass fed and grain fed beef, with charts, graphs and enough details to provide a definitive resource. Pete has a background as a “forage extension specialist” for Oregon State University, and is an advocate for ” local, sustainable animal production systems,” meaning he’s a friend to small farmers. Facts are stubborn things, and the Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratios in beef are essentially meaningless. I like the way Pete sums up the post:

Examining the data in these papers demonstrates the fact that beef, no matter how it’s produced, is not a rich source of n-3 fatty acids. And beef, not matter how it’s produced, is not a rich source of n– 6 fatty acids, either.
I want to emphasize that I’m focusing solely on the nutritional aspect of the beef, not on the issues of confined animal feeding operations, grain production, animal health, etc. I’m aware of these matters and I am NOT minimizing them.

Why Eat Grass Fed Beef?

There may be many reasons you choose to buy grass fed beef. You may believe that animals pastured until they are butchered are treated more humanely, and it becomes a personal, ethical choice. You may be concerned about the presence of hormones in beef, and want to avoid them (although, cattle are given hormones while they are pasturing, so this is no guarantee). You may prefer the taste of grass fed beef, or want to support the local farmer. Those are all valid reasons. The Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratio in beef is not.

What’s the Harm?

Many paleo or low carb dieters start out very simple by just cutting carbohydrates to 30 to 50 grams per day. They lose weight, note improvements in some chronic complaints like GERD, start sleeping better, have lower blood pressure, etc. As they fine tune their diet, they start adding rules and restrictions: coconut oil is better than canola, grass fed is better than grain fed, almonds are better than peanuts. Then they go further, nuts should be eaten in their raw state rather than roasted, organ meats should be added to the diet, and you should wear funny bare foot shoes that look like those 1970’s toe-socks. They become “purists” about the diet.

When they recommend going low carb, they toss in all of their other restrictions. The person asking them about their diet realizes, right about at the point that talk turns to “your leaky gut and legumes” that this diet is way too complicated, and way too expensive. And, just a bit nutty sounding.

But it is none of those things. You can vastly improve your health by reducing carbs and eating more animal protein and vegetables from the local supermarket.  The switch isn’t expensive … our food bill went down when we went low carb … and it isn’t hard to do. Going organic, eating grass fed beef, and snacking on heart, liver and brains can come later if you like. But those things aren’t sacraments, and they aren’t essential.



Frankenfoods: What has man wrought?

Plant Breeding and Genetic Modification

After reading Dr. Davis’ Wheat Belly, I decided to take another look at how man modifies his food. While there’s a lot of concern about genetic modification of foods, with some standards attached, traditional plant breeding has only a few steps between creation and marketing of the modified food.

Genetic modification (GM) is the process of inserting genes or portions of genes into a plant to introduce a specific trait, such as resistance to a herbicide. Most of the soybeans, corn, and cotton grown in the US are GM crops. In most cases, they have been modified to be resistant to a specific herbicide, Monsanto’s Round Up, or to be resistant to pesticides.

There is a patina of acceptability touted by the proponents of GM foods as the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition “evaluates” them. But the review process is less stringent than a driver’s license test: the food producer submits “summaries of food safety data” that are based “in part on the basis of comparability to conventionally-produced foods.” There are no specific tests done by FDA to determine safety.

Plant breeding, on the other hand, is a time-honored method of cross-breeding plants to obtain certain traits. Prior to the 1940’s, most cross-bred plants were within the same family, such as a mildew resistant pea being cross-bred with a high yield pea to produce a high yielding, mildew resistant pea. This type of cross breeding can occur in nature, but is a slow process, depending on the vagaries of wind, rain and animal movement to introduce new varieties.

There is a dark side to “traditional” plant breeding. Different techniques are used that would not be found in nature. In some cases the food scientist uses a chemical to produce mutations in a plant, and uses the resultant mutation to cross breed with a “normal” plant. The Wikipedia overview highlights the possible danger:

With classical breeding techniques, the breeder does not know exactly what genes have been introduced to the new cultivars. Some scientists therefore argue that plants produced by classical breeding methods should undergo the same safety testing regime as genetically modified plants.

The Poisonous Potato

There have been spectacular failures with traditional plant breeding, including poison potatoes:

. . . for example the poison solanine was unintentionally increased to unacceptable levels in certain varieties of potato through plant breeding. New potato varieties are often screened for solanine levels before reaching the marketplace.

As that quote indicates, there is no requirement to ensure the cross-bred plant is suitable for human consumption. The determination is made based on a plant biologist’s interpretation of how close to the original plant is to the cross-bred plant. In the case of the potato, the food company will look for the presence of a specific, known poison. But there are no long-term trials and no testing on human subjects. The impact on human health is not considered by a physician. We simply don’t know if the new, cross-bred plant carries a toxin that will be found only after the unwitting “test subjects” — the general population — start to have health problems.

Modern Wheat

As Dr. Davis has documented with more authoritative sources, modern wheat is a result of aggressive plant breeding, as Wikipedia notes:

The novel technological development of the Green Revolution was the production of novel wheat cultivars. Agronomists bred cultivars of maize, wheat, and rice that are generally referred to as HYVs or “high-yielding varieties”. HYVs have higher nitrogen-absorbing potential than other varieties. Since cereals that absorbed extra nitrogen would typically lodge, or fall over before harvest, semi-dwarfing genes were bred into their genomes. A Japanese dwarf wheat cultivar (Norin 10 wheat), which was sent to Washington, D.C. by Cecil Salmon, was instrumental in developing Green Revolution wheat cultivars.

No long term testing using human volunteers was implemented. The foods were introduced on the basis that a plant biologist deemed them similar to existing foods. There has been a long term test, of course. On all of us. The fact that we didn’t volunteer doesn’t seem to bother the plant biologists or food companies.

Wheat Belly shows us the result of just one of these “frankenfoods”, the modern dwarf wheat mutant that we have all been eating since the mid-1970s. Because wheat is so ubiquitous in our foods, its effects may have bubbled up to the surface faster than less-commonly used foods such as soybean, cotton and the high-yielding rice (although, there is plenty of evidence of issues with soy for certain people).

Note: I have used Wikipedia articles rather than the scientific journal articles to enable sharing of the resources by the general public, as the journal articles are long, hard to read, and some require payment to access. For those so inclined, Dr. Davis has 16 pages of footnotes to journal articles and studies in his book Wheat Belly.

Never Too Late

Richard at Primal Fed has a thought provoking post on “When is it Too Late to Get Healthy”. At least it got me thinking not only of my journey, but also of attitudes toward diet and exercise from different perspectives.

Richard states he is a 26 year old male, and his personal bio on the site shows his amazing quick transformation simply living a primal lifestyle. His wife, Amanda, is a few years younger and also has an inspiring story.

Kids today …

In their cases, change was quick and satisfying. Like most who adopt a low carb / paleo lifestyle, they can’t imagine going back to their old ways. But coursing through their bodies are the hormones of youth, making weight loss easier and exercise more beneficial. That’s not to diminish the dramatic improvements they have made; its just a biological fact. For women generally, and especially after menopause, losing weight is much harder. Men over 50 have much the same problem. And for both sexes, middle age brings biological changes that make it harder to build muscle mass. There are individual exceptions, but in general, a 50 year old man is going to have a harder time than a 25 year old building muscle. Sorry folks, that’s just the way it is.

Richard mentions in his post that his grandmother stated it was “too late for her” 15 years ago, when she was 50 years old. Too late?

Is it Too Late?

If you are thinking about having a perfectly fat tummy, yeah, 50 is probably too late. If you are thinking about having defined abs, huge arms and massive muscles, yeah, 50 is probably too late. But if you are thinking about getting healthier, jettisoning all those pills for high blood pressure, GERD and cholesterol, then 50 is not too late. 60, 70 and even 80 years old are not too late.

Here’s the thing: body composition changes as we age. The alternative to this happening is to die young. So you won’t look like a 26 year old if you are 50. You might get close with a ton of work, effort, hair dye and plastic surgery. But you won’t really have the body of a healthy 26 year old.

The focus for the over-50 set should be getting healthier. Following a low carb or primal lifestyle will result in weight loss, but not to the same extent as a 26 year old. The goal should be to be healthier, and the key to that is to reduce processed carbohydrate rich foods, reduce triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, and yes, lose weight if in the obese category. But don’t lose too much weight.

The Myth of “Normal Weight”

As we’ve shown before, the charts and formulas used for “ideal weight” are wrong. Studies have shown that BMI, the formula used by most doctors, reveal that those in the overweight category are 17% less likely to die than people in the “normal” weight category. That’s right; the reason you see so many fat old people is that the skinny ones died already. It is better, statistically, to be in the overweight category when using BMI than in the “normal” weight category.

Two years ago, I was 53 years old, weighed 248 pounds and had triglycerides of 344, high blood pressure, GERD and didn’t sleep at night. Six weeks after starting a low carb diet, I had lost a little weight, but my triglycerides fell to 106, I was off high blood pressure medicine and my GERD was gone.

I lost weight steadily that first year, then plateaued at just over 200 pounds, where I am now. I could lose more weight with some effort, but I’m now simply “overweight” rather than “obese”, my blood panel is much better and I no longer have a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetic. I’m pretty satisfied with that. So I’ll continue on this road.

And if I lose more weight, that’s great. If I don’t, that’s OK too, because I’m improving my health. I’d rather be alive and have an overweight BMI at 85 than assume room temperature in a prettier body at 70.

Its Not Too Late

Managing expectations is probably as important as managing your diet. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re a premenopausal female and your male partner loses more weight while eating more food (the bastard!) Unless you want to grow facial hair and deepen your voice by taking testosterone supplements, that’s the way it is.

Don’t beat yourself up if you are over 50 and you aren’t getting the same results as a 25 year old. They have youth as an advantage, and its one that you can’t borrow, buy or otherwise obtain, no matter how many late night infomercials you view.

He’s not your enemy. Most of the time, anyway.

You can improve your health, often dramatically, by adopting a low carb or paleo lifestyle. Ask your doctor about it, and phrase it this way: “Are they any health problems I currently have that would be exacerbated by eating a low carb diet?” Get the straight answer to that question. Certain health conditions like kidney or liver disease, gout or digestive disorders may argue against adopting a higher protein diet, and only you and your doctor really know if you have those.

Beyond that specific question, your doctor may recommend the standard, low fat bound-to-fail diet they are so fond of in medical circles. Barring a specific medical reason to avoid a low carb diet, see if your doctor will work with you to adopt either of the low carb diets featured below.


Protein and the Low Carb Dieter

Even the American Diabetes Association has seen that, to use the stilted language of one study:

… a joint committee of the American Diabetes Association, North American Society for the Study of Obesity and the American Society for Clinical Nutrition suggested that a low-carbohydrate diet may be preferred to a low-fat diet for the induction of weight loss and glycaemic control in subjects with type 2 diabetes.

That study, published in the Diabetes/Metabolism Research and Reviews journal in March, 2011, represents a bit of a turn-around for the ADA, which has long suggested a medium carb diet for type 2 diabetics.

How Much Protein?

There are concerns expressed, mostly by friends, that too much protein will cause kidney stones, impair liver function, contribute to bone loss, and cause other problems.

Historically, the recommended amount of protein has been expressed using a grams per kilogram ratio, with .66 to .8 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass total body weight. A man weighing 200 pounds weighs 91 kilograms, so the total protein recommended would fall into the 60 to 73 gram range. For a woman at 140 pounds (63 kg), the range is 42 to 50 grams. But it’s common to read recommendations on low carb forums that up to 150% of those levels is fine.

When I weighed 250 pounds, my minimum protein requirement according to The Protein Power Lifeplan was 120 grams per day, or about 1.1 grams per kilogram of weight. That’s a bit more than the .8 grams per kilogram recommendation. At .66 grams, the recommended protein level would be 75 grams. Expressed in terms of caloric content, 120 grams of protein represents 480 calories, or about 19% of a 2,500 calorie diet. (Note, the paragraph above was edited on April 3, 2011 to correct the numbers given in the Protein Power Lifeplan).

Dissenting Views

The Perfect Health Diet Blog advocates limiting protein to about 10% 15% of total caloric intake, a number very close to the .66 grams of protein per kilogram of weight. That blog post also has important information regarding protein maximums for pregnant women and children … a warning to those with “paleo babies” who, evidently, want to duplicate the insanity of vegan couples who starve their babies with inadequate diets, a problem that a Google search indicates happens every few years. (Babies are not just “little people”; they have unique nutritional needs. Nature itself provides a low 7% protein diet in breast milk).

Real Protein Requirements?

But, for non-pregnant, adult women and men, are the protein levels satisfactory? There is some evidence that we may have been wrong all along with the .66 to .8 gram of protein per kilogram of weight calculation.

In January, 2010, a study examined the method of determining the protein requirements of adults, and concluded that the proper amount of protein may be .93 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight. Our 200 pound man is now expected to eat up to 109 grams of protein (17% of the caloric intake on a 2,500 calorie diet).

Problems with Protein?

But is that too much? What about our friend’s concern that our kidneys will produce stones, our livers will cease to function, and our bones will leech calcium and become brittle? A study published in December, 2010, in the Nutrition Journal concluded:

… protein-enriched meals replacements as compared to standard meal replacements recommended for weight management do not have adverse effects on routine measures of liver function, renal function or bone density at one year.

In this study, the subjects on the high protein diet consumed 2.2 grams per kilogram of LBM, more than twice the amount recommended on most low carb diet plans. It looks like the low carb forum participants may have been right all along; you can safely go 150% of the minimum protein requirements without too much concern.

But, there are caveats

These studies look at healthy, adult men and women, free of liver, kidney or other disease. Anyone with any chronic condition, or on any medication, should check with their doctor before adopting any diet.

And remember, children and pregnant or nursing women are unique and the same rules simply don’t apply.

Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes

Dr. Steve Parker is a leading expert on the Mediterranean diet. With two decades experience treating patients with diabetes, pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome, Dr. Parker has developed a modified version of the Mediterranean diet. His new book Conquer Diabetes and Prediabetes: The Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet provides a comprehensive overview of the diet.

Dr. Parker is no stranger to the low carb lifestyle, and has seen dramatic health improvement from it in some of his patients. His low-carb Mediterranean diet is an attempt to marry the heart-healthy benefits of the traditional Mediterranean diet, with its emphasis on natural foods, omega-3 rich olive oil and plenty of complex carbs, with the superior blood sugar control and weight loss of a low carbohydrate lifestyle.

How can these two diets, seemingly incompatible, come together without compromising both? I was concerned that Dr. Parker might give a pass to “complex carbs” in the same way the American Diabetic Association does. But he doesn’t mince any words about carbohydrates:

We’ve done an atrocious job for type 2 diabetics and prediabetics.

We’ve recommended they eat precisely what their bodies can’t handle: carbohydrates. We’ve urged them to take poison: carbohydrates. We’ve cooperated with the drug companies to encourage diabetics to eat foods that increase drug company profits: carbohydrates.

Dr. Parker relates that how, over the past 10 years, the medical literature and his clinical experience has led to a change in his thinking, and better treatment of his patients.

The book is a medium format, 5.5″ x 9″, quality paperback with 216 pages. It is economically priced at $16.95. The last 26 pages are devoted to a list of print and on-line resources, an annotated bibliography complete with URLs to medical journal articles, and a five page index.

Dr. Parker’s low-carb Mediterranean diet follows a familiar pattern: a very low carb starting phase called the Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet (KMD), and a maintenance phase dubbed the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet (LCMD). He includes a week of meals suitable for the KMD, with a list of additional foods that can be added, slowly, once weight loss and blood sugar levels are in control.

What is different about Dr. Parker’s book? He includes a robust list of drugs and possible interactions during the ketogenic phase of the diet. Other specific recommendations for diabetics, such as the chapter devoted to the dangers of hypoglycemia, are a must read for someone looking to control blood sugar via diet. And I found the book eminently readable. Dr. Parker writes in a conversational style, explaining terms in a way that does not come across as condescending.

His chapter on “Daily Life with Low-Carb Eating” addresses several issues, including “cheating”. What do you do when presented with that Cinnabon you can’t resist? His answer is surprising, but workable. If you must indulge, compensate by replacing a meal with the treat, adding extra exercise or medication, or reverting to the KMD diet for a few days after. While purists will insist they never cheat, I did exactly this on a recent European cruise, and came back weighing less than when we set sail. (As Dr. Parker points out, you have to know your limits; just as a reformed alcoholic never tastes alcohol again, some “carbohydrate addicts” can’t afford to cheat.)

Dr. Parker’s easy approach to developing a reasonable exercise program might get me started in that direction. (Niacin, taken to help lower my triglyceride levels, also increases insulin resistance, and the antidote for that is exercise.) I loathe exercise, but Dr. Parker’s no-nonsense approach to the subject may get me walking in the evenings.

I found another personal benefit. While not diabetic, I do struggle with blood sugar control, and have been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome (now abated with low carb living). We often get stuck in our choice of foods, and simply removing carbs from our standard diet can get boring. Dr. Parker notes that the popularity of the standard Mediterranean diet includes the benefit of both taste and variety. Adopting a low carb Mediterranean diet approach could introduce some variety to what has become a routine diet. And as my wife tells me, variety in everything in life, except partners, is a good thing.

Disclaimer: Dr. Parker provided a complimentary review copy of the book, but did not attach any editorial restrictions to the review. Low Carb Daily is also listed as an on-line resource in the Resources section of the book.

Metabolic Advantage

The concept of a metabolic advantage with low carb diets is hotly debated. A quick MegaSearch shows hundreds of articles and blog posts, including some spirited debates. So what is this so-called metabolic advantage?

Dr. Michael Eades explains it this way:

When two groups of subjects both eat the same number of calories (but provided by diets of different macronutrient compositions) and maintain the same activity level, yet one group loses more weight than the other, the group losing the greater weight is said to have a metabolic advantage. Or, more specifically, the diet driving the weight loss is said to provide a metabolic advantage.

The debates among doctors, researchers and advocates sometimes gets heated. I won’t post a link to the profane and, in my opinion, irrational posts by Dr. Eades’ opponent in that particular debate, but Dr. Eades includes it in his blog post.

The literature does show an apparent metabolic advantage in studies. Just this week (March 2, 2011) the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a new study, Short-term weight loss and hepatic triglyceride reduction: evidence of a metabolic advantage with dietary carbohydrate restriction:

The aim of this study was to determine the effectiveness of 2 wk of dietary carbohydrate and calorie restriction at reducing hepatic triglycerides in subjects with NAFLD [Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease].

NAFLD, or “Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease” is a condition where the liver “gets fat”, resulting in reduced liver function. It is growing at an alarming rate, with some pointing towards increased fructose consumption as a likely cause (fructose is metabolized by the liver).

Like other studies, this one notes a “metabolic advantage” with a low carb diet:

Two weeks of dietary intervention (≈4.3% weight loss) reduced hepatic triglycerides by ≈42% in subjects with NAFLD; however, reductions were significantly greater with dietary carbohydrate restriction than with calorie restriction. This may have been due, in part, to enhanced hepatic and whole-body oxidation.

The phrase “significantly greater with dietary carbohydrate restriction than with calorie restriction” is the evidence the researchers note as a “metabolic advantage.”

The hotly contested debate will continue, of course, but as evidence mounts that lower carb diets result in greater weight loss and less hunger than calorie reduced calorie diets, can the debate sustain itself for very long?

Vitamin D-isappointing?

Low carb dieters have emphasized the need for supplements from early on, and one of the supplements growing in importance has been Vitamin D. This is largely due to the growing body of cutting edge research showing its benefits for a wide range of disorders, from asthma to parkinson’s disease.

The SunDrs Mike and Mary Dan Eades recommend regular sun exposure, without sunscreen, in The Protein Power Lifeplan, and the paleo community regularly touts the importance of being outside and active in the sun just like our ancestors. Today’s office dwellers realize their fluorescent lit lives do not allow enough sun time each day, and supplement with vitamin D.

The Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) was asked to look at vitamin D in order to evaluate if the current recommendations, expressed as “Daily Recommended Allowance” (RDA) in health literature, was adequate. After reviewing the current state of the science they surprised all of us by “staying the course” with vitamin D RDA the same as stated by the NIH in 2009 – just 600 IU per day for most people.

Cardiologist Dr. William Davis of the Heart Scan Blog commented:

Instead of a careful, science-minded conclusion that meets the painfully conservative demands of crafting broad public policy, the committee instead chose to dogmatically pull the discussion back to the 1990s, ignoring the flood of compelling evidence that suggests that vitamin D is among the most important public health issues of the age.

How can this happen when so much has been discovered about this important vitamin in the last few years? With possible implications for asthma, autism, auto-immune disorders, cancer, depression and mental illness just to name a few, its hard to understand the findings. Even my family practitioner commented to me that sunscreen may have caused more cancer than it prevented by blocking synthesis of this vitamin in many people. Part of the reason for the FNB’s ultra-conservative recommendation may be found in the approach they took:

In sum, with the exception of measures related to bone health, the potential indications examined are currently not supported by evidence that could be judged either convincing or adequate in terms of cause and effect, or informative regarding dose-response relationships for determining nutrient requirements.

Other than bone density, they really didn’t consider any of the other benefits researchers have found, for two reasons. The first is that studies showing a beneficial effect of the nutrient don’t provide enough evidence that the vitamin is the reason for improvement. While that is debatable, I think the second reason is the most important: studies that do show a benefit do not provide a “dose-response relationship for determining nutrient requirements”. What does that mean? It means that the studies did not provide an easy way for the committee to develop new standards for how much vitamin D you need.

Public policy is often too careful, conservative to a fault, and lags years behind the state of the art.

The Vitamin D Council, a private group of doctors, researchers, and patients, issued a statement:

Disturbingly, this FNB committee focused on bone health, just like they did 14 years ago. They ignored the thousands of studies from the last ten years that showed higher doses of vitamin D helps: heart health, brain health, breast health, prostate health, pancreatic health, muscle health, nerve health, eye health, immune health, colon health, liver health, mood health, skin health, and especially fetal health.

The committee’s findings are more understandable when you realize they are looking only at bone health, and discarding the emerging research showing benefits for an array of other conditions.

Grassroots Health, a public health organization with a large panel of scientists from prestigious universities and hospitals, provided space for several of their colleagues to comment on the report. Dr. Robert P.Heaney, MD, John A Creighton University Professor and Professor of Medicine at Creighton University, said:

There is an impressive body of scientific evidence supporting levels higher than the IOM panel is currently recommending, and for reasons that are not entirely clear, the panel has discounted that evidence. The public needs to know that that evidence exists so that they can make up their own minds. It’s helpful in making those decisions, to know that intakes higher than the IOM [FNB] recommends are safe. For me, that makes the decision easy. Even if the evidence for a higher intake were uncertain (and I don’t believe it is), intakes 2-5 times the IOM recommendations would carry a good chance for benefit at essentially no cost and no risk.

The committee provided their recommendation for a “safe upper limit” of supplementation at 4,000 IU for most people. This recommendation is a low risk proposal, intended for the general public, and most people think it may be due to the prospect of vitamin D toxicity. As a “fat soluble vitamin”, vitamin D is one that can build up and present the ultimate “too much of a good thing.” Yet the same report indicates vitamin D toxicity does not occur in studies except in those supplementing at 50,000 IU and above.

The committee had to deal with a variety of studies showing different “bad effects” for different groups, with black and Asian women differing from white women in increased bone fractures with higher levels of vitamin D (due to the way the vitamin and calcium interact in the body), higher and lower cardio-vascular disease rates in men, etc.

The gold standard of vitamin D supplementation is to test the blood serum levels to dial in the optimum, at least 40 – 60 ng/ml, according to Grassroots Health. They point out that in people taking just 1,000 IU a day, serum levels ranged in people from 15 ng/ml to 85 ng/ml, a wide range that highlights the problem in establishing an RDA (or even an upper limit that is safe for everyone).

How do you get tested? There are some on-line sources for vitamin D testing, taking a simple pin prick to elicit a drop of blood onto a test blotter that you mail in; these are legal in many states. You can also ask your doctor, although your insurance may not cover “voluntary” tests.

For those in the US who cannot convince their family doctor to test for vitamin D levels, Grassroots Health is conducting a 5 year study and preforms the necessary tests every six months. The cost is a recurring $60 per test, and is legal in every state except for New York. See this page for details.

Your Turkey is Trying to Kill You

Is it too late? Have you eaten your turkey yet? You may have eaten ARSENIC! From the Department of Food Hysteria and Increased Newspaper Circulation:

And today, while people don’t deliberately add the poison to their diet, we still encounter arsenic in our daily lives. It is still used as a pesticide. And we still eat it with our food, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving that make poultry a centerpiece of the celebration.

Most commercial-grade poultry feed today contains an arsenic-based pesticide. Like the Victorians, farmers use the poison because of its ability to improve appearances — in this case because arsenic’s potent effect on blood vessels makes the chicken and turkey we buy look pinker and therefore fresher.

The op-ed in the Los Angeles Times is one of several I’ve read trying to research this issue. Most make claims like the above, but also mention that Perdue Farms and Tyson Farms do not use the feed.

Buried deep in the stories is this:

Further, they add that the arsenic formula fed to chickens and turkeys (organic, bound up with carbon) is not the same as inorganic arsenic, the form considered most dangerous to people. Unfortunately for that argument, researchers have found that as chickens and turkeys metabolize Roxarsone, one of the byproducts is, in fact, inorganic arsenic. A study three years ago at Pittsburgh’s Duquesne University found this to occur rather rapidly, as measured by waste products.

You would expect the next statement to be how much of the organic arsenic is metabolized to inorganic arsenic and found in the meat products. While inorganic arsenic does prove to be an environmental hazard, with the possibility of fouling our drinking water near farms, we don’t know how much shows up in the turkey meat. We do know, courtesy of our intrepid journalists, not to eat turkey poop.

Numerous stories state “trace amounts”, “still below the FDA guidelines”, but also state that the FDA guidelines for arsenic in poulty meat to be higher than the guideline for arsenic in drinking water. And, they exclaim, arsenic may be cumulative, so even tiny amounts could be killing you.

But I have not found any references, save one, to the actual tested amounts of arsenic we may be consuming. I find this unacceptable; a journalist should present the facts, and the most important follow-up fact, second only in importance that arsenic may be in our turkey meat, is HOW MUCH?

I have linked the Los Angele Times op-ed because it does state that in some tests, arsenic was found in some parts of chicken in generic brands at 21 parts per million, well over the 2 parts per million allowed by the FDA. No link exists to let us see if the 21 parts per million was a single sample, an outlier, or if most of the chicken tested was under the 2 parts per million, and how far under the threshold it was.

Now, for my part, I want to minimize my exposure to arsenic as much as possible. So I’m glad to know that some of it, however minute, can show up in the poultry meat. What I would like to know is if that small amount makes it into the human bloodstream, or like many toxins, gets processed out of our bodies without harm. It is entirely possible that the arsenic you ingest as a result of poultry does you less harm than taking an Advil does; it could also be a bad thing.

The good news is you can avoid the issue entirely by buying poultry from growers that do not use Roxarsone (the trade name for the most common antimicrobial arsenic compound). These may include organic farmers, “free range” poultry producers (although you should ask them if their feed contains Roxarsone), or the commercial growers that have stated they do not use any asenic, like Perdue Farms and Foster Farms.

The Truth about Beef

The low carb and paleo world provides a wealth of information on the Internet, and sometimes the information gets amplified in a strange way.  Somewhere on the road to decreasing carbs and increasing protein and dietary fat, cattle got caught in the cross-fire.

If you read most blogs, “grass fed” cattle are the only ones suitable for consumption.  I have no problem with people choosing to eat beef from their local farmer, or deciding to buy the more expensive beef from the health food store.  Many bloggers like the taste of the beef they are buying, and that’s certainly a valid reason to choose it.


But the cost of food is a significant barrier for people looking at changing their diet. Do they have to buy organic vegetables and grass fed beef? If so, they may miss out on some very important health benefits, thinking they may as well not go low carb / paleo if they can’t afford to buy grass fed beef.

Taste and personal preferences aside, the health benefits of grass fed beef are grossly overstated, if they exist at all. The myths surrounding regular, supermarket beef are many, and include:

  • The cattle are fed only corn
  • Corn fed beef has much higher Omega 6 oils
  • Farmers feed cattle “corn silage” in the winter. More corn!
  • Feedlots pump up the cattle with a lot of hormones
  • Corn fed beef has a lot of estrogen you should avoid
  • Cattle are raised in small pens, in inhumane conditions

While it is estimated that 75% of the beef you buy in supermarkets comes from cattle “in feedlots” where they have consumed corn, the majority are raised in pastures before they go to the feedlot. Pasturing cattle is less expensive than feeding them grain.

Donna Covey is my first cousin, and raises cattle on MDC Farms in northern Missouri. I have seen the heifers, cows, and bulls and they look pretty happy to me. She explains how they raise cattle:

Our cattle are mostly grass fed. The cows are given salt and mineral and eat mostly grass and legumes. The calves have mama’s milk, salt and mineral, grass and legumes and are given creep feed for two to four months to increase their rate of gain. (Feeders are placed in the pastures that allow the calves to eat the feed but the cows can’t get to the feed.)

We do not give antibiotics of any kind unless something is sick. Calves are given vaccines for black leg, red nose and other common cattle diseases. The calves are then weaned and sold to someone like Mike’s dad and brother who grass graze them from March/April to November. He gives a few pellets every day to keep them coming up so they’ll be easy to get in when time to sell. They are then sold to a feedlot where they think they’re in 7th heaven because they get all they can eat.

This is the typical way cattle are raised before heading to the feedlot.

Numerous taste tests have shown that people generally like the taste of beef they are used to, and Donna actually prefers the taste of grass fed, home butchered meat (she has eaten it all her life). But she recognizes that the market determines how cattle are fed prior to butchering:

Grass fed beef is leaner, but our cows also get FAT on nothing but legumes and grass. Leaner isn’t always good. Most anyone who raises beef will tell you that the beef will have much better flavor [to most people] if the animal is fed grain for at least four to six weeks before they’re butchered. If they’re fed too much grain, they get too fat and are not as good.

Cows on grass make profitable use of land that is not capable of raising crops and would otherwise be considered waste land.

Feedlots typically keep the animals from 3 weeks to 3 months. The incentive in the feedlot is to increase the meat on the animal in the most economical way, and a diet of up to 70% in grain is used to do this. Hay and silage make up the rest of the diet. The feedlot operators realize that the crowded conditions can work against them with increased injuries, infections and extra costs. They don’t want to keep the cattle any longer than they have to, as time is money.

What are the health differences between grass fed/grass finished beef and beef from cattle spending the last few weeks in a feedlot? As it turns out, not much.

Omega-3 and Omega-3 / Omega-6 Ratios
Modern Paleo blogger Diana Hsieh quotes Skyler Tanner on the amount of Omega-3 in grass fed or grain fed beef: grass fed beef has about 10mg more Omega-3 per ounce than grain fed beef. But at 25mg per ounce, even grass fed beef is not a significant source of Omega-3. Nevertheless, bloggers continue to tout grass fed beef as having “67% MORE Omega-3!” You would have to eat twelve pounds of grass fed beef per day to get your RDA of Omega-3. So while the ratio may be different, it’s a difference without a bit of a health benefit.

Is Omega-6 in beef high? Not at all; Diana points out that a half pound of either type of beef contains just 1.2 grams of polyunsaturated fat.

Recently, I read a blog post where shock and dismay was expressed when it was discovered that a local farmer fed his dairy cows “corn silage” in the winter. The assumption was that silage contributed a significant amount of corn kernels to the cow’s diet. I have seen corn cut for silage, and the corn kernels do not become a significant part of the total. Most of it is the stalk and leaves of the corn plant. As Donna explains:

Corn silage is made from the entire stalk and includes the ear. It is cut while the corn is still very green with the ideal moisture content of the kernels being between 30 and 40%. The ideal moisture for corn harvested after dry down is 16%. The entire stock is run through a silage chopper where it is cut into smaller pieces, then it is packed in a pit or above ground and covered and allowed to ferment before it’s fed. It actually gets hot during this process.

MDC Farms does not produce silage, and feeds their cows hay during Corn Silagethe winter. But silage is about as natural a food for cattle as hay or other grasses. It is easily digested and nutritionally appropriate.

Cattle are full of hormones. Every plant and animal we eat contains them. But many people have concerns that cattle are “pumped up with hormones”, by which they mean they have an unnaturally high level of them and the meat is affected. But as UPMC, affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Health Services, notes, the levels in beef are very low:

While taking steroid hormones at high doses, such as in hormonal replacement therapy, has been shown to increase risk for some cancers, the amount present in meat products is very small by comparison. The FDA argues that residues of additives in beef are negligible in comparison to levels that occur naturally both in cows and humans.

Authorities also point out that steroid hormone levels in beef, whether from treated animals or not, are far lower than those found in eggs or milk. Additionally, these levels are dwarfed by high levels of plant estrogens—or “phytoestrogens”—present in soybeans, wheat germ, cabbage, broccoli, and many other vegetables. Phytoestrogens have also been shown to be hormonally active in people.

How are hormones administered to cattle? Images of corporate farmer villains toting huge hypodermics of hormone soup to inject into cows come to mind, but the reality is that the normal hormone dosage is quite different. A small pellet of hormone, usually estrogen, is inserted below the skin behind the ear, and provides a slow release of estrogen. In the resulting meat, how much estrogen can be measured?

The different levels of estrogen found in beef from cattle raised with or without growth promotants is miniscule.

Note: 3-ounce serving of beef from a steer treated with growth promotants contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen.

Note: 3-ounce serving of beef from a steer raised without growth promotants, such as certified organic beef contains 1.3 nanograms of estrogen.

A nanogram is one billionth of a gram. For comparison purposes, a 3-ounce serving of potato has 225 nanograms of estrogen.

So even if the farmer uses growth promotant hormones, the rise in estrogen you consume is six tenths of a billionth of a gram.

Livestock Treatment
Cattle are killed so we can eat them. Some people have a moral issue with that, and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. Extremists equate animal life with human life, and you can’t reason with these folks. But most of the rest of us share at least one thing with them: we do not want animals to suffer unnecessarily.

Some animal rights organizations would have you believe that slaughter houses take delight in torturing animals. But a steer or heifer represents a significant investment, and unnecessary trauma before death is avoided. The profit motive ensures this, as bruised meat cannot be sold.

But the ethical dilemma remains for some people. There is no doubt that cattle, like all the animals we eat, feel pain. And it is also true that all animals will die even if we do not eat them.

While its certainly a deeper issue than I intend to deal with here, there is a philosophical idea that animals don’t need to “feel Pain”. I have capitalized “Pain” here to separate it from the mere sensation of pain that animals obviously feel. It is not the unavoidable pain at death that is at issue, but whether the animal is self-aware enough to have mental trauma that death is coming. The “human monster” that tortures an animal creates that mental trauma in the animal, and is not acting like a human would, which is to say he is not acting in a humane way. Instead, he is acting like a cat does with its prey, playing for its own amusement, ignorant or uncaring of the suffering of the animal.

The closer to nature you are, the more you realize that pain is a part of daily life. Things live, and they die. Bones break, infections start, and animals … and their masters … feel pain. It would be nice to think of all animals in nature dying in their sleep peaceably, but the reality is that most wild animals die while being eaten alive in relatively slow process. And that is usually a process with physical pain and the Pain of knowing that death is coming.

The slaughter house is designed to be more humane than that. The videos of animals being slaughtered can seem cruel and pain-filled, but we have done our best to keep the animal ignorant of impending death. And then death comes quickly, with the least amount of time possible before realization that it is imminent. That’s unlike nature, where they are often being ripped apart by a predator or dying a fevered death from infection.

I certainly don’t intend to dissuade people from eating grass fed, grass finished beef they obtain from their health food store or local farmer. The personal preference is all you need to continue doing so, whether its because of taste, or six tenths of a billionth of a gram of Omega-3.

But it is my intention to dispel some of the hype and myths that might prevent someone eating the standard American diet from adopting a low carb / paleo lifestyle. If you are on the fence and fear the cost of grass fed beef will be too much, consider the information above. You do not have to worry about limited supply, or extra cost to eat more animal protein, as the beef in your supermarket is perfectly fine, and healthy.

Questbar – Low Carb Protein Bars

I usually avoid “frankenfoods” in favor of real food, but couldn’t resist the offer from Quest Nutrition for free samples of their low carb protein bars.

Protein bars are thick, dense, heavy and chewy affairs that are usually packed with sugar or fillers that are carb-rich.  Body builders use them to spike protein intake and, sometimes, for “carb loading”.  But Quest promises regular protein bar taste in a low carb variety:  Packing 20 grams of protein and 4 or 5 net carbs each, I thought the bars could be used as a quick breakfast when I’m running late.

There are two flavors, Vanilla Almond Crunch and Peanut Butter Supreme.  Quest sent me one of each, and I thought I would review them here.  Note: their free offer was not dependent on a blog review; it was open to anyone at the time it was offered.  It has since expired.

One more disclaimer:  I have not eaten anything with sugar in it, save for a scoop of vanilla ice cream in March of this year while on a cruise.  And I don’t use many artificial sweeteners.  So my “sweet” taste buds are programmed to think strawberries are sweet like candy.

Vanilla Almond Crunch:  Dense like a protein bar should be, this 2+ ounce slab resembles the size of a regular candy bar that has been compressed a bit in height.  With an ingredients list that includes dry roasted almonds and raw almonds, and a name including the word “Crunch”, I was expecting to find plenty of crunchy chunks of almond.  But alas, there was more chewy stuff than crunchy stuff.  The taste was fine, with no hint of artificial almond flavoring.  The vanilla is subdued enough that it didn’t leave an aftertaste either.  The bar tasted sweet to me, a result of the sucralose (the main ingredient in Splenda).  The bar filled me up as an after dinner snack, almost too filling for a snack.  My verdict: OK, but not great.

Peanut Butter Supreme: I grabbed the bar this morning as I left for work on my 45 minute commute, forgoing my usual egg and bacon breakfast.  At 20 grams of protein and 5 grams of net carbs, these do work as an occasional meal replacement.  This is the better of the two bars to me, with a nice peanut butter taste and a slightly less dense texture.   I actually liked this one.  Like the Vanilla Almond Crunch, it has sucralose in it, as attested to by my growling stomach after a few hours (the sucralose is not digestible by gut microbes, so it does produce gas for those of us sensitive to it).

The ingredients include whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, chicory root fiber, almond butter or peanut butter, almonds, peanuts (Peanut Butter Supreme only), sea salt, sucralose and lo han guo, the fruit of the Chinese siratia grosvenorii.  Lo han guo is a natural sweetener in the same general category as stevia; very sweet with little impact on blood sugar levels.

The ratio of fat to total calories is a low carbers dream, about half the calories are from fat.  I was impressed that the ingredients list does not read like an Introduction to Chemistry textbook:

While not satisfying the requirements of “real food” completely, and certainly not for the paleo folks that eschew diary products, the Questbar does fit a niche for those of us that occasionally need a fast, filling meal replacement.