Dr. Bruce Ames is one of my heroes. For many decades, he has been the head of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UC Berkeley. It’s unlikely that any single individual has produced more published research in the field of nutrition than Dr. Ames. And, he is still at the top of his profession at the age of 83.
His latest research was published in the June issue of the Journal of American Experimental Biology. It concerns the subtle effects of selenium deficiency. Selenium is very subject to deficiency because many soils in the world are lacking in it, and plants can grow perfectly well without it. You’ve heard about goiter belts resulting from iodine-depleted soils, and a similar situation exists with selenium.
What Dr. Ames discovered is that even modest, sub-clinical selenium deficiency retards the activity of at least 12 important seleno-proteins. These seleno-proteins have protective effects which are directly related to the prevention of age-related diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and immunological condtions.
"The same set of age-related diseases and conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and immune dysfunction, are prospectively associated with modest selenium deficiency and also with widespread dysfunction of nonessential selenoproteins, suggesting that selenium deficiency could be a causal factor in many of the most common diseases of aging. Modest selenium deficiency is common in many parts of the world; optimal intake of selenium could significantly prevent future disease."
So far, selenium has been associated with preventing breast cancer, prostate cancer, colon cancer, and skin cancer. More research is underway as we speak, and I look forward to great progress in disease control through selenium nutriture in the years ahead.
Dr. Cynthia Kenyon is a genetic researcher who has done experiments with roundworms. She found that roundworms age more rapidly when given glucose. Feeding them as little as .1% glucose causes them to age faster. Their normal diet is pure bacteria. Roundworms are very small- too small to see with the naked eye.
Going up as high as 2% dietary glucose caused even more accelerated aging in the roundworms. But, that’s as high as she went.
Besides feeding them varying amounts of glucose, she has done gene modification on roundworms that blocked their “insulin signaling” which resulted in longer lifespan.
As a result of these experiments on roundworms, Dr. Kenyon has changed her diet. She eats:
“No desserts. No sweets. No potatoes. No rice. No bread. No pasta. When I say ‘no,’ I mean ‘no, or not much,’ she notes. Instead, eat green vegetables. Eat the fruits that aren't too sweet. Meat? Meat, yes, of course. Avocados. All green and non-starchy vegetables. Nuts. Fish. Chicken. That's what I eat. Cheese. Eggs. And one glass of red wine a day.”
In other words, Atkins, all over again.
But, if it’s really logical to change the diet of a human being based on experiments with roundworms, then why stop there? There are lots of other creatures. If you can make deductions going from roundworms to humans, then you have to apply the same reasoning across the board to other animals. I’ve got birds and squirrels eating figs in my backyard, and now I’m really worried about those critters. They can’t tolerate that fructose. They’re shortening their lives. And there are ants that get into my figs sometimes as well- the poor devils. It seems that the whole natural world is oblivious to the wisdom of Dr. Kenyon.
I don’t know how old Dr. Kenyon is, but let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that she gets pregnant and has a baby. Now she is breastfeeding. But wait! Breast milk is loaded with sugar! Forget about 2% of calories from sugar, as she fed the worms. Human breast milk has nearly 40% of its calories as sugar! Human milk is the sweetest milk on the planet, and by far. In this whole wide world of mammals, going from the tiny pygmy shrew which weighs less than 2 grams all the way up to the blue whale, which is the largest animal that has ever lived, to every mammal in between, none makes a milk as sweet as ours. Nothing even comes close. Human breast milk, by weight, is over 7% sugar! In comparison, cow’s milk is only 4.8%, goat’s milk 4.4%, sheep milk 5.1%, and water buffalo milk 4.9%. And it goes on and on. When it comes to milk, we, the human race, are the most highly sugared species in the world.
But, let’s assume Dr. Kenyon isn’t happy about that. After all, she doesn’t want her baby aging prematurely. So, she tries to lower the sugar content of her breast milk by avoiding all sugars and starches. She stands little chance of success. Her body will thwart her. Her body will convert the glycerol portion of fat and certain amino acids that are “glucogenic” into glucose and then into lactose. Her baby is going to get just as much sugar as anybody else’s- whether she likes it or not.
Another interesting fact about human milk is that it is very low in protein. It’s only 1% protein by weight. In comparison, cow’s milk is 3.4%, goat 3.2%, sheep 5.4%, dog 8.0%, and cat 10.6%. Some analyses of human breast milk have come in as low as .8% protein. And yet, on that small amount of protein, a human infant can double its birth weight in 6 months. It is the most rapidly growing period in human life. What does that tell you about the amount of protein that a human being really needs?
Perhaps Dr. Kenyon would say that it’s normal to pack in lots of sugar while nursing, but once you’re weaned, it’s Atkins time. But, the problem is that we’ve got all those sugar sensors on the tips of our tongues. There are thousands of them. Humans are the most powerful sugar detectors on the planet. Our ability to taste sugar is higher and stronger than any other creature. And why are the sugar detectors all crowded on the tip of the tongue? It’s because if you’re out in the jungle and you discover a new fruit, you can dip the tip of your tongue into it to determine if it’s any good to eat. And the criteria is: if it’s sweet it’s good; if it’s bitter, sour, or caustic, it’s bad, so you spit it out. Those sugar detectors weren’t put there for you to commit suicide with. They were put there to connect you to your natural fuel.
I think we all agree that, beyond breastfeeding, babies hold on to their sweet tooth. It doesn’t go away when the milk dries up. The first food my son received (after nursing) was blended cantaloupe. And it was a sweet one too, and he lapped it down with gusto. And, the sweet tooth is not just an infant thing. It’s a lifelong thing for human beings. It’s a cardinal human trait. It is a primal and instinctual craving- as much so as sex. Some foods you have to cultivate a taste for. Who was born with a taste for frog’s legs? But craving sugar goes to the very heart of who we are as a species.
But what about insulin? Insulin is a normal, physiological influence. Insulin opens the door so that glucose can enter your cells. It also opens the door so that amino acids can enter your cells. So yes, when you eat your high-protein diet with all that meat, you are provoking insulin release. As reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005, beef provokes more insulin release than whole wheat, cheese more than white pasta, and fish more than porridge. Are you listening Dr. Mercola? Insulin also opens the door so that potassium can enter your cells, which is critically important. Without proper potassium, your nerves and muscles don’t function correctly, and your fluid balance gets out of whack.
Insulin resistance is where the cell receptors for insulin aren’t responding properly, so the door doesn’t open. British endocrinologist Dr. James Mann- who is considered one of the leading endocrinologists in the world- says that high-protein/low-carb diets increase insulin resistance and raise the risk of developing diabetes. He says: “We advise people strongly against the Atkins diet. We believe it has a powerful effect to increase insulin resistance.” Keep in mind that it is widely believed in Medicine that insulin resistance is caused primarily by bodily fatness, and particularly, abdominal fatness.
Unrefined carbs do not promote bodily fatness. I eat them every day, multiple times. I eat lots of fruits, melons, and berries. I eat starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and yams. I eat brown rice, and I eat beans of all kinds. I enjoy oatmeal. That’s a lot of carbs. Why hasn’t it made me fat?
I’ll tell you a little secret, and I’m embarrassed to tell you this: I bought some shorts for the summer yesterday, and I had to go to the boys' department. That’s right: I am a 60 year old man wearing boys' pants. You see, I am very slim-waisted, and the smallest adult size is too baggy. I am 5’6” and weigh 130 pounds. That puts me at the low end of the normal range on most charts. But, I have very low body fat, and it keeps my waist very slim, less than 30 inches. My point in telling you this is that eating unrefined carbohydrates has not made me fat.
My advice to Dr. Kenyon is: forget about the roundworms. You’re wasting your time. People are not giant roundworms. Here’s an idea: do research on people. You could study fluctuations in diurnal blood sugar on different diets. You could measure and compare the formation of various glycation endproducts, including glycated hemoglobin, on different diets. That would be interesting and relevant. But, in the conclusions you are drawing from your roundworm experiments, you are taking a huge flight of fancy.
And to my readers, what should you do about carbs? Well, certainly, you should avoid all refined carbs. Dr. Kenyon and I are in complete agreement about that. And many times you can just cut them out and replace them with nothing. For instance, if you’re used to having a cold bottle of soda in the afternoon as a pick-me-up, replace it with a cold bottle of carbonated mineral water with fruit essence. It has no calories, so for all practical purposes, it’s just plain water. But, it’s very refreshing, and it really hits the spot. And otherwise, eat fruits, melons, berries, starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams, and complex carbs like brown rice and black beans. All of that is good food. Of course, the amount you should eat depends on how active you are. And of course, if you are diabetic, then you do have to be careful with fruits and certain other carbs. For instance, you may have to eat your fruits in the morning. But, just because a sensitivity to carbohydrates develops after you become diabetic does not mean that eating unrefined carbohydrates in the first place causes diabetes. They most certainly do not.
This is the title of a book by a famous anthropologist, Richard Wrangham. And, he is really a fan of cooking. I think this is a book that every raw-fooder should read. And it’s precisely because it goes against the grain of their thinking. It’s important to challenge our own beliefs and put them to the test.
Much of his book is devoted to his theory of how cooking drove the whole process of biological evolution of humans via random mutations and natural selection. But, as you may know, I do not subscribe to Neo-Darwinism in any form. So, that part of the book did not register with me. I’ll add that all such theories about how evolution took place are pure speculations. All they prove is that the individual has a vivid imagination.
However, my interest in the book relates to his theory about how long humans have cooked. And he estimates that it is 1.8 to 1.9 million years. So, nearly 2 million years. That’s a long time, and if it’s true, then it certainly challenges the idea that cooking is unnatural for humans. Anything that humans have done for nearly 2 million years, and mostly in a state of nature, can hardly be called unnatural.
Of course, I am using the word “people” loosely. Anatomically-modern homo sapiens, in other words, people like you and me, are believed to have first appeared about 100,000 years ago. So, when Dr. Wrangham refers to humans cooking 1.8 million years ago, he is referring to humanoid ancestors.
Keep in mind that he does not provide concrete evidence of cooking that goes back that far. Concrete evidence would be, for instance, a cooking hearth. Such concrete evidence only goes back about 300,000 years. Instead, he makes his case based on the known anatomical characteristics of human ancestors 1.8 million years ago. Even then, says Wrangham, human ancestors had small mouths, small teeth, jaws with limited moblity, and short digestive tracts, and all that points to one thing: a creature that cooks.
And he highlights the biological advantages of cooking: increased digestibility, increased opportunism about food and wider range and choices of foods, lower risk of food-borne illness, easier extraction of calories from food (which may not be considered an advantage today with an obesity epidemic going on but was an advantage then), and even the fact that food could be consumed more quickly.
Regarding raw-foodists, Wrangham has studied them and interviewed them. He makes an interesting point that raw foodism is entirely a modern concept. There are no ancient traditions of eating all-raw food anywhere on Earth. And he makes the interesting point that it is only possible because of modern circumstances, where through modern agriculture and commerce and distribution, raw foodists can obtain all the foods they need without much difficulty yearround. However, living in a state of nature, as humans and pre-humans did for most or all of their existence, raw foodism would have been much less feasible. In fact, he goes so far as to say that it would have been impossible under most of the conditions that human beings have lived, both pre and post agriculture. He makes the case that human beings are- first, last, and always- the apes that cook.
I don’t say that I agree with him entirely. He seems to disparage raw food, whereas I think it is an important part of the diet. I think it would be dreadful not to have any raw food. But clearly, he succeeds in challenging the belief that cooking is unnatural for humans. Just because animals don't do it does not mean that we shouldn't cook.
Clearly, no other creature besides us wears shoes. Does that mean that humans should also go barefoot? Well, here in Texas where I live, you can’t even walk across the green grass barefoot. Between the razor-sharp grass burrs, the fire ants, and the stinging nettle, it will leave you in tears. And this comparison to wearing shoes is directly relevant to the issue of cooking. We wear shoes because our feet are delicate and tender. And likewise, you can say that we cook some of our food because our digestive tracts are delicate and tender. You can argue that our feet “evolved” that way precisely because we started wearing shoes, but again, that kind of argument doesn’t interest me. It’s pure speculation. The fact is: our feet are delicate and tender, and we need to protect them. How they got that way is anyone's guess, and it hardly matters.
But getting back to cooking, again, we cook because our digestive tracts are tender and delicate, and some foods suit us better if we cook them. Consider kale. It’s extremely nutritious, and you can eat it raw if you grow it yourself and pick it when it’s very young and tender, like lettuce. But, if you are buying kale at the supermarket, you had better cook it. It’s mature, which means that It’s too tough and fibrous to eat and digest raw. And even if the cooking destroys some of the vitamins, it doesn’t matter. There are so many vitamins there that you can afford to lose a few. So, don’t worry about it. You will get more good out of that vegetable if you cook it. Your bottom line (the amount you digest and absorb) will be greater, and that's what matters.
So, where I stand on the issue of cooking is: I eat all of my fruits raw; I eat all of my nuts raw (and that includes ordering totally raw almonds online which I cannot buy in stores because of government edict); and I eat some of my vegetables raw- the ones that are tender and succulent enough to eat raw. And that’s it. The rest of my foods I cook, including many vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. I think it is a good balanced and practical approach. I do think it is important to eat a generous amount of raw food, but I don't think it is necessary or desirable to eat everything raw. It narrows, confines, and limits the diet too much and all for the sake of adhering to a philosophy of extreme naturalism. But, is an all-raw diet all that natural for humans? Dr. Wrangham doesn't think so, and neither do I.
Five eminent professors from three prominent universities have issued a position paper stating that "there is still no hard data for the safety of x-ray airport passenger scanners." They declare that the claimed safety of the scanners by the TSA is based on "rigged tests." First, they didn't even test the machines. The testing was done on a custom combination of spare parts rigged together by the manufacturer (Rapidscan). The actual machines used at airports have never been tested. Second, the names of the researchers who conducted the tests have been kept secret, and their work has never been subject to peer review. These were secret tests, using secret methods, done by secret people, But, it's worse than that: the researchers did not do the testing. They were simply invited to observe tests that were done by the manufacturer on the manufacturer's turf and on the manufacturer's terms. Furthermore, all crucial numbers were redacted for being "proprietary."
The professors point out that the intensity of the TSA x-rays are comparable to a CT scan, which is the most intense diagnostic x-ray used in Medicine. They claim that the radiation detection device used by Rapidscan to measure the output of the machines – an ion chamber – is incapable of accurately measuring the high-intensity burst of radiation produced by the scanners. And, since the amount of electrical current applied to the X-ray tubes has been redacted by the TSA, it is impossible for third-party scientists to accurately calculate the actual radiation exposure.
The TSA adamantly refuses to allow independent testing of the radiation levels being emitted by the machines, and they claim it's because terrorists might gain an advantage. But that's ridiculous. These university scientists are offering to test the machines themselves. Can they not be trusted?
One professor, John Sedat, a professor emeritus in biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and the primary author of the letter says, "..the best guess of the dose is much, much higher than certainly what the public thinks." Another professor, a physicist from Arizona State, Peter Rez, estimates that the actual dosage of radiation is 45X higher than what the TSA is saying.
There is also the danger of mechanical failure. The machines emit a high radiation beam that moves quickly back and forth across your entire body. But, if it gets stuck- if the wheel fails for any reason- it would focus an extremely high level of radiation to a very small cluster of body cells, mutating their DNA. The TSA has allowed no independent testing of these mechanical devices nor the software that controls them.
On its website, the TSA says that only .66% of travelers opt out of the scan. If true, I find it amazing that so many people submit to this. Why do they believe the government? It is the same government that lied us into war so many times. They lied about the swine flu to get us to take the shots. They have lied about the safety of other vaccinations. They said the air was safe to breathe at Ground Zero after 9/11-and now the workers are dying. And speaking of 9/11, over 1000 architects and engineers have signed a petition demanding a new independent investigation of the collapse of Building 7, which was never hit by a plane. They say that the government's scientific analysis of its collapse was preposterous and absurd. The point is that in matters of science, the government cannot be trusted.
My best advice to you is: don't let them x-ray you at the airport. Opt out. That is what i am going to do. Or, I won't fly at all.
The other day, I came across a couple of interesting stories online that could not be more disparate.
First, there was Dr. Mehmet Oz, who endorsed the new movie, Forks Over Knives, which is a documentary about people who have overcome serious diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, by adopting a low-fat, vegan (plants-only) diet. It featured some famous vegetarian doctors, including Dr. Collin Campbell, Dr. William Esselstyn, Dr. Neal Barnard, and Dr. John McDougall. They all recommend a diet of fruits, vegetables, (including starchy vegetables like potatoes) beans, and whole grains, and that’s all. I found it amazing that the film is being offered as a regular, big-screen movie that you have to go to the theater to see. I wish them all the luck, but moviegoers today tend to be quite young, and well, I have my doubts that this is going to work, commercially speaking. But, I agree that unrefined plant foods are tops when it comes to disease prevention. I have not seen the movie, but I am concerned whether they mentioned the need to take Vitamin B12 on a vegan diet. I suspect they didn’t because they are trying to sell a big idea, and it would come across as negative to say, “Be sure to take a B12 supplement on this diet or you could get into serious trouble.” I know that would be poor salesmanship, but I hope they were responsible enough to do it anyway because I know that people have died from B12 deficiencies on vegan diets. What I mean is that I have personally known people who have died from B12 deficiencies on vegan diets. And beyond that, I am concerned about the ultra-low fat aspect of their diet. Demonizing fat, categorically, makes no more sense than demonizing carbohydrate. Both occur widely in nature. Both appeal strongly to human senses. An Australian study from last year demonstrated how keen and sharp the fat-sensing mechanism is in human beings. It seems that we are driven to eat fats, the healthy kind that occur in plants such as nuts, seeds, and avocadoes. I realize that that is a long-standing debate., but not for a second do I doubt the claims that they make. I just think that people could do every bit as well including healthy plant fats.
By the way, my understanding is that Dr. Oz is mostly vegan. His wife and children are completely vegan. I recall that he has said that he does sometimes eat animal foods, but to a very limited extent. He strongly appreciates and respects the health benefits of going vegan. And he devotes many episodes of his television program to extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet.
The second thing I came across online on the same day was a report about a trip made by Dr. Michael Eades, who is an advocate for a very different kind of diet: the paleo diet, which emphasizes meat and other animal foods Dr. Eades and his wife (who is also an MD and whose initials are MD) travelled to a hog farm in New Jersey where they raise a rare breed of hog called the Mangalitsa, which is from Holland. The Mangalitsa is known as a “lard hog” because it has so much fat compared to other breeds. They have a fat-to- lean ratio of 80 to 20, which is very high. The resultant pork chops have thick layers of fat and are marbled throughout with fat. Dr. Eades pointed out that commercial pork today is dry and tasteless because, as part of the low-fat hysteria, they have been breeding pigs to be lean, turning them into “the other white meat.” I don’t eat pork and I haven’t in decades, but I can still relate to what he is saying. For instance, when I buy an avocado, if it’s low in fat and therefore watery and bland, I don’t enjoy it as much as when it’s high in fat and rich-tasting . There is no getting around the fact that human beings like the taste of fat.
So, Dr. Eades took part in the whole process from killing the hog, to slaughtering it, to preparing it. And he said it is a real delicacy with most every part of the animal being deliciously edible, including the liver, kidneys, heart, and lungs. He did not speak well of the hogs. He said that they were very dumb due to their very small brains. I was amazed by his callousness towards them. But, one of the owners, a young man who gave a tour of the farm, wasn’t that way at all. He seemed very respectful and kindly towards the hogs almost like they were his pets- despite the reality of their fate.
I like to keep track of Dr. Eades just because he is so extreme. I have never heard him say anything positive about any plant food- not a fruit, not a vegetable, nothing. There are other paleos (such as Dr. Loren Cordain) who exalt meat but also rave about fruits and vegetables and also nuts and oil-seeds. But, Dr. Eades is only interested in animal foods: meats, fish, eggs, etc. I get the feeling that he avoids dairy products, except for butter. He’s not opposed to salt, and he loves his alcohol too. Of course, he does eat some plant food, how could he not? But, in one post he spoke of eating broccoli as part of a ribe-eye steak dinner, and he said that “a little butter, salt, and pepper helped it (the broccoli) go down.” Clearly, Dr. Eades is the most anti of the anti-vegetarians that I know of.
So, there you have it: two prominent, well known doctors who are as polar-opposite about diet as could possibly be.
In some fields, we expect there to be a lot of divergence of opinion. Who is going to win the next World’s Series? Is the recession over or is it about to get worse? Is the price of silver going to rebound or fall further? But, human nutrition is studied scientifically, and it has been for nearly 100 years. How could there be so much divergence of opinion about diet today after all the research that has been done? Yikes!
But, allow me to finish with a suggestion. All of these diet doctors- including McDougall, Barnard, and Esselstyn from the veggie side, and Eades, Cordain, and Mercola from the paleo side- they should all agree to undergo a carotid artery ultrasound at the same time so that we can find out the condition of their carotid arteries and compare. The test is harmless, and it’s not that expensive. And it tells a lot about a person's real internal health. The only caveat is that age is a factor as arteries tend to worsen with age. So, an adjustment would have to be made for that. However, some of the above-named doctors are close in age (60-ish), so a straight-up comparison would be fine. I am 60, so let me be the first to volunteer. I’ll do it; I’ll pay for it: and I’ll share the results with the world. Doctors, are you willing?