Thursday, September 30, 2010

Wheat Rules . . . as a building material

A lot of people in the paleo community have a big problem with wheat. Well I'm here to tell ya that wheat can be an important part of the paleo lifestyle. It is a great tool for constructing toys!

Not so long ago (well, last February or so) I was baking bread and making pizzas. After drinking the paleo kool-aid I gave all that up but I still had all this flour around. I could've thrown it out but a true hunter-gatherer makes optimum use of their resources.

As anyone who has ever papier-machéd before (and who hasn't?) knows that flour and water make an excellent glue. It's no coincidence that gluten and glue share so many letters. In fact, one wonders how we could all grow up seeing the ease with which flour and water can be turned into a nasty gloppy substance and not think about something similar happening in our own bodies.

To cut to the chase, me and the kid make papier-maché toys, they are some of his favorite toys, and believe me, this kid has no shortage of toys. Beyond using up the now verboten flour, I think that making these toys together helps instill some patience and craftsmanship, something I imagine our HG forebears excelled in.

Here are some toys we've made. Kitty robot (a combination of his obsession with cats and robots), Wall-E, the moon robot from Wallace and Gromit (notice the robot theme?) and Scoop, a work in progress. All made out of misc items like plastic bottles and toilet paper rolls and of course lots of that wonderful glue that some people choose to believe is the healthiest thing that humans could possibly ingest. These toys have got plenty of miles on them, more than most of his store-bought toys, and that is, to me, the best reason to keep on making more of them.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Food Safety Bill Sucks

Check out this article in The Atlantic. Barry Estabrook points out that the proposed food safety bill would make things more difficult for small farmers, thereby making food less safe.
The most likely cause of the spinach outbreak appears to have been a herd of cows grazing near the field of spinach. But again, cows and vegetables have been raised in proximity for ages. Prewashed, bagged greens with shelf lives of three weeks are new. Many researchers credit the industrial food system with "inventing" the strain of E. coli that contaminated the spinach—it evolved in huge feedlots where cattle are fed an unnatural diet of corn, which caused changes in their digestive systems that allowed the new bacteria to flourish.
So if ruminants consumed the stuff they were designed to eat instead of subsidized corn there wouldn't be these sorts of outbreaks in the first place? Yeah makes sense. Yet the proposed bill would actually make it more difficult for the small grass-fed farmer to operate, distorting the market even more towards industrial agriculture.

Also it turns out that anyone who opposes this bill is evil and probably cuts people up and stores them in his basement, at least according to this ridiculous 'news' article in the NY Times. Chalk another one up to Old Media!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Omega-3 and Heavy Cream

I have no access to grass-fed dairy (but I'm not going to cry over grain-fed spilled milk). We consume a lot of cream and and butter, two big sources of SFAs around here. Knowledge is power, and I love heavy cream, it's my paleo go-to source for fats (ok it's not strictly paleo, but if it is good enough for Kurt Harris, it is good enough for me). I have about a cup (238 grams) of heavy cream with my coffee which serves as breakfast, and when I'm dieting I will have a glass of heavy cream as a light meal.

Here's a screen shot (with my added notes) of the lipid breakdown of 100 grams of heavy cream from the USDA database.

Now this is supposedly the breakdown of typical off-the-shelf heavy cream. I've no idea how accurate or typical this really is or how it compares to grass-fed cream because I can't find a lipid breakdown for grass-fed. Note that the fats in the table add up to 35% which is heavier than many creams (ours is 31%).

But the good news is that, assuming this is accurate, the n-3/n-6 ratio is very good and the total n-3 is excellent. A cup of heavy cream has around 1.3 grams of n-3 with about 2 grams of n-6. This is something one can feel good about, at least as far as getting a healthy dose of ω-3 is concerned. Well, not too good because cream doesn't supply any DHA or EPA ω-3s. For that one still needs to eat something fishy. Whether or not DHA and EPA are really as important as they are cracked up to be since the body can form them from α-linolenic acid is still an open topic but it probably doesn't hurt to get plenty of them.

And, since that was such a short and boring post, here's a picture of a monkey playing cymbals:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Omega 3 and Grass Fed Beef.

I've been worried about grass fed beef, specifically our lack of it. It's difficult to get in Prague and expensive. Whereas the local butcher is just a couple of blocks down the street and they are pretty friendly. So I was happy to come across something that seemed to show my fears were unfounded, at least as far as ω−3 is concerned. Beef contains so little PUFA anyway that it doesn't matter all that much.

But being the curious type, I decided to do a little research of my own. Here's a table I lifted from a paper by Cordain, et al.

(Interesting the seemingly unhealthy n-6/n-3 ratios of some wild ruminants like elk and pronghorn antelope)

And here's a table I shamelessly scanned from my copy of Mary Enig's, Know Your Fats: The Complete Primer for Understanding the Nutrition of Fats, Oils and Cholesterol.

100 grams of beef steak has 9.3 grams of fat (according to Dr Enig). If it was pastured that would mean 10% of it would be PUFA and the n-6/n-3 ratio of 2.2 so 291 mg of n-3 and 638 mg of n-6 (according to Dr Cordain). This gives us 83 mg/oz omega-3 and 182 mg/oz of omega-6 (notice that Dr Enig's table lists beef steak as having only 5.7 mg/oz ω−3!). It's not lost on me the silliness of mixing metric and imperial units.

Grain fed beef has 7% PUFA with a 5.19 ratio which gives us 100 mg of n-3 and 550 mg of n-6. This gives us 28.5 mg/oz of omega-3 and 157 mg/oz of omega-6

So a half pound grass fed steak would give one 664 mg of n-3 and 1456 mg of n-6, while the same size grain fed steak would supply 228 mg of omega-3 and 1256 mg of n-6.

436 milligrams less omega 3. A typical fish oil tablet contains 300 mg of n-3 (although some contain quite a bit more). Of course grass fed beef is leaner than grain fed beef and a half a pound steak is pretty big. But a half pound of a fattier grass fed meat (like 16.8% fat bottom round) in a stew, could supply close to a gram of omega-3, whilst only adding around 2 grams of omega-6, keeping the n-3/n-6 ratio around 2:1 which is important.

Of course 100 grams of Atlantic Salmon has 2.2 grams of n-3 (at least according to Dr Enig's book) and only half a gram of n-6, the ω−3 equivalent of 26 ounces of grass fed beef!

While grass fed beef can't hold a candle to fatty fish superstars like salmon and herring (at least in the ω−3 arena) I don't think that the difference between grass fed and grain fed beef can really be called negligible. Not to mention the fact that grass fed is healthier in other aspects and very likely more humane. Too bad I don't have much access to it. Now I can go back to feeling bad about eating grain fed beef.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Give me a carrot and a copy of 1984 please.

Michelle Obama thinks we need to be reprogrammed to eat healthier.

... substituting wheat pasta for white pasta in your regular recipes, or taking out an existing -- taking an existing dish and cutting the amount of butter or cream -- not enough to sacrifice flavor -- we all like flavor -- but just enough to make a meaningful difference in the amount of calories and fat.

It could mean serving 1 percent or skim milk. Or you could make healthy sides like apple slices or carrots the default choice in a menu and make fries something customers have to request
Wow. I had to shotgun a pint of heavy cream just to calm down after reading this.

This is so patently absurd that I'm not even going to bother to comment on it. But I felt it was my patriotic duty to order Good Calories Bad Calories and Mark Sisson's book from Amazon and have them sent to the White House by express mail. Maybe the First Lady will read them and get a clue before we all end up locked away in health gulags and force fed carrots and skim milk by jackbooted soldiers.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Expensive ass salt (and worth it).

I've been meaning to get some real sea salts for some time, the cool deli in my neighborhood now stocks this, Sel de Guerande aux Herbes. I would've skipped the herbs but it was all they had so I thought I would give it a try. The reason I've been interested in these salts is because they contain trace minerals that cheap processed salts don't have, minerals we tend to lack in our modern diets (read the Eades' book for more about this). Another reason is that they are just just plain cool. And it occurs to me that artisan salts make a great gift. I'm terrible at giving gifts, but hand harvested salt is a useful and interesting item (unless your friends happen to think salt is unhealthy, in which case you should ditch them or at least get them to read this takedown of the anti-salt "research" by Gary Taubes).

The French are apparently quite fond of these unprocessed sea salts and it probably is another factor (along with moderate alcohol intake and lots of SFAs) in the "French paradox" which of course is not a paradox at all.

How does it taste? Well, because of the herbs it tastes a lot like bullion. There is something of bitter edge, that is not necessarily unpleasant, which I assume comes from the trace minerals lacking in cheapo table salt. Sel de Guerande is supposed to be a 'finishing salt', meaning that one is supposed to use it after cooking. Whatever. I've mostly used it in soups rather like I would use bullion. Interesting stuff, and I look forward to trying more of these. The darker and more mineral infused the better. This black Hawaiian sea salt and this Hawaiian red salt are high up on the list.

As far as the price goes, this stuff is like a hundred times more expensive than cheap table salt, I purchased this for around 8 bucks (169 Czech crowns), but how long does it take to use up 250 grams of salt? I'm something of cheapskate but I think this stuff is definitely worth it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Some experiments with minimal footwear.

We took our vacation in my home state of New Mexico. First time I've been Stateside in six years and first time my son has ever been in the U.S. We bought a lot of clothes and shoes and I bought mostly minimal footwear, some cheap, and some not so cheap.

I've been experimenting with running barefoot and it's a piece of cake. If one is sprinting on grass that is. When sprinting, I don't notice much difference between wearing shoes or not on grass. I guess since sprinting is done on the toes anyway, there is little correction to be made. I wanted to be able to sprint in my parents backyard, which has grass, paving stones and some lava rock. There's no way I'm sprinting on lava rock in my bare feet. I'll leave that to the serious guys like Matt Metzgar. So when I came across some aqua shoes for 7 bucks I immediately snapped them up. My plan was to try them out and if they worked well bring back four or five pairs to Prague. If you've never seen these things, they are just a thin layer of rubber with a sort of elastic nylon top.

Then I did some sprinting on the pavement and lava rocks and they felt great. I could feel the rocks but not enough to be painful. I even wore them to the mall, which was a mistake because they don't breath at all so my feet got pretty hot and sweaty. But screw the mall, they were great for running and cheap as hell. I had come up with a solution that was cheaper than Vibrams, a lot cheaper, more minimal, and didn't make me look like this.

So did I bring back 10 pairs with me?

Unfortunately, no, there was trouble in paradise. Just like the rubber on a Formula 1 racing tire, these things were too soft for normal use.

Here's what they look like after a couple sprint sessions (and some walking around). There's no way they'd last through a 5k race (not that I'm planning on doing one of those in the near future). Oh well, it was in interesting experiment nonetheless.

Onwards and upwards, I also picked up a pair of Nike Free Runs.

I'm under no illusion that these are even close to running barefoot, but they are really comfortable shoes. Super comfortable. They weigh something like -1 grams. And they look pretty cool, too. I even wore them on the flight back to Europe and I usually go out of my way NOT to dress like an American, especially wearing trainers.

One other pair of somewhat minimal shoes I got were some Keen hiking sandals.

Unfortunately, I bought these right before we came back so I didn't have a chance to do any actual hiking in them. But they feel about ten times better than any other sandal I've owned. And my father loved them when he hiked the Chilkoot Trail.

And while the aqua shoes weren't so great for running, I did get a chance to use them for their intended purpose, walking through rocky streams (in the Gila Wilderness) and for that they were great.