Sunday, January 30, 2011

Are We Designed To Self-Destruct? Pt 2

"It's OK, I know what I'm doing"
In my last post I ruminated on whether individuals were best qualified to make decisions for themselves. Every single person (or animal for that matter) alive today is a survivor/product of a lot of evolutionary selection, so it would make sense that they've developed quite a keen sense of making the best choices for themselves.

And yet we see paradoxically self-destructive behavior all around us. A lot of it depends on one's viewpoint, of course. Vegans think eating a steak is self-destructive, paleos think eating 30 bananas a day is self-destructive. But there are things most people can agree on: sugar is bad, being morbidly obese is bad, drinking two bottles of Jack Daniels a day is bad, taunting dangerous animals in front of a camera is bad (OK, that might've been in poor taste). I argued that there are evolutionary reasons for posturing and risk-taking behavior that supersede mere self-preservation (actually I skipped the posturing part, but that's a gimme).

Now let me (start to) make the case for self-preservation or self-diagnosis, that despite certain obvious failings discussed previously, people are generally those best qualified to choose for themselves.

I think we all have an innate need to apply induction to make sense of our world. Just as the ancient Greeks invented gods to explain everything from disease to lightening, we are hard-wired to come up with hypotheses to explain things like why does my back hurt, why do I have this rash, etc. To try and find a cause-and-effect solution. Not everyone has the time nor inclination to spend hundreds of hours reading about diet and health, and until recently most of this information was much less accessible, or non-existent. (Huzzah Internet and evil bloggers!)

Kurt Harris talks about the failings he's seen in self-diagnosis in his recent post and about the N=1 fetish that's pretty common among the paleosphere (and I've certainly used the term myself). As a practicing physician he's seen a lot of people make silly self-diagnoses, and I think it's justifiably common for doctors to be allergic to this. As someone who used to troubleshoot computer networks, I got pretty sick of people who could barely turn on their computer telling me, "Oh, it's a virus".

Ok, so why are people often so bad at self-diagnosing if we are highly evolved to look out for our own interest (as I believe we are)?

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the ability of people with lots of specialized experience to make instant decisions or diagnoses. In fact these instant decisions can often be more accurate than over-thinking the problem. I'm not necessarily a big fan of Gladwell and his rather disingenuous pop-sci format but I think the basis thesis is strong. It is well known that high-level chess players will often just "see" moves. A grandmaster walking around playing 50 people at once doesn't hold all those games in their head, they can simply look at a configuration and have an intuitive grasp of the situation and make an excellent move, over and over again.

As we gain access to more (and more accurate) information, it is possible to broaden the scope of our inductive hypotheses. And as we aquire more experience we become better and better at creating hypotheses. More and better info + experience = better judgement. Add in another important factor, self-interest, and one finds people become very, very good at making decisions.

I think we have a need to create a narrative, to instantly hypothesize that is innate and that's probably worked to our advantage for most of our evolutionary history, and still works more often than not. It's bundled up in the set of heuristics we usually call common sense. I believe this auto-theorizing or compulsive inductionizing, has evolved for a reason.

The typical hunter-gatherer would've been quite familiar with his or her environment. They would've had plenty of information and experience and probably would have made a lot of quick intuitive decisions. And those were probably quite good decisions on the whole (or we wouldn't be here to muse on them). For things beyond their control or ability to influence (hence gain meaninful feedback on) such as disease or weather they probably engaged in rituals but for the things they could control, they were able to make quite good self-interested decisions.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Are We Designed To Self-Destruct? Pt 1

I came across this comment in a discussion at Hit & Run (Reason Magazine's Blog) which got me thinking:
If what we know about human evolution has taught us anything? It's that people are pretty good at making decisions about their own survival.  -Ken Shultz
Is this really true? 

The idea behind sin taxes, banning fast food restaurants, etc, is to protect people from themselves. So how good are folks at actually looking out for their own interests, especially their health?

People certainly engage in some quite self-destructive behavior: smoking, drinking, driving without seat-belts, doing all three at the same time, etc. (No, watching reality television doesn't count)

People also engage in a lot of self-preserving behavior: reading about their health, exercising, trying to eat healthy foods, doing all three at the same time, etc.

Some people engage in mostly self-preserving behavior, and some engage in mostly the opposite.

There are tons of factors involved in why people might engage in paradoxically self-destructive behaviors, but the Handicap Principle, The Wolverine Principle, and an inherent weakness for calculating abstract risk are the three that come to my mind.

Risky behavior seems to increase mating prospects. Unnecessary risks, just like unnecessary antlers , are a way to signal evolutionary health and evolutionary fitness. Showing off is imbued in us (and plenty of other creatures) by Natural Selection. Animals that reproduce by mitosis don't feel compelled to ride a unicycle backwards, try to jump Snake River Canyon or drive a Hummer around an urban environment. After all, where's the payoff?

So some self-destructive behavior seems to be sown genetically for mate selection. It would make sense that increased risk-aversity with age also bestows an evolutionary advantage. Take big risks when young, become more risk averse when it's time to rear the kids and grandkids (and that's a whole 'nother subject, the importance of inter-generational support and feedback in an HG community).

Howard Hughes went from one extreme in his youth to the other extreme in his old age. Mentally ill or genetically over-programmed? You be the judge. I say both (but isn't mental health mostly a function of genetics? (Ed. and time and place. One society's crazy is another's Van Gogh and vice versa)).

The Wolverine Principle (which I just made up but I'm sure has a proper name and plenty of research) goes something like this: wolverines, by being so willing to take risks such as attacking wolves, bears, tanks, Janet Reno, etc, are able to punch above their weight (or ecological niche). They've carved a spot out of the ecosystem that really shouldn't be there for them with their extreme ferociousness, their huge lack of risk-aversion. Now think about our puny human ancestors trying to out-compete amazingly well-adapted predators such as wolves, big cats, and ferocious bunnies. Surely, there must have been selection pressure to be a wolverine and spit in the face of overwhelming odds, as in all those movies Hollywood makes. Those little guys with mustaches who want to start some shit with the tallest guy at the bar (which was usually me) could easily be following some sort of genetic programming along these lines, not that there isn't a cultural aspect to this behavior.

Another possible reason for self-destructive behavior, and this one is also linked with age: humans tend to be really bad at calculating abstract and long-term risk. As we get older, we seem to improve at this somewhat, perhaps from the perspective of added years. You can quote stats to someone with a mortal fear of flying all day long about the safety of air travel vs highway travel, but that's not going to soothe them. The abstract nature of long-term risk seems to allow people to ignore the obvious health hazards of, say, smoking. "Yeah, I know, it's gonna kill me, but ya gotta go anyway, right?" Also, some people are just much better at delaying gratification (the short term pain of nicotine withdrawal vs the long term increase in health). I suspect that the ability to delay gratification might have been very heavily selected for in neolithic times, to the exclusion of intelligence, but that's just my pet hypothesis.

So there seems to be a variety of factors that could explain the evolutionary paradox of self-destructive behavior.

In my next post I will take a look at the flip side of the coin. Self-preserving behavior.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm So Sick of People Bitching About Big Pharma

On the paleo/primal blogs I read, people are always going on about Big Pharma. Big Pharma this, Big Pharma that, blah blah blah. The US has a pharmaceutical industry that promotes big winners and copycat drugs and is forced to toe the party line such as swallowing the lipid hypothesis, statins currently being the most egregious and ubiquitous example of bad medicine. But what these people don't care to question is the root cause of this distorted system. Is it because big corporations are inherently evil? Perhaps it has much more to do with government meddling.

Why are statins such a big win for Big Pharma? Is it possible to get a big research grant to study the efficacy of a diet high in saturated fat or that boldly contradicts the lipid hypothesis? Or to publish these results in a "respectable" journal like JAMA? The US government has been pushing the lipid hypothesis forever, and the FDA makes it prohibitively expensive and time-consuming to get a drug approved, so of course pharmaceutical companies are going to play it safe by making drugs that force down cholesterol. But the incentives to make statins weren't created by the free market, they were created by government interference. Widespread statin use is not the result of evil corporations trying to kill people and take all their money, it is simply a response to these artificial government incentives.

It currently takes about "$1.3 billion on average to bring a new drug to market", and in 2010 only 21 drugs were approved. Once these drugs are finally allowed onto the market they are milked, and milked aggressively. After all, $1.3 billion doesn't exactly grow on trees. Drug company critics complain about copycat drugs stifling innovation, but what about the FDA stifling innovation?

Perhaps the solution to this terribly selfish alleged lack of innovation is to create yet another government agency to "help" Big Pharma. Meet the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences:
What sorts of therapeutics would be the focus of the proposed Center? In addition to strengthening and streamlining the process of developing small-molecule compounds into drugs, the Center would support research aimed at accelerating the development of a full range of products and techniques for the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease, including diagnostics, biologics, medical devices, and behavioral interventions.
Yeah, because when it comes to streamlining, creating another government bureaucracy has been shown to be brilliantly effective. Oh, and they would support research, too. I can see that working out quite well. Would that research be deftly innovative or stuck in the trenches of the current mythology? That was a rhetorical question.

And by the way, there's no such thing as translational science! Physics is a science, chemistry is a science. Translational is NOT a science! How do you advance something that doesn't even exist? Bloody government doublespeak.

I'm especially enamored of the proposed "behavioral interventions". You mean like telling everyone to cut out sat fat and replace it with "heart-healthy" grains and Canola oil? How's that behavioral intervention working out?

Statins are bad, m'kay. But I know some extremely intelligent and hardworking people in the pharmaceutical industry and these people don't stay up late at night scheming to shorten people's lives in order to prescribe them unneeded medicine. In fact, the reason the industry can attract some of the best and brightest is because it still manages to provide interesting and well-paying jobs despite all the bullshit.

Blaming Big Pharma for atrocities such as the statin epidemic is like blaming the current obesity epidemic on an excess of calories.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Taco Bell "Beef"--Definitely Not Shealthy

According the lawyer suing Taco bell, their Seasoned Ground Beef only contains around 35% beef. Here's the list of ingredients from their website:
Beef, Water, Seasoning [Isolated Oat Product, Salt, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Oats (Wheat), Soy Lecithin, Sugar, Spices, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil (Anti-dusting Agent), Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Cocoa Powder (Processed With Alkali), Silicon Dioxide, Natural Flavors, Yeast, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Smoke Flavor], Salt, Sodium Phosphates. CONTAINS SOYBEAN, WHEAT
Amazing how something that lists beef as the first ingredient can only contain 35% of it.

I'm amused that they stick Isolated Oat Product* in as the primary seasoning. I love seasonings, maybe I ought to get me some Isolated Oat Product, too.

And what the hell is silicon dioxide doing in there? You put sand in your taco meat??!!!! Is this some sort of elaborate practical joke?  

I'd stay away from the beans, also:
Pinto Beans, Soy Oil (Trans Free Shortening with TBHQ and Citric Acid to protect flavor), Salt, Calcium Chloride.
Soy oil is a lot worse than sand. I mean at least sand is indigestible (unless you are a cyborg, of course).

Still, I don't think there's much wrong with homemade tacos. Sure there's the corn shell, but it doesn't make a huge impact when the taco is loaded up with beef, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, and plenty of salsa. Damn, I just made myself hungry.

*Ask Dr Davis what he thinks about oats.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gee Whiz, Fast Food Labels Don't Help

Robin Hanson points to two articles in Time (2011) and The NY Times (2008) involving research showing that fast food calorie counts don't effect people's ordering choices and may even cause them to order higher caloric food. This is, of course, about as shocking as the stunning five year study that revealed that people who smoke cigarettes actually know it is bad for them.

Of course fast food isn't very healthy, but it's not really for the reasons people stuck in the Ancel Keys Paradigm think. Sugar, yes, salt no, fat yes, but only because it is mostly cheap industrial frankenoils, not healthy animal fat, etc.

This reminds me of that Penn & Teller show where they served a Taco Bell taco salad to two groups of people, the first group they told the truth, the second group was told the salad came from an upscale California Cuisine restaurant. The second group effuses its praise whilst the first group was condescending. The reality is that fast food is not really any more or less healthy than any other kind of food, it's generally pretty high quality, cheap and practical. Tom Naughton makes this point much better in his film. If I had my druthers I would eat at a sushi restaurant every night until I'd singlehandedly driven the species of  bluefin tuna extinct. Alas, reality hasn't given me the time nor money to pursue this sort of ecological devestation.

But this brings me to the next point, there's only a few comments as of this writing, but this one already popped up:
Only people who already care about health would process that info and change their purchase, and those people already don’t go to McDs with any regularity.
To be fair it might have been posed ironically, but it does sum up the underlying idea about regulating fast food and stuff in general that is consumed by the great unwashed masses. IT'S ALL ABOUT CARING FOR THE STUPID PEOPLE WHO DIDN'T GET A COLLEGE DEGREE IN SOCIOLOGY OR ART HISTORY, THEY OBVIOUSLY CAN'T THINK FOR THEMSELVES!

If only we paternally explain to these dumb slobs how bad this food is for them, they might just change their ways. Unfortunately they are simply too stupid to heed our gentle, well-meaning advice, sin taxes and regulations.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Funnies

Did I ever mention I once dreamt of being a renowned political cartoonist?  Actually, I just wanted to be a rock star, and even went to rock star school in Hollywood. But I decided to try my hand at it anyway 'cause I'm just so dang good at drawing with a mouse. Here's the link.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Michael Jacobson Is a Cyborg Sent From the Future to Destroy Humanity

Hasta la vista, healthy fats and proteins!

Michael Jacobson, otherwise known as The Sueinator (or The Guy From CSPI), had his true nature revealed when he walked naked into a biker bar and said in a thick Austrian accent, "Your burgers and buffalo wings, give dem to me!"

Like all evil cyborgs, Jacobson is relentless. Here's an interview just published where he (I mean it) lays out all its evil plans to destroy humanity:
While critics have called the CSPI the “joyless eating club” and insist Jacobson’s work is based on “junk science,” major chains realize that, for better or worse, Jacobson is an industry agenda-setter. QSR visited the CSPI offices in Washington, D.C., to learn what Jacobson has in his crosshairs for 2010.
I thought the term "crosshairs" was now verboten? I guess it's OK to use it if you are an evil robot from the future who claims to be a progressive and is an industry agenda-setter. How do we know it is progressive? Well, it tells us itself in Huffington:

Walmart doesn't exactly conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings among many of us who call ourselves progressives. Though the company's huge footprint in the marketplace means consumers can pay lower prices for clothing, electronics, and increasingly, food -- it has also resulted in the shuttering of many family businesses.

( . . . )

The liberal in me doesn't like the idea of a company as big and as powerful as Walmart. But the scientist in me requires that I put the laudatory things that Walmart is doing on the scales as well.
This refers to the recent strong-arming of Walmart (or nudging as it is known in evil robot circles), of which Jacobson approves. Reducing trans-fats and sugar is actually a good thing (when it is voluntary). But the grudging praise this evil cyborg gives is simply a part of the larger plan to eliminate the human race.

It's a hell of a lot easier to wipe out mankind when it is composed mostly of people who are obese, zoned out on statins, suffering problems from "heart-healthy" wheat, and high blood pressure meds. Been to a mall lately? The plan is working perfectly. The thing about evil cyborgs from the future with access to time travel is that they can relax and plan the downfall of the human race with plenty of past to spare.

Ancel Keys was also an evil cyborg from the future but it was first-generation. Jacobson, a later model, shows a much higher level of sophistication. They are improving all the time. These time traveling cyborgs are like artillery fire, they are meant to soften us up until we all resemble the humans in Wall-E before they send back the robot army to wipe us out.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Neolithic Idiocracy

It seems that John Hawks has been holding out on us, damnit! I try to keep up with Hawks' blog, but he does post a lot and sometimes I just don't have the focus to read some of the more technical stuff. Still, I don't recall him talking about the neolithic shrinking brain. Now, Mr Hawks leads off this interesting article in Discover Magazine (sad isn't it, that Discover Magazine has much better science articles than Scientific American? Oh! How the mighty have fallen!).
John Hawks is in the middle of explaining his research on human evolution when he drops a bombshell. Running down a list of changes that have occurred in our skeleton and skull since the Stone Age, the University of Wisconsin anthropologist nonchalantly adds, “And it’s also clear the brain has been shrinking.”

“Shrinking?” I ask. “I thought it was getting larger.” The whole ascent-of-man thing.
“That was true for 2 million years of our evolution,” Hawks says. “But there has been a reversal.”
Why shrinking? Well, as the author goes on to explain, "only a tight-knit circle of paleontologists seem to be in on the secret, and even they seem a bit muddled about the matter. Their theories as to why the human brain is shrinking are all over the map." Gee thanks, Hawks, way to keep us in the loop, you bastard!

The most plausible theory for me is a modified Idiocracy theory:
Which brings us to an unpleasant possibility. “You may not want to hear this,” says cognitive scientist David Geary of the University of Missouri, “but I think the best explanation for the decline in our brain size is the idiocracy theory.” Geary is referring to the eponymous 2006 film by Mike Judge about an ordinary guy who becomes involved in a hibernation experiment at the dawn of the 21st century. When he wakes up 500 years later, he is easily the smartest person on the dumbed-down planet. “I think something a little bit like that happened to us,” Geary says. In other words, idiocracy is where we are now.

( . . . )
The observation led the researchers to a radical conclusion: As complex societies emerged, the brain became smaller because people did not have to be as smart to stay alive. As Geary explains, individuals who would not have been able to survive by their wits alone could scrape by with the help of others—supported, as it were, by the first social safety nets.
Idiocracry is based, as anyone who grew up reading sci-fi (guilty) will tell you, on the classic story, The Marching Morons, by C.M. Kornbluth.

But I'm not sure that it was "primitive social safety nets" that caused people to be less intelligent. I would speculate that in an increasingly organized social society, things other than raw wit were more highly selected for, even at the expense of intelligence. The ability to delay gratification, check aggression, etc, might have taken precedence. Combine this with the increased pressure on that extravagantly complex mass of cells between our ears by the reduced nutrition and especially the reduced consumption of fat caused by farming and it's not surprising that changes took place.

This is interesting because I think it exposes the differences between paleo-reenactment and placing optimal diet in an evolutionary perspective.

It makes sense to eat foods that our body is designed to eat. The idea being that a relatively short period of subsisting on seeds hasn't changed much the fact that our bodies are optimized for a hunter-gatherer diet (and what that precisely consists of is an open question). It also makes sense to exercise in a manner more consistent with hunter-gatherers: plenty of walking with occasional bursts of high-intensity lifting and sprinting.

Does that mean we should give up all trappings of civilization? Should we all return to the forest in small bands and chuck this failed experiment? Of course not.

I have a degree in electrical engineering, one of the more difficult undergraduate degrees. And while intelligence was helpful, it was mostly about hard work. The people who did best were the ones who worked the hardest (and I definitely wasn't one of those working the hardest). The people who kicked ass through shear hard work were likely selected by neolithic evolutionary pressure.

So assuming that this brain-loss adjustment was a result of higher-priority selection of other attributes needed for a modern society (and that's my gut hypothesis), was it really such a bad thing? A blip on the radar, perhaps, in the long scheme of things.

Civilization is great. I love civilization, I love mp3 players that can store 10 years of music. I love the internet, without it I would never have discovered paleo-nutrition, and I'd still be trying to jog off my gut and feeding my kid apple juice.

Eating the proper diet is also great. It means being healthy without counting calories or spending hours on a treadmill.

Combining these two things in an optimal manner really ought to be the goal.

Addendum: I sort of dashed this off, and thought perhaps I'd throw in this interesting quote from an article in the Economist about skeletons recovered from the 550 year-old battle Battle of Towton, then totally spaced it:
This physical diversity is unsurprising, given the disparate types of men who took the battlefield that day. Yet as a group the Towton men are a reminder that images of the medieval male as a homunculus with rotten teeth are well wide of the mark. The average medieval man stood 1.71 metres tall—just four centimetres shorter than a modern Englishman. “It is only in the Victorian era that people started to get very stunted,” says Mr Knüsel. Their health was generally good. Dietary isotopes from their knee-bones show that they ate pretty healthily. Sugar was not widely available at that time, so their teeth were strong, too.
 But the quote pretty much speaks for itself.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ruminations On Paleo & The Stigler Diet Problem

One of the greatest economists of the 20th century, George Stigler, came up with an optimization problem known as the Stigler diet. It's summed up in Wikipedia as such:
For a moderately active man weighing 154 pounds, how much of each of 77 foods should be eaten on a daily basis so that the man’s intake of nine nutrients will be at least equal to the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) suggested by the National Research Council in 1943, with the cost of the diet being minimal?
It was simply a thought problem: what is the optimally cheapest way of maintaining RDA nutrient intake?

A few things jump out from the original paper, he used 3000 calories a day for a "moderately active" man weighing 154 pounds. Obviously moderately active had a different connotation back in 1939*. Also, beef liver made it into a list of mostly scary but cheap foods, presumably because of its dense vitamin profile.

I decided to download the free Windows GLPK program which includes the Stigler problem and mess around with it a bit. The actual GLPK code for the Stigeler diet problem, with plenty of useful commenting by its author, Andrew Makhorin, can be seen here.

Here's a list of the original nutritional parameters used by Stigler.

And here's the classic solution:

Back when 39 bucks actually meant something

Computers are really, really good at certain things and this sort of optimization is definitely one of them. It is pretty amazing to me that my five year old computer solved a problem that was unsolvable in 1945, and it solved it in 0.0 seconds!!!

Ok, obviously, 300 pounds of flour, 110 lbs of cabbage and 377 lbs of navy beans aren't anyone's idea of good eats. And it certainly wouldn't fly in paleo circles. So I tried it without the flour:

Interestingly, beef liver has dropped off and we are down to only four foods. We are now looking at an annual consumption of 648 lbs of navy beans. Yum. And the price has gone up 13%. Ok how about taking out the navy beans?

A 16% jump and beef liver is back on the list. Plus we now have a whopping 6 foods to eat for a whole year.

Ok, last one. Take away cereal and corn meal and what is the optimized diet? Enriched wheat cereal is a bit of a ringer anyway.

Hmmm, 134 lbs of lard, 6 lbs of beef liver and 120 lbs of Lima beans (refried Lima beans anyone?). We're up to 7 foods, now, and some of them even look healthy. Still nothing to write home about but a pretty big improvement, in paleo terms at least, from the original subsistance solution. And the annual price has yet to double from the original $39.69.

This was all pretty simple, just knock out some foods from the original Stigler diet problem and see what happens.

What would be much, much more interesting (and even practical) would be to add in modern prices and paleo type nutrition parameters (like n-3/n-6 ratio) and play with it. An often heard criticism of paleo is that it is simply too expensive for many people. This is something I'm pretty skeptical about. Don Matasz has been doing some posts (such as this) about being primal on a budget, and he's been listing prices so it would certainly be do-able.

I'm not sure if I have the gumption to actually do all that, though, interesting as it would be to play around with once it was working. Did I mention how much I hate computer programming?

* Stigler published his paper in 1945, using commodity prices from 1939 and the RDA guidelines from 1943

Addendum: It occurs to me that enriched wheat flour or enriched anything really ought to be prohibited from a proper solution of the Stigler diet problem. Otherwise the solution would (presumably) reduce down to a cheap multivitamin and a ton of flour.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Healthy Way to Lose 6 Pounds in 2 years

Warning: contains no actual food
A few days ago Ian Ayres over at the (hugely popular) Freakonomics blog was writing (in a post ironically titled "Because It Works") about WeightWatchers being the "the industry leader in performing rigorous testing of their services". Why? Well, for example, this JAMA study which showed that, weight for it (sorry), "after 2-years WeightWatchers helped overweight dieters lose about 3 percent of their body mass – reducing their average weight from 207 to 201 pounds".

Wow, a whopping 6 pounds in 2 years.

I think it is interesting that WeightWatchers was compared with counseling and a nutritionist, because I'm pretty sure that just giving someone a placebo for two years AND telling them it is a new weight loss drug would have worked as well or probably much better than WW (and certainly would've been cheaper). I've seen that experiment performed in a documentary and people lost more weight in a shorter period of time. The placebo effect is pretty powerful. And we all know how stuck in the Ancel Keys paradigm the average nutritionist is. Or how about instead of receiving "counseling" and a nutrition "expert" they were told to religiously read Mark Sisson's and Richard Nikoley's blogs and listen to every Jimmy Moore and Robb Wolf podcast?

I guess Ayres is impressed with the fact that the study was published in JAMA, hence "rigorous". It is a classic catch-22 situation. Low-carb diets are inherently unhealthy according to the AMA, hence they are practically impossible to get funding for, and even if carried out, don't have a chance in hell of getting published in JAMA, proving they are "rigorous". Welcome to the circle-jerk known as nutrition research.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

More Rockin' It Old Skool: Czech Style with Dame Anuška

In an effort to find out more about 'real' cooking, I've been buying old recipe books here in Prague. Anuše Kejřová (you don't even want to know how to pronounce that) is sort of the Czech Betty Crocker, had Betty Crocker actually existed and had her recipes not completely sucked, that is. She published a classic Czech cooking book in 1905.

Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry

Here's the dust jacket. Translates something like: The Frugal Chef, The Golden Book for the Little Household.

Here's a sample page:

The first recipe (karbanátky) is for meatballs. Start with 250 g of fatty pork and combine with an equal amount of beef. If the meat is dry add a tablespoon of rendered fat (škvarek). Add an egg, some spices like marjoram, nutmeg (květ?), pepper, garlic mashed with salt, roll 'em up and fry in lard. That's more-or-less it.Fairly standard meatball recipe I would say.

The second recipe seems to be for venison heart soup. I asked my Czech wife what pličky was and she didn't know, said it was 'old Czech'. So I looked it up in a circa 1971 dictionary and it wasn't there either. I need to get me an old dictionary for my old cookbooks apparently. Oh well, let's just say venison heart soup. I'm too lazy to actually translate it, especially without the proper dictionary. But I definitely plan to make some of these recipes in the near future.

Anyway, the book is interesting and certainly off the beaten path of what one would see in a typical modern cookbook. Here is a Czech recipe for beef tongue according Anuška. It's in Czech but the pictures are nice. And here is an Anuška recipe for 'French-style mustard rabbit'.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It's Official: Sugar 5 times Healthier Than Saturated Fat!

"Bring me another bottle of fat-free flavored fluid milk"

This is so going to stop childhood obesity.

The USDA is going to fix school lunches.

And by fix I mean make them more broken, of course. The full implementation is available to read and comment on here. Or you can read the USA Today article here. From the USDA's overview section:
To align the meals served under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) with the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, this proposed rule would require schools to offer more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; offer only fat-free or low-fat fluid milk; reduce the sodium content of school meals substantially over time; control saturated fat and calorie levels; and minimize trans fat.
Where do I start?

But first: 
When the frack are the mainstream media going to start linking to original sources? I looked at tons of news stories on this and while some of them mentioned that "anyone who wants to comment on the rules can visit" none of them linked to the actual document. This is the 2011, you idiots, get with the program already! Al Gore invented the information super highway we all know and love, like, forever ago. Learn how to hyperlink already.

Ok, I'm back, sorry about that. When was the last time you heard the term 'information superhighway'? Sort of disappeared along with Vanilla Ice. Neither was heavily mourned.

The most obvious silliness in this whole raft of silly is the "fat-free or low-fat fluid milk" (yeah I'm back on topic, USDA school lunches, please try and keep up). This includes fat-free "flavored" milk. Take all the healthy fat out of milk, tastes like dirty water, so add in plenty of subsidized HFCS so that kids will like it again. It's like the worst of both worlds. Coca-cola without the bubbles but with the least healthy (and most allergenic) parts of milk added in. All in the name of reducing childhood obesity. Are you high!!!!!

Well, high on bureaucracy.
The ‘‘Report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010’ (which precedes the release of the Dietary Guidelines’ policy) recommends:
• Lower saturated fat consumption (<7% of total calories)
• Lower sodium consumption (<1500 mg per day), and
• A new red/orange vegetable subgroup.
I've no problem with red and orange vegetables. I've even been known to eat them from time to time. But what's up with the demonization of salt? This is supposed to make children thinner? Salt makes food yummy so children eat too much. Plus it's an accepted fact that it is VERY UNHEALTHY! Yeah right.

Here's a screen shot of the lunch requirements:

(click for larger)
Meat alternates are defined as "beans, cheese, whole eggs, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, other nut or seed butters, and yogurt." Yes, sugary, starch-infused, fat-free yogurt is a meat alternate. And since "the recommendation [for meat/meat alternates is] to control saturated fat" it would be actually be considered preferable to a hamburger.

This is so going to stop childhood obesity.

So how many times was HFCS mentioned in this huge 4.6 MB acrobat document of government speak? Zip, zero, nada, goose egg, nic.

This is so totally going to stop childhood obesity.

To be fair, sugar actually is mentioned a whopping 16 times, whilst saturated fat is brought up a mere 83 times. According to the USDA, SFAs are 5.1875 times more dangerous than sugar for children and infinitely (ok, ok, dividing by zero is actually undefined) more dangerous than HFCS.

This is so totally going to stop childhood obesity.

I'm glad my child won't be attending school in the United States.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jimmy Moore and Encore Week are Rockin' My World!

Jimmy's encore week has been fantastic. So fantastic that he crashed his server with all the traffic. But he's back and I'm totally fired up just listening to all these great interviews. So fired up I almost went outside and did some sprints in the cold, dark, miserable Prague night. The snow here is mostly melted, so I've really no excuse, now. Unfortunately, not even a superhero like Jimmy could inspire me out of my exercise slump.

I just listened to his interview with Kurt Harris. Excellent! Some of the questions rehashed stuff that anyone who has read Kurt's blog were already familiar with: his opinion of blood work and testing benchmarks in general, what he thinks of olive oil, etc. Kurt's shifted ground on certain things (like the Kitavans and carbs in general, I'd say) and his always knowledgeable take was great listening.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Beef Tongue, Yum?

Beef tongue is such an old skool dish, I decided to run most of these pics through Photoshop's black and white (with blue preset) filter. It gives quite a film noir look. Not necessarily the greatest thing for a post on cooking beef tongue, but I was feeling artsy-fartsy.

This is a cow's tongue. It is somewhat visceral. A steak is a steak, rather dissociated from its origins but this is most definitely a large tongue from a large animal.

After looking at a few recipes online I decided to just wing it. Boil it on low with plenty of salt.

And Garlic (I know garlic's not supposed to be capitalized but it is almost like a deity for me so I sometimes forget).

Bay leaf, tarragon, I think that was it.

Simmer, simmer, simmer. On super low for 2-3 hours.

Peel off the skin. Yum. This is not perhaps the most appetizing photo ever, but we are all adults here, right? It was even worse in film noir B&W, believe me.

Yes, those are bite marks
Left with a very soft but not especially tasty hunk of meat. Sort of like paté but without the yummyness. Spam comes to mind. I wasn't really crazy about the texture or the flavor. The water it was boiled in, along with all the garlic, etc will make for some good soup base, of course.

The solution: fry it up with some green onions, a can of jalapenos and carrots. The liquid is from the can of jalapenos.

I boiled off the juice then added some lard and cooked until the meat was nice and crispy and the flavors had suffused. Pretty good actually.

Dobrou chut'!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Correlation = Causation!!!

Robin Hanson has an amusing example of politically incorrect correlation. I don't really agree with the Forager vs Farmer hypothesis he's been banging on about, but the guy is sharp and he makes one think.

Unsurprisingly, the unemployed eat less fruits and vegs paper was picked up by the mainstream media, WSJ, Time, and notably to me, the Freakanomics blog over at NYT. Hanson's un-PC correlation between unemployment and health and fruit and veg consumption was completely ignored by the media for some reason.