Monday, January 2, 2017

Goodbye, Staffan Lindeberg

A photo Staffan sent me, showing him 
weighing a Kitavan man as part of the 
Kitava Study.
I recently heard the sad news that Staffan Lindeberg, MD, PhD, lead researcher of the Kitava Study, has died.

Staffan was a dedicated researcher and physician at Lund University in Sweden whose work was inspired by the evolutionary health principle.  After reading Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner's seminal 1985 paper on Paleolithic nutrition, in Staffan's words, "it gradually dawned on me that John Harvey Kellogg, a vegetarian zealot, had more influence on dietary advice than Charles Darwin had" (Staffan Lindeberg. Food and Western Disease. 2010).  Long before it was en vogue, he adopted a Paleo-style diet and saw his own chronic disease risk factors, such as body weight and blood pressure, decline.

Shortly thereafter, Staffan organized the Kitava Study-- an investigation into the diet and health of one of the few remaining cultures scarcely touched by industrialization.  Although Kitavans weren't hunter-gatherers by any stretch of the imagination, they did eat a starchy diet free of grains, dairy, refined sugar, refined oils, and all processed foods.  In a series of papers, Staffan reported that the Kitavans showed undetectable levels of obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, and stroke-- even in old age.  He went on to conduct randomized, controlled trials on the Paleolithic diet, demonstrating that it can reduce chronic disease risk factors in a Western context.  He published an overview his findings in a book, Food and Western Disease.

Staffan's findings were an important counterpoint to the claim that high-carbohydrate diets are fattening and drive chronic disease.  Here we had high-quality evidence that a lifelong diet of 70 percent unrefined carbohydrate and only 20 percent fat could be consistent with lean and often muscular bodies, and a low risk of the most common diseases that afflict us today.

Over the years, Staffan has been very generous with me, sending me photos of the Kitava Study for my talks, conducting an interview for The Hungry Brain and then reviewing chapter 1, and exchanging scientific ideas.  I always appreciated his curiosity and skepticism.

I'm sure the circumstances of his death will be discussed ad nauseam inside and outside the Paleo community.  I don't find these types of discussions very informative so I won't be participating.  If Staffan were here, he would probably point out that what we need isn't more anecdotal evidence, but more research into the connection between diet and health.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Instant Pot pressure cookers on deep sale today

I've written twice before about the Instant Pot, an electronic pressure cooker that helps make healthy food in a time-efficient manner (1, 2).  At some point, I'll write another review of my Instant Pot, but the gist is that it still works flawlessly and looks sharp after more than four years of frequent use.  Here are a few of the reasons why I like it so much:
  • It increases my efficiency in the kitchen, especially with beans, beets, artichokes, and bone broth.  It's automatic, so you can do something else while it works.
  • It's durable.  The inner pot is stainless steel without a nonstick liner, and the gaskets are silicone.  The whole thing has a solid, quality feel.
  • It replaces multiple bulky kitchen items.  It isn't just a pressure cooker, but also a steamer, slow cooker, and rice maker.  The latest version is also a yogurt maker.
Today only, Amazon is offering the Instant Pot on deep discount.  If you're considering getting one, today is the day.  The older version (LUX50) is only $49, and the newer version (DUO60) is only $69.  That's an incredible value for what this thing does.  

If you purchase through the following links, you'll be benefiting my work at no additional cost to yourself:



Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This is your brain on pumpkin pie

Image credit: Evan Amos
Thanksgiving is a special time in the United States when we gather our loved ones and celebrate the abundance of fall with a rich palette of traditional foods.  Yet a new study suggests that the 6-week holiday period that spans Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve accounts for most of our country’s weight problem (1).  Understanding this fact, and why it happens, gives us powerful insights into why we gain weight, and what to do about it.

Elina Helander, a postdoctoral researcher at Tampere University of Technology in Finland, and her colleagues set out to answer a simple question: how does a person’s body weight change over the course of the year?  To find out, they used internet-connected scales to collect daily body weight data from nearly 3,000 volunteers in the United States, Germany, and Japan.  After crunching the data, a striking pattern emerged: no matter what you celebrate, at any time of year, the holidays are likely to be your period of greatest weight gain.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Did the US Dietary Guidelines Cause the Obesity Epidemic?

A popular argument holds that the US Dietary Guidelines caused our obesity epidemic by advising Americans to reduce fat intake.  Does the evidence support this idea, or is it simply a fantasy?

Introduction

Friday, September 30, 2016

Cars as a metaphor for understanding obesity

If we want to understand the accumulation of excess body fat, it's tempting to focus our attention on the location that defines the condition: adipose tissue.  Ultimately, the key question we want to answer is the following: why does fat enter adipose tissue faster than it exits?

It follows that if we want to understand why obesity occurs, we should seek to understand the dynamics of fat trafficking in adipose tissue, and the factors that influence it.  Right?

I don't think this is right, and here's a metaphor that explains why.

The speed of a car depends primarily on the force that its wheels exert on the asphalt below them.  If we want to understand why cars move quickly sometimes, and slowly at other times, we should seek to understand the dynamics of how force is transferred from the wheels to the asphalt, and the factors that influence it, right?

As you may have already surmised, that wouldn't be a very effective way of understanding car speed. To understand car speed, we have to move up the causal chain until we get to the system that actually regulates speed-- the person in the driver's seat.  Looking at the problem from the perspective of the wheels is not an effective way of understanding the person in the driver's seat.  Once we understand the driver, then we also understand why the wheels move how they do.

Similarly, in obesity, we have to move up the causal chain until we find the system that actually regulates body fatness.  The only known system in the human body that regulates body fatness is the brain.  Once we understand how the brain regulates body fatness, we'll understand why fat enters adipose tissue faster than it exits sometimes, eventually leading to obesity.

We already know a lot about how this process works, and that's why I focus my attention on the brain and behavior rather than the biochemical mechanics of adipose tissue.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Do Blood Glucose Levels Affect Hunger and Satiety?

You've heard the story before: when you eat carbohydrate-rich foods that digest quickly, it sends your blood sugar and insulin levels soaring, then your blood sugar level comes crashing back down and you feel hungry and cranky.  You reach for more carbohydrate, perpetuating the cycle of crashes, overeating, and fat gain.

It sounds pretty reasonable-- in fact, so reasonable that it's commonly stated as fact in popular media and in casual conversation.  This idea is so deeply ingrained in the popular psyche that people often say "I have low blood sugar" instead of "I'm hungry" or "I'm tired".  But this hypothesis has a big problem: despite extensive research, it hasn't been clearly supported.  I've written about this issue before (1).

A new study offers a straightforward test of the hypothesis, and once again finds it lacking.

The study

Friday, July 22, 2016

The most slimming tortillas in the world

It's no secret that I'm an avid food gardener.  In the last two years, I've moved from exclusively growing vegetables to growing large quantities of staple calorie crops, such as potatoes, flour corn, and long-storing winter squash.

Why do I put so much effort into growing my own food, when I could buy it easily and cheaply at the grocery store?  There are a few reasons.  First and foremost, I enjoy it.  Second, it allows me to grow the healthiest and best-tasting ingredients possible (although I think you can compose a very healthy diet from grocery store foods).  Third, it saves a bit of money.  And fourth, it gives me a window into the world of my ancestors.

The fourth point is an important one for me, and it's why I can justify making tortillas the hard way.  What's the hard way, you ask?  Well, first you plant corn.  Then you water and weed it for several months.  Then you harvest the corn, shuck it and dry it on the cob.

Painted Mountain corn from my garden.