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The Inuit Paradox – How can people who gorge on fat and rarely see a vegetable be healthier than we are?

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Patricia Cochran, an Inupiat from Northwestern Alaska, is talking about the native foods of her childhood: “We pretty much had a subsistence way of life. Our food supply was right outside our front door. We did our hunting and foraging on the Seward Peninsula and along the Bering Sea.

“Our meat was seal and walrus, marine mammals that live in cold water and have lots of fat. We used seal oil for our cooking and as a dipping sauce for food. We had moose, caribou, and reindeer. We hunted ducks, geese, and little land birds like quail, called ptarmigan. We caught crab and lots of fish—salmon, whitefish, tomcod, pike, and char. Our fish were cooked, dried, smoked, or frozen. We ate frozen raw whitefish, sliced thin. The elders liked stinkfish, fish buried in seal bags or cans in the tundra and left to ferment. And fermented seal flipper, they liked that too.”

Cochran’s family also received shipments of whale meat from kin living farther north, near Barrow. Beluga was one she liked; raw muktuk, which is whale skin with its underlying blubber, she definitely did not. “To me it has a chew-on-a-tire consistency,” she says, “but to many people it’s a mainstay.” In the short subarctic summers, the family searched for roots and greens and, best of all from a child’s point of view, wild blueberries, crowberries, or salmonberries, which her aunts would mix with whipped fat to make a special treat called akutuq—in colloquial English, Eskimo ice cream.

Now Cochran directs the Alaska Native Science Commission, which promotes research on native cultures and the health and environmental issues that affect them. She sits at her keyboard in Anchorage, a bustling city offering fare from Taco Bell to French cuisine. But at home Cochran keeps a freezer filled with fish, seal, walrus, reindeer, and whale meat, sent by her family up north, and she and her husband fish and go berry picking—“sometimes a challenge in Anchorage,” she adds, laughing. “I eat fifty-fifty,” she explains, half traditional, half regular American.

No one, not even residents of the northernmost villages on Earth, eats an entirely traditional northern diet anymore. Even the groups we came to know as Eskimo—which include the Inupiat and the Yupiks of Alaska, the Canadian Inuit and Inuvialuit, Inuit Greenlanders, and the Siberian Yupiks—have probably seen more changes in their diet in a lifetime than their ancestors did over thousands of years. The closer people live to towns and the more access they have to stores and cash-paying jobs, the more likely they are to have westernized their eating. And with westernization, at least on the North American continent, comes processed foods and cheap carbohydrates—Crisco, Tang, soda, cookies, chips, pizza, fries. “The young and urbanized,” says Harriet Kuhnlein, director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment at McGill University in Montreal, “are increasingly into fast food.” So much so that type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other diseases of Western civilization are becoming causes for concern there too.

Today, when diet books top the best-seller list and nobody seems sure of what to eat to stay healthy, it’s surprising to learn how well the Eskimo did on a high-protein, high-fat diet. Shaped by glacial temperatures, stark landscapes, and protracted winters, the traditional Eskimo diet had little in the way of plant food, no agricultural or dairy products, and was unusually low in carbohydrates. Mostly people subsisted on what they hunted and fished. Inland dwellers took advantage of caribou feeding on tundra mosses, lichens, and plants too tough for humans to stomach (though predigested vegetation in the animals’ paunches became dinner as well). Coastal people exploited the sea. The main nutritional challenge was avoiding starvation in late winter if primary meat sources became too scarce or lean.

These foods hardly make up the “balanced” diet most of us grew up with, and they look nothing like the mix of grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy we’re accustomed to seeing in conventional food pyramid diagrams. How could such a diet possibly be adequate? How did people get along on little else but fat and animal protein?

What the diet of the Far North illustrates, says Harold Draper, a biochemist and expert in Eskimo nutrition, is that there are no essential foods—only essential nutrients. And humans can get those nutrients from diverse and eye-opening sources.

One might, for instance, imagine gross vitamin deficiencies arising from a diet with scarcely any fruits and vegetables. What furnishes vitamin A, vital for eyes and bones? We derive much of ours from colorful plant foods, constructing it from pigmented plant precursors called carotenoids (as in carrots). But vitamin A, which is oil soluble, is also plentiful in the oils of cold-water fishes and sea mammals, as well as in the animals’ livers, where fat is processed. These dietary staples also provide vitamin D, another oil-soluble vitamin needed for bones. Those of us living in temperate and tropical climates, on the other hand, usually make vitamin D indirectly by exposing skin to strong sun—hardly an option in the Arctic winter—and by consuming fortified cow’s milk, to which the indigenous northern groups had little access until recent decades and often don’t tolerate all that well. Click to continue »

Eat Your Fat Not Your Vegetables

Friday, April 1st, 2011

The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it?


 

The Obesity Epidemic: What caused it? How can we stop it? does what it says in the title it answers those two critical questions. It takes you on the journey that the author, Zoe Harcombe went on to answer those questions and hopefully it will shock you as much as it shocked her.

The starting point must be when did The Obesity Epidemic start? The graphs and tables show a stunning increase in obesity levels at the turn of the 1980 s and obesity literally takes off, like an aeroplane trajectory, from that point onwards.

Obesity in the UK, as an example, increases almost 10 fold between the 1970 s and 1999 from 2.7% to 25%.

So what happened? The short answer is we changed our diet advice. More accurately we did a U-turn in our diet advice. We used to believe (and our grandmothers still do) that bread and potatoes were fattening and we should put butter on our vegetables.

We changed this completely to tell citizens of the developed world to base our meals on starchy foods and to replace nature s butter with man-made hydrogenated spreads. Coincidence or cause?

The Obesity Epidemic takes you through the actual documents that changed our diet advice, most importantly why the advice changed and what is stopping us from changing the advice back. This is a journey through the landmark turning points in the history of public health diet advice and the impact that this has had on obesity and all the accompanying modern illnesses: heart disease; cancer; diabetes and the lack of well being that the average human suffers today.

If you currently believe that energy in equals energy out be prepared to change your view, if you read this book with an open mind. If you think one pound equals 3,500 calories, you may be in for a surprise. If you assume that you will lose one pound for every deficit of 3,500 calories you create, you will see irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

You will understand where five-a-day comes from and will hopefully revise your adherence to this marketing slogan afterwards. You will hopefully be shocked and appalled at the conflict of interest in the food and obesity industries. You may never drink fruit juice again.

With 400 references and every fact backed up with sourced and presented evidence this is the most informative book on the subject of obesity ever written. You cannot fail to learn a great deal and to have your thinking continually challenged in a highly engaging way. The research for this book changed everything the author held to be true read with an open mind it could do the same for you.

Love it or hate it, you have to read it.

 

 

The Low Fat Craze May Be On The Way Out

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

The low-fat trend finally appears to be on its way out. The notion that saturated fats are detrimental to our health is deeply embedded in our Zeitgeist—but shockingly, the opposite just might be true. For over 50 years the medical establishment, public health officials, nutritionists, and dieticians have been telling the American people to eat a low-fat diet, and in particular, to avoid saturated fats. Only recently, have nutrition experts begun to encourage people to eat “healthy fats.”

This past December, the Los Angeles Times reported that excess carbohydrates and sugar, not fat, are responsible for America’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. One of the lead researchers in this field, Dr. Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, “The country’s big low-fat message backfired. The overemphasis on reducing fat caused the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar in our diets to soar. That shift may be linked to the biggest health problems in America today.” Another expert, Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said, “Fat is not the problem.”

Last month, Martha Rose Shulman of the New York Times Recipes for Health section, wrote that she’s taken the “no low-fat pledge.” Shulman writes, “I took a pledge the other day that will surprise my longtime followers. It even surprised me. I pledged to drop the term ‘low-fat’ from my vocabulary.”

Shulman, an influential food and recipe writer with over 25 books to her name, has long promoted low-fat and light cooking, but now writes, “There are many recipes in my cookbooks from the 90s that now look and taste dated to me. I’ve put back some of the oil and cheese that I took out when editors were telling me to keep total fat at 30 percent of total calories–a concept that is now obsolete even among policymakers.”

She and a room full of “nutrition scientists, dietitians, doctors, chefs and food service titans” recently listened to experts on nutrition debunk some of the common fat myths. Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, who co-directs the program in cardiovascular epidemiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School and is an assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, was also there and said, “No randomized trial looking at weight change has shown that people did better on a low-fat diet. For many people, low-fat diets are even worse than moderate or high-fat diets because they’re often high in carbohydrates from rapidly digested foods such as white flour, white rice, potatoes, refined snacks and sugary drinks.”

These are clear indications that an important tipping point in the mainstream understanding of fat and nutrition is underway. But it did take some time. Back in 2002, Gary Taubes wrote about it in the New York Times magazine, laying out a fine deconstruction of the low-fat premise presented to the American people. He pointed out that the science behind this recommendation was never proven and was actually based on “a leap of faith” (more on this here).

In 2001, Dr. Hu, writing in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, noted, “It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health problems.” Or, as Michael Pollan pithily puts it in his In Defense of Food, “The amount of saturated fat in the diet may have little if any bearing on the risk of heart disease, and the evidence that increasing polyunsaturated fats in the diet will reduce risk is slim to nil.”

This brings up several important issues in the fat debate. It is still widely held that what matters are the types of fat we consume. Even in Shulman’s article on her fat re-education, there are contradictions—it’s clear she just can’t get her head around the idea that saturated fats may indeed be healthy. She writes, “Saturated fat—the kind found in animals and dairy products, as well as in any hydrogenated fat—is also regarded as a less healthy fat because it raises L.D.L cholesterol, or ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood, and this kind of cholesterol is related to heart disease. But even saturated fat is not so bad compared to refined carbohydrates, the doctors say, and if we were to eliminate it from our diet we would also be eliminating many foods that are also rich in healthy fats, like fish, whose omega-3 fatty acids are vital to good health.”

But as Pollan points out, the idea that saturated fats are a less healthy fat just isn’t true, as the picture is fairly complex. Indeed, most foods are composed of a many different types of fats. For example, half the fat found in beef is unsaturated and most of that fat is the same monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. Lard is 60 percent unsaturated and most of the fat in chicken fat is unsaturated as well, according to Taubes 2008 book Good Calories, Bad Calories.  In his New York Times article he writes, “Even saturated fats–AKA, the bad fats—are not nearly as deleterious as you would think. True, they will elevate your bad cholesterol, but they will also elevate your good cholesterol. In other words, it’s a virtual wash.” Taubes continues, “Foods considered more or less deadly under the low-fat dogma turn out to be comparatively benign if you actually look at their fat content. More than two-thirds of the fat in a porterhouse steak, for instance, will definitively improve your cholesterol profile (at least in comparison with the baked potato next to it); it’s true that the remainder will raise your L.D.L., the bad stuff, but it will also boost your H.D.L. The same is true for lard. If you work out the numbers, you come to the surreal conclusion that you can eat lard straight from the can and conceivably reduce your risk of heart disease.”

Nearly every day new research and studies come out debunking popular fat myths; despite this, misinformation persists. On the Mayo Clinic’s Web site, saturated fats are lumped in with trans-fats under the banner “harmful dietary fat” and the site claims that saturated fat can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

The link to cardiovascular disease is tenuous at best—the idea being that saturated fats raise your cholesterol and triglyceride levels which in turn leads to cardiovascular disease. But according to the most recent studies, including one reported in the Los Angeles Times article, this is not true. “Contrary to what many expect—dietary fat intake is not directly related to blood fat. Rather, the amount of carbohydrates in the diet appears to be a potent contributor,” Marni Jameson writes.

And during a symposium called “The Great Fat Debate: Is There Validity In the Age-Old Dietary Guidance?” at the American Dietetic Association’s Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, four leading experts agreed that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates is likely to raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Dr. Walter Willett said, “If anything, the literature shows a slight advantage of the high fat diet.”

And as for diabetes, there is no data to support the notion that a high-fat diet increases the risk for diabetes. Again, if anything, the opposite appears to be true. In a 2008 study reported in the Los Angeles Times article, obese men and women with metabolic syndrome (a precursor to diabetes) that went on a high saturated-fat, low-carb diet saw their triglycerides drop by 50 percent and their levels of good H.D.L. cholesterol increase by 15 percent.

But old dietary habits die hard and convincing people that what they’ve been told for the past 50 years is just plain wrong, is a hard sell. Not only that, but the continued recommendations to eat low-fat versions of foods (as in the USDA’s latest dietary guidelines and on the Mayo Clinic’s Web site) don’t help. Americans are confused about nutrition and disease and it’s only getting more complex with corporations claiming to make healthier foods (see Mark Bittman’s take on McDonald’s oatmeal and my take on Wal-Mart’s health washing).

Keep in mind, there is one type of fat that is implicated in high cholesterol, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and diabetes: Trans-fat. Trans-fats raise bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, and increase triglycerides, they also promotes inflammation and insulin resistance, according to a 2000 article in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. This points to the one basic axiom that always hold true: Eat real, whole foods and nothing else—now, if we could only just all agree on what those are.

Source: Civil Eats