Sunday, September 9, 2012

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

No, beans aren't better for you than rice

A new study appears to have concluded that the universal staple of Latin America, beans and rice, are a mixed bag, health-wise. The beans, they concluded, are excellent for human health. The rice? Not so much.

Harvard researchers, studying a population in Costa Rica, found that by reducing the rice and increasing the beans, the likelihood of diabetes can by reduced by 35 percent.

The problem with rice, they found, is that it's "pure starch" and therefore "easily converted into sugar by the body," the lead scientist told Reuters.

Here's what's really going on. The beans and rice widely consumed in Latin America usually involve whole beans and white rice.

Beans are a largely natural food, while white rice is industrially processed. Here's what industrial food is.

A better solution to reducing white rice and increasing beans is to eliminate white rice and replace it with whole-grain brown rice. In addition, both the beans and the rice should be fermented by soaking in water for between 12 and 24 hours before cooking.

This research is yet another case where an industrially processed food is found to be unhealthy, and then the news stories that result from that finding vilify not the industrial processing, but the food that is only made unhealthy by industrial processing.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Post-industrial food is the future, but you can have it now

In our last post, we defined industrial food in detail, and told you how it has created the health crisis. Industrial food is obviously unsustainable. Following current trends, the United States will be bankrupt by healthcare costs, and will be unable to find enough young people fit enough to join the military in just a few decades.

So what comes next?

The solution to industrial food is not, and cannot be, to turn back the clock to a pastoral, agrarian past. Technology and science got us into this mess, and technology and science will get us out.

The old industrial food system would have us buying most of our food at the supermarket, a majority of which would be packaged, canned or pre-prepared foods. We would go to restaurants, which would involve incredibly processed industrial ingredients made compulsively appealing to our basest cravings with massive amounts of low-quality fat, sugar and salt.

The foundational enabler of this system is a pact of ignorance -- We won't demand to know what's in the food, and food processors will do everything in their power to prevent such knowledge from getting out.

The post-industrial food system will be driven by transparency and knowledge about our food and what's in it. Driven by the growing legions of foodies -- locavores, slow foodists, urban farmers, organic foodists, farmers market enthusiasts, real-food fundamentalists, gourmands, Food Network fans and all the rest -- people will increasingly refuse to buy "ignorance food." If you won't tell us what's in it, we won't buy it.

The Internet will spread knowledge of new and traditional food processing and cooking methods from all over the world. Technology will bring us a world of new cooking and food-related apps, kitchen equipment, and supplies. The Internet will make good food stuff made anywhere available everywhere. 

Shoppers will stop buying at industrial-food supermarkets, and start embracing the new range of food sources. Above all, more people will buy directly from producers via the Internet. They'll join co-ops and buy into livestock shares for meat and raw milk. They'll turn to the small specialty stores popping up everywhere that make high-quality bread, or specialize in single ingredients, like olive oil. They'll frequent farmer's markets in such numbers that the size and number of markets will just keep growing.

As food awareness grows, people will stop growing lawns and shrubs around their homes, and start planting fruit trees and vegetable gardens.

You'll see a transition by the massive food corporations toward healthier fare. Industrial food processors will start innovating in ways to mass-produce healthy food, not just cheap food.

All this will be driven by science information. As researchers continue to understand the central role of news areas of health, including gut flora, epigenetics, endocrine disrupters and the role of diet in predisposing people to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more, it will become common knowledge that today's toxic industrial food is wrecking lives by the millions.

Post-industrial food will someday become the mainstream approach to food. But today, it's only a growing fringe movement.

In 1960, Americans were among the biggest smokers of cigarettes. After a massive cultural shift in attitudes about tobacco, the United States has earned a global reputation as being among the most anti-cigarette.

We believe the same thing will happen with food. Right now, America leads the world in the embrace of toxic industrial junk food, and we lead the world in the lifestyle diseases that go with it. But a cultural movement has begun that will reverse this trend. America will become the nation that leads the world away from garbage food.

That's our prediction anyway. What do you think?

(Pictured is a loaf of bread from the deliciously post-industrial Tartine Bakery.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What is industrial food, and why is it so bad?

How did our food get so bad? Ironically, the catastrophic decline in food quality began more than 200 years ago with breathtaking improvement.

The Industrial Revolution, which would transform the lives of billions, was really a series of smaller, mutually reinforcing revolutions: The industrial energy revolution, the industrial transportation revolution, the industrial chemicals revolution, and so on. One of these was the industrial food revolution.

From around 1800 to about 1950, all of the major food problems that had plagued mankind for centuries were largely solved by industrialization, at least for people in the minority of countries that industrialized during this period. Famine, food-borne illness, lack of food variety, basic nutritional deficiencies among the poor and other problems were largely eliminated for millions.

Agriculture machinery, chemicals, railroads and trucks, factory assembly lines, refrigeration, pasteurization, sterilization and other industrial-revolution innovations drove down the cost of food, and increased nutritional safety and variety. Lower food costs, plus supermarkets and household appliances meant people no longer had to spend most of their time paying for, acquiring or preparing food. Combined with advances in medicine, lives became longer, healthier and better. 

So what happened between 1950 and today?

The industrial food revolution turned food into a product. Like all consumer products, food now had to constantly evolve into something "better," cheaper and faster. This evolution involved gradual changes in the actual biochemistry of what we're putting in our mouths. But while the food keeps changing, our bodies don't. With each passing year, the food supply becomes less compatible with human biology.

We define industrial food as food modified for factory farming, factory processing, mass distribution or mass marketing. Industrial foods are those that have been changed to satisfy the demands of the consumer marketplace.

One of the many false assumptions about industrial food is that, well, food is food, and it doesn't matter if a computer-controlled machine mixes the raw ingredients together in a factory or a cook does in a kitchen. What's the difference? The difference is not the mixing, but the myriad changes made to the food to optimize it for the overall industrial process.

Most foods are "modified" or "processed" at some point. The question that separates industrial from traditional foods is the purpose of those modifications. Traditional modifications tend to improve the taste, health qualities, digestibility and long-term storage of foods. Grains are modified to make bread, for example. Olives are processed into olive oil. The food is altered to make it more edible, nutritious and desirable, as well as storable.

The highest purpose of industrial processing is to lower the cost of food. Consumers favor cheaper food, so food companies compete to find new ways to lower costs. Just like computer software or cars or any other industrial product sold in the competitive marketplace, there has been constant innovation in industrial food processing to drive down costs. Low cost is achieved by optimizing absolutely every aspect of food manufacturing, including seeds, soil, farm equipment, harvest schedules, trucks, factories, additives, processes, packaging and more. Another strategy for lowering costs is to offshore the production and processing of foods to China or other countries with low production costs and lax food-safety regulations, or simply buy the ingredients from Chinese companies.

Modifications to food begins before seeds are even planted. The first part of the industrial-food process is the selection of raw ingredients. Almost every food type originated with massive variety -- literally thousands of species of, say, apples or wheat. But industrial processing tends to favor only one or a small number of species, which have been heavily hybridized, cultivated or genetically modified to make them better for modern food processing systems. If you buy an apple pie at the store, it's made from single modern species of apples and wheat that didn't even exist 200 years ago.

Industrial processing and mass marketing dictates ingredient selection choices. Modern wheat is favored for bread-making over other grains because of its higher yield, machine thresh-ability, super high gluten content and other reasons. Specially bred dairy cows are favored over, say, goats, because they produce a lot more milk and can be feasibly kept in pens and a host of other reasons amenable to mass industrial processing, even though goat milk is far more compatible with the human digestive system. Corn and soy are chosen as the universal "fillers" for processed foods, because they're super cheap to grow, in part because growers receive government subsidies to grow them.

The most extreme modifications are made in the lab. Biotech company scientists custom-tailor the genetics of seeds in ways that used to be only science fiction. Fish genes are grafted into strawberry DNA to reduce crop loss from frost, for example. Corn and potatoes are altered to manufacture their own toxic pesticides. Many of these designer crops are created to be wholly dependent upon a specific brand of herbicide or insecticide. Produce has also been hybridized and genetically modified for uniformity, blemishlessness, durability for transportation and other qualities that boost the salability of food. As with all industrial food innovations, these crops have been transformed into a better product to sell, and not a better food to eat. And they look better to the uniformed consumer than organic produce, with its blemishes and variable shapes and sizes.

GM technology is great for the companies that create them. Genetically modified foods are patentable, for example, which confers a marketplace advantage on the patent holder. And seeds genetically modified to require specific brands of herbicide or pesticide lock in customers for those products.

Genetically modified crops have been aggressively introduced into our diet only in the past 15 years or so. According to the USDA, the percentage of soybean acreage devoted to GM soy rose from less than 10% in 1996 to more than 90% in 2010. GM corn acreage rose from almost zero to more than 2/3 of all acres. The vast majority of processed packaged foods contains one or both of these GM crops. Farm animals are usually fed GM feed. Vitamin pills are often made from GM crops. GM foods have pervaded the entire industrial food supply, at least in the United States where they are legal and unlabeled. They've not been seriously tested for human health, and they do not require consumer notification on the label. Adults today are feeding their children foods that didn't exist when they themselves were children.

Once the particular type, species or "brand" of seed has been planted, the growing or raising of industrial foods is typically done in a way that optimizes the ingredients for industrial processing. Just a century ago, farms involved the raising of a variety of crops and animals in a symbiotic ecosystem where the waste from animals fertilized the crops, and some of the crops fed the animals. Crops were rotated to maintain soil health.

Industrial farming involves plots of land growing a single crop -- often genetically modified and crop-dusted with an airplane spraying hundreds of gallons of poison all over the food and the soil -- not because it's healthy or results in better-tasting food, but because that's how you get the maximum amount of produce out of each acre of land at the lowest cost.

Fruits and vegetables destined for industrial processing are typically harvested well before ripening, so the food can survive the long journey to the factory, where it may be ripened with ethylene gas. The same goes for a lot of the produce sent to supermarkets.

Before produce even gets to the factory or supermarket, it has already been modified aggressively. As a result, according to several studies, the overall concentration of nutrients in foods has decline dramatically in the past 50 years. The protein concentration of wheat, barley and corn is way down. The mineral content of wheat and many vegetables is down. This general trend makes intuitive sense. As producers successfully find new ways to get more pounds of food out of the same acre of land, you might expect the nutritional quality to decline with rising yields.

But it's at the food processing and packaging plant that the deep modifications take place. Of course, different kinds of foods undergo very different processes in the manufacturing process. One nearly universal outcome is that food usually has to be sterilized or nearly sterilized before leaving the factory.

A typical food manufacturing facility involves pipes and vats, bins and kettles of such size and complexity that it's impossible to keep these things clean. Because food is processed in mass quantities, bacterial contamination can spoil huge amounts of food. And because industrial food will usually be stored for long periods of time, any bacteria would have weeks or months to develop into a full-blown pathogenic danger. That's why many industrial processes require the pasteurization or sterilization of food before, during or after the bottling, canning or packaging stage.

Food sterilization can be problematic for health in two ways. First, it changes the food, destroying or altering the chemical structure of nutrients. Second, it turns out that human health needs the bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms that live on natural whole foods. Eating a diet of primarily processed foods can leave you with a compromised gut environment, which can lead to susceptibility to illness, allergies and other problems.

Because industrial food will be eaten when old, rather than fresh, food processors have to employ a wide range of tricks to "embalm" the food and prevent it from decomposing, as it naturally would.

We all know that when food gets old, it "goes bad." Food is transformed by bacteria, molds and enzymes, causing it to lose flavor, texture and color. Liquids and semi-liquids separate. The shape, structure and texture of food degrades. Because industrial food products will be shipped, handled roughly, kept at unpredictable temperatures and sit on the shelf for weeks or months, all the potential damage to the product must be countered with additives. The food industry employs thousands of chemicals and compounds that act as preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers, anti-caking and anti-foaming agents, thickeners, color enhancers, flavor enhancers and others. Some of the unpronounceable ingredients on food labels are chemicals and additives that make old, stale food look fresher. Other additives don't have to be listed on the label at all. For example, cottage cheese, non-fat milk, sour cream and some ice cream brands are whitened with a potentially toxic substance called titanium dioxide. But you won't find that on the label because of a loophole in the regulations that enable its classification as a "manufacturing aid" rather than a food ingredient. Other loopholes allow companies to hide a huge number of ingredients single umbrella terms like "artificial flavors," even if the ingredient is not used to affect the flavor. The list of ingredients that can be legally added to wine without being disclosed on the label runs six pages.

Food products need containers, which are constantly being upgraded for lower cost shipping and storage, and increasingly made from plastic or plastic-lined cans. Plastic is cheaper than glass, less breakable and lighter, too, which brings down shipping costs. As with many industrial food innovations, plastic containers improve the product but wreck the food.

It turns out that chemicals in plastic containers can leach into the foods they contain. In the past few years, consumers have become aware of the dangers of substance in many plastics called Bisphenol A, or BPA. BPA is used in many plastic containers, and also in the plastic lining of many canned foods.

When BPA gets into food, and then into the body, the human endocrine system mistakes it for estrogen. Such anti-angrogens, or anti-male hormone compounds, harm the health of women as well as men. Researchers are still working on how all this fake estrogen affects health, but it could be partly to blame for declining sperm counts in men, as well as have some link to cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

BPA isn't the only problem. Many different kinds of plastics have many other different chemicals and compounds that also disrupt the endocrine system.

Container makers often use a class of substances called phthalates, which make plastic containers soft and flexible. Phthalates leach easily into foods from containers because they're not strongly bonded to plastics. As the plastic containers age, they break away from the container and blend into the food, onto the surface of the outside of the container and even into the air we breath. These also disrupt the hormonal system, and have been linked to all kinds of health issues, from birth defects to obesity and even insulin resistance.

Both BPA and phthalates can be detected in the urine of just about every adult in America. Our bodies are saturated with these anti-androgen hormone disruptors.

Other types of industrial-food containers have similar problems. Swiss scientists discovered, for example, that the recycled cardboard used for industrial breakfast cereal boxes contain enormous quantities of toxic chemicals that can leach into the food.

The differences between industrial and traditional foods are profound and many. Because industrial food has been so thoroughly modified, it bears almost no resemblance from a nutritional perspective to traditional foods.

Nearly all the foods available to consumers, from grocery stores, to restaurants, to vending machines to company cafeterias are industrial foods. Even cooking at home from scratch can involve industrial foods, in the form of modern wheat, industrially sourced and processed oils, pasteurized ingredients and other foods from the supermarket. Likewise, it's possible to make traditionally processed food products in factories – what matters is the degree to which foods have been modified for reasons other than taste and health.

Confusion about the difference between industrial and non-industrial food has led to mistaken conclusions about which foods are healthy, and which are not. In recent years, various food categories have been vilified as unhealthy. Meat, milk, grains, sugar and so on have been vilified by various health experts as categorically bad for you. But it turns out that only the industrial versions of these foods are bad. Wild fish and game, raw goat milk, ancient grains, raw honey – the traditional versions of these foods are healthy in moderate quantities, while the industrial versions are not.

As we said at the top of this post, we define industrial food as food modified for factory farming, factory processing, mass distribution or mass marketing. Industrial foods are those that have been changed to satisfy the demands of the consumer marketplace. It's not the industrial processing that matters, but the modification of biochemistry specifically for that processing.

Industrial food doesn't taste good. It doesn't look good or smell good. It doesn't promote health. It doesn't make you feel good. It's just cheap. 

The Spartan Diet is what we call a post-industrial diet. We'll explain what that means in the next post.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New discoveries: cherries, gut bacteria, weight loss, avoiding cancer and more!

Tart cherries have a unique combination of powerful antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation

Strange but true: the brain is shaped by bacteria in the digestive tract

Type 2 diabetes may be an autoimmune disease

YMCA survey: 74% of US kids don't get minimum exercise; 74% of parents choose TV for family time. Coincidence?

How to reduce BPA exposure from food

Losing weight improves your memory!

Nationwide study finds US beef and poultry is widely contaminated

Nearly three-quarters of samples tested of top-selling imported olive oil failed extra virgin standards.

Why tea is better than coffee, green tea better than black, and white better than green.

The science is clear: Sugar can also make us fat and unhealthy

How the military is being hammered by obesity and yo yo dieting as service men and women try to cope:

Eating more carbs at dinner may help with weight loss and cholesterol

New study explains factors that contribute to childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes

Caffeine may contribute to diabetes

Eating less meat and more vegetables is tied to a lower risk of cataracts

Strawberries have the potential to prevent esophageal cancer

More than two alcoholic drinks a day increases risk of cancer

The American diet in one chart, with lots of fats and sugars

Differences in gut flora appear to have a big effect on whether one develops heart disease.

"Showing a milkshake to some people is like dangling a cold beer in front of an alcoholic."

Natural wine documentary coming next summer

The makers of an upcoming documentary called Wine From Here have posted a trailer for the movie. The documentary is about the burgeoning natural wine movement in California, which is a post-industrial process for making wine without the long list of chemicals, additives and processes used by industrial wine makers. Most natural wine makers use grapes from vineyards that are unsprayed and sometimes even unirrigated. They add no sugar or yeast, make no changes for acidity and they add either very little or no sulphite (the stuff universally overused in industrial wine that can wreck the flavor).

Natural wine is a global movement, but the documentary focuses on 14 winemakers in California.

We're really glad this documentary has been made, because anyone who drinks wine needs to understand how conventional wine is made (it won't be pretty), and also why natural wine is so much better.

Our own favorite natural wine maker, A Donkey and Goat, is featured in the documentary.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stop calling it the 'Western diet'!

The standard villain in any discussion of the global health crisis is the so-call "Western diet." The meaty, sugary, refined-grain and processed-food heavy diet is blamed for the unprecedented growth of obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and all the rest. "Western" is convenient shorthand. Unfortunately, it's also intellectually dishonest, lazy and inaccurate.

The "West" refers generally to Europe and its former colonies. It's a legitimate cultural designation based on historical reality. Europe was a creation of the Roman Empire, which itself was largely modeled on classical Greece. The "West" is Ancient Greece and its cultural descendants. The traditions that began in Greece, which served as the foundation for our views about Democracy, science, architecture, philosophy and more also included a culture of food. And while key aspects of the Greek cultural tradition (Plato, Socrates, etc.) was lost, then rediscovered during the Renaissance, Greek food culture was never lost in Europe, and served as the foundation for two millennia of what can accurately be described as the real "Western diet." 

If you're an American, Canadian, Brit, German, Australian or citizen of any other Western country, you probably don't think there's anything particularly foreign or exotic about eating bread, cheese, salad, olives, raisins or any number of foods that can draw a direct line from you to back through Europe, Rome and all the way back to Ancient Greece. Our "Western" food traditions are ancient. And they're anything but unhealthy.

The healthiest cooking oil in the world is extra-virgin olive oil. The healthiest alcoholic beverage is red grape wine. The healthiest fruit in the world is the pomegranate (according to one study). These foods are as "Western" (and Greek) as you can get. The traditional staples of Western Civilization going back at least 2,700 years until the Industrial Revolution -- olives, figs, apples, pears, grapes, lettuce, cabbage, peas, beans, ancient whole grain wheat and barley, almonds, walnuts, onions, garlic and so on are now considered super-foods. This is the "Western diet." Ironically, it's the abandonment of the "Western diet," that's largely to blame for the health crisis. 

When people say "Western Diet," they're really talking about an industrial diet -- the factory foods developed since the Industrial revolution, which became far more pervasive since the end of World War II. Processed foods, stripped of nutrients and loaded down with added fat, artificial colors, preservatives, sugar, corn syrup and all the rest -- these concepts are recent inventions and as alien to the Western tradition as chopsticks.

Western academics and writers tend to use the "Western" label for negative things, but not positive ones. As affluence and modernity spread throughout the world, it's no longer politically correct to say that a rich Asian country is "Westernized," as used to be the case with early Asian modernizers like Japan. Istead, we say "industrialized." The new label is far more accurate, because there's nothing uniquely "Western" about modernity. Likewise, there's nothing uniquely "Western" about junk food. Well-off people all over the world, including in Japan, China, India are suffering the same illnesses from the same kind of food as people in the "West." You can find industrialized junk food versions of both "Eastern" and "Western" foods all over the world. Ramen in a Styrofoam cup can be found in every grocery store. Nearly every sushi restaurant in the world serves artificially colored ginger and fake wasabi. Most Chinese restaurants in America served the hardcore junk-food version of Chinese food. Junk food is not a Western phenomenon, and health food is not exclusively Asian or non-Western.

One major component of so-called "Western diet" is white sugar, which is actually a food invented in and borrowed from India.

One problem with the "Western" slur is that it implies that the solution is Eastern food -- as if tofu, curry and shark-fin soup are secrets to better health. The obvious truth is that both East and West offer foods that span the spectrum from healthy to deadly. The white rice favored in Asia isn't an improvement over white-flour bread. The fatty sauces of India aren't much of an upgrade from the fatty sauces of France. Chicken fried in a wok is no better than chicken fried in a pan.

The biggest problem with blaming the "Western diet" for the global health crisis is that it's simply inaccurate. The traditional foods of Western civilization are at least as healthy as any tradition in the world. Of the five regions identified in the book "The Blue Zones" as the healthiest spots in the world, four of them are located in the West and are based on a Western diet: Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Icaria, Greece. (The fifth "zone" is Okinawa, Japan.)

In each of these four cases, residents are eating traditional Western foods in moderation, and abstaining from modern industrial junk food.

It's absurd to use the word "Western" to identify the diet that's wrecking modern health. The real villain is industrial food. And the solution is to reject such foods and embrace the traditionally prepared healthiest foods from all over the world, including and perhaps especially from the West.

So by all means let's blame fatty, meaty, sugary industrial junk food for the health crisis. But don't call it the "Western diet."

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

6 ways to build your immune system

Your mother told you that "germs are bad." The germ theory of disease says that we get sick when pathogenic microorganisms invade and infect our bodies. Your best bet is to wash your hands and avoid sick people -- at least that's what we were told.

In recent years, we've learned a lot more about how the immune system works -- or doesn't work. It turns out that pathogenic microorganisms are invading our bodies every day. They're in the air we breathe and the food we eat. They're on the surface of just about everything we touch.

Not getting sick is more about fighting germs than avoiding them. Our immune systems are engaged in a constant battle, and usually destroy these bugs before they can cause our bodies to generate noticeable symptoms.

The most interesting update to the germ theory is that, yes, microorganisms can make us sick -- but when we don't get sick it's usually because other microorganisms protected us.

Some 200 trillion tiny creatures -- bacteria, fungi and viruses -- live in our bodies and on the surface of our skin and hair. For every human cell in our body, there are 20 non-human cells. The vast majority of these critters live in our digestive systems -- probably far more than 1,000 species of different microorganism inhabit our guts.

The scientific understanding of gut microbes is still in its infancy -- we haven't even identified most of these species, and we don't fully understand how they all work. However, it has become clear that gut microbes play a vital role in protecting our bodies from invading pathogens.

Using mice as test subjects, researchers have discovered that the right mix of gut bacteria can mean the difference between getting sick from an invading pathogen, and not getting sick. Scientists were able even to control the degree to which mice got sick by fiddling with various combinations of gut bacteria.

Gut microbes achieve this protection in at least four ways. First, they lower the pH level inside the intestine, which favors good microbes and harms bad ones. Second, they coat the lining of the intestines, which creates an actual wall of defense that's both physical and chemical -- pathogenic bacteria has a harder time escaping the gut and entering the blood stream. And third, they starve the invaders by eating their food supply. And fourth, they exhibit a poorly understood role in controlling, training and generally directing the entire body's immune system.

A very recent study, for example, found that protection from airborne flu virus in the lungs is actually directed or signaled by gut microbes. Researchers discovered that a compromised gut ecosystem increases the likelihood of getting the flu because a healthy gut is required in order for the lungs to defend against pathogens.

This whole emerging science around the gut microbiome is new. But we already know enough to take action based on what has been discovered so far. The bottom line is that with a healthy gut ecosystem, you'll get sick a lot less and enjoy much better health than if you have a damaged or compromised gut ecosystem.

The most efficient way to damage gut microbes is to take antibiotics, which can wreck your gut for months and even years. But other factors cause harm, too.

The gut environment changes dramatically hour by hour, day by day. And it's likely that a wide range of environmental factors damage the ecosystem. Chlorinated water, toxic food, pollution, household chemicals -- all these probably take their toll. 

You can also starve your gut bacteria by eating sterile processed industrial foods instead of whole, fresh foods. Certain types of foods function as prebiotics (not to be confused with probiotics). Prebiotics are foods you cannot digest, but which gut bacteria transform into food for themselves through fermentation in the colon. Prebiotic foods include whole grains, root vegetables, raw goat milk, garlic, onions and some green vegetables.

If you care about your health, you're probably already eating a pretty healthy diet. So why are you still getting sick as often as you do? We've found that many people who eat well and exercise, still get sick because of stress.

Recent science has shown that stress is one of most high-impact ways to negatively change the gut ecosystem. Research at Ohio State University found that stress changes all aspects of gut microbes, including the number of cells, the balance of various species and the number of species. The lowering of intestinal microbe diversity was found to be directly associated with the ability to resist disease. The lead researcher in the project said it plainly: "Stress dysregulates the immune response."

Also note that stress is not only caused by emotional distress. You can also stress your body through sudden, extreme exercise that you're not fully conditioned for or any other physical shock to the body.

Of all the factors that allow otherwise healthy people to get sick, stress is probably the most common trigger. One reason is that it can happen suddenly. You're eating well and feeling great, but then have an upsetting encounter with your spouse, child or boss. The next day, you're sick! Just like that. What's happening is that your immune system, guided by your gut microbes, had been keeping invading pathogens at bay and under control. Then the emotional distress wipes out a critical mass of gut microbes, which causes a general lowering of the defensive barrier, and in come the pathogens. 

But even if you don't kill your gut microbes, they can slowly die of natural causes -- which is why you need to replenish your supply. (In the mouse study referenced above, scientists planted good gut bacteria into mice, which lived in the rodents' digestive tracts for only a month or so.)

You re-stock your gut by eating a diet rich in probiotics, which are foods teaming with healthy microbes -- raw, organic fruits and vegetables, raw fermented foods (like sauerkraut, olives, kimchi, pickles, etc.), raw goat milk, and raw goat or sheep milk cheese. Note that because heat kills all or most good bacteria, fermented foods that come in a jar or can won't work, nor will pasteurized milk, as these products have been sterilized in the factory. (Note that some health food stores carry good fermented foods in jars, but they'll make a big deal on the label of saying they're "cultured" and "raw" -- that's how you know.)

There's no need to buy specially marketed probiotic products – a healthy diet will keep your gut microbes healthy and strong.

How to avoid getting sick

So if you want to stay well, and feel great -- even while everyone around you gets sick as a dog -- you need to take a multifaceted approach:

1. Listen to your mother: Wash your hands and avoid sick people.

2. Avoid antibiotics in consultation with your doctor. If you can muddle through without them, and your doctor approves, choose to not take antibiotics.

3. Avoid pollution, conventional household cleaning chemicals (use natural products from the health food store), fire smoke, heavy alcohol and other toxins.

4. Eat probiotic foods -- raw, organic fruits and vegetables, raw fermented foods, raw goat milk, and raw goat or sheep milk cheese.

5. Feed your gut microbes the prebiotic foods they need: whole grains, root vegetables, raw goat milk, garlic, onions and green vegetables.

6. Avoid stress -- change your stress-driven view of life, meditate, do yoga, take a vacation, get plenty of sleep, laugh, don't allow yourself to get worked up -- stay chill.

Of course, if you do damage to your gut microbes -- by taking necessary antibiotics, getting stressed out or some other way -- double up your efforts to rebuild your gut with the right foods and a relaxed frame of mind.

We can't guarantee that you'll never, ever get sick. But by making these six lifestyle changes, you'll have your best chance of getting sick less often, and less severely if you do catch something.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New discoveries: gut microbes, fiber, fitness and vitamin D!

The huge range of harmless and beneficial microbes that live in our guts may be the key to health without antibiotics.

Why the United States has the highest rates of cancer in the world (TEDtalk video)

How optimal fitness has changed the life of one 46-year-old

Add anorexia to the growing list of diseases that used to affect only adults but now hit very young children:

Vitamin D and sunshine key to pregnancy health

The most common heart rhythm disturbance, called an atrial fibrillation, is largely preventable with healthy diet.

Coffee after high-fat meal can raise blood sugar to harmful levels

Get outside and get some sunshine, people! Vitamin D levels linked with health of blood vessels

Exercise gets more necessary with age, not less

Probiotic bacteria could help treat Crohn's disease

Is depression an inflammatory condition caused by an industrial diet?

Why apples, cranberries and prunes are good for your brain

Sugary soda and juice can boost blood pressure, weight

17 bad habits that weaken your heart:

Some of the olive trees that still produce for Italy's olive oil industry were planted during the Roman Empire!

Six ways to avoid BPA:

From the Department of Obvious: Diet along with exercise may be the best way for seniors to gain strength and fitness

How Seth Godin can help you get ripped:

New study shows that eliminating packaged foods from diet significantly reduces BPA levels.

Exercise may blunt salt's effect on hypertension:

Want to try some fruit juices you've never even heard of before?

Let's be very clear: "Heart failure," which killed Elizabeth Taylor, is caused by low-quality food and unhealthy lifestyle.

Everybody blames "Western" diets, but it's more accurately described as "modern and industrial" diets:

Lovers of raw milk cheese savor its unique flavors

Why healthy people smell so good:

Obese youths may have insulin resistance, inflammation and higher homocysteine levels due to junk food diets:

Antibiotics linked to obesity

Gut feeling? Take it seriously. Your gut is constantly "talking" to your brain, and is a wise counselor:

I can personally vouch for the awesomeness of this @donkeyandgoat wine, both in taste and in health quality! : )

10 fitness myths debunked:

Toenail study finds mercury-laden fish doesn't cause catastrophic cardiovascular illness. That's a pretty low bar...

Ever get sick after severe stress? The reason is that stress harms gut bacteria, which is your first line of defense:

The easiest way to get healthier: Sleep in a dark room!

The US Military joins the fight against childhood obesity

Here comes the new science of designer probiotics

3.23 p.m. is prime-time for going off your diet.

Chemicals in plastics linked to early onset menopause

Fiber reduces risk of cardiovascular disease

St Patrick was on the Spartan Diet:

Gut microbes may help combat flu virus in your lungs

Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease a woman's risk of age-related macular degeneration

Plentiful antioxidants before and during pregnancy prevents obesity and glucose intolerance in offspring.

Why you want to filter your home air: Air pollution can trigger arrhythmia even in healthy people:

Heirloom tangerine tomatoes a better source of a powerful antioxidant called lycopene than regular red tomatoes:

How vegetables fight cancer: They contain compounds that "suppress gene aberrations that... cause fatal diseases."

"64 percent of children diagnosed with ADHD are actually experiencing a hypersensitivity to food." Drugs not the answer.

A Mediterranean diet -- rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and olive oil -- reduces metabolic syndrome

Researchers discover that gluten sensitivity is different from celiac disease.

Scientists are figuring out how to process chocolate to preserve all its amazing health properties:

Exercise and sex (not necessarily at the same time) are good for your brain:

Potassium strengthens your cardiovascular system:

Research provides new insight into why poor diet during pregnancy negatively affects offspring's long term health

Why you should grind your own flour:

The Mediterranean diet still linked to lower heart disease risk

How to keep your kids away from the toxins in plastic:

YMCA launches program to end diabetes:

Why is sauerkraut a "superfood"? Because it's fermented:

A high-fiber diet helps you live longer:

One sixth of foods labeled 'fresh', 'organic' or 'handmade' isn't:

Researchers have discovered a new type of Australian honey found to be radically anti-bacterial.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The six qualities that transform bread from junk food to superfood

Good bread is one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to find. Your town's fanciest bakery doesn't have it. Even your local hippy coop or yuppie grocery store probably doesn't offer truly good bread.

(Don't worry: We're going to tell you were to get great bread at the end of this post.)

The only kind of bread generally available is industrial-revolution sci-fi bread made with mutant grains and leavened without fermentation.

By historical standards, it's not really bread. It's something strange and alien to the human diet.

Because most bread is so unhealthy, many have concluded that grains in general, and bread in particular, are bad for you. People are giving up bread before they've ever even tried the real thing.

Our abandonment of good bread in favor of bad bread is a very recent phenomenon. If you were to compress the whole history of bread into one hour, we humans have been eating quality bread for 59 minutes and 59 seconds, but stopped eating it in favor of junk bread in the last second.

Bad bread is new to the human diet, so we shouldn't be surprised that it's making people fat, sick and weak.

Good bread is the universal human staple, our most important food, historically. Bread is so central to our culture that the word bread can be used as a synonym for food.

Good bread, the kind people have been eating for thousands of years and right up until about 200 years ago, has the following qualities:

1. Natural leavening and fermentation
2. Ancient grains
3. Organic grains
4. Whole grains
5. Freshly milled flours
6. Zero non-food ingredients

Bad bread is the opposite of all this. Conventional, industrial-age bread is leavened without fermentation. It uses a mutant strain of wheat that's very unhealthy. The wheat is grown with pesticides, herbicides and other toxins. The most nutritious part of the grain is removed. It's milled in a way that destroys even more nutrients, then bagged up and stored for long periods of time before use. And like so many other processed industrial foods, bread is then loaded with preservatives, additives and other chemicals that help the product survive the industrial process.

Let's have a look at each of the qualities that make good bread good:

1. Natural leavening and fermentation

Conventional industrial bread available in stores and made at home is leavened (filled with pockets of gas) by a single-cell fungus called baker's yeast. Although there are thousands of species of yeast in nature, baker's yeast is almost always a single uniform species called saccharomyces cerevisiae. The same species is called "brewer's yeast" when used to make beer.

The control and isolation of this industrial baker's yeast is an achievement of 19th- and 20th-century science. From the middle ages to the early 19th century, bakers got their yeast from beer brewers. Before that, stretching back at least 5,000 years before the present time, nearly all leavened bread was raised with a process we Americans call "sourdough," but which is also called natural leavening. 

Like most transitions from traditional to industrial food processing, the decline of natural leavening and rise of baker's yeast involved faster and more reliable mass production at the expense of health and taste, and uniformity at the expense of variety.

Sourdough is a gold-rush era American word for a broad category of bread leavening that is international and ancient. Sourdough is also the word used to describe the American process for making this kind of bread, and also for the bread itself.

Be warned, however, that there are several types of breads called "sourdough" that use baker's yeast as the main leavening agent. These aren't true sourdough breads, and they don't improve the dough the way a real sourdough process does. Many online recipes, and most sourdough breads for sale in the supermarket, are not real sourdough breads and do not provide the health benefits described in this post. If yeast is listed as an ingredient, it's not sourdough.

Naturally leavened traditional breads are still widely available in some European countries, including Italy, France, Germany, Russia, Poland and all the Scandinavian countries. The words used to describe this kind of bread are language- and even country-specific. Pumpernickel, pain au levain, and just about every kind of rye bread are traditionally made with a "sourdough" or natural leavening, for example.

Naturally leavened bread is a fermented food like olives, pickles, cheese, tofu, miso, sauerkraut, traditional soy sauce and yoghurt. Like all these foods, the fermentation of bread is something developed over the millennia that improves flavor, texture, shelf-life and above all nutritional quality.

There have been more than 20 species of yeast identified in sourdoughs and more than 40 species of lactic acid bacteria. However, the overwhelming probability is that you'll find in true sourdough starters a species of bacteria called lactobacillus sanfranciscensis (of which there are dozens or hundreds of strains) and possibly a second complimentary bacterium species that is region-specific.

Natural leavening improves the quality of bread in many ways that industrial baker's yeast does not.

The stable co-metabolism between yeasts and lactic acid bacteria creates an environment where other microorganisms cannot survive. This anti-microbial activity is stronger even than refrigeration, improving the safety of bread and making it stay fresher longer and preventing the formation of mold.

Grains are packed with nutrients. But they also contain anti-nutrients, including phytic acid. While phytic acid in small amounts offers health benefits, including anti-cancer action, it also chelates or binds to dietary minerals in the gut in a way that reduces the amount of minerals absorbed into the body.

If you eat a healthy diet with lots of grains and other seeds, it's a good idea to reduce the overall intake of phytic acid. And sourdough-leavened bread is a great (and traditional) place to make that reduction in a major way.

There are several ways to reduce the phytic acid content of grains. Soaking grains can reduce anti-nutrients by about 15%, and sprouting by another 10% or so. But sourdough leavening is by far the most powerful method, reducing phytic acid by up to 75%.

It also increases the solubility of both magnesium and phosphorus, making those minerals much easier to metabolize.

Natural leavening bacteria acts as a "prebiotic" that encourages the growth of bifidobacteria, which is a class of gut bacteria known to reduce allergies and fight cancer.

It also transforms the gluten in bread, potentially enabling even gluten-intolerant people to eat it without any problems.

Natural leavening performs another awesome trick: It takes the phytochemical antioxidants locked inside grains and makes them easily digestible, elevating grains into the same antioxidant-rich class as berries!

While baker's yeast-leavened dough raises in an hour or two, naturally leavened loaves require between 12 and 24 hours or more to fully develop naturally leavened dough, and requires more skill, which is why most commercial bakeries don't use it.

2. Ancient grains

There are some 30,000 varieties of wheat, broadly classified by the seasons they can be planted in and also in the ratio of protein to starch in the endosperm. So called "hard" wheats are prized by bakeries because they have more protein and less starch. That protein is called gluten, and the more of it you have, the stretchier and lighter the bread.

All grains can be divided into "modern" and "ancient" varieties. Modern grains have by definition been modified extensively in order to make them more compatible with industrial processing. Ancient grains have not.

Most bread is now made from a species of wheat called triticum aestivum, which is also called bread wheat, common wheat or modern wheat. There are many types of wheat within this species.

Over the last 200 years, modern wheat has been favored and developed because it's the cheapest to grow, mill and use. Selective breeding has radically increased the yield -- the amount of food in weight that can be grown on an acre of land -- and also the gluten content. It also has a genetic mutation that enables the grains to come off easily.

Modern wheat has been so heavily domesticated that it can't survive in nature. It's a freak plant with mutations and selective breeding traits that have rendered it human-incompatible. Modern wheat makes an impressive contribution to the global health crisis, creating allergic reactions, gluten intolerance and other issues.

When you hear about the cultivation of wheat in ancient times, you're hearing about a completely different food source. The ancient Egyptians built an empire on wheat bread and beer, but they used emmer wheat (also called farro, which is based on the Ancient Greek word for emmer wheat, which was, "far").

Europeans grew spelt and emmer starting in the Bronze Age, and continued to do so right through the middle ages.

There are many other varieties of ancient wheat, but these are some of the best and easiest-to-find alternatives to modern wheat.

One easy way to tell the difference, by the way, is that modern wheat tends to be sold with the word "wheat" -- hard winter wheat, soft winter wheat, whole wheat and so on -- while ancient varieties of wheat usually don't use the word "wheat" on the packaging. Spelt wheat for example, is just called "spelt" or "spelt flour." Emmer wheat is usually called just "emmer," etc.

Emmer and spelt are widely available, and they make superior tasting breads and other foods, as do non-wheat grains like barley, quinoa, oats, millet, rye and others. They've been tampered with much less than modern wheat, so they're much more compatible with human health.

Modern wheat has by definition been optimized for mass industrial production, and is therefore super cheap. And it makes bread that's super soft. These are the two qualities most consumers favor in bread, and so this kind of wheat has come to predominate. But if you want to be really healthy, you should never eat it.

3. Organic grains

Organic grains are grown without chemical fertilizers, insecticides or herbicides, and are not genetically modified.

To the best of our knowledge, no study has been conducted on the impact of chemical insecticides or herbicides on the microbial quality of sourdough microbiota. But common sense suggests that chemicals designed to kill bugs and plants may affect the balance of yeasts, fungi and bacteria in sourdough.

It's also possible that organic grains may contain slightly more nutrients, on average, than conventionally grown. 

There's no question that so-called conventional growing methods improve yields and lower the cost of grain. But it's very likely that cost savings comes at the expense of bread quality and long-term health.

4. Whole grains

The idea that white bread is modern is a myth. White bread made from white flour was prized by the Greek and Roman aristocracies. But even the Romans knew it was muscle-weakening junk food, which is why gladiators were fed only whole grain barley or whole grain wheat. The Spartans ate whole-grain barley, even as other Greeks gradually replaced barley with wheat.

Grains contain three main parts: endosperm, bran and germ. Refined white wheat flour is simply the endosperm without the nutritionally dense bran and germ. Whole grain wheat bread has about the same calories as white bread, but nearly double the protein and more than twice the fiber.

Whole grain bread is also a rich source of minerals, but only if naturally leavened.

White flour is compatible with industrial processing because it lasts for months without going rancid. True whole grain flour lasts only a month or two. Unfortunately, industrial processors often process the wheat to remove either most of the bran or extract the oil from the bran. Even though they've removed some of the nutrition, they're still legally allowed to call it "whole wheat."

The best way to tell if "whole wheat," flour well, isn't: Check the shelf life. If it's three months or more, that means the manufacturer has either removed something (probably the oil) or added something (preservatives).

Refined grains and true whole grains are nutritional opposites. Refined grains create inflammation; whole grains are anti-inflammatory. Refined grains generally raise the risk of type II diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer and obesity, while whole grains lower the risk of all these conditions. One contributes to disease, the other protects against it.

And we're not just talking about wheat. The modern industrial diet has gotten just about everyone eating the same three monocultures in many of the foods we eat: soy, corn and wheat. If you eat a standard junk food diet, you could have (without knowing it) the exact same genetically modified strain of soy in your breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The concept of dietary non-diversity is alien to the human species. Dietary variety is healthiest, and so the Spartan Diet calls for maximum variety in all foods, including grains. You can make or buy bread containing all kinds of grains, from barley and rye to millet and quinoa (according to our six criteria, of course), and we recommend that you experiment, mix it up and try as many different types of grain as you can. And always eat 100% organic whole grains.

5. Freshly milled flours

The Spartan Diet is obsessed with food quality, which usually requires food freshness. Many foods considered "fresh," are in fact made fresh with stale ingredients. Bread is one of them.

If you go to a local bakery -- even one that advertises the freshness of their bread -- it's likely that they're using flour that has been sitting around for weeks or even months.

Grains are grass seeds. They're alive. Grains can remain dormant for a year. But if you soak them in water, they'll sprout. The moment grains are milled, however, they begin to deteriorate like any other dead organic matter. Oxidation sets in. The nutritional quality degrades, and the flavor goes with it.

One way to improve both the nutritional profile and flavor of bread is to bake with freshly milled grains. (And stone grinding is best, in part because friction doesn't heat the flour and thereby destroy nutrients.)

6. Zero non-food ingredients

A basic bread contains grain, water and salt. The addition of olive oil improves the taste and texture, and the addition of nuts, seeds or any number of foods and additional grains combine to produce wonderful varieties. You can add anything you like to bread, as long as what you add is real food.

Processed industrial bread, however, tends to contain lots of non-food ingredients, including emulsifiers, dough conditioners, preservatives and more. Generally speaking, these additives exist to create the illusion of freshness for bread that isn't fresh.

Non-food ingredients help make the sale, but they wreck the bread. Good bread is made out of 100% food.

So where do you get good bread?

The Spartan Diet takes all these qualities very seriously in the selection of bread. The best bread, and the only kind on the Spartan Diet, is sourdough leavened, made from freshly milled ancient, organic, true whole grains and contains zero non-food ingredients.

Unfortunately, these criteria disqualify nearly every bakery in existence.

One way to get bread with all six of the criteria we listed is to buy a grain mill, grind your own flour, cultivate your own sourdough starter and bake your own bread.

If that sounds like something you don't want to do, we have good news: We've finally discovered a bakery that makes bread according to all these criteria -- and you can order online; they'll ship by mail!

It's called Grindstone Bakery, located in Rohnert Park -- a small town in California's Foodie Belt. The owner and chief baker is a bread visionary named Mario Repetto. With a background in both flour milling and science, plus a passion for the health potential of naturally leavened ancient grains, Mario is working miracles in his small bakery.

Grindstone slow-grinds organic whole grains into flour on the same day that flour is made into dough.

Grindstone never uses baker's yeast. The sourdough cultures used by Grindstone have all been captured in the Sonoma area (in California's wine country), and cultivated carefully to produce a wide variety of starters for each of the different grains used in Grindstone breads. 

The bakery is incredibly innovative with grains and bread. While you'll find traditional bread concepts like rye bread and multi-grain breads, Grindstone offers bread concepts you've probably never heard before. For example, they sell an oats-and-barley bread, quinoa ciabatta, and even a rye bread made with espresso coffee and chocolate! Most Grindstone breads are made with spelt, and some include welcome additions like sprouted seeds, flaxseeds and in one loaf, quinoa, flax, rye and buckwheat combined. They also make cookies using the healthiest ingredients like extra virgin olive oil instead of butter, cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil and raw chocolate.

We recommend that you spend some quality time on the Grindstone web site. Mario has written extensively on the health properties of his bread with much more detail than we've gone into in this post.

Grindstone bread, like all truly good bread, is the opposite of processed industrial white-flour bread in every way. Conventional bread is cheap, light, soft, flavorless and mostly air, and can leave you feeling bloated, foggy and edgy. Grindstone bread is relatively expensive, dense, textural, rich in flavor and 100% nutritious food. It's delicious, filling and leaves you feeling physical energy and mental clarity.

The mild tangy sourness of many Grindstone breads, and the way the "bubbles" appear in the crust, are indications that the leavening in these breads is fully developed. That means that the health potential of the natural leavening process is fully realized.

Did I mention that it's dense? A loaf of Grindstone bread takes up about half the space as a conventional loaf of bread, but may weight twice as much. You eat a lot less of it, but get a lot more healthy nutrition and a lot more taste.

We highly recommend Grindstone bread. If you try it, we'd love to hear your feedback.

(Photograph courtesy of Grindstone Bakery.)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

New discoveries this week: bad chemicals, good nuts and more!

Study finds most plastics overload you with female sex hormones:

PCBs, found in plastics, may impair fertility

Canadians have roughly half the toxic BPA in their systems as Americans.

Chemical in plastic shown to degrade the mental development of newborn girls.

Five common chemicals in cosmetics, how they affect you and what you can do to avoid them:

40,000 scientists address the chemical crisis, call for better testing.

Pecans lower the risk of heart disease AND cancer, thanks to antioxidants.

Walnuts improve memory and brain function

Two Michigan State professors have developed maps that offer a visual perspective of urban food deserts.

Wild mushrooms show antioxidant potential

A diet rich in potassium can reduce your risk for a stroke by 21 percent and lower your risk of heart disease

The FDA is reviewing the aging requirements for raw-milk cheese. Raw proponents fear a ban on raw-milk products.

Only 2% of children in US have a healthy diet according to USDA.

Skim milk contains a possible carcinogen called Titanium Dioxide, which does not have to be listed with the ingredients

Here's another link on Titanium Dioxide

Gut bacteria can control organ functions!

Country kids are less prone to asthma than city kids, probably because they're exposed to more diverse bacteria.

McDonald's turns cheap, healthy oatmeal into expensive junk food.

12 million tons of Chinese rice contaminated with toxic metal.

Beer company sells no-alcohol beer as a sports drink for athletes. (It's better than Gatorade.)

Headline says "Weight Loss Surgery May Cut Knee Osteoarthritis Pain." Why surgery and not weight loss diet?

Trend: Restaurants are phasing out free bread.

Want to save the oceans? Eat sardines!

The best therapy for chronic fatigue syndrome? Exercise!

Half of all heart attack victims go back to eating junk food

Vegan diets tend to be low in iron, zinc, vitamin B12 and omega-3 fatty acids

Eliminating processed foods may reduce the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.

Men more likely than women to exercise less after marriage

Whole Foods isn't as expensive as people think it is

Over-use and abuse of antibiotics are called the single "greatest threat to human health"

Father's diet can influence metabolism of kids

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Is junk food making kids dumb and destroying America?

Politicians love to cite reports that demonstrate dramatic declines in the test scores of American children.

A recent test, called the Program for International Student Assessment, which is administered internationally every three years, found American kids lagging behind peers in several foreign countries, most especially those in South Korea, Finland, Singapore and China.

The knee-jerk explanation for the American shortfall gravitates to culture. American kids watch too much TV, play too many video games and are too obsessed with social networking and popular culture to focus on math and science.

But what is the role of diet, tap water and toxins in declining American test scores? Recent studies and reports paint an alarming picture. In a nutshell, a variety of conditions pervasive in the United States have been found to measurably lower the IQ of children.

Research at the University of Bristol found a strong correlation between process junk food and lower IQs, as well as healthy diets and high IQs.

A recent British meta-study and a separate Chinese study found that fluoride reduces the measurable intelligence of children. It has been re-classified as a neurotoxin that retards the intellectual development of the brain. Fluoride has been added to public drinking water and toothpaste in the United States for decades.

Manganese, which is present in many sources of drinking water, has also been determined to reduce the intelligence of children. It can also contribute to memory loss, anxiety and aggressiveness.

Mothers who ingest a chemical in a common insecticide called piperonyl butoxide have lower-than-average IQ children -- nearly 4 points lower, on average.

Exposure by pregnant women to other toxins, such as lead, mercury and Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) have also been found to lower IQs of their offspring, and have been detected in more than 99 percent of pregnant American women. Lead has been found in wide range of toys, paints and other low-cost products (mostly made in China). Mercury accumulates in some species of fish. PCBs are now banned, but in the past have been used for the manufacture of lights, plastics, paints, glue and a wide range of other uses.

These are only some of the very recent studies linking dietary and environmental conditions that decrease intelligence.

The average American child is affected not by one of these phenomenon but all or most of them in combination.

Cultural causes of low American test scores are speculative. But nutritional and environmental causes of lowered IQs have now been demonstrated.

Retired military leaders have already highlighted the problem that a majority of young people are too fat, unhealthy or have other problems to be eligible for military service. Few question the fact that this crisis has been brought about by junk food, processed food, environmental toxins and sedentary lifestyles.

Now, we know that these same factors are making Americans unable to compete intellectually in  industries of tomorrow.

Nearly all of these factors are caused by laws enacted by our representatives in government. Junk food is actually subsidized by our taxes. The addition of fluoride to the water supply is required by law. And most of the other toxins are allowed by law, despite their toxic effects on children. 

While politicians divert attention from the real crisis by continuing to focus on how we pay for health insurance, the nation's politicians are dramatically lowering the intelligence of the public by supporting, allowing or requiring foods and chemicals known to lower IQ.

While there's little anyone can do in the short-term about public policy, you can protect yourself and your family from all of this. Eat organic, natural food made from scratch at home and avoid all processed food, fast food and packaged food. Filter your tap water with a Brita filter or some other kind of water filtration system. Filter the air in your home (buy one with an actual filter that can be cleaned or changed). Replace conventional household cleaning and other supplies with less toxic products. Never use pesticides in or around your home. Eat only fish that is low in mercury (salmon, sardines, etc.,).

Saturday, January 29, 2011

New discoveries this week: broccoli, gut bacteria and more!

Children are trained by their parents to prefer toxic junk food - study

New gym charges you less if you work out more!

Diabetes up 9% since 2008

How broccoli fights cancer:

How the microbes that live in your digestive tract protect you from infection:

How bacteria keep us healthy

Report blames lower US lifespan on smoking and obesity.

Just updated our popular Spartan Muesli with Spartan Cashew Milk recipes:

Taco Bell's "meat mixture" contains less than 35 percent beef, according to new lawsuit.

Eating factory-farmed meat can make you test positive for performance-enhancing drugs

Baby formulas based on cows milk lead to more weight gain in infants

Bittman to write weekly food column for NYT's OP/ED page

Monday, January 24, 2011

New discoveries this week: fat, fermentation, cabbage and more!

How winter makes you fat

How your mind affects your immune system 

Moderate wine drinking may improve the cognitive abilities of women 

Freak GM rice with *human genes* will soon go into production

How diet and toxins affect your genes to make you fat 

Health benefits and nutritional value of cabbage

Why we need fermented foods

Ancient foods are becoming popular with people who want to be healthier

Sunscreen blamed for severe Vitamin D deficiency

Britain slams Coco-Cola for advertising Vitaminwater as healthy

Sauerkraut: the new 'superfood'?

Flab takes its toll on the US military 

Smoking a cigarette can cause genetic damage within minutes 

You could eat "functional foods" invented by Cargill with a barley-derived additive. Or you could eat barley.

How dieting makes you fat

Millions of people go on diets every once in a while in order to lose weight. Unfortunately, going on and off weight-loss diets usually makes you gain a lot more weight in the long term.

Dieting to lose weight is like treating a knife wound with morphine. Yes, getting stabbed in the arm hurts. But pain is a symptom of the core problem, which is the knife in your arm. The right course of action is to first remove the knife, then stop the bleeding, then protect the wound against infection. But simply taking a pain killer without the rest will only temporarily appear to solve what you think is the problem. Oh, and it’s important to not stick the knife back into your arm after the wound has healed. Yet this is precisely how yo-yo dieting works.

Excess body fat is like pain from a knife wound. It’s not the cause of your troubles, but merely the one symptom you cannot ignore.

Yo-yo dieting not only fails to address the root cause of excess wight, it adds to the problem by reprogramming the brain, metabolism and gut for sustained weight gain. Here's how.


Short-term dieting changes the brain's response to stress. If you have a history of going on weight-loss diets, you're more likely to seek out more and fattier foods during times of stress in the future.

The genes that govern the brain's stress response are actually re-programmed to make you load up on fat and calories as part of how your body deals with stressful situations. 

Unfortunately, weight loss causes stress, and gaining it back is stressful, too. And you deal with all this stress by craving more and more fattier foods.


"Going on a diet" is by definition temporary -- at some point, dieters go off the diet. It's common for people to binge either as a self-reward for dieting, or based on the knowledge that a diet tomorrow will compensate for pigging out today.

Unfortunately, it turns out, a short-term binge leaves you with long-term consequences. One study found that four weeks of slacking on both diet and exercise -- the kind of lifestyle many people live during the holidays each year -- can cause unnatural extra weight gain for more than two years after the binge. Binging changes metabolism to favor weight gain, an effect found to last for at least 30 months.


As we detailed in a November post, what and how you eat affects the populations of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that live in your digestive tract. These micro-organisms are necessary for health. They make up approximately 75% of your immune system, break down toxins, transform food into nutrients, protect your body from infection and other essential functions. They also help you regulate weight.

Sterile food (all packaged processed food is essentially sterile), as well as junk food high in fat and sugar, can all alter gut flora in a way that predisposes your body to weight gain. So can drugs or stress. Damage to gut populations has been found to last for up to four years.

That means if you've compromised your gut microbes with junk food, drugs -- especially antibiotics -- toxins or stress, weight loss dieting is working against the environment of your digestive system. Worse, many fad diets actively contribute to unhealthy gut microbiota by providing inadequate nutrition and placing stress on the body.

"Going on a diet" is by definition a short-term fix that reprograms your brain, metabolism and gut for long-term weight gain.

Instead of "going on a diet," the far better strategy is to change your diet. Instead of rapid weight loss, it's better to never lose weight quickly.

The Spartan Diet transforms your diet and lifestyle to re-program your brain, metabolism and gut for optimal weight. Over time, it eliminates the intense food cravings caused by yo-yo dieting, and gets you on a life-long path of total health and fitness.

(Picture shows Peachy Walnut Scones, a Spartan Diet recipe that will be published later this year.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why counting calories doesn't work

Most people believe, and in fact many diet experts will actually say, that you gain weight by eating more calories than you burn, as if the spectacularly complex biochemistry of metabolism were comparable to filling up the car with gas.

Healthy newborn babies enter the world with a complete set of self-regulating systems designed to keep everything in balance. Our bodies brilliantly maintain balance in body temperature, blood water levels, blood pH, blood pressure, blood salt levels, sleep and the elimination of wastes. The human body is magnificent at simultaneously maintaining balance of hundreds of sub-systems throughout life.

Optimal weight is another thing the human body is great at balancing. Our taste and olfactory senses are programmed to enjoy foods that keep us healthy. The hunger-satiety cycle tells us when to eat and when to stop.

If we gain weight, it doesn't mean we're not effectively counting calories. It means our body's system for maintaining healthy weight has been broken.

So what broke it?

The short answer is that our food did. The longer answer is our food, environment and lifestyle conspired to knock our bodies out of balance.

Let's start with what's wrong with our food.

Far too much of the food we eat has been ultra-processed.  Stripped of nutrients, modified beyond recognition, sterilized, and augmented with non-food chemicals, our food isn't fit for human consumption.

Most processed food is too soft. Simple carbs like sugar and white flour-baked goods, processed oils, fatty meats -- too much of our food is eaten and digested too quickly and easily. While most dietary advice focuses on the bio-chemistry of foods (fats, carbs, protein), researchers have demonstrated the importance of bio-physics. You'll gain more weight with soft food than rougher food (whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc.) even if the calories are the same.

Processed industrial food is also unhealthy for our gut flora. While some of the food we eat goes straight into our bloodstreams, other foods and food components are eaten by the trillions of microbes that live in our digestive tracks, and our bodies are then nourished by the flora. Foods that our gut microbes eat are called prebiotics. The best sources of prebiotics are whole-grain wheat and barley, berries, specific raw fruits and vegetables, flax, garlic and other foods.

When we're born, our guts are sterile. We acquire the hundreds of species of microbes necessary for optimum health from our food and the environment. Simply eating organic strawberries, fresh salad, organic whole grain bread or eating raw-milk cheese supplies the kind of gut microbes we need for optimal health. But these aren't the kinds of foods that most people eat. Canned, bottled and most packaged food is sterile to keep it from decomposing. Our bodies were never designed to eat so much sterile food.

Even fermented foods, which were traditionally used to improve the nutritional quality and flavor of and preserve food, as well as supply our gut microbes with vital reinforcements, are now sold in a sterile form. For example, olives, sauerkraut, pickles and others are sterilized for mass production and distribution. Milk is usually sterilized through pasteurization before being sold for drinking, or being made into cheese or yogurt.

All that sterile food, plus the consumption of fatty, sugary junk food, is decimating the natural balance of healthy gut microbes, causing all kinds of havoc, including on our bodily systems for maintaining healthy weight. Researchers have recently discovered that junk food and processed food diets damage gut bacteria in a way that leads to unnatural weight gain. In other words, you'll gain more weight on a diet that harms gut bacteria than you will on a healthy diet, even if calories are the same.

Food-borne, environmental and household chemicals, a lack of sleep, drugs, inadequate sunshine and Vitamin D and not enough exercise all prime your body for weight gain beyond what mere calories in, calories burned would predict. And, in fact, the vast majority of people in industrialized countries are damaging their bodies not with some but all these factors.

The whole process of counting calories is an act of self-delusion. First, the difference between perfect weight and morbid obesity over a period of a few decades is less than 50 calories per day. Nobody can "count calories" with that level of precision. You can't know how many calories you really need. You can't know how many calories you're "burning." And you can't know how many calories are in the food you eat.

Counting calories is a futile guessing game that doesn't get at the root of the problem.

The problem is that people are trying to replace a functioning bodyweight balancing system with blind guesses about how many calories they're eating and burning.

The solution is to fix your broken body, and allow it to naturally maintain a healthy weight for you.

The way to fix your body is to fix your diet, get plenty of sleep, exercise outdoors every day and avoid all the toxic chemicals you can. And this is what the Spartan Diet shows you how to do.