Eliminating Dietary Dissent

There was a hit piece in the Daily Mail that targeted three experts in the field, all doctors who are involved in research. It’s not exactly a respectable publication, but it does have a large mainstream readership and so its influence is immense, at least within the UK (even as an American, I occasionally come across Daily Mail articles). Here is the response by Dr. Malcolm Kendrick’s (Scottish). And by Dr. Zoe Harcombe’s (Welsh). Both responses were sent to the Daily Mail. The hit piece was published in timing with her planned speech before the UK Parliament, an attempt to discredit her and to distract from debate of the evidence. The third target of attack, Dr Aseem Malhotra (British) who also spoke to the UK Parliament (and the European Parliament as well), chose not to respond as he concluded it would be futile and it appears he was correct, in that the Daily Mail chose not to alter its message in the least because of what Kendrick and Harcombe wrote.

This is the same basic battle that I’ve mentioned previously, the conflict between two prestigious British medical journals, the BMJ and the Lancet. It has developed into full ideological warfare. But those defending the status quo are being forced to acknowledge their detractors, which is an improvement over silencing.

In the failed attacks on Robert Atkins (American), Annika Dahlqvist (Swedish), Gary Taubes (American), Tim Noakes (South African), Gary Fettke (Australian), Peter C.Gøtzsche (Danish), Maryanne Demasi (Australia) over similar disputes, and among others who have felt the politically correct wrath of conventional and corporatist authority (Uffe Ravnskov, Nina Teicholz, etc; and, as I’ve discussed before, Adelle Davis, Carlton Fredericks, Gayelord Hauser, and Herman Taller), we see how the powers that be use mainstream institutions (private and public) as weapons. But that isn’t to ignore that there are also some successful examples of silencing such as John Yudkins (British), Jen Elliott (Australian), etc. In The Big Fat Lie that is soon to be a documentary, Nina Teicholz discusses other major figures in the healthcare field and research community that were effectively silenced in being discredited and excluded, in that they couldn’t get funding and were no longer invited to speak at scientific conferences; and Gary Taubes earlier discussed the same territory in Good Calories, Bad Calories; but if you prefer a detailed personal account of how a systematic attack is done, read Tim Noakes’ Lore of Nutrition. Anyways, failed or successful, these attacks are cautionary tales in setting examples of what the authorities can and will do to you if you step out of line. It creates a stultifying atmosphere and a sense of wariness among researchers, healthcare professionals, science writers, journalists, and public intellectuals — hence encouraging people to censor themselves.

In a similar area of dispute, there is another ongoing fight where an individual, Diana Rodgers (American), like the others has been targeted. Attacking individuals in trying to destroy their careers or authority seems to be the standard tactic. Fortunately, social media sheds light on this dark practice and brings out the support for these doctors, dieticians, researchers, etc who in the past would’ve felt isolated. It’s one of the positives of the internet.

Yet again, here is an example of conventional idiocy in its attempt to use a mainstream platform to spread disinfo and enforce conformity. Consider Newsweek that, like the Daily Mail, is a low quality but widely read mainstream publication. They decided to do a piece critical of the carnivore diet. And the writer they assigned to do it normally writes about video games and pop culture. Unsurprisingly, written by someone with no knowledge or expertise, the article was predictably misinformed. Every single comment in the comments section was critical (nearly the same in the comments of Nina Teicholz’s tweet), including comments by doctors and other experts. It’s less to do with a specific diet. This same kind of backlash is seen toward every variety of low-carb diet, whether plant-based paleo or plant-free carnivore, whether high-(healthy)fat or moderate, whether ketogenic or not. The reason is that there is no way to have a low-carb diet while maintaining large profits for the present model of the big biz food system of heavily-subsidized, chemical-drenched, and genetically-modified surplus grains as used to produce shelf-stable processed foods.

And it is far from limited to trashy popular media, as the same kinds of dismissive articles are found in higher quality publications like the Guardian, along with major medical organizations such as Harvard and the Mayo Clinic (although there is increasing positive press as the scientific research and popular support becomes overwhelming). Harvard, for example, is closely tied to the EAT-Lancet agenda (by way of Walter Willett, the ideological heir of Ancel Keys and, as I recall, involved in the leak of Robert Atkins’ medical records in a failed attempt to smear his reputation after his death) and the corporations behind it (Harvard, like other universities, have become heavily funded by corporations, as government funding has dried up; the Koch brothers have been key figures in the corporate takeover of universities with influence over hiring and firing of faculty and, by the way, the Koch brothers are heavily invested in big ag which is to say they are financially connected to the government-subsidized “green revolution” and the processed food industry).

Yet a growing movement is emerging from below, not only seen in comments sections and social media, but also in forming new organizations to demand accountability; for example, Gary Taubes’ Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) that is promoting much needed research. In reaction, the self-proclaimed authority figures in the mainstream are trying to enforce dietary conformity. I suspect the fact that so many people are questioning, doubting, and experimenting is precisely the reason elites all of a sudden are pushing even harder for basically the old views they’ve been pushing for decades. They sense the respect for their position is slipping and are in damage control mode. This isn’t only about statins, LCHF diet, or whatever else. It indicates a deeper shift going on (with low-carb diets on the rise) and those who are resisting it because of vested interests. What’s at stake is a paradigm change and the consequences of the status quo remaining in place are dire for public health.

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On a related note, there is also a dark side to how the internet has been wielded as propaganda network. We know how effectively social media can be used to spread disinfo — yes, by whackos and controlled opposition like Alex Jones but even more powerfully by governments and corporations, think tanks and lobbyist groups, astroturf operations and paid trolls.

Wikipedia and Rational Wikipedia seem to have been taken over by defenders of the establishment, a sad fate for both of them. Many Wikipedia pages related to low-carb diets and alternative health (including tame criticism of statins by world reknown scientists) have been heavily slanted or deleted on Wikipedia. This agenda of censorship goes straight to the top — Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has called all critics of conventional medicine “lunatic charlatans” and demands that they be eliminated from Wikipedia, as if they never existed. This is a major change from earlier Wikipedia policy that promoted articles showing multiple viewpoints, but the reason for the change is that Wikipedia is being pressured to be an authoritative source as with traditional encyclopedias since Wikipedia is now used by services like Apple’s Siri.

Rational Wikipedia labels as “statin denier” anyone who is skeptical of highly profitable and corporate-promoted overprescription of statins, including critics who are practicing doctors and peer-reviewed researchers (the same false accusation is made by other pseudo-skeptical organizations such as CSICOP) — according to this logic, one of the most well-respected medical journals in the world, the BMJ, are “statin denialists” for being skeptical of the overuse of statins that the scientific research shows can cause much harm. Meanwhile, Rational Wikipedia rationalizes away this concerted effort of propaganda, probably because it’s the same people behind both operations, by way of hard-to-track sock puppets (I know from personal experience and research how deep the hole can go in trying to track down the identity of a disinfo agent, be they paid troll or merely the mentally disturbed). Pseudo-skepticism has come to rule the internet —- some of it as mentally disturbed true-believers but it also includes organizations that are astroturf. And so be skeptical most of all of anyone who poses as a skeptic.

Fortunately, alternatives are emerging such as Infogalactic as a non-censored, balanced, and independent version of Wikipedia. Unlike Wikipedia, an editor or group of editors can’t monopolize or delete a page simply because they ideologically disagree with it. And unlike Rational Wikpedia, there is no narrow institutional ideology informing what is allowable.

This is partly why it is so hard for the average person to find good info. Not only are we being lied to by big gov and big biz by way of big media for the same powerful interests are co-opting the new media as well. The purge and demonetizing of alternative voices, left and right, on YouTube was a great example of this. A similar purge has happened on Pinterest, generally censoring alternative health views and specifically targeting low-carb diets using centralized propaganda as the justification: “Keto doesn’t conform to CDC dietary guidelines” — despite the fact that ketogenic diets are among the most widely and longest researched with massive amount of data supporting numerous areas of benefit: longevity, cancer, epilepsy, autism, insulin resistance, autoimmune conditions, Alzheimer’s, etc. If the CDC is anti-science when particular science opposes highly profitable corporate interests, that is a major problem — but it shouldn’t be surprising that Pinterest, a highly profitable corporation (likely owned by a parent company that also owns other companies involved in agriculture, food production, pharmaceuticals, etc), defends the interests of big biz in collusion with big gov.

There is a struggle by the powerful to regain control of all potential avenues of propaganda and perception management. In terms of public debate, it’s always a matter of the perception of who wins. This is why propagandists, as with advertisers, have long understood that repetition of claims or ideas will make them so familiar as to feel true — what is called cognitive ease. That is why it is so important to silence opponents and make them invisible. Repetition requires total control, as the other side will also attempt to repeat their views. But it doesn’t matter how often alternative views are repeated if they are effectively erased from public view and from public forums. Look widely for info and scrutinize everything carefully. Find the few experts that are genuine honest actors and follow what they put out.

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The Dark Side of Wikipedia
from Full Measure

Astroturfing Revealed–the Ruining of Wikipedia
by Angela A. Stanton

Wikipedia Declares War on Low Carb Diet Experts
by Aarn

Jimmy Wales Admits Free Access To Health Knowledge Has Strict Limits On Wikipedia
by Paul Anthony Taylor

Wikipedia: Cementing The Power Of The Status Quo
from Dr. Rath Health Foundation

Let me tell you a little bit about how the @Wikipedia farce works from someone who spent a lot of time battling there as an editor.
by Mike Carrato

Wikipedia Captured by Skeptics
from Skeptics about Skeptics

The Philip Cross Affair
by Craig Murray

Wikipedia censorship of natural, non-drug therapies
from Alliance for Natural Health

Kendrick, Wikipedia and ‘Dark Forces’ Waging War on Science
by Marika Sboros

Dr Malcolm Kendrick – deletion from Wikipedia
by Malcolm Kendrick

Wikipedia a parable for our times
by Malcolm Kendrick

Who Deserves to be a Wikipedia Article?: The Deletion of Dr. Malcolm Kendrick
by Anthony Pearson

‘Fat Head’ Targeted For Deletion By The Weenie At Wikipedia
by Tom Naughton

Follow-Up On The Weenie Wiki Editor
by Tom Naughton

BEWARE: New Plan to Censor Health Websites
by Joseph Mercola

Reddit discussions:
Doctors who are against statin are being removed from Wikipedia
Fat Head movie Wikipedia article up for deletion next !
Malcolm Kendrick and other low-carb and keto advocates are being attacked at Rationalwiki as pseudoscientists

Low-Carb Diets On The Rise

I’ve been paying close attention to diet this past year. It’s something I’ve had some focus on for decades now, but new info has recently changed the public debate going on. For example, a few years back, the research data from Ancel Keys was reanalyzed and an entirely different conclusion was found to be more plausible — instead of blaming saturated fat, the stronger correlation was to sugar. So much of what mainstream dietitians and nutritionists asserted as fact was based on Keys’ work, but it has since come under a dark cloud of doubt. Simply put, it was horrible science and even worse public health policy.

My own recent interest, though, was piqued in watching the documentary The Magic Pill. It came out in 2017 and several other great documentaries have come out in the last few years, with Nina Teicholz’s documentary in the works. In playing around with diet in the broad sense, I didn’t find much that helped, beyond limiting added sugar and throwing in a few healthy traditional foods (e.g., cultured dairy). It’s not that I ever was much interested in formal diets — some combination of laziness, apathy, and being too independent-minded, hence figuring something out for myself or else failing on my own terms, no doubt plenty of failure was involved and long periods of depressive despair and frustration. I’ve always been more about experimenting and finding what works or doesn’t work for me, if for no other reason than being stubborn in going my own way.

The problem was that nothing fundamentally had worked for my depression that plagued me my whole life nor for the weight gain that hit me as I approached my 40s. It is damn hard struggling to be healthy while depressed, but I did try such things as exercising regularly for it had some immediate palpable effect. Still, it was strange to exercise and yet not lose weight, even if aerobics did lift my mood ever so slightly. I was literally running to stay in place.

That is where The Magic Pill came in. I randomly came across it and watched it out of passing curiosity. Something about the case made was compelling to me, a blend of science and personal experience that rang true to my decades of reading and experimentation. It brought many pieces together: the whole foods emphasis on quality, the vegetarian emphasis on plant foods, the traditional food emphasis on nutrient-density, the low-carb emphasis on avoiding grains, legumes and sugar, the ketogenic emphasis on shifting metabolism, mood and much else, the alternative health emphasis on eliminating processed foods and additives, and the holistic/functional medicine emphasis on seeing the body as a system and part of larger systems.

So, what miraculous diet brings all of this diversity of views together under the umbrella of a coherent understanding? It’s the paleo diet, although some prefer to call it a lifestyle or a philosophy as it isn’t a singular dietary regimen or protocol. It’s about learning how to be healthy by following the examples of traditional societies in combination with the best science available, not only research in diet and nutrition as narrow fields but also research from dentistry, anthropology, archaeology, etc — any and all info that helps us understand the evolution of human health, specifically in explaining what has gone so terribly wrong in industrialized societies with the diseases of civilization. Diet is important, but only one part. Through an alliance with functional medicine, there is a greater focus on what makes for a healthy lifestyle: exercise, stress reduction, toxicity elimination, forest bathing, sun exposure, learning new things, etc… and don’t forget about play, something lost to so many modern adults.

Despite that greater focus of concern, it is the dietary angle that draws people in. Simply put, a lot of people feel better on the paleo diet, often in healing numerous conditions or at least reversing some of the worst symptoms, from conditions like obesity and diabetes to autism and depression to Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, and much else. The paleo diet, as with traditional foods (both inspired by the work of Weston A. Price), is a good introduction to an alternative way of thinking not only about diet but health in general. It seems to be a gateway diet for many who go on to try related diets: primal (paleo plus dairy), Whole30, ketogenic, ketotarian, pegan, pescatarian, carnivore, etc. Primal, as one common example, demonstrates how paleolists have a tendency of drifting toward the similar traditional foods. Paleo is more of a framework than anything else, to the extent that it requires or promotes a paradigm change in one’s attitude.

The greater issue at hand is a potential paradigm change of society. That is the battle going on right now, those promoting that shift and those defending the status quo. Most figures and institutions of authority attack diets like paleo and keto because they are threatening. And the reason they are threatening is because of their growing popularity which in turn comes from their being highly effective for their intended purposes, while also being followed and sometimes promoted by many famous people, from media figures to politicians, including plenty of athletes (according to various sources, and in no particular order):

Bill Clinton, Madonna, Drew Carey, Renee Zellweger, Katie Couric, Al Roker, Halle Berry, Kim Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Vinny Guadagnino, Jordan Peterson, Vanessa Hudgens, Megan Fox, Adriana Lima, Jessica Biel, Blake Lively, Channing Tatum, Eva La Rue, Phil Mickelson, Aisha Tyler, Matthew McConaughey, Edgar Ramirez, Jeb Bush, Kanye West, Christina Aguilera, Jack Osbourne, Kelly Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne, Miley Cyrus, Ursula Grobler, Becca Borawski, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Flintoff, Jenna Jameson, Savannah Guthrie, Chris Scott, Tamra Judge, Grant Hill, Uma Thurman, Kobe Bryant, Gwyneth Paltrow, LeBron James, Alicia Vikander, Tim McGraw, Kristin Cavallari, Tom Jones, Grant Hill, Mick Jagger, Melissa McCarthy, Jennifer Lopez, Robin Wright, Cindy Crawford, Jennifer Aniston, Guy Sebastian, Elle Macpherson, Courteney Cox, Catherine Zeta Jones, Geri Halliwell, Ben Affleck, Joe Rogan, Brendan Schaub, Shane Watson, Tim Ferris, Jessica Simpson, Rosie O’Donnell, Lindsey Vonn, Alyssa Milano, Kendra Wilkinson, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Joe Manganiello, Tom Kerridge, Jessica Alba, Mariah Carey, Tobey McGuire, Jennifer Hudson, Shania Twain, etc.

These low-carb diets work. People feel better, lose weight, go off their meds, have a lot of energy, and on and on. It’s a paradigm change with a real kick and so the change is largely coming from below, from probably hundreds of thousands of individuals experimenting similar to what I’ve done, including individual doctors who decide to buck the system and sometimes are punished for it (a few key examples are: John Yudkin, Tim Noakes, and Gary Fettke). And every individual this works for ends up being an inspiration to numerous others, even if only to the people they personally know such as family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Other people see it works and so they try it themselves. This is how it went from a minor diet to its present growing momentum and did so in a fairly short period of time.

As I was saying at the beginning of this piece, I’ve been observing this shift. And I’ve come to realize it might be a seismic change going on. Every now and then, I see hints of the impact in the world around me. These alternative views are taking hold and won’t remain alternative for long. They are forcing their way into mainstream awareness. Unsurprisingly, there is backlash.

There is the corporate media, of course, with their typical attack pieces on “fad diets”, ignoring the fact that the keto diet has been medically researched since the early 1900s, the low-carb diet having been the first popular diet starting back in the 1800s, the traditional foods diet based on thousands of years of shared human experience, and the paleo diet as the diet hominids have thrived on for millions of years. The corporate media prefers to ignore what is threatening, until the point it no longer can be ignored, and so we are in that second phase right now, maybe a bit beyond since the mainstream authorities have already adopted some of the alternative views without acknowledging it (e.g., AHA quietly lowering its recommendations of carb intake after pushing a high-carb diet for a half century, as if hoping no one would notice this implicit admission to having been wrong, and wrong in a way that harmed so many). Local media is sometimes more open to new views, though.

The whole EAT-Lancet issue demonstrates the sense of conflict in the air. The authors of the report frame the situation as a crisis for all of humanity and the earth. And they use that as a cudgel to bash the new low-carb challengers, to nip them in the bud, even to the extreme of pushing for international regulations that would force conformity with the high-carb approach of conventional diets that have risen to prominence these past decades — mainstream versions of: vegetarianism, veganism, and Mediterranean (the modern Mediterranean diet as studied after World War II, not the traditional one with high levels of animal foods that existed for millennia before 20th century industrialization of the food system, no noodles or tomatoes prior to modern colonial trade, and surprisingly not much if any olive oil since according to ancient texts it was mainly used for lamp fuel, with animal fat being preferred for cooking). We’ve seen this push with such things as “Veganuary”.

It has become an overtly ideological fight, but maybe it always was. The politicization of diet goes back to the early formalized food laws that became widespread in the Axial Age and regained centrality in the Middle Ages, which for Europeans meant a revival of ancient Greek thought, specifically that of Galen. And it is utterly fascinating that pre-scientific Galenic dietary philosophy has since taken on scientific garb and gets peddled to this day, as a main current in conventional dietary thought (see Food and Faith in Christian Culture ed. by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden with an excerpt to be read here; I made this connection in realizing that Stephen Le, a biological anthropologist, was without awareness parroting Galenic thought in his book 100 Million Years of Food).

But the top-down approach to pushing dietary regimens hasn’t been all that successful in more recent years, maybe because of growing cynicism about past failures. Even with it being heavily promoted by well-funded organizations and government agencies, the high-carb plant-based diets are beginning to find it hard to maintain their footing in the tides of change. According to various data, it’s easy to get people to try veganism for a short period, but few maintain it. Vegetarianism is less restrictive, of course, but consistent adherence is still rare. The vast majority who start veganism or vegetarianism either occasionally eat meat or fish or else eventually give up on the diet. There is big money, including corporate money, behind the campaigns promoting it (most processed foods, including junk food, are technically vegan and big food has come to realize this is an effective way of marketing unhealthy food as healthy). Still, it doesn’t seem to be catching on with the general public, not that I doubt there will be those who continue their games of propaganda, persuasion, and perception management.

People have gotten the message that a plant-based diet is good. That part of the official messaging machine has been successful. Indeed, for decades, most Americans have been increasing their intake of fruits and vegetables and that is a good thing, but as far as that goes the paleo diet and many related diets also tend to recommend high levels of fruits and vegetables. The main advantage the low-carb diets have is that it’s easier to give up bread than to give up all animal foods (including eggs and dairy), though vegetarianism is a decent compromise since it allows some animal foods and that increases availability of the key fat-soluble vitamins. It’s not that low-carb, keto, or paleo vegetarianism is hard to do — so it isn’t an either/or scenario, but many pushing a so-called “plant-based” diet for some reason want to portray it in such dualistic terms, maybe as a way of falsely portraying low-carb as an anti-plant caricature in order to make it seem ridiculous and extremist.

Despite the ideological reaction, there is the growing realization that maybe there is some profit to be had in this emerging trend, as most businesses ultimately don’t care about dietary ideology and will go where the wind blows. New products cater to these alternative diets (paleo creamer, keto supplements, etc) or else old products are repackaged (“Keto Friendly!”). This is why it gets called a “fad diet”. But if being heavily marketed makes a diet a fad, then the same label applies to conventional diets as well that are more heavily marketed than any alternative diet. I’ve also begun seeing paleo and keto magazines, guides, and recipe booklets in grocery stores. Even when dismissed by experts such as in rankings of recommended diets, these “fad diets” nonetheless get mentioned, albeit usually tossed to the bottom of the list. As all this demonstrates, we are long past the silent treatment.

Furthermore, it goes beyond the products specifically marketed as paleo or keto or whatever. Demand has been increasing for organ meats, coconut products (from coconut milk to coconut oil), cauliflower, etc; consumption of eggs is likewise on the rise — all favorites on the paleo diet, in particular, but also favorites for similar diets. Prices have been going up on these items and, because demand sometimes exceeds supply, they can go out of stock at stores. Why are they so sought after? Organ meats are nutrient-dense, coconut milk is a good replacement for dairy and coconut oil for unhealthy vegetable/seed oils, and cauliflower can be used as a replacement for rice, mashed potatoes, tater tots and pizza crust (“The weird thing about cauliflower, though, is that while it has allies, it doesn’t really have adversaries.” ~Rachel Sugar); as for eggs, their popularity needs no explanation now that the cholesterol and saturated fat myths are evaporating.

Even Oprah Winfrey, though financially invested in the conventional Weight Watchers diet (in owning 8% of the company) and a self-declared lover of bread (actual quote: “I love bread!”), has put out a line of products that includes a low-carb pizza with cauliflower crust. This is interesting since, as low-carb diets have gained popularity, the stock of Weight Watchers has plunged 60% and Oprah lost at least 58 million dollars in one night and a loss of 500 million over all, putting Oprah’s star power to a serious test — maybe Oprah decided it is wise to not put all her eggs in one basket, in case Weight Watchers totally tanks. The company is finding it difficult to gain and retain subscribers. Those profiting from established dietary ideology are feeling the pinch.

It’s amusing how Weight Watchers CEO Cindy Grossman responded to the low-carb threat: “We have a keto surge,” she said. “It’s a meme, it’s not like a company, it’s people have keto donuts, and everybody on the diet side look for the quick fix. We’ve been through this before, and we know that we are the program that works.” And that, “We’ve lived through this [competition from fad diets] for 57 years and we’re not going to play a game and we never have.” Good luck with that! Maybe in reassuring stockholders, she also stated that, “We’re going to be science informed and we’re sustainable for the long term.” That is great. Everyone should be science informed. The problem for those trying to hold onto old views is that the science has changed and so has the public’s knowledge of that science.

Most people these days aren’t looking for complicated diets with eating plans and paid services, much less pre-prepared meals to be bought. A subscription model is becoming less appealing, as so much info and other resources are now available online. Besides, the DYI approach (Do It Yourself) is preferred these days. Diets like paleo and keto are simple and straightforward, and they can be easily modified for individual needs or affordability. But even for those looking for a ready-made system like Weight Watchers, there are other options out there that are looking attractive: “Wall Street is clearly nervous, too. JPMorgan analyst Christina Brathwaite downgraded the [Weight Watchers] stock to “underperform” last week and slashed her price target. One of the reasons? She was worried about competition from rival weight-loss service Diet Doctor, which is a proponent of keto.”

In whatever form, like it or not, low-carb diets are on the rise. Even among vegans and vegetarianism, the low-carb approach will probably become more common. Maybe that is why we’ve suddenly seen new low-carb, plant-based diets like Dena Harris’ paleo vegetarianism (2015), Will Coles’s ketotarianism (2018), and Mark Hyman’s peganism (2018). Do a web search about any of this and you’ll find numerous vegans and vegetarians asking about, discussing, or else praising low-carb diets. The same is true in how one sees broad interest in thousands of websites, blogs, and articles. Hundreds upon hundreds of organizations, discussion forums, Reddit groups, Facebook groups, Twitter alliances, etc have sprouted up like mushrooms. More and more are jumping on the low-carb bandwagon, as apparently that is what a large and growing part of the public is demanding. Whether or not it ever was a fad, it is now a movement and it isn’t slowing down.

Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis

What we eat obviously affects gut health such as the microbiome and through that, along with other mechanisms, it affects the rest of our body, the brain included (by way of permeability, immune system, vagus nerve, substances like glutamate and propionate, and much else). About general health, I might add that foods eaten in what combination (e.g., red meat and grains) is also an issue. Opposite of what you eat impacting neurocognition and mental health, not eating (i.e., fasting, whether intermittent or extended) or else caloric restriction and carbohydrate reduction, ketogenic or otherwise, alters it in other ways.

Fasting, for example, increases the level of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine while temporarily reducing the brains release and use of them; plus, serotonin and its precursor tryptophan are made more available to the brain. So, it allows your reserves of neurotransmitters to rebuild to higher levels. That is partly why a ketogenic diet, along with the brains efficient use of ketones, shows improvements in behavior, learning, memory, acuity, focus, vigilance, and mood (such as sense of well-being and sometimes euphoria); with specific benefits, to take a couple of examples, in cerebral blood flow and prefrontal-cortex-related cognitive functions (mental flexibility and set shifting); while also promoting stress resistance, inflammation reduction, weight loss, and metabolism, and while decreasing free radical damage, blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels. Many of these are similar benefits as seen with strenuous exercise.

We know so much about this because the ketogenic diet is the only diet that has been specifically and primarily studied in terms of neurological diseases, going back to early 20th century research on epileptic seizures and autism, was shown effective for other conditions later in the century (e.g., V. A. Angelillo et al, Effects of low and high carbohydrate feedings in ambulatory patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and chronic hypercapnia), and more recently with positive results seen in numerous other conditions (Dr. Terry Wahl’s work on multiple sclerosis, Dr. Dale Bredesen’s work on Alzheimer’s, etc). By the way, the direction of causality can also go the other way around, from brain to gut: “Studies also suggest that overwhelming systemic stress and inflammation—such as that induced via severe burn injury—can also produce characteristic acute changes in the gut microbiota within just one day of the sustained insult [15].” (Rasnik K. Singh et al, Influence of diet on the gut microbiome and implications for human health). And see:

“Various afferent or efferent pathways are involved in the MGB axis. Antibiotics, environmental and infectious agents, intestinal neurotransmitters/neuromodulators, sensory vagal fibers, cytokines, essential metabolites, all convey information about the intestinal state to the CNS. Conversely, the HPA axis, the CNS regulatory areas of satiety and neuropeptides released from sensory nerve fibers affect the gut microbiota composition directly or through nutrient availability. Such interactions appear to influence the pathogenesis of a number of disorders in which inflammation is implicated such as mood disorder, autism-spectrum disorders (ASDs), attention-deficit hypersensitivity disorder (ADHD), multiple sclerosis (MS) and obesity.” (Anastasia I. Petra et al, Gut-Microbiota-Brain Axis and Its Effect on Neuropsychiatric Disorders With Suspected Immune Dysregulation)

There are many other positive effects. Fasting reduces the risk of neurocognitive diseases: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc. And it increases the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) that helps grow neuronal connections. Results include increased growth of nerve cells from stem cells (as stem cells are brought out of their dormant state) and increased number of mitochondria in cells (mitochondria are the energy factories), the former related to the ability of neurons to develop and maintain connections between each other. An extended fast will result in autophagy (cellular housekeeping), the complete replacement of your immune cells and clearing out damaged cells which improves the functioning of your entire body (it used to be thought to not to occur in the brain but we now know it does) — all interventions known to prolong youthful health, lessen and delay diseases of aging (diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, etc), and extend lifespan in lab animals involve autophagy (James H. Catterson et al, Short-Term, Intermittent Fasting Induces Long-Lasting Gut Health and TOR-Independent Lifespan Extension). Even calorie restriction has no effect when autophagy is blocked (Fight Aging!, Autophagy Required For Calorie Restriction Benefits?). It cleans out the system, gives the body a rest from its normal functioning, and redirects energy toward healing and rebuilding.

As a non-human example, consider hibernation for bears. A study was done comparing bears with a natural diet (fruits, nuts, insects, and small mammals) and those that ate human garbage (i.e., high-carb processed foods). “A research team tracked 30 black bears near Durango, Colo., between 2011 and 2015, paying close attention to their eating and hibernation habits. The researchers found that bears who foraged on human food hibernated less during the winters — sometimes, by as much as 50 days — than bears who ate a natural diet. The researchers aren’t sure why human food is causing bears to spend less time in their dens. But they say shorter hibernation periods are accelerating bears’ rates of cellular aging” (Megan Schmidt, Human Food Might Be Making Bears Age Faster). As with humans who don’t follow fasting or a ketogenic diet, bears who hibernate less don’t live as long. Maybe a high-carb diet messes with hibernation similarly to how it messes with ketosis.

Even intermittent fasting shows many of these benefits. Of course, you can do dramatic changes to the body without fasting at all, if you’re on a ketogenic diet (though one could call it a carb fast since it is extremely low carb) or severe caloric restriction (by the way, caloric restriction has been an area of much mixed results and hence confusion — see two pieces by Peter Attia: Calorie restriction: Part I – an introduction & Part IIA – monkey studies; does intermittent fasting and ketosis mimic caloric restriction or the other way around?). I’d add a caveat: On any form of dietary limitation or strict regimen, results vary depending on specifics of test subjects and other factors: how restricted and for how long, micronutrient and macronutrient content of diet, fat-adaptation and metabolic flexibility, etc; humans, by the way, are designed for food variety and so it is hard to know the consequences of modern diet that often remains unchanged, season to season, year to year (Rachel Feltman, The Gut’s Microbiome Changes Rapidly with Diet). There is a vast difference between someone on a high-carb diet doing an occasional fast and someone on a ketogenic diet doing regular intermittent fasting. Even within a single factor such as a high-carb diet, there is little similarity between the average American eating processed foods and a vegetarian monk eating restricted calories. As another example, autophagy can take several days of fasting to be fully achieved; but how quickly this happens depends on the starting conditions such as how many carbs eaten beforehand and how much glucose in the blood and glycogen stores in the muscles, both of which need to be used up before ketosis begins.

Metabolic flexibility, closely related to fat-adaptation, requires flexibility of the microbiome. Research has found that certain hunter-gatherers have microbiomes that completely switch from season to season and so the gut somehow manages to maintain some kind of memory of previous states of microbial balance which allows them to be re-established as needed. This is seen more dramatically with the Inuit who eat an extremely low-carb diet, but they seasonally eat relatively larger amounts of plant matter such as seaweed and they temporarily have digestive issues until the needed microbes take hold again. Are these microbes dormant in the system or systematically reintroduced? In either case, the process is unknown, as far as I know. What we are clear about is how dramatically diet affects the microbiome, whatever the precise mechanisms.

For example, a ketogenic diet modulates the levels of the microbes Akkermansia muciniphila, Lactobacillus, and Desulfovibrio (Lucille M. Yanckello, Diet Alters Gut Microbiome and Improves Brain Functions). It is the microbes that mediate the influence on both epileptic seizures and autism, such that Akkermansia is decreased in the former and increased in the latter, that is to say the ketogenic diet helps the gut regain balance no matter which direction the imabalance is. In the case of epileptic seizures, Akkermansia spurs the growth of Parabacteroides which alters neurotransmission by elevating the GABA/glutamate ratio (there is glutamate again): “the hippocampus of the microbe-protected mice had increased levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which silences neurons, relative to glutamate, which activates them” (Carolyn Beans, Mouse microbiome findings offer insights into why a high-fat, low-carb diet helps epileptic children), but no such effect was found in germ-free mice, that is to say with no microbiome (similar results were found in human studies: Y. Zhang, Altered gut microbiome composition in children with refractory epilepsy after ketogenic diet). Besides reducing seizures, “GABA is a neurotransmitter that calms the body. Higher GABA to glutamate ratios has been shown to alleviate depression, reduce anxiety levels, lessen insomnia, reduce the severity of PMS symptoms, increase growth hormone, improve focus, and reduce systemic inflammation” (MTHFR Support, Can Eating A Ketogenic Diet Change Our Microbiome?). To throw out the other interesting mechanism, consider Desulfovibrio. Ketosis reduces its numbers and that is a good thing since it causes leakiness of the gut barrier, and what causes leakiness in one part of the body can cause it elsewhere as well such as the brain barrier. Autoimmune responses and inflammation can follow. This is why ketosis has been found beneficial for preventing and treating neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s (plus, ketones are a useful alternative fuel for Alzheimer’s since their brain cells begin starving to death for loss of the capacity to use glucose as a fuel).

All of this involves the factors that increase and reduce inflammation: “KD also increased the relative abundance of putatively beneficial gut microbiota (Akkermansia muciniphila and Lactobacillus), and reduced that of putatively pro-inflammatory taxa (Desulfovibrio and Turicibacter).” (David Ma et al, Ketogenic diet enhances neurovascular function with altered gut microbiome in young healthy mice). Besides the microbiome itself, this has immense impact on leakiness and autoimmune conditions, with this allowing inflammation to show up in numerous areas of the body, including the brain of course. Inflammation is found in conditions such as depression and schizophrenia. Even without knowing this mechanism, much earlier research has long established that ketosis reduces inflammation.

It’s hard to know what this means, though. Hunter-gatherers tend to have much more diverse microbiomes, as compared to industrialized people. Yet the ketogenic diet that helps induce microbial balance simultaneously reduces diversity. So, diversity isn’t always a good thing, with another example being small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). What matters is which microbes one has in abundance and in relation which microbes one lacks or has limitedly. And what determines that isn’t limited to diet in the simple sense of what foods we eat or don’t eat but the whole pattern involved. Also, keep in mind that in a society like ours most of the population is in varying states of gut dysbiosis. First eliminating the harmful microbes is most important before the body can heal and rebalance. That is indicated by a study on multiple sclerosis that found, after the subjects had an initial reduction in the microbiome, “They started to recover at week 12 and exceeded significantly the baseline values after 23–24 weeks on the ketogenic diet” (Alexander Swidsinski et al, Reduced Mass and Diversity of the Colonic Microbiome in Patients with Multiple Sclerosis and Their Improvement with Ketogenic Diet). As always, it’s complex. But the body knows what to do when you give it the tools its evolutionarily-adapted to.

In any case, all of the methods described can show a wide range of benefits and improvements in physical and mental health. They are potentially recommended for almost anyone who is in a healthy state or in some cases of disease, although as always seek medical advice before beginning any major dietary change, especially anyone with an eating disorder or malnourishment (admittedly, almost all people on a modern industrialized diet are to some degree malnourished, especially Americans, although most not to a degree of being immediately life-threatening). Proceed with caution. But you are free to take your life in your hands by taking responsibility for your own health through experimentation in finding out what happens (my preferred methodology), in which case the best case scenario is that you might gain benefit at no professional medical cost and the worst case scenario is that you might die (not that I’ve heard of anyone dying from a typical version of a diet involving fasting, ketosis, and such; you’re way more likely to die from the standard American diet; but individual health conditions aren’t necessarily predictable based on the experience of others, even the vast majority of others). Still, you’re going to die eventually, no matter what you do. I wish you well, until that time.

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Let me clarify one point of widespread confusion. Talk of ‘diets’, especially of the variety I’ve discussed here, are often thought of in terms of restriction and that word does come up quite a bit. I’m guilty of talking this way even in this post, as it is about impossible to avoid such language considering it is used in the scientific and medical literature. So, there is an implication of deprivation, of self-control and self-denial, as if we must struggle and suffer to be healthy. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Once you are fat-adapted and have metabolic flexibility, you are less restricted than you were before, in that you can eat more carbs and sugars for a time and then more easily return back to ketosis, as is a common seasonal pattern for hunter-gatherers. And once you no longer are driven by food cravings and addictions, you’ll have a happier and healthier relationship to food — eating when genuinely hungry and going without for periods without irritation or weakness, as also is common among hunter-gatherers.

This is simply a return to the state in which most humans have existed for most of our historical and evolutionary past. It’s not restriction or deprivation, much less malnourishment. It’s normalcy or should be. But we need to remember what normalcy looks and feels like: “People around the world suffer from starvation and malnutrition, and it is not only because they lack food and nutrients. Instead they suffer from immature microbiomes, which can severely impact health” (AMI, The effects of fasting and starvation on the microbiome). Gut health is inseparable from the rest, and these diets heal and rebalance the gut.

We need to redefine what health means, in a society where sickness has become the norm.

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Genius Foods:
Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life
by Max Lugavere

Baby Fat Isn’t Just Cute—It’s a Battery

Have you seen a baby lately? I’m talking about a newborn, fresh out of the womb. They’re fat. And cute. But mostly fat. Packed with stored energy prior to birth in the third trimester, the fatness of human babies is unprecedented in the mammal world. While the newborns of most mammal species average 2 to 3 percent of birth weight as body fat, humans are born with a body fat percentage of nearly 15, surpassing the fatness of even newborn seals. Why is this so? Because humans are born half-baked.

When a healthy human baby emerges from the womb, she is born physically helpless ad with an underdeveloped brain. Unlike most animals at birth, a newborn human is not equipped with a full catalogue of instincts preinstalled. It is estimated that if a human were to be born at a similar stage of cognitive development to a newborn chimp, gestation would be at least double the length (that doesn’t sound fun—am I right ladies?). By being born “prematurely,” human brains complete their development not in the womb, but in the real world, with open eyes and open ears—this is probably why we’re so social and smart! And it is during this period for rapid brain growth, what some refer to as the “fourth trimester,” that our fast serves as an important ketone reservoir for the brain, which can account for nearly 90 percent of the newborn’s metabolism. Now you know: baby fat isn’t just there for pinching. It’s there for the brain.

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Mitochondria and the Future of Medicine:
The Key to Understanding Disease, Chronic Illness, Aging, and Life Itself
by Lee Know

Ketogenic Diets and Calorie Restriction

Ketone bodies, herein also referred to simply as ketones , are three water-soluble compounds that are produced as by-products when fatty acids are broken down for energy in the liver. These ketones can be used as a source of energy themselves, especially in the heart and brain, where they are a vital source of energy during periods of fasting.

The three endogenous ketones produced by the body are acetone , acetoacetic acid , and beta-hydroxybutyric acid (which is the only one that’s not technically a ketone, chemically speaking). They can be converted to acetyl-CoA, which then enters the TCA cycle to produce energy.

Fatty acids are so dense in energy, and the heart is one of the most energy-intensive organs, so under normal physiologic conditions, it preferentially uses fatty acids as its fuel source. However, under ketotic conditions, the heart can effectively utilize ketone bodies for energy.

The brain is also extremely energy-intensive, and usually relies on glucose for its energy. However, when glucose is in short supply, it gets a portion of its energy from ketone bodies (e.g., during fasting, strenuous exercise, low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet, and in neonates). While most other tissues have alternate fuel sources (besides ketone bodies) when blood glucose is low, the brain does not. For the brain, this is when ketones become essential. After three days of low blood glucose, the brain gets 25 percent of its energy from ketone bodies. After about four days, this jumps to 70 percent!

In normal healthy individuals, there is a constant production of ketone bodies by the liver and utilization by other tissues. Their excretion in urine is normally very low and undetectable by routine urine tests. However, as blood glucose falls, the synthesis of ketones increases, and when it exceeds the rate of utilization, their blood concentration increases, followed by increased excretion in urine. This state is commonly referred to as ketosis , and the sweet, fruity smell of acetone in the breath is a common feature of ketosis.

Historically, this sweet smell was linked to diabetes and ketones were first discovered in the urine of diabetic patients in the mid-nineteenth century. For almost fifty years thereafter, they were thought to be abnormal and undesirable by-products of incomplete fat oxidation.

In the early twentieth century, however, they were recognized as normal circulating metabolites produced by the liver and readily utilized by the body’s tissues. In the 1920s, a drastic “hyperketogenic” diet was found to be remarkably effective for treating drug-resistant epilepsy in children. In 1967, circulating ketones were discovered to replace glucose as the brain’s major fuel during prolonged fasting. Until then, the adult human brain was thought to be entirely dependent upon glucose.

During the 1990s, diet-induced hyperketonemia (commonly called nutritional ketosis ) was found to be therapeutically effective for treating several rare genetic disorders involving impaired glucose utilization by nerve cells. Now, growing evidence suggests that mitochondrial dysfunction and reduced bioenergetic efficiency occur in brains of patients with Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Since ketones are efficiently used by brain mitochondria for ATP generation and might also help protect vulnerable neurons from free-radical damage, ketogenic diets are being evaluated for their ability to benefit patients with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, and various other neurodegenerative disorders (with some cases reporting remarkable success).

There are various ways to induce ketosis, some easier than others. The best way is to use one of the various ketogenic diets (e.g., classic, modified Atkins, MCT or coconut oil, low-glycemic index diet), but calorie restriction is also proving its ability to achieve the same end results when carbohydrates are limited.

Features of Caloric Restriction

There are a number of important pieces to caloric restriction. First, and the most obvious, is that caloric intake is most critical. Typically, calories are restricted to about 40 percent of what a person would consume if food intake was unrestricted. For mice and rats, calorie restriction to this degree results in very different physical characteristics (size and body composition) than those of their control-fed counterparts. Regarding life extension, even smaller levels of caloric restriction (a reduction of only 10–20 percent of unrestricted calorie intake) produce longer-lived animals and disease-prevention effects.

In April of 2014, a twenty-five-year longitudinal study on rhesus monkeys showed positive results. The benefit of this study was that it was a long-term study done in primates—human’s closest relatives—and confirms positive data we previously saw from yeasts, insects, and rodents. The research team reported that monkeys in the control group (allowed to eat as much as they wanted) had a 2.9-fold increased risk of disease (e.g., diabetes) and a 3-fold increased risk of premature death, compared to calorie-restricted monkeys (that consumed a diet with 30 percent less calories).

If other data from studies on yeast, insects, and rodents can be confirmed in primates, it would indicate that calorie restriction could extend life span by up to 60 percent, making a human life span of 130–150 years a real possibility without fancy technology or supplements or medications. The clear inverse relationship between energy intake and longevity links its mechanism to mitochondria—energy metabolism and free-radical production.

Second, simply restricting the intake of fat, protein, or carbohydrates without overall calorie reduction does not increase the maximum life span of rodents. It’s the calories that count, not necessarily the type of calories (with the exception of those trying to reach ketosis, where type of calorie does count).

Third, calorie restriction has been shown to be effective in disease prevention and longevity in diverse species. Although most caloric restriction studies have been conducted on small mammals like rats or mice, caloric restriction also extends life span in single-celled protozoans, water fleas, fruit flies, spiders, and fish. It’s the only method of life extension that consistently achieves similar results across various species.

Fourth, these calorie-restricted animals stay “biologically younger” longer. Experimental mice and rats extended their youth and delayed (even prevented) most major diseases (e.g., cancers, cardiovascular diseases). About 90 percent of the age-related illnesses studied remained in a “younger” state for a longer period in calorie-restricted animals. Calorie restriction also greatly delayed cancers (including breast, colon, prostate, lymphoma), renal diseases, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, lupus, and autoimmune hemolytic anemia, and a number of others.

Fifth, calorie restriction does not need to be started in early age to reap its benefits. Initiating it in middle-aged animals also slowed aging (this is good news for humans, because middle age is when most of us begin to think about our own health and longevity).

Of course, the benefits of calorie restriction relate back to mitochondria. Fewer calories mean less “fuel” (as electrons) entering the ETC, and a corresponding reduction in free radicals. As you know by now, that’s a good thing.

Health Benefits

As just discussed, new research is showing that judicious calorie restriction and ketogenic diets (while preserving optimal nutritional intake) might slow down the normal aging process and, in turn, boost cardiovascular, brain, and cellular health. But how? We can theorize that the restriction results in fewer free radicals, but one step in confirming a theory is finding its mechanism.

In particular, researchers have identified the beneficial role of beta-hydroxybutyric acid (the one ketone body that’s not actually a ketone). It is produced by a low-calorie diet and might be the key to the reduced risk of age-related diseases seen with calorie restriction. Over the years, studies have found that restricting calories slows aging and increases longevity, but the mechanism behind this remained elusive. New studies are showing that beta-hydroxybutyric acid can block a class of enzymes, called histone deacetylases , which would otherwise promote free-radical damage.

While additional studies need to be conducted, it is known that those following calorie-restricted or ketogenic diets have lower blood pressure, heart rate, and glucose levels than the general population. More recently, there has been a lot of excitement around intermittent fasting as an abbreviated method of achieving the same end results.

However, self-prescribing a calorie-restricted or ketogenic diet is not recommended unless you’ve done a lot of research on the topic and know what to do. If not done properly, these diets can potentially increase mental and physical stress on the body. Health status should be improving, not declining, as a result of these types of diets, and when not done properly, these diets could lead to malnutrition and starvation. Health care practitioners also need to properly differentiate a patient who is in a deficiency state of anorexia or bulimia versus someone in a healthy state of ketosis or caloric restriction.

I’ll add a final word of caution: While ketogenic diets can be indispensable tools in treating certain diseases, their use in the presence of mitochondrial disease—at this point—is controversial and depends on the individual’s specific mitochondrial disease. In some cases, a ketogenic diet can help; in others it can be deleterious. So, of all the therapies listed in this book, the one for which I recommend specific expertise in its application is this diet, and only after a proper diagnosis.

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Grain Brain:
The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers

by David Perlmutter

Caloric Restriction

Another epigenetic factor that turns on the gene for BDNF production is calorie restriction. Extensive studies have clearly demonstrated that when animals are on a reduced-calorie diet (typically reduced by around 30 percent), their brain production of BDNF shoots up and they show dramatic improvements in memory and other cognitive functions. But it’s one thing to read experimental research studies involving rats in a controlled environment and quite another to make recommendations to people based upon animal research. Fortunately, we finally have ample human studies demonstrating the powerful effect of reducing caloric intake on brain function, and many of these studies have been published in our most well-respected medical journals. 13

In January 2009, for example, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science published a study in which German researchers compared two groups of elderly individuals—one that reduced their calories by 30 percent and another that was allowed to eat whatever they wanted. The researchers were interested in whether changes could be measured between the two groups’ memory function. At the conclusion of the three-month study, those who were free to eat without restriction experienced a small but clearly defined decline in memory function, while memory function in the group on the reduced-calorie diet actually increased, and significantly so. Knowing that current pharmaceutical approaches to brain health are very limited, the authors concluded, “The present findings may help to develop new prevention and treatment strategies for maintaining cognitive health into old age.” 14

Further evidence supporting the role of calorie restriction in strengthening the brain and providing more resistance to degenerative disease comes from Dr. Mark P. Mattson, chief of the Laboratory of Neurosciences at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). He reported:

Epidemiological data suggest that individuals with a low calorie intake may have a reduced risk of stroke and neurodegenerative disorders. There is a strong correlation between per capita food consumption and risk for Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. Data from population-based case control studies showed that individuals with the lowest daily calorie intakes had the lowest risk of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. 15

Mattson was referring to a population-based longitudinal prospective study of Nigerian families, in which some members moved to the United States. Many people believe that Alzheimer’s disease is something you “get” from your DNA, but this particular study told a different story. It was shown that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease among Nigerian immigrants living in the United States was increased compared to their relatives who remained in Nigeria. Genetically, the Nigerians who moved to America were the same as their relatives who remained in Nigeria. 16 All that changed was their environment—specifically, their caloric intake. The research clearly focused on the detrimental effects that a higher caloric consumption has on brain health. In a 2016 study published in Johns Hopkins Health Review, Mattson again emphasized the value of caloric restriction in warding off neurodegenerative diseases while at the same time improving memory and mood. 17 One way to do that is through intermittent fasting, which we’ll fully explore in chapter 7 . Another way, obviously, is to trim back your daily consumption.

If the prospect of reducing your calorie intake by 30 percent seems daunting, consider the following: On average, we consume 23 percent more calories a day than we did in 1970. 18 Based on data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the average American adult consumes more than 3,600 calories daily. 19 Most would consider “normal” calorie consumption to be around 2,000 calories daily for women and 2,500 for men (with higher requirements depending on level of activity/exercise). A 30 percent cut of calories from an average of 3,600 per day equals 1,080 calories.

We owe a lot of our increased calorie consumption to sugar. Remember, the average American consumes roughly 163 grams (652 calories) of refined sugars a day—reflecting upward of a 30 percent hike in just the last three decades. 20 And of that amount, about 76 grams (302 calories) are from high-fructose corn syrup. So focusing on just reducing sugar intake may go a long way toward achieving a meaningful reduction in calorie intake, and this would obviously help with weight loss. Indeed, obesity is associated with reduced levels of BDNF, as is elevation of blood sugar. Remember, too, that increasing BDNF provides the added benefit of actually reducing appetite. I call that a double bonus.

But if the figures above still aren’t enough to motivate you toward a diet destined to help your brain, in many respects, the same pathway that turns on BDNF production can be activated by intermittent fasting (which, again, I’ll detail in chapter 7 ).

The beneficial effects in treating neurologic conditions using caloric restriction actually aren’t news for modern science, though; they have been recognized since antiquity. Calorie restriction was the first effective treatment in medical history for epileptic seizures. But now we know how and why it’s so effective: It confers neuroprotection, increases the growth of new brain cells, and allows existing neural networks to expand their sphere of influence (i.e., neuroplasticity).

While low caloric intake is well documented in relation to promoting longevity in a variety of species—including roundworms, rodents, and monkeys—research has also demonstrated that lower caloric intake is associated with a decreased incidence of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. And the mechanisms by which we think this happens are via improved mitochondrial function and controlling gene expression.

Consuming fewer calories decreases the generation of free radicals while at the same time enhancing energy production from the mitochondria, the tiny organelles in our cells that generate chemical energy in the form of ATP (adenosine triphosphate). Mitochondria have their own DNA, and we know now that they play a key role in degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Caloric restriction also has a dramatic effect on reducing apoptosis, the process by which cells undergo self-destruction. Apoptosis happens when genetic mechanisms within cells are turned on that culminate in the death of that cell. While it may seem puzzling at first as to why this should be looked upon as a positive event, apoptosis is a critical cellular function for life as we know it. Pre-programmed cell death is a normal and vital part of all living tissues, but a balance must be struck between effective and destructive apoptosis. In addition, caloric restriction triggers a decrease in inflammatory factors and an increase in neuroprotective factors, specifically BDNF. It also has been demonstrated to increase the body’s natural antioxidant defenses by boosting enzymes and molecules that are important in quenching excessive free radicals.

In 2008, Dr. Veronica Araya of the University of Chile in Santiago reported on a study she performed during which she placed overweight and obese subjects on a three-month calorie-restricted diet, with a total reduction of 25 percent of calories. 21 She and her colleagues measured an exceptional increase in BDNF production, which led to notable reductions in appetite. It’s also been shown that the opposite occurs: BDNF production is decreased in animals on a diet high in sugar. 22 Findings like this have since been replicated.

One of the most well-studied molecules associated with caloric restriction and the growth of new brain cells is sirtuin-1 (SIRT1), an enzyme that regulates gene expression. In monkeys, increased SIRT1 activation enhances an enzyme that degrades amyloid—the starch-like protein whose accumulation is the hallmark of diseases like Alzheimer’s. 23 In addition, SIRT1 activation changes certain receptors on cells, leading to reactions that have the overall effect of reducing inflammation. Perhaps most important, activation of the sirtuin pathway by caloric restriction enhances BDNF. BDNF not only increases the number of brain cells, but also enhances their differentiation into functional neurons (again, because of caloric restriction). For this reason, we say that BDNF enhances learning and memory. 24

The Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

While caloric restriction is able to activate these diverse pathways, which are not only protective of the brain but enhance the growth of new neuronal networks, the same pathway can be activated by the consumption of special fats called ketones. By far the most important fat for brain energy utilization is beta-hydroxybutyrate (beta-HBA), and we’ll explore this unique fat in more detail in the next chapter. This is why the so-called ketogenic diet has been a treatment for epilepsy since the early 1920s and is now being reevaluated as a therapeutic option in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, depression, and even cancer and autism. 25 It’s also showing promise for weight loss and ending type 2 diabetes. In mice models, the diet rescues hippocampal memory deficits, and extends healthy lifespan.

Google the term “ketogenic diet” and well over a million results pop up. Between 2015 and 2017, Google searches for the term “keto” increased ninefold. But the studies demonstrating a ketogenic diet’s power date back further. In one 2005 study, for example, Parkinson’s patients actually had a notable improvement in symptoms that rivaled medications and even brain surgery after being on a ketogenic diet for just twenty-eight days. 26 Specifically, consuming ketogenic fats (i.e., medium-chain triglycerides, or MCT oil) has been shown to impart significant improvement in cognitive function in Alzheimer’s patients. 27 Coconut oil, from which we derive MCTs, is a rich source of an important precursor molecule for beta-hydroxybutyrate and is a helpful approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease. 28 A ketogenic diet has also been shown to reduce amyloid in the brain, 29 and it increases glutathione, the body’s natural brain-protective antioxidant, in the hippocampus. 30 What’s more, it stimulates the growth of mitochondria and thus increases metabolic efficiency. 31

Dominic D’Agostino is a researcher in neuroscience, molecular pharmacology, and physiology at the University of South Florida. He has written extensively on the benefits of a ketogenic diet, and in my Empowering Neurologist interview with him he stated: “Research shows that ketones are powerful energy substrates for the brain and protect the brain by enhancing antioxidant defenses while suppressing inflammation. No doubt, this is why nutritional ketosis is something pharmaceutical companies are aggressively trying to replicate.” I have also done a lot of homework in understanding the brain benefits of ketosis—a metabolic state whereby the body burns fat for energy and creates ketones in the process. Put simply, your body is in a state of ketosis when it’s creating ketones for fuel instead of relying on glucose. And the brain loves it.

While science typically has looked at the liver as the main source of ketone production in human physiology, it is now recognized that the brain can also produce ketones in special cells called astrocytes. These ketone bodies are profoundly neuroprotective. They decrease free radical production in the brain, increase mitochondrial biogenesis, and stimulate production of brain-related antioxidants. Furthermore, ketones block the apoptotic pathway that would otherwise lead to self-destruction of brain cells.

Unfortunately, ketones have gotten a bad rap. I remember in my internship being awakened by a nurse to treat a patient in “diabetic ketoacidosis.” Physicians, medical students, and interns become fearful when challenged by a patient in such a state, and with good reason. It happens in insulin-dependent type 1 diabetics when not enough insulin is available to metabolize glucose for fuel. The body turns to fat, which produces these ketones in dangerously high quantities that become toxic as they accumulate in the blood. At the same time, there is a profound loss of bicarbonate, and this leads to significant lowering of the pH (acidosis). Typically, as a result, patients lose a lot of water due to their elevated blood sugars, and a medical emergency develops.

This condition is exceedingly rare, and again, it occurs in type 1 diabetics who fail to regulate their insulin levels. Our normal physiology has evolved to handle some level of ketones in the blood; in fact, we are fairly unique in this ability among our comrades in the animal kingdom, possibly because of our large brain-to-body weight ratio and the high energy requirements of our brain. At rest, 20 percent of our oxygen consumption is used by the brain, which represents only 2 percent of the human body. In evolutionary terms, the ability to use ketones as fuel when blood sugar was exhausted and liver glycogen was no longer available (during starvation) became mandatory if we were to survive and continue hunting and gathering. Ketosis proved to be a critical step in human evolution, allowing us to persevere during times of food scarcity. To quote Gary Taubes, “In fact, we can define this mild ketosis as the normal state of human metabolism when we’re not eating the carbohydrates that didn’t exist in our diets for 99.9 percent of human history. As such, ketosis is arguably not just a natural condition but even a particularly healthful one.” 32

There is a relationship between ketosis and calorie restriction, and the two can pack a powerful punch in terms of enhancing brain health. When you restrict calories (and carbs in particular) while upping fat intake, you trigger ketosis and increase levels of ketones in the blood. In 2012, when researchers at the University of Cincinnati randomly assigned twenty-three older adults with mild cognitive impairment to either a high-carbohydrate or very low-carbohydrate diet for six weeks, they documented remarkable changes in the low-carb group. 33 They observed not only improved verbal memory performance but also reductions in weight, waist circumference, fasting glucose, and fasting insulin. Now here’s the important point: “Ketone levels were positively correlated with memory performance.”

German researchers back in 2009 demonstrated in fifty healthy, normal to overweight elderly individuals that when calories were restricted along with a 20 percent increase in dietary fat, there was a measurable increase in verbal memory scores. 34 Another small study, yes, but their findings were published in the respected Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and spurred further research like that of the 2012 experiment. These individuals, compared to those who did not restrict calories, demonstrated improvements in their insulin levels and decline in their C-reactive protein, the infamous marker of inflammation. As expected, the most pronounced improvements were in people who adhered the most to the dietary challenge.

Research and interest in ketosis have exploded in recent years and will continue. The key to achieving ketosis, as we’ll see later in detail, is to severely cut carbs and increase dietary fat. It’s that simple. You have to be carb restricted if you want to reach this brain-blissful state.

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Power Up Your Brain
by David Perlmutter and Alberto Villoldo

Your Brain’s Evolutionary Advantage

One of the most important features distinguishing humans from all other mammals is the size of our brain in proportion to the rest of our body. while it is certainly true that other mammals have larger brains, scientists recognize that larger animals must have larger brains simply to control their larger bodies. An elephant, for example, has a brain that weighs 7,500 grams, far larger than our 1,400-gram brain. So making comparisons about “brain power” or intelligence just based on brain size is obviously futile, Again, it’s the ratio of the brain size to total body size that attracts scientist’s interests when considering the brain’s functional capacity. An elephant’s brain represents 1/550 of its body weight, while the human brain weighs 1/40 of the total body weight. So our brain represents 2.5 percent of our total body weight as opposed to the large-brained elephant whose brain is just 0.18 percent of its total body weight.

But even more important than the fact that we are blessed with a lot of brain matter is the intriguing fact that, gram for gram, the human brain consumes a disproportionately huge amount of energy. While only representing 2.5 percent of our total body weight, the human brain consumes an incredible 22 percent of our body’s energy expenditure when at rest. this represents about 350 percent more energy consumption in relation to body weight compared with other anthropoids like gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees.

So it takes a lot of dietary calories to keep the human brain functioning. Fortunately, the very fact that we’ve developed such a large and powerful brain has provided us with the skills and intelligence to maintain adequate sustenance during times of scarcity and to make provisions for needed food supplies in the future. Indeed, the ability to conceive of and plan for the future is highly dependent upon the evolution not only of brain size but other unique aspects of the human brain.

It is a colorful image to conceptualize early Homo sapiens migrating across and arid plain and competing for survival among animals with smaller brains yet bigger claws and greater speed. But our earliest ancestors had one other powerful advantage compared to even our closest primate relatives. The human brain has developed a unique biochemical pathway that proves hugely advantageous during times of food scarcity. Unlike other mammals, our brain is able to utilize an alternative source of calories during times of starvation. Typically, we supply our brain with glucose form our daily food consumption. We continue to supply our brains with a steady stream of glucose (blood sugar) between meals by breaking down glycogen, a storage form of glucose primarily found in the liver and muscles.

But relying on glycogen stores provides only short-term availability of glucose. as glycogen stores are depleted, our metabolism shifts and we are actually able to create new molecules of glucose, a process aptly termed gluconeogenesis. this process involves the construction of new glucose molecules from amino acids harvested form the breakdown of protein primarily found in muscle. While gluconeogenesis adds needed glucose to the system, it does so at the cost of muscle breakdown, something less than favorable for a starving hunter-gatherer.

But human physiology offers one more pathway to provide vital fuel to the demanding brain during times of scarcity. When food is unavailable, after about three days the liver begins to use body fat to create chemicals called ketones. One ketone in particular, beta hydroxybutyrate (beta-HBA), actually serves as a highly efficient fuel source for the brain, allowing humans to function cognitively for extended periods during food scarcity.

Our unique ability to power our brains using this alternative fuel source helps reduce our dependence on gluconeogensis and therefore spares amino acids and the muscles they build and maintain. Reducing muscle breakdown provides obvious advantages for the hungry Homo sapiens in search of food. It is this unique ability to utilize beta-HBA as a brain fuel that sets us apart from our nearest animal relatives and has allowed humans to remain cognitively engaged and, therefore, more likely to survive the famines ever-present in our history.

This metabolic pathway, unique to Homo sapiens, may actually serve as an explanation for one of the most hotly debated questions in anthropology: what caused the disappearance of our Neanderthal relatives? Clearly, when it comes to brains, size does matter. Why then, with a brain some 20 percent larger than our own, did Neanderthals suddenly disappear in just a few thousand years between 40,000 and 30,000 years ago? the party line among scientists remains fixated on the notion that the demise of Neanderthals was a consequence of their hebetude, or mental lethargy. The neurobiologist William Calvin described Neanderthals in his book, A Brain for All Seasons: “Their way of life subjected them to more bone fractures; they seldom survived until forty years of age; and while making tools similar to [those of] overlapping species, there was little [of the] inventiveness that characterizes behaviorally modern Homo sapiens.”

While it is convenient and almost dogmatic to accept that Neanderthals were “wiped out” by clever Homo sapiens, many scientists now believe that food scarcity may have played a more prominent role in their disappearance. Perhaps the simple fact that Neanderthals, lacking the biochemical pathway to utilize beta-HBA as a fuel source for brain metabolism, lacked the “mental endurance” to persevere. Relying on gluconeogenesis to power their brains would have led to more rapid breakdown of muscle tissue, ultimately compromising their ability to stalk prey or migrate to areas where plant food sources were more readily available. their extinction may not have played out in direct combat with Homo sapiens but rather manifested as a consequence of a simple biochemical inadequacy.

Our ability to utilize beta-HBA as a brain fuel is far more important than simply a protective legacy of our hunter-gatherer heritage. George F. Cahill of Harvard Medical School stated, “Recent studies have shown that beta-hydroxybutyrate, the principle ‘ketone’ is not just a fuel, but a ‘superfuel’ more efficiently producing ATP energy than glucose. . . . It has also protected neuronal cells in tissue culture against exposure to toxins associated with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.”

Indeed, well beyond serving as a brain superfuel, Dr. Cahill and other researchers have determined that beta-HBA has other profoundly positive effects on brain health and function. Essentially, beta-HBA is thought to mediate many of the positive effects of calorie reduction and fasting on the brain, including improved antioxidant function, increased mitochondrial energy production with an increased in mitochondrial energy production with an increase in mitochondrial population, increased cellular survival, and increased levels of BDNF leading to enhanced growth of new brain cells (neurogenesis).

Fasting

Earlier, we explored the need to reduce caloric intake in order to increase BDNF as a means to stimulate the growth of new brain cells as well as to enhance the function of existing neurons. The idea of substantially reducing daily calorie intake will not appeal to many people despite the fact that it is a powerful approach to brain enhancement as well as overall health.

Interestingly, however, many people find the idea of intermittent fasting to be more appealing. Fasting is defined here as a complete abstinence from food for a defined period of time at regular intervals—our fasting program permits the drinking of water. Research demonstrates that many of the same health-providing and brain-enhancing genetic pathways activated by calorie reduction are similarly engaged by fasting—even for relatively short periods of time. Fasting actually speaks to your DNA, directing your genes to produce an astounding array of brain-enhancement factors.

Not only does fasting turn on the genetic machinery for the production of BDNF, but it also powers up the Nrf2 pathway, leading to enhanced detoxification, reduced inflammation, and increased production of brain-protective antioxidants. Fasting causes the brain to shift away from using glucose as a fuel to a metabolism that consumes ketones. When the brain metabolizes ketones for fuel, even the process of apoptosis is reduced, while mitochondrial genes turn their attention to mitochondrial replication. In this way, fasting shifts the brain’s basic metabolism and specifically targets the DNA of mitochondria, thus enhancing energy production and paving the way for better brain function and clarity . . .

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Insights into human evolution from ancient and contemporary microbiome studies
by Stephanie L Schnorr, Krithivasan Sankaranarayanan, Cecil M Lewis, Jr, and Christina Warinner

Brain growth, development, and behavior

The human brain is our defining species trait, and its developmental underpinnings are key foci of evolutionary genetics research. Recent research on brain development and social interaction in both humans and animal models has revealed that microbes exert a major impact on cognitive function and behavioral patterns []. For example, a growing consensus recognizes that cognitive and behavioral pathogenesis are often co-expressed with functional bowel disorders []. This hints at a shared communication or effector pathway between the brain and gut, termed the gutbrain-axis (GBA). The enteric environment is considered a third arm of the autonomic nervous system [], and gut microbes produce more than 90% of the body’s serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) []. Factors critical to learning and plasticity such as serotonin, γ-aminobutryic acid (GABA), short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), and brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which train amygdalin and hippocampal reactivity, can be mediated through gut-brain chemical signals that cross-activate bacterial and host receptors []. Probiotic treatment is associated with positive neurological changes in the brain such as increased BDNF, altered expression of GABA receptors, increased circulating glutathione, and a reduction in inflammatory markers. This implicates the gut microbiome in early emotional training as well as in affecting long-term cognitive plasticity.

Critically, gut microbiota can modulate synthesis of metabolites affecting gene expression for myelin production in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), presumably influencing the oligodendrocyte transcriptome []. Prosocial and risk associated behavior in probiotic treated mice, a mild analog for novelty-seeking and risk-seeking behaviors in humans, suggests a potential corollary between entrenched behavioral phenotypes and catecholamines (serotonin and dopamine) produced by the gut microbiota []. Evolutionary acceleration of the human PFC metabolome divergence from chimpanzees, particularly the dopaminergic synapse [], reifies the notion that an exaggerated risk-reward complex characterizes human cognitive differentiation, which is facilitated by microbiome derived bioactive compounds. Therefore, quintessentially human behavioral phenotypes in stress, anxiety, and novelty-seeking is additionally reinforced by microbial production of neuroactive compounds. As neurological research expands to include the microbiome, it is increasingly clear that host–microbe interactions have likely played an important role in human brain evolution and development [].

Ancient human microbiomes
by Christina Warinner, Camilla Speller, Matthew J. Collins, and Cecil M. Lewis, Jr

Need for paleomicrobiology data

Although considerable effort has been invested in characterizing healthy gut and oral microbiomes, recent investigations of rural, non-Western populations () have raised questions about whether the microbiota we currently define as normal have been shaped by recent influences of modern Western diet, hygiene, antibiotic exposure, and lifestyle (). The process of industrialization has dramatically reduced our direct interaction with natural environments and fundamentally altered our relationship with food and food production. Situated at the entry point of our food, and the locus of food digestion, the human oral and gut microbiomes have evolved under conditions of regular exposure to a diverse range of environmental and zoonotic microbes that are no longer present in today’s globalized food chain. Additionally, the foods themselves have changed from the wild natural products consumed by our hunter-gatherer ancestors to today’s urban supermarkets stocked with an abundance of highly processed Western foodstuffs containing artificially enriched levels of sugar, oil, and salt, not to mention antimicrobial preservatives, petroleum-based colorants, and numerous other artificial ingredients. This dietary shift has altered selection pressure on our microbiomes. For example, under the ‘ecological plaque hypothesis’, diseases such as dental caries and periodontal disease are described as oral ecological catastrophes of cultural and lifestyle choices ().

Although it is now clear that the human microbiome plays a critical role in making us human, in keeping us healthy, and in making us sick, we know remarkably little about the diversity, variation, and evolution of the human microbiome both today and in the past. Instead, we are left with many questions: When and how did our bacterial communities become distinctly human? And what does this mean for our microbiomes today and in the future? How do we acquire and transmit microbiomes and to what degree is this affected by our cultural practices and built environments? How have modern Western diets, hygiene practices, and antibiotic exposure impacted ‘normal’ microbiome function? Are we still in mutualistic symbiosis with our microbiomes, or are the so-called ‘diseases of civilization’ – heart disease, obesity, type II diabetes, asthma, allergies, osteoporosis – evidence that our microbiomes are out of ecological balance and teetering on dysbiosis ()? At an even more fundamental level, who are the members of the human microbiome, how did they come to inhabit us, and how long have they been there? Who is ‘our microbial self’ ()?

Studies of remote and indigenous communities () and crowdsourcing projects such as the American Gut (www.americangut.org), the Earth Microbiome Project (www.earthmicrobiome.org), and uBiome (www.uBiome.com) are attempting to characterize modern microbiomes across a range of contemporary environments. Nevertheless, even the most extensive sampling of modern microbiota will provide limited insight into Pre-Industrial microbiomes. By contrast, the direct investigation of ancient microbiomes from discrete locations and time points in the past would provide a unique view into the coevolution of microbes and hosts, host microbial ecology, and changing human health states through time. […]

Diet also plays a role in shaping the composition of oral microbiomes, most notably by the action of dietary sugar in promoting the growth of cariogenic bacteria such as lactobacilli and S. mutans (). Two recent papers have proposed that cariogenic bacteria, such as S. mutans, were absent in pre-Neolithic human populations, possibly indicating low carbohydrate diets (), while evolutionary genomic analyses of S. mutans suggest an expansion in this species approximately 10,000 years, coinciding with the onset of agriculture (). […]

Ancient microbiome research provides an additional pathway to understanding human biology that cannot be achieved by studies of extant individuals and related species alone. Although reconstructing the ancestral microbiome by studying our ancestors directly is not without challenges (), this approach provides a more direct picture of human-microbe coevolution. Likewise, ancient microbiome sources may reveal to what extent bacteria commonly considered ‘pathogenic’ in the modern world (for example, H. pylori) were endemic indigenous organisms in pre-Industrial microbiomes ().

The three paths to reconstructing the ancestral microbiomes are also complimentary. For example, analysis of the gut microbiome from extant, rural peoples in Africa and South America have revealed the presence of a common, potentially commensal, spirochete belonging to the genus Treponema (). Such spirochetes have also been detected in extant hunter-gatherers (), and in 1,000-year-old human coprolites from Mexico (), but they are essentially absent from healthy urban populations, and they have not been reported in the gut microbiome of chimpanzees (). These multiple lines of evidence suggest that this poorly understood spirochete is a member of the ancestral human microbiome, yet not necessarily the broader primate microbiome. Future coprolite research may be able to answer the question of how long this microbe has co-associated with humans, and what niche it fills.

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Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health
Spartan Diet
The Agricultural Mind
Malnourished Americans

Neuroscientist Shows What Fasting Does To Your Brain & Why Big Pharma Won’t Study It
by Arjun Walia

Does Fasting Make You Smarter?
by Derek Beres

Fasting Cleans the Brain
by P. D. Mangan

How Fasting Heals Your Brain
by Adriana Ayales

Effect of Intermittent Fasting on Brain Neurotransmitters, Neutrophils Phagocytic Activity, and Histopathological Finding in Some Organs in Rats
by Sherif M. Shawky, Anis M. Zaid, Sahar H. Orabi, Khaled M. Shoghy, and Wafaa A. Hassan

The Effects of Fasting During Ramadan on the Concentration of Serotonin, Dopamine, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Nerve Growth Factor
by Abdolhossein Bastani, Sadegh Rajabi, and Fatemeh Kianimarkani

Gut microbiome, SCFAs, mood disorders, ketogenic diet and seizures
by Jonathan Miller

Study: Ketogenic diet appears to prevent cognitive decline in mice
by University of Kentucky

Low-carb Diet Alleviates Inherited Form of Intellectual Disability in Mice
by Johns Hopkins Medicine

Ketogenic Diet Protects Against Alzheimer’s Disease by Keeping Your Brain Healthy and Youthful
by Joseph Mercola

The Gut Microbiota Mediates the Anti-Seizure Effects of the Ketogenic Diet.
by C. A. Olson

Is the Keto Diet Bad for the Microbiome?
by David Jockers

Does a Ketogenic Diet Change Our Microbiome?
by Christie Rice

Can Health Issues Be Solved By Dietary Changes Altering the Microbiome?
by Russ Schierling

Some Benefits of Intermittent Fasting are Mediated by the Gut Microbiome
by Fight Aging!

RHR: Is High Fat Healthy for the Gut Microbiota?
by Chris Kresser

A Comprehensive List of Low Carb Research
by Sarah Hallberg

Randomised Controlled Trials Comparing Low-Carb Diets Of Less Than 130g Carbohydrate Per Day To Low-Fat Diets Of Less Than 35% Fat Of Total Calories
from Public Health Collaboration

Spartan Diet

There are a number well known low-carb diets. The most widely cited is that of the Inuit, but the Masai are often mentioned as well. I came across another example in Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (see here for earlier discussion).

Mongols lived off of meat, blood, and milk paste. This diet, as the Chinese observed, allowed the Mongol warriors to ride and fight for days on end without needing to stop for meals. Part of this is because they could eat while riding, but there is a more key factor. This diet is so low-carb as to be ketogenic. And long-term ketosis leads to fat-adaptation which allows for high energy and stamina, even without meals as long as one has enough fat reserves (i.e., body fat). The feast and fast style of eating is common among non-agriculturalists.

There are other historical examples I haven’t previously researched. Ori Hofmekler in The Warrior Diet, claims that Spartans and Romans ate in a brief period each day, about a four hour window — because of the practice of having a communal meal once a day. This basically meant fasting for lengthy periods, although today it is often described as time-restricted eating. As I recall, Sikh monks have a similar practice of only eating one meal a day during which they are free to eat as much as they want. The trick to this diet is that it decreases overall food intake and keeps the body in ketosis more often — if starchy foods are restricted enough and the body is fat-adapted, this lessens hunger and cravings.

The Mongols may have been doing something similar. The thing about ketosis is your desire to snack all the time simply goes away. You don’t have to force yourself into food deprivation and it isn’t starvation, even if going without food for several days. As long as there is plenty of body fat and you are fat-adapted, the body maintains health, energy and mood just fine until the next big meal. Even non-warrior societies do this. The meat-loving and blubber-gluttonous Inuit don’t tolerate aggression in the slightest, and they certainly aren’t known for amassing large armies and going on military campaigns. Or consider the Piraha who are largely pacifists, banishing their own members if they kill another person, even someone from another tribe. The Piraha get about 70% of their diet from fish and other meat, that is to say a ketogenic diet. Plus, even though surrounded by lush forests filled with a wide variety of food, plants and animals, the Piraha regularly choose not to eat — sometimes for no particular reason but also sometimes when doing communal dances over multiple days.

So, I wouldn’t be surprised if Spartan and Roman warriors had similar practices, especially the Spartans who didn’t farm much (the grains that were grown by the Spartans’ slaves likely were most often fed to the slaves, not as much to the ruling Spartans). As for Romans, their diet probably became more carb-centric as Rome grew into an agricultural empire. But early on in the days of the Roman Republic, Romans probably were like Spartans in the heavy focus they would have put on raising cattle and hunting game. Still, a diet doesn’t have to be heavy in fatty meat to be ketogenic, as long as it involves some combination of calorie restriction, portion control, narrow periods of meals, intermittent fasting, etc — all being other ways of lessening the total intake of starchy foods.

One of the most common meals for Spartans was a blood and bone broth using boiled pork mixed with salt and vinegar, the consistency being thick and the color black. That would have included a lot of fat, fat-soluble vitamins, minerals, collagen, electrolytes, and much else. It was a nutrient-dense elixir of health, however horrible it may seem to the modern palate. And it probably was low-carb, depending on what else might’ve been added to it. Even the wine Spartans drink was watered down, as drunkenness was frowned upon. The purpose was probably more to kill unhealthy microbes in the water, as was watered down beer millennia later for early Americans, and so it would have added little sugar to the diet. Like the Mongols, they also enjoyed dairy. And they did have some grains such as bread, but apparently it was never a staple of their diet.

One thing they probably ate little of was olive oil, assuming it was used at all, as it was rarely mentioned in ancient texts and only became popular among Greeks in recent history, specifically the past century (discussed by Nina Teicholz in The Big Fat Surprise). Instead, Spartans as with most other early Greeks would have preferred animal fat, mostly lard in the case of the Spartans, whereas many other less landlocked Greeks preferred fish. Other foods the ancient Greeks, Spartans and otherwise, lacked was tomatoes later introduced from the New World and noodles later introduced from China, both during the colonial era of recent centuries. So, a traditional Greek diet would have looked far different than what we think of as the modern ‘Mediterranean diet’.

On top of that, Spartans were proud of eating very little and proud of their ability to fast. Plutarch (2nd century AD) writes in Parallel Lives “For the meals allowed them are scanty, in order that they may take into their own hands the fight against hunger, and so be forced into boldness and cunning”. Also, Xenophon who was alive whilst Sparta existed, writes in Spartan Society 2, “furnish for the common meal just the right amount for [the boys in their charge] never to become sluggish through being too full, while also giving them a taste of what it is not to have enough.” (from The Ancient Warrior Diet: Spartans) It’s hard to see how this wouldn’t have been ketogenic. Spartans were known for being great warriors achieving feats of military prowess that would’ve been impossible from lesser men. On their fatty meat diet of pork and game, they were taller and leaner than other Greeks. They didn’t have large meals and fasted for most of the day, but when they did eat it was food dense in fat, calories, and nutrition.

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Ancient Spartan Food and Diet
from Legend & Chronicles

The Secrets of Spartan Cuisine
by Helena P. Schrader

Cold War Silencing of Science

In the early Cold War, the United States government at times was amazingly heavy-handed in its use of domestic power.

There was plenty of surveillance, of course. But there was also blatant propaganda with professors, journalists, and artists on the payroll of intelligence agencies, not to mention funding going to writing programs, American studies, etc. Worse still, there were such things as COINTELPRO, including truly effed up shit like the attempt to blackmail Martin Luther King, jr. into committing suicide. There is another angle to this. Along with putting out propaganda, they would do the opposite by trying to silence alternative voices and enforce conformity. They did that with the McCarthyist attacks on anyone perceived or falsely portrayed as deviant or as a fellow traveler of deviants. This destroyed careers and did successfully lead to some suicides of those devastated. But there was another kind of shutting down that I find sad as someone who affirms a free society as, among else, the free flow of information.

When Nikola Tesla died, the FBI swooped in and stole his research with no justification, as Tesla was a US citizen and such actions are both illegal and unconstitutional. They didn’t release his papers until 73 years later and no one knows if they released everything, as there is no transparency or accountability. One of the most famous examples is much more heinous. Wilhelm Reich was targeted by the American Medical Association, FDA, and FBI. The government arrested him and sentenced him to prison where he died. All of his journals and books were incinerated. In the end, the FDA had spent $2 million investigating and prosecuting Reich, simply because they didn’t like his research and of course his promoting sexual deviancy through free love.

These were not minor figures either. Nikola Tesla was one of the greatest scientists in the world and most definitely the greatest inventor in American history. And Wilhelm Reich was a famous doctor and psychoanalyst, an associate of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and a well known writer. Their otherwise respectable positions didn’t protect them. Imagine what the government could get away with when they targeted average Americans with no one to protest and come to their defense. This same abuse of power was seen in related fields. A major focus of Reich’s work was health and, of course, he shared that area of concern with the FDA who saw it as their personal territory to rule as they wished. The FDA went after many with alternative health views that gained enough public attention and they could always find a reason to justify persecution.

I’ve come across examples in diet and nutrition, such as last year when I read Nina Planck’s Real Food where she writes about Adelle Davis, a biochemist and nutritionist who became a popular writer and gained celebrity as a public intellectual. Since she advocated a healthy diet of traditional foods, this put her in the cross-hairs of the powerful that sought to defend the standard American diet (SAD):

“My mother’s other nutritional hero was Adelle Davis, the best-selling writer who recommended whole foods and lots of protein. […] Davis had a master’s degree in biochemistry from the University of Southern California Medical School, but she wrote about nutrition in a friendly, common-sense style. In the 1950s and ’60s, titles like Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit and Let’s Get Well became bestsellers. […] Like Price, Davis was controversial. “She so infuriated the medical profession and the orthodox nutrition community that they would stop at nothing to discredit her,” recalls my friend Joann Grohman, a dairy farmer and nutrition writer who says Adelle Davis restored her own health and that of her five young children. “The FDA raided health food stores and seized her books under a false labeling law because they were displayed next to vitamin bottles.” ”

In the same period during the 1950s and 1960s, the FDA went after Carlton Fredericks in an extended battle. He had a master’s degree and a doctorate in public health education and was a former associate professor. What was his horrific crime? He suggested that the modern food supply had become deficient in nutrients because of industrial processing and so that supplementation was necessary for health. It didn’t matter this was factually true. Fredericks’ mistake was stating such obvious truths openly on his radio show and in his written material. The FDA seized copies of Eat, Live and Be Merry (1961) for allegedly recommending the treatment of ailments “with vitamin and mineral supplements, which products are not effective in treating such conditions” (Congress 1965) which were “not effective”. They declared this as “false labeling”, despite it never contradicting any known science at the time or since. Then a few years later, the Federal Trade Commission brought a similar charge of false advertising in the selling of his tape-recorded programs and writing, but the allegations didn’t stick and the case was dropped.

A brief perusal of web search results brought up a similar case. Gayelord Hauser was a nutritionist with degrees in naturopathy and chiropractic who, like the others, became a popular writer — with multiple books translated into 12 languages and a regular column in Hearst newspapers read nationwide. What brought official ire down upon him was that he became so famous as to be befriended by numerous Hollywood actors, which elevated his popularity even further. Authority figures in the government and experts within the medical field saw him as a ‘quack’ and ‘food faddist’, which is to say as an ideological competitor who needed to be eliminated. His views worthy of being silenced included that American should eat more foods rich in B vitamins and to avoid sugar and white flour. As you can see, he was a monster and a public menace. This brought on the righteous wrath of the American Medical Association along with the flour and sugar lobbies. So, this led to an initial charge of practicing medicine without a license with products seized and destroyed. Later on, in recommending black-strap molasses as a nutrient-dense food which it is, the FDA made the standard accusation of product endorsement and false claims, and this was followed by the standard action of confiscating his 1950 best-selling book on healthy diet, Look Younger, Live Longer. Now Hauser is remembered by many as a pioneer in his field and as founder of the natural food movement.

Let me end with one last example of Cold War suppression. In reading Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise, I noticed a brief reference to Herman Taller, a New York obstetrician and gynecologist. He too was an advocate of natural health. His book Calories Don’t Count got him into trouble for the same predictable reasons with claims of “false and misleading” labeling. He also sold supplements, but nothing bizarre — from bran fiber to safflower oil capsules, the latter being brought up in the legal case. His argument was that, since fish oil was healthy, other polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) would likewise be beneficial. It turns out he was wrong about safflower oil, but his scientific reasoning was sound for what was known at the time. His broader advocacy of a high fat diet with a focus on healthy fats has become mainstream since. Certain PUFAs, the omega-3 fats, are absolutely necessary for basic physiological functioning and indeed most people in the modern world do not get enough of them.

Anyway, it was never about fair-minded scientific inquiry and debate. So $30,000 worth of safflower‐oiI capsules and 1,600 copies of his book were taken from several warehouses. To justify this action, FDA Commissioner George P. Larrick stated that, “The book is full of false ideas, as many competent medical and nutritional writers have pointed out. Contrary to the book’s basic premise, weight reduction requires the reduction of caloric intake. There is no easy, simple substitute. Unfortunately, calories do count.” He decreed this from on high as the ultimate truth — the government would not tolerate anyone challenging this official ideology and yet scientists continue to debate the issue with recent research siding with Taller’s conclusion. According to the best science presently available, it is easy to argue that calories don’t count or, to put it another way, calorie-counting diets have proven a failure in study after study — a fact so well known that mainstream doctors and medical experts admit to its sad truth, even as they go on advising people to follow it and then blaming them for its failure.

If you’ve ever wondered how Ancel Keys’ weak evidence and bad science came to dominate as official dietary recommendations pushed by medical institutions, the federal government and the food industry, the above will give you some sense of the raw force of government authority that was used to achieve this end. It wasn’t only voices of popular writers and celebrity figures that were silenced, eliminated, and discredited. Gary Taubes and Nina Teicholz discuss how a related persecution happened within academia where independent researchers lost funding and no longer were invited to speak at conferences. For a half century, it was impossible to seriously challenge this behemoth of the dietary-industrial complex. And during this era, scientific research was stunted. This Cold War era oppression is only now beginning to thaw.

Paleo Diet, Traditional Foods, & General Health

Diet & Lifestyle

Basic Guidelines (LCHF):

  • low carb (LC)
  • high fat (HF)
  • moderate protein

Eliminate or Lessen:

  • industrially farmed & heavily processed foods, especially with many additives, including when labeled as healthy.
  • foods from factory farmed animals.
  • vegetable oils, especially hydrogenated seed oils (e.g., canola) & margarine; but some are good for you (see below).
  • carbs, especially simple carbs with high glycemic index & load: potatoes, rice, bread, etc; sweet potatoes a better choice but limit consumption; better to eat raw carrots than cooked carrots; but cooking & then cooling carbs creates resistant starches that turn into sugar more slowly.
  • grains, especially wheat; some people better handle ancient grains, sprouted or long-fermented breads (sourdough); but better to avoid entirely.
  • added sugar, especially fructose; also avoid artificial sweeteners (causes insulin problems & cause diabetes); if sweetener is desired, try raw stevia.
  • fruit, especially high sugar: grapes, pineapple, pears, bananas, watermelon, apples, prunes, pomegranates, etc.
  • dairy, especially cow milk; some handle better non-cow milk, cultured milk, & aged cheese; but better to avoid entirely.

Emphasize & Increase:

  • organic, whole foods, locally grown, in season.
  • foods from pasture raised or grass fed animals.
  • healthy fats/oils: animal fat, butter/ghee, avocado oil, & coconut oil for cooking; coconut milk/cream & almond milk for drinks (e.g., added to coffee); cold-pressed olive oil for salads or adding to already cooked foods; cold-pressed seed oils used sparingly; cod liver oil, krill oil (Neptune is best), flax oil, borage oil, evening primrose oil, etc for supplementation (don’t need to take all of them); maybe MCT oil for ketosis (seek advice of your physician).
  • fibrous starches & nutritious vegetables/fruits: leafy greens, broccoli, green beans, onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery, beets, black cherries, berries, olives, avocados, etc.
  • nutrient-density & fat-soluble vitamins, besides healthy fats/oils: eggs, wild-caught fish, other seafoods, organ meats, bone broth, aged cheese (raw is best), yogurt, kefir, avocados; nutritional yeast (gluten-free), bee pollen, & royal jelly.
  • protein: eggs, fatty meats, nuts/seeds (handful a day), & avocados.
  • probiotics (from fermented/cultured foods preferrably): traditional sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, natto, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, etc; not necessarily recommended for everyone, depending on gut health.
  • supplements (besides already mentioned above): ox bile for fat digestion, turmeric/curcumin & CBD oil for inflammation, CoQ10 if you are on statins, etc; only take as needed.
  • seasoning: black pepper contains bioperine which helps absorption of nutrients; onions and garlic are also great sources of nutrients and the specific soluble fiber that feeds microbes.

Other Suggestions:

  • fasting: occasionally/intermittently, starting with a single day & maybe eventually increasing length (the immune system is replaced/recuperated after 2-3 days); an extended fast can be good to do around once a year, assuming your in relatively good health.
  • restricted eating period: limit meal time to a 4-8 hour window of the day (even limiting it to 12 hours will be beneficial as compared to eating non-stop from waking to sleeping) followed by a short-term fast; start by skipping a meal & work up from there (some people find going without breakfast to be the easiest since you are already in fasting mode from the night’s sleep).
  • ketosis: if carbs are restricted enough or fasting continues long enough (glucose & stored glycogen is used up), the body will switch from burning glucose to burning fat, the latter turning into ketones (MCT oil will aid this process); for carb restriction, body burns fat consumed; for fasting, body burns body fat.
  • salt & water: body can become depleted if diet is strictly low carb & high fat/protein, especially in ketosis; salt is needed to metabolize protein.
  • exercise: aerobics & strength training (especially beneficial is high intensity for short duration); improves metabolism & general health; helps get into ketosis.
  • stress management: get plenty of sleep, spend time in nature, regularly socialize with friends & family, try relaxation (meditation, yoga, etc), find ways to play (games, sports, be around children), etc.
  • sunshine: get regular time outside in the middle of day without sunscreen to produce vitamin D & improve mood (for those not near the equator), as studies correlate this to lower skin cancer rates & longer life.

Resources:

Documentaries/Shows:

(lists here & here)

The Perfect Human Diet
The Magic Pill
The Paleo Way
We Love Paleo
Carb Loaded
My Big Fat Diet
Fed Up
Fat Head
What’s With Wheat?
The Big Fat Lie (coming soon)
The Real Skinny on Fat (coming soon)

Books:

Gary Taubes – Good Calories, Bad Calories; & Why We Get Fat
Nina Teicholz – The Big Fat Surprise (being made into a documentary)
Tim Noakes – Lore of Nutrition
Robert Lustig – Fat Chance
Loren Cordain – The Paleo Diet; & The Paleo Answer
Robb Wolf – The Paleo Solution
Mark Sisson – The Primal Blueprint
Nora T. Gedgaudas – Primal Body, Primal Mind
Sally Fallon Morell – Nourishing Diets
Catherine Shanahan – Food Rules; & Deep Nutrition
Sarah Ballantyne – The Paleo Approach; & Paleo Principles
Mark Hyman – Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?
David Perlmutter – Grain Brain
William Davis – Wheat Belly
John Yudkin – Pure, White and Deadly
Weston A. Price – Nutrition and Physical Degeneration
Francis Marion Pottenger Jr. – Pottenger’s Cats: A Study in Nutrition

Blogs/Websites:

(recommendations here)

Gary Taubes
Nina Teicholz
Tim Noakes
Robert Lustig
Gary Fettke
Loren Cordain
Robb Wolf
Mark Sisson
Nora Gedgaudas
Jimmy Moore
Pete Evans
Zoe Harcombe
Chris Kresser
Chris Masterjohn
Sarah Ballantyne
Catherine Shanahan
Terry Wahls
Will Cole
Josh Axe
Dave Asprey
Mark Hyman
Joseph Mercola
David Perlmutter
William Davis
Paleohacks
The Weston A. Price Foundation
Price-Pottenger

Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet

“Civilisation is in crisis. We can no longer feed our population a healthy diet while balancing planetary resources. For the first time in 200 000 years of human history, we are severely out of synchronisation with the planet and nature. This crisis is accelerating, stretching Earth to its limits, and threatening human and other species’ sustained existence.”

Those words, found on the main page for EAT-Lancet, are from comments by Tarmara Lucas and Richard Horton, editors for The Lancet. EAT-Lancet is a campaign to force a high-carb, plant-based diet on all or most of the world’s population. The report itself, Food in the Anthropocene, is basically an opinion piece with the names of 37 scientists attached to it; but it doesn’t represent consensus opinion in the field nor are the references in the report reliable. The groups behind it have global aspirations. I don’t automatically have a problem with this, despite my dislike of technocratic paternalism, for I understand there are global problems that require global solutions (pollution, for example, knows no national boundary with 40% of worldwide deaths attributed to air pollution alone). But there is a long history of bad dietary advice being imposed on large populations. I’m not fond of dominator culture, no matter how good the intentions. We might be wise to take caution before going down that road again.

Besides, there seems to be an inherent contradiction behind this advocacy. The report and the editorial both are praising basically what is the same old high-carb diet that governments around the world have been pushing since the late 1970s, a diet that is correlated with an epidemic of chronic diseases. The journal’s own editors seemingly admit that they see it as a forced choice between “a healthy diet” and “balancing planetary resources” — one or the other but not both. Or rather, since many of them don’t follow their own advice (more on that further down), it’s good health for the rich shoved onto the malnourished shoulders of the poor. This interpretation is indicated by how the report simultaneously acknowledges certain foods are healthy even as those very foods are supposed to be restricted. Then the authors suggest that vitamin supplementation or fortification might be necessary to make up for what is lacking. This is further supported by the words of Walter Willet, one of EAT-Lancet’s main advocates — he argues that, “If we were just minimising greenhouse gases we’d say everyone be vegan”, a highly questionable claim as the data is off, but Willett has also been reported as acknowledging that, “a vegan diet wasn’t necessarily the healthiest option”. The EAT-Lancet report itself actually discusses the health benefits of animal foods. Such a deficient diet can’t honestly be called healthy when it requires nutritional supplementation because the food eaten doesn’t fully nourish the body. Sure, if you want to be a vegan for moral reasons to save the planet or whatever, more power to you and be sure to take vitamins. But let’s be clear that this has nothing to do with health.

Other than the ethics of meat-eating, why is this dietary regimen near-vegan in its restriction of animal foods? It’s not always clear, in the report, when a dietary suggestion is intended to promote human health or intended to promote planetary health (or maybe something else entirely). Are they really trying to save the world or simply hoping to prop up a collapsing global order? And what does this mean in practice? “Here is another question,” tweeted Troy Stapleton“If one were to provide a patient with advice to eat a “plant based diet” should the patient also be given information that this advice is based on environmental concerns and not their health?” This is a serious set of questions when it comes to sustainability. This EAT-Lancet diet of high-carbs and processed foods is guaranteed to worsen the chronic diseases that are plaguing us, as Walter Willet has argued himself (see below), and the rapidly rising costs of healthcare because of this could bankrupt our society. That is the opposite of sustainable, even if one ignores the moral quandary of giving people bad health advice in the hope that it might save the planet, despite the lack of evidence supporting this hope.

The claims about a healthy diet are suspect for other reasons as well. “The Achilles heel of the proposal?,” asks Tim Noakes and then continues, “Most must surely realise that this cannot be healthy in the long term.” For a key area of health, “Our brains NEED animal foods. They’re 2/3 fat and can’t function without DHA. It also needs Vitamins B12, K2, A & Iron. They’re ONLY in animal foods & without them we have major brain issues. The spread of veganism is pouring fuel on the mental health crisis fire” (Carnivore Aurelius). The EAT-Lancet diet is similar to the macrobiotic diet and that is worrying. Why do mainstream authorities have endless praise for plant-based diets? There is no consistent evidence of greater health among vegetarians and vegans. In some comparisons, they fare better while, in others, they do worse. And on average, they are middling in health outcomes, and middling isn’t overly impressive in our disease-ridden society. The data shows that vegans and vegetarians take twice as many sick days as meat-eaters, have lower sperm counts, etc. This might explain why there are more, three times to five times more in fact, ex-vegans and ex-vegetarians than still practicing vegans and vegetarians — 84% going back to meat and most of those after only a year on the diet, and the largest percentage cited concerns about declining health as the motivating reason. American ‘vegetarians’, on average, eat one serving of meat a day and this involves most who identify as vegetarian, particularly common while drunk which includes a third (37%) of them, but I’ve been surprised by how many vegans and vegetarians I’ve come across who somehow don’t consider fish to be animals and so eat them freely. In responding to accusations of fad diets, David Gillepsie summarizes the nutritional failure of plant-based diets as potentially some of the worst fad diets:

Research indicates that “the health of Western vegetarians is good and similar to that of comparable non-vegetarians”. However, studies also tell us that while vegetarian diets provide higher amounts of carbohydrates, omega-6 polyunsaturated fats, fibre, vitamin C, vitamin E and magnesium (compared to omnivores) they have lower amounts of protein, saturated fat, omega-3 fats, vitamins A, D and B12 and Zinc. Vegans are usually particularly low in B12 and also Calcium, a deficiency they are likely to share with hard-core paleo enthusiasts because both avoid dairy. We use vitamin B12 to create our DNA, red blood cells and the myelin insulation around our nerves. Not having enough of it can result in fatigue, weakness, psychiatric problems and anaemia. B12 deficiency in children and the elderly is even more worrying. Studies have consistently shown that children and older people lacking B12 suffer significant cognitive defects such as memory and reasoning. The lack of long chain omega-3 fats, the abundance of omega-6 fats and deficiencies in the fat soluble vitamins A and D are also serious cause for concern particularly in pregnancy.”

I have no doubt the EAT-Lancet proponents know this kind of data. But since among the authors of the report “more than 80% of them (31 out of 37) espoused vegetarian views” and “have, through their work, been promoting vegetarian, anti-meat views since before joining the EAT-Lancet Commission” (Nina Teicholz) and since “Oxford’s Dr Marco Springmann, the scientist behind much of the environmental portion of EAT Lancet[,…] is an activist vegan not considered biased but a cattle rancher is” (Frank Mitloehner), they wouldn’t be biased toward spreading this contrary evidence that undermines their belief system and ideological agenda. As these same scientists know or should know, this is not a new situation since malnourishment caused by dietary guidelines has been going on for generations at this point (consumption of nutrient-dense foods and animal-based foods has followed the same downward trend, opposite to the upward trend of simple carbs, seed oils, and processed foods). This point is also made by Teicholz: “Americans have eaten more plants, fewer animal foods, and 34% less red meat since 1970. While, rates of obesity and diabetes have skyrocketed. How does it make sense that continuing on this path will improve health if it hasn’t so far?” Compare that to American in “1955 when more than half of our calories came from meat, eggs, milk, cream, fats and oils […] and adult diabetes was virtually unheard of (Adele Hite, Keeping it Simply Stupid) and that was a lower level of animal foods than seen before that, such that: “In 1900 our diet was 10% carbs, in 2010 it is 63%” (Carroll Hoagland). This isn’t limited to Americans since the 1977 US Department Diet Guidelines were adopted widely throughout the world, based on extremely weak evidence and bad science.

Not long before the Eat-Lancet report was published, The Lancet journal also published a paper on the large and well-controlled PURE study that showed a diet low in carbs and high in animal foods, both meat and fat increased health — including the sources of saturated fat that most often gets blamed: “Those eating the highest levels of dairy and red meat saw their chances of early death fall by 25 per cent and a fatal heart attack cut by 22 per cent” (Nick McDermot). Based on The Lancet’s own published data, the EAT-Lancet recommendations make no sense. And as EAT-Lancet was based on weak science, it is sadly amusing that The Lancet just published another paper stating that, “In the absence of randomisation, analyses of most observational data from the real world, regardless of their sophistication, can only be viewed as hypothesis generating.” I’m pretty sure the EAT-Lancet report wasn’t intended to merely generate hypotheses. So, what is the justification for these unscientific dietary recommendations? Stating it simply, Teicholz concludes“There is no rational basis for that.” An as usual, Dr. Jason Fung shares his take on the situation: “they know they’re going to succeed with the same advice. Insanity, literally.” In another tweet, Tim Noakes concludes with a rhetorical question: “Don’t humans ever learn?”

Official dietary recommendations have been a grand failure, one could easily argue, and we have no reason to expect different results, other than a continued worsening as ill health accumulates from one generation to the next. Then again, maybe it hasn’t failed in that maybe it’s purpose was never to promote public health in the first place. When something seems to fail and continues to get repeated, consider the possibility that it is serving some other purpose all too well. If so, the real agenda simply isn’t the one being publicly stated. Not to be conspiratorial, but human nature is what it is and that means people are good at rationalizing to themselves and others. It is largely irrelevant whether or not they sincerely believe they have good intentions.

Perhaps the covert motive is old school social control and social engineering, and quite possibly motivated by genuine concern of paternalism. Promoting a single diet for all the world would mean more big government run by technocrats who work for plutocrats, all to make the world a better place and it just so happens to directly benefit certain people more than others. The ruling elite and the comfortable classes are starting to worry about the consequences of capitalism that has slowly destroyed the world and, in a technocratic fantasy, they are hoping to manage the situation. That means getting the masses in line. There are too many useless eaters. And if the excess population (i.e., the takers) can’t be eliminated entirely without a lot of mess and complication (World War III, plague, eugenics, etc), their consumption habits could be manipulated and redirected so that they don’t use up the resources needed by the rich (i.e., the makers). Since the teeming masses are useless anyhow, it matters not that they’ll be further malnourished than they already are. Sure, an increasing number will die at a younger age and all the better, as it will keep the population down. (Yes, I’m being cynical, maybe more than is called for. But I don’t feel forgiving at the moment toward those who claim to have all the answers to complex problems. Let them experiment on themselves first and then get back to us later with the results.)

The commissioners of the report recommend that governments use “choice editing” in order to “guide choice” (nudge theory) through incentives, disincentives, and default policy or, failing that, “restrict choice” and “eliminate choice” to enforce compliance. That is to say, “the scale of change to the food system is unlikely to be successful if left to the individual or whim of consumer choice. This change requires reframing at the population and systemic level. By contrast, hard policy interventions include laws fiscal measures, subsidies and penalties, trade reconfiguration, and other economic and structural measures.” And they are ambitious: “For significant transformation to happen, all levels of society must be engaged, from individual consumers to policymakers and everybody along the food supply chain.” This interventionism, including “banning and pariah status of key products” along with “rationing on a population scale”, would be more authoritarian in its proposed strategy than prior guidelines. I wish that were a joke, but they are deadly serious. With a straight face, the same corporate-funded interests (big food, big ag & big oil) behind EAT-Lancet are telling us that, “We support the implementation of a global treaty to limit the political influence of Big Food” (Kat Lay, Tackling obesity ‘needs treaty like climate change’). “If hypocrisy was a food group we could feed thousands and thousands of people” (Linda Snell). It’s misleading to call these  ‘guidelines’ at all when the object is to eliminate choice because the masses are seen as being too stupid and weak to make the right choice.

No doubt, an austerity diet would never be willingly accepted by entire populations. In the blockade following World War II, the residents of Berlin were forced by circumstances into severe restriction of a subsistence diet based mostly on carbs while low in calories, protein and fat — not that far off from the present official dietary ideology. Writing in 1952, Dr. H. E. Magee, Senior Medical Officer of the UK Ministry of Health, concluded: “The Berlin diet was austere… and only the compelling force of hunger and the fear of political oppression would, I believe, make any civilized community continue to eat a similar diet for as long as the Berliners did” (Nutrition Lessons of the Berlin Blockade). Yet so many officials continue with the mentality that austerity diets are the way to go: calorie counting, portion control, etc. But Gary Taubes, In Why We Get Fat, shows that all this accomplishes is making people endlessly hungry with the perverse effect of gaining weight, even if initially losing it. Other than a blockade or government enforcement, hunger almost always wins out. That is why the only successful diets are satiating, which generally means nutrient-dense and high-fat. But to the modern mind built on Christian morality, the real problem is that we are gluttonous sinners. We must be punished with deprivation to cleanse our souls and expiate our sins.

As always, the elite want to tell the lower classes how to live and then to have them do as their told, by carrot or stick. “The EAT-Lancet Commission spent three years calculating the first scientific targets for a healthy, globally-sustainable diet,” wrote Nick McDermott. “But,” he noted, “the panel of experts admitted none of them were on it.” Most of them admit their hypocrisy and the others maybe are unwilling to state it publicly: “The commission said red meat should be seen as “a treat”, similar to lobster but the plan is so strict that two out of three commission members introducing the diet at a briefing in London on Wednesday said they were not currently sticking to it. Dr Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief at The Lancet, said: “I’m close, but I have two eggs for breakfast every morning, so I’m already having too many eggs.” Author Dr Line Gordon, director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, also admitted: “I am moving towards it, but I have young kids at home, which is driving me in the wrong direction” (Sarah Knapton, ‘Planetary health diet’: Britons urged to cut meat intake to equivalent of one beefburger a fortnight).

The billionaires behind the EAT Foundation brazenly post pictures of themselves eating meat, from massive hamburgers to squid (and at least one of them identifies as a ‘vegan’). So, do as they say, not as they do. Also pointing out the blatant hypocrisy were Nina Teicholz and Dr. Jason Fung, the former stating it bluntly about one of the rich advocates: “#EATlancet funders: Private plane jetting around the world, major carbon footprint lifestyle while telling others to save planet from global warming. Doesn’t sound right.” Connecting some dots, Jeroen Sluiter observed that this isn’t exactly new behavior for the paternalistic dietary elite: “This reminds me of how nutrition guidelines’ first villain, Ancel Keys, lectured all of us about the “dangers” of meat while frequently enjoying the most delicious roast beef with his wife Margaret.”

I was reminded of the exact same thing. In reference to Ancel Key’s “stringent vows of the dietary priesthood”, Sally Fallon Morell offers the following note (p. 157, Nourishing Diets): “Actually, Keys recommended the practice of renunciation for the general population but not for himself or those of his inner circle. The esteemed researcher Fred Kummerow, PhD, defender of eggs and butter in the human diet, once spied Keys and a colleague eating eggs and bacon at a conference for cardiologists. When Kummerow inquired whether Keys had changed his mind about dietary fats and cholesterol, Keys replied that such a restricted diet was “for others,” not for himself.” In The Big Fat Surprise, Nina Teicholz also talks about this hypocrisy: “Keys himself, according to the [Times Magazine (January 13, 1961)] article, seemed barely to follow his own advice; his “ritual” of dinner by candlelight and “soft Brahms” at home with Margaret included meat—steak, chops, and roasts—three times a week or less. (He and Stamler were also once spotted by a colleague at a conference tucking into scrambled eggs and “five or so rations” of bacon.) “Nobody wants to live on mush,” Keys explained” (p. 62). Keep in mind that Keys was the main figure that forced this dietary religion onto the American population and much of the rest of the world. With persuasive charisma, he righteously advocated that others should eat a high carb and fiber diet with restricted animal products: meat, fat, butter, eggs, etc. This became government policy and transformed the entire food sector. The eventual impact has been on possibly billions of people over multiple generations. Yet it wasn’t important enough for his own dietary habits.

There is not enough to go around, but don’t worry, our benevolent overlords will never go without. As yet another put it with some historical context, “The elites will never eat this diet they prescribe to the masses. Meat for me. And wheat for thee. The elites with their superior bodies brains intellects and money will need special nutrition to maintain their hegemony and rightful place as leaders of the planet. Ask yourself why the silicon valley brainiacs are all on keto/carnivore. It’s a reenactment of feudal life w fatty meats for the elites & thin gruel for the peasants” (David Smith). A high-carb diet combined with low-protein and low-fat has always been a poverty diet, rarely eaten by choice other than by ascetic monks: “A vegetarian or fish-based diet was most often associated with self-denial and penitence” (Sydney Watts, “Enlightened Fasting”; from Food and Faith in Christian Culture, p. 119). Worse still, it easily can lead to malnutrition and, except when calories are pushed so low as to be a starvation diet, it’s fattening.

This general strategy has been done before. It’s a way of shifting the blame and the consequences elsewhere. It’s the same as promoting feel good policies such as encouraging recycling for households, which helps distract from the fact that the immensity of waste comes from factories and other businesses. The rich use most of the resources and cause the most problems. Yet it’s the rest of us who are supposed to take responsibility, as consumer-citizens. What the rich pushing this agenda refuse to talk about is that the entire system is to blame, the very system they benefit the most from. The only way to solve the problem is to eliminate the socioeconomic order that creates people so rich and powerful that they dream of controlling the world. If sustainability is the genuine concern, we need to return to a smaller-scale decentralized way of living where solutions come from communities, not enforced by distant bureaucrats and technocrats. But that would mean reducing inequality of wealth and power by bringing the resources and decision-making back to local populations. As Peter Kalmus wisely put it, “You cannot have billionaires and a livable Earth. The two cannot go together.” That isn’t what the billionaires Petter and Gunhild Stordalen leading this campaign want, though (their organization is the EAT part of EAT-Lancet). They like the inequality just fine the way it is, if not for the problem of all those poor people.

As Herman Melvile put it, “Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.” The rich are worrying about what will happen when the living conditions, including diets, improve for the rest of the global population. And there is reason to worry for, after all, it is a finite planet. But the upper classes should worry about themselves, with the externalized costs of their lifestyle (on a finite planet, externalizations that go around come around). Once the obstructionist elite get out of the way, I have no doubt that the rest of us can come up with innovative responses to these dire times. Locally-sourced food eaten in season, organic and GMO-free agriculture, community gardens and family farms, crop rotation and cattle pasturage, farmers markets and food co-ops, etc — these are the kinds of things that will save the world, assuming we aren’t already too late.

A local diet including animal foods will be a thousand times better for the planetary biosphere than turning all of earth’s available land into big ag industrial farming in order to support a plant-based diet. Even in the EAT-Lancet report, they agree that “animal production can also be essential for supporting livelihoods, grassland ecosystem services, poverty alleviation, and benefits of nutritional status.” They even go so far as to add that this is true “particularly in children and vulnerable populations.” Wondering about this dilemma, Barry Pearson states it bluntly: “Eliminating all people who EAT-Lancet isn’t suitable for, who is left? So far list of people it isn’t suitable for appears to include: Children. Old people. Pregnant or potentially pregnant women. People with diabetes. Has anyone identified a list of who it IS suitable for?” And Georgia Ede makes the same point, adding some to the list: “Yet the authors themselves admit diets low in animal foods are unhealthy for babies, growing children, teenage girls, pregnant women, aging adults, the malnourished, and the poor, and that high-carbohydrate diets are risky for those w/ insulin resistance.” Yet the EAT-Lancet true believers largely dismiss all animal foods, which are the best sources of fat-soluble vitamins that Weston A. Price found were central to the healthiest populations. Somehow too much animal products are bad for you and the entire planet, not just red meat but also chicken, fish, eggs and dairy (anyway, why pick on red meat considering over the past century beef consumption has not risen in countries like the United States or in the world as a whole). Instead, we’re supposed to sustain ourselves on loads of carbs, as part of the decades of government-subsidized, chemically-doused, genetically-modified, and nutrient-depleted “Green Revolution”. That should make happy the CEOs and shareholders of big ag, some of the main corporate backers of EAT-Lancet’s global agenda. “Ultra-processed food manufacturers must scarcely believe their luck. They’ve been handed a massive rebranding opportunity free of charge, courtesy of the vegan desire for plant-based junk posing as dairy, meat, fish, and eggs” (Joanna Blythman).

What they don’t explain is how the world’s poor are supposed to eat this way. That is no minor detail being overlooked. Most of the population in the world and in many developed countries, including the United States, are poor. This idealized diet is presented as emphasizing fruits and vegetables. But in many poor countries, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than some animal foods. That is when they are available at all which is often not the case in the food deserts that so many of the poor are trapped in. The authors of the report do admit that animal foods might be increased slightly for many demographics — as Dr. Georgia Ede put it: “Although their diet plan is intended for all “generally healthy individuals aged two years and older,” the authors admit it falls short of providing proper nutrition for growing children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, aging adults, the malnourished, and the impoverished—and that even those not within these special categories will need to take supplements to meet their basic requirements.” It’s not clear what this means, as this admission goes against their general recommendations. The proposal is vague on details with neither food lists nor meal plans. And, oddly, the details shown don’t actually indicate greater amounts of fruits and vegetables, as the plant-based foods mostly consist of carbs (according to Optimising Nutrition’s Should you EAT Lancet?, the calorie breakdown should be: 70% plant-based including sweeteners; with 46% carbs; only 3% vegetables & 5% fruits; & a remarkable 5% for sweeteners, about equal to allowance of meat).

In the harsh criticism offered by Optimising Nutrition: “You would be forgiven if you thought from their promotional materials that they were promoting more vegetables. But it’s not actually the case! However, I admit they are promoting primarily a ‘plant based diet’ if you count corn, soy and wheat (grown using large scale agricultural practices, mono-cropping and large doses of fertilisers and chemical pesticides) and the oils that you can extract them as ‘plant based’.” I eat more actual vegetables on my low-carb, high-fat paleo diet than is being recommended in the EAT-Lancet report. Just because a diet is ‘plant-based’ doesn’t mean it’s healthy, considering most processed foods consist of plant-based ingredients. Even commercial whole wheat breads with some fiber and vitamins added back in to the denatured flour are basically junk food with good marketing. Heck, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup are both plant-based. The EAT-Lancet diet is basically the Standard American Diet (SAD), as it has fallen in line with decades of a Food Pyramid with carbs as the base and an emphasis on unhealthy seed oils — more from Optimising Nutrition:

“The thing that struck me was the EAT Lancet dietary guidance seems to largely be an extension of the current status quo that is maximising profits for the food industry and driving us to eat more than we need to. Other than the doubling down on the recommendation to reduce red meat and eggs, it largely seems like business-as-usual for the food industry. With Walter Willett at the helm, it probably shouldn’t be surprising that this looks and feels like an extension of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the whole world, complete with talk of United Nations level sanctions to prevent excess meat consumption. […] it’s the added fats and oils (mostly from unsaturated fats) as well as flours and cereals (from rice, wheat and corn) that have exploded in our food system and tracked closely with the rise in obesity. The EAT Lancet guidelines will ensure that this runaway trend continues!”

The report, though, isn’t entirely worthless for it does correctly point out some of the problems we face, specifically as part of a global crisis. But it most definitely is confusing and internally conflicted. Even if it genuinely were a diet high in healthy produce, it’s not clear why the dismissal of all animal foods, including eggs and dairy that are enjoyed by most vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. If feeding the world is the issue, it’s hard to beat an egg for cost effectiveness and it accomplishes this without need for the kind of subsidization we see with high-yield crops. When I was poor, I survived on eggs with the expensive ingredient being the few frozen vegetables I threw in for balance and variety. Eggs are filling, both satisfying and satiating. Also, they make for a quick and easy meal, an advantage for the working poor with limited time and energy.

We are being told, though, that eggs are part of what is destroying the world and so must be severely limited, if not entirely eliminated, for the good of humanity. “While eggs are no longer thought to increase risk of heart disease, Willett said the report recommends limiting them because studies indicate a breakfast of whole grains, nuts and fruit would be healthier” (Candice Choi). So, there is nothing unhealthy about eggs, but since they are made of protein and fat, we should eat more carbs and sugar instead — “According to EAT Lancet, you can eat 8 tsp of sugar but only 1/4 egg per day” (Nina Teicholz). After all, everyone knows that American health has improved over the decades as more carbs and sugar were eaten… no, wait, it’s the complete opposite with worsening health. That is plain fucked up! Explain to me again why eggs, one of the cheapest and healthiest food sources, are being targeted as a danger to human existence in somehow contributing or linked to overpopulation, environmental destruction, and climate change. What exactly is the connection? Am I missing something?

Whatever the explanation, eating less of such things as eggs, we are supposed to eat more of such things as vegetables, at least in taking at face value how this diet is being sold. Let’s pretend for a moment that the Eat-Lancet diet is accurately described as largely oriented toward fruits and vegetables and that, as a sweeping recommendation, this is fully justified. Consider that, as Diana Rodgers explains, “Fresh produce is not grown year round in all locations, not available to everyone, and by calorie, weight, and micronutrients, more expensive than meat. Oh, and lettuce has three times the GHG emissions of bacon and fruit has the largest water and energy footprint per calorie. I didn’t see this mentioned in the EAT Lancet report.” We forget that our cheap vegetables in the West are actually rather uncommon for much of the world, excluding root vegetables which are more widely available. I’d guess we only have such a broad variety of cheap vegetables here in the West because its part of the government-subsidization of high-yield farming, which by the way has simultaneously depleted our soil and so produced nutrient-deficient food (also, there is the American Empire’s neoliberally-rationalized and militarily-protected “free trade” agreements that have ensured cheap produce from around the world, but this simultaneously makes these foods out of reach for the foreign populations that actually grow the produce). I’m all in favor of subsidizing vegetables and much else, but I’d rather see the subsidization of sustainable farming in general that promotes nutrient-dense foods, not limited to plants. Anyway, how is telling poor people to eat more expensive and, in some cases, problematic foods going to help the world’s population that is struggling with poverty and inequality?

“And what are the things individuals can do to reduce their carbon footprint?,” as also brought up by Rodgers. “According to a recent meta-analysis, having one less child (in industrialized nations), which was shown by far to have the biggest impact, followed by living “car-free”, avoiding one round-trip trans-Atlantic flight, and buying “green” energy have much more of an effect on our carbon footprint than our dietary choices.” Most people in the West are already having fewer children. And most people in the rest of the world already live without cars. We know that the birthrate goes down when life conditions are improved and this is already being observed, but this dietary regime would worsen life conditions through austerity politics and so would make people feel more desperate than they already are. As for transportation, many things could lessen the externalized costs of that, from funding public transportation to the relevant option of increasing local farming: “New research from the University of California also recently concluded that grasslands are an even better and more resilient carbon storage option than trees.” (Danielle Smith, If you care about the planet, eat more beef); “These multiple research efforts verify that practical organic agriculture, if practiced on the planet’s 3.5 billion tillable acres, could sequester nearly 40 percent of current CO2 emissions” (Tim J. LaSalle & Paul Hepperly, Regenerative Organic Farming); see also this Ted Talk by Allan Savory and this paper.

Cattle aren’t the problem, considering that the earth for hundreds of millions of years has supported large numbers of ruminants without pollution, erosion, or any other problems. The United States maintains fewer cows than there were buffalo in the past and furthermore: “Ruminant herds have been a feature of our ecosystem since before the fall of the dinosaurs. Yes, they produce methane (so do we), but the atmosphere is accustomed to that level of methane. I can’t find data on total global animal biomass trends, but as the population of humans and domesticated animals has increased, so populations of wild animals (and particularly megafauna) has decreased. What is concerning is releases of methane that has been sequestered from the atmosphere over thousands or millions of years – melting permafrost, drained peatbogs and swamp forests. Methane is a significant greenhouse gas. But to get back to where we started, methane is a natural component of the atmosphere; the carbon from farts comes from the food that is eaten and is recycled as new food that grows; there is no evidence that I’m aware of that the total volume of farting is increasing.” (Simon Brooke). An accurate and amusing assessment. More mass industrial farming to support this top-down dietary scheme from EAT-Lancet would require more mass transportation and inevitably would create more pollution. One has to be insane to believe or well-paid by self-serving interests to claim to believe this is the solution.

One might note that EAT-Lancet is specifically partnered with big biz, including big ag companies such as Monsanto that has poisoned the world’s population with Roundup (i.e., glyphosate), and understand that big ag is among the most powerful interests in the US considering our country’s wealth was built on agriculture (a great example being the wealth of the plutocratic and corporatist Koch brothers whose wealth in part came from manufacturing fertilizer). Other companies involved are those developing meat alternatives produced from the industrially-farmed crops of big ag. And big ag is dependent on big oil for production of farm chemicals. EAT Foundation president and founder, Gunhild Stordalen, has been noted as a significant figure in the oil industry (Lars Taraldsen, ONS 2014 conference program to feature oil industry heavy hitters). But don’t worry about how this carb-laden diet of processed foods will harm your health with the majority of the American population already some combination of insulin sensitive, pre-diabetic, and diabetic — they’ve got this covered: “The drug company Novo Nordisk supports Eat-Lancet. Smart. Insulin is 85% of their revenue” (P. D. Mangan). I’m beginning to see a pattern here in the vested interests behind this proposal: “Eat lancet sponsors. Chemical companies, pharmaceutical companies (mostly making diabetes meds), the world’s biggest pasta manufacturer, the world biggest seed oil supplier, the world’s biggest breakfast cereal supplier” (David Wyant); “Pesticides, fertilisers, #gm (Bayer/Monsanto, BASF, Syngenta);sugar+fake flavourings/colourings (PepsiCo, Nestle, Givaudin, Symrise);ultraprocessed grains/starches (Cargill, Kellogg’s);#palmoil (Olam); additives and enzymes (DSM)- companies backing #EatLancet diet. I wonder why?” (Joanna Blythman).

Just to throw out a crazy idea, maybe transnational corporations are the problem, not the answer. “Just think about it. EAT Lancet is the processed food industry telling us that eating more processed food is good for our health & planet. That’s like oil industry stating burn more fossil fuel will save planet. Vested interests think we are that gullible?”, in the words of Gary Fettke, an outspoken surgeon who (like John Yudkin and Tim Noakes) was bullied and harassed when challenging the powers that be, for the crime of advising an evidence-based low-carb/sugar diet. “This Poison Cartel of companies,” writes Vandana Shiva in reference to the corporate alliance behind EAT-Lancet, “have together contributed up to 50% Green house gases leading to climate change, and the chronic disease epidemic related to chemicals in food, loss in diversity in the diet, industrially processed junk food, and fake food.” The Lancet Journal itself, from a new report, is now warning of us the exact same thing, in that many corporate sectors (including those backing EAT-Lancet) receive $5 trillion in government subsidies: “Big Food’s obstructive power is further enhanced by governance arrangements that legitimize industry participation in public policy development” (Swinburn et al, The Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change).

The whole health and sustainability claim is a red herring. The EAT-Lancet commissioners and others of their ilk don’t feel they have to justify their position, not really. They throw out some halfhearted rationalizations, but they fall apart under casual scrutiny. Furthermore, there is far from being a consensus among the experts. The Associated Press offered some dissenting voices, such as “John Ioannidis, chair of disease prevention at Stanford University, said he welcomed the growing attention to how diets affect the environment, but that the report’s recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainties around nutrition and health.” Ioannidis, a non-partisan researcher in dietary debates, was quoted as saying, “The evidence is not as strong as it seems to be.” That is to put it mildly. We are in the middle of a replication crisis in numerous fields of science and, as Ioannidis has shown, food-related research is among the worse. When he says the evidence is not strong enough, people should pay attention.

For emphasis, consider what kind of scientists are involved in this project. The lead researcher and author behind the EAT-Lancet report is Walter Willett, chair of the Harvard School of Public Health’s nutrition department. He was recently rebuked in science journal Nature (editorial and feature article) for his unscientific behavior. Willett has many potential conflicts of interest with, according to Nina Teicholz, “many 100Ks in funding by a host of companies selling/promoting plant-based diet.” This is the guy, by the way, who inherited the mantle from Ancel Keys, an ‘honor’ that some would consider very low praise, as Keys too has regularly been accused of a sloppy and bullying approach to diet and nutrition. Willett is particularly misinformed about what is a healthy fat in his blaming saturated fat on the same flimsy evidence going back to Ancel Keys, but back in a 2004 Frontline interview from PBS he did make the surprising admission that it was carbs and not fat driving the disease epidemic:

“Well, the food guide pyramid that was developed in 1991 really is based on the idea that all fat is bad. Therefore [if] fat is bad, and you have to eat something, carbohydrate must be wonderful. So the base of the pyramid is really emphasizing large amounts of starch in the diet. We’re told we can eat up to 11 servings a day, and if that wasn’t enough starch, the pyramid puts potatoes along with the vegetables, so you can have up to 13 servings a day. That’s a huge amount of starch. […] Fat’s up at the top of the pyramid, and where it says explicitly “fats and oils, use sparingly.” It doesn’t make any distinction about the type of fat, and it tells us to eat basically as little as possible. […] Well, this pyramid is really not compatible with good scientific evidence, and it was really out of date from the day it was printed in 1991, because we knew, and we’ve known for 30 or 40 years that the type of fat is very important. That was totally neglected. […] In some ways, we do have to credit the food industry with being responsive to what nutritionists were saying. They did believe or accepted the evidence that vegetable fats, vegetable oils, would be better than animal fats, and that really led to the development and promotion of the margarine industry and Crisco, baking fats that were made from vegetable oils. But they were made by a process called partial hydrogenation, which converts a liquid oil, say like soybean oil or corn oil, to something like margarine or vegetable shortening. As it turns out that was a very disastrous mistake, because in the process of partial hydrogenation, a totally new type of fat is formed called trans fat. The evidence has now become very clear that trans fat is far worse than saturated fat. […] Unfortunately, as a physician back in the 1980s, I was telling people that they should replace butter with margarine because it was cholesterol free, and professional organizations like the American Heart Association were telling us as physicians that we should be promoting this. In reality, there was never any evidence that these margarines, that were high in trans fat, were any better than butter, and as it turned out, they were actually far worse than butter.”

In 2010, Walter Willett is again quoted in The Los Angeles Times declaring this same message in no uncertain terms: “Fat is not the problem […] If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases” (Marni Jameson, A reversal on carbs). He has been defending this consistent message for a while now. Why this sudden turnabout in defense of carbs by blaming fats once again? Is he just following the money as a scientific mercenary for hire to the highest bidder?

Considering animal fats are among the most nutrient-dense foods available, let me return to nutrient-density in my concluding thoughts. Feeding the whole world is the easy part. But if we want humanity, all of humanity, to thrive and not merely survive, this is what it comes down to — as I previously wrote (A Food Revolution Worthy of the Name!): “We don’t need to grow more food to feed the world but to grow better food to nourish everyone at least to a basic level, considering how many diseases even in rich countries are caused by nutrient deficiencies (e.g., Dr. Terry Wahls reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in her self, in patients, and in clinical subjects through increasing nutrient-density). The same amount of food produced, if nutrient-dense, could feed many more people. We already have enough food and will continue to have enough food for the foreseeable future. That of equal and fair distribution of food is a separate issue. The problem isn’t producing a greater quantity for what we desperately need is greater quality. But that is difficult because our industrial farming has harmed the health of the soil and denatured our food supply.”

From that piece, I suggested that nutrient-density, especially if combined with low-carb, might decrease food consumption worldwide. In comparing locally-raised meat versus mass-transported produce, Frédéric Leroy made a related argument: “When protein quality is factored in, the data show a completely different picture. Assessments usually overlook nutrient density. Expressing environmental impact per unit of mass (g) has little sense, we should care about *nutrition* not quantity.” And for damn sure, it would improve health for those already eating so little. As I wrote,“What if we could feed more people with less land? And what if we could do so in a way that brought optimal and sustainable health to individuals, society, and the earth? Now that would be a food revolution worthy of the name!” This is very much an issue of inequality, as at least some of the EAT-Lancet commissioners acknowledge — Dr. Lawrence Haddad says, “Most conflict is driven by inequality, or at least a sense of inequality. Work by UNICEF and others shows that inequality in terms of malnutrition is actually rising faster within countries than it is between countries. So inequality within countries in terms of things like stunting and anaemia is either not improving or is actually worsening – and we know that inequality is a big driver of violence conflict.” The EAT-Lancet report itself mentions this in passing, mostly limited to a single paragraph:

“Wars and disasters cause food insecurity and highlight the issues faced when nutrition is inadequate and food becomes scarce. Wars and natural disasters also provide opportunities from which the food system can be transformed. However, only at the end of World War 2 was a global effort and commitment introduced to redirect the food system.258 New institutions were created or revised at the global level such as WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and World Bank, which allied with new and renewed national Ministries of agriculture and health to stop pre-war food problems caused by market distortions, environmentally-damaging farming, and social inequalities.259 However, the negative consequences of the post-war food revolution are now becoming increasingly clear (ie, negative environmental and health consequences, as outlined in this Commission).”

I’ll give them credit for bringing it up at all, however inadequately. They do admit that our food system has failed. That makes it all the more unfortunate that, in many ways, they are demanding more of the same. As others have noted, the diet they have fashioned for the world is severely lacking in nutrition. And they offer no convincing suggestions in how to reverse this problem. It won’t help to eat more plant-based foods, if they are grown through chemical-dependent high-yield farming that is depleting the soil of minerals and killing earthworms, microbes, etc: “Veganism is a huge misinterpretation of what a responsible diet might look like. It fully supports and exacerbates industrial farming of grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables through high inputs, maximising yields at all costs and depleting soils.” (Cassie Robinson). The idea of nutrient-dense foods as part of traditional farming and healthy soil is simply not on the radar of mainstream thought, especially not within our corporatist system. That is because a large portion of nutrient-dense foods don’t come from plants (especially not high-profit monoculture crops) and, furthermore, aren’t compliant with industrial farming and food production. That isn’t to say we should necessarily be eating massive amounts of meat, but animal foods have been the key element to every healthy population — in fact, compared to the United States, the top two longest-living countries in the world (Hong Kong and Japan) eat more animal foods by some acconting, including lots of red meat, although Americans are probably ahead of those two countries on dairy foods, which taken together is an argument for the paleo diet. Even among vegetarians, the healthiest are those with access to high quality dairy and eggs, along with those eating food from traditional farming that includes many insects and soil microbes mixed in with what is grown (the latter was shown in a study that vegetarians in a region of India were healthier than in another, and the difference was the unintentional insects in the diet from traditional farming).

None of that, as far as I can tell, is discussed in the EAT-Lancet report. The authors offer no helpful advice, no long-term vision that can move us in a positive direction. Their ideology is getting ahead of the science. A sense of urgency is important. But impatience, especially the EAT Foundation’s self-described “impatient disruption”, won’t serve us well. It was careless hubris that got us here. It’s time we learn to respect the precautionary principle, to think carefully before collectively acting or rather before the ruling elite goes forward with yet another harebrained scheme. If as a society we want to direct our sense of urgency toward where it counts, that wouldn’t be hard to do: “World: Stop wasting a third of the food produced. Stop wrapping it in needless packaging. Stop transporting food half way round the world. Stop selling food at below-cost prices. Stop undercutting our produce with low standard alternatives. Then I’ll discuss how much meat I eat” (David Hill). It would mean drastically transforming our political and economic system. Capitalism and corporatism, as we know it, must end for the sake of humanity and the planet.

As a member of the liberal class, Gunhild Stordalen (founder and president of EAT Foundation) knows how to say the right things. Listen to how she sets up this brilliant piece of rhetoric: “What we eat and how we produce it drives some of our greatest health and environmental challenges. On the other hand, getting it right on food is our greatest opportunity to improve the health of people and planet. This will require concerted action across disciplines and sectors – and business will be a key part of the solution.” Much of it sounds nice, too nice. But the only part of that statement that was honest was the last bit. All one should hear is “Blah, blah, blah… and business will be a key part of the solution.” And she isn’t referring to small family farms, mom-and-pop grocery stores, and local co-ops. This is a corporatist vision of concentrated wealth and power. These people are serious about remaking the world in their own image. As Anand Giridharadas put it in another context: “Elites, he wrote, have found myriad ways to “change things on the surface so that in practice nothing changes at all”. The people with the most to lose from genuine social change have placed themselves in charge of social change – often with the passive assent of those most in need of it.” No thanks!

We don’t need a corporate-owned nanny state telling us what to do. If scientific and political institutions weren’t being manipulated, if the corporate media wasn’t used to propagandize and manage public perception, and if powerful interests weren’t spreading disinfo and division, it would be a lot easier for we the people to become an informed citizenry able to figure out how to democratically solve our own problems. We could even figure out how feed ourselves for health and sustainability. Despite it all, that is what we’re working toward.

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What Experts Are Saying
from NAMI

It’s shocking that after years of promoting a groundbreaking report, EAT-Lancet’s own analysis shows the Commission’s recommended diet has almost no environmental benefit over business-as-usual scenarios. While EAT-Lancet claims its reference diet would decrease greenhouse gas emissions, the Commission’s fundamentally flawed data fail to account for methane reduction that occurs naturally, as methane remains in the atmosphere for only 10 years. The carbon emissions from all the flights required for the Commission’s global launch tour will have a much longer impact than that of methane from livestock animals

Frank Mitloehner, PhD, UC Davis

Meat and dairy are easily the most nutrient-dense foods available to humans. [The recommendations… are not only unrealistic but potentially dangerous for healthy diets…

Jason Rowntree, Associate Professor, Animal Science Department, Michigan State University

Human beings, especially as we age, cannot do without protein. The EAT-Lancet Commission’s recommendation to cut beef consumption to just a quarter ounce per day (7g) is a drastic departure from evidence showing meat and dairy improve diets.

Stuart Phillips, Professor; Director, Physical Activity Centre of Excellence. McMaster University, Canada.

The report’s recommendations do not reflect the level of scientific uncertainties around nutrition and health. The evidence is not as strong as it seems to be.

John Ioannidis, MD, Stanford University

The cornerstone of a healthy diet is still meat and dairy. Take those out and you’ll have under-nutrition and frailty. It’s unavoidable.

Andrew Mente, PhD, Associate Professor & Nutrition Epidemiologist, Population Health Research Institute, McMaster University

The #EatLancet Commission work does not reflect consensus among scientists. We need to invest in research to inform dialogue on what is healthy and sustainable. We should not base recommendations based on assumptions and 40+ year old confounded cohorts. Scientists must stop making premature recommendations based on opinion and weak data like in the past (e.g., eggs and fat). Unintended consequences happen folks. Let’s not make the same mistake twice!

Taylor Wallace, Ph.D., George Mason University

What start as academic and scientific debates become political arguments that are dangerously simplistic and may have several detrimental consequences for both health and the environment. Of course, climate change is real and does require our attention. And, yes, livestock should be optimized but also be used as part of the solution to make our environments and food systems more sustainable and our populations healthier. But instead of undermining the foundations of our diets and the livelihoods of many, we should be tackling rather than ignoring the root causes, in particular hyperconsumerism. What we should avoid is losing ourselves in slogans, nutritional scientism, and distorted worldviews

Fredric Leroy, PhD; Martin Cohen, PhD

To confine all our attention in eliminating animal-source food (#meat#eggs#milk) in our diet as solution to climate change is to limit human ability to solve challenges. Options’re available to abate impacts of livestock through investment

Aimable Uwizeye, Global Livestock expert, Veterinarian Doctor & PhD Fellow

As a cardiologist, I’ve made healthy lifestyle recommendations to thousands of patients, and it is clear that the best lifestyle is one people can actually maintain over the long term. It turns out that animal protein and fat are uniquely satiating — thus keeping hunger at bay — and therefore a friend to any dieter. It is lamentable that the EAT-Lancet authors should want to impose their ideas about healthy diets on all populations worldwide.

Bret Scher, MD

This is what the new EAT Lancet report remind me of. After years of abject failure with ‘plant based’, low fat, low calorie diets for metabolic health, they know they’re going to succeed with the same advice. Insanity, literally

Jason Fung, MD

Note that eating 0 grams of meat/seafood/poultry/eggs/dairy is supported, meaning vegan diets are officially sanctioned. Epidemiology choosing ideology over biology once again. No real science here

Georgia Ede, MD

The environmental science is as murky, unevenly applied & ideologically driven as the nutrition science. There isn’t a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution to “healthy diet” or “sustainable food system” because we are dealing with situated, idiosyncratic contexts in each case

Adele Hite, PhD

You’ll be short of calcium, iron, potassium, D3, K2, retinol, B12, sodium if you adopt EAT Lancet diet. It’s nutritionally deficient. Irresponsible!

Zoe Harcombe, Ph.D.

Those who feel that meat eaters are as bad as smokers and should eat their meals outside of the restaurant are obviously not coming from a place of reason and should be removed from decisions involving dietary policy.

Diana Rogers, RD

What concerns me is that people will give this report the same weight as Dietary Guidelines that go through years of discussion, must be based on scientific evidence, analysis and vetting by a team of experts that have to disclose COI – unlike this report.

Leah McGrath, RD

I work as a renal RD, & so I experience daily the actual impact pseudoscience like the #EATLancet study can have on society. It’s nonsense like this that has caused so many of my patients to fear meat—which improves clinical outcomes—more than highly processed foods.

Mike Shelby, RD

There are no Controlled Trials proving the EAT-Lancet [recommendations] are safe for humans to eat long-term! #yes2meat

Ken Berry, MD

Unfortunately, quantity of evidence does not equate to quality – especially in the diet/health arena.

Sean Mark, PhD

The #EATLancet diet: Nearly eliminates foods with important nutrients (dairy and all other products from animal origin). Will lead to an increase consumption of calories. Will have similar impact on climate change.

Maria Sanchez Mainar, PhD

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The Big Fat Surprise
by Nina Teicholz
pp. 131-133

“We Cannot Afford to Wait”

In the late 1970s in America, the idea that a plant-based diet might be the best for health as well as the most historically authentic was just entering the popular consciousness. Active efforts to demonize saturated fat had been underway for more than fifteen years by that time, and we’ve seen how the McGovern committee’s staff were in short order persuaded by these ideas. Even so, the draft report that Mottern wrote for the McGovern committee sparked an uproar—predictably—from the meat, dairy, and egg producers. They sent representatives to McGovern’s office and insisted that he hold additional hearings. Under pressure from these lobbies, McGovern’s staff carved out an exception for lean meats, which Americans could be advised to eat. Thus, Dietary Goals recommended that Americans increase poultry and fish while cutting back on red meat, butterfat, eggs, and whole milk. In the language of macronutrients, this meant advising Americans to reduce total fat, saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, sugar, and salt while increasing carbohydrate consumption to between 55 percent and 60 percent of daily calories.

While Mottern would have liked the final report to advise against meat altogether, some of the senators on the committee were not so unequivocally confident about their ability to weigh in on matters of nutritional science. The ranking minority member, Charles H. Percy from Illinois, wrote in the final Dietary Goals report that he and two other senators had “serious reservations” about the “divergence of scientific opinion on whether dietary change can help the heart.” They described the “polarity” of views among well-known scientists such as Jerry Stamler and Pete Ahrens and noted that leaders in government, including no less than the head of the NHLBI as well as the undersecretary of health, Theodore Cooper, had urged restraint before making recommendations to the general public.

Yet this hesitation turned out to be too little too late to stop the momentum that Mottern’s report had set in motion. Dietary Goals revived the same argument that Keys and Stamler had used before: that now was the time to take action on an urgent public health problem. “We cannot afford to await the ultimate proof before correcting trends we believe to be detrimental,” said the Senate report.

So it was that Dietary Goals , compiled by one interested layperson, Mottern, without any formal review, became arguably the most influential document in the history of diet and disease. Following publication of Dietary Goals by the highest elective body in the land, an entire government and then a nation swiveled into gear behind its dietary advice. “It has stood the test of time, and I feel very proud of it, as does McGovern,” Marshall Matz, general counsel of the McGovern committee, told me thirty years later.

Proof of the report’s substantiality, according to Matz, is that its basic recommendations—to reduce saturated fat and overall fat while increasing carbohydrates—have endured down to today. But such logic is circular. What if the US Congress had said exactly the opposite: to eat meat and eggs and nothing else? Perhaps that advice, supported by the power of the federal government, would have lived on equally well. In the decades since the publication of Dietary Goals , Americans have seen the obesity and diabetes epidemics explode—a hint, perhaps, that something is wrong with our diet. Based on these facts, the government might have deemed it appropriate to reconsider these goals, but it has nevertheless stayed the course because governments are governments, the least nimble of institutions, and unable easily to change direction.

* * *

Dr. Andrew Samis:

One hundred and eleven years ago a scientist in St. Petersberg Russia fed rabbits meat, eggs, and dairy. Not unexpectedly for a herbivorous animal, it built up in the blood vessels. It also built up in the ligaments, the tendons, the muscles, and everywhere else in the rabbits body without any evolved mechanism for excretion. This yellow goop in the rabbit’s aortas looked just like human atherosclerosis, which had only been described four years earlier. This started science down a misguided pathway of focusing on fat as the cause of hardening of the arteries. A pathway that future historians will likely call the greatest tragedy in terms of years of life lost in the history of humanity.

Initially it was eating cholesterol that was blamed for causing of hardening of the arteries. Then in the 1950s an American physiologist, who had such an affinity for hard compacted refined carbohydrates that he designed soldiers rations featuring it, expanded the blame from cholesterol to all fat, especially animal fat. Carbohydrates should be increased and fat excluded, that was the battle cry! In the 1970s this unproven theory drew the attention of the US senate, and within a few short years blaming fat for atherosclerosis became a worldwide revolution. This time period, interesting, also marks the beginning of the obesity epidemic that has gripped the world’s developed countries. Tragically, what everyone seemed to have missed was the fact that there was no conclusive scientific evidence for this theory, and over time much of that thinking has actually been proven wrong. I have little doubt that issuing these guidelines without conclusive scientific evidence will eventually be viewed as the most significant blunder in the history of science.

I am an ICU doctor. I see the carnage that this cavalier and misguided attitude towards food guidelines has caused every single day, up close and personal. The tears of families suffering loss. The premature death of those who should have had long lives. Parents burying their adult sons and daughters. Atherosclerosis, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, when grouped together represent the top conditions for admission to adult ICUs everywhere on earth where our unhealthy Western Diet is consumed. And approximately one in five don’t survive their ICU stay. But what makes me the most angry is the fact that those people who draft these misguided non-scientific food guidelines, with their biased agendas and misrepresented studies, sit in government offices and ivory towers completely remote from the devastating impact of their work. Is it any wonder that the doctors of the world represent a large portion of those leading the charge against our current misguided food guidelines. Doctors are not remote to the problem or blind to the devastation. It is here every single day at work.

This has to stop. Food guidelines need to be based on rigorous science. How many more thousands of people have to die.

Enough is enough.

* * *

eat like your grandmother

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Monsanto is Safe and Good, Says Monsanto

Lancet Partners With Poison Makers to Give Food Advice Written
by Joseph Mercola

The EAT/Lancet Backers: Definitely in it for the Good of the Planet.
by Tim Rees

Food Industry Giants Invest $4 Million In Vegan Research
by Jemima Webber

Billionaire Vegan Tells Us all How to Eat
by Tim Rees

Globe-trotting billionaire behind campaign to save planet accused of blatant hypocrisy
by Martin Bagot

Billionaire tycoon who urged Brits to eat less meat tucks into 20,000-calorie burger
from Mirror

Letter to Dr. Gunhild A. Stordalen
by Angela A. Stanton

Majority of EAT-Lancet Authors (>80%) Favored Vegan/Vegetarian Diets
by Nina Teicholz

How vegan evangelists are propping up the ultra-processed food industry
by Joanna Blythman

Thou Shalt not discuss Nutrition ‘Science’ without understanding its driving force
by Belinda Fettke

2019 The Year Vegan Pseudo-Science Goes Mainstream?
by Afifah Hamilton

Meat-free report slammed, wool revival, agri-tech
from BBC

Eat Lancet, a template for sustaining irony
by Stefhan Gordon

Does Lancet want to hand control of our diets to the state?
by Kate Andrews

Tax, ban, regulate: the radical ‘planetary health diet’ explained
by Christopher Snowden

Lies Lying Liars Tell
by Tom Naughton

Eat Me, Lancet … These People Are A Perfect Example Of The Anointed
by Tom Naughton

EAT-Lancet Report is One-sided, Not Backed by Rigorous Science
by The Nutrition Coalition

Scientific Evidence on Red Meat and Health
by The Nutrition Coalition

Farmers have a beef with plant- or lab-grown ‘meat.’ Should you care?
by Laurent Belsie

If you care about the planet, eat more beef
by Danielle Smith

Why Eating Meat Is Good for You
by Chris Kresser

EAT-Lancet recommends slashing red meat consumption by 90%
by Amanda Radke

Report: Cut red-meat eating by 80 percent to save the planet?
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher

Can vegetarians save the planet? Why campaigns to ban meat send the wrong message on climate change
by Erin Biba

Is the vegan health halo fading?
by Shan Goodwin

Two-pager Scientific Evidence on Red Meat and Health
from The Nutrition Coalition

A view on the meat debate
by Richard Young

I think you’ll find it’s a little bit more complicated than that…
by Malcolm Tucker

Why we should resist the vegan putsch
by Joanna Blythman

Scrutinise the small print of Eat-Lancet
by Joanna Blythman

Sally Fallon Morell Addresses the EAT-Lancet Diet Dietary Recommendations
from Weston A. Price Foundation

The EAT Lancet report recommends a diet that is ostensibly better for the planet & our health. In one simple IG post,…
from Weston A. Price Foundation

The EAT Lancet diet is nutritionally deficient
by Zoë Harcombe

Vegan diet ‘could have severe consequences’, professor warns
by Ali Gordon

EAT-Lancet Diet – inadequate protein for older adults
by Joy Kiddie

Any ‘planetary diet’ must also work for the poorest and most vulnerable
by Andrew Salter

EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations are at odds with sustainable food production
by Sustainable Food Trust

Report urging less meat in global diet ‘lacks agricultural understanding’
from FarmingUK

War on burgers continues with false environmental impact claims
by Amanda Radke

Sorry, But Giving Up on Meat Is Not Going to Save The Planet
by Frank M. Mitloehner

20 Ways EAT Lancet’s Global Diet is Wrongfully Vilifying Meat
by Diana Rodgers

What’s right and what’s wrong about the EAT Lancet Diet
by Defending Beef

With huge variations in meat consumption, we’re ‘all in this existential crisis together’—Vox
by Susan MacMillan

IFPRI’s Shenggen Fan on the ‘differentiated approach’ needed to navigate today’s food systems
by Susan MacMillan

FAO sets the record straight on flawed livestock emission comparisons–and the livestock livelihoods on the line
by Susan MacMillan

FAO sets the record straight–86% of livestock feed is inedible by humans
by Susan MacMillan

Climate change policy must distinguish (long-lived) carbon dioxide from (short-lived) methane–Oxford study
by Susan MacMillan

Red meat bounds down the carbon neutral path
by Shan GoodwinShan Goodwin

Can cows cause more climate change than cars?
by Frédéric Leroy

The EAT-Lancet Commission’s controversial campaign
by Frédéric Leroy and Martin Cohen

Why we shouldn’t all be vegan
by Frédéric Leroy and Martin Cohen

EAT-Lancet: what lies behind the Veggie-Business according to Frédéric Leory and Martin Cohen
from CARNI Sostenibili

Considerations on the EAT-Lancet Commission Report
from CARNI Sostenibili

The Eat-Lancet Commission: The World’s Biggest Lie
by Angela A. Stanton

We test diet of the future that will save the planet – that calls on Irish people to slash red meat consumption by 89 per cent
by Adam Higgins

Irish Mirrorman takes on five day health challenge to diet and help save the planet
by Kevan Furbank

Is the EAT-Lancet (Vegan) Rule-Book Hijacking Our Health?
by Belinda Fettke

EAT-Lancet’s Plant-based Planet: 10 Things You Need to Know
by Georgia Ede

Should you EAT Lancet?
from Optimising Nutrition

EAT-Lancet Report Offers a “Fad Diet” Solution to Complex Global Issues
from NAMI

Media Myth Crusher
from NAMI

Climate, Food, Facts
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

FAQ
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

What the experts are saying…
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

Press release on the launch of the EAT-Lancet Commission Report on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (Geneva, 28 March 2019)
from Italian government, official statement given to the United Nations

Damning Dietary Data

Below are some tweets from Nina Teicholz, the journalist who authored The Big Fat Surprise. Her book has pushed further the debate that Gary Taubes earlier helped bring out into public view.

Both of their writings are an eye-opening critique of how we got to this place of mass health catastrophe that, if it continues, will bankrupt and cripple our society. Healthcare costs are going up not only because of big biz exploitation but also because the American population has become more sickly. Most healthcare money now goes to chronic conditions that were rare in the past, and those costs are skyrocketing. This is trending toward disaster.

The graphed data she shares does one thing well. It clearly shows that, as she and others have written about, most Americans have been following the dietary guidelines given by mainstream authority figures, scientific institutions, and government agencies. Americans are eating more whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. This is true in terms of both percentage of calories and number of calories. We’ve been doing what we were told to do. How has that worked out? Not so well.

Furthermore, saturated fat consumption also decreased over this period (not included in graphs). In fact, it had been decreasing since the early 20th century, prior to the beginning of the epidemic of obesity and heart disease. This is corroborated by the fact no study has ever found a causal link between saturated fat and heart disease, despite probably trillions of dollars spent on researching diet and nutrition this past century. It’s not for a lack of trying to find such a causal link.

It turns out that the main proven causal link, that of sugar, was apparent in the earliest data. But interestingly, even sugar can’t be solely blamed for the sharp rise of chronic diseases over the past few generations. Teicholz points out that, “Sugar consumption has actually declined since 1999…so have refined grains.”

Then again, that was a small decline following a massive increase over the prior century. Keep in mind that Teicholz is only talking about added sugar. That leaves out the increase of foods that are naturally full of sugar such as fruit, especially considering that fruit has been developed to be higher in sugar than what was available in the past. Plus, that leaves out the entirety of how simple carbs in our modern diet have shot through the roof, and as far as the body is concerned they’re treated the same as sugar since they convert so easily.

Taken altogether, we are nowhere near the lower level of sugar and carb intake as seen in the early 1900s. And the consumption in the 1800s was so low that the pro-carb experts today warning about the dangers of low-carb diets should be surprised that the American population somehow survived and thrived, with a citizenry that by the end of the century was on average the tallest among countries where such data was kept. That in the 21st century our added sugar addiction has finally hit a plateau should offer no comfort.

About the graphs, this is one of the cases where the data does speak for itself. Not that it proves anything specifically. It simply shows what has changed in relation to what else has changed. Quite telling, though, in its potential implications. Obviously, the standard dietary ideology can’t explain this data. The ruling experts don’t even bother to try to explain it. Heck, they do their best to avoid even acknowledging it. This is inconvenient data, to say the least. But in their corporate corruption and hypocrisy, it doesn’t stop the powers that be to continue pushing the same diet with claims that eventually it will have the opposite effect. What they won’t allow in public debate is what are the real causes behind all of this. That is dangerous territory because then we’d have to tread upon the high-profit territory of processed foods.

* * *

* * *

On a related note, this might be the reason Anthony Warner is an “Angry Chef” in attacking “fad diets” and “bullshit”. That is to say anything other than the dominant paradigm.

I had noticed an earlier book by him, but his most recent book caused me to research him further. I was willing to take him seriously, up to the point when I saw in his book where he referred to Professor Tim Noakes as a “diet author”. Noakes is a top-rated researcher on diet and nutrition, the leading expert on the ketogenic diet in South Africa where he successfully defended himself in a government trial funded by millions of dollars of taxpayer money for the sin of having suggested a traditional foods diet to a pregnant woman. What are Warner’s credentials as an authority on diet and nutrition, well other than being a blogger and corporate shill? None.

A former anonymous blogger, Warner has admitted to being a corporate consultant and development cook for food manufacturers. With corporate money overflowing from his pockets, he unsurprisingly “goes to great lengths to absolve the food industry and its relentless marketing of processed food from playing any role in modern diet problems,” as it was put by Bee Wilson. Warner goes so far as to defend the besmirched name of sugar. From a Guardian article by Tim Lewis, he is quoted as saying,

The rhetoric that sugar is poison, it’s killing us, has become completely accepted… We’re told it’s just empty calories. Well, we kind of need calories to live. But a lot of people will read that and say, ‘He would say that. He works for a big cake manufacturer.’… Sugar has an enormous amount of energy and is one of the most important building blocks for life. But they say, “It has no nutritional value.” That makes absolutely no sense.

That is amusing. I never thought I’d see a defense of sugar. Even the most mainstream scientific institutions and governmental agencies no longer try to defend sugar, although they did so in the past and have been slow to change. It’s scientific consensus at this point, both within and outside the establishment, that sugar is bad for health and is empty of nutrition. Consistency, of course, is irrelevant in his line of work — as explained by Chris C. at The Low Carb Diabetic forum:

I’m just thinking how unintentionally ironic his fevered defence of sugar is. Since he and his dietician pals all believe in calories in calories out, surely a food “full of energy” is the last thing to recommend that fat people eat even in their world?

Warner must be getting paid very well. His corporate advocacy is one of the greatest examples of sophistry I’ve ever seen. There appears to be no big money food interest or food product he won’t defend — besides sugar: white bread, potato chips, processed meat, fast food, etc; pretty much anything and everything that comes out of a factory. As to be expected, he and his books get promoted on corporate media.

The Angry Chef can do as much damage control as he wants on behalf of corporations. Any informed person doesn’t care what a corporate shill has to say. And at this point, neither should anyone pay attention to dietary guidelines from governments that are no more reliable than corporate hackery. Besides, it’s become overwhelmingly clear that governments and corporations regularly collude, specifically when the profits of the food system are involved (See Marion Nestle, among others). We are left to inform ourselves as best we can.

* * *

The USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee Gets The Spanking It Deserves
Tom Naughton

As you’ve probably heard, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) recently gave the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee the spanking it deserves. Here are some quotes from an editorial in The Hill written by Rep. Andy Harris, who also happens to be a doctor:

The nation’s senior scientific body recently released a new report raising serious questions about the “scientific rigor” of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This report confirms what many in government have suspected for years and is the reason why Congress mandated this report in the first place: our nation’s top nutrition policy is not based on sound science.

In order to “develop a trustworthy DGA [guidelines],” states the report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), “the process needs to be redesigned.”

Among other things, the report finds that the guidelines process for reviewing the scientific evidence falls short of meeting the “best practices for conducting systematic reviews,” and advises that “methodological approaches and scientific rigor for evaluating the scientific evidence” need to “be strengthened.”

In other words, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans are far from the “gold standard” of science and dietary advice they need to be. In fact, they may be doing little to improve our health at all.

Heh-heh-heh … remember what happened when Nina Teicholz, author of The Big Fat Surprise, wrote a piece in the British Medical Journal criticizing the dietary guidelines as unscientific? Dr. David Katz (who reviewed his own novel under a false name and compared himself to Milton and Chaucer) dismissed her critique as “the opinion of one journalist.” The USDA’s report, he insisted, “is excellent, and represents both the weight of evidence, and global consensus among experts.”

Then for good measure, he and several other members of The Anointed tried to harass BMJ into retracting the article by Teicholz.

And now along comes the NASEM report, saying Teicholz was right. The “opinion of one journalist” (which of course was shared by countless doctors and researchers) is now the official opinion of the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine. You gotta love it. Perhaps Dr. Katz can write a rebuttal to the NASEM report, then review his rebuttal under a false name and compare himself to Albert Einstein.

Anyway, back to the editorial by Rep. Harris:

It seems clear that the lack of sound science has led to a number of dietary tenets that are not just mistaken, but even harmful – as a number of recent studies suggest.

For instance, the guidelines’ recommendation to eat “healthy whole grains” turns out not to be supported by any strong science, according to a recent study by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group specializing in scientific literature reviews. Looking at all the data from clinical trials, which is the most rigorous data available, the study concluded that there is “insufficient evidence” to show that whole grains reduced blood pressure or had any cardiovascular benefit.

* * *

Unsavory Truth
by Marion Nestle
pp. 108-113

[US senator William] Proxmire was right about the [National Academy of Science’s Food and Nutrition] board’s ties to industry. Those were revealed in 1980 during a dispute over the first edition of the US dietary guidelines, which advised reductions in intake of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol (meaning, in effect, meat, dairy, and eggs) to reduce the risk of heart disease. The board opposed the guideline so vehemently that it issued a counter-report, Toward Healthful Diets, arguing that fat restrictions were unnecessary for healthy people. This infuriated health advocates, who charged that at least six board members had financial ties to industries most affected by the guidelines. Sheldon Margen, a professor of public health at the University of California, for example, objected that “the board’s range of expertise is too narrow, its ties with industry too close to avoid the suspicions of bias, its mandate is too ill-defined, and its mode of operation too secret.” Others criticized the board’s support by an industry liaison committee whose members represented eighty food companies. The furor over the report so embarrassed the academy that it eliminated the industry panel, removed board members with strong ties to food companies, and appointed new members with fewer industry ties.

That was not the only instance of early concerns about conflicted committees. I asked Ken Fisher, who in the 1970s had directed the nongovernmental Life Sciences Research Office (LSRO), about his experience appointing committees to review the safety of food additives. In 1958, Congress had defined two categories of food additives: new chemicals that needed to be proven safe before they could go into the food supply and substances with a history of common use—sugar, salt, flavorings, and the like—that could be considered generally recognized as safe (GRAS). In the early 1970s, questions about the safety of GRAS additives led President Richard Nixon to direct the FDA to evaluate them, and the FDA commissioned the LSRO to conduct the reviews. The LSRO appointed committees to do this work and was immediately confronted with the problem of what to do about candidates with ties to companies making or using the additive under consideration.

The review committees eventually issued 151 evaluations of more than four hundred GRAS additives. In a report on this work, Fisher said that the LSRO required candidates to report grants, contracts, and consultancies, as well as investments and holdings.  It did not permit members with such ties to participate in discussions or vote on final decisions. Fisher told me that all members “were made aware of these conditions and all agreed—after some back and forth.” He recalled “one conflicted member, who of his own volition, absented himself from the vote on the decision.” He also recalled that committees “rejected several of the monographs on substances because they were incomplete and clearly biased in coverage of published positive or negative studies on certain substances.”

Fisher’s comments suggested that conflicts of interest only rarely caused problems with GRAS reviews. But in The Case Against Sugar (2016) the journalist Gary Taubes presented the GRAS review of sugar (sucrose) as highly conflicted. His book notes that the chair of the overall GRAS review process was George W. Irving Jr., a former head of the scientific advisory board of the International Sugar Research Foundation, and that the GRAS committee relied heavily on materials provided by the Sugar Association. The 1976 GRAS review concluded that “other than the contribution made to dental caries, there is no clear evidence in the available information on sucrose that demonstrates a hazard to the public when used at the levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced.” According to Taubes, the Sugar Association took that to mean that “there is no substantiated scientific evidence indicating that sugar causes diabetes, heart disease, or any other malady.” He has harsh words for critics of the idea that sugars are harmful. “If you get a chance,” He advises, “ask about the GRAS Review Report. Odds are you won’t get an answer. Nothing stings in a nutritional liar like scientific facts.”

The FDA’s GRAS reviews still elicit concerns about conflicted interests. A 2013 analysis of the GRAS review process concludes that the industry ties of committee members not only threaten the integrity of GRAS reviews but also the integrity of the FDA’s entire scientific enterprise. In a commentary on that analysis, I pointed out that without independent review of GRAS additives, it is difficult to be confident that the ones in use are sage.

My question to Fisher about GRAS review committees had induced him to search through notes packed away for decades. Among them, he found memos indicating that Mike Jacobson had asked to have consumer representatives appointed to GRAS review committees, but, he said, “We opted not to do so as it would imply the other members of the [committees] were not consumers.” Fisher was referring to Michale Jacobson, director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), whose concerns about conflicted advisory committee members also date back to the 1970s. Jacobson was arguing that if federal agencies insisted on permitting members with industry ties to serve on advisory committees, they should balance viewpoints with an equivalent number of consumer representatives.

Jacobson holds a doctorate in microbiology. He began his career working for Ralph Nader, cofounded CSPI in 1971, and retired as its director in 2017. CSPI’s purpose is to improve the American diet, and it continues to be the largest nonprofit organization engaged in advocacy for a broad range of nutrition issues, among them conflicts of interest caused by food industry sponsorship. I served on the CSPI board for about five years in the early 1990s, remain a member, and subscribe to its monthly Nutrition Action Health letter.

In 1976, Jacobson asked a member of Congress with a strong record of consumer advocacy, New York Democrat Benjamin Rosenthal, to help him survey the heads of university nutrition departments about their faculty’s ties to food corporations. Jacobson told me why he had done this: “It was so obvious to me that professors were touting their academic affiliations while shilling for food manufacturers and trade associations. I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to collect information about the matter.” Rosenthal introduced their report of the survey results, titled “Feeding at the Company Trough,” into the Congressional Record, with this blunt statement:

Nutritional and food science professors at Harvard, at the Universities of Wisconsin, Iowa and Massachusetts, and at many other prominent universities work closely and often secretly with food and chemical companies. Professors sit on the boards of directors, act as consultants, testify on behalf of industry at congressional hearings, and receive industry research grants. Many professors with corporate links also serve as “university” representatives on Federal advisory committees. . . . One can only come to the conclusion that industry grants, consulting fees and directorships are muzzling, if not prostituting nutrition and food science professors.

The report named names: it characterized Fred Stare, the head of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, as a “food-industry apologist,” but it also listed the industry ties to sixteen other eminent scientists, nearly all members of prestigious national committees issuing advice about nutrition and health. It proposed three strategies for countering conflicted interests: balance, disclosure, and new funding mechanisms. All merit comment from today’s perspective.

To achieve balance, they wanted consumer representatives to be appointed to nutrition advisory committees. This seems entirely rational, but in my experience federal agencies view experts who avoid industry ties on principle as too biased to appoint, especially if they state those principles publicly. I was a member of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory of Committee in 1995, but only because I had previously worked with the assistant secretary of health, Philip R. Lee, who insisted on my appointment. I served a s a consumer representative on two FDA advisory committees in the 1990s, Food Advisory and Science Advisory, but have not been asked to join another federal committee since the publication of Food Politics in 2002. The FDA’s current practice is to appoint one consumer representative to its committees, hardly enough to have much influence on decisions.

With respect to disclosure, the report comments on the failure of the named professors to state the full extent of their industry ties: “As long as collaboration with industry continues to be viewed by the academic community as ethical and respectable, it is important that the public know about potential sources of bias. . . . In such matters, respect for individual privacy must yield to society’s right to know.”

To help accomplish the third strategy, funding, the report raised the idea of a nonprofit, public interest group to “launder” industry contributions before they reach universities. But I doubt that such a group could maintain its objectivity if it depended on ongoing donations. I also doubt that companies would be willing provide ongoing support for research that might risk producing unfavorable results.

pp. 193-

[Founder of Harvard Department of Nutrition Fred] Stare ran into precisely the same difficulty faced by the Nutrition Foundation: the need to please donors to get ongoing support. For this reason, or perhaps because his personal beliefs coincided with those of his donors, eh was widely recognized as a nutrition scientist working on behalf of the food industry. His public statements consistently defended the American diet against suggestions that it might increase the risk of heart or other chronic disease. He, like officials of the Nutrition Foundation, could be counted on to state the industry position on matters of diet and health and to assure reporters and Congress that no scientific justification existed for advice to avoid food additives or eat less sugar.

We now know much more about the depth of Stare’s food-industry ties from documents that came to light in 2016 when Cristin Kearns and colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco published an analysis of internal documents of the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), the forerunner of today’s Sugar Association. The documents included letters between the SRF and Mark Hegsted, a faculty member in Stare’s Harvard department, about the SRF’s sponsorship of a research review on the effects of dietary carbohydrartes and fats on cardiovascular disease. The review, written by Stare, Hegsted, and antoher colleague, appeared in two parts in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. The letters show that the SRF not only commissioned and paid for the review but also pressured the Harvard authors to exonerate sugar as a factor in heart disease, then and now the leading cause of death among Americans. Other documents from the mid-1960s demonstrate that the SRF withheld funding from studies suggesting that sugar might be harmful.

I wrote the editorial that accompanied

A Food Revolution Worthy of the Name!

“Our success with carbohydrates, however, has had a serious downside: a worldwide plague of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases.”
~Gerald C. Nelson

The conventional view on diet promoted by establishment figures and institutions is based on the idea that all calories are equal. In dieting and fat loss, this has meant promoting a philosophy of calorie-in/calorie-out which translates as calorie counting and calorie restriction. Recent research has brought serious doubt to this largely untested hypothesis that has for so long guided public health recommendations.

There is also a larger background to this issue. The government has spent immense money promoting and subsidizing the high-carb diet. For example, they’ve put decades of funding into research for growing higher yield staples of wheat, corn, and rice. But they have never done anything comparable for healthy foods that are nutrient-dense and low-carb. This promotion of high yield crops with industrialized farming has denatured the soil and the food grown on it. This is problematic since these high-carb staples are low in nutrient-density even when grown on healthy soil.

This mentality of obsessing over food as calories is severely dysfunctional. It ignores the human reality of how our bodies function. And it ignores widespread human experience. Calorie-restricted diets are well known to have one of the lowest rates of compliance and success. It doesn’t matter how many or how few calories one tries to eat, as long as the food one is eating is of such low quality. Your hunger and cravings will drive you in your body’s seeking nutrition.

As I’ve eaten more nutrient-dense foods as part of a diet that is ketogenic and paleo, my hunger decreased and my cravings disappeared. I certainly don’t consume more calories than before and possibly far less, not that I’m counting. I no longer overeat and I find fasting easy. Maybe too many people eat so much making them fat because the food system produces mostly empty calories and processed carbs. It’s what’s available and cheapest, and the food industry is brilliant in making their products as addictive as possible. The average person in our society is endlessly hungry while their body is not getting what it needs. It’s a vicious cycle of decline.

I remember how I was for most of my life until quite recently, with decades as a sugar addict and a junk food junky. I was always hungry and always snacking. Carbs and sugar would keep my blood sugar and serotonin levels on a constant roller coaster ride of highs and lows, and it wrecked my physical and mental health in the process. It wasn’t a happy state. And anyone having told me in my deepest and darkest depressive funk that I should count and restrict my calories would not have been helpful. What I needed was more of the right kinds of calories, those filled with healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins along with so much else. My body was starving from malnourishment even when I was overeating and, despite regular exercise, eventually gaining weight.

We don’t need to grow more food to feed the world but to grow better food to nourish everyone at least to a basic level, considering how many diseases even in rich countries are caused by nutrient deficiencies (e.g., Dr. Terry Wahls reversed multiple sclerosis symptoms in her self, in patients, and in clinical subjects through increasing nutrient-density). The same amount of food produced, if nutrient-dense, could feed many more people. We already have enough food and will continue to have enough food for the foreseeable future. That of equal and fair distribution of food is a separate issue. The problem isn’t producing a greater quantity for what we desperately need is greater quality. But that is difficult because our industrial farming has harmed the health of the soil and denatured our food supply.

The U.S. gov pays some farmers to not grow anything because the market is flooded with too much food. At the same time, U.S. gov pays other farmers to grow more crops like corn, something I know from living in Iowa, the corn capital of the world. Subsidizing the production of processed carbs and high fructose syrup is sickening and killing us, ignoring the problems with ethanol. Just as important, it also wastes limited resources that could be used in better ways.

We have become disconnected in so many ways. Scientific research and government policies disconnected from human health. An entire civilization disconnected from the earth we depend upon. And the modern mind disconnected from our own bodies, to the point of being alienated from what should be the most natural thing in the world, that of eating. When we are driven by cravings, our bodies are seeking something essential and needed. There is a good reason we’re attracted to things that taste sweet, salty, and fatty/oily. In natural whole foods, these flavors indicate something is nutrient-dense. But we fool the body by eating nutrient-deficient processed foods grown on poor soil. And then we create dietary ideologies that tell us this is normal.

What if we could feed more people with less land? And what if we could do so in a way that brought optimal and sustainable health to individuals, society, and the earth? Now that would be a food revolution worthy of the name!

* * *

The global food problem isn’t what you think
by Gerald C. Nelson 

Here’s what we found:

Under even the worst conditions, there will be enough food, if we define “enough” as meaning sufficient calories, on average, for everyone — with 2,000 calories per day as the standard requirement. . . [T]he post-World War II Green Revolution efforts to boost the productivity of staples such as wheat and rice have been so successful that we are now awash in carbohydrates. And because so much has already been invested in improving the productivity of these crops, solid yield gains will likely continue for the next few decades. The productivity enhancements have also made them more affordable relative to other foods that provide more of the other needed nutrients.

Our success with carbohydrates, however, has had a serious downside: a worldwide plague of obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases. The World Health Organization reports that in 2014, there were 462 million underweight adults worldwide but more than 600 million who were obese — nearly two-thirds of them in developing countries. And childhood obesity is rising much faster in poorer countries than in richer ones.

Meanwhile, micronutrient shortages such as Vitamin A deficiency are already causing blindness in somewhere between 250,000 and 500,000 children a year and killing half of them within 12 months of them losing their sight. Dietary shortages of iron, zinc, iodine and folate all have devastating health effects.

These statistics point to the need for more emphasis on nutrients other than carbohydrates in our diets. And in this area, our findings are not reassuring.

The Secret of Health

I’m going to let you in on a secret. But before I get to that… There is much conflict over diet. Many will claim that their own is the one true way. And some do have more research backing them up than others. But even that research has been extremely limited and generally of low quality. Hence, all the disagreement and debate.

There have been few worthwhile studies where multiple diets are compared on equal footing. And the results are mixed. In some studies, vegetarians live longer. But in others, they live less long. Well, it depends on what kind of vegetarian diet in what kind of population and compared against which other diet or diets. The Mediterranean diet also has showed positive results and the Paleo diet has as well, although most often the comparison is against a control group that isn’t on any particular diet.

It turns out that almost any diet is better than the Standard American Diet (SAD). Eating dog shit would be improvement over what the average American shoves into their mouth-hole. I should know. I shudder at the diet of my younger days, consisting of junk food and fast food. Like most Americans, I surely used to be malnourished, along also with likely having leaky gut, inflammation, insulin sensitivity, toxic overload, and who knows what else. Any of the changes I’ve made in my diet over the years has been beneficial.

So, here is the great secret. It matters less which specific diet you have, in the general sense. That is particular true in decreasing some of the worst risk factors. Many diets can help you lose weight and such, from low fat to high fat, from omnivorian to vegetarian. That isn’t to say all diets are equal in the long term, but there are commonalities to be found in any healthy diet. Let me lay it out. All health diets do some combination of the following.

Eliminate or lessen:

  • processed foods
  • vegetable oils
  • carbs, especially simple carbs
  • grains, especially wheat
  • sugar, especially fructose
  • dairy, especially cow milk
  • foods from factory-farmed animals
  • artificial additives

Emphasize and increase:

  • whole foods
  • omega-3s, including but not limited to seafood
  • fiber, especially prebiotics
  • probiotics, such as fermented/cultured
  • foods that are organic, local, and in season
  • foods from pasture-raised or grass-fed animals
  • nutrient-density
  • fat-soluble vitamins

There are some foods that are harder to categorize. Even though many people have problems with cow milk, especially of the variety with A1 casein, more people are better able to deal with ghee which has the problematic proteins removed. And pasture-raised cows produce nutrient-dense milk, as they produce nutrient-dense organ meats and meat filled with omega-3s. So, it’s not that a diet has to include everything I listed. But the more it follows these the greater will be the health benefits.

It does matter to some degree, for example, where you get your nutrient-density. Fat-soluble vitamins are hard to find in non-animal sources, a problem for vegans. But even a vegan can vastly increase their nutrient intake by eating avocados, leafy greens, seaweed, etc. The main point is any increase in nutrients can have a drastic benefit to health. And the greater amount and variety of nutrients the greater the improvement.

That is why any diet you can imagine comes in healthy and unhealthy versions. No matter the diet, anyone who decreases unhealthy fats/oils and increases healthy fats/oils will unsurprisingly increase their health. But as an omnivore could fill their plate with factory-farmed meat and dairy, a vegan could fill their plate with toxic soy-based processed foods and potato chips. The quality of a diet is in the details.

Still, it is easier to include more of what I listed in some diets than others. Certain nutrients are only found in animal sources and so a vegan has to be careful about supplementing what is otherwise lacking. A diet of whole foods that doesn’t require supplementation, however, is preferable.

That is why there are a surprisingly large number of self-identified vegans and vegetarians who will, at least on occasion, eat fish and other seafood. That also might be why the Mediterranean diet and Paleo diet can be so healthy as well, in their inclusion of these foods. Weston A. Price observed some of the healthiest populations in the world were those who lived near the ocean. And this is why cod liver oil was traditionally one of the most important parts of the Western diet, high in both omega-3s and fat soluble vitamins and much else as well.

Whatever the details one focuses upon, the simple rule is increase the positives and decrease the negatives. It’s not that difficult, as long as one knows which details matter most. The basic trick to any health diet is to not eat like the average American. That is the secret.

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Getting that out of the way, here is my bias.

My own dietary preferences are based on functional medicine, traditional foods, paleo diet, nutritional science, anthropology, and archaeology — basically, any and all relevant evidence and theory. This is what informs the list I provided above, with primary focus on the Paleo diet which brings all the rest together. That is what differentiates the Paleo diet from all others, in that it is a systematic approach that scientifically explains why the diet works. It focuses not just on one aspect but all known aspects, including lifestyle and such.

Something like the Mediterranean diet is far different. It has been widely researched and it is healthy, at least relative to what it has been tested against. There are multiple limitations to health claims about it.

First, the early research was done after World War II and , because of the ravages to the food supply, the diet they were eating then was different than what they were eating before. The healthy adults observed were healthy because of the diet they grew up on, not because of the deprivation diet they experienced after the war. That earlier diet was filled with meat and saturated fat, but it also had lots of vegetables and olive oil as. As in the US, the health of the Mediterranean people had decreased as well from one generation to the next. So, arguing that the post-war Mediterranean diet was healthier than the post-war American diet wasn’t necessarily making as strong of a claim as it first appeared, as health was declining in both countries but with the decline in the latter being far worst.

Working with that problematic research alone, there was no way to get beyond mere associations in order to determine causation. As such, it couldn’t be stated with any certainty which parts of the diet were healthy, which parts unhealthy, and which parts neutral. It was a diet based on associations, not on scientific understanding of mechanisms and the evidence in support. It’s the same kind of associative research that originally linked saturated fat to heart disease, only to later discover that it was actually sugar that was the stronger correlation. The confusion came because, in the American population because of the industrialized diet, habits of saturated fat consumption had become associated with that of sugar, but there was no study that ever linked saturated fat to heart disease. It was a false or meaningless association, a correlation that it turns out didn’t imply causation.

That is the kind of mistake that the Paleo diet seeks to avoid. The purpose is not merely to look for random associations and hope that they are causal without ever proving it. Based on other areas of science, paleoists make hypotheses that can be tested, both in clinical studies and in personal experience. The experimental attitude is central.

That is why there is no single Paleo diet, in the way there is a single Mediterranean diet. As with hunter-gatherers in the real world, there is a diversity of Paleo diets that are tailored to different purposes, health conditions, and understandings. Dr. Terry Wahl’s Paleo diet is a plant-based protocol for multiple sclerosis, Dr. Dale Bredesen’s Paleo diet is part of an even more complex protocol including ketosis for Alzheimer’s. Other ketogenic Paleo diets target the treatment of obesity, autism, etc. Still other Paleo diets allow more carbs and so don’t prioritize ketosis at all. There are even Paleo diets that are so plant-based as to be vegetarian, with or without the inclusion of fish and seafood, more similar to that of Dr. Wahls.

Which is the Paleo diet? All of them. But what do they all have in common? What I listed above. They all take a multi-pronged approach. Other diets work to the degree they overlap with the Paleo diet, especially nutrient-density. Sarah Ballantyne, a professor and medical biophycisist, argues that nutrient-density might be the singlemost important factor and she might be right. Certainly, you could do worse than focusing on that alone. That has largely been the focus of traditional foods, as inspired by the work of Weston A. Price. Most diets seem to improve nutrient-density, one way or another, even if they don’t do it as fully as the best diets. The advantage of the Paleo diet(s), as with traditional foods and functional medicine, is that there is scientific understanding about why specific nutrients matter, even as our overall knowledge of nutrients has many gaps. Still, knowledge with gaps is better than anything else at the moment.

The list of dos and don’ts is based on the best science available. The science likely will change and so dietary recommendations will be modified accordingly. But if a diet is based on ideology instead, new information can have no impact. Fortunately, most people advocating diets are increasingly turning to a scientific approach. This might explain why all diets are converging on the same set of principles. Few people would have been talking about nutrient-density back when the FDA made its initial dietary recommendations as seen in the Food Pyramid. Yet now the idea of nutrient-density has become so scientifically established that it is almost common knowledge.

More than the Paleo diet as specific foods to eat and avoid, what the most important takeaway is the scientific and experimental approach that its advocates have expressed more strongly than most. That is the way to treat the list I give, for each person is dealing with individual strengths and weaknesses, a unique history of contributing factors and health concerns. So, even if you dismiss the Paleo diet for whatever reason, don’t dismiss the principles upon which the Paleo diet is based (for vegetarians, see: Ketotarian by Dr. Will Cole and The Paleo Vegetarian Diet by Dena Harris). Anyone following any diet will find something of use, as tailored to their own needs.

That is the purpose of my presenting generalized guidelines that apply to all diets. It’s a way of getting past the ideological rhetoric in order to get at the substance of health itself, to get at the causal level. The secret is that there is no single healthy diet, not in any simplistic sense, even as every healthy diet has much in common.