Pizza Versus CrossFit

 Posted by on 29 November 2008 at 12:06 pm  Food, Health
Nov 292008

Here’s an all-too-telling CrossFit story from Kirez. (The original post has a great picture.) Kirez writes:

Early Sunday morning we setup our gym at Starbucks. I laid out 360 square feet of rubber flooring, setup the squat rack, three barbells, about 450 pounds of Olympic bumper plates, 5 Dynamax med balls and 8 kettlebells. We took a Concept 2 rower and whiteboards.

Starbucks donated free drinks for people who won the hourly workout contests. Alicia got a free drink for her 5:27 performance on: 4 rounds for time, 15-12-9-6 reps, Wall ball shots (10 lb. ball), pull-ups. Michelle had an amazing workout, too. Her time was 6:32 for: 5 rounds for time, 5 x 115 lb. Deadlift, 10 burpees. Jim did a workout of 500 m row & wall ball shots, Dean and Kirez worked on Snatches, we demonstrated a lot of kettlebell exercises and taught some Olympic lifting, and had a great time.

The proprietor of the pizza place next door swore that Sunday was her best day for walk-ins and nobody was walking in if there was something fitness oriented next to her store. “They’ll feel too guilty buying pizza if they see your fitness setup outside!” — direct quote, I kid you not. So… next Sunday, we’ll be on the other side of Starbucks.

And pizza is pretty healthy according to the Standard American Diet! Perhaps people know — even if only implicitly, based on the way they feel — that stuffing themselves with pizza is not compatible with the kind of high-intensity workout that Kirez and company were doing.

Close But No Cigar

 Posted by on 15 November 2008 at 7:59 am  Health
Nov 152008

While I sometimes disagree with Mark Sisson, I found his recent blog posts criticizing “The Zone Diet” (of Barry Sears) and “The Paleo Diet” (of Loren Cordain) to mirror my own thoughts. You can read his posts here:

Note that “The Paleo Diet” in this case refers to the specific diet developed by Loren Cordain, not the broad category of what I (and others) refer to as “paleo” diets, of which Mark Sisson’s primal eating plan is just one type.

Also, while I’m not so familiar with The Paleo Diet, I do know The Zone — and Mark’s criticisms are spot-on. You can find more in this post by Richard Nikoley. As I said in the comments on that post:

The Zone was my first introduction to “paleo”-type diets about ten years ago. It definitely helped me get my blood sugar under some control: mostly by eating more protein, I stopped crashing and burning as I had been doing on a regular basis. So in that respect, it was good.

However, the allowed calories from carbs was simply way too high — such it was easy to eat “in the Zone” while still eating tons of processed carbs, including sugars and grains. So I maintained my quasi-addiction to carbs on the diet. As a result, I achieved nothing like the results I’ve gotten over the past few months.

It’s frustrating to think that Sears understands so much, yet ultimately misses the boat so completely.

And that’s just one problem among many.

Viagra Warning

 Posted by on 11 November 2008 at 2:43 pm  Health
Nov 112008

Advertisements for erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra always include a standard disclaimer like, “Seek medical attention if you have an erection lasting for more than 4 hours”.

Here’s what will happen if you ever have to make that call. Warning: Some guys probably won’t want to read this.

(Via KevinMD.)

Migraines Versus Topamax

 Posted by on 8 November 2008 at 10:20 pm  Health
Nov 082008

Hooray! I seem to be past my recent two-and-half week spell of daily migraines. (Yes, that means I had a migraine every day for about 17 days.) From the outset, I knew the cause of my troubles: I’d recently stopped taking the birth control pill after about 15 years of nearly consistent use, so my hormones were totally out of whack. (No, Paul and I are not having children; we’ve just changed birth control methods.)

I’d hoped that the situation would resolve itself, but no such luck. By the second week, the migraines were becoming harder to control with my drug of choice, Excedrin. Even Maxalt, my stronger prescription triptan derivative, wasn’t always effective. Frustratingly, even when I wasn’t in pain, I was often suffering from a kind of “migraine hangover” that left me unable to think clearly. It was debilitating. And, by gosh by golly, I have a dissertation to write.

Normally, to break this kind of migraine run, I go on beta-blockers for a few weeks. They work, albeit with some unpleasant side effects. By lowering my heart rate and blood pressure, any kind of physical exertion — including the simple act of climbing a set of stairs — becomes an exhausting chore. However, since the beta-blockers in my medicine cabinet expired in 2005 (that’s an indication of just how long it has been since my last run of migraines) I made an appointment to see my doctor for this past Thursday.

And wowee, I’m glad that I did. My doctor offered me a different medication to prevent migraines: Topamax. Now, three days later, my migraines are gone. I felt fantastic all day today — nary a hint of a migraine, nor even any of the common side effects of the medication. Today I even lifted weights without any fatigue. (My good results may not be representative, of course; in general, my migraines are pretty responsive to medication.)

Interestingly, Topamax used to be used to prevent seizures, but it’s now more commonly used to prevent migraines. And:

It is not entirely clear how this medication works for epilepsy or migraines. An epileptic seizure occurs as the result of abnormal electrical signals in the brain. Topamax slows down those signals, helping to prevent seizures. The medication also works similarly for migraine headaches. It is thought that migraines may be triggered by nerve cells in the brain that are too easily excited. Topamax helps calm the nerve cells, working to prevent a migraine from ever starting

Notably, migraines used to be thought of as a vascular disorder, but that’s been proven false in recent years. More recent research shows that their origins are “neurological, related to a wave of nerve cell activity that sweeps across the brain.”

I will have to wean myself off the Topamax carefully in a month or so. If I stop cold turkey rather than follow my doctor’s instructions about tapering off, I might cause a seizure. That wouldn’t be good, obviously. Of course, I’ll have to see whether I develop any of the various common side effects of this new drug. However, for the moment, I’m absolutely thrilled with it in comparison to beta-blockers. I feel like I have my life back, at the cost of a few measly bucks.


When Raw Means Not Raw

 Posted by on 8 November 2008 at 8:09 am  Food, Health, Politics
Nov 082008

Recently, Liriodendron pointed me to this May 2008 post by Stephan of Whole Health Source on the pasteurization of almonds. He writes:

I bought about a pound of almonds yesterday for a backpacking trip I’ll be doing this weekend. I like to soak raw almonds, then lightly toast them. It sweetens them and breaks down some of their anti-nutrients.

When I arrived at the grocery store, the only raw almonds they had were from California. I prefer to buy domestic products when I can, but in case you haven’t heard, “raw” almonds from California are no longer raw. They are required to be sterilized using steam or antiseptic gases, despite their relative safety as a raw food.

The worst part is that they are not required to label them as pasteurized; they can still be labeled as raw. The Almond Board’s argument is that there’s no difference in quality and pasteurized almonds are safer. I find this highly offensive and deceptive. It flies in the face of common sense. If you walked up to someone in the street and asked them what the phrase “raw milk” means, would they say “oh yeah, that means pasteurized”? A raw seed can sprout. A pasteurized seed can’t. Remember all those enzymes that break down anti-nutrients when you soak beans, grains and nuts? Denatured by heat.

I tried soaking them like I would regular raw almonds. I covered them in water overnight. In the morning, I noticed that the soaking water was milky and had an unpleasant smell. The outer layer of the almonds (the most cooked part) was falling apart into the water. They also didn’t have the crisp texture of soaked raw almonds.

Tonight, I toasted them lightly. They definitely taste “off”, and the texture isn’t as good. There’s no doubt about it, pasteurized California almonds are inferior. Despite my preference for domestic products, I’ll be buying Spanish almonds the next time around. If enough of us do the same, we’ll hit the Almond Board in the only place that counts: its wallet.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about the change:

Because of cases of Salmonella traced to almonds in 2001 and 2004, in 2006 the Almond Board of California proposed rules regarding pasteurization of almonds available to the public, and the USDA approved them. Since 1 September 2007, raw almonds have technically not been available in the United States. Controversially, almonds labeled as “raw” are required to be steam pasteurised or chemically treated with propylene oxide. This does not apply to imported almonds.

According to this blog post, organic almonds are pasteurized with steam, whereas non-organic almonds may be treated with propylene oxide.

Some months ago, I noticed that the whole, raw almonds I occasionally bought at the grocery store had a chemical taste to them — almost gasoline-like. They were inedible. I thought perhaps that I’d just gotten a bad batch, but when I tried them again a few weeks later, the taste was the same. Now I wonder whether that taste is some kind of residue from the propylene oxide.

Since then, I’ve switched to buying my whole almonds at Whole Foods. They’re organic, and they taste fine. However, I’m pretty sure that, contrary to their label, they’re not raw but instead pasteurized with steam. I’ll have to ask a manager whether the “raw almonds” are actually raw or not. If not, I’ll probably order some unpasteurized almonds direct from the farm. Or perhaps I can find a local grocer who stocks imported almonds. I want my raw foods to be raw, with all their enzymes intact, dammit. Is that really too much to ask?

In the final paragraph of his blog post, Stephan notes:

One of the most irritating things is that the new rule is designed to edge out small producers. I can’t see any other reason for it. Raw almonds are a safe food. Far safer than lettuce. Should we pasteurize lettuce? Pasteurization requires specialized, expensive equipment that will be prohibitive for the little guys. I’m sure the bigger producers will generously offer to fill the production gap.

Sadly, large food producers often seem eager to use the power of the government to prevent their smaller competitors from providing consumers with much-wanted goods. It’s very frustrating — and very wrong.

Fitness: Get Off That Treadmill and Kick Your Own Ass

 Posted by on 1 November 2008 at 8:50 am  Health
Nov 012008

For the past few years, I’ve exercised regularly. That was something of a feat for me, as I’ve never much liked plain old exercise. Paul and I made ourselves a nice little “exercise room” in the cool recesses of our basement — with a treadmill, water rower, and elliptical trainer. We put a decent television and dvd player in the room, so that we could watch dvds while exercising — mostly mostly television shows, but also movies on occasion. The distraction of television was a necessity because I was doing the standard routine of 40 minutes of moderate cardio per day. On occasion, I lifted weights, albeit just 5 to 10 pound dumbells.

This spring, I was growing somewhat frustrated with that exercise routine. It was keeping me in reasonably good shape, but I wasn’t going anywhere with it. Plus, I was still struggling with my weight. All those hours of doing cardio hadn’t helped me lose a pound. (Heck, I even gained a few!) At the time, I wanted to lose about ten pounds; now that I’ve lost that, I think have I another ten pounds to go. (That misjudgment isn’t surprising, for reasons explained recently by Dr. Eades.)

I was forced to change my routine this spring when I developed serious problems in the ball of my right foot: I had a morton’s neuroma (enlarged nerve) and capsulitis (irritated ligament) within a half inch of each other. They were quite painful, preventing me from doing any kind of running, ellipticizing, or even hiking.

Rowing wasn’t a problem, thankfully, so I decided alternate that with some more serious weight lifting. I added a TRX suspension trainer to the exercise room. I bought a set of kettlebells, up to 30 pounds. I began rowing in 30 second intervals — 30 seconds normal pace, 30 seconds kicking ass pace — usually for no more than two miles. I liked doing the more intense workouts, and once I tried tabata front squats, I was hooked on the more intense CrossFit-type workouts.

In August and September, I worked out pretty intensely, alternating between interval rowing and weight training. Instead of working isolated muscle groups, I focused on large body movements, including swings. I varied my workouts as much as possible. That kept them fresh — and difficult. I usually worked out in the mornings, before eating anything. (Hello ketosis!) And I never worked out for more than 20 minutes.

During this time, I experienced major gains in speed, power, and balance. I put on quite a bit of muscle. And I was spending half the time that I used to working out. It was awesome.

To my frustration, however, I seemed unable to lose much fat on this intense training regime. I suspected that I needed to ease off a bit — to switch my body from bulking to cutting. So since late September, I’ve moderated my weight training — focusing on maintaining not building strength. That has worked; I’ve lost weight slowly but steadily since then. (When I work out too hard, I get ravenously hungry.) However, once I lose a few more pounds of fat, I’ll be eager to switch back into the more intense exercise.

Here are some videos for the kinds of large-body exercises I do. Most don’t require an expensive gym membership — or expensive equipment. Many require nothing but your own body, as in this prison workout. Yet they will kick you ass, in very short order.

NOTE: Please do be careful in trying any of these exercises, particularly if you’re out-of-shape!

Tabata Squats:

I can’t do them that fast. Sometimes I’ll add a small jump at the top if I’m feeling particularly energetic. (That kills!) Sometimes I’ll do them while holding a kettlebell, usually 15 to 25 pounds.

Kettlebell Swings:

Kettlebell Basics:

Also, Mark has a nice introduction to the kettlebell.


Slosh Tube:


Mark has the very simple instructions for building your own slosh tube. I’m going to do that as soon as I can get to the hardware store.

Prone Hold:

Prone Hold Variations from Lauren B on Vimeo.

You’ll find more instructions here. A 30 second prone hold makes 50 situps seem like a cakewalk.

Box Jumps:

Box Jumps with Sandbag Throws:

In addition to the above, more traditional exercises like wind sprints, push-ups, and pull-ups can be very demanding. For more ideas, you can also check out the CrossFit web site’s huge list of exercises, with videos.

When I have some time, I’m going to head over to CrossFit Denver for some personal training, as I have much to learn. (Don’t expect to go to your regular gym for CrossFit training. Look for a specialized CrossFit gym instead. Happily, they’re becoming more common.) I also expect to learn much more simply by being observant about my own experiences.

Overall, I’m very pleased with my new method of high-intensity exercise. I’ve experienced noticeable gains, and I’m spending less time working out. Best of all, I have more fun!

What I Eat

 Posted by on 25 October 2008 at 5:03 am  Food, Health
Oct 252008

As I’ve blogged before, I began eating a substantially different diet over the past few months. I thought some more details might be of interest.

Basically, I eat whatever I damn well please of real, whole foods. I particularly avoid three kinds of highly processed foods: grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils. My eating is never really regular. Sometimes I eat heartily, sometimes I eat lightly, and sometimes I skip meals altogether. Sometimes I snack between meals, and sometimes I don’t.

One of my major goals in eating is not to spike my blood sugar. So I have been running a series of tests on the foods that I typically eat with my blood glucose meter, sometimes with surprising results. I’ll post those in a few weeks, when I have more data.

To give a better sense of my day-to-day diet, here’s a list of what I eat and don’t eat for various meals, plus some various comments below.


I don’t eat pastries, muffins, pancakes, waffles, cold cereals, bread, meat substitutes, or sweetened coffee drinks.

I eat…

  • Eggs, prepared any way
  • Bacon, sausage, and canadian bacon (uncured only)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Yogurt, or better yet, greek yogurt
  • Nuts
  • Crustless quiche

My standard breakfast consists of about 1/2 cup of homemade raw milk greek yogurt, some fruit, and raw walnuts. It takes about five minutes to prepare, and it’s delicious. For a heartier breakfast, I’ll eat uncured meat, eggs, and vegetables. That takes about five to ten minutes to prepare.


I don’t eat deli meats, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, or french fries.

I eat…

  • Leftovers
  • Vegetables
  • Uncured bacon or dry salami
  • Cheese
  • Fruit
  • Nuts

Leftovers are my favorite option for lunch. If I don’t have those, I’ll often make myself a “medley” lunch with dry salami, cheese, fruit, and nuts. It takes mere moments to throw the stuff on my plate, and it’s very satisfying.


I don’t eat chips, pretzels, cookies, crackers, granola bars, or candy bars.

I eat…

  • Yogurt, fruit, and nuts
  • Fruit, cheese, often with (uncured) dry salami
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Milk
  • Cultured buttermilk
  • Leftovers

Yes, I have been known to eat a spoonful or two of almond butter, straight from the jar, often with a glass of milk. it’s very satisfying!


I don’t eat pasta, bread, deep-fried anything, tofu, potatoes, or rice.

I eat…

  • Meat: Beef, Pork, Chicken, Lamb
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Vegetables

My dinners consist of meat and vegetables. My favorite kind of dinner is grilled meat or fish, with grilled vegetables. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and cook: 15 minutes of preparation while the grill heats up, then 15 minutes of cooking time. However, that will be hard to pull off in the cold and dark of winter, so I plan to make more hearty stews and roasts.


I don’t eat most desserts.

I eat…

  • Fruit, often with cream
  • A square of dark chocolate

I don’t feel the urge for dessert like I used to. The fruit and cream is very decadent, however.


I don’t drink soda (diet or regular) or fruit juice.

I drink…

  • Water
  • Raw milk
  • Cultured buttermilk
  • Tea (with milk or cream but no sugar)
  • Wine (on occasion)

I probably would drink coffee on occasion, but I can’t tolerate its bitter taste without a lot of sugar.

Some Random Notes

  • I recommend only uncured breakfast meats (i.e. bacon, sausage, and canadian bacon). They taste much better, and I don’t wish to infuse my body with preservatives. (My mother developed preservative-induced migraines late in life, and I get stomach aches from the preservatives in cured meats.) Whole Foods carries uncured meats. Uncured canadian bacon — at least from Applegate Farms — is particularly fantastic. Paul and I have tried a few varieties of uncured bacon from Whole Foods; we most like their “365″ brand in the square (rather than flat) package. Cooking bacon in the oven — as per the recommendation of Cook’s Illustrated — is an easy way to make a large batch.

  • When needed, I save the fat from cooking uncured bacon, strain it, then store it in a small glass jar in the fridge. It adds great flavor in cooking canadian bacon, eggs, pork chops, frizzled cabbage, and more. I haven’t tried lard yet, but that sounds promising.
  • On occasion, I eat a slice of sprouted grain toast slathered in raw butter. I keep a loaf in the freezer.
  • Vegetables are fabulous for breakfast and lunch. If you don’t have leftovers, you can easily sautée some fresh ones in butter, coconut oil, or bacon fat in about ten minutes.
  • Beware the carb content of the fruits you eat. Berries are a good choice, but bananas, apples, and pears are full of sugar.
  • Crustless quiche is delicious. You can use your favorite recipe for quiche, just omit the crust: bake the filling in an 8×8 pan, then cut it into squares. You can make it, then eat it for breakfast for a few days. It can also be frozen. Mark has a good recipe for individual crustless quiches and other breakfast ideas for people on the go.
  • Beware rancid nuts. They’re not just icky tasting; apparently the oils contain free radicals. So avoid the nuts from the baking section of your grocery store; they’re always rancid. Paul and I have found that Whole Foods carries the best nuts. Their walnuts (my favorite) and cashews (Paul’s favorite) are a few steps above what’s available in our local grocery stores.
  • I only buy nut butters containing nothing but nuts and salt. Conventional peanut butter, for example, is loaded with sugar. Plus, the peanut isn’t a nut but a legume. I love almond butter.
  • If I didn’t make my own yogurt, I would buy only full-fat, plain yogurt. Dairy fat is delicious and nutritious, and flavored yogurts are way too sweet. But check what’s in plain yogurt: you’ll often find a slew of ingredients that you might not wish to eat. If I weren’t making my own yogurt, my choice would be Mountain High, but that’s not available everywhere.
  • Similarly, if you drink milk, I’d recommend only whole milk, preferably organic if not raw. Before I switched to raw milk, I found that whole organic milk tasted significantly better than conventional whole milk.
  • Greek yogurt is made by straining regular yogurt to remove much of the whey. It’s thicker, richer, and less bitter than regular yogurt; it’s also lower in carbohydrates. You can strain yogurt with cheesecloth and a strainer, but if you find that you really like greek yogurt, I’d recommend buying this handy strainer. It makes the job easy.
  • Beware restaurant and store-bought salad dressing. I’ve checked dozens of bottles in the store, and the first ingredient on every single one is one of the new-fangled vegetables oils high in polyunsaturated fats. Even the “olive oil and vinegar” consists mostly of canola oil. Instead, you can make your own salad dressings in just a few minutes at home: just mix olive oil with something acidic (like a vinegar or citrus juice) and maybe add some spices.
  • I’m highly skeptical of soy products, except when fermented.
  • I prefer my meats without antibiotics and hormones — and preferably grass-fed. They taste significantly better than conventional meats, and they contain more good fats, from what I’ve read. (I recently made the best hamburgers ever with ground beef from Whole Foods. Yummy!) I recently bought a quarter of a cow from Colorado’s Best Beef Company. The cow is grass-fed, not given any hormones or antibiotics, and humanely treated. (Yes, that last is important to me; I’ll say why in another post.) I’ll be saving money over buying beef at Whole Foods. Also, I prefer my fish wild rather than farm-raised — for reasons of taste and health.
  • Beware of corn. It is a grain, and it’s high in carbohydrates. Personally, I’ve found that even a single ear spikes my blood sugar well beyond my ordinary range. A medium-sized sweet potato was even more of a disaster for my blood sugar.
  • I’m not categorically opposed to rice and potatoes. I have no problem eating sushi on occasion, for example. And I have a few dishes that go really well with buttermilk mashed potatoes. However, they’re not a part of my daily diet. I do plan to do some blood sugar testing with them to see what kind of effect they have on me in moderation.
  • I’m not fanatical about my diet — in the sense that, if I feel like eating a potato chip, I’ll eat a potato chip. However, I don’t eat more than a bite or two of such off-diet foods, except on rare occasion. Eating more will make me feel icky, and I’m usually just wanting a taste. (However, if I had cravings for some unhealthy food, I would strictly avoid it.)

Happily, I feel absolutely no sense of deprivation with this diet. The good fats are plentiful — and very, very satisfying. I’ve also lost ten pounds on it — without much effort — even while building significant muscle.

Life is good!

On Vitamin D

 Posted by on 17 October 2008 at 11:02 pm  Health
Oct 172008

Wowee, via Free the Animal, I found a fascinating story on Vitamin D in Canada’s Globe and Mail: Vitamin D casts cancer prevention in new light. Here’s the first section:

For decades, researchers have puzzled over why rich northern countries have cancer rates many times higher than those in developing countries — and many have laid the blame on dangerous pollutants spewed out by industry.

But research into vitamin D is suggesting both a plausible answer to this medical puzzle and a heretical notion: that cancers and other disorders in rich countries aren’t caused mainly by pollutants but by a vitamin deficiency known to be less acute or even non-existent in poor nations.

Those trying to brand contaminants as the key factor behind cancer in the West are “looking for a bogeyman that doesn’t exist,” argues Reinhold Vieth, professor at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and one of the world’s top vitamin D experts. Instead, he says, the critical factor “is more likely a lack of vitamin D.”

What’s more, researchers are linking low vitamin D status to a host of other serious ailments, including multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, influenza, osteoporosis and bone fractures among the elderly.

Not everyone is willing to jump on the vitamin D bandwagon just yet. Smoking and some pollutants, such as benzene and asbestos, irrefutably cause many cancers.

But perhaps the biggest bombshell about vitamin D’s effects is about to go off. In June, U.S. researchers will announce the first direct link between cancer prevention and the sunshine vitamin. Their results are nothing short of astounding.

A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn’t take it, a drop so large — twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking — it almost looks like a typographical error.

While that doesn’t sound like a randomized, controlled study, it’s still highly suggestive. For more on the importance of Vitamin D, you can check out the the relevant posts from the Heart Scan blog.

I’ve been taking supplemental Vitamin D for a few months. My physician recommended that I increase my dose at my last visit, based on some new research on its importance to bone health. Given what I’ve read about its wide-ranging effects on health, I think that I might want to get my levels tested. Plus, according to the Heart Scan Doc, unpredictable variation between individuals makes testing a necessity:

It’s probably the number one most common question I get today:

“How much vitamin D should I take?”

Like asking for investing advice, there are no shortage of people willing to provide answers, most of them plain wrong.

The media are quick to offer advice like “Take the recommended daily allowance of 400 units per day,” or “Some experts say that intake of vitamin D should be higher, as high as 2000 units per day.” Or “Be sure to get your 15 minutes of midday sun.”

Utter nonsense. …

[V]itamin D requirements can range widely. I have used anywhere from 1000 units per day, all the way up to 16,000 units per day before desirable blood levels were achieved.

Vitamin D dose needs to be individualized. Factors that influence vitamin D need include body size and percent body fat (both of which increase need substantially); sex (males require, on average, 1000 units per day more than females); age (older need more); skin color (darker-skinned races require more, fairer-skinned races less); and other factors that remain ill-defined.

But these are “rules” often broken. My office experience with vitamin D now numbers nearly 1000 patients. The average female dose is 4000-5000 units per day, average male dose 6000 units per day to achieve a blood level of 60-70 ng/ml, though there are frequent exceptions. I’ve had 98 lb women who require 12,000 units, 300 lb men who require 1000 units, 21-year olds who require 10,000 units. (Of course, this is a Wisconsin experience. However, regional differences in dosing needs diminish as we age, since less and less vitamin D activation occurs.)

Let me reiterate: Steroid hormone-vitamin D dose needs to be individualized.

There’s only one way to individualize your need for vitamin D and thereby determine your dose: Measure a blood level.

Nobody can gauge your vitamin D need by looking at you, by your skin color, size, or other simple measurement like weight or body fat. A vitamin D blood level needs to be measured specifically — period.

I’ve also just begun taking high quality cod liver oil and butter oil, based on the recommendation of Weston A. Price and others. (I got my supply here.) Given the cost of the butter oil, I’m definitely looking for noticeable results — as I’ve heard other people report. I’m particularly hoping for an improvement to my dental health, as I’m very prone to cavities and inflamed gums. That would be huge for me.

Update: It’s Vitamin D Day! Mark Sisson has a post on the association between Vitamin D and Parkinson’s disease. As he’s careful to observe, the question is: which comes first?

Reading Recommendations

 Posted by on 11 October 2008 at 6:51 am  Health
Oct 112008

I’m so exhausted from my week — with much more dissertation work to do today — so I can’t possibly write a substantial post of any kind on health issues. So instead, I’m just going to refer you to some good readings, enough to keep you well-occupied for a few hours, if you like. Let’s start with some delights from Gary Taubes:

  • What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie? by Gary Taubes, New York Times Magazine, July 2002. The controversial article that started it all. (For the story behind the story, see Inside the Story.)

  • Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy? by Gary Taubes, New York Times Magazine, September 2007. A detailed examination of why medical studies often yield conflicting results — and how you can sort through the mess.
  • We can’t work it out by Gary Taubes, The Observer, October 2007. Will exercise help you lose weight? Likely not. (My own experience supports this view: I’ve only been able to lose weight in periods when I cut down my exercise to mere “maintenance” mode.)
  • Big Fat Lies” by Gary Taubes, Lecture to the Stevens Institute of Technolocy, February 2008. (I’ve not watched this video yet.)
  • All of the above sources are merely a teaser for Gary Taubes’ excellent book Good Calories, Bad Calories. If you’re interested in the science of nutrition, I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And now for some goodies from Stephan of Whole Health Source:

And finally, some good posts from Dr. Eades of “ProteinPower”:

That’s all for today. Happy reading!

Experiments in Eating

 Posted by on 27 September 2008 at 3:44 am  Health
Sep 272008

As I mentioned in my post explaining my new diet, my exclusion of grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils from my diet over the past few months means that I feel consistently good. I rarely feel sluggish, tired, or slow — as I used to do routinely. As a result, when I do feel that way, I notice. And, being the curious kind of person I am, I try to figure out the cause, so that I can avoid making that same mistake in the future. I just don’t enjoy food hangovers.

My goal for this post is to outline my process for identifying foods I should avoid, based on their deleterious effects on me. I’m going to discuss three cases: (1) flour and sugar, (2) oatmeal, and (3) Chipolte. With regard to the particulars, your mileage may vary. While I do think that certain kinds of foods are generally healthy while others are not, individuals differ in their response to foods. Even for one individual, the response to a given food may vary based on other factors in the diet.

Case #1:

Quite soon after my change in diet — back in mid-July — I was able to connect my consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates from sugar and flour to feeling sluggish, even a full day later. Here’s what I reported to Liriodendron of Spark A Synapse at the time:

For quite some time, I’ve been trying to figure out why I often feel sluggish while exercising. The feeling isn’t the same as the light-headed sensation of low blood sugar. (Plus, it often happens even if I’ve eaten a good snack just before exercising.) Instead, the problem is just an inability to really push myself in a workout: I can go at a certain slow pace, but no faster. I can even go at that slow pace for quite some time, but I’m definitely not enjoying myself.

The problem was that I just couldn’t correlate this feeling with anything about my diet or sleep or whatnot. In fact, I couldn’t tell whether I’d be sluggish or not before I started exercising. It would just sometimes happen and sometimes not, seemingly at random — often as much as two to four times per week. It was very frustrating!

Today, it happened again. I was doing 11 minute miles on the rower instead of 9 minute miles. However, this time was remarkable — only because it hasn’t really happened in weeks, during which I’ve been restricting my bad carbs [i.e. eating no sugars and grains]. In particular, it hasn’t happened at all this past week, when I’ve been on a no-bad-carb-whatsoever diet. However, last night at the SuperFROG meeting, I ate some [tortilla] chips, plus two brownies, ice cream, and two madelines over the course of the evening. [Oh, and a margarita.] Yikes! It was a serious bad-carb-fest for me. And today — this evening, in fact — I was sluggish in exercising.

So I suspect that too many bad carbs are the cause of my sluggishness in exercise, but that the effect is often somewhat delayed. That’s why it was hard for me to see any pattern. Perhaps what matters most is what I ate yesterday rather than what I’ve eaten today.

Obviously, I’m going to have to test out this theory a bit more, but I do think that I’m on to something. If so, it’s the most substantial measurable effect that I’ve seen in myself from eliminating bad carbs — but it’s a huge deal for me.

Since then, I’ve further confirmed those initial findings: eating foods with flour and sugar makes me sluggish, often hours and hours later. I’m more sensitive to that sluggish feeling now: I can feel it set in within a few hours of eating, apart from any exercise. However, I suspect that it might peak 12-14 hours after eating the offending food.

Notably, the kind of “bad-carb-fest” in which I indulged that evening in July used to be a regular part of my diet. In fact, I though I’d been pretty restrained in my eating that evening, by my ordinary standards. Normally, I would have done much worse. In the months since then, I’ve eating a few desserts — and by a few, I mean about three. But I’ve never done anything remotely like that “bad-carb-fest.” As a result, I’ve not rowed any more of those awful 11 minute miles either.

Case #2:

For the past few Saturdays, Paul and I enjoyed a breakfast consisting of a bowl of overnight-soaked oatmeal cooked in milk, plus a good helping of delicious nitrate-free bacon. However, I realized that I was feeling sluggish on the weekends as a result — on the day of eating that oatmeal and on Sunday too. So last weekend, I skipped the oatmeal. And wow, I felt fabulous the whole weekend, just like I do throughout the week. I was able to be much more productive as a result. I expect to do the same this weekend — and thereafter.

The lesson is simple: while I could surely tolerate a wee bit of oatmeal, a full serving is just too much for me.

Case #3:

Just this Monday, Paul and I went to Chipotle for dinner. I felt particularly good that day: I’d eaten only lightly, and I had tons of energy. At Chipolte, I got a skinless burrito with double pork, black beans, tomato salsa, corn salsa, cheese, and guacamole. I only ate half of it, along with a large glass of my own raw milk. That’s a dinner I can handle — or so I thought.

In fact, I felt like absolute crap very shortly after eating it — and for hours thereafter. I felt stuffed — in a really unpleasant, bloated kind of way — all evening. (My stomach wasn’t upset, however.) The next morning, I still felt awful. I didn’t want to eat, so I fasted. Around 2 pm, I finally felt normal again, so I ate — and I felt fine.

So what in that meal made me feel that way? Initially, I wondered whether I’d just eaten too much. That’s unlikely, as I can chow down tons of good-quality food like steak and veggies. I’ll just feel full thereafter, not icky. So I decided to test the meal again by eating half of my remaining Chipotle (i.e. 1/4 of the total) and a small glass of milk. Once again, I felt awful for some hours, although not nearly as bad as before.

So then I wondered about the composition of the food. The milk couldn’t be the problem, as I drink that all the time. I’ve been known to have a strange reactions to preservatives, but Chipotle uses fresh, high-quality ingredients prepared in-house, so I probably don’t have too much to worry about on that score. However, according to this handy nutritional calculator, my burrito did have more carbohydrates than I expected:

  • 920 calories
  • 43 g fat
  • 36 g effective carbohydrates
  • 75 g protein

The corn salsa accounted for 19 g of effective carbohydrates. However, I don’t think that was the problem either. Carbohydrates make me sluggish, not bloated and icky. Plus, I have eaten a fair amount of corn this summer, with nothing like those effects. However, I don’t eat beans ordinarily, so that might be an issue. Yet the amount of beans in the whole burrito was pretty negligible.

The problem — I suspect — was the vast quantity of salt in the meal. In part thanks to a question from Daniel, I did notice that my burrito tasted very salty. And based on the nutritional calculator, my whole burrito had 3148 g of sodium. Since a teaspoon of salt is 2300 mg, that means just over 1 1/3 teaspoons of salt in the whole burrito. That’s a shocking amount. I do use salt at home, but because I’m preparing my own foods, all the salt in my foods is salt that I add. Personally, I like my red meats a bit salty. I brine chicken and pork in salt water before cooking but I rinse them thoroughly and I don’t add any additional salt thereafter. And I don’t like much salt on my veggies. However, the critical point is that I would never add anything remotely resembling 1 1/3 teaspoons of salt to a meal. Even a 1/4 teaspoon in a meal would be quite a bit for me, but in eating just half of that burrito, I ate 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt.

Plus, from what I understand, salt intake does cause the body to retain water. That could explain why I felt nasty, bloated, ans sluggish. So salt is a plausible hypothesis in this case.

But, one might ask, why haven’t I noticed this effect before? I can think of two reasons. First, before my change in diet, I might have been acclimated to more salt in my diet, as apparently 77% of an average person’s salt intake comes from processed and prepared foods. In other words, perhaps I’m more sensitive to lots of salt now. Second, given that I routinely felt cruddy in various ways before my change in diet, I simply might not have noticed anything particularly distinctive after eating a high-salt meal like Chipotle’s.

I could test this salt hypothesis by drinking 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt in water with a meal that I know to be otherwise fine for me. However, I’m not eager to do that, given how awful I felt after eating that half of a naked burrito. So instead, I might just watch my salt intake — and notice whether I feel fine or icky after eating more than my usual amount of salt.

Of course, my response to salt — if that is indeed the problem — may be somewhat unique to me. Others may be able to eat my diet, then eat a meal at Chipotle without any problem whatsoever. As I said at the outset, your mileage may vary.

Also, I should mention that — contrary to the proclamations of so many experts — salt does not seem to be any great danger to health in ordinary people. Dr. Michael Eades has a good post on a recent study showing that consuming less salt (i.e. under 2300 mg per day) was correlated with higher mortality from all causes, including heart disease. It begins:

Another what bites the dust? Another one of the shibboleths of “healthy living” that the nutritional establishment has been pounding us over our heads with for decades: the idea that salt is bad for us.

Now, in the wake of the three Woman’s Health Initiative studies showing that fat doesn’t seem to cause heart disease nor cancers or the breast or colon, comes a study from the venerable NHANES II data showing that not only does salt intake (or to be more precise, sodium intake) not cause premature death from heart disease it actually seems to protect against it. And consuming more sodium appears to protect against premature deaths from not just heart disease but from all other causes as well. It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the holier-than-thou crowd.

In particular, the study found:

The researchers set the breakpoint of their data analysis at the 2300 mg of sodium recommended in the nutritional guidelines. After analyzing the nutritional and mortality data on this basis it turned out that those subjects who consumed less than 2300 mg of sodium per day had a 1.37 times increased risk (95% CI 1.03-1.81, P=.033) of dying from heart disease and a 1.28 times increased risk (95% CI 1.1-1.5, P=.003) of dying from all causes as compared to those who consumed more than 2300 mg of sodium per day.

If you’d like to know more, read the whole thing, including the links. Notably, the study was not a randomized, controlled trial, so it shows only correlation not causation.

Before closing out this post, I’d like to make a few general comments:

  • Often, we must train ourselves to be observant of our own internal bodily states. If you’re not eating well, you’ve probably trained yourself to ignore how your body feels. It might require some effort to notice.

  • To determine what particular foods agree with you or not, you have to get yourself to where you’re feeling damn good 95% of the time. Only then will the episodes of yuck become clear and distinct to you. To get to that point, I recommend eating a high-fat, high-protein diet of whole, real foods, without any grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils. (Of course, ignore that if you have some medical condition.) If that diet doesn’t work for you after a few weeks of really eating it, then try something different.
  • Don’t assume that the last thing you are was the cause of your present ills. As I discovered with flour and sugar, the effects can be surprisingly long-lasting.
  • Be willing to use yourself as a guinea pig. If a food seems to cause problems for you, try it again in various ways. Attempt to pinpoint the “active ingredient” causing you ill. Then you can just avoid that one thing, rather than needlessly depriving yourself of other foods.
  • Read Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories to learn the outlines of a well-grounded and integrated science of nutrition to which you can integrate your own personal experience.
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