My low-carb week in review: March 22-28, 2015

Jim’s average daily intake: 3-22 to 3-28-15. Note: the sub-totals for poly and mono unsaturated fats are incomplete.

I lost 3.6 pounds this week. I’m happy about the drop, of course, but wary. Was that all fat, or was some of it water? Based on my past experience, I mistrust any weight loss greater than two pounds per week. It’s likely to be followed by a week of little or no weight loss. But, then, 3.6 pounds lost this week, and 0.4 pounds lost next week, would be a two-pound average loss per week.

Still, when I weighed myself this morning, the scale read 224.8 pounds. I was surprised, so I weighed myself again a few minutes later, and got the same result.

My average daily calories were lower than in previous weeks, but only slightly lower (1,916 this week vs. 1,978 last week). That’s not enough of a difference to account for extra weight loss.

I even drank a glass of beer on Tuesday! Yes, bread in a glass.

I feel deeply ashamed, but it tasted good.

For light beer, anyway.

A reader recently asked why the sum of the three fat sub-types in my daily average charts doesn’t equal the overall fat total. The answer is that I am partly relying on food labels, and U.S. law only requires total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat numbers be provided. So my poly and mono unsaturated fats data is incomplete for now. Unlike the government, I am concerned about my PUFA intake, so I will try to improve the database.

That said, my main focus right now is improving my waist-line. I wore a 38-waist pair of pants this week that I haven’t been able to get into all winter.

Granted, the waist-band is stretchy.

Of mice brains aflame and other travesties

serve_itA note to the editors of ScienceDaily — this is what a high fat human diet looks like. Or it might look like a plate of scrambled eggs with bacon, or a green salad with cheese, avocado, and black olives. What a high-fat human diet does not look like is that pile of buns, pizza, french-fried potatoes, and onion rings that you used to illustrate your story about a recent mouse study. The collection of carbs shown in your photo would choke a moose, never mind a poor little mouse.

Image source:
Image source:

Oddly, although your story focuses on a mouse study, no mice are mentioned in the headline nor in the summary nor in the first four paragraphs. No mouse is present in the only photo. Until the fifth paragraph, half-way through the article, you seem to be writing about human beings, not mice, not rodents of any kind. As a college writing teacher, I recommend that you introduce your true subject sooner than that. Otherwise, readers might get the wrong impression. They might think the story is about humans and human biology. I’m sure you can see that, can’t you? You don’t want to mislead your readers, do you?

Of course you don’t. That would be propaganda, not science reporting. Continue reading Of mice brains aflame and other travesties

Whole grain consumption and/or many other factors may help you live longer

Food 004

From the headlines, you’d think that just eating more whole grain would enable you to live to a very ripe old age.

“Eat Whole Grains For A Long Life, New Study Says” (Forbes).

“Fiber From Whole Grains Linked To Longer Life” (Huffington Post)

“More Whole Grains May Boost Life Span” (WebMD)

It turns out that things are more complicated than the headlines. There are many factors determining when you bid the world good-bye, with how much whole grain you chewed your way through possibly being one.

Or possibly not.

The study prompting these headlines was published on March 24, 2015, in BMC Medicine. It reports on the eating habits and mortality of a group of more than 350,000 Americans, most of them white. When the dietary data was collected, the subjects ranged in age from 50 to 71. The mortality statistics came from 14 years later.

The study is another in a long list of observational studies that seek to find associations between diet, death, and disease. Like most such studies, it found what it was seeking.

Odd how that happens. Continue reading Whole grain consumption and/or many other factors may help you live longer

My low-carb week in review: March 15-21, 2015

Jim’s intake, daily averages, 3-15-15 to 3-21-15

It was a good week. I kept my daily averages to 34 net carbs and just under 2,000 calories, with 73% of my calories coming from fat, all identical to the week before. (If nothing else, I’m consistent!)

As a result, I lost almost two pounds. My weight dropped from 229 to 227.2 pounds. For my low-carb reboot, now entering its third week, I’m down 4.8 pounds.

There were a couple challenges. On Thursday, we ate out at our favorite Chinese restaurant in the area, which had been closed a year following a fire. The food was great, and the service friendly and attentive, just as before. I ate a cup of egg-drop soup, a patty of pork egg-foo yung, and a small portion of beef with broccoli. No rice, of course, but I did eat the fortune cookie. The challenge came in getting the nutritional facts of the meal correct for my food-log. I did my best. Similarly, on Saturday, Anita and I made our monthly trip to Costco, and as usual there were plenty of free food samples to be had. So I had some, and again I estimated my nutritional intake as best I could.

Since I lost weight, I figure my record-keeping was reasonably accurate.

As last week, my goals are to lower my carbs/ net carbs a little (down to 40/ 25), and to increase my percentage of calories from fat by a few points. However, I seem to be burning body fat, with good nutrition and no suffering, so I’m generally happy!

For now, anyway.


Going nuts on a low-carb diet

Dry roasted macadamia kernels. One-eighth of a cup. How many calories?

I like nuts. My favorites are almonds, macadamias, pistachios and walnuts. I like peanuts, too, and although I know they’re a legume, it’s hard not to lump them in with honest nuts.

A handful of just about any kind of nut is a great snack, packing solid nutrition within a reasonable carb-count (although just how reasonable depends on the nut).  Above all, nuts are tasty and easy to eat.

And therein lies the problem for a dieter. Nuts are very, very easy to eat. (Pistachios are a little tougher, though their shells provide only a modest speed-bump.)

I have to admit, in the years I’ve been living LCHF, I’ve occasionally gone nuts on nuts. That alone may explain why I gained back some pounds.

It’s easy to go nuts on nuts, to lose control of the portions you’re consuming.

Take the small handful of macadamia kernels pictured above. It’s an eighth of a cup — five whole kernels and a couple of pieces. According to the package, that’s half a serving. Those few buttery nuggets of nutty goodness contain about 115 calories. True, most of those calories come from fat (87%),  and there’s just one net gram of carbohydrate and one of protein.  In terms of macro-nutrients, then, those macadamias are a perfect snack for someone eating low-carb, high-fat (LCHF).

That is, if you stop at one or two small handfuls. If you mindlessly keep eating until you’ve eaten six or seven handfuls, or an entire canister, then it’s not a snack at all anymore, but a meal.

But it’s not the kind of meal you should be eating, and odds are, you’ll go ahead and eat dinner, anyway.

Granted, given the high price of macadamias, most of us won’t get fat just on them, but the problem can happen as easily with almonds or any nut you really like, even with legumes posing as nuts. (Yeah, peanuts, I’m talkin’ to you!)

At one time, I ate nuts straight out of the bag or can — not counting, not measuring, and maybe not even enjoying them, at least not as much as I should have enjoyed them. And I think that lack of mindfulness is ultimately the problem. You need to slow down, enjoy your food, and allow the good fats in it a chance to satiate you.

You need to be mindful about your eating, even when eating healthy LCHF food.

It can’t hurt to keep a measuring cup by your stash of nuts!

This one-eighth of a cup of raw almonds has 85 calories, 7.5g fat, 3g protein, and less than 2g net carbs. It’s a light snack, but multiply by six, and it’s a meal.


Sardines: low-carb, high-fat lunch in a tin

Sardina pilchardus, Gervais et Boulart, Les Poissons, 1877

A tin of sardines makes a quick, easy, nutritious and portable low-carb lunch or snack. It’s another food item that I seldom, or never, ate before going low-carb, a hard-to-explain list that includes salmon, almonds, macadamia nuts, and fresh avocado.

Lately, I’ve been buying Season Brand Sardines in five-tin packs at Costco. (For the record, I receive no compensation from either of those businesses.) Aside from reliable quality and a decent price at the wholesale store, the thing I like most about Season Brand Sardines is that they are packed in olive oil. That beats the more common soy-bean oil by a long-shot, both for flavor and healthfulness.

A search on for “sardines in olive oil” reveals that several brands pack the little yummies this way.

At work, I keep a secret cache of sardine tins in the back of a file cabinet drawer, and will open one up for a quick lunch at my desk, eating straight from the tin with a plastic fork — or better yet, with a spoon that allows me to consume all that lovely olive oil, too.

At home, I might take a few extra minutes to plop the sardines into a frying pan and heat them through, then serve them up on a plate with a side-vegetable.  Or I might add the sardines (oil and all) to the top of a green salad. Or I might eat the morsels straight from the tin, the same as a work, as the mood strikes me.

The Season Brand Sardines that I buy are skinless, boneless, and wild-caught, with salt added. The package text claims that the fish have been “sustainably harvested” and certified parasite-free by a rabbi.  I have no reason to doubt either claim.

The package text also claims that the 3.75 ounce tin contains two servings; that I do have reason to doubt. The tin contains three little fish, each about the size of my index-finger. For me, it’s a single serving. So, the following nutrition facts are for all 3.75 ounces.

Calories = 312
Fat calories = 216 (69%)
Fat = 24g
Carbs = 0g
Protein = 24g

The sardines also provide good amounts of vitamin D, calcium, and iron.  Perhaps more significant is that one tin provides about 1,300 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines are among the fish with the least mercury concentrations, probably because they are low on the food chain. The official U.S. government advice (for whatever it’s worth) is to eat 8-12 ounces of such fish per week. That would be two or three tins of sardines.

Of course, to enjoy sardines, you will need to be someone who enjoys fish in general. At our house, that’s only me. Anita wouldn’t eat a fish if it were the only food left on earth. Even our cats aren’t fond of seafood. I guess that’s why I view the tin as a single-serving. I have no one to share it with, and I’m not about to put a leftover sardine in the fridge.

Also see “Great foods for a low-carb diet (part 4): salmon and sardines

My low-carb week in review: March 8-14, 2015

Jim’s intake: 3-8-15 to 3-14-15

The table here shows my average daily intake of fat, carbs, and protein for the week of March 8 to March 14, 2015. This was the first full week of my low-carb reboot. Not that I ever stopped eating a reduced carbohydrate diet in general, but I ‘d gotten a bit lax and allowed some “carb creep.”  I was probably eating excessive protein, too.  As a result, my weight loss that began in 2011 had stopped and then reversed itself. I’d gone from a low of 207 pounds in early 2012 back up to 232 pounds. And I’d gone from a body-mass index of 26.6 to one of 29.8 — a hair’s breadth from official obesity (again). So it was time to do something.

I weighed 229 pounds at the end of this week in review.  A three pound weight loss. Possibly some of the loss was water weight. (Possibly most of it was!)

The average daily carb intake of 50 grams (including 16 grams of fiber) certainly qualifies as “reduced carbs,” but may still be a little too high. I should aim for 40 carbs a day max, with 15-20 grams of that being fiber. Along the same lines, while my calories-from-fat percentage is OK at 73%, I should aim to increase that to 75-80%.

Of course, if I keep losing weight without any health issues or sense of deprivation, I’ll be happy!

Cholesterol myths: free e-book

“Anyone who reads the literature in this field with an open mind soon discovers that the emperor has no clothes” — Uffe Ravnskov.

Noted Scandinavian cholesterol skeptic and author Dr. Uffe Ravnskov has made his first book on the subject free online and as an e-book download.

Not only does Dr. Ravnskov make the entire book text available on his website, but he also provides a link to Smashwords where readers can download free copies as Kindle, epub, or pdf files. In this 2002 critique, the good doctor rigorously examines the logic and evidence supporting the cholesterol hypothesis of heart disease and finds holes galore. You’ll find more recent books covering similar ground, but you won’t find a better one — nor one at a better price!

Table of Contents

Foreword by Michael Gurr
Author´s Foreword
Introduction. The Diet-Heart Idea – A Die-Hard Hypothesis
Myth 1. High-Fat Foods Cause Heart Disease
Myth 2. High Cholesterol Causes Heart Disease
Myth 3. High-fat Foods Raise Cholesterol
Myth 4. Cholesterol Blocks Arteries
Myth 5. Animal Studies Prove the Diet-Heart Idea
Myth 6. Lowering Your Cholesterol Will Lengthen Your Life
Myth 7. The statins – God´s Gift to Mankind
Myth 8. Polyunsaturated oils are Good for You
Myth 9. The Cholesterol Campaign is Based on Good Science
Myth 10. All Scientists Support the Diet-Heart Idea

Red meat and colon cancer: what’s the real risk?

Burger on lettuce
Burger on lettuce

Life is full of risks — some real and some statistical.

Most of the risks claimed by observational studies fall into the statistical category. By “statistical,” I mean “imaginary.”

For instance, a study published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine (online) entitled “Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and the Risk of Colorectal Cancers” suggests that eating a vegetarian diet will reduce a person’s risk of getting colon cancer by over 20% . Or to put it the other way around, regularly eating red meat will increase a person’s odds of getting colon cancer by that alarming percentage. (View the abstract.)

Actually, to be fair to the spirit of the study, I should change the word “will” in the above sentence to “may.” But I’m not going to.  I’m allergic to weasel words, and besides, the strong implication of the study and the various news accounts of it is that eating red meat will give you colorectal cancer.

They all stop short of saying you deserve it.

The study followed a group of 77,659 Seventh-Day Adventists for a little over seven years.  A bunch of these folks were either vegetarians or semi-vegetarians, while another bunch ate meat on a regular basis. Now, the news accounts and the study’s own abstract will tell you that after 7.3 years, the sample group as a whole had suffered 490 cases of colorectal cancer. Those easily accessible accounts will also tell you that the vegetarians had a 22% lower risk of developing such cancers relative to the non-vegetarians.

However, for some reason, those easily accessible accounts omit the raw numbers of cancers in each group. To get those numbers, you need to have access to the full study article, which will cost you money if you don’t have the right credentials.

Luckily, I do have the credentials.

Even when you read the study, it takes a little digging to find the raw numbers. I found them in Table 2.  They are presented below, along with my calculation of the colorectal cancer rate for each group:

40,367 vegetarians — 252 cancer cases (0.624%)

37,292 non-vegetarians — 238 cancer cases (0.638%)

That’s right. The absolute difference in cancer rates is 0.014% over seven years.

To put it another way, in a group of 1,000 vegetarians, we might expect 6.24 people to get colorectal cancer in a period of seven plus years.

In a group of 1,000 non-vegetarians, we might expect 6.38 people to get colorectal cancer. That’s an additional one-seventh of a person getting cancer out of 1,000 people over a period of 7.3 years. Maybe. I mean, all of this is hypothetical. That’s the best you can get from an observational study like this — hypotheses to be tested in actual scientific experiments.

Yes, the difference is bigger than zero. Is it statistically significant? I have no idea, and, as a practical matter, I’m not sure I care much. It’s a difference.  I’ll let you decide what it means. Personally, it’s nothing that would cause me to give up bacon or beef-steak.

My question is, why aren’t these absolute risk numbers in the abstract? Why aren’t they in the media accounts?

Why is the difference in risk stated as 22% and not 0.014%?

I have to say, it seems dishonest to me. (Yes, “seems” is a weasel word, and I’m a bit itchy already.)

However, I have to give the study’s chief author credit. He is quoted as saying, “Our vegetarians not only ate less meat than the non-vegetarians, but also less sweets, snack foods, refined grains and caloric beverages” (CBS News).

That is a frank, honest admission that the diets of the two groups differed in a number of ways, not just in the matter of eating red meat.

Why does the study focus only on the supposed red meat association? You have to wonder how many other conclusions a reasonable person could generate about diets and cancer from the same set of data.

Wait — did I say “conclusions”?

I meant hypotheses.

Also see: “Baked, broiled, or deep-fried: how do you like your variables?”

Sugar is never free

Sugars from cane.  Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Sugars, clockwise from the upper left: white refined, unrefined, brown, unprocessed cane. Photo by Romain Behar.


I don’t eat much sugar anymore, and I especially don’t drink sugar, but I don’t really see it as the root of all dietary evil, either. Just the root of some dietary evil. Perhaps most. Let’s face it. Except for all its calories, sugar is an empty sort of carbohydrate. So I was happy to see The World Health Organization (WHO) take a stand against gorging ourselves to death on sweets.

Granted, the stand is more belated than bold, but we have to take what we can get from main-stream health organizations.

The WHO has released updated guidelines for sugar consumption, urging everyone everywhere to limit their intake of so-called “free sugars” to between 5% and 10% of daily calories .

By “free sugars,” the WHO means any sugars “added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer” and also to sugars “naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.” But the term, and the limits, do not apply to “the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk.”

Are the sugars in fruit, vegetables, and milk chemically different from the so-called “free sugars”?  Do these “bound sugars” (to coin my own term) have a different affect on the human body?  Do they not raise glucose in the body, causing the release of insulin?

According to the WHO, there is “no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these [bound] sugars.”

The sugars in an orange or a carrot or a glass of milk are bound to vitamins or minerals that are of some benefit. But you can get those vitamins and minerals other ways, without the sugar-load.

Once upon a time, I drank a small glass of OJ every morning, just before I ate a bowl of bran flakes with skim milk.

I haven’t drank OJ in almost four years, and yet I haven’t gotten scurvy.  No loose teeth nor bleeding gums.

I suspect the WHO didn’t attack all sugars for the simple reason that it would be a very tough sell. I can see the headline now: “WHO attacks milk!”

The “free sugars” are an easier target.

Sugar isn’t free, but it’s a start.