PrimitiveNutrition - YouTube

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"Vegan Propaganda"

Archevore - Archevore Blog - Jimmy Moore inquires about "safe starches"

Archevore - Archevore Blog - Jimmy Moore inquires about "safe starches"

Jimmy Moore inquires about "safe starches"

This morning I got an email from Jimmy Moore inquiring what I thought about Paul Jaminet’s ideas about safe starches as espoused on his blog and in his book The Pefect Health Diet. I am not sure if Jimmy has noted the updates I’ve made in the Archevore diet, or if he has seen where I have come down on the issue of the CIH ( the carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis of obesity), as he would have to be scouring the nooks and crannies of blog comments all over the nutrition blogosphere ; )

I’ve not had time to write the magnum opus blog posts that the repuditation of the CIH really requires (and not much can be added to what Stephan has already written), so I thought this was a good opportunity to get the message outside of my own echo chamber by responding in detail to Jimmy’s inquiry. My response to him is pretty long, and I doubt if he will quote much of it, so I’ve reproduced the email response, with his inquiry broken into bits in italics and my responses afterward in roman.

Kurt, I've been getting a lot of questions this year from my "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog readers about the concepts in Paul Jaminet's book "Perfect Health Diet."  He advocates for eating white potatoes and white rice as part of a low-carb eating plan.
I also have come to see most starchy plant organs as perfectly legitimate fuel sources.
Low carb plans have helped people lose fat by reducing food reward from white flour and excess sugar and maybe linoleic acid. This is by accident as it happens that most of the "carbs" in our diet are coming in the form of manufactured and processed items that are simply not real food. Low carb does not work for most people via effects on blood sugar or insulin "locking away" fat. Insulin is necessary to store fat, but is not the main hormone regulating fat storage. That would be leptin.

My reading of the anthropology and ethnology literature, as well as my current understanding of biochemistry and metabolism, lead me to see the human metabolism as a multi-fuel stove, equally capable of burning either glucose or fatty acids at the cellular level depending on the organ, the task and the diet, and equally capable of depending on either animal fats or starches from plants as our dietary fuel source, depending on the biome (biological environment) we find ourselves born in or that we migrate to.

We are a highly adaptable species. It is not plausible that carbohydrates as a class of macronutrient are toxic.

Diabetics need to avoid high carbohydrate intake the same way those with gall bladder disease need to avoid fat, but carbohydrates do not cause obesity or diabetes and fat consumption does not cause gall bladder disease (in fact low fat diets may contribute to gallstone formation via stasis)

Here's a one-page explanation and illustration of Jaminet's program:http://perfecthealthdiet.com/?page_id=8
Several places in the book and on Jaminet's blog (http://perfecthealthdiet.com) he specifically warns against the danger of a very low-carb diet (defined as less than about 300-400 calories per day (~100 grams) from so-called "safe starches"--taro, plantains, yams, white potatoes, sweet potatoes, white rice and berries) because less than this leads to the risks, including:  1) "insufficient production of mucus in the digestive tract" leading to dysbiosis
I have not looked into that claim enough to comment in detail, but it seems plausible.

 2) vitamin deficiencies (he particularly mentions Vitamin C and glutathione 
Yes I would agree with that. Whites and sweets are loaded with ascorbic acid.

on pages 253-254)In particular he emphasizes these calories need to come from "safe starches and berrries" and "don't count vegetables as as a carb source (because) they are a fiber (and therefore a fat) source" (page 45).
My list is white potatoes, sweet potatoes, white rice and bananas. If more exotic fare like plantains and taro is available to you, that is fine, too. Except for white rice, these are all whole food starch sources with good mineral and micronutrient content that have been eaten in good health for thousands of years in many environments by genetically diverse populations. Many of these plants have spread far from their biomes of origin and serve as staples for populations who have adopted them with success over just the past few thousand years.

These starchy plant organs or vegetables are like night and day compared to most cereal grains, particularly wheat. One can eat more than half of calories from these safe starches without the risk of disease from phytates and mineral deficiencies one would have from relying on grains.

White rice is kind of a special case. It lacks the nutrients of root vegetables and starchy fruits like plantain and banana, but is good in reasonable quantities as it is a very benign grain that is easy to digest and gluten free.

I think consumption of quality animal products is the sine qua non of a healthy diet. 

Once you have that, then eating starchy plants is more important for nutrition than eating colorful leafy greens - the veggies that are high fiber and low starch. (Some green leafy vegetables are good sources of folate and along with some fruits are sources of flavonoids that may benefit you via hormesis.)

I view most non-starchy fruit with indifference. In reasonable quantities it is fine but it won't save your life either. I like citrus now and then myself, especially grapefruit. But better to rely on starchy vegetables for carbohydrate intake than fruit.

Primitive populations practicing horticulture or hunting and gathering do not eat a lot of big green salads with lots of variety, but they do eat healthy starchy plant organs with monotony on top of their foraged animal foods.

Eating a very low carb (VLC) diet for a period of time can be a good fat loss maneuver, acting via the effects of ketosis on appetite suppression. I also like to see people limit themselves to two or three meals a day with absolutely no snacking, and it may give benefits via hormesis for longer periods of fasting (24 hours or more) once in a while.

But a long term VLC ketogenic diet is not a good idea. It does not mimic the ancestral diet in general, even if some populations have tolerated it when they had to. There is no need for most people to do it to lose fat, as food reward effects are more powerful. I would advocate long term ketosis in those with neurodegenerative brains diseases like Alzheimer dementia and Parkinson disease, and a 10 day water fast followed by long term ketogenic diet is worth trying if you have cancer.

But I would not recommend VLC ketosis as a long term way of life the way I would not recommend running a half marathon every day, or lifting weights to failure on a daily basis, or taking chemotherapy drugs when you don't have cancer. Ketosis probably stresses the body and works via hormesis. But the clean up and repair response cannot happen if there is no rest from it.

A recent post he wrote for cancer patients revealed his recommendion of obtaining 400 to 600 glucose calories a day, mainly from these safe starches. He says it is important to avoid a glucose deficiency, since glycosylated proteins are the means of intercellular coordination, and defects in glycosylation are characteristic of the cancer phenotype.
My arguments are based more on ethnography and anthropology than some of Paul's theorizing, but I arrive at pretty much the same place that he does. I personally eat around 30% carbohydrate now and have not gained an ounce from when I ate 10-15% (and I have eaten as high as 40% for over a year also with zero fat gain) If anything I think even wider ranges of carbohydrate intake are healthy.

One can probably eat well over 50% of calories from starchy plant organs as long as the animal foods you eat are of high quality and micronutrient content.

Grass fed ruminants, pastured butter and eggs and wild caught cold water fish are the kernel of a healthy diet, but the fuel source can be larger than the kernel on a caloric basis if the kernel is high quality and consistent.

He notes, "You don’t want to aggravate this with a self-induced glucose deficiency." I'd like to write a blog post about this topic of "safe starches" to help my readers understand fact from fiction and will quote from your response.  THANK YOU! If you cannot assist me, then please let me know so I ask someone else to contribute.
I've given you plenty to quote from, Jimmy. Go for it!


High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 85, No. 2, 426-430, February 2007
© 2007 American Society for Nutrition


High-glycemic-index carbohydrate meals shorten sleep onset 1,2,3

Ahmad Afaghi, Helen O'Connor and Chin Moi Chow
1 From the School of Exercise and Sport Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
2 Supported by Sydney University's PhD student research budget. The rice was provided by Riviana Food Pty Ltd, Victoria, Australia.
3 Reprints not available. Address correspondence to CM Chow, Delta Sleep Research Unit, School of Exercise and Sport Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, The University of Sydney, PO Box 170, Lidcombe NSW 1825 Australia. E-mail: c.chow@usyd.edu.au.


Background: Dietary carbohydrate intake has been shown to increase the plasma concentration of tryptophan, a precursor of serotonin and sleep-inducing agent.

Objective: To investigate the role of carbohydrate in sleep induction, we explored the effect of glycemic index (GI) and meal time on sleep in healthy volunteers.

Design: We compared the effect of high- and low-GI carbohydrate–based meals ingested 4 h before bedtime on sleep quality. We also evaluated the effect of the timing of high-GI meals (4 h compared with 1 h) on sleep quality. Twelve healthy men (aged 18-35 y) were administered standard, isocaloric (3212 kJ; 8% of energy as protein, 1.6% of energy as fat, and 90.4% of energy as carbohydrate) meals of either Mahatma (low GI = 50) or Jasmine (high GI = 109) rice 4 h before their usual bedtime. On another occasion, the high-GI meal was given 1 h before bedtime. The participants underwent a familiarization night followed by 3 test nights in random order 1 wk apart.

Results: A significant (P = 0.009) reduction in the mean (±SD) sleep onset latency (SOL) was observed with a high-GI (9.0 ± 6.2 min) compared with a low-GI (17.5 ± 6.2 min) meal consumed 4 h before bedtime. The high-GI meal given 4 h before bedtime showed a significantly shortened SOL compared with the same meal given 1 h before bedtime (9.0 ± 6.2 min compared with 14.6 ± 9.9 min; P = 0.01). No effects on other sleep variables were observed.

Conclusions: We showed that a carbohydrate-based high-GI meal resulted in a significant shortening of SOL in healthy sleepers compared with a low-GI meal and was most effective when consumed 4 h before bedtime. The relevance of these findings to persons with sleep disturbance should be determined in future trials.

Key Words: Carbohydrates • glycemic index • sleep quality • sleep timing


Burn more calories & bodyfat, get fitter, get slimmer & lose more visceral fat with Vitamin D.

Nige's Diet & Nutrition Blog: Burn more calories & bodyfat, get fitter, get slimmer & lose more visceral fat with Vitamin D.

Sunday, 18 March 2011

Well, that should have got your attention! I've just spent ages trawling through PubMed searching for Vitamin D studies from 2010 to present. I found 35 worth linking to. Here are the three relevant to the title:-

Diet induced thermogenesis, fat oxidation and food intake following sequential meals: influence of calcium and vitamin D.

Relation of vitamin D level to maximal oxygen uptake in adults.

Calcium and vitamin D supplementation is associated with decreased abdominal visceral adipose tissue in overweight and obese adults.



praguestepchild said...
What are your thoughts on natural vit D vs supplements. Nevermind, I forgot you lived in England. No, seriously, how do you consider vit D in a pill to vit D via the Sun? Is there relevant data for this? Of course for older people like you mother it is more difficult to synthesize vit D via the skin, especially if they don't get enough cholesterol in the diet.
Nigel Kinbrum said...
Hi Sean. Sorry it took so long to moderate your post, but I can't log-in to Blogger from my Blackberry. There's a script problem or something. I was visiting mum. Anyway, Vitamin D3 in a gel-cap is bio-identical to the Vitamin D3 that's synthesised in our skins. It's extracted from the lanolin on the wool sheared off sheep. They do the sunbathing, so we don't have to. Vitamin D3 5,000iu/day in gel-caps raised my serum 25(OH)D just fine. I don't know why old people's skins are less efficient at synthesising Vitamin D3 than young people's. I don't think that cholesterol is the limiting factor.

Sidereal & Anor on Carbsane: On keeping my mouth shut

Ad Libitum: On keeping my mouth shut

Excellent rant! Don't get me started on CarbSham... her latest post on quantum theory really got my hackles up. She thinks she's a 'science geek' and can't imagine what an 'average Joe' thinks about the word quantum! So 'science geek' must mean someone who can copy chunks from Wikipedia!! Her arrogance never ceases to stun me.. the woman is so far up her own rear that she never sees the light of day. I am sure that any average Joe could do what she does and Google 'quantum'. I used to teach quantum mechanics, and seeing someone bragging that she knows about it (when she sure as hell doesn't) upsets me somewhat.
It's also annoying when someone who weighs twice as much as you sneers at your views on weight control and nutrition!!
  1. LOLz. I haven't even read the latest "quantum" post. I knew it would be full of woo. She pathologically misrepresents (or perhaps misunderstands??) every piece of research she discusses.

    That whole blog is a waste of time. It's just her and a handful of sycophants dissing fat people. Taubes is actually right about most things he talks about. YES, he is wrong about some of the detail, no one is ever right 100% of the time, but only an obsessed weirdo could let some minor mistakes in GCBC occupy their life. I don't see what's in it for her. If she's so smart and if it's all about CICO, if she's got it all figured out, why is she still fat?
  2. Must appreciate the irony of a person criticizing Kruse for invoking quantum mechanics, meanwhile in the next line she lies about !!UNDERSTANDING IT!!11 when we all know she totally doesn't.

Its the Woo and Sidereal on Deans, Harris & Carbsane

Ad Libitum: More paleo idiocy

  1. The Deans "I'm a harvard doctor!' rant certainly took us all by surprise. Her blog has not recovered. I still read her blog because she often posts such interesting content, even though it is obvious she can't stand me (sort of like the high school loser sitting at the lunch table with the paleo cool kids, e.g. Guyenet, Harris, so on). I remember when Harris went on a narcissist rage @ me because I questioned his decision to make life more difficult for a young woman with anorexia. Deans posted his abusive response, refused mine, and then also chided me for being antagonistic. LOL.

    My favorite thing about the Deans rant was how she immediately tried to do damage control by the next day posting a blog entry about her children ("see I'm a mother too just like you blue collar ignorant pig slobs who are too unsophisticated to understand or converse with very important people on the cutting edge of obesity research! I take everything I said back about being an extremely important person!")

    I've also noticed she has a tendency like carbsane to dedicate whole posts, topics, sentences, entries, to insulting people, without directly doing so. This allows her the luxury of being a bitch without appearing as one.

    What I find interesting is so many of these paleo people seem to know what i blog, when I doubt they subscribe to it. Carbsane and I had an exchange a few wks ago where she responded to everything I wrote, without ever once mentioning my name. I imagine there must be some kind of highschool teenager set up where they facebook msg each other and LAWL at the low carber losers.

    Funny how much arrogance and pomp these academic douche bags put out there, when at the end of the day they are more vile immature and childish than anyone.

    I wouldn't dare willingly disclose my location or my name. I almost regret disclosing my face. I am certain one of these freaks would take things too far in the IRL.
  2. My jaw literally dropped when I read THAT Deans post. She really did a lot of damage to her reputation with that one. I don't subscribe anymore; I only read it occassionally to see if there's something controversial or worthwhile I missed. I can't stand her aristocratic attitude. Just goes to show you no matter how "nice" an upper-class academic may appear, there's always a superiority complex hiding underneath. Oh the irony of attacking Paul Jaminet with all his ivy league credentials. I mean, Harris is a two-bit radiologist from some arse end of nowhere and Guyenet got his PhD like yesterday. Which schools did Carbsane go to? LOLZ

    I saw your spat with Harris on Deans' blog and thought it was disgraceful the way she behaved. Unfortunately in our culture if one discloses a history of mental health problems one tends to be dismissed forever no matter how insightful and CORRECT their ideas are. It's their loss. You know infinitely more about the conditions they've spent entire careers studying. The joke's on them.

    As for Carbsane et al., there is basically an ECHO going from your blog to hers. The same ideas you discuss with your contributors on The Scribble Pad make their way into her posts. Sometimes there would be tell-tale signs of plagiarism like an uncommon word used in the same context when someone used it on your blog only yesterday. It's infuriating.

    In the good old academic tradition, the cool paleo kids completely fail to reference / acknowledge by name where those ideas are coming from. Ignoring and isolating people who don't fit ideologically is the main academic strategy. This happens in my workplace all the time. You can shout your ideas from the rooftops but the more senior academics will sneer at you or completely ignore you to show you just how worthless they think you and your ideas are. A few days/weeks/months later they'd be talking about those same things as if they were the ones who thought of them!

    Richard Feinman did a brilliant post about this wrt carbs.


divergent goals - tess's paleo journey

tess's paleo journey

Friday, March 16, 2012

divergent goals

Methinks there are several different main "populations" of individuals who have interest in the paleo/ancestral realm of health ... and each of them has separate, if overlapping, end-results in mind.  The lack of understanding between them can be breathtaking.  My imagination envisions it as being like a Brit, an Aussie, and a Texan all speaking their particular jargon; everyone is technically speaking English dialects, but it sure sounds like different languages.

I belong to the subgroups of "middle aged," "hypothyroid," "female," and "eat-less-move-more doesn't work anymore," of the larger set "wanting to lose weight." 

I read a variety of websites, some of which are more focused on the goals of groups with which i do NOT share characteristics:  "younger" (note, i did not say YOUNG, just youngER), "male," "never overweight," "desiring less than 10% body-weight," and "for whom, long hard workouts and rigorous calorie-apportioning are reasonable tools."  I don't assume that their advice will be useful to me as stated, but i occasionally pick up info with which i can do something.  It's distinctly possible that, among themselves, the usefulness of the prescribed regimen is generally applicable, but it's unthinkable that it might be widely important to the entire population of "wanting to lose weight."

One distinct group amongst the paleo/ancestral crowd is that which is not interested in personal weight loss, but in the theory of it.  These folks don't actually deal with overweight human bodies at all; most of them have never had a true PROBLEM with their own weight (even if they may have been a little chubby in the past), nor have they helped such a person manage obesity, as did Atkins and Donaldson, and current bloggers such as Kresser, Sharma and Briffa.  These researchers usually spend their time mulling over rodents, or other people's studies of humans.  Again, it's sometimes possible to glean immediately-useful information from their blogs, but most of it is either hypothetical, or extremely technical and over my head (note the addition of Lucas Tafur to my blog-list...) -- that's okay, i'm not the audience he's addressing, anyway.

Another group comprises people with illness, who are seeking relief that allopathic medicine has failed to deliver.  They have my respect and best wishes; they are those who are willing to ACT rather than passively drug themselves and die.  Their paths are frequently very instructive.

We make a mistake when we try to lump everyone together and generalize what is best for everybody -- outside the obvious things like "junk food is problematic for health."  ;-)  In Mr. Tafur's words, "...people who already have developed an inflammatory and/or autoimmune disorder respond differently to any diet. This means that the response to a diet is individual, and more importantly, in this case, the starting point is not a natural one."  People's tolerances vary widely.

Don't tell me i'll do better with more carbs in my diet.  Tried it -- doesn't work.

Ad Libitum: More paleo idiocy

Ad Libitum: More paleo idiocy

More paleo idiocy

This morning I was listening to Jimmy Moore's new podcast with the paleo luminary Loren Cordain. Oh my gawd. LOL! So much squirming and back-peddling squeezed into one hour... where do I even begin?

The desperation was oozing throughout the interview. It wasn't so much an interview as an attempt to sell his new book, The Paleo Answer, to unsuspecting fatties who listen to LLVLC show for good-quality weight loss advice. Personally, I would not be looking to Cordain for any kind of answer to the question, "How do I lose weight?" Here's why:

I got into the whole Paleo thing about a year ago via LC initially, having read Taubes, Atkins et al. I then read Robb Wolf's book and liked it. I thought it was reasonable advice for most people in most situations. I like Wolf because he seems to understand the necessity for carb restriction in obesity and he also seems to understand that creepy puritanistic food fascism where only free-range grass-fed killed-by-your-own-hand whatever is allowed is nonsense that should not be entertained. I foolishly thought everyone in the Paleo community was as reasonable as Wolf so I figured I'd read more into it. Despite the obvious idiocy of the paleo movement which became evident when the battlelines were drawn following the Taubes vs. Guyenet spat at AHS 2011, I accept the basic paleo principles and adhere to them (no grain etc.) while sticking to LC for medical reasons. That's how I ended up stumbling on Cordain (and others).

For those who may not be initimately familiar with the details of this person's work, I happen to have the Kindle version of his previous book, The Paleo Diet (2nd ed.). I remember buying this book and reading some of it after I'd already learned that the dietary fat hypothesis of heart disease was bunk. I hated the book so much I never actually finished it. It's basically a politically correct version of the paleolithic diet, some weird frankenmonster mishmash of truth and AHA-sanctioned fairy crap. Eat low GI carbs. Eat LEAN meat, shellfish, fish. Canola oil. No sugar, grains, legumes or dairy, god forbid. Gee, sounds like the diet currently peddled by "the authorities". Guaranteed to keep you hungry all the time.

People in the LC / Paleo 2.0 community who are clued in pointed out that these are rubbish, completely out-of-date recommendations. Cordain, like all health authorities, tells you that in order to lose weight you must cut out the high GI carbs. OK, I agree. So the question then arises, where should I get my calories from? This is where things get tricky! They can't tell you the truth which is that you should get your calories from FAT. They lie and prevaricate because they can't be seen to be recommending a high-fat diet. It's bad for your heart, dontchaknow. So you get told, absurdly, that this is a "high protein diet" and that the "bulk" of it is still coming from carbs, just low GI carbs. My doctor who prescribed this shitty diet to me used those exact words also. Cordain and other initial paleo hacks claimed that the paleo man ate "protein and fat", implying that protein was a significant source of calories, on an equal footing with fat or something. This is crazy.

Anyone reading this who thinks lean meat is good should read Jaminet on the issue of protein restriction. Also, go and find out what the Inuit do with lean meat (hint: feed it to the dogs) and what happened to Stefansson (the Arctic explorer) when the meat he ate wasn't fatty enough. Google "rabbit starvation". Then go to the supermarket and get the fattiest beef you can find.

How anyone could live on a high-protein diet is unclear to me as it would result in ill health and death muy pronto. Physiology 101: energy is primarily derived from CARBS and/or FAT. The dispute on what to eat is solely on whether the majority of calories should be eaten from CARBS/GLUCOSE (the position held by the AHA, ADA, USDA, every other governmental organisation, every doctor in the world) or FAT/KETONES (Taubes, Atkins, Hyperlipid, a few other kooks on the interwebz, and every human who ever lived on this planet prior to the invention of agriculture). But everyone agrees that protein could never serve as a significant source of calories. Paleolithic diets were NOT high-protein. They were high fat because the paleolithic man preferentially ate the fattiest parts of the animal. SO, DEAR AUTHORITIES, where should we get our energy from on a reducing diet? It can't be those wonderful wholegrains because they're high GI and thereby verboten. It can't be the fat because it's going to kill you and is therefore verboten. What then should the fatties who want to lose weight eat?

No doctor has ever truthfully answered this question.

Back to Cordain. He actually says in his first book in one of the chapters that people in the Paleolithic ate all the yucky parts of the animal like liver, brain, tongue, kidneys etc. Ummm, if they ate all that fatty stuff, what makes this guy think we should be eating crappy lean high-protein muscle meat??? I don't follow this leap of logic. There's a whole section warning about the dangers of saturated fat, a cardiologist's wet dream, complete with Ornish-style caveats about wonderful stearic acid. He goes on and on about omega 3 to 6 ratio and advocates high omega 3 intake from shellfish and fish. Ummm, where is the evidence that PUFAs in general should be eaten in high quantities? Is the human body made up of mostly PUFAs? That would be a no.

He also goes on about fruit and vegetables. Fruit was probably only ever eaten in season for a few weeks a year. Why an all-year-round fruit orgy, dousing your liver with fructose, would be a good thing for modern man I do not know.

So now following a complete refutation of all these batty ideas Cordain shows up on LLVLC to tell people that he's been pro saturated fat all along (didn't ya'll read my obscure article from seven years ago in some obscure journal?) and how he was the pioneering paleo guy etc etc. Sad, really sad.

In short, this is another desperado attempt from a has-been to jump the "high protein" ship. Cordain reminds me a lot of Eades, actually. Eades' whole blog is an attempt at damage control. The book, after all, is called Protein Power. All these LC diets in the 1990s and 2000s had to call themselves "high protein" for political reasons because to call your diet what it is, high fat, is to accuse yourself of being a murderer or something. Well, Rosedale thoroughly whoopped Eades' ass in that debate all those years ago. We now know that protein restriction is of prime importance not just to glucose control but also health and longevity.

In short, I would not be buying any more books from someone advocating lean meat and fruit as a healthy diet.

Ad Libitum: My N=1 experience with hypothyroidism

Ad Libitum: My N=1 experience with hypothyroidism

My N=1 experience with hypothyroidism

Given the recent VLC and hypothyroidism flame wars, I thought I'd throw in my personal anecdote in case it may be of some use to someone reading this.

About six months into strict low carbing I started experiencing all the classic symptoms of hypothyroidism - hairloss, feeling cold, slow heart rate, low energy, brain fog etc. It was as if someone had one day drained every last bit of energy out of me. I could barely move. I couldn't think or concentrate. I struggled to get through the working day. All this started to happen last autumn after a 40-pound weight loss. It was like the Atkins flu all over again. Hypothyroidism is an unfathomable, endless pit of depair. It's like depression, only your mood isn't actually all that depressed, it's more that your BODY is depressed and you can't do anything. You just want to crawl into cave and hibernate for a very long time.

I got my bloods done and yes, my T3 was abnormally low. T4 was normal. TSH was "normal" according to the ridiculously wide lab reference ranges which no one in the field would consider optimal anymore so in actuality it was somewhat elevated. I read some stuff on paleo blogs and became convinced that this was all caused by VLC. As I couldn't cope with the symptoms anymore, I decided, with much trepidation, to add some carbs to my diet. Unsurprisingly, I stalled and got stuck on a plateau for a couple of months. But, I felt "normal" again.

Conclusion? VLC shot my thyroid to shit.

Not so fast.

In hindsight, when I added carbs back into my diet, I did so without decreasing fat and protein intake. This is a classic mistake people make. Fitday says I was at 1,900-ish calories during that period. No wonder I stalled! No freaking wonder I felt normal again. I was no longer restricting food intake. I was no longer on a diet. I was just another person feeding my body a normal amount of food. I was at 100 g of carb at that stage. Hypoglycaemia and chronic hunger returned, I couldn't lose weight, but hey, at least my thyroid was working again! I learned one thing for sure: there is no such thing as a safe starch for some of us. It is irresponsible for glucose-tolerant naturally-thin people like Jaminet and these paleos to be advocating up to 300 g of carb a day. My glucose control begins to collapse at 100, let alone 300, and I'm not diabetic, my labs are completely normal. Safe starches may be a reality for many, but for some of us they are a one-way ticket to an early grave.

Long story short, I now believe it's the process of losing weight rather than VLC per se which causes these problems. I've been there. It's frustrating watching hordes of people making the same mistake, reading the same flawed advice. It's a scary and lonely place to be in so I understand the knee-jerk reaction. My advice would be to stay ketogenic, add more calories from fat, bring your caloric intake to maintenance levels and watch what happens. Chances are it's the caloric restriction causing the problems, not the lack of carbs. Bodies, especially female bodies, hate losing weight. Dieting is actually quite dangerous. LC makes it seem deceptively simple and easy but make no mistake, your body is going through a metabolic upheaval when you're losing a serious amount of weight. It will employ every counterregulatory mechanism at its disposal to fight you back and test your resolve. The body doesn't know what obesity is. It thinks dieting is a famine. It's a primordial thing. It doesn't give a shit about your vanity.

Of note, I found iodine and selenium supplementation useful for normalising thyroid function. Iodine should be started off modestly, say 150 mcg, and slowly titrated upwards or else bad things can happen. I later added lots of nuts to my diet which now gives me like 400% RDA of selenium a day so I stopped the supplement. The crucial thing was upping the calories, though. I'm back to 40-50 carbs a day and no longer hypothyroid, although still suffering from unpleasant side-effects of caloric restriction.

I am unconcerned about this whole "debate". This carb orgy will blow over soon, IMO. People will try eating carbs only to re-discover what compelled them to try LC in the first place: inability to lose weight or even maintain, plus health problems. Chances are if you are in the LC community, you can't tolerate glucose all that well. Truth is uncomfortable but is always preferable to lies and opportunistic pandering.


  1. your experience is interesting, and your conclusions (in my humble opinion) can only be argued-with by the ... dare i say it ... "insane."

    i think the conventional point of view of "this thyroid situation" is screwed up. the current epidemic of hypothyroidism would be significantly ameliorated if the fluoride and bromines were reduced in our surroundings. those still suffering would be significantly helped by an enlightened use of nutrition. at least iodophobia is becoming discredited....

    i was diagnosed hypothyroid as an infant, but from my studies, i've come to suspect that my mother was taking something for depression (in 1954) when she got pregnant, then nutritional deficiencies got in their damage (white bread and corn oil margarine, and too little meat, anyone?) i've done a HUGE amount of reading and diet-tweaking, and now i'm doing well on a bathroom-counter-full of supplements and a little dessicated raw thyroid -- whereas 35 years ago i was taking 3 grains of Euthroid a day.


    1. Tess, thanks for sharing that. 1954 predates the discovery of antidepressants. I wonder what your mom was taking.

      Hypothyroidism is a silent epidemic in the West. Nobody eats fish, seafood or seaweed anymore. I think it probably underlies a lot of depression diagnoses in women especially. Current mainstream medical view of hypothyroidism is too focused on the lab numbers which can sometimes be "normal", yet the patient is still experiencing subjective symptoms. Medicine of course hates subjective symptoms.

      I tend to agree with the Jaminets in that one should be aiming for a TSH of 1 or below. I noticed whenever my TSH measured at around 2.5 and upwards (still deemed "normal" according to dumb doctors), I felt extremely shitty. Whenever it's around 1, I'm fine.

      Thyroid function is so important. I think a lot of general malaise people are experiencing could be ameliorated with some careful supplementation. Usually they send people like that away with a script for an SSRI because they don't have the time or interest to dig deeper.
  2. Sidereal, I'm glad you solved the dilemma. Thanks for posting about this.

    Your experience reminds me of Emma Davies' (I'm not sure I have her name right.)

    She called her diet to solve the hypothyroid problem, the porker diet. Here are the search results for "porker" at her blog:


    I, too, find iodine helpful. I've been taking it for several years. I also take PicMins mineral complex.

    All the best to you. :)
  3. I had thought that there was something up with the VLC version of LC, too. I had trouble when going from 100 grams carb to the Dr. Ezrin program. But, looking back on things, I am wondering if it was do to being in late-fall/winter. This winter I did much better after starting vitamin D. But then things really started to improve after I started selenium and iodine. Unfortunately, the new supplements were also confounded with spring.


    1. EB, that's interesting, I had the exact same experience. I was initially losing weight on 100 g of carb. When I slowed down, I decided to go VLC last autumn. I lost a lot of weight very suddenly. That's when my thyroid apparently crapped out, at the same time as cold weather started. So many things were going on at once it's hard to disentangle what caused what but what I do know is that I'm fine when I'm not losing weight, i.e., when I'm in caloric balance even if I'm VLC. This, to me, would appear to provide evidence against the VLC causes hypothyroidism hypothesis.
    2. Last year, I had moved to a long-term plateau doing LC, which then turned into a gain in the fall. That's why I started in with the D. The problem with getting your thyroid out of whack, even just a little, is that it messes up all the other experiments you might plan. This was the point I was trying to make about the homeostasis argument Ned Kock was making, but he pretty much thought I was nuts, and now ignores my posts. Too bad, cause there is a good deal of data there.
  4. 100% agreement. MTE.

    I too experienced these "hypothyroid" symptoms. Nothing but plain old metabolic conservation from shock of shocks weight loss, low insulin, negative energy balance in the fat tissue, etc. If I am eating low carb but feasting on ad lib cals I have normal energy and am very warm.

    Low carb gets the blame because it is an effective weight loss strategy allowing for higher intakes. Ironic.

    I also agree, the ones who NEED low carb will be back. This is something the glucose tolerant cannot seem to understand. Using glucose for energy when your body sucks at it is simply a miserable way to live.


    1. Woo, perhaps we shouldn't be calling it hypothyroidism, it's misleading. It's low T3 in the context of a functional adaptation of the body to severe weight loss, a general slowdown of the metabolism.

      I too feel very warm and healthy if I eat say a nice ribeye with butter and a nice salad on the side. No carbs required to make me feel good. :p
  5. Yoghurt for Iodine if you suspect your deficient?

    I dont know what the Dairy is like in the U.S. but over here in the UK it is reasonably good quality, I get my yoghurt from here, but tbh even the brands sold in supermarkets and not at all bad.

    My issue is pretty much only with Starch, ( bread,wheat,potato, rice ) aslong as those things are out of my diet I can eat Ad Libitum and not experience weight gain.


    1. Kindke, I eat yoghurt daily. I'm in Ireland, dairy here is excellent.

      Yes, I find starch very fattening too. Many people appear to be able to eat ad libitum on a LC diet and not gain weight. I suspect this is the natural state of the body which never suffered metabolic damage from obesity etc. Unfortunately some of us don't seem to be able to eat to satiety even on LC. Lots of anecdotal evidence out there of people who are successfully managing their obesity on LC but can't eat as much as they want.
  6. I am very interested in Dr. Kruse's cold therapy. If he is correct that it "wakes" up the thyroid, and has wonderful implications if true. He says it doesn't work if you aren't leptin sensitive. He also says that people shouldn't do it until they do the leptin reset, and that any calorie-reducing diet will just "shut down the thyroid". But I don't understand why he insists that low carb doesn't shut things down, too, especially at the initial stages for people who are LResistant. Not that I want him to be wrong. I would love for him to be correct, but my experience has shown that it is not that straightforward.
  7. Regarding Kruse:

    I think every diet slows down the thyroid, LC is no exception. I'm sceptical about a lot of things he says. I think he's a great guy and his heart is certainly in the right place, but after the initial excitement of discovering his blog, I found way too many contradictions or outright unsubstantiated speculation presented as FACT. Plus there's the whole pseudo-religious rambling about leptin and inflammation and this weird cultish vibe on the blog as if it contained all the secrets of the universe.

    I don't think garden-variety obesity has anything to do with leptin resistance or inflammation or even the brain. All this stuff is probably at best downstream of what's happening at the adipocyte / in the mitochondria. At the end of the day Kruse is telling people to go on a LC diet. Practically speaking, this is no different from what Taubes or Eades are telling people. No need to wrap it up in this leptin and inflammation woo. I get it, everyone has to have a niche.

    Occam's Razor: Is it more likely that Kruse injured his knee because the inflammation ate it or due to the mechanical stress on the joint from being 300 lbs or whatever he was? When one goes LC, is it not more likely / parsimonious that insulin signalling at the adipocyte is the key factor in fat loss, not this other stuff about master hormones and circadian rhythms and bullshit?

    For the record, I have herniated discs in my lower spine at age 25 not because of evil cytokines but because I spent my entire life overweight and even obese for a few years. Lugging around 230 lbs even for a few years will do strange things to your body.
  8. Sidereal, mmm, Ireland. :) Will you say "hello" to the view for me? Lucky you!

    If you're a tea drinker, could we talk tea? :)

    Oh, to be able to eat any-old-thing on VLC. Nope, track the carbs, weigh the meat, limit that scrumptious cheese, yoghurt and cream. Not too many parsnips, just a wee bite now and then. And low fiber for happier digestion and elimination. Not exactly an eat-all-I-want version of very low carb. Getting older and hormones? Genetic gifts? ;) Results of having weighed more a few years ago? Who knows.... My version of low carb is track and weigh, and pay attention.

    Someone posted at Woo's blog a while back, that even if we have to keep track as much as the low fat, low cal folks, at least we smile more. 'Tis true.

    Sidereal, I wish you a really lovely afternoon. :)
  9. Barry's Gold, yep. I don't like Lyons and I haven't tried Bewleys. People here only leave the bag in for a minute or two at most. Tea is drunk like water here - constantly - so you can imagine it can't be made too strong. LOL

    Your reactions to tea sound familiar. The last cup of coffee I've had was 8 years ago or so. I still remember it because I ended up spending the night in the ER with severe palpitations. I can't drink alcohol either. Wine especially gives me arrhythmia. Spirits are fine but wine kills me. My beloved cider Bulmers is something I can't drink anymore due to carb content and heart rhythm abnormalities.

    I'm on 1,200-1,300 kcal VLC at the moment trying to get rid of those last 20 lbs. I'm fine even on 100 carbs a day if I'm not trying to lose weight. Sweet spot for losing without ketosis-induced increases in cortisol, noradrenaline and adrenaline seems to be 40-50, anything below that and I freak out. I'm sitting here freaking out for the last two hours, completely wired. I took 400 mg of magnesium citrate and even some valerian root. No effect. I might have to take a beta blocker if the crazy continues. I doubt I'll sleep tonight.

    How I wish I could just lose the remaining weight quickly so I wouldn't have to subject my body to this. Contrary to a lot of folks in the community, I don't think ketosis is a particularly desirable / optimal state to be in for prolonged periods. Enhanced stress for prolonged periods can hardly be a good thing. Maybe it's just me with my exquisitely sensitive HPA axis. I never felt good in deep ketosis. I find mildly ketogenic best 60-70% fat, adequate protein + minimum glucose required to run glucose-dependent processes without the need for gluconeogenesis. Why subject the liver to unnecessary stress? For me deep ketosis is a weight-loss maneouvre, not necessarily something I consider healthy or optimal.

    Just my humble opinion.


Ad Libitum: I can't stand the paleo "community"

Ad Libitum: I can't stand the paleo "community"

Friday, 2 March 2012

I can't stand the paleo "community"

Well done Jimmy Moore. I really enjoyed his recent post on the low-carb vs. paleo schism.

He's a very brave man, putting his personal weight struggles out there like that, subjecting himself to ridicule. He's been a target of attacks emanating from the usual quarters recently for pushing 300 lbs. You know what? Anyone who has ever lived in a weight-reduced state following a significant weight loss (> 100 lbs in Jimmy's case) knows the monster he is facing on a daily basis. Kudos to him for trying to resolve his endocrine issues. Why mock a man for assuming, rather sensibly in my opinion, that he has a hormonal problem? What formerly obese person doesn't? I don't understand why anyone would diss a man for eating to hunger. It's easy for thin people who have never had to live in a chronic state of hunger in order to even stay obese as opposed to morbidly obese to throw stones.

Take Kurt Harris for example. He is such a nasty little troll. I can't stand this pompous windbag. He speaks with such vehemence, such certitude. Er, excuse me? What actual first-hand knowledge does a lean radiologist have of obesity? Has he ever been significantly overweight? No. Does he treat obese patients? Nope again. He just read a whole bunch of papers. Geez! That's great. I guess watching all those thousands of movies makes me an expert filmmaker.

Typical MD behaviour, talking down to you as if you're a developmentally delayed seven-year-old, about things they don't know shit about.

No one has all the answers. Three years ago this twerp was comparing Gary Taubes to John the Baptist. Now we're told 70% carb diets are a-ok as long as they're "low reward".

...whatever the hell that means. Well, guess what, every low-calorie, low-fat diet ever attempted is bloody low reward. How is a typical diet of skinless chicken breast, lettuce and vegetable soup rewarding? Tell me why out of millions of people who have attempted these completely unpalatable diets, practically all of them failed? How come eating tasteless rubber didn't magically lower the mythical hypothalamic setpoint? Don't tell me every fat person in the world is a gluttonous impulsive idiot who just couldn't stick to it for emotional reasons. Seriously, all of them? Every last one of them?

What's even more surprising is when a self-admitted eating disordered fatass like Carbsane attacks Jimmy Moore for the crime of, er, eating.

I can't...


Well said. What sickens me is her self-righteous hypocrisy and pompous attitude - she seems to believe that she represents real science and truth. Her blog is just an ego trip, probably because she has no validity in her real life. I am a professional female scientist working in a man's subject - all my female colleagues know exactly how difficult it is to be taken seriously in a science field and she is really not doing the cause of female scientists any favours. She makes us all cringe.


Will Eating Red Meat Kill You? | Mark's Daily Apple


Will Eating Red Meat Kill You?

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redmeatThis is another special guest post from our favorite study-dismantler, Denise Minger. Read all of her previous Mark’s Daily Apple articles here, here, here and here, pay her website a visit, and stay tuned for her upcoming book “Death by Food Pyramid” due out later this year.
We’re already 74 days into the new year, which can only mean one thing: it’s high time for our latest episode of Science Says Meat Will Kill You, complete with a brand new study and commercial-free viral media coverage! Have a seat and tune in (or at least set your DVR for later viewing).
If you haven’t had at least one family member, coworker, or soon-to-be-unfriended Facebook acquaintance send you this study as a reminder that you’re killing yourself, you’re either really lucky or your inbox is broken. Thanks to an observational study called Red Meat Consumption and Mortality freshly pressed in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a slew of bold headlines exploded across every conceivable media outlet this week:

Media sensationalism aside, the study does seem to spell trouble for proud omnivores. Unlike some similar publications we’ve seen on meat and mortality, this one says that red meat doesn’t just make you die of heart disease and cancer; it makes you die of everything. Following over 120,000 women and men from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professional’s Follow-up Study for 28 and 22 years respectively, researchers found that a single daily serving of unprocessed red meat was associated with a 13% increased risk of death from all causes, while a single serving of processed red meat—the equivalent of one hotdog—was associated with a 20% increased risk.
And in case that’s not enough to chew on, there’s more: the researchers waved their statistical wands and declared you could outrun death for a few more years by swapping red meat for so-called “healthier foods” like nuts, chicken, or whole grains. In fact, the researchers suggest that up to one in ten of the deaths that struck their study participants could’ve been prevented if everyone had kept their red meat intake under half a serving per day!
But if you’ve been hanging around the nutrition world for very long, you’ve probably realized by now that health according to the media and health according to reality are two very different things—and even scientific studies can be misrepresented by the researchers who conduct them. Is our latest “killer meat” scare a convincing reason to ditch red meat? Is it time to put a trigger lock on your lethal grass-fed beef when the young’uns are around? Or is there more to this story than meats the eye? (Sorry, I had to.)

Observations vs. Experiments

Before we even dig into what this study found, let’s address an important caveat that the media—and even the researchers, unless they were terribly misquoted—seem to be confused about. What we’ve got here is a garden-variety observational study, not an actual experiment where people change something specific they’re doing and thus make it possible to determine cause and effect. Observations are only the first step of the scientific method—a good place to start, but never the place to end. These studies don’t exist to generate health advice, but to spark hypotheses that can be tested and replicated in a controlled setting so we can figure out what’s really going on. Trying to find “proof” in an observational study is like trying to make a penguin lactate. It just ain’t happening… ever.
Nonetheless, the media blurbs—and even quotes from the scientists themselves—suggest this study has a major case of mistaken identity. The lead researcher Frank Hu claimed the study “provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death,” despite the fact that the study is innately incapable of providing such evidence. It’s as if someone pulled a Campbell on us. Only an actual experiment, with controls and manipulated variables, could start confirming causation.
But the study’s over-extrapolation isn’t really that surprising. A conclusive experiment is what every observational study secretly yearns to be, deep down in its confounder-riddled, non-randomized heart. And like pushy stage mothers, some researchers want their observational studies to be more talented and remarkable than they truly are—leading to the scientific equivalent of a four year old wobbling around in stilettos at a beauty pageant. Our study at hand is a perfectly decent piece of observational literature, but as soon as its authors (or the media) smear it with lipstick and make it sing Patsy Cline songs on stage, it’s all downhill from there.

Food Frequency Questionnaires: A Test of Superhuman Memory and Saint-like Honesty

To kick this analysis off, let’s take a look at how the study was actually conducted. As the researchers explain, all of the diet data came from a series of food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) that the study participants filled out once every four years, starting in the 1980s and ending in 2006. (If you’re feeling brave, you can read the questionnaire yourself (PDF) and try imagining how terribly the average, non-diet-conscious person might botch their responses.) The lifestyle and medical data came from additional questionnaires administered every two years.
The full text of our study offers some additional details (emphasis mine):
In each FFQ, we asked the participants how often, on average, they consumed each food of a standard portion size. There were 9 possible responses, ranging from “never or less than once per month” to “6 or more times per day.” Questionnaire items about unprocessed red meat consumption included “beef, pork, or lamb as main dish” (pork was queried separately beginning in 1990), “hamburger,” and “beef, pork, or lamb as a sandwich or mixed dish.” … Processed red meat included “bacon” (2 slices, 13 g), “hot dogs” (one, 45 g), and “sausage, salami, bologna, and other processed red meats” (1 piece, 28 g).
Notice that one of the foods listed under “unprocessed red meat”—and likely a major contributor to that category—is hamburger, the stuff fast-food dreams are made of. Although this study tracked whole grain intake, it didn’t track refined grain intake, so we know right away we can’t totally account for the white-flour buns wrapped around those burgers (or many of the other barely-qualifying-as-food components of a McDonald’s meal). And unless these cohorts were chock full of folks who deliberately sought out decent organic meat, it’s also worth noting that the unprocessed ground beef they were eating probably contained that delightful ammonia-treated pink slime that’s had conventional meat consumers in an uproar lately.
Next, we arrive at this little gem:
The reproducibility and validity of these FFQs have been described in detail elsewhere.
Ding ding, Important Thing alert! As anyone who’s spent much time on earth should know, expecting people to be honest about what they eat is like expecting one of those “Lose 10 pounds of belly fat” banners to take you somewhere other than popup-ad purgatory: the idealism is sweet and all, but reality has other plans.
And so it is with food frequency questionnaires. Ever since these questionnaires were first birthed unto the world, scientists have lamented their most glaring flaw: people tend to report what they think they should be eating instead of what actually goes into their mouth. And that’s on top of the fact that most folks can barely remember what they ate yesterday, much less what they’ve eaten over the past month or even the past year.
As a result, researchers compare the results of food frequency questionnaires with more accurate “diet records”—where folks meticulously weigh and record everything they eat for a straight week or two—to see how the data matches up. If we follow that last quote to the links it references, we end up at one of the validation reports for the food frequency questionnaire used with the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Here’s where it gets interesting:
Foods underestimated by the FFQs compared with the diet records (ie, the gold standard) included processed meats, eggs, butter, high-fat dairy products, mayonnaise and creamy salad dressings, refined grains, and sweets and desserts, whereas most of the vegetable and fruit groups, nuts, high-energy and low-energy drinks, and condiments were overestimated by the FFQs.
This shouldn’t come as a shocker if we consider human psychology. Unless we literally live in a cave, most of us are constantly inundated with messages about how high-fat dairy, meat, sweets, desserts, and anything delicious and creamy is going to either make us fat or give us a heart attack—while it’s more like hallowed be thy name for fruits and veggies. Is it any wonder that folks tend to under-report their intake of “bad” foods and over-report their intake of the good ones? Who wants to admit—in the terrifying permanency of a food questionnaire—that yes, they do bury their salad in half a cup of Hidden Valley Ranch, and they do choose white bread because 12-Grain Oroweat tastes like lightly sweetened wood chippings, and sometimes they even go a full three days where their only vegetable is ketchup? If food frequency questionnaires were hooked up to a polygraph, we might see some much different data (and some mysteriously disappearing respondents).
Another reference in our study du jour takes us to a validation report for the Nurses’ Health Study questionnaire. And here we find the same trend:
Mean daily amounts of each food calculated by the questionnaire and by the dietary record were also compared; the observed differences suggested that responses to the questionnaire tended to over-represent socially desirable foods.
Of course, if everyone over-reported or under-reported their food intake with the same magnitude of inaccuracy, we could still find some reliable associations between food questionnaires and health outcomes. But it turns out that how much someone fudges their food reporting—especially for specific menu items—varies wildly based on their personal characteristics. Using an Aussie-modified version of the Nurses’ Health Study questionnaire, a study from Australia measured how accurately people reported their food intake based on their gender, age, medical status, BMI, occupation, school-leaving age, and use of dietary supplements. Like with the other validation studies, it compared the results of the food frequency survey with the Almighty Weighed Food Record.
The surprising results? Folks with a “diagnosed medical condition”—including high cholesterol, high triglycerides, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, and heart disease—were much more likely to mis-report their meat consumption than folks without a diagnosed medical condition, generally overestimating their true intake on food frequency questionnaires compared to the weighed food record. Why this occurred is one of life’s great mysteries, but it might have something to do with the fact that people who develop diet- and lifestyle-related diseases pay less conscious attention to what they eat. (In this study, women were also more likely to inaccurately report their intake for a wide variety of foods—a phenomenon that’s been examined in greater depth by other researchers.)
So what does this mean for studies based on food frequency questionnaires, like the one currently hijacking the news outlets? Unfortunately for lovers of scientific accuracy, it means that meat consumption and modern diseases might be statistically more likely to show up hand-in-hand by mere fluke. If sick folks have a tendency—for whatever reason—to say they’re eating more meat than they really are, that’ll have profound effects on any diet-disease associations that turn up in observational studies, where correlations hinge so heavily on the accuracy of the data. And if the results of that Australian study are applicable not only in the Land Down Under but also in the Land Up Over, it could mean that meat is pretty much doomed to look guilty by association with disease whenever food frequency questionnaires are involved. Woe is meat!

Red-Meatophiles: A Species of Their Own

Now that our confidence in food frequency questionnaires should be thoroughly and disturbingly shattered, let’s hop back to the study in question. To gauge the effects of red meat consumption on mortality, the researchers for our Red Meat Consumption and Mortality study divided folks up into five quintiles based on their red meat intake. The first quintile represents the people who reported the fewest servings per day, while the fifth quintile represents the shameless red-meat gluttons who indulged in the most (or rather, reported indulging in the most). Luckily for us, the researchers provided a magical table of marvels comparing various diet and lifestyle variables between the quintiles. Please take a minute to look at it yourself and, if you feel so compelled, bask in its glory.
If you secretly suspected that this was a “people who eat red meat do a lot of unhealthy things that make them die sooner” study, you can now gloat.
Here are a few lifestyle variables I graph-ified for greater visual impact. (“Red Meat Intake” is measured in servings per day, and “Physical Activity” is measured in hours of metabolic equivalent tasks.)
health professionals lifestyle graph
nurses health lifestyle graph
As you can see, the folks eating the most red meat were also the least physically active, the most likely to smoke, and the least likely to take a multivitamin (among many other things you can spot directly in the table, including higher BMIs, higher alcohol intake, and a trend towards less healthy non-red-meat food choices). Although the researchers tried their darnedest to adjust for these confounders, not even fancy-pants math tricks can compensate for the immeasurable details involved in unhealthy living, the tendency for folks to misreport their diet and exercise habits, and whatever mild insanity emerges from trying to remember every food that hit your tongue during the past year.
And in case you didn’t spot them yet, our magical table has two particularly ogle-worthy things. The first one’s this:
calorie graph
If you had any doubt that people fib on food questionnaires, this should put your mind at ease. Take a look at the average (reported) calorie intake for the women in the first quintile of red meat consumption. Yes, that does say “1200 calories.” Yes, that is low enough to make most people wake themselves up at night as they unconsciously gnaw on their own arm in a quest for nourishment. And the red-meat-avoiding men aren’t much better, clocking in at a bit over 1600 calories for fully-grown adults. If there really is an 800-calorie gap between the folks with the lowest and highest red meat consumption, there’s obviously something much more significant going on in their diets than the color of their chosen animal foods. And if—in a much more likely scenario—there’s some major mis-reporting going on, that only bolsters the notion that we shouldn’t trust food frequency questionnaires any farther than we could throw ‘em.
Here’s the other ogle-worthy thing:
high cholesterol graph
Ah, yes: here we see the folks eating the least red meat have the highest rates of elevated cholesterol, while the red-meat-indulgers have the lowest rates. Given the media’s eagerness to assign cause and effect to this study, it’s mighty strange none of the headlines proclaimed “Red meat reduces cholesterol!”

So What About This Death Stuff?

For those of you who hoped this analysis would completely obliterate any link the researchers found between red meat and “dying prematurely,” here’s the anticlimactic part. In the context of what’s ultimately wobbly, imperfect, and tragically inconclusive observational data, the researchers did find that the folks reporting the highest intake of red meat had slightly elevated rates of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and total mortality (though as we should know by now, correlation isn’t causation!). After adjusting for age and the other documented confounders, the association went down but didn’t disappear completely. (If you like staring at numbers, you can take a gander at the tables for all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and cancer mortality to see how death risk changed between quartiles and with various statistical adjustments. And you can check out the lovely Zoe Harcombe’s parsing of the study if you’re craving an even geekier data safari.)
But there’s still more to the story.
Those numbers thrown around in the fear-mongering news clips—20% increased risk of death from all causes for processed meat and 13% increased risk of death from all causes for unprocessed meat—are classic examples of how even the most ho-hum findings can sound dramatic if you spin them the right way (and remember to attribute them to Hahhh-vard). If your risk of dying from a particular disease is 5% to start with, a “20% increased risk” only bumps you up to 6% in the grand scheme of things. That’s a lot less scary. Especially when delectable foods are involved.

Lessons From the Past

In case you’re skeptical that observational studies can run disturbingly contrary to reality, look no further than the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) craze that peaked a few decades ago. By 1991, 30 observational studiesincluding this one based on none other than the Nurses’ Health data—collectively showed that women taking estrogen seemed to have a 44% reduction in heart disease risk compared to their non-hormone-replacing counterparts. Naturally, this led literally millions of women to jump on the estrogen bandwagon in pursuit of better health and longer lives. A very unfortunate oopsie-daisy sprouted up later when some randomized, controlled trials finally emerged and revealed that rather than being protective, hormone replacement therapy actually increased heart disease risk by 29%!
Just like we see with red-meat avoiders versus red-meat indulgers, these observational studies showed that women using hormone therapy generally had healthier lifestyles than women who weren’t—including smoking less and exercising more. Their good lifestyle habits obscured the true effects of taking hormones, just as meat eaters’ bad lifestyle habits might obscure the true effects of eating red meat. Are we sure that a similar risk ratio flip-flop wouldn’t happen if we moved away from observational studies of meat consumption and towards infinitely more reliable randomized, controlled trials?
Until we actually have some studies like that, it’ll be impossible to know—but if history has any say in the matter, it’s a strong possibility. And while we patiently twiddle our thumbs waiting for those well-designed meat studies to start existing, we should keep in mind that humankind has survived a pretty doggone long time—in much more robust shape than most of us are today—without carefully swapping our lamb shanks for an equivalent serving of kidney beans.

Does Red Meat Make Bad Things Happen?

Since the very dawn of the taste bud, it seems red meat has been shrouded in mystique and evilness. Although the crumbling foundations of our anti-saturated-fat beliefs have partially redeemed meat and restored its throne on the dinner plate, red meat hasn’t quite escaped the stigma of being bad, even if we can’t totally pinpoint why. Is there a valid reason to avoid it?
Assuming you’ve nixed nitrite-laden processed meats and seek out higher-quality animal parts, one of the biggest legitimate dangers with red meat has more to do with preparation methods than the meat itself. High-temperature cooking—like pan-frying or grilling to the point of well-doneness—can create mutagens called heterocyclic amines (among other nefarious compounds) that may potentially contribute to cancer. Although the research here isn’t totally conclusive yet, it’s probably wise to stick with gentler cooking methods as often as possible (or better yet, learn to love steak tartare).

In Conclusion

Although the wildfire-esque media coverage of this study is enough to make any omnivore feel like punching Al Gore for ever inventing the internet, it’s actually a great opportunity to test our critical thinking skills and explore the unending deficiencies of observational studies—including the self-reported data they’re often built from. We might not emerge with any newfound health guidance after breaking down bad science, but it’s always nice to have a better understanding of what the tumultuous world of research is really saying.
And with that, our latest installment of Science Says Meat Will Kill You has come to a close. But worry not: this is just the beginning of an exciting new season of food drama. Will the butter defeat the margarine in their upcoming oil-wrestling contest? Will the asparagus discover who really killed her uncle’s stepdaughter’s boyfriend’s roommate’s poodle’s groomer? Tune in next week to find out!*
*Episode may or may not actually air