Why Calcium Isn’t Enough to Build Strong Bones (and What You Can Do About It)

Several months ago, when I wrote about my experience of gaining weight while drinking milk, and losing weight while eschewing milk, I promised I’d blog about how to keep your bones strong without the dairy products.

This is that post. 😀

Conventional wisdom – and lots of advertising – tells us that milk is the foundation of healthy bones. But like so many other bits of conventional advice about nutrition, it turns out to be wrong.

Here’s why.

1 • Calcium alone cannot give you strong bones.

Sure, calcium is an important building block for strong bones. You do need it. But you also need all the other building blocks: vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, and trace amounts of chromium, silica, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, and potassium.

Taking a calcium pill – or drinking extra milk – won’t ensure that you’re getting all the substances that go into strong bones. It might even harm you, since too much calcium can lead to impaired kidney function, kidney stones, high blood pressure, and possibly even an increased risk of heart attack.

Additionally, if you ingest too much calcium, then your body must adjust its stores of other vitamins and minerals in order to process the excess calcium.

2 • Calcium intake is irrelevant, IF your body is not absorbing it and building with it.

People living in the United States ingest far more calcium than those living elsewhere, and yet US residents also suffer more osteoporosis.

What gives?

In addition to having all the building blocks on hand, the environment must also be right for actual building to occur.

Imagine trying to build a house in the midst of a snow storm. You might have all the materials on hand – bricks, mortar, wood framing, nails, etc. – but I doubt you’d get much building done.

Your hormones and your inflammatory status play large roles in determining whether conditions in your body favor the building of strong bones. Or not. High blood sugar and chronic inflammation both speed up the breakdown of bone and slow down the creation of new bone cells.

The foods you eat also influence the building conditions in your body.

Grains possess a lot of phytates (to protect the seed), and legumes possess both phytates and oxalates. Phytates and oxalates chemically bind to the calcium present, both in the grains and legumes themselves, and in other foods present in the digestive tract, carrying the calcium out of the body entirely.

Soaking and sprouting grains and legumes helps to reduce the volume of phytates, but cannot reduce it sufficiently to where its presence ceases to leech calcium (and other minerals) from your body. Additionally, from my previous post on insulin, we know that grains yield high blood sugar for a significant interval after you eat them.

If you don’t eat enough protein, you’ll get the same accelerated bone loss that high blood sugar and inflammation produce.

And if you don’t eat enough healthy fats, you won’t be able to assimilate vitamins D and K, because they are both fat soluble.

Bottom line: in addition to having all the building blocks on hand, conditions within your body must also favor the building and maintenance of strong bones.

3 • There are better sources of calcium than milk.

I remember seeing lists of calcium rich foods several years ago and being skeptical that anything could be better than milk. I was a big milk proponent. Sure, 8 ounces of kale might have 180 milligrams of calcium, but 8 ounces of milk has 300. And I can easily drink 3 glasses of milk every day, but I sure won’t be eating 3 cups of kale every day!

Ah, but!

The key is not how much calcium is present. The key is how much your body assimilates. The reason our RDA for calcium is so inflated is that most of the calcium from milk and pills goes right through. But the calcium from vegetables like kale and mustard greens and others gets absorbed and used. It is more bioavailable.

I went looking for some of the recent studies on calcium from plants versus calcium from milk and landed on the Harvard School of Public Health site with an interesting paragraph that I will quote below, since it occurs in the middle of a hugely long web page.

In particular, these studies suggest that high calcium intake doesn’t actually appear to lower a person’s risk for osteoporosis. For example, in the large Harvard studies of male health professionals and female nurses, individuals who drank one glass of milk (or less) per week were at no greater risk of breaking a hip or forearm than were those who drank two or more glasses per week. When researchers combined the data from the Harvard studies with other large prospective studies, they still found no association between calcium intake and fracture risk. Also, the combined results of randomized trials that compared calcium supplements with a placebo showed that calcium supplements did not protect against fractures of the hip or other bones. Moreover, there was some suggestion that calcium supplements taken without vitamin D might even increase the risk of hip fractures. A 2014 study also showed that higher milk consumption during teenage years was not associated with a lower risk of hip fracture in older adults.

So…if slugging down gallons of milk or dozens of calcium pills is not the answer – and it isn’t – how do we build and maintain strong bones?

I want action points! 😉

First of all, don’t look to bone density drugs such as Fosamax® and Boniva®. These deposit long-lasting compounds (alendronate and ibandronic acid, respectively) within the bone matrix, which give the illusion of greater bone density. But they do not form the normal matrix that actually makes bone strong. In fact, taking biophosphonates leads to bones that are more brittle and more likely to fracture! Talk about irony!

Okay, what does work?

1 • Avoid the foods that result in chronic inflammation, elevated blood sugar, and that remove nutrients from your body.

Highly processed foods and sugar-laden foods are especially bad. Grains and legumes become more and more problematic as we get older.

I hate to start with a “don’t,” but it’s a pretty important don’t. If your bones are currently strong, if your weight is normal, and your health is good, then you might be able to get away with skipping this #1 and leaning hard on #2, #3, and #4.

But I’ve got osteoporosis, I’m still carrying some extra pounds (even after the 23+ that I’ve lost), and I don’t have quite as much pep in my stride as I want. Action point #1 is critically important for me!

2 • Eat meat, seafood, and eggs, cooked with clarified butter, coconut oil, lard, or tallow to get adequate protein and adequate fats.

These are nutrient-dense foods containing many vitamins and minerals, in addition to the protein and fat. They help keep your blood sugar levels within the optimum range. They do not promote inflammation.

3 • Eat kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli rabe, cooked spinach (many of the nutrients are not bioavailable in raw spinach), sea vegetables, bone broth, sardines, anchovies, shrimp, oysters, and canned salmon.

More nutrient dense foods that are high in calcium and the other building blocks for strong bones. You’ll get what you need without having to worry about balancing calcium with magnesium and potassium and all the others, the way you would if you were trying to get it right using pills. Plus the phytonutrients that may be a part of why calcium in plants is more bioavailable than from other sources are present.

4 • Lift weights.

Or do heavy yard work regularly. Or do yoga poses, many of which build strength as much as they increase flexibility. Engage in physical activity that is weight-bearing.

The compression of working against gravity stresses our bones in a healthy way, triggering them to build more of the structural matrix that can support the load.

I’m a swimmer, which is not weight-bearing. It has all kinds of other benefits, but strengthening my bones is not one of them, alas. So I lift weights in additional to swimming.

And there you have it.

Eat meat, seafood, and eggs.
Eat green, leafy vegetables.
Do weight-bearing physical activity.
And avoid foods that produce high blood sugar and inflammation.

I’ve been trying a lot of new-to-me recipes over the last few months, and I plan on sharing them with you as I continue to blog. I’ve also got a few more health hacks to write about. Stay tuned! 😀

For more about health and nutrition, see:
Test first, then conclude!
Let’s Talk Insulin
Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic
Thinner and Healthier
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

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Let’s Talk Insulin

Back in March, I mentioned that I’d been doing some new things on the cooking and nutrition front. I imagined telling you all about it when I finished my revisions on The Tally Master and published the novel.

Well…the digital edition of The Tally Master released April 26, and the paperback roughly a month later in May. In fact, I’m now well started on my next book, with over 10,000 words and counting in the manuscript.

I must plead guilty to dragging my heels on blogging about food.

Why?

Because the biology of nutrition is amazingly complex and, at this point, I’ve read so much about it that when I discover new-to-me information, I’m connecting that information to large matrix of facts forming a landscape detailed and variegated enough that it’s challenging to communicate about it clearly and succinctly.

The overall picture has come into better and better focus for me. I really understand what I’m seeing, and it’s very consistent. But conveying what I see is harder than when I saw less, and the picture seemed simpler.

Yet it’s important stuff. Nutrition is one of the foundational elements determining whether a person merely survives…or thrives. So I’m going to make an effort to share the latest things I’ve been learning.

Today I want to talk about insulin.

Insulin is a hormone.

Hormones are the biochemical messengers of the body. Typically they are secreted by one set of cells, then transported in the bloodstream (or, sometimes, the lymphatic system) to another part of the body, where they bond to specific receptors there.

In the case of insulin, it is secreted by the beta cells of the pancreas, moves through the bloodstream, and affects nearly every cell in the body. Insulin is a master hormone. (Many other hormones possess a narrower window of effect.)

Insulin controls:
• energy storage
• cell growth
• cell repair
• reproduction
• and blood sugar levels

It is the last item on that list – blood sugar levels, technically blood glucose levels – that I’m going to focus on.

Let’s see how it works.

When you eat a carbohydrate – bread, pasta, cookies – your digestion breaks the large molecules down into glucose, which transfers through the lining of your small intestine into your bloodstream.

Your blood sugar rises.

If you ate the cookies – or the cake – which has lots of sucrose and which doesn’t require much digesting to be broken into its component parts of fructose and glucose, your blood sugar spikes. Something like this:

If you ate whole grain rye bread instead, your blood sugar rises more gradually, because all the fiber in the rye bread slows down the rate at which the carbohydrate molecules are broken down into glucose. But – and this is key – your blood sugar does rise. Something like this:

Your body is designed to operate within a very narrow range regarding blood sugar level.

Too little, and some critical operations that depend on glucose for their energy source won’t get enough of it.

This would be very bad.

But there are two important things to keep in mind regarding the potential scenario of low blood sugar.

1 • Foods are rarely pure concentrations of the three macro-nutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrate.

All foods are made of a combination of these macro-nutrients, each in varying ratios. Butter is mostly fat, but every tablespoon has approximately .1 gram of protein and .01 gram of carbohydrate in it.

Meats are almost entirely protein and fat, but a 6-ounce serving of liver has 8 grams of carbohydrates. Not much, but some. Of course, vegetables and fruits are composed mostly of carbohydrates, all contained in a hefty fiber matrix along with huge packets of vitamins and minerals. But there’s no need to eat bread and pasta to prevent low blood sugar. You’ll get plenty of glucose without them!

2 • Your body can and will make glucose from certain amino acids.

This is why there is no minimum dietary requirement for carbohydrates, unlike – for example – the dietary requirement for protein or that for the essential fatty acids, linoleic and alpha-linolenic.

(Your body can make many, even most, of the amino acids that are the building blocks of protein. But it cannot make them all. There are 9 amino acids that you must get from food. The same is true for the fatty acids: most can be synthesized by your body, but not the two I named above, which must also be obtained from food.)

While I’m on the subject of what the human body can synthesize versus what it must receive from food, I want to touch on an obscure limitation possessed by people with Scandinavian, Innuit, Northern European, or sea coast ancestry. It has personal interest to me, since I’m half Swedish, and the other half comes from Scotland and England.

People with these northern roots often lack the enzymes that convert alpha-linolenic acid into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), two omega-3 fatty acids required for the proper functioning of the immune and nervous systems. The reason behind this lack is that their ancestors ate large amounts of cold-water fish, which supplied all the requisite EPA and DHA. Over time and across generations, the bodies of the northerners simply ceased to manufacture the enzymes that do the conversion.

EPA is found only in animal foods. DHA is present in some algae, but in very low amounts, too low to supply enough.

This explains to me why I became more and more chronically fatigued, and caught colds the instant I was exposed them, when I was in my early thirties and following a vegetarian diet. I was eating whole grains and legumes with a vengeance, but my health got worse and worse, until I added meat back into my repertoire.

However, to get back to my topic here: carbohydrates are not like the nine essential amino acids or the two essential fatty acids. Or even like EPA and DHA for northerners. Your body can make glucose, when it needs it. You don’t need to eat it.

Let’s now consider high blood sugar.

High blood sugar levels are nearly as bad for you as low.

High blood sugar acts essentially as a wrecking crew in your body, damaging your liver, your pancreas, your kidneys, your blood vessels, your brain, and your peripheral nerves. Just like a wrecking ball taking down a rickety tenement.

It’s critically important that your blood sugar level stay in the Goldilocks zone: not too low, not too high, but just right.

(Yes, I know that the Goldilocks zone typically refers to a donut of space around a star in which planets can possess water that is liquid. But the term fits here, too.)

I presented a graph representing your blood sugar level after eating dessert. And I presented another representing your blood sugar level after eating some “healthy” whole grain bread. (For the record, white bread made from refined flour spikes your blood sugar just like cake. Beware those crusty loaves of delicious French bread. Just sayin’.)

Let’s consider another scenario: your blood sugar after eating baked carrots drizzled with clarified butter or, perhaps, roasted eggplant drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with some sea salt and freshly grated black pepper. That would look something like this:

Now let’s think about these three eating scenarios.

The first – eating a sugar-laden dessert – yields a sky high level of blood glucose, much like the big kapow of a wrecking ball slamming into a brick building, indeed. Lots of damage. Which your body then repairs. Usually qute well when you are young. Less well, and more slowly, when you are in your forties or older.

The second scenario – eating whole grain bread – also yields blood sugar levels that are quite high, but not quite as high as eating cakes, candy, or soda sweetened with high-fructose con syrup. It’s more like the men in a wrecking crew who are busily dissassembling the framing in a house: unbolting the beams that support the floor, pulling nails in the 2x4s of the thewalls, working hard to take the thing apart.

Again, your body repairs the damage. Almost without a hitch, if you are young. Less easily, when you are older.

In the third scenario – eating a vegetable – your blood sugar barely rises out of the “just right” Goldilocks zone at all. The damage done is minimal, the equivalent of a hinge loosened on a door or a roof tile blown off in the wind. Your body repairs the damage, and need not use much in the way of resources to do so. Your body can support this kind of repair for a long, long time.

So far, I’ve been talking more about blood sugar (which insulin is designed to regulate) than I have about insulin itself.

So let’s move on to insulin.

When you eat a food that causes your blood sugar to rise, those beta cells in your pancreas secrete insulin into your bloodstream. The insulin signals the cells in your body to pull the glucose out of your bloodstream and pack it away into storage.

Where is this storage?

The first storage spots are located in the liver and in the muscles. In both, the glucose is converted into a complex carbohydrate called glycogen.

Glycogen in the liver can easily be converted back into glucose and released back intot the bloodstream to correct low blood sugar when needed.

Glycogen in your muscles stays there to be used by your muscles when they do work. This muscular glygogen cannot be released back into your bloodstream. It stays in storage until your muscles use it up.

But, here’s the thing: your body has limited room for storing glycogen. Between your liver and your muscles, you store enough to allow you to work out hard for about 90 minutes.

What happens if you don’t work out? What if you mostly sit at your desk? And just putter around your house at the end of the day?

Well, some of the glycogen in your liver is probably used up to keep your blood sugar stable between meals. But the glycogen in your muscles simply stays there. Which means that when you eat your next piece of rye toast – or that leftover slice of birthday cake – most of your storage space is already full.

So where does the glucose go, when there’s no room at the inn?

It must not stay in the bloodstream. That would kill you fairly quickly. The muscles are full – they won’t take any more. The liver might have room for a little bit. But what happens to the rest?

Your liver converts the extra glucose into a saturated fat called palmitic acid. Some of the palmitic acid is then bundled together in groups of three to form triglycerides.

The triglycerides and fatty acids are then released into your bloodstream to be taken up by your fat cells. Your fat cells also have a limit to their storage capacity, but they are capable of taking in more than they are designed to hold. Your body doesn’t make more fat cells when you’ve got excess fatty acids and triglycerides to store. (The number of your fat cells is set during childhood and adolescence.) It just packs more into each of the existing fat cells.

Each fat cell stretches to accommodate the overpacking, and it becomes inflamed.

Eventually, the overpacked fat cell simply cannot take anymore. Bloated and inflamed, it puts up a “no vacancy” sign, and the excess triglycerides and fatty acids circulate in your bloodstream. Not good! (High levels of triglycerides in the blood are a known marker for cardiovascular disease.)

I’m going to return to my three scenarios – eating dessert, eating bread, eating vegetables – in a moment, putting insulin in the picture. But before I do that, let me say a few words about inflammation.

Inflammation in our bodies is regulated by the immune system. It is part of the repair cycle that follows an acute injury (a broken bone, a bruising blow, a burn or a cut) or an infection (by bacteria, a virus, or a parasite).

The immune system ramps up to fight and then to repair the damage. When the repair work is complete, the inflammation passes, and the immune system stands down. It’s ready, sure, for the next time. But in between fights, it’s idling. And while it’s idling, it’s doing low-level routine maintenance.

To use analogy: it’s tightening up that loose hinge, driving in an extra nail to that squeaking floorboard, stocking the freezer with chicken soup, painting the shutters and cleaning the windows, washing the dishes.

When your immune system is ramped up and fighting a fire – healing an acute injury or repelling an invader – it does not perform routine maintenance. These small jobs go undone until the next lull.

Chronic inflammation – which is part and parcel of overstretched fat cells – means your immune system is diverting some of its resources to fight a fire. Resources which are needed for routine maintenance. Necessary chores are being left undone as your immune system sends help to the inflamed fat cells.

Chronic inflammation – inflammaton that persists and has no end – is never a good thing. And when we are overweight, we are dealing with chronic inflammation. The more avoirdupois, the higher the level of inflammation.

One more note on inflammation: insulin itself is inflammatory. The longer it hangs out in your bloodstream to clean up glucose, the more it contributes to inflammation.

Okay, now let’s get back my three eating scenarios.

What happens with insulin after you eat cake?

The answer to this question is highly influenced by how insulin resistent your cells are. Typically, when you are young and haven’t been consuming sugar and grains for decades, your cells are not resistant. Which means your pancreas secretes a moderate amount of insulin, your liver and muscles take up glucose in the form of glycogen, and your blood sugar level returns to normal. That would look somoething like this:

That’s a pretty good scenario. Blood sugar isn’t elevated for long, which means the damage done is limited. Insulin didn’t stay in your bloodstream for long, so it didn’t contribute much toward creating inflammation. Your liver and muscles had room for all the glycogen. And then, because were a kid, you went outside and played tag with your friends, emptying much of the glycogen from your muscles and making room for more. Plus, since there was no insulin in your blood, some of the fat in your fat cells was emptied out and converted for energy as well, making room for storage there and ensuring that the cell didn’t become overpacked.

But when you’re 45…or 55…or 65, it doesn’t look like that.

It’s more like this:

Your cells are insulin-resistent from decades of eating sugar and grains, which means it takes more insulin and more time to pack away all that glucose. Your blood sugar is elevated for longer, damaging your body for the entire interval. Your insulin levels are elevated for longer, contributing to inflammation for the entire time. And while your bloodstream is brimming with insulin, your body is unable to withdraw fat from fat cells. (See Test first, then conclude! for more about the one-way door that insulin creates.)

On top of that, you had a stressful day at the office, and when you arrived home you were too exhausted to go to the gym to work out. So there’s not much room in your muscles for any glycogen. Your liver converts it to fatty acids and triglycerides, which are packed away into your fat cells. And these stretched fat cells are, by definition, inflamed fat cells. Which is why the tendonitis in your shoulder (or whatever chronic problem you’re fighting) refuses to heal.

The scenario with whole grain bread or brown rice isn’t much better:

Sure, your blood sugar does not spike as high, but it is still elevated for a long time, doing damage the whole while. Your pancreas must still secrete a lot of insulin, which contributes to inflammation. And while the insulin is present, your cells are forced to run on glucose (glycogen) for energy. No fat can be withdrawn from your fat cells to be processed into ketone bodies, the preferred food of the brain.

Now let’s consider the scenario in which you eat vegetables.

Because your blood sugar barely rises above the optimum level and does not stay there for long, not much damage is done. Furthermore, it does not take much insulin to bring it back down. Which means the insulin has little opportunity to cause inflammation. And, since insulin is not present for long, your body is soon free to withdraw fat from your fat cells and use it for energy.

Withdrawing fat from the fat cells means they get smaller. As they shrink in size, their degree of inflammation reduces. Eventually, if you keep allowing your body to use fat for fuel, the inflammation goes away entirely. Your immune system devotes more and more of its resources to normal repair and maintenance. Your spare tire shrinks. Your knees stop aching.

Let’s consider one more scenario.

Instead of eating just baked carrots drizzled in clarified butter, you also eat seared chicken breasts with a few olives as garnish.

The protein in the chicken and the oil in the olives (plus the fat in the clarified butter and the fiber in the carrots) will cause the carbohydrates in the carrots to be broken down and assimilated even more gradually, so that your blood sugar might never leave the Goldilocks zone at all. Check it out!

I want to visit one more tangent before I conclude: nutrient density.

What does the term mean?

The proportion of nutrients present in a food in comparison to the calories it provides. The nutrients of primary interest are vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and the nine essential amino acids. The more nutrient-dense a food is, the more it supports optimal functioning and health.

At one end of the scale are sugar and white flour. They provide no vitamins, no minerals, and no amino acids at all. They are truly empty calories. Sugar is merely glucose plus fructose, and both of these substances rapidly unhook from one another under digestion, the glucose yielding all the damage I’ve been discussing above.

White flour, when digested, also yields glucose, resulting in damage nearly identical to that produced by sugar, and providing no nutrients.

But whole grains are not much better.

Let’s take a look at the structure of a grain kernel.

The germ and the bran are where you find vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The endosperm provides energy – calories – that allows the seedling plant to grow. (The plant’s nutrients will come from from the soil through its roots or be synthesized by the plant from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water.)

White flour is made from the endosperm. The bran and the germ are discarded.

Whole grain flour keeps the bran and the germ, but here’s the catch: the bulk of even whole grain flour is provided by the nutrient-free endosperm, and most of the nutrients present in the bran and the germ are not bio-available. That is, they are chemically bound so tightly that digestion cannot unhook them to pass them through the lining of the small intestine and into our bodies where they can be used.

Even worse, the phytates in the bran (present to protect the seed) bind calcium and other minerals from other foods present in the digestive tract and carry these valuable substances out of the body altogether.

Grains are not nutrient-dense.

And every vitamin or mineral that is present in whole grains is present in far larger amounts and with greater bio-availability in vegetables, fruits, eggs, seafood, and meat.

Vegetables, fruits, eggs, seafood, and meat are nutrient dense.

I’ll be posting more of my latest revelations about food and nutrition over the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, if you’d like to delve deeper on your own, I can recommend two books.

It Starts with Food by Dallas and Melissa Hartwig is an excellent resource with solid information presented in a lighthearted, friendly way.

It’s an easy introduction to some key principles, including much of the information I’ve discussed in this post, plus a lot more.

 
The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne is a dense tome written by a scientist, chronicling in exquisite detail the complex workings of the human gut and how it interfaces with food and nearly every other system in the body.

The information is rock solid, and if you are dealing with any complex and recalcitrant health issues, you may well need the specifics that Ballantyne provides.

The book is written for the layperson, but it is not an easy read. Explanations are comprehensive and extensive and detailed. The author covers every last tiny interaction that takes place in the intricate chain that permits molecules from food to pass through the intestinal membrane, and exactly how certain foods muck up the works for many people, especially the immune system.

I tend to use the index to research specific topics. I read paragraphs, even whole segments within chapters. But I rarely read an entire chapter at once, and I haven’t yet read the entire book from cover to cover.

It’s a great resource, but… 😉

For more from my blog on this topic, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous
Why Calcium Isn’t Enough

 

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Milk Is Highly Insulinogenic

When I first encountered that word, insulinogenic, I completely garbled its pronunciation. In-su-lino-whadya-hooya? What the Hades?

In-su-lino-gen-ic. Right.

So what does it mean? It means something that stimulates the production of insulin. In the context of milk, it means that milk produces a much bigger insulin response in the human body than it has any right to, given the amount of carbohydrates present in milk, mostly in the form of the milk sugar lactose. Milk punches so high above its carb content that it produces an insulin response like that of white bread!

Why is this of concern to me?

Well…when I was diagnosed with osteoporosis, I really stepped up my milk intake. I didn’t know that milk was insulinogenic, and I did know that my bones could use all the help they could get.

I found it difficult to drink 4 cups a day, so I began adding a pinch of stevia along with cocoa powder to my evening milk. Yum! It tasted like dessert!

Meanwhile, my weight had been creeping up. There seemed to be several obvious reasons for that. I had two health problems in sequence that kept me away from the gym for nearly 2 years. I’d allowed pasta back into my menu, perhaps once every 10 days. And I was getting into my middle fifties. I didn’t like the upward creep, naturally.

I was relieved when I resolved my health problems enough to return to the gym in May 2016. And I rededicated myself to kicking the pasta back out of my menu. Remembering when I tried Phil Maffetone’s 2-week test with such stellar results, I expected to see the start of a drop in weight. Imagine my surprise when I continued to gain!

“How can this be?” I asked myself. “I’m swimming three times a week. Lifting weights two or three times a week. I’m eating fewer than 50 grams of carbs per day. My calorie intake is modest; I’ve never been a big overeater. What the Hades gives?”

This unfortunate upward trend continued. “I wonder if it is the milk?” I asked myself.

You would think I might have done some more reading about milk, but I didn’t. I was attached to my milk. Besides, it was healthy milk from grass-fed cows lovingly tended by my local farmer, who had managed the apprentices at the famous Polyface Farm. It couldn’t be the milk!

But I suspected it was.

I tried to cut down and found that I couldn’t. Oh, oh! Was I addicted to milk?

Finally, in November 2016, after months of “quitting milk” and then “I’ll just have one last big glass tonight,” I decided I needed support. I’d visited a website devoted to the Whole30 way of eating some while back and noted that the Whole30 was the way I wanted to eat and that the site had forums. A forum sounded like exactly what I needed.

And it was!

Hanging out with a bunch of others who were eating the same way I wanted to eat – and posting on my progress – enabled me to give up the milk and ditch the last remnants of pasta. I saw almost immediate results. I had an annual exam scheduled with my doctor 3 weeks after I started my Whole30, and I found I’d lost 7 pounds. Without counting calories. Just by waving goodbye to milk. (Since I doubt my previous once or twice a month indulgence in pasta was the key to my previous weight gain.)

I also found my energy levels increasing and my mood improving. I felt good!

After 30 days of no milk (and no grains, no legumes, and no sugar – none), I’d lost 9 pounds. I decided to carry on as I was. I liked how I felt, I liked all the new meals I’d learned how to cook, I liked everything about my new routine. So far, I’m still losing weight, 20 pounds and counting at about one-and-a-half pounds per week. My yoga pants are beginning to get too loose!

It was only after these stellar results that I did a little researching on milk and learned that it is highly insulinogenic. Even my healthy milk from a local dairy farm run by a super careful and informed grass farmer.

When I was younger, I could get away with eating insulinogenic foods. At least, they didn’t pack the pounds on me, although – looking back – they did have other more subtle negative effects. But as I’ve gotten older, insulin in my bloodstream started to have the effect that it does in many, acting as a one-way gatekeeper that packs fat into the fat cells and doesn’t allow any withdrawals of that fat for energy. No more milk for this lady!

But what will I do for my osteoporosis?

That’s another blog post. Which I will write. I also plan to share more about my adventures with the Whole30 in future posts. But this is enough for now. 😀

For more about the effects of insulin, see:
Test first, then conclude!

For more on nutrition, see:
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous
Thinner and Healthier
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!

Can’t wait for my future posts to learn more about the Whole30? See:
Whole30.com

 

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Quiche sans Crust

Swedish apronI’ve always loved quiche, but it’s been decades since I’ve made any in my kitchen. I’m not sure why I dropped it from my repertoire. Honestly, I’m not sure it was ever in my repertoire. A shame.

But last week, my daughter who hates eggs announced that she’d been served quiche at a friend’s house and really liked it. I leapt on my opportunity to get some luscious, farm-fresh eggs into my beloved child. 😉

Since it has been many months since I’ve posted a recipe, I’m leaping on the chance to do that as well.

It’s been years since the food researchers conceded that they were wrong about the cholesterol in eggs. It’s not harmful, never has been harmful, and you can eat as many eggs as you want. Actually, they conceded that the cholesterol in eggs is not harmful and has never been harmful, but they wussed out of reversing their recommendation to limit eggs. It just looks so bad. Heaven help their reputations!

So what’s good about the nutrition in eggs?

Just about everything. They are rich in vitamins, especially the important fat-soluble A and D.

(Vitamin A is necessary for healthy skin, healthy mucous membranes, proper immune system function, healthy eyes, and good vision. Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and teeth, the proper functioning of the immune system and the brain and nervous system, regulating insulin levels, support of the lungs and cardiovascular system, and preventing cancer.)

Eggs contain ample high-quality protein. They are an excellent source of EPA and DHA – long-chain fatty acids that are vital to the development of the nervous system in young children and to the preservation of mental acuity in adults. Eggs are truly a complete nutritional package, provided they come from chickens raised on pasture, where they scratch for bugs and worms.

quiche eggsChickens sitting in vast warehouses produce eggs that lack some of the superlative benefits of pasture-raised birds. Their omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is 20:1 instead of the optimum 1:1. And you can see from simply looking at the egg yolks – pale lemon yellow versus rich orange – that warehoused chickens produce eggs with less beta-carotene. They also have 28% less vitamin A.

But enough of weighing the pros and cons of eggs. What about my quiche?

quiche milkWhen I made it for my family, I made two, one crustless and one with a crust. That way I can eat low-carb, while my kids and husband get the kind of taste sensation they prefer. The recipe below is for one crustless quiche. You can double it, if you want to make a pair like I did. Or you can pour it into a crust, if you prefer your quiche with wheat. 😀

Ingredients

quiche cheesedab of butter
2 cups milk
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
4 slices of deli ham
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
dash of white pepper
dash of nutmeg
1 teaspoon minced fresh chives

Directions

1Make sure you have a rack in the middle of the oven, and either remove the second one or place it below the middle one. Pre-heat the oven to 375F.

quiche spices2Smear the butter all over the interior of a 9-inch glass pie dish.

3Heat the milk in a saucepan, stirring constantly, until a few tendrils of steam start to rise from its surface. Then set it aside, off the heat.

4Grate the cheddar cheese, if you have not already done so. (I do my grating after heating the milk, to give the milk a chance to cool a little.)

quiche ham5Cut the deli ham in strips, roughly half an inch wide and 2 inches long.

6Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk them thoroughly.

7Add the salt, white pepper, nutmeg, and chives to the eggs and mix well.

8Lay the ham strips all over the bottom of the pie dish.

quiche ham and cheese9Cover the ham with the grated cheese.

10Pour the egg mixture into the milk and mix thoroughly.

11Gently pour the egg-milk mixture over the cheese and ham.

quiche uncooked12Getting that full pie dish into the oven without spilling it is tricky! Take it slow and use pot lifters, so that all your attention can be on the liquid level and not on your vulnerable fingers.

13Let the quiche bake for 45 – 50 minutes.

quiche cooked14Test for doneness by inserting a butter knife into the edge of the quiche custard. The rubric says that if it comes out clean, the quiche is done. I say: know your oven! The knife came out clean from last week’s quiche at 40 minutes, but it could have used another 5 minutes. This week’s quiche generated a knife that never came out clean. After 55 minutes, I took it out of the oven anyway. I should have taken it out 5 minutes earlier. Both week’s quiches were good, but not at the ultimate sweet spot.

quiche slice15Let the quiche cool to lukewarm – about 15 minutes – and serve. Cut the quiche to create 6 pieces.

More recipes:
Butternut Soup
Baked Apples
Coconut Chocolates

 

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Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cookies - alternative floursI’ve wanted to try baking cookies using alternative flours for a while now. My body seems to tolerate wheat less and less well as the years go by. I was hoping that coconut flour and almond flour would be friendlier choices for me.

Lately I’ve been inspired by the dinner recipes of Danielle Walker. I’m sure her recipes work perfectly without any tinkering – she seems to test them thoroughly. But somehow I have not yet managed to follow any of them exactly. My inner cook comes out, and I make a few changes. 😉

I decided to see what Danielle had to offer for cookies. You can find her recipe here. I stuck pretty closely to it, but not exactly. However, I was delighted by my results. These cookies are super delicious – delicate and yet slightly chewy, and they don’t upset my tummy!

Ingredients

Cookies - ingredients1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar
1 teaspoon cane sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
1-1/2 cups almond flour
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon coconut flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1/2 chocolate chips

Directions

In a food processor, cream together the butter, coconut sugar, cane sugar, honey, egg, and vanilla until well mixed, about 15 seconds.

(Creaming the butter and sugar the old-fashioned way – with a fork – would likely work equally well. I used the food processor for my first attempt. I may not bother rousting it out on my second.)

Add the almond flour, coconut flour, baking soda, and salt to the processor and process again until well mixed, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the processor, if needed, to get all the dry ingredients mixed in.

(I tasted my batch at this point and decided that it was not quite sweet enough. That’s where the “extra” teaspoon of cane sugar – listed above in the ingredients – came from. I also assessed the dough and felt that it was a little too liquid. So I added the “extra” teaspoon of coconut flour – also listed above in ingredients.)

Cookies - the doughTurn the dough out into a mixing bowl, add the chocolate chips, and stir by hand until they are well mixed in.

(My batch in the photos likely looks a little strange to you. That’s because we had no chocolate chips in the house, and my husband and my daughter were out with car, shopping. So I improvised. I dug through the Halloween candy in the freezer and pulled out a mini chocolate bar, two kitkat bars, and a bar of white chocolate. I chopped them up and used them in place of the chocolate chips.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line two baking sheets with baking parchment.

Cookies - on baking sheet

Drop the cookie dough by spoonfuls on the baking sheets. Flatten the cookies, because they will not change shape much while baking.

Bake 9 minutes and then cool on a rack. Makes 29 cookies.

More recipes:
Arugula Beef
Butternut Soup
Baked Apples
Coconut Chocolates

Cookies - baked

 

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London Broil at Casa Ney-Grimm

londo 600 pxI adore the savor of London broil, but for decades I didn’t realize how easy it is to make at home. Now that I prefer to serve grassfed meat to my family, I’ve discovered that London broil is one of the easiest to find and most reasonably priced cuts of grassfed beef available. Here’s how I make it.

Ingredients
london marinade2 to 2-1/2 pounds London broil beef

Marinade
4 garlic cloves, minced or put through a garlic press
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons brown mustard
1-1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2/3 cup olive oil

london broilerDirections
Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a bowl.

Put the meat in a resealable plastic bag. Pour the marinade into the bag. Seal the bag, pressing out the air.

Put the bag in a shallow dish in the refrigerator. Marinate for 8 hours or over night. Turn the bag twice.

When ready to cook, remove the meat from the marinade and let the liquid drip off it. Discard the marinade.

Place the meat on a broiling pan and set it under the broiler. I use the second rack slot from the broiler coils, about 4 inches away. Broil the first side for 10 minutes. (The meat in my photo was broiled for 11 minutes, which was a bit too long. It was still scrumptious; I just prefer mine more rare.) Flip the meat and broil the second side for 9 minutes.

london cookedTransfer the meat to a cutting board. Let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut it diagonally across the grain in thin slices. Serve.

More recipes:
Butternut Soup
Apples á la Ney-Grimm
Pie Crust Cookies

 

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Parsnip Turnip Purée

rutabagas and parsnips

I’ve tried cooking this combination – parsnips and turnips – two ways. They’re both good, but distinctly different as an eating experience. The broth-cooked method yields a smoother, almost sweeter result. The roasted method delivers a denser, starchier one. I’m going to share them both.

Ingredients

root puree with broth3 large turnips or rutabagas
8 – 10 parsnips
1/4 to 1/2 cup butter
3/4 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
3 cups chicken broth (for broth version; omit for roasted version)

Broth Directions

Pour the chicken broth into a large pot and warm over medium heat.

Scrub the vegetables in clear water. Then peel them and cut into bite-sized chunks. Add the vegetables to the chicken broth. Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the veggies are fork tender. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool 10 minutes.

Pour the whole mixture into a food processor. Add the butter and salt and process until smooth and creamy. Serve.

cubed rutabagas and parsnips

Roast Directions

Scrub the vegetables in clear water. Then peel them and cut into bite-sized chunks.

Put the chopped parsnips in one baking dish, the turnips in another.

Melt the butter and drizzle it over both portions of vegetables. Cover both baking dishes and place them in a 350ºF oven.

Bake the turnips for 45 minutes, check them for tenderness, and pull them out of the oven when they are fork tender.

roots pureeBake the parsnips for 90 minutes, check them for tenderness, and pull them out of the oven when they are fork tender.

Place both vegetables, the salt, and more butter into a food processor. Process until smooth. Re-heat the purée and serve.

More recipes:
Chicken Stock
Coconut Salmon
Sauerkraut
Arugula Beef

 

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The Steak Un-Recipe

I used tri-tip steaks the last time I cooked this, but really many cuts of meat would work.

steak on a rectangular dish

I don’t usually add salt to a dish before I cook it, figuring that it’s best left up to the individual diner. Eating pan-fried porkchops at a friend’s house changed my mind. She sprinkled salt and pepper onto both sides of the chops before placing them in the pan. And they were delicious! Much better than if I had sprinkled my portion after it was cooked and served. I decided to try her method on another meat dish: steak.

Ingredients

uncooked steakssteak, 8 oz. per person
butter
Celtic sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Grease the broiler pan with a thin layer of olive oil.

Melt the butter, from 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup, depending on how much steak you are cooking.

Pre-heat the oven broiler to “Hi Broil.”

Place the steaks on the broiler pan. Pour the melted butter over the steaks, gently and with some precision. Allow the butter to form a thin skimming over the entire surface of the meat. Don’t waste the butter by allowing it to spread on the pan. Keep it on the meat.

Sprinkle salt lightly over the surface of the meat – not too much!

Grind black pepper over the surface of the meat. Again, not too much.

Place the broiler pan under the broiler. I use the second rack position, not the first (the highest).

Broil for 6 minutes, and remove the pan to a heat-resistant surface. Flip the steaks. Pour the rest of the melted butter over this side of the meat. Sprinkle salt and grind black pepper onto them.

steak servedBroil this side of the steaks for 6 minutes.

Remove the broiler pan from the oven and let the meat rest for 5 minutes. Slice it thinly and serve. Yum!

More recipes:
Butternut Soup
Beet Kvass

 

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Butternut Carrots

Butternut SquashesI recently purchased a new cookbook that’s had a unique effect on me.

It’s a great cookbook. The few recipes that I’ve followed to the letter have worked perfectly. This in itself is noteworthy. I don’t know how many cookbooks I’ve purchased, tried, and concluded: the chef didn’t test the recipes. This new one is already unique by delivering up recipes that work and are delicious.

Even more unusually, I’ll browse its pages and think, “That looks really good, but it’s a little more involved than I prefer. What if I take this ingredient and that ingredient and then go in this other direction?” That never happens to me! I’m not the sort who gets food ideas of my own. In fact, my native kitchen IQ is very, very low. But this cookbook sparks ideas even in me.

I’ll undoubtedly blog about the book itself sometime in the coming weeks. But first I want to share one of my latest experiments. It was crazy delicious!

Ingredients

baby carrots1 butternut squash
6 – 8 large carrots
1/4 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
sea salt to taste
extra butter to taste

Directions

Scrub the carrots and rinse the squash.

Place the uncut squash in a baking dish and start it baking in a 350°F oven. Set the timer for 90 minutes.

Peel the carrots, cut and discard the tip at the wide end. Cut each carrot in two. Place the carrot chunks in a greased baking dish. Melt the butter and pour it over the carrots. Cover the baking dish and put it in the oven (joining the squash). Depending on how much time has elapsed, the carrots will be done (fork tender, about 50 minutes) a little before the squash.

Remove the carrots from the oven when they are soft and set them aside. When the squash is done (it dents when you press the flesh), take it out of the oven and let it cool.

Cut the squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and discard. (Or wash them and toast them like pumpkin seeds for a snack.) Scoop the squash flesh out of the skin and place the flesh in a food processor. Add the cooked carrot chunks to the food processor. Pour in any butter remaining in the baking dish. Add the sage. Put the lid on the and pulse until the purée is smooth.

Taste the purée and add salt and more butter as you wish. If the squash got very cool before you puréed it, you’ll need to warm it before serving. Otherwise, it’s ready! Yum. I want some right now! 😉

Butternut Carrots

More recipes:
Coconut Salmon
Baked Apples

 

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Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous (and What You Can Do About It)

I read The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz last weekend.

The Big Fat Surprise 300 px wide

A friend recommended it to me. When I checked into it myself, the book looked good. The reading proved just as good as it looked, so I’m going to share some of what I discovered.

Nina Teicholz investigates the fats we eat with an open mind. Like most of us, she believed that foods such as butter and cream and red meat were bad for her. But she’d had the experience of losing weight and feeling healthier while eating them with abandon when working as a restaurant review columnist.

What was up with that?

As she dug more deeply into her research for The Big Fat Surprise – reading the actual data from decades of studies, rather than the superficial (and misleading) headline conclusions – she came to realize how thoroughly the wool had been pulled over our eyes about what is safe and healthy to eat.

We’ve been fooled by government officials who jumped the gun and made incorrect recommendations before all the data was in.

We’ve been fooled by ambitious scientists who took a position long before the data warranted it, and then defended their stance for all it was worth.

We’ve been fooled by industrial food companies with a lot of money on the line.

I’d hoped The Big Fat Surprise might be a worthy sequel to Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories. It is! The book covers some of the same ground, but Nina Teicholz found different sources to talk with. She takes a slightly different approach from a slightly different angle. I learned things from her compelling narrative that I hadn’t from Taubes’ equally excellent examination of the subject.

Especially important, Teicholz delves into the more recent developments in fats used in processed foods: potato chips, crackers, cookies, etc. The information is absolutely critical for making wise choices about what to eat. And what not to eat. There’s some crazy dangerous stuff out there!

The Big Fat Surprise is too full of valuable nuggets for any summary to do it justice. So I’m going to use a technique I’ve followed when recommending other favorite non-fiction reads.

I’ll share three points that jumped out at me.

Here we go!

cottonseed oil

Eating Seed Oils May Cause Cancer

First of all, what are seed oils? This was a new term for me. Turns out it’s a more accurate word for what we call vegetable oils. Corn oil, canola oil, safflower oil, etc. When you think about the change, it makes sense. These oils aren’t made from carrots or broccoli or bell peppers. They’re pressed (or chemically extracted) from seeds.

One thing to remember about liquid seed oils is that they’re new. They were first extracted and sold in large quantities in 1910. Before 1910, everyone used lard and suet and tallow (animal fats) and butter to cook with. Seed oils are really a novel, ersatz “food.” At this point in human evolution, perhaps 6 generations have been eating the stuff. 300 generations ate only the very small amounts present in the corn in tortillas or the wheat in bread. 66,000 generations ate the still smaller amounts present in gathered (not cultivated) grains.

The new untested nature of seed oils entering our food supply caused a few scientists to be concerned about their safety. Some research was done, and the results generated further cause for concern.

One of the most famous studies was conducted in the 1960’s by Seymour Dayton, a UCLA professor of medicine, on 850 elderly men living in a Veterans Administration home.

For 6 years, half the men ate a diet in which seed oils replaced the saturated fats in butter, milk, ice cream, and cheese.

The other half of the men ate a normal diet – which in those days meant few seed oils, because corn oil and cottonseed oil had not yet been adopted so wholeheartedly in American kitchens.

The superficial results of the study looked good. Of the men on the experimental seed oil diet, only 48 died of heart disease, compared to 70 on the regular foods.

Probing a little deeper, the results looked less good. The death rates of the two groups were similar: 31 of the men consuming seed oils died of cancer, against only 17 of the men on regular food. That’s 79 to 87. Not so significant.

Dr. Dayton expressed considerable concern about the cancer finding. It was the unknown consequences of a diet high in seed oils – a new industrial product that had never been eaten in quantity by humans before – that had prompted the study.

Prominent American researchers focused on the heart disease finding (and ignored the cancer finding), because it bolstered their position that saturated fat causes heart disease.

British researchers were more critical, pointing out that the men on the normal diet happened to have twice the rate of cigarette smoking as the men on the seed oil diet. Perhaps that was the cause of their higher rate of heart disease?

echocardiogram

LDL-Cholesterol Is NOT the Bogeyman

First let’s do a quick review of cholesterol. It’s a lipid molecule made by our bodies and essential for both the structure of our cell membranes and as a foundation for certain hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D. We need the stuff!

It also circulates in our blood and has become renowned as an indicator for our vulnerability to heart disease.

Cholesterol comes in two different kinds. HDL-cholesterol (high density lipoprotein) and LDL-cholesterol (low density lipoprotein).

HDL-cholesterol is solidly established as a good guy that helps prevent heart disease. In fact, it’s such a critical partner in fighting heart disease that your doctor will likely warn you if it’s too low. Low levels of HDL-cholesterol is a known risk factor for heart disease.

LDL-cholesterol, however, for long bore the role of bad guy. If you had high levels of LDL-cholesterol circulating in your blood, you were considered to be at risk.

Thus whenever researchers found in a study that eating saturated fat (butter, cream, coconut oil, red meat) raised LDL-cholesterol – which it does – they would trumpet that finding to the sky. “Eating saturated fat causes heart disease!” they would say. We’ve heard that message for decades.

However, LDL-cholesterol has proven more complex than was initially thought.

Turns out that just as whole cholesterol exists as two types, so LDL-cholesterol also exists as two types. There’s LDL-cholesterol (low density lipoproteins) and there’s VLDL-cholesterol (very low density lipoproteins).

hospital patientVLDL is a genuine villain. Patients with high VLDL-cholesterol also have high triglycerides (another proven risk factor) and are indeed at a greater risk for heart disease.

But normal LDL-cholesterol turns out to be another good guy, actively protective against heart disease.

And guess what?

When eating saturated fat raises LDL-cholesterol, it’s raising the good LDL stuff, not the bad VLDL stuff.

Bottom line? Eating saturated fat raises HDL-cholesterol, which protects against heart disease, and it raises the good LDL-cholesterol, which also protects against heart disease. There is no down side here! Bring on the butter and cream!

The converse is also true, unfortunately. Eating polyunsaturated oils – seed oils such as corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, etc. – not only lowers the good HDL-cholesterol, but it lowers the good LDL-cholesterol while raising the bad VLDL-cholesterol. The anti-saturated fat folk tend not to trumpet that fact. “Eating seed oils causes heart disease,” is not a message that passes their lips. Ever. But it should.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have been steadfastly ignoring the last 20 years of research that teases apart the LDL and VLDL conundrum. They continue to recommend the consumption of seed oils. Reversing their stance of the last 60 years (pro-seed oil) would be very damaging to the professional reputation of their leaders.

As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

But I can only conclude, along with Nina Teicholz, that seed oils cause heart disease, not the other way around. Certainly, while the death rate from heart disease has gone down due to improved medical treatment, the incidence of heart disease has continued to rise, right in step with the increase of seed oils in the diet.

deep fat fryer

Seed Oils Are Taking Over the World

In 2003, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) issued a new rule that by 2006 trans fats must have their own separate line in the Nutrition Facts Panel on all packaged foods.

What are trans fats?

They’re another ersatz fat created as a byproduct by hydrogenating polyunsaturated fats such as corn oil and safflower oil. Hydrogenating these liquid oils (adding hydrogen atoms to the fat molecules) makes them firmer (like butter) and prevents them from going rancid while the packaged food sits in warehouses and on grocery store shelves.

Trans fat is convincingly a cause of heart disease. At least, its the one that’s been focused on by research. The thing is that trans fat is only one of about 50 ersatz fats created in the hydrogenation process. The others may be even more damaging.

In any case, getting the trans fats out of our food supply would seem to be a good thing. For that was the result of the FDA’s rulings. With trans fat vilified by the public (justly so) and manufacturers no longer able to hide its presence in their products, the manufacturers started reformulating their recipes.

That was a lot of reformulating!

As of 2003 when the new rule was issued, 42,720 packaged foods included trans fats: all crackers and most cookies, baking mixes, chips, pie shells, and frostings.

The food industry really liked hydrogenated oils. They could be made relatively soft for things like margarine. They could be made medium soft for cookies. They could be made very hard for the coatings of chocolate truffles.

But when the trans fats had to go, the hydrgenated oils also had to go. And be replaced with something else: polyunsaturated oils – seed oils.

That alone is not good news. After reading The Big Fat Surprise, I know that seed oils probably cause cancer and do cause heart disease. But there’s worse news.

The seed oils don’t behave well in the food products that industry produces. The oils separate out from sauces, leaving oily puddles under frozen dinners. They go rancid while cupcakes sit on grocery shelves. They cause Oreo® cookies to break during shipping.

Luckily for the manufacturers (and unluckily for us), their labs devised a new fat that performs well. It’s created by a new process called interesterification.

What is interesterification? Basically the process takes the three triglyceride molecules that make up fats and rearranges them.

How do interesterified fats affect the human body? We don’t really know. There have been a few studies done, but not nearly enough to yield a true idea.

Twinkies

So when we eat packaged foods, we’re eating interesterified fats and participating in the continuing experiment done on us without our informed consent. Heaven only knows what this latest ersatz substance will do to us. It could be worse than trans fat.

If we’re not eating interesterified fat, we’re eating fully hydrogenated oils (which do not have trans fats the way partially hydrogenated oils do) blended with liquid seed oils. This is another trick used by processed food manufacturers.

Or we’re eating palm oil, which manufacturers are returning to without announcing the fact. Palm oil is a natural saturated fat, like coconut oil, and is actually good for us. So, yay! One ray of light in an otherwise dark picture.

When we eat fried foods in a restaurant, we’re eating 100% seed oils along with the breakdown products that are created when these oils are heated.

There’s a reason McDonald’s once used beef tallow to fry its french fries. The stuff is extremely stable and doesn’t break down when heated. (Plus beef tallow was good for us.)

The partially hydrogenated oils used when beef tallow went away were also stable at high temperatures, although they did have those pesky trans fats.

peanut oilThe peanut oils and soybean oils now being used are not stable. They break down at high temperatures.

Aldehyde is one common breakdown product. It interferes with the function of our DNA.

Formaldehyde is another common breakdown product. It’s a poison.

Yet other breakdown products form a gunky residue on the bottoms of fryers, as well as on walls and tablecloths. It resembles shellac. The gunk is released into the air of the restaurant by the hot oil mist forming over the fryer and condenses out on cooler surfaces. The vapor may well damage the lungs of restaurant workers and patrons.

What Does It All Mean?

My own feeling is that it’s time to stop experimenting with all these new ersatz “food” products. Time to stop pushing them on unsuspecting populations to see if they have deleterious effects.

Cancer, anyone?

Heart disease?

How about diabetes?

Sign right up! You’ll die for science without ever knowing you’re in the experimental group.

Sadly, a more responsible and caring way forward seems unlikely at this time.

So what can you do?

Learn about food.

Don’t take the FDA’s word for anything; they’re too slow and married to industry interests.

Don’t take the common wisdom for your guide either; it’s been distorted by the poor research done in the 1960’s and boosted by ill-informed government officials.

Don’t mistake the research headlines about the dangers of saturated fat as fact supported by the research they trumpet; the data often do not support the headlines.

Do read The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz.

Read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

Read Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig.

Cover iamges of Good Calories, Bad Calories; The Big Fat Surprise; Eat Fat, Lose Fat

Get informed about the real facts and then make up your own mind about what is safe to eat and what isn’t. The life and health you save could be your own. 😀

For more posts on this topic:
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Thinner and Healthier

 

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