Courage, Kindness, Youthful Awkwardness & Compassion

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book recommendation. Four years! (I just checked.)

My previous recs were all old favorites, books that I’ve read and re-read, books that I know I’ll re-read yet again in the future.

Today’s rec is a new favorite: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.

I read it first in December 2015, but I’ve already re-read it at least three times in the eighteen months that have passed since. It’s truly wonderful.

Here’s a little bit about it:

Maia awakens in the middle of the night to learn that his father, the emperor of the Elf-lands, is dead in an airship accident, along with all three of Maia’s half-brothers. Now Maia – a half-goblin who grew up in exile, poverty, and neglect – must grapple with governing the vastly complex elvish Ethuveraz.

His father’s chancellor hates him almost as much as his father did. His father’s dowager empress hates him more. And all too many of his father’s courtiers hate him, too. Maia toys with the idea of running away to obscurity, somewhere, somehow.

The Elf-lands have not been kind to the boy-emperors of the past, claiming their lives more often than not. Maia is not a child – he’s eighteen – but he’s nearly as inexperienced as those numerous dead boys whose tombs line the sacred hall in the imperial palace. Failure to grapple with the Ethuveraz – whether through ineptitude or through flight – leads only to another tomb like theirs.

* * *

The world building, characterization, and storytelling in The Goblin Emperor are all superb. And its protagonist, Maia Drazhar, beguiles me afresh each time I re-read the book with his unique blend of courage and kindness, and his struggles to overcome both youthful awkwardness and his (understandable) resentment toward his former guardian.

Here’s a brief excerpt – the very beginning of the story – to introduce you to Maia and The Goblin Emperor.
 
 

Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.

“Cousin? What…” He sat up, rubbing his eyes with one hand. “What time is it?”

“Get up!” Setheris snarled. “Hurry!”

Obediently, Maia crawled out of bed, clumsy and sleep-sodden. “What’s toward? Is there a fire?”

“Get they clothes on.” Setheris shoved yesterday’s clothes at him. Maia dropped them, fumbling with the strings of his nightshirt, and Setheris hissed with exasperation as he bent to pick them up. “A messenger from the court. That’s what’s toward.”

“A message from my father?”

“Is’t not what I said? Merciful goddesses, boy, canst do nothing for thyself? Here!” He jerked the nightshirt off, caring neither for the knotted strings nor for Maia’s ears, and shoved his clothes at him again. Maia struggled into drawers, trousers, shirt, and jacket, aware that they were wrinkled and sweat-stained, but unwilling to try Setheris’s ill temper by saying so. Setheris watched grimly by the single candle’s light, his ears flat against his head. Maia could not find his stockings, nor would Setheris give him time to search. “Come along!” he said as soon as Maia had his jacket fastened, and Maia followed him barefoot out of the room, noticing in the stronger light that while Setheris was still properly and fully attired, his face was flushed. So he had not been wakened from sleep by the emperor’s messenger, but only because he had not yet been to bed. Maia hoped uneasily that Setheris had not drunk enough metheglin to mar the glossy perfection of his formal court manners.

Maia ran his hands through his hair, his fingers catching on knots in his heavy curls. It would not be the first time one of his father’s messengers had witnessed him as unkempt as a half-witted ragpickers child, but that did not help with the miserable midnight imaginings: So tell us, how looked our son? He reminded himself it was unlikely his father ever asked after him in the first place and tried to keep his chin and ears up as he followed Setheris into the lodge’s small and shabby receiving room.

* * *

The Goblin Emperor is available in many bookstores. A few links:
Amazon I Apple I B&N I Book Depository I Google Play I Kobo

For more of my book recommendations, see:
The Bastard, Belinda, Blood, & Bewitchery
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency

 

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Osteoporosis, Be Gone!

Osteoporosis_LocationsFive years ago, I was diagnosed with osteopenia. The literal translation is “bone deficiency,” and the diagnosis meant that my bones had lost mineral density, making them weaker and more prone to breakage than optimally mineralized bones.

This was not a good development, but few doctors prescribe medicines to prevent further bone loss at this stage of things. Instead, they instruct the patient to get plenty of weight-bearing exercise and to be tested again in 2 to 5 years. The hope is that the osteopenia will not worsen to become osteoporosis.

When my bone density was assessed a year ago, that hope was not realized. My bones had lost more density, arriving at the threshold (just barely) that marks true osteoporosis, literally “porous bones.” My doctor prescribed Fosamax, instructing me that I would need to remain vertical for 2 hours after I ingested the medicine in order to prevent heartburn.

I filled the prescription and only then realized I had a problem. I was dealing with a chronic pain issue that kept me lying down the majority of the time. I was going to find it tough to find 2 hours when I would be upright continuously.

In fact, I never did find them. I beat my chronic pain last December, only temporarily, alas. It crept back during my battle with my retinal tear. Not nearly as severely as before. I am able to be active now. I swim 400 meters three times a week. I could take the Fosmax. But the thing is that I want to build bone density, not merely slow further bone loss. The Fosamax won’t do that. But there is one thing that will:

Weight-bearing exercise.

But not mild weight-bearing exercise. I needed strenuous weight-bearing exercise. And preferably exercise that utilizes the whole body, rather than working muscles in isolation. Which meant I needed bodyweight training.

Bodyweight training would improve my coordination and balance by engaging groups of large muscles all at once, together with small stabilizing muscles. Plus it would work my heart muscle, because engaging many muscles requires much more aerobic support than engaging just a few.

I liked the idea that if I were to trip and fall, not only would my bones be stronger and less likely to break, but also that my muscles would be stronger and more capabale of catching me before I hit the ground, and my coordination would be better, giving me a chance to prevent the fall altogether.

Body by YouSo I went looking for guidance in books. Quite a few praise bodyweight training, but give only the most cursory descriptions of how to do specific exercises. I wanted detailed instructions. I found what I was looking for – and more – in Body by You by Mark Lauren. Lauren is an expert, who has trained thousands to good effect. His book provides the detailed instructions I sought, as well as step-by-step progressions for moving from the beginner versions to more challenging exercises and on to the most challenging of all.

I’ve just started, a mere 19 days ago, and I’m very de-conditioned from all the medical issues that have derailed me over the past few years. So I’m starting with the absolute easiest beginner exercises. But I can already feel a difference, so I’m hopeful that I will improve steadily, if slowly.

Lauren categorizes his exercises into five different types: pulling, in-line pushing (parallel to your spine), perpendicular pushing (perpendicular to your spine), squatting, and bending.

The easiest pulling exercise in the book is called a “let me in.” It works the muscles of the back (lats, spinal erectors, rhomboids), arms and shoulders (biceps, forearms, rear deltoids), and the core. Laren demonstrates the “let me in” in the video below using a door, but I would recommend against a door as your prop. Most doors are not made for this kind of abuse. Over time, you’ll destroy your door and be hurt when it fails altogether.

I use one of the metal support pillars in my basement, sunk into concrete at its base and bolted into a major floor joist at its top.

My husband cautions that not all such support pillars are fastened at their tops, and he has seen them slip. If you try this, check your support pillar to be sure it is secured, not just held in place by the weight of the house.

The easiest in-line pushing exercise is the military press with hands elevated to hip height. It targets your shoulders, triceps, and core. I use the chest freezer in my basement. It’s currently full of frozen meat and really heavy. It’s not going anywhere, even when I lean hard on it. 😀

The easiest perpendicular pushing exercise is the classic wall push-up. It works the chest, triceps, shoulders, and the core, especially the abdominals. The key for me is to find a stretch of wall clear of bookshelves and wide enough that my elbows don’t bump into anything. 😀

Lauren structures his workout so that you alternate between in-line pushing and perpendicular pushing. So, today being a Friday, I’ll shortly be doing “pull me ins,” wall push-ups, “good morning” bends, and squats. But on Monday, I’ll do “pull me ins,” military presses, “good morning” bends, and squats.

Bending exercises work the legs, glutes, back, core, and – depending on the specific exercise – the shoulder and triceps too. The easiest bending exercise is called the “good morning.” It is almost too easy for me, so I suspect I’ll be moving up to the version with the hands held straight overhead soon.

Squats exercise the glutes, quads, hamstrings, lower back, core, and calves. The very easiest squat is the “therapy sumo squat,” done with the toes and knees turned outward at a 45º angle. That doesn’t work for me, because it trashes my hip joints. So I am doing a basic squat with my toes and knees facing forward. I’ve not yet advanced to the hands overhead version shown below!

I’m pleased with how the bodyweight training feels so far. I’m making progress, and I haven’t yet injured myself! Always a concern. 😀

As I advance – crossing my fingers that I will – I’ll look for videos of the modified exercises to share with you.

Time to go exercise now! (I spent most of today writing the current scene of Tally and composing this blog post!)

 

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The Secret Behind Midnight Snacks

It’s a classic, isn’t it?

You’re reading a fantastic book, and you keep saying to yourself, “Just one more page!” Or your best friend forever is visiting from out of town, and you talk late into the night, heart to heart.

Big Ben Clock FaceSuddenly you realize that it’s midnight and you’re starving.

I never gave the classic midnight snack much thought. I’d heard health experts recommend against it for various reasons: it didn’t give your gut a chance to rest; calories ingested at night got converted to body fat more readily; etc.

I’d also read that the food-to-body-fat superhighway was nonsense: it didn’t matter when you ate, rather that how much you ate overall was the key.

But I never paid more than cursory attention to all the discussion.

When I was younger, I happened to be one of those lucky people who maintain an ideal weight without much attention or effort.

Now that I’m older, my metabolism has slowed – as most people’s do – and I pack on extra pounds much more easily. So the pros and cons of midnight snacking hold more interest for me than heretofore.

But I’ve also learned that the simplistic calories-in-calories-out model (calories expended must match or exceed calories ingested) still touted by much of the medical establishment grossly ignores the action of the hormone insulin on the body.

My blog posts Thinner and Healthier and Test first, then conclude! go into this more extensively, if you’re interested. But the bottom line is that most people become much more sensitive to the effects of insulin in the bloodstream as they get older. The hormone packs fat into the fat cells and, once we’re over 50, makes it more and more difficult for any of that fat to be removed and used for fuel. While starving yourself on super-low-calorie diets merely deprives your body of needed nutrients and lowers your metabolism further. Catch-22!

But I digress! 😀

Sleep SmarterThe reason I bring this up is because of something I learned in Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.

When you are sleep deprived, the amount of glucose reaching your brain dips.

Brains run on glucose. They must have it. However, there’s no need to eat sugar to fuel your brain. In fact, don’t do it! Your liver can make all the glucose your brain requires, without you ever ingesting any sugar at all.

In a sleep researcher’s lab, where the amount of sleep deprivation induced for the purpose of study is extreme (24 hours), glucose reaching the brain dips by 6%. But suppose you regularly get by on only 6 or 7 hours of sleep. No doubt your glucose dips much less, but it still dips.

Even worse, the reduction of glucose to the brain is not distributed equally. When the reduction is 6% overall, the parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex lose from 12% to 14% of the glucose they should receive.

Why is that important?

The parietal lobe and the prefrontal cortex are the areas of the brain we use for thinking, for discerning the differences between potential actions, for social interactions, and for knowing right from wrong.

When the parietal lobe and prefrontal are short of their necessary fuel, our decision making suffers.

That’s why you might do something really unwise late at night and then wonder in the morning: “What was I thinking?” In fact, you weren’t thinking, or not very well.

On top of this, your brain late at night – desperately seeking glucose, due to the growing dearth of this necessary fuel as the hour latens – knows perfectly well that a shot of glucose is conveniently at hand in a bag of potato chips or a bowl of Cheerios® or a few scoops of ice cream.

That’s why those foods prove so irresistible at midnight!

I took away several things from all of this.

1 • If I’m asleep before the glucose dip arrives, it will never even happen. Asleep, my body will be in the repair mode that occurs most intensely between 10 PM and 2 AM. (That’s another fact I learned from Sleep Smarter.)

My brain chemistry will be exactly as it is supposed to be, initiating repairs, instead of losing glucose and frantically seeking a resupply by prompting cravings.

(Unless I am chronically sleep deprived; in which case, the glucose dip occurs even in sleep and can actually wake me up!)

2 • It’s not that eating late at night is a problem in itself. It’s that such snacks are usually extra and often composed of sugar or simple carbohydrates. I’ve already ingested all the food I truly need at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Whereas, if I fall asleep somewhere between 10 PM and 11 PM, I’ll never even get hungry at midnight, let alone go seeking extra food.

3 • If I do happen to stay up too late – which will happen at times, because I’m a night owl – I have the perfect hack. I’ve tested it, and it usually works, although not infallibly. The brain in search of fuel is pretty fierce!

Curse of Chalion 300 pxHere’s the scenario: I get to re-reading The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my absolute favorites, and – whups! it’s midnight!

I realize I’m feeling really hungry, hungry enough that it will keep me awake, even though my eyelids are falling closed with my fatigue.

In the past, I’ve poured a big glass of local, farm-fresh milk and stirred a little stevia and cocoa powder into it.

The problem with that is that I’m getting an awful lot of carbs in the lactose (milk sugar) contained in that milk. On top of that, the sweetness of the stevia will trigger a larger insulin release into my bloodstream than would the lactose alone. And, on top of that, the big glass holds twice the amount of milk that I would normally drink in one go. So I’m getting a huge lactose hit with little else to cushion it.

While I was fighting my sleep schedule in the aftermath of my retinal detachment – before I read Sleep Smarter – I drank that huge glass of milk nearly nightly. And I gained 10 pounds. Not good!

(Chronic sleep deprivation all by itself causes weight gain, without any big glasses of milk, so some of my gain of ten pounds was no doubt due to several months of sleep loss.)

These days I’m usually asleep by 11 PM. Plus I’m finally visiting the gym swimming pool again after a long layoff. So I’m hoping to take those 10 pounds off! (Fingers crossed.)

But on those nights like last night, when I was absorbed in The Curse of Chalion and got hungry, this is what I do:

FIRST, I remind myself that my sensation of hunger, while powerful, is due to the dip in glucose to my brain. This actually does help, although it is not enough without my next step.

SECOND, I eat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

coconut oilCoconut oil is made up of largely medium-chain fatty acids that are not normally stored in the body’s fat cells at all. Instead they are quickly converted to energy. Additionally, coconut oil acts as a slight appetite suppressant for many people. It certainly does for me.

Anyway, it’s a much better option than the huge glass of milk. That 2 tablespoons of coconut oil diminishes my craving for food at midnight just enough that I can get to sleep. And it gives me a slight energy boost – not a frenetic boost like caffeine, but a calm can-do feeling – just enough oomph for me to go brush my teeth, spray some magnesium oil on my legs, and turn out the light.

CAUTION: If you decide to try my coconut oil hack and see if it works for you, be a little careful. The short- and medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil don’t require bile for digestion. But coconut oil also contains some long-chain fatty acida, and those do require bile for digestion.

If you’ve been eating a low-fat diet for a while, which many people do these days, your body hasn’t needed much bile for a while and has adjusted by not making much. It won’t suddenly produce more when you abruptly dump 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in! Which means you’ll feel nauseated and maybe even experience diarrhea.

So start with a quarter of a teaspoon and work up slowly to give your pancreas and gallbladder a chance to ramp up.

(I’ve blogged about the benefits of coconut oil in Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!, if you’d like to know more.)

The bottom line? It’s really best to be asleep long before midnight!

But I found the why of the midnight munchies to be fascinating, so – of course! – I had to share it with you. 😀

To read the blog posts I mentioned in passing, see:
How I Rehabilitated My Sleep
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Butter and Coconut and Cream, Oh My!

 

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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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The Bastard, Belinda, Blood, & Bewitchery

It’s time for more book recommendations. Here are four!

Painting of Ista saving soulsIsta, mother of Chalion’s ruling royina, lives retired in Castle Valenda under the care of her anxious kinswoman and ladies in waiting. Considered a madwoman for years, and still a little … unbalanced, from her long ordeal, she endures the loving vigilance of her caretakers. A vigilance that only wearies and annoys her. But how to escape their loving restrictions, her culture’s limiting constraints, and the bitterness of her past baffles Ista. Until by chance she encounters a vulgar widow on pilgrimmage, and inspiration strikes.

I can’t decide whether I love Paladin of Souls or its prequel The Curse of Chalion more, but they both vie for the spot of most favorite read ever. In the classic choice of one book and a desert island, Paladin would be it. Unless it were Curse! Two books? No problem: both these!

Ista has spent nearly twenty years submerged in a prolonged eclipse. Now she stands poised for rebirth, ready even to shine. Reading her journey is sheer magic for the heart and soul.

Paladin of Souls at Amazon

Paladin of Souls at B&N

 

White gowned Regency lady on a balconyGilly – that is, the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, the Duke of Sale – hates disappointing those who care for his interests. His devoted valet chooses his raiment, and Gilly acquiesces to all his selections. His estate agent informs him that his progressive notions are naive, and Gilly swallows the reproof. His garulous companion from his Grand Tour through Europe threatens to render his visit to London hideous, and Gilly shows him courtesy. But when his solicitous and autocratic guardian, Lord Lionel, announces that he’s arranged Gilly’s marriage, the duke decides he’s carried his amiability too far.

Gilly eludes his entire retinue to pursue adventure: a solo quest to save his young cousin from a villain bent on blackmail. Or, as Gilly tells his other cousin, his favorite one: “to slay a dragon.” But Mr. Liversedge is a canny scoundrel, well able to defeat his inexperienced adversary. Can Gilly – so amenable and civil – possibly prevail?

Like all of Heyer’s Regency romances, this one cavorts from absurdity to absurdity, improbably so, yet curiously plausible and thoroughly delightful. Her characters are so real they make the proverbial leap from the page, and her world-building, so superb, I wander Regency England while I read.

The Foundling at Amazon

The Foundling at B&N

 

Dark and ominous view of a candlelit candelabraShe never even heard them coming. But you don’t, Rae Seddon tells us. Fed up with her family, fed up with the coffeehouse – the family business, fed up with just everything, this young baker who loves feeding people drives out into the country by night to meditate at the lake. There, those darkest of the Others – the bloodsuckers – capture her to feed to a special undead prisoner: Constantine, a master vampire hated by their own master, Bo.

But Rae possesses an unusual lineage and unusual powers deriving from her hitherto-ignored legacy, and something strange happens in the derelict mansion where the vampires stake her as bait for Con.

I must make a confession: I don’t like straight-up romances. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the dance that ensues when boy meets girl. I simply need something more for the story to enthrall me. Add humor and stellar world-building, like Heyer, and I’m enchanted. Add mystery and deep emotional insight, like Sayers, and I’m engrossed. Add military adventure and intense inner journey, like Bujold, and you cannot pry me away.

So, how does this relate to McKinley’s Sunshine?

Well, it occurred to me as I wrote the above synopsis that the plot appears to follow the formula for paranormal romance: young woman with special powers that she doesn’t know about, must discover, and then master; undead or otherwise powerful and threatening counterpoint; and the unique path these two must tread to relate to one another fruitfully. So why do I like Sunshine? That formula proved insufficient for my taste when I attempted it previously. The answer: exquisite world-building paired with saving said world from utter destruction. The book riveted me to its pages. So much so that I’ve re-read it three times and will undoubtedly repeat the experience many times through the years.

Sunshine at Amazon

Sunshine at B&N

 

Painting of a tall, bizarre, rickety towerTwelve-year-old Conrad Tesdinic knows he’ll die in agony before the year is up. It’s his fate. In a previous life he either did something bad that he shouldn’t, or failed to do something good that he should have. And no one knows what it was. But his Uncle Alfred pulls strings to get him a job as footman in Stallery Mansion where he can clear his karma.

Conrad would much prefer to continue his schooling, to aim for university, to become someone brilliant: an aircraft pilot, a famous scientist, a great surgeon, anything other than staying in Stallchester drudging in his uncle’s bookstore, polishing boots at the mansion, or cooking meals for his mother and uncle. But karma calls, along with the clever wickedness lurking in Stallery.

So Conrad goes, but his new employment proves utterly different than he’d imagined. Secrets upon secrets lie piled in the mansion, and Conrad must unravel them all, including a few that connect right into the heart of his own family.

I love all of Jones’ stories, but my favorite was always Charmed Life, the first tale by her I ever read. No matter how much I enjoyed the rest of her stories, I never suspected another might knock Life from its preeminence. Until I read Conrad’s Fate. I can’t say it truly tipped Charmed Life from its throne, but surely it shares the seat. Sparkling, funny, and poignant by turns, its wheels within wheels entertained and astonished me through to the very end, when all the mysteries lay revealed, and everyone’s karma, balanced!

Conrad’s Fate at Amazon

Conrad’s Fate at B&N

 

For more book recommendations, see:
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency

 

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Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

cover imageI dug in my heels, strongly resistant to Bujold’s switch from science fiction to fantasy, and resistant to her departure from the transformative exploits of Lord Vorkosigan. I wanted more of the Vorkosiverse, not something new.

By the time I reached the bottom of the first page of The Curse of Chalion, my resistance vanished utterly, converted into a torrent of enthusiasm. I was hooked! Now I clamor for more Chalion stories as loudly as I ever did for Vorkosigan books.

In Chalion, we meet Cazaril, a former courtier and soldier, making his slow way home from coastal Ibra to landlocked Chalion. He’s broken in body and spirit following his betrayal by the highest power in the realm and subsequent stint as a galley slave. Traveling alone and on foot, he downgrades his hopes and aspirations. How can he beg a place in a noble’s retinue when he wears beggar’s rags? A menial and anonymous spot in the kitchens will have to do.

But Cazaril turned his life and will over to one of the gods – the Lady of Spring – three years ago, desperate for the rescue of the soldiers under his command. And she has other plans for him.

Cazaril’s story explores the notion that opening oneself to divine inspiration carries the gravest of risks – death of the body, death of the soul, and forfeiture of self-will – but also leads to one’s deepest fulfillment and greatest achievement.

The Curse of Chalion at Amazon

The Curse of Chalion at B&N

 

cover imageI enjoyed Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries in a casual way. They are good, and I do like a good mystery, but I prefer a mystery more entwined with the inner growth of the characters involved. When Lord Peter finally meets Harriet Vane in Strong Poison, the arc of his personal development really begins. And that’s when I became a Sayers fan.

Like her author, Harriet Vane writes mystery novels. She knows all about poisons – a necessary part of her vocation – and she stands accused of her fiancé’s murder. He died in a manner identical to that portrayed in one of Harriet’s books.

Lord Peter sees Harriet by chance. He’s an amateur sleuth, often about and around the bastions of law. He catches the beginning of her trial, tumbles top over tail in love, and determines to prove her innocence.

Can he do it?

The matter hangs in some doubt. Peter arrives rather late, after Harriet’s trial has begun. The evidence is damning, and Harriet escapes conviction only because one stalwart member of the jury doesn’t believe she’s guilty. Lord Peter has one month to dig up new evidence before the re-trial.

Strong Poison at Amazon

Strong Poison at B&N

 

cover iamgeI’ve been a Heyer fan since my mid-teens and still enjoy her work. Her romances deploy a dry irony similar to Austen’s, but mix in effervescent fun for leavening. Her world building is as impeccable as the most dedicated fantasist. And her secondary characters are hilarious.

In False Colours, Kit Fancot comes abruptly home on the intuition that all is not well with his identical twin, the volatile Earl of Denville, Evelyn Fancot. And intuition proves correct.

Evelyn is not only missing, but in desperate need of serious cash – cash to the tune of 20,000 pounds, give or take a few thousand! In a scheme to get his hands on his own inheritance (held in trust for another five years), he’s offered a marriage of convenience to a sensible girl who won’t mind if he is less than devoted to her.

Kit jumps in to rescue his twin – who will surely turn up any day now – by impersonating him at his betrothal party. There, he discovers Cressida Stavely to possess quiet charm, a sense of humor, and intelligence. Surely she deserves a husband who actually loves her.

Heyer takes this romp of a tale through every kind of complication with wit and pizzazz, proving in the end that if you must be bold, it’s best to be very bold indeed.

False Colours at Amazon

False Colours at B&N

 

cover iamgeInside Job is a novella, and I purchased the hardback by mail order ignorant of that fact. Out $30 when I discovered its slim 92-page length, I was appalled. The story couldn’t possibly be good enough to justify that kind of money!

I’m here to tell you: it was. And I’m glad to have the book on my shelves, because I re-read it every year. (The e-book edition, available these days, but not in those, is much more reasonably priced.)

Rob, professional skeptic and publisher of The Jaundiced Eye – a magazine dedicated to exposing fraudulent psychics, mediums, spiritualists, etc. – hired beautiful and intelligent Kildy Ross to be his assistant one year ago.

Now Kildy brings a new charlatan to his attention: Ariaura, previously a channeler of “Isus,” a spirit from the astral plane, appears to be channeling H.L. Mencken, the late reporter and bane of shysters and crooks in the 1920’s.

Rob and Kildy set out to expose Ariaura, but things get complicated. Is Ariaura really a fraud? Could she actually be channeling Mencken, beloved by all skeptics? And if she’s for real, what then happens to Rob’s life work?

With her characteristic wit and a lively sense of the ridiculous, Willis translates the conflict between good and evil into a delightful skirmish in the battle of science and reason and logic against quacks and con men.

Inside Job at Amazon

Inside Job at B&N

More book recommendations:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic

My next blog post would normally appear here next Friday on March 15. But my writing and publishing schedule is unusually heavy right now!

I’m writing a prequel to Rainbow’s Lodestone, I have two new short stories ready to publish, and I must finish the print editions of Sarvet’s Wanderyar and Livli’s Gift. So I’ll be taking a week off from my blog.

My next post will be in two weeks on March 22. See you then!

 

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Handle with Care

glass cannister of granolaI’ve learned to be cautious with grains.

They’re high in carbohydrates and, as I’ve gotten older, my body has grown more sensitive to carbs. Philip Maffetone’s In Fitness and in Health taught me that carbs were likely behind the chronic fatigue of my 30’s and the weight gain of my 40’s.

Gary Taubes, in his Good Calories, Bad Calories, explained some of why. When eaten, carbohydrates can provoke an inflammatory response (fatigue) and do cause the body to release insulin into the bloodstream. Insulin then causes the body to cease burning fat for energy and switch to burning glucose. Which means the fatty acids stay in the fat cells, and more fatty acids are packed in (weight gain).

But there’s another reason to be cautious with grains. Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions explains that we modern westerners aren’t preparing whole grains safely any more. Our ancestors did. And a few of us still possess the old knowledge. (I did not.)

images depicting traditional peoples from around the worldIn India, rice and lentils are fermented for two days before being made into idli and dosas. In Africa, coarsely ground corn was soaked overnight before being added to soups and stews. Ethiopian injera bread is made by fermenting the grain teff for several days. American pioneers were famous for sourdough breads and biscuits. In old-fashioned European porridges, the oats or barley berries were soaked overnight or even for several days before cooking. Flours were never simply scooped from a canister, mixed into whatever, cooked, and eaten two hours later. There’s a reason for that!

All grains contain phytic acid in the outer layer, the bran.

Of course, you can eat refined grains which lack the bran and the germ, but that leads to its own set of health problems. (White flour acts on the body a lot like sugar.) But if you eat whole grains, improperly prepared, phytic acid will harm you.

So what’s the problem with phytic acid?

It combines with minerals in the digestive tract and blocks their absorption. All that lovely calcium or iron or zinc or whatever binds to the phytic acid and rides away, right out of the body. On top of that, phytic acid can be very irritating. Hello, irritable bowel syndrome! Hello, mineral deficiencies! Hello, osteoporosis!

And that’s not all.

The protein in grains, especially the gluten, is hard to digest. Soaking and fermenting breaks down these proteins into their simpler building blocks, which are much easier on digestion.

Consider animals nourished primarily by plants. They have multiple stomachs (sometimes four!) and long intestines. Plants take a lot of digesting! Humans have only one stomach and shorter intestines. We need the help of friendly lactobacilli (the bacteria in yogurt and other live foods) when we eat plants such as grains (and legumes).

Another possibility to consider: add a dollop of cream or butter to cooked grains. The fat acts as a catalyst for mineral absorption. You’ll get more of that critical calcium (for example), if you pair those oats with cream.

And a final consideration: most processed breakfast cereals – even granola, alas! – are downright dangerous. Not only are they rife with phytic acid, but they are processed at high heat and under high pressure. This destroys many of the valuable nutrients in grains, turns the fragile plant oils rancid, and changes the proteins enough to render them toxic.

The take-away lesson is that grains (and legumes) need to be soaked or sprouted to confer their benefits.

If you’re a baker, bake true sourdough breads or loaves made with sprouted grains. If you purchase your bread (raising my hand here), buy true sourdoughs (not just flavored with sourdough) and sprouted grain breads.

I go very light on the grains myself. But for all the grain lovers among us, I’ll share three basic recipes with the grains properly prepared. (Plus crisp nuts.)

The oatmeal in this photo has raisons in it, cooked on the stovetop with the oats, but not soaked overnight with the oats!

oatmealOatmeal

1 cup oats, rolled (not instant or quick-cooking)
1 cup filtered water, warmed (but not hot)
2 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice
1 more cup filtered water
1/2 teaspoon Celtic sea salt

Add the whey to the warm water and soak the oats in it overnight (at least 7 hours). Find a warm spot. A covered bowl on the kitchen counter is fine, if your house isn’t too chilly.

(Chlorine can interfere with lacto-fermentation, so don’t use straight water-plant tap water.)

In the morning, bring the additional cup of water to a boil. Add the salt. Add the soaked oats (along with any remaining liquid). Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit (still covered) for 5 minutes.

Serve with cream or butter.

Other optional toppings include maple syrup, raw honey, apricot butter, or crisp nuts.

Rice

2 cups brown rice
4 cups filtered water, warmed
4 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice or vinegar
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
3 tablespoons butter

Rinse and drain the rice.

Add whey to the warm water and soak the rice in it overnight (at least 7 hours).

When soaking is complete, transfer mixture to a cooking pot and bring it to a boil on the stove top.

Skim off the foam that rises to the top.

Lower the heat, add the salt and butter, stir, and then cover tightly. Cook (without removing the lid) for 45 minutes over very low heat.

Serve.

granolaGranola (a safe version)

This recipe is a bit involved. My kids adore it, but I don’t make it very often! In fact, it’s been more than a year for me. Which leads me to a note of warning. I’ve made lots of adjustments to the recipe since the first time, with lots of scribbly notes in the margins of my recipe binder. I hope I’ve deciphered them accurately! But if your rendition of this granola isn’t working, it’s probably me, not you. I hope to make granola this spring. (And if I discover I’ve erred, I’ll come back and correct myself.) So you might wait to try this until after my essay. Or – if you’re the adventurous sort – dive in and post any adjustments you make in the comments!

Update:I did make granola this spring (as promised to my kids). Twice! And the recipe as I posted it was pretty close to correct. But it needed a touch more spice. I increased the amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves in my second batch. Plus I made more. The first batch was devoured in 5 days flat. If you were waiting (as recommended above) for me to tweak my recipe, I’ve done so. The recipe below is the recipe. Go for it!

6 cups oats, rolled
6 cups filtered water, warmed
4 tablespoons whey or yogurt or lemon juice
3/8 cup butter (add 1 tablespoon butter, if you’re soaking the nuts with the oats)
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons maple syrup (add 1 tablespoon syrup, if soaking nuts with oats)
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 cups crisp nuts (no crisp nuts on hand? throw some in to soak with the oats)
2 cups raisins

draining and spreading the granolaAdd whey to warm water and soak oats in it overnight (at least 7 hours). If you are out of crisp nuts, add raw nuts to the oats to soak along with them.

Next day, drain the liquid off the oats. Press the mass a little (if it’s really soggy) to wring extra moisture out of it.

Spread baking parchment on 2 baking sheets. Spoon the oats onto the sheets and spread them out evenly. Place baking sheets in the oven and turn it on to 200ºF (no need to preheat). Bake for 3 hours. Check the oats for moisture. If you added nuts to soak with the oats, the mixture will be dry at the edges of the baking sheet, but still moist at the center. If you soaked the oats solo, they’ll be dry all the way through, but not crisp.

Near the end of this first baking, melt the butter, honey, and maple syrup. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Set aside, off the heat.

granola in the makingRemove the oats from the oven. Put the oats in a large bowl and break up the large clumps using 2 butter knives. Then get a handful between your palms and rub your hands together. This works really well to break the clumps even further. Keep going until the texture of the oats is fairly fine. Then pour the butter mixture over the oats, and blend thoroughly.

Put fresh sheets of baking parchment on the baking sheets. (The used parchment will be soggy.) Spoon the oat mixture onto the baking sheets and spread evenly. Place back in the 200ºF oven. Stir the oats and re-spread them every hour. Bake for 4 hours.

Remove oats from oven and allow to cool. Break up any clumps with your hands. Mix the now-crisp oats with raisons and crisp nuts (if you didn’t add raw nuts at the soaking step). Store in an air-tight canister.

Serve however you prefer granola: with milk, with cream, with yogurt, with fruit, etc. It will be a little more crisp than conventional store-bought granola.

Crisp Walnuts

Use these as a topping on oatmeal, in the granola recipe above, or as a snack. Just like grains and legumes, nuts should be soaked to neutralize the many enzyme inhibitors in them.

4 cups walnut pieces, raw
2 teaspoons Celtic sea salt
filtered water to cover nuts

Mix the salt with the filtered water and soak the nuts in it overnight (at least 7 hours).

Next day, drain the nuts in a colander.

Put baking parchment on a baking sheet. Spread the nuts evenly on it. Place in oven, turn on to 150ºF and “bake” for 12-24 hours, until completely dry and crisp. Stir the nuts with a spoon and re-spread them occasionally. (If you have a food dehydrator, use that!)

Store the nuts in an air-tight container.

Walnuts, alone of all the nuts, must be stored in the refrigerator. Their unique composition of oils will go rancid at room temperature. The other nuts may be safely stored at room temperature.

This recipe may be used for pecans, almonds, or macadamias. Do not use it for cashews. Cashews are not raw when they come to us. They contain a toxic oil that must be released and removed by two separate heatings before humans can eat them safely. This means that they’ll get slimy and nasty if soaked too long or dried too slowly. Soak them at most 6 hours. Dry them in a 200ºF oven.

Nourishing Traditions at Amazon

Nourishing Traditions at B&N

For more Nourishing Traditions posts, see:
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumiss, Oh My!
Amazing Lactobacilli
Beet Kvass

Some posts challenging politically correct nutrition:
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Test first, then conclude!
Thinner and Healthier

And some more recipes:
Coconut Chocolates
Coconut Salmon
Baked Carrots

Do you have any old-time grain recipes that include the soaking or sprouting of grains?
Do please share!

 

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Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!

After reading Maffetone’s In Fitness and in Health and Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions, I sought out more myth-busting information. Hold onto your hats! I’m going to tell you what I discovered, and we’re in for a wild ride!

The notion that intrigued me was this: what if saturated fat were actually good for you? Fallon’s notes on butter from grass-fed cows hinted at this idea. Maffetone’s advice to cut carbs out of your diet for his 2-week test echoed it. And the improved health and slimness of acquaintances following a low-carb regime further piqued my curiosity.

cover image with coconut palm treeI purchased Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig and devoured it in one evening.

Here was myth-busting with a vengeance!

The book includes a review of the basic chemistry of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. It also touches briefly on the influence of the food industry on governmental agencies and the culture at large in promulgating the belief that saturated fat is bad for us. (There are big bucks to be made from processed food, with hefty profit margins if inexpensive vegetable oils are used instead of pricey animals fats or coconut oil or palm oil.)

(I read Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories after, not before, reading Eat Fat. He describes the sea change from “starches make you fat” to “fat makes you fat” in griping detail. I highly recommend giving his book a read yourself, if you haven’t.)

Many items in Eat Fat, Lose Fat grabbed my attention.

The first was Fallon’s analysis of the research to date about fats. Some consists of studies of the diets of indigenous peoples. Some are studies performed in labs.

I learned that the Massai, who drank a gallon of milk every day and consumed meat and blood for the rest of their nourishment, simply didn’t suffer heart attacks at all.

Then there were the employees of the Indian railway system. The largely vegetarian workers of Madras experienced 7 times more incidence of heart disease than the meat-loving Punjabi who ate 10 to 20 times as much fat.

In the Framingham-Peurto Rico-Honolulu study conducted by NIH, the participants who suffered heart attacks were those who consumed the most polyunsaturated oil.

A workshop held at the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute and analyzing studies on women and cholesterol found that, for women, high blood cholesterol is protective. The longest lived among elderly women were those with the highest cholesterol. Further, the statin drugs proscribed to lower cholesterol offer no benefit to women in preventing heart disease.

There’s more; a lot more. But I’m not going to list every one of the 18 studies presented in chapter 2. Fallon is concise, but it’s still too much for a blog post. The take-away point? Most studies looked at saturated fats and trans fats as the same thing. Mary Enig is the researcher who first blew the whistle on trans fats, and now we all know that no level of trans fats is safe. But all those studies with bad outcomes for fat in the diet? It was the trans fats doing it. Saturated fats have been tarred with the same brush quite inaccurately. Trans fats cause heart disease, contribute to cancer, cause hormone synthesis to go awry. Saturated fats? Probably not.

Next stop on our tour is a short list of various organs and other body systems which possess an intrinsic and critical need for saturated fat.

The Brain

60% of the brain is composed of fat. And phospholipids – 50% saturated fat – are an important component of brain cell membranes. Without saturated fat being supplied to the brain by diet, brain chemistry may be compromised.

Cells

Saturated fats maintain cellular integrity everywhere in the body. Every cell membrane is ideally composed of 50% saturated fat. When polyunsaturated fat fills in on the job, the cells actually become somewhat “floppy” and cannot work properly.

Bones

Saturated fat is necessary for calcium to be incorporated into the structure of the bones. Osteoporosis, anyone?

Liver

Saturated fat protects the liver from certain toxins, such as those in acetaminophen.

Heart

Saturated fats are the heart’s preferred food, especially in times of stress.

Saturated fatty acids lower the blood substance Lp(a), a proven marker for heart disease.

Saturated fats lower C-Reactive Protein, an indicator of inflammation, which may cause many cases of heart disease.

Lungs

The lungs require a surfactant in order to work, and the fatty acids in that surfactant are 100% saturated fatty acids. When trans fats and polyunsaturated fats fill those slots, the lungs suffer.

Hormones

Hormones are the messengers connecting the brain, nervous system, and glands into a synchronous whole. Some critical hormones cannot be synthesized in the body without the vitamin A provided by fatty animal foods such as liver and shellfish. The wrong kinds of fats substituted into the equation lead to problems with glucose balance, mineral metabolism, and reproduction.

Again, there’s more, but I’ll move on to the next myth-busting tidbits.

Myth: Plants provide enough vitamin A.

Fact: Many vegetables and fruits contain carotenes, building blocks for vitamin A. Our bodies can convert these carotenes into vitamin A via a complex operation in the small intestine, but usually not enough vitamin A. And some bodies cannot do it at all, lacking the necessary enzymes: diabetics, thyroid patients, sufferers from certain digestive disorders, and babies and children.

Myth: Sunlight provides enough vitamin D.

Fact: Our bodies make vitamin D only in the presence of UV-B light. In temperate regions, this happens only when the sun is directly overhead. And exposing merely face and lower arms is not sufficient. How many of us can sunbathe for 30 minutes at noon every day wearing swim trunks or a bikini? That’s what it would take – in the summer. In winter, with the sun lower in the sky, we’re out of luck.

The bottom line: Not only are saturated fats healthy, they are necessary!

Enter the oil of the coconut, the nut of the coconut palm.

Fallon calls it the queen of saturated fats, because of its special properties, and it really is a marvelous substance. It’s almost tailor-made for losing weight, since metabolizing the lauric acid within coconut oil (coconut oil is 50% lauric acid) actually uses more energy than it provides.

Three key benefits of coconut oil:

• The fats in coconut oil are not stored in the body as fat. They are quickly converted to energy.

(I can personally attest to the subjective experience of this. For most of my life I suffered from physical fatigue and lethargy, worsening as I got older. Once I started eating coconut oil (and reduced my carb intake), that changed. The feeling of having a physical reserve I can draw upon is wonderful.)

• People living in countries where the coconut is an important part of their diet have lower rates of heart disease and cancer.

• The fats in coconut oil kill viruses and pathogenic bacteria by stripping their protective outer layer. (You’ll get sick less often, when you eat coconut oil frequently!)

Next comes a run through nutrient-dense foods such as pasture-fed eggs, butter and cream from pastured cows, liver (the sacred food of many cultures), raw cheeses, lacto-fermented beverages, bone broths, and Celtic sea salt. And then we’re on to the food plans and recipes, some simple like fried eggs, some more sophisticated like chicken with coconut peanut sauce, but all good, all good for you, and all helpful for those of us watching our weight!

This book, together with Nourishing Traditions, In Fitness and in Health, and Good Calories, Bad Calories, completed the process of turning my nutritional know-how upside down. I’m still adjusting my cooking habits, still learning how best to feed this unique body of mine, but my health is better, my weight is down, and I’m optimistic about my future.

I’ve blogged about each of these amazing reads over the past year. If you missed those posts, you can find them at the links below.

In Fitness and in Health

Nourishing Traditions

Good Calories, Bad Calories

Good health and good eating to you all! And if you want your very own copy of Eat Fat, Lose Fat, here are some links for that.

Eat Fat, Lose Fat at Amazon

Eat Fat, Lose Fat at B&N

For more on books important to continuing nutritional education, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Test first, then conclude!
Yogurt and Kefir and Koumiss, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

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Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic

If you’ve never read any Bujold, A Civil Campaign is a great book to start with. Ditto Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. The other two volumes in this list might hold up well under stand-alone reading, but they’re best following books one and two in their respective series.

Gregor and Laisa dance on their wedding dayEkaterin Vorsoisson has declared matrimony a no-go zone. Once was enough: the entire population of women in Vorbarr Sultana can have her share of eligible bachelors, thank you very much. But Miles Vorkosigan, count’s heir to his home district, hopes to persuade her otherwise.

Ivan, Miles’ cousin, decides settling your affections on a woman before you’ve even begun the courtship courts anything but a happy-ever-after. Time to dig up some rivals. Never mind that Miles plans to woo under camouflage, lest Ekaterin bounce him back before he starts. Some competition will do him good.

That’s where this “comedy of biology and manners” starts, but political cloak-and-dagger work, incompatible planetary sexual mores, an old Cetagandan scandal, and a bio-genetics experiment escaping the basement lab spin cunning strategies into a whirl of humorous confusion and conflict. With friends like this, who needs enemies? But Miles has those as well!

A Civil Campaign at Amazon
A Civil Campaign on Kindle

A Civil Campaign at B&N
A Civil Campaign on the Nook

 

Bren and Jago ride mechietiHuge differences create insurmountable barriers between alien societies, but resourceful individuals sometimes mediate the innate prejudices successfully. Bren Cameron, the paidhi from Mospheira, is one such individual. He stands between the human interlopers on the world of the atevi and the Western Association, the only governing body amongst the natives powerful enough to rule its diverse factions.

The Western Association under Tabini aiji engages in a breakneck space race, and Bren must supervise the program, translating the complex engineering diagrams needed to build a shuttle. The schedule is tight, the stress heavy, but as long as nobody starts shooting again, that counts as peaceful.

Troublemaker and patsy for a bigoted political group – Deanna Hanks – has been bundled back to the island of the human enclave. Jase Graham, intrepid rep for newly returned human spacefarers and potential friend, managed to drop safely to earth on an ancient petal-sail. Life is good.

Until illicit radio messages from across the strait impel the atevi elite to maneuver for advantage, and an unspoken dissatisfaction turns Jase morose and hostile. Bren declares a real vacation a necessity and turns to his ally Ilisidi, aiji dowager, for help. Ilisidi suggests Saduri, a fortress from medieval times for their destination. But Ilisidi possesses a hidden agenda for the trip, as does Jase Graham. Can Bren keep the precarious peace between species while his cohorts pursue competing goals?

Inheritor at Amazon

Inheritor at B&N

 

Heris Serano on horsebackSpace opera at its best, Winning Colors mixes interstellar mafia with a horse-mad 90-year-old, a cashiered ex-navy captain, and an assortment of spoiled young aristocrats to deliver up marvelous mayhem sprinkled with insightful exploration of the human spirit. Third in the Familias Regnant series with Heris Serano and Lady Cecelia.

Winning Colors at Amazon

Winning Colors at B&N

 
 
 
 
 
 

photo of pink roses against a blue skyRobin McKinley wrote Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, as her debut novel and never dreamed she’d return to the story twenty years later. Uprooting herself to marry English writer Peter Dickinson, she waited to sell her lilac-covered cottage in Maine. Later, parting from her old home, severing one more tie to the land of her birth, proved surprisingly fraught. And her favorite fairy tale roared through her storyteller’s heart once more: Rose Daughter poured onto the page. Compelling and richly imagined, her new rendition of Beauty and the Beast conveys fresh perspective and insightful wisdom.

 

Rose Daughter at Amazon

Rose Daughter at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

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Test first, then conclude!

For over a century, from the 1860’s to the 1960’s, common wisdom said that eating too much bread and too much dessert would make you fat.

What caused us to change our minds?

Is it really true that pasta and cereal are the health foods we currently believe them to be?

Consider that in 1960, 12% to 14% of the United States population was obese. Today, that figure’s over 30%. Yet we eat less dietary fat than ever. Fifty years ago, 45% of American calories came from fat; now, less than 35%.

photo of butter pat on toastGary Taubes chronicles in Good Calories, Bad Calories how this sea change came about and how very little of it stemmed from solid research.

The story starts with Ancel Keys, who ran the Laboratory of Physiological Hygiene at the University of Minnesota. According to Keys, his lab would “find out why people got sick before they got sick.”

It was a praiseworthy intention, but what is it the adage says about the road to a very hot place? It’s paved with praiseworthy intentions. And Keys’ abilities as a scientist were questionable: he was wrong more often than he was right. Despite that, he possessed great strength of will and a desire to make things happen, no matter how unpleasant he had to be to do it.

And do it, he did.

Keys’ epiphany occurred in 1951 in Rome. A colleague from Naples stated that heart disease in Naples was not a problem. There was little of it. Keys visited the city to investigate this alluring circumstance and concluded that the general population was indeed free of heart disease, but not the rich. While dining with wealthy acquaintances, he noted that their table featured hearty meat sauces, parmesan cheese, and roast beef. In contrast, the tables of the Neapolitan workers were spare, lacking the meat that was so expensive in the post-war years.

Keys’ conclusion: fat in the diet causes heart disease.

Keys pushed this doctrine relentlessly. He was in a good position to do it, endowed with plenty of prestige and clout. His scorn for research results that challenged his could do real damage to a colleague’s career. When his own research results challenged his belief, he cited “conflating” factors that had yielded the unexpected result.

Keys made a fatal error. Good science starts with a hypothesis, with a question. Is it possible that this is true? Next comes carefully designed research to test that question. And, usually, after that, new questions related to the original, along with yet more research. Really complex questions – like those of diet and metabolism – can take decades and the work of a generation of scientists to understand. Only then may a conclusion with a fair degree of accuracy be reached.

Keys started with his conclusion!

That’s a recipe for bad science, but Keys followed it with passion and dragged all of us along with him.

What Keys missed on those wealthy Neapolitan tables: the ice cream and the pastries. Just as expensive as meat in post-war Italy was sugar, and the working class didn’t have it.

There were resisters to the dietary-fat-equals-heart-disease creed. And there was a significant body of evidence against it.

Some of the most compelling evidence came from the doctors working in missionary hospitals in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. These men treated native populations for decades and were poised to observe what happened when the foods of civilization arrived and spread. The process was remarkable wherever it transpired.

Albert Schweitzer arrived in West Africa in 1913. The conditions he treated initially were overwhelmingly those of communicable diseases and infections: malaria, sleeping sickness, leprosy, tropical dysentery. There were no cases of cancer. But as the forty-one years he spent there rolled by, cancer victims began to appear and grew ever more numerous.

Inuit by Jerry Hollens used under Creative Commons license, FlickrSamuel Hutton in the arctic in 1902 had a similar experience. He treated Inuit patients, and they fell into two categories. Those eating the traditional Inuit diet of primarily meat and fish, had no appendicitis, no asthma, and, most strikingly, no cancer. Those who had adopted the European “settlers’ diet” – tea, bread, ship’s biscuit, molasses, and salt fish or pork – suffered all the European maladies and more, being more prone to scurvy and fatigue, lacking robustness, and birthing children who were “puny and feeble.”

Many other physicians of the colonial era in other spots of the globe witnessed this same transition. An isolated native population displayed amazing health and vigor. Then the foods of civilization arrived, inevitably including carbohydrates which could be transported around the world without spoiling during the journey or being eaten by rodents: sugar, molasses, white flour, and white rice. As the new foods were incorporated into the native diet, the “Western diseases” would appear: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, dental cavities, appendicitis, ulcers, gallstones, and more.

Taubes carries his readers through this more distant history and then up through the research of the last half century on heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. He intersperses the dry science with more entertaining anecdotal nuggets.

One such gem is the diet of the sumo wrestlers of Japan in 1976. The wrestlers comprised two groups: the elite and a less accomplished lower echelon. The elites ate 5,500 calories a day of chanko nabe, a pork stew. The stew was both very high-carb (57% of the calories) and very low-fat (16% of the calories), yet the young men weighed over 300 pounds. Wrestlers in the lower echelon consumed 400 fewer calories, but their diet was even higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat: 80% and 9%, respectively. They weighed the same as their elite colleagues, but were significantly less muscular and more fatty. Could it be the carbs that made the necessary over-consumption possible?

From research on disease, Taubes passes on to research into “unusual” diets, where the tenacity with which the researchers cling to certain myths causes them supreme frustration. Why did subjects eating 800-calorie diets of fat and protein feel satiated, but then grow ravenous when 400 calories (of carbohydrates) were added to their daily rations? Why did obese patients eating 2,800-calorie low-carb diets of fat and protein lose weight, while those eating 1,200-calorie low-fat diets not lose weight?

“It is better to know nothing . . . than to keep in mind fixed ideas based on theories whose confirmation we . . . seek, neglecting meanwhile everything that fails to agree with them,” wrote Claude Bernard in An Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine. Indeed!

Maybe “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie” isn’t true after all!

The answer lies in metabolism. Turns out that cardiology researchers weren’t talking with diabetes researchers who weren’t talking with obesity researchers who weren’t talking with endocrinology researchers. But the endocrinologists knew some critical facts for all of the above.

The hormone insulin is a top player in regulating metabolism. When insulin is released into the bloodstream, it signals that glucose is available, and the body then uses glucose for fuel. With glucose to burn, it does not withdraw fatty acids from fat cells for use as fuel. Only when insulin is low (signaling that glucose is in short supply) are fatty acids pulled out from fat cells and burned as fuel.

In addition, when insulin is present (signaling that glucose is present), the body packs any extra calories away as fat. As people age, the sensitivity of fat cells to insulin grows. It takes ever less insulin to trigger the fat cells to fill with more fat. Part of this fat-packing process is the creation of triglycerides (a proven risk factor in heart disease). Cardiologists, are you paying attention?

Worse, fat cells stay sensitive to insulin long after muscle cells become resistant to it. This means that when the muscle cells stop taking in glucose, the fat cells take in even more (glucose transformed into triglycerides). Obesity specialists, are you here?

When the muscle cells become resistant to insulin, the pancreas puts out more of it. Eventually, under this tide of extra insulin, the fat cells become insulin resistant as well. Diabetes specialists, are you listening?

By the mid-1960’s, these facts were well established:
1) carbohydrates prompt insulin secretion,
2) insulin induces fat accumulation,
3) dietary carbohydrates are required for excess fat accumulation, and
4) Type 2 diabetics and the obese have abnormally high levels of circulating insulin and a greatly exaggerated insulin response to carbohydrates in the diet.

Unfortunately, insulin resistance is measured on a whole-body level. And carbs temporarily make fat cells (but not muscle cells) more sensitive to insulin. So high-carb diets seem to temporarily relieve diabetes. Thus they are recommended for diabetics. But over the long term, the high carb diet increases the insulin resistance of even the fat cells, and the diabetes worsens. Plus the temporary illusion of diabetic improvement comes at the cost of greater obesity.

And then along came Ancel Keys and the McGovern Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. The men who insisted that carbohydrate restriction was merely calorie restriction in disguise (and rarely, if ever, treated obese patients) won the political battle. The doctors who actually treated obesity and found carbohydrate restriction to be the only effective tool lost.

photo of blue, green, red, yellow, and orange m&m'sAs funding for research projects, laboratories, and entire academic centers shifted to the food and pharmaceutical industries, good unbiased research grew harder to pursue. How can researchers consulting for the makers of Coke®, M&M®’s, and Kraft crackers possibly look honestly into the effects of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup and white flour? It is “scientists” such as these who routinely declare low-carb diets to be mere fads.

Taubes states near the end of Good Calories, Bad Calories that when he began work on the book, he had no idea that it would change everything he believed about nutrition and health. He believed the modern conventional wisdom along with the rest of us. Then he set out on his trail of investigation, trying simply to follow the facts, and learned that there were precious few supporting said wisdom.

He concludes that the “exchange of critical judgment” necessary to science is nowhere to be found in today’s “study of nutrition, chronic disease, and obesity, and hasn’t been for decades.” Today’s researchers in these fields may call themselves scientists, but they are not. They borrow the authority and the terms of science when they communicate to the public, but the beliefs they communicate merely masquerade as such. Their entire enterprise functions as a cult.

Taubes’ hope is that his book will start public discussion about the nature of a healthy diet that includes questions about the quantity and quality of the carbohydrates it contains. And with questions might come a call for honest research.

Taubes’ investigations turned his own ideas on nutrition upside down. As I read his account, my ideas flipped upside down. I urge you to read Good Calories, Bad Calories yourself and see if it turns your paradigm topsy turvy!

If what Taubes reports is true (and I think it may be), there’s a vast array of better choices open to us all!

Good Calories, Bad Calories on Amazon

Good Calories, Bad Calories on B&N

For more posts on my continuing nutritional education, see:
Thinner and Healthier
Yogurt & Kefir & Koumis, Oh My!
Butter and Cream and Coconut, Oh My!
Why Seed Oils Are Dangerous

 

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