Monday, November 30, 2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Another Simple Food Weight Loss Experience

Whole Health Source reader Sarah Pugh recently went on a six-week simple food (low reward) diet to test its effectiveness as a weight loss strategy, and she was kind enough to describe her experience for me, and provide a link to her blog where she discussed it in more detail (1). 

Consistent with the scientific literature and a number of previous reader anecdotes (2), Sarah experienced a reduction in appetite on the simple food diet, losing 15 pounds in 6 weeks without hunger.  In contrast to her prior experiences with typical calorie restriction, her energy level and mood remained high over this period.  Here's a quote from her blog:
Well, it looks like the theory that in the absence of nice palatable food, the body will turn quite readily to fat stores and start munching them up, is holding up. At the moment, the majority of the energy I use is coming from my insides, and my body is using it without such quibbles as the increased hunger, low energy, crappy thermo-regulation or bitchiness normally associated with severe calorie restriction.
I can't promise that everyone will experience results like this, but this is basically what the food reward hypothesis suggests should be possible, and it seems to work this way for many people.  That's one of the reasons why this idea interests me so much.

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Food Reward Friday

This week's lucky "winner"... Oreo cookies!!!


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Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Brief Response to Taubes's Food Reward Critique, and a Little Something Extra

It appears Gary Taubes has completed his series critiquing the food reward hypothesis of obesity (1).  I have to hand it to him, it takes some cojones to critique an entire field of research, particularly when you have no scientific background in it, and have evidently not read any of the scientific literature on it.  As of 2015, a Google Scholar search for the terms “food reward” and “obesity” turned up 2,790 papers.

The food reward hypothesis of obesity states that the reward and palatability value of food influence body fatness, and excess reward/palatability can promote body fat accumulation.  If we want to test the hypothesis, the most direct way is to find experiments in which 1) the nutritional qualities of the experimental diet groups are kept the same or at least very similar, 2) some aspect of diet reward/palatability differs, and 3) changes in body fat/weight are measured (for example, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).  In these experiments the hypothesis has both arms and one leg tied behind its back, because the most potent reward factors (energy density, sugar, fat) have nutritional value and therefore experiments that modify these cannot be tightly controlled for nutritional differences.  Yet even with this severe disadvantage, the hypothesis is consistently supported by the scientific evidence.  Taubes repeatedly stated in his series that controlled studies like these have not been conducted, apparently basing this belief on a 22-year-old review paper by Dr. Israel Ramirez and colleagues that does not contain the word 'reward' (10).

Another way to test the hypothesis is to see if people with higher food reward sensitivity (due to genetics or other factors) tend to gain more fat over time (for example, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16).  In addition, studies that have examined the effect of palatability/reward on food intake in a controlled manner are relevant (17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22), as are studies that have identified some of the mechanisms by which these effects occur (reviewed in 23).  Even if not all of the studies are perfect, at some point, one has to acknowledge that there are a lot of mutually buttressing lines of evidence here.  It is notable that virtually none of these studies appeared in Taubes's posts, and he appeared unaware of them. 
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Monday, November 23, 2015

Beans, Lentils, and the Paleo Diet

As we continue to explore the foods our ancestors relied on during our evolutionary history, and what foods work best for us today, we come to legumes such as beans and lentils.  These are controversial foods within the Paleolithic diet community, while the broader nutrition community tends to view legumes as healthy.

Beans and lentils have a lot going for them.  They're one of the few foods that are simultaneously rich in protein and fiber, making them highly satiating and potentially good for the critters in our colon.  They're also relatively nutritious, delivering a hefty dose of vitamins and minerals.  The minerals are partially bound by the anti-nutrient phytic acid, but simply soaking and cooking beans and lentils typically degrades 30-70 percent of it, making the minerals more available for absorption (Food Phytates. Reddy and Sathe. 2002).  Omitting the soaking step greatly reduces the degradation of phytic acid (Food Phytates. Reddy and Sathe. 2002).

The only tangible downside to beans I can think of, from a nutritional standpoint, is that some people have a hard time with the large quantity of fermentable fiber they provide, particularly people who are sensitive to FODMAPs.  Thorough soaking prior to cooking can increase the digestibility of the "musical fruit" by activating the sprouting program and leaching out tannins and indigestible saccharides.  I soak all beans and lentils for 12-24 hours.

The canonical Paleolithic diet approach excludes legumes because they were supposedly not part of our ancestral dietary pattern.  I'm going to argue here that there is good evidence of widespread legume consumption by hunter-gatherers and archaic humans, and that beans and lentils are therefore an "ancestral" food that falls within the Paleo diet rubric.  Many species of edible legumes are common around the globe, including in Africa, and the high calorie and protein content of legume seeds would have made them prime targets for exploitation by ancestral humans after the development of cooking.  Below, I've compiled a few examples of legume consumption by hunter-gatherers and extinct archaic humans.  I didn't have to look very hard to find these, and there are probably many other examples available.  If you know of any, please share them in the comments.

To be clear, I would eat beans and lentils even if they weren't part of ancestral hunter-gatherer diets, because they're inexpensive, nutritious, I like the taste, and they were safely consumed by many traditional agricultural populations probably including my own ancestors.

Extensive "bean" consumption by the !Kung San of the Kalahari desert

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Food Reward Friday

This week's winner: poutine!


While not as appetizing looking as the Monster Thickburger, poutine is probably more popular.  For those who aren't familiar, poutine is a large plate of French fries, topped with gravy and cheese curds.  It originated in Quebec, but has become popular throughout Canada and in the Northern US.

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Two Recent Papers by Matt Metzgar

This is just a quick post to highlight two recent papers by the economist and fellow health writer Matt Metzgar.

The first paper is titled "The Feasibility of a Paleolithic Diet for Low-income Consumers", and is co-authored by Dr. Todd C. Rideout, Maelan Fontes-Villalba, and Dr. Remko S. Kuipers (1).  They found that a Paleolithic-type diet that meets all micronutrient requirements except calcium (which probably has an unnecessarily high RDA) costs slightly more money than a non-Paleolithic diet that fulfills the same requirements, but both are possible on a tight budget. 

The second paper is titled "Externalities From Grain Consumption: a Survey", with Matt Metzgar as the sole author (2).  He reviews certain positive and negative externalities due to the effects of grain consumption on health.  The take-home message is that refined grains are unhealthy and therefore costly to society, whole grains are better, but grains in general have certain healthcare-related economic costs that are difficult to deny, such as celiac disease.

There are a lot of ideas floating around on the blogosphere, some good and others questionable.  Composing a manuscript and submitting it to a reputable scientific journal is a good way to demonstrate that your idea holds water, and it's also a good way to communicate it to the scientific community.  The peer review process isn't perfect but it does encourage scientific rigor.  I think Metzgar is a good example of someone who has successfully put his ideas through this process.  Pedro Bastos, who also spoke at the Ancestral Health Symposium, is another example (3).

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Recent and Upcoming Appearances

Smarter Science of Slim

Jonathan Bailor recently released an interview we did a few months ago on the neurobiology of body fat regulation, and the implications for fat loss.  It's a good overview of the regulation of food intake and body fatness by the brain.  You can listen to it here.

Super Human Radio

Carl Lanore interviewed me about my lab's work on hypothalamic inflammation and obesity.  I'm currently wrapping up a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr. Michael Schwartz at the University of Washington, and the interview touches on our recent review paper "Hypothalamic Inflammation: Marker or Mechanism of Obesity Pathogenesis?"  Dan Pardi and I are frequent guests on Carl's show and I'm always impressed by how well Carl prepares prior to the interview.  You can listen to the interview here.

The Reality Check podcast

Pat Roach of the Reality Check podcast interviewed me about the scientific validity of the "carbohydrate-insulin hypothesis" of obesity.  The Reality Check podcast "explores a wide range of controversies and curiosities using science and critical thinking", and a dash of humor.  This one should be very informative for people who aren't sure what to believe and want a deeper perspective on the science of insulin and body weight regulation.  You can listen to it here.

Obesity Society conference

Next Thursday 11/9, I'll be speaking at the 2015 Obesity Society conference in Atlanta.  My talk is titled "The Glial Response to Obesity is Reversible", and it will be about my work on the reversibility of obesity-associated hypothalamic neuropathology in mice.  My talk will be part of the session "Neuronal Control of Satiety" between 3:00 and 4:30, specific time pending.  See you there!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

An Encouraging Trend

I was in the Seattle/Tacoma airport today, and I noticed quite a few people taking the stairs even though they're flanked by escalators.  It's been my impression lately that more people are using stairs than even five years ago.  I used to be the only weirdo on the stairs, but today I shared them with about ten other people.  I know Seattle isn't necessarily representative of the nation as a whole, but I (optimistically) think of it as the vanguard in this respect.

One of the healthiest things a person can do is build exercise into daily life.  You don't have to be Usain Bolt or Lance Armstrong to reap the benefits of exercise.  In fact, evidence is accumulating that moderate exercise is healthier than extreme exercise.  Taking the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator, walking or jogging even a modest amount, or standing for part of the day, can have an immediate, measurable impact on metabolic health (1).

Maybe it's macho, but I'll feel defeated the day I need a giant energy-guzzling machine to take me up a 15 foot incline.  I have legs, and I intend to use them.  Escalators are good for people who are disabled or have very heavy bags, but the rest of us have an opportunity to use our bodies in a natural and healthy way.  Part of the problem is how buildings are designed.  Humans tend to take the path of least resistance, and if the first thing we come across is an elevator, and the stairs are grimy and tucked away down some side hallway, we'll tend to take the elevator.  Architects in some places are building in more prominent stairways to encourage gentle exercise throughout the day.

Buckwheat Crepes Revisited

One of my most popular posts of all time was a recipe I published in 2010 for sourdough buckwheat crepes (1).  I developed this recipe to provide an easy, nutritious, and gluten-free alternative to flour-based crepes.  It requires no equipment besides a blender.  It's totally different from the traditional buckwheat crepes that are eaten in Brittany, in part because it's not really a crepe (I don't know what else to call it, maybe a savory pancake?).  I find these very satisfying, and they're incredibly easy to make.  They're especially delicious with fresh goat cheese, or scrambled eggs with vegetables, but they go with almost anything.  Chris Kresser also developed his own version of the recipe, which is fluffier than mine, and more like a traditional pancake (2).

Buckwheat is an exceptionally nutritious pseudograin that's rich in complete protein and minerals.  In contrast to most whole grains, which have low mineral availability due to phytic acid, buckwheat contains a high level of the phytic acid-degrading enzyme phytase.  This makes buckwheat an excellent source of easily absorbed minerals, as long as you prepare it correctly!  Phytase enzyme works best in an acidic environment, which may be part of the reason why so many cultures use sour fermentation to prepare grain foods.  My original recipe included a sour fermentation step.

But there's a problem here.  Buckwheat doesn't ferment very well.  Whether it's because it doesn't contain the right carbohydrates, or the right bacteria, I don't know, but it spoils rapidly if you ferment it more than a little bit (using a strong sourdough starter helps though).  Others have told me the same.  So here's my confession: I stopped fermenting my buckwheat batter about a year ago.  And it tastes better.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Does High Circulating Insulin Drive Body Fat Accumulation? Answers from Genetically Modified Mice

The house mouse Mus musculus is an incredible research tool in the biomedical sciences, due to its ease of care and its ability to be genetically manipulated.  Although mice aren't humans, they resemble us closely in many ways, including how insulin signaling works.  Genetic manipulation of mice allows researchers to identify biological mechanisms and cause-effect relationships in a very precise manner.  One way of doing this is to create "knockout" mice that lack a specific gene, in an attempt to determine that gene's importance in a particular process.  Another way is to create transgenic mice that express a gene of interest, often modified in some way.  A third method is to use an extraordinary (but now common) tool called "Cre-lox" recombination (1), which allows us to delete or add a single gene in a specific tissue or cell type. 

Studying the relationship between obesity and insulin resistance is challenging, because the two typically travel together, confounding efforts to determine which is the cause and which is the effect of the other (or neither).  Some have proposed the hypothesis that high levels of circulating insulin promote body fat accumulation*.  To truly address this question, we need to consider targeted experiments that increase circulating insulin over long periods of time without altering a number of other factors throughout the body.  This is where mice come in.  Scientists are able to perform precise genetic interventions in mice that increase circulating insulin over a long period of time.  These mice should gain fat mass if the hypothesis is correct. 

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Monday, November 2, 2015

Food Reward Friday

This week's lucky winner... the Hardee's MONSTER THICKBURGER!



Two 1/3 lb beef patties, four strips of bacon, three slices of American "cheese", mayo and bun.  This bad boy boasts 1,300 calories, 830 from fat, 188 from carbohydrate and 228 from protein.  Charred and fried processed meat, fake cheese, refined soybean oil mayo, and a white flour bun. You might as well just inject it directly into your carotid artery.  Add a large fries and a medium coke, and you're at 2,110 calories.  Who's hungry?  Actually I am.  

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