All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Found Bread


I find my bread in unlikely places.

Especially now, half-way through my year long experiment of not eating bread.

I have this theory that when the Israelites were wandering through the desert for 40 years following the exodus from Egypt, they were living on a curious mushroom.  Using the record of Exodus 16, consider the properties of Manna: the Israelites were to harvest it in the morning when they arose, and to only pick as much as they could use that day.  If they tried to save some for the next day, it would turn into an inedible worm-ridden purulent gunk.  They were only to harvest it six days in a row; the sabbath was to be a day of rest, so on the sixth day only, they were allowed to harvest and prepare enough for two days.  This was the only time maggots would not attack the manna if they gathered too much.  We are asked to believe that the inexplicable food, sent by God daily, sustained the tribe  for 40 years as they wandered about the desert looking for their promised land.  Oh, I guess they ate quail, too.

The mushroom theory of manna first came to me when I found my first giant puffball in the woods, years ago.  This had to be something like manna, I thought.  Its growth is miraculous, inexplicable and awe-inspiring.  How could a ball of food, bigger than a volleyball, grow overnight, so rapidly without the intervention of something as mysterious as God?  Surely it didn't just grow here; we know how slowly plants are supposed to grow -- first you plant the seed then you water it, nourish it, protect it.  Here, no seed is visible: in no time at all, you have this enormous edible bloom.  Perhaps it fell from heaven.

It is not a stretch to come up with such a mushroom theory.  A puffball even looks like a loaf of bread, sitting on the floor of the forest.  Not just any bread.  It looks like untoasted wonderbread.  Only bigger.  Puffier.

Of course, the manna that the Israelites found was probably closer in shape and form to their own unleavened cakes.  From the account in the book of Exodus, I get the impression that manna covered the ground, more like a mycelium layer, which the Israelites could scrape together:

"In the morning a layer of dew was around the camp.  And the layer of dew went up, and behold, something small was on the face of the wilderness, scale-like, small like the hoar-frost on the earth.  And the sons of Israel looked.  And they said, each one to his brother, "Is that a whatness?"  for they did not know what it was.  And Moses said to them, "This is the bread which Jehovah has given to you for food." (Ex 16:13-15)

"And the house of Israel called its name, Manna (literally, 'whatness').  And it was like the seed of coriander, white; and its taste like cakes with honey."(Ex 16:31)

I dusted off this old theory the other day when I went to the woods hoping to find a puffball.  Conditions were right: these were warm autumn days in early October, nice and humid, after some substantial rains, with cool nights.

It sure slices like bread

Some dried slices

More slices need to be dried

Indeed, far off the trail, I found a spot where 8 giant puffballs were growing in an area about 20 yards wide.  This was bounty indeed.

But like the Israelites in the desert, if I was to take more than I could immediately use, what would I do with it all?  Although I love eating this mushroom, my wife can't stand it.  And I could only eat maybe a quarter of one of these bad boys with a meal, by myself, no more.  While I can refrigerate some, no one really wants to eat massive amounts of puffball every day for four days per puffball.  Even the Israelites tired of manna.

And how do you carry 8 puffballs, each the size of basketballs or medicine balls, through the woods for a couple of kilometres?  With no bag?  Reluctantly I had to leave some of them behind.  But I took off my t-shirt, turned it upside down, and morphed it into a sack with 3 holes in it (head and arms).  Those holes were a lot smaller than the puffballs, so the mushrooms wouldn't fall out.  In this way, I was able to bring 4 of the giant mushrooms out of the woods with me.  Thank goodness it was still humid.  It was a beautiful day to walk around shirtless.

But I still had to deal with the awful bounty of four giant puffballs in my shirt when I got home.

Tshirt 'bag' with the last puffball: bigger than my head

Deal with it
As predicted, I ate about a quarter of one of the puffballs for dinner, sautéing them with nothing but a tiny bit of water.  In the past I would have heated some butter or some oil in the pan.  But the no-added-fat vegan chefs are right: frying up mushrooms and veggies doesn't need anything, really, other than perhaps a tablespoon or two of water to get it started.  Just a bit of heat in a deep frying pan, and these moist mushies will boil away to a serving size, releasing most of their moisture to stew in their own juices.  

I have had good luck with roasting puffballs in the oven, in the past, with a batter made of corn, too.  But this time, I thought I'd try drying them -- I've done that before too, with success.  I cut the puffball "loaves" into thick slices and started dehydrating them.  

My wife rebelled.  The dehydrator generally sits in the basement, in the room next to her studio.  The smell of the puffballs was pretty intense, and she made me move the operation to the garage.  Even there, she gasped and made gagging noises and complained about rotting corpse smells every time she opened the door.  

It wasn't that bad.  She can be histrionic and exaggerate things sometimes.  Still, you might want to be a bit careful around puffballs.  I did a quick search of PubMed, and found several articles about how certain varieties of puffballs (not the easily identified and ubiquitous giant puffball) have been known to cause pneumonia-like symptoms in dogs.  These are mostly animals that snuff up a great snootfull of spores when they tromp through some old puffballs in the woods.  The rest of us probably know enough to stay out of clouds of old puffballs.  On the other hand, quick drying them in the dehydrator was making the garage smell rather mushroomy.  My wife insisted on opening a window in there.

Mushroom slice with tomato marmelade

Mushroom faux pizza with hummus, cukes and tomato

What I ended up with, when I was all done, was several baskets full of dried mushroom slices.  Each one is about the size of a thin rounded pizza slice, or a slice of bread.  The consistency is sort of like bendy styrofoam.  Or very thin rice cakes.  And the taste is mushroomy.

I can eat these like bread, with a bit of hummus, or miso, or kimchi, or jam, or nut butters.  I can also spread tomato sauce on them and veggies and pretend it is pizza.  I can also rehydrate them in soups and sauces as needed.

That was how I dealt with the bounty of this year's puffball crop.  

No doubt Moses wouldn't like it.  To him, it only shows I don't trust God to give me a puffball every day (and two on Friday) for the rest of my life.  Well, seeing is believing.  If God gave me more of these, every day, I wouldn't have to exploit this many when they so rarely occur.

I'll bet there are more puffballs out there, ripe for the picking.  The four I left behind might be too old to use by now, but the days are still warm, and more must be growing, if one gets off the trail and knows where to look.  Now when I go, I take my camera, just in case I see the miracle of 8 of them in one place.

I love found food.  God's bread.  Forest manna.

Here is the mystery of everything, reenacted.  

Notes to Myself

  • To update my year-long fast from (wheat) bread: This experiment continues with success, and I'm halfway through the year.

    However, I miss the ease of bread.  And I find I am more obsessed with eating these days than I ever was. I eat huge amounts now, of vegetables, fruit and cooked starches. I am amazed at the amount that I eat, and the frequency, and that I don't seem to gain any weight. I'm like Alice, running as fast as I can so that I can stand still. In my next blog post, I hope to explore this a bit more.
    I returned to the woods a week or so later (on Canada's Thanksgiving) and the puffballs I left behind were still there.  Unfortunately, they were past their prime, the flesh was yellowed and spoiled, so I just left them behind again.  I did, however, take a couple of pictures of them.  Here are the leftover puffballs, in the woods:

  • Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reintroducing Grains

Bread Replacement: A Baked Potato that I ate with some homemade beans and salsa, and some pickled peppers


I'm still off bread.


  • In May, I began a detoxification diet to see whether or not I was truly addicted to bread.  I gave up all cooked foods, and for 30 days ate only whole raw fruits and vegetables.  The experiment ended because I lost 20 pounds and began to look dreadful.  I now believe that I lost so much weight because I could not eat enough raw food to sustain my weight.  With very little fat in my diet, my body was forced to use most of my fat reserves to sustain itself.
  • When June rolled around, I began to add some cooked starch to my diet in the form of potatoes and sweet potatoes, along with a few other cooked vegetables.  My weight stabilized, and I began to feel energetic enough to exercise again.
  • July, I reintroduced my first cooked grain -- brown whole rice. This, along with potatoes, was my staple, but I also began to eat legumes in the form of cooked beans and lentils.  Midway through July, unsatisfied with only rice, I also added oats in the form of oatmeal and a bit of ground flaxseed.
  • August saw me continuing this bread-free diet full of oatmeal, potatoes, legumes, fruits and vegetables.  I've introduced some soybeans in the form of organic miso, very sparingly.  
  • September rolls around, and my intention is to begin adding whole barley to soups.  And that is where I find myself today.


I intend to reintroduce different grains a little bit at a time.

The plan remains the same.  I began by trying to see if I could go 3 days without bread; then this expanded to 7 days, 10 days, then 2 weeks, then a month.  Now, the intention is to see if I can go 1 full year without bread.  I'm about 4 months in.

My intention at this point is to go back to bread after a year.  The whole experiment was simply to see if I was addicted to bread -- I'm still not quite sure what it might mean to be addicted to a food.  I figured I could use some time -- this year of 'down time' -- to try to determine what a food addiction might look like.  I've been reading several books on addiction, and I've been muddling my way through all the new information.  Of particular interest has been Linden, D. (2011). The Compass of Pleasure: how our brains make fatty foods, orgasm, exercise, marijuana, generosity, vodka, learning and gambling feel so good. Penguin, which goes into a lot of the impressive research that has been done on brain chemistry, and is well written and easy to read; but I found Manejwale, O. (2013). Craving: why we can't seem to get enough. Hazeldon. to contain most of the same info and to speak more to my main interest and experience.  It contains more practical info.

At this point, I don't actually believe I was (or am) addicted to bread.  My cravings for it have entirely ceased.  I've built new habits to get cooked starch into my diet, in the form of potatoes and rice and legumes.  I snack on fruit (nothing new there, but it certainly has expanded a lot since I gave up bread).

But there's the rub: we are dealing with my brain, here.  When it comes to addiction, brains can easily deceive themselves with beliefs.  An addiction to bread may be hiding in my brain, and my brain may be telling me that I don't have an addiction, just so that I will give up this elimination diet and go back to eating bread.  Manejwale describes this condition perfectly: 

"The extraordinarily naive perception of immunity is at the heart of addictive behaviours -- and of craving.  It is extremely difficult for people to accept that forces are influencing their decisions without their awareness.  And yet, with craving, that is exactly what is happening."

I only miss bread now because it was very convenient.  Wheat is ubiquitous in our western culture, and it is difficult to avoid it entirely.  Anyone with true celiac disease can tell you that it is a hardship to diligently give it up.  So in a sense, this hasn't been easy.  My wife would like us to eat pasta again, for example.  Many lovely new recipes await us, if I would only eat noodles.  Or couscous.  Or any number of things that include some wheat.  Bread.

I now believe that the cravings I felt in the early days -- the first month to two months -- were not so much cravings for bread but cravings for fat (cheese, butter, eggs, nuts -- i.e. all the things one typically puts on bread).  This craving too has fallen by the wayside as I continue with a low-fat diet.  Also, there has been a tremendous re-education process going on, as I adjust my brain habits and my body metabolism to different kinds of starches, and my kitchen time to new recipes.

This Blog

This entire blog series was originally my way of discovering what there is to know about bread baking and teaching myself about the various grains, because I knew I loved to eat bread and I wanted to learn how to make the best whole grain bread I could.  Part of this journey of discovery about bread is this detoxification experiment, now in its 4th month of a 1-year long experiment.

I still believe in bread -- unlike many of the current fads to avoid all grains (e.g. many paleo diets) or bread (e.g. wheatbelly diet), I simply do not think we as humans (on a planet trying to sustain 9 billion of us) can afford to.  Furthermore, wheat remains our best choice among grains for versatility, calories received per energy expended (food value), and it remains, of all the important grains, GMO free (despite the occasional setback, like when it was recently discovered growing in the US accidentally -- an accident that nearly cost the wheat industry billions of dollars in trade).  So I intend to go back to bread.  Unless it is proved somehow that I shouldn't.

Without the 'deadline' of writing about each loaf I make every couple of days, my writing of this blog has languished.  Instead of doing a lot of different research on grains and ingredients and methods each time I bake, I've been doing a lot more reading for pleasure.  I've been reading some fiction, along with that gentle research I mentioned above, about addiction.  It has been a departure for me to read some schlocky, enjoyable novels.

So the last few months have been on a sort of vacation from blogging.  And I miss writing.  I was probably addicted to writing.

This 'down time' has also given me lots of opportunity for reflection.  Without bread baking, who am I?  If I were not a nurse, what would I be?  What sort of life do I want to live?  How am I happiest?  These are the sorts of questions one tackles if one steps away from the usual and tries something completely different.

Who the hell am I? is the question that most often comes to mind when I realize I am remaking myself, from denying myself the most basic food staple I've always consumed, on up.  More than a few times these past few months I've felt a little lost.

A baked sweet potato, covered with salsa and legumes: my daily starch

I eat a huge amount of food now, and don't gain any weight, because my fat intake is in the single digits, if that.

Notes to Myself
  • Not sure when next I'll blog.  Perhaps I will wait until i have something to say.  That'd be a first.
  • Losing weight was never really my goal, but it happened anyway.  While I no longer am losing weight, a lot of my clothes are for a larger person, and I apparently swim in them.  I still get a lot of the same comment from various people: "are you sick?"  I probably need a new wardrobe -- all part of reinventing myself.

Monday, June 10, 2013

End of my 30 Day Raw Food Cleanse

Mustard Greens, part of my breakfast on the last day of my raw food cleanse

The End of the 30 Day Raw Food Bread Fast Experiment

I have now completed my 30 day Fast from Bread, which includes a fast from everything grain, everything from the meat and dairy industry, everything processed, everything cooked, everything with caffeine or alcohol.  In short, I have completed a 30-day raw food diet, which more or less corresponded to the month of May, 2013.

Most visible results:
I have lost about 20 pounds in this month.  Since this is on top of the 20 pounds I lost from merely fasting 2x/week for six months, I found this fascinating -- and proof, to me, of what Richard Wrangham said in "Catching Fire: how cooking made us human" i.e., those who live on a raw food diet will have a low BMI.  

Now, the amount of pounds I had lost from merely fasting two days a week had pretty much plateaued after 4 months: I had lost those initial 20 pounds, but the weight loss had stabilized.  I wasn't overweight any longer, but I wasn't losing any more weight either.  When I first began these 30 days raw, I was in the normal range for my BMI (albeit the high end); I had been eating the usual lacto-ovo vegetarian diet: I had been eating bread with cheese and butter or margarine, and drinking a dribble of milk in my tea, eating 3-4 eggs a week from my backyard hens and eating plain yogurt and kefir when it occurred to me to do so.  Since I was already a lacto-ovo vegetarian when I began this 30 day raw food diet, therefore I didn't have to give up meat.  And I drank alcohol so rarely, it was no hardship to give up booze too.  I eat nuts rarely, but I had to attend to my habits to forgo all seeds and grains.  These are things I would regularly put in my bread, and they are still in the house.

For the past 30 days I have given up all cooked food, as an experiment to get the dietary fat levels down.  In the beginning I was trying to hit the target of 80% carbs, 10% protein, and 10% fat, the targets proposed by natural hygienist Douglas Graham.  With the addition of infrequent avocados, that low percentage of fat was difficult to achieve (see for example, the caloric totals for my 10th day).  Furthermore, it is difficult to eat enough fruit to get 80% of your adequate daily calories if you aren't used to eating that volume of fruit and leafy greens.  Even after 30 days of practice, it seems unlikely that I can sustain this amount of fruit eating. And so, my weight fell because I simply wasn't getting enough calories.  I wasn't hungry, but I was getting tired of fruit, and spending a lot of time -- and money -- eating it in substantial amounts.

On top of eating green leafy vegetables as Jethro Bodine-sized salads, I was also consuming some vegetable juice daily -- usually in the form of wheat grass juice, and often some vegetable juice, mostly green, from kale or collards or chard or other green veggies.

At the end of these 30 days, my weight is now slightly below the middle number of my BMI.  If I keep this up any longer, I will be in danger of eventually becoming underweight.  I see no signs of the weight loss plateauing, like it did when I merely fasted.  Since I already look sick, to many people, I will bring this experiment to a close now.

During my 30 day experiment I chanced upon the work of Dr. John McDougall, and after a close scrutiny of his diet guidelines, I am convinced that it makes far more sense than Graham's diet does (see the last couple of blog entries, for how I researched McDougall's claims).  I think now that Graham's ideas are built upon faulty premises, and I don't trust him.  According to Richard Wrangham, we humans evolved on cooked food.  We don't do well on raw diets.  I will now be adding cooked foods -- especially starch -- to my diet.

During this 30 day experiment, I was still fasting 2x/ week too.  In fact, this is also true of the day after my 30 day goal was reached: since that turned out to be a fast day for me, this 30 day experiment is actually a 31 day experiment.

Would I do it again?  Perhaps -- with reservations.  If ever I find my weight creeping up again, I could most certainly do a raw diet of 10-30 days duration again.  Would I eat this way continuously?  I don't think so.  I have heard of people doing okay on this diet, but they have to eat very carefully and almost continuously.  I have even heard of one woman who says she gave birth to a very healthy baby and nursed her while eating nothing but raw fruits and veggies.  This is not the norm, however, it is the exception. The woman is Douglas Graham's wife, Rozalind Graham (see Patenaude's blog comments here, for example) and the child is their daughter.  Some people claim this little girl is malnourished now, based on nothing more than pictures of her; there has been an Internet controversy over this.  I'm in no position to judge.

But let's not compare my experience to anyone else's.  For me to become more active, more energetic, more fit, I will simply require more calories.  And since I'm not eating enough calories while eating only raw foods, I conclude that this would be difficult for me on a raw diet.

In short: pure and total raw food is a stress that my body doesn't need.

The Re-introduction of Solid Food
Speaking of babies: one of the tools used by anthropologists who are looking at the development of human cultures, and individual consciousness, over the lifetime of humanity has been to look at existing more or less primitive humans, those few remaining tribes who are hunter-gatherer, to see what are the norms (in terms of social structure, diet, etc.); and failing that, to examine the growth of modern human infants into the full range of adult human behaviour -- supposing that the growth of the individual in some way mimics the natural history of all human development.  

It might seem like I'm changing the subject, but bear with me.  Joe Cross (of movie "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead" fame) called his 60 day juice fast a "reboot."  It occurred to me, while on this raw diet for 30 days that I was also "rebooting" -- in the sense that I was regressing to an infantile dietary stage.  One day I ate more bananas than anything else -- because they were on sale, and getting soft, I got 2 large bags of bananas for $2, and that day and the next I ate almost nothing but bananas.  And what is the first solid food we give to babies?  Usually soft, mashed bananas.  This raw diet, I thought, is giving my digestive system an entire reboot back to my infancy.  

And in a way, I am using this detox as a bridge.  I really feel as if I am starting over.

This time, my determination is to eat a low fat vegan diet (again): some raw fruits and vegetables, but also some cooked foods, especially starches in the form of potatoes, sweet potatoes and legumes -- and yet to continue with my fast, of eating no grains.  Originally the idea was, to do this no-grain thing for one year.  I think the more realistic plan would be to continue the no-grain thing for another 30 days, and see how that goes.  I still miss bread and I miss rice.  I can't see myself giving up grains entirely forever.  That was just the plan at the outset -- to take myself off them, to prove that I am not physically or psychologically addicted to bread.

I think that I've succeeded in showing that already.  But weaning myself from cheese and other milk products has been far tougher than taking myself off bread.  It is the things that we associate and combine with bread that are fattening -- and addictive -- not so much bread itself.  At least, not the whole grain sourdough breads I have always insisted on making.  At this point, I'm confident that I'll one day make bread again -- only I'll be more conscious and cognizant of what to put on it.  It has to be low fat, or we increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and a whole host of other problems.

I wonder if I would still like bread as much if I didn't eat cheese and nut butters -- all the fatty things proscribed in the McDougall diet -- or if I would then prefer the other starches?

Other Noticeable Changes
My mother-in-law says that in the last month I look like I've aged 10 years.  My brother-in-law says I look like "the walking dead." I had a dying patient who is 96 years old recently tell me I look far older than my stated age.  Later in the night, he called me to his bedside to ask me if it would be all right if he prayed for me.  A doctor I rarely see was shocked at my appearance, and I quickly reassured him that I wasn't sick.  "Are you sure?" he asked, and I could almost read his mind, as to what he barely stopped himself from saying aloud: "I'll be the judge of that!"

So my mother-in-law calls my appearance "death on slippers" (a translation for the German phrase which means 'dead man walking.')  I think that she is right, I look dreadful.  And this may be true because the result of the 30-day diet is an inordinate amount of stress that I've subjected myself to.  Now I doubt very much that this stress is due to the diet of raw fruits and vegetables itself, but is more likely to be the result of not getting enough calories, and thus living off my stores of fat and protein.  If it is true that those fat deposits also housed a lot of toxins, then there has been extra stress in moving those toxins out of my body, too.  That certainly is one way of looking at things.  Or it could just be the fact that the body's proteins have started to break down, and my body is literally being torn down, from the inside out, or the bottom up.

Someone asked me if I felt I had more energy.  I do not, at least, not always.  I don't necessarily feel lethargic, either.  But I have just enough energy to do what I have always done, and not enough to do extra.  I feel like I want to exercise, but I know that on this diet, I will not have enough calories to follow through with it.  I spend more energy digesting than exercising.

I am scrawny now.  I have no padding on my ass, and when I sit on a hard chair, it is like sitting directly on my skeleton.  My arms and legs look like toothpicks.  I have never looked so emaciated.  But it is my face that is the most noticeably changed.  The lines there are deep, the wrinkles much more evident, even as the skin is stretched tighter over my skull bone. 

Curiously, I feel more hydrated in general, not requiring as much extra water or hot herbal tea (except on total fast days, and then the reverse is true, I have to push myself to drink more or I become somewhat constipated).  The biggest change has been in my nasal tracts, which don't make as many boogers.  Were these boogers some toxin that I was expelling from my lungs after ingestion of dairy products like cheese?  Or is it because I took the grains from my diet that I no longer have grain byproducts collecting in the nares?  I don't know, but I presume it was the dairy.

I had reported that my hips felt better, that there was no deep bone ache (an ache that I had not even been aware of, before this 30 day experiment).  This is true, or it was; but I think that after 30 days, a different pain is beginning to appear.  The tug of gravity is once again being felt and I think it is because some of my muscles are deconditioned because I haven't had enough energy to do exercise to keep the muscles toned.

I think it is wise for me to end this experiment.

What I ate on the last day of the fast
I tried to take pictures of everything I ate on the last day of my raw diet, so I could total up the calories, but my camera died half-way through, right when I was at a restaurant and had ordered a fruit cup and a salad with no croutons, no bacon bits, and no dressing ("no fun," quipped the waitress).  I wondered if I was eating more calories now, having more practice at eating more fruit.

Here's the list of what I ate:

  • Breakfast:
    • 3 bananas
    • 1 tomato
    • 1 large salad of mustard greens
    • glass of green veggie juice
      • The juice consisted of about 6 stalks of mustard greens, 5 celery stalks, 4 small carrots, 1 cucumber, 1 apple, 5 small bok toi cabbages, about 1" of ginger root, 1 full lime.  (Since the mustard greens were somewhat peppery I didn't juice all of them, and ended up eating about 3 of them in the salad, since I didn't think my wife would like too many in the juice; we shared this juice, and there was enough for us both to have a glass for breakfast, and enough to refrigerate for me to have some later in the day)
  • Midmorning:
    • red grapefruit
  • Before leaving:
    • banana
    • plum
  • Enroute Before lunch, since someone else chose the restaurant and I knew I wouldn't get much there:
    • 3 bananas
    • 10 cherries

  • Lunch (expected to be disappointing, and it was)
    • Restaurant "Fruit cup" consisting of about 3 strawberries, 1/3 banana, 1/8 honeydew melon, 1/8 cantaloup, 3 blueberries, 1/3 of a sliced kiwi (skin still on), 4 chunks of pineapple (and it cost $4.99!!?!) Served in a banana-split sized bowl, this was bigger than I thought it would be, but still far smaller than I wanted. Outrageous lack of value.
    • Restaurant "Large Salad": Iceburg lettuce based (~1/8 head), with 1/2 tomato, some red cabbage shavings,  and cucumber chunks (~1/3 cue)(and it cost $11.99!!!?!!).  They call this large?  Not enough for a side order of salad, let alone a full meal for me.
  • In the middle of our afternoon walk:
    • 2 pears
    • 2 small cups of water

  • Supper:
    • The Papaya seeds, leftover from my supper
    • large papaya
  • Evening snack:
    • red apple mango
    • small sweet mango
    • 3/4 jar of green veggie  juice
    • glass of water

      The larger of the two mangos

      Veggie Juice
Here, in table form, are the total calories and the percentages from carbs, proteins, and fats.

Quantity Food Calories, Carbs, Proteins, Fats (each) Calories, Carbs, Proteins, Fats (total)

Calories=105; Carbs=26.95;Proteins=1.29;Fats=0.393

TotalCalories=787.5; TotalCarbs=202.125;TotalProteins=2.7;TotalFats=1.725

Calories=22; Carbs=4.78;Proteins=1.08;Fats=0.25

TotalCalories=33 TotalCarbs=7.17;TotalProteins=1.62;TotalFats=0.375
(per cup, boiled)
Calories=36; Carbs=6.31;Proteins=3.58;Fats=0.66

TotalCalories=36; TotalCarbs=6.31;TotalProteins=3.58;TotalFats=0.66

Calories=95; Carbs=25.28;Proteins=0.6;Fats=0.23
TotalCalories=190; TotalCarbs=50.66;TotalProteins=1.2;TotalFats=0.46

Calories=(52x2)104; Carbs=(13.11x2)16.22;Proteins=(0.95X2)1.9;Fats=(0.17X2) 0.34

TotalCalories=104; TotalCarbs=16.22;TotalProteins=1.9;TotalFats=0.34

Calories=30; Carbs=7.54;Proteins=0.46;Fats=0.18

TotalCalories=30; TotalCarbs=7.54;TotalProteins=0.46;TotalFats=0.18
Calories=43; Carbs=10.89;Proteins=0.72;Fats=0.14

TotalCalories=43; TotalCarbs=10.89;TotalProteins=0.72;TotalFats=0.14

Calories=124; Carbs=31.01;Proteins=1.70;Fats= 0.79

TotalCalories=248; TotalCarbs=62.02;TotalProteins=3.4;TotalFats=1.58

Calories=((4+6)/2)5; Carbs=((0.92+1.38)/2)1.61;Proteins=((0.08+0.12)/2) 0.1;Fats=((0.04+0.05)/2) 0.045

TotalCalories=15; TotalCarbs=4.83;TotalProteins=0.03;TotalFats=0.135
papayaCalories=124; Carbs=31.01;Proteins=1.70;Fats= 0.79
TotalCalories=124; TotalCarbs=31.01;TotalProteins=1.70;TotalFats= 0.79
melon, honeydew
Calories=58; Carbs=15.45;Proteins=14.54;Fats=0.22TotalCalories=58; TotalCarbs=15.45;TotalProteins=14.54;TotalFats=0.22
melon, cantaloup
Calories=23; Carbs=5.63;Proteins=0.58;Fats=0.13TotalCalories=23; TotalCarbs=5.63;TotalProteins=0.58;TotalFats=0.13
16th of cup
(per cup)
Calories=83; Carbs=21.01;Proteins=1.07;Fats=0.48
TotalCalories=5.1875; TotalCarbs=1.313125;TotalProteins=0.066875;TotalFats=0.003
Calories=46; Carbs=11.14;Proteins=0.87;Fats=0.40TotalCalories=15.18; TotalCarbs=3.6762;TotalProteins=0.2871;TotalFats=0.132
16th of cup
(per cup)
Calories=78; Carbs=20.34;Proteins=0.84;Fats=0.0625
TotalCalories=4.875; TotalCarbs=1.27125;TotalProteins=0.0525;TotalFats=0.11875
(per head)
Calories=75; Carbs=16.01;Proteins=4.85;Fats=0.75
TotalCalories=9.375; TotalCarbs=2.00125;TotalProteins=0.60625;TotalFats=0.09375
Calories=34; Carbs=6.05;Proteins=1.65;Fats=0.45TotalCalories=11.22; TotalCarbs=1.9969;TotalProteins=0.5445;TotalFats=0.1485
almost none
cabbage, red
Calories=~; Carbs=~;Proteins=~;Fats=~TotalCalories=~; TotalCarbs=~;TotalProteins=~;TotalFats=~
TotalCalories=1737.3375; TotalCarbs=430.113725;TotalProteins=33.987225;TotalFats=7.231

Notes on this table:
For calories:
For carbs:
For protein:
For fats:
Most of the quantities for the restaurant salads are simply guesses, and I'm almost certain that I guessed too high.
There may be calories in the juice I drank, but I have no way to calculate that.

Using the simpler algorithm that (Protein is 4 cal/g) and (Fat is 9 cal/g) and (Carbs are Total-prot-fat), these are the Values & Percentages of carbs/protein/fats for this day's total:  
Carb 1536.3096; Prot 135.9489 ; Fat 65.079

Carb 88.4289667%  Protein 3.73037803% Fat 3.73037803%
As you can see, I have not hit the 80-10-10 target, but have overshot to about 88-4-4.  I have deliberately avoided avocado today, since last time I checked my calories, that one raw fruit made my entire day too high in fat; and of course I'm not getting enough protein to hit Graham's target.

HIgh Carbs and Blood Sugar
Something else my mother-in-law said caught my attention.  As a non-insulin-dependent diabetic, she is concerned that a high fruit diet such as I have been on these past 30 days -- so high in raw fruit and vegetables -- will cause one's blood sugar to be highly elevated.  Why?  Because for her, she cannot eat that much fruit.  It is too high in sugar.  It is natural sugar, yes; and it is tempered by the fiber of the fruit.  But is there enough fiber in fruit to keep the blood sugar within acceptable bounds?

To test this, after my complete fast on the 31st day of this raw food diet, I broke my fast at midnight, while I was working.  I tested my blood glucose several times, to see what sort of a curve my blood sugar might take.  I expected it to spike a little bit, but then to level off within the normal range (in other words, more or less the normal Glycemic Index curve).  I was surprised by what I found.

Midnite: BG 4.3  ; this was after a total fast (nothing but water and herb tea) for >24 hrs.

0015: BG 11.0 ; this was following 2 ripe bananas and 1 ripe plum; both of these fruits have a Glycemic Index (GI) around 50.  This is quite a spike.

0030: BG 6.3  ; back to normal range.  But wait.

0045: BG 8.2  ; this was the surprise.  There was a rebound, and it has gone beyond the normal levels.  Why might this be?  I wondered if it might be because there were still significant numbers of ketones in my bloodstream that must be used up first?

0100: BG 8.1  ; at the one hour mark, the glucose is still elevated.  I am not hungry, though.  There is an inhibitory effect on the appetite if the body has eaten enough fruit; but what had I been doing, all this month?  I have been ignoring that, and forcing myself to eat more fruit to get my calorie level higher (without succeeding, by the way -- I was still not eating enough calories -- obviously, because I was losing weight).

0115; BG 8.1  ; my blood sugar not stabilized to a normal level, even after more than an hour after eating the fruit,.  Thinking that the machine must be faulty (even though I had just calibrated it, prior to my experiments), I tried the next glucometer.

0120: BG 8.4.  So its not the glucometer's fault.

At  0145, I ate some cooked starch.  And thus, my raw food detox was officially over.  I ate a medium sized sweet potato that I had microwaved for 7 minutes.  I ate it with a spoon, and it was good.  Now a sweet potato has got an even higher glycemic index than a banana and a plum.  Sweet potatoes are very sweet indeed.  The GI comes in at somewhere between 77 and 94, depending on how it is cooked.  None of the methods cited in the database were from a microwave, however.

0200:  BG is now 4.3, normal range again.  Now I expected it to go up again, because I ate this starch.  I'd test one more time.  Why isn't the blood sugar spiking like it did for the fruit?

0220: BG 6.2  ; still normal!  Could it be that the fiber in this sweet potato is tempering the glycemic response?  Or is it merely that the ketones are now down to an acceptable level?

At this point, I quit testing my sugars.  But I did look up a couple of studies from the Cochrane database.   I wanted to know if high carb diets would enlarge the pancreas of dieters; or if this might lead to diabetes or pancreatic cancer.

The answer is no.  The evidence is clear that eating a fruit-based diet with some vegetables is protective against pancreatic cancers, and does not in itself cause diabetes.

That's good news, but hardly certainty.  I would advise anyone trying a raw food mostly fruit diet to be diligent in checking their blood sugars -- particularly if the raw diet is accompanied by fasts.

After the 30 Day Raw Diet
Once again, following my diet's change back to cooked starches, I experienced a change in my gut flora, and it took a day or two to adjust to the new diet -- although I didn't have the gut aches that I did with the raw sweet potato.  I still eat a lot of raw fruits and veggies, still drink green juices from green leafy veggies, but now I've added starches in the form of cooked potatoes and beans.  I have decided, for now, to continue not eating any grains -- so no wheat, no barley, no corn, no rice and of course, no bread.  This is quite a hardship, as many wonderful recipes are to be tried in our household as we embark on new eating habits, following the guidelines of Dr. John McDougall.  Adding rice or grain pasta back into my diet would go a long way to easing our household into that new vegan lifestyle.  However, I'm still trying to see what effects being grain free -- bread free -- has on my health.  

I no longer get urges to eat bread.  I suspect those urges came more from the cheese I was eating than the bread, to be honest with you.  And as far as exorphins go, milk products have just as many as wheat.  They were discovered virtually simultaneously, after all.  

Oh, I still think sometimes that it would be nice, and convenient, to have a slice of bread in the evening, rather than going to the trouble to eat some more fruit or vegetable, which takes a long time to chew, and might be far sweeter than I want.  Going without bread is a hardship for me merely because I have to look for other, more costly alternatives, to increase my calories.

Because of the hardship, and because of a very important wedding ceremony coming up next month, I'm only going to give this "grain free" fast only another 30 days.  I see no real point in it any longer.  I believe most of the problem of eating bread (and its reputation for increasing weight) is what you put on it.  After the next 30 days of being grain-free are over, I expect I will start eating rice -- and even baking bread -- again.

But I wonder if I will ever want to eat quite as much bread as I did before?  Without butter and cheese, I wonder what I will be putting on my bread?  Actually, McDougall's website is a treasure trove of information about that too.  This month, in fact, his free newsletter contained several recipes for vegan spreads that I  would love to try.  Perhaps this blog will later discuss my attempts to make these and other spreads from scratch, rather than simply describing the whole grain breads I'm baking -- because they had just about reached a level of quality and similitude anyway.

Who knows where it might go?  Perhaps, like many other things I've embarked upon, this blog will simply fall away, as it becomes less useful.

Notes to Myself
  • Following the quick perusal of an extensive text on food addiction (Brownell, K. and Gold, M. ed. (2012) Food and Addiction: a comprehensive handbook. Oxford University Press -- see the commentary here for a quick overview), I don't believe I'm truly addicted to bread.  I will have to look a lot harder at this text, perhaps in another blog entry, before I'm convinced, however.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fasting from Bread: My 24th Day Milestone

Dehydrated Fiber Patties. 
I wanted to see how much fiber I throw away when I juice a substantial amount of  kale and carrot.
Not all that much, but it might make all the difference.  There is surprisingly still some taste in these fiber crackers.

Fasting from Bread: My 24th Day Milestone

Tuesday, the  24th day of the Bread Fast
These are some of the notes I've taken, as I continue on this fast from bread (and all grains, and cheese, and dairy, and meat, and caffeine, and alcohol, and all cooked foods), eating only a raw food diet of fruits and vegetables for a 30 day detox.  This is going to ramble a bit.

Recap: Why I'm doing this
As a self-confessed exorphin junkie, I have temporarily adopted a low-fat diet of raw fruits and vegetables in order to detox from bread.  In the beginning of this fast, it was to test myself, to see if I could go a mere 3 full days without eating my favourite food -- a food that I love, and that has never given me any problems that I know of, a food that I believe in, and a food that has kept me nourished, and amused for over 5 years, as I have taught myself how to bake it, in this blog.  And yet, from the very beginning I called myself an "exorphin junkie,"  wondering whether bread was a real addiction for me.  I certainly ate a lot of it.

As a form of detox, I pledged to eat only a raw food diet of fruits and vegetables for 3 days.  At the end of those first 3 days, I extended this fast to 1 week, and after that week, to 10 days, and it was only after 10 days I felt that a month (30 days) might be possible.  

This is still a day-to-day trial for me.  I have witnessed my brain telling me different things, on different days -- that I should stop this, that I should finish this, that I should eat this thing, that I should eat that thing.  Some of the brain's messages are simply habit.  Some are pure willpower.  Some are pure craving.  Some are the result of my research or my attempt to come up with some sort of an archetypal ideal foodstuff for humans.  It is difficult to sort it all out sometimes.

As I have continued to research the detox or all raw diet, I believe I've found evidence that I ought to stop at the end of 30 days, and reintroduce some cooked foods.  As I indicated last blog entry, it is now my belief that humans require cooked starches in their diet.  However, I would like to continue to eschew (rather than chew) grains, to see if I can extend this fast from bread to one full year.  The cooked starches I intend to reintroduce to my diet will be things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes etc., rather than the starches of rice, barley, oats, corn and wheat.  At least for now.

 If I manage to go without bread for a whole year, perhaps I can say with certainty that this exorphin junkie has kicked the habit.  I might reintroduce bread at that time.  At this time, I feel that it is not the bread that has ever given me any trouble, but what I have put on it that has seen my weight creep up gently over the years.

But it is all just an experiment, and I've got a lot to learn.

Learning from my Patients
Working on the palliative care ward of a tertiary hospital as I do, you get to observe first hand something very curious.  Many patients come to us from the acute care wards, after a prolonged battle with their illness or disease.  When medical science has exhausted its repertoire of drugs or therapies, or when patients have become exhausted with the endless battery of tests and treatments, and when there has been no improvement, or even a worsening of the condition, the palliative care team may be called in to transition patients to a attend to symptom control.  Patients only come to us from the acute care settings when they agree that comfort based care is the next step.  Many patients and families have to be convinced that the care will not end when treatment of the acute illness is eased out of the equation before that step is taken.  And so they come to us -- and that's when we begin to notice something odd.  Dealing with symptoms only, and providing some pain relief, we palliators often see a dramatic change in our patients:  before they die, many of them actually improve somewhat.  Taken off most medications, and often no longer eating anything, some patients start getting better.  Inexplicably, the body will begin to heal, provided it receives good nursing care.  We see wounds knit, and close.  The body does not know that this patient has come here to die, it continues to do what it has always tried to do -- heal itself.  Yes, oftentimes the illness or disease is unstoppable, death is inevitable.  But it is not inevitably so.  Some people will get better enough to make a further transition, either back to home, or to a long term care facility.  

It is not my place to discuss nosocomial illnesses or iatrogenic causes of health problems, those disasters of medicine and the hospital environment.  Instead, I want to talk about diet -- especially about the lack of diet, or what we call fasting.  I want to examine what is happening to people who come to us, too sick to eat, on death's door, who actually do improve their condition somewhat, even before death.  Let's talk about what happens to the body when we fast.

We are all familiar with breakfast.  It is what we eat first thing in the morning, after we have fasted all night.  So most of us can go without food from 8 pm (after supper) until 8 am (breakfast) -- 12 hours -- with little discomfort.  And the body uses this time of sleep to readjust itself.  When we take away our continual food source, the body has to live on its reserves.  What are those reserves?  The things you have eaten during the day, and perhaps weeks, months, or years before falling asleep last night.  Many of our patient's families are astonished and worried that their loved ones are going so long without eating.  With just a little bit of water, but no food, one cannot live indefinitely, but one can live a lot longer than you'd think.  Recently the world was amazed that a living person was pulled out of the rubble of a collapsed factory building, 17 days following a structural collapse in Bangladesh.  She had access to rainwater and a few biscuits, and rationed it sparingly.  News reports said that her ordeal was a testimony to the human spirit of survival, but then went on to list several other similar examples of seemingly miraculous survivals for unlikely numbers of days on little more than water.

So what does the body and brain use for fuel, when it isn't eating?  

To answer that, first a reminder of what food is.

When we eat, we take in plants or animal products and digest them into nutrients that the cells of our bodies require for energy. The main energy that cells run on is a diet of glucose, and this is provided through the breakdown of macronutrients.  The macronutrients that we need have been called by our scientists water, carbohydrates, proteins and fats -- and only the last three provide energy, which is measured in calories.  There are many micronutrients that we also need, the most famous being vitamins, minerals and amino acids.  When you eat an entire diet of nothing but fruits and vegetables, as I have been while on this month-long fast from bread, you are taking in a lot of vitamins and minerals, but very little fat and protein.  And the body does quite well on fruits and vegetables, because these provide carbohydrates, vitamins (especially the fruits) and minerals (especially the veggies).  With less than a week to go on this experiment, I can tell you that you would not want to live on a raw diet of fruits and vegetables for an extended period of time.  Because on this diet (along with my usual complete fasting of 2 days a week), I am losing about 1 pound a day.  The raw fruit and veggies do provide some minimal protein and fat, but these, along with the carbs, do not really provide enough calories to maintain my weight.  I really have to push myself to eat more fruit, during the day, to get my calorie levels higher.  But I'm finding it very difficult to eat that much, and so my total calories for the day is likely to be deficient -- hence the weight loss.

I even see a small amount of weight loss each night when I fast during sleep (as much as 2 pounds, during the sleep that follows a total fast of 24 hours).  My body, during the resting phase, is breaking down the stored fats in my body for fuel.  Let me reiterate: I am virtually unable to push myself to eat enough raw fruits and veggies to obtain enough carbohydrate during the day to maintain my current energy level (and I don't consider myself particularly active); and at night, when I stop eating, my body quickly looks for other sources of energy, and breaks down my fat stores.  In other words, carbs from fruit and veggies are used almost immediately by the body and surprisingly very little of that energy is stored.  The liver can store some glucose from carbs in the form of glycogen, and some of this can be stored in the liver or in muscle tissue for use when the constant supply of fruit is not there.  But not a lot is stored, and some of the rest of those carb calories are going to be burned off as heat (more on this later).  It is my understanding that fat cells get no more glucose than any other cells of the body.  Provided you are eating good carbs, and not empty calorie carbs (more on this later, too), you are not going to be storing all of your carbs as fat.

The body also has an ability to break down protein as well as fat, and my body might eventually do that, if I continue too long on this diet of raw fruit and veg, but for now I'm pretty confident that I still have a bit more fat on this body of mine before I get into muscle wasting.  However, Lyle McDonald, author of "The Ketogenic Diet" claims that during a total fast, "up to one half of the total weight lost during a complete fast is muscle and water."  It is unclear to me whether McDonald is citing studies that examined starvation fasting ("although protein losses decrease rapidly as starvation continues"), or whether this "unacceptable ratio" also is found in intermittent fasting, as I have been doing.  That will have to be my research topic next time. 

Sidebar: Ideal weight
Incidentally, the last couple of days I've been wondering what my ideal weight might be.  We all know of the BMI scale -- the index that shows, based on your height and weight, whether you are underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese.  There are several calculators online, like this one at the NHLBI.  But the BMI does not tell you what the optimal weight for your height and gender might be -- it gives a range of normal.  My weight is now in the middle of this range; by the 21st day of this experiment I was down to 165 pounds for a man who is 6 feet tall.   I am skinnier than I have been for years.  My new jeans that I bought recently -- when I had lost twenty pounds after fasting 2 days a week for about 6 months -- now fall off me unless I wear a belt.  But all of my belts do not fit.  I lost my ass.

And more and more people begin to be concerned for me.  They can see I am losing weight, and openly ask me if I am sick.  Which leads me to think that I'm starting to look not so good.  I don't want to look sick.  So why do I keep doing this?

I have decided to see if I can go without bread for an entire year.  A test of my endurance.  Because everyone knows that I love bread.  But am I addicted to it?  If I can go a year without grain, I will know for sure I am not.  Even if I am the prototypical exorphin junkie.

But will I reintroduce bread into my diet after going without it for a whole year?  At this point, I don't know.  Some days I say no; other days I say, yes, certainly.

Sidebar 2: A Moment of Weakness
I've been taking a ton of fruit with me to work in my lunchbag/knapsack, when I'm on the nightshift.  Since I'm sleeping during the day, I don't have a chance to eat enough at home.  So I cart several pounds of fruits and veg with me to work, and while many of my patients sleep, I work at shovelling it into my maw.  It takes a lot of time to eat that much fruit and leafy greens, just to get your calorie content a bit higher.

I know that I can, through pure willpower, make it to the end of these 30 days -- or even go beyond that, if necessary.  But I also know that I still occasionally think about bread, and how nice it will be when I can eat some again.  I don't usually have cravings, but every once in a while, it will strike me.

Like it did on the morning of my 18th day of this fast, on the drive home after a nightshift.  I was a couple of blocks from home and I turned the corner and saw a crow, in the middle of the road, picking at a substantial crust of bread.  Irrationally, I thought about stopping the car, getting out, shooing the bird away, and wresting that prize away from it for myself.

That's what I mean when I say I'm still an exorphin junkie.

Before the sidebar interlude, I was talking about how the body uses carbs as fuel when we eat.  We also can eat fats, and get fuel from them; and even protein can be used as fuel.  But what happens when we aren't eating anything?  First, the stores of glucose as glycogen are used up; and then the body turns to stored fats.

When the body uses body-fat as fuel, it breaks it down into free fatty acids, which can be used by almost all body tissue except the brain and nervous system.  Does that mean that our brains don't run on any fuel when we sleep, or when we fast?  No.  If there are not enough carbs in the diet to provide glucose (and you only have to reduce carbs to about 10% of your caloric intake/energy needs), the brain lives on ketones.  What are ketones?  Well, when free fatty acids are broken down in the liver, they leave behind metabolites called ketones.  If there are enough ketones in the bloodstream, glucose is no longer used, and neither is protein used.  The brain uses ketones first, to get the levels of ketones in the blood down -- because too many ketones will push you into a state of metabolic ketoacidosis.  Most commonly, we see this in undiagnosed type 1 diabetics.  

And this is how the high protein, low-carb diets (like the Ketosis Diet, or Atkins, or Zone, or Paleo) all work: when you eat fewer carbs, your ketone levels rise, and that, along with the free fatty acids, give you energy.  The details and mechanism of the diet were first worked out by Dr. Russell Wilder in the 1920's in the Mayo Clinic, after extensive work with diabetic (and then epileptic) children.

Dr. Russell Wilder, 1920s: from the Journal of Nutrition

There are several well-known complications of ketogenic diets.  Some of these are also a symptom of starvation ketosis from extended fasts; others are also symptoms of diabetic-induced metabolic ketosis.
  • hypoglycaemia -- causing sleepiness, vomiting, nervousness, trembling, sweating
  • acidosis (from ketones in the bloodstream) -- panting, irritability, increased HR, facial flushing, fatigue, vomiting
  • dehydration -- causing constipation (also caused by the low fiber)
  • hyperlipidemia -- cholesterol and triglycerides are both elevated on this diet
  • nutritional deficiency - lacks calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vit A, D, E, zinc, selenium, carnitine, causing decreased bone density, cardiomyopathy
  • kidney stones

I don't think that there have been enough studies done to show what happens, but something slightly different happens to the brain that is fuelled primarily on ketone bodies as opposed to glucose.  We should expect this: at night when we fast, our brain dreams, and our experiences are quite different than in waking states.  Also, we have the example of lots of mystics who have strange experiences while fasting for extended periods of time; the most famous might be Jesus, who after fasting 40 days in the desert reported an exchange with The Tempter.  Today, the ketogenic diet is still sometimes used to treat epileptic children.  These unfortunate children need to have food enough to grow, but when you give them glucose in the form of too many carbs, sometimes they have more seizures.  Some of them do all right on a restrictive ketogenic diet.  Extreme body builders often use some form of the ketosis diet as well, in order to contrast their huge muscles and lean bodies during a competition.  Most endurance athletes, however, cannot use a ketogenic diet, because it is felt that you cannot sustain high aerobic levels of exercise with a low level of carbohydrate.  The muscles of a marathon runner or a triathlete need those glycogen stores, and so they traditionally "carbo-load" before an event.

de novo lipogenesis
So where does fat come from in the first place, if the carbs we eat aren't making it?  As I quoted John McDougall in a recent blog (day 15 of my fast), making fat out of glucose comes from de novo lipogenesis.  McDougall said that this is done by pigs and cows, but he didn't say whether humans could do it.  Well, we can.  But it isn't our preferred use of carbs, as Hellerstein showed. (Hellerstein, M. (1999) De novo lipogenesis in humans: metabolic and regulatory aspects. Eur J Clin Nutr. 53(supple 1) p. S53-65).  It is only when carb input is greater than total energy expended that fat is created.  It is very difficult to do this on whole foods, as I hope I have shown (on day 10 of my fast, when I totalled the calories, carbs, protein and fats of a single day of raw food eating).  You will be sated before you can do it.  But if you eat processed foods -- anything with extra sugar in it, like cake, ice cream, soft drinks, and white bread -- suddenly you can build fat just like pigs and cows.  Furthermore, Hellerstein proved that although we can make fats out of carbs (in times of excess carbs), we can't make carbs out of fats.  We are missing that metabolic pathway.  And there has to be a seasonal and an evolutionary reason for this.  I suppose it is because proto-humans ate lots of fruit when it was ripe, so that they could live off stored fat when times were lean.  When they had to fast, they lived a little like hibernating bears -- with a slower metabolism, and burning their own fat.

Lis Olesen Larsen from the August Krogh Institute at the University of Copenhagen provides a quick overview of where the science is taking us in our understanding of de novo lipogenesis and how it contributes to human obesity (Larsen, L. (2002). Nutrition Discussion Forum: the role of de novo lipogenesis in development of obesity in man. Brit J of Nutr. 88 pp. 331-332).  From her own research in 2001, she determined that de novo lipogenesis is more likely to occur when we eat more than enough carbs for our total energy expenditure AND we also take in 30% of our calories from fats.  The animal products that contain fat (cheese, butter), or the fatty plant oils (margarine, olive oil), we consume with our carbs (bread) are as much to blame as the carbs (bread).  She also quotes a study she did with Lammert, which found that during sleep, our temperature does not rise high enough to burn off those extra calories provided by the glucose in the carbs.  That study did not look at possible increased heat loss while study participants were awake and active, but it does suggest that John McDougall might have oversimplified things for us.  

Luxus consumption
Do we burn off all of the calories we eat from starch (carb) as metabolic heat, as I reported McDougall said the other day?  This idea was first proposed by Neumann in 1902, and called, in German,  luxuskonsumption.  We do burn off some of these "abundant" (luxus) calories, but it is still unclear yet to what degree, and a consensus is beginning to emerge in science that the effect is negligible.  We still need to be diligent to not overeat: luxus consumption has also been been more recently defined as eating more food than you need (thus wasting it), and it has serious health and environmental effects  (see, for example: Blair, D. and Sobal, J. (2006). Luxus consumption: wasting food resources through overeating. Agr and Human Values. 23. pp. 63-74).

Fasting Detox
What my patients are doing, when they come to our palliative care ward, and stop eating, is they begin to detox.  When nothing is going in any longer, the body begins to break down these stored fats for energy, and it is in these fat cells where even more toxins are stored.  The toxins in their body -- the metabolites from the drugs they have endured, the biproducts from the disease process that has overloaded their system, and the simple excretions of each cell in their body as they continue to live and use energy -- all begin to leave the tissue, if they remain hydrated and there are no blockages.  Kidneys work harder, livers work harder, bowels work harder -- if they can -- to get this stuff out.  And in palliative care, we nurses help this to happen.

And as so often happens, some people get a little bit better.  It might just be a burst of energy before death; or it might be something else, a turn in the road.  We never give up on anyone.  I have seen people last far longer than the medical community's prognosis, when they stop eating food.

Wavering Resolve
Let's talk about willpower for a moment, since apparently it is the one thing that stops me from succumbing to habit due to my wavering resolve to eat no bread, no grains, no meat, no dairy, etc. for 30 days.

If your read over my last few blog entries, you can see the preparation for, the determination to trial a few days without bread, the happenstance that I then read something by someone who dared others to go a week without bread, then I found someone suggesting 10 days without bread, then another who advocated a month without bread, and finally someone who challenged people to go a year raw.  But while attempting to meet each next goal, I also find those who say that bread is okay, it is the other things that are often consumed with it that are bad.  And then my resolve to take the next challenge wavers.  If it were not for the fact that I have committed to finishing the 30 day fast from bread, I would certainly have already gone back to my old habits.  But I like to test myself, I like to experiment, I like to see what might happen.  

The only thing that stops me from eating bread right now is my willpower to reach an arbitrary goal that I've set for myself.  And I have set this goal to find out if indeed I'm addicted to bread.

You might think that you could not go an entire day without eating anything.  But it is not really all that much longer than a single night without eating.  When you are on your deathbed, you may be surprised by how long you are living, without eating.  You can do it.  You can.  

The body is built to withstand short fasts. The body improves and detoxes on short fasts.  But if you do it for too long, like anything else done in excess, it will harm you.

My own Fast from Bread
Since my last blog posting, I've been wavering over the question: should I continue beyond 30 days on the raw food diet, or should I now admit some cooked starches into my diet?  After three weeks on the raw diet/fast from bread and dairy, my current feeling is that the raw diet will be unhealthy in the long run and exorbitantly expensive for me, so far north of the equator.   I suspect that I would be able to live for some time eating only raw foods using shear willpower, but I would ultimately not be happy.  But is that because I want to take the easy road (the McDougall diet of mostly cooked starch -- which includes whole grain bread), or because it really is the healthier alternative?  Is my ambivalence toward the raw diet a symptom of my wavering resolve, or is it because I'm certain that McDougall's diet is actually healthier?

I've decided to continue to omit eggs and dairy from my diet, after this 30 day fast from bread is up; the only question now remains, which is the better vegan diet for me?  Raw or cooked?

Ever since I learned about it -- in the context of John McDougall citation of it in "The Starch Solution" -- I have been intrigued with the work of Nathaniel J Dominy who claims that humans have evolved due to their exploitation of the foodsource of starches (see, for example, this publication, 

When you compare our amylase production to that of other primates, humans have about 3 times more gene copies of AMY1 than chimps, and "~6-8 times higher" "salivary protein levels", and "bonobos may not have  salivary amylase at all."  Other primates, such as cercopithecines ("a subfamily of Old World monkeys including macaques and mamgabeys) have relatively high salivary amylase expression, even compared to humans…evolved to facilitate the digestion of starchy foods (such as the seeds of unripe fruits) stowed in the cheek pouch…")

"it is hypothesized that starch-rich plant underground storage organs (USOs) were a critical food resource for early hominids.  Changes in USO consumption may even have facilitated the initial emergence and spread of Homo erectus out of Africa."

Are Humans Milk Eaters?
Dietary enzymes are highly specific.  I'd like to see this studied far more, because in my opinion, the dietary enzymes that the human body produces will point to the ideal human diet from which we have evolved.  For example, I recently read this summary in the book "Everyone Eats: understanding food and culture" (Anderson, E. 2005) about lactase, which enables us (some of us) to metabolize milk: 

     Human babies are born with this enzyme, which performs this cleavage.  However, most humans stop producing this enzyme around age of six to ten. Thus most adult humans cannot digest lactose (Patterson 2000). Like other undigested sugars, it causes diarrhea and flatulence, and, in large quantities, outright sickness. Small amounts of milk are tolerated; more leads to indigestion. However, Europeans (especially north Europeans) and East Africans have depended on fresh milk so long that they have evolved the ability to keep producing lactase throughout life. Presumably, children without lactase did not thrive, as fresh dairy products became more and more vital as staple foods—though at least some humans can also adapt to high-milk diets by continuing to produce lactase when they would not otherwise have done so.      
     Outside of Europe and East Africa, most humans cannot eat fresh dairy foods. Even in Mediterranean Europe, most cannot; in East and Southeast Asia, virtually all cannot, even after long exposure. But they have learned to make microorganisms do the enzyme work. Fermenting milk into yogurt, cheese, and the like involves breakdown of lactose by Lactobacillus bacteria. Yogurt is generally made by L. bulgaricus. (Other Lactobacillus species give us salami, sauerkraut, and San Francisco sourdough bread.) Thanks to yogurt making and other processing, peoples in West and Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent depend on dairy foods, though only 10–20 percent of them can digest lactose (see Patterson 2000:1060).     Some Arctic-dwelling humans—as well as some birds, such as starlings—have lost the ability to produce sucrase, and thus cannot digest ordinary sugar (sucrose; see Draper 2000).      
     There are longer-chain sugars, mostly indigestible. Stachyose and raffinose, in beans, cause the indigestion and flatulence associated with beans, because we can’t digest them.Still longer chain carbohydrates (polysaccharides) are starches, and these we can digest, breaking them into glucose. Potato starch is particularly easy to digest, and thus can cause a “sugar rush.”      
     Still longer chains include things like lignin and cellulose, indigestible to higher animals. Ruminant mammals, termites, and other such creatures have symbiotic microorganisms that do the digestive work.

The specificity of enzymes in the adaptive human digestion system leads me to suspect that each of us, depending on our genetics, will have an individual and perhaps cultural metabolic phenotype.

This may be true especially when it comes to starch.  Which starch are we adapted to?  Are all starches the same, or do we require different starch enzymes, for different starch sources?  Which fibers do we metabolize, and which ones do we not digest?  Which ones do we need, and which ones are harmful (if any)?  These are the things I'd like to know.

It disturbed me to learn that when I ate that raw starch sweet potato the other day, I found it largely indigestible (even though my tongue indicated to me that it would be good to eat).  By indigestible, I mean it caused a gut ache, and made me gassy; it slowed the passage of foodstuff through my bowels.  But look at what happened: the gas is a result of the fermenting work of my bowel flora.  They had more time to work on it, because the GI tract slowed.  Were the fermentative metabolites good for me, or bad for me?  I don't know.  But obviously, we live in symbiosis with the bacteria in our guts.  They can digest some things that we can't, and they can give us some benefits from being fed; it is possible that vitamin B12 might be one such reward (or is that conjecture true?  Could it be that absorption of B12 must happen in the small intestine, and not in the large intestine where we'd be more likely to find the B12-producing bacteria?  More questions...).  

I suspect strongly that my bowel flora has changed drastically since starting this fast.  And indeed, it didn't take me long to find a scientific article which showed precisely that.

Bowel Flora
Ling and Hanninen (Ling W. and Hanninen, O. (1992) Shifting from a conventional diet to an uncooked vegan diet reversiby alters fecal hydrolytic activities in humans. J Nutr 122(April) pp. 924-930 ) took 18 people and put them on a raw diet for a month (Note that the raw diet that was trialled contained some pre-fermented foods, so the food, although raw, was also rich in lactobacilli), followed by a conventional diet, and checked out some of the metabolites of the faecal bacteria to see how they changed.  

Depending on what you eat, the bacteria in your GI tract will produce various enzymes, some of which will then cleave substances that you ingest, and cause them to travel through your bloodstream, to be scooped up by the kidney and excreted (or they can be also excreted in stool).  In particular, the raw diet causes faecal urease to drop by 66%, and there were also significant drops in the enzymes chololglycine hydrolase, Beta-glucuronidase, and Beta-glucosidase within 7 days of the raw vegan diet.  These enzymes have been implicated in generating toxins and carcinogens that the liver has trouble filtering; and urease increases ammonia content, which has been implicated with systemic toxicity, colon inflammation, genetic mutations, and GI tumour genesis.  Furthermore, on the raw diet, concentrations of the metabolites phenol and  p-cresol were lowered.  The major species of gut bacteria is the anaerobe Bacterioides fragilis, and it produces p-cresol; and other anaerobes (e.g. E.coli) produce phenol.

According to this study, within 2 weeks of resuming a conventional diet, most of the benefits of the raw diet were obliterated; after 1 month, it was as if nothing had ever happened.  Ling and Hanninen note that there are specific changes that will occur depending on the type of fiber passing through the colon, and they give an interesting comparison of some fibers (pectin, carrageenan, agar-agar, wheat bran, carrot fiber) on the levels of the enzyme metabolites, but they indicate much more work needs to be done in this area.  The current thinking is that an increase in fiber, as that which naturally occurs in a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, will change the gut flora in such a way that  toxins and mutagens are minimized -- lowering your chances of contracting cancer and other diseases.

Incidentally, this article says that pure "wheat bran and carrot fiber have an increasing effect on Beta-glucosidase activity and no effect on Beta-glucuronidase," but that a diet in varied mixed vegetables with wheat bran or carrot fiber would have quite a different effect entirely.

Genetic adaptations of humans to diets
The idea that some humans can metabolize milk, and some can't made me curious.  I attempted to find the references cited by Anderson in his work on dietary enzymes (see the section, "Are Humans Milk eaters" above), and while browsing the scientific literature I found yet another article which critiques Cordain's view of humans as mostly paleolithic hunters. 

Milton (Milton, K. (2000) Hunter-gatherer diets - a different perspective. Amer J Clin Nutr. 71(3). 3665-667) maintains that humans evolved on plant foods, just as the other primates did.  As soon as the human brain developed in size, and stone tools were invented, animals as a food source became part of the human diet, but not to the extent Cordain suggested.  She says typical contemporary hunter-gatherers get 33% of their calories from animal sources, and the rest comes from plant foods (virtually the reverse of what Cordain believes).  Tubers, seeds of millet, nuts, and wild fruit seem to constitute the main source of their food -- and these cultures only thrived when these plant species could be adequately relied upon to provide food year round.  The proper designation for these early tribes of humans ought to be "hunter-gatherer-agriculturalists" since some sort of cultivation of a "single starchy carbohydrate" was tied to their very existence.

Milton says that true genetic adaptations of humans to diet are few.  The fact that some individuals of European descent continue to produce lactase in adulthood is merely a regulatory mutation, from a period in European human history when such a trait was selected for.  But we do not have many other adaptations to flesh diets, such as we see in carnivores.  We cannot synthesize vitamin A or niacin, for example.  Certainly there are metabolic phenotypes which characterize humans from different regions of the world.  For example, circumpolar people may have in some cases lost their intestinal sucrase -- but they are still unable to synthesize their own vitamin C.  They have adapted, but they have not fully evolved to a complete carnivore diet.

In another article, Milton (Milton, K. (1999) Nutritional characteristics of wild primate foods: do our closest living relatives have lessons for us? Nutrition 15(6) pp. 488-498) says that there is a general consensus arising that "humans come from a strongly herbivorous ancestry."  But is that true?  At some time, humans ate meat.  This became a regular part of the diet -- actually more regular, once agriculture started in earnest, some 12,000 years ago, and a domesticated animal food source became more easily available than chasing wild game.  While there may be a consensus that we came from herbivores (although insectivores have also been proposed by some authorities), there is no consensus about the amount of meat in the earliest human diet.

At stake here is no less than what caused the increased brain size of our human ancestors, and when did we begin cooking: was it before hunted animals became part of our diet, or after?

Segue to Cooking
Milton indicates that "the proportion of the human gut appears to reflect the fact that many foods are 'pre-digested' by technology in one way or another before they ever enter the human digestive tract."  In other words, cooking or fermenting.  

Raw foodists frequently say, "no other animal on earth cooks its food," and that is given as a sort of proof that we have stepped away from our natural raw food (whatever it originally was). And it seems absurd on the face of it, that humans have evolved into a cooked food user.  But according to Wrangham and Conklin-Brittain (Wrangham, R. and Conklin-Brittain, N. (2003) Cooking as a biological trait. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & INtegrative Physiology 136(1) pp 35-46), this is precisely what happened:  Humans have had time to evolve the ability to exist primarily on cooked foods.  According to them, cooking almost certainly predates meat eating.  Furthermore, Wrangham (Harvard U. Primatologist) makes a strong argument that humans have largely lost the ability to subsist on raw food in the wild, whether it be a raw diet of fruits and greens or with the inclusion of raw meat.

Here are some highlights I enjoyed from this peer-reviewed article:

  • "Other than … deliberate raw-foodists, we have not found any current or historical examples of individuals or small groups living for more than a few days without access to cooked foods."
  • The inuit ("one of the most recently adopted human lifestyles, approximately 4000 years old") sometimes eat meat raw ("providing vitamin C") "but meat, blubber and even blood were sometimes cooked," even among the earliest studied unacculturated Inuit.  No humans are fully adapted to a raw meat diet.
  • "56% of 48 plant roots eaten by African foragers were sometimes eaten raw.  But such items tend to provide snacks rather than meals."
  • "no human populations are known to have lived without regular access to cooked food." 
  • "The typical duration of a speciation event is considered to be 15 000-25 000 years, and mammalian species can evolve in as little as 5000 years."  It is estimated human LA, or lactase producing genes that afforded humans the ability to metabolize milk in adulthood, took a mere 5000 years to increase from 5% to 70% of the population.
  • Evidence for cooking is older than 5000 years.  "It is necessary for the processing of cereal grains, which were being harvested 20,000 years ago by people skilled in  fire management and grinding." 
  • Earlier evidence of cooking by humans and hominids:
    • Kebara Cave, Israel 60 000-48000 BP (bones) - (Speth and Tchernov, 2001)
    • various European and Middle Eastern sites >250 000 BP (earth ovens) -- (Brace, 1987, 1999); (Ragir, 2000)
    • Vertesszolos, Hungary 600 000 - 400 000 BP (control of fire) - (Kretzoi/Debosi, 1990) 
    • Swartkrans, South Africa - >1 million BP (Brain, 1993)
    • Koobi Fora, Kenya - 1.6 million BP (Rowlett, 2000)
    • Homo ergaster, east and south Africa - 1.9 million BP (oldest date suggested for adoption of cooking, based on biological evidence; "ergaster" is derived from an ancient greek word for 'workman')  - (Wrangham, 1999; Leonard/Robertson, 1997; Aiello/Key, 2002; O'Connell 2002)
  • "a strict raw food diet cannot guarantee an adequate energy supply" (citing Koebnick et al, 1999); almost 1/3 of the urban raw foodists Koebnick studied had Chronic Energy Deficiency, and half the women had menstrual disturbances.  This "raises the question of whether people could survive on a raw food diet in the wild."
  • "Most types of cooking tend to increase the digestibility of starch" (Holm, 1988; Kataria/Chauhan, 1988; Ayankubi 19991; Muir and O'Dea, 1992; Yiu, 1993; Kngman/Englyst, 1994; Ruales/Nair, 1994; Urooj/Puttaraj, 1994; Barampama/Simard, 1995; Periago 1996; Bravo, 1998; Marconi, 2000; Sagam/Arcot, 2000; Slavin, 2001; Smith, 2001).  "The same is true of plant protein digestibility" (Rao, 1996; Chtra, 1996; Khalil, 2001)
  • Cooking improves "the rate at which the teeth can process a given food."  It takes less time to chew foods that have have been softened or gelatinized by cooking, so less expenditure of energy per intake of food.  
  • "human molar size started falling approximately 100 000 years ago" (citing Brace, 1991), probably due to a new type of cooking technology, i.e. boiling.
  • Homo ergaster 1.9 million years ago already had a reduced tooth and jaw size, indicative of earlier cooking practices.

Raw Diet: Possible?
If anyone doubts Wrangham's conclusion that a raw diet cannot provide adequate calories in a timely way, or thinks that this is the way humans evolved, without cooking tubers and other veg, I challenge you to try a 30 day fast, of only eating raw fruits and veggies; for any random day, total up the amounts you eat and calculate the caloric intake (as I did, on the 10th day of this fast, see here), and how long it takes to eat it, without addition of modern knives and blenders and juicers.  (Okay, I'll allow you to use any bone or stone knife you have made yourself. And you can also eat any wild animal raw that you hunt and kill yourself with nothing more than that same knife).  At the end of those 30 days, tell me if you want to continue spending that much time eating.  Tell me you have sustained your weight.  Tell me you think that this is a healthy diet and that you could live on it indefinitely.  Oh, you might see some benefits to doing it: you might lose some weight and also lose some of the modern health issues that run parallel with weight gain.  But I think that most people who do not live at the equator and have not planted trees on their farm that provide them with year round fruit will discover this diet is unsustainable in terms of cost and long-term health benefits.  Or, in place of performing that month long experiment, you can read Wrangham's article and see his analysis of what it takes for a woman who is 120 pounds to eat enough raw food to live indefinitely.

The Modern Raw Food Ideal
Wrangham cites the work of Kobenick to show that raw food diets are not an acceptable model for early humans.  I looked closely at Kobenick's work.  Corinna Koebnick is an epidemiologist at maastricht University in the Netherlands, and she is one of the few researchers who has been involved in the scientific research of several vegetarian diets.  Among the 85 published scientific reports that she has authored or co-authored, I looked at these:

Boutenko's Story
Sure, I too have been astonished by the books of Victoria Boutenko (e.g. "Raw Family : a true story of awakening," 2000; "12 Steps to Raw Foods: how to end your dependency on cooked food," 2000; Raw Family Signature Dishes," 2009), inventor of the 'smoothie,' to learn of the amazing health recovery she and her family have experienced by switching to an all-raw diet.  It seems likely that it saved their lives.  As wonderful and inspiring as her story is, one only needs to look at her recipes to note that many involve blended veggies, dehydrated seed mixtures, processed oils, and occasionally Braggs liquid aminos, none of which were available to our hominid ancestors when they evolved and differentiated themselves by their diet from their primate cousins.  Many of her recipes are not low in fat.  She is not afraid to liberally use nuts or cacao butter.  That's not a criticism, just an observation.  After all, her raw diet is not the diet taught by Douglas Graham, of 80-10-10 fame.  Could any sustainable raw human diet without a vitamin blender truly approximate 80-10-10, I wonder?

Victoria Boutenko, author and inventor of raw smoothies

A few days after writing about Boutenko, I found yet another, later, book by her, co-written by a couple of other raw food gurus (Elaina Love and Chad Sarno) who were coming to the same conclusion: a raw food diet is wonderful as a detox from other unhealthy eating patterns, but it is ultimately missing something, and unsustainable.  "Raw & Beyond: how Omega-3 nutrition is transforming the Raw Food Paradigm" (2012) contains the personal stories of the authors, along with some new raw recipes that attempt to incorporate more Omega-3 fats.  Lots of fats, indeed: in the form of oils, nuts and seeds, coconut and avocado, and also more sweeteners like agave.  And it even includes some lightly cooked foods.  This is one of the examples of the so-called "High Raw" diet, one that is largely raw, mostly raw, but also includes some cooked foods.  

Foods like starchy veggies.  The very foods from which humans evolved -- or so claim people like Dr. John McDougall and Richard Wrangham.

Wrangham's References on Archaeology
There were so many references in that article by Wrangham, it kept me busy on Thursday, the 19th day of my fast from bread, checking up on them.  After examining the Kobenick references, I knew that there would be some value in reading some more of Wrangham's source material:

  • While Speth J and Tchernov (Speth J. and Tchernov, E. (2001) Neandertal  Hunting and Meat-Processing in the Near East: evidence from Kebara Cave (Israel). Meat-Eating and Hman Evolution. ed. Bunn. 2001. Oxford Univ. Press) have done a lot of cataloguing of the bones found in Kebara cave on Mt. Carmel, and have determined that the ungulates found in the midden heap there were from cooked meat, according to Madella's team the neanderthals in the Amud Cave in Israel also used plants for many different purposes -- including fuel, bedding and food.  "There is clear and repetitive evidence for the exploitation of mature grass panicles, inferred to have been collected for their seeds" (from the abstract of Madella, M. et al. (2002) The exploitation of plant resources by neanderthals in Amud Cave (Israel): the evidence from phytolith studies.  J Arch Sci. 29(7) 703-719)
  • Despite the fact that Wrangham cites Brace's work, Brace apparently had no sympathy for the view that early hominids had mastered cooking.  See, for example, Brace CL (2000) The raw and the cooked: a Plio-Pleistocene Just So Story, or sex, food, and the origin of the pair bond. Soc Sci Inf 39:17–28.  One of his criticisms is that Wrangham's team had extrapolated a great deal of speculation about early hominid social and psychological demeanour based on the shape of a few bone fragments, in their earlier work (Wrangham, R. et al (1999)The Raw and the Stolen: cooking and the ecology of human origins. Current Anthropology 40(5) pp. 567-).  Wrangham, in another work, claims that Brace's position is an intermediate position, and he agrees that cooking has led to the evolutionary adaptation of smaller teeth in humans.
  • Ragir (Ragir, S. (2000) Diet and Food Preparation: rethinking early hominid behaviour. Evolutionary Anthropology 153-155) follows the traditional assumption that fire technology followed the hunter stage in cultural adaptation in human diet, and from that he is also able to deduce some far reaching social and behavioural adaptations of early humans, based on little more than bone fragments.  Compelling reading: but what if that basic assumption was wrong -- what if cooking preceded hunting? Ragir notes that tubers required processing before they could be used as a food source: digging, crushing, and soaking at a minimum (all performed by the female of the species, he assumed; but he also assumed that the invention of fire did not take place before the evidence of barbecues). Still, he draws some rather interesting conclusions based on the reduction of size dimorphism in humans from archaic Homo sapiens to late Homo erectus.  He suggests that this is indicative of the sharing of food elements between males and females  -- the assumption being that males would hunt meat, and females would put the work in at base camp to get the tubers edible by cooking or other processing.  Once the protein in meat was shared, the dimorphism disappeared.
  • Among the many interesting problems of archaeology is ascertaining when the use of fire became a human achievement, and when the migration out of Africa into the landmass of northern Europe could have been achieved.  These things are related, as it has always been assumed that even a northern hunter on the retreating glacial edge must thaw his meat from the previous day's kill to eat it.  M. Kretzoi, of Budapest University has been unravelling the clues for decades, with his careful study of the animal bones and hominid bones at the site of Vertesszollos in Hungary.  I've read several of Kretzoi's articles online, but have yet to see the one that is most often cited, where Kretzoi and Dobosi assumed that the middle Pleistocene -- a time when the cranial capacity in hominins rapidly expanded -- was also a time when evidence is found of hearths (control of fire) .  In some detailed catalogues, Kretzoi seems somewhat baffled by the bones which suggest that the climate of Europe was quite a bit more temperate than it is currently, or that has been presumed for it at various times.  Meanwhile, the scarcity of sites due to the erosion of glaciers means that we must draw some exacting conclusions on very little evidence indeed.  Among the questions that remain controversial: were there two parallel hominid species in Europe for several hundred thousand years -- neanderthals and homo erects -- or were they related?
  • The earliest finds of bones that have been burnt are inconclusive and contentious, as James showed in James, S. (1989). Hominid Use of Fire in the Lower and Middle Pleistocene: a review of the evidence. Current Anthropology.  30(1) pp 1-
  • I was not able to access the oft-cited article by Brain (Brain, C.K., 1993. The occurrence of burnt bones at Swartkrans and their implications for the control of fire by early hominids. In: Brain, C.K. (Ed.), Swartkrans. A Cave’s  Chronicle of Early Man. Transvaal Museum Monograph No. 8, Transvaal, pp. 229–242) , although one can find an early report here, with Brain part of the 'et al' team: Susman, R. et al. (2001) Recently identified postcranial remains of Paranthropus and Early Homo from Scartkrans Cave, South Africa.  Brain's suggestion that Australopithecus robustus used bone tools to dig for tubers was immediately challenged by Backwell, L. and d'Errico, F. (2001) Evidence of termite foraging by Sweartkrans early hominids. PNAS 98(4) pp1358-1363.  If they were digging for tubers, they needed fire to process the food; if they were eating termites, they could eat raw.  So much depends on why they were digging -- brain size, tool making and control of fire have often been considered tandem evolutionary events.
  • Richard Wrangham also wrote "The Cooking Enigma", chapter 12 of Pasternak's book "What Makes us Human?" (Pasternak, C. (ed.) (2007) What makes us Human? One World Publications.).  In this chapter, Wrangham raises the cooking enigma: if, as conventional archaeologists believe, cooking occurred  in the Middle Paleolithic, why have there been no major evolutionary changes in the bone structures since then?  There are sites that suggest cooking, but also some that suggest no cooking, previous to the Middle Paleolithic, but these have not convinced the skeptics.  The "Basal Solution" which Wrangham supports and expands upon is the hypothesis that cooking originated around the same time as Homo erectus, and was directly responsible for the evolutionary changes seen in erectus, who arose from australopithecines (smaller jaw and teeth, smaller gut, higher energy expenditure).  But the Basal Solution must explain why "evidence of control of fire is scarce before about 400,000 years ago" and "it must also be reconciled with the traditional idea that meat eating was the prime dietary mover of the evolution of the genus Homo." 
  • Rowlett's work in Koobi Fora, Kenya, suggest that H. erects "had the technological capability of cooking foodstuffs."  From a  site 1.6 million years ago, the only traces of fire now can only be found using "archaeomagnetic and thermoluminescent analysis." (Rowlett, R.M., 2000. Fire control by Homo erectus in East Africa and Asia. Acta Anthropol. Sin. 19, 198–208).
  • Two hypotheses of quite different purport are found in Park's interesting review of the evolution of the human brain (Park, M. et al. (2007) Evolution of the Human Brain: changing brain size and the fossil record. Neurosurgery. 60(3) p. 555- ).  Either we adapted to eating meat's higher nutrient density by evolving smaller colons and greater small intestines (compared to gorillas, whose plant based diet shows larger colons), or these physiological changes were a result of a diet of cooked foods -- whether they be tubers or meat.  But was it the extra protein of meat that caused the increase in brain size, or the extra starch in tubers, released by cooking, that fuelled the brain?
  • Ulijaszek doesn't appear to be leaning toward any single hypothesis, but instead argues that cooked food -- both tubers and meats -- likely explains the dominance of Homo erectus and the migration out of Africa and throughout Asia with control of a food source (Ulijaszek, S. (2002). Human eating behaviour in an evolutionary ecological context. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 61. pp. 517-526).

Although the conventional view is that fire making must have come after the introduction of stone tools, there could be an alternative hypothesis that fits the facts.  It may be that the development of fire was a far earlier technology than the development of stone spears and other implements.  And it makes sense, if you consider how humans may have adapted:

  • Like their cousins, the great apes, proto-humans evolved in tropical forests rich in fruits and leafy greens.  They could eat tubers, but only in times of little fruit, as it would be largely indigestible to them.  The only meat they ate was insects, and perhaps the odd bird or other small animal that they could easily catch by chance.  All food was eaten raw.  Like other primates, they had a disgust of carrion left by carnivores.
  • Up to this point, they have not differentiated their diet.  But as they banded together for protection, they began to make opportunistic use of fire.  As a sacred and social core of their tribe, hearths would allow individuals the ability to experiment with different food sources.
  • Over the course of time they learned how to make fire and control it.  Fire allowed them extra protection, the ability to make better tools of sticks, and to expand their food source into starch (the tubers, and perhaps some grain endosperms), as well as meat.  Brain size expanded as food density and digestibility increased.
  • On a cooked starch-based diet they were no longer tied to the forests, so Homo erectus left Africa and migrated throughout Asia.  As they moved, they began to learn how to make stone implements and bring down large game.
  • FInally, agriculture led to a more sedentary lifestyle, and also the development of human culture. 

This is my current understanding, after reading several of Wrangham's sources and his analysis.  Curious to find out what others in his field think of his work, I read Liesl Driver's analysis of it.  Driver is from the Dept of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. This (Driver, L. (2010) What made us human: analysis of Richard Wrangham's Cooking Hypothesis. Lambda Alpha Journal 40. p 21-) is her review of Wrangham's book, "Catching Fire: how cooking made us human;" it contains a quick synopsis of it, hitting the main points I've already discovered in his peer-reviewed studies.  Her final conclusion is that Wrangham has successfully argued the thesis that "the behavioural adaptation of cooking food and the consistent use of controlled fire led to the transformation of modern humans."

It took me a couple of days to obtain Wrangham's book.  By then, I had read most of his primary sources, and from my own experience eating a raw food fast for almost 30 days, I'd have to agree with him.  Humans evolved on cooked food.

Catching Fire

I'm enjoying Wrangham's book "Catching Fire: how cooking made us human." This is a book for everyone, not just scientists, and it is quite fun to read, whereas the scientific articles he wrote can be a bit of a challenge at times.  For example, I chuckled when I read of the new pet food, "Biologically Appropriate Raw Food," (BARF), which is advertised beneficial for dogs.  And this paragraph thrilled me:

Although the australopithecines were far different from us, in the big scheme of things they lived not so long ago. Imagine going to a sporting event with sixty thousand seats around the stadium. You arrive early with your grandmother, and the two of you take the first seats. Next to your grandmother sits her grandmother, your great-great-grandmother. Next to her is your great-great-great-great-grandmother. The stadium fills with the ghosts of preceding grandmothers. An hour later the seat next to you is occupied by the last to sit down, the ancestor of you all. She nudges your elbow, and you turn to find a strange nonhuman face. Beneath a low forehead and big brow-ridge, bright dark eyes surmount a massive jaw. Her long, muscular arms and short legs intimate her gymnastic climbing ability. She is your ancestor and an australopithecine, hardly a companion your grandmother can be expected to enjoy. She grabs an overhead beam and swings away over the crowd to steal some peanuts from a vendor.

Right now, I believe that cooked food is our most natural food, not raw fruits and veggies.  Ever since we stood erect, we have also scrubbed around in the dirt for tubers, and banded together to hunt wild game.  I don't know which came first, but it makes sense to me that we learned how to cook before we learned how to bring down big animals, and we learned how to eat starchy tubers after learning how to cook, and because of that food source our brain size increased, and we were enabled to communicate and hunt in groups better.

So since my last post I've decided that I will not continue eating a 100% raw diet, following my 30 day experiment. 

No, I won't be continuing the raw diet beyond 30 days.  I found the information on Raw Foodism at Vegan Health well balanced and complete, and I want to avoid orthorexia (see the videos linked to at the bottom of their Raw Foodism page for an explanation).   I've also had some fun lurking on  Beyond thirty days, though, I still plan to eschew, rather than chew, bread and other grains.  I'll reintroduce other cooked starches (potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes, beans) into my diet when the month is up, but remain as vegan as possible, trying to follow some of Dr. John McDougall's guidelines to reduce the dietary fat. 

That's where I'm at.

Notes to Myself
  • I am working with a girl who has lost 35 pounds on the paleolithic diet, and wants to lose more.  Approximately the same amount of weight loss I've experienced, on fasting, high carbs and a raw diet, in roughly the same amount of time.  She is doing it to lose weight, I'm doing it to gain health: to detox from bread (and high fats) as an experiment.  If it weren't for the threats of heart disease that ketosis-based high protein/low carb diest like paleo give us, both diets might be effective for weight loss.  But I'll still have to research how much protein is lost on intermittent fasting before I make any claims about the better efficacy of my own experiment.