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.

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.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Fasting from Bread: My 15 Day Milestone

Fasting from Bread: My 15 Day Milestone

My fast from bread continues.  Last time I posted was at the 10 day mark, without bread, trying to follow the guidelines of the 80-10-10 diet proposed by Douglas Graham.  Graham, if you recall, says that humans are mostly like bonobos who evolved eating fruits and leafy green veggies.

Graham is the author of "The 80-10-10 Diet", and has several YouTube videos online, including this one, where he explains the diet, and this one where he details some of the reasons why people fail to thrive on his raw diet, where 80% of one's daily caloric intake should come from carbs.

At the last blog entry, I tallied my total intake for the day and discovered that I was substantially low on calories, and still not close to the 10% fat goal.  I was still losing weight, even though I wasn't hungry, and I was eating fruit enough to satisfy me.  But obviously it wasn't enough carbs.  I did realize that I wasn't truly following Graham's guidelines: I was juicing leafy greens, I was eating too much avocado, I was continuing to do a total fast twice a week, I was drinking hot herbal tea, extra water, etc.  But if you listen to some Graham tapes, he will blend up smoothies and salad dressings with nuts and seeds and avocados.  So is he himself really getting to 10% fat on a raw diet?  

In today's blog entry, I'm going to talk about something new that I've learned while fasting from bread on this raw diet.  As close to bonobos as we might be genetically, we are not bonobos with blenders.  Our diet is different.  We are different.

To recap: for this month, I have been fasting from bread, and existing on a mostly raw, whole food vegan diet (no grains, no eggs, no dairy, no alcohol, no processed foods) in an effort to get my fat intake down to 10%.  This is a record of some of my thoughts as I go on toward the 30-day goal of eating without bread.  Fair warning: I talk about what I learn, how I feel, and about the consistency of my stool, and other nasty stuff.

Day 12 Thursday
I've carted a lot of fruit to work today, and by the end of my shift, I'm starting to get tired of fruit.  The only veg I've brought has been some green juice, and an entire Romaine heart.  Plus, during the 12 1/2 hours I was at work today, I've had two rather large BMs that were somewhat loose.  Now that is new to me, usually they are formed, even with this amount of fruit.  It suggests to me that I am now overhydrating, that I might not require as much herbal tea (I always bring a thermosfull with me to work, because it is so dry here). But that wasn't my first thought: my first thought is, I'm not assimilating all that I'm eating.  This is the first day when I've seriously considered stopping this diet, because it doesn't seem like I'm absorbing the food I ingest.  I've had some terrible bread cravings today, too.  And cheese.  I long for cheese.  Perhaps I crave fat.  I'm starting to wonder whether the Weston Price Foundation people are right, that there is nothing wrong with a high fat diet, and the reason I crave avocados is because my body needs the fat.  Am wondering if the reason people gravitate toward a diet that is not 80-10-10, but rather 42/16/42 (the average for most North Americans, whether or not they are vegans, as reported on p. 75 of Graham's book) is because that is what is most natural for them.  I'm trying to talk myself into stopping this diet, that it might be dangerous for me.  But then, I think that perhaps it will take some time in the beginning for my micro-villae in the GI tract to rebuild themselves to be able to adsorb the amount of fruit and veg that I'm eating.  What if my several years of eating harsh Grain Bran has hurt my innards to the point where they can't catch this amount of fruit and veg that passes by?  I must still be in the stage of detox, so warned of by those who have attempted this diet before me.  I aim to continue this at least until 30 days.  That's the most immediate goal, and I'm almost half-way there.  I've only got this far because I've tried smaller goals: the first goal was to do it for 3 days, then the next goal was to do it for 7 days, then 10 days.  Now the goal is 30.  Still not sure whether I can do it for a full year.  I find the amount of food I am eating to be quite expensive.  I'm starting to look for discount fruit -- the fruit that is considered over-ripe, and that is 50% off in the store, because I know I'm going to eat it all in one day anyway.  And it takes a long, long time to masticate my green veg; if it were steamed, I could eat a whole lot, a whole lot faster.  Is it better to eat the kale, or drink the kale juice, or eat the kale whole but cooked, I wonder?  No wonder so many raw foodists use blenders and eat a lot of smoothies and cold soups.

Day 13 Friday
A fast day again for me.  Today while researching Dr. Joel Fuhrman's work on diets, I chanced to also learn of Dr. John McDougall's work in the US, on the west coast, for the first time.  McDougall believes that our natural diet as humans is starch-based (not starch exclusively, of course, but varied fruits and vegetables, with starch as the foundation).  

Fuhrman, author of "Eat to Live" has several videos online, but in my opinion (after watching several of them), I think his best video is probably "Steps to Good Health with High Nutrition Food"which can be found here in its complete form, or in smaller chunks elsewhere.

His main message seems to be to work on increasing the micronutrient density of your food, rather than worry about getting enough of the macronutrients of carbs, proteins and fats.  If you concentrate on getting more whole fruits and vegetables in your diet (especially the ones with highest levels of micronutrients -- Kale is often touted as the highest in Fuhrman's scales), you cannot fail to get enough of the main nutrients.  In fact, many of our diseases come from an overabundance of calories -- i.e. too many carbs, proteins and fats -- and not enough of the micronutrients.

His message is good, but it just didn't resonate with me.  On the other hand...

McDougall, author of "The McDougall Program" has been around a long time (and has written many books), and apparently has been very influential, so it surprises me that I've never heard of him before.  In my opinion he has much more to say than Fuhrman.

An earlier video ("The role of meat in the human diet") had Dr. John McDougall speaking to a Christian group, where he claimed he was not a vegetarian.  "I refuse to become a vegetarian until vegetarians become healthy," he said. He put a slide up that referred to vegetarians, and their unhealthy practices:
  • No Fish/Chicken vegetarians
  • No Lacto/Ovo vegetarians - "they are full of fat and full of cholesterol"
  • No Dough-boys -"who live on sugar and white flour; and the wino dough boy vegetarians are drunks"
  • No Soy-boys - "they live on fake foods, like fake bacon, fake cheese, fake ice-cream, fake everything."
  • No Greasy Veggies
  • No Raw Foodies - "They live on nuts and seeds and fruit, in other words, fat and sugar"
McDougall concluded, "I eat turkey every other thanksgiving in protest of being called a vegetarian."  He is also cognizant of the lack of vitamin B12 in the diet of strict vegans, and advocates a supplement for people who use his diet for over 3 years (That is much more responsible than Douglas Graham, in my opinion, who merely suggests that vegans don't require as much in their bloodstream, it is still in the body cells -- an untested assumption at best.  Curiously, neither of these authors look at the possible production of B12 by our intestinal flora, in a symbiotic relationship.  Perhaps that is because the flora argument is going to be hit-or-miss, and studies have shown that strict vegans do have B12 deficiencies over time).

McDougall therefore promotes a whole food diet that is less restrictive than the 80-10-10 diet, one which is not afraid of cooking, and one which is based on starch.  He actually claims in one of the videos that the amount of fat in his diet is around 8% -- less than that of the 80-10-10!  He can say that because the starches have very little fat, and most fruits and vegetables are between 7 and 10.

The most significant video I've seen by McDougall (who is a far better speaker for his cause than Fuhrman, who is far better than Graham, BTW) is his talk on "The Diet Wars."  Highly recommended.

He certainly cuts through the crap being espoused by the Paleo dieters.  And he points out the one problem with the 80-10-10 diet, without mentioning it specifically: there isn't enough starch in a raw vegan diet like the one espoused by Graham (Graham says that humans being arthropod don't grub in the dirt for roots like pigs.  So potatoes, sweet potatoes, jerusalem artichokes and other roots with starch are pretty much out of his diet.  Furthermore, starches are usually cooked (or in the case of Poi, beaten and mashed, ie. processed) to eat.  You wouldn't and shouldn't eat potatoes or rice raw).  But as the studies McDougall quotes show us, humans are starchivores.  And the very earliest record -- long before the Paleolithic era -- shows that humans cooked their food.  Here is a list of links from that one talk for McDougall's various sources, which show that humans have been eating cooked starch since leaving the equatorial forests where they evolved with their primate cousins on fruits and leaves:

In short, from before recorded history, and since recorded history, humans have risen to the heights of civilization only through the use of a major starch staple in their diet.

In this more recent talk, McDougall is now more conciliatory toward other plant-based diet promoters and authors.  In a very telling series of photographs, he shows the effects of high protein, high animal diets on the bodies of the authors of books who promote low carb diets, side-by-side photos of those who advocate more plant-based diets.  The message is clear:  "People who promote those low carb high protein diets are themselves fat and sick."  He holds out an olive branch to the vegetarians who have up till now argued amongst themselves over relatively small issues, like whether or not nuts are acceptable: 

"Its time to align ourselves.  The people who believe as I do in the healthfulness of a plant based diet, we have to stop fighting among ourselves; instead we have to fight those who are destroying the planet for us, and making us sick.  That's the diet wars.  The battle lines are drawn.  And we're going to win."

Equally powerful is McDougall's video on the Perils of Dairy.  Very powerful stuff.

See also the Starch Solution and why Salt is a scapegoat.  Here are a couple of interesting tidbits I took from this talk:

"You are not going to survive on fruits -- I know some of you have tried.  But you're really not going to survive on fruits.  Essentially what the tongue is looking for are those storage organs that are concentrated in these starch granules…and you like these things, I know you do, that's why you call them comfort foods."

From this video, here is what he has to say about what a starch based diet did to humans (based mostly on the research of Nathaniel Dominy, PhD from Dartmouth College ; see the reportage of "We are What They Ate" -- or a link to Dominy's original article -- or a link to a YouTube video interview with Dominy uploaded by John McDougall himself).  Here's McDougall, from his lecture:

"The human primate makes 8-11x more amylase in his saliva than does a chimpanzee or a great ape.  Why do we have all that amylase and all those genes to produce amylase?  Because that's really one of the things that makes us human.  That's one of the things that makes us human.  That's one of the things that happened to us that allowed us to evolve from lesser primates -- from great apes.   You see, if you're a lesser primate or a great ape, you live on fruit, that's primarily your diet.  And where does fruit grow all year long?  Near the equator -- and that means you can't leave the equator.  Because if you migrate north or south, you don't have a food supply, because in the fall and the winter, you've got nothing to eat, because there's no fruit in the fall or winter.  So what happened according to Dominy, is that the primate  evolved to increase its ability to digest starch through multiple copes of the amylase gene.  And what this allows the human primate to do was to tap into a food source -- storage organs -- that had never been tapped into before, at least by any primate.  And these storage organs you dug in the ground to find them.  Tubers.  And then, you harvested them off in terms of various plants and grains, and these grains would store through the fall and winter, in the next season.  And actually they'll store even longer than that.  So this opened up a whole new food supply for the human primate.  And this allows us to migrate from the equator, north and south, and eventually conquer the entire world.  We had to have a food source.  That food source was starch.  Another thing he talks about in there, is that this is the reason the human brain evolved -- to a brain that is, by the way, 3x the size of a chimpanzee brain…"

His report on salt in this video is no less astonishing.  I admire this man.

Day 14 Saturday
The 2-week mark, without bread, on my raw food fast.

Today I spent the better part of the day watching many YouTube videos of Dr. John McDougall telling his story about starch and the evils of animal foods, including dairy.  I found a lot of repetition (after watching a dozen full length talks), but the science behind his theory is sound, and it certainly lends a different take to what I've been doing, moving to a mostly fruitarian diet.  As I'm beginning to suspect, this mostly fruitarian diet is unsustainable for me in terms of cost and variety, where I live in the north.  On my trip to the grocery store today, I spent about $50 in mostly fruits (I still had some green veggies from two days ago, so I didn't need much more of those).  And I spent a substantial portion of my day eating them, knowing that, if I were to figure out how many calories it was (as I did on the 10th day), it would be (a) not enough calories from carbs, and (b) still too high in fat (I ate 5 guavas).

But I had the foresight, based on McDougall's videos, to buy a single root vegetable, a sweet potato.  This is starch.  And I was wondering if I could eat it raw.

Some sweet potato varieties I bought

I sliced it up, and bit into it.  It was great.  And as soon as I did, I realized what I'd been missing on this raw diet.

But that night I tossed and turned before sleep.  I realized I had been force-feeding myself fruit all day in an effort to get my carbohydrate level higher, and I had tried to eat low fat fruits (although I had 5 guavas left, and they had to be eaten or thrown away today, a couple were going bad); I checked my weight before bed, and had gained only half a pound.  I felt a little bloated.  I was gassy.

I began to wonder if McDougall wasn't right.  It was not the bread that had been so bad for me, but what I had put on it, or what I had been eating with it, that had caused my weight to creep up over the years.  The bread itself had been beneficial, or benign.  The starch was my base, and that was good.  What was not good was the butter on each slice, the margarine on it, or the earth balance (a coconut based vegan oil spread that we had recently discovered), or the olive oil that I would use to make paninis.  The problem was the nut butters that were made with extra oil, salt and sugar.  The problem was the cheese.  The problem was the egg sandwiches.  Fat, fat, fat, fat, fat.

As I said, the problem with bread may not be bread per se, but what you put on it.  But bread so lends itself to serving up extra fat.  Could it be that there are actually better starches to use, other than bread?  The whole grains: rice, barley, rye, even wheat, unmilled -- could they be better used in a dish, steamed or boiled and eaten without extra fat, rather than milled into a bread?  The root vegetables: potato and sweet potato, squash -- wouldn't it be better to eat these instead of bread?  They are cooked foods, yes.  But it would appear that they can be eaten without as much potential for abuse, because they do not seem to lend themselves to extra fats so handily as bread.  You can add fat -- nearly everybody on a western diet does -- but you do not have to, to make them palatable or edible.

It makes sense to me: starch is the way to go.

Day 15 Sunday
But I spent a sleepless night last night.  Clearly, the diet I was on was affecting me negatively.  Was it the raw starch I ate, in the form of the sweet potato, that caused me to be gassy and wakeful?  I ponder the reaction of my body to the foods I've been eating.  The fruits and vegetables have been good, but I often feel hungry by mid-morning or mid-afternoon.  The amount of fruit I have been eating is incredibly expensive.  And I am rapidly tiring of it.  The raw veggies, mostly leafy greens that I've been eating has been quite time consuming, masticating.  But the raw starch I ate, although my mouth seemed grateful, my digestive system had some trouble with it.  It occurs to me that I would never have any trouble with it, if I had eaten it cooked.  But for now, I continue to eat as raw as possible, a slave to the 30-day commitment.

And as I do, I continue to investigate John McDougall's message, because he intrigues me.  Far more than Fuhrman, far more than Graham.

John McDougall is spearheading the fight against the meat and dairy industry which is causing a holocaust against our children.  There is no other way to put this.  McDougall's anger against this injustice is palpable in his talks.  You have to admire the guy for taking on these huge consortiums who have an unlimited purse.  It is the quintessential David vs Goliath story for our age.

So impressed have I been with Dr. John McDougall's work, I signed up for his free newsletter, at his web page, because I want to stay tuned to his fight.  It will be interesting to watch and see what happens.

I seriously began to wonder how I can get my mother-in-law and my parents to visit his Santa Rosa clinic for 10 days.

I know the kind of resistance my mother-in-law would give to the idea.  Give up meat? Dairy? Cream in the coffee?  As much as she complains about her gout pain, her arthritic pain, her type 2 Diabetes, her chronic renal disease, and the terrible side effects and ineffectiveness of the medications her physicians prescribe, she is loathe to make these kind of dietary changes, a habit of 80 years.  My own parents have fewer health issues: my dad has had bowel cancer fixed by surgery, and a heart attack fixed for the moment by angioplasty and exercise, and my mom has osteoporosis and a bit of forgetfulness that we hope is not the beginning of something awful.  But I know they would both benefit from dietary changes like this.  I expected the cost to be so much more than what is reported on his web site.  

But I know that our 80 year old elders would balk at making this kind of change.

Expended fiber from juicing
Today I kept to the raw food challenge, and I continued to juice.  But once again I looked at the fiber that I was tossing out, either to the chickens or to the compost each day after juicing up a couple of glasses of green juice.  I wondered how much food value was left in there.  I decided to boil it, to make a soup of it -- not to eat it, because I was still doing the raw food thing, but just to see what happened.  I expected, to be honest, that I would end up tossing out the fiber, but perhaps keep the liquid, and after my 30 day challenge was up, I could use this as a non-salty soup stock. 

I kept it covered and on a low boil in the kitchen, and from upstairs I could smell it cooking, and even though all that juice had been removed, it still smelled appetizing.  I have nothing against cooked foods in principle.  As Dr. McDougall says somewhere, the enzymes that are destroyed in the food by cooking were in the plant to help the plant grow, not to help us digest them.  We make our own amylase, and we make a lot of it.  We make it to digest starch.

Do all starches form acid in the stomach?
One of my thoughts today: Graham says that starches are acid-forming.  He is, of course, thinking of bread and pasta, the processed foods of grains.  But does he also mean potatoes, sweet potatoes, cassava -- the staple starches of millions of people around the globe?  I wonder now what John McDougall would say about that analysis.  I begin reading "The Starch Solution" in earnest, to find an answer.  None yet.

But from the earlier chapters, here are a couple of paragraphs that spoke to me:
"A widely held myth holds that the sugars in starches are readily converted into fat, which is then stored visibly in our abdomen, hips, and buttocks.  If you read the published research, you will see that there is no disagreement about this whatsoever among scientists -- and that they say that this is incorrect.  After eating, we break down the complex carbohydrates in starchy foods into simple sugars.  These sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream, where they are transported to trillions of cells throughout the body for energy.  If you eat more carbohydrate than your body needs, you'll store up to 2 pounds of it invisibly in the muscles and liver in the form of glycogen.  If you eat more carbohydrate than you can use (as your daily energy) and store (as glycogen), you'll burn the remainder off as body heat and through physical movement other than sports, such as walking to work, typing, yard work, and fidgeting.  Turning sugars into fats is a process called de novo lipogenesis.  Pigs and cows use this process to convert carbohydrates from grains and grasses into calorie-dense fats."

I had a gut ache today, for the first time ever on this fast.  Was that due to the raw starch I ate yesterday?  Another thing that happened: my stool fell apart.  Was that due to the different texture in fiber in my gut?  I was incredibly gassy, as if all my flora were suddenly reproducing and having a party.  Was this all from one raw sweet potato?

I feel no extra energy so far on this raw diet, in fact, I feel lethargic.  I feel no extra brain power, in fact, I feel stupid, taken, duped -- as if I've been sold a bill of goods.

Day 16, Monday (Another fast day)
I actually look forward to these fast days, when I don't have to consume mass quantities of fruit.  The salads I don't mind, but the vast amount of fruit has been daunting.  

Since I'm fasting today, thank goodness I don't have to eat all this raw food
I've pretty much decided I will not continue with this fast beyond 30 days.  In fact, I may even cut it shorter than that, because one should always stop an experiment if one determines it is not ethical or it has been demonstrated to be harmful to any of the participants.

Durian: not for everybody

Yesterday I visited the grocery store again.  I took my family to the new Asian supermarket that had gone up near them and I introduced them to the durian fruit, which none of them had ever heard about.  Fortunately we found one that was ripe but didn't stink too badly.  My sister hated it, and refused to try more than the tiniest bit, but my mom and dad ate it with curiosity and seemed to enjoy the experience.  I spent another $50 on fruit and veg, mostly so there will be food in the house for when my wife comes home from her trip.  If we are both eating fruit and veg raw, this is going to be very expensive indeed.

My stomach still feels a bit off.  The lower abdomen is a bit tender.  I had a couple of BMs late last night, and since then the gut has improved somewhat.  Is that chunk of raw tuber I ate a couple of days ago now out of my system?

Today I'm looking up some of McDougall's sources for the links, and posting this blog; while Googling for references I found this article: Cordain comments on new evidence of Early Human Grain Consumption.

Cordain is author of "The Paleo Diet."  What I find most interesting is not so much that Cordain found it necessary to respond to the new evidence quickly, but that so many people are making profound dietary changes based on what they believe their extremely remote ancestors ate.  In other words, this ancient data matters to them: were ancient proto-humans grain eaters, or hunters?  For some reason, your next meal depends upon it.  Incidentally, Cordain poo-poos Mercader's archaeological evidence as inconclusive, but he does not in this reply address the genetic markers that Dominy used as clues.  This scholarly debate is being fought over the plates of the western world, as each of us tries to justify what we want to eat based on what we suppose a skeleton from the distant past might have eaten.  Weird.

Notes to Myself
  • McDougall's slide on vegetarians really hit home to me.  When I first became a vegetarian, as I reported in this blog several times, I was a vegan for a year but found it very difficult.  Furthermore, it caused me to experience some disturbing skin problems for the first time in my life.  I assumed that my diet was deficient in some nutrient, and reintroduced eggs and dairy, and have been a lacto-ovo vegetarian ever since.  I admitted before that I didn't know what I was doing on that vegan diet.  At one time or another, I have tried each of his named vegetarian diets (except for the wine dough-boys diet, I have never had a problem with alcohol, so far).  I have never really tried to eat a low fat diet before this.  I can see after just half a month that I will not be able to do it on fruits and vegetables alone.  I must have starch -- and as McDougall shows, this is what the human diet should be.  I may continue past 30 days on a bread fast, but I will reintroduce starch into my diet, and that starch will be cooked, not raw.  Raw starch -- like the sweet potato I ate raw during these few days of this blog entry -- causes me no end of abdominal discomfort.
  • The thing about "diets" is, you can certainly find one, out there in the marketplace, to justify your current bad habits or desires.  I have to be cautious that, if I choose McDougall's starchivore diet, that I am not simply justifying my bread craving.  I like the idea of choosing a starch that is not bread, so that I can continue my fast from bread beyond 30 days -- to be certain, before I ever return to bread, that I am not just letting my bread addiction make my food decisions for me.
  • I don't have a blender.  For someone on a raw food diet, this is just not going to work.  Raw Foodists must have a workhorse blender, like a vitamix.  Everybody says so.