Monday, March 21, 2016

Ribeye Jerky

I've taken to making fatty "jerky" in the dehydrator from thinly sliced chuck steaks they sell at my local grocery store.

It looks like this:

It absolutely melts in the mouth as it is, though, believe it or not, I sometimes spread butter on it.

My local store also sells thinly sliced ribeye. This I consider a crime. There is no way to cook it to rare like that.

Yesterday, however, I was looking for the thinly sliced chuck and they had none. What they did have was thinly sliced ribeye, marked down for no apparent reason. I realised that it cost only slightly more than what I pay for the chuck, and a beautiful idea formed in my mind...

Here are some photos of the succulent result:

It's definitely not the best ribeye I've had, but it's easily the best jerky.

Meatless Mondays

What is it called when a carnivore doesn't eat meat?

A fast.

I've recently had a renewed interest in fasting, no doubt because of seeing Jason Fung speak at Low Carb Vail last month.

Shortly after that I was chatting with a friend about it. I said that I don't fast on a schedule, but that I often eat only one meal a day (most often two meals). I did mention that I've long thought it would be fun to fast once a week for a whole day — that would be more than 24 hours, since I don't eat during the night.

So for the first two Mondays in March, I did just that. (That is, I ate no meat. I did drink my usual coffee, and I had a few spoons of tallow in the afternoon when my energy was dipping.) In practice the first fast was 48 hours, and the second more like 42. I enjoyed it.

Under a fat-based metabolism, one doesn't normally feel hungry throughout the day. The liver takes care of glucose and all that, much better than for those on a glycolytic diet. So I wasn't hungry.

I lost a few pounds, and was down to my lowest weight in decades. I know from experience that weight loss from short term fasting is often transient, so I wasn't really worried about it, or counting on it staying off, but it was still fun.

This past week, however, I have been ravenous. My policy is always to feed my body when it's hungry. Fighting hunger is a losing battle. If you're hungry, there's a hormonal reason. It's a signal. You can't change it simply by not eating (except insofar as not eating changes your hormonal state). This is counterproductive. You have to change the signal.

Anyway, today I intended to fast again, but I was hungry and the tallow didn't help and by the time I got home I was ready to eat. So I did. Besides, I had ribeye jerky waiting for me.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Mindfulness Strength Training

I first heard about slow lifting protocols around 2007 or 2008. I was reading articles about muscle physiology by Doug McGuff. Those articles don't appear to exist anymore, perhaps superceded by his 2009 book, Body by Science. At the same time I had happened upon Adam Zickerman and Bill Schley's 2003 book, Power of 10. I quickly then found that Fred Hahn, and Michael and Mary Dan Eades had also written a 2003 book on this topic, The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution.

Here are the fundamental concepts behind this powerful paradigm.

  1. Strength training is the most effective and efficient exercise to improve the biomarkers of health that best represent youthfulness, including muscle mass, bone density, body fat percentage, cholesterol/lipid profiles, metabolism, and aerobic capacity.

  2. Slow speed strength training is safer, more effective, and more efficient than lifting faster. It's safer because it minimises the effects of momentum and gravity, and allows you to respond immediately to any signals of damage, rather than finding yourself having already pushed through to injury by the time you are aware it is happening. It's more effective and efficient, because it engages all muscle fiber types to their maximum.

    Following this protocol typically takes 15-30 minutes once or twice a week.

    In fact, it is so effective, that trying to workout more often would not allow sufficient rest.

Naturally, I was intrigued and excited by this idea, but at that time there were no facilities in or near Boulder offering this kind of training. I did start a slow lifting free weight routine at home, but what with the myriad things in my life, it was difficult to keep up.

Not to make excuses, but I do a lot better in the exercise department when I have scheduled commitments, especially with a social component. It's been easier for me to go to a group class of traditional lifting where I know I'll be missed if I don't show up, than to keep to a schedule just for myself in a busy place with constant distractions and demands.

I also tried doing it at the YMCA using their machines, which worked for a while. Even a schedule to go to the gym with no social component works better for me than staying in the house! Still, it was frustrating, because it took so much trial and error to get the appropriate weight on the machine, and if I got it wrong, I basically blew my chance for the whole week.

What I really needed was an expert to guide me, who knew how to tell what weight was right and when to increase it, to know which muscle groups to work, to take care of the timing, and to watch my form and focus.

Last September I decided on a whim to see if any local places had appeared since I last looked, and to my great delight, one had!

I've been working with Chuck Bystricky at Inform Fitness since October 2015, and I couldn't possibly praise him too highly. He is knowledgable, enthusiastic, and experienced. He has answered my every question about the protocol or my specific training with as much depth as I desired (and I'm quite the geek). His passion and sincerity are clear.

As to my "results", not only do I feel stronger, I have lost some 10 pounds, and am a smaller size than I was last time I was at this weight, a year and a half ago. I'm going to have to buy new pants, because my current pairs are too loose. Poor me.

Slow lifting is intense! That suits my personality just fine. This quality has led me to start calling it Mindfulness Strength Training.

Unlike regular lifting I've engaged in before, I can't start my reps and then daydream about something else. It takes a purity of focus to think of nothing except feeling your muscles. It also takes a willingness to keep engaging when the "burn" sets in. It's not exactly painful, but it's not comfortable, either.

You have to take every exercise of every workout to its fullest. You stretch your ability to its limit. To do otherwise would be a waste of effort. It reminds me of the concept of deliberate practice, a method for attaining excellence most studied in the area of music performance.

I love it. I always leave the studio feeling fantastic.

Thank you, Chuck.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Toxic Plant of the Day: Cassava Root

Life lives off of life and all living things must defend themselves to survive. Plants, lacking the ability to run, have survived via biochemical warfare. This is one reason that, unlike with meat, it's almost always better to eat plants that have been cooked or specially processed than raw, if you choose to eat them at all.

Starches became important sources of food in populations where the food we evolved to eat, high-fat meat, had been hunted to extinction, or where the culture was driven by surrounding cultures to a small area that could not support them on game alone. However, eating starches involved arduous processing, in order to render them edible. Cassava is no exception.

Cassava (perhaps better known here as tapioca) is a starchy root. Its defence is cyanide. Like many other plants, the formation of its toxin happens when the plant cells are broken -- that is, it evolved to be triggered by the bite of an insect or other animal. Cassava can be extremely toxic, especially the larger varieties. The toxicity increases under drought conditions. An ounce of a more toxic variety would be enough to kill a rat [1].

The acute response to eating it raw or insufficiently processed is vertigo, vomiting, collapsing, and possibly death. One can only imagine the desperation that we must have undergone to have found a way to eat this after such an effect. The traditional way to circumvent it is prolonged soaking, fermenting, and cooking. Contrary to the new common wisdom, fermenting became a tradition not because our gut bacteria need the resulting bacteria, but because we were using bacteria to process out toxins.

However, it isn't always done right, and even when it is, it isn't 100% effective. To quote some researchers who are trying to genetically modify the plant:

"Chronic, low-level cyanide exposure is associated with the development of goiter and with tropical ataxic neuropathy, a nerve-damaging disorder that renders a person unsteady and uncoordinated. Severe cyanide poisoning, particularly during famines, is associated with outbreaks of a debilitating, irreversible paralytic disorder called Konzo and, in some cases, death. The incidence of Konzo and tropical ataxic neuropathy can be as high as 3 percent in some areas."

In a paper describing the epidemic of these neurological diseases, it is pointed out that cassava consumption has risen dramatically in the last half century, precisely because it grows well in droughts and poor soil, that condition that increases its toxicity.

"From 1965 to 2000, cassava cultivation in Africa showed an extraordinary increase, from 35 million to 90 million tons, at least partly in response to declining soil fertility and increased cost of inorganic fertilizers. For countries such as DRC, Tanzania, and northern Mozambique, cassava is the most important crop for the largest proportion of farming households [29]–[31]. The amount of labour required for cassava cultivation is considerably less than that for other crops, and this is a major reason for its promotion and increasing use in HIV/AIDS-affected communities [32].

Cassava is drought tolerant, grows on poor soils without fertilizer where no other staple can be cultivated, and generates acceptable yields even on depleted and marginal lands. Its roots may be kept in the soil for extended time periods, securing a carbohydrate source in years of agricultural crisis in poor communities, and bridging the seasonal food gap during the hungry and dry season when other crops usually fail [31], [33]. It is no surprise that in times of agricultural crisis, cassava becomes the dominant, and sometimes the only, source of food."

They also point out that the toxic effect is worsened in protein-deficient conditions, because sulfur-rich amino acids (cysteine and methionine) are needed by a detoxifying enzyme in the liver. Animal foods are almost the only sources of these amino acids, though some nuts, spirulina, and soybeans have some.

Other cyanogenic plants include: hydrangea, flax, lima bean, apple, elderberry, white clover, and corn.

[1]Wikipedia gives the more toxic varieties 1g/kg of cyanogenic glucosides, and says that 25 mg of pure cyanogenic glucides would kill a rat.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Musings on "good" bacteria, antibiotics, and brain function

The growing trend recognising that gut bacteria affect all other body systems, the brain, of course, included, is often accompanied by what I think is a faulty assumption. That assumption is that there are healthy strains of bacteria that are difficult to cultivate that we should specifically insert into the gut (through pills, yogurt, or transplants, for example) and then keep alive by feeding with high fiber plants in order to maintain health.

The main reason I find this implausible is that it's not evolutionarily supported. There is just no strong evidence that evolving humans ate fibrous plants with any regularity. Moreover, any gut bacteria that we can't easily keep living inside us seem unlikely to have evolved there. It makes no sense that regularly eating something we didn't evolve to eat regularly, to keep alive something that doesn't appear to have evolved a strong penchant to stay alive in us, would be the only, let alone best way to maintain an inner environment conducive to health.

There do seem to be positive effects from taking probiotics, but I question the interpretation of that. One hypothesis I have is that the main benefit of probiotics is that they in turn displace worse strains of bacteria. If this is correct, then another, possibly better solution may be to minimise the worse bacteria by not feeding them. One way to not feed them would be to avoid fibrous plants.

(Please see my related post on germ-free mice, where I show that mice with no gut bacteria, contrary to common interpretation, are healthier than those with bacteria.)

Another possible explanation, is that these bacteria we are pushing mainly help people digest fibrous plants. So in people who eat fibrous plants, it is better to work to maintain these bacteria, than not to. However, this, too has the obvious alternative solution.

Antibiotics and the brain

I just learned about the potential benefits of antibiotics in autism. The author of the linked article has found evidence that negative symptoms of autism may be mitigated by taking antibiotics. His own son, for example, had improved eye contact, speech, energy, and motor control. This prompted him to look for clinical evidence, and he did find some preliminary such.

Some antibiotics appear to improve brain function. Animal studies have shown cognitive improvements in, for example, mouse models of schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's. The mechanisms are unclear.

Often researchers suppose that such properties of antibiotics are coincidental, and unrelated to the antibiotic effects. For example, minocycline, the antibiotic used in the latter study, has been shown to have antioxidant properties that are neuroprotective. The mechanism is unknown, and I am not aware of people testing the hypothesis that the antioxidant property is a downstream effect of bacterial modulation.

I did find one nice exception to this. Antibiotics are known to improve cognition in hepatic encephalopathy. In this study, the researchers tried to discover a plausible mechanism for that. What they found was that there was a shift in the activity of different gut bacteria, resulting in an increase of many types of fatty acids in the blood. They speculated that these fatty acids, which brains like to use, were reponsible for the cognitive improvements.

Antibiotics often get a bad rap, because some conditions appear to get worse after you take them. People explain this with the story that after you've taken them, your gut is now prey to the "bad" bacteria, which for some reason never explained, naturally takes over in place of the "good" bacteria that "should" be there. This all appears rather backwards to me. I would think that if we were feeding our guts naturally, we wouldn't have to go out of our way to ensure this didn't happen.

What is salient to me is that supressing our gut bacteria, or changing the way they function from the default, is often having a positive effect that goes away when we go back to our normal way of treating those bacteria -- feeding them our Western diets. The common wisdom for dealing with that is to force in bacteria optimised for an onslaught of plant fiber. One wonders what would happen if instead, we just stopped the onslaught.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

On Happiness

This post is not my usual fare. It's personal and it's not even about meat.

In the spring of 2014, many things were coming together for me. Areas that had been stuck were moving forward, particularly in my intellectual / career life. My love life was improving, too, though there were still important difficulties. The most exciting thing of all was that I had found, applied to, and been admitted to the Recurse Center, a computer science program in New York City.

I arrived there in the beginning of June for the happiest three months of my life before or since. I was living independently in a tiny dorm room in Manhattan just north of Houston. It had few amenities, and only shared bathrooms. Yet I loved it. It was a 15 minute walk to the Recurse Center. I loved to start and end my days with a refreshing walk through the city, and despite its reputation, I found the people I passed to be radiating good cheer.

I always arrived at the Center early to gather my thoughts about what I learned the previous day, and set my focus for the day ahead. I programmed, read tutorials, went to presentations, and wrote about what I was doing every day as an exercise in transparency. I stayed until bedtime. I felt independent, free, creative, and competent, and I attributed it all to New York and the Recurse Center.

A miraculous thing happened. Halfway though the program I met an extraordinary person with whom I fell madly, helplessly in love. I hadn't been looking for love. Love was the furthest thing from my mind, because I was focused on my creativity, and was too happy to want for anything. But finding it took me to new heights of joy.

When I returned to Boulder, I returned to unhappiness, and I believed it was situational. You see, I'd been practising resentment and blame for my life circumstances for years, for everything from the geographical location I was unhappy with, to my professional stagnation, to the mundane responsibilities of life. This was so unlike me. I have long believed that if something was worth doing, it was worth doing well, and more than that—it was worth actually enjoying it! I believed that having made a choice of action, one should take it on as fully as possible, putting in all of one's heart. But I wasn't doing that, and I hadn't been for some time.

I was making a big mistake. I was letting circumstances dictate my happiness. Now don't get me wrong. I am a material being. There is nothing more spiritual than taking delight in the present reality of the material world. It was good to allow New York City and the Recurse Center to fill me with happiness. It was right to take pleasure in my friend and lover, Sean Baker, who touched me more deeply than I've ever been touched, physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and with whom I have shared the most intimate of moments over fine things and crass things alike.

The mistake was to depend on these things for my happiness. If I can be happy in a dorm not much larger than my current bathroom, then I can find joy in Boulder, Colorado. In fact, it has surely been a continuous effort not to enjoy such a beautiful city, an effort that was worse than a waste. Today I talked to a man who moved here but two weeks ago from L.A., and instead of launching into my caveats and complaints, I simply told him what I liked about it, and I meant it.

The biggest mistake of all was to depend on my lover for happiness, for in him I saw my only salvation from the rest of it. So I forwent nearly everthing else I loved, in order to spend every possible moment with him, so as to bask in my delight of him, to get my happiness from him. This was not only unfair, but just plain backwards. The whole reason we were able to connect in the first place, was because I was radiating joy. I had something to give. I was fun and easy and emotionally self-sufficient, and the point of being together was to mutually amplify our joy into more joy. If I want to be happy, all I need to do is embrace my creative desires, surround myself with things that give me pleasure, and be the amazing person I know I am in my heart. And then, like during my stay at the Recurse Center, I will be happy, independent, free, and a magnet for miracles.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mass Action

I've started reading Dr. Richard D. Feinman's book, The World Turned Upside Down: The Second Low-Carbohydrate Revolution. It may be the best book on the topic of low carb diets to date, because of its broad perspective, and its readability. It appears to have at its core the same thesis Zooko and I have been trying to promote on our website, that low carbohydrate diets are good for health in many ways, particularly in ways connected to metabolic syndrome. In the book, Dr. Feinman expresses a problem that comes with that discovery, a problem which has caused us much personal frustration:

"[T]he problem with convincing people of the benefits of a reduced carbohydrate strategy is that it appears to be good for everything, good for what ails you. You can sound like a hard-sell pitchman." (p 204)

Another passage that particularly struck me was in the introduction. It has given me vocabulary for a concept we've tried to express several times.

"[B]iology tends to run on hormones and enzymes, that is, control mechanisms, not on mass action (the principle that chemical processes are determined by how much reactants are put into them). The grand principle in biochemistry is that there is hardly anything that is not connected with feedback." (p 7, Emphasis ours)

This point was made in the context of the diet-heart hypothesis, which has as a premise that you can control the amount of cholesterol in your blood by how much of it you eat (which is untrue). It is an equally appropriate concept when talking about the calorie control method for weight loss. That method is generally a lost cause, because the important mechanisms in weight control are hormonal. How much you eat is a downstream effect of your hormonal state.

Protein does not affect ketosis via mass action

It also explains well the idea Zooko and I have tried to put forth about protein and gluconeogenesis (GNG, the process of making sugar out of protein). We showed in this post that the amount of material available for GNG doesn't appear to have any effect on how much GNG actually occurs. Insofar as eating a high amount of protein can lead to reduced ketosis, which would then require your body to get more energy from glucose, which could increase demand for GNG, this must occur through a hormonal/enzymatic cascade.

That would mean that managing ketosis is not a simple matter of calculating some threshold of protein, after which the rest "turns into sugar", any more than managing weight is a simple matter of calculating some threshold of calories, after which the rest "turns into fat".

Most people find that if they restrict carbohydrate intake, excess fat is lost. The loss of fat entails a caloric deficit, but that is an effect of the fat loss, not a cause. One could argue about what would happen if people on low carb diets consumed excess calories, but it's largely irrelevant, because people on low carb diets following their hunger rarely do that.

The same may be true of protein. As far as I can tell, most people on a very low carb diet are in ketosis without consciously constraining their protein consumption. It happens naturally.

While I have heard from some people who need to manually manage calories or protein to stay in their therapeutic zone, even while on a very low carb diet, it doesn't seem to be the common case. Even in those cases, I have often seen the problem resolve when a high-fat, plant-free, sweetener-free approach is taken. This suggests that there are further (hormonal/enzymatic) mechanisms that can interfere with the hunger feedback loop.