May 13, 2011

Diet for a Sick Planet

Recently my tinfoil hat was having reception problems. Signal-to-noise ratio very low, static on the line, garbled transmission, et cetera. Thus, I twisted the top of the hat into a long, tight spiral and leaned out of an upper floor window, at night so as to lessen sunspot interference.

What I then heard was astonishing. While the messages arrived piecemeal, the gist of the communication took this form: Americans have been systematically deceived and defrauded into buying metric tons of statin drugs, blood pressure meds and a whole host of other worthless crap, all at tremendous cost, on the strength of a set of carefully controlled and protected lies. The central lie is as follows: Americans, 32% of whom are obese (body mass index greater than 30) and 64% of whom are overweight, have these problems because of an excess of dietary fat, particularly saturated fat, such as found in anything that tastes good. Thus, Americans have become mordibly rotund, with high cholesterol, high blood pressure and Type-II (adult onset) diabetes. The message concluded with a simple directive: Read Gary Taubes.

So I read Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories. The first book is the shorter version of the second, and was written by Mr. Taubes (a science writer, not a PhD or M.D., and thus is authoritative only in the sense that he's right and lacks the motivation to lie of Big Pharma or the American Heart Association) in response to the requests of sympathetic cardiologists, diabetologists and nutritionists who wanted something they could give their patients other than the encyclopedic history of metabolic research contained in Good Calories, Bad Calories, which is a fascinating exploration of how the American public has been bamboozled into becoming perfect subjects for massive, ruinous drug interventions.

To put it simply, the sickness in American society is caused by the over-consumption of refined carbohydrates, leading to too much insulin secretion, leading to too much implacable fat storage, leading to the insulin resistance of metabolic syndrome. The statement of the problem isn't really all that complicated, although the underlying metabolic science is very complicated indeed.
However, beginning in 1977 with the publication of Dietary Guidelines for America, a work primarily influenced by the anti-dietary fat crusader Ancel Keys (for whom K-rations were named), the U.S. has systematically emphasized that the problems of obesity and heart disease and diabetes (a disease of carbohydrate metabolism) were caused by excessive consumption of saturated fat. Thus, a diet should consist of about 60% carbohydrates with the balance of 40% as some mix of proteins and fats, the percentages varying depending on fads. Sometimes 20-20, sometimes 25-15, whatever.

Americans responded to this advice. It sounded right, as if, when one eats a Big Mac, the globules of saturated fat simply travel from the gut to the arterial wall, or to the belly, with the McDonald's logo still attached. The power of plausible imagery. Thus, during the period of roughly 1980 to the present Americans reduced their fat intake, both in terms of absolute calories and as a percentage of total intake, year after year. The result has been the American obesity epidemic. Obesity is now increasing at the rate of about 1% per year, or about 3 million people per year crossing the line into the danger zone of diabetes, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, high low-density ("bad") cholesterol, atherosclerosis and premature death.

Attempts to explain the obesity solely in terms of sedentary behavior or increases in total calories consumed do not hold up to detailed statistical analysis. Let us remember that the march toward Fat Land America was accompanied by the fitness crazes of jogging, aerobics, bicycling and many other activities, and that the concept of the exercise gym, which was pretty much Jack La Lanne and a couple of other guys in the 1960's, became a huge industry. Yet by keeping the problem complex, Big Pharma and the AMA could continue making billions selling Lipitor, Plavix, hypertension meds, and the rest of the obesity-related drugs, and doctors' offices could be kept full of patients seeking completely unnecessary treatment. What wasn't to like?

As an experiment of one, I tried what Mr. Taubes recommended. I was a fitting subject, bordering as I was on a number of the metabolic syndrome parameters. Borderline triglycerides, borderline Stage I hypertension, overweight, et cetera. I began eating the Flintstone diet. Protein with every meal, lots of leafy green vegetables, plenty of eggs, protein shakes (cavemen would make these in earthen jugs with sabre-toothed tiger's blood), a little fruit. Water and green tea to drink, mostly, after the morning cup of joe. What I gave up: bread, pasta, scones, Danish, bagels, bearclaws (the pastry, not the paleolithic kill), alcohol, potatoes (French fries, chips, any other way), and over-consumption of fruit. I never cared for dairy anyway, so you can add ice cream and sugared yogurt to the list, but I didn't really have to give them up. No soft drinks at all, including those laced with high fructose corn syrup.

The results have been dramatic. In slightly over 3 weeks, I have lost 10 pounds, two inches on my waist size, my BP is at 121/78, and I have far more energy, which I find I can only burn off through exercise. Therefore, it seems that diet and exercise are mutually reinforcing. If you eat poorly, you're lethargic and don't want to exercise. If you eat well, you're energetic and practically have to exercise.

There are about one billion obese people in the world. 100 million of them (10%) live in the United States. Thus, with 5% of the world's population, the U.S. is over-represented by a factor of two. Most of the health care debates regularly recite that America spends "twice" per capita what other industrialized countries spend with inferior results. Gee, any ideas how that might be the case? Maybe it's because American citizens just aren't taking enough Lipitor.

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