Sunshine Superman

“If I had to give you a single secret ingredient that could apply to the prevention — and treatment, in many cases — of heart disease, common cancers, stroke, infectious diseases from influenza to tuberculosis, type 1 and 2 diabetes, dementia, depression, insomnia, muscle weakness, joint pain, fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and hypertension, it would be this: vitamin D.”

During the whirlwind that has been my life of late, I managed to make my way through Dr. Michael Holick’s terrific book The Vitamin D Solution from which the above quote comes.  Before I get started on my review, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ve got to tell you that of all the books I’ve reviewed on this blog since its inception, this is the first and only one that I’ve been sent gratis by the publisher.  It was strange how it came about.  I learned of this book long before it was published and had pre-ordered it through Amazon.  A few weeks or so after my pre-order, I received an email from the publisher’s PR agent for this book asking if I would like a pre-publication copy for possible review.  I sure would, said I, and promptly canceled my Amazon order.

I’ve been a fan of Dr. Holick’s for years now, reading every paper he publishes, which is a considerable job given his prolific output.  I’ve corresponded with him a time or two on a few issues and he has always been very generous with his advice.  I consider him THE authority on vitamin D.  So, I was eager to dig into his book.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I figured that somewhere along the way, Dr. Holick had gotten intrigued with vitamin D, had pursued his interest and had become sort of a guru.  But in reading his book, I learned that he is much more than that.  He began studying vitamin D as a graduate student and ended up being the person who actually discovered 1,25 (OH)D, the major circulating form of vitamin D in humans.  This was back in the early 1970s, and he’s been studying vitamin D without letup since.  His book is the most up-to-date source of all the science available about this amazing nutrient.

Dr. Holick sums up the importance of vitamin D to human well being in this single sentence from early in the book:

The sun is as vital to your health and well-being as food, shelter, water and oxygen.

Which seems reasonable since every morsel of energy we consume originates with the sun.  No sun, no plants.  No plants, no animals.  No plants and animals, no us.  As Sir Karl Popper noted, we eat the sun. We evolved in the sunlight, so it makes sense that the sun offers other benefits as well food.

Dr. Holick begins his book with a fascinating comparison of a ten-year-old girl growing up somewhere along the equator to a ten-year-old girl growing up in the United States or Europe.  The former will probably never learn how to use a computer, never go to a mall, never learn to drive a car and will probably end up spending most of her life outside tilling the soil as did her parents and grandparents.  She will probably experience periods in her life of poverty and poor nutrition.  By contrast, her US or European counterpart will always have plenty to eat, will learn to shop, order pizza, operate a computer, Game Boy, Wii, and God only knows what other kinds of electronics.  She will have her doting parents slather sunscreen on her to protect her skin from birth until she’s old enough to do it herself.  She will come of age in a different world, filled with the latest in medical technology.

And she will pay for it with her health.

Her equatorial counterpart will be only half as likely to get cancer in her lifetime.  She will have an 80 percent reduction in risk of developing type I diabetes before the age of 30.  And she will live longer.  If she can avoid trauma or an untreated severe medical condition, the girl growing up in the more primitive but sunny circumstances will have an overall 7 percent greater longevity than her US/European counterpart.  She will have stronger bones, lower blood pressure, fewer cavities in her teeth, a greatly reduced risk for heart disease, type II diabetes, obesity, arthritis and most of the other diseases that will plague her more Westernized sisters.

Why the difference?  According to Dr. Holick, the equatorial girl has vastly more exposure to natural sunlight over her lifetime than does the other.

But, you might ask, why don’t the children in the US and Europe play outside more in the sunshine and reap its many benefits?  A couple of reasons.  Most of the US and Europe are too far north to get enough sun exposure to generate the production of adequate vitamin D during a large part of the year.  And, second, most parents are so fearful of sunburn that they slather their kids with sunscreen if and when they let these children play outside during the part of the year they can make adequate vitamin D.  Since a sunscreen with an SPF of only 8 reduces the synthesis of vitamin D by 95 percent, think of how little vitamin D children with sunscreens of SPF 30 or 45 are making.  Zero.



Readers of this blog know that I refer to people who have an unreasoning fear of fat as lipophobes, fat fearers.  Well, since Helios was the Greek god of the sun, I’ll call those who have an unreasoning fear of the sun heliophobes.

Why do people become heliophobes?  Same reason they become lipophobes: they refuse to think.

Just as lipophobes see a heart attack in every morsel of fat, heliophobes see skin cancer in every ray of sunshine.

To give them their due, the heliophobes have at least a smidgen of data to bolster their point of view.  Unlike the lipophobes, who have no reliable data demonstrating that saturated fat causes heart disease, the heliophobes can point convincingly at the data showing sun exposure causes problems for the skin.

Unquestionably, excess sun exposure causes premature aging of the skin and a couple of types of skin cancer.  Of this there is no doubt.  But, lack of adequate vitamin D appears to be related to an entire host of serious problems including melanoma, the most dangerous and deadly form of skin cancer.  The most common type of skin cancer from overexposure is basal cell carcinoma, which is just about the least malignant of all cancers, and if treated (by removal) results in virtually no mortality.  The same can’t be said for prostate, breast and colon cancers, all cancers thought to be sun (or, more correctly, lack of sun) related.  These cancers are much more prevalent the farther north one goes and almost non-existent at the equator.

The trade off, in my opinion, is well worth it.  Especially when it’s possible to have the best of both worlds and avoid both the premature aging, minor skin cancers AND the breast, prostate and colon cancers (not to mention multiple sclerosis, osteoporosis, and the host of other disorders laid at the doorstep of too little vitamin D) by sensible sun exposure.

Dr. Holick tells you how.  He provides charts and tables telling you how much sun exposure you require for adequate vitamin D synthesis depending upon where you live in the world.  And he describes how you can make up any difference by taking vitamin D supplements.

Why not just take the supplements and forget about the sun?

Vitamin D made in the skin lasts at least twice as long in the blood as vitamin D ingested from the diet.  When you are exposed to sunlight, you make not only vitamin D but also at least five and up to ten additional photoproducts that you would never get from dietary sources or from a supplement.

Old Mother Nature is pretty parsimonious with her creations, and I suspect she wouldn’t have five to ten photoproducts circulating around if they didn’t do something good for us.  Just because we aren’t advanced enough yet to figure out what it is they do, doesn’t mean they don’t do something.  Thus Dr. Holick’s recommendation to hit the sun if at all possible instead of the supplement bottle.

Plus, there are some downsides to indiscriminately throwing back the supplements without monitoring your 25 (OH)D levels.  See here and here, for example.

One of the few criticisms I have of this exceptional book is that Dr. Holick goes way overboard in his obvious worry about the opinion of the heliophobes.  Throughout, he repeatedly warns against overexposure as if getting a little too much sun from a day at the beach could lead to one’s body becoming wrinkled and having skin cancers the size of buboes popping out all over within a week.  But we can’t be too hard on the poor Doc because the water in which he swims professionally has a high SPF indeed.  His colleagues are primarily dermatologists and Dr. Holick works hard not to gain their total opprobrium.  As cardiologist wage their misguided war against fat, dermatologist wage theirs against the sun.  And just as many cardiologists haven’t figured out that fat can be a good thing, dermatologists apparently haven’t learned of the good sunshine can do.  Or if they have learned it, they’ve chosen to ignore it to their patients’ detriment.

The dermatologists are a pretty vocal group and are constantly issuing press releases about the dangers of sun exposure.  So sun phobic are dermatologists that in their minds, the perfect place to vacation would be inside a cave.  I’m not really exaggerating – they are heliophobes of the deepest dye.  And they don’t tolerate dissent.  Ask Dr. Holick.

In 2004 I was forced to give up my position as a professor of dermatology at Boston University Medical Center, a position I had held for nearly ten years.  My stalwart support of sensible sun exposure just didn’t jibe with the views of the chair of the department.

Since this time the scientific literature has exploded with articles about the benefits of vitamin D and the widespread epidemic of vitamin D deficiency.  (I just ran a PubMed search for vitamin D and found 48,552 citations.) I wonder if this silly woman who fired him and was so pompous and cocksure now feels any sense of remorse?  Especially since she still labors in obscurity while Dr. Holick is an academic rock star.

Another point I would take issue with is Dr. Holick’s statement in the book that there is no difference between vitamin D2 and vitamin D3.  He says he’s performed studies looking at these two versions of vitamin D and found both of them to maintain vitamin D levels in the appropriate range.   Since he’s done the studies and seen the data, I don’t have any reason to disagree with him on his findings.  But, there have been a number of anecdotal reports showing that people with problems due to vitamin D deficiency seem to have better symptomatic improvement if they take vitamin D3 (the real vitamin D) than if they take equivalent doses of vitamin D2.

Since these are anecdotal reports, we can’t put absolute faith in them, but I would still recommend vitamin D3 over vitamin D2.  In these situations where one supplement is supposed to perform better than another, usually the one that allegedly performs better, costs more.  So you end up in a risk reward situation: Do I want to pay more to get a better effect or do I want to pay less and hope for adequate results?  In the vit D3 versus vit D2, we don’t have this circumstance.  Both are dirt cheap, and, if anything, vitamin D3 is less expensive.  So if they both create the same blood levels, but one engenders more anecdotally positive reports, why not go with it.  My advice is to buy vitamin D3 and avoid the D2.

One more criticism I have of the book (might as well get ‘em out early) is Dr. Holick’s aligning with the mainstream in criticizing saturated fat.  I’m sure he hasn’t looked at the literature on saturated fat, because if he had, he wouldn’t have written what he did.  But I can’t really hold that totally against him since he is, after all, a mainstream guy (in all but his defense of sunshine), and, as such, would be expected to be marinated in the mainstream biases.

Unfortunately, for a century now, the American diet has been getting higher in fat–especially in the extra-unhealthy saturated fats.  This may partly explain why skin cancer rates have gone up, as well as diabetes and heart disease.  The average American diet is about 16 percent saturated fat, whereas most qualified dieticians [sic] will tell you it should be no more than one third of that.  To make matters worse, there has been a trend toward fad weight-loss programs advocating high fat content (the Atkins diet is probably the best known of these).

Leaving aside whether these diets actually work in the long term to help people keep weight off, diets high in saturated fat may cause a variety of life-threatening health problems and probably contribute to skin cancer, not to mention all other types of cancer.  But you don’t necessarily have to go on a traditional ‘diet’ to achieve the results you’re looking for.  You just need to start moving toward foods lower in saturated fat and try to limit or evict those foods that contain excessive amounts of fat–which is typically found in processed products (which also usually contain lots of salt and sugar) and marbled meats.  There are several excellent eating plans out there that advocate eating this way.

It’s beyond the scope of this book to offer specifics on the perfect diet, but I’ll say that a healthy eating regimen calls for plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, high-quality proteins (“high-quality” meaning they are low in saturated fat but can be high in healthy monounsaturated fats, as is the case with wild salmon), and whole grains.

Jesus wept.

Fortunately, aside from a few small mentions here and there, this is about the extent of his saturated fat bashing.

For a while now, I have been worried about the long-term effects that will come about from the heliophobes and their constant sunshine bashing. (In fact, MD and I wrote a whole chapter about it in The Protein Power LifePlan back in 2000.)  But after reading The Vitamin D Solution, I’m greatly concerned.  Conscientious parents have no idea of the future damage they may be causing by never letting their children play outside without slathering them with sunscreen.  Today’s children have weaker bones are are much more prone to fracture than children of a few decades ago.  As Dr. Holick reports

Even more alarming is a new epidemic in which bone formation in children appears normal but is actually much softer than is should be.  Girls today break their arms 56 percent more often than did their peers forty years ago.  Boys break their arms 32 percent more often.

I’m sure the girls and boys of forty years ago were much more rough and tumble than the ones of today, yet the kids of today suffer more fractures.

While writing this post I got an email notifying me of a recent study showing that melanoma, a virulently malignant form of skin cancer is occurring with frighteningly high frequency in today’s teens.  These are the adolescents at the leading edge of the great heoliophobe movement, the very ones whose parents, in an effort to protect them, coated these kids liberally with sunscreen every time they walked out of doors.  Did their well-meaning parents set them up for this terrible disease?  Are the chickens coming home to roost?  It’s difficult to say for sure, but, in my opinion, it’s more than likely.  Here’s what happened.

When I was a kid, I played outside all the time.  So did all my friends.  We were outside, especially during the summer, from the time we got up until it was dark.  Since we played outside most all the time, as summer approached and the suns rays became more direct, we had already developed the base of tan from being outside all during the spring when it was difficult to get sunburned.  Our tans protected us from the effects of the sun, blocking both UVA and UVB light.

UVB rays are those that burn the skin and the ones that drive the synthesis of vitamin D.  UVA rays are those that mobilize the melanin (the pigment in the skin) and bring it to the surface.  When enough melanin comes to the surface, our skin gets darker, i.e., we develop a tan.  The tan then protects us from the harmful effects of the sun, allowing us to stay out all day without getting a sunburn and without getting too much UVA, which is important since excess UVA exposure is thought to be the cause of melanoma.

Although many sunscreens available today claim to block both UVB and UVA, when today’s teens were young children, virtually all of the sunscreens on the market then blocked UVB only.  Which is probably the root cause of the increase in melanoma in adolescents today.  Here’s what happens.

People who don’t use sunscreens and who have good sense get out of the sun when they begin to burn.  Avoiding the sun limits the exposure to both UVB, the burning rays, and UVA, the melanoma-stimulating rays.  When people slather on sunscreen that blocks UVB only, they can then stay out in the sun for a long time without burning.  The price they pay for this is that they end up with an extremely large dose of UVA, which doesn’t cause pain but sows the seeds for later melanoma development, a fate that has in the past befallen many a vacationer to the sunny areas of the world.

Many people labor away in offices for 50 weeks of the year then escape for a couple of weeks of fun in the sun.  Since they have limited time, they don’t want to spend it with graduated sun exposure while they develop a tan.  They pile on the sunscreen in copious amounts, hit the beach and stay out all day, stopping only long enough to put on more sunscreen.  During this process, they accumulate the effects of huge exposure to UVA and often pay the price years later by developing melanoma.  Those hardy folk who work outdoors all year long and have constant sun exposure almost never develop melanoma.  Why?  Because they develop a tan that blocks the UVA.  Plus, thanks to their constant sun exposure, they receive the benefit of plenty of vitamin D synthesis, which has been shown to be protective against melanoma.  The poor schmucks on vacation who broil in the sun while basting themselves with sunscreen get way too much UVA and don’t get any vitamin D because sunscreen blocks virtually all of the vitamin D synthesizing rays.  They are the victims of a true double whammy.

And that is what I suspect is driving the increase in melanoma in teens today: their poor misguided parents attempting to do the right thing.  Very sad, indeed.

Along with the increase in melanoma, the huge epidemic of fibromyalgia we are seeing today is in great measure a consequence of vitamin D deficiency.  Without enough vitamin D, bone doesn’t harden as it should.  It grows, but is softer and mushier and less supportive than it should be.  The body continues to make more bone to try to remedy the problem and the bones actually enlarge.  This enlargement presses against the periosteum, the fibrous sheath that surrounds the bone and through which the nerves run.  As the pulpy bony growth presses against the periosteum, it stimulates the nerves in the periosteum and causes the deep bone pain common to sufferers of fibromyalgia.  Doctors who are up to date on their vitamin D knowledge will press the breastbone to try to elicit pain.  And if they do, their patient is probably suffering from a vitamin D deficiency.  If that’s what the blood test shows, then the fibromyalgia can be treated with a course of sunshine and/or vitamin D supplementation.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading The Vitamin D Solution on a plane, and the guy sitting across the aisle from me was reading Predictably Irrational, which I had read and enjoyed a while back.  I kept looking to see where he was in his book, and he kept glancing at mine.  After we had landed and were taxiing in, he asked me if I had ever known anyone who had responded medically to vitamin D.  He then told me that he had been experiencing severe, debilitating pains in the bones in his chest, back and legs.  He went to his doctor, who checked his vitamin D levels, found them way low, and started my new friend on a course of vitamin D supplements, which, in due course, had gotten rid of his problem.  He was a pretty tan guy, so I asked him about his sun exposure and wondered why he would be vitamin D deficient.  He then told me he was a kidney transplant patient, which explained everything.  As you will learn when you read Dr. Holick’s book, the kidney converts the inactive form of vitamin D circulating in the blood to the active form.  This gentleman’s transplanted kidney obviously wasn’t doing it for him.  Vitamin D supplements did the trick, however, and his pains had vanished.

The subject matter I’ve covered in this post barely scratches the surface of what’s there in Dr. Holick’s new book.  I heartily recommend it to all.

Before I sign off here, though, I want to relate a funny story.  Funny to me at least.  It involves a character who was a running dog of mine back when I was in medical school.  Any of you who read The Protein Power LifePlan already met this guy in another humorous adventure of his I related in the section on iron overload.  He’s the guy who dated the pig lady.

This guy was, in Billy Bob Thornton’s memorable words to Woody Harrelson in the movie Indecent Proposal, a “real poon hound.”  This guy would relentlessly go after anything with a skirt.  And, as often happens with those types, he came down with a bad case of herpes.  As soon as he got his diagnosis he went into a depression for about a week and then began reading everything he could read on herpes.  He discovered that herpes was typically a local infection but that in some patients (mainly immunocompromised ones) herpes could go systemic, which means it could spread through the bloodstream and and create a hellish infection everywhere, often with fatal consequences.  His affliction was never far from his mind, which led to the tale that follows.

In those days Zovirax hadn’t been developed, so the only remedies for this loathsome disorder were OTC products that didn’t really work.  At that time the main OTC med was Stoxil, which my friend purchased by the car-load lot and coated himself (or at least his infected parts) with at the least sign of an outbreak.

One day he came down with some kind of upper respiratory infection and called me to get something for it.  He was prone to these infections, which responded well to minocycline, a tetracycline-derivative drug.  I called him in a course of the drug and forgot about it.

Unbeknownst to me, my friend was planning a day at the lake with his latest inamorata.   Complexion-wise, he was lily white and usually avoided the sun.  A day at the lake was not his typical recreation, so I can be excused from not telling him not to go out in the sun; it would have never occurred to me that he might do so. The sun can be a problem because tetracycline drugs have a propensity to give people who take them a photosensitivity reaction when they get too much exposure.  These photosensitivity reactions cause the skin to swell and become discolored and blistered.

My friend took his meds as prescribed, had a great day at the lake, came home with the girl and hit the sack.  After he had been asleep for a few hours, he woke up needing to relieve himself.  On his walk to the toilet, he passed the bathroom mirror and glanced at the mirror wherein he saw the Elephant Man staring back at him.  His face red, blistered and swollen, eyes just slits.  He had obviously had a bad photosensitivity reaction (obviously that is to those who knew about such things) after his day in the sun while on minocycline.  But he didn’t know this.  He flew into a blind panic because the first thing that sprang to his mind was that his herpes was swarming on him: that he had developed systemic herpes.  He immediately grabbed the Stoxil and practically bathed in it.  Then he put in an emergency call to his dermatologist, whom, I’m sure, found it strange since dermatologists rarely — if ever — get emergency calls.

When he told me about it later in the day, I burst out laughing and have laughed about it any time I thought of it up to this moment.  In fact, I’m having trouble typing these words because I’m still laughing so hard remembering.  Who says doctors are humorless?  My friend even laughed about it later, though admittedly not to the same degree I did.  What I found so funny was not his condition but the fact that he was so obsessed with his herpes that the first thought that jumped to his mind was that his disfigurement was his herpes going wild.  Maybe you just had to be there.

Don’t let my semi-off-topic detour make you forget about picking up a copy of Dr. Holick’s book.  Despite my few minor criticisms, it is an excellent book that provides a wealth of useful information.  Just the Q&A is worth the price of the book because in that section Dr. Holick answers all the questions anyone might think of about vitamin D, including the one I’ve been asked numerous times: If you shower after sunbathing, does it wash away the vitamin D.  The answer is No.  Then he explains why.

There is something for everyone in this book, from studies showing sun bathing works as well (if not better) than medications for lowering blood pressure to discussions of vitamin D and its effects on obesity and leptin secretion.  It doesn’t matter if you’re depressed, have multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, osteoporosis or even PMS, you can learn how vitamin D will help you out. Grab a copy and start reading.

Since the last time I posted (which, admittedly, was a while ago), I’ve flown about 8 billion miles, so I’ve had plenty of time to read while in the air.  Here is a list of the books  on my nightstand right now.

Pandora’s Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization by Spencer Wells.  I’m about a forth of the way through this book describing the problems we hunting/gathering humans have had in adapting to agriculture.  So far, so good.  A couple of medical missteps already, but nothing major.  But I haven’t gotten to the real meat of the part on disease, so I’ll reserve my judgment until then.

The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home by Dan Ariely.  This is the follow up book to Predictably Irrational, which I posted about earlier.  While the first book explained how predictably irrational we humans really are, this second one teaches us how to benefit from it.

Manthropology by Peter McAllister.  A fun book written by an Australian anthropologist discussing what wimps modern men (and women) are compared to their Paleo ancestors.  According to McAllister, today’s elite athletes would have trouble competing with our ancient predecessors in any events requiring speed or strength.  Unfortunately this book won’t be available in a US edition until Oct 2010.  If you want it before then, you can get it on Amazon, but you’ll have to pay through the nose for it like I did. I couldn’t resist the title.

The First Cut, Cut to the Quick, and The Deepest Cut all by Dianne Emley.  The careful reader can probably detect a theme in these books, which are are police procedural mystery novels set in Pasadena, CA.  The protagonist, Nan Vining, is a single mom and has recovered from a near death experience after having been stabbed in the throat while on duty.  These have been my escapist books over the past couple of weeks.  I’m running out of mysteries to read because it seems that I have read everything written by US and UK (and even Australian) authors.  Help!  Any and all suggestions will be appreciated.

36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction by Rebecca Goldstein.  A literary novel if there ever were one.  Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it immensely.  It has so many moving parts that it’s hard to describe.  Read the Amazon review if you’re interested.

The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves by Matt Ridly .  I was curious to see how Matt Ridly, an excellent science writer, would approach a more soft science than usual.  His thesis is that collective human intelligence will save us from the fates all the Erhlich’s and Malthusians fear await us.

Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information by Vlatko Vedral. Another book that is no doubt not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m a physics/quantum mechanics geek so I enjoy this kind of book.  It explores the idea that information is the basic element making up the universe.

Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans by Brian Fagan.  Dr. Fagan is an Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a fellow member of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club. This book, his latest, explores the time that Cro-Magnon man and Neanderthals co-existed in Europe and how the superior intellect of the former allowed them to survive the Ice Age.  Until I read this book, it hadn’t occurred to me that the Cro-Magnons, who were identical to us genetically, roamed Europe for about 30,000 years, a length of time vastly longer than all of recorded history.  And yet it seems we know less about them than we do most of the other primitive beings.

2009 Bestseller list

It’s time for the 2009 bestseller list.  These are books purchased last year through this website from readers either going through the Amazon portals on the page (more about which later) or clicking on Amazon links appearing in many of the posts when books are mentioned. As always, these are all the books purchased that are not books MD and I wrote or co-wrote.

The number one winner going away was Lierre Kieth’s brilliant The Vegetarian Myth.  If you haven’t read it, grab a copy ASAP.  For those of you who don’t know, Lierre was recently the victim of an assault at a San Francisco reading.  Masked thugs came out from behind the stage and smashed her in the head and face with pies laced with cayenne pepper.  After the assault took place, while Lierre was trying to get the burning pepper out of her eyes, the audience (of mainly vegetarians) cheered.  It was truly disgusting.  Richard Nikoley and Tom Naughton reported on the assault here and here.  Jimmy Moore has a  interview with Lierre about the attack here. Tom Naughton proposes a rationale for such behavior here.

It appears that militant vegans have secured  Lierre’s name and other versions of her name on Twitter and are mounting a vicious smear  campaign against her.  Purchase her book to fight back.  Success is her best revenge.

Here are the books in descending order.

#1 The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Kieth.  My review here.

#2 Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.  My review here.

#3 Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.  My review here.

#4 Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind by Donald Johanson. My review here.

#5 Control Theory by William Glasser My review here.

#6 The Brain Trust by Larry McCleary, M.D. My review here.

#7 500 Low-Carb Recipes: 500 Recipes from Snacks to Dessert, That the Whole Family Will Love by Dana Carpender

#8 Natural Hormone Balance for Women by Uzzi Reiss.  A mention here.

#9 How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.  MD’s review here along with her entire list of essential cookbooks.

#10 Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High by Kerry Patterson et al.  My review here.

#10 Primal Body-Primal Mind by Nora Gedgaudas

#10 The Great Cholesterol Con by Malcolm Kendrick.  My review here.

#10 The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt My review here.

The last four books on the list sold exactly the same number of copies, so they all tied for 10th on the list.  I listed them alphabetically.

Although not a book, sales of the DVD of Tom Naughton’s brilliant film Fat Head would have put it at #2 on the list.  If you haven’t seen this film, order it today.  Here’s my review.

I want to thank all of you who have ordered not just books but all kinds of things through this site.  And I want to encourage you to continue.  The small commission I make on each order helps underwrite the maintenance on this site, which is much higher than I would have thought it would be.  Plus, I’m still paying off the recent redesign.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, any time you order a book or a DVD or a CD or anything (groceries, supplements, tee-shirts, whatever) through, I get a small commission on your order.  But I get this only if you go through one of the Amazon portals on this blog or MD’s blog or anywhere on the website.  What is an Amazon portal?  If you click the picture of The Six-Week Cure for the Middle-Aged Middle at the upper right of this post, you will be taken to the Six-Week Cure page on Amazon.  If you’re looking for something else, just type it in the search window, click the ‘Go’ button to the right, and you will be taken to wherever you want to go, and anything you purchase once you get there will earn me a tiny commission.

This whine for help with Amazon is my own version of those awful PBS fundraising telethons.  The difference is that here it doesn’t cost you anything; you simply have to purchase whatever you were going to purchase through Amazon anyway by going through one of the portals on this blog.  And your free programming will continue.

As some of you may have noticed, I finally removed the tacky Google ads that were at the bottom of each post.  I didn’t even realize they were there until I was having lunch with Mark Sisson one day, and he asked me what my relationship with Atkins Nutritionals was.  I told him I had no relationship with them.  He told me he figured I did because a fairly prominent banner ad for Atkins Nutritionals appeared at the bottom of each of my posts.  I checked myself, and, sure enough, there were the ads.  I looked into it and found out that I was making about $45 per month for these ads (not all were Atkins, but most were) so I ditched them altogether.  Had I been making $1500 per month on these ads, I may have had second thoughts, but as it was, I had no problem giving them the ax.

So, at this point, no ads are cluttering the pages of my blog or MD’s blog.  Other, of course, than those for our own books, which are the previously mentioned Amazon portals.  Order early and order often.

Merry Christmas from Dallas

A quick post just to let everyone know that I’m still among the living and that I haven’t given up posting for good.

MD and I have taken off a few days and are in Dallas with kids and grandkids celebrating Christmas.  It snowed like crazy all yesterday afternoon, and, according to the newspapers, Dallas has had its first white Christmas since 1926.  And we were here to witness it.  At left is a photo looking out the back door.  Granted, it’s not a New England eight inch snow or a Colorado two foot snow, but it’s a pretty substantial snow for Dallas.  Maybe it’s a harbinger of good things to come, although the last white Christmas preceded the year in which the Great Depression started.

I’ve been absent from posting because MD and I have been incredibly busy with Sous Vide Supreme stuff.  I just thought we were busy during the developmental stage.  The post-developmental era has consumed enormous amounts of our time.  Especially since our invention had such a nice write up in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago.  We’ve been inundated with requests for interviews from multiple media sources and for write ups for this and that.  And all that is not to mention a week’s worth of filming in Seattle.  We’re making a true infomercial on the Sous Vide Supreme with emphasis on the ‘info’ part.  So many people are unaware of what the sous vide process is, so we’re going to tell them.

We’ve teamed up with chef Richard Blais, whom many of you may know from Top Chef, Iron Chef America and other TV cooking shows.  He couldn’t be any nicer nor any easier to work with – a really great guy who can cook like you wouldn’t believe.  He will appear with MD on the infomercial that will start running early next year.  Below is a photo of the two of them camping it up on the set.

The infomercial filming went without a hitch, and the food that Richard Blais prepared in the SVS was incomparable.  On the eve of the filming my brother sent me a YouTube of an infomercial that had a few problems.  I forwarded it on to the rest of the team, and fortunately the Sous Vide Supreme functioned a little better than the popcorn popper in the video below.

We’ve also teamed up with the retailer Sur La Table.  They will be carrying the Sous Vide Supreme in their stores and in their catalog right after the start of the year.  MD and Richard will be doing demos in several of the stores, so if you want to see the SVS in the flesh, so to speak, head on over to a Sur La Table near you and take a look.

This entire sous vide experience has been different than anything we’ve ever done.  It’s really nice to see articles and reviews that are all positive instead of the hatchet jobs we’re used to getting while promoting low-carb.  No one accuses us of being purveyors of dangerous fad diets, of encouraging people to eat more artery-clogging saturated fat, of being doctors of death (which we’ve been called on live radio) or of simply trying to make a quick buck at the expense of the health of those gullible enough to follow our recommendations.  The new experience has been rewarding and a lot of fun but incredibly time consuming.  Thus my absence from my blogging duties.

But I’ve been absent in electrons only.  I’ve been flying all over the place carrying a satchel of scientific papers that I’ve been reviewing and preparing to blog about.  So I’m fully loaded with ammo and ready to write after I’ve taken a fews days of a breather.

I haven’t been totally offline, however.  I’ve been keeping up with the blogs I  read regularly and haven’t been able to resist commenting when something gets under my skin.

Food writer Michael Ruhlman did a great review of the Sous Vide Supreme, and in the comments section someone took me (and the SVS team) to task for profiteering.   As you might imagine, this kind of thing really gets my hackles up, especially since we are still way, way in the red on this project.  I kept myself in check (the good Mike won out as MD would say) and wrote a couple of mild  but informative comments.  You can read them here.

My friend Amy Alkon, the Advice Goddess, whose blog I read religiously, wrote a funny post on bacon featuring the kind of ill-disciplined child who gives the South a bad name.  Amy, who is an inveterate low-carber, wrote the post from the perspective of how much she likes bacon.  Of course some commenter couldn’t resist slamming low-carb diets in general and Gary Taubes in particular, so I couldn’t resist resorting to form (the bad Mike sort of won out on this one).  If you’re interested, you can read that exchange here (two comments). The guy turned out to be pretty nice and even sent me a friendly email via Amy.

Speaking of Gary Taubes… he tipped me off on an interesting paper on HDL that I’ll post on soon and I’ve uncovered a few others on the fallacy of the lipid hypothesis.  It looks like the mainstream is ratcheting up its jihad against low-carb again with a few spurious papers badly in need of a public dismantling.  I’ll soon be tanned, rested and ready to shred.  And to go after the statinators, the great medical menaces of our time.  Plus I’ll throw in a nice post on how long it might take the low-carb diet to become the diet recognized by all as the correct diet for most everyone.

Until then, I’m going to lay low and try to catch up on my non-scientific reading.  Speaking of which, I got a great book as a Christmas present from my grandkids today.  It is Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide, the Miracle on the Hudson and is about US Air Flight 5149 that went into the Hudson River last January.  Although the book extols the skill and courage of Capt Sullenberger and crew, its main emphasis is on the aircraft they flew: the Airbus 320.

Twenty five years before Flight 1549 took its plunge, a highly intelligent, charismatic French fighter pilot and test pilot named Bernard Ziegler talked the management at Airbus to let him design a plane that almost flew itself.  Ziegler recognized that pilots exhibited a bell-shaped curve in their level of skill and expertise and that some of the less skilled had ended up killing themselves along with all their passengers after getting into situations that more skilled pilots may have gotten out of safely.  He wanted to design a plane with layers of built-in redundancies that would allow all pilots, but especially those less skilled, to worry about the major goal of any pilot who is in trouble – getting safely on the ground – without  being distracted by all the little details of flying.  In other words – and in very simplistic words – if pilots could simply make the decision to land, the plane could almost fly itself.  When pilots get in tricky situations it is sometimes difficult to get out of them without stressing the plane to the point of structural damage.  As the pilots are trying to avoid disaster they have to worry not only about their main problem – a loss of power, say – but have to baby the plane to keep it from breaking up.  Ziegler fixed all that with the Airbus by designing it to perform maximally under control of multiple computers while the pilots tend to the main problem at hand.  Since the computers control these functions of the plane by electricity it’s called flying by the wire.

When Sully and crew brought the plane down safely in the Hudson, they were flying by wire.  And as the author William Langewiesche puts it

They had no choice.  Like it or not, Ziegler reached out across the years and cradled them all the way to the water. His assistance may have been unnecessary, given the special qualities of these particular two [the pilots of Flight 1549], but there is no question the practical effects were profound.  At the moment of the bird strike, when the engines lost thrust, a conventional airplane would have tried immediately to nose down.  It would have wanted to go into a sharp descent, and would have required whoever was flying to haul back on the controls with some strength and to retrim the airplane for a slower, more moderate glide, while disciplining the wings to stay level until the decision could be made to turn around.  None of this is inherently difficult, but it imposes insidious demands on the crew in an emergency, when they are already busy with more important concerns.  It is an accepted reality that the repetitive and menial jobs, associated with baseline control subtly impinge on a pilot’s capacities, and that during periods of truly high workloads, even simple thoughts are difficult to have.

Imagine trying to disarm a bomb while also having to deal with menial chores and talk on the phone at the same time.

This fascinating book doesn’t detract from the skill and heroism of the crew of Flight 1549, but explains in detail why they were able to make it look so easy.

I loved this book.  I opened it in the morning and had it finished before lunch (lunch was sous vide turkey, if you must know).  If you have any interest in aviation, Fly by Wire is a must read.  Despite the fact that the author dissects in detail a number of commercial aviation disasters in the recent past, the book actually makes one feel safer flying, especially in an Airbus 320.

This post is already longer than I had intended it to be, so I wish you all a Merry Christmas.  I’ll be back soon.

Merry Christmas from Dallas

I’ll leave you with a couple more photos.  Below on the left is my Southern grandson testing the snow barefooted.  On the right is MD slicing the sous vide turkey we had for lunch.

The Drs. Eades & Julia…and radio

I have to confess.  I lied to you.  I said the next post would be part II of the Meat Eater or Vegetarian series and here I am sticking another one in in between.  But I at least have a good reason for this interloper post: it is time sensitive.

Due to other commitments tomorrow and Monday (see below for the Monday commitment) I more than likely won’t be able to get the promised post up before Tuesday.  I was working away on it this afternoon (actually alternating between writing the post and dealing with comments) when my bride came in and whined for me to go to a movie I didn’t really want to see.  But, being the dutiful and obliging spouse that I am, I went.  And I was glad I did.

MD just finished the book Julie & Julia and was hot to see the movie.  I hadn’t read the book, and don’t plan on it, so I was lukewarm at best on the idea.  But I’m glad I relented because the movie is one of the best I’ve seen in a long while.  MD and I related to it on a number of levels.  We written books and have been through all the publisher snafus that Julia experienced.  We know what it’s like to have a cooking show.  And we’ve been through the blogging experience.  But, unlike the heroine of the blog and book, we’ve actually met Julia.

In the summer of 2000, a couple of friends of ours who own Al Forno, a famous restaurant in Providence, RI, arranged for MD and me to be a part of a huge fundraiser for the Providence Public Library.  It got worked out in such a way that MD and I attended as – get this – celebrity chefs.  Chefs? I still don’t know how it happened because our cooking show hadn’t even been conceived of at that time and we had just published The Protein Power LifePlan a few months earlier.  But there we were as celebrity chefs with – get this, too – Emeril Lagasse, Jacques Pepin, and Julia Child.  And, as they say, that’s not all.  We were there with Billy Joel as well.  Yep, Billie, Emeril, Jacques, Julia, MD and me – the celebs brought out to raise money for the Providence Public Library.  It was kind of surreal.

When I was introduced to Julia, I told her I was delighted to meet her and that my wife and I lived in her home town.  I knew she lived in Santa Barbara, and MD and I had been living there for about a year at the time – if you could call it living there.  We actually lived primarily in Incline Village, Nevada and Santa Fe, New Mexico, but we did spent a fair amount of time in Santa Barbara, where we lived aboard a sailboat in the marina when we were in town.  So, I was more or less honest when I said we lived in Santa Barbara.

Julia Child was a big woman.  And I don’t mean fat, I mean big.  She’s well over six feet tall and is imposing even stooped a bit as she was then at age almost 90.  As we shook hands she replied to my remark about living in her home town in her wonderful, warble-y, quivery voice, “Which home town? Santa Barbara or Cambridge, Massachusetts?”  And she moved when she spoke just as Meryl Streep portrays her in the movie.

Until that moment, I hadn’t realize she lived anywhere but Santa Barbara, but it just so happened that MD and I had just purchased a condo in Cambridge a few months before.  Our eldest son, wife and first grandchild were moving to the Boston area for a year while our son clerked with a federal judge.  We bought the condo and they rented it from us.  So, I answered her that we lived both places.  Which, of course, was a stretch since we lived part time on a boat in one and owned a rental condo in the other, but, hey, I was among real celebrities so I had to act the part.

In the years between that first meeting and her death, we saw her a dozen or so times around Santa Barbara.  She frequented a lot of the same restaurants we did and was a regular at the farmer’s market.  But other than the time we chatted a bit at the Providence Library shindig, neither MD nor I ever spoke with her again.  We would say hello if we passed one another, but that’s it.  I’m sure she didn’t have a clue we had met before.  Having had the interaction with her that we did, made the movie a little more poignant for us.  I now wish we had made the effort to get to know her while we had the chance.

Julia had to deal with her publisher and with promoting her various books.  And we do too.  One of the things authors agree to when they sign a publishing contract is to make themselves available for various publicity events.  MD and I have done the book tour routine (which is miserable), appeared on countless TV shows and radio shows, and shown up for innumerable book signings.   None of these PR events are particularly fun, but the most loathsome PR event of all takes place this coming Monday.  It is the dreaded radio satellite tour.

There is a certain type of PR agent that books these kinds of things, which involve scheduling numerous radio shows one right after the other with military precision.  The shows start on drive time radio on the East Coast and move west with the sun.

We will start at 6:50 AM Eastern, which is 3:50 AM our time, and be on the radio pretty much non-stop throughout the day.  A number of you have asked in the comments if we are going to be appearing anywhere.  Right now, this is all that is scheduled.  I’ve posted the schedule below so that if we’re on a station in your neck of the woods, you’ll be able to listen should you chose to.

It will be a grueling day for us, but somehow we’ll manage to keep our good cheer through it all.  A thousand cups of coffee will help.  Hope you get to listen in to part of it.

MAM pg 1

The Vegetarian Myth

Before I get into a discussion of the absolutely phenomenal book you see pictured at the right, I’ve got a few disclosures to make.  First, I’m not much of a believer in the notion of man-made global warming or climate change (as they now call it since temperatures have been constantly falling instead of rising).  I’m a denier, in the pejorative term used by those who are believers.

Second, I’m not particularly pro-feminist.  And I certainly don’t hang around with any self-proclaimed radical feminists.  I have a wife who is smarter than I am, who is more talented than I am, and who, pound for pound, is probably a better athlete than I am, and I’m not bad. (In my defense, I can read much, much faster than she, but, she has better comprehension.) I long ago gave up the idea (if I ever really considered it seriously) that men are superior to women in any ways other than brute strength.  Having said that, however, I do believe that men are better suited to certain endeavors than woman and vice verse, but that doesn’t mean either men or women should be denied the opportunity to give whatever it is they want to do a whirl just because of their sex.  I guess I consider myself an egalitarian.  But from what I’ve seen of radical feminists, I’m not sure that I would count myself a big fan.

Given the above, you wouldn’t think I would enjoy and recommend a book written by a self-proclaimed radical feminist who is obviously a believer in global warming and the impending end of the earth as we know it.  I wouldn’t think so, either. Not my cup of tea even when it is sort of preaching to the choir.

But I can tell you that Lierre Keith’s book is beyond fantastic.  It is easily the best book I’ve read since Mistakes Were Made, maybe even better.  Everyone should read this book, vegetarian and non-vegetarian alike.  If you’re a radical feminist, you should read this book; if you’re a male chauvinist, you should read this book; if you have children, especially female children, you should read this book; if you are a young woman (or man) you should read this book; if you love animals, you should read this book; if you hate vegetarians, you should read this book; if you are contemplating the vegetarian way of life, you should definitely read this book; if you have a vegetarian friend or family member, you should this book and so should your friend.  As MD said after she read it, “everyone who eats should read this book.”

Anyone who has ever read a book on writing has come across the hackneyed piece of advice to cut open a vein and bleed on the page.  Lierre Keith, the author of this book, has come closer to literally doing that than almost any writer I’ve ever read.  Not only does her passion for her subject bleed through in almost every sentence, she is a superb lyrical prose stylist.  My book is dog eared, underlined and annotated from front to back – I can’t remember anything I’ve read that has contained so many terrific lines.

In fact The Vegetarian Myth is filled with so many good quotes (most by the author but some from other authors) that I was reminded of the old joke about the redneck who went to see a performance of Hamlet.  When the show let out, someone asked him what he thought of it.  Replied he:  It wasn’t nothin’ but a whole bunch of quotes all strung together.  As you’ll see when I ‘quote’ them below, The Vegetarian Myth contains quotable lines and paragraphs at about the same rate Hamlet does.

Ms. Keith was a practicing vegetarian (vegan) for twenty years, driven by her passion for kindness and justice for all creatures.  She couldn’t bear the thought of even killing a garden slug, or, for that matter, even removing a garden slug from her garden to a place where something or someone else might kill it.  Her years of compassionate avoidance of any foods of animal origin cost her her health.  Her story of coming to grips with the realization that whatever she ate came as a consequence of some living being’s having to die form the matrix onto which her narrative hangs.

You can read the first 14 manuscript pages of the book on the author’s website.  I have quoted from these 14 pages liberally below.

The introduction to The Vegetarian Myth explores Ms. Keith’s rationale for writing such a book, a book that, given her years of walking the vegetarian walk, must have been incredibly difficult to write.  She says as much with her first sentence.

She ponders the idea of factory farming, which she loathes, and the misbegotten idea that most people hold (not most readers of this blog, but most of the people in the world) that grains are good, not only for people, but for many animals as well.  And the common misconception that agriculture, the growing of annual grains and plants, is a wonderful, kind, sustainable activity.

This misunderstanding is born of ignorance, an ignorance that runs the length and breadth of the vegetarian myth, through the nature of agriculture and ending in the nature of life. We are urban industrialists, and we don’t know the origins of our food. This includes vegetarians, despite their claims to the truth. It included me, too, for twenty years. Anyone who ate meat was in denial; only I had faced the facts. Certainly, most people who consume factory-farmed meat have never asked what died and how it died. But frankly, neither have most vegetarians.

The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. The truth is that agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems. The truth is also that life isn’t possible without death, that no matter what you eat, someone has to die to feed you.

I want a full accounting, an accounting that goes way beyond what’s dead on your plate. I’m asking about everything that died in the process, everything that was killed to get that food onto your plate. That’s the more radical question, and it’s the only question that will produce the truth. How many rivers were dammed and drained, how many prairies plowed and forests pulled down, how much topsoil turned to dust and blown into ghosts? I want to know about all the species—not just the individuals, but the entire species—the chinook, the bison, the grasshopper sparrows, the grey wolves. And I want more than just the number of dead and gone. I want them back.

After she had seen the error of her ways as a vegan and had been eating meat for two years, for reasons unknown to her, the author continued to surf the same vegan websites and message boards she had for years.  Until she read one post that was so bizarre that she finally realized the large intellectual gap that had widened between her rationale thinking and the cult like thinking of, well, a cult.  It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

But one post marked a turning point. A vegan flushed out his idea to keep animals from being killed—not by humans, but by other animals. Someone should build a fence down the middle of the Serengeti, and divide the predators from the prey. Killing is wrong and no animals should ever have to die, so the big cats and wild canines would go on one side, while the wildebeests and zebras would live on the other. He knew the carnivores would be okay because they didn’t need to be carnivores. That was a lie the meat industry told. He’d seen his dog eat grass: therefore, dogs could live on grass.

No one objected. In fact, others chimed in. My cat eats grass, too, one woman added, all enthusiasm. So does mine! someone else posted. Everyone agreed that fencing was the solution to animal death.

Note well that the site for this liberatory project was Africa. No one mentioned the North American prairie, where carnivores and ruminants alike have been extirpated for the  annual grains that vegetarians embrace. But I’ll return to that in Chapter 3.

I knew enough to know that this was insane. But no one else on the message board could see anything wrong with the scheme. So, on the theory that many readers lack the knowledge to judge this plan, I’m going to walk you through this.

Carnivores cannot survive on cellulose. They may on occasion eat grass, but they use it medicinally, usually as a purgative to clear their digestive tracts of parasites. Ruminants, on the other hand, have evolved to eat grass. They have a rumen (hence, ruminant), the first in a series of multiple stomachs that acts as a fermentative vat. What’s actually happening inside a cow or a zebra is that bacteria eat the grass, and the animals eat the bacteria.

Lions and hyenas and humans don’t have a ruminant’s digestive system. Literally from our teeth to our rectums we are designed for meat. We have no mechanism to digest cellulose.

So on the carnivore side of the fence, starvation will take every animal. Some will last longer than others, and those some will end their days as cannibals. The scavengers will have a Fat Tuesday party, but when the bones are picked clean, they’ll starve as well. The graveyard won’t end there. Without grazers to eat the grass, the land will eventually turn to desert.

Why? Because without grazers to literally level the playing field, the perennial plants mature, and shade out the basal growth point at the plant’s base. In a brittle environment like the Serengeti, decay is mostly physical (weathering) and chemical (oxidative), not bacterial and biological as in a moist environment. In fact, the ruminants take over most of the biological functions of soil by digesting the cellulose and returning the nutrients, once again available, in the form of urine and feces.

But without ruminants, the plant matter will pile up, reducing growth, and begin killing the plants. The bare earth is now exposed to wind, sun, and rain, the minerals leech away, and the soil structure is destroyed. In our attempt to save animals, we’ve killed everything.

On the ruminant side of the fence, the wildebeests and friends will reproduce as effectively as ever. But without the check of predators, there will quickly be more grazers than grass. The animals will outstrip their food source, eat the plants down to the ground, and then starve to death, leaving behind a seriously degraded landscape.

The lesson here is obvious, though it is profound enough to inspire a religion: we need to be eaten as much as we need to eat. The grazers need their daily cellulose, but the grass also needs the animals. It needs the manure, with its nitrogen, minerals, and bacteria; it needs the mechanical check of grazing activity; and it needs the resources stored in animal bodies and freed up by degraders when animals die.

The grass and the grazers need each other as much as predators and prey. These are not one-way relationships, not arrangements of dominance and subordination. We aren’t exploiting each other by eating. We are only taking turns.

That was my last visit to the vegan message boards. I realized then that people so deeply ignorant of the nature of life, with its mineral cycle and carbon trade, its balance points around an ancient circle of producers, consumers, and degraders, weren’t going to be able to guide me or, indeed, make any useful decisions about sustainable human culture. By turning from adult knowledge, the knowledge that death is embedded in every creature’s sustenance, from bacteria to grizzly bears, they would never be able to feed the emotional and spiritual hunger that ached in me from accepting that knowledge. Maybe in the end this book is an attempt to soothe that ache myself.

How anyone who can read these 14 pages and not purchase and read this book is beyond me.

After the introduction which deals with why the author wrote the book, The Vegetarian Myth is divided into four sections: Moral Vegetarians, Political Vegetarians, Nutritional Vegetarians, and To Save the World.

The first three of these sections are the author’s in-depth refutations of the moral, political and nutritional arguments that vegetarians are constantly putting forth.  She does a masterful job.

In the Moral Vegetarians chapter, the author addresses the moral issue of killing animals for our own food.  She beautifully makes her case by cutting to the heart of the matter:

What separates me from vegetarians isn’t ethics or commitment.  It’s information.

And while she was in her 20-year trek in the vegetarian wilderness, she shielded herself from information as most cultists do:

I was on the side of righteousness, and like any fundamentalist, I could only stay there by avoiding information.

She finally realized the truth about agriculture; she figured out that the amber waves of grain are as death dealing as any slaughterhouse.

And agriculture isn’t quite a war because the forests and wetlands and prairies, the rain, the soil, the air, can’t fight back.  Agriculture is really more like ethnic cleansing, wiping out the indigenous dwellers so the invaders can take the land.  It’s biotic cleansing, biocide. … It is not non-violent.  It is not sustainable.  And every bite of food is laden with death.

There is no place left for the buffalo to roam.  There’s only corn, wheat, and soy.  About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year.  Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal.  They count, and they died for your dinner…

Soil, species, rivers.  That’s the death in your food.  Agriculture is carnivorous: what it eats is ecosystems, and it swallows them whole.

In Political Vegetarians she refutes the politics (predominantly liberal) of the vegetarian movement and describes the dark side of political meddling in our ecosystem approved of in the main by PETA and other vegetarian groups.  She follows the money.

Rice, wheat, corn – the annual grains that vegetarians want the world to eat – are thirsty enough to drink whole rivers.

The result has been an unending river of corn, drowning our arteries and our insulin receptors, our rural communities, and poor subsistence economies the world over.  The corn comes at a huge environmental toll: there’s a half gallon of oil in every bushel.  And it’s essentially a massive transfer of money from the US taxpayer to the giant grain cartels, who are able to command the price of grain to be lower than the cost of production, with all of us making up the difference – five billion dollars in subsidies for corn alone, straight into the pockets of Cargill and Monsanto.

Nutritional Vegetarians is about the nutritional inadequacies of a vegetarian and especially a vegan diet.  And she does an absolute bang up job of laying out the rationale for following a no-grain, low-carb diet.

I have a disclosure to make here.  Much of the information in this chapter is based on Protein Power and The Protein Power LifePlan.  MD and I are listed in the acknowledgments, but I swear I didn’t know this until I bought the book.  We aren’t the only ones, but there are plenty of quotes from us in this chapter.  Gary Taubes, Malcolm Kendrick and (dare I say it) Anthony Colpo are quoted liberally as well.  I would have loved this book just as much if we had never been quoted.

Ms Keith has made a few minor innocuous errors in this chapter, but, all in all, she has done a tremendous job of synthesizing the scientific information into an easy to read, informative format.

The Nutritional Vegetarians section isn’t just about the science of why vegetarianism is bad and meat eating is good, it gets into the nutritional politics (as opposed to the vegetarian politics in the previous section) as well.  Ms Keith shows how we got to where we are by the nutritional strong arming by the McGovern committee back in the late 1970s.  George McGovern (a senator from a grain-producing state) and his cronies basically set the nutritional standards under which we are still oppressed.  They have been a disaster, as some scientists at the time predicted they would be.

And some scientists knew ahead of time that they would be.  Phil Handler, the president of hte National Academy of Scientists asked Congress, “What right has the federal government to propose that the American people conduct a vast nutritional experiment, with themselves as subjects, on the strength of so very little evidence that it will do them any good?”  Dr. Pete Ahrens, an expert on cholesterol metabolism, told the McGovern committee that the effects of a low-fat diet weren’t a scientific matter but “a betting matter.”

It’s twenty-five years later and we aren’t winning this bet.  Each US American now eats sixty pounds more grain per annum and thirty pounds more cheap sugars, mostly from corn.  [Is it any wonder we’re all fat?]

The result, Dietary Goals for Americans, set in motion a cast sea change in the public’s beliefs and behaviors. … Dietary Goals was a predictable victory in a war that started ten thousand years ago.  What really won were those annual grasses that had long since turned humans into mercenaries against the rest of the planet.  We would now enshrine them like demi-gods, those whole grains and their sweet, opiate seductions, believing in their power to bestow health and long life, even while they slowly ate us alive.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book review that was positive from beginning to end, and this one is no exception.  Based on the many comments I’ve gotten on this blog and my response to them, I’m sure many of you will find my main objection surprising.  There is too much politics in the book.  Not nutritional politics, but feminist politics.

I know, I know, I let my libertarian leanings come through in all kinds of blog posts and comment answers, but there is a difference.  My blog is just that – a weblog of things I find interesting or informative.  And it’s free.  I don’t particularly like to pay for a book (and I paid full price for this one plus shipping) on a given subject then be beaten over the head with a political viewpoint.  I guarantee you that our new book has zero politics in it.  And if people bought our book expecting to learn about getting rid of their middle-aged middles and were fed a generous dose of my politics mixed in with the information, I would expect them to be flamed.

To give the author her due in this matter, the vegetarian ideology that had her in its grasp for 20 years was intertwined with her feminist politics, so a bit of said politics are necessary to describe how she was so taken in for so long.  But I think she went a little overboard with it.

And, I think the last section of the book – To Save the World – is the weakest part of the book.  The author makes several recommendations, all of which (save one) are, in my opinion totally unrealistic.  But I’ll leave it to you to draw your own conclusions after you’ve read the book.

I’ve read that when people are asked to recall what they remember of something they read, they tend to remember the first thing in the piece and the last thing.  Most of the middle melds into a vague memory of what the article was about.  I certainly don’t want people to remember this last negative part I wrote and let it dissuade them from reading this book.  The good parts of the book so far outweigh the not-so-good parts that there is really no contest.

At a time when PETA and other vegetarian groups are mobilizing and ramping up their activity levels, a book such as this one bringing sanity to the debate is more important than ever.  And don’t think these groups aren’t becoming more active.  In the past, PETA and PETAphiles pretty much devoted their educational efforts toward the idea that eating animals was cruel.  Now they are starting to make the case that a vegetarian diet will solve the obesity epidemic.  Take a look at this billboard in Jacksonville, Florida.


If you find this sign annoying, buy The Vegetarian Myth and do your part to fight back. And if you have or know anyone with a daughter who is contemplating going vegetarian (young females are the most common victims), please make this book available.  It could be the most important thing you ever do for the long-term mental and physical health of a young woman.

If you’ve made it this far in this long review, take a couple of minutes and watch this YouTube of Lierre Keith at a book event; she’s as fascinating to listen to as she is to read.

Hard at work in Seattle

Mt St Helens blog

I haven’t posted in a week because MD and I have been hard at work in Seattle and at Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands located in northwestern Washington.

We’re working on our project that we’ve been keeping under wrap.  No, it’s not the new book, and, no, it’s not Metabosol.  It is something pretty cool and even revolutionary in its own way.  Barring further bumps in the road (there have been a few), we should be able to reveal all on September 1. The reason for the secrecy is that this project is most press worthy, but, for reasons that will be obvious when we reveal what we’ve been working on, we don’t want the press to report it prematurely.

We flew into Seattle Sunday afternoon after buzzing across the top of Mount St. Helens and looking into the crater left when the top 1300 feet of the mountain blew off on May 18, 1980.  After landing, we got picked up by our partner and taken to his boat for an afternoon on Lake Union.  A huge annual celebration was taking place, so we spent the afternoon on a lake made choppy by a thousand other boats while the Blue Angels zipped through the sky overhead.  Seattle has been experiencing brutally hot temperatures, which we got blasted by on Sunday afternoon.

When we were in Seattle in December, we got caught in the worst snow storm in 30 years.  All the while we were slogging through the snow, our hosts were telling us to come visit in the summer when the weather is always beautiful.  So, we come in the summer only to be confronted with the worst heat wave since temperatures have been recorded.  I hate to imagine what we may encounter on the next trip.

Here is the Seattle skyline on Sunday afternoon.  Notice the chop on the water.  We were one of God only knows how many boats in the lake.  After getting pounded by the chop and brutalized by the heat, we tied up to a nice restaurant and had a lovely dinner complete with (at least for me) copious amounts of Jameson to go along with the copious amounts of Jameson I had already swilled to combat the heat on the lake.

Seattle skyline blog

Our partner’s boat, which is his pride and joy, is a handmade Venetian water taxi.  He worked with a guy who makes such boats in Venice, Italy several years back, had it built to his specs and then transported to Seattle.  It is a gorgeous boat, and, one day, I hope to go out on it in clement weather.  Below is a photo of MD standing by the boat tied up to another restaurant the last time we went out in it.  The temperature was about 23 degrees (not counting the chill factor), and you can see by the lack of chop on the water surface that we were the only fools out there.  (In case you were wondering, it is heated inside…but not air conditioned, thought the back of the roof slides open to admit fresh air and sunshine.)  As I say, our partner loves to show off his boat.

Boat in winter blog

After our Sunday respite (which it was, despite the heat and chop), we crashed and for the next two days worked from early morning until late at night.  We didn’t have time to answer emails, deal with blog comments, or do much of anything other than work.

We started each day with a quick breakfast at Louisa’s, a little restaurant close to the office where we spent our days.  One of the menu selections, fittingly enough, was called Mike’s Special, so how could I resist.  Especially when it was such a great low-carb option: two poached eggs on a bowl of sauteed spinach, red and green peppers and onions.  Good, good, good.  It came, of course, with a giant piece of toast that was at least an inch thick, which I ate a couple of bites of just to try.

As we were eating breakfast on the last morning, a man was eating alone while reading the paper at the table next to us.  He looked to be about 70 or so and was fairly thin with a pot belly.  He had on two pressure stockings on his lower legs and bruising in the crook of one of his arms from where, obviously, blood had recently been taken.

Watching him eat, I created an entire story about him that I’ll bet is not too far from the mark.  Even if it is not accurate in this man’s case, it is totally (and sadly) accurate in many thousands of others.

The man was eating a bowl of oatmeal.  He had a glass of skim milk so fat free it was almost blue that he poured little bits of into his cereal from time to time.  Along with his oatmeal, he was eating one of the giant pieces of toast the restaurant serves.  He took one pat of butter (I assume there was no margarine available) and cut it in half.  He carefully spread one half pat on one half of his toast then loaded it with an entire individual serving of jelly.  After eating the first half piece of toast, he prepared the second half the same way and ate it.  The only fat he got from his entire meal was that that came from that one pat of butter.  Based on the size of the bowl of oatmeal and the size of the toast (and the skim milk), I calculated that this guy consumed about 100 grams of carbohydrate. (Thirty grams in the oatmeal; at least 30 in the toast; 15 in each container of jelly; and about 10 in the skim milk.)

I imagine (here is where I’m speculating) that he has elevated cholesterol and has been told by his doctor to watch his fat.  And he is complying. He got a whopping 4 grams of fat in his one pat of butter (36 calories-worth) while getting 100 grams of carb in the rest of his meal (400 calories-worth). The tiny bit of fat he got contained short-chain fatty acids that are immune enhancing whereas the 100 grams of carb he got provided really no health benefit.  Since the 100 grams represents 20 times the amount of sugar circulating in his blood, his pancreas had to release a large amount of insulin to deal with it.  His pot belly indicates that he is already insulin resistant with an abdomen full of visceral fat, so he no doubt secreted a lot more insulin than a person without insulin resistance.  This excess insulin help him store fat in his liver, increase his level of visceral fat, ratchet up the inflammatory process, injure his blood vessels even more and increase his risk for heart disease, the very thing his doctor was trying to prevent by putting him on a low-fat diet.

How much better off this guy would have been had he joined me in the Mike’s Special.  But, his cardiologist, I’m sure, would have been apoplectic.  A sad state of affairs indeed.

MD and I were so busy this entire week that not only haven’t we been able to keep up with even our emails, we haven’t been able to go through the over 300 requests we got for a copy of our new book.  We will go through those and respond to everyone over the next couple of days.

Also, I have about 60 comments dating back for months that are stacked up in my awaiting-moderation queue. My plan is to deal with six of them per day and have them all cleared out within 10 days.  And this all while keeping current on new comments coming in.  So if you have had a comment languishing, it should be up within the next ten days.

Our newly designed site is supposed to be up this next week.  Keep your fingers crossed.  I’m certainly keeping mine crossed.

For those of you who still can’t get your minds around the idea that exercise doesn’t make you thin, read next week’s Time. The cover story, ‘Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin,’ is a long article parroting what Gary Taubes wrote about a couple of years ago.  The notion has finally made it to the mainstream.

Finally, I’ll end with a book recommendation.  I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on the flight to Seattle.  If you haven’t read it, and if you like offbeat mystery/thrillers, give it a whirl.  A disgraced investigative journalist headed for prison teams up with Lisbeth Salander, the eponymous girl with the dragon tattoo, and one of the strangest and most interesting protagonists to ever find her way into fiction, to solve, at the request of an aging industrialist, a decades-long mysterious disappearance.  The novel, set in Sweden and written in Swedish but masterfully translated, has become a world-wide phenomenon.  The book is satisfying throughout, and I highly recommend it.  As soon as I catch up on all my work, I’ll start the second book in the series, The Girl Who Played with Fire.

Tomorrow I’ll post on working, crabbing and eating on Orcas Island.

Request for help promoting our new book

I’m almost afraid to say it, but it looks like after being delayed two times our new book is actually coming out on September 8.  As we have done with all our books, we will be expected to be available for all kinds of media appearances and interviews.  It is a giant pain, but it has to be done.  It’s part of the book-writing gig.  If you don’t sign up to do the PR, they don’t sign up to publish your book. (If you want to see a little of what a book tour is like, read this piece by Joe Queenan to see what we’re up against. Sometime I’ll write a piece on the nightmare of my first three-week-long book tour and my dealings with the escorts that are a part of the book tour experience.)

MD and I have been in discussion with our publisher and have gotten permission to excerpt part of the book, which I will do on this blog soon.  The book is about the weight gain that seems an inevitable part of moving into and through middle age and how this weight is different from that gained in the younger years.  It’s a kind of bad news, good news story because middle-age weight comes from a more dangerous kind of fat (the bad news), but a kind of fat that is fairly easy to lose (the good news).  But despite its being easier to lose, it still requires some effort…and a little different approach.  And, surprisingly, most of this fat can be lost in a 6-week window.  That doesn’t mean that we promise that all weight will be lost in a 6-week window, but most of the middle-aged weight can be ditched or at least significantly shed in this time period – thus the title.

Since we don’t have an active practice right now, most of the subjects we’ve given the diet to are former patients, friends and relatives.  We have had almost unbelievable success with those who gave the program a fair try.  We had one middle-aged friend who had struggled with lipid problems for years.  Despite our telling her not to worry and not to go on a statin because those drugs have never been shown to be beneficial for women, she was worried.  Her doctor was hectoring her, telling her that she would have to go on a statin if her lipids didn’t come into line.  She had an appointment in two weeks, so she went on the first two weeks of the program, then went to her doctor.  Not only did she lose eight pounds in her first two weeks, her lipid numbers plummeted.  Her total cholesterol fell from 240 to 174; her triglycerides dropped to below 100; and her HDL ran up to 60.  Happily, this all happened during the editing phase of the book, so we were able to include her story.  Other subjects have done as well if not better.

Another story is that of a business associate of ours who has gradually gained weight over the past 15 years who tried the plan.  She has tried diets of one kind or another for about 10 years.  She loses a little, but it’s been a tough slog for her.  She went on the new program and also lost eight pounds the first two weeks, which was a much greater loss than she had ever experienced.  A 60-year-old friend of ours easily lost 20 pounds over the course of his 6-week effort and had remarkable improvement in his lipids.  His wife had been on an HCG program that we had tried to talk her out of.  When she saw her husband lose substantially faster than she did, and without going on a 500 calorie diet, she switched to our program and her weight loss picked up and her measurements improved dramatically.

We have had multiple successes like the ones above, but, as I said, all are friends, relatives or business associates.  And they are not people who are keen on giving their testimonials to various media sources.  The first lady, mentioned above, works in the entertainment business – she was the director of a popular sitcom that most readers of this blog would probably be familiar with.  She doesn’t mind telling her story, but she doesn’t want her picture shown.  We found this out when the PR department of our publisher contacted us about some major interest in our book by a major women’s magazine.  They had read an advance copy of our book and were interested in making it a cover story.  They asked if we had any success stories they could interview and build a story around complete with photos.  We said sure and started calling all our ‘patients.’  Each one declined to be interviewed or would be interviewed but didn’t want her actual name used.  All refused to have their photo appear in the article.  So, we were left holding the bag, so to speak.

So, here is my request.  If any of you out there who are middle-aged and overweight would like to try the program, we will send you an advance copy of the book.  The deal is that you must be willing to have your real name and photo used by any media that approach you. This could be magazines, newspapers, online articles, and/or radio. You must also be willing to go on TV with us (or by yourself) – either national or local – and tell your story.  Should a TV appearance be required, generally all your expenses will be picked up by the television station, and if not, then you need not appear.  All you have to do is read the book, follow the program, keep us updated about your progress and tell anyone from the media who might contact you how you fared on the regimen.

Our publisher will let us recruit only 20 people for this project, so we can’t make it available to everyone who wants to do it.  We will select the 20 people from the applications we receive.  I have no idea how many that might be: it could be five or it could be 50.  I just don’t know.

I’ve set up a gmail account for anyone who is interested.  Please send an email giving your particulars, i.e., age, sex, weight, dietary history (what kind of diets you’ve been on, when and with what degree of success), medications, other disorders (diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, etc.), contact info and a photo if you have one.

Send to:

6weekcure at gmail dot com

Put ‘6weekcure’ in the subject line of your message.

We’re also looking to recruit a few people in other categories for some more immediate media exposure.  So, if you have used the shakes for weight loss that I have given the recipe for multiple times in the comments section of this blog, send an email to the above gmail address and put ‘Shakes’ in the subject line.

If you have been on an all-meat diet and done well, drop us a note and put ‘All meat’ in the subject line.

MD and I thank you, in advance, for being willing to help.

Addendum:  We have received over 300 requests from people wishing to try the program in our book.  Since our publisher is providing us with only 20 copies, we have to terminate the offer at this point.  We will go through the 300 plus submissions and contact all those who wrote shortly.  Thanks for all your interest.

A request for information

Legg blog

The grisly plaster cast pictured above of the flayed corpse of a hanged murderer has quite a history.

On October 2, 1801, Mr James Legg shot one William Lambe to death in the latter’s bedroom.  Apparently the 73 year old Mr. Legg had been nursing a grudge against Lambe for some time.  As Mr. Lambe was awakening on the morning of Oct 2, Mr. Legg, gun in hand, confronted him, thrust a second pistol at him and challenged him to a duel to settle their differences.  Mr. Lambe tossed the proffered pistol out the door of his room whereupon Mr. Legg fired upon Mr. Lambe, killing him instantly.

Mr. Lambe’s wife witnessed the murder, but Mr. Legg admitted to it as well.  His trial took place on Oct 28, 1801.  He was sentenced to death, and his execution by hanging took place on Nov 2, a month to the day after the deed was done.  Justice was swift in those days.

So far, it’s just a run of the mill murder, but here’s where it gets interesting. During the time Mr. Legg was awaiting his trial and subsequent execution, three members of the Royal Academy of Arts – sculptor Thomas Banks and painters Benjamin West and Richard Cosway – had been debating the notion that artistic depictions of the crucifixion of Christ had been portrayed unrealistically.  They wondered what an anatomically correct crucifixion would really look like.

The three contacted a surgeon, Joseph Carpue, to help them with their anatomical inquiries.  At that time the only corpses legally available for dissection were those of convicted criminals who had been executed.  Carpue knew of the murder by Legg since both the perp and the victim were pensioners at Chelsea Hospital, where Carpue practiced.  Using his influence, Carpue was able to get possession of Legg’s corpse after his execution.

On the day of the execution, a small building was put up near the the site.  A cross was made and at the ready.  When the fresh corpse was cut from the gallows and transported to the waiting team, they stripped Legg, nailed him to the cross, and stood it up, allowing his still warm body to fall into the anatomically correct crucifixion position.

After the body had cooled and rigor mortis had set in, Banks, the sculptor, made a cast of the body.  Then the body was moved (maintaining its ‘correct’ position) to Carpue’s operating theatre where he proceeded to flay (remove the skin) from the corpse of the unfortunate Mr. Legg.  Banks made yet another cast, this one showing the position of the musculature in an anatomically correct crucifixion.  This is the cast pictured at the top of this post.

In an effort to keep this post in the realm of the nutritional, I might point out that Mr. Legg was definitely not obese.  He was probably pretty standard weight for his time.  He would have indeed stood out at Disneyland.

Now that you’ve had the history lesson, let me give you my request.  When MD and I opened our first little medical clinic years ago, a neurosurgeon friend of ours gave us a book on this gruesome episode.  It was a small book, well bound, and from a small press, the name of which I can’t remember.  We kept the book in the medical reference library in the clinic.  As the clinic grew, other doctors began working there with us. We finally grew out of our little clinic, and as I was packing the reference books to move, I realized that the book on the Legg affair had gone missing.

I’ve kept my ear to the ground since figuring that I would run across another copy I could pick up, but, as of yet, I haven’t.  I don’t remember the title of the book, nor do I remember the publisher.  But, I would love to have another copy.  So, if anyone happens to know the name of this book or even the publisher, drop me a note through the comments.  I would really appreciate it.

I happened to stumble across the photo of the cast of the flayed Mr. Legg while searching for something else this weekend.  I spent about three hours searching online, but alas had no luck finding the book. Nor any photos other than the one above. But I did find an account of Mr. Legg’s trial, such as it was, complete with verbatim testimony of various witnesses.

You can read it in its entirety here in the Proceedings of the Old Bailey.

I love the language they used two hundred years ago.  Here is an example.

The prosecuting attorney, a Mr. Fielding, begins his questioning of the victims wife:

You are the wife of the deceased; tell the story of the melancholy event that took place on the 2d of October?

Mrs. Lambe then gives her eyewitness version of the event:

I got up in the morning a little before seven; Mr. Legg was walking about the common room, swearing, and quite in an ill humour, I thought; I asked him what was the matter, when he began to swear the more, and said, I will turn you out of the room, if you speak another word; my husband was then in bed and asleep; I thought I heard him stirring, and opened the door to see; he had just got out of the bed, when the prisoner rushed past me, and put a pistol into his hand; he took it, turned it about, and looked at it, and said, what is this for; the room was dark, and then he threw it into the common room; my husband had just put on a little flannel waistcoat, and stood up against the door; the prisoner then, after my husband had thrown the pistol away, rushed up immediately, and fired at him, as he saw him through the glass door; when he had done so, he looked at me, and said, I have done it; I saw the blood coming out of his breast, and I cried out, murder; he fell directly; and expired; he endeavoured to call my name, but could not.

A bit later in her testimony, Mr. Fielding asks her if there was any ill-will between her husband and Mr. Legg.

She responds:

God knows what ill-will he had, but my husband had none towards him; I took him to be a very solid man, for he washed his own linen, cooked his own victuals, and took the sacrament regularly, so I thought he was a man rather better than what he has turned out.


So, if anyone has info on the book about this ‘melancholy event,’ please send it my way.  If I end up with the much-coveted book in my hand, I’ll see that whomever tips me off first gets a free, autographed copy of our new book when it comes out next month.  Thanks in advance.