Saturday, March 20, 2010

Sun-Induced Laziness And Jeff Buckley

Well, I feel a little bad as I haven't had anything constructive or interesting to write about in a while...

That's not necessarily true, but finding the TIME for it has been killer!  With the return of the sun, I have been out and about all day and recuperating in the evenings.  I make no apologies - I'm a total sun worshiper and I simply cannot resist!

One activity I have taken to is playing my guitar out and about in public.  I find it a fantastic way to practice, get some "fresh" air (as fresh as city air can get), sunshine and meet people.   I've discovered that you run into some interesting and sometimes fantastic situations when you walk around town with a guitar in your hand.

People stop, they listen, they talk to you... whereas normally they would walk on by with nary a thought to poor little insignificant you, or maybe not to anyone else.   Music is healing, and I think it's one of the few, and powerful, ways we have of easily connecting with each other, especially in this divide and conquer society in which we live, doing its best to keep us isolated from each other.  Making these connections through song the past few days has really risen my spirits and given me some hope about community building and connecting.

It leads me to wonder what kind of world we would live in if EVERYONE would just go out from time to time and sing...

Anyway, I'll leave you with something nice - the current song I'm working on perfecting.  It's going pretty well, I think. (And don't worry, it's the real artist, not my half-assed attempt :) )

Have a great day, guys. Enjoy the sun, enjoy each other, and think about bringing a little music into yours or someone else's life.

Photo by: snowriderguy

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Finally - A Good Use For Exercise Balls

Today has been quite a long day.  I've spent almost all of it participating in a workshop on Transition Towns, which was rather amazing.  Unfortunately it was a very big emotional, mental and temporal commitment, and I am going to need some time to gather my thoughts on this movement and how happy and excited that it's found its way to Pittsburgh;  hopefully it will be a successful model for a large city, and it can spread its way through the United States.  This has left me feeling quite happy.

So, in the meantime, I leave you with this:  an amazing Primal workout.

You have it all:  sprinting, proprioception, a jumping/power generation component.  Even develops pain tolerance, landing skills (never know when you're going to slip/trip/fall-through-rickety-old-stairs)... Hell, it's even a group exercise with a healthy dose of competition!

I would say I'd feel "don't try this at home" was appropriate, but that would be lying.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Vibram Fivefingers Are Awesome

This post should be a bit more lighthearted than the last;  I have something to celebrate!

Finally, after almost 6 months of waiting...

I finally got my Vibram Five Fingers!  And boy are they comfy...

The above picture are my actual feet wearing actual VFF Sprints.  The colors are... not typical for me. I really wanted black KSOs, but this was all that was available.  I don't regret it; it's forcing me to add a little color, and some bombast, to my wardrobe.

Another benefit to the (in my fashion-sense, or what there is of it) outlandish colors is that people -really- notice it.  I've been approached by several people in the past few days asking, "What... what ARE those?"  Genuinely interested, especially after I explained to them what they are and why I'm wearing 'em.  Actually

Why AM I Wearing These?

Other than the fact that they're extremely stylish?  Do I NEED another reason?  Well, actually, yes I do.  As a rather frugal minimalist, I am hesitant to spend $2 let alone drop $80 on footwear when I have some perfectly acceptable (falling apart) Chuck Taylors at home.

Well, I do enjoy how they look, but it's really about how they FEEL. 

Almost like second feet.  I will admit, I am quite aware of them - they're a bit snug - but it's.. different.  These are more akin to foot-gloves than actual shoes (though the bottoms are quite rugged - I can step on broken glass and wouldn't sweat it).  Though their presence is definitely felt on mah feets, its nowhere near the toe-crushing invasiveness of traditional shoes.

I am 'plagued' by having wide feet, and conventional footwear confounds my tired old dogs sorely. I walk or bike quite a lot, and a fair portion of my workday is spent on my feet.  Usually by the end of the day, my foot are sore, my back hurts, yadda yadda yadda...  not so much with the Vibram's!

Much more studious and eloquent men than I (Mark Sisson for example) have already commented on and collated a lot of information on the benefits of going barefoot over being shod (or working with a reasonable facsimile), so I'm not going to get too much into it, other than to conclude I think they're pretty awesome.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Man vs World: A Manifesto

Looking back, I realize I've been a little all over the place.  A little about meditation and mindfulness, a little (lot) of bit about food and food-related social issues and diseases, some recipes (more food), even some techie stuff!  Am I scatter-brained or what?  Perhaps a little, but I promise you that there is a method to this madness.

All of these things have a common thread:  they are about how the world is trying to get you.  Do I sound paranoid?  What did you expect - this blog is called Man vs World for a reason.  It took me quite a while to decide on this name, and it wasn't just because it's pretty damn catchy (at least I think it is.)

The world I speak of isn't necessarily the WORLD - as in the planet, nature, Gaia.  Yes, nature will kill you, but it's not out to get you; in fact, the pressures of the natural world drive us toward success.  In the natural setting for homo sapiens, which we can see today in the few hunter gatherers that remain - a people that remain much healthier than us in the modern world, in general, despite being forced to the fringes of their habitat as the best of the land is gobbled up by the locust swarm that is civilization - the need to hunt and gather their own food, continuously provide or seek shelter from the elements, and sometimes the need to migrate with the seasons keep these people in tip-top shape, and provide for a rich if at times difficult life.  Do not mistake me - the world outside of our apartments and paved streets is dangerous.  It can kill you just as easily as a mugger in Central Park or a drunk driver.  There is no utopia to be had, but there are myriad living Hells we can create for ourselves.

On the contrary, I speak specifically of the world in which WE live - you reading this blog, me writing it from the comfort of a coffee shop, all of our brethren in the industrialized world and the unfortunate societies that we hold under our sway.  This is an artificial world; a world that we have been lead to believe stands apart from the natural world, even ABOVE it; a world that can only exist as long as it represses those within it.  Keeps us from being our natural selves and giving our all toward its success.

It is a parasitic, nay, a vampiric system.

When I say Man vs World, I mean Man vs the society that tells us that the Gross National Product is the most determining factor of our collective success
, rather than the ability for us to feed ourselves, or love each other.  A society that has measures wealth in a fabricated measure of power that we call 'money', instead of the leisure time we have to spend with our loved ones, our community.

I mean Man vs the system that has destroyed almost all concept of family, that has produced generations of people raised by television and video games, communities that lock themselves up behind walls and never know their neighbors, a society out of touch with itself and the people around it.

I mean Man vs the corporate interests that do everything in their power to keep us from our food.  The Cargills and Monsantos of the world that attack the small farmer, make it a nightmare for them to continue to provide REAL food to the communities around them and nigh impossible for anyone to start a new farm, making us more and more dependant on factory farms and grain shipped from halfway across the world.

I mean Man vs The Big (insert business/commerce system here) that our government views as people - people exempt from their atrocious crimes of subjugation and pollution; sociopathic entities that may do as they wish and hold Washington in thrall with their blood-tinged dollars, money earned by the blood of bondage slaves overseas and the mindless devotion of wage slaves here in the US.

I am railing not against Mother Nature - I embrace the struggles She puts before me as I wander the beauty of the world around me, or what beauty is left within this concrete jungle that I dwell.  Every breath of air I take under these blue, skyscraper crowded skies is tinged with the oily smell of pollution, the stench of disease.  It's the culture that poisons our water with fluoride and chlorine, that promotes bad science for the sake of profit and feeds us garbage, our children industrially processed corn-syrup that fattens their livers like a 40-year-old alcoholic's.  The culture that has monetized the pollutants that, along with the very profitable food-based health epidemic, will ensure that my generation will die younger than its parents.

One of the most valuable war tactics is to divide and conquer.  That is exactly what has happened to us:  separated from real community and the means to our own food, the majority of us live entirely dependant on the system.  Many of us cannot even dream of a life without it.

Why is this dangerous?

Beyond the obvious?  Beyond the fact that we have little more than the illusion of control in our lives, are completely at the mercy of people that do not have our best interests at heart? 

If the ubiquitous bogeymen, "The Terrorists", decided to poison our food, do you realize how easy it would be?
  In the factory farms and industrial agriculture model we use, it takes only a few diseased cows to contaminate millions of pounds of meat.  Think to the massive E. Coli recalls.  Think to the recent E. Coli recalls on SPINACH.  Spinach?  This is insane.

What if, for whatever reason, the government decided to lock down these massive food processing plants. 
Stop the flow of wheat from the granaries, so to speak.  Stop the pipeline to the grocery store.  What would you do?  Have you ever thought of this possibility?  Keep in mind that as every decade passes, the number of small and local farmers dwindles, crushed by bureaucrats and Big Agra.

What happens when we run out of oil?  Make no mistake - it's going to happen - this quite a finite resource.  Oil is needed to artificially fertilize the soil, process, transport and preserve the majority of the food that not only the United States, but now the world, eats.  When the price of corn skyrockets and grocery stores start shutting down... where will you get your food?

This is the World I speak of.  An imaginary World that has somehow made itself all too real; for, make no mistake, we created this world, this society, and all of the problems and issues it brings with it.  And now its up to us to own it and do something about it.

This blog is my rallying cry.  My clarion call against the Machine.

I believe that the real issues that affect our lives are issues of food and issues of self.  I feel in my heart of hearts that the society we have created is essentially the same as taking a wild animal and sticking it in a zoo.  Have you ever seen a captive killer whale, it's dorsal fin strangely collapsed from its prolonged imprisonment,  driven slowly insane from its isolation from its family, its community.  No wonder they go batshit crazy and kill their handlers.

I'm not asking you to believe everything I say.  I don't know how right I am, and what I write is merely my musing.  I claim to know nothing.  What I hope is  that what I write inspires you to think deeply about the world around you.  Question the things in life you may be taking for granted.  Look deep into your soul and see the self that may be hiding beneath society's conditioning and expectations.

That's all I can really ask for.

As my friend Mandy says, "Love yourself and be awake today, tomorrow, always".

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eating Seasonally: Winter Squash

I've been having a spat of writer's block lately; unfortunately, the books I have been reading have been so engaging that I am driven to finish them rather than write about them, which is what I had planned on doing.  It happens.  To keep the juices flowing, I decided instead to post a little recipe on one of my favorite foods - winter squash!

First, I just have to mention that 'squash' is a pretty fun word to say.  Almost as great as it is to eat.

There are several varieties of this rugged little guys (I say 'little' when some of them can grow to weigh almost a ton). You may know them as...
  • Acorn Squash
  • Kabocha Squash
  • Turban Squash
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Butternut Squash
  • Hubbard Squash
  • Various types of Pumpkin
  • Many, many more
Winter squash is a pretty significant fruit.  Originally cultivated in Central America from wild squashes about 10,000 years ago, winter squashes spread to the north and south over time, and were a staple in Native American diet - so much so that, in some tribes, the dead were buried with squash to provide them with sustenance in their afterlife journeys (similar to the Egyptians!)

Though they grow mainly in the summer, their tough rind and general hardiness allow them to be stored easily throughout the winter months - hence the name.  This proved invaluable to indigenous peoples, as they did not have access to the modern conveniences of refrigeration or canning techniques.

Another draw is that they're very nutritious!  Winter squash comes chock full of all sorts of goodies: beta-carotene, B-complex vitamins, a load of Vitamin C, Omega-3 fatty acids... too many to list, so check out this link for a full analysis.

Plus, they're tasty.  Like, way tasty.

So yeah, that's enough of the history/science lesson on friggen squash.  How about a recipe?

Roasted Balsamic Butternut Squash

I modified a recipe from Epicurious to more suit my insatiable desire for butter and feta cheese ^_^

You will need...
  • 1 1/2 - 2 lbs. of butternut squash
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 - 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 oz organic feta cheese
  • as much pastured butter as humanly possible (I prefer Kerrygold)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line cookie sheet with foil.  Cut squash in half, the remove the seed and pulpy fibers - you can save the seeds for bakin' later if you like!

Now, you can either leave the squash halves as is, or cut them into smaller pieces.  Up to you.  Once they're cut (or not), place 'em evenly spread on your cookie sheet.

Melt butter in a pan and then drizzle onto squash - cover those suckers!  Add salt + pepper to taste.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until browned and soft to the touch (use a fork or knife - 400 degrees is hot).

Remove from oven and douse evenly in the balsamic.  Let cool to room temperature, top with feta cheese and then greedily devour.

Hope you like it as much as I did!

This piece has been submitted to Food Renegade's Fight Back Friday - check it out!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Make Your Computer a Little More Primal with F.lux

I have been experience problems getting to sleep lately.

I'll come home from a long day of work/exercise/running-around-like-a-crazy-person, get settled and feel nice and sleepy.. then I get this sudden urge to check my Twitter, Google Reader, e-mail and all that.  And like magic, I am no longer tired.  

Well, that's not true - I'm still exhausted -  but that feeling you get right before you drift off into La La Land is obliterated.  One reason for this, I believe, is that it gets your brain working a little faster than it would like to in the late evening, essentially waking it up ("oh, that's interesting" "oooh, I can blog about that later" "WHAT?! Somebody's WRONG on the INTERNET?!!")  Another definite problem is that the bright, glaring lights of the computer screen, especially in contrast to the darkness around it, can disrupt your body's melatonin levels, as researchers discovered years ago.  Melatonin is necessary for achieving high quality sleep.

Sleep is incredibly important - not only to us Paleo diet enthusiasts or Primal life lovers, but to EVERYONE.  A fair bit of us here in America are getting less than 6 hours of sleep, which is simply not enough to let the body do all the things it needs to do during this mandatory downtime.  
"Stage Four: Though everything has slowed, this deep sleep marks an increase in activity. The body's blood pressure drops and muscles relax, though blood flow to muscles increases. Dreams continue and sleepwalking is most likely, caused when there is a disruption of the brain's command to paralyze muscles so that people do not act out their dreams. This is the most restorative sleep, releasing hormones for growth and development, repairing tissue and refreshing energy.  Awakening in deep sleep is difficult; a person would remain groggy and disoriented for a few minutes." - E.L. Miller
Hopefully it is clear that sleep is very important for us in our busy, active lives - especially moreso if you are engaged in physical activity.

Thankfully, I found something to help make my computer a little more Primal, alleviating some of my computer-related sleep problems.  But first a little background on the 'why' and the 'how' of digital-age insomnia.

What Is Melatonin?

The pineal gland generates melatonin - interestingly, it is light sensitive. There is a very complicated hookup between the pineal gland and your eyes - essentially it knows when daylight (or artificial daylight from blue-light heavy screens like cell phones, computer monitors and televisions) is hitting your eyes, and then melatonin synthesis is suppressed; conversely, when lower spectrum "red" light (think sunsets!) starts hitting your eyes, or the absence of light altogether, it tells the pineal gland to get movin'!

Quite a useful chemical, melatonin is made all over the body, mostly in the skin (where it serves other and varied functions) and the pineal gland, located in the brain, where it serves as a sleep regulator.  Melatonin is manufactured from the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is created by the amino acid tryptophan.

Melatonin doesn't necessarily make you fall asleep, but works more as a "time cue", essentially telling your brain, "Now is probably a good time to take a break, yanno?"  This makes it a very important element in our Circadian Rhythm, or our biological clock.   When we start screwing with our biological clock, bad things start to happen.

Computer, Phone and Television Screens - Oh my!

As mentioned above, blue light suppresses melatonin production. It is emitted by some lamps, UV lights, computer monitors, television screens and hand-held devices... actually, most artificial light sources, as can be easily seen in the picture in the beginning of this article.   Not only does this contribute to insomnia via late-night computing or TV viewing, but it has several deleterious effects on our vision, to boot.

The obvious solution to this problem?  When it starts getting dark, turn off the lights, turn off the TV, turn off the computer and the cell phone, light up a couple of candles or or soft-light lamps - or better yet, a roaring fireplace. Mmmm.  Spend the rest of the evening conversing with your friends and loved ones or reading a book by firelight.

Unfortunately, this is not going to be a feasible option for many.  We either do not have the resources to do this (candles don't create THAT much light, and I sadly do not have a fireplace in my apartment) or are too caught up in the cycles of the modern world to comfortably do things like that.  I am definitely guilty of this - still working on limiting my compulsive e-mail and social networking compulsions.

So what am I to do?

Try F.lux for Mitigation!

Thankfully a Stereopsis has addressed this problem with a piece of software calle F.lux.  F.lux takes your location information (via zipcode or latitude/longitude) and determines what phases in the night-day cycle you are (adjusting for seasons and daylight savings time and all that).  It then adjusts your computer's display settings to either mimic daylight or, using settings you can specify, mimic the quality of your indoor lighting.   

I set mine to be nice and "halogeny", similar to the picture to the left.  You should be able to see the difference between a computer with F.lux (top monitor) and a one without (laptop).  

My brother brought this program to my attention the other day - he called me over and told me to "look at this";  there wasn't anything on the monitor, but it was weirdly colored.. and it honestly made me feel sleepy just looking at it!

I installed it immediately, and am very glad I did.   It takes a little adjustment, but you get used to it after a little while; it also comes with an option to easily disable it, just in case you have some color-sensitive work to do.

My favorite part?  It's completely free and runs on Windows, Mac OS AND Linux.  Woot!

I hope you at least give this program a try - the mitigation of eye strain and prevention of sleep deprivation this can provide are potentially priceless.  May not work for everyone, but like I said - it's free and a way to make your everyday life a touch more Primal!

ZA5UG8X82GJT - for TechnoRati

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Just In Time For V-Day: Bacon-Wrapped Beef Heart

I have to give a lot of thanks for fellow Mark's Daily Apple forum goer hannahc for allowing me to post her recipe for Bacon-Wrapped Beef Heart (and helping me kick-start the recipe section of my blog!)   Sounds... AMAZING, doesn't it?  To some in the US, definitely.  To most, though?  Unfortunately, probably not.

There is a lot of stigma in the United States about organ meats.  I found my first bite of lengwa (cow tongue) to be... disturbing, but I quickly overcame it and it is now one of my favorite "cuts".  Same with liver, though my own experiment with preparing it was not quite as successful as the restaurants, I'm afraid.  Anyway, these were hard for me to eat because I had never eaten them before;  strangely enough, things like pancreas, heart, brains, kidneys, liver... these, along with the glorious, glorious fat, are prized above all else in many (most) cultures.  The organs and fat are where the majority of the vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients are stored in the body - how else does a lion get his daily dose of vitamin C?  Eating a whole damn zebra is how.

Anywho, without further ado:

My first foray into offal was well...awful...liver and I did not get along! After buying a side of grass-fed beef last October, including a majority of all the organ meats from the animal, however, it was time to try once again.
It started with about 3 pounds of Beef Heart (how appropriate for the day before Valentine's Day :) :
Then I had to trim some of those arteries off the meat:
Next came the best part...wrapping the entire thing in one pound of bacon:
And now it is tied up with cooking twine, ready to go into the dutch oven:
Once in the dutch oven, I added sliced carrots, sliced yellow onion, 3/4 cup red wine, 3/4 cup hot beef stock, thyme/oregano/parsley/black pepper/bay leaves. After bringing the liquid to a boil on the stove, the entire thing went into the oven (lid on) for 4 hours at 350 degrees fahrenheit:
It looked and smelled AMAZING after four hours! :
I sliced it thinly, and this is the final plate:
It tasted great! Similar to any other roast, but the meat was a little bit...smoother I guess is the word I'd use. Very tender, and tasted much more like a roast or steak than like liver (which was a good thing). The bacon was a bit carmelized and delicious, and the sweetness of the carrots and onions permeated the entire dish. I only had one beef heart to work with, so I'm really glad it turned out so well! The leftovers will be amazing :)
It seems like a tough cut, so I think it really needs the long cooking time to help make the meat tender. I would definitely recommend it as an introduction to organ meats!

I can't wait to try this.  Once again, credit is to hannahc in the post Offal Succes! on the MDA forum.

Happy Bacontines Day, everyone! 

Attention: This post is being featured on Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays - please check out some of the other awesome Real Food blogs!

How We Can Help To "Teach Every Child About Food"

"Sadly, in the next 18 minutes when I do our chat, four Americans that are alive will be dead through the food that they eat."

I found this TED Talk to be inspiring.  There are people out there actually TRYING to make this connection in people's lives:  the food that we eat directly correlates to the quality of our lives.  All of the disparate cultures in the world can come together and agree on one thing - we eat to live.  We are bound together by our dependency on food and the very real effects that WHAT we eat have on our bodies, minds and spirits.

I've never seen 'The Naked Chef' - Jamie Oliver's moniker over in Britain, and the title of his first series of shows in the late 90's - but I am definitely intrigued.

The above talk addresses the outcome of and the concerns that inspired the making of his newest show, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (debuting March 26th on ABC).

"I profoundly believe that the power of food has a primal place in our homes that binds us to the best bits of life.
As do I, Jaime, as do I.  Like Mr. Oliver, I am sick of seeing the people around me struggle to lead healthy lives. Unfortunately, many don't care to, but that is their decision.  These people are not why I have chosen to speak up; though I hope that I may, leading by example and providing education if interest is sparked, inspire some to happier, healthier lives.  It's for my grandfather who follows every piece of popular dietary advice and whithers away and dies well before his time.   It's for my aunt who adopted a low fat, cholesterol-phobic diet after suffering a heart attack - when evidence has been around the entire time the "low-fat craze" and the "Prudent Diet" have been around that this is not the case I do it for me, 7 years ago, the depressed, morbidly obese teenager who was convinced that I was overweight because of my genes; convinced that I was depressed because something was wrong with me; when, all along, it was my diet of industrial byproducts, processed grains and Frankenfoods along with a lack of community and connection with the food, the people - the world - around me that kept me a miserable train-wreck of a person.

I worry for them.  I worry for us all.  CHD is rampant.  Leading cause of death in the industrialized world. Obesity and type II diabetes rage through our population, affecting our CHILDREN now.  We bleed billions upon billions of dollars into the medical INDUSTRY every year trying to treat diseases that arise from a system that is already sucking us dry monetarily as well as spiritually.  And to what end?  It's still killing us in droves.
"This is a preventable disease.  Waste of life."

And the prevention lies in education.  Responsibility.  The responsibility of those who have pulled us away from our food - the creation of this fast-food nation of people who have absolutely no idea how sustenance end up on their plate.   One of the most unsettling parts of this presentation was the utter lack of knowledge that the children had about the vegetables presented to them.  How does one, in this bountiful cornucopia that we live in with access to fruits and vegetables from all over the world, not know what a potato is?  There are children that have never even seen a real garden, let alone the horrendous farms and monocrap wastelands whence come magically their food - generally heavily processed and full of shit that ISN'T EVEN FOOD (and don't forget wonderful things like fillers and the ridiculous amount of sugar in chocolate milk).

It's a chain reaction; consequent generations are more and more removed from their food, becoming more dependent on government and corporations to feed them and having no idea what's in their food, let alone what constitutes a healthy diet.  Thankfully, there are people like Jamie that are impassioned and trying to make a difference.  Thankfully, he has resources and pop culture is aware enough of him (he's in commercials on major networks and such) that this message will reach a wide audience.  This is definitely a step in the right direction; but it's only a step.

So what do we, the common folk that lack the influence and wide-reaching impact of a celebrity food-guru, do to aide this movement?  There are resources available to participate, forums for your voice to be heard.

  • Better School Food has a lot of information, including a Top-10 List for what can make a school lunch healthier and an Action Plan for some concrete ideas on how to bring quality into your child's lunchtime.
  • Farm To School will help you bring local, sustainable, healthful food to children's lunch trays.
  • The Slow Food Movement has a Time For Lunch, providing an easy way to write to your legislators about strengthening the nutritional standards of the Child Nutrition Act.
And outside the lunch room?  What about education for you and I?  Look into the Slow Food Movement mentioned above and network with people that are trying to move us away from being a 'Fast Food Nation' and reunite us with the unifying marvel that is our food.

Another avenue for involvement can come from the Weston A. Price Foundation.  The WAPF is dedicated to REAL nutrition education and preserving farmer's rights against government and corporations (supporting initiatives like the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund).

This problem is not going to solve itself.  And while its great that we have celebrities and personalities that actually have the interest of the common people at heart, we cannot rely on them.

This has to come from us.

And it has to start with what's on your table.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Someone You Know Has Metabolic Syndrome - And It's Killing Them

The world at large - but especially America - is under siege from an insidious assailant:  the metabolic syndrome.  Known also as Syndrome X or Insulin Resistance Syndrome, and several other names, this term was coined in 1977 by German scientist Haller H.  Metabolic syndrome has been around as long as agriculture, but until the 1940's it was more an affliction of nobility and the well-to-do; fast forward to today - in the United States, it plagues people of all walks of life, with an emphasis on the poor and down-trodden.

It frustrates me to no end that many of my friends and family, so many of the people walking down the street living with this syndrome and associated diseases - especially those who do not have the means to afford higher quality foodstuffs or, even worse, that feed their children, who can only know what we teach them, what essentially amounts to toxic garbage.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is, as Michael Pollan and others call it, a "disease of civilization".   There are no obese children where wild humans roam.  It arises when you combine a sedentary lifestyle with a diet rich in carbohydrates, especially the sugar fructose (HFCS anyone?)

A syndrome is a combination of medical disorders or pattern of symptoms that may indicate the presence of other symptoms/disorders (for example, the correlation between CHD and diabetes).   This can allow us to look for and, perhaps, find other issues that may not have been as readily apparent, signs that are part and parcel to a greater overall problem/disease - progeny of the same beast, so to speak.

The Wiki Gods give us some signs and symptoms of Metabolic Disorder, which are:
  • Diabetes mellitus type 2
  • High blood pressure
  • Central obesity - visceral or abdominal fatty deposits
  • Decrease in HDL (this does not necessarily have anything to do with levels of LDL)
  • Elevated blood triglycerides (fat in the blood)
Risk factors associated with the Metabolic Syndrome include:
  • Obesity - greatly increases the chance of having Metabolic Syndrome, but skinny people can develop insulin resistance too
  • Stress - chronic stress disrupts proper hormone function
  • Age - 44% of US citizens over the age of 50 are affected
  • Sedentary lifestyle - being active increases insulin sensitivity - the opposite fosters resistance
  • Coronary Heart Disease - 50% of patients with CHD also have metabolic syndrome.  Correlation does not imply causation, but all the same, this is a STRONG trend
Metabolic Syndrome - or MetS - is an issue of insulin sensitivity.  

An eye-opening paper (read this) mentions
It is at least plausible that obesity and the features of MetS arise in parallel from disruptions of insulin metabolism (possibly a consequence of high insulin due to chronic high dietary CHO). Also a high prevalence of so called metabolically obese-normal-weight individuals with MetS has long been known [18].
CHO in this context means dietary carbohydrate.  What this, and the rest of the paper, is saying - as well as the greater body of responsibly conducted research into insulin sensitivity, low carb diets, etc. - is that excess blood sugar (from CHO) can put your body's insulin system all out of whack.  Insulin desensitization and the resulting blood chemistry has been shown to lead to all of the above signs and symptoms of MetS.

MetS is, in the end, the effect the Standard American Diet has on our bodies.  (You can thank corn for this, largely.)

Who has it?

A 2002 study shows that
The unadjusted and age-adjusted prevalences of the metabolic syndrome were 21.8% and 23.7%, respectively. The prevalence increased from 6.7% among participants aged 20 through 29 years to 43.5% and 42.0% for participants aged 60 through 69 years and aged at least 70 years, respectively. Mexican Americans had the highest age-adjusted prevalence of the metabolic syndrome (31.9%). The age-adjusted prevalence was similar for men (24.0%) and women (23.4%).  However, among African Americans, women had about a 57% higher prevalence than men did and among Mexican Americans, women had about a 26% higher prevalence than men did. Using 2000 census data, about 47 million US residents have the metabolic syndrome. 
So, roughly 1/4 of the population of the United States.  Yikes.

As the risk factors mentioned above would indicate, this is a lot more prevalent in older populations (just 6.7% in 20-somethings to a whopping 43% in the 60-70 year range).   As people get older, generally, they become more sedentary - perhaps less health conscious in general?  I'm not sure, but going from ~7% to 43% would suggest so.

Another interesting figure from this study is the greater prevalence in Mexican-American's, and in women in the Mexican-American and African-American communities.   Leads me to wonder of the cultural and socio-economic reasons for this difference.  I'd like more data on the difference between the African-American population as a WHOLE and, say, the Anglo-Saxon population in the US.

I'd really like to point out that this paper was done in 2002.  Since then, rates of Type 2 Diabetes are on the rise - there is a strong correlation between Diabetes and MetS.  A study from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion tracked rates of diabetes from 1996 to 2007.  The results?

Yikes again!  In 10 years incidence has, in most states, doubled.  In some tripled!  In none has it gone down.  Information on Metabolic Syndrome is much harder to find, as it is a relatively "new" issue (awareness-wise) and researchers are still struggling to properly define it.  Type II Diabetes, though, can help us track this monster - it is a symptom, after all.

More fun pictures:  a graph of obesity, in various age groups, and its rate of incidence over the past few decades. (Disclaimer:  Not everyone categorized as overweight/obese is actually so - this classification is determined by using Body Mass Index - as such, I am considered 'overweight' at roughly 10% bodyfat.  Ludicrous.  Unfortunately, people like me - higher than average muscle mass - make up a small portion of the 'overweight' category;  these numbers are statistically significant, especially when you look at the younger age ranges.  2-11 is especially telling, and saddening.)
As mentioned before, visceral and abdominal adiposity are strong indicators of metabolic syndrome.  With a significant rise in overweight and obese individuals, there will be a significant rise in the 'spare tire'.  What can be even more scary, though, is that visceral fat is MUCH harder to notice than subcutaneous adipose tissue - you can be relatively skinny, a far cry from overweight, and still have dangerous levels of visceral fat surrounding your organs and infesting your liver.

I've been looking long and hard - if anyone has decent information on current rates of Metabolic Syndrome, please let me know!

How do we avoid it?

In his article Metabolic Syndrome Defined, Dr. Michael Eades ruminates on the looseness of what "Metabolic Syndrome" means - is this really a syndrome, or are do these disorders merely 'happen' to manifest together:
A new paper published in Nutrition & Metabolism addresses the issue in an insightful manner. The authors first plucked from the vast scientific literature the five features of the Metabolic Syndrome than seem to be the common denominator of all the definitions in use: obesity (whether measured by weight, BMI, or waist circumference), elevated glucose and/or insulin levels, low HDL cholesterol, High triglycerides, and hypertension (high blood pressure). They then realized that all these disorders (or symptoms of the Metabolic Syndrome) were all reliably improved or eliminated by diets that restrict carbohydrate.
The authors conclude after examining the medical literature on carbohydrate restriction and the various components of the Metabolic Syndrome that the Metabolic Syndrome can be defined as a set of markers that respond to carbohydrate restriction. 
The paper he links is called, 'suprisingly', "Carbohydrate restriction improves the features of Metabolic Syndrome. Metabolic Syndrome may be defined by the response to carbohydrate restriction" (and is cited earlier in this post).  

In this paper is compiled data from another awesome low-carb study, shown below:

The diet used is the Atkins Diet, which starts you off at zero to Very-Low Carb (20g) and, after an initial weight-loss specific phase, gradually lets you introduce more (10g/week until weight-gain resumes);  the carbs in the Atkins diet are replaced with fat and protein, but an emphasis on the fat.   In the high CHO diet, triglyceride levels initially drop, but actually rise ABOVE baseline in the long-term.   Interestingly, HDL levels see a significant increase on the high-fat diet.  Hmmmm.

This data seems fairly conclusive: low-carb, high-fat diet promotes weight loss, insulin sensitivity, serum HDL and triglyceride levels - indicators of MetS - significantly more than the lipid-phobic, high-carb (high-profit) diet espoused by the USDA and certain medical "professionals".


If you or someone you know may (hint: someone you know DOES) have Metabolic Syndrome or a related condition, I urge you to learn more and/or inspire them to become more educated about the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle.  It could very well save their life.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Putting Some Cracks in the Myth of Cholesterol - With a Word on Grains

Had an interesting series of conversations on Reddit today.  (If you're interested in joining in, go here [guess which one is me].)

In the Fitness sub-Reddit, someone asked:
I'm trying to get stronger by lifting weights and eating all the time. My dad says he has never seen anyone in his life eating like I do and is concerned that I am causing irreversible damage to my body. I don't intend to eat 6 eggs a day for the rest of my life.. just until I gain 20 pounds or so of muscle... So what should I tell him, or should I listen to my old man and have maybe 1 egg a day?
To which I responded:

Most people that have heart attacks do not have high levels of blood cholesterol. ACTUALLY, as the amount of serum cholesterol lowers, mortality increases.  From the Framingham Study (longest running cohort study, ever - since 1948): There is a direct association between falling cholesterol levels over the first 14 years and mortality over the following 18 years."

Cholesterol is good. Saturated fat is great. (Saturated fat increases serum cholesterol, but this is actually a good thing). They do not CAUSE heart attacks. Cholesterol oxidation DOES, however. Cholesterol is oxidized by the presence of blood glucose and trans fatty acids. They interact with LDL (which are necessary for proper body function) and turn them into... DLDL (yes, silly, I know) dense low-density lipoprotein. It's not HDL, but an entirely different beast. One that gets stuck in arterial walls. This in turn can cause oxidation of the surrounding tissue, creating inflammation that if left unchecked will cause lesions which will eventually 'scab over' with more cholesterol. Cholesterol that will be in your blood regardless of how much you eat because a healthy liver makes it, as it is a prerequisite for cellular life and function.

The "experts" that tout this cholesterol myths are doctors or, worse, dieticians that either do not have a degree in physiology or a solid understanding of these underlying processes, or are under the thumb of Big Pharma and would love NOTHING more than to get you hooked on statins instead of altering your lifestyle and preventing heart disease without having to pay them.

This went back and forth a while - eventually the topic of grain became a focus:
I agree with your original post and what came out of that, but you can't say that all of these health problems that we face today were caused by grains. Your use of "Civilization" has to assume that either ancient civilizations (like the Sumerians and Chinese, which had cultivated grain and pulse crops over 10,000 years ago) were rife with obesity and heart disease, or that these crops are new in our diet. True, the composition of what we refer to as "grains" has changed a lot with processing, but you can't argue that, for example, Africans who live primarily off grains like sorghum and pulses/beans are diabetic or obese.
And my response:

These Africans are also eating far less than we are, and are extremely active.  Apples and oranges comparison - they do not really live in a "land of plenty" scenario.  That does not say that these foods are necessarily good for them - just because you're not overweight does not mean your body isn't suffering from the inflammatory and oxidative effects of the phytates, lectins and gluten in grains.

A problem with agriculture is that it allows for more people to survive on less - you have explosions of populations of people that can subsist on nearly nothing because they do not have to work as hard physically for our food.  This leads us to the massive slum populations in places like India andmany places in Africa, where agriculture was introduced, populations exploded, famine becomes the norm.

And grains are very new to our diet.  Homo sapiens sapiens has been around for 200,000 year, possible more.  Most evidence points to agriculture being around 10,000 years old, making grain, at most, a part of diet for 5% of our history.

An unfortunate byproduct of agriculture is that it has disassociated reproductive fitness from physical fitness and dietary adaptations - how healthy someone is and/or able to adapt to the world around them becomes 
less a factor of whether or not they will reproduce, completely derailing evolution as we have known it.

What has happened is that we've added a new food source and have not really had selective pressure to adapt to it.  So we don't, really.  This is why 1/3 of the population has more-than-baseline reaction to gluten, though really everyone has some measure of sensitivity to it.

There may be some cultures more adapted to eat grains, similar to how Northern Europeans and the Masai are more lactose tolerant than the general populace (though both cultures are VERY fond of ingesting FERMENTED dairy, in which lactose reaction is less prevalent anyway).   I am not aware of them, though rice as a grain is relatively innocuous (still far from ideal as a food), and perhaps Asians have adapted somewhat.

So I am wondering what you guys think?  Please add your thoughts here, and I encourage you to participate in the linked conversation.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Change of Heart: Forging Your Path Through Life

I realize that I had promised a series on 'Slowing Down' in last week's post.  I am passionate about subjects like this; introspection, meditation, discovering yourself and forging your own destiny - these are core values in my own life, and I hope to eventually join the ranks of the great Lifestyle Blogs such as Adventures of a Barefoot Geek, Zen Habits and The 4-Hour Workweek.  Alas, I find it, at this point in my life, extremely difficult to write in confidence on these subjects, as I am still working very hard to incorporate them into my day-to-day life.
At the same time that I was trying to force out a piece on the Slow Food Movement (something which I fully support and endorse), I felt, well, stifled.  How could I write a piece on slowing down when my I have, myself, been moving at 100 mph through life, trying to do so much.  The thought of trying to write this piece was soul-crushing to me - I feel I lack confidence in this area, and it seemed more than a bit hypocritical giving advice that I am currently not following (leading by example is very important to me) - though there is another reason;  it is not my TRUE passion, and that, my friends, is something that I, and you, and EVERYONE, should embrace.

To continue this blog, I realized I have to let go of the preconceptions that I started with.   "This will be a lifestyle design blog, and it will be awesome!"  Well, I personally think it IS both of those things, but it's not what I -need- it to be.  I need to follow my heart and write about what incenses me, what gets me out of bed in the morning and gives me something to fight for in this crazy world of ours.

Some of my readers know that I am part of a movement that has many names:
  • Primal (the 'label' that I place on myself, for convenience of communication)
  • Paleo
  • 'Living Like A Caveman'
  • Evo-Fitness
  • Crazy (what most people consider me)
Specifically, I follow the The Primal Blueprint - a Primal/Paleo guideline that was developed by blogger, athlete and role-model Mark Sisson with a bit of help and input from his very broad reader-base.

All of these terms are have slightly different connotations; to generalize, they are all lifestyles that focus on moving 'back in time', trying to develop a set of living conditions that 'mimics' what our life was like before the advent of agriculture and predominance of agrarian society.

"Why?" you may ask.

Good question!  The benefits of a Primal lifestyle are many.

The PB and other Paleo-derived lifestyles are all about gene-expression - your body's cells do a lot of things, functions whose instructions are determined (expressed) by your genes.  When you live in the way that the human body has evolved over millions and millions of years, your genes are expressed in an optimal manner.  When we go against how nature has shaped us to live, problems arise - maladies that did not exist before the rise of modern society.

This is not just a diet.  This is not a simple exercise plan.  It touches upon every aspect of our lives - how we think about our food, how we interact with other people and the world around us, even urging us to really consider what is REALLY important to us.  It can seem a little complicated at first, but is, at its essence, a minimalist lifestyle - doing away with all of the nonsense that society tries to convince us is important is critical to a successful Primal journey.   Now that I think about it, writing about what it means to be Primal is very similar to my original subject matter;  I hadn't realized it until just now!

A small but very telling realization.  It's interesting where life can lead you when you let it.

So then. If you are interested in learning how to become closer with yourself and those around you, reverse and eventually eradicate illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes and look and feel your best, then I urge you to stay tuned for my next post in which I will touch upon one of the core tenants of living Primal (and one which most people have the hardest time with!)


Taking my own advice:  after almost two weeks of trying to force out a post, this flowed out of my fingers in less than an hour.  Follow your heart, my friends.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Slow Down: Take a Breathe

As you may have noticed by the lack of a post in the past month or so, the last few weeks have been pretty hectic. I've spent the past few weeks running around like a chicken with its head cut off; since my last post I've moved, started a new job and had my schooling start up again. On top of that, add on trying to rebuild my social life. Madness.

The Western world lives in a culture of speed. We don't just want things now, we want them 5 minutes ago. Instant coffee, instant messenging, instant gratification. We are so attuned to instant gratification that, for some, anything less is unbearable. In "the wild" you can see this in the modern business man in the espresso line who, probably rushing late for an appointment in his insanely packed schedule, becomes agitated and even angry because the barista is taking too long to serve the person before him. As journalist and author Carl Honore says, "Even instant gratification takes too long."

Not only are we trained that we DESERVE things immediately, but our lives are filled with expectations of expediency. We live deadline to deadline, appointment to appointment. School, work and societal obligations pressure us to turn on caffeine-fueled turboboosters. Unfortunately, in our mad race to finish our to-do lists ASAP we, much like a car constantly pushed to its limits, begin to wear down.

In the workplace there is an insane pressure to become more and more productive.  Alas, somewhere along the line someone decided that to accomplish this we must worker harder and longer hours, and who needs weekends off anyway?  All nighters?  Necessary.  Ironically, productivity skyrockets when you take the time to be present in your work.  Sometimes you can achieve your goals with less volume and higher quality, or the fact that you are focused on the task at hand and giving it the attention it deserves puts you in 'the Zone', and before you know it you're done.

As a 20-something, many of my friends are in either college or gradschool - neophytes of the Cult of Speed.  Their to-do lists are their life, and any sort of leisure time or activity is looked at as a cardinal sin - something that is taken only with a whopping dollop of guilt, usually nullifying many of the benefits of kicking back and relaxing.  All nighters fueled by caffeine exacerbate everything, putting them into the disastrous state of sleep deprivation (which further inhibits their productivity, thus driving them to work even HARDER). Unfortunately, they are missing out on a lot of what makes us happy, healthy creatures.

Benefits of leisure time and slowing down include (but are not limited to):
  • Reduction of stress levels
  • Better self-image (if you actually take the time to slow down and be deliberate, you can feel a lot better about how much you get accomplished and reduce thoughts of "I'm not doing enough" - also ties in with stress)
  • Improves patience
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Lessens impulsiveness by fostering awareness of your actions
  • Improved relationships (slowing down leads to higher quality and more genuine interactions)
  • Personal satisfaction via participating in hobbies and having time for new endeavors
  • Increased productivity - take your time to do something and you will do it correctly
The list goes on and on.

We get so caught up in the "rat race" of daily life that we lose sight of what is important:  family, friends and ourselves.  If we're constantly going at 100 MPH, we'll pass them all right by.

In up-coming posts we will discuss some aspects of our lives that we rush through, and some things we can do to slow down and enjoy the ride.

Stay tuned!
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Man vs World by Aaron M Fraser is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.