Lowcarbezine! 12 June 2002

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Hey, Gang -

Hope you're having a good summer so far! I've been slacking off a lot, but it looks like I'm headed back to the kitchen soon. If I'm going to be working on more recipes in the heat of summer, I'm darned glad I got central air installed. ;-)

Other than that, still Heavyhanding and getting in shape, in preparation for the fall publicity tour for the book. Nothing like the threat of being on TV to motivate, you know?

Read on!


All contents copyright 2002 Hold the Toast Press. All commercial reproduction is expressly prohibited. If you think your friends will enjoy Lowcarbezine!, please forward them the WHOLE ISSUE. Please, do not post articles or recipes elsewhere on the internet without permission. My attorney tells me that I'll have to come scold you and tell you to cut it out if you do.

A lot of people have inquired about advertising; we actually are going to launch new ad rates and a sign up page as soon as the webmaster is through with grad school for the semester. Watch this space!


Why Body Mass Index Is A Crock

The Federal Government of the United States, the same wonderful people who brought you the Food Pyramid, with its 6 to 11 servings of grains per day, has also decreed that Body Mass Index, or BMI, is the measure of whether or not you are obese.

Wrong again. I appreciate their concern with my health and all, but along with their nutritional recommendations that have caused obesity and worse in millions, they're recommending a gauge of fitness that strongly discourages becoming muscular. How stupid is that?

For those of you who remain unenlightened, here's the BMI formula: BMI = Kg/(m)2. For those of you who disremember high school math, that's your weight in kilograms, divided by your height in meters squared. In other words, it's a way of turning your height and your weight into one simple number.

What the point of this is escapes me - I mean, were height-and-weight charts so hard? Harder than figuring out one's weight in kilos and one's height in meters in a country still much devoted to the old English pounds-and-feet sort of measurement? I mean, let's face it, most Americans are not going to bother with the BMI if it involves metric conversion charts along with math.

Far worse, however, is that this little piece of mathematical rigamarole gives an unwarranted scientific cachet to the idea that your weight, as compared to your height, is a valid measurement of how fat you are. It isn't, it never was, and making a nifty little math problem and calling in the metric system doesn't make it so.

I said it in my book, and I'll say it again here: Your weight is only the roughest sort of measurement of how fat you are, and it's a mistake to rely upon it. (So why did I title my book How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lost Forty Pounds! ? Because it's a heckuva lot catchier than How I Gave Up My Low Fat Diet and Lowered My Body Fat By a Half-A-Dozen Points.) What's the problem with using weight as a gauge of fitness?

Well, let me ask you another question: If you wanted to buy the leanest steak in the grocery store, would you weigh them all and pick the steak that weighed the least? No? Why not? Because the scale weighs all of the steak - the fat, the protein, the water, the bone.

The same is true of weighing yourself. Your bathroom scale (or the dreaded doctor's office scale!) weighs all of you - your fat, yes, but also your muscles, your bones, your hair, your blood, even the contents of your intestines. Whether you've gained weight or lost it, you have no idea what, exactly, that weight is made up of. You could have gained muscle, not fat. You could have lost water. You just can't know. But only the loss or gain of fat concerns us.

Because of BMI's focus only on height and weight, it can actually discourage fitness. If you were to start a serious weight lifting program (a fine idea), you might well put on 5 pounds or so of muscle in a month or two. This would make you healthier, and lower your body fat percentage. But your BMI would be higher - so according to the federal government, you would be less fit. On the other hand, some woman who had simply starved herself and thus lost muscle mass would be seen by the government as becoming more fit. This has a certain through-the-looking-glass quality to it that it's hard to overstate.

For that matter, maybe you've been exercising all along, plus getting plenty of calcium, and as a result you have good, heavy, dense bones. This could easily make you weigh a few pounds heavier than if you had weaker bones - and thus, according to the BMI formula, you'd be less, not more, fit than a woman with the same body fat content, but weaker bones.

Here's one more really preposterous example: A few years back, the government decided to lower the top acceptable BMI number from 26 to 25, creating several million new "overweight" people with the stroke of a pen. It was pointed out at the time, in the late, lamented Mode magazine, that with this single bureaucratic action the government had decreed that every single member of the Yale Women's Rowing Team - a group of elite athletes if ever there were one - was fat, and needed to lose weight. Apparently the government thought that these women were all carrying too much muscle for their own good.

I hope it's clear why I feel that BMI, and body weight in general, is a pretty useless measurement of fitness. So how do you gauge your fitness?

The gold standard is the dunk tank - you are weighed on dry land, and then blow out all your breath, get in a pool, and are weighed under water. Since fat is lighter than water, but lean body mass is heavier, the difference between the two lets the tester determine with pretty darned fair accuracy what your body fat percentage is. Unfortunately, opportunities to be tested this way are few and far between.

Next most accurate is caliper testing of skin folds. In the hands of an expert - someone who has done a lot of tests - this is pretty good. The rub is that if the person doing the test is inexperienced, it can be way off.

Most common is bioelectrical impedance - a mild electrical current is sent through the body, and the difference in how the current travels through water rich tissue - muscle, but also urine and blood - versus non-water-rich tissue, which includes not only fat, but also bone. Bioelectrical impedance is quick and easy, and is not dependant on the skill of the person doing it. However, it has its own problems - if your level of hydration (how much water you've been drinking) varies from measurement to measurement, your results will vary artificially. If you have dense bones, they'll be measured as fat. It also tends to over-predict body fat in folks who are quite lean and muscular. Indeed, my trainer friend BJ saw a body builder at her gym, who measured at about 7% body fat with calipers, get measured electronically. It put his body fat at well over 25%.

However, since one can buy a Tanita body fat measuring scale for as little as $60, this can still be a useful tool. Personally, I wouldn't take its measurement of body fat seriously, but if you take care to use the machine at the same time, having had about the same amount of water ahead of time each time, you could certainly keep track of the trend of your body fat. (Caution: Don't use bioelectrical impedance devices if you have a pacemaker, or other implanted medical devices!)

Personally, I think the fit of one's clothes is as good a gauge as any. That, and I monitor the fat pad under my chin; it seems to grow and shrink with every tiny fluctuation in my body fat. If your pants are zipping more easily, you're on the right track. If you have to get one of those elastic hooks-around-the-button doohickeys to add a couple of inches of give to your waistbands, it's time to change something in your eating and exercise plan!

But BMI is something to not concern yourself with. I'm sure all the math class dropouts are grateful for that!

What's Coming Up

I promised I would, and I'm finally doing it - tests on low carb protein bars, that is. Yes, once again I am armed with glucometer, test strips, and lancet, poking dozens upon dozens of holes in my pinkies, this time trying to learn whether low carb protein bars are, indeed, as low carb as they say. I should have enough data for an article by next issue!

(Owwww, my poor little pinkies!)

Does a High Carb Diet In Childhood Lead to Life Long, Heritable Obesity Risk?

Boy, the research on this stuff just gets more and more intriguing. I have long wondered whether the sugar-heavy diet of the average American child leads to far more serious carbohydrate intolerance in adulthood than would otherwise have been the case - in other words, if I hadn't been such a major sugar junkie as a kid, would I now be able to tolerate, say, the occasional potato or slice of bread without blood sugar weirdness, not to mention my clothes being tight the next day? For that matter, has a diet increasingly rich in sugar and other refined, high impact carbs affected Americans (and other nations with similar diets) to the point where we've screwed up our carbohydrate metabolisms across the board?

Well, we may have some preliminary data on the question. Lowcarbezine! reader Tamara French sent me a fascinating article on this very subject - and it does, indeed, appear that a high carbohydrate diet in childhood may cause permanent changes in body chemistry - and that those changes may even be passed along to offspring.

Here's the deal:

A researcher named Mulchand Patel, at the University at Buffalo, New York, has been studying the effects of high carbohydrate formula on baby rats. The caloric content of the formula was the same as that of an equal quantity of rat's mother's milk. However, while rat milk has only 8% carbohydrate, with 68% fat and 24% protein, Patel's formula was 56% carbohydrate, only 20% fat, with the protein fraction remaining the same - 24%.

What happened when the rat pups were fed this low fat, high carb formula? They developed high insulin levels withing 24 hours - and those high insulin levels persisted throughout adulthood. The low fat/high carb rats started becoming obese by 2 months, and the researchers found that there were actual molecular changes that increased a precursor of insulin - stuff insulin is made from. The changes were permanent.

In other words, eating a lot of carbohydrate when you're quite small may very well change your body forever. If you've been hesitant about denying your kids sugary junk food, because after all, they're just kids, it's very definitely time to think again - you may well be setting them up for permanent high insulin levels and a lifelong weight problem.

But it gets worse. You see, when these low fat/high carb, obese, high insulin rats grew up and had babies, they were allowed to suckle their pups naturally - and they passed on their high insulin levels to their babies. Only the female rats who had been fed the high carb diet as babies transmitted the high insulin trait to their children; female rats who had been nursed by their mothers did not. Patel feels that there may be some change in the environment of the uterus that accounts for the high insulin levels being passed on to the young.

To quote Patel (Warning: Medical Jargon Ahead!): "Metabolic signals are reset in response to a high carbohydrate diet, which induces permanent changes at the molecular level. The high carbohydrate phenotype is transferred from cell to cell, and is transmitted to the succeeding generation."

Here's a very particular concern: Patel started studying this question to see if he could glean some insight regarding the effects of formula feeding of 50 years ago. You see, today's formula has a very similar macronutrient breakdown - the same percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrate - to breast milk. (This is not to suggest that formula is as good as breast milk; it isn't. It is, however, better than it used to be.) The concern is that folks who were fed formula as babies in the 1950s and 1960s may well be suffering the aftermath of high carbohydrate feeding. Since I know that I was fed formula after just a few days breast feeding - and I was born in 1958 - this may have something to do with my lifelong struggle with obesity.

We all knew, didn't we, that the risk of eating lots of sugar and other junk carbs wasn't limited to tooth decay. We weren't quite sure what form all the risks took, but here's a mighty scary one: Our children may be paying today for the nutritional folly of our childhoods.

For God's sake, get them off the stuff.

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Product Review

One of the great joys of being a frontier nation is that we haven't gotten too civilized to cook over an open fire. Americans love flame grilled food - it's our birthright. There are few times and places where being a low carber instead of a low fat type serves one better than at a barbecue - hey, we're allowed all the steak, chicken, and ribs we want!

The only problem, of course, is the condiments. You all are aware, aren't you, that commercial barbecue sauce is, for the most part, very high carb - the popular KC Masterpiece has 5.5 grams of carb per tablespoon, and I don't know about you, but I can use a lot more than a tablespoon on a slab of ribs!

I'm pleased to tell you that I've found a brand of barbecue seasonings that tastes wonderful, but is considerably lower in sugar and carbohydrates than the general run of the field. I've been using Stubb's brand, from Stubb's Legendary Kitchen, and I'm very, very pleased. I use two products from Stubb's - the Bar-B-Q Spice Rub, and the Bar-B-Q Sauce, and I think they're both excellent.

The Bar-B-Q Spice Rub is a sprinkle-on combination of salt, herbs, and spices, plus garlic, onion, and paprika. It's similar to some products I've tried that are labeled "soul seasoning", with two differences: I think Stubb's tastes better - and Stubb's has no sugar. No sugar at all, and 0 grams of carbohydrate in a 1/4 teaspoon serving - which, as I have explained recently, means that it may have as much as 0.4 grams, but I'm not going to sweat it. I sprinkle the Stubb's Bar-B-Q Spice Rub on chicken and pork chops, in particular, both before and after cooking, and it adds a great shot of flavor. Really great on wings!

The Stubb's Bar-B-Q Sauce is a traditional tomato based barbecue sauce, the sort we're all familiar with, and many of us are addicted to! There is one big difference, however - in a field of products where 5 to 7 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon is the standard, Stubb's Bar-B-Q Sauce has just 3 grams per tablespoon (the serving size on the label is 2 tablespoons, so don't be shocked when you see 6 grams per serving. I'm just using tablespoons for comparison, here.) It still has added sugar, which makes it a product I won't use every day, but stacked up next to the competition, Stubb's Bar-B-Q Sauce looks mighty good indeed, especially since it tastes as good as or better than the competition.

So grab some of this stuff, and fire up the grill! If you can't find Stubb's products in your grocery store - they have a sort of golden-beige label, showing a picture of Stubb (company founder, C.B. Stubblefield), a black gentleman in a cowboy hat - you could ask them to start carrying the products. Or you could check out the website at http://www.stubbsbbq.com , and ask them if they can direct you to a source near you.

Mmmmm. Barbecue. And I have some ribs in the freezer. 'Scuse me...

And The Winner Is...

Last issue I asked you what sort of book you'd like to see me work on next, and many of you responded. The winner? Low Carb Around the World, a book of decarbed recipes from all sorts of ethnic cuisines, and by quite a margin, too. So I guess it's a year or so of really interesting food for us here at Hold the Toast Kitchens!

That's it for this issue! See you next issue!


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To request a full-text version of this newsletter by e-mail, just send a message to htt020612@holdthetoast.com (Message and subject can be blank.)