Building and Defusing a Pork Bomb

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The “Bacon Explosion” is likely one of the most cooked (and craved) recipes to hit the Internet in recent months. Having created and eaten a variant of the “Pork Bomb” with my brothers a couple weeks back, I can attest to its tastiness.

The concept between the ‘splosion is simple: you’re taking a couple pounds of ground meat (pork, beef, or a mix) and slow-cooking it on a grill or smoker. Since plopping that much ground meat alone onto a bald grill would be prone to fall apart, you wrap the entire “loaf” with weaved bacon.

Of course, as good as ground meat wrapped in delicious bacon may be, why stop there? To make this “pork-wrapped torpedo” even more delectable, you mix into the meat additional ingredients. This can mean more crispy bacon bits, onions, bell peppers, cheese, seasonings, olives, whatever! BBQ rubs liberally applied to the outside and inside of the bomb are also key.

Our own take involved a 50/50 mix of ground beef and pork. Dry rub and bbq sauce was applied to the interior and exterior of the bomb. “Mix-ins” included green and red peppers, onions, and sharp cheddar cheese. Food and grill preparation took between thirty minutes and an hour. The cooking took around two hours (Rule of thumb is an hour per pound). Have plenty of beer handy for the duration. We served the dish sliced with romaine lettuce and sliced tomatoes. ProNovice-tip: We had to use a few toothpicks to hold our bacon wrap together as our bomb was so big, we needed extra bacon “stitches” to bridge a gap in our weave. Yes, our bomb was high-tech.

The result is a slice-able, bacon-infused, barbecue-seasoned mouth-pleasing monstrosity that you owe it to your taste buds to try.

Rather than add to the volumes of data out there on the nitty gritty details of making your own pork bomb / bacon explosion, I’m just going to provide the relevant links to get you started as well as a few pictures from our BBQ.

Thanks to my brother Nathan (BBQ Zombie) and brother-in-law Michael for their assistance in making the bacon explosion possible. We’ll be taking another crack at cooking one or two of these up this weekend in honor of both these guys turning 30!

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Thanks Nathan!

Snack Attack? Try Avocado and Sunflower Seeds.

avocado + sunflower seeds is so tasty!The picture to the right practically speaks for itself — a healthy, mouth-watering snack that is so delicious you could eat it for dessert: simply half an avocado filled with shelled sunflower seeds.

Preparation takes about 90 seconds. Take an avocado and slice it in half. Twist to separate the halves. Extract the pit (Carefully inject the knife tip into the pit and just twist). Take one half in hand and slice a grid into it. Finally, take shelled sunflower seeds (preferably salted) and pour them into the open “hole” left by the pit. Grab a spoon and enjoy!

The only variation to this snack I’ve seen (or tried) is to add a bit of hot sauce on top. I prefer it plain. It is hard to beat avocado and sunflower seeds — a tasty treat for its salty, crunchy, and creamy texture, satisfying to the last spoonful.

Below is listed some macro-nutritional information for the combo. I had to calculate this by cobbling together data from nutritiondata.com and calorieking.com (Assumes half an avocado and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds). As calculated, the macro-nutrient profile for this snack is:

  • 160 calories
  • 14.5 grams of fat
  • 8 grams of carbohydrates
  • 5.5 grams of dietary fiber
  • 3 grams of protein

The combination is fat-laden and low in carbohydrates if not a bit light on protein. The profile makes it a solid snack for insulin control. One note: most of the fat is of the polyunsaturated, omega-6 variety; however, if you’re eating a healthy diet*, there is little be concerned about in eating what essentially no more than a fruit and some seeds.

Avocado half with shelled sunflower seedsAdditionally, the avocado/sunflower seed combo is vitamin and mineral dense, packing a load of vitamins E, C, K, B6, as well as healthy doses of potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, selenium, and manganese (among other nutrients). How can you go wrong?

Try it out and let me know what you think!

Extra credit goes to the first person to try this with crispy bacon crumbles instead of shelled sunflower seeds. I take no blame if bacon mixes poorly with avocado as I have yet to try this variant out, but if it works, I’ll take all the glory. My gut tells me it would be awesome, but bacon and I go way back to my toddler years. So the story goes, I first encountered a cast iron skillet sans parental supervision, replete with cooled bacon grease when I was around three years old. I promptly slathered the grease all over my face, forever burning (figuratively) the bacon-y goodness into my brain.

The rest is history. I love bacon.

*My definition of a healthy diet is staying away from frankenfoods, sugary junk, vegetable oils and breads. To balance out our modern omega-6 heavy foods, I supplement with a bit of omega-3 rich fish oil. More on that subject here.

Sugar on the brain

Is sugar another addictive white powder?

A recent study suggests sugar may be addictive. Below are parts of the U.S. News article summarizing the experiment and interpretation of the findings. I suggest reading them all:

“Our evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways very similar to drugs of abuse,” [said] lead researcher Bart Hoebel . . .

“Drinking large amounts of sugar water when hungry can cause behavioral changes and even neurochemical changes in the brain which resemble changes that are produced when animals or people take substances of abuse. These animals show signs of withdrawal and even long-lasting effects that might resemble craving,” . . .

A “sugar addiction” may even act as a “gateway” to later abuse of drugs such as alcohol . . .

For the new research, rats were denied food for 12 hours a day, then were given access to food and sugar (25 percent glucose and 10 percent sucrose, similar to a soft drink) for 12 hours a day, for three to four weeks.

The bingeing released a surge of the neurotransmitter dopamine each time in the part of the brain involved in reward, the nucleus accumbens. “It’s been known that drugs of abuse release or increase the levels of dopamine in that part of the brain,” Hoebel said.

But it wasn’t only the sugar that caused this effect, Hoebel explained — it was the sugar combined with the alternating schedule of deprivation and largesse. . . .

But longer periods of abstinence didn’t “cure” the rats. Instead, there were long-lasting effects with the animals: They ingested more sugar than before, as if they were craving the substance and, without sugar, they drank more alcohol.

My anecdotal experience confirms the above findings. For one, the more I have abstained from sugar and refined carbohydrates (the latter of which are one tiny step away from being sugar), the easier it has become to strictly avoid sugar/carbohydrate-dense foods. This suggests to me that the addiction can be controlled by almost completely abstaining from the “drug,” sugar in this case.

Of note, however, is that in those instances when I have fallen off the wagon* and started eating sugar/refined carbs, I tend to overeat/binge. Is this the behavior of an addict? Or is it the psychological response to the forbidden fruit? Or is it a predictable response of treating a diet like a binary system? I.e. going from strict adherence to the diet to “Well I already ate that candy, might as well have some ice cream, too!” Any of these are plausible explanations for my behavior.

The alcohol angle is fascinating: I’ve experienced a clear connection between alcohol and carbohydrate-binge-eating. As before, I am unclear how the alcohol is catalyzing my reaction — is it that alcohol impairs my judgment, handicapping my will power? Or could it be more fundamentally metabolic — the alcohol spurs a chemical reaction resulting in craving sugar/refined carbohydrates? Why do I go from having little-to-no craving for French fries and tator tots to no-holds-barred “pass the ketchup now!” after downing three or four beers.

I have previously blogged on how hard liquor has zero carbohydrates. I’ve since learned that hard liquor (i.e. whiskey) will cause an insulin response even though there are no carbohydrates in the alcohol. Could insulin have something to do with this#?

This study, rather than confirming something I’ve suspected about the addictive nature of sugar, leaves me with more questions than answers. Is modern man doomed to be addicted to sugar? Is sugar addiction similar to alcoholism in that the only successful means to control the addiction is to avoid entirely the addictive substance? Can abstaining from sugar/refined carbohydrates make the addiction worse? Is sugar a poison that should be taken in small doses to control its ill-affects (A particularly strange notion)?

It seems there are more questions than answers. However, I maintain that sugar in any close-to-raw form is unnatural, which means that our evolutionarily designed bodies are inept at handling it. And it seems reasonable to conclude that, even if I tend to overeat refined carbohydrates when I do consume them, over the long-term, I’m still drastically reducing my intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates by maintaining a lifestyle focused on a low-carbohydrate, natural diet mixed with intermittent fasting.

* How often have you heard the phrase “fallen off the wagon” to describe failure at dieting? I hear it all the time (and use it). Probably just a coincidence, this phrase originates in alcoholism. Here we have a study that paints sugar as being similar to alcohol in its addictive characteristics.

# I can’t help but wonder if insulin is the culprit behind addiction to both alcohol and sugar. Has anyone looked into this?

Eggs

I love eggs. They can stand in as a meal in a pinch, whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner. You can boil them, fry ’em, scramble them, make an omelette or a frittata. If you take certain precautions, you can even microwave them. For my go-to breakfast, I personally switch between overeasy and sunny-side up, mixing it up between butter, coconut oil and fresh bacon grease.

I like eggs so much that I often keep a few recently boiled eggs in the fridge for a tasty, healthy, filling snack. I think eggs make such a great snack that the idea of inventing an Egg Vending Machine has crossed my mind — imagine being able to drop 50 cents into a machine and get a piping hot boiled egg in return? Hmm …

What brings me to discuss eggs is a recent post by Richard Nikoley at Free the Animal. Richard is also a big fan of eggs — yolk and all, just like me. This is an important point you shouldn’t miss! Don’t throw out the yolks! Why? Because that is where all the good stuff is (I.e. protein, vitamins, fat)! What about the cholesterol? If you have to ask … read the quoted material at Richard’s site.

Richard also links to a post that talks about the difference between factory produced eggs (the one’s you get at a grocery store) and the ones produced by chickens that cluck around on a farm (eating whatever they happen to find and not all grain). A picture is worth a thousand words, so be sure to note the difference in the egg at the top of the frying pan and the other four here.

The big dilemma I have is: how do I get my hands on fresh, real eggs like that? Farmer’s market maybe? Get my own chickens? Any bright ideas?

Being healthy on the road

Traveling has an uncanny tendency to thwart healthy routines. It is difficult both to make time for exercise and to eat healthy amidst the bevy of fast food restaurants, hotels, free food, abundant spirits and people who eat differently than me. How do you navigate these health obstructions while on the road?

I’m hardly an expert, but here is how I’m managing to maintain a low-carb diet replete with activity while being away from home:

  • Be active. Some Hollywood star has the following motto: “I try to break a sweat everyday.” (H/T IF Life) This just seems like a robust life-motto that reverberates in my head — a life where you exert enough effort to break a sweat every day just seems right to me.

    On the road, it can be difficult to do this with limited equipment. I like having a kettlebell around, but if you’re flying, you can forget about taking a 35 lb. or 53 lb. kettlebell along for the ride.

    This means you have to improvise. Good ways I’ve found to improvise include running sprints, doing push-ups, and air squats. I’m still trying to find a good pull-up substitute that can be performed with everyday furniture (Any ideas?).

  • Skip a meal or two. Fasting is such a powerful tool to recenter/refocus after finding yourself lost in the bad habits that result from traveling. I’ve found the easiest way to fast is to skip breakfast. Depending on how you’re feeling around lunchtime, feel free to skip lunch, too. I did this yesterday, not eating anything until dinner and I felt great all day and even managed a nice workout compliments of a treadmill and one of those all-in-one weightlifting machines (Improvise!).
  • Go for level-two fast food. I just made up that Level II distinction. What I mean by it is that you should take the extra ten minutes to seek out local restaurants that can serve up some healthier takeout dishes. For me, I’ve eaten a few greek salads with gyro meat or chicken. It’s not ideal but its better than getting a number five combo from McDonald’s.
  • Don’t strive for perfection. When you inevitably cave to cravings and eat that fresh-baked cinnamon bun that was calling your name at the hotel breakfast bar, let it go. Striving to acheive a perfect maintenance of your healthy habits while on the road is a recipe for failure. It’s okay to deviate — just take steps to get back on track (i.e. trying a mini-fast or having an intense workout in the hotel gym).

So that is what I’ve come up with so far. I’m interested to hear any ideas from any readers regarding other ways to be healthy “on the road”. Please comment if you think of something you’d like to share!

Finally, one of the hardest parts about breaking routines is getting back on track after the traveling is over. That topic remains a discussion for another day: though I will say that I’ve found fasting to be an excellent way to “re-rail” post-vacation.

Cooking with Cast Iron

frittata or pizza

I do not consider myself a chef.

Well, not really. I’m still learning. Like many men, I got my start in cooking by boiling water. Then came popping popcorn on the stove and eventually I graduated to bacon and scrambled eggs. In college I played with the great-in-theory George Foreman, but was constantly frustrated as it left my meats dry and was a total pain to clean. Settling back into a lazy routine, I resorted to making salami sandwiches innumerable with the occasional package of Ramen (Or even Zatarains!)

Marriage opened up new possibilities and I found myself frequently manning the grill. I like the grill for its cleaning ease. Grilling is an art I hope to one day perfect — is there any accomplishment for a man more envious than that of a seasoned grillmaster? Sure. Like killing a grizzly bear with nothing but your wits and bare hands.

One day.

In the meantime, my cast iron skillet is my the primary weapon in my cooking arsenal — I use mine daily and continually find new uses for it.

For those unfamiliar with the wonders of a cast iron skillet, they have great heating properties thanks to the material: heat is well distributed by iron, which makes for a relatively even cooking surface. The heavy duty nature of cast iron skillets makes them heavy beasts. My Lodge 12 incher tips the scales at over 7 lbs. They often come pre-seasoned giving the skillet a blackish color rather than the dull gray of raw iron.

What’s the deal with seasoning a skillet? Cast iron is porous. Being iron, its also susceptible to rusting if exposed to the elements. Seasoning a skillet is getting a layer of oil and fat into the porous iron and between the iron and everything else. You want the fat layer, which is why you do not use soap to clean your skillet! You read right. And I know what you’re thinking: how can you clean anything without soup?

With the cast iron skillet, you learn to accept soapless cleaning. Most of the time, I just use a brush and hot water to get my skillet clean. Other times, I might boil some water on the skillet and then scrub it clean. The beauty of the oil/fat coating on the skillet is that it makes clean-up a pretty painless process. Once you scrub the skillet clean, you just dry it off. If the skillet looks too dry, you will want to rub some oil onto it.

And this brings me to an important tenet of cast iron cooking — an admonishment you might not find in too many other places — that is that you should avoid cooking with vegetable oil at all costs, specifically when using a cast iron skillet. Despite the many good reasons to avoid vegetable oils, the main one I’m concerned with is that vegetable oils are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), which due to their abundance of easily broken double-bonds, lead to the production of unnatural byproducts when repeatedly heated. In other words, if you’re leaving the oils on your skillet, you want those oils to be robust enough to handle repeat heatings. Vegetable oils just aren’t up to the task.

Olive oil, having a lot of monounsaturated fatty acids, is a better choice. However, I’ve found that it tends to smoke at lower temperatures. And MUFAs still have at least one easily broken double-bond, which makes the fat molecules prone to deteriorate over time from reheating/reusing the skillet.

Luckily there are some good alternatives. Cook some bacon. The grease that remains is high in saturated fats. Let that skillet soak it up! Though I’m not the biggest fan of reusing bacon grease, I have re-used it intra-day; in other words, if I had bacon for breakfast I’ve reused the grease later that day to cook pork chops or steak in the skillet.

Since fresh bacon grease is hardly handy all the time, I was happy to discover coconut oil. Coconut oil must be one of the greatest unsung heroes of the oil kingdom. I’ve blogged about the apparent goodness of coconut oil before (here and here). Now that I’ve been using coconut oil on my skillet for a good month or two, I’ve got nothing but praise for it. I find my skillet easier to clean, less prone to smoking, and coconut oil to make for an excellent medium. It is, without a doubt, the cast iron oil of choice.

With all of this talk about using a cast iron skillet, the question that remains unanswered is: what are you cooking?

I’m still finding new things to cook on mine all the time. Going forward, I hope to share some of my favorite cast iron dishes. For now, here’s a list to get your juices flowing:

  • Bacon. Is there anything more cast iron basic than that?
  • Spinach. Particularly at the end of cooking some meat — drizzle some olive oil on it if you want.
  • Pork chops. Having grown up eating plenty of grilled pork chops, I was convinced that they were doomed to being the other dry white meat. I’m happy to report that the skillet delivers a mean, juicy pork chop!
  • Steak. Wowie this is good one that draws on searing the steak and using an oven or grill to round out the cooking.
  • Fish (i.e. salmon). Fast, easy, flavorful and creating a nice crispy crust.
  • Broccoli/Cauliflower. A brief sautee makes for a tasty side.
  • Bratwurst. Faster than the grill – just as delicious.
  • Flank steak fajitas. Need I say more?
  • Taco meat. Ground beef plus diced jalapeno peppers. Mmm.
  • Meatballs. “You like-a my spicy meat-a-balls!”
  • Cornbread. My dad’s recipe. It cannot be beat.

In short, though I’ve a ways to go to being a chef, I’ve made it leaps and bounds thanks to my trusty cast iron skillet. Its versatility, ease of use, and the quality of food it produces is unmatched. It’s also great in that it doesn’t require firing up a grill or oven to make great, quick meals for one to four people. For would-be-chefs like me, learning to cook with cast iron is a blast.

This post should serve as an introduction to my favorite piece of cookware. Going forward, I’ll be able to jump right into explanations of how to cook specific delectable dishes with cast iron.

Stay tuned!

Insulin Control: The Common Denominator of the Low-Carb / Fasting / Caloric Restriction Diets.

Over the past four months, I’ve turned into a staunch advocate of Paleo / low-carb / intermittent fasting (See IF/low-carb, caloric restriction, ketosis, hormesis). I proselytize because this diet lifestyle has had a significant impact on my physical health and my understanding of nutrition. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before my advocacy spurred the comment that there is “No zealot like the converted.” Oof!

The retort stuck with me. I am a passionate about spreading good ideas. And this idea concerning the health of my friends and family was not only a good idea in theory, but also one in practice. The last thing I wanted was for my zeal to turn individuals away. I needed a better in than “low-carb” or “fasting”.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of pre-conceived notions and pent-up negative biases towards “low-carb” in specific and diets in general. Most people have experienced nothing but disappointment from dieting and/or strict exercise regiments. When the low-carb meme went mainstream a few years ago, non-believers and skeptics rightfully vocalized their doubt. My own curiosity brought me to read a good portion of Atkins New Diet Revolution; however, I was unconvinced. Atkins’ rhetoric was all pathos and little ethos: I needed the science. Not surprisingly, I never even tried the diet, more or less writing it off as just another fad.

Fast-forward to today. There is an ever-growing number of branded low-carbohydrate diets, and additionally, there are a growing number of diets that incorporate caloric restriction or fasting (Popular examples of low-carb and/or fasting include Paleo / DeVany, Protein Power, Atkins, South Beach, Warrior Diet, The Zone, Eat Stop Eat, Fast-5, UpDayDownDay, Bantingism, etc.). Such a plethora of similar yet nuanced regiments is confusing. Who wants to wade through them all to explain their own method? Who wants to lay caveat upon caveat on a diet to tailor fit it to your own experience just to explain it to an inquisitor? My eyes glaze over just thinking about it!

There is a better way. All of these diets have a clear, underlying purpose: to control insulin. Why not just call it Insulin control?

By starting with this core tenet, I can transcend the diet denominational mess.

Insulin control gets to the heart of the matter, which is that excess or chronic insulin in the blood leads to fat storage, loss of insulin sensitivity / increased insulin resistance, downregulation of fat mobilizing hormones (adrenaline, noradrenaline, glucagon and human growth hormone), and can ultimately lead to symptoms of metabolic syndrome, including hypertension, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. How do you control insulin? Insulin control can be accomplished via reduction in carbohydrate intake or via controlling feeding times (via fasting) so that insulin levels sufficiently drop, which allows fat mobilization to resume.

Calling what we do “insulin control” focuses on the problem and implies the solution. It also grounds the diet/lifestyle to its fundamental science while avoiding the pitfalls of bias-loaded words. Starting an argument from “insulin control” gets me to low-carb, to fasting, to evolution, to metabolic syndrome, to higher-fat consumption, to more natural/less process foods. Why bother with the varying brands when it’s all about insulin control!

Further reading:

  • Go here to get started on some fantastic quotes on insulin, sugar, glucose, etc. If you’re not already practicing a low-carbohydrate lifestyle, read up.
  • Art De Vany wrote a reasoned response to the contention that the Paleo / “EF Way of eating” (See how muddled that is!?) was a fad diet. His most excellent point was that the current American diet is much more a fad having been around for merely decades relative to the stacked millennia of two million years (Tyranny of Present fallacy).
  • In mentioning Johnson’s UpDayDownDay diet, Patri Friedman notes how excellent it is that such a variation of research is occurring surrounding caloric restriction. What I wonder: is caloric restriction / fasting an emerging diet trend? I plan on doing a tiny blog on this later. Stay tuned.
  • While I was writing this entry, the IF life published a diagram that lays out how to stay on track for weight loss. It’s a useful, informative and simple diagram. And what will you note in the middlemost bubble? Control insulin!

Caloric Restriction, Red Wine, and Aging

First, a summary:

  • The physiological stress resulting from caloric restriction may extend your life. It could accomplish this by switching resources from reproduction to self-preservation. Alternatively (or additionally), it might accomplish this by helping downregulate insulin, thereby reducing the diseases associated with metabolic syndrome.
  • Resveratrol (Via red wine, for now) might also slow aging via some SIRT-1 mechanism or by somehow signaling to the body that stressful times lay ahead.
  • The stress from exercise3 might slow aging by activating physiological mechanisms of tissue self-preservation, as well.
  • And finally, I can chalk another one up for intermittent fasting, which personal experience says is the easiest way to practice caloric restriction.

The Details

My brother sent me a NYTimes article that talks about resveratrol, a molecule found in red wine, and its possible link to slowing aging. Resveratrol may thwart aging by spurring the production of sirtuins a.k.a. SIRT1 in humans. Per the Times:

[T]he door has now been opened to drugs that exploit an ancient biological survival mechanism, that of switching the body’s resources from fertility to tissue maintenance. The improved tissue maintenance seems to extend life by cutting down on the degenerative diseases of aging.

The reflex can be prompted by a faminelike diet, known as caloric restriction, which extends the life of laboratory rodents by up to 30 percent but is far too hard for most people to keep to and in any case has not been proven to work in humans [See Footnote 1 for discussion on this last sentence].

Whereas the Times article focuses on resveratrol, summarily dismissing caloric restriction, a 2006 article from The Economist does the opposite, going into more detail on the impact of caloric restriction on human aging and a recent study on the matter:

[E]vidence has been accumulating since the 1930s that calorie restriction … extends lifespan and delays the onset of age-related diseases in rats, dogs, fish and monkeys. …

Amid the hype, it is easy to forget that no one has until now shown that calorie restriction works in humans. That omission, however, changed this month, with the publication of the initial results of the first systematic investigation into the matter. This study, known as CALERIE2 (Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy), was sponsored by America’s National Institutes of Health. …

CALERIE suggests the [advantages of caloric restriction] are real. For example, those on restricted diets had lower insulin resistance … and lower levels of low-density lipoprotein [LDL] cholesterol. They showed drops in body temperature and blood-insulin levels?both phenomena that have been seen in long-lived, calorie-restricted animals. They also suffered less oxidative damage to their DNA.

The Economist article goes on to talk about resveratrol and even exercise:

Resveratrol is produced when a vine is under stress?for example, due to dehydration or over-exposure to sunshine. According to Dr Sinclair’s theory, which he calls xenohormesis, animals rely on such botanical stress signals to give them extra information about their own environments, in the same way that the alarm calls of one species warn others of danger. If bad things are happening to plants, he surmises, that is a reason for pre-emptive animal action. Animal bodies thus react to molecules such as resveratrol by activating their own defence mechanisms. These, in turn, protect their cells from stress-related damage.

Xenohormesis is a variation of a more general theory, hormesis … A good example of hormesis is exercise. In theory, this should damage cells because it increases oxygen uptake, and oxidative stress is bad for things like DNA. Of course, exercise is not actually bad for cells?and the reason is that the body activates defence mechanisms which overcompensate for the stress the exercise creates, producing beneficial effects. So, while chronic stress is always bad for you[3], a short period of mild stress followed by a period of recovery can be good.

More on hormesis here.

So what’s the common denominator between exercise, resveratrol, and caloric restriction? Stress. The introduction of acute stress may switch the body’s resources from reproduction to self-preservation4. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes sense. If a band of human beings were facing environmental hardship, such as a famine, their bodies would need to self-preserve until times more suitable for the ultimate biological imperative, reproduction.

Beyond acute stress causing self-preservation and thereby slowing aging, there may be another angle here: insulin. Caloric restriction will reduce insulin loads on the body as entering a fasted state will require the body to switch from glucose-burning (Insulin upregulated) to fat-burning (Insulin downregulated). As I’ve blogged before, chronically high insulin (via diets high in carbohydrates) in the blood is positively correlated to metabolic syndrome or Syndrome X. The connection to slowed aging and lower insulin levels could just be the other side of the same coin, but if nothing else, it’s more support for incorporating some amount of caloric restriction in your life.

Footnotes:

1 I’ve got a question out to the author, Nicholas Wade, as to his last claim regarding caloric restriction and its impact (or lack thereof) on humans. I’m fairly certain that Wade means that the life-extending impact of caloric restriction has yet to be proven for humans, even though the CALERIE study mentioned above would contradict such a claim.

I take serious issue with Wade’s ambiguity here. Most of his article is about resveratrol and sirtuins and their potential link to slowing aging in humans. He goes into detail about a pharmaceutical company that is working on producing a drug that might induce the same effects. That’s fine, but why slam the door on an alternative (caloric restriction) that might slow aging for free? Is it because it’s “far too hard for most people”? How did he determine that?

Update 2008-06-13: Received a response to my email to Nicholas Wade. From part of my email:

Or do you mean that sufficient testing on caloric restriction’s impact on human aging has not occurred, thereby the theory remains unproven?

He indicated that the above interpretation was the one he intended. I will let him know about the CALERIE study.

2 Here is the official CALERIE website.

3 Perhaps therein lies some support for the claim that endurance training is unhealthy as it puts a chronic load of stress on the body.

4 Not surprisingly, Art De Vany mentions as much in passing here:

I practice intermittent caloric deprivation. This is a known enhancer of the immune system. This is pure evolutionary reasoning. During deprivation, the system reallocates resources from reproduction to repair and maintenance. The immune system is part of that adaptation.

More on Coconut Oil

Before I go into the details, here are my big takeways:

  • Cook with coconut oil — try it instead of olive oil for sauteing fish, beef, pork, etc.
  • The medium-length saturated fats in coconut oil are good for “quick energy” because they require little digestion before being quickly absorbed into the body. I cooked with coconut oil at lunch today and was sort-of jazzed all afternoon. Further testing will be required. Addendum: Found this abstract of a study on medium-chain triglycerides: the study showed a 12% rise in basal metabolism on MCTs as compared to only a 4% rise for LCTs.
  • Once again fats win out over carbohydrates. And with even more tasty fats to choose from, its only that much more compelling to jettison the crummy carbs from my diet.

The Details

I picked up some coconut oil from Wal-Mart yesterday. Mind you, it was hardly the uber-natural, ultra-low-processed stuff I should be buying, but I only realized that today. I’ll work on getting the good stuff later; in the meantime, the Louana brand will do just fine.

As curious as I am, after reading the afore-blogged glowing review of oils high in saturated fats, and coconut oil in particular, I had to learn more. Some basic googling led me to this page, which ugliness aside, is pretty informative. Here’s a hearty snippet, as emphasized or edited (…) by me:

Coconut oil is one of the most stable oils you can buy. It does not turn
rancid easily. … coconut oil was one of the foods Weston Price studied in his journeys. He discovered that the coconut was considered, by the local populations, a medicine food. He found that those civilizations that consumed coconut regularly had no knowledge of cancer, heart disease, arthritis, and diabetes.

Let’s take a look at the healing properties of coconut oil:

  • Coconut oil is antiviral, antifungal (kills yeast too) and antibacterial. It attacks and kills viruses that have a lipid (fatty) coating, such as herpes, HIV, hepatitis C, the flu, and mononucleosis. It kills the bacteria that cause pneumonia, sore throats, dental cavities, urinary tract infections, meningitis, gonorrhea, food poisoning, pneumonia, and many, many more bacterial infections. It kills the fungus/yeast infections that cause candida, ringworm, athletes foot, thrush, jock itch, diaper rash and more.
  • Coconut oil is called the “low fat” fat. … It boosts one’s energy and endurance. Many athletes use it blended into their drinks. It also supports thyroid function and increases your metabolism (great if you want to lose weight).
  • Coconut oil improves digestion and absorption of fat soluble vitamins, minerals (especially calcium and magnesium), and amino acids. It improves the body’s use of blood glucose and improves insulin secretion and absorption (great for type II diabetes). In fact, many diabetics (type I and type II) use it to reduce their symptoms. One’s risk of diabetes decreases with regular use of coconuts and coconut oil. And as we already mentioned, cooking with coconut oil does not create any harmful byproducts.
  • Coconut oil helps the body heal and repair faster. It aids and supports immune function, protecting us from a variety of cancers.
  • Coconut oil, contrary to much hubbub, is good for your heart. It keeps our blood platelets from sticking together (and causing dangerous clots). Regular users of coconut oils have a much lower chance of atherosclerosis (clogging of the arteries), arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), and strokes. Coconut oil can lower your blood pressure.
  • Coconut oil is a natural antioxidant. It protects the body from free radical damage and prevents premature aging and degenerative diseases.
  • Finally, coconut oil is the best massage oil on the planet. What it does to your skin, you simply have to witness. It forms a barrier against infections, softens and moisturizes your skin, and prevents wrinkling, sagging, and age spots. It promotes healthy hair and complexion, protects from any damaging UV rays. …


These are some pretty extravagant claims. And unfortunately, they were not footnoted or referenced. A book by Bruce Fife was mentioned (See the nearest match available on Amazon, to the right), which might go into detail on some or all of these claims.

Setting aside some of the more panacea-esque claims, its hard to miss the correlation between consuming coconut oil and preventing metabolic syndrome (A.K.A. “diseases of civilization”), which may be linked to loss of insulin sensitivity or the damage of abundant insulin, which we know is linked to eating carbohydrates. Though I can only speculate as to cause-and-effect, its reasonable to assume that cultures whose diets have a higher percentage of fats in them relative to carboyhdrates are less likely to succumb to the problems associated with insulin (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, etc. — metabolic syndrome).

The bacteria-destroying aspect of coconut oil is intriguing, as well. I understand why saturated fats naturally have a longer shelf-life (Lack of easily broken, carbon=carbon double-bonds), but I can’t help but wonder if another reason coconut oil takes so long to go rancid is some anti-bacterial trait of the oil, itself.

Some extracurricular reading:

All about oils, Coconut milk and Whiskey

Just found an informative read about fats and oils over at Mark’s Daily Apple written by guest poster Scott Kustes of Modern Forager.

In the post, Kustes explains that the molecular bond stability of saturated fats makes oils high in saturated fats ideal for cooking.

Amongst the four types of fats, saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans, (trans being the only unequivocally bad fat), the lack of double-bonds in a saturated fat molecule makes it less prone to degenerating / breaking down when left sitting around or cooked.

On the other hand, monounsaturated fats have one double bond (See this graphic, bottom molecule for an example of a monounsaturated fat) and polyunsaturated fats have multiple double bonds. Double bonds are easier to break, so mono- and, even moreso, polyunsaturated fats are more unstable.

The big takeaway? When reaching for oils for cooking, coconut and palm oils as well as animal fat are all ideal choices as they consist of mostly saturated fats and monounsaturated fats (more of the former than the latter, at that).

Another interesting takeaway was that the the short chains of saturated fats found in coconut milk (or oil) are immediately absorbed into your blood via your stomach, resulting in a boost of energy which can noticeably raise body temperature, metabolism, etc. I might have to try that one out and see what happens. Makes me wonder if coconut milk might be an ideal beverage for endurance athletes who need an energy boost.

One other thing I learned whilst scanning Mark’s Daily Apple: apparently, whisky, gin, vodka, scotch, and 100% agave tequila all have zero carbohydrates. I was immediately a little skeptical as I find Maker’s Mark to be a bit sweet — but upon checking it out, yep, zero carbohydrates (I consider Maker’s Mark my reasonably affordable whiskey of choice).

Tequila shots anyone?