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Bacteria, saliva, and overall health…ref=mpstoryview

First, Seth Roberts blogs on Oral Health, Heart Disease, and Fermented Foods here:

A relevant snippet:

Epidemiologic data have shown a statistical association between periodontal disease and coronary heart disease and stroke. In a meta-analysis, the odds ratio increase for CVD in persons with periodontal disease was almost 20%. Poor oral health also seems to be associated with all-cause mortality.

Emphasis added. As I blogged earlier, during my last trip to the dentist I was told my gums were in great shape, better than the previous visit — and the only intentional change since the previous visit was a huge increase (a factor of 50?) in how much fermented food I eat. So perhaps fermented foods improve oral health. A reason to suspect that fermented foods reduce heart disease is that Eskimos, with very low rates of heart disease, eat lots of fermented food. If both these ideas are true — fermented foods improve gum health and reduce heart disease — it would explain the observed correlation between gum disease and heart disease. …

The shift to a diet high in sugar and refined flours has usually happened at the same time as a shift away from traditional diets. In other words, the increase in sugar and flour wasn’t the only change. I suspect there was usually a great reduction in fermented foods at the same time. Maybe the reduction in fermented foods caused the trouble rather than the increase in sugar and flour. The reduction in fermented foods is almost always ignored – for example, by Weston Price and John Yudkin (author of Sweet and Dangerous).

Cross-posting here a comment I made on Seth Robert’s blog post:

I saw a potentially relevant article on saliva and bacteria in CNN recently:

A quote:

Since people have different eating habits in different places, you might think an American’s saliva might look a lot different from, say, a South African’s. But a new study published in the journal Genome Research finds that bacteria in saliva may not be as related to environment and diet as you might think.

In fact, researchers found that the human salivary microbiome — that is, the community of bacteria in saliva — does not vary greatly between different geographic locations. That means your saliva is just as different from your neighbor’s as someone’s on the other side of the planet.

Americans in particular have a lot of amylase in their saliva because their diets are full of starch: chips, rice and baked potatoes. But the Pygmies of central Africa, for example, eat mostly game animals, honey and fruit. They have relatively little amylase in their saliva.

Dominy and colleagues found these differences at the genetic level, meaning natural selection has favored large quantities of amylase in populations with starchy diets.

But there is also evidence that amylase levels can rise and fall within an individual’s lifetime. A study on college students in Ghana, who typically eat a lot of meat at the university, found that students who had grown up eating traditional starchy Ghanaian home-cooked meals had lower levels of amylase after attending the school.

Finally, trying to get Stephan of WholeHealthSource hooked up with Seth Roberts as I’m willing to bet there might be some synergies in their research and experimentation on fermentation (particularly as examining the changing diets a la Weston Price’s research).

(H/T Nathan)

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Dietary Fiber and Mineral Availability – Whole Health Source


A common nutrition meme is that fiber is fantastic for you and you should eat large quantities of it. However, that widespread belief may very well be false. It would seem that not only is it difficult for our bodies to extract the abundant nutrients within fibrous and mineral-dense whole grain foods, but these foods frequently have anti-nutrients that may make you even worse off by hurting absorption of nutrients in the other foods you are eating.

The study cited below doesn’t quite damn fiber; however, it does indicate that it’s not the panacea its claimed to be and individuals probably don’t need to up their fiber intakes.

Even though its a sidenote in his post, Stephan’s comments about polyphenols are worthy of follow-up research.

Finally, Stephan expounds upon fermentation as a means to up nutrient absorption. It seems to me that fermentation is the oldest food processing technique in human history — even as food rots a hungry hunter gatherer is still going to eat it!

Mainstream health authorities are constantly telling us to eat more fiber for health, particularly whole grains, fruit and vegetables. Yet the only clinical trial that has ever isolated the effect of eating a high-fiber diet on overall risk of death, the Diet and Reinfarction Trial, came up with this graph:

Oops! How embarrassing. At two years, the group that doubled its fiber intake had a 27% greater chance of dying and a 23% greater chance of having a heart attack. The extra fiber was coming from whole grains. I should say, out of fairness, that the result wasn’t quite statistically significant (p less than 0.05) at two years. But at the very least, this doesn’t support the idea that increasing fiber will extend your life. . . .

Chief among these is phytic acid, with smaller contributions from tannins (polyphenols) and oxalates. The paper makes a strong case that phytic acid is the main reason fiber prevents mineral absorption, rather than the insoluble fiber fraction. This notion was confirmed here.

As a little side note, polyphenols are those wonderful plant antioxidants that are one of the main justifications for the supposed health benefits of vegetables, tea, chocolate, fruits and antioxidant supplements. The problem is, they’re actually toxins. They reduce mineral absorption, and the antioxidant effect seen in human plasma after eating them is due largely to our own bodies secreting uric acid into the blood (a defense mechanism?), rather than the polyphenols themselves. The main antioxidants in blood are uric acid, vitamin C and vitamin E, with almost no direct contribution from polyphenols. I’m open to the idea that some polyphenols could be beneficial if someone can show me convincing data, but in any case they are not the panacea they’re made out to be. Thanks to Peter for cluing me in on this. . . .

A more effective method is to grind grains and soak them before cooking, which helps the phytase function more effectively, especially in gluten grains and buckwheat. The most effective method by far, and the method of choice among healthy traditional cultures around the world, is to soak, grind and ferment whole grains. This breaks down nearly all the phytic acid, making whole grains a good source of both minerals and vitamins.

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How to Eat Grains


Continuing the recent interest in fermentation (See discussion of Seth Roberts’ posts on Probiotics and Your Immune System and The Staggering Greatness of Homemade Yogurt) comes this post from Stephan at Whole Health Source discussing how to eat grains.

There are two ideas that seem to be repeatedly coming to the surface here:

  • Carbohydrates seem to be better for human consumption when fermented as fermentation reduces anti-nutrients and even introduces some new nutrition in the process.
  • Foods that don’t seem “paleo” at first blush maybe just need some fermentation, which is really just another way of saying they need to be pre-digested prior to eating.

Regarding that second point, our hunter/gatherer ancestors had little food storage tech. This has two implications in my mind:

  • Food is consumed fresh if at all possible, to the point of gorging. Our bodies have an amazing ability to store excess carbohydrate consumption efficiently as fat.
  • Food found but not readily consumed rots or ferments. Our bodies do well with this (Evolutionary luck or design?) by receiving immune system boosts from the introduction of bacteria, reducing toxins via fermentation and maximizing nutrient absorption.

Anyway, here is Stephan:

The second factor that’s often overlooked is food preparation techniques. These tribes did not eat their grains and legumes haphazardly! This is a factor that was overlooked by Dr. Price himself, but has been emphasized by Sally Fallon. Healthy grain-based African cultures typically soaked, ground and fermented their grains before cooking, creating a sour porridge that’s nutritionally superior to unfermented grains. The bran was removed from corn and millet during processing, if possible. Legumes were always soaked prior to cooking.

These traditional food processing techniques have a very important effect on grains and legumes that brings them closer in line with the “paleolithic” foods our bodies are designed to digest. They reduce or eliminate toxins such as lectins and tannins, greatly reduce anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and protease inhibitors, and improve vitamin content and amino acid profile. Fermentation is particularly effective in this regard. One has to wonder how long it took the first agriculturalists to discover fermentation, and whether poor food preparation techniques or the exclusion of animal foods could account for their poor health.

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Probiotics and Your Immune System…-immune-system/

More from Seth Roberts on fermentation and bacteria, specifically with regards to probiotics:

My take is that our immune systems need a steady stream of foreign pathogens (e.g., bacteria) and pieces of pathogens (e.g., bacterial cell walls) to stay “awake”;. When your immune system is working properly you fight off all sorts of bacteria and viruses without noticing. When your immune system isn’t working properly it overreacts (allergies) and takes too long to react (infectious diseases). Weston Price found twelve communities eating traditional diets whose health was excellent. Their diets varied tremendously but one thing they had in common was daily consumption of fermented foods, including cheese, kefir, sauerkraut, and fermented fish. This supports Amy’s story right down to the dosage. If you don’t eat fermented foods, you might use hookworms, which excrete a steady stream of foreign substances into the blood. (Thanks, Tom.) Hookworms definitely reduce allergy symptoms; I don’t think anyone has asked if they reduce colds and other infections.

The hygiene hypothesis.

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The Staggering Greatness of Homemade Yogurt…omemade-yogurt/

I’m not sure why I waited so long to subscribe to Seth Roberts, self-experimenter extraordinaire and creator of the Shangri-La Diet, but after seeing enough shared items of his (H/T Patri Friedman), I finally did. And so far, I’m thoroughly enjoying his typical thought-provoking blog posts.

Recently, he’s been discussing how ice chewing is a sign of iron deficiency. Why is there a relationship here? Ice crushing is similar to bone-crushing, and bone marrow is high in iron. In other words, we are evolutionarily programmed to want to chew bones when we are iron deficient. More from Seth on that topic.

Of course, chewing ice provides us with no iron! That’s a problem.

Similarly, we may have desire for certain tastes out of a need for a certain type of nutrition. Seth has been wondering if the desire for taste is really a manifestation of a need for bacteria, as fermented foods tend to be very nutritious thanks to the bacteria and the neutralization of the bad stuff in the foods fermented (I.e. fermented soy reduces the toxin phytate. Dairy fermentation reduces lactose content.).

So where does that leave Seth? Super-fermented (read: sour!), sour yogurt of course!

I’m not ready to try this one out as it sounds kinda gross and I’m just not into yogurt at this point. The non-photogenic comment by Seth at the end makes it not so appealing, too.

However, I’m saving this down for posterity:

I had made yogurt dozens of times. This time, however, I wanted to get as much bacteria as possible so I incubated it about 24 hours instead of about 6 hours. It came out far more sour (due to lactic acid) than ever before. But it wasn’t just really sour (like vinegar); it also had complexity of flavor, creaminess, and a pleasant consistency. It was more sour (tart and tangy are the conventional terms) than any yogurt I’ve ever had. I couldn’t eat a bowl of it; I had to eat it with other food. This may be why commercial yogurt is mild: So you will/can eat more of it at one time.

The yogurt I made is essentially a condiment, although it can be mixed with fruit. It improves almost anything: soup, meat, fish, fruit, string beans, scrambled eggs. (Because almost nothing we eat is sour and almost nothing we eat is creamy.) It is better than other common condiments, such as mustard and chutney, because of its creaminess. It is also far cheaper than other condiments. A small bottle of mustard might cost $3. The same volume of homemade yogurt would cost about 10 cents. (You might need twice or three times as much yogurt to get the same effect.) It is far easier to make than other condiments. And, above all, I suspect it is infinitely better for your health. Mustard has few bacteria. If you complexify and sour your food with mustard, you are essentially chewing ice.

Recipe. I took a gallon of whole milk, mixed it with 2 cups of powdered milk, heated it at about 200 degrees F. for 10-20 minutes (I’m unsure if this step is necessary), cooled it down to 130 degrees F., added 1/2 cup of starter (from other yogurt), and then incubated it in my oven at about 110 degrees F. for about a day. I divided the mixture into four glass containers. Although the lowest possible setting on the oven is “WARM”, which was too hot, the thermostat actually works at lower temperatures. I set it below WARM and used a room thermometer to adjust the setting so that the temperature was about 110 degrees. (The photo above is not mine, incidentally. My yogurt is no longer photogenic.)