Hunter Gatherer

Brimming with ideas and a fascinating read. STEVEN PINKER, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

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A small conceit

I snapped a screenshot of my Colbert interview as the view count passed Pollan’s.  I’m coming for you, Pollan.

 


NBA players moving away from hightops

The athletic shoe is having a rough few years.  From best-selling Born to Run, Harvard professor Dan Lieberman’s work on barefoot running in Nature, to the success of Vibram Five Fingers.  And now, the NBA: players are moving away from hightops that allegedly provide more ankle support.

"One of the reasons hightops are going out of vogue, players and injury experts say, is that there’s some research that suggests they aren’t very good at protecting your feet. NBA players missed 64% more games last season because of foot-related injuries than they did twenty years ago, according to NBA statistician Harvey Pollack."

There are multiple reasons why foot injuries could be going up:

"Players have gotten taller and heavier, the pace of the game is faster and the NBA postseason has gotten longer."

But for a piece of conventional athletic wisdom, "ankle support" has surprising little support.

"Craig Richards, a researcher at Australia’s University of Newcastle, published a 2008 article in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that catalogued academic studies in athletics and found no evidence that sneakers limited injuries. His research actually found that hightop basketball sneakers make players run slower and jump lower."

 

(Thanks to Cheryl for the pointer.)


Assorted links

 

 1. Another benchmark in Craig Venter’s quest to create life.
 
The pros: "I think they’re going to potentially create a new industrial revolution," [Venter] said.  "If we can really get cells to do the production that we want, they could help wean us off oil and reverse some of the damage to the environment by capturing carbon dioxide."
 
The cons: "We don’t know how these organisms will behave in the environment." [Dr. Helen Wallace of Genewatch]
 
2. Michael Holick interview with the New York Times (a few months old)
 
"The American Academy of Dermatology still has that recommendation that you should never be exposed to one ray of direct sunlight without sun protection."
 
3. Michael Pollan’s The Food Movement, Rising in the New York Review of Books
 
On the different parts of the food movement:
 
"Among the many threads of advocacy that can be lumped together under that rubric we can include school lunch reform; the campaign for animal rights and welfare; the campaign against genetically modified crops; the rise of organic and locally produced food; efforts to combat obesity and type 2 diabetes; “food sovereignty” (the principle that nations should be allowed to decide their agricultural policies rather than submit to free trade regimes); farm bill reform; food safety regulation; farmland preservation; student organizing around food issues on campus; efforts to promote urban agriculture and ensure that communities have access to healthy food; initiatives to create gardens and cooking classes in schools; farm worker rights; nutrition labeling; feedlot pollution; and the various efforts to regulate food ingredients and marketing, especially to kids.
 
It’s a big, lumpy tent…"
 
 
On libertarians and evangelicals:
 
In his 2006 book Crunchy Cons, Rod Dreher identifies a strain of libertarian conservatism, often evangelical, that regards fast food as anathema to family values, and has seized on local food as a kind of culinary counterpart to home schooling.
 
And more on traditionalism:
 
In a challenge to second-wave feminists who urged women to get out of the kitchen, Flammang suggests that by denigrating “foodwork”—everything involved in putting meals on the family table—we have unthinkingly wrecked one of the nurseries of democracy: the family meal."
 
(Much the rest is familiar if you’ve read Pollan before and doesn’t bear on the excerpts above.)

 


Ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek pushing veganism

Ultra-marathoner and vegan Scott Jurek was recently profiled in the NYT.   For those who aren’t familiar with Jurek, he’s a crazy sick ultra-marathoner who dominates many of these 50 mile, 100 mile, 100+ mile races.  The piece is unique in that it ignores the ethical aspects of veganism and just talks about athletic performance.  Let’s see what they have to say.

In college, his diet began to improve, and as he “saw how much disease is lifestyle related,” he began eating “real food, eating the way people have been eating for thousands of years.”

I’m all for real food, but claims to history in favor of real food is not an argument in favor of veganism.

“None of this is weird,” he said. “If you go back 300 or 400 years, meat was reserved for special occasions, and those people were working hard. 

Go back 300 or 400 years?  The 18th century is the benchmark of healthy eating?  To the extent people ate less meat back then it was because they were poor.

"Remember, almost every long-distance runner turns into a vegan while they’re racing, anyway — you can’t digest fat or protein very well.”

There are so many things wrong with that sentence I don’t know where to start.

  • You can get fat or protein from plant sources, so that’s just a non-sequitur.
  • Just because you’re eating carbohydrates while you’re running doesn’t mean that you’re a vegan.   It means you’re momentarily a vegetarian, I suppose.
  • And even that assumes that you body isn’t using it’s own fat or protein stores.  That’s kind of like eating an animal.
  • Also, most of these distance racers are eating heavily processed energy gels and bars — not "real food", much less vegan food.

All it takes is one look at a long-distance runner’s body to see that they have little muscle mass and they’re all skin and bones.  Hence my choice of picture.

He said he needed 5,000 to 8,000 calories a day, “and I get that all from plant sources. It’s not hard, either. I like to eat, and I don’t have to worry about weight management. All I need is a high-carbohydrate diet with enough protein and fat.”

My emphasis.  If you’re eating 8,000 calories a day, good luck getting it from fat and protein — you’ll be too full.  Interesting…to maximize caloric intake, eat a high-carbohydrate diet.  Wait, isn’t that what we’re told to do to minimize caloric intake too?  Which is it?

I’m not saying that Scott Jurek is eating the wrong way — God, no.  He’s a super-star athlete, his achievements are mind-blowing, and if he says a vegan diet helps him achieve that, then I’m not going to suggest otherwise.  By eating a high carbohydrate diet, he’s training his body to use carbohydrate as fuel, which is probably essential for his type of long-distance exertions.

But should we eat like Michael Phelps, with his 12,000 calories a day of chocolate-chip pancakes, energy drinks, and pizza?  No.  And we shouldn’t eat like Scott Jurek either.

   


Barefoot running taking off in NYC

Clever media people often ask me, "How do you live a paleolithic lifestyle in…New York City?"  Zing!  Oh you clever media people.  But high population density and open-mindedness can go a long way.  Here are new developments just for barefoot running: 

1. Barefoot Runners NYC now has about 175 members.  If you’re ever in NYC and want to join us, we have regular runs in Central Park on Saturday mornings at 10am and Wednesday evenings as 7pm.

2. Michael Sandler, of RunBare and author of Barefoot Running, is holding a free clinic on Wednesday, June 2nd at 6:30pm.  Nearly 40 people have signed up for that one.

3. Barefoot Ken Bob is also holding a free clinic in Central Park the following week on Tuesday, June 8th at 6:30pm.  Details here

4. We’ve had recent running clinics with Erwan Le Corre and Barefoot Ted too.

If you’re a beginning barefoot/VFF runner, or if you’re just intrigued by it and want to learn more, the two clinics are perfect places to get instructions from some of the best.  You don’t need to go out and buy any special shoes — it’s best to learn totally barefoot first.  And they’re free!


Tough Mudder not…tough enough

I received the following email from the Tough Mudder team yesterday.  The main feedback?  Make it tougher, longer (it wasn’t a full 7 miles), and create more and longer obstacles.  Full email below.  (Apparently TM and I use the same shade of grey.)  You can see my prior comments on the race and actions shots

I’d like to know what percentage of runners finish a marathon?  What about triathlons?  Not the elite races, just the ones for the general population.

The bottom line: If they want the race to be tough, some people are not going to be able to finish.
 

 


Red meat for paleos

The conventional wisdom continues to crumble.  Today is red meat’s day in the sun.  Read the WSJ article here.  

"A new study from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that the heart risk long associated with red meat comes mostly from processed varieties such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and cold cuts—and not from steak, hamburgers and other non-processed cuts.

The finding is surprising because both types of red meat are high in saturated fat, a substance believed to be partly responsible for the increased risk of heart disease."

This is the second study in recent months where saturated fat has started to clear its good name.  The conclusion?

"A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD or CVD."

Dr. Eades wisely remains cautious of any of these studies, even when it’s in line with your viewpoint (especially then).

The Harvard study points to salt as the culprit — but more sound advice might be: minimize processed foods of any kind in your diet.

 

(Thanks to David and T.J. for the pointers.)


Assorted links

1. Tanning is associated with optimal Vitamin D status and higher bone mineral density.  (NOTE: But as one commenter pointed out, most tanning salons try to sell you UVA, when this paper is talking about UVB.  Don’t rush to the solarium.)  And this:

"There is increased concern about skin cancer, which has created a fear of causative sunlight exposure (9 –12). Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It should be recognized that most melanomas occur in areas that are not exposed to the sun (13) and that it is the number of lifetime sunburn experiences, the number of moles, and red hair that increase the risk of this deadly disease (12)."

2. Melissa McEwen’s poetic description of learning to hunt, dress, butcher, and eat deer

"We carved the body cavity through and through, leaving bare ribs skinless so the light could shine through. The digestive system we left for the vultures, as it belongs to them. I read recently about one of the earliest religious sites, Göbekli Tepe, a marvel considering that hunter-gatherers had no cities, but they bothered to build this temple carved with vultures, lions, and other predators of humans dead…and alive. Some theorize that the hunter-gatherers left their dead here to be eaten by these fierce flesh eating creatures. The word for this is "excarnate," which is very beautiful to me, the idea of sharing your body with other carnivores. I think of then as a time when none owned another, except in death when it was an honor to be consumed and melded with others."

3. Tyler Cowen responds to fears that food markets will be turbulent in years ahead

4. Reasons for optimism: perch in downtown Milwaukee and tilapia in Colorado

5. I’ll be in DC this weekend, and I’m looking forward to the well-regarded Mitsitam Cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian. 

"Mitsitam (pronounced Mit-see-tum) means “let’s eat” in the Piscataway and Delaware language. The 350-seat restaurant is essentially an extension of the museum, specializing in authentic Native American cuisine. The seasonal menu changes on each equinox and solstice and is divided among five Native American regions: Northern Woodlands, Northwest Coast, Great Plains, Meso America and South America."


Why I went to the tanning salon this winter

Part of paleo is about experimentation and discovery.  This winter I started experimenting with going to the solarium….better known as the tanning salon.  That’s right, I went to the tanning salon.  Really courting medical controversy here.  So here’s why I went.

My initial reason was to get a base layer and avoid a sunburn in Mexico.  I had signed up for the MovNat course in Mexico in mid-January, and it seemed prudent to get a base layer to make it less likely I would burn in Mexico.  Sun burns are what cause the most damage to your skin and most increase your chances of skin cancer.  My sessions were purposefully short duration (<7 minutes) and low intensity, and so I needed to do a few of them before I got a noticeable tan.

Healthy Vitamin D levels decrease your overall chances of getting cancer.  My reading of the literature indicated that 1) it’s extremely difficult to get sufficient Vitamin D from food and even supplements, 2) the deadly forms of skin cancer are more rare than generally thought, 3) they don’t seem connected to sun exposure per se (sun burns are the more likely culprit), and 4) and your higher chances of getting skin cancer are far outweighed by the cancers you avoid by getting enough Vitamin D.  Use of a tanning bed — with the right UV frequencies — has also been shown to increase Vitamin D levels.  As for a few more wrinkles as I get older, that seems to be true, but I just don’t care.  For an excellent overview of what we know about the sun, Vitamin D, and cancer, watch this video by Dr. Michael Holick at BU.  (He doesn’t endorse tanning.)

My mood improved immediately.  I don’t know what to say, it just did away with the winter doldrums.  The first time I went was in early January in New York City.

Now, would it better to get moderate sun exposure?  Yes.  Would it be better to have a UV solution in winter that mimicked natural sun light? Yes. Is it a good idea to go to the tanning salon to get burnt to a crisp in 10 minutes?  No, of course not. 

Who could benefit most from going to the solarium?  People with dark skin.  Dark-skinned people are adapted for an equatorial environment with enormously high sun exposure all year round.  It’s as if they are wearing high SPF skin block all the time.  They need more sun to generate the same amount of Vitamin D as a fair-skinner person.  So black people who live in high latitudes or who live near the equator but are covered up all the time are particularly at risk.  Bad news for burqas — blocking out the sun is causing rickets and osteoporosis in Middle Eastern women.  From the abstract:  

"Despite ample sunshine, the Middle East (15°-36°N) and Africa (35°S-37°N), register the highest rates of rickets worldwide. This is in large part explained by limited sun exposure due to cultural practices and prolonged breast feeding without vitamin D supplementation in the Middle East, and by dark skin colour and calcium deficiency, rather than vitamin D deficiency, in several countries in Africa. Both regions also have a high prevalence for hypovitaminosis D, the latency disease for osteoporosis, and the main focus of this discussion."
 
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the first tax enacted as part of the health care plan was actually counter-productive?  I’d be willing to wager that the 10% tax on tanning salons caused a net decrease in the health of African-Americans.  (Not sure how many actually go.)
 
Anyhow, here’s to a little experimentation.  I’m sure I’ll have a few more posts on this taboo subject in the days to come.

 


Bonobos!

No, not that can kind of bonobos.  The men’s apparel company Bonobos.  Who have a pair of pants dubbed the "Meanderthals".  From the description:

"These black wool pants are about you, the urban caveman. Sleek. Simple. Lethal. Bootcut. Borne from millenia of harsh evolution and a few careful weeks of intelligent design, the Meanderthals ruthlessly cut down to the basics.

Not since the old-school Savage have we seen such a versatile bullet in the modern man’s closet. The Meanderthals pair well with a plain white dress shirt, light pastels or a bear skin on top.

Unlike its namesake however, these pants work even in warmer climes. The tropical wool provides an ideal drape to take you from cocktail party to raiding party. These pants were last seen 30,000 years ago – don’t wait another 30,000 to get your hands on them."

Urban caveman….hmmm….sounds a lot like a NYT Style Section piece a few months back.  You can buy them here.  If you’re interested, contact me and I’ll see if I can get a little discount.