Bacon Woes

Should we be concerned about nitrites or nitrates in bacon?  Meat retailers are experiencing a downturn in demand for bacon due to resistance from people who are concerned about health risks of eating meat.  Let’s examine this.

The plant based lobby is working hard to discredit animal based foods despite our ancestors regularly eating meat or fish, often as the only food consumed.  The dominance of these animal and fish based diets over thousands of years have been confirmed by isotope testing of human remains (Richard’s M.P. et al. 2009) and are still the basis of a number of traditional diets for groups such as the Masai, Inuit, Hadza and Tokelau Islanders.  These groups, eating traditional diets, do not apparently suffer from the cancers common amongst people eating a modern diet.  It is revealing to note that as these people migrate to a more western diet, their health declines.  The Australian aborigines and Pima Indians of Arizona are well documented examples of this change from predominantly meat based diets to western diets and their resulting health issues.

In 1906-12, American doctor and anthropologist, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, lived with the Inuit in Northern Canada for about 5 years eating their nearly 100% animal based diet of fish, caribou, whale, seal and other smaller animals without any significant health issues.  He recorded their good health and longevity and noted in his diaries and books that he very rarely observed any cancer. 

Dietary comparison is difficult due to the number of confounding factors.  For example, vegetarians and vegans are often very particular about what they eat meaning that a study finding benefits from their diet may be unable to establish if the benefit came from eating vegetables or from avoiding sugar, alcohol, processed foods or refined grains.  In addition, meat eaters as a group often include people who are less concerned about their diet, seldom exercise, consume alcohol frequently and eat lots of processed food, all of which can contribute to poor health.

Colon cancer is sometimes linked to meat consumption and there are studies about this.  However, a UK study (Tim Key, 2022) examined data on 63,550 men and women aged 20 to 89 recruited throughout the UK during the 1990s. They obtained the cancer incidence figures from national cancer registries.  They concluded: “Within the study, the incidence of all cancers combined was lower (11%) among vegetarians than among meat eaters, but the incidence of colorectal cancer was higher in vegetarians (39%) than in meat eaters.

One of the concerns raised about eating bacon is the presence of Nitrates and Nitrites initially present in the meat and added for the curing process, to preserve the meat, extend the shelf life, and to keep it looking red and delicious.  They suppress the bacteria that causes Botulism in meat and, without them, the meat can look grey and unappealing.

Nitrates (NO3) are relatively stable and, therefore, in small quantities they are unlikely to change and cause harm, however bacteria and enzymes in the mouth will convert them to nitrites.  The nitrites are then converted by stomach acid to Nitric Oxide (NO).  This is beneficial.

Nitrites (NO2) which come into contact with protein are converted to nitric oxide which is very beneficial for the body and is a natural anti-bacterial.  This helps lower blood pressure, helps people with angina, and relaxes artery walls, assisting with blood circulation and is the active compound in Viagra. Nitrites are not stable and in the 1970’s it was suggested that heating them can create Nitrosamines which can be carcinogenic.  The good news is that these nitrosamines are heat-labile, ie: altered or destroyed by high heat (Am J Clin Nutr. – 2009). 

Curiously people are less concerned about nitrates and nitrites in vegetables, which is where 80% of the ingested nitrates and nitrites come from, according to the above study.  Beetroot greens and juice are touted as health foods because of the abundant nitrites which convert into Nitric Oxide when eaten.  Celery for example, is very high in nitrites, can be ground into a powder and used as a replacement preservative in processed meats.  When this is done the meat, must by (US) law, be labelled as “uncured”.

There is no difference in the action of the nitrites regardless of the source.  The craziness is that (in USA) when the nitrite comes from sodium (or potassium) nitrite, it’s regulated (allowable levels vary by product). There are no limits for nitrite from celery powder, which means that bacon labeled as “uncured” may actually contain higher levels of nitrites.  It turns out that almost all meat labelled “uncured” has been treated with vegetable based nitrites.

Nitrites are also present in drinking water and naturally occur in saliva, where they function as an anti-bacterial with, for example, the ability to kill salmonella.  Nitrite in saliva increases gastric mucosal blood flow and mucus thickness helping digestion.  This action removes toxins, and helps with acid buffering by supporting bicarbonate production downstream of the stomach.

The summary of one study claimed: “These results indicate that dietary nitrate may serve important gastro-protective functions”.

In a study (N P Sen, et al. 1980) the nitrosamine levels detected in both cured and uncured meat products (both cooked and uncooked) were very low and were degraded and destroyed by cooking at high heat and, therefore, would not be expected to occur in fried foods at significant levels.

Like most dietary substances there are upper limits.  Excess nitrate (NO3) which has no taste or smell, can affect how our blood carries oxygen. Nitrates can turn hemoglobin (the protein in blood that carries oxygen) into methemoglobin . High levels can turn skin to a bluish or gray color and cause more serious health effects like weakness, excess heart rate, fatigue, and dizziness.  This is sometimes referred to as “blue baby syndrome” as babies are particularly vulnerable.  In some US farm areas warnings are issued when nitrate levels get too high in drinking water.

In New Zealand, if nitrate (NO3) levels in drinking water exceed 50 mg/L, then it must be treated. Boiling or disinfectant has zero impact on this.  Generally only private bore water would have this problem with rain water unlikely to be affected and community supply water regularly tested for this.

One study (Dubrow et al. 2010) examined 545,000 participants of which 585 were diagnosed with Glioma, (Brain Tumors).  They were testing the hypothesis that Nitrosamines derived from dietary Nitrites (NO2) elevated the risk of brain tumors.  Their conclusions stated:

We found no significant trends in glioma risk for consumption of processed or red meat, nitrate, or vitamin C or E. We found significant positive (not good) trends for nitrite intake from plant sources and, unexpectedly, for fruit and vegetable intake.  Further work is needed on early life diet, adult intake of nitrite from plant sources, and adult intake of fruit and vegetables in relation to adult glioma risk”.   “We observed an unexpected finding of increasing glioma risk with increasing intake of fruit and vegetables. ~~~ which may be due to pesticide residues consumed with fruit and vegetables

What about the fat in bacon?  The fats in bacon are about 50% monounsaturated and a large part of those is oleic acid.   This is the same fatty acid present in olive oil and is generally considered “heart-healthy”.  The remaining fat in bacon is 40% saturated and 10% polyunsaturated, accompanied by some cholesterol.  Dietary cholesterol was a concern in the past, but scientists now agree that it has very minor effects on cholesterol levels in your blood, while the Sydney Diet Health study showed us that saturated fat is healthy.

Maybe bacon does not need to be avoided?

Seek professional medical advice before making dietary changes, particularly if you have underlying health problems.

Read my blog at “www.takebackyrhealth.com

Find my book at   bit.ly/3KJwedY

Good health,  George Elder, Diet Researcher, Dip. Nutrition.

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Why diets fail.

Most diets advocate; to lose weight you reduce calories and you will, but, only for a limited time. Reducing calories, drops your nutrients. Your metabolism slows to match the lower incoming calorie and nutrient level.

Your body chooses where to distribute the reduced available nutrients. Your brain gets priority. Your hair, skin and nails can probably function without the best nutrition for a while. These areas gradually lose their sparkle and energy. However, alarm bells will be going off in your brain with a strong message to upload more nutrients. This can make you hungry, tired and grumpy. Weight loss slows down and to maintain weight loss, requires further calorie reduction.

Few people can withstand this, eventually succumbing to their body’s demands for more food.

During WW II, the US Government commissioned a starvation study. The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. 36 male volunteers spent 6 months on 1600 calories per day. They ate mainly potatoes, turnips, bread and macaroni. A high carbohydrate diet.

They became depressed, lost concentration, became preoccupied with food and very distressed. Some ended up hospitalized, yet most weight loss programs use this type of approach to diet.

There is a better way. In the 1970’s, 2 researchers, Blackburn and Bistrian at Harvard Medical School developed a “protein-sparing modified fast” to treat obesity: 650 to 800 calories a day of nothing but fish and meat. Effectively no carbohydrates, making it a low-calorie keto diet. One publication highlighted the average weight loss of 700 people was nearly fifty pounds in four months. The patients felt little hunger. “They loved it,” Bistrian said. “It was an extraordinarily safe way to lose weight.” Sadly they stopped, because they mistakenly thought that low carbohydrate levels were unhealthy.

The difference between these diets is the carbohydrates. High carbohydrate diets with low calories, force your body into starvation mode because the resulting high insulin level prevents the body from accessing fat reserves. But if you become fat adapted, eating higher fats and very low carbohydrates, the body can use stored body fat to replace missing calories.

A successful way to get fat adapted is to severely reduce carbohydrates in your diet. Replacing most carbohydrates with good fats. Carbohydrates are not essential because your liver will make glucose from fat if needed.

I have eaten this way for 3 years. No weighing food or counting calories. I seldom feel hungry. Do I need carbs for exercise and energy? No way. I run, swim, use the gym, or kayak with no shortage of energy. Fat adapted people claim increased energy. My weight is down 11 kgs and blood pressure is back to normal.

Reducing calories does reduce weight, but unless done right, is unlikely to be sustainable.

Seek professional medical advice before any changes, particularly if you are on medication or have any underlying health problems.

Read my blog at “www.takebackyrhealth.com

You will find a link to my book.

Good health, George Elder, Diet Researcher, Dip. Nutrition.

Support your Mitochondria

Deep within the cells of your body there are small structures called mitochondria.  They are so small that a billion of these could exist on the head of a pin. The number of these in each cell of your body varies depending in the location of the cell, with each heart cell having up to 5000 of these tiny structures.  Their role is critical to your health.  It is in each mitochondria that your body makes your energy from fats, glucose and oxygen.  There are chemical reactions taking place in there which create a compound called Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is the source of energy for everything in your body.

The healthier you can keep these structures and the better that you feed them, the more energy you will have.  They rely on tiny membranes through which some of the compounds pass during the chemical reactions.  The balance of polyunsaturated fatty acids in your body has an impact on these membranes.  If you have a mix of about 4:1 of Omega-6 to Omega-3, then the membranes are apparently soft and flexible, but if your level of Omega-6 gets very high, as can happen if you are consuming lots of seed oils, then these vital membranes can get stiff and hard and not function as well.

Your mitochondria can use either glucose (sugar) or fatty acids for their energy source.  They use which ever one is available at the time and sometimes a little of both.  In about 1963 a researching doctor called Dr. Philip John Randal discovered that when one these energy sources is high, there are switches that block out the other.  This discovery has been labeled, “The Randal Cycle”.

Unfortunately these tiny chemical processes can also create oxygen molecules with unpaired electrons, known as “free radicals” as a by-product.  Your body depends on the presence of anti-oxidants to mop up any excess of these, because if left free, they can create havoc, by “oxidizing” other molecules, in effect “rusting” you from the inside out, and this happens at high speed.  Excess “free radicals” within the mitochondria break down the critical membranes, causing them to degenerate.  When glucose from carbohydrates is the primary fuel, your mitochondria create 30% – 40% more “free radicals” than when operating on fatty acids.

Vegetable (industrial seed) oils can create even more stress for your mitochondria.  Their manufacturing process which can involve multiple periods of heating, oxidize the oils making them rancid.  We routinely avoid rancid (oxidized) food for our health, but these oils are then deodorized during manufacture, to remove this smell so we can be fooled into consuming this excess oxidation. Anti-oxidants are usually added in an attempt to mop up these excess free radicals.  The resulting oxidized fats are taken up by your mitochondria.

Some free radicals are beneficial and our body can use these to fight cancer cells and other intruders, however an excess of these can be dangerous.  This is the same with most nutrients, minerals and compounds used in your body. Too little or too much is not healthy, but there is a level which is perfect for you.  For obvious reasons, this is sometimes termed the Goldilocks level.

Our human bodies can store lots of fat and it seems this is the principal energy source for us because of this capability.  Glucose which comes from sugars that we eat as carbohydrates has very limited storage, which is one reason why we can feel hungry again, about 3 hours after a carbohydrate heavy meal.  Isotope testing of human fossils has revealed that we mainly ate meat over the thousands of years before agriculture was discovered.  During this time, if we came across available carbohydrates then using the switches identified by Dr. Randal we would be able to prioritize this for immediate energy and preserve our stores of fat.   These carbohydrates would likely be some berries, honey, or some ripe fruit, but they would be small, not abundant and had a very short season so needed to be consumed immediately.

What Dr Randal discovered has huge implications for what and how we eat,  and despite his finding being corroborated by subsequent research, it has not yet been explored in any depth. 

What does this “Randle Cycle” mean for how we eat?  It suggests that we should avoid eating lots of fat and carbohydrates in the same meal, because our mitochondria will have to prioritize one over the other.  Does it matter if one of these is prioritized?  Well it does and here is why.

If you have a mixed diet and glucose is prioritized, then in addition to creation of excess free radicals, the blood will have excess fatty acids to dispose of because these will be excluded from the mitochondria, so are unable to be used for energy.  The way it disposes of these is to convert them into triglyceride’s.  High triglyceride levels are one of the indicators of poor metabolic health.  In real terms, this means that people eating a typical “Western” diet with its huge dominance of carbohydrates from flour and sugar, will struggle to ever use any of their stored body fat, or even any of the fats eaten in a meal, their triglycerides will be constantly elevated and their health compromised.

If fatty acids are prioritized then the body will have to dispose of any excess glucose.  The way it disposes of this is to convert it to glycogen for storage in muscles or convert to fat and store in the liver or as adipose fat on your body.

Thinking about original foods such as meat, eggs, fish, fruit, vegetables, etc. you may struggle to identify any foods where both fats and carbohydrates exist together.  Maybe this is significant.  In fact only a few natural foods come this way and the most prominent is milk.  Growing babies may have special requirements due to their high nutrient and energy needs.

Compare these natural foods with ultra processed foods.  Ultra processed foods are always factory made, and are composed of a mix of fats (usually from seed oils), flour and sugars (carbohydrates).  Read the nutrition label to see the ingredients.

Based on this understanding of how your body works, it is clearly healthier to avoid ultra processed foods.  These include breads, candy, cake, pasta, cookies, donuts, biscuits, cereal and cereal bars.  If it is made in a factory and has a nutrition analysis on the packet, then beware as it  will usually have a mix of fats and carbohydrates.

When your mitochondria are damaged, your energy level is reduced, plus excess free radicals will promote inflammation in your body which dramatically increases your risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, etc.

Reducing this risk can be be helped by taking care of your mitochondria:

  1. Avoid vegetable (industrial seed) oils such as corn, soy, safflower, canola, grape seed etc.  Lookout for vegetable oils, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats in ingredient lists.
  2. Replace these unhealthy oils with animal based fats, coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Limit your consumption of sugar and grains.
  4. Reduce the level of carbohydrates in your diet to less than 50 grams per day.
  5. Replace the lost carbohydrates with saturated or monounsaturated fats as they are much less likely to be rancid already and will generate less free radicals.

In everyday speak, eat real food, including meat, fish, eggs, dairy and leafy green vegetables while avoiding grains, sugar, starch and vegetable oils.

Seek professional medical advice before making dietary changes, particularly if you have underlying health problems.

Read my blog at “www.takebackyrhealth.com

Find my book at   bit.ly/3KJwedY

Good health,  George Elder, Diet Researcher, Dip. Nutrition.

The Blue Zones?

In 2000, Micheal Poulain and Giovanni Mario Pes documented a group of locations around the world where there was an abundance of people who lived to be over 100 years old.  These areas were called “The Blue Zones” and included:

Photo by Dana Tentis on Pexels.com
  • Ikaria, Greece; (sometimes spelt Icaria)
  • Okinawa, Japan;
  • Ogliastra Region, Sardinia;
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.
  • Loma Linda, California, USA

It was suggested that a number of factors led to the longer life of people who lived there, including regular exercise, having social circles that reinforced healthy behaviors,  taking time to de-stress, being very family orientated and part of a community.  There was also a dietary element where it was believed that their approach to diet had a very significant impact on their longevity.

Some groups interested in diet have seem similarities between their dietary beliefs and the documented diet of blue zone inhabitants, often using this information to support their ideas and to promote their diet as healthier.  Despite these areas being very geographically and separate from each other and eating quite different diets, these dietary ideas have become blue zone folklore?

Here are some suggested ideas from a recent book titled “The Blue Zones Solution” by Dan Buettner:

  • Stop eating when your stomach is 80 percent full to avoid weight gain.
  • Eat the smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Eat mostly plants, especially beans. And eat meat rarely, in small portions of 3 to 4 ounces. Blue Zoners eat portions this size just five times a month, on average.
  • Drink alcohol moderately and regularly, i.e. 1-2 glasses a day.

Some of this advice seems very sensible but we must be very careful when trying to apply what seems to work in one place and time to something happening in another place or time.  For example:

  • Many people living in Northern Europe drink a lot of cows milk and have done so for generations, however most Asians can not tolerate cows milk well due to a lactose intolerance which can make them sick when they consume it.
  • Europeans traveling into malaria infested areas of the World must take special precautions against getting bitten by the anopheles mosquito as they can suffer hugely and die from this disease if caught, while some locals appear to be almost immune from this.
  • Over the years diets change and the diet that sustained a centenarian in the growing and middle age years may be very different from what we see today, which could confound research.  In my own case my family ate lots of delicious meat stews, and porridge as I grew up but we very seldom eat these today.  We also had very limited fruit varieties and fast food was non-existent. 

Another aspect of the blue zones which has been questioned is the validity of the research done.  Mary Ruddick, a renowned nutritionist is married to a Greek and has lived on the island of Ikaria.  She was puzzled by the lack of recognition of the amount of goat meat eaten by the islanders and the suggestion that potatoes was a mainstay of their diet.  In her view the islanders eat goat meat almost daily and potatoes are not a local crop due to the poor soils.  They were introduced some years ago as part of the adoption of more western ways of eating and were never part of traditional diets.  Her suggestion about why goat meat is not recognized is that the questionnaires asked about “red” meat consumption and this to an Ikaria inhabitant translates to beef, which is rarely eaten.  Mary shares her view on this here:

Another blue zone diet claim is that a mainstay of the Okinawa diet is sweet potatoes.  During World War II these people were forced to kill and eat most of the pigs on their islands and as a result made a switch to much more reliance on sweet potatoes.  The diet which centenarians ate over the years was once heavily pork based and this has changed significantly over time.  Okinawa’s people are no longer in the top group.  For more information about this diet confusion, take a look at the post by Angela Stanton in the link below

Another approach in dietary / longevity research is to blame genetics for some of the health problems of today. Any review of non-communicable diseases such as Type-2 Diabetes, Obesity, Macular Degeneration, Kidney Disease, Asthma, Depression, Alzheimer’s Disease, Heart disease or Cancer reveals skyrocketing levels which have risen dramatically since the 1900’s when most of these were rare. Is it possible that some individuals have obesity genes which are turned on or turned off by the poor western diet of high sugar, refined grains and seed oils.

Genetics clearly has an impact in setting different levels of susceptibility to diseases in individuals. For a great example of how genes work, take a look at the honey bee. The queen bee and the worker bee have identical genes, but the Queen is isolated and fed royal jelly with the result being development of the only fertile female egg laying machine in the hive. Genes can clearly be turned off and turned on by external factors such as different foods.

Different population groups around the world, have responded to the western diet in different ways. Some groups have a much less healthy response to the the impact of the western diet than others. For example, the Pima Indians in Arizona are the most obese group in USA and African Americans are more susceptible to Type-2 Diabetes than people of Caucasian origin. These differences may be due to natural selection that has occurred from the impact of different major impacts on the ancestors of the group. Dr. Andrew Jenkinson in his fascinating book “Why We Eat (To Much), covers this in some detail. For example, he suggests that the susceptibility of Pacific Islanders to obesity may come from their past long sea migrations where only those who had the ability to survive these journeys with little or no food, survived to become their ancestors.

As always, for more diet and health information, take a look at my book

“Take Back Your Health”, by George Elder,  available as an ebook or paperback on Amazon.

Book Link: https://amzn.to/3uiehfv

Blog link,  www.takebackyrhealth.com

Overcoming Anxiety

You may have heard of serotonin, the happiness molecule, but do you know what it really does?

Serotonin is a chemical produced in your body, mostly in your gut, but some is produced in your brain. It is a neurotransmitter, which means it helps with nerve signaling, and is involved in sleep, memory, learning, healing and is the chemical that promotes calmness and contentment. People with healthy levels of this are generally happy.

In order to make serotonin, your body needs all the necessary components. Magnesium is needed, but the most important component is the essential amino acid, tryptophan, which comes from various foods, a little from bread, pasta, corn, bananas, and cookies, but the most abundant sources of tryptophan are high protein foods like tuna, dairy products, turkey, beef, pork, chicken, and eggs.

It is easy to get too little of this essential amino acid because if you drink diet sweetened foods or caffeinated drinks, or you are not getting enough healthy fats such as butter, olive oil, and animal fats then your tryptophan levels can be depleted. Tryptophan levels can also be depleted by stress, lack of natural light, low calorie diets, skipped meals or by lack of exercise. While coffee will stimulate dopamine (the pleasure molecule), it will suppress serotonin (the happiness molecule) over time.

In USA in 1989, the FDA called for a voluntary ban on tryptophan supplements due to a faulty contaminated batch and these only became available again without prescription in USA in 2000. In other countries it has continued to be available, while in USA many doctors switched to prescribing Prozac.

All this means is that if you want to be happy, calm and contented, then your diet really matters as does exercise and getting sufficient natural light. This is especially important for women because females typically generate about one third less serotonin than males. For vegetarians or vegans this is even more difficult as the tryptophan level in their diet is usually very low.

This might be much more important than just a happy feeling. People, who have low levels of serotonin can suffer from anxiety, lack of confidence, panic attacks, depression, obsessive behavior and sleep disorders. It seems that the psychology profession is just beginning to realize the importance of this diet and mental health linkage.

The new field of nutrition psychology is gaining traction fast with psychologists now realizing that poor diet is a major factor in many of the conditions patients present with, and often these conditions can be assisted or even corrected by changing the patients diet. Central to these changes is increasing the level of animal protein while reducing grains and sugar.

Unfortunately, I hear that many people on bad diets often don’t know this and never realize their health problems are caused by their diet. It is only after they make major diet changes and begin to feel hugely better that they realize just how sick their diet was making them. This is particularly a problem for those who are very committed to their diet because their beliefs make them reluctant to even test whether a diet change could help.

So to pull all this together, if you suffer from anxiety, worry easily, have panic attacks, have a tendency to be negative, get edgy or irritable easily, have difficulty sleeping, suffer from jaw pain, or can be a bit obsessive or forgetful, then low serotonin might be a factor. Take a hard look at your diet or try a tryptophan supplement. I read that for many people results can be almost immediate.

As always, for more information you can view my blog at: www.takebackyrhealth.com

You will find a link to my book “Take Back Your Health”

Good Health, George Elder.


Picky Eaters

Do you have family members that are very picky eaters? Maybe they claim that they are full after only a few mouthfuls of food, or maybe they are unwilling to try anything new. How annoying is it when they look at a new food option and say they don’t like it, despite never tasting it or even smelling the food.

This is a problem that seems to be getting more common. When my children were small, they ate the same food as their parents. There were no special meals being prepared for dinner. There were some foods they didn’t like, such as mushrooms, but the occurrence of this was quite low. Today it seems more and more parents are preparing fully separate meals for the parents and the children.

The level of sweetness in food is getting higher and higher, with many foods children are willing to eat having added sugar. Syrups, added sugar, sweet cereals, seem to be common. Many families seem to be experiencing this problem of picky eaters only willing to eat sweet food as they offer their children new dietary options.

Unfortunately, some parents believe that their children will naturally seek out healthy or sufficient nutrition, but Kelly Dorfman MS, LND, in her book “Cure your child with food” describes treating hundreds of picky-eating-children with serious nutritional deficiencies, manifesting in growth, health, psychological and behavioral problems that are very serious for their ongoing development.

A possible cause of picky eating could be zinc deficiency. Zinc is critical for taste and when a person’s zinc level is low, food can lose its taste, or even taste bad. Your children may be experiencing tastes that are very different to how the food tastes to you. It could be that masking the taste in sweetness is the only way that the food tastes OK for them.

Kelly Dorfman states that children with a mild zinc deficiency are often picky eaters and with a zinc supplement, the excessive numbers of foods with “off” smells and “yucky” flavors can be reduced to normal levels.

Why does this picky eating problem seem to be getting worse?

A major contributor to this is the very high levels of corn and wheat-based foods in the diet today. Tortilla’s, bread, bagels, cereals, doughnuts all have high levels of phytic acid or Phytates. Phytic acid is a chelation agent that binds to iron and zinc molecules in your food and prevents your body from being able to absorb these. Some of the processes we use to prepare foods can minimize this impact, but unfortunately only soaking and sprouting can reduce phytic acid and this is not often done.

Another contributing factor is the reduced levels of zinc in today’s food compared to historical levels. By 1972, zinc deficiency was reported as the most common plant micronutrient deficiency in the United States and now it is estimated that nearly one-half of the soils in the world are low in available zinc. The consequences include low production of grain and other products if soil is not amended with zinc.

This from Dr. Libby Weaver: A hundred years ago, zinc was abundant in many soils. Nowadays, most soils in the world are zinc deficient, except for soils predominantly from biodynamic farms. This means that, where once fruit and vegetables, and even grain-based foods such as breads and cereals, provided us with a small, steady top-up of zinc, the zinc levels in many of the foods we eat today are inadequate to avoid deficiency.

A move towards a greater level of plant-based diets is also making the zinc deficiency in diet problem worse, because meat, dairy, eggs and seafoods are where a high level of zinc is sourced from in the diet. The highest levels of zinc are in oysters and high levels are found in lean red meat.

The graph above shows the levels of zinc in blood (in plasma) with 3 different meals illustrates the considerable impact on zinc absorption levels from consuming phytic acid containing food in the same meal as the zinc source.

So, what are the problems associated with a low zinc level?

Humans have no ability to store zinc, which means that we must get a steady supply of zinc from the food we eat daily. Low levels of zinc have been associated with:
– stunted growth
– low immunity,
– increased susceptibility to inflammation,
– poor healing,
– Dry skin
– Thin and sparse hair
– Poor condition nails
– Loss of appetite

This from Wikipedia: Cognitive functions, such as learning and hedonic tone, are impaired with zinc deficiency. Moderate and more severe zinc deficiencies are associated with behavioral abnormalities, such as irritability, lethargy, and depression. Low plasma zinc levels have been alleged to be associated with many psychological disorders. Schizophrenia has been linked to decreased brain zinc levels. Evidence suggests that zinc deficiency could play a role in depression.

Zinc can have a very important impact on our ability to deal with viruses in the body such as COVID19. According to nutrition and health expert Mary Ruddick, zinc will attract viruses within your body and transport them out. It could be useful to compare the impact of COVID19 in specific areas with the levels of zinc in local soil and therefore in the food being eaten.

How can you increase your zinc levels?

Including plenty of seafood, red meat, liver, lamb, dairy, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, shiitake mushrooms and egg yolks in your diet is a very simple solution. Although there is zinc on legumes and grains, the addition of phytic acid from the grains and legumes could mean that very little of the included zinc is bioavailable to your body. To preserve the zinc and iron in grains, you could choose meals where these were sprouted or soaked overnight before being included in the meal.

George Elder
Author “Take Back Your Health” Learn how your diet impacts your health, both good and bad, so that you can use food as medicine.

Are Vegetable Oils Killing Us?

It’s a puzzle! Despite extensive research on the dangers of excessive levels of linoleic acid in our diet and the resulting increase in heart disease risk, metabolic disease, hypertension, type-2 diabetes, macular degeneration, joint pain, and skin conditions such as eczema, we still do not have widely publicized advice to carefully control this intake. Linoleic acid is an Omega-6 polyunsaturated oil, sometimes referred to as industrial seed oil, or vegetable oil. Sometimes they are even marketed as “heart-healthy” fats and oils. @*#@*@!


From a chemical perspective, these polyunsaturated fats have molecules with multiple double bonds making them easily broken down and oxidized, creating novel polymers that are hugely unhealthy and a major source of inflammation within your body. The drivers of oxidation (becoming rancid) are higher temperatures, longer time, and light. Conversely saturated fats are very stable and therefore do not readily oxidize to form dangerous chemicals.


Back in the 1950’s through the 1980’s there has been a fear of saturated fat, which has now been shown to be unjustified. However, this fear, which was based on very poor research, encouraged people to move away from healthy animal fats to the “new” industrial seed oils. While this was happening, a very wealthy individual named Phil Sokolof in USA, convinced of health risks associated with fats and particularly coconut oils, created a media campaign to turn people away from this tropical oil towards industrial seed oils instead. A third factor in this diet change was the desire by the USDA (US dept. of agriculture) to support farm incomes during WWII and subsidies were provided for growing wheat and corn, lowering the costs of these ingredients.


Look in the supermarket, at the huge range of Omega-6 industrial seed oils on sale. They are usually labeled as vegetable oils, but you should easily spot the marketing trick. They are not made from vegetables at all. They include soybean oil, cotton seed oil, safflower oil, corn oil (a grain), peanut oil, sunflower seed oil, sesame oil, canola oil, etc. They are often packaged in dark bottles to minimize degradation by light and have added antioxidants to help prevent them going rancid (oxidizing) almost immediately.


The process of extracting them from seeds uses petroleum-based chemicals and high heat which makes it almost impossible for them to remain unoxidized before they reach the supermarket shelf. People buying them often keep them in their pantry for many weeks during which time they gradually become more and more rancid, so that when eaten, you could be putting dangerous compounds directly into your body.
Many highly processed foods contain these polyunsaturated oils because they are a cheap way to add fats to the food. Look in the ingredients list of processed foods for vegetable oil, soy oil, corn oil, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, etc.


The Sydney Diet Health Study (1966-1973) of 458 men, was an attempt to compare the consumption of saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats and to measure the impact on cardiovascular risk. The polyunsaturated fat group lowered the cholesterol level nicely, compared to the saturated fat group, but despite the lowered cholesterol, the rate of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality of the polyunsaturated group significantly exceeded the saturated fat group. Here is their recently stated outcome:


“Advice to substitute polyunsaturated fats for saturated fats is a key component of worldwide dietary guidelines for coronary heart disease risk reduction. However, clinical benefits of the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid, omega 6 linoleic acid, have not been established. In this cohort, substituting dietary linoleic acid (omega-6 vegetable oils) in place of saturated fats increased the rates of death from all causes, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. An updated meta-analysis of linoleic acid intervention trials showed no evidence of cardiovascular benefit. These findings could have important implications for worldwide dietary advice to substitute omega 6 linoleic acid, or polyunsaturated fats in general, for saturated fats.”


A number of researchers including Bill Lands, a renowned veteran lipid researcher have focused on the Omega-6 consumption, particularly in USA. It has been known for some time that Omega-6 oils (linoleic acid) have a pro-inflammatory effect in the human body while Omega-3 oils have an anti-inflammatory effect. If these are kept in reasonable 1:1 balance, your natural antioxidant glutathione can mop up the free radicals created by the inflammation from the oxidizing of these oils. However, if these 2 oil groups get seriously out of balance, then the level of inflammation can drive very poor health outcomes. The modern diets of some younger people in USA can have levels of Omega-6 up to 40 x the Omega-3 level. This is a recipe for major health problems in their future.

In the last 145 years the typical dietary consumption of “vegetable” oils in USA, has gone from near zero to 80 grams per day per person. This growth rate closely matches the growth of metabolic syndrome, macular degeneration, and diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.


While Omega-6 is an “essential” fat, the essential level required is extremely low at no more than 1% of your calorie intake, while typical western diet levels can now be as high as 6%. A high level of Omega-6, or a high ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is a clear indicator that the diet is heavy on seed oils which are already oxidized (rancid) before consumption as a result of the manufacturing process. It is the oxidation that is unhealthy about the seed oil consumption and drives up inflammation.


What does the linoleic acid (Omega-6) do in the body? It displaces the saturated fats that human bodies have used over thousands of years. I read that it can take up to 2 years to get the linoleic acid out of tissues and replace it with the healthier traditional fats. Here are some of the health impacts:

– Excess linoleic acid increases inflammation, which is a key driver for heart attack risk, hypertension, cancer, metabolic syndrome, macular degeneration, and many other health problems.
– Skin cancers are on the rise and the levels of polyunsaturated fat under the skin have been rising at about the same rate as the rise in skin cancers. This does not prove causality but people converting back to higher saturated fat diets frequently comment on the reduction in sun burn and the ability to stay out there longer without any problems. Our ancestors spent countless hours in the sun and survived to proliferate without cancers, despite having no sun creams, and they had very low levels of Omega-6 fats.
– There is strong evidence of a link between migraines and higher linoleic acid consumption.
– The cellular uptake of linoleic acid can result in greater production of substances, such as NHE, implicated in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Cancer, Atherosclerosis and Liver diseases.

Where does this high level of Omega-6 Linoleic Acid come from:

1. Industrial seed oils as mentioned, used at home, or used extensively for frying at restaurants or squirted onto hot plates, pans, and woks which the food is cooked in directly.
2. Packaged ultra-processed foods with vegetable oils, such as sauces, spreads, and creams.
3. Canned food with oils such as soybean oil with canned fish.
4. Shortening and margarines made from vegetable oils.
5. Grain fed animals such as Chicken and Pork. These mono gastric animals take up linoleic acid from the grain they eat, then you eat that meat. In USA, corn fed chicken is particularly high in linoleic acid.
6. Feedlot finished beef, the corn fed to these animals pushes up the linoleic acid in meat and the longer the animal stays in the feedlot, the worse the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3.
7. Farmed fish are often fed meal, made from grains such as soy and corn, driving up their omega-6 level.


In a report titled “Historical perspectives on the impact of n-3 and n-6 nutrients on health” by Bill Lands, a Standard American Diet was compared with a Mediterranean Diet. Using a USDA derived omega 3:6 balance list of 538 “Key Foods” consumed by Americans during 2007–2008. They identified the top 10 foods with the worst impact in the Omega 3:6 Balance. The simple step of deleting these ten food items with the most negative Scores converted the diet to “almost” the healthy level of a Mediterranean diet.


The removed items in order from worst to best, were:
1. soybean oil,
2. mayonnaise,
3. tub margarine,
4. microwave pop- corn,
5. ‘‘Italian’’ salad dressing,
6. potato chips,
7. stick margarine,
8. vegetable shortening,
9. peanut butter,
10. tortilla chip snacks.


Deleting these foods not traditionally present in Mediterranean meals changed the American ‘‘Key Foods’’ list to one that fits closer to a ‘‘Mediterranean diet’’. Conversely, adding these items to a Mediterranean diet would ‘‘Westernize’’ it in a way that has been happening gradually in Mediterranean regions. Maybe you need to look at how you can avoid these foods.


It is not only humans that become less healthy with excess linoleic acid in the diet. Animal feed researchers learned that when corn oil or soybean oil was used as a butterfat replacer in veal calf rations, the animals generally got sick and died. They eventually recognized the need to include an antioxidant (vitamin E) in veal calf rations containing oils rich in linoleic acid.


I read that manufacturers of these Omega-6 oils are apparently aware of these problems and are quietly trying to breed crops which produce a higher level of oleic acid oils (as found in olive oils) and a lower level of Omega-6 from which to manufacture their seed oils in the future.


What ways can you reduce the high-risk outcomes of consuming high levels of linoleic acid now?
1. Switch from using the above-mentioned seed oils to using olive oils, coconut oil, tallow, lard, avocado oil, butter, or ghee. Any fat that is solid at room temperature is much better.
2. Avoid food in restaurants which is fried as it will almost certainly be fried in vegetable oils.
3. For baking use coconut oil, butter, and Ghee.
4. Take care not to burn oils and fats by keeping temperatures below the smoke point, as this increases the oxidation risk.
5. Dispose if any old polyunsaturated oils as they will be somewhat rancid already.
6. Keep nuts in sealed containers in the refrigerator as they can also contain these oils and will go rancid readily. Buy small quantities so that you do not store them at home for long.
7. If you can, choose to grind nuts at home as once ground, the oxidation process is accelerated.
8. Eat foods with high omega-3 levels such as cold-water fish, like Salmon and Sardines.


In August 2020, the USA college of Cardiologists released a paper in which the following conclusion was stated:

Whole-fat dairy, unprocessed meat, and dark chocolate are Saturated Fat-rich foods with a complex matrix that are not associated with increased risk of heart disease. The totality of available evidence does not support further limiting the intake of such foods

A clever move would be to reduce your health risk, by minimizing consumption of Omega-6 seed oils and instead, return to the traditional animal fats that have been the staple dietary fats of our ancestors for thousands of years.

For more information on taking back your health and using food as medicine, look at my blog at: http://www.takebackyrhealth.com, where there is also a link to my book.
Good Health, George Elder

How much Protein should I eat?

Photo by Malidate Van on Pexels.com

Research that compares historical dietary protein levels with typical levels today, commonly finds that early hunter gatherer humans ate a lot more protein. Analysis of the ratios of nitrogen and carbon in ancient bones can reveal details of protein sources in their diet.

Early explorers and people studying native diets have documented these higher levels. For example, the Inuit in Northern Canada, lived primarily on seal, caribou and fish accompanied by lots of fat and very little carbohydrate and their protein level was medium to high. The Red Indians on the American plains ate a high protein meat and organ diet from herbivores such as deer and bison, with very little of the animal not used in some way. Early explorers commented on how very fit and healthy these people were. They had none of the metabolic diseases that are common now and apart from a higher infant mortality, their life expectancy was very similar to humans today.

Hunter gatherers typically ate about 30% protein and body builders can sometimes get up to 40% protein but to do this they consume special pea or whey protein powder supplements for muscle building. It takes a strong focus on building up the protein in the diet to do this. Even a steak only contains 16-21% protein, you would need to eat a lot of steak and you would struggle to eat that much. Even a whole egg only contains 6 grams of protein.

There is a known condition that afflicted some early Arctic explorers called “rabbit starvation”, which could occur during periods of poor hunting, when some explorers ate mostly rabbits because they were available. Rabbits have very very little fat, and this lack of fat caused sickness due to excess production of ammonia. The same issue plagued Vilhjalmur Stefansson during the first few weeks of his year-long 1928 demonstration of survival on an all-meat diet, because the initial diet provided by the hospital, failed to include sufficient fat. It seems that there is an upper limit to protein for humans which is around 40% of your calories. Levels above this can overwhelm the liver’s ability to convert nitrogen from protein into urea, causing ammonia levels to increase leading to stress in the body. Vilhjalmur Stefansson is quoted as saying that rabbit starvation in the arctic could kill a person more quickly than eating nothing.

This suggests that about 40% of calories as protein, is a hard upper limit for humans. However, 40% is very difficult to get to because the protein is buried in food with fats, carbohydrates and vitamins, so you get the other stuff as well. Not only that, but your protein thermostat turns off your appetite as your protein consumption rises, making it harder and harder to continue eating.

What about the bottom end of the protein scale? The official recommended daily allowance (RDA) is about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, however, I understand this is an absolute minimum. Going below this could mean that many of your body maintenance functions are not happening as they should. Things like cell replacement, muscle repair, bone growth, hair growth, joint repair, etc. If you experience brittle hair and nails or wounds take a long time to repair, then maybe your protein level is too low. Your body has no way to store protein so you need to get it every day, maybe every meal and eating more on one day will not carry forward.

I have seen it suggested that the majority of older people in USA are only getting about 12% of their calories as protein. One of the biggest issues with this is that their body will try to get the protein it needs for maintenance by taking it from other parts of their body such as from their muscles, bones and connecting tissue. The result, a loss of muscle mass and a reduction in strength. Many older people die after struggling to recover after a fall, and falls are much more common when strength declines. Keeping strength and muscle mass up should be a key objective for ageing people.

A very poor diet with consistent low protein can lead to a result where only about 5% protein becomes the normal dietary level. To deal with this the body will reduce critical maintenance and the person becomes a “lightweight” version of what they could be. Small muscles, thin bones, lightweight organs, lower level of immunity etc. Valter Longo, a gerontology researcher experimented on mice and discovered that a reduced calorie diet increased their lifespan. Some people are betting, with their lives on this, seeking a longer lifespan by reducing calories, however, this has never been proven in people and we are much more likely to have serious falls than laboratory mice are. If you chose to reduce calories, make sure that it is not the protein that you reduce.

Without sufficient protein, a person gets weaker and weaker, gradually losing the ability to live fully. They struggle to get into and out of a car. Struggle to climb stairs. If they are driving, they may not be able to brake hard enough in an emergency. They may not be able to get out of a lounge chair without help. They cannot shower themselves without support. They tire quickly doing simple tasks. Eventually their heart loses the ability to keep them alive.

I hear that some women choose to avoid protein in order to ensure that they don’t develop “ugly” muscles. Be reassured that this is impossible from just eating a medium protein level diet as recommended here.

Personally, even at 70, I like to be strong enough to be able to do what is wanted without a struggle. Lifting heavy groceries, hitching the trailer onto the car, climbing stairs, digging the garden, carrying loads when required. A regular resistance exercise regime will help and it can be very satisfying.

Older people also don’t absorb protein efficiently, so if you are a bit older, I suggest you try to keep your protein intake to a minimum of about 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight. For a 70 kg man this means 105 grams of protein each day. To do this make sure you are eating plenty of meat, eggs and fish. Beans contain protein, but soy beans, grains including wheat and legumes can contain protease inhibitors and these can prevent the breakdown of dietary proteins into their amino acids, thus preventing you getting access to some of the protein you eat. This means that reducing the level of these in your diet may also help, particularly avoiding refined wheat flour. Are you in danger of overloading your kidneys? Apparently not unless you already have kidney disease, because it is almost impossible to drive protein levels to the very high levels required.

It is interesting to note that one way a farmer can fatten animals is to reduce the protein level in their feed. This causes the animals to eat more in order to satisfy their protein thermostat. Perhaps a higher level in a human diet will make you feel full sooner, reducing the calories you eat regularly.

During pregnancy a woman needs protein with the Mayo Clinic recommending 71 grams per day, although surely this will vary due to different activity levels and different size women. UCSF Health suggests a minimum level of 60 grams per day or 20-25% of your calories from protein. With a baby growing and most of their growth requiring protein, best not to skimp on this.

For a very readable guide to losing weight, diet and maintaining your health, take a look at my book linked to the blog at www.takebackyrhealth.com.
Regards George Elder

Blood test standards?

When the doctor has your blood tested, the results are compared with “Reference Ranges” (normal levels) for each test and then the doctor is advised by bolded results, asterisks, or comments linked to the results that fall outside this range.

For example if your HbA1c is 5.2% (33 mmol/mol) and the normal level is under 5.8%, (Under 40 mmol/mol) then all is good and sometimes the doctor will not even bother to tell you things are OK. No news is considered good news.

But an interesting question arises as to how is the reference range determined. We can’t ask your body, and everyone is a little unique with some people seemingly perfectly healthy with blood test results that would be very unhealthy for others. You probably know someone or heard of someone who was a regular smoker and lived to a ripe old age, while others are sickened by second hand smoke alone.

So in order to set a reference range, results of many people are viewed over time and a level is set based on actual test results for seemingly healthy people. It is usually set at the range that 95% of the tested people fall within. Each laboratory validates and sets their own reference ranges, due to slight differences in the testing, equipment, testing process, and differences in their test population. This must be why it is often noted that the “normal” level will vary by laboratory. Here is a statement from a laboratory: Adult reference Range values were established from wellness participants with an age mix similar to our patients.

But what is to happen if, over time, the general results move away from the reference range? Laboratories have little choice but to “adjust” the “reference range” to reflect the real results they are now seeing in their patients. With only 12% of USA adults now recording as metabolically healthy, what is happening to the reference ranges for our general testing? This should be a warning to us to be aware that “normal” may not be healthy. If your doctor is not astute about this shift in test results over time, the information you get (or don’t receive) to suggest that all is good because your results are within the references ranges may be rubbish.

To compound this problem, in many cases insurance will only authorize and cover the cost of tests where there is reasonable grounds to suspect a problem. The result is that the tests are therefore not representative of a healthy population, but are skewed towards unhealthy because only suspected unhealthy people are actually tested. If your results are in the “normal” window, they may actually be showing that you are sick.

This from the American Center for Disease Control (CDC). In 2009, the average waist size for women in USA was 37.4 inches, in 2019 it was 38.7 inches. Any reference range (normal) for USA women will have increased by about 1.3 inches, but “healthy” has not increased by 1.3 inches.

As an example of this, blood cholesterol reference ranges have been gradually declining, not because lower cholesterol is healthier, (it’s not, read about it in my book.) but because more and more people have been prescribed statins and this is gradually lowering the overall readings for cholesterol. Since we now know that higher cholesterol is correlated with lower overall death rates in people aged over 65, we have the strange situation where the doctor is seeing lower cholesterol as ideal only at lower and lower levels, while the patient would actually be healthier and have a more robust immune system with higher cholesterol levels.

So next time your doctor says that your tests have all come back “normal”, you may need to do your own research.

George Elder, Author, “Take Back Your Health”, Amazon $3.99.
Now at http://www.eldergeo.com