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Monday, April 7, 2014

Addictive, Low-Fat Cornbread

Corn is a great food for human beings. Unfortunately, many cornbread recipes contain cow’s milk and lots of fat. Some of the low-fat vegan cornbread recipes produce a product that is too dry. This recipe makes cornbread with a golden brown crust (thanks to the sugar and the cast-iron pan) and a moist and tender crumb, thanks to the applesauce.

Many recipes for low-fat baked goods call for applesauce. The pectin in the applesauce coats the starch grains, just as fat would. But who keeps applesauce on hand? I certainly don’t. You can buy applesauce in a jar, but then you have to worry about using it all up before it goes bad. You also have to recycle the empty jar. I find it easier to start with an apple. I zap it in the microwave then put it through a food mill.

I bake my cornbread in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. A properly seasoned cast-iron pan is naturally nonstick, so you do not have to grease the food to get it to slide out of the pan. When you use cast-iron bakeware, let it preheat in the oven. Give it plenty of time to come up to the proper temperature before you put in the batter.


1 medium-sized baking apple

1 cup whole wheat flour (or a gluten-free flour substitute)

1 cup yellow cornmeal

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon EnerG egg replacer powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup low-fat plain soymilk (or other low-fat nondairy milk)


Preheat oven and a seasoned cast-iron skillet or equivalent muffin pan to 400°F. If you don’t have cast-iron bakeware, you can use an 8-inch square pan. Use nonstick bakeware so you do not have to grease it.

Poke holes in the apple and microwave it until it is very soft. Allow the apple to cool enough to be handled. Cut it in half and remove the seeds, then put it through a fine food mill. You could also scrape the flesh of the apple into a blender or food processor and puree it or simply scrape it into a bowl and mash it really well. Put the apple puree into a measuring cup and add enough water to make ¾ cup.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix them thoroughly. Add the applesauce and soymilk and mix until everything is moistened. Pour the mixture into the hot cast-iron skillet or cornbread mold. Bake for 25 minutes or until a knife blade or cake tester inserted into the cornbread comes out clean.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Diabetic Food Exchange System Is Not a Weight-Loss Plan

Recently, I saw that a friend of mine had posted on her refrigerator a simplified list of food exchanges for diabetics. She does not have diabetes, so I asked her why she would need that list. She said that she wants to lose weight. I tried to explain that the exchange system is not a weight-loss plan. Its purpose is to help people with type 1 diabetes (insulin-dependent diabetes) figure out how much insulin to inject. She said that she was using the list to help her count calories. I tried to explain that counting calories is not an effective way to lose weight. She looked at me as if I’m nuts. She believes that she knows far more about dietetics and weight control than I do. After all, she has been dieting for years because of her stubborn weight problem. She therefore has years of experience in counting calories and estimating portion sizes. She’ll diet and lose a few pounds, then gain them right back. I have no personal experience with dieting. Because I have eaten a low-fat, high-fiber, starchy diet all of my adult life, I have never been overweight. I just eat grains and beans and vegetables and fruit until I feel full.

The diabetic exchange system is an approach to meal planning. It was introduced in 1950 by the American Diabetes Association and the U.S. Public Health Service. It has been revised several times since then. The purpose of the exchange system is to help people with type 1 diabetes estimate how much carbohydrate  (sugar and starch) is in a meal. Once they know that, they can figure out how much insulin they will need to keep their blood sugar from going too high or too low after they eat the meal. Before the exchange system was introduced, people with type 1 diabetes often ended up eating a strict, boring diet. To keep their blood sugar stable, they often ate the same amount of the same foods day after day. The exchange system made it easy for them to add variety to their diet. For example, it tells them that a slice of bread has the same carbohydrate content as a 6-inch tortilla or a third of a cup of rice. In other words, the person with type 1 diabetes could exchange a slice of bread for the tortilla or the rice. Nondiabetic people do not need to count carbs or worry about exchanging one carbohydrate source for another. Their pancreas will automatically make as much insulin as they need.

The problem with the diabetic exchange system is that it includes many foods that are not good for human beings in general and that are particularly bad for human beings with diabetes. For example, the exchange system includes lists of meats, dairy foods, eggs, and fish, as well as lists of fats and processed junk foods. Animal-source foods are fattening because they contain lots of fat but no fiber or starch. Animal-source foods also contain cholesterol. The fat and cholesterol can clog the arteries, leading to heart attacks and stroke, particularly in people with diabetes. Animal-source foods also contain way too much protein. An overload of protein is bad for the kidneys, which are already stressed by the diabetes. Heavily processed “junk” foods also contain too much fat or concentrated sugar and little or no fiber.

Scientists have known since the 1920s that high-carbohydrate, low-fat diets are good for people with diabetes. Yes, starchy and sugary foods do deliver a lot of sugar (glucose) to the bloodstream. But a low-fat diet also makes the body much more sensitive to insulin, whether the insulin is being injected or being produced naturally by the pancreas. In the 1940s, Dr. Walter Kempner of Duke University had astounding success in using a diet based on nothing but rice, fruit, and fruit juice for patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. When patients lost too much weight on that low-fat diet, Kempner told them to add some pure sugar to their diet. The patients who followed Kempner’s “rice diet” got better control of their blood sugar. The patients with type 2 diabetes became undiabetic. Even the patients with type 1 diabetes needed smaller doses of insulin. The patients’ overall health also improved. Their blood pressure came down. Their eyes, heart, kidneys, and feet were healthier.

The exchange lists can be useful for people with type 1 diabetes, as long as they eat only from the lists of low-fat, plant-based foods. However, the exchange lists are not useful for weight loss, not even for diabetics. My nondiabetic friend was using the diabetic exchanges as a way to count calories. Yet calorie counting and portion control do not work well for weight control, which is why my friend remains overweight despite her repeated attempts at dieting. The reason is simple: calorie counting and portion control are unnatural acts.

Wild animals never count calories. They never limit their portions. Nor do they ever sign up for step aerobics. Wild animals stay slim, even when they are surrounded on all sides by their favorite food, because they eat the kind of food that is right for them. It has the right calorie density: the right number of calories per pound of food. If they need more calories, their appetite will naturally lead them to eat more food. Once they meet their need for calories, they stop feeling hungry. As a result, they eat just enough food to maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, chances are that the problem is not your metabolism or a lack of will-power. You are simply eating foods that are too rich. Rich foods provide too many calories per pound of food. As a result, you may have to overeat to feel full. If you stop eating rich, fatty foods and instead base your diet on unrefined starches and vegetables, your appetite will be satisfied by a reasonable amount of food. As a result, your weight will normalize itself, even if you eat enough food to feel full.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

High-Carb Diets Improve Blood Sugar Control

Back in 1927, an American physician named Shirley Sweeney recruited some healthy male medical students for a study of how diet affects blood sugar control. That study showed that you could make healthy young men seem diabetic by feeding them too much fat or too much protein or nothing at all for only two days. 

Sweeney divided his volunteers into four groups. He asked the members of each group to eat a particular test diet for two days. One group ate mainly carbohydrates (starch and sugar). Another ate mainly protein. A third group ate mainly fats. The fourth group fasted for two days. On the morning of the third day, before the subjects had eaten or drunk anything else, they had a glucose tolerance test. They drank a beverage with a known amount of the sugar called glucose. Then, their blood sugar (blood glucose) levels were measured over the following few hours.

During the glucose tolerance test, the men who had been eating nothing but carbohydrates for two days had remarkably stable blood sugar levels. But the other men’s blood sugar levels spiked to abnormally high levels. The men who had been eating nothing but fat got results that suggested severe diabetes. Remember, these were healthy young men who had been eating an abnormal diet for only two days.

From these results, Sweeney concluded that a high-carbohydrate diet helps to improve the body’s ability to tolerate carbohydrates. In contrast, high-protein diets, high-fat diets, and fasting undermine the body’s ability to control blood sugar. In a follow-up article, Sweeney suggested that some patients might have abnormal glucose tolerance test results because of the diet that their doctors had been urging them to follow, rather than because of some underlying medical problem.

Sweeney was not the only researcher to show that high-fat diets cause problems with blood sugar control. In the 1930s, a British physician named Sir Harold Percival Himsworth did similar studies and got similar results.

Starting in the late 1930s, a German émigré physician named Walter Kempner started applying these lessons to the treatment of patients at Duke University. Kempner started off by trying to find a dietary solution to severely high blood pressure. Back then, no effective drugs were available to reduce blood pressure. Kempner reasoned that since heart and kidney disease were rare in societies that ate a rice-based diet, his patients should eat a rice-based diet.

Because his patients had kidney problems and atherosclerosis, Kempner designed a diet to be as low as possible in protein and fat. So he told his patients to eat nothing but rice, fruit, and fruit juice. If they lost too much weight on that low-fat diet, they were told to add some pure sugar. This diet produced dramatic improvements in patients with heart and kidney disease. It also did wonders for patients with diabetes.

Patients with what is now called type 2 diabetes, which is a complication of being overweight, lost weight and became undiabetic. Patients with type 1 diabetes, which results when the immune system destroys the pancreas’s ability to make insulin, had much better control of blood sugar levels and could get by on much smaller insulin doses. Even their eyes were healthier. (Diabetes is a major cause of blindness.)
The fact that high-carb diets are good for diabetics has been known since the 1920s. Nevertheless, many doctors in the United States are still urging their overweight and diabetic patients to avoid eating carbs. Unfortunately, a low-carb diet can make even a healthy young person look diabetic within a matter of days. Fortunately, a high-carb diet can cure the most common form of diabetes and can improve the health of people with the incurable form of diabetes.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

An Elimination Diet Could Cure Eczema

If you have eczema or any other mysterious chronic illness, a change in diet might provide the cure. Food allergies and intolerances can cause many different kinds of health problems, including eczema. In fact, allergy to the protein in cow’s milk has long been known to be a common cause of eczema, especially in children. Eliminating troublesome foods from the diet is a cheap, safe, and drug-free way to solve many health problems.

The easiest way to figure out whether your food is making you sick is to try an elimination diet, which simply means avoiding all of the foods that are known to cause bad reactions in other people. A registered dietitian can help you figure out which foods to avoid during the elimination diet. The elimination diet must be followed for at least a week, to allow the offending allergens to be cleared from the body.

One elimination diet protocol is Dr. John McDougall’s Diet for the Desperate.  It eliminates all of the usual suspects. It excludes all of the foods that come from animals, including dairy products. It also excludes some commonly troublesome plant-based foods, such as wheat, rye, and barley, which are the grains that cause problems in people with celiac disease. However, the diet does include plenty of other starchy staple foods, such as brown rice and sweet potatoes. It includes most vegetables and most fruits, except for citrus fruits. Dr. McDougall says that all of the vegetables and fruits that are eaten during the elimination diet phase should be fully cooked. Cooking alters the proteins in foods and can thus make them less likely to provoke an allergic reaction. During the elimination diet phase, people should avoid spices and other condiments, such as mustard and vinegar. Water is the only beverage permitted.

If a problem is due to a food allergy, the individual may start to feel better after staying on the elimination diet for at least a week. At that point, you may wish to start reintroducing some of the foods that you have been avoiding. For testing purposes, it is best to reintroduce each food one at a time. Dr. McDougall recommends eating a large serving of the test food three times a day for two days. If the symptoms return, that food should be avoided in the future. The person should go back to eating only the safe foods for at least a week, to allow the body to recover, before reintroducing another food.

A registered dietitian can give you detailed advice on how to follow an elimination diet, and how to reintroduce suspicious foods. Also, if you have any health problems or are taking any prescription medicines, you should talk to the healthcare professional who prescribed those medications before making any major change in diet.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Eating Meat, Dairy, Eggs, and Fish Can Make Your Breath Stink!

You know the old saying, “You are what you eat.” To that, we can add another one, “You smell like what you eat.” My father-in-law learned that lesson when he served in the Persian Gulf Command during World War II. He heard that the local people in Iran complained that the American soldiers smelled like sour milk. He laughed it off at the time; but when he got back to the United States after the war, he noticed the same thing. People who had been eating the standard American diet did smell like sour milk! People who had been eating Persian food did not. The reason was simple. The Americans were eating far more meat and milk and eggs and fish than the Persian people were.

Eating a lot of animal protein makes you stink. It can give you bad breath, bad body odor, and terribly stinky gas. Part of the problem is the sheer overload of protein that you get from animal-based foods. The other part of the problem is that animal protein tends to be particularly rich in the sulfur-containing amino acids. When you eat more of these sulfur-containing amino acids than your body needs, your body will simply break them down to burn them for energy. In the process, it can produce some very stinky byproducts.

On my Web site, I explain what protein is and how proteins are made up of strings of amino acids. To make your own body’s proteins, your cells need an adequate supply of up to 20 different amino acids. You need to get eight of them ready-made in your food. It’s easy to get enough protein, including enough of all eight essential amino acids, from any practical plant-based diet as long as you are eating enough food to get enough calories. So you don’t really need to worry about protein deficiency.

If you eat too much fat, your body can store the excess fat in your fat cells. But eating too much protein does NOT cause your body to build bigger muscles. Instead, your liver will convert the surplus amino acids to sugar, which will then be burned for energy. Unfortunately, when your liver converts amino acids to sugar, it releases some nasty byproducts. In the long run, an overload of these byproducts can damage your liver, kidneys, and bones. In the short run, they can make you stink.  

Animal proteins tend to be particularly rich in sulfur-containing amino acids. Besides cysteine and methionine, which your body can use for making protein, animal foods also contain taurine and homocysteine. When these substances are broken down, they release sulfur compounds. The methyl mercaptan (CH3-SH) that is produced from the breakdown of methionine is a major contributor to bad breath. These smelly compounds can also be excreted in sweat. Even an excess of some of the non-sulfur amino acids can produce stinky byproducts. For example, the breakdown of tryptophan by bacteria in the intestine produces skatole, which is largely responsible for the smell of feces.

Dental problems can cause bad breath because the bacteria in the mouth can release some smelly compounds, including methyl mercaptan. Thus, brushing and flossing are important. However, some of the odors in breath come from elsewhere in the body. The smelly chemicals can be carried to the lungs by the bloodstream and exhaled with the breath. The classic examples are the ketones that are produced when someone is fasting or has untreated type 1 diabetes. Low-carb diets tend to cause horrible breath for two reasons: ketones plus the overload of stinky substances from the high protein intake.

Bad breath and body odor should be viewed as a warning sign. Eating too much methionine can make you stink, but it can also promote the growth of cancer.

A change in diet can make a big difference in how you look and how you smell. A friend of mine was pleasantly surprised by those benefits when she went on a plant-based diet for weight loss. First, she noticed that her acne cleared up. Then, she noticed that she no longer had a problem with body odor.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Low-Fat, Plant-Based Diet Protects the Prostate

If you are a man who wants to avoid having prostate problems, eat less fat and more fiber and catch some rays. The standard American diet, which is high in fat and animal hormones and low in fiber, is a major risk factor for prostate problems. The lack of vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is another risk factor.

The prostate gland, which is found only in males, produces seminal fluid, which carries and nourishes the sperm cells. The prostate is found underneath the bladder, and it is wrapped around the urethra, which is the tube that drains urine from the bladder. In a young man, the prostate is normally about the size of a walnut. Unfortunately, the prostate can grow much larger as a man ages. Thus, it can end up blocking the flow of urine from the bladder. That’s why so many elderly men often have so much trouble in emptying their bladder completely, and why they often have to get up several times during the night to pee. Fortunately, this enlargement is preventable.

The prostate is a sex gland, and its growth is driven by sex hormones. The sex hormones in a man’s body are made mainly by his testes but also by his adrenal glands. If he eats dairy products and meat, he can also get a dose of animal hormones in his food. Even meat and milk from organic farms contain the animal’s natural hormones. Dairy products are a particularly potent source of estrogen because dairy cows are milked during their pregnancies.

Plants also have hormones, but their hormones are completely different from ours. Some plant foods, such as soybeans, contain estrogen-like substances called phytoestrogens. However, the phytoestrogens tend to be weaker than natural estrogens. Thus, they could end up reducing the effects of the body’s natural estrogens by competing with natural estrogens for the estrogen receptors. A change to a plant-based diet helps to reduce a man’s exposure to sex hormones.

A diet based on low-fat, unrefined plant foods also helps the body excrete excess sex hormones. In particular, the fiber in unrefined plant foods helps to carry the excess hormones out of the body.

The sex hormones are made out of cholesterol, which is a waxy substance that does not mix with water. Nor do the active forms of the sex hormones mix with water. To be carried around the body by the bloodstream, they have to be bound to a special carrier protein. To get rid of excess sex hormones, the liver converts them to an inactive, water-soluble form that then gets passed out of the body through the kidneys or is carried by the bile into the intestines. If the person is eating a high-fiber diet, the sex hormones can bind to the fiber inside the intestine and be carried swiftly out of the body.  

Unfortunately, if the man is eating the standard American diet, he is eating way too much fat and not nearly enough fiber. When people eat a fatty diet, their bowels tend to contain a large population of the kinds of bacteria that can convert the sex hormones back to the active form. This problem is compounded by low-fiber diet, which causes constipation. The low-fiber diet passes through the bowels so slowly that there will be extra time for those reactivated sex hormones to be reabsorbed. That’s why people who eat fatty, low-fiber diets have trouble eliminating sex hormones. As a result of that problem, they end up with higher risks for hormone-driven diseases, including acne, prostate enlargement, and prostate cancer. Not sexy.

When a man has benign enlargement of the prostate, he simply has too many cells in the prostate. This problem generally results from a hormonal imbalance: too much sex hormone and not enough vitamin D, which is also a hormone. Most people know that vitamin D is important for maintaining calcium balance in the body. However, it is also important for regulating the immune system, and for keeping certain kinds of cells, including benign and cancerous cells of the prostate, from growing out of control.

Most people of European ancestry who live in the northeastern United States can get enough vitamin D through getting a few minutes’ worth of midday sunshine on the face, hands, and arms in the spring, summer, and fall. But since the melanin that makes dark skin dark is a form of sunscreen, darker-skinned people need to spend a lot more time outdoors to get enough vitamin D.

African-American men have the world’s highest risk of prostate cancer. Yet prostate cancer is rare among black men in Africa. That’s because black men in Africa generally eat a diet that is far lower in fat and higher in fiber, and they get plenty of exposure to strong sunlight. In contrast, black men in the United States tend to eat the rich, fatty standard American diet, and they are at particular risk for vitamin D deficiency because of our relatively weak sunshine and their relatively dark skin.

A low-fat, high-fiber, plant-based diet is a promising way to prevent prostate cancer. It can even provide benefits to men who already have prostate cancer. A study led by Dean Ornish, MD, found that this kind of diet could help men with early-stage prostate cancer avoid or delay conventional treatment for at least 2 years.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why Trolls Attack!

For many years, I’ve worked as a technical editor and writer. As a result, I’ve had the privilege of proofreading the work of some truly brilliant, highly educated people. I’ve also had to write highly technical material that was then reviewed by experts. The review process is usually cordial and intellectually stimulating. Educated people are generally grateful when you fix their typos and their dangling participles. They tend to be tough but fair when criticizing your writing. They generally stick to a rational discussion of facts. So I was unprepared for the kind of comments I got from the general public after I started blogging. Occasionally, someone would say something like, “Wow, that’s interesting.” But most of the comments are nothing more than poison pen letters: abusive nonsense intended to serve no other purpose than to provoke an emotional response. In short, I often get attacked by Internet trolls.

I have a Web site ( and a blog ( that explain scientific research about human nutrition. Reactions to my Web site and blog are mixed. People who have actually studied nutrition or dietetics in college or graduate school love my work. However, many people who have no training in nutrition or dietetics hate my work, simply because I tell them things that they do not want to hear. They want to hear that fatty foods are good for them. As a result, they worship the self-appointed nutrition gurus who tell them to eat meat and fish instead of potatoes. They heap scorn on me for pointing out that people who eat a diet based on unrefined starches and vegetables are generally slim and have a low risk of chronic degenerative diseases. As a result, I get a lot of hostile comments on my blog and even some hostile e-mail.

I’m disappointed that nobody seems to post serious comments about the scientific issues I discuss. Instead, the feedback is filled with nonsense, insults, and wild accusations from people who are obviously uneducated. Commenters have told me that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that I don’t care about human health, that I’m in league with some organization whose work I actually oppose, or even that I hate women (because one of several persons whose work I criticized was female). Such comments are not only obnoxious, they are stupid.

The troll metaphor is appropriate for two reasons. First, the trolls of mythology were stupid, ugly, and potentially dangerous (though perhaps slow-moving). Second, the trolls of mythology could operate only under the cover of darkness. They turned to stone in the light of day. Likewise, Internet trolls sit alone with their computers, thrilled by the opportunity to annoy people who would never socialize with them in person.

The first rule of Internet etiquette is “Don’t be a troll.” The second is “Don’t feed the trolls.” The Internet creates an environment where bad behavior is often rewarded but never punished. As any dog trainer can tell you, that’s a recipe for disaster. Never reward a dog for doing something that you dislike. Otherwise, you will essentially be training the dog to misbehave. Similarly, if you respond to Internet trolls in any way other than by deleting stupid comments and blocking repeat offenders, you are rewarding them with attention for behavior that should be discouraged.

I usually delete stupid comments from my blog, unless the stupid comment offers a useful “teachable moment.” Likewise, I generally ignore abusive e-mail, unless I want to get a better understanding of troll psychology. Such correspondence has allowed me to test a theory about trolls. Some trolls are just jerks. They just want to annoy other people. However, some trolls genuinely believe that they are participating in genuine intellectual exchange. These sincere trolls think that what they are saying is true and important. They think that they are dazzling you with their brilliance. If you break off the discussion with them, they imagine that they have “won.” They genuinely don’t realize that they are making fools of themselves.

The sincere trolls are suffering from a problem called the Dunning-Kruger effect. Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger found that people with poor intellectual and social skills typically don’t realize that their skills are poor. Because of their lack of skill, they can’t notice their own mistakes. Nor does anyone in their daily life bring those mistakes to their attention. As a result, people with poor skills end up thinking that their skills are above average. In other words, ignorance and incompetence beget overconfidence. Fortunately, this problem can be solved through training. As the unskilled people’s skills improve, their overconfidence melts away.

There seems to be a distressingly large number of sincere trolls in the United States. I think that the problem stems from failures in our educational system, which I’ve explained in my book Not Trivial: How Studying the Traditional Liberal Arts Can Set You Free ( In the early 20th century, powerful people within our educational establishment decided to promote a method of reading instruction that slows down the rate at which people learn to read and leaves many people functionally illiterate. The rate of learning is so slow that many adults “don’t know much about history, don’t know much biology.” Our educational system also deliberately suppresses the formal teaching of the trivium: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. Yet those are the disciplines that you must learn if you want to go on to have real intellectual dialogues with other people, about any subject.

The sincere trolls have never learned how to parse or reason. Thus, they cannot be persuaded by facts. Nor can they recognize the flaws in their own reasoning, even when those flaws are pointed out to them. As a result, they will be unwilling to learn anything until they discover that they have a lot to learn. Yet they will not make that discovery until after they have already learned a lot. So pity the trolls. Just don’t feed them.