February 4, 2011

A candy bar diet when you're sick?

During the winter holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's) I go off my paleo diet and eat grains (mostly in the form of pie crusts), starches (French fries), and sugars (any kind of sweet). That naturally puts me at a greater risk of getting sick, but it's a small price to pay in order to enjoy some junk food for a little bit during the year.

A couple weeks ago I ended up with bronchitis, which is typical when I get sick. I can't remember the last time I got a fever, nausea, etc. Since I was already knocked out healthwise, and since I had already blown my low-carb diet, I figured I might as well use this unique opportunity to do some self-experimentation and eat only or mostly candy bars in order to get better -- or at least not get any sicker.

Now that may sound like the stupidest idea you've ever heard, but it came from two basic facts about the link between diet and health:

1) When you get infected, the pathogens go straight for iron as their food source. One of your bodies natural defenses when you get infected is to squirrel away the iron, giving you somewhat anemic symptoms. (Many first-world do-gooders who try to spread public health in the third world see these symptoms, freak out about anemia, load them up with iron, and see them drop dead a few days later, after the pathogens just got a gigantic free meal.)

So cutting down on your consumption of iron is good. Unfortunately that eliminates a lot of animal foods that form the bulk of a paleo diet, especially liver. Sure, it would have been even healthier to try a low-iron food that wasn't also loaded with sugar, but the point remains that candy has little iron in it.

2) Infections are more numerous and last longer when you eat a lot of phytic acid, although sugar intake doesn't seem to be as strong of a factor. I am too lazy to look up the reference, but there was a dental study done decades ago (the 1920s if memory serves), where they varied the diet of subjects and checked for cavities, gum disease, etc. Those who had low sugar and low phytic acid (found in nuts, beans, and grains) did well, but so did those who only had their phytic acid cut but still were allowed some jelly and molasses. Phytic acid is a powerful antinutrient that blocks the absorption of vitamins and minerals. Sugar will screw up your metabolism, but by itself won't put you at greater risk of infection or prolonged infections in the short term.

So cutting out phytic acid is good. There are ways to trick it into leaving the nut, bean, or grain (like soaking oats or almonds for a day and letting them dry in just the right way), but nobody does that because it's too much of a hassle. Not consuming them at all is best.

By eating candy bars, I got a wheelbarrow full of sugar that would probably mess up my metabolism for a little while, but I chose candy that had little or no phytic acid in it -- ones that didn't grains like wheat or rice (there goes 100 Grand or Nestle Crunch), no nuts (there goes Almond Joy), and no pulses (there goes Payday). I did eat some that had tiny bits of almond, like Hershey nuggets with toffee and almonds, or that had "peanut butter" like Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. The main ingredient of this peanut butter is sugar, and there are hardly any peanuts in it. I did have some Baby Ruths once in awhile, and those do have whole peanuts, but I stopped that soon.

I easily ate over 100 grams of carbs -- sugars -- a day for the better part of a week to 10 days, sometimes upwards of 200 or even close to the recommended target of 300 g a day. It sure did fuck up my metabolism, as I put on a couple pounds and had both a slight headache after eating and a heavier one on waking up. I was in sugar crash mode, unlike during ketosis when you're burning only fat, so it was harder to keep going all day long without having a snack. If I had kept this up, I would certainly get the symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome, except for obesity (I cannot put on much extra fat) -- diabetes, heart disease, etc. But it wasn't long enough to really mess that stuff up.

But as far as dealing with the infection went, I did just fine. It didn't get worse (I remember from college when it got much worse), and when I went on the candy bar diet I got a bit better. It wasn't just coincidence, like I started this crazy diet once I was already getting better, as I varied it up just to make sure. A couple times I tried out a traditional Atkins kind of meal or two, and it got worse the next day, again probably because of the iron I had donated to the pathogens.

I should also mention that I drank almost only coconut milk (the watered down kind you get in cartons, not the solid stuff in cans) or cultured coconut milk (the former plus some live cultures to make it a bit thicker and like kefir). First, it makes chocolate bars taste so much better to have some kind of rich drink to go with it, and coconut milk is almost entirely made of saturated fat. It also has antiviral properties, owing to the big dose of lauric acid in coconuts, which you can't really get anywhere else at that concentration (there's some in dairy, and nothing in anything else). So I'm sure I got a big help from that too, not just the low-iron and low-phytic acid candy bars.

It probably also helped that I only ate candy that had loads of fat and especially saturated fat, not just empty sugar. Chocolate bars are one of the few places you can still get coconut oil from, which again has the antiviral lauric acid. Everything I ate was mostly milk chocolate, with a few other things mixed in (any nuts were barely there), and never something like jelly beans, Twizzlers, gummy worms, lollipops, etc. Just what all did the diet include?

Regular items:
- Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
- Hershey nuggets, milk chocolate with toffee and almonds
- Cadbury milk chocolate bar with raisins and almonds
- Toblerone milk chocolate bar

Here and there stuff:
- Oh Henry! bar (a couple days)
- Baby Ruth bars (for a day or two)
- Lindt stracciatella truffles (one day)
- Cadbury milk chocolate bar with Irish creme (one day)
- Hershey bar with almonds, and Heath bar (one day, as a substitute for the Hershey nuggets)

For old times' sake I was about to try out Butterfinger, 5th Avenue, Mr. Goodbar, and Watchamacallit. But as I mentioned a few days ago, in 2008 these brands all got stripped of milk chocolate and had a bunch of inflammatory polyunsaturated junk oils (all from vegetable sources, like soybean oil) in place of cocoa butter. I trust that shows up in the standard-of-living indexes -- real chocolate to fake chocolate, and at a higher price adjusted for inflation than in the early-mid 1990s when I last remember buying candy bars.

This was not an ideal diet -- as I mentioned, I was in sugar crash mode and got some headaches -- but when you're sick it's a hell of a lot better than the typical agricultural diet loaded with grains, nuts, beans, etc. My vegetarian (really about 90% vegan) housemate got sick at least a week before me and is still sick, while I've been pretty good for the past 5 to 7 days. With that diet, you get not only the screwed up metabolism that I got from my candy bars, but a much more vicious infection from all that phytic acid in the grains, nuts, seeds, and beans. This was mostly just to play around with my diet and see how bad things would be, since I won't get the chance to in a long while, as I rarely get sick.

And hey, someone's got to gorge on candy bars in the name of scientific research. I defy the stupidity of expert nutritional advice when I follow a hunter-gatherer sort of diet, so I might as well be the one to try going against their advice in a different direction.

I'm back on my paleo diet, though it was a tough transition -- once you eat boatloads of carbs, as most people do, it's tough to quit cold turkey unless you have really appetizing alternatives. Luckily I didn't have much time to make dinner tonight, so I just dropped by and ate in the nearby Burger King -- four bacon Buck Doubles with no bun and no ketchup, and some water to drink. Nothing like a pound of beef, four full strips of bacon, four slices of cheese, and some pickles to cure you of your sweet tooth. A couple hours ago I had some salmon salad (red salmon with bones and skin, mashed up with olive oil), a few slices of pepperoni, and some cherry peppers. Now I've got the biggest hankerin' for some Brazilian barbecue, not for more Peanut Butter Cups, delicious as they are.


  1. Caleb Cooper2/4/11, 9:05 AM

    Glucose is actually a vital component of the immune response.

    One of the reason we want to avoid excess Carbs is that fats burn clean when the mitochondria use them as a fuel source, while Glucose produces a bunch of cell damaging Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS). The immune system takes advantage of this though to kill foreign invaders. Macrophages wrap themselves around extracellular pathogens and start to burn glucose like crazy, bombarding those bastards with lethal doses of free radicals (The Respiratory burst of phagocytes. J Clin Invest, 1984).

    To limit the splash damage to surrounding tissue from these Respiratory Bursts, we need the main antioxidant of the body, glutathione. If the body does not have sufficient glutathione it probably down-regulates Macrophage activity to avoid excessive collateral damage from glucose burning.

    One of the valuable functions of Vitamin C is that it recyles/raises Glutathione levels (Vitamin C elevates red blood cell glutathione, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). The body produces it's own Vitamin C by recycling glucose; the vast majority of animals are able to synthesize their own vitamin C, through a sequence of four enzyme-driven steps, which convert glucose to vitamin C. (Wikipedia, Vitamin C).

    Glucose is also needed to produce the Glycoprotein Mucin, one of the main components of mucus, which helps catch the bad guys. So, yeah, when you're sick the bodies glucose requirements may be significantly higher.

  2. I found something far more effective...supplementing with a liquid vitamin D3 everyday...about 5,000 I.U.

    But when I'm exposed to people with germs - like when my wife caught the flu last month, or a head cold last week - I up the dosage to 10,000 I.U. a day for several days.

    It works like a charm.

    I got the idea from Richard Nikoley over at Free the Animal.

  3. I was thinking of the inevitable colds and other mild infectious ailments we all come down with. It occurred to me that I have not caught a cold in over a year. Which is at odds with my normal cycle of coming down with at least 2 during the normal year. I have not altered my diet or risk factors at all. I still take public transportation to work a few times per week (a real hotbed of microbes) and my son still trudges in stuff from his classmates all the time (in fact, he's got a cold right now). The only thing I have changed in the past year and few months has been intermittent fasting and cold showers. I have absolutely no idea if "hormetism" is a vital ingredient to health, but the timing is interesting.

  4. You've just lived the dream of many small children.

    Unmarried Man, did you read about the study on how flu spreads? Merely sitting next to a classmate with flu doesn't seem to increase your odds of coming down with it, being friends with someone does. And parents don't seem to get it from their kids.

  5. What are some other low-iron, low-phytic acid choices for the non-candy meals?

    Sounds like root vegetables and dairy protein are good?


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