December 15, 2010

Food stuff: staying hungry, nuts to nuts, and the least destructive holiday desserts

- I've mentioned before that the easiest way to give yourself nightmares is to eat carbs in the evening -- that spikes your glucose, which spikes your insulin, which keeps you from burning fat for fuel while you're sleeping and after your glucose has already been burned up. (And obviously you can't snack on more carbs while you're sleeping to get another quick fix of glucose, though for many this simply causes them to get up in the middle of the night for some chips, popcorn, bread, cookies, etc.) So refraining from eating carbs later in the day will drastically improve your sleep, if you're used to eating potatoes, muffins, soda, pizza, pasta, etc. in the evening.

But I've been playing around with not eating anything in the evening every now and then, just to see if there's anything to the intermittent fasting idea. Whenever I do this, I always wake up and get out of bed right away, and never feel more energized. Having used this strategy to great success this morning when I had to wake up at 7am to take a final exam -- and I am not a morning person -- I'm going to stick with it.

How does it work? Let's remember what a meal is -- it's an information signal to your body when it's planning what to do in the near term. Food is not fuel in the short term. If it were, then after eating a decent-sized or large meal, you'd be brimming over with fuel and feel like or at least be capable of lots of activity. In reality, eating a big meal lays you out and nothing could be more impossible than vigorous activity. This mistaken view of food's role comes from our rationalistic worldview, where we impose our own reasons on how the world works, rather than study it empirically. Someone thought up the analogy between food for the body and fuel for the lantern or car, and others found this plausible enough, not bothering to run a basic reality check.

Food does provide fuel for the longer term, but it takes quite awhile for your digestive system to process and store it. Similarly, it's not like when you eat a large amount of salmon, you grow bigger muscles within a matter of hours. In the near term, a meal is an information signal that tells your body that its main job -- finding and eating food -- has been taken care of, so don't bother yourself too much with the types of activities that are involved in getting your next meal, such as physical exertion. (On a mechanistic level, digestion activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the "chill out" functions and inhibits the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the "fight, flight, fright, and fuck" functions.)

If a meal tells your body to shut down and relax until your next big meal needs to be tracked down, then hunger tells your body the opposite -- be prepared to exert yourself and use up however much energy it takes to bring down the giraffe, climb up a tree to steal eggs, or whatever. Especially if you go to bed hungry, you'll have no trouble waking up on time or even early -- your body wants you to waste no time in securing food. If you go to bed with a really full stomach, your body figures you can sleep through and waddle around the better part of the next day and still be fine for fuel, given how much will be in reserve.

These effects all come without the use of caffeine or stronger stimulants.

- For the past several weeks I've experimented by including a lot more nuts and seeds into my diet to see what happened. I've concluded that I'm junking them altogether, aside from a handful here or there throughout the week -- nothing like a couple ounces a day. I was eating mostly almonds and pistachios, though also hazelnuts, and sometimes almond butter. It's hard for me to remember a time since I started low-carb eating when I haven't had many nuts or seeds, but it was like that at first, and then and now I feel better overall. During my high-nuts-and-seeds period, there were times when I'd just feel tired and out of it; thankfully that's gone.

The reason seems to be the high levels of phytic acid in nuts and seeds -- it's also high in pulses, legumes, and grains, but I don't touch that junk in the first place. It interferes with the absorption of many vitamins (including A and D, crucial to the immune system) and minerals, as well as hindering the processing of amino acids (protein). Unfortunately humans lack the enzymes that would break it down. So although nuts and seeds are a lot better than grains and legumes and pulses with respect to carb count, fat profile, and so on, they still have incredibly high levels of phytic acid. It doesn't even take eating pounds of almonds to do it; even moderate levels will interfere with digestion.

Most people around the world who eat such things find ways of getting rid of the phytic acid, mostly by soaking and drying them. But I don't have the patience to soak almonds for 12 hours, dry them properly so they don't get infected, bla bla bla. It's easier to simply find something else to eat. By the way, lots of spice seeds have high levels of phytic acid, but I'm not sure how much of the whole seed finds its way into various condiments. Nevertheless, I've cut mustard out of my diet, and without feeling that I'm really missing anything.

If you're looking for ways to get some carbs into your otherwise low-carb diet, non-starchy vegetables and non-saccharine fruits are a better way to go than nuts and seeds, as they don't have much phytic acid at all.

- With Christmas celebrations just around the corner, I thought I'd pass along some impressions on which desserts have been less destructive in my low-carb experience. Desserts that are all grains and sugars are obviously the worst -- I don't know why I even bothered to eat some (gluten-free) cupcakes at my mother's birthday party two years ago, but I've never felt so sick from food unrelated to pathogens. Cakes, cookies, donuts, muffins -- all that stuff is terrible. Not only is it almost entirely made from glucose-spiking junk, but related to the above point, it's full of phytic acid from the grains that make up the dough, the peanuts if there are any of those, etc.

Next are cakes, pies, etc., with a good amount of dairy in them, such as cheesecakes, carrot cake, and so on. Fat inherently tastes good, so by working a good deal of fat into the dessert -- a lot of it saturated, no less -- we don't need for there to be as much sweetness in order to feel an intense taste. There are proteins in animal milk that we don't digest, and that are probably causally related to acne breakouts (Loren Cordain reviewed evidence of the dairy-acne relationship), but it's typically nothing terrible. And as another plus, dairy lacks high levels of phytic acid.

At the top are two different groups of desserts, but they almost always go together during the holidays that I'm lumping them together -- fruit pies and ice cream. For the reasons above, and because I'm fairly lactose intolerant anyway, I skip dairy-based ice cream (they usually have a ton more sugar) and go for the coconut milk-based ones (avoid soy, almond, and rice -- too much carbs and/or phytic acid). The ones by Coconut Bliss are the best because they're denser and have more fat, so they're richer than the other brands, and taste remarkably like dairy ice cream. They're sweetened with agave syrup, which is very high in fructose and will therefore overload your liver (and give you gout) if you eat too much of it, but if it's just for a dessert or two, no big deal.

With all that fat already in the dessert, you can eat a less sweet pie (and less of it). Unlike cakes or muffins, most fruit pies have their first ingredient as the fruit itself, followed by butter -- more fat! There's still some bad grains in the crust, but this is about as low as you can get your grain consumption while still enjoying holiday desserts. Fortunately, most of the fruits used in pies are among the least saccharine -- there are all sorts of berry pies, as well as cherry, apple, and peach, whereas there are no widely available banana or mango or fig pies. If you're gluten intolerant, Whole Foods makes their own, and they're great. Over Thanksgiving I tried cherry, apple, and peach, and they were all fantastic. Just break them apart a little, heat them in the toaster oven, and have them with some vanilla-flavored coconut milk ice cream -- delicious.

The pies are about 5 or 6 inches across at the top, and maybe 2 inches tall. If you take a quarter of one of these, that's about 40 g of net carbs for the apple, peach, and cherry pies (a bit more for the pecan one, and even more for pumpkin). Add to that a quarter of a pint of the ice cream, and that's another 16 g, so that the entire dessert would have 56 g of net carbs. Just make sure you don't eat grains, starches, or sugars elsewhere in the day and you're still doing pretty well by low-carb standards (40-60 g or less per day is the goal). Hell, even if you splurge and have two of these desserts in a day, that's slightly over 100 g of net carbs. By comparison, two of those gluten-free cupcakes I had would contain 128 g -- and would not have tasted nearly as great as half of a smallish pie and half a pint of ice cream.


  1. Thanks for this. How long before you go to sleep should you refrain from eating?

    Why don't you make a fruit salad for christmas dessert? Or have a look at son of grok's primal cheesecake. Its dairy intensive but has no other crap.

    Also, if I eat apple pie or something then I use a spoon or fork and avoid eating the crust, thereby avoiding the worst of the grain.

    Find a sugar free whipped cream or use normal cream to garnish your apple pie instead of ice cream.

    Mark @ Marks Daily Apple had a list of primal desserts.

    Inform your relatives that you prefer extremely dark chocolate (i.e 70% and above) to avoid getting stuck with the overly sugary stuff. Also, the darker the chocolate, the more magnesium.

    - Breeze

  2. the problem is getting to sleep on an empty stomach . . . it takes some habituation.

  3. You can always volunteer to make the holiday desert. Since I have a stepmom I've become sensitive to these things that build relationship capital; she really appreciates having one less thing to worry about getting ready in the kitchen. And it's a chance to Represent how great 'high-fat Paleo' food can be.

    Deserts that substitute almond flour for grain flours and coconut oil or ghee for veg oils actually taste a lot better rather than seeming like the second-rate knock offs that most 'healthy gluten-free' deserts are. Dark chocolate and honey are also your friends when it comes to sweeteners.

  4. Is this what modern man has come to: quaking in terror at a cupcake?

  5. No, it's come to whining about exercising self-discipline.

  6. Castanga: You are mistaking disgust for terror.


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