Since late 2016 we have entered the age of disclosures! Fasten your mental safety belt and enjoy the ride! Heretic

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Peasants on high animal fat & potato diet - very healthy!


Pommes De Terre Au Lard or Speckkartoffeln (Bacon Potatoes).

According to this paper (thanks JC):
"The value of whole potato in human nutrition",
by Stanislaw Kazimiarz Kon and Aniela Klein, State School of Hygiene, Warsaw, Poland.
(Received December 29th, 1927.)


The potato is a very important constituent of the diet of many civilised nations, and it may be considered to furnish, with bread, the bulk of the food of the rural population of such countries as Poland and Russia. There is little doubt that the Polish or Russian peasant is nevertheless very healthy and able to do extremely hard work under trying conditions. Deficiency diseases such as beriberi, pellagra or scurvy are practically unknown in Poland.
The diet consisted of potatoes, supplemented with butter or pork fat with the addition of a few fruits (apples and pears); tea or black coffee and sugar were also occasionally taken. The amount of fat consumed was not accurately estimated, it varied from 120-150 g.

They consumed between 1-1.7kg of potatoes daily, which amount to about 200-300g of carbohydrates, thus given the amount of animal fat they consumed, works out at 50% (roughly) fat diet by calories. It is hard to estimate it more accurately, since the pre-WWII traditional Eastern European breed of potatoes that they probably used contained more protein and less starch than the high yielding post-WWII varieties. They also tasted much better (H).


Paul Jaminet said...

Very close to Perfect Health Diet proportions!

Gabrielle said...

I am half Irish and half Russian. I am constantly reading that potatoes are harmful, yet none of my relatives had issues with them in regards to their health. In fact, while I personally do best on a very low carb diet, eating potatoes never seems to bother me. Perhaps it is my genetic background but I truly do not believe that a real, whole, non-GMO potato is contributing to anyone's health issues. Thank you for posting this article.

Christoph Dollis said...

I think potatoes are probably not harmful to those whose metabolisms haven't been damaged by a huge amount of fructose and other refined sugars, beginning in many cases prenatally.

Paul and Heretic, I do have a question though: Don't you think it's likely that many people whose metabolisms have been so damaged will not be able to tolerate much carbohydrate, including potatoes?

Christoph Dollis said...

I expound upon this in a FB post, which I reproduce below:

This is sad, and I believe it to be true, I'm pretty sure of it:

High-carb babies set up for lifetime of weight gain and obesity: Study

I'll add a nuance to this.

I think it's likely that most people would be fine if they and their mothers (and possibly fathers as well, because epigenetic changes can definitely be passed on somewhat through sperm and egg) had almost a fairly large amount of natural carbohydrates and ratios of carbohydrates: for example, potatoes and fat with a little fruit, veg, and protein.

[link to this very post: Peasants on high animal fat & potato diet - very healthy! on Heretic]

But I think millions of people in Canada alone and hundreds upon hundreds of millions of people around the world have had their metabolisms sabotaged by a recent in terms of human history (last 35 years or so) vast overconsumption of fructose and other refined sugars (fructose is particularly harmful: it generates less of an insulin response, which you would think would be good, but it has terrible downstream metabolic effects in excess including damaging the liver through non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is rampant, and lowering insulin sensitivity, which is catastrophic).

This overcompensation really took off with the completely wrongheaded idea that humans needed to lower their fat intake. This lead people to eat more carbohydrate, often sugar, because that's what the food companies pumped into food to make up for the fact that the fat was removed and the food would taste awful without it.

Thus was the obesity and diabetes era born. These food companies have killed millions upon millions of people and lowered the quality of life for probably a billion or more, minimum. But it was the politicians too (and mostly). They led the charge to horrible effect.

Nixon, George McGovern, others ... frankly hurt nearly as many people as Hitler, probably more once all is said and done. Does that sound extreme?

Well yeah, it does to me too. Unfortunately the data supports it.

The men who made us fat on Zoë Harcombe

They did this for political reasons, to lower the cost of food and allow the food companies to get away with putting really cheap, but nearly deadly, quantities of fructose and refined junk in food. They were most definitely warned, including by the head of the National Academy of Sciences, at the time that this was a reckless experiment. But they did it.

You may be one of those who paid the terrible price, and if not, you know people, love people, who are paying it ... if they're still alive.

Stan Bleszynski said...

I think it is very likely! People with metabolic syndrome or diabetes type 2 may not be able to metabolise that much starch in a day, especially in the presence of fat. I often look at the Health Issues section of a certain vegetarian forum and I keep seeing posts from diabetics asking why is their blood sugar spiking to way above 200mg/dl (11mmol/L) after a potato dinner without any fat at all! Many diabetics can probably attest to that.

Christoph Dollis said...

I should have added that fructose also lowers leptin sensitivity, which might be worse in some ways, in terms of overeating and obesity. However that's really a flipside of the insulin coin.

Christoph Dollis said...

Typo correction:

"had almost a fairly large amount of natural carbohydrates and ratios of carbohydrates"

Should be:

"had consumed a fairly large amount of natural carbohydrates and ratios of carbohydrates"

Christoph Dollis said...

Stan, thanks for your reply. That prompted a thought.

The main criticism I hear about Perfect Health Diet from people who generally like its message, such as John Briffa, for example, a very nice fellow who was talking about it in a podcast, is that while it may be a great diet for most people, and in some ways close to what our ancestral humans ate in a state of nature ...

(unlike many people, I actually lived off the land as a teenager for a few months, and I know that tubers and rhizomes are part of the diet: I had a native food guide with me, for the coastal natives of British Columbia, Canada, and not only did I read about this, I did it! ... along with animals, fish, and fats, for sure : so anyone who says most hunter-gatherers groups didn't eat starchy plant organs during the warmer months is just mad)

... but we don't exist in a state of nature. We exist in the Coca Cola, Pepsi, political-nutrition, diabetes, obesity, heart disease era.

Dr. Briffa made a point about blood sugar testing and if your craving control and blood sugar control go out the window when you eat potatoes, well you shouldn't then. People with these sorts of extremely common metabolic disorders probably can't handle PHD.

Sure, it's better than SAD, but it's just delaying somewhat the inevitable damage to their bodies, instead of LC which could effectively cure it.

I think this is something an in-the-trenches (but nutritionally enlightened) medical clinician like John Briffa is able to get more than a theoretist (who granted has gained a lot more experience since publishing the first addition of his book) like Paul Jaminet, even though he is a clearly smart man, to the point where he is a physicist like yourself.

Now, does Paul Jaminet intellectually understand everything I said? I'm certain he does. But in promoting his diet which would be a great sustainable prophylactic diet for the population at large, and a curative diet for many with mild to moderate metabolic conditions, I don't think he gives it quite the degree of airing, emphasis, and focus that it needs, because of a lot of people who seek out PHD will be in that severely-metabolically-damaged population. Which is a whole lot of people in the modern world.

That's my general sense of things.

Now I'll add a nuance to the nuance.

I suspect — and this is both theoretical and observational from me, not based on a wealth of experience — that even metabolically-damaged people who had the psychological control to actually do this would benefit from occasional higher-carb eating of so-called

Christoph Dollis said...

"safe starches", as a type of hormetic stress to challenge the system in basically the reverse of the way that intermittent fasting does. But if a person found this led to days of high-carb eating, even on potatoes and rice, for many this would be a grievous error.

Finally, speaking of emotional control, there is scant attention paid in the nutrition blogosphere to the psychological variables that lead one person to be able to exert greater psychological change over their eating and dietary habits and another to not be able to, or find it much more of a longer-term challenge.

Wonderful work was done in a famous psychological study called the "ACE Study" or "Adverse Childhood Experiences" Study.

It is pretty well known in psychological circles, but almost ignored in diet circles.

This is utterly regrettable, because the ACE study began with studying obesity — the psychologial conditions that led to why some adults ended up overweight. It morphed into a general psychological study providing enormous insights into the problems that childhood trauma (including neglect, divorce, corporal punishment, not just those things widely agreed on as abusive — note that that's my view: the study focused more on outright abuse and other adverse experiences) causes a person throughout a lifetime, middle ages, and beyond.

There's a startling correlation with a high-ACE sore and a high incidence of obesity. (And other seemingly physiological problems, such as cancer.)

This may be due to a variety of factors. An obvious physiological explanation is the damage we know cortisol does to insulin/leptin sensitivity. That is probably huge and should not be understated.

Plausible, though, is also the use of food as an emotional coping mechanism throughout life for anxiety and depression, brought about by these adverse childhood experiences.

More attention needs to be paid to 1. not traumatising children through neglect, yelling, divorce (if possible), and most certainly not through spanking, cutting, and other hitting (this is my view: whether or not spanking is directly harmful, and a growing body of data says it is which is why it has been banned in many jurisdictions starting with Sweden, it opens the door to even more harmful forms of abuse by making hitting children — the only group of humans, counting criminals, whom it is legally permissable to hit — socially acceptable at all); 2. providing children, especially very young children, with more love, attention, and physical affection — nurturing touch is extremely important for the human brain, especially when young; 3. emphasising greater cortisol and stress-control awareness in the general population, such as yoga nidra and other techniques that can help to resolve trauma, create a greater sense of wellbeing, and make emotional control over eating choices more effortless.

This could lead to a virtuous instead of destructive cycle of improved mental and physical wellbeing in the many obese people who are suffering from the long-term effects of less than ideal childhoods ... including, yes, the modelling of food-selection choices from their caregivers.

Here are two interviews of Vincent J. Felitti, MD, one of the principle co-authors of this, the largest study looking into the effects that childhood trauma causes in later life, that I would ardently believe it would behoove you both to watch, especially the second one:

Interview 1

Interview 2

Puddleg said...

"I keep seeing posts from diabetics asking why is their blood sugar spiking to way above 200mg/dl (11mmol/L) after a potato dinner without any fat at all!"
Well the fat would have slowed the glycemic rise. Also consider the cooking methods; if potatoes were cooled and held over they would be lower GI, also stewing and keeping cooking water would be better for retaining electrolytes and vitamins.
Pre-famine Irish diets were potato based with buttermilk, black pudding, and salted fish as protein/fat. These were said to be the healthiest though poorest poor in Europe (everyone else depending on bread to various extents - bread seems to have been unknown to the Irish poor).
A friend of mine went to the eastern USSR in the 1980s and said that a common convenience food was salt fish preserved in hard fat, probably lard.

Puddleg said...

There have been a few studies lately that seem to show saturated animal fats to be protective against diabetes. Some of these attain a high order of refinement for epidemiological studies; these 2 prospective studies look for a trans-fat in serum that's mainly associated with ruminant fats (and hence saturated fat)- and use a real disease diagnosis (DM2) as an end point.

In multivariate analyses, whole-fat dairy consumption was most strongly associated with higher trans-palmitoleate levels. Higher trans-palmitoleate levels were associated with slightly lower adiposity and, independently, with higher high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels (1.9% across quintiles; P = 0.040), lower triglyceride levels (-19.0%; P < 0.001), a lower total cholesterol-HDL cholesterol ratio (-4.7%; P < 0.001), lower C-reactive protein levels (-13.8%; P = 0.05), and lower insulin resistance (-16.7%, P < 0.001). Trans-palmitoleate was also associated with a substantially lower incidence of diabetes, with multivariate hazard ratios of 0.41 (95% CI, 0.27 to 0.64) and 0.38 (CI, 0.24 to 0.62) in quintiles 4 and 5 versus quintile 1 (P for trend < 0.001). Findings were independent of estimated dairy consumption or other fatty acid dairy biomarkers. Protective associations with metabolic risk factors were confirmed in the validation cohort.

JC said...

"Nixon, George McGovern, others ... frankly hurt nearly as many people as Hitler, probably more once all is said and done. Does that sound extreme?"

Not only extreme but dead wrong.No one paid any attention to George McGovern or anyone else on the question of diet.I was in college at the time 1968-1972 and no one I know altered their dietary habit one bit.(old or young)

Smoking is down from that era but not as much as you would think given the absolute proof its poison.I don't think very many people make dietary changes based on so called research.

JC said...

Join this debate here:

Paul Jaminet said...

Christoph, interesting comments from John Briffa, I hadn't heard that.

I discussed those issue at some length in the so-called Safe Starches Debate. They are a bit complex for quick answers, but just a few points:

1) Cravings can sometimes indicate an eating disorder or a gut infection that flares when carbs are eaten, but sometimes the food reward system of the brain is working properly and the cravings indicate a genuine need for nutrients in that food. We have had many people adopt PHD from low-carb diets, feel a strong craving for sugar or carbs that leads to binging while on VLC, but after 3-4 weeks on PHD the cravings disappear because their bodies are adequately nourished with carbs.

2) It's important to eat potatoes as part of a meal with fat, vegetables, and acid, otherwise blood glucose levels are likely to rise postprandially. Also, it's important to eat carbs regularly, else you will be insulin resistant.

3) Diabetics often do better with 20-25% carbs than on lower-carb diets. We have had a number of readers report this.

4) Metabolic disorders that make carbs difficult to handle are not incurable. Usually they are caused by SIBO or other infections that have spread to nearby organs, such as pancreas and liver. A good diet helps to heal that.

5) The ill effects of high carb diets begin at levels of carbs that distort metabolism, ie shift cells from fat to glucose burning. You have to eat more than about 30% carbs for this to happen. Brain, immune, kidney, digestive, and extracellular matrix needs utilize the first 30%. It is stressful to the body not to provide that 30% and many people develop adrenal dysfunction on VLC diets.

So, some people do have difficulty eating carbs but I see this as diagnostic for specific health problems, which are fixable, rather than as normal individual variations that should be accepted and accommodated with a VLC diet.

Also, VLC and ketogenic diets can be therapeutic for some conditions, so they have a place. I just don't think they are optimal, generally speaking.

Puddleg said...

JC, fast food franchises switched the fats in their fryers from tallow to oil because of ideas like McGovern's, and Nixon's subsidies saw HCFS replace cane sugar in beverages.
So regardless of whether you think you were influenced, your diet changed.
Many people are in fact influenced in purchasing by the ideas in the media.
For example, in the 70s you couldn't buy a loaf of wholemeal bread outside a hippie granola shop, now a significant amount of bread sold in supermarkets is "wholegrain". You couldn't buy foods with soy in them; now everything has added soy protein.
Even the sausages you buy today are different because of those recommendations. Unless you have eaten Paleo or vegan your entire life your diet has been changed in countless ways.

Christoph Dollis said...

Thanks so much for the detailed reply and tips, Paul.

I am considering your information not just as an academic exercise, but for myself, so I really appreciate it. In fact I just made my best, I'm sure highly flawed, attempt to present your point of view to a commenter at Andreas Eenfeldt's LCHF Diet Doctor blog who had this to say today:

"There is nothing healthy about eating sugar, no matter if it's natural or not."

About Briffa's critique of higher-carb eating for severely metabolically-damaged people, I mistakenly said that Dr. Briffa was referring to you in his podcast, when in fact he had named Stephan Guyenet, but I had just started reading your blog and I juxtaposed your names since yours was on my mind --- my apology for the mixup.

That said, I dug up the podcast episode from John Briffa in question, and the relevant bit is right at the beginning.

"Why I'm letting the big debate in nutrition wash over me ...."

He presents a compelling common-sense and clinically-experienced counterargument to your position, and I feel the difference may either be:

(1) you're wrong in this case

(2) he's right short-term — the numbers and behaviour don't lie — but if one persisted with PHD, the metabolism would heal and one would end up better off than if following his method

I don't know which of those is true at all, but I have a feeling if 2 is true, Dr. Briffa would actually be interested in that and open to learning the idea because he just is that way.

If you ever got around to having an on-air discussion with Dr. Briffa (despite his saying he's staying out of the debate lol), that would be fascinating. But my wishes do not have to become your commands! To say the least.

Thanks again for the info, Paul, and for you and your wife's work promoting a diet that, even if it turns out it isn't ideal for everyone, is many times healthier than the diet I and billions of others were raised on.

Finally, Professor Tim Noakes tweets here in reply to a tweet I made (with Stan the Heretic's post in mind) and agrees basically with Briffa, but also you ... that higher carb can be healthy for those people whose metabolisms haven't been sabotaged by excess fructose/refined sugar:

"Agreed. Nutritional advice wrong when promoted fear of fat for commercial not health reasons. Eat carbs if carb tolerant"

Paul Jaminet said...

Hi Christoph,

I sent John a copy of our book, maybe we'll be able to do something after the UK edition of our book comes out in the fall.

I like your tweet to Tim Noakes. Of course there were heart attacks before 1921, but it wasn't a recognized diagnostic category because people with heart disease would always die of infectious diseases first. Only after infectious disease mortality decreased did we see high rates of CVD. The pattern of CVD death rates suggests heart attacks are a delayed effect of less virulent infections. It's likely that sugar and omega-6 fats both contributed to the rise of CVD, but also that childhood infections were important also.

Christoph Dollis said...

Yes, good point, Paul.

I half-typed about omega-6/margarine when I wrote my last comment, but erased it because I didn't include it in my original tweet and comment, partly due to space and partly I know Tim's primary is on sugar/carbs now.

It makes sense that of course heart disease would have existed earlier, and even the mummies that Drs. Eades talk about in Protein Power prove that.

Definite rise though, and the obesity/diabetes levels are unprecedented and hideous.

Not sure why people with heart disease in the past "always" would die of infectious disease first. Mechanism for that mystifies me since while infectious disease was super common, heart disease can kill suddenly or soon enough.

I tend to believe there has been a genuine and large increase in actual heart disease.

Main points on which we can agree: healthy, breast-fed, vaginally-delivered (for beneficial flora), non-antibiotic-receiving people did not go on to develop obesity en masse before about 35 years ago, mainly due to the factors you mentioned in your last comment. VLC carb diet was not widely followed then, nor was it universally followed year-round by most hunter-gatherer groups (including many Inuit groups in the summer).

[Nonetheless, VLC diet was largely recognised in both medicine and the common culture as effective for weight control and diabetes management despite not being primary human diet.]

I, in an effort to help more people in an area that is admittedly near to my heart, wish that I could convince you to take a look at the ACE Study videos above, though, and consider how these psychological (and physical, such as cortisol levels, brain changes, etc.) traumas during childhood and life contribute to obesity and may partly explain why some people stay lean and others don't even in our unhealthy food environment.

Yes, diabesity is largely a disease of poverty, but food quality may not be the only cause: emotional trauma ripple effects as well, co-linked with poverty and lack of success/happiness.

It's a complex system, but psychology is a factor, not only food biochemistry.

Knowledge of how to integrate emotional trauma relief and stress reduction techniques into your readers' and clients' lives could not only aid physiologically through less cortisol/better insulin and leptin sensitivity, but may also aid a higher percentage of people in adhering to the diet and other healthy changes instead of relapse into anxiety coping mechanisms due to increased sense of mental wellbeing and relaxation.

Good talking with you!

Christoph Dollis said...

"Nixon, George McGovern, others ... frankly hurt nearly as many people as Hitler, probably more once all is said and done. Does that sound extreme?"

Not only extreme but dead wrong.No one paid any attention to George McGovern or anyone else on the question of diet.I was in college at the time 1968-1972 and no one I know altered their dietary habit one bit.(old or young)

Smoking is down from that era but not as much as you would think given the absolute proof its poison.I don't think very many people make dietary changes based on so called research.

It's a really large group of people, JC. I don't think it's just the two men plus Ancel Keyes.

And as Paul Jaminet and Heretic both point out here, and even low carb advocate's Tim Noakes and John Briffa would probably agree, it (lowering fat 10%, raising carbs roughly 10%) may not have been as much as a problem if it had been potatoes.

But the politicians were in bed with the food companies and their profiteering, and instead they pumped food full of fructose and such, plus omega-6, margarine, trans-fats, etc., as saturated fat became vilified.

Taken as a group, yes I believe this unholy alliance of politicians and cynical food companies shifted the human diet to near-"genocidal" proportions as Tim Noakes retweeted a little after I made the same point here yesterday.

Christoph Dollis said...


When I say "it" (lowering fat 10%, raising carbs roughly 10%), I'm talking about the goal more than the reality. I don't have the data handy, but I doubt the lowering of fat was actually 10%. I know it was somewhat.

Regardless of the actual number, it was replaced with really really bad substances, when eaten in such quantity.

Stan Bleszynski said...

Re: 5) The ill effects of high carb diets begin at levels of carbs that distort metabolism, ie shift cells from fat to glucose burning. You have to eat more than about 30% carbs for this to happen. Brain, immune, kidney, digestive, and extracellular matrix needs utilize the first 30%. It is stressful to the body not to provide that 30% and many people develop adrenal dysfunction on VLC diets.

I think it would be worth reviewing Dr. Jan Kwasniewski's experience in this issue, based on his medical practice from 1960-ties till 80-ties. According to him the threshold is not determined by 30% of carbohydrates, but rather by having more than 45% energy out of fats. As long as his patients (Polish fighter pilots) ate between 35 to 45% of calories out of fat, they were prone to obesity and diabetes, as soon as the proportion of fat went below 35% or above 45% of the total calories, the risk was diminishing.

In the case of that Polish paper from 1927, the subjects ate about 50% out of fat and probably 40% of carbs. They also were physically very active.

Based on that, your guidelines expressed in terms of carbohydrates alone (30% for non-diabetics!) seem to agree with Kwasniewski's observation, as long as the fat constitutes 50% or more. Kwasniewski was also not recommending vegetable oils nor margarine.

What concerns adrenal dysfunction and VLC, I have a personal observation. During the first 6 months when I started eating high animal fat low carb in 1999, I was eating zero carbs, I had an episode of tachycardia. Rapid heart beat that lasted a day and a half. My Chinese doctor diagnosed it as adrenal dysfunction (he used different terms) at that time managed to help me with some herbal treatment. I never had it since then, but I also added some carbs to my diet (about 20g/day back then, and about 50g now, in form of vegetables including potatoes).

My theory (opinion) about it is that the lack of carbs was not a direct cause of it, but an inability of my liver to quickly produce the required glucose out of protein (dysfunctional de novo glucogenesis). Resulting hypoglycemia triggered adrenal hormones and adrenal hormone burst may have triggered in turn the thyroid hormones overproduction which led to tachycardia. I believe it was specific to me not a general property of the zero carbohydrate diet. Also, an addition of even a small amount (20g or 5% of total cal.) has completely prevented any further reoccurence of this problem. Thus I am not sure if your statement of 30% carbs being the optimal level can be fully supported, it may depend on the particular case - age, physical activity, metabolic status etc. It is an interesting general question, if an optimum diet can indeed be expressed in terms of protein, carbs and fat? Dr. Kwasniewski theory (see book "Homo Optimus") postulates that it can be. I think so too but I also suspect that there exist two optima not just one: the low fat optimum and the high fat optimum.


Christoph Dollis said...

As physicists with a good grounding in mathematics, you'll both know that such a system with two stable ranges is hardly unknown.

So it's plausible.

Christoph Dollis said...

How Childhood Trauma Can Cause Adult Obesity

Dr. Vincent Felitti, founder of Kaiser Permanente's Department of Preventive Medicine and director of its obesity-treatment program, was seeing some good results. His patients were losing 50, 80, even hundreds of pounds. He might have considered the program a success, if not for the fact that the participants who were doing the best — those who were both the most obese and losing the most weight — kept dropping out.

Felitti was baffled. Why, invariably, did so many patients quit just as they approached their healthy goal weight? Ella, for instance, a middle-aged woman who entered the program in the mid-1980s morbidly obese at 295 lb., had managed to whittle her frame by 150 lb. over six months. "Instead of being happy, she was having anxiety attacks and was terrified," Felitti says.


So, as I mentioned, the longest-running, best-known study on childhood trauma in the world began with a study on obesity, by a doctor specialising in obesity no less.

How this has not received more attention in the diet/obesity treatment sphere is pretty astounding.

Except for, of course, everyone is so busy debating macronutrient rations, they don't look at other relevant factors.

You can get all the diet factors right, but if the psychology isn't there, people will run screaming inside from success, very often. There's a reason for the frequent relapses in dietary changes.

Christoph Dollis said...


John said...


That's an interesting experience. I wonder about the mineral intake of many "low carbers" as well. Potatoes etc will provide high amounts of water soluble vitamins and minerals, and I could see many Atkins types to have a probably low overall micronutrient intake. Shellfish and liver are good for that. I don't know how much of a difference it makes, but it's certain that non-industrial rurals eat nothing like the typical low carb/paleo. Blood, bile, marrow, eyes, tendon, skin, etc are used regularly, while to westerners those things are rare.

Why do you think old potatoes were lower in starch and higher in protein? I would guess the same, but I have never much looked into it nor am aware of evidence.

Stan Bleszynski said...

Re: "Why do you think old potatoes were lower in starch and higher in protein? I would guess the same, but I have never much looked into it nor am aware of evidence."

I remember a campaign among Polish farmers and some agricultural experts in the 1970-ties to restore some of the old potatoes breeds that were at that time rapidly declining. That is Polish farmers tried to re-cultivate "Alba" breed (I am quoting from memory, not 100% sure of the exact spelling) which was said to have a significantly higher protein contents, which back then was universally regarded by doctors and nutritionists as desirable, where as the newer high yielding varieties were higher in starch, bigger, faster growing and quite watery. The old "Alba" were yellow and harder, wouldn't fall apart after boiling and they tasted quite differently from the starchy ones. Much much better!

Unfortunately, potatoes are planted from roots and that renders them to degeneration after a few decades of continuous planting. They must be re-grown from seeds but that is apparently not easy for farmers to do. Also Polish (communist) authorities that controlled the breed were more interested in the high yield than in taste let alone nutritious contents.

Christoph Dollis said...

"Why do you think old potatoes were lower in starch and higher in protein? I would guess the same, but I have never much looked into it nor am aware of evidence."

On a similar note, I keep on hearing Paleo folks say that modern fruits are sweeter than wild fruits.

I don't think that's so — neither from my personal experience eating a lot of wild berries over the years and a reading of the science — and Nora Gedgaudas, at least, acknowledged that she had misstated this, perhaps through misunderstanding it. I don't know if she corrected it in the new edition of Primal Body - Primal Mind.

Nora's right, though, that most commonly-eaten cultivated fruit is larger — and that's important. But not sweeter. Many wild fruits are plenty sweet to lure in animals to eat them: that's the whole point!

Christoph Dollis said...

Commenter Melissa at Don Matesz's (significantly repurposed!) Primal Wisdom makes the same point, and she makes it well:

"Yeah, I think this claim has been treated a biblical because most Americans don't gather wild foods. In Sweden I gathered tons of wild fruit. Wild strawberries are a great example of a fruit that is clearly undomesticated, but tastes like candy!"

Stan, Don Matesz might actually be a pretty interesting example of your hypothesis that there exists to healthy macronutrient-ration sweetspots ... since he clearly used the Paleo high-fat, low-carb-ish approach for a while, and now does much the opposite.

Christoph Dollis said...


Stan Bleszynski said...

There have to be two optima! The fact is many people can live healthy on the low fat high vegetable and fruit diets (althought not on 100% vegan diets - no native culture are completely vegan!), and also many people can live healthy on the high animal fat high meat and high fish diet.

It seems to reflect the two adaptations of hunter-gathers, the nomads. When game and fish were available we ate those and thrived, when it was not we could survive through many bad seasons on the "lean cuisine" of roots and berries. It also explains our curious lack of tolerance towards a diet that is equally high in fat and in carbohydrates, unlike for instance some true omnivorous animals such as pigs. You either had meat or you subsisted on roots veg and fruit but not both. Except if you were an upper class individual or a pharaoh and didn't have to gather your food yourself (see that mummies' study). So, our bodies had to adapt either to one or the other, at any given time.

I think observational and anegdotal evidence so far (limited) seems to be pointing towards a strong divide between the high animal fat and the very high carb nutritions.

Re: Don Matesz blog

I am grateful for his blog (though I no longer read it) for reminding me how easy it is to lose sight of the science and become a propagator of "one idea" to a complete exclusion of other. One truth one diet one whatever...

This is one reason I have been considering an existence of two dietary optima rather than one, even though I think that there is now slightly more favoring the high fat one. The main thing is to avoid having to "prove" my point of view by filtering non-confirming evidences out, like Don seems to be doing.

Instead of ignoring the non-confirming data and papers, a better approach is to fit all that to a new model that accommodates all empirical evidence. It can be done!


Third Chimp said...

Does anyone know what the more traditional starch was in East Europe, since potato is a New World crop that couldn't have been known there until around 400 years ago?

Stan Bleszynski said...

Re: Does anyone know what the more traditional starch was in East Europe, since potato is a New World crop that couldn't have been known there until around 400 years ago?

I looked into it recently and found to my surprise that there exists a vast unknown (to me) history of Eastern Europe before the 10-th century. The vast steppes were inhabited by proto-Slavic and Asian tribes, all of them nomadic living off hunting and herding rather than settled farming. That basically rules out any significant contribution from vegetables and fruit until they all settled which probably occurred in the late middle-ages. From then on the most important crops were barley, buckweat (still popular!), oates, rye, beans. Oh btw, if you are interested in the lesser known history of the Eastern Europe, this is a must read: Arthur Koestler "The Thirteenth Tribe".

Christoph Dollis said...

Stan, in light of your being open to 2 optima instead of one ... and stretching my thinking in that direction ... I wonder if you would consider stretching your thinking in a different way.

There is a study that I think is the most important study in both medicine and civilisation.

It was started, by accident, by a top obesity clinician and researcher at a major health organisation. But here's the thing.

I believe most people have an internal taboo that causes them to overlook it for psychological reasons. If the logical results of this study percolated throughout medicine and society, the degree of human happiness and wellness would explode as it never has throughout all of our history.

That sounds dramatic, but I believe the science is there.

So I'm going to give a link where I make the case, but even if you want to skip over my take on things and I hope you won't, I invite and challenge you to watch at least a 13-minute video of this long-running study's co-founder (consider it the Framingham Study of psychology with enormous physical-health ramifications) ... and, after watching that, if you're interested enough at your discretion, to then watch the full presentation which is an hour and a half.

At some point, I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on this either in the comments or even better yet in a main post.

I sincerely believe, should your post be picked up, you could be doing something groundbreaking for the evolutionary-health movement (both optima!) and doing your part to benefit humanity's levels of happiness and decency in some small way.

Will you accept my challenge enough to at least watch the 13-minute video?

Adverse Childhood Experiences by Vince Felitti, MD - 13 minute version

ACE's by Vincent Felitti, MD

My Take

John said...

I think it's very difficult to show that one must choose between two extremes (not quite extremes) in order to have optimal health. Just by observation many cultures do not lie at one end or the other. Some South American groups, Koreans, parts of east Europe/west Asia for example seem to do well in the middle.

What about others who rely on higher amounts of non-animal fat like that from coconut or cacao? I swear I've seen some Southeast Asians that look 20+ years younger than true age.

Stan Bleszynski said...


They have documented some extremely strong correlations! I knew that there is some effect of the trauma but never realized that it is so strong! We can also correlate, for example cardiovascular disease or addictive behavior with bad diet, excess carbohydrates, smoking, metabolic damage due to PUFA and many other physical factor, but that research probably goes one step deeper: why exactly do people choose those physical factors to harm themselves? why do they chose to overeat carbohydrates, smoke or willingly damage their metabolism consuming PUFA etc? Why so many people strongly reject animal fat out of their diets, against their own intuition, harming themselves by forcing their bodies to subsist on lesser nutrients?

That research reminds us (me) about the "mind-over-matter" effect. JC - you should watch those presentations too!

It would be interesting to look at the possible solutions/remedies, for people with ACE syndrome.

I can't also help notice how many people exhibit a "slave/victim" mentality syndrome. It is not the same as ACE but I would not be surprized if they found a similar correlation with that and the civillisational diseases. What are we supposed to do in relation to those people?

JC said...

Christopher,We would love to have you join the diet debate group.It is rare to find someone who thinks as far out of the box as you do.

JC said...

Stan,I think Christopher is right in that non diet related issues like early childhood trauma are much more potent factors that diet.

Stan Bleszynski said...

I have to add a thought to our discussion, since nobody yet has mentioned this possibility. It is possible that the reason lard and potato diet was found particulary healthy is not because potatoes may contain something valuable, but perhaps because potatoes might not contain as much phytotoxins as other plant based food like wheat or green vegetables, for example cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, beans etc. The same could be said about rice in Asia. Rice and potatoes could be "less bad" than other vegetables and more caloric at the same time. Peter The Hyperlipid had some interesting posts about this subject. For example consumption of green vegetable correlating with the increased oxidative stress, see here, and here, and here.

There is also an interesting post on the potato diet & weight loss issue, see here.


Christoph Dollis said...

"Stan,I think Christopher is right in that non diet related issues like early childhood trauma are much more potent factors that diet."

Thanks for the supportive comment, Stan, and I want to add something that really ties the two ideas together.

One of the huge reasons why adverse childhood experiences and even adult trauma make people obese and sick is not only the extremely negative physiological effects of chronically elevated, inadequately relieved cortisol ... it's also that the emotional disregulation that this causes makes people turn to a variety of unhealthy mechanisms to temporarily sooth, suppress, or distract from their emotions.

These include aggression, violence, withdrawal (itself lowering their connection with others and elevating their stress hormones), promiscuity, addiction to smoking, drugs, and alcohol, overeating, and eating without regard to food quality, and also following off the wagon on healthier programs designed to get them away from these behaviours.

So it isn't just that emotional trauma (including lack of attachment) breaks down, say, leptin and insulin sensitivity, it's also that it leads to people not being able to consistently follow healthy behaviour patterns because they are too busy self-medicating the effects of their traumatic past.

Christoph Dollis said...

Apology for mixing up your names. Thanks for the supportive comment, JC!

Christoph Dollis said...

*falling off the wagon

Galina L. said...

Russian peasants also consume massive amount of fermented cabbage, pickles and raw onion and garlic with their salted pork fat and potatoes, and rye bread. I am sure Polish peasant's diet is almost the same - the national dish of Poland is Bigos - stewed together Sauerkraut and fat pork, various meats and sausages.

Sam said...

My apologys. This link to the soylent diet is a little off topic. It does fit the criteria of being at the extremes of diet and I believe it might amuse Stan.

How I Stopped Eating Food

What’s In Soylent


Stan Bleszynski said...

Re: soylent diet - It is off topic but fascinating! Since it is all about proton and electron transport, then why not just use electricity? Sci-fi?

Sam said...

I thought you'd like it. I immediately thought of you when I saw it. In a good way. If you think about it many of the elements could be processed with electricity. I know they have DNA sequencers. Hmmm... proteins? That's the biggest and most expensive part of the diet. Thorium nuclear power plants, proteins, vat grown meat, YIKES. I better stop I'm getting carried away!

Sam said...

I forgot to add something about the soylent diet. He started with balanced carbs, fat and protein soylent. Then he read about low carb so he made low carb soylent. He said it lowered his energy level and didn't work for him. I think this is an extremely important observation that needs to be followed up on. Could it be wheat and other plant based carbs are protected by poisons? Maybe the reason why people feel better on low carb is just avoidance of poisons and is nowhere near an ideal diet. It's just less bad. This is of course called "Sam's Theory of the Lesser Dietary Evil". So far as I know I'm the first to say this.

Alvin said...

This is cool!

Christoph Dollis said...

The one thing where I'd take issue with you on the two dietary optima, is which is thriving, which is subsisting?

We are a species that evolved near the equator and it is winter which is the time of year where it is hardest to gather food. Animals are available in each season, but plants less so in winter nearer the poles.

So while I believe you're on to something profound and unrecognised about there being two dietary optima (and this explains the never-ending wars between the two camps), I'm not sure that your view about eating roots and berries and the like as "subsisting" makes sense.

However, possibly alternating between the two is healthy and explains the success of carb-cycling diets.

Marmalade said...

This is a great discussion. Probably the most interesting discussion on diet I've seen. I like that the psychological angle was introduced. That is so important and so often ignored in relation to physical health topics.

Adverse Childhood Experiences point to the larger context. Taken by themselves, they are telling. But they also indicate other factors that confound any simple analysis. Those with higher levels of ACEs tend to also experience higher levels of other problems: poverty, inequality, economic segregation, racism, lack of healthcare, lack of quality education, parasite load, toxicity, etc. A big factor for poor people with ACE levels is food deserts, which means a unavailability of healthy and nutritious foods. The poor often are already living busy lives, sometimes working multiple jobs and no childcare. The easiest solution is to rely on cheap processed foods that are available in nearby stores.

Toxicity also stands out. This should be obvious in a discussion like this. There are all kinds of things done by toxins, such as lead: stores in fat and stress liver, increases diabetes and other physical ailments, contributes to ADHD and learning disabilities, stunts neurocognitive development and lowers IQ, worsens impulsivity and aggression, and on and on.

Still, I wouldn't dismiss other confounders such as inequality. Few appreciate how powerful social environment and economic factors impact us. The social and psychological effects of inequality were discussed in great detail by Keith Payne in The Broken Ladder. Like lead, inequality is strongly correlated with higher levels of impulsive and aggressive behaviors, among much else. In general, people become highly stressed out, even the rich (the rich have greater health in low inequality countries than in high inequality countries).

Payne concludes that inequality mimics the experience of poverty in creating a highly competitive and divisive environment:

“Inequality affects our actions and our feelings in the same systematic, predictable fashion again and again. It makes us shortsighted and prone to risky behavior, willing to sacrifice a secure future for immediate gratification. It makes us more inclined to make self-defeating decisions. It makes us believe weird things, superstitiously clinging to the world as we want it to be rather than as it is. Inequality divides us, cleaving us into camps not only of income but also of ideology and race, eroding our trust in one another. It generates stress and makes us all less healthy and less happy.

“Picture a neighborhood full of people like the ones I’ve described above: shortsighted, irresponsible people making bad choices; mistrustful people segregated by race and by ideology; superstitious people who won’t listen to reason; people who turn to self-destructive habits as they cope with the stress and anxieties of their daily lives. These are the classic tropes of poverty and could serve as a stereotypical description of the population of any poor inner-city neighborhood or depressed rural trailer park. But as we will see in the chapters ahead, inequality can produce these tendencies even among the middle class and wealthy individuals.

“What is also notable about the air rage study is that it illustrates that inequality is not the same as poverty, although it can feel an awful lot like it. That phenomenon is the subject of this book. Inequality makes people feel poor and act poor, even when they’re not. Inequality so mimics poverty in our minds that the United States of America, the richest and most unequal of countries, has a lot of features that better resemble a developing nation than a superpower.”

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