Juice That Kale

“If you wish to converse with me, define your terms.”

― Voltaire

I have been promising for a while to get to a discussion of vegetarianism, and the first post appeared just a bit ago. We need to address the three big claims of the vegetarian, and also vegan, ways of eating: that they are healthier, more sustainable, and more ethical than any other way of eating. We’ll first look at health claims, but we cannot begin any discussion of the “healthiness” of any particular way of eating unless we first define our terms. What do we mean by “healthy?”

There is no diet in the world that can guarantee you will never fall ill, despite anything that Gwyneth Paltrow might say. Whatever and however you eat, you will one day die. No diet can stop it.

So what is healthy? Surely when we say this what we really mean is something more like the word thrive. There are many other factors, from genetic to environmental to psychological, that affect our ability to thrive. Genetics influence how readily we put on or take off weight or muscle and also seem to affect our susceptibility to cancers. We are all exposed to different germs and viruses of different sorts and at varying levels. We ingest different bacteria in different amounts depending upon where we live and what we eat. We experience different levels of stress, and our hormone levels can have a profound influence on our whole physiology.

There are even suggestions that what we eat and do is affected by our mood: exercise we do because we’re forced to do it does not seem to benefit us nearly so well as the same, identical exercise would if we enjoyed it; and if we eat abundantly in the joy of family and friends and celebration we seem to see fewer negative consequences than when we eat abundantly out of misery or stress. The human organism is a complicated machine, and all these factors are constantly working with and through one another to affect the state we call “health.” Even if we all exercised and ate identically, we would still look differently and still live differing amounts of time. So what we are really asking is not what diet is “healthy,” but what is the best way to eat to allow us to thrive under whatever other factors we are dealing with?

Is there a way to eat that will help us fulfill our best personal physiological potential, which is all any of us can do? That is really the question when we consider a vegetarian or vegan diet. Are there, speaking broadly, ways to eat that minimize our susceptibility to illness and disease––granting that no diet can give us immunity to anything––and maximize our ability to gain and retain muscle and avoid packing on more fat than is healthy-–granting again that no diet can make us look like a champion weightlifter or an Olympic swimmer unless our genetics are right?

Furthermore, we have to consider thriving in terms of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients. We know that we need protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We also know there are some vitamins and minerals which are essential; i.e, we have to ingest them pretty regularly or we will develop some rather nasty conditions and then die. There is also mounting evidence that micronutrients are important for feeling our best, though we do not call these “essential” precisely because we are able to live without them if necessary; if not as well and enjoyably as we might with them.

These issues of energy needs, macronutrients, and essential nutrients mean it would be irrational to eat so many things that contain primarily only micronutrients, however good those might be, that we fail to leave room in our diet for essential things like enough fat and protein, vitamins, and minerals. When considering vitamins and minerals, we also have to take into account how bioavailable those are in given foods. If you care to read it, here’s a long study carefully looking into the iron content of green leafy vegetables. The upshot is:

Some green leafy vegetables are good sources of iron content, but may not necessarily be good sources of bioavailable iron.

The vegetables under study, including spinach, had a lot in them, but it could not be gotten out very well by the human body. The reason for this is that the iron in plants is different from that found in meat, which affects how we absorb and use it. Not only that, but plants are also full of polyphenols. These are antioxidants, and all the current rage for health, I might add.

So here is what I mean by the macronutrient/micronutrient issue: Polyphenols are great, but they can be put in the same class as micronutrients. If we can get them, so much the better; but we do not need them in anything like the same levels just to survive as we do macronutrients and essential vitamins and minerals. Iron is, however, an essential nutrient; and polyphenols interfere with the body’s ability to absorb iron.

If you eat lots of polyphenols perhaps you really will significantly reduce your risk of getting cancer, possibly, some day down the line. But if you do not get enough iron, you will suffer serious consequences very quickly. You will start feeling exhausted all the time because your body is having trouble moving oxygen around. Then you will start having trouble thinking, and you will become more susceptible to infections. Iron deficiency will also affect your skin, hair, and nails; and if you are pregnant and iron deficient you greatly increase the risk of your baby being born too early or too small. You may have trouble staying warm and might even start craving dirt. If it goes on long enough, you will die.

So here is where we have to be sensible when it comes to our micronutrients vs. our essential nutrients. If we are stuffing ourselves to the brim full of micronutrient-rich foods, to the exclusion of foods rich in all the essentials, could we not be said to be acting foolishly? If the iron from spinach, for example, is already inferior to that found in meat, plus spinach’s rich polyphenol levels inhibit our ability to absorb even the inferior iron, does it make sense to be stuffing ourselves with more and more spinach, while eschewing meat? This would help to explain why so many vegetarians have to take an iron supplement if they remain vegetarian long-term: unless you have an illness or other non-diet related condition, if you have to take a supplement to avoid serious health issues your way of eating is not causing you to thrive.

In our next post we will look then at whether a vegetarian and/or a vegan diet is good for human thriving. We will also look at macronutrient, essential nutrient, and micronutrient counts and how different diets compare. Until then, eat your spinach: but eat your beef, too.




Ask Fatty Felicity III

Back by popular demand, it’s Ask Fatty Felicity, the write-in column where you get to ask all your burning questions about Fat, Diet, and the Meaning of Life!

Let’s get right to today’s burning questions:

Dear Fatty Felicity,

I thought you were going to do a post on vegetarianism?

—Bernard Blackmantle

I thought I was too, Bernard, but then I got ill. I’m too tired to do all the research just now. But I’ll tell you what is very interesting: I want desperately to eat sugar. I don’t usually crave it, but since I started falling ill I suddenly can barely keep away from these chocolate-covered almonds I was given for Christmas.

What’s going on? Carbohydrates are super easy to digest and provide nearly instant energy. When you’re fighting something, your immune system is anxious for all the energy it can possibly get for what it quite rightly views as an emergency situation. It can’t really be bothered waiting around.

Of course, sugar is not what I need to be eating; but some bland starch is probably a good idea. Or possibly those nuts. Excuse me while I go get them.

Hi Fatty Felicity. What do you think about Veganuary?

-The Flying Dutchman

Well, Dutchman, if we were living in a dystopian YA novel, I would consider the concept of Veganuary to be an immature writer’s attempt to make the grimmest month of the twelve sound even more disheartening, for emotional manipulation and a cheap plot trick.

Spindle Tannercreek had heard that Christmas (or was it Xmas? Or perhaps Kwanza? It was very difficult to know about things when they happened so very long ago, and the names were muddled in her head) had once been a time of joy, laughter, feasting, and fellowship. Yet this was so long ago that none could remember; not even The Aged Ones who kept watch over the Function Swards from their Daremarks high above.

What must it have been like to know light and warmth in the frozen time? Since the rise of the The Benevolence there had been no break from labor in the Function Swards except the ones regularly scheduled once every fifteen days. The only exception was the Day of Celebration, when all were given an extra ration and time off to remember when The Benevolence had wrested power from the Lords Dyad and freed Pneumania from their oppression.

At least, this is what they had all been taught as children. There were a few who, in hushed, secretive whispers, spoke of the The Benevolence as oppressors and despots who had murdered the good Lords Dyad; but once again the event was so long ago that it was impossible for any living to say what was the truth of it.

In the darkness of the second moon of the frozen time, The Benevolence had made a food decree. They said it was a revelation of The Way and all must follow it. It was known as The Way of Veganuary, and it was the time that Spindle hated the most. At the best of times, those who labored in the Function Swards had precious little meat to eat; but during the whole of the second moon of the frozen time none could eat of the meat nor or the milk of the animals. This, The Benevolence decreed, was for their faith and patience, and for the good of all Pneumania.

If you’ve not heard, Veganuary is a “thing” primarily in the UK, though it is gaining speed here in the United States, as well. You simply give up all animal products–like meats, fats, and dairy–just as you’re feeling particular depressed by the end of the holiday season and the long dark of winter. If you’re British, this is especially jolly coming as it does during Dry January, when you’re also giving up all alcohol.

What a treat.

Diets low in fat, and particularly saturated fat such as animals tend to produce, are closely associated with depression. Now association isn’t causation, as we all ought to know by now, but there is a possible mechanism to explain this. Most of your hormonal production system relies on saturated fat. Deny your hormones the right building blocks, and your seasonal affective disorder is liable to get far worse.

Not to mention that meat is delicious and January is cold and dark.

Fatty Felicity, #metoo is all the rage, and some powerful Hollywood women are bravely standing up to systemic sexual harassment by donated enormous amounts of money that they’ve had for decades and wearing black to red carpet events to raise #awareness; and what I want to know is why Meryl Streep couldn’t be bothered to do that years ago?

-Grey Rhimes

Hard to say, ain’t it? The important thing now, though, is that we all celebrate the bravery of these wealthy and powerful Hollywood starlets standing against #Badthings now that it is the cause de jour and so perfectly safe to do so.

Speaking of bravery, the wealthy and powerful men of Hollywood–at least the ones who haven’t yet been caught–have announced they shall stand with the women against all #Badthings. In an act of reckless virtue signaling fearlessness, they too will be wearing black to all the toniest red carpet events this season.

Men wearing black tie and coat to formal black tie and coat events is sure to make an impression that sexual harassers and predators won’t soon forget.

Well, that’s all for today, folks! Join us next time to feast on the incisive wisdom of Fatty Felicity! If you have a burning question for Fatty Felicity, feel free to leave it in the comments.







The Ball Keeps On A ‘Rollin

Receipt for the Celebrated Mrs. Burns’ Stewed Oysters, Philadelphia, PA:

75 oysters parboiled and stewed, then add 3 pints of cream, 3/4 pound of best butter; season with cayenne pepper and salt to taste.

Colonial Receipt Book: Celebrated Old Receipts used a century ago by Mrs. Goodfellow’s Cooking School; also Famous old Creole and Moravian Receipts; together with some of the best formulas of our well known modern chefs. Ed. Mrs. Frederick Sidney Giger

Last time we started looking at taking apart this particular article by a “dietician.” Our fearless leader into the heady fray of culinary nonsense thinks any diet that dismisses an entire food group is “crazy.” We also noted that Natalie seems to believe that added sugar is a whole food group, despite the fact that generations of human beings lived without it as a regular part of their diet for thousands of years. (Note that only “added sugar” is the whole food group on her crazy, restrictive diet. She specifically says that fruit, vegetables, grains, and dairy have sugar, but she can eat all of that.)

Our expert then proceeded to explain to us that cutting an entire anything from one’s diet makes it “restrictive,” and the problem with restrictive diets is that you crave the thing you can’t have. This is, of course, why smokers are advised never to give up their smoking.

This horrible restrictiveness is why Natalie feels you would be “crazy” if you tried to eliminate added sugar from your diet; though she also seems slightly unclear about what sugar is and how the body uses it. That alone should disqualify her, since Jimmy Kimmel explained to us all a while back that you are only legally permitted to avoid ingesting something if you can give a perfectly correct scientific explanation of its molecular structure.

Our gutsy guinea pig valiantly attempted a sugar-free diet for thirty days, which she thought would be “easy” because she “doesn’t crave sugar.” To be fair, though, part of the problem here could be definitions. When Natalie says “sugar” and “glucose” and “powers muscles,” these words and phrases clearly mean something different to her than they do in that little shared space we call reality. So it could be that when she said she “doesn’t crave sugar,” she might not have meant what we assume she meant.

You know, that she doesn’t crave sugar.

At least, so I assume from the list of sugary-sweet items in her daily menu. Again, definitions. I’m pretty certain Natalie thinks that things naturally sugar-packed, like a date, don’t count as sugar. So if one eats a bag of M&Ms, one “craves sugar.” If one eats a half dozen dates, one doesn’t.

If you’re interested, six dates weigh approximately forty-seven grams and have approximately twenty-seven grams of sugar. A packet of M&Ms weighs forty-seven grams and has approximately thirty grams of sugar. So her date cravings make perfect sense, don’t they?

As we have seen, our daring “dietician” was unable to keep to her crazy diet for most of the first week. Eventually, she got her feet under her a bit by substituting enormous amounts of natural sugar for the added sugar she put on things. Mostly.

My oatmeal definitely tastes a little bland without a scoop of brown sugar, so I head to the store and pick up some naturally sweet foods, such as dates, bananas, red grapes, and papaya. Problem solved…Luckily, another dietitian (and marathoner) told me to try dates, stuffed with peanut butter and sprinkled with sea salt, for the right mix of sugar and sodium. Although I don’t like to try anything new on race day, I make an exception and opt for the dates instead of the Shot Bloks

That doesn’t seem to have been quite enough, though, so in the end she had a sports drink like this one, which has 34 grams of added sugar. She tells us little until Day 12:

Do you know how annoying it is to ask a waiter if there is any sugar in the food? They look at you like you are the worst person ever. Needless to say, I’m not able to tell if there is added sugar in some of the foods I don’t prepare myself, but I do try to stick to the foods I expect have less.

And since you were totally shocked last week to find that your crackers and your Sriracha sauce had sugar in them, we can probably trust that your judgment was super-sound here, and you had no added sugar.

Day 15

Halfway there, and it’s finally starting to feel easier. I’ve become accustomed to sweetening my morning oatmeal with bananas and eating pre-workout snacks with natural sugar (dates and peanut butter, anyone?). I can definitely do this for two more weeks.

We already saw how sugar-packed dates are. What about bananas? She said she had “a scoop” of brown sugar on her oatmeal previously. One tablespoon would be about twelve grams of sugar. A banana, medium, has nineteen.

And since when is peanut butter “natural sugar?” Nearly all peanut butter has added sugar/corn syrup/glucose syrup/molasses/cane syrup.

Day 16

Googles, “Does wine have added sugar in it?”
Can’t find a definitive answer.
Pours glass of wine.

Depends on the wine, Natalie.  Lots of wines do that, really. The cheaper the wine, the more likely that is. Also, alcohol….(wait for it)


Of course it’s a different type of sugar than glucose or fructose, and it is metabolized by the body in a different way. It would likely be fine to say that you are not having any added sugar and yet drink wine on occasion. My concern is that our “dietician” seems to be unclear about what a sugar is, and, even worse for the purposes of our experiment, also doesn’t seem to care that she is still (or may be) breaking her diet. Yet again.

Day 23

All self-control goes out the window when I’m tired. We arrived in California last night, and I’m super jet-lagged. I need an afternoon cookie to make me feel better. And let me tell you… it worked.

Didn’t manage to keep to diet. Again.

Day 26

I’ve done this long enough, and I give up! Being on vacation and trying to “diet” isn’t fun. It’s actually really terrible. So I cut this little experiment short and ordered an espresso shot in a chocolate-rimmed ice cream cone. And I’m not sad about it.

And on day twenty-six, we just give up entirely.

My problem with all this is not that Natalie gave up. It’s not that Natalie struggled. It’s that Natalie pretended to cut sugar from her diet when she never actually did. She never let her body use any other ingested fuel source; and then, after teasing her metabolic system with sugar over and over again, she gave up.

And then she said this:

This confirmed my right to roll my eyes at diets that eliminate entire food groups, because it’s nearly impossible to sustain that change for the long term. I’m a dietitian, and I wasn’t able to do it for longer than a week without a slipup.

Let me try to say it one more time, very, very nicely.


Second, just because you couldn’t do it, darling, doesn’t mean someone else can’t.

Third, I have just one more little bone to pick with you. Just a little one.

You have said that cutting a WHOLE FOOD GROUP is simply unsustainable, and also CRAZY. How do you explain your article entitled How to Survive a Barbecue When You’re A Vegetarian?

When all else fails, throw your own party! You’ve gone to a million burger barbecues; now it’s time to force invite your meat-eating friends to an untraditional party. Sure, they can bring a salad with bacon in it, but let them know what you’re serving is all veg-head friendly. Encourage them to step out of their meat-eating comfort zone and get creative with plants.

What I would like to know is what planet our dietician is from. It seems to be a magical place where sugar is an entire food group, but meat is not. Perhaps she’s on the Good Ship Lollipop, headed to Peppermint Bay. Happy landing on the chocolate bar.


Get the Ball Re-Rolling With An Easy One

Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own.

–Derek Sivers

Today, I have in my home five workmen drilling holes through various walls in an attempt to rig a fix to an enormous plumbing leak. The apartment I rent here in Asia was built along the usual model, which was obviously inspired by Ed Wynn’s part in Babes in Toyland:

The buildings here are lucky to last ten years without enormous, expensive problems. Partly this is because companies skimp on all the cheapest materials they can get (often used) and then run away with their money after selling off the apartments. The water pipes are a particular issue.

The water has been off for some days and now they’re here drilling holes through various walls to run pipes in different directions. They have the World’s Largest Drill, which about ten minutes in blew the fuse to the kitchen and bathroom. When it did, they reasoned the thing to do was to flip the breaker and do it again. And then again. And then, the next time, it blew that fuse and the one for the whole apartment.

That’s when I started yelling.

I turned my back for a moment after yelling, and the guy tried it again. In the end, I had to physically prevent them from plugging it in again and then throw them out of the house till they replaced the fuse on their drill.

You’re probably scratching your heads. You may even doubt my story (though my readers who have lived in this part of Asia are chuckling to themselves knowingly at this point). What’s the matter with these people?

The matter is that they have no idea how to reason. Not because they are stupid, but because they were raised and educated in a system that actively beat all independent thought and reasoning curiosity out of them from a young age.

But sadly, they’re not the only ones.

Back in August, a “dietician” wrote this article about her attempt to go without sugar for thirty days. It is a beautiful example of bad thinking, wild assumptions about health and diet, and parroting of ideas she clearly has been taught but does not fully understand. Let’s have a look at her opening line:

As a dietitian, I’ve heard of every crazy diet. No dairy, no carbs, no sugar, no tomatoes, no gluten, no fat—you name it, I’ve heard of it (and have probably rolled my eyes at it).

Often we have to read a bit to get to the insane stuff, but she helpfully lets the crazy right out in the first lines.

I wasn’t aware that sugar was an essential food group. Perhaps I could get concerned if someone is eliminating a whole food group from their diet unnecessarily; but how is sugar one of those? We think that sugar was first used by the Polynesians, who took it to India, where the Persians found it in 510BC and started growing it for profit. Prior to 510BC, nearly every human on the planet was eating a sugar-free diet, as our dietician defines it. Western Europeans didn’t get sugar till after 1000. It would be hundreds of years more before it entered the regular diet of average people worldwide.

The problem with these restrictive diets is they aren’t sustainable and often cause you to crave whatever you gave up.

This is the biggest cop-out objection to eating well that you’ll ever hear. It’s like telling a smoker not to bother trying to give up the cigarettes, because he’ll just crave them. He won’t be able to not smoke because everyone smokes, and also he’ll want to smoke real bad.

Our intrepid dietician decided to try giving up sugar for thirty days, primarily so she could blog about it for cash.

I honestly thought omitting added sugar for 30 days wouldn’t be all that difficult. First, added sugar refers to sugar that is added to a food, not sugar naturally found in fruits, vegetables, grains, or dairy.

Here we get her definition of sugar-free. It’s slightly concerning. Added sugar is usually glucose or fructose or some combination(is she aware of this?), which are all found in fruit and vegetables, yes. But is she aware that grains have no sugar; or at least not enough to matter? Does she realize that the sugar in dairy is different from table sugar and requires a different digestion process? I’m not confident. More importantly, since she says fruits, vegetables, grains, and dairy all have sugar: how on earth is cutting out added sugar only to be understood as a crazy, restrictive diet that eliminates whole food groups (as she will clearly state later).

Regardless of my lack of desire for sugar, I still add a bit of brown sugar to my oatmeal, enjoy a pre-workout granola bar, and top my spoonful of peanut butter with mini chocolate chips. But that’s the extent of my sugar habit, so I figured I would be fine. Reality hurts.

Ah yes, these are the habits of someone who doesn’t crave sugar.

I’m curious whether she realizes peanut butter has sugar. And in a few minutes (SPOILER ALERT) she’s going to admit to drinking sports drinks and eating Shot Bloks. Possibly she’s underestimating her regular sugar intake? Not counting, of course, fruit and vegetables and grain and dairy.

Day 1

While eating whole-wheat crackers with my super-healthy salad (feeling great about my food choices), I check out the crackers’ ingredients label. WTF? Cane sugar! Day 1=fail.

This woman’s supposed profession is telling people how to eat, and she didn’t know the basic ingredients in whole wheat crackers?

Day 2

My oatmeal definitely tastes a little bland without a scoop of brown sugar, so I head to the store and pick up some naturally sweet foods, such as dates, bananas, red grapes, and papaya. Problem solved.

Or so I thought… until lunchtime, when I add Sriracha to my rainbow grain bowl. Surprise—Sriracha has sugar. I guess I need to read EVERY single food label.

Yes, Natalie darling: you do. Again, do you seriously want us to believe you are a professional dietician, and yet you’ve never advised your clients to be careful of food labels? Clearly, yes, you clearly have no craving for sugar. Couldn’t get through oatmeal without some extra fruit.

May I point out that you are on your second day, and you still haven’t managed to not eat added sugar?

Then the poor thing went to run a marathon. Hopefully she’s in training for running from the zombie horde, because there’s nothing else good to be derived from endless running. We’ve mentioned it before, but the “marathon” derives its name from the Greek city of Marathon, which a man named Pheidippides is said to have run to from Athens–twenty-five miles–in order to announce an important Greek battle victory.

Then he keeled over and croaked.

So naturally, we celebrate his death all over the world with various running events of twenty six miles. Marathoners are seven times more likely to have sudden cardiac death while running than during normal life. They also get scarring on the heart. Most fun of all, when recent Hartford Marathon participants were tested, turned out 82% of them presented with Stage 1 Acute Kidney Injury. And that’s not to mention the joint issues, replacement knees, and even the getting hit by cars!


Anyway, our friend Natalie couldn’t eat tons of added sugar to go running, as she usually does, so she had to resort to other sugar. But even then, she gave up and drank an enormous amount of sugar anyway.

In other words, my usual fueling plan is loaded with sugar because sugar (a.k.a. glucose) powers muscles during endurance activity. Luckily, another dietitian (and marathoner) told me to try dates, stuffed with peanut butter and sprinkled with sea salt, for the right mix of sugar and sodium. Although I don’t like to try anything new on race day, I make an exception and opt for the dates instead of the Shot Bloks. They worked pretty well. The only problem was I got an annoying cramp around mile seven that wouldn’t go away, so I gave in and reached for a sports drink.

Dear Natalie,

  1. Sugar is not glucose. Sugar is half glucose and half fructose. Glucose can power muscles, but it doesn’t have to. (See: me, twice a week at the gym, pressing 55 kilos or rowing 70. Also see: Me or The Roommate on all-day mountain climbs with friends. Before neither of these activities do we take an ounce of sugar. Nor during. Nor after.)
  2. Are you sure you’re a dietician?
  3. So you failed to keep to the diet today, too?

I feel for Natalie. We’ll return to her story tomorrow. Meanwhile, I have to go keep an eye on the drilling.