Assorted Links

Thanks to Aaron Blaisdell and Peter Lewis.

The “Disgusting” Foods I Eat

In a review of Anna Reid’s new book, Leningrad: Tragedy of a City Under Siege, I learned that one of the calorie sources that starving Leningraders came to eat was:

‘macaroni’ made from flax seed for cattle

To which I say: Damn. The implication is that, before the famine, “flax seed for cattle”, which is roughly the same as flax seed, was considered unfit for human consumption. Only when starving did Leningraders stoop to eat it. I can buy flax seed in Beijing. But not easily.

The triangle is complete. I have now learned that the main things I care about in my diet, which I go to great lengths to eat every day, are all considered “disgusting” by a large number of people:

1. Flax seed. It is the best source of omega-3 I have found. I eat ground flax seeds every day. Flaxseed oil goes bad too easily.

2. Butter. Perhaps the most reviled food in America, at least by nutritionists. A cardiologist once told me, “You’re killing yourself” by eating it.

3. Fermented foods. Many fermented foods are considered disgusting — after all, they are little different than spoiled foods.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky.

Autoimmune Disorder Improved With Fermented Food

From a recent story in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

[Kelly] Dearie turned to fermented foods in a moment of despair.

Her husband Charlie, who suffered from an autoimmune disorder that attacked his platelets, was told by doctors that he needed a spleen removal and a hip replacement. That would mean Charlie, an active 32-year-old man, would never be able to run or mountain bike again. . . .

The family decided to seek an alternative, and consulted Santa Cruz clinical health coach Craig Lane from Health Alkemy. . . . He checked Charlie’s temperature, blood pressure and lab results, and listened to Charlie talk about his diet, sleep and exercise. Instead of the surgeries, Lane recommended some dietary changes such as taking out coffee, wheat and sugar, and adding beet kvass, a traditional Russian fermented tonic.

Within three weeks, his platelet numbers were almost normal. Within two years he was running again, said Dearie. . . . Inspired by her husband’s healing, Dearie opened Creative Cultures and sells the beet kvass.

Wild-Fermented Wine and the Ecology of Knowledge

I learned about wild-fermented wine from Shana Reade, who teaches wine sellers about wine. She works for a New York wine distributor called Empire Merchants.

Before the 1950s, almost all wines were made with wild ferments. Only then did cultured (store-bought) yeasts start to be used on a large scale. The new wines surely tasted worse, but it was the era of TV dinners. The first cultured yeasts were especially popular in Australia, where less tradition blocked their adoption. Continue reading “Wild-Fermented Wine and the Ecology of Knowledge”

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  • The increasing popularity of kvas. “We ferment with ginger and, I believe, longer than other people – for seven to 10 days.”
  • Giving up wine (and other alcohol) for a month. Before this he drank 2 glasses of wine/day.
  • Wellness Mart (in California) makes it easy to get basic medical tests. “In California, you are required to have an order from a doctor for blood tests, but WellnessMart, MD stores all have medical doctors on staff. Our doctors allow their license to be used for basic screening tests because there are some things that really shouldn’t be that difficult to find out. If you don’t have a doctor’s order and you want to run tests that aren’t a part of our standard screening packages, you will be charged a MD Consultation Fee of $25. Our doctor will help you to put together a panel that will accomplish the goals you are looking to accomplish. If the doctor determines that it is not appropriate for you to run the tests you want to run at WellnessMart, MD there will be no charges.”
  • Riding a bike while learning Polish. It helps.

Thanks to Casey Manion and Adam Clemens.

More Evidence Linking Fermentation and Complexity: Wild-Fermented Wine

I came to believe that we need to eat fermented foods to be healthy partly because this idea solved an evolutionary question: why do we like food that is sour, umami-flavored, and complex? I realized that all three preferences could be explained the same way: All three push us to eat more fermented food. For example, fermented milk (yogurt) is sourer than fresh milk.

Fermentation also increases complexity. An example is miso. I noticed that miso by itself was sufficient flavoring for soup. I had to add quite a few spices to produce the same amount of complexity that miso alone produced — miso was a super-spice.

Wine is a fermented food, of course, but long ago all fermentation was “wild” — it proceeded from whatever fermenting agents were in the air, on people’s hands, and so on. Fermentation increased complexity not just because the microbes metabolized the food but because there were many kinds of microbes. Australian winemakers were recently given a lesson in the connection between wild fermentation and complexity:

We were tasting two glasses of pinot noir, blind, and the questions were: is there any difference between them? If so, how are they different?

Continue reading “More Evidence Linking Fermentation and Complexity: Wild-Fermented Wine”

Assorted Links

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky and dearime.


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  • A hospital specialized for hernia surgery. Much better outcomes, much lower cost. The combination (better outcomes, favored by patients, and lower cost, favored by insurers) suggests this could spread, if patients plus insurers > doctors plus hospitals.
  • Unlocking umami. I use koji salt, works really well. Comes in plastic squeeze container, which says “today’s newest seasoning”.
  • David Grime’s 2012 article on the same subject It is more methodologically sophisticated but reaches the same conclusion: The rise and fall is not explained by any popular theory (e.g., smoking causes heart disease, cholesterol causes heart disease). Because of this failure, using those theories to try to prevent heart disease (e.g., telling people stop smoking) makes little sense. Likewise, I doubt that experts know why dementia is decreasing, although they have theories.
  • Hypochondriasis and self-tracking

Thanks to Alex Chernavsky.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Nicole Larkin and Tim Beneke.

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  • Kombucha beer (which may not taste like beer)
  • A growing taste for sour. “I saw bottles of [kombucha] in rural Virginia gas stations . . .  kimchi, fermented cabbage, has spread from Korean kitchens to Los Angeles taco trucks.”
  • Exercise and weight loss. Only the extremes of exercise — very intense exercise (very brief) and very long lasting exercise (walking) — reduce weight or keep weight low. The middling exercise Americans actually choose (aerobics) has little effect. This post, by my friend Phil Price, gets the high-intensity part right but the low-intensity part wrong.
  • Weight loss fails to prevent heart attacks. “The study followed 5,200 patients and lasted 11 years.” Surely cost tens of millions of dollars. More evidence of mainstream ignorance about heart disease.
  • A kickback by any other name . . . “At least 17 of the top 20 Bystolic prescribers in Medicare’s prescription drug program in 2010 have been paid by Forest [which makes Bystolic] to deliver promotional talks. In 2012, they together received $284,700 for speeches and more than $20,000 in meals.”

Thanks to Bryan Castañeda and Hal Pashler.

Tisano Chocolate Tea and Combining Complex Flavors

After I interviewed Patrick Pineda about how Tisano Tea began, he gave me several tins of chocolate tea, their main product. Since then, I’ve had dozens of cups of chocolate tea. It’s a good caffeine-free drink, especially with cream.

My main use of chocolate tea, however, has been to improve black tea. Black tea + chocolate tea = great drink, better than any black tea alone or chocolate tea alone. So much better that I have stopped drinking black tea the usual way (without chocolate tea). Even cheap black tea (e.g., Lipton’s) plus chocolate tea tastes better than expensive black tea. I think I know why. Black tea (fermented) has a complex flavor, like most fermented foods. Expensive black tea is more complex than cheap black tea, but only a little more. Likewise, chocolate tea has a complex flavor (like chocolate). Combining two sources of substantial complexity produces tea with great complexity — much more than you can get by tweaking one source of complexity (e.g., varying black tea). Continue reading “Tisano Chocolate Tea and Combining Complex Flavors”

Assorted Links

Assorted Links

Thanks to Navanit Arakeri and Patrick Vlaskovits.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Nick Gibb.

Hospitals and Their Employees: Stuck in the 1800s

An article in the New York Times describes how difficult it has been for hospital administrators to get their employees to wash their hands. Hospital-acquired infections are an enormous problem and cause many deaths, yet “studies [in the last 10 years] have shown that without encouragement, hospital workers wash their hands as little as 30 percent of the time that they interact with patients.” Hospitals are now — just now — trying all sorts of things to increase the hand-washing rate. The germ theory of disease dates from the 1800s. Ignasz Semmelweis did his pioneering work, showing that hand-washing dramatically reduced death rate (from 18% to 2%), in 1847.

So hospitals are only now (in the last few years) grasping the implications of facts and a well-established theory from the 1800s. What goes unsaid in the usual discussion of how awful this is — how dare doctors refuse to wash their hands!, a sentiment with which I agree — is how backward both sides of the discussion are. A discussion in which many lives are at stake.

The Times article now has 209 comments, many by doctors and nurses. The doctors, of course, went to medical school and passed a rigorous test about medicine (“board-certified”). Yet they don’t know basic things about infection. (One doctor, in the comments, calls hand-washing “this current fad“.) They appear to have no idea that it is possible to improve the body’s ability to resist infection. I read all the comments. Not one mentioned two easy cheap low-tech ways to reduce hospital infections:

1. Allow patients to sleep well. The body fights off infection during sleep, but hospitals are notoriously bad places to sleep. Patients are woken up by nurses, for example. You might think that everyone knows sleep helps fight infection . . . but apparently not hospital administrators nor the doctors and nurses who commented on the Times article. It was in the interest of these doctors and nurses to suggest alternative solutions because they dislike washing their hands.

2. Feed patients fermented foods (or probiotics). Fermented foods help you fight off infections. I believe this is because the bacteria on fermented food are perfectly safe yet  successfully compete with dangerous bacteria. In any case, plenty of studies show that probiotics and fermented foods reduce hospital infections. In one study, “use of probiotics reduced the new cases of C. difficile-associated diarrhea by two thirds (66 per cent), with no serious adverse events attributable to probiotics.” Maybe this just-published article (Probiotics: a new frontier for infection control”) will bring a few people who work in hospitals into the 21st century.

That hospital administrators and their doctors and nurses — and, in this discussion, their critics — are stuck in the 1800s is clear enough. What is slightly less clear is that our understanding is better now than it was in the 1800s and some of the new knowledge is useful.

Thanks to Bryan Castañeda.

Assorted Links

Thanks to Grace Liu.