Two thoughts about agrochemicals consumed in our food

Two thoughts about agrochemicals consumed in our food.
1. The data suggest that glyphosate in grains, at concentrations present at the legally permitted level (30 ppm), disrupts the growth of many common gut microbes and encourages the growth of others. The adjuvants added to glyphosate in the final Roundup product are almost certainly significantly more toxic to gut microbes than glyphosate itself, and we have even less information about the impact of these.
Here are two of the papers from which I draw these conclusions, for anyone who is interested or wants to discuss them. (I would sincerely like to be persuaded that my interpretation is wrong or unlikely):,%20M-glyphosate%20effects.pdf
What effect this disruption of human gut flora might have on the immune system or metabolism has to my knowledge not been studied.
2. One of the things about agrochemical toxicity studies is that they are almost always only looking for gross pathological reactions to a given compound. Subtler reactions are not studied. If an agrochemical compound might make a consumer feel crummy but is otherwise nontoxic, that would be missed by the safety studies. To see how it could be possible for a compound to be nontoxic but still detrimental to a human’s sense of well-being, one only has to look at the antihypertensives in medicine: perhaps the most effective drugs that physicians have to improve patient outcomes in cardiovascular disease, the antihypertensives are nontoxic when given at therapeutic doses, but nonetheless make many people feel subjectively worse. This is part of the reason that patients sometimes do not take their antihypertensive medications.
Toxicity does not measure how a compound will make one subjectively feel; it measures gross disturbance in biological functioning. Thus, could agrochemicals cause subjective discomfort while being technically nontoxic at the concentrations commonly consumed in food? This is not an inconsequential question. If the purpose of agrochemicals is to improve human well-being, and if agrochemicals subjectively produced the opposite effect, this would call at least some aspect of their stated purpose into question. That this question has not been tested seems to me to be an important oversight.
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Wheat consumption drives the obesity epidemic? Bullshit. | Part 1 of a 3-part series.

In this three-part series, I will be evaluating some of the proposed dietary drivers of the obesity epidemic in the United States.

I decided to create this series to address claims that are made on the my forum, which are, quite frankly, at odds with the evidence. I hope that this blog post will contribute to putting some of these claims to rest.

In the first part of this series, I will be addressing a popular theory: that the obesity epidemic is driven by increasing consumption of wheat.

This claim is evidently at odds with the evidence–a huge amount of evidence. Here’s a few pieces of that evidence.

  1. Wheat consumption has decreased over the past fifteen years (United States Department of Agriculture):

  1. Yet, the percentage of obese adults has gone from 30.5 to 37.7% in the same period of time (United States Center for Disease Control):

It therefore follows that over the last 15 years, the consumption of wheat and the rise of obesity have been strongly INVERSELY correlated: wheat consumption has consistently gone down, while obesity has consistently gone up.

  1. But wait, there’s more. This decline in wheat consumption is, from historical perspective, even more marked (United States Department of Agriculture):

From 1935 levels, Americans’ consumption of wheat is down nearly 40 pounds per person per year.

  1. Yet, while the level of wheat consumption in the 1930s was higher than its peak in the ’90s, and much higher than that today, average BMI (and levels of obesity) was lower in the ’30s (Centre for Economic Policy Research, VOXEU):

(The highest line marks the 90th percentile, the lowest lowest line marks the 10th percentile, with all gradations in between.)

In other words, the historical record on obesity shows a trend in the opposite direction of this decrease in wheat consumption.

  1. To drive the point home, here is a graph of the rate of change in BMI, also charted in deciles:

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this graph is the inflection point that occurs between 1945 and 1950, just following World War 2, when the rate of increase in BMI among deciles–especially the upper 2-4 deciles–begins to spread markedly, and the rate of increase in obesity accelerates dramatically. Relevant to the theory of wheat consumption-driven obesity epidemic, according to the information presented two graphs back, this inflection point occurs at precisely the same moment when wheat consumption per capita in the U.S. begins a marked, 3-decade-long decline.

So again, we see an inverse correlation between wheat consumption and obesity.

  1. There’s more evidence to contradict the case against wheat (at least in terms of the obesity epidemic). How does the United States compare to other countries? As the most obese developed country in the world, does the United States have the highest consumption, per capita, of wheat? Is it even in the upper tier of wheat consumption?


The United States, the most obese developed country in the world, actually has relatively low levels of wheat consumption, at least when compared to many other developed countries. Data from the World Bank:

Country Amount Date
Australia 308.04 thousand metric tons 2004
Turkey 254.32 thousand metric tons 2004
Russia 246.79 thousand metric tons 2004
Canada 240.66 thousand metric tons 2004
Morocco 207.66 thousand metric tons 2004
Ukraine 204.95 thousand metric tons 2004
Algeria 195.75 thousand metric tons 2004
Iran 190.36 thousand metric tons 2004
Egypt 179.91 thousand metric tons 2004
Pakistan 120.85 thousand metric tons 2004
United States 113.4 thousand metric tons 2004
China 80.63 thousand metric tons 2004
India 62.13 thousand metric tons 2004
Brazil 54.07 thousand metric tons 2004
Japan 47.28 thousand metric tons 2004


Sweet Jesus, if there’s one thing that jumps out from this table, it’s that on an international scale, Australia has nearly THREE TIMES the wheat consumption per person as does the United States. This might seem to indicate that the Australians should have wheat bellies the size of kangaroos. Yet what is the actual rate of obesity among Australians?

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia has an obesity rate of 27.5%. Contrast this with America’s at 37.8%. Australia’s rate of obesity is a full 10% lower than the rate of obesity in the United States.

What about Turkey? Even lower than Australia at 18.5%, a full 20% lower than America’s 38.7%.

Russia? 26.5%.
Canada? 29%.
Morocco? 8.2%.
Ukraine? 21.3%.
Algeria? 18%.
Iran? 15.4%.
Egypt? 9.3%.
Pakistan? 22.2%.

In every single country with a higher per capita wheat consumption than the United States, the obesity rate is actually lower.

So what role does wheat have in the obesity epidemic in the Unites States? The likely answer: not a damn thing.

But is carbohydrate consumption the driver of the obesity epidemic? I will address this question in part 2 of this series.

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Political Paleo? Why the Paleo diet must necessarily become a political program.

I have been going through Food and Western Disease: Health From an Evolutionary Perspective by Staffan Lindeberg lately. Staffan Lindeberg’s book is thought by many to represent the very apex of scientific Paleo: it’s a recent, comprehensive assessment of the current scientific evidence in favor of the Paleo diet. (Lindeberg was known earlier for his work on the Kitavans, which had a big influence on Robb Wolf, as many of you undoubtedly already know.)
Anyhow, the reason I have been reading his book is that I want to challenge my own pro-grain beliefs. Virtually all of my nutrition friends don’t much care for grains. What am I getting wrong about grains? And legumes? Apart from grains and legumes, I consider myself Paleoish, but what in the world does that mean? I do have a lot of respect for an evolutionary paradigm–any nutritional system worth its salt must be consistent with what we understand about evolution. But Paleo with grains and legumes is not really Paleo. #identitycrisis
But we shall have to discuss all this some other time. I have something that I think is a bit more interesting to discuss. I am posting this because I found the following interesting passage in Lindeberg’s book:
>>> Another objection, and a highly relevant one, relates to sustainability. If the majority of humans on this planet shall avoid grains and increase their meat intake, then we clearly have a problem (although cutting dairy products is helpful). With or without such dietary changes, we will have to eat more locally produced foods, more starchy root vegetables and less ruminant meat, and we need to travel less. In our clinical experience, an ancestral-like dietary model does not require a higher meat intake than the present average (100 and 130 g/day for Swedish men and women, respectively). >>>
Does this mean that Paleo, if it wants to change the world, also has to think about food systems? That it has to think politically?
Think of it this way: let’s assume that we want to promote a diet much like the Paleo diet for the population as a whole. We do this because we want to promote the public health. But if such a diet is unsustainable, then we promote the public health today at the expense of future generations. If, therefore, “Paleo For The People” is a goal, we must also try to advocate for political positions and changes that will make such a widespread dietary system sustainable.
And if this is so, then it seems to me that the Paleo movement needs to become broader in its aims and goals: not just the promotion of real food, but the promotion of the sorts of farm policies and food systems that will help make real food a possibility for everyone, as well as for future generations. Should Paleo become a broader political movement–not limited to nutrition but with interests also in agriculture, regulating Big Food, etc.?
It does seem to me that Paleo, as its very central paradigm, rejects agriculture as a whole. But can Paleo principles be pragmatic–and be synthesized and impactful on the modern food system, without completely rejecting it and insisting on a strict return to the Paleolithic? In other words, is a “Paleo politics” possible? Or is it a contradiction in the very terms?
I dare say, if “Paleo politics” is insisted upon as a contradiction in its very terms, and if the Paleo diet must always be something individual (eaten only one person at a time), and not political (for which we advocate and insist on policy changes collectively), then it follows that, without the necessary changes to our food system, “individual Paleo” is not sustainable and therefore, in the long term, not possible. Is it therefore, if Lindeberg is correct in his assessment, not the case that individual Paleo necessarily entails political Paleo? And that despite the apparent contradictions, if a Paleo For The People is to be a reality, the Paleo movement must turn explicitly and avowedly political?
These are some of the thoughts I have. If this hasn’t run on too long, I would like to hear yours.
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Carbohydrate restriction in Type 2 Diabetes: What does the evidence say?

Some of you may have seen the following NYT Opinion piece trending:
Especially interesting was the following claim:
>>> The diabetes association has yet to acknowledge this sizable body of scientific evidence. Its current guidelines find “no conclusive evidence” to recommend a specific carbohydrate limit. The organization even tells people with diabetes to maintain carbohydrate consumption, so that patients on insulin don’t see their blood sugar fall too low. That condition, known as hypoglycemia, is indeed dangerous, yet it can better be avoided by restricting carbs and eliminating the need for excess insulin in the first place. Encouraging patients with diabetes to eat a high-carb diet is effectively a prescription for ensuring a lifelong dependence on medication. >>>
To try to prove their point, Hallberg and Hamby write:
>>> At our obesity clinics, we’ve seen hundreds of patients who, after cutting down on carbohydrates, lose weight and get off their medications. One patient in his 50s was a brick worker so impaired by diabetes that he had retired from his job. He came to see one of us last winter, 100 pounds overweight and panicking. He’d been taking insulin prescribed by a doctor who said he would need to take it for the rest of his life. Yet even with insurance coverage, his drugs cost hundreds of dollars a month, which he knew he couldn’t afford, any more than he could bariatric surgery.
Instead, we advised him to stop eating most of his meals out of boxes packed with processed flour and grains, replacing them with meat, eggs, nuts and even butter. Within five months, his blood-sugar levels had normalized, and he was back to working part-time. Today, he no longer needs to take insulin. >>>
Which was it that was responsible for the change: reducing processed foods, or reducing carbohydrates? These two things changed at the same time. The change may have been for the better, but it doesn’t establish what the authors hope to establish: that a diabetic patient should “first, do low carbs.”
To Hallberg and Hamby’s anecdote I might add my own: I once met a patient who, on introducing a single dark leafy green salad each day, reversed their diabetes, had their A1C levels decrease to normal, and could go off of medications.
So what about such other diets–those that are not carbohydrate restricted but are intended to help diabetic patients? How do they square off against carbohydrate restriction in Type 2 Diabetes?
This question has been addressed in the scientific literature. The answers are different from what Hallberg and Hamby give. A 2015 meta-analysis on the utility of low carbohydrate diets (vs. other diets) in type 2 diabetes found:

>>> Recent studies suggest that low carbohydrate diets appear to be safe and effective over the short term, but show no statistical differences from control diets with higher carbohydrate content and cannot be recommended as the default treatment for people with type 2 diabetes. >>>

I also really like this excerpt:
>>> Interestingly, the carbohydrate debate seems to be based on strong personal opinion and those working in the area tend to cherry-pick the evidence to support their particular view, whether that of low, moderate, or high carbohydrate. Debates about the issue can become very passionate, and it is worth reminding ourselves that “passion in science is an infallible marker of lack of evidence” [3]. >>>
That’s a quotation worth remembering.
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Hospitals today fail to provide healthy food, but some are taking small, hopeful steps to address the problem

In the future, every hospital admission and treatment program for a chronic disease will include comprehensive nutritional counseling and education and food preparation and practice in an on-site kitchen. Hospital cafeteria services will provide choice (i.e. they will serve sufficient healthy foods to provide for a healthy square meal) and send a very clear message about what high quality food means through the food they provide. Cafeteria services will not reinforce the messages of the processed food industry at the expense of patient health; cafeteria services will instead be just one more aspect of hospital nutrition education.

We’re not there yet.

The vast majority of hospitals still appeal to “consumer preference” in organizing and managing their food and nutrition services.

Since “consumer preference”, as shaped by processed food marketing, has led to the current epidemic of chronic disease, and since such preference apparently leads to the vast majority of hospital admissions, it should be obvious that while serving low-quality, processed foods and calling them healthy (as most hospitals do) serves to encourage revenue growth, it is at odds with the stated mission of hospitals in promoting the health of the community.

Hospitals can still take a page from hospitals that are doing things right. This hospital in Melbourne, Australia is moving in just that direction, by promoting healthy choices through a simple labeling system on sugary drinks. It’s one small step, but it’s an important one in moving toward the hospitals of the future.

Thanks to Megan Pfeffer for the article.

Encouraging healthy diet choices in hospitals

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Study out of Mayo Clinic shows that complications of diabetes aren’t reduced by tight blood glucose control

Preventing diabetes  through proper diet is the best treatment. But if this new study published this week by researchers at the Mayo Clinic is correct, it might be the only treatment.
We’ve been told for years: diabetics need their insulin and must keep their blood sugar under tight control.
But what is the evidence that tight control of blood glucose is important for preventing many of the problems associated with the condition?
A new study from the Mayo Clinic has come to a disturbing conclusion: the problems associated with diabetes aren’t reduced through tight glucose control. Treating diabetes doesn’t seem to improve the disease’s outcome.
This implies that our conception of diabetes, as a glucose dysregulation disorder, is wrong. Could it be that diabetes is much more complicated, and exacts its effects through a variety of mechanisms OTHER than through the toxic effects of high blood sugar on the body’s cells? Could it be that our basic understanding of diabetes as a blood sugar regulation disorder is fundamentally wrong?
Perhaps most importantly, might the current treatment paradigm for diabetes–tight blood sugar control–be a figment of the imagination of the medical establishment?
I won’t pretend to be able to answer these questions. But if the study out of the Mayo Clinic is to be taken seriously, they need to be asked.
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What percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is agriculture responsible for?

What percent of global greenhouse gas emissions is agriculture responsible for? I have heard low balling estimates as low as 9%. I have never read of such a low estimate for greenhouse gas emissions for agriculture. I have heard of much higher. So I decide to go on a little search, and compile a few of my findings.

EPA: 24%- “Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use (24% of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions): Greenhouse gas emissions from this sector come mostly from agriculture (cultivation of crops and livestock) and deforestation. This estimate does not include the CO2 that ecosystems remove from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in biomass, dead organic matter, and soils, which offset approximately 20% of emissions from this sector.”

IPCC: 24% (probably same source as above)- “Agriculture, deforestation, and other land use changes have been the second-largest contributors whose emissions, including other GHGs, have reached 12 GtCO2eq/yr (low confidence), 24% of global GHG emissions in 2010.”

EPA: 9% (United States only)- “In 2014, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture accounted for approximately 9 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture have increased by approximately 11 percent since 1990. One driver for this increase has been the 54 percent growth in combined CH4 and N2O emissions from livestock manure management systems, reflecting the increased use of emission-intensive liquid systems over this time period. Emissions from agricultural soil management have also increased by about 5 percent since 1990. Emissions from other agricultural sources have either remained flat or changed by a relatively small amount since 1990.”

FAO: 14.5% (livestock only)- “Total emissions from global livestock: 7.1 Gigatonnes of Co2-equiv per year, representing 14.5 percent of all anthropogenic GHG emissions. This figure is in line FAO’s previous assessment, Livestock’s Long Shadow, published in 2006, although it is based on a much more detailed analysis and improved data sets. The two figures cannot be accurately compared, as reference periods and sources differ.”

Nature: up to 1/3 (global food system in its entirety)- “The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the latest figures from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of 15 research centres around the world.”

WRI: 13% (agriculture narrowly defined, excluding transport)- “Farms emitted 6 billion tonnes of GHGs in 2011, or about 13 percent of total global emissions. That makes the agricultural sector the world’s second-largest emitter, after the energy sector (which includes emissions from power generation and transport).”

“Livestock’s Long Shadow” (FAO): 18% (livestock only)- “Overall, livestock activities contribute an estimated 18% to total anthropogenic GHG emissions from five major sectors for GHG reporting: energy, industry, waste, land use, land use change, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) and agriculture.”

So as low as 13%, as high as one-third if you calculate in the cost of the entire food system (which probably makes more sense). The latter figure would possibly put the food system as the highest emitter of all sectors of the global economy.

If you know of something wrong with these figures, I would love to know.

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The Philadelphia soda tax is expected to pass tomorrow. But why is it necessary in the first place?

As usual, the soda industry has pumped millions into a campaign to stop the Philadelphia soda tax from passing into law. But they will likely fail; the law is expected to pass tomorrow.

A few thoughts.

When someone says of taxes such as these, “but government should not tamper with the free market!” remember, that with sugary beverages, the government already has. The reason such beverages are so inexpensive is government subsidies, i.e. tampering with the market, in the first place.

Progressives, who understand that food environments have more of an impact on the health of the vast majority of people than does “willpower” (as evidenced by the past 50 years of mass dieting failure), obviously celebrate the law. But free marketeers should, too: the tax does not limit choice, but brings it in line with the market, which, as they say, they celebrate in the first place. Right?

Right now we subsidize soft drinks, and then apply a tax to remove the subsidy. But how about, rather than this rather perverse and contradictory set of policies, we remove the subsidies in the first place? I think progressives and free market cheerleaders could all come to the table and agree on that.

But until the federal government steps up the plate and assumes leadership for putting an end to our food-related health crisis (and healthcare spending, and economic and political crises by extension…), a tax seems like the next best thing.

Congratulations Philadelphia: for doing what most of our other leaders seem too afraid to do.

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Buy Organic? It may be best not to purchase from Horizon Organic.

Do you purchase organic dairy products?

The Cornucopia Institute writes:

“The Horizon brand depends on giant CAFOs, milking thousands of cows each, for a large percentage of their production and that impacts the quality and nutritional value of all their products.”

For this and many other reasons, I am not sure I would consider Horizon “organic” in anything but name. They seem to treat their cows inhumanely, and they produce milk not much differently than do non-organic producers, i.e. the cows are often not pastured on grass.

That they can be organic in name is a testament to the corruption of the organic label. Horizon’s violations however go back well over a decade. A quick Google search will reveal this.

Buy Horizon if you want overpriced, industrially produced dairy.

For dairy, Organic Valley is a better bet and has a much better track record.

Horizon “Organic” Factory Farm Accused of Improprieties, Again

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Is industry sponsorship alone a sufficient ground to criticize a study’s conclusions?

Marion Nestle is doing a casual review of the literature, tallying sponsor-funded research conclusions as favorable or unfavorable. Her results so far: of 142 industry-funded studies, 130 have been favorable to the sponsors, 12 unfavorable. See here.

This is only the latest of a long line of investigations that show, contrary to the insistence of those who seem to believe that all research should be considered equal regardless of the source, that funding source does affect research outcomes–whether because funders will only fund research that they believe will find favorable results (thus skewing the whole of the body of research literature, much like publication bias does) or because funding itself subtly alters any number of procedures, biasing the results (in effect, I believe that this is not much different than the former effect). In both cases, a body of literature is produced that systematically favors sponsors and thereby distorts our picture of reality. See studies here and here.

In order to correct this distortion of reality, which is a systemic fact even if it does not apply in every case, I believe it is both legitimate and necessary to criticize studies on the basis of their funding sources ALONE. It may be impossible to prove distortion in any individual case; but if the sum result of studies points to distortion, does this not cast a shadow on individual cases?

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