Since I've been back, I've been trying to find more opportunities to play. Now that it's winter, that means playing in the snow. Unfortunately, though, this winter has been weird and it hasn't snowed much in Boston and what snow there has been hasn't stuck. So, I've had to get out of the city.
Yesterday, New Hampshire got a ton of new snow so two new friends and I went to play in it! We went cross-country skiing at Waterville Valley Resort, which was a winter wonderland:
Valley Village and Resort
One of the trails. We started off with green, but they were kind of boring because they didn't have very many hills. By the end of the day, we were doing Black diamonds!
I agree that the current system of publishing is pretty antiquated. The author gives some pretty hilarious suggestions for changes that could be made, like 'Assess impact factors based on whether your grandparents think they've heard of the journal' (Grandma, have you heard of the journal Science?) and 'replace lengthy peer review with 'likes' on Facebook.' I could support that!
Turns out the author also does stand up comedy! Here he is doing 'The Grad Student Rap':
I think that's why I enjoy this whole blogging business. It's a way to quickly share information that is accessible to everyone.
Aside from my mom and uncle Richie, how many of you have read my three scientific publications? On the other hand, how many of you have read at least three of my blog posts? Exactly.
Last night I attended the 'Raw Milk Debate', put on by the Harvard Food Law Society. The debate featured Sally Fallon, President of the Weston Price Foundation, and David Gumpert, author of 'The Raw Milk Revolution', as proponents of raw milk. On the other side were Fred Pritzker of Pritzker and Olson Law Firm, which represents victims of foodborne illnesses, and Dr. Heidi Kassenborg, Director of the Dairy and Food Inspection Division at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. If you weren't able to watch the live stream, a video of the debate will be posted on the website soon.
Dr. Kassenborg opened up her presentation by claiming that it was targeted towards the 'raw milk curious', not the raw milk fanatics. I was intrigued because I definitely fall into that category. Unfortunately, I wasn't convinced by either group for or against raw milk. In fact, I was pretty disappointed by their presentations and debating skills.
All of them tried to present case studies demonstrating or disproving the nutritional benefits of raw milk. The evidence that Sally Fallon presented was very qualitative, so not very convincing. The most convincing study was presented by Fred Pritzker, which was a meta-analysis of raw milk studies that suggested it has no nutritional benefit. Although I haven't read it, there are a lot of problems with meta-analyses.
Neither did either side convince me either way about the dangers of consuming raw milk. The opponents to raw milk presented some case studies and numbers that weren't very shocking. I was most impressed by David Gumpert's argument, though, that the number of food-borne illnesses from spinach and hamburger meat, for example, far outweighs the number of outbreaks from raw milk, yet the government doesn't tell you not to eat spinach or hamburger meat. There was a pretty comical moment during the 'debate', during which Dr. Kassenborg asked Gumpert to restate this argument (which he did a really good job at), to which she replied, 'See, your data show that raw milk is dangerous.' FAIL! It was almost painful to watch, she was so bad at debating.
Ultimately, what I took away from the discussion was that, as with other nutritional studies, more scientific evidence is required to prove or disprove the nutritional benefits and dangers of raw milk. (Although I doubt that any agency would fund such a study given the government's stance against it.) And, given this current state of knowledge, every person should be made aware of the possible dangers of buying raw milk and make their choice accordingly. That's why, personally, I don't think it's right that some states ban raw milk. Luckily, it isn't banned in Massachusetts, although you can only buy it directly from the farm.
That brings me to my next story: I recently bought raw milk! Like I said, I have been 'raw milk curious' since changing my diet. When I was strictly Paleo, which means I cut out all dairy, I realized that a rash that I had on my hands had finally cleared up. When I incorporated dairy such as whole milk, cream, yogurt, and cheese back into my diet in August, mainly for the extra fat and calories, I noticed that it came back. Then, when I was in Chile, I noticed that it went away again even though I was drinking whole milk and eating yogurt and cheese. The first week I was back in the US, I had a cup of whole milk, which I now believe is the main culprit, and immediately the rash returned. That told me that something was definitely wrong with the processed milk in the US. I don't know if it's from the pasteurization or because the cows are fed a grain diet. Either way, I became interested in trying raw milk, especially from grass-fed cows.
Last week I visited Eastleigh Farm, the closest farm to Cambridge that sells raw milk from grass-fed cows. Unfortunately, it's a 30 minute drive each way from Cambridge. But it's only 30 minutes out of my way if I stop when I'm driving back from Woods Hole. I'm so glad I did! Because it was kind of nice to get away from the city and step onto a farm. When I got out of the car, I was immediately greeted with the smells of cows. Growing up in Los Angeles, my only experience with cows was at the LA County Fair, so it brought back fond memories of drinking fresh cow milk at the fair with my parents. The store, which also sells ice cream and raw milk cheeses and yogurt, and the rest of the grounds were really pretty:
I definitely am looking forward to going back.
When I got home, I got to work making yogurt out of the milk. I tasted it first, of course, and it definitely had a different flavor than regular milk you buy at the grocery store. The taste was similar to the milk in Chile. But I don't normally drink that much milk by itself because of the sugar. So, I figured it would be better (and more fun!) to turn it into yogurt. Plus, yogurt is so expensive in the grocery store and not that tasty. One thing my Dutch roommate complains about is that he can't find good yogurt in the US.
I followed a recipe for making Greek yogurt in the slow cooker. Although it took a few tweaks and I'm still working on getting a more sour yogurt, it was super easy! You just need two ingredients - milk and a starter culture of yogurt and a slow cooker:
The first step is to heat the milk on low to 180ºF, which takes about 2-3 hours. I found that it never gets to 180ºF in my 5 Qt slow cooker like it did in the 2 Qt one. So, I had to bring it up to temperature on the stove. After that, you let it cool (while still sitting in the slow cooker heater) down to 120ºF for another 2-3 hours. On my first try, I took the slow cooker insert out of the heater so it it only took 1 hour to cool down. As a result, the yogurt came out really runny:
On my second try, I left it in the heater and let it cool down for 3 hours so it would come out more thick. Once it's cooled down, you mix in the starter culture. I added in a little more than the recipe called for on my second try, which made the yogurt more sour. Then you let insulate the entire contraption with bath towels for several hours. The second time I tried it, I let it sit for 11 hours compared to 8 hours. That, along with letting it cool down in the heater for 3 hours and mixing in more starter culture, made the second batch come out with more whey, which contributes to the sourness, and thick:
It was delicious, definitely better than store bought. But I went a little crazy on eating it at first. I found that if I ate a huge portion, my nose started feeling congested. Now I think I know what people mean when they say it gives them allergies. So, I have to eat it in smaller portions. I had to freeze it, though, because Wim still finds it a little too sweet, which meant I had way too much yogurt to eat by myself before it goes bad. Now my freezer is stocked with perfectly portioned sizes (thanks mom for the tip on freezer containers!) of home made raw milk yogurt from grass-fed cows!
I've been meaning to do a blog post on this for a while, but a couple of things that happened last weekend finally inspired me to write it.
Basically, there are several camps in the ancestral health movement: Paleo, Primal, Gary Taubes, etc. Paleo prohibits grains, dairy, and legumes. Primal allows dairy but prohibits grains and legumes. Taubes emphasizes low carb. It can be really confusing trying to decide which one is right.
But one thing that they all agree on is self-experimentation. Basically, experiment on yourself to see how different foods make you feel. Because everyone is different, so what works for one person might not work for you. But with any well-designed experiment, you need a control and treatment. Unfortunately, I do not have a clone (x6 for adequate replication) that I can experiment on. So, the best way to do this is with a clean slate. That's why I support the Paleo 30-day or Primal 21-day challenges and the Whole 30, because they act like a control and give really clear guidelines on the foods to eliminate. After you eliminate the most common allergens and energy-zappers, you can slowly add in foods (treatment) to see how they make you feel compared to how you felt during the elimination (control).
When I was first diagnosed in May, I went strictly Paleo. At first, I felt really great. But after a couple of months I started feeling anxious again. I realized that I felt especially bad after drinking black coffee, eating fruit, and eating chicken breast or fish. But I felt really good after eating a fatty pork chop from John Crow Farms.
After doing some research into it, I came upon Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint and Gary Taubes' Good Calories Bad Calories. Gary Taubes' book was the most important book I have ever read in my life. It basically debunked the 'calories in, calories out' and lipid (i.e. fat is bad) hypotheses that I had been a slave to all my life. After that, I increased the fat and reduced the fruit by incorporating cream in my coffee, eating mostly berries, and focusing on fattier cuts of meat. I felt consistently better (no anxiety).
But then a weird thing started happening: I started waking up at 4:30 am. The first morning it happened, I had tons of energy and felt really great. I thought, 'Hey, I could really get used to this!' But after a few more days of that happening, I felt awake but like I hadn't gotten enough good sleep. It started feeling stressful. I got clued into what might be causing it after attending Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution Seminar when this big buff guy went up to the microphone and asked Robb for advice because he was waking up super early in the morning. Robb told him to eat more carbohydrates but offered no further explanation.
This piqued my interest, so I began looking into it. It turns out that waking up early can be a side effect of going Very Low Carb (VLC). Our bodies can make glucose from proteins and fats in a process called gluconeogenesis, so theoretically you don't need to eat carbohydrates. But what I found out is that cortisol is involved in this process. According to Wikipedia, cortisol is a steroid hormone whose primary function is to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis. Cortisol levels also increase and decrease during the day, peaking in the morning and decreasing throughout the day. It's also involved in the awakening response, which means cortisol is released when you wake up really early in the morning. Cortisol is also released in response to stress, so too much can be bad.
So this is what I think is going on: when people eat few carbohydrates (~less than 50g per day), their body has to use cortisol to produce glucose from protein and fat. For some people, this extra cortisol can cause side effects like waking up early and insomnia. And when you wake up too early, the situation is made worse because even more cortisol is released in the awakening response.
Herein lies the conundrum: I should eat more carbohydrates, but in order to reach the 100-150 g recommended (and I really do sleep better at this level), I could eat fruit, most of which gives me anxiety (especially if I eat it without fat). Or I could try sweet potatoes (ok on Paleo and Primal but not every day, but not to Taubes), which are a glycemic nightmare.
Like this weekend, when I decided I was going to try this out on myself. I cooked up a sweet potato in the microwave for lunch and smothered it in butter. At first, I felt great. All the stress went away. But later (even with some roast beef thrown in in the meantime), my blood sugar started doing a nosedive and I was craving sugar like nobody's business. So much so that I had to buy a chocolate bar after being out in the field. When I got home, my roommate was his usually super talkative self but I was so irritable that I locked myself in my room. The good part was that I slept REALLY well that night. But it just brought back memories of where I was a year ago (including the locking myself in my room frequently) that I don't want to go back.
What to do? Well, I'm going to experiment. I am going to try to eat more veggies with some fruit and sweet potatoes again, only this time make sure to eat them with enough fat and protein. Or, gasp!, this could possibly mean jumping off the Paleo and Primal bandwagon and incorporating low-carb breads into my diet.
I encourage you to also experiment! Because everyone is different and what might work for me might not work for you.
But whatever ends of working for us, these things should not change: eating 'real food' and fighting diabetes and heart disease!