Rescuing good health from bad science.
Critical Review of Michael Greger’s “How Not to Die”
In an alarming and unforeseen plot twist, I have written two blog posts in one month.
This one’s a review of plant-based-diet advocate Michael Greger’s book, “How Not to Die.” Enjoy!
If You’re Having a Hard Time, Read This.
First, watch this. 0:24-0:31 is the most important part.
You’re welcome. Now let me tell you a story.
Many years ago, on a family vacation in Canada, I sat on the oceanside steps of a bed and breakfast and cried until I couldn’t breathe. I was sixteen and living on melons and lettuce. Ninety pounds. Ribs like a birdcage. Hair ripping out in clumps every time I brushed it. My raw vegan honeymoon had exploded, and I was left writhing atop its shrapnel—stuck in that awful space of knowing something was very, very wrong but not knowing how to fix it.
The B&B host sat chain-smoking a few yards away, pretending not to see. I loved him so much for not asking if I was okay. Inside our room, my wonderful, rightfully distraught parents were discussing my “situation,” thinking I couldn’t hear. Their murmurs bled through the wall and mixed with the slurp of tide on shore.
That, friends, was the beginning of my Regret Phase. For years, I had a giant pile of WHOOPS I MESSED UP MY LIFE that I didn’t know what to do with. Most of my teenagehood—the time people usually spend going on stomach-butterfliesy first dates and buying prom dresses and getting drivers licenses and being cool, none of which I experienced—was spent destroying and then recovering my health. I remember little else. I didn’t mind taking the road less traveled, but I did wish it’d been paved with more than just mangos and dental bibs. So much felt like a waste.
It wasn’t until my early 20s, when the idea for Raw Food SOS first popped into my head, that I realized everything I went through might actually serve a greater purpose. That my WHOOPS pile wasn’t all for naught. This blog started as an attempt to turn a period of strife into something that could help people—and it ended up being one of the most rewarding endeavors of my life. (After all, how else would I ever have met YOU?)
Which brings me to the whole point of this post. For those of you who don’t keep obsessive track of my birthday (IT’S MAY 4TH YOU GUYS. MAY. 4TH.), I’ve freshly turned 30. And while birthdays usually don’t phase me, this one has a bunch of new numbers in it. Something about that prompted me to reflect. A lot. And you know what I realized?
OH DEAR ZEUS, I’M IN REGRET PHASE II.
You have no excuse for not remembering.
In some ways, Regret Phase II might seem justified. I don’t write much about my personal life online, so as a quick recap, the last few years totally kicked my butt. People died. So many. One right in front of my eyes. Loved ones got cancer and diabetes and broken bones and lupus and other scary things. There were breakups and break downs. I spent two years living next to meth dealers and wondering if a bullet was going to fly through my bedroom window while I slept (there’s already one hole in the glass). Gang shootings happened outside my front door. I had ferocious, claws-out brawls with partners who drew out an anger I never knew I had. I narrowly dodged a van abduction while being followed down the street at night. I got trapped in Mexico with no money during riots that closed the border. I was pregnant, and then not pregnant. In March, a friend died in a motorcycle crash a few hours after leaving my house. He left his broom here. I sweep with it every morning.
I could keep going with a list of woe-is-me, tiny-violin tales of my recent plights, and maybe you’d feel bad for me, and maybe you’d think Regret Phase II is due to forces beyond my control. But that’s not really the case. The struggles weren’t the problem. The problem was what I did with them all.
Amidst these challenges, these ripe opportunities to learn and grow and evolve, I utterly stagnated as a human being. That is my regret. I got jaded and lazy and went on autopilot. I repeatedly chose to take on other people’s problems instead of tackling my own. I complained about my situation but changed absolutely nothing. I let this poor blog nearly die. And I neglected my most important goal in life: continual self-betterment.
As the big 3-0 started approaching, the reality of this stagnation hit me big time. Where did my 20s go? What came of it all? Can I be proud of where I’m at?
NOPE. I can’t. And it actually feels good to admit that.
These struggles might not be obvious from the outside, which is why I want to talk about them today. We don’t have enough transparency when it comes to the hard stuff. One of my least favorite things about the internet is that it breeds a culture of image crafting, where we think other people’s lives are more glamorous than ours and that we’re failing because we have PROBLEMS while everyone else is Instagramming hypersaturated photos of their Amalfi Coast vacation. Then, when we feel alone and need authenticity the most, we shove it aside for fear of judgment.
#ISwearIWokeUpLookingLikeThis #NoFilter #NoMakeup #SoBlessed
So here’s me saying “fork that.” Let’s be real. Instead of breezily strolling into a new decade, I spent the last few weeks panicking about the state of my life and the poof-it’s-gone passing of my 20s. More than a few sobby freak-outs occurred. It got messy and weird. And then I remembered the last time this happened. And how what seemed like a barren field of wasted days was really full of little seeds that hadn’t sprouted yet. You can’t fool me twice, life! I see what’s going on here.
So instead of wallowing in Regret Phase II, I’m deviating from the food-centric focus of this blog—just for today, I promise—to share what I’ve learned. Because I know lots of you amazing folks are struggling, too. And I want you to know you’re not alone in the trenches. After all, well-being is about way more than just diet.
I know I can’t make you do anything, but just remember, I’m 30 now and you’re supposed to listen to me. So read on and HEED MY WISDOM.
Why Do Some People Do Well as Vegans and Vegetarians? (Clues From the Magical World of Genetics)
Do you ever wonder why some people seem to do just fine as vegans and vegetarians, while others turn into quivering heaps of deficiency and woe? Does it bug you that the common rationale is either that 1) the “feelin’ good” vegs are either deluding themselves or cheating, or 2) the folks who crash and burn were just doing it wrong?
So I wrote a guest post looking at why people respond differently to plant-based diets.
Because genetics. And microbes. Yay!
Go take a look-see if this topic interests you:
(Also, I promise—promise—that Low Fat Part 2 is still on its way. One day, when you’re least expecting it, you will wake up and make your scrambled eggs or green smoothie or organic grass-fed lightly seasoned caribou bone broth, check your inbox, and then hate me because I gave you thousands of words you don’t really have time to read. I’m sorry in advance and I love you all.)
Proteinaholic: Is it Time to Sober Up From Animal Foods? (A Review and Critique)
NOTE: This was originally supposed to be a guest post for Kris Gunnars’ Authority Nutrition website, but in true Denise Minger fashion, the word count got out of control and we decided to dock it here instead. Voila! Just pretend you’re reading this on a blog far, far away, and that, for once in my life, I managed to be brief.
Ever since the “fat is bad” movement of the ‘90s morphed into our current era of carb-phobia, I’ve suspected the world would eventually turn its dietary lynch mob on protein—the only macronutrient not yet slandered by media headlines and hyperbolic Facebook memes.
Behold! The day has come.
Proteinaholic is the latest work of Dr. Garth Davis—a Houston-based weight loss surgeon whose personal and professional journey led him away from animal foods and down the fibrous, veggie-lined path of plant-based eating.
The book’s title isn’t quite as literal as a bevy of fumbling addicts slurping whey-protein shakes from paper bags, but in some ways, the image isn’t far off. Animal protein, according to Davis, is not the key to weight loss—but rather, a chief cause of our expanding waistlines. Far from making us healthier, it drives the progression of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other ailments crippling the Western world. Those who swap it out for the bounty of the plant kingdom are rewarded with greater longevity and disease protection, Davis argues.
Regardless of its scientific validity (which we’ll get to in a minute!), Proteinaholic is bound to make some waves. It’s stoking the flames of our next macronutrient-centric shift, bringing a new dietary villain to the fore, and adding ammo to the plant-based diet movement’s arsenal of “things that sound like proof.” Like The China Study, Proteinaholic is destined to become a go-to resource for those wanting scientific validation for veganism.
But that leads us to the question: does this book make a legitimate case against animal protein? Or is it an example of some kernels of truth swathed in selective interpretation and bias? Let the analytical games begin! (more…)
In Defense of Low Fat: A Call for Some Evolution of Thought (Part 1)
Not April Fool’s Day.
Not a spontaneous and mystical possession by the spirit of George McGovern.
Not even a social experiment to see how many people I can get to unsubscribe from this blog in the span of a day (PLEASE STAY, I LOVE YOU).
Maybe a little bit of this, though:
Over a year ago, I gave a presentation at the Ancestral Health Symposium called “Lessons From the Vegans: What the Paleo Movement Can Learn From the Success of Plant-Based Diets.” In retrospect, I probably should’ve called it “Lessons from the Low-Fatters: What the Paleo Movement Can Learn from the Success of People Who Eat Ridiculous Amounts of Carbs and Don’t Keel Over,” but that was too long for the conference brochure. And for my verbally dyslexic mouth. And also, I didn’t know it was really going to be about fat until I fell down an extended PubMed rabbit hole and, upon regaining consciousness two days later, realized I had found the Nerd Project to end all Nerd Projects.
In truth, though, this post started brewing long before my talk. Having witnessed some pretty impressive healing when I noshed among the low-fat raw vegans (and, after a decade of self-experimenting, concluding I do best on a lower fat diet myself), I just can’t get on board with the categorical “Fat rules, carbs drool!” trend infiltrating both mainstream and alternative nutrition. There are too many exceptions to the rule, too many gaps in the theory, and too many skinny fruitarians frolicking in the sun-dappled fig orchards.
But even beyond that, this post is born of a belief I hold dearly—one that guides my approach to research and underlies the very mission of this blog:
We can’t ignore evidence in order to preserve an ideology.
At least not under the guise of “science.”
When confronted with something that challenges our belief system, the worst possible thing we can do is clamp our hands over our eyes and say, “You do not fit into my understanding of reality; therefore, you do not exist. BE GONE, NON-EXISTING ANOMALY.” Yet that’s what so many of us do—often without even realizing it—when faced with outcomes our chosen philosophy can’t explain. On the flip side of cherry picking, we cherry-throw-out: selectively deleting data that threatens our version of the truth, nipping any cognitive dissonance in the bud before it has a chance to rattle our worldview. It’s easy to be “right” when we’ve shoved all competing evidence into the wood chipper!
For a long time in the nutrition world, our thrown-out cherries were the ones challenging the low fat ideology. We discarded the high fat Inuit cherries and the milky, bloody Masai cherries; the coconut-filled cherries of the Tokelau; the cherries of the traditional reindeer-herding Sami; even the smothered-in-butter French cherries—just to name a few.* It didn’t make sense that these populations could exist and be healthy with their fat-gorging ways, so we slapped them with a “paradox” sticker and deemed them weird exceptions to the Dietary Laws that govern the rest of us.
* For the record, all these examples come with some major caveats, and I don’t think they should be used as evidence to support the kind of high-fat diets many people are eating today (though they don’t necessarily stand as counter-evidence either). More on that in an upcoming post!
Only in more recent years have those cherries been rescued from the compost bin and plopped back into the world’s collective fruit bowl (please wash before consumption). Bestselling books like “Good Calories, Bad Calories” and “The Big Fat Surprise” carved new histories in which fat was an innocent bystander, dragged into the mud by bad science and even badder scientists. The phrase “healthy fat” moved from oxymoron status to popular catchphrase. People whir 80 grams of butter into their coffee and call it breakfast. Apparently Bob Dylan had it right in all but plurality: Time, it is a-changin’!
As awesome as the pro-fat movement has been for challenging outdated beliefs and reviving some truly nutritious foods, there’s been a dark side to the process as well. All of a sudden, the same rhetoric once leveled against high-fat diets is being slung against low-fat ones. Not only is low fat (and by consequence, high carb) not the dietary angel we once thought, the new story goes, but it’s actually the source of all edible evil: the driving force behind our obesity epidemic, a major contributor to heart disease, the puppet master pulling those blood-sugary strings of insulin resistance and diabetes. If only the USDA had recommended 6 to 11 servings of bacon instead of 6 to 11 servings of grains, we wouldn’t be in this mess!
See the problem here?
In the process of redeeming fat, we traded one form of oversimplified blame for another. And it’s led to a brand new wave of cherry genocide. We now dismiss (or paradox-sticker) high-carb populations in the same way we justified ignoring the high-fat ones. We snub decades of clinical success involving fat reduction (to the point where you might think such evidence doesn’t even exist—in which case, you’re in for a surprise with this post!). We deny the potential for low-fat diets to be anything other than a metabolic train wreck, ending in a smoking heap of shrapnel and insulin injections. “Surely those low-fatters are starving all the time,” we proclaim. “Surely they’re making themselves diabetic! They might feel okay right now, but won’t those carby diets go all Cujo on them as the years progress, eating their souls and whatnot?”
Let me be frank here.
If we’re really after the truth, we can’t keep throwing away perfectly good cherries. Seriously. It’s gotta stop. When we censor data we don’t like instead of revising our theories accordingly, we perpetuate the same problems we’ve been battling for decades: partial truths treated as gospel; public policies that do more harm than good; baffled consumers who can’t figure out if it’s the omelet that’s killing them or the OJ they wash it down with.
Do we really want to keep heading down that road? It probably goes somewhere awful! Like Stockton. (Sorry, Stockton.)
Hence why we’re gathered here today, around this massive compilation of pixels, delving into a decidedly hot topic. This post is my attempt to rescue some discarded cherries and return them to the Fruit Bowl of Our Lives. Which, if nothing else, will one day make a fantastic soap opera.
I do want to make one thing abundantly clear before we continue, though. The title “In Defense of Low Fat” doesn’t imply its inverse, “In Attack of High Fat.” Quite the opposite! My goal here is to create a space where two very different dietary approaches can sit down for tea, respectfully coexist, and interact without any subsequent homicide investigations. In fact, I’ll be arguing for a more panoramic view of nutrition where the success of both high-fat and low-fat diets are compatible, and maybe even make sense. It just requires zooming out farther than we’re used to looking, and acknowledging that our ever-rivaling communities could actually learn a lot from each other.
For the sake of reading ease, this sucker is divvied up into two parts: this one, which discusses the crazy-huge body of research behind truly low-fat diets (especially the really obscure stuff!), and the upcoming Part 2, which ties everything together with science, and whatnot. And because this post is long even by my standards, I’ve created a clickable Table of Contents to help you navigate the labyrinth. Good luck! (You’ll need it…) (more…)
My Un-Vegetarianniversary, Announcements, and Being a MTHFR Mutant
Ten years ago last month, after a decade of meatless-and-fishless youthhood, I took a bite of salmon sashimi and never looked back.
It was a very good day.
Actually, that’s not true. It was a very conflicted day. I was seventeen, stubborn, malnourished, college-brain-overloaded, and really flippin’ hungry. I’d spent a good two hours prepping for an English Lit class potluck—carving a watermelon into the shape of a peacock and adorning it with skewered melon balls, assuring myself that even if the rest of the party was a terrifying apocalypse of pizza and cheese cubes, at least I could eat my fruit bird.
How I Un-Ruined My Teeth
Shortest-update-on-this-blog-ever alert: I wrote a guest post for Mark’s Daily Apple this week, and plumb forgot to share the link with you guys. It’s about mouth things.