Category Archives: Health and Wellness

Pizza evolutis: how we created the world’s healthiest pizza – and why

Part 1

We’ve seen it played a dozen times on the evening news. A wrongly accused man stands on the steps of the courthouse trying his best to forgive the jury, the judge, and a throng of lawyers who persecuted and imprisoned him for a brutal crime he did not commit. A search for his DNA, collected at the crime scene, in a genetics database maintained by the Department of Justice shows that the crime scene DNA does not match his. Instead, the DNA evidence implicates an inmate doing time in another state for a parole violation. Confronted with the DNA evidence, the parole violator confesses to the cold case murder, setting an innocent man free.

DNA-based appeals and related genetic evidence in general have revolutionized our legal system. More accurate than eyewitness testimony or the very cool fiber, fingerprint, and blood-splatter analyses depicted on CSI: Miami, DNA evidence provides conclusive proof of who was at a crime scene or somewhere else, miles away. Also because of this science, we will not have to build more tombs to unknown soldiers, wonder who our father may be, or guess about our susceptibility to some genetic disease.

DNA analysis works because each individual’s DNA is unique. More interestingly, our DNA carries the vestiges of evolutionary changes as varied as hair color, stature, and gut physiology. As geneticist Sean Carroll points out, “DNA contains, therefore, the ultimate forensic record of evolution.”

But this is the rub. Jurors and judges use DNA evidence to determine guilt or innocence, and in some cases, life or death, of thousands of citizens—all of which is universally supported by public opinion and considered sound science. But this same population— about half of us—doubts or outright denies the reality of evolutionary biology, indicating we are far more comfortable with DNA’s applications than with its implications. It’s this irony of public perception and understanding, coupled with the restaurant industry’s near total disregard for any honest responsibility for the health of the nation, which drives us at NAKEDpizza on our quest for a new forward.

The idea that evolution is the basis of human biology and helps explain why we are vulnerable to disease is scarcely mentioned in modern medicine and nutrition. If evolutionary biology were a more important part of modern medicine, common medical problems such as cough, nausea, vomiting, low-grade fever, fatigue, and anxiety would be correctly viewed not as problems to be eliminated, but rather as the body’s attempts to remedy a problem. A truly informed perspective would consider that if fever, cough, and diarrhea are effective defenses against disease, couldn’t blocking these defenses make people sicker? But where’s the money in that.

Much mainstream nutrition advice comes from nutrition and dietary experts who are card-carrying members of the The American Dietetic Association (ADA), the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. From the ADA website,

ADA is committed to improving the nation’s health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy.

This is a massive organization that publishes a number of journals and newsletters and convenes professional, food, and nutrition expos each year to publicize marching orders for its 70,000 plus members—a.k.a. Registered Dietitians. To say this group has an impact on the nutrition and dietary strategies of Americans would be an understatement. The ADA also does an excellent job of providing its members with tools, especially “timely, science-based food and nutrition information you can trust.” One way they do this is through Position Papers that “explain the Association’s stance on issues that affect the nutritional status of the public.”

These position papers address the ADA’s take on things like vegetarian diets, nutrition and aging, fiber intake, obesity and weight prevention, vitamin requirements, and so on. In all, there are about 39 position papers. A quick search for the words “evolution” and “evolutionary biology” in the body of the text in all 39 position papers yields “0” hits. While there are definitely some nutrition experts who consider their clients and customers as mammals with an evolutionary past, the business or industry of dietary advice does not see things quite the same way.

The same vision persists within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services—the keepers of the U.S Food Pyramid. In a press release distributed last October, the government announced they had selected “13 nationally recognized experts to serve on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. The Committee members are made up of prominent medical and scientific researchers from universities and scientific institutions across America that are leaders in their field.” Interestingly, not a single evolutionary biologist or anyone with any training or publishing record in the principles of evolutionary sciences are among the 13 experts who are going to tell us what to eat—and why. They were, however, able to squeeze in a couple of experts to help us with behavioral changes.

It is this lack of evolutionary perspective that allows the ADA and other groups to embrace a vegetarian diet as “appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.” While people choose vegetarian diets for a number of reasons—for moral grounds, for example—we should take the time to realize that the recommendations and validations of such a diet ignore the fact that meat played a significant role in human evolution and thus genetically shaped our physiology. The evidence for meat consumption is overwhelming in the archaeological record and is recorded in the chemistry of our ancestors’ bones and teeth, dating back to the dawn of humanity.

We are not closing our eyes to the potential health benefits of a meatless diet, nor to the moral, social, and environmental issues that shape one’s food choices; our logic also applies to dietary regimes that dismiss plants—for example, the Atkins Diet. Throughout human evolution, our nutritional landscape included large amounts of consumed plants. Period.

It is along the continuum of these two dietary extremes—all plants versus only a few—that most of us find no evolutionary foundations for either extreme to dictate our current nutritional needs.

When we started NAKEDpizza in late 2006, it was called World’s Healthiest Pizza, but not because we were pizza fanatics, and not because we had a burning desire to be in the quick service restaurant sector. Rather, we saw the pizza industry as an opportunity to 1) make an unhealthy and popular fast food healthier and more nutritious in a truly meaningful way; 2) make a better tasting pizza and; 3) demonstrate that a tastier and healthier pizza was a viable business concept. More importantly, by combining biological and nutritional science to create a new kind of pizza, and by considering the social and environmental dimensions of business, we could demonstrate a new conceptual framework that had the potential to create a way forward for the fast food industry.

As an industry, fast food is punctuated by a history of successes and achievement, but also plagued by paradoxes, shortcomings, and challenges that require increasing acts of marketing desperation. These desperate acts often result in short-cuts and compromises that have, and will continue to, undermine the health of the very customers the industry depends on. We are fast approaching the day when the current, dominant business model in the fast food industry of “you give me money, I give you taco” will be replaced by one of equity and the realization that the business of food is interlinked with social, cultural, environmental, political, and economic disciplines.

Most of all, the business of food should be in principle and practice a biological, environmental, and social science undertaking. It is simply too important to be less. With per capita spending on healthcare in this country already the highest in the world (more than $7,000 per person), we need a new strategy. This new, broad, integrated structure brings recent advances and progressive work into the realm of fast food by providing an opportunity for honest impact and renewal. This plan is appropriate for the twenty-first century.

At NAKEDpizza we are truly concerned with personal and population health, and also with the health of the living world of which we are a part. In part 2 of Pizza evolutus, we will lay out for you how we created the world’s healthiest pizza within this conceptual framework.


Gut Check

[Read this blog post before you go see Food, Inc. – the movie]

The ongoing (recent) outbreak of Salmonella Saintpaul has drawn outcry from media, predictable knee-jerk proposals from lawmakers, and understandable fear and confusion among consumers. As with outbreaks in the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and processing plants and farmers continue to take the blame for tainted food making us ill. But is our All-American sick gut deserving of some blame as well?

While our attention is focused on farm-to-table food safety and disease surveillance once we have gotten sick, the biological question of why we got sick is all but ignored.

Most experts working within what might be called the U.S. Food Safety System, that includes the efforts of some 15,000 people from 15 federal agencies, would readily acknowledge the complexity of detecting the admittedly small numbers of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in the 350 billion pounds of food in a farm-to-table chain that often spans multiple time zones and countries, as an insensitive prevention strategy at best.

Likewise, once an outbreak has been detected, sourcing the offending pathogen can prove difficult, as the recent Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak demonstrates even when a genetic match is made. While good farming practices, sampling and testing for detection, and the secondary prevention of tracking down the bad bug once an outbreak has been recognized are critical to a safe food supply, understanding why a person succumbs to what is often a very small number of initial organisms may be a relevant question and an additional strategy in reducing human suffering from foodborne pathogens.

By adding the biological question of why an individuals natural defenses failed to the intellectual concepts of testing, detection, and surveillance, we correctly insert personal responsibility into our national strategy and more importantly, draw attention to the much larger public health crisis, of which illness from foodborne pathogens is only a symptom of our sick, leaky guts.

The CDC warns “The elderly, infants, and those with impaired immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness” associated with tainted food (and water). By “impaired” the CDC is saying that within the complex network of specialized cells and organs that work together to defend against attacks from foreign invaders like Salmonella and E. Coli (toxin producing strains), something has gone wrong, increasing risk of getting sick – or worse.

A critical component to a properly functioning immune system is a healthy, and balanced population of bacteria. With names like bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, these and other natural inhabitants of the human gut make it their evolutionary job to fight invaders by competing for nutrients (which the invader needs to survive), compete for attachment sites on our intestinal walls (which the invader must do to cause harm), production of organic acids (that the invader does not like), and changing of pH of intestinal ecosystem (which the pathogen does not like either, but fast learning how to adapt). The things that are

This germ-on-germ warfare is literally fought daily in the American gut. When the good guys lose, we know this as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps – or worse. We have all experienced or witnessed these lost battles at varying levels from being restricted to the house, visits to the emergency room, or in some extreme cases, the morgue. While this germ warfare has raged in the human gut as long as humans have been around, the rules of the battle are changing as humanity has started a large-scale experiment by shifting to a highly processed diet that has changed the nutrient supply that our friendly microbes evolved to depend upon.

The irony of the public running from vegetables and fruits that have been suspected in an outbreak, is that these foods contain essential nutrients (dietary fiber) that our gut bugs need to fight the good fight. Our change in diet, coupled with uncontrolled use of antibiotics, may be adversely altering our organic relationship with our most important weapon against foodborne pathogens.

The disruption and increased gut infections caused by pathogens is possibly having an irreversible impact on our entire gastrointestinal system. Like a siege of cannon fire on the walls of a fortress, the walls (barrier) begin to crumble (impaired) and become prone to invasion. Mounting evidence suggests acute and chronic infection by pathogens damage the delicate mucosal barrier that separates trillions of bacteria in our intestinal system from the sterile environment of our blood. As the steady flow of lost battles accumulate, the barrier and our immune system as whole become impaired, resulting in inflammation and movement of pathogens (and endotoxins) into our sterile blood. An impaired and leaky gut barrier plays an important role in a range of maladies such as irritable bowel disease, some cancers, sepsis, organ failure, heart disease and a cascade of other metabolic disorders.

By inserting personal responsibility and some basics of host-pathogen germ warfare into the multi stakeholder strategy for addressing foodborne threats, we may start to realize that we may not simply be experiencing a mathematical rise in foodborne illness as a result of sloppy farming and poor government oversight, but rather a tectonic-like shift in our nutritional landscape that has opened the pathogens door just enough for us to glimpse the future of human suffering. Just the thought makes my gut ache.

*A version of this blog post appeared as an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, by NAKEDpizza co-founder.

Strengthening your bones, naturally

Osteoporosis. Just saying the word makes my bones ache.

If you’re a woman over the age of 50, you have about 40% chance of suffering from an osteoporotic fracture. That’s higher than your risk of contracting breast and ovarian cancer. Even worse, 50% of the osteoporotic hip-fracture patients never fully regain independence and more than 20% will die within 6 months. Not good odds.

If you are someone who thinks osteoporosis is a “women’s disease,” think again. It affects 25% of men over the age of 50 and an alarming number of young people. If the current trends continue, the problem is expected to worsen by 60% in the next 20 years – regardless of gender.

Most folks are aware that osteoporosis is characterized by bone fragility and related to dietary intake of calcium, or the lack thereof. Simply put – calcium is used to build bones and to a lesser extent, teeth. From the time we are born until our mid twenties, our bones are continually growing and require calcium to do so. The goal during this critical growth period is to achieve peak bone mass. Thick, mineral dense bones. Your peak bone mass – which again, you can only control until your mid twenties – will strongly influence your risk of osteoporosis later in life. From our mid twenties to about age 50, the density of our bones is relatively stable. This means no matter how much calcium you consume, your bones are not going to get any denser. The goal now is to maintain the bone mass you developed in youth and minimize bone loss associated with aging.

This is especially important for women, who must contend with a number of bone loss issues exaggerated during and after menopause – not to mention the demands of pregnancy and lactation on bone health. While you are older and wiser, the efficiency at which your body absorbs calcium in later years, like some many things associated with aging, isn’t what it used to be. Despite the fact that we are confronted daily with the “eat more calcium” message for “healthy bones” on TV, in newspapers and magazines, on annoying billboards, and along the aisles of our favorite grocery store, nearly 70% of Americans consume less than the daily recommended allowance of 1,000 mg of calcium a day – give or take. Our daily intake may in fact be lower when you consider that, depending on our particular genetic makeup and the composition of a given meal, our bodies may only absorb 30-35% of the total calcium advertised for a given serving.

Think about that little piece of critical information for a minute. Calcium that is not absorbed is mostly excreted in our urine and feces, which brings up an important issue – and the point of why I am writing about osteoporosis – bioavailability. The terms “bioavailability” and “absorption” are critical nutritional terms that are often used incorrectly. Absorption describes the process of transport of a mineral-like calcium from your intestine across the intestinal mucosa (the wall) into the circulatory system, so that it may be utilized or stored by the body. On the other hand, the bioavailability of a mineral like calcium means the “proportion” that is actually absorbed and thus utilized or stored.

The key here is solubility. A swallowed penny, for example, has zero bioavailability. It will simply enter one end and come out the other, intact. Whereas a glass of water is highly soluble and will be easily absorbed – nearly 100% bioavailability. Even though you think you are getting 500 to 1,000 mg of calcium from a given food item, meal, or “supplement,” you may not. Given this piece of information, it’s not only important that we increase our daily intake of calcium to recommended levels, we should also seek out means to increase the bioavailability of the calcium that we do consume so that it’s not wasted, so to speak.

One way of doing this is to lower the pH of your gastrointestinal system by delivering food to the trillions of tiny bacteria that live in your colon (specifically lactic acid bacteria). And that means fiber. Once in the colon, fiber is broken down by resident bacteria through hydrolysis and fermentation, which produces, among other things, short chain fatty acids and lactic acid. These acids then in turn make the colon more acidic, which increases the solubility of the calcium, making it more absorbable. One of the short chain fatty acids produced (butyrate) has been shown to induce cell growth in the colon, which in turn increases the “absorptive surface” of the colon. This means more calcium is absorbed and less is excreted in feces. Among the hundreds of species of bacteria living in your colon, you want to increase the number of the bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, specifically.

These two particular groups are known to be especially useful in increasing the acidity of your colon – and they thrive well on special inulin and oligofructose-type fibers that occur naturally in onions, garlic, artichokes, asparagus, and in lesser amounts in wheat-based products. They are also commercially extracted from chicory roots (think chicory coffee) and added as a food ingredient in a growing number of foods. These special fibers are known as prebiotics.

By increasing the bioavailability of the calcium that we do consume through a more acidic colon, we can add an additional dietary measure to the preventive strategies for fighting this terrible disease.

**Each and every slice of NAKEDpizza contains prebiotics.

First Rule of Dietary Recommendations? First, do no harm

So what is “health” and what actually constitutes a balanced diet? The answer depends, of course, on whom you ask. The World Health Organization defines health as follows:

Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

bushman family sa tourismThe Gwi Bushmen of the central Kalahari desert, on the other hand, define health in terms of their relationship with the land, making their environment essential not only for physical provisioning of food and shelter, but for spiritual and cultural survival. In other words, their perspective on health and its handmaiden, well-being, is one of econutrition with a dose of mysticism thrown in, just in case.

The Food and Nutrition Board (FNB), as part of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, has a different take on health and what constitutes a balanced diet—whatever that is. The FNB has been summarizing dietary advice more or less since the 1940s in the form of recommended daily allowances (RDAs), and their report, updated and issued every five years, heavily influences the creation of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans (think Food Pyramid). In their most recent report in 2002, this massive 900-page report described macro nutrient intake like this:

To meet the body’s daily energy and nutritional needs while minimizing risk for chronic disease, adults should get 45% to 65% of their calories from carbohydrates, 20% to 35% from fat and 10% to 35% from protein . . .

Bizarrely, they also state:

. . . added sugars should comprise no more than 25% of total calories consumed . . . .added sugars are those incorporated into foods and beverages during production [and] major sources include candy, soft drinks, pastries and other sweets.

Yep, none other than the National Academy of Sciences recommends that up to 25% of your daily calories can come from added sugar. Setting aside for the moment which fats, carbs, and proteins should make up the various ranges proposed, you really have to pause a moment and ask yourself what set of morons at the National Academy of Sciences thinks it’s reasonable to get up to 25% of your calories from nutrient-poor, rapidly-digested, insulin-spiking added sugar.

To help you wrap your head around how disastrous these recommendations truly are, a one-day meal plan has been prepared to supply the nutrients in accordance with the FNB’s recommendations. The breakfast, lunch and dinner meal plan (adapted from the China Study) delivers the protein, fat, carbohydrates and sugars within the ranges outlined by this scientific organization on behalf of the American people.

Meal Foods

1 cup Froot Loops
1 cup skim milk
1 package M&M’s
Fiber and vitamin supplements

Grilled cheddar cheeseburger

3 slices pepperoni pizza (from the “other” guys, not nakedpizza)
1 16 oz. Soda
1 serving of cookies

Nutrient                           Sample Menu                         Recommended
Content                            Ranges

Total Calories                       ~1800                                           Varies by height/weight
Protein                                    ~18%                                              10-35%
Fat                                             ~31%                                              20-35%
Carbohydrates                     ~51%                                              45-65%
Added sugars                       ~23%                                              Up to 25%

Even worse, many government sponsored programs (think national school lunch program) are constructed using these same ranges. You don’t need to be a nutrition scientist to predict the outcome. Just look around.

Using the FNBs report as a playbook, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services updates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and accompanying Food Pyramid every five years—and has been doing so since their 1980 Congressional mandate. These guidelines are important because they determine, more or less, the composition of meals served as part of the national school lunch program, form the basis of many official nutrition recommendations, and provide cues for food marketers.

In short, the Food Pyramid is designed to “prevent the diseases of dietary excess.” This is interesting when you consider the current issue of Ode magazine which essentially says fat is back and actually good for you, juxtaposed with the 1984 cover of Time magazine that suggested fatty foods cause heart disease and by implication, dietary fat can also make you fat. Oh, how much can change in just 25 short years.

The 1984 Time cover parroted the 1980 dietary guidelines that “recommended reduced intake of all fats” and marked the beginning of the low-fat craze that swept America through the 80s and 90s, sparking our national obsession with processed carbohydrates to replace the calories lost from those fats.


Twenty-five years later, Ode magazine is essentially stating what the science has said all along: fat does not make you fat and fat does not cause heart disease. As bad as it is to base national dietary recommendations on weak science, the idea that “it can’t hurt to reduce fat intake no matter the science” has possibly—though inadvertently—contributed to our modern obesity calamity. Harvard researchers touched upon this emerging unintended consequence in 2001 when they made the following statement in a published this article:

It is now increasingly recognized that the low-fat campaign has been based on little scientific evidence and may have caused unintended health consequences.

What the hell?

What the Harvard researchers were eluding to in 2001, and what has been pointed out by others, is that once the public bought into the low-fat craze, the public assumed that they could consume the newly marketed low-fat or no-fat products flooding the market without concern. As the graph below shows, about the time American females started to heed the less fat is better message per the 1980 dietary guidelines and the accompanying marketing of low-fat products by the food industry, this same group of American females also started to grow in waist size. As a percentage of total calories, fat decreased between 1980 and 2001, but the percentage of overweight and/or obese females skyrocketed.


Interestingly, over this same period, age-adjusted caloric intake for females increased 18 percent, from an average of 1,542 a day in 1971 to 1,877 in 2001. Men show similar patterns. During this same period, females significantly increased carbohydrate intake and, as you may have guessed, most of the carbs were highly processed (easily digested and absorbed). In other words, the majority of the additional calories consumed by females (and males) came in the form of high processed carbs in those low-fat and no fat paroducts.

Ironically, given that obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, the dietary guidelines recommending fat restriction may have worsened the obesity rates in America, and in the final analysis will have the undesired effect of actually increasing rates for heart disease as our current overweight and obese generation ages.

Recent consumer behavior toward the popular 100-calorie “mini-packs” suggests that low-fat or no-fat product offerings may have convinced consumers that they can eat these products with abandon, subsequently contributing to the 18% increase in calories noted above for females from 1971 to 2001. Researchers from Arizona State University found that test subjects consumed more calories when presented with mini-packs versus larger, traditional bags of same snacks. Oops.

The point of all this is that health and a well balanced diet mean different things to different people. Government-sponsored dietary guidelines are often the result of compromise between Congress and powerful lobbies, and not based on the merits of the best science at hand. Marketers and the food industry just make matters worse as they misappropriate dietary guidelines to push products such as low fat Doritos fortified with vitamins and organic Oreo cookies. I could go on for pages.

Dietary guidelines aimed at individual dietary components (e.g., fat) for the potential benefit of individual-level dietary modification (you) can have a net effect on America’s population that can be helpful or harmful. Given this, it is reasonable that government entities and other experts issuing dietary recommendations and advice be guided by the dictum, “first, do no harm.” If this cannot be answered with straightforward and convincing science at hand, do not issue dietary guidelines at all.

Splenda may damage gut bugs

splendaA handful of researchers from Duke University recently split a group of 50 male Sprague-Dawleys rats (i.e., your basic lab rat) into five equal groups. One group got water with its standard rat chow. This was the control group. The other four groups had their water spiked with the high-potency artificial sweetener Splenda.  The doses were 100, 300, 500, and 1,000 mg of Splenda per kg of body weight for the “volunteer” rats. All groups either downed good old water or their spiked water daily for the next 12 weeks.

According to lead researcher Professor Mohammed Abou-Donia, “The dosage levels were selected because they span the range of values below and above the accepted daily intake (ADI) for sucralose [and ingredient in Splenda] of 5 mg per kg, daily established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.” In other words, the researchers were trying to basically mimic what the average citizen might consume daily – or slightly more.

At the end of the 12-week study, researchers noted significant reduction of beneficial bacteria in the Splenda groups. For example, healthy bifidobacterium and lactobacillus bacteria were reduced by 37% and 39% respectively with the lowest dosage of Splenda. These reductions were relative to the control group.

Interestingly, while all the rats gained a little weight hanging out during the 12-week experiment, the groups consuming the diet spiked with Splenda gained the most weight. The trend – though not a perfect fit – revealed that the more Splenda consumed the more weight gained. The researchers were also concerned with some enhanced gene expression in specific regions in the Splenda groups “which are known to limit the bioavailability of orally administered drugs,” according to the Duke researchers.

The reduction of healthy bacteria in our Splenda rats was also accompanied with a change in the pH of the rat colon. That is, less acidic. Both the reduction of beneficial gut bugs and increase (less acidic) pH is not a good thing and would skew the balance of bacteria in the rat gut to the point that pathogenic bacteria may gain some ground – not good.

As you can imagine, the good folks over at McNeil Nutritionals, part of Johnson and Johnson, which markets Splenda, were peeved by the published results. Predictably they are claiming “the study was flawed” and the study was nothing more than a “Sugar Association-funded rat study.” Even though the study was just published, Splenda got wind of the results prior to publication this summer and sought legal action. And this is where it gets weird.

In July, U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fisher, who is not a scientist, ruled that the results of the rat study cannot be extrapolated to people and are therefore “irrelevant”, according to a statement by Splenda folks. The court also noted that the researchers’ opinions about the study could be misleading. Take that big suga!

Not amused by the courts comments, in an interview Professor Mohammed Abou-Donia, lead researcher of the “rat” study, said: “The Judge accepted our study and conclusions as valid, but decided that because it was done in animals, it should not be extrapolated to humans. Despite the fact that Splenda was approved for use based on animal, mostly rat, studies.”

I guess the judge is unaware that pretty much ALL medical research into human disease has a “rat lab” component.

Take home message: If you have been using Splenda in your morning coffee or tea – or using in baking – you might want to do a little more research or cut back a tad. If you are one of those creatures of habit and can’t give up your Splenda, you might want to eat a little more of our pizza as each and every slice contains the prebiotics (and a diversity of fiber) that have been clinically proven to promote the health and growth of the very bacteria Splenda seems to be reducing.

Are Fruits and Veggies Really a Good Source of Fiber?

The message is everywhere—we should eat more fiber. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans—the latest “food pyramid” concept—recommends that we consume 25 to 38 grams of fiber every day depending on age, gender and so on. Based on this sage advice, the average American manages to eat about half that amount. Why can’t (or won’t) we do better? One of the reasons might be that the most widely consumed produce items in the typical American diet has very little fiber, especially when you consider what fiber-rich items our not-so-distant ancestors had available.

The health benefits of fiber are well known. From regulating weight, lowering cholesterol, stabilizing blood glucose levels, and enhancing immune system, to good ol’ improved regularity, its hard to argue against increasing our consumption of fiber. (Click this link to read more about the health benefits of fiber and its role in promoting the health and well-being of our intestinal flora).

The USDA’s Economic Research Service keeps a snazzy little database on the amount of produce (veggies and fruit) that we grow and consume in this country. When you take into account the amount of produce lost during processing and due to spoilage, the amount that we actually consume is small. This meager amount is reduced further still when you consider how much is left on our plates or tossed from the refrigerator because it has wilted. The average American consumes only about 1.5 cups of vegetables and about a half cup of fruit per day. To put that in perspective, 16 grapes or 4 large strawberries equal a half cup. Not much.

Interestingly, the USDA data also reveal the lack of diversity in the fruits and veggies we consume. Even though there are tens of thousands of edible plants in our environment, Americans eat only about 30 or so vegetable products on a regular basis, and of these, a whopping five plants (potatoes, tomatoes, head lettuce, romaine/leaf lettuce, and onions) account for 66 percent of all veggies consumed. The top 10 plants account for 82 percent. It doesn’t take much research to discover our favorite vegetable in terms of consumption:  the potato. As for fruits; apples, bananas, grapes, strawberries, and oranges account for 63 percent of our consumption. (Note that tomatoes are technically a fruit because they contain seeds).

When you glance over the list of the top fruits and vegetables consumed by Americans, you immediately see the lack of diversity. You also see that, except for potatoes, the produce we eat is predominantly made up of water. This leaves very little “dry matter” or macronutrients such as protein, fat, and of course, fiber.

While we also get a portion of our fiber-fix from breads, pastas, and legumes/beans, there is a specific public health message to consume more fruits and veggies for a number of health reasons, much of it built on the assumption that these foods are also a good source of fiber. When viewed from an evolutionary perspective, our modern choices of which fruits and veggies we actually consume, preferences which are heavily influenced by geography, marketing, shelf life, and culinary, cultural and palate preferences, may not be an effective way to accumulate the quantity and diversity of fiber our bodies need. This lack of diversity is even more pronounced when you realize that the current recommendations for fiber intake are only a fraction of the 75 to 100 grams a day we should be consuming.

To illustrate the lack of fiber in among modern fruits and veggies, it’s useful to compare diets that are more in line with the nutritional landscape upon which we evolved a physiological need for fiber. The chart below shows the fiber content of the typical modern American diet compared to the intake of Australian Aborigines and Hadza foragers of northern Tanzania (who still live a non-westernized lifestyle), and detailed archaeological data from dry caves inhabited by hunter-gatherers for thousands of years in the Lower Pecos region of west Texas.


The data presented above are for dry weights (water subtracted) and are displayed as grams of fiber per 100 grams of dry food weight (left axis). Using published nutritional data from 30 of the most popular veggies and 25 of the most consumed fruits in the American diet, we see that we get approximately 10.70 grams of fiber per 100 grams (about 3 ounces) of dry weight of produce consumed. When compared to fiber intake recorded at various places and times on the landscape represented by our three “ancestral or ancestral-like diets,” we have discordance. It’s interesting to note that the data displayed for the Australian Aborigines is derived from nutritional analyses of the 800-plus plants the Aborigines are known to consume.

Given our current choices of fruits and veggies consumed in America, we would need to double our consumption to meet the fiber levels present in plants that dominated our ancestral diet. Clearly, our current choices in plants is not going to result in any meaningful improvement in fiber consumption unless we increase our diversity to include plants with higher fiber content: high fiber legumes, beans, and tubers, for example.

With the issue of prevention moving slowly ahead of cure and management in our list of national healthcare priorities, any honest public health strategy will need to consider the underlying problems in the food supply. These issues go beyond the low hanging fruit of too many calories and too little exercise to a better understanding that while market forces and our own preferences shift our food supply, our evolutionary-determined needs are moving at a much, much slower pace. Eat more fiber.

**Each slice of NAKEDpizza delivers fiber from greater than 10 sources.

Eggs: Are they better for you raw?

Eggs are one of very few animal foods that you can store at room temperature for weeks with absolutely no processing. How perfect. A single chicken egg can supply a variety of proteins in the proportions that you need, all safely delivered in a hard, bacteria-resistant shell. Again, how perfect.

eggsStarting in the 1950s with Steve Reeves— Hollywood’s Hercules—and continuing with Sylvester Stallone’s character Rocky Bolboa and The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, generations of muscle-seeking citizens have downed large quantities of raw eggs as part of their training regimes. Much of the thinking that raw eggs are the ideal source of calories can be traced back to 1904, when raw-foodists Molly and Eugene Christian wrote that, “An egg should never be cooked…and that in its natural state it is easily dissolved and readily taken up by all the organs of digestion.”

Yeah, raw eggs are slimy, and there’s a campaign today to convince you that they’re also dangerous. But what if the raw eggs in front of you are safe and you’re not grossed out by a little slime? Does cooking an egg really make it less nutritious than if it were raw? Some Belgian researchers claim to have the answer.

In a set of experiments, some gastroenterologists analyzed the fate of egg protein after it was consumed by various test subjects. For the most accurate results, the researchers fed hens a diet rich in “labeled” atoms of stable isoptopes of carbon, nitrogen, and hydrogen. The researchers could then measure how much of this labeled protein  remained in the food collected in the ileum, at the end of the 35 feet or so of the test subject’s small intestine. Any protein that traversed the entire length of the small intestine was not absorbed. This protein was essentially metabolically useless because from this point on, bacteria in the colon digest the protein for their own selfish needs.

When the eggs were cooked, 91 to 94 percent of the cooked proteins were absorbed before in the small intestine, but only 51 to 65 percent of the raw proteins were absorbed. In other words, 35 to 49 percent of the protein from raw eggs was not absorbed and metabolized. In short, the researchers determined that cooking increased the available protein value of eggs by as much as 40 percent. The denaturation of proteins through the application of heat weakens the internal bonds of the proteins, making the three-dimensional structure more accessible to digestive enzymes, which in turn increases the amount of protein absorbed.

It’s worth pointing out that cooking also takes eggs from an essentially liquid form to a more solid food. As discussed in the earlier post on food texture and calorie burn, the human digestive process then has to take the solid eggs “back to” a liquid form to maximize protein absorption. This process is metabolically expensive and results in increases thermogenesis and increased calorie burn. Hell yeah.

A strict diet of pay attention is what it’s all about. eatNAKED friends, and live well.