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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.

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.

Can our cooling bodies be playing a role in obesity?

The human body temperature more or less hovers around 98.6 °F (37.0 °C), although this varies throughout your day according to how active you are, what you eat, and so forth. The weight loss we experience when we exercise is related to, among other things, our increased body temperature. A higher core body temperature increases the rate of moisture evaporation and burns more calories. This is why our appetites increase following prolonged exercise or physical activity—for example, a burly lumberjack working outside all day may burn twice as many daily calories as an accountant, and that lumberjack will need to replace those calories just to maintain his original weight.

We have all lost weight while lying flat on our backs after catching some nasty bug. True, some of this has to do with reduced appetite and loss of fluids, but much of it has to do with our increased core body temperature, which rapidly burns through our stored calories: fat deposits in adipose tissue. Depending on the severity and length of your illness, body temperatures in the range of 99 to 101 degrees can increase the number of daily calories burned by 5 to 20%. Staggering when you think about it.

thinbushmanThis “infection” burn rate for calories, when viewed through the lens of our evolutionary past, becomes interesting—or at least it should—for those of us fighting the bulge at home or in guiding public health policy.

Before the age of infection-fighting drugs and antibiotics—and you can include antimicrobial soaps as well—our ancestors battled infection and its temperature-raising, calorie-burning effects on a daily basis. When I say ancestors, I’m talking about our pre-agricultural predecessors, not the old world folks who created a freakish relationship with the microbial world through crowded cities and tainted water and food supplies—all of which resulted in average life expectancy of a little more than 20 years.

If modern medicine has given us anything, it has been lower core body temperatures through reduced infection rates. While high fever and infection get all the attention, it’s the “low grade” infections and “slightly” high temperatures that should interest obesity researchers and public health officials. We have all heard that 3,500 or so calories equal a pound of body weight. That is, burn 3,500 calories on the treadmill or running around the park and you will lose one pound. Now think for a minute. The effects of a low-grade infection that raises your core body temperature from our current average of 98.6 degrees to, say, between 99.0 and 99.6 degrees on a more or less permanent basis. Without boring you with the math, this modest increase in body core temperature will increase our resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy one burns just sitting on the couch and not eating, as digestion burns calories, too) by 2 to 7 percent, depending on a dizzying number of variables. Imagine for a moment that your body automatically burned (needed) 2 to 7 percent more calories on a daily basis, and that your increased body temperature was not noticeable and did not affect your daily routine. For someone on a 2,500 kcal daily diet, an increased burn rate from a slightly elevated core body temperature (from a constant low grade infection) might result in an additional 100 or more calories burned in a day. Using the less than perfect assumption that 3,500 calories burned equals one pound lost, you would carve almost a pound from your frame every month if you just went about your daily routine. And in a year, well, you get the idea.

So what was the low-grade infection that our ancestors experienced? While there were a number, the most likely characters were various parasitic worms (e.g., helminths) that lived deep in our ancestral gastrointestinal tract. The presence of these parasites sends our immune system into action causing body temperatures to rise. Because the parasites compete with “us” for nutrients in our intestinal tract and “can” cause a great deal of problems if they get out of hand, the World Health Organization and modern medicine spend a lot of time trying to eradicate them from our species. These efforts are especially intense in developing countries, where dirty water and minimally processed meats easily transmit these parasitic infections. An estimated 40 million Americans have some form of parasitic infection. That said, much of the world’s population lives in a symbiotic relationship with our evolutionary hitchhikers. In fact, intestinal parasites are used to combat some autoimmune diseases.

Anyone in the livestock industry will tell you that administering antibiotics to your herd or flock will result in weight gain. In other words, reducing low-grade inflammation and general infection reduces calories burned and thus increases weight. Might our overuse of antibiotics and antimicrobials have reduced our “natural” low-grade inflammation just enough to tip the scales against us? Makes you wonder.