5 comments on “How Much does Nutrition Matter?

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  2. I talked recently with someone who was skeptical of nutrition’s importance after reading this post, and figured out that he wasn’t using the evidence from hunter-gatherers in his evaluation.

    That evidence is a key part of my reasoning, and I apparently didn’t emphasize that evidence well enough.

    So I’ll try again. Cardiovascular disease causes about 1/4 of all U.S. deaths. Scientists have looked for similar deaths in modern hunter-gatherers, and found zero. It’s also quite rare in third-world countries. Lindeberg’s table 4.1 compares the U.S. to Uganda in 1951-1956, showing how many deceased men showed signs of previous myocardial infarction at autopsy:

    Age USA Uganda
    40-49 31 of 178 (17%) 0 of 178 (0%)
    50-59 51 of 199 (26%) 1 of 199 (0.5%)
    60-69 32 of 98 (33%) 0 of 98 (0%)
    70-79 8 of 24 (33%) 0 of 33 (0%)
    80+ 2 of 9 (22%) 0 of 9 (0%)

    So, if we had an intervention that provided the cardiovascular benefits of a pre-industrial lifestyle, that would have more impact on health than all of the medical innovation of the past few decades. Are you willing to bet against nutrition being an important part of such an intervention?

  3. Excellent write-up! It’s funny how hard it is to find serious overview material on nutrition, divorced from particular hobby horses.

    Have you gained any sense of the importance of diet if one disregards the harms which are entwined with obesity? From the selfish perspective of someone who doesn’t seem to put on weight, I haven’t been able to find any analysis of overall risks which isn’t hopelessly confounded.

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  5. Updating my opinion on the availability of insects that are fed a non-crappy diet: I overlooked a decent option.

    Silkworms are picky enough that they require a diet which includes leaves that closely resemble the diet they’re evolved for (usually mulberry leaves).

    It’s a bit complicated, because some silkworms are fed an artificial diet. But it looks like the artificial diets need to be around 40% (by dry weight) mulberry leaves, which is presumably a good deal better than a 100% crap diet. For now, it appears that the silkworms from Thailand get a natural diet, and that’s where I get my silkworm pupae.

    According to Silkworm pupae (Bombyx mori) are new sources of high quality protein and lipid, they’ve got a good omega-6/omega-3 ratio (about 0.2, with 36% of fat coming from omega-3).

    According to Organic Value Recovery Solutions, getting 1/8 of your calories from silkworm pupae would give you at least 100% of the RDA of B1, B2, B5, selenium, and zinc; 45% of the potassium RDA, 62% of the magnesium RDA, 89% of the folate RDA, and 5.5 grams of fiber (insects are about the only animals with fiber).

    A few caveats to the health benefits: they seem to have no B12 (so use B12 supplements, or eat seafood or crickets, rather than relying exclusively on silkworms for the nutrients you need from animals), and they have a low glycine to methionine ratio, which you can offset (if you eat lots of silkworm pupae) by getting at least half your protein from plants, or a quarter of your protein from collagen.

    The pupae are not too hard to buy (but note that shipping costs are high). They’re a bit more expensive per calorie than grassfed beef, but silkworms are cheaper than grassfed beef if I compare them based on price per nutrients such as omega-3, potassium, fiber, or most B vitamins.

    I now consider silkworm pupae to be one of the healthiest foods available. Probably a close second to oysters as the best animal to eat. I plan to replace a fair amount of my cricket consumption with silkworm pupae, and I’ll try to average at least 5g/day of dried silkworm pupae.

    H/T Joy Livingwell.

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