6 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.

  6. Here’s some more evidence, found via Steven Fowkes’ writings.

    Multivitamin / mineral supplements increase intelligence in children, although maybe that only happens in regions where nutrition has been relatively poor.

    Improvement of fine motoric movement control by elevated dosages of vitamin B1, B6, and B12 in target shooting:

    In both studies, marksmen in the vitamin-treated groups showed statistically significant, considerably improved firing accuracy as measured by the number of points achieved within a series of 20 shots at each examination. In study 2 the degree of improvement was linearly dependent on the duration of vitamin treatment, whereas the placebo-treated group, similar to the untreated control group in study 1, did not show any prominent change.

    I’ve been uncertain whether a good target for dietary fiber should be a function of total calories, carbs, or something narrower.

    The Maasai provide some evidence (that I’d previously overlooked) which indicates that a very low carb diet is safe.

    From Wikipedia:

    Traditionally, the Maasai diet consisted of raw meat, raw milk, and raw blood from cattle. Note that the Maasai cattle are of the Zebu variety. In the summer of 1935 Dr. Weston A. Price visited the Maasai and reported that according to Dr. Anderson from the local government hospital in Kenya most tribes were disease-free. Many had not a single tooth attacked by dental caries nor a single malformed dental arch.

    He attributed that to their diet consisting of (in order of volume) raw milk, raw blood, raw meat and some vegetables and fruits, although in many villages they do not eat any fruit or vegetables at all.

    Electrocardiogram tests applied to 400 young adult male Maasai found no evidence whatsoever of heart disease, abnormalities or malfunction. Further study with carbon-14 tracers showed that the average cholesterol level was about 50 percent of that of an average American.

    That has convinced me to mostly stop worrying about my total fiber consumption and my fiber/calorie ratio, and instead focus mostly on keeping my fiber above 25% of my carbs, and keeping my sugar consumption at less than 1.5 times my fiber.

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