Kurt Harris MD

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« The Argument Against Cereal Grains | Main | Fish Oil - or not? »
Monday
Jun222009

Fats and Oils

 

FATS AND OILS - LIPIDS

Lipids are fatty acids or compound molecules composed of them. A fat is solid at room temperature and oils are liquid. Lipids are the key to PaNu. It is as much our misunderstanding of lipids as our misguided attachments to grains and fructose that is wreaking havoc with our health.

Saturated fat (SFA)

Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature. Their saturation with hydrogen atoms makes them solid at room temperature as it affects the shape of the molecules as they pack together. This same saturation means they lack a reactive double bond between carbon atoms. In future posts, I will describe how this makes them less susceptible to oxidation, and therefore less likely to promote coronary disease and other diseases.

SFA does not cause heart disease or cancer and does not make you fat. To the contrary, the hormonal satiety and lack of insulin response from eating fats is the key to weight optimization and avoiding the diseases of civilization caused by hyperinsulinemia and high blood glucose levels - diabetes, metabolic syndrome, degenerative diseases like alzheimer dementia, and many of the commonest cancers.

Think of saturated fat as “anti- fructose” – they are both completely “natural”, but in a modern food abundant environment, SFA is healthy matter and fructose is evil anti-matter. This is the subject of future posts, but it involves satiety and the metabolic meaning of availability of these two food types.

MUFAs – Monounsaturated fatty acids

A monounsaturated fat (MUFA) has a single carbon- carbon double bond. MUFAs have some unique properties in the diet. Their best known source is olive oil, but they are quite abundant in animal fats.

PUFAs – Polyunsaturated fatty acids.

These are fatty acids that have multiple reactive carbon-carbon double bonds. They occur with varying chain lengths but are generally classed by where the first double bond occurs from the end of the molecule, in the Omega 6 position or the Omega 3 position, abbreviated as N-6 and N-3. Much of the biological significance of N-6 and N3 fatty acids relates to their ratio, as they are the precursors for signaling molecules called eicosanoids that affect immune function, among other things. Excess O-6s compete for an enzyme that O-3 metabolism uses as well, and in turn this affects eicosanoid ratios in the body. Both O-6 and O-3 fatty acids are more susceptible to oxidation due to their multiple unsaturated carbon-carbon double bonds, and this also has biological significance, particularly in the process of atherosclerosis.

THE PANU METHOD APPLIED TO OILS

The evolutionary principle would suggest that once we think there might be harm from a particular artificial food, like an oil mechanically extracted from a seed or a nut, we should look for evolutionary discordance or concordance - could humans have eaten it in those amounts?

The method of PaNu is to first use modern tools and reasoning to think about what foods might not be working for us. Then, we mine the past to see if that food shows evidence of evolutionary discordance.

Grains and seed oils - corn, safflower, cotton, peanut, canola, flaxseed (linseed) all fail this test, mostly due to excess N-6 PUFA content.

Step 1: We observe evidence of harm with excess N-6 consumption when we understand the enzyme pathways of eicosanoid production, competitive inhibition of N-3 elongation by excess N-6s, and epidemiologic evidence that shows coronary disease and cancer tracking industrial oil consumption. I have not fully elaborated all these data and arguments yet, but this is where the argument begins.

Step2: Humans could not have had a metabolism dominated by huge amounts of N-6's in the paleolithic period as it would have required industrial technology that did not exist. The predominance of N-6's in our diet comes from mechanical extraction from seed oils. Absent this technology, a human could never get more than a trivial fraction of the N-6s we consume in out modern industrial diets.

Step 2 explains and strengthens our understanding of Step 1 and establishes presumptive evolutionary discordance.

Conclusion: excess seed oil consumption deviates from the EM2.

PaNu suggests we prefer SFA and MUFAs , then minimize overall PUFAs with a ratio appropriate to the EM2. A ratio of N-6:N-3 close to 2:1 is desirable, which suggests complete avoidance of mechanically extracted vegetable oils high in N-6, and if necessary, compensatory supplementation with N-3s via fish or fish oil.

It seems best to limit O-6's to less than 4% of calories - I just calculated mine at 2.75%. See Stephan's post here and some of his other posts for a good discussion of this. If you are above 4% O-6 then supplementing to get to 1% O3 likely has a benefit.

I eat sardines occasionally and I eat cod and non-farmed salmon slathered in butter once a week or so, - I haven't calculated it but I suppose I am getting plenty of 03s without cod liver oil or fish pills.

If you are still getting a lot of seed oils with high O6 levels, you may well need fish oil as a compensatory supplement.

MUFAs AND OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is a bit of a politically correct fad. It has it's origins of course in the supposed mediterranean diet - of which there are several, and of which only some had any olive oil in them. The support for olive oil was the general scheme (not supported by the evidence) that SFA is bad and MUFA and PUFAs were the alternative.

When you eat animal products and have low carbohydrate intake, you are getting huge amounts of MUFA from the animal fat - check out the MUFA content in a steak or in butter and it nearly matches the sat fat. Bone marrow is the big evolutionary source of MUFAs, not cold pressed olive oil. Of course there is some oxidation going on when you cook with olive oil that will defeat the purpose, so I eat it cold for flavor, but I get plenty of MUFA without olive oil in my animal based diet.

NUTS AND NUT OILS

How about nuts? I started out a big nut eater, thinking they were healthy and natural. I've found that they are loaded with carbs, though, and they seem to disturb my gut if I eat a lot of them, due to some lectins, no doubt. After research about fatty acids, I definitely do not view them in some therapeutic way like many seem to. Indeed, I can't think of any particular reason to eat them except to add flavor and interest to salads and other food -that is how I use them.

Nut Oils? Surely they are safer and better than grass seed oils - I use walnut oil and olive for flavor sometimes. Any advantage over butter or ghee or grass fed tallow or lard?

In my opinion, no. Too many PUFAs in nut oils to prefer them to butter and animal fats. Even if not N-6 predominant, PUFA levels in general should be kept low, and nut oils are high in PUFAs.

Eating nut oils in significant quantity depends on industrial technology not available in paleolithic times. Hence, eating bottled nut oil deviates from the EM2, even if not nearly as significantly as grass seed oils.

To summarize our PaNu hierarchy of fats and oils:

1) SFA is best because it is not oxidizable.

2) MUFA is next

3) Total PUFA should be as low as possible. N3 PUFA supplements are for people with too much N-6 PUFA from seed oils.

Animal sources, preferably grass fed or pastured, are the best way to optimize your lipid intake.

Overall, the biggies for discordance remain:

1 Cereal grains (Lectins, phytates, gliadin proteins)

2 Fructose as a high % of calories in a food abundant environment (Hormonal effects)

3 High N-6 PUFA consumption (imbalanced eicosanoid production with immune dsyfunction, inflammation and cancer promotion)

4 Inadequate animal fat intake might be #5, as it is both the consequence of and much of the solution to 1-3.

My approach remains somewhat that of a finger-wagging killjoy - "don't eat that" is just not as much fun as "eat this magic pill or supplement and you'll be healthier" and I am sure that's not the way to sell the most books. It also won't help you much if you are marketing supplements or expensive drugs. If you don't already like meat, seafood, eggs, cream and butter, there is not much emotional upside to my approach. It's not really that exciting to say "Hey, guess what I don't eat!" Even were you to show up naked to a party, you simply could not be more of a social freak than to refuse bread, beer, crackers, chips, and a slice of your neighbor's kid's birthday cake, and eat your burger rolled up like a tortilla with cheddar cheese and a slice of tomato.

But, there it is. If we are not in the business of marketing or politics, we must go where the evidence leads us.

 

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Reader Comments (26)

Hi,

I wonder what you make of the studies on humans as well as on animals that show that a high (say 60% of calories) intake of saturated fat (and to a lesser degree mono-unsaturated fat) contribute to insulin resistance and fatty liver. E.g., my sister who is a metabolic researcher can readily produce these symptoms in her mice by feeding them lard (as diet# D12492 from researchdiets.com). Another example is a study from Finland on humans: http://jcem.endojournals.org/cgi/reprint/90/5/2804 .

To me it seems prudent to not go overboard with fat consumption, and to not overemphasize saturated fat.

Regards,

Chris

July 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris W

Chris W

Not convinced at all that fatty liver clinically is caused by fat consumption. Despite such short term experiments, I've never once seen steatohepatosis clinically in humans on a long term high fat diet - it's always fructose or alcohol induced.

Fats and insulin resistance will get its own post soon and I may comment on that study you kindly mentioned.

In the meantime, don't fear the fats, fear the fructose!

July 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

Greetings, just discovered your blog thanks to Richard Nikoley and happy to have been led here. Another response to #3 would be, how do you make foie gras? Why you feed the duck corn until you cause liver damage, of course.

July 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Re fatty liver:

Thank you.

I did some further reading, and it seems as if the following factors (at least) may set the context for how the body will handle a high saturated fat meal:

1) The metabolic state when eating. (Fasted w. empty glycogen stores vs. non-fasted )
2) The amount of carbohydrates in the meal. Even a relatively small amount can cause problems, particularly when eaten together with a lot of fat - especially, I suppose, high glycemic load carbs.
3) The overall fatty acid composition. An over abundance of omega-6 compared to omega-3 hinders distorts mechanisms that regulate how macro nutrients are metabolized.

Incidentally, mimicking paleolithic eating patterns (both in terms of what to eat, and when to eat - e.g., incorporating a bit of fasting and meal irregularity) will deal with all of the above factors and set things right.

I look forward to your future posts!

Regards,

Chris W

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterChris W

Hello,

should or could I eat pork sausage/wurst, in the ingridients it says that it have salt,
some emulgators and so on. And what do you say about trans fats in such products?
I ask because it is the only meat that have more fat than protein (32g fat and 12g pro) I found,
'cause you say to obtain the fat from animal but most meat is low in fat, so what would you suggest?
It's difficult to get my fat without nuts, tablespoons of oil (flaxseed cause of 48g of the 100g of the fat are omega 3).

And what do you say about trans fats? Avoid them of course right?


Thanks

Sylwester

P.S.: Could you answer my questions in the comment section of the "Using Dairy to substitute Fats for Carbohydrates" soon please.

July 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSylwester

S -

Trans fats should be avoided. They naturally occur in the flesh of ruminants in small amounts, but avoid all artificially hydrogenated oils.

Unprocessed meat is better than processed. It's easier to know what is in it. They can't sneak dextrin (sugar) into your steak.

Keep in mind something with 20 g fat and 20 g protein is 67% or more fat by calories.

Slice of cheese or egg yolk on a hamburger fried in butter should do it.

July 26, 2009 | Registered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

Hi Kurt,

Thank you for this and all of your posts. They are quite interesting and almost mirror things I have been saying for years. I do have a couple questions for you and will briefly paint a picture for your regarding my lifestyle.

You made no mention in this post regarding Virgin (unrefined) Coconut Oil (*question at bottom), which is a medium chain fatty acid. While I do not eat any animal source of food except wild caught fish, organic whole eggs, and raw dairy I agree with you wholeheartedly on the high fat eating lifestyle.

I used to eat A LOT of animal fats. I would go through a pint of organic Greek full-fat yogurt daily as well as bricks and bricks of raw cheese and gallons of raw full-fat organic milk from grass-fed cows on a weekly basis. (*Question regarding this at the bottom of my post.) I cut them all out months ago when I decided to try a much more vegetarian based diet and many days being more vegan.

I also intermediate fast 18-20 hours every day, have for years, eating only one meal that's staggered in the evening that starts and ends with "colors" (vegetables and fruits), and also exercise 5-6 days (kettlebell & bodyweight GPP training personally and within my Kettlebell Boot Camp) a week during my fast in order to maximize the glucagon fat burning experience alongside the estrogen & insulin suppression and testosterone & GH increase.

My fat sources mainly come from unrefined virgin coconut oil, avocados, nuts and seeds; however reading your site I will be eliminating the seeds. I do not have celiac disease, but do have an intolerance to gluten that took me 18 years to finally realize. I'm glad I did cause I have never felt better. I have recently cut out all grains whatsoever. I am replacing them with fats of course, but was leaning to the vegetarian and even possibly the vegan lifestyle. I have never been a fan of chicken or turkey, but definitely enjoy grass-fed beef. I have never had bison, but want to try it.

After much thought and ongoing research I am not convinced to restrict my eating to that of vegetarian, but moreover create a balanced Paleo lifestyle that provides its benefits married to that of vegetarian as much as possible. Sounds goofy I know, but I will make it happen. I'm very glad I stumbled onto your site.

So with all that said I have just 2 main questions that I would love for you to address:

1. Your thoughts on Virgin Coconut Oil even thought it is also machined to extract. I use it solely to cook and add to smoothies- both green and fruit.

2. Your thoughts on the consumption of raw dairy such as whole raw milk and cheese on a regular basis...
I used to be "lactose intolerant"; however only believe that to be related to 2 things: first is intolerant to pasteurized dairy, and second a gluten issue relating to my entire digestion problems.

Thank YOU very much Kurt and I look forward to your response.

Bob Garon
http://SynergyKettlebellKamp.com

July 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBob Garon

1. Coconut oil is fine to eat and cook with. Seems a lot more expensive than butter and I see no particular advantage to it.

2. Raw dairy is fine as long as you trust the source - preferably it is from someone you know - and it is tested for brucellosis and tuberculosis. If you avoid milk and stick with butter cream and fermented dairy there is little lactose to worry about. Raw milk has lactose. If you are afraid of casein stick with butter and cream, or better yet, ghee (clarified butter)

August 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

Hi Kurt:

There is any archeological evidence that ancient man diet was high in saturated fats? Can you help me find some?

Cordain articles and books states that it was no more than 10-15%. I some how disagree but havent found any reliable source on the contrary so far. For example, large mamals tend to acumulate large amounts of fat in differents seasons, and those mamals were hunted and eated by the preshistoric man. There are evidence of fat comsumption in prehistoric man, or ways to estimated it?

Thanks

Miguel

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Angel

Hi Kurt, where does soybean oil fit into this spectrum? It is the first ingredient in nearly every commercially made mayo and salad dressing...should it be avoided?

Thanks,
JM

August 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJM

JM

If you wanted to design a food additive that would be as unhealthy as possible but still seem like food, soybean oil would be it. It's in everything and is very high in O6 linoleic acid and has some soy phytoestrogens to mimic your natural hormones to boot.

Never eat anything that came with a label. Then you don't have to read labels.

Miguel

I don't agree with Cordain about sat fat. My faith in SFA is grounded first in knowledge of biochemistry and medical science, and then supported by evolutionary reasoning. There is no way that I am aware of to prove the exact % SFA consumed by people 20,000 years ago, but we can assume we became adapted to eating SFA by knowing the history of human carnivory and combining that with our present medical knowledge.

August 19, 2009 | Registered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

Wow, wonderful blog, still reading past posts. Really appreciate the scientific basis behind your positions. Thank you for taking the time to educate all of us.

Would you say olive oil on salads is still okay? I use oil/vinegar to dress salads but lately started using salsas for the same purpose. (Sorry to ask a "foodie" question!) :-) I only cook with butter.

Thanks again for the great information. ~ Molly

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Molly

You are most welcome

Olive oil on salads is fine the way vegetables are not necessary but fine. Olive oil is just not good to cook with.

I don't mind foodie questions at all, I am just too busy to post recipes and pictures!

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

Hi Kurt,

Is it not ok to cook with Extra Light Olive Oil either? I know it has a higher smoking point than EVOO but does that not have any affect on oxidation?

I have been cooking mostly with butter these days but also us ELOO, peanut oil and sesame oil. EVOO I only do uncooked.

Thanks for your great site.

September 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbooradly07

One other question Dr.

I understand that grain-fed beef, about all I can afford these days, has a bad ratio of O-6 to O-3. It seems as if in these cases that ratio is more important that actual quantity of O-6 consumed. Is this correct logic, considering I may not be able to afford all grass-fed beef, butter etc...and can simple suplementaiton with good quality fish oil correct the imbalance?

Again thanks for the site and of course your time

Boo

September 6, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbooradly07

booradly

I don't cook with any vegetable oil ever, esp. not peanut or sesame. Coconut is in separate class and is fine, though.

Oxidized PUFAs are not good to eat.

I like olive oil as a condiment cold occasionally.

Any day I eat corn fed beef, I take a single teaspoon carlson's cod liver oil.

September 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

I hate to admit this, but I really don't like the TASTE of grass-fed beef--at least not the several times I've had it. I buy my meat from a local Amish market that advertises "no growth hormones, no animal by-products, no drugs" in their meats. I do supplement with a fish oil capsule every day [http://www.vitacost.com/Carlson-Super-Omega-3-Fish-Oils]. My question: is that enough to off-set the O-6 in the meat?

BTW, I just discovered a nearby farm that sells grass-fed beef and free-range poultry--will definitely check it out.

Absolutely love your blog--learning so much from the articles and comments. THANK YOU for your tireless efforts!

October 16, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlivesimply

Livesimply

Thank you

Grass fed beef, like venison from wild whitetail deer or elk, requires different preparation than grain fed. Much of this is due to the lower fat percentage, which makes it more heat sensitive. Try reading a book called "farmer and the grill" - also Richard at Freetheanimal and Dr. Eades both have some good tips on grass- fed preparation.

I do think CLO with omega 3's can compensate for the mild excess of 6s in grain fed beef. I take a teaspoon of Carlson's CLO on any day I eat grain-fed or chicken or pork.

Needless to say, I never consume food fried in vegetable oil - that is where most of the excess 6's are coming from, not the grain fed beef.

October 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

Where do you stand on chia seeds? I eat about 3 tablespoons a day for breakfast with wild blueberries and yogurt.

Thanks

Natasha

November 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNatasha

Chia seed are pointless, IMO
Get your omega 3's from fish or cod liver oil

November 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterKurt G. Harris MD

Paleolthic man ate and stored lot of nuts
Nut shells have been found in every paleosite in europe and nuts are a huge component
of many hunter gatherer diet. There are studies showing a reduced heart disease risk from consumption
of extra n-6 from nuts and other studies questioning the importance of a perfect n-3 to n-6 ratio.
Nuts are great food and since they don't give stomach distress to most people I would blame the body of
the eater if it can't tolerate them, rather than the good itself.

KGH RESPONDS:

Extra n-6 ? reduces heart attack risk? When we have too much already?

I am sure you referring to some crappy associational study.

Let's blame the body of coeliac as well. Nuts are tasty but nutritionally empty and not magic. Better than honey, though, which is also historically paleolithic.

November 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDanny

Kurt--
I'm wondering what would be the best oil to use when marinating food for grilling? I was using rice bran oil, then switched to high oleic safflower oil. I know olive oil shouldn't be heated and the taste is not neutral enough for me anyway.

Really enjoy your blog!
Thanks so much.

KGH:

Can't answer that if you want to avoid PUFAs. Do marinades have to have oil? I am not much of a cook, maybe try Richard at Freetheanimal.

November 15, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterlivesimply

I find it disturbing that the use of the term omega as in omega-6 and omega-3 has become synonymous with the two essential fatty acids, 18:2w6 and 18:3w3. Even these technical designations are abbreviations of the full names all cis-w6, 9-octadedienoic acid and all cis-w3, 6, 9-octadetrienoic acid. While it is true that 18:2w6 is an omega 6 configured fatty acid and 18:3w3 is an omega-3 configured fatty acid not all omega-6 and omega-3 configured fatty acids are EFAs. If vegetable oils actually contained an abundance of all cis, unoxidized 18:2w6 fatty acid we would get far too much in our diet. But because of the unstable nature of PUFAs it is highly unlikely they do. The real problem is that the majority of the omega-6 in vegetable oils is oxidized or otherwise adulterated and although there is a requirement in human nutrition for all cis 18:2w6 there is no requirement for oxidized PUFAs which can be extremely toxic.

No matter which direction one comes from the conclusion is that PUFA vegetable oils are toxic and should be avoided as much as possible. The problem is that vegetable oils are ubiquitous, they are in just about every form of prepared food.

It is worth exploring the reasons why vegetable oils have become synonymous with 'healthful' while saturated fat has become synonymous with 'evil'. I believe the answer can be found partly in the history of the food guides which first emerged at the turn of the last century. These guides were very heavy in carbohydrate foods. World War II created an impetus for some form of recommendations for diet. The problem the committee from the National Academy of Science struck to produce the guide (RDA) faced was that science had shown protein and fat to be essential macro nutrients but not carbohydrate. The committee neatly skirted this issue by creating a new category for 'energy', one that lumped carbohydrate (non essential) together with fat (essential). This move was justified by rationing which had created a shortage of animal based foods.

By the time the RDA was released vegetable oils were making inroads in the diet thanks to effective lobbying. But vegetable oils really gained ground along with carbohydrates when those such as Ancel keys started vilifying saturated fat. This opening shot started a 'hit list' of bad foods that included saturated fat and cholesterol, both animal based. At the same time good foods emerged that included fibre, no cholesterol, quick energy and no saturated fat (i.e. PUFAs), all plant based foods. In combination with the recommendation in the RDA that no more than 30% of calories come from fat and at least 60% come from carbohydrate the vilification of saturated fat and the promotion of vegetable food groups had the effect of forming a pincer on animal based foods while indirectly promoting so called 'vegetable oils' as healthful. This tactic was disarmingly simple. If fat is good for you but saturated fat is bad most will reach the conclusion by the simple process of elimination that vegetable oils are good. The vilification of cholesterol as bad, which was a total fabrication, further supported vegetable oils as healthful because they could be shown to reduce cholesterol. The fact that the use of vegetable oils in the diet is accompanied by a corresponding increase in the incidence of cancer is conveniently regarded as incidental.

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid MacPhailI

Further to my last post I forgot to add that Ancel Keys developed what was to become a prototype for fast/conveniece foods, the carbohydrate heavy K-Ration.

Wikepedia
"In 1941, Dr. Ancel Keys (a University of Minnesota physiologist) was assigned by the U.S. War Department to design a non-perishable, ready-to-eat meal that could fit in a soldier's pocket as a short-duration, individual ration. Keys went to a local supermarket to choose foods that would be inexpensive, but still be enough to provide energy. He purchased hard biscuits, dry sausages, hard candy, and chocolate bars."

The question in my mind is was there a carbohydrate promotion agenda behind Keys vilification of saturated fat?

November 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid MacPhailI

Too many web sites are promoting coconut oil, palm oil and soy bean oil. All of these oils will eventually harm you. I only use olive and grape seed oil. I do not use saturated oils, butters, margarines, Trans fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils), any processed soy product, and vegetable oils like cotton seed, corn, and canola. Three years ago I switched to olive and grape seed oil. It has made such a change to my body, it lowered my total cholesterol over 100 points and I do not eat oat meal or take meds. My blood pressure is now 60 over 105 it was 90 over 135. I now have a pulse of 58. I am over 40 years old. My doctor is baffled how I achieved this with out meds. I mostly eat egg whites, chicken, turkey, lean pork, some fish - not too much because of mercury, vegetables, fruits, rice, home made bread, and my favorite chocolate peanut butter muffins only sweetened with apple sauce! I avoid eating out, you cannot control what's in that food. I do not eat deli meats, hot dogs, and bacon, all have high sodium and nitrates that can cause colon and prostate cancers. I do not eat soy products because they cause hormone issues and inflammation of arteries around the heart. I also do not drink tap water because it contains chlorine and high amounts of iron which can be harmful if you have hemochromotosis - genetic disorder that goes undetected by most doctors in the U.S. that makes the body store too much iron and will eventually kill you by the time your in your 50’s and is usually misdiagnosed as either a heart attach or liver cancer

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterscott

I am not a doctor. The paragraph I wrote is from personal experience and is not
intended to treat or diagnose any medical problems.

December 17, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterscott
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