Monthly Archives: March 2012 - Page 2

Food for a Fast

Alfredo asked us to offer ideas for how to fast during Lent:

What to eat during fasting (other than cranberries & coconut oil) is on my mind. Looking for some variation in the fasting menu.

It’s a great question. We did have a post on one possible fasting food – Neo-Agutak: “Eskimo Ice Cream” – but never discussed alternatives or the reasons for eating particular foods during a fast.

Fasts don’t have to be food-free

Some people think a fast should involve no food at all. On the Neo-Agutak post, Don Matesz commented:

I would not say that I was fasting if I consumed more than 625 calories during any period of that “fast.”

But that’s not the position of the Catholic Church. During Lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are fast days. The US bishops allow one full meal and up to two snacks:

The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday (Canon 97) to the 59th Birthday (i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday) to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk).

Children, the elderly, and those whose health might be threatened are exempt from the requirement to fast.

So let’s consider a fast to be any period of reduced calorie consumption – not zero food.

Basic fasting: Electrolyte and fluid replacement

It is certainly a mistake to consume nothing at all during a fast.

People deprived of fluids and electrolytes die quickly. In a famous case cited in Wikipedia (“Starvation”), Drusus Caesar, son of Agrippina the Elder, was starved to death in 33 AD by the emperor Tiberius, and managed to stay alive for nine days only by chewing the stuffing of his bed. When Saint Maximilian Kolbe and nine others were starved in Auschwitz, seven of the ten died within two weeks.

When fluids are provided, however, survival can be much longer. Even in his 60s, Gandhi was able to go without food for 21 days. In the Irish hunger strikes of 1980-1981, no one who fasted less than 46 days died, and about half those who fasted between 46 and 73 days died.

So fluids and electrolytes extend the duration of a fast by about a factor of four. Since we want our fasts to be safe and health-improving, we should certainly take:

  • Water.
  • Sodium and chlorine. During a fast protein is converted to glucose and ketones, releasing nitrogen waste in the form of urea. Sodium and chloride are excreted along with the urea. Salt loss can be fairly rapid during a fast, equivalent to as much as a teaspoon of salt a day. A large amount of water is lost along with it.
  • Potassium. Potassium is the intracellular electrolyte, sodium the extracellular, and osmotic pressure must be balanced. So potassium will be lost along with water and sodium, and should be replenished with it.
  • Calcium and magnesium. These also serve electrolytic functions and it is desirable to maintain their concentrations.
  • Acids. These are beneficial for the digestive tract and metabolism, and also for solubilization of minerals. Citrate, for instance, helps prevent kidney and gallstones.

Vegetables are the best source of potassium; bone broth is a source of calcium and magnesium. The best acids are citrus juices, such as lemon juice, and vinegars, such as rice vinegar. Sea salt, or salty flavorings such as soy sauce or fish sauce, can provide sodium chloride. So the most basic food to take during a fast is a soup made of vegetables in bone broth, with salt and an acid added.

Here are some pictures. First, make up a bone broth by cooking bones in acidified water:

It’s best to use a ceramic or enameled pot to prevent leaching of metals from the pot.

When you’re ready to eat, put some scallions or celery and cilantro or basil in a bowl, and add hot broth:

Add salt, pepper, acid, and spices to taste.

Spinach and tomatoes are great vegetables for these broths, because they are rich in potassium. Here is a tomato soup:

Here’s a slightly fancier example. I think this had tomatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, and kohlrabi:

Served with parsley and scallions, rice vinegar, and sea salt:

Adding some food

So far we haven’t provided any calories to speak of. The next step in reducing the stress of the fast is to add some nutrition to the soup.

The stress of a fast is largely due to the absence of dietary carb and protein. The body has limited carb storage – glycogen is depleted early in a fast – and is loath to cannibalize lean tissue for protein. On the other hand, the body has abundant fat reserves. So

Two strategies may make sense in different circumstances:

  • A protein-sparing modified fast. Protein, which is convertible to glucose, is eaten to relieve the carb+protein deficit.
  • A ketogenic fast. Short-chain and medium-chain fatty acids, such as are found in coconut oil, are eaten to generate ketones. Ketones can partially substitute for glucose utilization.

What these have in common is that they reduce the carb+protein.

Probably 90% of people who fast should favor the protein-sparing approach. Those on ketogenic diets for neurological disorders should probably favor the ketogenic fasting approach.

An example of a food suitable for a ketogenic fast would be Neo-Agutak: “Eskimo Ice Cream” (Dec 5, 2010).

A suitable food on a protein-sparing modified fast would supply most calories as protein; carb and fat calories would be from nutrient-dense sources. Egg yolks, which are rich in phospholipids like choline, and potatoes are good examples of nutrient-dense fat and carb sources.

The easy way to implement this healthy fast: just add eggs, potatoes, and maybe some fish or shellfish (which tend to be protein-rich, and comply with the Catholic guidelines for Friday abstinence) to any of the soups shown above. Heat the soup in the microwave and there you have it: a healthy fast-day meal!


Those on weight loss diets will notice that by adding protein, carbs, and a few nourishing fats to our fast-day soup, we’re getting very close to our recommended diet for calorie-restricted weight loss diets: see Perfect Health Diet: Weight Loss Version (Feb 1, 2011).

There’s a good reason for that: both posts work from the same design principles. Both aim at the greatest possible nourishment on the fewest calories.

Would you like to lose weight? Consider making these nourishing soups a staple of your diet.

Even if you’re not fasting or trying to lose weight, consider making these soups a regular part of your daily meals. It’s very easy to make a broth on the weekend and warm it up and pour it over diced vegetables at mealtime. You might find them a very satisfying addition to your diet.

Around the Web; Davy Jones Goes to His Locker Edition

The Paleo Summit continues: today we have Cate Shanahan, Keith Norris, and Daniel Chong; tomorrow the summit wraps up with Jimmy Moore, Stephanie Greunke, and Dean Dwyer.

To download the full set of videos, you can buy the Paleo Summit upgrade package:

[1] Music to read by: Davy Jones passed away at 66 from a heart attack:

He looked good 8 months ago, just overweight:

One more for the road:

[2] Interesting items:

Beth Mazur organized discussions at PaleoHacks for each of the Paleo Summit talks. Here is a list:

Jimmy Moore asks, “What’s With The Antagonism About Low-Carb From The Paleo Community Lately?

Richard Nikoley‘s ideas have been sipping scotch in the back of his mind, and now that his safe starch experiment is going well, they’re ready to come out:

Four days in, and I’m averaging 300-400 calories below what I was averaging before. I feel more full on average, more satisfied, sleep WAY better, and have a mental go-for-it attitude I haven’t felt since I was on that high-fat diet, in caloric deficit and losing 60 pounds.

I’ve lost between 2 and 3 pounds since weighing in Saturday morning when this all began.

SCD Kat is giving up starches after contracting appendicitis. Get well soon, Kat!

J Stanton gives us the next big thing: the Australopithecine Paleo Diet.

Conner Whitney, cancer survivor, chef, and author of Zest for Life: The Mediterranean Anti-Cancer Diet, explains healthy ways to create processed meats, including home-made bacon.

Bruce Charlton reports that nerve function has degraded 35% since the 1880s. He thinks it’s due to genetic changes; I would put my money on dietary changes and the evolution of chronic infectious pathogens since the invention of plumbing and water treatment.

Fight Aging! notes a 1929 study in which rats lived 10% longer when some of their dietary wheat was replaced with milk. Elsewhere, Fight Aging! notes that HDAC inhibitors can reverse Alzheimer’s in a mouse model. This is interesting, because many foods contain HDAC inhibitors, and HDAC inhibitors are also effective against cancer, as I will blog about in my next cancer post.

We’re pleased to be featured in “Dan’s Report”.

Dan’s Plan reprints a post by JD Moyer that starts with the links between Toxoplasma infection and traffic accidents, and ends by saying you should drag your doctor into the modern era.

A Mongolian-trained Harvard doctor thinks modern milk has too much progesterone. Mongolian milk is much healthier.

Cate Shanahan thinks that the elevation of rT3 and decrease of T3 thyroid hormone sometimes seen on extreme low-carb diets is due to abrupt reduction in carb intake. I think it’s due to the body being unable to manufacture enough glucose to meet its needs.

Jack Kruse offered two posts: First, why you shouldn’t eat a banana if you find yourself in Calgary, Canada on Dec 31st. Second, why the death of a patient from cold taught him that we should expose ourselves to cold. Melissa McEwen thinks Jack’s posts deserve criticism. Melissa’s post has a vigorous comment thread that includes comments by me, Chris Kresser, Kurt Harris, Steve Parker, and others.

Walking the dog can be hazardous to your health.

The New York Times reports: postprandial blood glucose will be better regulated if you keep moving.

Stephan Guyenet reports that more palatable foods are less satiating.

More on food reward: The history of toothpaste shows that the Flavorists were already getting started in the early 1900s.

Paleo ideas are going mainstream: FoxNews has a slide show featuring nutritionist Carol Cottrill’s advice to avoid processed foods.

Dr Steve Parker reviews Mark Hyman’s book, which is #1 on Amazon.

Robert Su asks: what does it mean if you can hear your heartbeat?

Judy Tsafrir discusses the FODMAP diet.

Via Ruthie, cuddling dying pets can sometimes give the owner a life-threatening infection. A hospital in Akron, Ohio, saw three such cases in a year.

Jennifer Fulwiler remarks upon a photo series of New Yorkers eating dinner: “I was surprised by the number of people who ate alone and/or who watched TV or used the computer during dinner.” New York is a lonely place.

[3] Cute animals: Looking for ideas to treat the mange on your baby sloth?

Also, be careful in Calgary: Stabby’s Japanese cousin is visiting.

[4] Only in Japan: Japan is a special culture. Many tsunami survivors lost all their family photos in the flood, and Japanese photographer Nobuyuki Kobayashi, with the help of hair and makeup volunteers and a legion of grade school students, decided to make up the loss with professional portraits and letters of support from schoolchildren. Here’s a slideshow.

This is Katsuko Abe, age 71, with her dog Kaede, getting ready for her portrait:

[5] Giving up weight for Lent? In the same post I linked above, Jennifer Fulwiler shares some good news:

As I look for something to wear this weekend, I’m reminded that I am in the middle of the wardrobe crisis that I’ve been waiting to have for ten years: all my clothes are too big. I don’t mean a little loose; I mean I perpetually look like I’m headed out to an M.C. Hammer costume contest.

Over the past few months I’ve lost 25 pounds. That’s a good thing, mainly since the drop on the scale was more of a side effect of lifestyle changes that have left me with more stamina and energy than I had when I was 20….

It’s too long a story to explain in detail here, but the short-short version is that it was Perfect Health Diet + rethinking what a reasonable portion size looks like + accepting that spiritual warfare really does come into play with getting healthy + learning to depend on a good jog for an energy boost.

[6] More on pork: Via Dan Moffet, another reason to avoid undercooked pork:

[7] Not the weekly video: Via Chris Highcock, Jeb Corliss makes a spectacular base jump in a wingsuit:

This was in Switzerland. On 16 January 2012, Jeb suffered multiple leg fractures in a similar jump off Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa.

[8] Shou-Ching’s Photo-Art:

[9] Weekly video: The Dance of the Water Sleeves:

The Movie Fresh

Just a quick note: the producers of the movie Fresh have made it available for free this week on Dr. Mercola’s site.

From the movie web site:

FRESH celebrates the farmers, thinkers and business people across America who are re-inventing our food system. Each has witnessed the rapid transformation of our agriculture into an industrial model, and confronted the consequences: food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Forging healthier, sustainable alternatives, they offer a practical vision for a future of our food and our planet.

Among several main characters, FRESH features urban farmer and activist, Will Allen, the recipient of MacArthur’s 2008 Genius Award; sustainable farmer and entrepreneur, Joel Salatin, made famous by Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma; and supermarket owner, David Ball, challenging our Wal-Mart dominated economy.

Free access ends Saturday night, so check it out!