Category Archives: Paleo

Paleo Breath and Paleo Sweat

If you have recently started a high protein diet and are wondering why your breath smells so bad . . .

Paleo Breath is common among people following the paleo diet (aka caveman diet). There may be two factors involved in Paleo Breath. The first is the accumulation of ketones from fat metabolism.  Ketones are excreted in urine, but there are ketones that also volatile . . . those come out in breath too. Acetone is one of these.   Acetone in breath smells a bit like rotten apples.  The other bad breath agent showing up in paleo diet or low carb diet is ammonia.  Ammonia may show up in breath when people metabolize protein for energy.  Ammonia smells more like urine.  Urine breath may be more disagreeable than rotten apple breath. Or not.  You can get ammonia breath without being on the paleo diet too.    Ammonia breath happens when people are burning protein.

Hard workouts makes your clothes smell worse.

If you have noticed a sudden worsening of smell in your locker or gym bag it may be a sign you are really pushing it during your workouts.  Congratulations. Ammonia concentrations in sweat increase during intense exercise as well as when protein is metabolized for energy.  Ammonia in sweat will make your workout clothes smell nasty.   It may make you smell bad too.

Cracked Earth Eye Pood Shirt
Look good even if you smell bad with a WODMASTERS limited edition weightlifting shirt. Dutch Lowy, model.

Ammonia in breath: a hot research topic

A lot of exciting work is being done on ammonia in breath.  While ammonia breath in people who follow high protein, low-carb or paleo diets may be an annoyance or embarrassment, ammonia in the breath can be caused by other problems and signal health concerns.   Ammonia in breath is elevated in people with kidney and liver disease.  Ammonia in breath may also be a sign of esophogeal or gastric problems (like cancer) or lung infections.  If you are eating a protein diet/paleo diet and are otherwise healthy the chance that your bad breath is being caused by a serious health problem are extremely, extremely small.  Still, research on breath is just fascinating.   We may soon be able to diagnose medical problems by having someone breath into a device that would create a profile of breath components.  This may help catch cancers early, so they could be treated earlier and more effectively.  It may also help us better understand physiology in general.  A just-published study has found that ammonia levels are elevated in the breath of obese children.  The obese children in the study also had other factors in breath that differed from their normal-weight peers.   Its not clear yet what elevated ammonia levels mean in over weight children.  A sign of impending diabetes perhaps?

Breath Profiles for Health and Sports

While research on breath is focusing on detection of serious health problems there are so potential applications for general health and sports performance. Ammonia levels in breath (or perspiration) may help coaches and athletes determine exactly when an athlete researches a particular training threshold.

Take Away

Yes, your clothes will smell like cat pee if you don’t wash them after a heavy workout.  If you are following a high protein/paleo diet, showering will help control body odor by washing high-ammonia perspiration off your skin.  Mouth bacteria break-down products form ammonia in breath too. They can produce enough ammonia to confound breath analysis studies.  Nose sampling gives better data. Keeping you teeth and mouth clean should help with paleo breath too.


Effros RM, Casaburi R, Porszasz J, Morales EM, & Rehan V (2012). Exhaled breath condensates: analyzing the expiratory plume. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine, 185 (8), 803-4 PMID: 22505753

Alvear-Ordenes I, García-López D, De Paz JA, & González-Gallego J (2005). Sweat lactate, ammonia, and urea in rugby players. International journal of sports medicine, 26 (8), 632-7 PMID: 16158367

Alkhouri N, Eng K, Cikach F, Patel N, Yan C, Brindle A, Rome E, Hanouneh I, Grove D, Lopez R, Hazen SL, & Dweik RA (2014). Breathprints of childhood obesity: changes in volatile organic compounds in obese children compared with lean controls. Pediatric obesity PMID: 24677760

Crossfit Paleo Diet: Low-carb high-fat diets may impair glucose tolerance

workout shirt by wodmasters
Low  Low carb diets may work better when people wear WODMASTERS workout shirts.

Low carb diets are very popular now.  This post is about a new research finding on the effects of low carb diets on glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity.  The finding is that Low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets may impair glucose tolerance (Biehohuby et al. 2013).  This was unexpected.  While, low carb/ high fat diets are used by many people for weight loss programs, some diet books and health advocates have been promoting low carb/high fat diets as a means of  improving insulin sensitvity.  And protecting people from developing diabetes.  In fact, improvement of insulin sensitivity is often listed as one of the reasons why the general public should follow low carb/high fat diets.

Crossfit Paleo Diet: Benefits of low-carb high-fat diets?

So far research has been inconclusive.  Some studies support the hypothesis that low carb/high fat diets help improve insulin sensitivity but others don’t.  Some have found that low carb/high fat diets make insulin sensitivity worse.  The study by Biehohuby et al. (2013) was undertaken to see how low carb/high fat diets change glucose and insulin handling.  Subjects were male rats.

Study Synopsis:

Four groups of rats were fed one of four different diets:

  • a low carb/high fat with normal amount of calories for a rat or
  • a low calorie low carb/high fat diet or
  • a high protein low carb/high fat diet, or
  • a low protein ketogenic low carb high/fat diet.

Sensitivity to glucose and insulin was tested.  Results were as follows:

  • Animals had lower fasting glucose and insulin levels (generally thought to be good)
  • the low carb/high fat diets impaired glucose tolerance (generally thought to be bad)
  • low carb/high fat diets impaired insulin sensitivity (generally thought to be bad)

Research Conclusions

Here are the scientists conclusion about their study in their own words:

“Taken together, these data show that lack of dietary carbohydrates leads to glucose intolerance and insulin resistance in rats despite causing a reduction in fasting glucose and insulin concentrations. Our results argue against a beneficial effect of LC-HF diets on glucose and insulin metabolism, at least under physiological conditions. Therefore, use of LC-HF diets for weight loss or other therapeutic purposes should be balanced against potentially harmful metabolic side effects.”

Many, if not most, people have heard or been told that a low carb diet is health protective. It may be a good strategy for weight loss.  Diabetics may also do well or better on a low carb diet.  However, it may not be good for otherwise healthy people to stay on low carb/high fat diets for long periods of time.

Many diet trends have roots in science and research. The Paleo diet is just one.  However, of these roots get tangled with dogma, loyalties, financial interests and personal reputations. It is not uncommon to hear disdain or contempt for people who do not follow low carb diets, as well as concern for the health of people who continue to eat carbohydrates.  At least among my crossfit paleo diet associates.  I As a scientist, I often wonder where dogmatic thinking comes from.  As a professor I wonder how best to teach people to use other approaches to figuring out the order of the universe.  Its not always easy.  It may be simply part of human nature to

  1. build little compartments
  2. stick things in the compartments
  3. put them back in the compartments if they get out
The WODMASTERS Rhino Design ruminates on Vitamin K
WODMASTERS Rhino thinks about low carb diets

The problem with taking this approach to health and nutrition information is that we are learning so much, so fast and more is pouring in every day.  Its awesomely incredible.  Really.  But with all these little bits floating around and new bits being added to the pile its hard to find permanent homes for everything.  A high fat diet may not belong in the “avoid” pile.  Maybe it should be taken out and placed into the “go for it” pile.  Better yet, keep it on the table and see what it fits into.

For Medical and Research People:

Might glucose challenge test results from people on low-carb/high fat diets lead to their classification as pre-diabetic?  What is the clinical significance of low-carb diet induced changes in glucose and insulin handling anyway?

Bielohuby M, Sisley S, Sandoval D, Herbach N, Zengin A, Fischereder M, Menhofer D, Stoehr BJ, Stemmer K, Wanke R, Tschöp MH, Seeley RJ, & Bidlingmaier M (2013). Impaired glucose tolerance in rats fed low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets. American journal of physiology. Endocrinology and metabolism, 305 (9) PMID: 23982154

Anti-Inflammatories and Anti-Oxidants in Licorice: Is Licorice good before a workout?

Eye Pood Kettlebell Crossfit shirt
Low T? Feeling awesome increases Testosterone. Wear WODMASTERS and feel it rise.

This article started in response to a question: “what is the best supplement to take before a workout.”  Licorice seems as good a choice as several other products.  So I looked into it.  First of all Licorice has a lot of interesting chemicals in it.  Many of these seem to be good for you.   As long as its used in moderation.  Every silver lining has a cloud.  Licorice contains several different pretty powerful anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidants are important because they protect cells and DNA from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage increases risk of cancer and shortens cell life.   A research team in China, isolated six different compounds from licorice extract.  The licorice compounds were then tested for anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.   Inflammation can also lead to oxidative damage and can increase risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and etc.  Anti-inflammatory agents may protect long-term health.   The compounds are listed below in case anyone wants to look into them a little more deeply.  Interested in making the switch from booze and cigarettes to licorice and tea? New research indicates licorice may be the better choice.

omega-6 fatty acids and health discussion with licorice
CrossFit Trainer talks about nutrition and omega-6 fatty acids and licorice.


All of the compounds had health protective qualities.  Many shared the same properties.  Here are a few of the things licorice extract can do:

  • Anti-Oxidant Power.  Three of the compounds in licorice extract were strong anti-oxidants.  The three were better at scavenging free radicals than Vitamin C.
  • Inhibit Lipid Peroxidation.  A number of the compounds were able to inhibit lipid peroxidation.  Lipid peroxidation damages cell membranes.  Stopping lipid peroxidation is generally considered a good thing.  Licorice compounds also inhibited production of reactive oxygen species.  Reactive oxygen species are compounds that cause oxidative damage including lipid peroxidation.
  • Inhibited prostaglandin E2.  Inhibition of prostaglandin E2 may or may not be a good thing.  Prostaglandin E2 is important in pregnancy and birth.  But it also stimulates tumor growth possibly by increasing inflammation.   It is possible that licorice extracts may be anti-carcinogens.  It is possible that pregnant women should stay away from licorice.
  • Inhibited production of interleukin-6.  Interleukin-6 inhibitors are under study as anti-arthritis drugs.  Interleukin-6 also activates inflammation.  Elevated interleukin-6 is associated with atherosclerosis, depression, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, among other things.  Interleukin-6 is important in good ways too.  Inhibiting the hell out of it may create other problems.  Such as maybe suppressing the immune system.

Should I eat tons of Licorice to protect my health?

crossfit shirt rhino crossfit masters
Stiff, Inflexible, Invincible WODMasters shirt for the Masters CrossFit Athlete. And for other people who may also be stiff and inflexible.

No.  Don’t eat tons of it.  Licorice has a down side.  Too much of most things is not good and there is not enough research to support going overboard.  There are also compounds in licorice that are harmful.  Licorice has been shown to raise blood pressure, for example.   And there is a case report of a woman who overindulged in licorice (about 1.5 pounds) and became extremely ill.    Her body underwent a series of changes unfavorable to a long life.  To quote from the paper:  Creatine kinase, hypokalemia, hypocalcemia and hypophosphatemia with low aldosterone and plasma renin levels and high intact PTH.  So go light.  She also got rhabdomyelesis.

Should I eat Twizzlers before working out or doing a CrossFit WOD?

You should avoid black licorice if you have high blood pressure.   Otherwise a twizzler or two is probably fine once in a while.  One or two red twizzlers will help you get pumped without the risks posed by black licorice.  And exercise stimulates the body to produce its own anti-oxidants.  Adding anti-oxidants before a workout may blunt your body’s response.  In this case red Twizzlers may be better than black twizzlers as a pre-workout stimulant.  Only black twizzlers are made with real licorice extract.  If you check the package you will see that it contains “less than 3% licorice extract.”  With good quality control you could eat a pound of black twizzler licorice and consume less than 3.6 grams of extract.  The University of Maryland posts that licorice can be used at about 1.2 grams per day.  A pound of twizzlers may contain three times that limit.    Hard to say when the content might be anywhere between 3.6 grams and nothing.  There is a lot of information and a lot of research being done on licorice as a medicinal plant.  Much more than I expected.  More than I can chew right now.   There does not seem to be any research on the benefits or dangers of red twizzlers.

Licorice compounds with anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties:

  • 5′-(1,1-dimethylallyl)-3,4,4′-trihydroxy-2-methoxychalcone
  • licochalcone B
  • licochalcone A
  • echinatin
  • glycycoumarin
  • glyurallin B

Fu Y, Chen J, Li YJ, Zheng YF, & Li P (2013). Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of six flavonoids separated from licorice. Food chemistry, 141 (2), 1063-71 PMID: 23790887

Sigurjónsdóttir HA, Franzson L, Manhem K, Ragnarsson J, Sigurdsson G, & Wallerstedt S (2001). Liquorice-induced rise in blood pressure: a linear dose-response relationship. Journal of human hypertension, 15 (8), 549-52 PMID: 11494093

Shah M, Williams C, Aggarwal A, & Choudhry WM (2012). Licorice-related rhabdomyolysis: a big price for a sweet tooth. Clinical nephrology, 77 (6), 491-5 PMID: 22595392

Paleo Diet Recipe for Chocolate Cake of Power.

If you are looking for a paleo diet recipe for chocolate cake give this chocolate cake a try.  Its pretty paleo.  It is made with Olive Oil, Carrot Juice and lots of Cocoa.  So it is extremely healthy and full of vitamins and anti-oxidants.  It is not a completely paleo recipe.  Some sugar is used to help with texture and to bring out flavor.  You can try it without.  It will come out somewhat like very dark brown Irish Soda Bread, but denser.

Ingredients for the Paleo Diet Recipe for Chocolate Cake of Power

  • 1 cup of Cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups of Quinoa flour (whole wheat will work too)
  • 1 teaspoon of iodized salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup carrot juice
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of boiling water

Directions for the Paleo Diet Recipe for Chocolate Cake of Power

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees
  2. Grease pans (two 9-inch rounds or 13x2x9 rectangle)
  3. Sift together all the dry ingredients.
  4. Add all the wet ingredients except for the boiling water.
  5. Mix for two minutes on medium speed or stir to exhaustion
  6. Add boiling water and mix until well blended, but don’t kill it.
  7. Bake for about 30-35 minutes.
  8. Cool completely before applying frosting.
  9. Decorate with symbols of power.
Paleo Diet Recipe for Chocolate Cake
Paleo Diet Recipe for Chocolate Cake. Its pretty close.

Suggested symbols of power:

  • Large Plastic Dinosaurs
  • Plastic nose pencil sharpeners
  • Chipotle peppers
  • Hot Wheels race cars
  • Small Rubber Ducks




For the Paleo Diet Purist we suggest the following:

  • Twigs
  • Bits of Hemp String
  • Tea Leaves
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Plastic wild animals

As always, be careful when decorating cakes for children.  Children should not, except in extremely rare cases where this is part of the child’s normal diet, eat Chipotle peppers.  All toys and non-edible decorations should be removed before consuming regardless of the servees age.

Healthy Frosting for Paleo Diet Cake Recipes

If you figure out how to do this please let us know.  We have managed to make stuff that looks like frosting by blending coconut oil with beet juice.  While the cake looked great, most guests were pretty disappointed with all other aspects.  We have also tried frosting with all-fruit jam.  It was pretty sticky and unattractive.  We recommend a light layer of traditional frosting, or a dusting of confectioners sugar.

Celiac Disease: protecting children from Celiac and Gluten Intolerance

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is a problem of auto-immunity and exposure to the plant protein gluten.  It can be a rough road, especially for children.  They can’t eat the same things other children eat.  Other kids and even adults may not understand that something that seems so normal to them, like a cupcake or sandwich, can cause serious pain and discomfort for a celiac child.

two children without celiac disease
Two children enjoy a Box lunch at CrossFit Seven in Fort Worth, TX.

Celiac disease is more common in people of European descent and probably has a strong genetic component.  However, there are other factors involved as well.  An individual may be predisposed to developing Celiac disease but not get it unless a combination of other factors line up as well.

Can Celiac Disease be Prevented?

One thing I had written about in an earlier post was the possibility that gut flora (microbial species and ratios of species) might influence the development of Celiac disease.  Intestinal flora in infants will be dependent on whether the infant was born by C-section and on whether he or she was breast fed or bottle fed.  The infant digestive system is not completely developed at birth.  It is suited for breast milk.  New research published this month (October 2012) supports a role for bacterial ecology in Celiac Disease.

Delaying introduction of wheat until the infant reaches 12 months of age appears to reduce risk that a genetically at-risk child will develop the disease.  Children with a genetic predisposition to Celiacs may take longer to develop an intestinal ecology favorable for wheat (and possibly other foods) than other children.  The study was a joint project of the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the Universita` Politecnica delle Marche, in Ancona, Italy.

Should I let my children eat gluten?

The answer to that seems to be yes.  Not exposing your children to gluten may make them more likely to develop celiac disease.A Systematic Review of infant feeding practices and incidence of Celiac (Coelicac) disease has also been published very recently (Szajewska et al. 2012).  The authors suggest that the best time to introduce wheat into an infant’s diet is between 4 and 7 months, and that it should be done while the child is still breastfeeding.   Introducing wheat before a child is under 4 months increases the likelihood that he or she will develop Celiac Disease.  Likewise, delaying introduction until a child is older than seven months may also increase risk of Celiac’s.

Gluten-free diets, such as the Paleo Diet, are very popular right now, especially within the CrossFit community.  If you are wondering “what is CrossFit?” here is a link.  If you are wondering “what is the paleo diet?” try this link.  Do parents who raise their non-celiac children on gluten free diets put them at risk of developing celiac disease? That could be the case.  This website, “Growing Up Gluten Free” is written and maintained by a child with celiac disease.  It helped me understand what life is like for kids like her.

There are lots of unknowns still.  The Szajewska paper does a great job of defining what they are.  

Sellitto M, Bai G, Serena G, Fricke WF, Sturgeon C, Gajer P, White JR, Koenig SS, Sakamoto J, Boothe D, Gicquelais R, Kryszak D, Puppa E, Catassi C, Ravel J, & Fasano A (2012). Proof of concept of microbiome-metabolome analysis and delayed gluten exposure on celiac disease autoimmunity in genetically at-risk infants. PloS one, 7 (3) PMID: 22432018

Szajewska H, Chmielewska A, Pieścik-Lech M, Ivarsson A, Kolacek S, Koletzko S, Mearin ML, Shamir R, Auricchio R, Troncone R, & PREVENTCD Study Group (2012). Systematic review: early infant feeding and the prevention of coeliac disease. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics, 36 (7), 607-18 PMID: 22905651

The Paleo Diet and Iodine Deficiency: are Paleo Diet followers getting enough food with iodine?

Foods with iodine and the Paleo Diet.

Womens crossfit shirt our lady of the kettlebells
Eat well and wear a WODMASTERS Shirt of Power. This shirt is called Our Lady of the Kettlebells.

The Paleo Diet is very popular among CrossFit participants and is often advocated by CrossFit Boxes (gyms).  It consists of basically meat, vegetables and some fruit and excludes grains, beans, dairy products and limits or excludes salt.   This may pose a nutritional risk.  Dairy and iodized salt are the major sources of iodine in the US.  Since the Paleo Diet reduces foods with iodine, people following the Paleo Diet may end up  limiting their iodine intake.

CrossFit and iodine.

Most iodine is lost in urine.  New research indicates that people who drink a lot of water may excrete more iodine than other people.  Iodine may also be lost in sweat.  There’s probably no need to talk about Crossfit and sweat.

Why is iodine important?

Another strong woman shirt for strong women.  Be fit and wear an awesome shirt.  For strong women who love art, irony and kettlebells
Another strong woman shirt for strong women. Be fit and wear an awesome shirt. For strong women who love art, irony and kettlebells

Iodine is an essential nutrient.  The major sources of iodine in the US are iodized salt and milk and sometimes bread (depends on how it was made).  Iodine is needed to make thyroid hormones.  In adults thyroid hormones are needed to maintain metabolic rate.  Without enough iodine people cannot make enough thyroid hormone.  Without enough thyroid hormone people become hypothyroid.  Signs are low energy, slow, often gain weight, and develop poor blood lipid profiles which can lead to cardiovascular disease.  Iodine is especially important for pregnant women because thyroid hormones are also important for fetal brain development. Children whose mothers did not have enough iodine can end up with a lowered IQ and behavioral problems.  It is very important that pregnant women eat foods with iodine.  Breastfeeding women should also consume foods with iodine.

Crossfit womens shirt with kettlebells for strong women, crossfit women and men
Mona Lisa hoists 50 lb kettlebells against an 19th century American Flag Backdrop.

What are some foods with iodine other than salt and dairy?

Milk and iodized salt are the major sources of iodine for most people in the US.  If you are following the paleo diet, alternative foods with iodine are sea vegetables (seaweeds, kelp) and sea food.  Some multi-vitamins also contain iodine, but many do not.   If you rely on vitamin supplements check the label and see if they contain iodine.  Watch what you buy.   If you use salt, check the label and see if it contains iodine.  Sea Salt, by the way, will not contain iodine unless the manufacturer added it.  The iodine in sea water is lost during the process of evaporating it down to salt.   Lastly, and as always, don’t go completely overboard and take more than you need. Total intake for a day should be about 120 to 150 micrograms.  If you are pregnant or nursing you may need more.  But don’t take too much.  Taking too much increases your risk of harming your thyroid and creating more problems.

Johner SA, Shi L, & Remer T (2010). Higher urine volume results in additional renal iodine loss. Thyroid : official journal of the American Thyroid Association, 20 (12), 1391-7 PMID: 21034227

Zoeller RT, & Rovet J (2004). Timing of thyroid hormone action in the developing brain: clinical observations and experimental findings. Journal of neuroendocrinology, 16 (10), 809-18 PMID: 15500540

Diet Paleo vs. Diet Junk Food: A short video on diets and economics

Diet Paleo vs. Diet Junk Food.

Diet Paleo? Our lady of the kettlebells shirt crossfit women
Diet Paleo or Diet Junk Food? Our Lady of the Kettlebells Shirt for Women

You can diet Paleo by adhering strictly to several popular diet books.  Or you can diet Paleo by eating whatever you imagine your forebears might have eaten.  For some of us that would have included a lot of tree bark in the early spring, the bounty of summer insects, nuts in the fall and winter, shellfish and an occasional bite of carrion, buffalo, or aurochs.  Whatever was available where you happened to be.  But what about now?  What determines what people eat when the variety is overwhelming?  Many of us do what is easiest and fastest.  Totally reasonable.  Many of us also choose what we are used to.  How our families ate.  And how the people around us eat.  As anyone who has suffered the pain of bringing your carefully fed, healthy child to kindergarten knows, there are powerful social forces at play in food choice.  What about simple economics?  Is a healthy diet too expensive for some people?

Diet Paleo vs. Diet Junk Food:  How do costs compare?

The video below was put together by Academic Earth.  Academic Earth is a website that has put together a lot of different resources for information and education.  They have links to online courses from many different universities.  They also have video lectures.  And other resources.
Created by

Here is Academic Earth’s description of the video:
“According to Dr. James Hill, director of the Center of Human Nutrition at Colorado Health Sciences University, “Genes don’t make us obese. They allow us to be obese.” If our genes aren’t to blame for this rise in obesity, what is? Recent research suggests that socioeconomic class can impact our bodies as much as genetics, and may be a more accurate predictor for a variety of future health issues, including obesity. Check out this video to learn more about how American policies, like food subsidies, have had a direct role in driving our current obesity crisis.”
Diet Paleo or Diet Junk Food?

Holst, D. (2010). Hazelnut economy of early Holocene hunter–gatherers: a case study from Mesolithic Duvensee, northern Germany Journal of Archaeological Science, 37 (11), 2871-2880 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2010.06.028

Coconut Oil 's Mythical Properties for Health, Nutrition and Performance

Coconut oil is an extra-ordinary food.

Coconut oil is an extraordinary food.  But what makes coconut oil special?  Coconut oil is a natural source of fat.  But what gives coconut oil its mythic properties as a perfect food?

Coconut oil and health nutrition and athletic performance.
Does coconut oil improve athletic performance and increase longevity? No one knows for absolutely sure that it doesn’t.

Coconut oil as a nutrient

Coconut oil is rich in medium chain saturated fat.  There is some evidence that medium chain saturated fatty acids may help with weight loss, possibly by suppressing appetite. Some saturated fat in the diet is probably OK.  Maybe we need some saturated fat in our diets to be healthy.  Who knows?  Unfortunately or not, research continues to show that diets high in saturated fat are unhealthy.  Research also continues to show that diets that contain more unsaturated fats relative to saturated fats are associated with better health outcomes.

Coconut oil and athletic performance

A well-cited article has been referenced to support the idea that coconut oil improves athletic performance.  The study compared cyclists who drank either a glucose containing beverage or a glucose and medium chain fatty acid containing beverage.  The study’s authors concluded that the medium chain fatty acid beverage impaired performance.  (They did not say that it helped).    The authors also concluded that the medium chain fatty acid beverage caused stomach cramps.  The authors suggested that the cramps may have been what caused poor performance.  More study would be needed to see if cramps are indeed the culprit.  This doesn’t mean that having medium chain saturated fatty acids circulating in your blood will provide you with an advantage.   In fact the body seems to prefer unsaturated fatty acids for fuel (Raclot 1997).

Coconut oil and CrossFit Masters
CrossFit Masters Athletes sometimes eat coconut oil. These guys are really good.

Coconut oil and longevity

If you Google “Coconut Oil” and Longevity you will find about a half a million hits saying that coconut oil improves longevity.  If you do the same research in Web of Knowledge (a database of scientific publications) you will find seven hits.  Five are about insect pest control.  One is about plants.  One is about coconut oil increasing atherosclerosis in rabbits.

Other wonderful properties of coconut oil

Coconut oil seems to work pretty well as a conditioner for cast iron cookware.  Coconut oil is made of mostly medium chain fatty acids.  Coconut oil has a high smoke point.  This means it can be used for frying with less risk of burning.  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature.  (As long as the room isn’t too warm.)  Coconut oil makes good popcorn that is light and doesn’t have a burnt oil taste to it. Coconut oil is good for frying for the same reasons it makes good popcorn.   Some people like to use coconut oil as a moisturizer.

What makes coconut oil so special?

Coconut oil has been called a perfect food because someone called it a perfect food.  And they must have called it perfect with convincing authority.  Free of doubt.  Pretty free of logic.  And pretty much free of evidence.   Dr. Oz may have been involved.  Almost all of us respond to authority.  Authorities provide us with answers to our questions.  The desire and drive for answers is a powerful inborn trait.  This quality may be uniquely human.  It has helped us make tremendous advances in understanding and controlling our world.   Answers may be treasured once we have them in hand.  Because they are so treasured we sometimes hold onto them longer than we should.  Sometimes we hold and treasure answers that are wrong.  Or that are simply expressions of someone else’s wishful thinking.

I would have written about this earlier, but so many people were telling me coconut oil was healthy that I didn’t question it for quite some time.  Go figure.
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Raclot T, Langin D, Lafontan M, & Groscolas R (1997). Selective release of human adipocyte fatty acids according to molecular structure. The Biochemical journal, 324 ( Pt 3), 911-5 PMID: 9210416

Jeukendrup AE, Thielen JJ, Wagenmakers AJ, Brouns F, & Saris WH (1998). Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 67 (3), 397-404 PMID: 9497182

Clegg, M. (2010). Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61 (7), 653-679 DOI: 10.3109/09637481003702114

The Paleo Diet vs. Flexitarian Diet

Paleo Diet/Flexitarian Diet

The Flexitarian Diet.  It sounds like the antithesis of The Paleo Diet.  The Paleo diet is very interesting, in psychological terms.  It creates order and rules of law. And provides a semblance of moral structure as well.   I am indebted to Jonathn Haidt for his perspectives.   One of the things I enjoy about his writing is his emphasis on human variation.  There are very few people at the extremes.  He defines five basic components of morality:

  • Do not harm
  • Maintain purity (avoid the icky, don’t eat nasty stuff, don’t be licentious)
  • Respect authority
  • Be loyal
  • Justice matters

You can take a survey and get an idea of where you rest on the scale. Some tend to rate loyalty, purity and respect more highly than “do no harm” or “worry about justice.”  Others tend to value “do no harm” and “justice” themes more than any of the others.  This often explains why perfectly reasonable people can be at a complete loss to understand the idiocy of other perfectly reasonable people.

The Flexitarian Diet

The Flexitarian Approach has been described as “Eat more plants, and do the best that you can.”  The basic idea is that you should eat mostly plants and that if you eat unhealthy things some times its not that big of a deal.    So how do these relate to people’s differing moral foundations?  Respecting authority is probably not very flexitarian.  Nor would loyalty.  “Do no harm” seems Flexitarian.  Do not harm yourself or others by being critical.  And eat less meat seems gentler than eat more.   In the opposite corner is the Paleo Diet.  Here respect for authority seems to be pretty important.  Many followers of the Paleo diet seem to have a “you’re with us or you’re against us” attitude.  One that also expresses “if you’re not with us, you’re a unworthy.”  Very inflexible.

It looks like our stone age ancestors were Flexitarian and not adherents of the Paleo Diet as it is frequently described by people in Crossfit.  Both the flexitarian diet and the paleo diet will tell you to eat little (or no) junk food.  And both will probably be much better for your health than the Standard American Diet (aka the SAD diet).   If you are interested in learning more about The Flexitarian Diet,  Mark Bittman will be writing regularly on the topic and  providing recipes.


Ströhle, A., & Hahn, A. (2011). Diets of modern hunter-gatherers vary substantially in their carbohydrate content depending on ecoenvironments: results from an ethnographic analysis Nutrition Research, 31 (6), 429-435 DOI: 10.1016/j.nutres.2011.05.003


Graham, J., Nosek, B., & Haidt, J. (2012). The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives: Exaggeration of Differences across the Political Spectrum PLoS ONE, 7 (12) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0050092

CrossFit and Paleo: Are Beans good for you?

Why aren’t beans Paleo? A common CrossFit question.

WODMasters: Stiff, Inflexible, Invincible Designs

A lot of boxes put a lot of effort into the importance of nutrition and a lot into the Paleolithic, primal lifestyle.  Good nutrition is important.  A lot of people in CrossFit adhere to The Paleolithic Diet.   Sometimes it makes sense, but sometimes it doesn’t.  There is, for example, a strict list of what is OK to eat and what is not.  Beans are not on the list.  The list is based on what the followers think people ate during the Paleolithic period.  In all likelihood, people probably ate what was available in their environments.  And environments varied a lot.

So, we will be adding a few posts and “how to” videos on The Primal Master Lifestyle.  Here is episode 1, where we demo how to cook refried black beans using a solar-heated cast-iron frying pan.  Black beans good for you despite what some people say.  A single cup of black beans (once they’ve been cooked . . . uncooked they may pass completely in their original, undigested state and provide neither calories nor protein and might give you a stomach ache) will give you 15 g of protein, along with iron, magnesium,  phosphorus and manganese (all natural and direct from the dirt in which they grew) and the B vitamins thiamin and folate, or folic acid.

Recipe for refried black beans (Summer version, Texas style).



1 pound of dried black beans
1 tsp iodized salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp of dried chipotle peppers (available at Pendery’s)

Rinse the beans and remove any rocks, pebbles, sticks etc.  Place the beans in a 4 quart pot.  Cover and place on the dashboard of your car.  Park in the car in an unshaded driveway, out on the street, or in a Walmart parking lot.  Shut the windows and let simmer 6-8 hours.  Open the car and stand away from the heat.  Go home if you are not there being careful to put on the AC or open the windows.

Step 2.  Preheat a cast-iron frying pan on a flat-topped mailbox.  Place about a cup or two of beans on the hot pan and smash with a fork.  Add spices.

Oomah, B., Corbé, A., & Balasubramanian, P. (2010). Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Activities of Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) Hulls Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58 (14), 8225-8230 DOI: 10.1021/jf1011193