Death by Chocolate

I’ve been seeing some silly talk about the perils of GMO food here on this blog, but of course there’s much more of that out in the world.

They’re full of it, of course, but that hardly means that there’s nothing to worry about. The problem is that people have been worrying about the wrong things.

The question is, what are people adapted to eating?  That’s a big part of it, anyhow. If your ancestors were dining on a certain food for thousands of years, you will deal with it better than someone with no such ancestry.  You may be resistant to toxins in that food. You might be less likely to overindulge in it, if that’s a problem (C2H6O).  If it made up a big fraction of the ancestral diet and is short on some key molecule, your biochemistry may  be better at coping with that shortage (selection on an ergothioneine transporter).  If it had novel nutrients, or an unusual mix, you may be better than average at making use of that nutrient (amylase copy number, lactase persistence).

But if your ancestors never encountered this particular food,  you won’t have any specific adaptations to it.

So…   people need to worry about American crops, that nobody in the  Old World could possibly have encountered before Columbus.  These food don’t just differ from old-variant wheat in a couple of molecules – they’re different in many ways.  Sure, Amerindians tolerate them, but they’ve had thousands of years to adapt.  You haven’t.  Since those foods differ in many,many molecules from anything your ancestors ever tasted. you don’t have that adaptive shield.  It’s not whether that food is ‘natural’ – hell, poison ivy and hemlock are ‘natural’.

So, it would be hardly be surprising if some small fraction of Old World-types had some problems with potatoes or tomatoes [love apples!].   Maybe you should worry about peanuts.  Cassava’s full of cyanide. Green peppers – obviously you already have a death wish.  Chewing gum, vanilla, maple syrup, sunflower seeds – are they really safe?

And above all – no chocolate.

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141 Responses to Death by Chocolate

  1. Sandgroper says:

    And no corn.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      “So… people need to worry about American crops, that nobody in the Old World could possibly have encountered before Columbus. These food don’t just differ from old-variant wheat in a couple of molecules – they’re different in many ways. Sure, Amerindians tolerate them, but they’ve had thousands of years to adapt.”

      Maybe this helps explain why Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have relatively long life-expectancies?

      • Ian says:

        I would rather bet for an explanation based on their Spanish admixture.

      • harpend says:

        This smells right. Greg and I a few months ago went searching for possible disease consequences in Old World populations of the new New World foods. We didn’t come up with much–rheumatoid arthritis is a possibility–but the Hispanic health discrepancy has no good explanation out there and it is big. See for example

        I have never seen any suggestion that it is related to Spanish admixture but it may be of course.

      • JayMan says:

        @Steve Sailer:

        I thought about that. Was going to post about it, but then I kept thinking. Native Americans don’t have particularly long life expectancies. Some of that (most?) is likely attributable to alcoholism and alcohol-related mortality. But perhaps much of it comes from relative lack of adaption to Old World foods.

        So this would imply that Hispanic longevity comes from the combination of the adaption to Old World foods and New World foods. Life expectancy is highish in all through Latin America.

        But then again, so it is in Iberia. Southwestern Europeans tend to live the longest. Hence the Spaniard component could be what’s doing the trick:

        HBD is Life and Death | JayMan’s Blog

      • JayMan says:


        “I have never seen any suggestion that it is related to Spanish admixture but it may be of course.”

        Well, actually… 🙂

        “These are maps of life expectancy at birth across Europe, in 2004 (males top, females bottom, from here). As we’ve seen before, there is a distinct southwest to northeast gradient in life expectancy, following the rate of cardiovascular mortality on the continent … A key part of the “Hispanic paradox” may be the somewhat long-lived Iberian component.”


      • Anthony says:

        @Jayman – are you arguing with corn?

        The U.S. “hispanic” population is largely Indian, and retains much of its traditional diet, while U.S. Indians, afaik, are more acculturated to the U.S. diet. Also, the Atzecs and Maya had alcohol, while the Indians of the pre-1845 U.S. mostly didn’t. So poor alcohol and wheat tolerance outweighs better maize tolerance.

      • Hayrick says:

        Maybe they are calmer from birth and don’t spit the dummy so regularly:)

      • Diana says:

        Immigrant Mexicans have low smoking rates.

        I think if you avoid the major killers (sugar, refined carbs) diet has little to do with longevity.

      • JayMan says:


        “I think if you avoid the major killers (sugar, refined carbs) diet has little to do with longevity.”

        You may want to see this:

        Sugar & Antibiotics | JayMan’s Blog

  2. dearieme says:

    Do people really write C2H6O rather than C2H5OH?

  3. dearieme says:

    Ah, perhaps you are subtly hinting at some race well equipped to digest dimethyl ether?

  4. dearieme says:

    I’m OK with peanuts but Brazil nuts upset my stomach. When I checked WKPD the problem wasn’t mentioned, but Jim Watson mentions it in his book on DNA. Alas, being an American book it has a lousy index, so it’s not an easy remark to trace.

  5. So, rather than dismissing the question “Any allergies” with a contemptuous wave of my hand, I should say “Yes, all the ancestral ones”? I will start preparing a Scots/English list of permissible victuals to send to British Airways. Thanks for the warning about chocolate.

  6. reakcionar says:

    What exactly does “adapted” mean when it comes to food and evolution?
    I’ve been reading some paleo diet blogs lately and some things seem poorly defined. My girlfriend can digest oats, but it makes her feel sick in the bowels. I can digest alcohol, but I have a much worse hangover after drinking than most of my friends. Are we “adapted” to oats/alcohol? Does being adapted to a certain food mean that we can use 100% of it’s nutrients, or that we can use those foods to survive until our children grow up, while suffering inflammations, diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer etc.?

    • JayMan says:

      There’s quite a bit of BS in the paleo circles. Anecdata of dietary problems need to be taken for what they’re worth (selection effects and the placebo/nocebo effects).

      • Toddy Cat says:

        Yeah, there’s just something about diet and nutrition that brings out the worst in people, and a lot of the paleo people are no exception. But the basic principle is sound – if you’re having some sort of diet related problem, (obesity, allergies, etc) it’s probably best to stick to the foods that your ancestors ate, insofar as you can figure out who they were, and what that diet was.

        Of course, that would make a crappy title for a diet book, so it will never pecome popularized.

      • reakcionar says:

        Yes, there’s surely lots of BS in paleo, because it’s partially an ideological movement, just like veganism, but their basic assumptions seem right – there’s nothing wrong with eggs, bacon and lard. On the other hand – the same as their mainstream nutritionist rivals, they are completely ignoring human biodiversity.

      • Mayberry says:

        What’s the BS? The logic of “paleo” is the same as the logic in the OP. People vary in how they implement “paleo” eating for themselves, but the logic the same and as a result there are similar conclusions such as avoiding New World plants like potatoes, tomatoes, corn, etc.

      • Ian says:

        Mayberry: the BS with the paleo diet is that it assume we haven’t evolved at all since the Paleolithic. It’s the same sin as in good orthodox evolutionary psicology: they both assume we’re still stuck in a state from 10kya.

        Of course, there are different levels even among crappy theories. Paleofantasies are less full of crap than vegetarianism and veganism. And, of course, the own diet, deprived from all the ideology, may work for some individuals. I eat a lot of red meat and little greenery. Lactose is not a problem, and I have no troubles digesting starch. My girlfriend, on the contrary, needs more fish and vegetables in order to be healthy. There’s no one-size-fits-all answers in these matters.

      • Mayberry says:

        I don’t see what the BS is. The logic is similar and there are all kinds of variations of the diet depending on how people tailor it to themselves.

        The paleo diet says that with respect to optimal nutrition, we haven’t evolved much since the paleolithic. That we haven’t fully adapted to a neolithic diet. Which is true. If you eat nothing but neolithic products like rice or other grains, you will get beri beri and other nutritional deficiencies and die.

      • Cloudswrest says:

        There seems to be a lot of strawmen in this subthread. I believe most “paleo” advocates view it as simply guidance/rule of thumb, not as a “religion”. Takeaway: avoid processed food, avoid grains, and the closer to “wild” the food source, in general, the healthier( e.g. eggs from foraging free range hens vs factory hens). When I went “paleo” three years ago I lost 10 lbs in one month and 40 lbs overall without doing anything else, and severe scalp psoriasis/eczema/dandruff I’ve had for 30, years as well as some more recent skin rashes, all cleared up almost immediately, and have stayed away.

      • Ian says:

        we haven’t evolved much since the paleolithic
        Well, it seems we neither have “adapted” so much to eating meat. Colon cancer is out there and, if you have the wrong little fellows in your guts, you can also develop a nice cardiovascular disease.
        On one hand, adaptations are never perfect. Cats evolved in a dry environment. Their stools are dry as hell. They need little water to survive. But, amazingly, there’s an apparently unexplained rate of cat deaths by kidney disease. This paradox has a simple solution: Mother Nature (actually, Mrs. Natural Selection) hacked cat metabolism enough so they could live to their reproductive age and leave kitties. Beyond that, all a cat can expect are kidney stones.
        On the other hand, there has never been a Golden Age. And Paleolithic is a very bad candidate for that role.

      • Ian says:

        There seems to be a lot of strawmen in this subthread
        Well, I confess I may have exaggerated a little bit. I’m sure the paleos in here are the best and smarter part of the whole paleo crew. After all, they are reading Cochran and Harpending. And, as I said before, veganism is even worse.

      • JayMan says:


        “Well, it seems we neither have “adapted” so much to eating meat. Colon cancer is out there and, if you have the wrong little fellows in your guts, you can also develop a nice cardiovascular disease.”

        Oh now I’m disappointed in you, man. You mean to tell me you don’t know how to spot shitty medical studies?

      • IanIan says:

        Is it false? Well, there’s always time to learn new things…

      • JayMan says:


        It’s not that it’s false, it’s just not clearly known to be true. That’s certainly not so thanks to a silly correlational study.

      • Ian says:

        @JayMan: of course you’re right about observational studies. They are a modern plague. The link between colon cancer and red meat is probably a myth… or a partial myth. I guess that genes have a lot to say on this. But, IMHO, the link between gut flora and CVD may have some truth behind. AFAIK, this is not a correlational study (or at least, that’s not the impression I got from the paper I read, which btw is not the article I linked). They really found how that metabolite was produced and tracked the metabolic path. Of course, the story doesn’t necessarily end here. For instance, does that dreaded TMAO thing do the same things on all people?

  7. Bruce says:

    I seem to be able to digest rye bread better than wheat bread.

  8. ziel says:

    I haven’t noticed any troubles digesting any foods…not that I never have any digestive troubles, but the connection to specific foods isn’t obvious – how do you people keep track?

    • Bruce says:

      In my case I experience mild stomach discomfort and intestinal gas. Some people say that soaking your grains in yoghurt or buttermilk helps this.

      • reakcionar says:

        Is intestinal gas a sign of low tolerance to a certain food?
        This is a serious question, I believe. Is intestinal gas just a social discomfort or a sign of a digestion problem?

    • Anonymous says:

      I very much agree with this comment. Perhaps if I had digestive issues it would make sense to track those things but it just seems incomprehensible. My wife, with digestive issues, can give you a long list of foods and how she reacts to each of them.

    • drethelin says:

      It can take years but once you’re suspicious about a food confirming it is much faster. It took me a long time to realize I was lactose intolerant (though probably part of this was latose intolerance slowly onsetting through adulthood).

  9. Bruce says:

    Don’t touch my sweet potato fries!

  10. j3morecharacters says:

    Sir, Why do you limit your warnings to the Flora? Turkey (the bird) is making Americans sick since they were introduced to it by malicious Red Indians. On the other hand, cats and dogs (and mice) have been around us forever and modern man may be missing them in his diet.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Because toxins are a standard defense in plants, but are rare in animals.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Yes, thanks, I didn’t realize that. The next question crying out to be asked is: Why? Species that normally serve as fodder like mice and rabbits should have discovered that trick.

      • Weltanschauung says:

        Mice and rabbits can run and hide.

      • simon says:

        j3morecharacters and Weltanschauung:
        Because poison doesn’t help the individual who is already dead when the predator starts to eat them. And group selection is relatively weak.

        Contrast with plants which are still alive while they are being eaten.

  11. Flinders Petrie says:

    To be really safe you could avoid plant foods all together and get your phytonutrients from herbivore chyme. Yum, with bonus probiotics.

  12. Sisyphean says:

    Interesting. My wife has had to completely remove the nightshades (tomato, potato, chili pepper, etc.) from her diet due to acute joint pain that persists for days after ingestion. Being the scientific bastard that I am, I have fed her these things without her knowledge (she had the pain) and told her there was some accidentally included in a dish when there wasn’t (no pain) in order to test whether it was all in her head. She, like me, is of mixed Western European descent. After we figured this all out, low and behold it turns out there’s a community out there of people who suffer a variety of issues (they call it autoimmune problems) when they eat plants from the night shade family.

    Consequently I have become very good at traditional French, German and English cooking while studiously omitting new world ingredients.


    • Bruce says:

      Traditional German cooking includes lots of potatoes unless you’re talking VERY traditional.

      • Sisyphean says:

        Yes and I hear the Irish like them also. The potato has infiltrated everything and everywhere because it grows everywhere and cheaply and the caloric yield per square meter is high. Yes, obviously I am omitting the potatoes in favor of garlic and onions and cabbage of various forms and preparations. I have to be very careful with the sausages too because so many people add chili flakes or chili powder these days but I’ve found a few varieties that are reliably OK, including most forms of Kielbasa (and you can’t go wrong with that!).

        I want to stress though that I don’t do this because of some addiction to food ‘purity’ in the Haidt sense, this is purely practical: when she avoids these foods we can go running, otherwise she is couch bound.


      • Bruce says:

        Rutabaga might be a good substitute for potatoes. Or turnips.

      • harpend says:

        I have never peeled a potato but many do I gather. I went looking to restock my carrot peeler stash the other day, asked for a “carrot peeler”. The clerk had no clue what that might be but discovered that I wanted a “potato peeler”.

        Why do people peel potatoes? Do the Jaminets peel potatoes? They regard rice and potatoes as relatively benign and safe, but what about potato skins?

      • boatsman says:

        I have heard that most of the toxins in potatoes and other tubers are in the skin, to defend against animals that chew through them.

      • Dr Harpending.

        I do believe the Jaminets peel their potatoes though I’m only 90% confident. It’s a common talking point in the Paleo diet world to talk about toxins in potatoes being mostly limited to the skin.

  13. dave chamberlin says:

    You left out numero uno, good old cane sugar(or any kind of sugar). There should be a sin tax on this killer just like their is with cigarettes and alcohol. That or you have to get into a fight with bees to get some. The government is getting so desperate for tax revenue that they are letting us get doped up, gamble, and partake of some booty as long as we pay taxes, they ought to tax the hell out of the most direct cause of diabetes and obesity. Taxes go better with Coke. But getting realistic, lobbies run the show, not logical solutions to growing problems.

  14. I love GMOs (really honestly). However, since I am pathetically addicted to caffeine and nicotine, I do not share your amusement at fear of American plants. I’m not addicted to chocolate and I have never even seen cocaine (again really honestly) so it could be worse.

  15. j3morecharacters says:

    Dave, Regarding sugar, I disagree with your idea. Almost all the plants synthetize sugar and it can be found in most foods. Our ancestors (I presume you are human) loved sweet fruits, dried figs and honey; therefore, our bodies should be well adapted to digest it. I have no idea why you think sugar is poisonous. I used to consume raw sugar in quantities (enhanced with artifical colourants in lollypops) and it didnt harm my teeth and never made me feel anything but happy.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      What’s your ethnic background, j3? I means, I consume alcohol in quantities, and it never made me anything but happy, but some of my Native Indian friends…

      Anyway, sugar might be similar.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        “I have no idea why you think sugar is poisonous.” Damn near anything is poisonous if you eat too much of it. The obesity epidemic is directly related to higher intake of more sugar. Americans are consuming approximately 800 more calories per capita per day then they did in 1960. One of the primary reasons for this (not the only one) is the insulin reaction to eating too much sugar. You get hungry again faster than you should thanks to this insulin reaction. Hence a nation of sugar loving fat slobs. It is a relatively recent innovation to have access to pure sugar. We are not at all adapted to it, not anywhere. Back when I was a kid you drank Coke out of a seven ounce bottle. Now people buy 32 OZ. big gulps that have 86 grams of sugar. Tax it! Sugar isn’t bad for you in small quantities, but neither is alcohol.

      • JayMan says:

        @dave chamberlin:

        You do realize that the evidence for that is highly questionable, yes?

      • Toad says:

        People ate 90lb/yr by even 1900, which is a lot. Vegetable oils increased from almost none since 70s.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Toddy, Let me answer your question by quoting Shai Agnon: ” As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.”

    • Andrew says:

      The modern problem with sugar is not that it is a toxin, but humans are not used to refined foods that expose their system to spikes in sugar cause a higher than usual insulin excretion rate. Insulin promotes weight gain. Weight gain in some folks promotes insulin resistance which promotes high blood sugar which triggers more insulin excretion at a rate that the pancreas is not used to. Viola diabetes!

      I think there is something in the argument that foods that have lower GI can prevent the above problem. Lower GI = lower sugar spike. These foods are probably more like the ones my ancestors had.

      • dave chamberlin says:

        thanks for the better explanation than I gave

      • j3morecharacters says:

        It’s all true. What I am saying is that raw sugar is not harmful to humans, we are more than adapted to it and it has no harmful effects on us. What Dave is trying to say, I presume, is that sugar was scarce in our ancestors’s world, they had little access to it and therefore, eating and drinking large quantities of it does harm us. Since raw sugar is so good and we like candy so much, he proposes to make it illegal or at least, tax it to unavailibility. I dont think it would work, we are programmed to eat sweets, no amount of willpower or police enforcement will stop us.

      • JayMan says:


        For perspective, you might be interested in this. It’s a supercharged anecdote, so keep that in mind, but still…

        One twin gave up sugar, the other gave up fat.

      • Anthony says:

        Jayman – the Paleo people and the Atkins people (and your dietician, if you’re diabetic) will tell you that starches are *as bad* as sugar, and as I recall, the guy in the Daily Mail story gave up bread, but not other starches.

        Though they’re probably right that the combination of sugar and fat is pretty addictive – I can’t think of decent natural sources of *both*, except maybe criollo chocolate.

      • JayMan says:


        The point is that it’s unclear if sugar is responsible for the rise in obesity. It’s also unlikely that carb consumption is ultimately the problem. Just because low-carb diets help you lose weight (though ultimately not any better than any other diet) doesn’t mean carb consumption is what made you fat in the first place. While Guyenet’s hypothesis about addictive junk food sounds plausible, it too is unproven.

        It would be helpful if people stop professing what they think they know on the topic and realize we actually do know.

    • Glossy says:

      According to N. Chagnon, honey was the favorite food of the Yanomamo. I think I remember reading the same about African Pygmies. Ancient northern Europeans made alcohol out of honey, so I would assume that they consumed the raw stuff as well. To me honey tastes about as sweet as raw sugar, so I just looked it up in the Wikipedia. 82.12 g of sugar per 100 g of honey.

      So yes, it seems that humans all over the world always had access to relatively pure sugar. Traditional Middle Eastern sweets (baklava and the rest of it) taste about as sweet to me as honey, maybe even more so. The elites must have always had access to as much sugar as they wanted. Modern humans are disproportionately descended from past winners, i.e. past elites. Neither sugar nor relatively pure sugar is new to us.

      • Thrasher says:

        Honey bees are an old world species that did not arrive in North and South America until european settlers arrived.

      • Steven C. says:

        Honey was not as common a food in the past as you assume. Before the development of beekeeping in the middle ages; honey was obtained by destroying beehives.

  16. Bruce says:

    I know of number of people who have (mild-to-severe) allergies to bananas. The symptoms range from mild itching to severe swelling in the throat. I get the itchy throat but I love bananas and eat them anyway.

    • dearieme says:

      Are bananas less of a problem if you cook them, or even just warm them up under the grill? They taste better that way; it would be wonderful if they also irritated you less.

      • Bruce says:

        I don’t have the same problem if my wife makes banana bread or banana ice cream. But I’ve never eaten a cooked banana by itself.

      • dearieme says:

        A friend of my boyhood loved the following snack. Toast a slice of bread. Butter one side and then use a fork to squash a banana on it. Sprinkle with sugar. (I dare say non-children can omit that bit.) Stick under the grill until the banana is warm and fragrant. Consume with audible pleasure.

      • Hayrick says:

        bananas are from Oceania – not the old world

    • Hayrick says:

      See comment below, but it occurs to me that bananas are often picked unripe and then ripened with a gas in some countries contains arsenic.

  17. Inane Rambler says:

    I see what you just did there.

  18. a very knowing American says:

    Following the same evolutionary argument, people should maybe be worrying more about spices. Even a lot of Old World spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg) were not available to people in a lot of the Old World until yesterday, in evolutionary terms. A lot of spices serve the plants that produce them as bactericides or bug repellents, and may have been useful for keeping food from spoiling, but may you should think twice about cooking with insect repellent, at least any insect repellent that your ancestors didn’t eat.

    Or you could jut say the hell with it, stop obsessing about health, eat all the spices you want, and live (or not) with the consequences.

  19. Patrick Boyle says:

    My little dog was paralyzed. I panicked. I took him to the local vet who also panicked. He sent me to specialist. The specialist vet referred him to the vet cardiologist. I spent $1,000 in vet bills that day.

    Charlie’s front legs worked but he dragged his back legs around. They didn’t work. Fortunately sometime that afternoon he spontaneously recovered. None of the three vets who worked on him (EKG, X-Rays, etc.) could diagnose this flash paralysis but I had Wikipedia. I figured out that he had eaten some of my Macadamia nuts. Macadamia nuts cause paralysis in dogs.

    My local gourmet grocery store makes chocolate Macadamia nuts in their deli section. I warned them that those things are double action dog poison. But they seem to think I was just another food faddist crank.

    • jacob says:

      Well you’re a guy with a little dog who shops at gourmet grocery stores. They probably dismissed what you said not because they thought you were a food faddist crank, but because they thought you were something else.

  20. Greying Wanderer says:

    “The question is, what are people adapted to eating?”

    I think this is likely to be a huge deal medically speaking.

  21. Mayberry says:

    All plants have toxins and anti-nutrients. Many veggies that are promoted as super health foods like broccoli and kale actually have some quite nasty toxins that can be pretty hard on your guts if you eat too much of them. To avoid plant toxins completely you’d have to abstain from vegetables altogether. But it’s the dose that makes the poison, and there may be hormetic effects from consuming plant toxins and anti-nutrients.

    Regarding potatoes, most of the toxins are in the skin. So you can avoid them by not eating the skin.

  22. hbd chick says:

    death by chocolate. i’m working hard on it. (~_^)

  23. Mayberry says:

    On the other hand, why are many of these foods and flavors so appetizing if they really are bad for us? People love potatoes, tomatoes, spices, vanilla, chocolate, etc.

  24. Toddy Cat says:

    I try to limit my carbs and sugar because I’ve found that’s the easiest way for me to keep my weight about where I want it, but that’s about it. Is that “healthier”? For me, yeah, in the macro sense that It’s healthier for me not to weight 275 pounds, but anything more than that? Who knows? And when we get to stuff like spices, I’d say that the stress of worrying about it is probably worse than anything that could possibly be in the spices. But I may be biased, and OD on paprika in the near future…

  25. agnostic says:

    It can be pretty hard figuring out if some element of some food has a bad effect on you. It would have to be a near certain effect, and the effect would have to kick in before an hour, day, or week. Otherwise, the effect is too hard to detect by casual personal observation, or it is obvious but too late — even if the correlation is 1-to-1, but the harm is done at age 50, it’s too late to go back and un-eat the junk you were shoveling at age 20. Acute effects are easier to detect, and chronic ones almost impossible.

    If there’s a decent evolutionary or biochemical reason to suspect something, that’s good enough to put it in the “shovel at your own risk” category. Running personal experiments or using casual observation is usually too weak to figure out if it applies to you or not. And the human mind is always tempted toward rationalizing vice.

    For example, East Asians will fool themselves into thinking they can handle carbs because they don’t get as fat as those razy Americans. That is true, but obesity is only one piece of metabolic syndrome. They’ve been eating rice for so long that they’ve found some genetic trick around obesity — but all the other metabolic problems are still there. They have not found genetic tricks around the other pieces of the syndrome (maybe in another 10,000 years they’ll lick another, and have the whole thing sorted out by 100,000 AD).

    Outcome: 13.5% of Japan in the 21st century has type II diabetes, compared to “only” 8.3% in the US.

  26. agnostic says:

    “The elites must have always had access to as much sugar as they wanted.”

    And after their buzz wore off, all they had to show for it was a case of gout, “the disease of kings and the king of diseases” because of how painful it is. It’s caused by high intake of fructose.

    “But I’ve eaten plenty of fructose and never gotten gout!” There goes the rationalizing mind. Gout is just the extreme tail of a distribution of inflammatory arthritis. You can still be affected, just not so extremely that you develop gout. So unless you plan never to have arthritic symptoms, you can’t wave away the harmful role that sugar (i.e., sucrose) has played in your health.

    • j3morecharacters says:

      To be precise, “dietary causes account for about 12% of gout, and include a strong association with the consumption of alcohol, fructose-sweetened drinks, meat, and seafood.” Sucrose (raw sugar) does not cause gout.

      • dearieme says:

        Once it’s been in your stomach a while a molecule of sucrose breaks down into one of fructose and one of glucose, courtesy of an enzyme and the pH.

      • George says:

        Lol. That was amusing. Yep, sugar causes gout alright. Meat and seafood seem just as implicated (to the small extend that diet is implicated at all) but nope, sugar! sugar!

        It seems the bolder the claim when it comes to diet, the easier to disprove. When it comes to diet if you don’t wish to look like an absolute fool, as in this example, you must talk in measured tones. We know so little about nutrition.

        On the larger point, this theory that we humans are fragile organisms narrowly adapted to particular environments who can be easily undone by the first encounter with unfamiliar foods seems absurd. We are obviously fairly robust organisms built to thrive in a wide variety of conditions.

  27. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    Someone else does not believe in genes.

  28. Gringo says:

    Regarding being able to tolerate or not tolerate food, I am reminded of an anecdote from Guatemala. I am friends with a family in rural Guatemala, and during my visits there eat all that they eat- eggs scrambled w veggies, beans, tortillas, soup, coffee, hot peppers. I have never had a digestive problem eating their food, An in-law from the States visited them, and couldn’t keep anything down. Go figure. Perhaps it was because I eat a lot of beans and hot peppers back in the States

  29. melendwyr says:

    Favaism is a potential deadly reaction to fava beans… and it’s only common in the regions where fava beans were heavily grown in ancient times.

    Sometimes the new is dangerous… and sometimes the old and familiar is underestimated.

  30. RS says:

    > People ate 90lb/yr by even 1900, which is a lot.

    Robert Lustig says they (US people I assume) eat much more now than in past. He seems capable enough.

    > Vegetable oils increased from almost none since 70s.

    I had an overboard sugar habit for many years, seriously way out there. Quit ten times. Fair-sized belly, which never responded much to quitting.

    Stumbled on the question of late-modern, industrially-extracted plant oils. I’m sure my olive oil is also ‘industrial’, but I believe it’s just a mechanized scale-up of the old way, where most plant oils are produced with radical tech.

    Have nothing but olive oil and butter now, and eat plenty of them, almost never eat out or eat processed food since almost all has tons of modern lipids. No desire for sugar, have the odd coke but don’t want more and never think about it. Belly oscillates from flat to nothing much for my age. Am still rather addictive in general nature with quite poor conscientiousness.

    A lotta variables varied during the change between states: athletic changes, other stuff. (Though I’ve been sedentary recently and still don’t want sugar.) I am of course far from calling my experience science.

    It’s been 18 months. I do not feel more vigorous (weightlifting’s the thing for that) — just am probably healthier metabolically, and don’t use up energy, will, and affect on sugar-fiending and trying to delimit same, which is a sheer waste of vitality and attention. Omnes vulnerant ultima necat.

    And I’m not saying you won’t get circulatory disease from butter ; I don’t know, and can’t be bothered to chase knowledge of that kidney through a cloud of contention. Rightly or wrongly, my brain cancelled any interest in nutrition science, because the one thing that (apparently) helped me, I never had rigorous information about: just read some soft sources and tried it.

    As for race I’m a barbarian from assorted points in far-NW Europe.

  31. GoneWithTheWind says:

    There is adaptation and then there is the failure to adapt because the situation or diet never existed. American Indians are much more prone to diabetes. This is because a subsistance diet of a hunter gatherer and their highly active lifestyle acted as an appropriate “treatment” for a diabetic prolonging their life well past the age of procreation where there passed on that gene to their offspring.

  32. Greying Wanderer says:

    I don’t know if there are more allergic people now than there used to be but it certainly feels like it. Could a general increase in non-fatal medical conditions like allergies through improved medicine lead to people becoming more sensitive to certain foods?

  33. Tom says:

    “Why are we fatter and sicker than ever? The graphs that explain how sugar, fruit juice and margarine are to blame”

    The graphs were gathered by Kris Gunnars, a nutrition researcher

    He says the obesity epidemic correlates with the time we were told to adopt a low fat diet and eat plenty of carbohydrates

    Graphs show that our sugar consumption has rocketed yet consumption of eggs has fallen – and we have swapped butter for margarine

    Calorie intake has also gone up by around 400 calories a day

    Mr Gunnars says our diets filled with processed food are making us ill

    • JayMan says:


      Yup, covered most of these.

      We keep trying, but there’s no way to know for sure. And even if the consumption of different foods and obesity are related, the causal arrow could easily go in the direction obesity -> food choices.

      Fun Facts About Obesity | JayMan’s Blog

    • Toad says:

      Chart shows obesity negatively correlates with lard consumption, which approaches zero in 1990.

    • GoneWithTheWind says:

      If it were this simple then we would all (or most all) be obese. But most people are not obese and in fact if yu don’t have a genetic predisposition to become obese it is damn near impossible to become obese. How could that be if the power of sugar is so HUGE? conversely it is extremely difficult for an obese person to obtain a “normal” weight and it is impossible with a “normal” diet. The very same diet that allows 75% of us to eat what we want and never become obese will cause someone with a genetic predisposition to obesity to be obese. How can that be true if it is only the fault of sugar, margarine and fruit juice that causes obesity???

  34. Pingback: Some Foods Are Naturally Dangerous | Those Damn Liars

  35. Toad says:

    Given that the Aztecs ate their sacrifices and that chocolate was valuable and used in religous rituals, chocolate would be just the thing to wash down a beating heart. Death by chocolate could have been a thing.

  36. rob says:

    On Hispanics and alcohol, I saw a study, don’t remember where and I can’t vow for the quality, of percent alcoholics and recovering alcholics by nationality/ethnicity: Jewish people, Spain, (France?), and Italy had the smallest % with alcohol problems. Scandinavians and UK were pretty bad. The Mediterranean peoples have had a long time for alcohol problems (in the Darwinian sense) to have selected for tolerance on the standing variation and for really good alcohol-drinker allele(s) to proliferate if they happened to pop up.

    Hahaha. Is there an alcohol-version of lactose tolerance? A couple of genetic changes that introgressed into the Mestizo and Indio population. Were Mediteranean peoples under more intense/longer selection by from measles, smallpox . The Native Americans in the US did not bear the yoke nearly as well. Sorta seems like the Spanish hit a wall, but did they just built latifundia and freeze time as well as they could?

    Come to think of it,has there been any measure of actual introgression (as opposed to admixture) of European genes into the various Native populations? Looking at ‘back’-introgression of Native American haplotypes into European populations (Old and New) could be interesting.

    How long were different Native Americans populations subjected to (co)selection under different niches? Was there enough New World endogamy and differential selection to make the Creek much different from the Inca and Aymara? That was rhetorical, btw. Did they follow something of hawks and doves, where different types of birds have adapted to different niches? Did the Aztec ruling caste intermarry with the Spanish? How much culture do women transmit when they’re basically mass war-brides?

    • Anthony says:

      If nothing else, alcoholic beverages were more common south of the Rio Grande before the Europeans came. That could explain some of the differences between outcomes among Indians in the U.S. and Canada vs Indians from Mexico and south.

    • CrazyGuy says:

      There are, in fact, multiple variants of the gene that codes alcohol dehydrogenase in humans, producing several variants of alcohol dehydrogenase, and which variant is most common in a population does correlate to the rate of alcoholism in that population.

  37. dusanmal says:

    “Paleo” diet has NOTHING to do with New World/Non-New World foods. This article is excellent example of two processes: 1) Information distortion as it spreads (I have no idea who and where have linked paleo diet to New World foods,…) 2) Writing about something author have no clue at all.

    So, what IS “Paleo diet” (whether you like it or not): It is derivative of Atkins Diet, finding (depending on your view of this diet – good or bad) historical/evolutionary reasons/excuses why Atkins Diet works. It is a way to trigger “ketone metabolism” in humans by choice of types of foods eaten. Paleo proponents would say that it is our normal evolutionary metabolism. Supporters of modern agricultural diet would claim that it is “starvation metabolism”. Any way – key is food intake that focuses on animal proteins and fats, green leafy bulk vegetable food and some amounts of berries and nuts. Not eaten (in Atkins because you avoid carbs’ in Paleo because our ancestors for 99.6% of human evolution could not have eaten wild, scattered grains [both due to the processing they haven’t invented and due to effort to collect them exceeded benefits even if processed]) are carb’ heavy plants – corn, wheat, rice, potatoes,… Nothing to do with New/Old World, everything to do with carbs’ and what our early ancestors could have eaten before invention of agriculture just 10000 yrs ago (vs. 4-5 million years of human specific evolution).

    “Ketone metabolism” (again, like it or not, Atkins or Paleo supporter or opponent) causes interesting peculiarity: no mater how much you eat, you CAN”T gain weight. Physically, chemically,… not ideologically. Your body under such metabolism lacks ability to store fat, furthermore it typically burns whatever fat it finds. Interesting “paradoxical” consequence, you eat Atkins or Paleo and, voila, INEVITABLY by rules of chemistry, despite eating predominantly fats – your cholesterol levels and weight – drop.

    Now, why would we say that our deep ancestors ate such diet: we evolutionary separated from ape cousins due to geo-climatological change created by African rift tectonic process. Area where our ape cousins were left, remained unchanged. They remained quite unchanged, there was no need to change: diet of highly available fruits supplemented by insects and small mammals. Predominantly herbivore omnivores. Where we were left, climate dried up fruit-filled canopy was replaced by dry savanna. No more fruit and small mammal availability. Plenty of a) grass b) grass eaters. We needed to change and choose. BOTH strategies were tested. Homo Robustus adapted to grass-eater – extinct within 100000 yrs. Human branch chose to eat grass eaters. Predominantly meat eating omnivores (with some rarely available leafy plants and nuts). Voila – eating meat (scientifically accepted theory) enabled us to grow bigger brain->bigger brain allowed us to catch more animals-> we ate even more meat and grew even bigger brains, developing other human abilities on the way. And continuing to do so for 99.6% of our evolution. Than we discovered agriculture and switched to modern eating patterns, and evolution does not work that quickly to switch to new metabolism. Our modern diet results in “preparation for winter” metabolism – eating a lot of fruits when they were seasonably available to gain fat for winter survival. Just now we are gaining fat 24/7/365.

  38. RS says:

    > The very same diet that allows 75% of us to eat what we want and never become obese will cause someone with a genetic predisposition to obesity to be obese. How can that be true if it is only the fault of sugar, margarine and fruit juice that causes obesity???

    Well, you answered your question. Because genes are probably another major factor, both between races and within. They usually are with everything. When I was quite noticeably belly-fat as described above, I had no excess of subcutaneous fat at any time. Just don’t have the genes for it, most likely. Visceral fat (omentum) is a different variety or sub-variety of organ, undoubtedly associated with a non-identical set of genes.

    It is much more exact to say hot-extracted plant oils than ‘margarine’ – assuming that is in fact the theory one supports. (By hot I mean very hot). Replacing margarine with a bottle of canola or soy oil does little good, is my guess (of course I don’t know). Peanut and olive oils are pressed cold, basically because they are quite oily materials so all you gotta do is squeeze hard. Canola and soy are far less oily, I’m told, hence the radically novel tech.

    Anyway, it’s just a hypothesis. Sort of. The part relating to trans fats, at least, is considerably endorsed by the US Nat’l Academy of Sciences as of a while ago… though there may also be further kinds of denatured lipids in hot-extracted oils. One thing that helps make it very plausible to me – the hot plant oils thing – is that the mean American diet, considered calorie-wise, consists about 30% of such oils. If something is ‘barely’ toxic, considered in abstracto, yet you eat vast mounds of it every day for decades, it doesn’t take Kurt Goedel to see that the result may be gravely toxic.

    My hypotheses are these:
    1. It may or could take 90-98+% (who knows?) elimination of hot plant oils, sharp curtailment of sugar, and at least some level of starch ‘consciousness’ to get good results. (I’m not a starch crusader myself, I just rein it in a little, and always slather it with tons of fat, which slows digestion and insulin response.) And some exercise. If all the factors are needed concomitantly, that may be why no one has produced a study where people come out looking like 1910, when there was little obesity and a merely rotund man with no ‘rolls’ of fat was a bankable circus attraction. That kind of study goes against the analytic grain of science, slightly. But the metabolic disarray may be reversible only in part, which may be another reason it’s hard to get back to 1910.
    2. There will always be at least some people with unlucky metabolic genes and lower Conscientiousness or lower self-restraint re food, who will be overweight on any reasonable regime of exercise or dietary composition. It’s not like no one was even plump in 1910. And I’m sure there are some boozy or downright drunkard Ashkenazim, today and last century – just not a lot.

    • RS says:

      > The very same diet that allows 75% of us to eat what we want and never become obese

      BTW, what ‘very same’ diet is this? Dunno where you are . . . in America the affluent are thin. I think it’s at least partly their diet, though it is mostly stringent sexual selection, mostly on the female. I suspect expensive food tends to be a little better, mostly by accident. I’ll bet pricey restaurants incline a bit towards fats over sugars, and butter and cheese over most plant oils. With my prole palate I am no very good informant, but my impression is butter and olive oil have always been the modal pure-lipid ingredient for ‘serious’ cuisine in the West.

      In a similar vein, read weight training boards and you will see universal disdain for packaged food and fast food. They straight-up consider most of the grocery store a repository of very-low-level toxic garbage, just as I do (I think this ; I don’t know it). But I never saw a soul mention trans fats or hot-extracted plant oils, or Taubes or Lustig – not once – even though there is a large contingent of pop-sci literates, and a few people who can read journal articles critically. The food beliefs are just bro lore that they figured out by doing it. The really scientific dudes don’t study Lustig or plant oils ; they read up on androgens, on when (relative to workout time) it is best to eat a lot of carbs – etc. (Off the top of my head, if you have just worked out hard in any way, insulin will direct much more glycogen replenishment and much less fat deposition than it does at other times.)

      So, many of them may have a bottle of canola at home and use it often. But at least they do not take in gobs of canola and soy oils through doritos, or through classier packaged foods that still have reckonable soy/canola. And of course they mostly eat a lot of animal foods, and nuts.

      I also never saw anyone cite a paper on intense (competitor-level) endurance exercise being antagonistic to maximization of muscle, particularly for thin-framed types. They’ve seen it, recorded it in their logs. They’re aware that aerobic exercise is probably good for you, so they tend to recommend doing it at non-competitor frequency and intensity.

      In general it is quite interesting, in many ways, when lore or folk belief is ahead of science and/or what passes for science. And this does happen at times.

      • RS says:

        > in America the affluent are thin. I think it’s at least partly their diet, though it is mostly stringent sexual selection, mostly on the female.

        To clarify, I don’t propose that ‘plump’ or more especially ‘plump female’ alleles are strongly negatively selected from the population, necessarily. But from the affluent class, I hardly doubt they are.

      • Anthony says:

        Dunno where you are . . . in America the affluent are thin. I think it’s at least partly their diet, though it is mostly stringent sexual selection, mostly on the female.

        Hm. If you look at the wealthy in general, the women are probably mostly thin when they marry. But there’s a divergence afterwards – the more socially conservative, business-oriented folks – the ones who become millionaires at 65 – tend to stay with their wives even when the wife becomes fat, while the more “creative” types, and the more socially-liberal elites, the women stay thin, and they’re more likely to divorce. So what exactly is being selected for, in each group?

      • RS says:

        None of those observations ring implausible to me. But almost all the conservative people I’ve known or even seen are blue collar, few of whom are affluent. I can’t recall one visit to an affluent conservative zip code (like Orange Co or Upper W Side?), an econ grad school, or a business that’s white collar or simply largish. So, hard for me to comment.

        But it seems to me that what you’re saying may somewhat erode or limit what I’m saying, but doesn’t abnegate it. In particular, I’d guess affluent rightish women in their 50s are at least modestly less apt to be noticeably overweight than other women in their 50s.

  39. RS says:

    The latest from ‘the other dismal science’, nutrition. –So-called, by me, for its many contradictory publications. Last I’d heard, it had been thought that meat was pretty bad re some outcome measures, but later (just a year ago) that effect was isolated to preserved meats specifically in at least one worker’s findings (though there is also some feeling against red meat by academics).

    And now this.

    “Eating too much protein could be as dangerous as smoking for middle-aged people, a scientific study has found.

    “Research which tracked thousands of adults for nearly 20 years found that people who eat a diet rich in animal protein are four times more likely to die of cancer than someone with a low protein diet.

    “The risk is nearly as high as the danger of developing cancer by smoking 20 cigarettes each day.”

    Perhaps the paper says whether they analyzed-out preserved meats from other protein, but I rather doubt it and am not going to look. Anyway I thought this was worth mentioning, but I don’t necessarily believe it. Did they control for class? Etc. Let’s face it, lower-SES people probably have more mutation burden on average. I don’t have empirical evidence, but if you understand bio well and are frank-minded, you can see why it’s highly likely. And it is an empirical fact that they suffer more illness in general.

    • RS-1' says:

      Should prolly quite this too:

      “The US study found that people with a high protein diet were 74 per cent more likely to die of any cause within the study period than their low-protein counterparts. They were also several times more likely to die of diabetes.”

      (Meats can cause very considerable insulin secretion — a lot of people don’t realize this . . . insulin is not just a blood glucose regulator.)

      So assuming any of this actually reflects reality at all (it’s hard not to half-loathe epidemiology), the protein heads must have gotten a lot /less/ of certain other fatal diseases/events, in order for their all-cause mortality to be ‘only’ 74% higher. In light of that, I think Kuhnle is right to comment that the comparison with pack-a-day smoking is sort of stupid and less than totally responsible.

  40. Pingback: Sugar & Antibiotics | JayMan's Blog

  41. JayMan says:

    I would like to request that you two take on the matter of obesity, particularly, its cause and the cause of the recent secular increase.

    This is a topic that’s filled with secular religion and all sorts of things “everyone knows,” yet what’s really going on is far from clear. We do know that it’s highly heritable, about 80% so (with the usual 0 shared environment impact). Of that, GCTA seem to indicate about 0.4 is additive variance. The rest is “luck” of sorts.

    And, as for the modern rise, the increase in obesity, at least in the U.S., does track estimated average calorie consumption (as gauged through somewhat questionable methods), and we do see an increase across many parts of the world correlating with increase in standard of living (as per Pseudorasmus’s recently published post correlating obesity to real food prices). But the causation is poorly teased out – increase in consumption could easily be caused by increasing obesity, for example. As well, we see considerable global variation in obesity – variation that clusters by ancestry (NW Euro, high; lower in S. & E. Europe; Anglo countries all match; low in E. Asia; Canada pattern follows Europe/Asia). Obesity appears to be heritable on the group level as well. Some try to attribute this to culture-specific diet, but we see certain resistance of immigrant groups in each other’s territory (2nd and 3rd generation Asian-American don’t get fat, for example). More equatorial or people otherwise unfamiliar with modern “Western” diets (e.g., Amerindians) do appear more vulnerable to obesity, as per the topic of this post.

    Obesity appears to be very resistant to change. Large randomized controlled trials of exercise find that it is completely ineffective for weight loss. Most stories of weight loss success rely on anecdotes and cherry-picked samples. Actual large RCTs find little success of any dietary regimen over the long haul (often after some short-term success). There’s some evidence that tremendous non-compliance sets in, but that also demonstrates some important real-world insight: for whatever reason, people, by in large, can’t stick to diets. Success has been limited with drugs, as well, with Qsymia not living up to its initial hype.

    And of course, I found that obesity is not as deleterious to health and most people assume. Large cohort studies find IQ is much more predictive of longevity and health than is other factors, like obesity (and then, it appear simple reaction time is most predictive component). There appears to have been a concurrent rise in incidence of diabetes with obesity, but ultimate effects on health appear mostly moderated by IQ.

    A big question then is what is truly the ultimate cause of the recent rise in obesity?. Many like to blame junk food, perhaps driving people to overeat. A couple of problems, I find. For one, did junk food really appear c. 1980? (There is a correlation between high-fructose corn syrup use and the rise in obesity, though.) We still don’t know if that’s all there is to the story, because there’s no good way of testing it.

    But, most challenging for any simple causal theory is that lab animals have also been getting fat. Perhaps there’s been a systematic difference in lab conditions, but it is an interesting coinciding event – and sure it might just be that, but is it?

    As well, there appears to be some relationship to microbes. While I’m not a fan of generalizing from animal studies to humans, pathogenic effects seem like a fair place to do that, if any. The gut microbiome of obese people seems to differ from thinner people. Gut biome transplants in rats have led to weight gain. And, as I’ve written in my post Sugar and Antibiotics, antibiotics seem to lead to weight gain in livestock.

    Also, there is the virus Ad-36, which seems to also led to fatness in animals. Antibodies to the virus have been reported at a higher rate in obese humans. But this and the gut biome situation could just be spurious correlates of obesity in humans, though. However, microbial involvement does seem superfluous considering the very high heritability of obesity.

    Seems that there’s quite a mystery here, even if it is only to potentially confirm the conventional explanation.

    • JayMan says:

      I will add that there appears to be an interesting inverse correlation between obesity and altitude. There aren’t many good studies investigating the causal relationship here (there was a tiny one looking at U.S. military service men).

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