Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The logic(or lackthereof) in modern foods

Last post I included my first table that analyzed the glycemic load of various foods per gram. If you were/are unfamiliar with glycemic load, it is basically a statistic used by diabetics to help them figure out what foods are causing them to have blood sugar spikes. Although i am not diabetic(there is a family history) I use the stat to try and steer clear of foods that even though they may taste good or have a lot of calories are placing too much stress on my body.

I posted the list last time of the best foods and fruit dominated the top of the rankings. Apples, pears, cherries, peaches, etc. Fruit has the best looking stats of any sugary food that you could place on your menu. There were also some surprises like yogurt, lentils, and Turkish soup.

Looking at the bottom of the list highlights just how much modern food processing is responsible for the current epidemic of diabetes that is going on in America(click on table for larger view).

Kellogg's corn flakes takes the bottom spot, not far behind are things like Rice crispies, grapenuts , power bars, vanilla wafers, shredded wheat, etc. Another food at the top of the list is the modern additive dextrose which is a form of pure sugar made from cornstarch. The only non modern foods are amaranth, and dried dates. Just for reference chocolate ice cream comes in at .2 GL/g vs .5 GL/g or higher for almost all of the breakfast cereals.

This begs the question of how can an apple be more efficient than human food makers? I think the answer lies in having thousands of years of feedback and having the right methods of selection. There may also be particular dimensions of modern food production that puts them all at the bottom list either by design or ignorance. There are a few possible dimensions of selection like $ profits, calories, quick energy, minimal prep time, long shelf life, and portability that I can think of at the moment, but I hope to analyze this more fully in the future.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The evolutionary logic of fruit

As I stated earlier this is going to be mostly a blog about food stats. I've started working on my first table which I'm using to figure out what foods release sugar more slowly when digested which cause less insulin spikes from your pancreas. I have picked the gram as my unit to center everything around because it will help to have all the stats on the same scale. Calories are also scaled to grams.

In basketball for instance good stats are all based around "the possession" and everything else revolves around that. How many points to you get per possession? How many possessions do you gain or lose for your team. How often do you get up a shot per possession? It makes picking out who is good and bad on your team really easy. This crates a much more reliable picture of who the best players are, and is light years better than looking at stats like points per game. Likewise centering everything around the same unit(grams) makes picking out the good and bad foods really easily. The data that I have comes from . What I did was to sort all the foods by those with the lowest glycemic load(which is calculated by Glycemic Load = (Glycemic Index x the amount of available carbohydrate divided by 10) and then divided each number by the total number of grams that were sampled.

So the statistic here is glycemic load/per gram and what it says is that given equal calories gained per gram the top foods are all the best. Of course this could change once I find a good source of data of calories per gram.

One of my favorites plain yogurt made the list. A few I have no clue what they are. Turkish noodle soup? I may just have to find a good recipe as returns no hits. Seems like it might be a great food to eat when you are sick!Fruit takes 17 of the top 50 spots by my count(I may have miscounted).

Fruit and your body have been been in relationship quite a while and have worked out an efficient and effective means of exchange(This seems to have alluded modern food processing companies). Tomorrow I'll post the bottom of the list and show you why I think Tony the Tiger is probably a diabetic.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Recent Ancestry-Deep Ancestry

When asked, "What is your ancestry?" most people think back to their great grandparents and the countries of their origin(for me personally it is Swedish, Croatian(Dalmatia), Norwegian, and Scottish). But when considering life on an evolutionary timescale what I can hold in my own memory or gather from relatives is functionally similar to the memory of a baby.

A baby has difficulty learning complex things because it has many organs and brain functions that have yet to be developed and if it had to remember what happened 10 days ago in order to make a decision today it wouldn't do very well. Our ancestral memory though has recently undergone exponential growth. Due to advances in the field of genetics we can now trace our own personal history back thousands of years. How can we use this knowledge?

The second area I'd like to delve into is a way of testing for adaptability to various foods and begin to develop adaptability ratings based on these regions

N. Europe
S. Europe
N. Africa
S. Africa
N. America
S. America
C. Asia
E. Asia
S. Asia

Specifically you would place yourself in one of these categories not by appearance of ancestry, but by DNA markers of ancestry as outlined in human Genographic project. The genographic project is a privately-funded, not-for-profit collaboration between the National Geographic Society, IBM and the Waitt Family Foundation dedicated to mapping humanity's route out of Africa, starting with the initial suspected population in southern Africa 60,000-40,000 years ago all the way up to the present day. Here's a map of a few of the critical population points.

Each of the points refers to a gene marker, taken from section of each participants. There are, parts of the human genome that pass unshuffled from parent to child. These segments of DNA are only changed by occasional mutations. When these mutations are passed down to succeeding generations, they become markers of descent DNA that doesn't change as much.

A recent example from the National Geographic program The Human Family Tree highlights why the DNA marker is more important than your appearance. One of the shows participants, Dave, considered his heritage to be African-American(because visually this is what he saw) whereas upon testing his marker indicated that his marker came out of C. Asia and eventually Europe, which was the same marker of another participant George who considered his ancestry Greek. Essentially at the genetic level appearance based labels like African American and Greek break down, and for food adaptability ratings I predict they will also lose some of their usefulness(depending on if the adaptation is internal(gut adaptation/organs) or external(skin adaptation for Vitamin D production/absorbtion)).

The genetic/dietary connection can be seen when you compare the map above to the one below of the inability to digest lactose beyond 4 years of age .

In the future I'll post on other areas that may have a genetic connection like wheat and alcohol tolerance.

Next post I'll talk about how I think presumed random sampling leads to underlying bias in nutritional studies and examine how a tweak in experimental design could improve the reliability of research and the replication of results.

The Calorie-Why is it a bad stat?

There are three types of liars: Those that lie intentionally for personal gain, those that lie because they are ignorant, and those that lie intentionally to protect others.

Of the three types I put calories in the category of lying out of ignorance. Basically knowing the information of the quantity of calories within some food tells you little about it's actual worth to you. Which means tables like the one below paint an incomplete picture.

The calorie is a measure by which a substance can raise 1 gram of water 1 degree Celsius. In nutritional contexts, however, the small calorie is too small a unit to be useful; so the term calorie is used for the large calorie, as is the equivalent term kilocalorie (symbol: kcal), being 1000 small calories = 1 large calorie.

This however does not mean that it is the amount of energy or usefulness that your body will extract from some food. A simple heuristic sums up what I'm trying to get at:

"It takes money to make money."

Or in the case of food what you want to know is the energy/resources you have use to get the energy/resources you want to gain. In addition you also want to know how much time it takes you to process a food because as Benjamin Franklin once said:

"Time is money. "

So I want to use these two simple rules of thumb to start the stat which will better describe a food you are trying to eat for energy gain. My initial thought was something like

Food Edge = (calories/(Glycymic load(measures insulin use intensity)+ other processing costs/time)) + beneficials +nutrients(units/ g)+minerals(units/ g)-long term consequences per use

There is a similar example from the world of saber-metrics that would also be familiar to anyone who collected baseball cards in their younger years(as I did). There was a particular stat that was always listed that has been shown to be of dubious use : batting average. Batting average tells you how frequently someone got a hit off of the opposing pitcher. What it did not tell you is how good that hit was, or how frequently a batter gets on base vs the opposing pitcher via a walk(an equally valuable feat as getting a hit). So it is a similarly ignorant statistic. The better statistic, called OPS, was first popularized in 1984 by John Thorn and Pete Palmer's book, The Hidden Game of Baseball. OPS stands for on base percentage + slugging percentage which accounts for walks, the intensity of hits, sacrifice flies and the negative value of strikeouts.

The lesson I learned from this example is that a statistic has to value similar feats equally, it has to account for both the frequency and the intensity of great feats and devalue negative feats(like strikeouts). With my food statistic I will try and do the same.

BTW if anyone reads this and has a suggestion for a better name than Food edge please chime in. My other thought could be to call it Food Energy Ratio.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Food stats

"There are three types of lies : lies, damned lies, and statistics."-Benjamin Disraeli

I was listening to a NPR on my drive to local supermarket when I heard the announcement that they are going to start requiring restaurants to put calorie counts on their menus. My immediate thought was that this was a useless gesture that won't lead anyone to making better food choices. First of all if you really believed that the calorie was a good statistic(I do not-which I will explain) why would you do anything other than purchase the most calories for the lowest price. Well some will be thinking because more calories make you fat(the old calorie in = calorie out logic). This as Paleo eater's have discovered is fallacious logic.

But it started me thinking about what good statistics for food would be. Over the years I have followed the saber-metric movement in baseball, the use of databases in poker, the analysis of weather and its impact on wine prices, and the introduction of usage stats in basketball. Each of these examples can provide a road map of what is wrong with current food statistics. As I drove back from the supermarket my mind started to think about what more advanced food stats/models would look like. So as my daughter is now in day care(insert shameless cute baby photo)

I have some time to write again so I've decided to start posting again. Here is my initial sketch which should improve over time with increased data, analysis, and hopefully some criticism about how hopeless wrong my initial brain storm is. But just so I can look back on myself in a year and laugh here's my sketch.

Food Edge= (calories/(Glycymic load+ other processing costs/time)) + beneficials gained+nutrients(pts/100 g)+minerals(pts/100 g)-long term consequences per use

Cooking Score = Energy expended/cost -reduced processing times -reduced bacterial risk + beneficials killed

Combo/prep score = increased processing efficiency-destruction of nutrients

Paleo Score = Paleo Unit

altered usage based on popluation ancestry-Adaptability ratings

N. Europe
S. Europe
N. Africa
S. Africa
N. America
S. America
C. Asia
N. Asia
S. Asia

Beneficial(bacteria) score = reduced processing time +increased efficiency-beneficial cost

Best foods are those with the highest Food Edge/$

Best eaters are those who pick the foods with the highest edge that they are adapted too, are good preparers and carry a high beneficial score