Are you confused on what's healthy to eat? If so, Dr. Mark Hyman, who has been studying nutrition for 35 years, brings clarity to what you should be putting in your mouth and what you shouldn't in his book Food. What the Heck Should I Eat?.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Did you know that 50 percent of media headlines about medical studies are dead wrong? And that many of these headlines don't accurately match the conclusions of the studies they cover? That's from a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
It makes me sad and furious at the same time that journalists don't do their homework and create firestorms of confusion because of their negligent work.
I'm often asked by my patients, "What superfoods are most important to stay healthy?"
I like to think that everything I eat is a superfood. When I walk into the grocery store, which I call the "Farmacy," I like to seek out powerful foods that are going to provide the right information for my body.
When it comes to overall health and weight loss, there's an excess of advice out there. Unfortunately, most of it is terrible, misguided, outdated and scientifically disproven.
This ubiquitously poor advice can create weight loss roadblocks and even damage your health. Here are four prevalent misguided myths that drive me nuts.
Myth #1: All Calories are Created Equal
A calorie is a calorie, right? Wrong. This myth that refuses to die keeps people from getting and staying healthy, as well as losing weight and keeping it off.
The current thinking is as long as we burn more calories than we consume, we will lose weight. The multi-billion dollar weight loss industry perpetuates this lie and actually relies on you believing it to stay afloat.
Thinking that losing weight is all about energy balance or calories in/calories out, vastly oversimplifies the truth. The food industry and government agencies love this myth because it keeps you buying more junk food, which they suggest you eat in moderation. How's that working out for America?
Truth is, there are good and bad calories. Your body is much more complex than a simple math problem. When we eat, our food interacts with our biology, a complex adaptive system that instantly transforms every bite. Food is more than just calories and flavors. Food is information telling our cells what to do.
In fact, every bite you eat affects your hormones, brain chemistry and metabolism. Sugar calories cause fat storage and spike hunger. Calories from fat and protein promote fat burning. What counts more is the quality, not the quantity, of the calories.
The highest-quality calories comes from whole foods. Calories from high-quality whole foods are naturally lower in calories as compared with processed foods. This is why calorie counting isn't necessary when you eat fresh foods like those your great-grandma made.
These foods include quality proteins such as grass-fed animal products (not factory-farmed), organic eggs, chicken, small wild fish, nuts and seeds. It means good fats like avocado, extra-virgin olive oil, coconut butter and omega-3 fats from fish. And it includes good carbs like vibrantly colored vegetables (the brighter the better), fruits like wild berries, apples and kiwis, and superfoods like chia and hemp seeds.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Slow Carbs, Not Low Carbs via @EcoWatch https://t.co/O55pfjj2i8— Mark Hyman, M.D. (@Mark Hyman, M.D.)1471047537.0
Myth #2: Your Genetics Define You and Your Health
Most conventional doctors still believe we are pre-dispositioned to weight gain due to familial history. In other words, if your mom is fat and your grandma is fat, that's why you became fat. You drew the fat card or the diabetes card in the genetic lottery.
As a firm believer that food is medicine and information for our cells, I can assure you our genetics do not dictate future health outcomes. We possess much more power over them.
Consider this: There are 32 obesity-associated genes in the general population that account for only 9 percent of obesity cases. Even if you had all 32 obesity genes, you would put on only about 22 pounds.
Our genes only change 2 percent every 20,000 years. About 35 percent of Americans are obese today, yet by 2050 that number will rise to more than 50 percent. Our genes simply don't evolve that fast to keep up with the increase.
What changed drastically wasn't our genes. It was that we went from eating about 10 pounds of sugar, per person, per year in 1800 to 152 pounds of sugar (and 146 pounds of flour) per person, per year today. These pharmacological doses of sugar and flour hijack our metabolism and make us fat and sick.
Numerous factors contribute to obesity, but the least of them is genetics.
Dr. Mark Hyman: Is Weight Gain Dictated by Genes? https://t.co/OBcBSPIS7c @Healthy_Child @MensHealthMag— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1457920212.0
Myth #3: You Can Out-Exercise a Bad Diet
The myth that you can eat whatever you want and burn the calories with exercise is completely false and makes no sense if you understand how the human body works.
If you think you can exercise your way to weight loss, you're in for a big disappointment if you treat yourself to a post-workout sugar-laden smoothie, muffin or other "healthy" snack. You can't just suck back some Gatorade to quench your thirst after your 30 minutes on the treadmill.
If you're relying on exercise to lose weight without changing your diet, you're setting yourself up for failure. You can change your diet and lose weight, but if you exercise and keep your diet the same, you may gain some muscle, improve endurance and be healthier overall, but you won't shed many pounds.
Put this into perspective: If you drink just one 20-ounce soda, you'll have to walk four-and-a-half miles to burn it off. If you consume one super-sized fast-food meal, you'll have to run four miles a day for one whole week to burn it off. If you eat that every day, you have to run a marathon every single day to burn it off.
You simply cannot exercise your way out of a bad diet. Yes, exercise is extremely important, but to lose weight and keep it off you need to couple exercise with a healthy diet filled with plenty of plant foods, healthy fats and protein.
Myth #4: Fat Makes You Fat
Here's another pet peeve: Eating fat makes you fat.
Fat is not a four-letter word! Eating fat not only doesn't make you fat, it's critical to health and weight loss.
Studies comparing a high-fat diet that is identical in calorie count to a high-sugar diet had totally different effects on metabolism. The higher-fat diet caused people to burn an extra 300 calories a day. That's the equivalent of running for an hour without doing any exercise.
In studies of animals that ate identical calorie diets of either low-fat (high-sugar) or higher-fat and protein diets showed that higher-sugar diets led to more fat deposition and muscle loss, while the higher-fat and protein diets led to more muscle mass and fat loss. Keep in mind they were eating exactly the same number of calories.
The right fats are actually your cells' preferred fuel, especially those fats called medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that come from foods like coconut oil and coconut butter.
Yes, stay away from trans fats, but good fats like extra-virgin olive oil, coconut butter, avocado, nuts, seeds and nut butters keep us full and lubricate the wheels of our metabolism. Please stop fearing fat!
I've created a plan to reset your body and move toward your best self that incorporates movement, supplementation and above all, food and dietary fats .
The Eat Fat, Get Thin program is a 21-day plan designed to support weight loss, maximize energy and mental clarity and kick start your health.
Thousands of people all over the world have completed this program, and the results have been astonishing. If you're tired of typical calorie-deprivation diets that don't work, I highly recommend joining our Eat Fat, Get Thin January challenge.
"Dr. Hyman, I just started your Eat Fat, Get Thin plan and I'm feeling great, but I have a lot of fear around my upcoming social schedule," writes a Facebook reader. "How can I maintain my newfound health during the holidays?"
I get this all-to-common yet excellent question from folks as they confront their holiday eating fears.
Eating well is not about perfection. We are human, so perfection is impossible. A better approach involves honoring your body and knowing what works best for you and just as importantly, what doesn't work.
If I go to a party and eat tortilla chips or sugar-laden treats, I'll definitely feel the aftereffects. I'll feel sick, tired and bloated. Obviously, that's not how I want to spend my time or how I want to feel.
Just like anything in life, preparation is key to staying lean and healthy during the holidays. I've found these 10 strategies help my patients stay on track in even the toughest social situations.
1. Remember your goals.
Think about the way you want to feel before you hit those holiday parties and dinners. If you want to feel great, you're less likely to indulge in foods and activities that make you feel less than great. Set an intention for how you would like to feel after each meal and hold yourself accountable by sharing with a close friend or family member. Or write it down and post it on your bathroom mirror to read after the event. Sometimes treating yourself to sugary and other pleasure foods is exactly what the moment calls for; however, most of the time, you'll feel better off if you don't indulge in these foods containing the recreational drug I fear most!
2. Become the host.
If you can, host your own party and take the opportunity to introduce your guests to the healthy foods you've been enjoying. Controlling food choices becomes easier when you have your own gathering.
3. Don't deviate from the norm.
If you know you're going to attend a lavish party, begin your day as you would any other. Don't skip meals to save calories or carbohydrates. Eat a protein- and healthy-fat-packed snack an hour before your holiday meal like celery sticks with nut butter or a protein shake. Protein and fat help cut cravings for sugar and processed carbs.
4. Start your holiday meal with smart food choices.
Beginning with soup, fresh veggies or a salad and avoiding appetizers filled with refined flour and other unhealthy choices can prevent cravings. Look for the vegetable board or other healthy options as snacks or appetizers. Volunteering to bring something to every gathering you attend guarantees there's a healthy choice.
5. Avoid or limit alcohol.
Alcohol reduces your inhibitions and can lead you down a slippery slope of making bad choices. Most types of alcohol are also filled with sugar and empty calories. Instead, bring or ask for sparkling water with lemon or lime. Drink two glasses of water with lemon before a meal.
6. Stay active and people-focused rather than entirely dwelling on food.
Plan an activity to look forward to after the meal like a group walk, visiting with other friends or family, a group game or playing with younger family members. Offering to clean up and help your host helps prevent overeating or reaching for dessert. I like to sit next to someone I find genuinely interesting and engage in conversation with them.
7. Practice mindfulness.
Take five deep breaths before your meal and chew every bite slowly. Really focus on the flavors, colors and smells of your food. Try to put your fork down between bites and breathe through your nose while you eat. Express gratitude with others before your meal. Halfway through your meal, I recommend putting your fork down and taking a pause. Take three deep breaths and assess your hunger on scale of 1 to 10. Ask yourself how much more you need to feel satisfied yet energized and comfortable.
8. Remember food can be medicine.
Eat healthy and enjoy your time with loved ones. Take the time to enjoy healthy, wholesome meals with your friends and family and remember that you can heal your body and mind with each forkful of delicious food you enjoy.
9. Respond to pushers politely.
Occasionally, you might have a food pusher, friend or relative ask you why you're not indulging at a party. When this happens to me, I reply I'm here for the people, not the food. No one argues or feels insulted.
10. Don't beat yourself up.
f you do happen to slip up, leave guilt behind. Guilt is a toxic emotion that creates more damage. When things get out of control (which they do), simply make a gentle U-turn. Think of this as a GPS for the soul. Your GPS doesn't yell at you, call you stupid or judge you for taking a wrong turn. In the sweetest voice imaginable, the GPS reminds you to take the next possible U-turn. If you indulge a little, that's fine. Did you enjoy the process? How did you react to the food that you ate? Pay attention and move on by making a U-turn and getting back to the foods and activities that make you feel great.
You'll find more great tips to divert temptations during the holidays and beyond in my new book, the Eat Fat, Get Thin Cookbook.
This cookbook features more than 175 delicious recipes for your holiday parties including dips, side dishes, soups, drinks, entrees and even desserts. It's available for pre-order now. And when you pre-order, you will receive access to some special gifts like a sneak peek of the book and cooking videos.
A History of Democracy and Free-Flowing Rivers
Chilean environmentalists and global whitewater aficionados are celebrating the happy ending to the tumultuous 20-year battle to save Patagonia's Futaleufu River. On Aug. 30, Endesa Chile, subsidiary of Enersis and part of Italian-controlled energy consortium Enel, formally relinquished all claims to Chile's iconic whitewater mecca, and similar stakes in other Chilean rivers.
Earth River's Cave Camp, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Rafts directly above Mas o Menos Rapid, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Terminator Rapid, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Tree below Throne Room Rapid, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Rafting the Throne Room, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Robert Currie on the Knife Edge, Cave Camp, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Andean Condor, seen from Condor Mountain, Rio Futaleufu, Patagonia, Chile, South America © Carr Clifton www.carrclifton.com
Endesa sought to build two dams on the Futaleufu that would capture its water for energy generation while inundating the river's spectacular landscapes—the 800-megawatt La Cuesta facility nine miles from the village of Puerto Ramirez and the 400-megawatt Los Coihues dam across Inferno Canyon at the gateway to the river's prime whitewater.
The picturesque farming communities above that dam would have drowned beneath 75 feet of water; mountainous rapids below the dam would survive only in the memories of those lucky enough to have experienced the unbridled river. The Spanish company hoped to sell the power from these installations to Argentina, or otherwise up north through Chile using a massive transmission line that was never built.
In a statement to the Chilean government, Endesa tabulated the factors behind its decision as:
- "the high annual cost for the company to maintain water rights without using them"
- the technical and economic difficulties facing the damming project
- and, most notably, the lack of "sufficient support from local communities"
Fierce local opposition caused Endesa, two years ago, to suspend immediate plans to dam the Futaleufu, which has one dam near its headwaters in Argentina but flows free for 65 miles through Chile. Trapped between unyielding popular resistance and the escalating costs of its water rights, Endesa abandoned the project altogether. Endesa said its decision represents a $52-million haircut for its shareholders.
"This is an extraordinary triumph for Patagonia," said Patrick Lynch, staff attorney and international director at Futaleufu Riverkeeper. "The victory belongs to a half dozen activist groups composed of local farmers, river guides, fishermen and outfitters, and to the thousands of river lovers around the world and the international environmental groups who supported the community fighting the dam."
Reflecting on the long battle, Lynch told me, "It was always such an unlikely coalition. And yet this community won a bruising 20 year David and Goliath fist fight. We beat back an all-powerful international utility company that owned this river for more than 20 years. Now we need legal reforms to put an end to a corrupt system that still reward damming rivers for profit."
The Futaleufu played a symbolic role in Chile's struggles to restore her democracy, still reeling from two decades of dictatorship under General Augusto Pinochet. "Pinochet's regime was old school European corporatism," the Chilean environmental and human rights activist, Juan Pablo Orrego, explained to me in 1993 soon after Pinochet left power. "He followed Mussolini's scheme to merge state and corporate power and that meant handing Chile's publicly owned natural resources—including our rivers—over to private corporations."
Every tyranny includes efforts by powerful interests to privatize the public commons, but Pinochet's regime turned the ideology of privatization into a religion. In what is now regarded as a cataclysmically failed social experiment in voodoo economics, Pinochet turned Chile over to a group of right wing theoretical economists from the University of Chicago, entrusting them with authoritarian control over virtually every aspect of economic life in Chile.
These acolytes of "free market" guru Milton Friedman, the so called "Chicago Boys," used their unlimited power to impose a barbaric austerity on Chile's poor and middle classes. They slashed taxes on the rich and corporations, discarded vital subsidies for fuel, school milk and other food staples, eviscerated labor unions, cut education and healthcare, and repealed environmental, financial and trade regulations. In an orgy of privatization, they auctioned off Chile's public assets—including her roads, airports, airlines, telephone and electric utilities, her waterways and forests to multinational corporations at fire sale prices. "They literally liquidated our commonwealth for cash," Orrego observed. "They obliterated Chile's public spaces." Pinochet's henchmen gave away every Chilean river to private companies for damming.
These anti-democratic reforms were naturally unpopular with many Chileans, and Pinochet jailed, tortured and killed his program's critics, murdering 3,000 dissenters, imprisoning 20,000 and forcing another 200,000 into exile.
My family has had a long history of friendship with Chile. In the early 1960s, Chile's leftist democratic president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, became the closest Latin American ally of my uncle, President John Kennedy. Frei helped craft the blueprint for JFK's Alliance for Progress. Both men hoped the "Alianza" would break the strangle hold of Latin America's oligarchies who presided over feudal economies characterized by vast gulfs between rich and poor.
The oligarchs protected their wealth and privilege through seamless relationships with the military caudillos who ruled their nations with brutal dictatorship. That ruling coalition fortified itself in symbiotic relationships with all-powerful U.S. multinationals like Anaconda Copper, United Fruit, IT&T and Standard Oil, to whom the local oligarchs ceded their nations' natural resources in exchange for a share of the profits. These colonial style arrangements gave the oligarchs unimaginable wealth and power, kept their people in desperate poverty and gave rise to a new derisive sobriquet for these countries, the "Banana Republic."
Prior to JFK, U.S. foreign policy was to nurture these powerful oligarchies which unctuously served the mercantile interests of American corporations. But these policies, for JFK, represented a stark departure from American values—including our national anti-colonial heritage—and caused appalling injustice and poverty that was easily exploited by communist revolutionaries. Frei and Kennedy designed the alliance as a suite of reforms to rebuild Latin America as a collection of just, democratic, middle class societies. Chile, the continent's beacon of middle class stability, democracy and freedom would be the template.
My father's first public break with President Lyndon Johnson following JFK's assassination was over Johnson's subversion of the alliance. My father believed that the new U.S. president had abandoned the alliance's idealistic goals and returned U.S. policy to its historical role of supporting the oligarchs and fostering corporate colonialism.
In 1964, my father infuriated Johnson by visiting Chile and advising its intellectuals and government officials to nationalize the U.S. oil and mining interests that were robbing the nation's natural wealth. My father engaged in a heated debate with communist students at the University of Concepcion who showered him with spit, eggs and other missiles. He then made a harrowing trip headfirst into the depths of an Atacama copper mine on a tiny sled to meet with beleaguered miners. He returned to the surface to chastise the dismayed mine owner for mistreating his workers.
Just after dawn on the morning of June 29, 1973, I found myself with four others, including New York Times reporter Blake Fleetwood, on a remote Andean ridge near Chile's frontier with Argentina earnestly digging in the deep snow to escape a hail of gunfire from half a dozen carabineros crouched in the valley 100 meters below us. The squadron had pursued us from the nearby military base as we climbed on sealskins for a day of backcountry skiing. Believing we were trying to escape across the border, they soon captured and detained us. The nation was on high alert. Unbeknownst to us, a tank battalion, that morning, had launched a coup against the regime of Chile's socialist president, Salvador Allende.
I had traveled to Chile for the Atlantic Monthly to write about the Nixon administration's efforts to destroy Chile's economy—"Make the economy scream," he had ordered the CIA in 1970—and to overthrow Allende, the duly elected president of Latin America's oldest and most stable democracy. (Our nation would later learn that Nixon had accepted a hefty bribe from IT&T, which feared Allende's plans to naturalize their company).
Colonel Roberto Souper's so called "Tank Coup" quickly failed, but three months later, on Sept. 11, Salvador Allende died in a firefight as General Pinochet's troops invaded the presidential palace. The following year at a Senate Refugee Committee hearing chaired by my uncle, Senator Edward Kennedy, junta representatives warned me never to return to Chile. From the moment Allende died, Teddy had been scrambling to rescue Chilean descendants from Pinochet's murderous wrath. Chile's Foreign Minister Heraldo Muñoz, former United Nations ambassador, told me that he owes his life to Teddy's timely intervention. Teddy's 1974 bill, the so called "Kennedy Amendment," froze U.S. arm sales to the junta. When Teddy tried to visit Chile in 1986, Pinochet arranged violent riots to muzzle him and drive him from the country.
Working with Chile's democratic resistance, Teddy authored and passed legislation conditioning U.S. aid to Chile on a national referendum in which the Chilean people would be allowed to vote "si" or "no" on Pinochet's continued rule. Chile was desperate for that U.S. aid package; by then, the Chicago Boys' "reforms" had wrecked the Chilean economy and dismantled the finest health and education systems on the continent.
Chile's industrial base was in ruins; unemployment had risen tenfold. Chile was suffering from 375 percent inflation and a runaway national debt. Chile's resounding "No" vote in the plebiscite finally drove Pinochet from power. In 1990, Teddy returned to a hero's welcome in Chile to attend the inauguration of Pinochet's democratically elected successor, President Patricio Aylwin.
Environmentally-themed campaign poster urging a vote against Pinochet in the 1988 plebiscite forced upon the Chile's junta by Senator Ted Kennedy's legislation.
My entire family was beyond proud when in September 2008, Chile's first woman president, Michelle Bachelet came to our home in Hyannis Port to award Teddy Chile's highest civilian honor, the "Order of Merit" for his long support for democracy in Chile. Bachelet and her mother were among the Chileans Pinochet had tortured and jailed. Bachelet's father, an air force officer, was tortured to death in prison.
Even after he relinquished power, Pinochet's legal legacy continued causing mischief against the nation's people and their right to water. Pinochet had embedded the privatization of all Chile's water flows into key parts of the nation's Constitution and Water Code. To make sure that free-flowing rivers can never remain in public hands, the framework provides that ownership of Chile's water rights no longer belong to the public. Instead they belong to the first corporation to claim them. The law was finally revised in 2005 to punish corporate owners with escalating fees for not using the rights, but they can get the fees back once they propose and begin construction of a dam. These fees escalate over time, gradually topping millions of dollars per year for some rivers. The first battleground for challenging Pinochet's corporatist water regime was the fight to save the Biobio from dam builders in 1993.
The Biobio River was Chile's crown jewel. By the late 1980's it had already become Latin America's—and arguably, the World's—premier whitewater destination. Whitewater paddlers considered it the equivalent of the Colorado River, the world's gold standard of whitewater, for its breathtaking rapids and magical scenery. The Biobio plunged through a Grand Canyon scale gorge, but unlike the naked rock that frames the Colorado, the Biobio's lush climate had festooned its canyon walls with hanging gardens and watered them with five massive waterfalls that cascaded from the high plateau—all of this in the shadow of a smoking snow-capped volcano!
In 1993, following the collapse of the Pinochet Regime and the democratic election of Patricio Aylwin, I was among a small contingent of Natural Resources Defense Council attorneys who accompanied Mapuche Indian leaders and Chilean environmental activists on the largest expedition ever to run Chile's Biobio River. Juan Pablo Orrego, one of the founding fathers of the Chile's modern environmental movement, accompanied us as president of the grassroots Grupo de Accion por el Biobio.
Orrego observed to me, at that time, that while democracy had nominally returned to Chile, Pinochet had already given away virtually all the public assets that made democracy meaningful. The return of democracy, Orrego argued, was therefore illusory. Chile, he said, had reverted to a colonial model with its natural resources controlled by foreign corporations. Pinochet had given away Chile's entire commonwealth to private companies.
"We supposedly have democracy, but it is a democracy without teeth. A nation can't have a true democracy without sovereignty over its lands and infrastructures," Orrego told me.
The Biobio, once the diadem of Chile's patrimony, was now the wholly owned asset of private utility—Endesa. With the Chilean government's blessing and World Bank loans, Endesa planned a series of six dams on the river that would bury its stunning landscapes. Working with Orrego, the Mapuche-Pehuenches, NRDC and the Chilean Commission on Human Rights, our coalition launched an international campaign to save the Biobio. We attacked the critical flaws in Endesa's plans, including the fact that the dams were to be built in the middle of an earthquake fault at the base of two volcanoes. In meetings with World Bank officials, we pressured the institution to launch its own internal investigation. In the end, we managed to force Endesa to drop its proposals for all but a single dam—the Pangue. Many people saw this as a victory. I did not. The Pangue and its 1,250-acre reservoir in indigenous territory ruined the Biobio's viewshed and its best whitewater. Ten years later, Endesa succeeded in building one more dam on the Biobio, called Ralco, which displaced 97 Pehuenche families and even flooded a sacred graveyard. I have never been able to bring myself to return to that desecrated paradise.
In 1993, my friend Eric Hertz—a white-water outfitter, river conservationist and founder of Earth River Expeditions—told me he had found a river nearly the Biobio's equal. Hertz had spent a lifetime searching for the perfect river. He had finally discovered it 600 kilometers south of the Biobio, in Chilean Patagonia.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (left) and Dr. Mark Hyman (right) with Eric Hertz and Roberto Currie from Earth River Expeditions, 2003
Situated between snow-capped glaciers and rugged saw-tooth mountains reminiscent of the Tetons, the Fu flows through narrow canyons and verdant valleys, where river runners find an irresistible mix of wilderness and charming pastoral landscapes. Chattering ibis, spoonbills and plovers flock over grazing sheep as Patagonian gauchos, sporting sheepskin chaps trimmed with heavy fur, ride their criollo ponies or drive yoked oxen pulling wooden wagons along the banks. Stunning granite cliffs and outcroppings at the valley fringes frame a fairytale landscape of rustic farms, broken forests, orchards and alpine meadows.
Crossing Class 6 (unrunnable) Zeta Rapid on via tyrolean, 1996. Photo credit: Cade Hertz
The alpine village of Futaleufu has become a fairy tale outfitters haven. Photo credit: Paulo Espindola, Futaleufu
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and oxen hauling gear and girls—6-year-old Kyra Kennedy (far right) and two friends, Kayla and GiGi Falk, 2001.
Intrepid kayakers who had ventured into southern Chile the previous year said that violent rapids made the Futaleufu River unrunnable by raft. But Hertz and his partner at Earth River, the Chilean white-water expert Roberto Currie, made an expeditionary first decent in 1993 and figured out how to safely navigate what today is the most intensive stretch of commercially rafted whitewater rapids in the world. Ever since then, I try to make an annual trip to the Fu with my family and friends each March. Kayakers and rafters and fishermen flocking to the river soon transformed the tiny Alpine village of Futaleufu into a bustling river outfitter's haven.
Several elements combine to make the Fu an incomparable outdoor adventure: the breathtaking scenery, the series of more than 30 tightly packed and formidable Class IV and V rapids, the hospitable climate, the cultural charms of its farm community of vaqueros and homestead pioneers, the incomparable campsites and hiking trails, the absence of biting insects and the shocking teal color of the river's gin clear waters—a feature that nearly always prompts a double-take at first sight; when actress Julia Louis- Dreyfus caught her first glimpse of the Fu's show stopping blue-green luminescent, during a 2003 expedition, she gave an astonished laugh, "Did they dye it," she asked me, "like at Disneyland?"
The Fu is also a world class fishing destination. During my annual pilgrimages to the Fu, I customarily fish from the bow of my raft as I take in the scenery between the rapids. The small bays and pockets of still water along the Fu's banks and below each rapid almost always yield trout or large salmon that dart, voracious and aggressive, from hiding places under the branches of willows and osiers, and from beneath the Fu's granite walls. For mile after river mile on virtually every cast, whether with fly or spinning rods, an angler can watch brown trout follow a lure through the clear cyan water.
The Fu has a pebbled bottom, clean water, rich vegetation and an alkaline pH, conditions that are ideal for trout. Besides brown trout, coho, Atlantic salmon, chinook and other North American imports also frequent the Fu, growing upward of 60 pounds. I've fished in most of the states, including Alaska, and in most of the provinces of Canada, and in Latin America from Costa Rica to Tierra del Fuego. But I've rarely seen a waterway with consistently large salmonoids in such abundance. A local friend, Adrei Gallardo, took a 39.9-pound brown trout from the Fu on a handline—the Latin American record. Gallardo told me that he subsequently refused to relinquish the mount to representatives of Munich's Hunting & Fishing museum, despite a $20,000 offer—the equivalent of a two-year salary.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. with Adrei Gallardo's 39.9-pound brown trout from the Futaleufu caught using a handline—the Latin American record, 1995
Julia Louis-Dreyfus stands among a parade of international celebrities who have visited the Futaleufu over the past two decades to run its rapids and fight the dams—Dan Ackroyd, Donna Dixon, John McEnroe, Patti Smith, Glenn Close, Brad Hall, David Chokachi and Richard Dean Anderson, to name a few. They came to support the valley's voiceless vaqueros, shepherds, fishermen, kayak paddle guides, whitewater companies and landowners. For all of those who participated in this battle, Aug. 30 was a time of celebration.
Baywatch star David Chokachi with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and chinook.
But Lynch cautions against complacency. "We can't celebrate with our paddles in the air just yet," warned Lynch. "In Chile they call the forces that want to privatize those rivers zombies. These are zombie dams. Every time you think you've killed a project, it comes back from the dead.
"The era of big dams in Patagonia is not over yet. Endesa still has rights over the Baker and Pascua Rivers. And other companies still have permits to build dams on other wild and scenic rivers like the Cuervo."
And Lynch still worries about the Fu. General Augusto Pinochet died in 2006 under house arrest, awaiting trial for corruption, torture and murder, but in a very real sense Pinochet continues to rule Chile from the grave. Because of the reactionary water regime devised by the Chicago Boys, the water rights that Endesa relinquished will not long remain in public hands. Under Chile's Water Code, any hydroelectric company that wants to seize the river for damming may step into the vacuum left by Endesa and claim the Fu for itself. Lynch has a wary eye on the Chinese with their bottomless appetite for Latin America's natural resources.
"China is the world's leading dam builder," he said. "They would be the most likely international suitor."
Looking forward, Lynch said, "Our job is to help show international water speculators—called piratas here—that it's a risky business to try to build a dam in Chile. We need to let them know that the people have had enough. If they come here, they are going to have a Donnybrook on their hands."
Lynch understands that river conservation is as difficult as democracy. There are no permanent victories. The only thing we ever really win is the opportunity to keep fighting.
"Dr. Hyman, I've heard so much contradictory information about omega 3 fats," writes this week's house call. "Some studies show they help everything while others argue they don't do much of anything. What's the real story here?"
As I often say, food is information, not just calories. Food influences gene function, hormones, your immune system and even your gut flora. Literally, food controls every function within your body.
This is especially true with the omega-3 fatty acids found in foods like wild fish, flaxseeds and walnuts.
These fatty acids play critical roles in cognitive development and learning, visual development, immune strength, fighting inflammation, pregnancy, brain health and preventing Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, cancer, mental illness and so much more. They affect every one of your hundred trillion cell membranes.
In fact, a recent and the most comprehensive review on omega 3 fats looked at 19 studies from 16 countries (including 45,637 participants) and found that those with the highest levels of omega 3 fats in their blood had lower risks of heart attacks.
Makes sense how not getting sufficient amounts of these crucial fatty acids can profoundly affect your health.
Do Omega 6 Fats Make Us Depressed and Violent?
At a nutrition conference once, I heard Dr. Joseph Hibbeln, the scientist in nutritional neurosciences at the National Institutes of Health, present some startling data about how omega 3 fats impact mental health.
Dr. Hibbeln said soy oils and seed oils contain high amounts of inflammatory linoleic acid that create inflammation and disease.
He noted 80 percent of the fats that Americans eat are inflammatory omega 6 fats, while just 20 percent come from the anti-inflammatory omega 3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). (For the record, I would suggest that even less than 20 percent comes from EPA).
In Japan, that number is reversed: 80 percent of their fats come from EPA, while only 20 percent are inflammatory omega 6 fats.
Over the last century in the U.S., we have witnessed a 1,000-fold increase in soy oil consumption. About 10 to 20 percent of our calories come from soybean oil rather than omega 3 fats and other, healthier fats we should be consuming.
The omega 6 fats aren't the ones our ancestors ate. Human evolution occurred in an environment where seafood and wild animal fat was the predominant source of dietary fat.
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate no seed oils. Obviously, they weren't eating French fries, donuts and the zillion Frankenfoods products that contain these oils. These refined oils create and exacerbate inflammation, which contributes to nearly every disease and makes us fat.
Beyond that, the repercussions are dramatic and far-reaching. Disturbing recent research shows homicide in the United Kingdom increased dramatically with increased consumption of linoleic acid-rich soybean oil.
The same thing happened in the U.S., Australia, Canada and Argentina. Interestingly, homicide mortality rates become inversely related to seafood consumption, meaning societies who eat more seafood have lower homicide rates.
Equally dramatic, one study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry gave one prison group recommended daily amounts of vitamins, minerals and omega 3 fats, while the other group maintained their regular diet and lifestyle. Researchers found reduced felony level violent offenses among prisoners who took omega 3 supplements.
In fact, providing vitamin and fish oil supplements reduced felony-related violent crime among the prisoners by 37 percent.
The Cure for Depression, ADD and Dementia—Is it More Fat?
More fat to cure brain maladies makes sense when you consider omega 3 fats affect how we think and behave. Research even shows omega 3s help treat depression, including postpartum depression.
The omega 3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a critical part of mother's milk, helps the fetus's neurologic development. Studies show women who have higher levels of omega 3 fats, specifically DHA, have lower rates of postpartum depression.
Omega 3 deficiencies also affect our children. Young kids with dyslexia, dyspraxia (difficulty writing), learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are often omega 3 deficient.
The neurotransmitter dopamine, critical for brain function in children, becomes higher when these children consume essential fatty acids. Controlled studies show fish oil improves reading, spelling and conduct because the nervous system depends on these fats to function.
I could go on, but I hope you can understand evidence overwhelmingly supports that omega3 fats are critical to improve mood, mental functioning, metabolism and so much more.
If you're curious to learn more, please check out my book Eat Fat, Get Thin, in which I show you how to effortlessly incorporate more omega 3s and other healthy fats to lose weight and get healthy.
Thankfully, emerging research proves how vital healthy fats are. The outdated "eating fat makes you fat" paradigm has shifted to a new, more accurate understanding of dietary fat as evidence shows some fats are essential for optimal health.
Yet we're not quite there yet. Unfortunately, about 90 percent of Americans are deficient in omega 3s. We're eating too many omega 6s and not enough omega 3s. That imbalance of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats predicts your risk of:
- Heart disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Neurological problems
- Attention Deficit Disorder
- Skin problems
- Autoimmune disease
Chronic disease will only increase as we move further away from the diet of our ancestors, which consisted of omega 3 rich protein (wild, grass-fed animals and wild fish), a healthy ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fats and mostly plant foods.
We've gone way off course with the way our ancestors ate. Big food companies have hijacked our taste buds and our biology.
Yet there's hope. Science shows when you eat the right kinds of fat, you get thin, decrease inflammation and reverse heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many of the other chronic diseases that plague us. You can take control of your health and destiny, starting with your very next meal!
To do that, check out my Eat Fat, Get Thin Challenge, a revolutionary science-based eating program that focuses on healthy fats to reset hormones, take back your biochemistry, effortlessly allow you to end your cravings, lose weight and reverse disease.
For now, let's establish some key facts about fats:
1. Sugar, not fat, makes you fat. Sugar spikes insulin—the fat fertilizer hormone laying the foundation for belly fat. Sugar also slows your metabolism and is addictive and makes you hungry (all the time!). Fat actually speeds up metabolism, cuts hunger and increases fat burning. Boy, did we get this wrong during the low-fat diet era!
2. Dietary fat is very complex. We have saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. And we have subcategories within each group. Some fats are good and yes, some are bad. Remember that quality matters; that food is information. To learn more, check out Eat Fat, Get Thin.
3. Low-fat diets claim to be heart-healthy but aren't. Low-fat diets typically tend to be higher in sugar. Eating less fat and more sugar and refined carbs floods our system with insulin, creating inflammation, heart disease and many other problems. When you consume lots of sugar and refined carbs, your body produces dangerous, artery-clogging small, dense LDL cholesterol particles; drops your protective HDL and increases harmful triglycerides. That's a bad combo just begging to bring on a heart.
4. Saturated fat is not a "bad" fat. A review of all the research on saturated fat published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. I am not advising eating sticks of butter every day; however, saturated fat is not the boogeyman we once thought. The problem arises when we eat them with sugar and starch (sugar, flour, white rice and potatoes), because then they are deadly. Basically, think no sweet fat.
5. Some fats are unhealthy. Trans fats and inflammatory vegetable oils are bad fats that cause free radical damage and create a perfect storm for inflammation. Most restaurants cook with toxic oils because they're cheap and marketed as heart-healthy, low-cholesterol fats.
6. We all need more omega 3 fats. Most Americans are deficient in these health-crucial fats. The best ways to include them in your diet are to include wild or sustainably raised cold-water fish and pastured or omega 3 eggs and taking a quality, toxin-free omega 3 rich fish oil supplement.
7. Eating fat makes you lean. The right fats can nourish your cells to better utilize insulin. Healthy fats also help to stop your cravings, curb your hunger and reset your hormones to help your body burn fat more efficiently.
8. Your brain is made up of mostly fat. About 60 percent of your brain is fat, mostly as DHA, which your cells need to communicate. Quality omega-3 fats improve cognition, memory and mood. Research shows omega 3 deficiencies increase depression, anxiety, Alzheimer's and bipolar disorder.
To get and stay healthy, eat quality fat at every meal. The right fats improve your skin, hair, nails and mood. They protect against type 2 diabetes, dementia, cancer and inflammation.
Some of my favorite top-quality fats include:
- Seeds: pumpkin, sesame and chia, flax and hemp—all of which contain omega 3 fats
- Fatty fish, including sardines, mackerel, herring and wild salmon that are rich in omega 3 fats
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia; but not peanuts (One study showed a handful of nuts a day reduced death from all causes by 20 percent)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Grass-fed or sustainably raised animal products (which have more omega 3 fats than feedlot beef)
- Extra-virgin coconut butter, which is a great plant-based source of saturated fat that fuels your mitochondria, is anti-inflammatory and helps optimize cholesterol.