Obesity, Potatoes, and Fermented Foods (Oh My)

This is yet another post that started as a lengthy email to a smaller group, that I thought I’d put up to see if anyone has any more information/links to send my way. The following is mostly just stuff I’m interested in right now, I do not consider any of the below proven hypotheses. It’s just interesting to me and I thought I’d share.

As some background, any long time reader knows I’m pretty fascinated with blood sugar. Mine tends to run high, regardless of my weight or other adjustments I’ve made. My A1C is fine, but my doctor generally does not have any good advice for me on this. Additionally, as someone who has struggled with weight for years, I am also fascinated by the study of obesity and the fact that we have pretty much no public health measures that work to reverse it. And that’s not me conceding defeat, that’s from the Lancet piece “The global obesity pandemic: shaped by global drivers and local environments“. Key quote: “unlike other major causes of preventable death and disability, such as tobacco use, injuries, and infectious diseases, there are no exemplar populations in which the obesity epidemic has been reversed by public health measures.” Validating and depressing all at once there Lancet!

Given how much I’ve thought about this, I was surprised when around this time last year I came across a blog post series from Slime Mold Time Mold explaining how the obesity crisis was even weirder than is commonly believed. The whole thing is lengthy (though worth it IMHO), but it ends up leaving one with the impression that we have focused way too much on the “moral model” of obesity (aka “if fat people would just stop eating and love exercise, things would be better”) and that we should actually take a good look around and make sure there’s nothing actually driving this that we don’t know about yet. They have a couple ideas (lithium as a potential food contaminant/source of weight gain emerges as their top contender), but the overall idea is intriguing. If you could find some simple source of at least some weight gain, you could possibly help millions of people. Beats the hell out of telling them to all go on diets, even the most intensive of which are pretty ineffective over a long time frame.

So where do we look for something simple? Well, there’s a couple interesting leads. First, there seems to be something going on with resistant starch, particularly the kind found in potatoes. This was an internet craze back in 2013 or so, but it appears ingesting potato starch and/or cold potatoes worked really, bizarrely well for some people when it came to lowering blood glucose. A few months ago now, I got the chance to wear a continuous blood glucose monitor myself, and noted that adding 4 Tablespoons of potato starch to my yogurt in the morning absolutely improved my glucose curves to an extremely noticeable degree. The link I provided also links to some other anecdotes, and some discussion about how this failed for some people. It’s not clear why, but there’s a theory the starch might feed some gut bacteria that is good, but also might feed one that is bad, and maybe some people have one or the other.

Actual research in to this has shown that people do in fact react differently to cold potatoes (lots of resistant starch) vs things like hot potatoes or cold noodles (no resistant starch). Intriguing! On top of that, there’s a lot of anecdotes about people eating some variation of the “all potato diet” and doing great. Even healthy weight obesity researchers have tried it out and found it surprisingly pleasant. While anecdotes are not data, the anecdotes are intriguing enough that Slime Mold decided to do a crowd sourced trial on this to see if they could get some data and perhaps spur someone else to figure out what the hell is going on. They have a REALLY good round up of why the idea is so interesting here, and their Twitter feed is RTing real time updates from people who tried it. If this sort of thing interests you, I’d check it out.

I find this idea intriguing because it’s interesting to think that it may not be the foods we eat in particular that are hurting us, but the way they are cooked/eaten. That sort of information would be hidden by current nutrition research, as no one is asking if you had a hot potato or a cold potato when you ate.

This brings me to my other point of fascination: fermented foods. These are pretty trendy at the moment, and have been for a while, but they raise some interesting thoughts. First, fermented foods were a staple of many diets prior to refrigeration. It was literally how things were kept from spoiling. The idea that bacteria we ingest can have a big impact on other foods has been borne out by research. In one study, upping people’s fiber had much less impact on their health markers than telling them to up their intake of fermented foods. The theory was that the extra fiber was only minimally beneficial if people didn’t have the gut microbes to break it down. It’s also been found that skinny people have more gut microbes to break down starches.

I’ve been intrigued by this, especially because I have a lot of trouble digesting grains. Well guess what? Turns out the traditional way of eating grains (at least where my DNA hails from) was to ferment them first. This actually change the composition of grains, decreasing sugar and increasing proteins. Example for spelt here.

Other intriguing facts: in nearly every culture with a “signature” fermented food, those foods tend to be socially associated with long life. Miso, kefir, kvass, kimchi, etc. Kimchi was investigated as a reason why Korea had such low rates of SARS in 2003. I don’t buy the “it’s a cure!” part, but we do know that sometimes non-harmful microbes can edge out harmful microbes with good results for humans. That’s sort of what penicillin is based on, and there is an absolutely wild story about this happening during the Civil War here (note: no one figured out what was going on for over 150 years).

So where does this leave me? Well sadly, we don’t have solid evidence for how to proceed with any of this. Hopefully Slime Mold Time Mold will put something up about their potato results, in the meantime this book is interesting. Personally, I am continuing with the potato starch, as I do have proof that works for me. I am also attempting to eat at least one fermented food at every meal. So far I seem to have seen some positive impacts, but I’m hoping to get another continuous glucose monitor to see if I can more closely watch the effects. Kefir, sauerkraut and miso seems to be the most effective so far. Kombucha doesn’t seem to have much of a benefit, except it does seem to be a very pleasing swap out for alcoholic drinks, and with about 20% of the calories. It seems likely that’s at least partially due to it having a mild-but-still-present amount of alcohol in it.

I am also going to start trying to ferment my grains, to see if I have an easier time with them. I am practicing making my own kefir, and a few other things too. I will continue to eat some fermented something at every meal, and report back if the effects persist.

So folks, any good links or thoughts to add? I find the whole topic fascinating, so send any points of interest my way!

What I’m Reading: February 2016

An awesome article from two of my favorite statisticians on scientific overreach, power poses, and why we really need to stop quoting studies that don’t subsequently replicate. The day this went up I Tweeted it out, and within an hour someone I follow posted an article they had written that day quoting the original study. Didn’t correct it when I sent them the link either. Harumph.

I have ongoing debates with quite a few friends over appropriate emoji use. This paper should help us out.

A Crusade Against Multiple Regression Analysis. I’m in. Any crusade that has an upfront statistical warning label as end goal is one I can get behind.

What social science reporting gets wrong, according to social scientists. I saw this one then 3 people sent it to me, which makes me feel like I’m headed in the right direction in life.

How you are going to die and at what your chances are of being dead at given ages. Given that I’ve already lived as long as I have, my chances don’t hit 50/50 until I’m 81.

I’ve been playing Guess the Correlation. Current high score is 88.

Totally not in my normal wheelhouse for research I look at, but the Assistant Village Idiot’s take on a study about the origins of fairy tales was fascinating.

This take on the recent debates around nutrition science is a long-ish but fascinating read. Good to see all sides represented at once.

Math Books for Young Kids

After my post of my own new years resolution reading, I thought it might be interesting to follow up with a couple of new books I got my son for Christmas.  He’s 3 and has officially moved from merely being able to recite numbers to actually being able to count objects.  While obviously he’s a bit young for statistics, I want to get him introduced to the world of math and some of the people who inhabit it early. Relatedly, here’s a nifty math skills/developmental chart I found for early childhood.

These are some of the books I’m using:

Bedtime Math: This Time It’s Personal (Bedtime Math Series Book 2)
This one we started using immediately, and it’s quite fun. Basically this is a four book series, created by a mom who realized that while kids get introduced to reading in a fun environment (home, in a parents lap before bed) they get introduced to math in a much less fun setting (later in a classroom). She decided to fix that by putting out books of funny math problems kids could do at home before bed. It has problems for several age groups, starting at around 3. Very fun, and a nice balance for traditional bed time routines.

Curious George Learns to Count from 1 to 100
This one is a big favorite, though we don’t make it quite to 100 yet. Curious George is my son’s hero right now, so I figured I’d use it to encourage him to go further in his counting.

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos
I’ve mentioned my own obsession with Paul Erdos, and I’m trying to pass it on. Erdos apparently would call children “epsilons”, but Finn doesn’t seem to be taking to that name. This one’s a little long for a 3 year old, but it’s interesting and the illustrations are amazing.

Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci
This one was recommended to me by my favorite children’s librarian (hi Tracy!). It’s about Fibonacci and is another one that’s slightly too long for a 3 year old, but interesting and historically enlightening. Mathematicians tend to be really fascinating people.

Introductory Calculus For Infants
Because it’s never too early to start.

Experimenting with Babies: 50 Amazing Science Projects You Can Perform on Your Kid
This one’s for mama.




New Year’s Resolution: Book List

Happy New Year!

Man, it’s 2016. Where does the time go?  As we head in to 12 fresh and beautiful new months, I thought I’d take a moment to share the stats/math/science books I plan on reading in the coming year1. Some of these are books I’ve bought and been letting sit, and some are books I plan to get in the near future with the awesome Amazon gift cards I got for Christmas. If I get really ambitious, I may even put up book reviews of some of these when I’m done. I’ve also been toying with doing some sort of master stats/critical thinking book list like the Personal MBA2 list, so please add any suggestions.

January: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World

I’m taking a Epidemiology stats class in January, and this book has been highly recommended by my science teacher brother as a compelling story of how the field got started.

February:The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth

How better to recognize Valentine’s Day than to read a book about a man who loved nothing but numbers? I’ve been a little obsessed with Erdos for a while now (I even got my three year old this book for Christmas), but I haven’t yet read this one.

March: Guesstimation: Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin

I’ve had this one half finished on my bookshelf for so long they came out with a second edition. I’ll probably just finish the one I have.

April: Understanding Sabermetrics: An Introduction to the Science of Baseball Statistics

Another one that’s been sitting on my shelf for a while….and what better month to read about stats and baseball?

May: What is a p-value anyway? 34 Stories to Help You Actually Understand Statistics

I’m always looking for new ways of explaining stats, and there’s some very cool narrative textbooks out there I’ve got my eye on to improve my repertoire. This is one of them.

June: Beautiful Data: The Stories Behind Elegant Data Solutions

Another one I’ve half finished, but June seems like a good time to read a book about beautiful things.

July: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don’t

A Christmas gift from a few years back I’ve severely neglected, but need to read before we actually get to the next election.

August: Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks

I’ve admired Gelman’s work for a while (he has a great website here), and I’d be interested to see how he approaches teaching statistics to students.

September: In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World

I started this one, but I put this one down because of a busy semester, so I’ll try to get it in right at the beginning. It gives the history of some of the world’s most interesting and useful equations, their development, and how they’ve influenced the world. An interesting historical take on mathematical development.

October: Statistics Done Wrong: The Woefully Complete Guide

Just in time for Halloween, something scary.

November: The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity

Another interesting looking narrative about math book.

December: The Lady Tasting Tea: How Statistics Revolutionized Science in the Twentieth Century

Looks like a fun read for the end of a semester.


Any others you’d recommend?

1. All book links are Amazon affiliate links. Glad we had this talk. See ya out there.
2. I love that site, because I really like the idea of getting a somewhat functional education just from books. Obviously no one can become a statistician just from reading books, but most people can get a really good grasp on most of what they need to know. This may be my real resolution for 2016…to get a 99 book list of statistics and math books from different subcategories. So, um, recommendations welcome.

Bond by Numbers

Little known fact:  I once spent a summer watching every James Bond movie ever made, in order.

Thus, I enjoyed this chart from the Economist about the differences between the Bonds.

By themselves they’re fairly fluff, watching them in order shows some interesting things about societal trends. Everything from the theme song, special effects and villians to the choice of Bond girl to the demeanor of Bond himself shows a lot about what the particular era valued.  I’m sure there’s been a PhD thesis written on this somewhere, it’s really quite fascinating.
Sean Connery was my favorite Bond, though I did like On Her Majesties Secret Service more than most.  Daniel Craig updated the series nicely for my generation, making it quite a bit darker than previous years.  

Weekend of Distraction

Posting’s been a bit slow this week, as I’ve been ridiculously distracted by an upcoming conference this weekend.

On the plus side, if anyone cares to hear my thoughts on inter-professional differences in communication and conflict, I’ll be speaking on it Sunday morning at 8:30am at the AABB meeting at the Boston Convention Center.

Normally my public speaking style is fairly laid back and has some improvising….but as I haven’t been able to string too many coherent sentences together for the past few weeks post-baby, I’m a little nervous about this talk.  Thus blogging time has turned in to “practice your talk” time.  I’m hoping that winds up being a good trade.

Any prayers/good vibes/happy thoughts would be appreciated.

Also, you’d like my talk.  I use the sentence “so this is a little kumbaya, why should care in the real world?”.

I think that sentence should be used in all talks about how to get along in the workplace.

I also raise the idea that diversity of thought is an incredibly under recognized aspect of diversity, and that’s not a good thing.

I think that idea should come up in every talk where the word “diversity” is mentioned.

More beer and politics

I have a love hate relationship with graphs like these (from the National Journal).

On the hate side – implications of correlation and causation, using random variables to grab headlines.

On the love side – oh!  colors!  bubbles!  Fun!!!!!

The data for this one actually looks pretty good….survey results for over 200,000 people….and the survey was done by a polling group and not, say a beer manufacturer.

A pretty good breakdown of some of the data is here.  They point out some funny things, like the proximity of Romney campaign headquarters to the Sam Adams brewery, and that the most likely Dems to turn out actually drink a Canadian beer (Molson).

Shiner Bock makes sense to me as I’ve only seen it sold in Texas and parts thereabout, and Corona always makes me think of the spring break crowd.

I’m a hard cider girl myself, though that’s due to an allergy.  I guess it is true that I skew Democrat, but mostly because in Massachusetts all your local races are pretty much uncontested Dems….so I probably have voted for vastly more Dems than Repubs in my life.

I’d like to see a bit of a note on how the size of the circle relates to absolute number of people (is that Lone Star drinker in the corner just one guy or 10?) but overall, this is fun.  It will definitely compliment the debate drinking game well.  Stay thirsty my friends.


Well, it’s a gloomy weekend here, but luckily I have a good book to curl up with, thanks to my fabulous younger brother.  I’ve mentioned Nate Silver’s 538 blog as one of my favorites for breaking down election/political statistics, and it turns out he has a new book out.  Before I could figure out if I wanted to buy it or not, it showed up at my door, courtesy of Amazon.com and my brother Tim.  Review to follow I’m sure.

Next, I set up a new email address for this blog, in case any of my wonderful readers should stumble across any studies you think would work well on this site.  My time has been a bit crunched post-baby, so I’d appreciate any interesting articles to spur more posting.  If you see one, feel free to send it to baddatabad at gmail dot com (or hit the email me button on my profile).

That’s it for now, have a lovely weekend!