Monday, January 28, 2008


I'm about half way through Marina Lwycka's multiple prize wining novel "A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian". It's quite funny in places, although the stereotypes are laid on with a trowel. The narrator is Nadia (Nadezhda), a first generation English woman with Ukrainian parents. After her mother's funeral she describes the state of the house. It's full of food. The understairs pantry, the freezers, the drawers under the beds. All full of food. This is fiction.

Lwycka herself was born to Ukrainian parents in a refugee camp in Germany, at the end of the second World War. Her parents may well have had the same history as my father. I'll bet they were the source of the snippets of history involving food.

The only book my father owned was Victor Kravchenko's "I Chose Freedom". This is factual autobiography. You can pick up a copy for under £3.00 second hand through Amazon. Kravchenko was a young and enthusiastic Soviet official at the time when Stalin discovered that famine could be used to solve what was then known as the "Agrarian Problem". If you starved the peasant populace to death in their millions, the survivors would accept the collectivisation of agriculture. The policy required between 7 and 10 million Ukrainians dead of starvation in just over one year, but it worked. Kravchenko was there and was aghast at the suffering he witnessed in the Western Ukraine. His account makes harrowing reading. My father, a peasant from the Western Ukraine, would have been about 10 years old when the famine was engineered. He never, ever alluded to any of this beyond owning Kravchenko's book. And mentioning, just once, that Kravchenko painted an accurate picture.

As a youngster it never struck me as odd that we had a large part of our garden down to vegetables (mind you, as a youngster I didn't think my father had an accent!). Or a big greenhouse full of tomatoes and cucumbers. Or multiple fruit trees. Or TWO local council allotments. Each with a greenhouse packed with tomatoes. Big potato patches, spuds in clamps for the winter. We never much ate New Potatoes. Bulk main crop was preferred. Masses of bulk yield soft fruit. Peas. Peas were harvested late, because Dad had no interest in petit pois when two weeks later you could have a crop of serious bulk food. Apples in drawers and boxes in the basement, wrapped in newspaper. Bottled fruit. Freezers full of runner beans. Pickled cabbage.

No one else's family did this, as far as I can remember, but Lwycka's character of the mother in her novel could have been based on my father.

Anyway, there is a fascinating passage in "Tractors". It's a disastrous argumentative tea party and one of the interchanges goes like this. Nadia, the narrator, is skinny. The elderly Ukrainians (the Zadchucks) are not. They're arguing about weight.

Mrs Zadchuck (heavy Ukranian accent, broken english) says to her husband:

'Better fatty than skinny. Look Nadezhda. She starving Bangladesh-lady.'

I (Nadia) take this as a slight. Righteously, I draw in my stomach. 'Thin is good. Thin is healthy. Thin people live longer.'

All of them turn on me with howls of derisive laughter.

'Thin is hunger! Thin is famine! Everyone thin drop over dead! Ha ha.'

It's fiction, but these characters are based on people who were there in the Ukraine in 1932. Humans don't get fat to get metabolic syndrome. Those of us (me included) who are a bit smug with a BMI around 20 maybe ought to remember that a BMI of 25-30 appears to give best longevity in Western culture, even without a famine. I don't rate my own chances living off my fat during any period of famine and I only own one greenhouse and a small freezer...



g said...

hunger... I hunger for info after I read your posts!!!!

do we live amongst famine?
a famine of nutrient-dense food!

look, even cats are affected when they do not get enough n-3 fatty acids (presumably DHA + EPA) from fish, mammalian livers, hearts or brains.

How do ruminants get their DHA+EPA? do they have enough delta 5, 6 desaturases to make it from ALA?? from AA or LA?

Do you think cows may absorb it from the bacterial factories in their 3 stomachs??

I was just wondering... And I know you'd have the answer :)

THANKS IN ADVANCE!!! g (I hear music from Dr. Zhivago one of my semi-favorite movies)

American Journal of Veterinary Research
October 2003, Vol. 64, No. 10, Pages 1265-1277
doi: 10.2460/ajvr.2003.64.1265

Effects of carnitine and taurine on fatty acid metabolism and lipid accumulation in the liver of cats during weight gain and weight loss

Wissam H. Ibrahim , PhD Nathanael Bailey , BS Gregory D. Sunvold , PhD Geza G. Bruckner , PhD
Department of Clinical Sciences/Clinical Nutrition, College of Health Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40536. (Ibrahim, Bailey, Bruckner); Present address is Department of Nutrition and Health, College of Food Systems, UAE University, Al-Ain, United Arab Emirates. (Ibrahim); Research and Development Division, The Iams Company, 6571 State Route N, Lewisburg, OH 45338. (Sunvold)
Objective—To determine the effects of carnitine (Ca) or taurine (Ta) supplementation on prevention of lipid accumulation in the liver of cats.

Animals—24 adult cats.

Procedure—Cats were fed a weight-gaining diet sufficient in n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), low in long-chain n-3 PUFAs (n-3 LPUFA), and containing corn gluten for 20 weeks. Cats gained at least 30% in body weight and were assigned to 4 weight-reduction diets (6 cats/diet) for 7 to 10 weeks (control diet, control plus Ca, control plus Ta, and control plus Ca and Ta).

Results—Hepatic lipids accumulated significantly during weight gain and weight loss but were not altered by Ca or Ta after weight loss. Carnitine significantly increased n-3 and n-6 LPUFAs in hepatic triglycerides, decreased incorporation of 13C palmitate into very-low-density lipoprotein and hepatic triglycerides, and increased plasma ketone bodies. Carnitine also significantly increased weight loss but without altering the fat to lean body mass ratio. Taurine did not significantly affect any variables. Diets low in n-3 LPUFAs predisposed cats to hepatic lipidosis during weight gain, which was further exacerbated during weight loss. Mitochondrial numbers decreased during weight gain and weight loss but were not affected by treatment. Carnitine improved fatty acid oxidation and glucose utilization during weight loss without correcting hepatic lipidosis.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—The primary mechanism leading to hepatic lipidosis in cats appears to be decreased fatty acid oxidation. Carnitine may improve fatty acid oxidation but will not ameliorate hepatic lipidosis in cats fed a diet low in n-3 fatty acids. (Am J Vet Res 2003;64:1265–1277)

Peter said...

Hi g,

I keep coming back to the idea that LC may accidentally treat a deficiency of Food. Food with a capital F being defined as nutrient dense. Oh, and it's a four letter word!

I think cattle must make their own DHA and EPA. Grass has predominantly alpha linolenic acid as it's lipid. The only analysis I have of PUFAs in grass doesn't specify any PUFAs with longer than 18 carbon chains, but that may reflect the analysis technique rather than their presence. But possibly VLC PUFA are only made by algae, rather than all plants.

The rumen bacteria appear to convert added DHA and EPA to something else, there is a lot of info in the results sections of this paper, particularly the control rumenal contents, which appear to contain zero pre existing DHA or EPA. So it looks like lots of alpha linolenic and some linoleic acid go in to the rumen of grass fed cattle, some of each (more linoleic than alpha linolenic) make it out, the rest is used by bacteria to make those interesting trans fats with health benefits.

So I'm thinking that the very long chain PUFA in beef come from the cattle elongase/desaturase system rather than the rumen bacteria.


Re cats, yes. The cat food manufacturers know exactly what cats need, MICE. You just have to look at the commerical cat food company specialist ranges; B/D for senile dementia, J/D for joints, M/D for metabolic syndrome, N/D for neoplasia management. These companies know EXACTLY what is missing from their premium mainline brands. How else could they make foods, which work, to correct the deficiencies?

Bruce said...

Peter, I've been thinking about how it's a scam to have all these types of cat food and dog food. Probably, the best you could do other than to feed pets raw meat, would be to use the Kitten/Puppy formula - which is probably the most nutrient dense. I have argued with people saying "why do you think the companies have all these special formulas?" I bet that the "weight loss" and "senior" pet foods are low-fat and high-carb, so it's no surprise the animals eating those foods tend to get fatter and fatter along with their owners who are eating the same way. But nobody ever bothers to think about things like this logically. Instead, it's blamed on sloth and gluttony, as if food had no effect on hormones and metabolic processes.

Peter said...

I never got in to animal nutrition as Tom Lonsdale has sorted it all out for carnivores and most herbivores should eat grain free grass. People pole up at the vets looking for a pill, not a lecture on wolf nutrition for their toy poodle! Obviously my cats are essentially rawfed.


PS Too right re senior and most weight loss diets. Even the m/d LC diet is soy protein based. Retch.

Ace said...


You said: "Those of us (me included) who are a bit smug with a BMI around 20 maybe ought to remember that a BMI of 25-30 appears to give best longevity in Western culture, even without a famine."

That seems like an important conclusion. Can you say more about how you arrived at it?

Peter said...

Hi Ace,

It's observational only, but there are LOTS of studies observing this. On the SAD all cause mortality is lowest at BMI around 26. I've only blogged about it once, the best set of studies I've seen is on Dr Briffa's site. He collects them!

I searched his site using "BMI mortality" and generated this page

If the link doesn't work (not sure how permanent search links are!) you can just go to his site and do the same search...



NYC Thinker said...

Doesn't BMI fail to differentiate between lean body mass and fat?

If so, this raises the question about what healthy boundaries are in terms of body fat (non "ectopic") in relation to lean body mass.

My body seems to defend a body fat percentage that is around 10% no matter what I eat within the context of a paleo diet, whereas some people even on a strict low carb approach stabilize at much higher levels, and might even re-gain lost weight significantly after the disturbances of the metabolic syndrom have been rectified.

Peter said...


As far as I can remember without going through the posts and specific refs it is the fat which is protective, fairly specifically in the elderly on the SAD or its derivatives. These are quite possibly sarcopaenic pot bellied senior citizens....

On paleo or LC all bets are off as there is no observational database to work from....


karl said...

Petro -

Great blog post - brought me back to my college days '75 when I had a roommate that came from the soviet union - his stories of life under socialism made a lasting impression on me.