Optimal eating (or rather, a step in the right direction)

post by c_edwards · 2015-01-19T01:35:27.501Z · score: 5 (8 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 65 comments


  The Plan

Over the past few months I've been working to optimize my life.  In this post I describe my attempt to optimize my day-to-day cooking and eating - my goal with this post is to get input and to offer a potential template for people who aren't happy with their current cooking/eating patterns.  I'm a) still pretty new to LW, and b) not a nutritionist; I am not claiming that this is optimal, only that it is a step in the right direction for me.  I'd love suggestions/advice/feedback.


How do I quantify a successful cooking/eating plan?


"Healthy" is a broad term.  I'm not interested in making food a complicated or stressful component of my life - quite the opposite.  Healthy means that I feel good, and that I'm providing my body with a good mix of building blocks (carbs, proteins, fats) and nutrients.  This means I want most/all meals to include some form of complex carbs, protein, and either fruits or veggies or both.  As I'm currently implementing an exercise plan based on the LW advice for optimal exercising, I'm aiming to get ~120 grams of protein per day (.64g/lb bodyweight/day).  There seems to be a general consensus that absorption of nutrients from whole foods is a) higher, and b) less dangerous, so when possible I'm trying to make foods from basic components instead of buying pre-processed stuff.

I have a health condition called hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) that makes me cranky/shaky/weak/impatient/foolish/tired when I am hungry, and can be triggered by eating simple sugars.  So, for me personally, a healthy diet includes rarely feeling hungry and rarely eating simple sugars (especially on their own - if eaten with other food the effect is much less severe).  This also means trying to focus on forms of fruit and complex carbs that have low glycemic indexes (yams are better than baked potatoes, for example).  I would guess that these attributes would be valuable for anyone, but for me they are a very high priority.

I'm taking some advice from the "Exos" (formerly Core Performance) fitness program, as described in the book Core performance essentials. One of the suggestions from this that I'm trying to use here (aside from the above complex carb+protein+fruit/veg meal structure) is to "eat the rainbow every day" - that is, mix up the fruits and veggies you eat, ideally getting as many colors per day as possible.  I'm also taking advice from the (awesome) LW article on increasing longevity: "eat fish, nuts, eggs, fruit, dark chocolate."

When possible I'm trying to focus on veggies that are particularly nutrient dense - spinach, bok choy, tomatoes, etc.  I am (for now) avoiding a few food products that I have heard (but have not yet confirmed!) are linked to potential health issues: tofu, whey proteins.  Note that I do not trust my information on the potential risks of these foods, but as neither of these are important to my diet anyways, I have put researching them as a low priority compared to everything else I want to learn.

So to recap: don't stress about it, but try to do complex carbs, proteins (120g/day for me), fruits, and veggies in every meal, avoid sugars where possible (although dark chocolate is good).  Fish, nuts and eggs are high priority proteins.


I'm on a fairly limited budget.  This means trying to focus on the seasonal fruits and veggies (which are typically cheaper, and as an added bonus are likely healthier than the same fruit/veggie when out of season), aiming for less expensive meats, and not trying to eat organically (probably worth a separate discussion of organic vs not, meat vs not).  This also means making my own foods when the price benefit is high and the time cost is low.  I often make my own breads, for example (using a breadmaker) - it takes about 10 minutes of my time, directly saves me about 3+ dollars or so compared to an equivalent quality loaf of bread (many breads can be made for ~$.50-1$), plus saves me either the time of shopping multiple times per week to obtain fresh bread or the grossness of eating bread that I've frozen to keep it from molding.  Additionally, my budget means that I prefer that my weekly meal plan not depend on eating out or buying pre-made foods.


While I'm on a fairly limited monetary budget, I'm on a very limited time budget.  Cooking can be fun for me, but I prefer that my weekly schedule not REQUIRE much time - I can always replace a quick meal with a longer fun one if I feel like it.

The Plan

My general approach is split my meals between really quick-and-easy (like chickpeas, canned salmon, and olive oil over prewashed spinach with an apple or two on the side) and batch foods where a somewhat longer time investment is split over many nights (like lentil stew in a crockpot).

To keep myself reasonable full I need about 6-7 meals per day: breakfast, snack, lunch, (optional snack depending on schedule), post-workout snack, dinner, snack.  These don't all need to be large, but I'm unhappy/unproductive without something for each of those meals, so I might as well make it easy to eat them.

In general I've found the following system to fulfill my criteria of success (healthy, cheap, quick), and it's been much less stressful to have a general plan in place - I can more easily figure out my shopping list, and it's not hard to ensure I always have food ready when I need it.


Quick and easy is the key here.  I typically have either


  1. Yogurt with sunflower seeds and/or nuts, a handful of rolled oats (yes, uncooked, but add a bit of water at the end to make them tolerable), and sometimes some fruit on top.  Add honey for sweetener as needed (I typically don't do to hypoglycemia).
  2. Bread (often homemade, but whatever floats your boat) with some peanut butter on top, a banana or other fruit item on the side.
  3. (if I have the time) Scrambled eggs mixed with chopped broccoli or bell peppers, bread, and a piece of fruit.
(also a big glass of water, which everyone seems to think is important)(also coffee, although I'm considering transitioning to a different caffeine source.



I have three "batch" meals here (I make enough for 3+lunches, so I cook lunches ~twice a week):


  1. salmon mash plus "spinach salad" (spinach with olive oil and either lemon juice or balsamic vinegar), fruit item.  salmon mash is a mix of cooked rice, canned salmon, black olives (for flavor - not sure that they're useful nutritionally), canned black or garbanzo beans, pasta sauce.  It sounds disgusting, but I find it pretty decent, and it's very cheap and filling, and super balanced in terms of carbs and proteins.  I do proportions of 1 cup rice, 1 large can salmon, 1-2 cans beans, 1/2 can black olives, 1/2 can pasta sauce (typically I do a double batch, which lasts me about 4-5 lunches.  Your mileage may vary)
  2. Baked yams and boneless skinless chicken breasts plus spinach salad or other veggies, fruit item
  3. pasta salad: pasta, raw chopped broccoli, tomatoes (grape/cherry tomatoes are easiest), chopped bell peppers, sliced ham, olives (for flavor again - not important nutritionally, I think), and some olive oil (you could use Caesar salad dressing if you like more flavor).  
If I haven't prepped a batch lunch, I just put salmon and beans on top of spinach, add a little olive oil, and throw in a slice of bread and a fruit on the side. Alternately, PBJ plus veggie and fruit.



I aim to make one batch dinner per week and have it last for 4-5 meals, and then have several quick-and-easy dinners to fill the gap (this also makes it easy to accommodate dinners out or food related social gatherings).

Some ideas for Batch Dinners (crock pots are your friends here):


Note that since I only make one batch dinner per week, those bullets are sufficient to cover a month (and depending on what your tolerance for repetition is, that might be enough for years).

Some ideas for quick-and-easy dinners:
  • Salad made from salad greens, some form of precooked meat (salmon is good), beans, maybe sliced avacado and tomato, maybe sunflower seeds.
  • Rice/pasta; scrambled/cooked eggs or baked chicken; munching veggie like carrots, raw broccoli, bell pepper; fruit item.  Note on chicken: while there is a reasonably large elapse time from start to finish, your involvement doesn't need to take long.  Typically I have a bunch of boneless skinless chicken breasts in the freezer - pull one out, throw it in a ziplock with soy sauce, garlic powder, ginger (or whatever other marinade you prefer), put the ziplock in a bowl of warm water, preheat oven to 370ish.  Once chicken is thawed, put in a pan and cook in the oven.  Ideally do enough rice/pasta and chicken for several nights.



In general my snacks are super simple: just combine some kind of munching veggie (carrots, bell pepper, raw broccoli, snap peas, etc) with hummus, some fruit item, something protein-y (handful of nuts or sunflower seeds, usually) and (optionally) a slice of bread or other carb source.  For whatever snack I have after a workout, I want to make sure there is plenty of protein, so I include either hard boiled eggs, baked chicken, or salmon (on bread).


So over the weekend, when I plan my week and go shopping, I choose the following:


  1. One batch dinner to cook (usually I need to buy the stuff for this)
  2. One type of quick-and-easy dinner to eat for 2-3 nights (often using staples/leftovers I already have)
  3. Two types of batch lunch to make from my list of three.
  4. 2-3 kinds of munching veggies - enough veggies total to include in ~3 meals per day (so like 6ish carrots per day, or 2 bell peppers, etc).  Think carrots, raw broccoli, bell peppers, green beans, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, etc.
  5. 2-3 kinds of fruit items.  Think apples, bananas, grapefruit, grapes, oranges, etc.
  6. Two kinds of protein for post-workout snacks, chosen from: eggs, chicken, salmon
  7. Bread recipes to make 2-3 loaves (which might just be a single recipe repeated)
I also make sure I have enough yogurt and other breakfast supplies to get me through the week.  I drink milk with most of my meals at home, so I check my milk supply as well.

Boom!  Planning done, shopping list practically writes itself!  Once per week I make an small effort on cooking a batch dinner, two or three nights per week I put an extremely minimal effort into quick-and-easy dinners, two evenings per week I make a batch of lunch foods and maybe prep workout protein (hard boil eggs or bake chicken breasts), and otherwise my "cooking" consists of taking things from the fridge and putting them onto a dish (and possibly microwaving).




I'm still tweaking my system, but it has been a marked improvement from the last-minute scrabbling and suboptimal meals that tended to characterize my eating before this.  It's also a big step up in terms of utility from the more elaborate and time-consuming meals I sometimes cooked to compensate for feelings of inadequacy generated by aforementioned scrabbling/suboptimal meals.  I tend to feel fairly energetic and healthy, and it's a huge reassurance to me to know that I always have food planned out and typically it's available to me without needing to do any cooking.  It appears that it's considerably cheaper, too, although there are several confounding factors that would also drive my grocery bills down (transitioning to not-organic foods, trying to hit sales, etc).

Are there things I'm missing?  Suggestions for meals?  (note that I'm a bit wary of meal-replacement shakes) Alternative systems that people have found to hit that sweet spot of healthy, quick, and inexpensive? Is this something that might be useful for you?

EDIT:  Tuna is high in mercury, and shouldn't be eaten in nearly the quantities I had originally planned.  I've replaced canned tuna with canned salmon.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-19T22:52:13.621Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(note that I'm a bit wary of meal-replacement shakes)

So, I suspect MealSquares deserve a mention as having many of the benefits of meal-replacement shakes without of the detriments of it being a shake or being thrown together from uncertain ingredients. They seem to be the best option time-wise (it takes approximately five seconds to open a package and start eating), but are significantly more expensive than a diet based on preparing staples yourself. (If you want to eat just MealSquares, you're looking at ~$10 a day; if you want to eat just rice and beans, you're looking at ~$1 a day.)

comment by Diadem · 2015-01-22T16:25:12.019Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have really wanted to try MealSquares for a while now, but they are only sold in the US, with no timeline for availability elsewhere. In fact I don't think their site has been updated since I first encountered them a couple of months ago. Does anyone know if they still exist, and if they have plans to ever sell overseas?

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-22T17:20:05.865Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They still exist (I've been subscribed for some time). I have no speculation about their overseas plans, and recommend you use the contact form to ask them--it might possibly make it happen sooner, as it's more evidence of an overseas market.

comment by zedzed · 2015-01-20T14:57:46.621Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See also discussion here, in particular, soylent green (unsuitable for OP because hypoglycemia), soylent orange (yay complex carbs!) and ketosoylent (most recently Yudkowsky's Mildly Surprising Super Ketonic Dietary Replacement Fluid: Your Alternative To Healthy Eating.)

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-20T15:47:26.512Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I probably should try adding soylent orange to my overall plan. Some part of me is uncomfortable with the idea of meal replacement shakes, but I don't think that's a rational feeling.

The only rational argument against it that I can think of is the same argument against repeating the same meal every day - the lack of diet diversity. RomeoStevens seems to have found no intermediate-term health issues on a mainly-soylent-orange diet, but additionally if I'm using soylent orange as only a part of my diet, I'm still going to have a decent mix of food sources.

Time to dust off the blender.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-20T15:35:06.838Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Absolutely worth mentioning. They're something I'm interested in looking into, but as you say the pricing is a fair bit higher, and at the moment I'd prefer to keep costs lower.

What I'm seeing is $85 for 6 packs of 2000 calories. Which means $14/day for a person consuming 2000 calories per day. I am a large male with an active metabolism who is attempting to exercise on a regular basis - I haven't counted it up, but I'm probably closer to 3000 calories, which means $20/day. Still great compared to other prepared food options, but not the best option for me right now.

For other people, though, with slightly more expendable income and a desire to get a quick balanced diet in a non-shake form, this is probably a fantastic choice.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2015-01-19T18:25:37.101Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like you're using tuna as a staple. Keep in mind that tuna is quite high in mercury. Consumer reports, after measuring the mercury content of some of the common brands, concluded no more than a can a week should be consumed to stay within guidelines on mercury consumption. I'd recommend replacing some of the tuna with herring or salmon, both very low mecury fishes with great omega 3 content.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-20T15:21:22.352Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you! Apparently this is fairly common knowledge (when I mentioned this to several friends they thought it was obvious). But I hadn't been aware, and that could have been very unpleasant.

I'm going to switch "tuna" to "canned salmon" in my post, and I'm trying out canned salmon today. Interestingly, when on sale there's not much difference in price between canned tuna and canned salmon, at least where I live.

comment by RomeoStevens · 2015-01-20T22:53:11.266Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, frozen salmon burgers are fairly cheap and very convenient. They're $1 each where I live.

comment by Elo · 2015-01-21T05:40:42.423Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Requesting a source for this. I was aware of some mercury in fish, but to my understanding the levels were around about - "its okay to eat 3 serves of fish per week without worrying about it" (this includes salmon and tuna)

and "if you eat 7+ serves of fish a week, you might want to check your metal poisoning levels after about two years"

I would like to be wrong; but I have no sources for this.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-21T16:01:04.706Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is, unfortunately, complex -- the levels of mercury in fish depend on the kind of fish and where it was caught. So a study of, say, tuna in Tsukiji (Tokyo's fish market) will tell you nothing about the mercury content of your sardines and vice versa. You can estimate averages, but the error bars are going to be pretty big.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-01-24T20:16:44.426Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What's the mercury content of kipper like? Kipper is cheaper than everything but tuna where I used to live.

comment by Elo · 2015-01-21T05:49:41.068Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I eat about 0.5-1kg of cheese each week. I would suggest you include it as a protein source. But its up to your taste preferences. (diversity yo!)

A hard boiled egg might suit your salad.

you can probably try to find pre-roasted oats/museli (sometimes with the nut mix already created. (at extra cost but also tastyness)

A very quick and filling food for me is peanut butter and cellery. (although it depends if that is even remotely normal where you come from)

Also snap-peas, about a bowl full, boil water, pour over peas, sit for 1minute, eat peas, wait 5, drink water. mmmm..

your diet plan lacks rewardy-snacks. for any time you feel like "I did a good job and want to eat something fancier" (read: chocolate, dried fruit)

comment by zedzed · 2015-01-19T03:55:00.891Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You might want to say something like "quick" instead of "fast" because homonyms (I first thought you were going to talk about intermittent fasting, which didn't make sense because of the hypoglycemia).

Why are you skeptical of whey protein? I've only ever heard good stuff, and I've spent enough time reading about nutrition to construct not-unreasonable arguments against almost every food. (Vegetables? Plants don't want to be eaten (except for fruit), so they contain bad-to-eat chemicals that humans almost certainly can't metabolize! Fruits? Have inferior nutrient density relative to vegetables!)

Thoughts on wheaty things: you can probably dismiss the paleosphere arguments against wheat. You're still dealing with a plant that doesn't want to be eaten and therefore contains toxic chemicals, but unlike other plants (e.g. broccolli), wheat doesn't come with killer micronutrient density. The naive approach would be to displace as many wheat-calories with vegetable/fruit/meat/nut/anything-else-with-higher-micronutrient-density calories. However, I also get the need for cheap calories, so if you're already eating all the micronutrients you need to, I can't really argue too hard against wheat.

Meat: near as I can tell, the important distinction is "processed/not processed" (see top comment thread in Lifestyle Interventions to Increase Longevity). There's also good reasons to prefer lean: better nutrient density, fewer toxins (which often are fat-soluble), although we again run into "more cost per calorie."

Caffeine: have you considered/tried not doing caffeine? I'm biased against it, since I don't really get the stimulant benefits but do suffer from withdrawal symptoms, but if you're a normal human, you're going to build tolerance, and suddenly your coffee-to-improve-performance-beyond-baseline has turned into coffee-to-keep-performance-at-baseline and it costs more than water. Also, chocolate contains caffeine and theobromine (another minor stimulant); consider restricting your chocolate consumption for days you need a performance boost and cut the coffee entirely.

I'll recommend Food and Western Disease as a book on nutrition that reads a bit like Gwern (1, 2) and lends itself to being updated upon (the book concludes with a recommendation for a version of paleo (which is almost closer to what you have here than what you'd find on, say, Mark's Daily Apple, but I used the same principles to arrive at eating soylent exclusively, and I'm confident that it could improve your nutrition plan significantly.)

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-19T17:32:05.360Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm curious as to how it arrives at a version of paleo while simultaneously dismissing the paleosphere on wheat (of which Scott has listed only a few)?

Because if I could distill the object-level advice of the paleosphere into two words, they would be: "avoid wheat".

(Obviously, standard diet advice doesn't apply when one is hypoglycemic, although I suppose, depending on the underlying causes of the hypoglycemia, the prescription could be more carbohydrates or more fat)

comment by zedzed · 2015-01-20T02:03:42.425Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To tl;dr a tl;dr

  • Seeds (read: grains) have the highest concentration of "don't eat me" toxins, because of the role they play in reproduction; phytic acid, for instance, inhibits absorption of several minerals.

  • Humans can live off vegetables and some fish (Kitavans) or almost entirely meat (Inuit) and be pretty healthy. However, even animals optimized for eating seeds, much less humans, cannot live off grains exclusively without developing pellegra and beriberi.

  • Cereals have exceptionally high energy density, which may lead to overfeeding.

  • It's plausible grains interfere with satiety responses via endocrine disruption

  • Grains have a bad omega-3 : omega-6 ratio.

  • Grains have poor nutrient density.

Distilling Lindeberg's object-level advice: eat lean meat, fish, vegetables (including root vegetables), fruit, and nuts (but not too many). Do not eat grains, dairy, sugar, beans, or processed things. Drink water. I've written about how he comes to this (and my reservations about the lack of extant evidence to support any strong recommendations, including his) previously.

comment by AlexSchell · 2015-01-20T18:34:45.178Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You shouldn't care much about omega-3/6 ratio in grains because they don't usually have much of either. Same for meat.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-20T23:36:07.741Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, I think I either misunderstoody your post or phrased my question poorly.

Your description of Lindeberg is precisely representative of the mainstream paleo "party line" as I understand it. I thought the book would "dismiss the paleosphere arguments against wheat", as you suggested, and give justifications for why it was okay while still maintaining paleo - but what you've written is the paleosphere argument against wheat (which is a grain)

comment by zedzed · 2015-01-21T04:23:00.351Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Huh. From the time I spent in the paleosphere, the arguments I saw against wheat were the six Scott listed plus "carbs are evil!" (Literally the only input to the delta-weight function is grams_carbs.) Lindeberg either ignores or dismisses these arguments. I stopped spending time in the paleosphere a while back and I'm not overwhelmingly proud of the epistemic purity of the parts I did frequent, so maybe you just got to see the paleosphere make their non-wretched arguments.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-21T06:09:04.077Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ooh okay. So they both don't like wheat, but for different reasons. I had misunderstood your original statement to meant that Lindeberg would exonerate wheat. My mistake.

tldr!Lindeberg does seems to disagree with Scott about the endocrine disruption thing - unless it's just leptin-lectin specifically we're talking about here, and give the "toxins" idea a bit more weight than Scott does.

I stopped spending time in the paleosphere a while back and I'm not overwhelmingly proud of the epistemic purity of the parts I did frequent, so maybe you just got to see the paleosphere make their non-wretched arguments.

Yeah, amateur nutrition is chock full of quacks, and I think nutrition should be approached with almost as much skepticism as politics (which is a shame, since one's feeding behavior is actually important).

FWIW, I've actually heard both the arguments that Lindenberg listed and the arguments that Scott rebutted in the paleosphere...I whole heartedly agree with Lindenberg, but I don't particularly trust Scott's judgement in this matter (despite otherwise thinking extremely extremely highly of him) because he's making interpretations I wouldn't make.

For example

Something seems to be going on with autism and schizophrenia – but most people don’t have autism or schizophrenia. The intestinal barrier seems to become more permeable with possible implications for autoimmune diseases – but most people don’t have autoimmune disease.

is just...such a weird thing for a psychiatrist to say. From my perspective Intestinal barrier problems leading to generalized inflammation and generalized mental deficiency are something to seriously worry about, especially when ADHD and depression are also linked to inflammation. From my perspective, this clearly pointing to an auto-immune-mediated deficit in general brain health, with an elevated risk of all mental problems in general. You can say that the effect is not real, but once you accept that it's real you can't say "oh but I'm not schizophrenic so it does not apply", as if schizophrenic brains were so fundamentally different from healthy brains that it shouldn't give a healthy person pause when a particular food worsens schizophrenia.

And to me,

But what none of these studies are going to do a good job ruling out is that whole grain is just funging against refined grain which is even worse.

is a big, gaping, chasming hole that Scott is treating as a minor breach. (I mean, forget refined grains, it could be funging against coke and cheetos for all we know). It's interesting that we can look at the same data and see it so differently.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-19T14:12:05.169Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Swapped quick for fast. Thanks for pointing that out!

On whey protein - I was exposed to a lot of unverified health information by an ex. Much of that information came from a group of sources that take a conspiracy-theory approach to nutrition research (there's a big food industry that controls what gets published, and a lack of evidence for or any evidence against fact X is because of the food industry!). This is not to say that the facts I was exposed to were wrong, but rather that I need to verify them. So according to her, whey protein was bad. A quick google search for "whey protein health concerns" turns up quite a bit, although it's a mishmash of stuff. The mayo clinic has a list of side effects from using whey protein, and this article states that "increased whey protein added to the diet of rats increased tumors and cancers". On the other hand, wikipedia mentions the potential value of whey protein in reducing risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. So the picture looks far from clear - I guess I have some more reading to do (unless someone else has already done the reading and can whey in?).

Thanks for the link on wheat stuff - because of the hypoglycemia, wheat has been a major building block of my meals. It's nice to know that I can continue that. Same goes for your suggestions on meat - most of my meat intake is chicken breasts, which fit in the non-processed lean meat category.

I really should try weaning myself off caffeine, and see how I feel. I was 20 before I started drinking it, and I was able to perform in school and work settings just fine without. That said, I'd like to do some more reading about how caffeine actually works - do you have another link to suggest? (if nothing comes to mind, I'll just spend some time with google).

Added Food and Western Disease to my reading list. Thanks!

comment by zedzed · 2015-01-19T15:23:26.677Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Let's talk about drugs!

Caffeine's an adenosine antagonist. Now, let's figure out what that means.

Neurons have proteins embedded in their membranes called receptors. Chemicals (e.g. neurotransmitters) can bind to these receptors, which causes stuff to happen. For instance, adenosine is a chemical, and it can bind to receptors in your brain cells, resulting in sleepy behavior.

(Here seems to be the place to mention that this is a vastly oversimplified explanation. Those interested in a technical explanation would do well to check out the appropriate textbook, because I literally just condensed over three chapters of my psychopharmacology textbook in as many sentences.)

Caffeine is an antagonist. Antagonists are able to bind to receptors without causing the stuff to happen. Since the receptors are already bound, the adenosine can't bind to them, meaning the stuff (in this case, sleepy behavior) happens less.

This leads nicely into tolerance. Your body reacts to not-enough-working-adenosine-receptors by adding adenosine receptors. Thus, when your not hopped up on caffeine, you have too many adenosine receptors (and therefore too much sleepy behavior), and even when you are on caffeine, the effects are muted.

Fortunately, it's pretty straightforward to reduce the number of adenosine receptors: you just stop ingesting caffeine, your body notices there's too many adenosine receptors, and removes them. This doesn't happen immediately, so you get withdrawal. Checking wikipedia, this should last 2–9 days at nuisance level. (Relative to the other drugs in my textbook, this is positively innocuous).

Also, it's worth mentioning caffeine's pharmacokinetics. The rate at which caffeine is metabolized is proportional to how much is in your system. Solving the differential equation gives you something like $A e^{-kt}$; the important thing to know is it has a half-life of about 6 hours.

Out of every course I took in college, psychopharmacology had by far the highest [actual IRL use] : [expected IRL use] ratio. Drugs are ubiquitous and having a solid understanding constantly pays small dividends.

comment by shullak7 · 2015-01-20T15:26:29.741Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there any research on why caffeine seems to affect some people more/differently than others? Anecdotally, I've noticed over the years that I get the "jitters" after two cups and have to stop because I can't stand the feeling, whereas others can drink half a pot and barely notice the effects.

I initially thought that these others had just 'pushed through the jitters' and built up a tolerance, but some of them have told me they've never experienced the jittery feeling I'm talking about. Or maybe it just didn't make them as uncomfortable as it makes me?

comment by gwern · 2015-01-20T17:15:54.584Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The answer, as with most questions like 'why does X seem to work well for some people and not others' is going to be complex. For example, one of the recent links in my newsletter touches on this topic:

Aside from finding some hits, caffeine consumption has long had meaningful heritability estimates (some are cited in that paper, others can be found in Google Scholar with the obvious query 'caffeine heritability'). So that seems to be part of it: genetics.

comment by shullak7 · 2015-01-20T21:34:35.316Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the paper (that's a lot of authors!). The complexity you mention makes it difficult to determine whether substance X (caffeine, alcohol, eggs, etc.) has a net positive or negative for any given person when it comes to health benefits. Coffee has been linked to some positive health effects, but maybe only for those people who don't get the jitters....that's the sort of thing that would be cool to know. Until then, I'm just going to listen to my body and minimize consumption.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-19T16:29:45.724Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fantastic explanation, and now I have another book to read eventually. Thanks!

comment by Manfred · 2015-01-19T05:40:39.238Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A completely aesthetic recommendation: herbs and spices. For example, in your spinach salad, throw in some black pepper and aromatic herbs (e.g. buy a packet of mixed herbes de provence). And a little leftover bacon fat if you have any (Okay, that last one is not so healthy). Are you putting cumin in 70% of your stews yet? Consider it! :D

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-19T13:51:18.261Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fantastic point. I'm blessed with fairly simple tastes when it comes to food, and I'm fine with some of my meals being fairly bland (pasta salad, for example, or spinach salads). But when it's easy and healthy, there's no reason not to make the food taste better.

Sidenote: the longevity article points out that garlic is linked to longer lifespans. So seasoning with garlic both increases flavor and health.

comment by Dahlen · 2015-01-21T21:13:59.440Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)


A probably important question: how many calories are you eating each day, and what is your BMR? This is what your chances of losing/maintaining/gaining weight hinge on, if these are concerns for you.

And a few recipe suggestions of my own:

  • High-fibre bread loaves/slices with smoked salmon fillets, cheese, sliced hardboiled eggs, with lemon juice and black pepper on top. You may add an endive or lettuce leaf at the very bottom of the sandwich. About all the protein you might need in a quick meal.
  • Oatmeal recipe: oat flakes cooked in boiling milk, with blueberries, finely chopped strawberries, bananas, almonds and/or walnuts, cinnamon, dark chocolate (the darkest you can find), and for me a teaspoon of honey. I cool it quickly by adding some cold milk at the end. Takes about a half hour to make. A very filling breakfast recipe; I found that I could go through about 12 hours of not eating after having this for breakfast.
  • Sweet exotic fruit & almond snack: I make it with little cubes of avocado, banana, pineapple, khaki, occasionally kiwi, almonds and bits of dark chocolate. To this too I add a teaspoon of honey. Absolutely delicious. (Just make sure your avocado is ripe.)
  • Salad with grated carrots, grated celery root, grated apple, lemon juice, salt & pepper, and occasionally salmon and small bits of lettuce in it.
  • Stir-fried vegetable mix from everything I might currently have in the fridge: broccoli, asparagus, bell pepper, zucchini, red onion, mushrooms. Especially red onion and mushrooms; sometimes I use just these as a side dish to grilled chicken.

Also, you might want to enter your recipes here to find out what nutrients they have. It works very well for stuff that lacks food labels, or if you don't want to compute the individual quantities.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-29T13:32:51.132Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for all the recipes!

I could probably stand to lose a few pounds, but not to much more than that - I wasn't really aiming to change my weight with my diet. My BMR is 2025.04, apparently. My understanding, though, is that exercising can increase your metabolic rate even after you're done? I've been working to implement a workout regime based on http://lesswrong.com/lw/juc/optimal_exercise/, and am lifting weights or doing interval cardio 4-6 days per week.

I don't actually track how many calories I'm eating in a day - it would probably be a good thing to do.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-21T19:30:44.626Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you know why you are hypoglycemic? (Diabetes? Liver failure...?) I feel that this is fairly important in determining what the diet aught to be.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-29T13:42:09.079Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. "hypoglycemia" is really the symptom, not the cause.

What I have appears to be a genetic disorder (my father and his father had it) that doesn't seem to be associated with any other health impacts. I recently realized that I should probably actually get the specifics pinned down, and that's something I'm going to work on in the future.

My understanding (through my father, who had his hypoglycemia tested when he was younger) is that my pancreas overreacts, putting out more insulin than is necessary for any given blood sugar level. It's particularly problematic when I consume simple sugars, as my pancreas drastically overshoots. The consequence is that, unless I eat slow-digesting foods every few hours, I feel cranky/exhausted/sad/impatient, get the shakes, and have general weakness in my muscles. If I continue to not eat, my emotional state stabilizes and I simply get really really tired. Not life threatening, but a serious interference with happiness/productivity.

But I will be looking more specifically into the causes, instead of my father's interpretation of his own diagnoses from forty years ago.

comment by someonewrongonthenet · 2015-01-29T23:21:09.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's Hyperinsulinemia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperinsulinemia

It might or might not be Diabetes-II related: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/31/Supplement_2/S262.full

In your shoes, I would recommend low carb diets -I'm partial to paleo, but whatever works. Keep in mind that if calories are to be kept constant, low carb diets are necessarily high fat diets, and this should ideally be animal or fruit fat - for example fish, coconut, olive, avocados ...not milk fat or seed based oils.

(The paleo-fied version of this is simply to use fruits instead of grains for the carbs. Regardless of whether you do paleo, I don't think it's controversial that diabetes_II spectrum disorders benefit from cutting carbs, so you'll likely end up with paleo-like macronutrient ratios one way or another anyhow.)

I would also up the exercise. I just had a quick look at Lesswrong's "optimal exercise" routine - it is indeed optimized...for increasing strength and speed. However, if you need to lose weight (obesity will exacerbate your condition) you might want to add in extended periods of walking or running.

Also, technical correction: fruits are simple sugars. (Don't let that stop you from fruits though, because it turns out that the simple/complex dichotomy turns out not to correlate particularly well with glycemic index anyway.)

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-29T16:13:10.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hypoglycemia is a symptom of diabetes. What you are describing is consistent with this.

Go talk to a doctor and do some blood tests, specifically fasting glucose and HbA1C.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-29T17:49:30.746Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the advice - something I've already had in the works. My understanding is that typically diabetes-caused hypoglycemia is usually helped (and not harmed) by the consumption of simple sugars? One of the defining characteristics of my condition is that simple sugars make things worse, especially when I'm already experiencing the symptoms of hypoglycemia.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-29T17:54:07.239Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, let's put it this way avoiding specific diagnoses: your insulin/sugar regulating system is screwed up. This is pretty common and pretty bad for your health. You should pinpoint the exact problem and fix it to the extent possible.

comment by advancedatheist · 2015-01-19T04:03:42.631Z · score: -10 (26 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Optimal nutrition brings up the issue of human biodiversity, though in other contexts social justice warriors call this "racism" and "pseudoscience." If you have a fairly uniform ancestry, like my relatedness to British and Irish populations as a white Southerner, at least according to what 23andMe tells me, then I have the advantage of studying ethnically similar people for some ideas about optimal diets.

But what should you do if your parents or grandparents come from remote branches of the human species which didn't have the opportunity to interbreed until fairly recently? Seems like you might have conflicting genetics for your diet based on the fact that people in different places evolved to survive on the radically foods available in their local ecosystems.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2015-01-19T15:06:28.227Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Optimal nutrition brings up the issue of human biodiversity, though in other contexts social justice warriors call this "racism" and "pseudoscience."

Metacomment: You keep throwing these highly controversial statements into posts. It comes across as using tribal cheering, or worse, tribal booing. People are downvoting your posts not only for poor thinking but the fact that you seem to try to connect almost every single post you can to your politics. The comments might be better received if you focused on facts and evidence rather than remarks like the above.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-20T00:56:17.132Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Further, at least in this case the statement is transformed from "highly controversial" to "straightforwardly wrong" by its insertion into this context. The idea that people with different ancestry might benefit from different diets is not, so far as I am aware, a thing that "social justice warriors" call racism or pseudoscience. (Though I expect some of them do. For any reasonably large group, you can find some members who do pretty much any crazy thing.)

comment by gwern · 2015-01-20T01:57:29.632Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But what should you do if your parents or grandparents come from remote branches of the human species which didn't have the opportunity to interbreed until fairly recently?

Go with the diet of the majority ancestral group, I think.

Some quick informal arguments: imagine health response to diet is set by many genes of small additive effect. (This is often true for any complex trait; behavioral psychology, and a lot of the heritability of common diseases is being identified in GWASes as that.) Imagine there are population-level differences; this is trivially obvious (lactose and alcohol), but that there's a lot more than this (probable, since crops differ so much from region to region). Say, 1000. And you inherit genes from 1 of 2 ancestral groups, Red or Green. Each ancestral gene is +1 for that group, 0 otherwise.

Now, if you have 2/3s Red ancestry and you eat a Red diet, what's your diet score? Well, 666 of your genes are Red, and so you get 1*666=666; 333 of your genes are Green and you get 0*333=0, total 666. If you ate Green, then it's the other way around, 0*666 and 1*333, total 333. Clearly you want to eat Red. What if you're 3/3 Red? Then 1*1000 vs 0*1000, obviously you still want to eat Red. What if you have a bare majority Red, 501/1000? Well, 501 (Red diet) > 409 (Blue diet). No matter what fraction, you always do better by going with your plurality descent.

Q: what if there's uncertainty about the fraction of ancestry? A: the binomial around your estimated fraction is going to be pretty tight; randomness means if your family tree is 2/3 Red, you're going to be close to 2/3 of your diet genes being Red if there's more than a few dozen diet genes. And a quick $100 at 23andMe will fix any uncertainty about ancestry anyway.

Q: what if there's more than one relevant ancestral group and/or diet? A: the reasoning still works even if it's maximizing the gain from a split of genes like 10%/1%/1%.../1%.

Q: why not 'match' fractions of diet with fractions of ancestry, eg. if 1/3 Red and 2/3 Green, eat Red breakfasts but Green lunches & dinners? A: For the same reason "probability matching" doesn't maximize your expected-value when the probabilities are known (as they will be in this case); it might work if your genes were changing or there was a lot of uncertainty, but that's not the case and so 'pulling the suboptimal arm' is just suboptimal.

Q: what if I know that I am lactose-intolerant through self-experiment, should I really eat as much cheese as my Dutch ancestors? A: No.

Q: what if I know that I am lactose-intolerant because my 23andMe report shows I didn't get the relevant SNPs, should I really eat as much cheese as my Dutch ancestors? A: No.

Q: what if there are genes of differing effect sizes, where some seem to have large effects on how diet affects health? A: Well, if you don't know about them, then you'd expect all ancestral groups to have the same expected-value; and if you do know about specific ones, you can add them to the calculation based on their effect and different prevalences between groups.

Q: what if genes' effects aren't additive, but are crazy wild-ass interacting nonlinear networks and stuff like that? Nonlinear nonlinear nonlinear whoooo! A: lots of stuff seems to be additive, and anyway, if your genes are really that hard to predict, why would that make your minority genes outperform your plurality genes? It's wild stuff either way.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2015-01-19T14:39:36.405Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An interesting point, but a bad way of saying it.

I find it credible that people with different genes could have different optimal diets. How much of those difference would be between different ethnic groups, and how much would be between individuals within the same group, I have no idea. I also have no idea how much "what my ancestors ate" is close to "what would be optimal for me to eat". Also, I have no idea whether a diet optimized for a specific human would be significantly better than a diet optimized for an average human, compared with the improvement we would get by switching from an average first-world diet today.

I would like to see this question answered, preferably by someone who already doesn't have their bottom line written either way.

(A few random thoughts: Food allergies suggest that at least some individuals need wildly different diets than their neighbors. I would expect ethnic group differences in eating dairy products, and in vitamin D requirements. If Soylent becomes popular among people from different ethnic groups, we could get some nice data.)

comment by Adele_L · 2015-01-21T03:07:15.985Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, I'm curious if hybrid vigor might give people of mixed descent some advantages, as well.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-19T22:38:36.182Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Food allergies are basically immune issues, and what I've read of them suggests that they're more likely to come from environment (the immune system gets antsy and starts attacking random harmless compounds when it doesn't have enough actual pathogens to shoot at) than genetics as such, so I think they're probably a non-starter here.

There's plenty of non-allergic variation in what different populations can handle food-wise, though; lactose intolerance and the alcohol flush reaction caused by differences in aldehyde dehydrogenase expression are the first two I can think of. These are often uncontroversially linked to ethnicity: lactose intolerance for example is very common outside North or Central European, North Indian, and certain African populations, and the alcohol flush reaction is a mainly East Asian phenomenon.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2015-01-19T06:47:04.420Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd guess that the diets of a paleolithic Irishman and a paleolithic African are far more similar to each other than to a modern American diet.

comment by Nornagest · 2015-01-20T23:35:25.492Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you'd said "Neolithic", I would've been right there with you -- but not paleo-. Documented forager diets are hugely varied: even if we throw out the Arctic Circle populations as obvious outliers, they range from mostly plant to mostly animal; the animal component can be mostly aquatic or mostly terrestrial; and the plant component is even more idiosyncratic. I have no reason to believe this wouldn't have been true in the ancestral environment.

There are some unifying factors: most of the forager diets I've read about have more fish and fruit than modern Western diets, to name an exceedingly obvious example. But there's a far cry between that and saying that they can meaningfully be treated as a unit in this context.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2015-01-21T18:12:15.828Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

An interesting point. Apparently fish is by far the healthiest form of meat, but does this depend upon whether your ancestors lived near the sea?

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-21T18:33:54.141Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Apparently fish is by far the healthiest form of meat

That is not self-evident to me.

Red meat is considered harmful mostly because it's usually high in saturated fat which has been demonized for the past few decades. If you think saturated fat is fine, I don't see why you'd consider red meat unhealthy.

Fish, on the other hand, is considered healthy largely because of omega-3 fatty acids and the reason that contemporary Western humans need them is that the usual diets have massively skewed omega-3/omega-6 ratios. And the reason for that is all the seed oils (soybean, sunflower, etc) that we consume. I don't know if eating fish would be especially "healthy" for someone with a normal o-3/o-6 ratio.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2015-01-21T20:18:26.796Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wikipedia says:

A 1999 meta-analysis of five studies comparing vegetarian and non-vegetarian mortality rates in Western countries found that in comparison with regular meat-eaters, mortality from ischemic heart disease was 34% lower in pescetarians, 34% lower in ovo-lacto vegetarians, 26% lower in vegans and 20% lower in occasional meat-eaters.[9]

Now it's possible that this correlation does not imply causation. Its also possible that the meat-eaters are eating low-quality processed meat, or are overcooking their meat.

Fish does pose worries about mercury. I have been considering going pescetarian at some point in the future, but if I can get the same benefit by using olive oil instead of sunflower oil then I won't bother.

comment by IlyaShpitser · 2015-01-21T20:45:38.846Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

[Standard disclaimer about confounding in these types of studies being even harder than normal.]

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-21T20:27:57.796Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am aware of observational studies. But if you want to quote some, please find ones which examine total mortality and at least discuss the confounding factors.

E.g. this is a better example, but note that in this case they lump fish and chicken together under "white meat".

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-19T22:01:06.273Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Er, what percentage of the ancestry of a modern Irishman do you think comes from the people living in Ireland in the stone age? It seems reasonable to consider the staple Irish diet over the last few centuries as being a good starting place for a modern Irish diet (or, at least, to assume it fits a modern Irishman's genes better than the traditional Japanese diet).

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2015-01-19T22:32:28.783Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This depends how fast evolution happens, and I'm not an evolutionary biologist. But paleo diet people at least think that humans are mostly adapted to eat what we ate during the stone age. I also don't know what percentage of Irish DNA comes from stone-age Ireland, or more to the point from areas with similar food sources during the stone age.

But regardless, many aspects of a modern diet (e.g. food additives) are very new, and not present in anyone's ancestory.

I'm not saying that different ethnic groups don't respond to food in different ways, but I haven't heard much about this, and with the possible exception of Eskimos who might be adapted to eat a pure meat diet, I doubt it's of much importance when planning diet.

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-20T19:28:04.635Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying that different ethnic groups don't respond to food in different ways, but I haven't heard much about this

One obvious example is lactose tolerance. It's a fairly new adaptation and it seems to have started in Northern Europe. If your ancestors come from there, you're much more likely to tolerate milk as an adult -- compared to, say, most of Asia where lactose tolerance is rare.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2015-01-20T22:39:28.833Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is, in fact, the only example I have heard of of different food preferences across ethnic groups. But in this case there is only one change to be made - removing milk from the diet - and regardless, some europeans are lactose intolerant too. So rather than reasoning based on ethnic group which corrlates with lactose intolerance, you might as well just reason based on lactose intolerance, since it is something which can be diagnosed.

comment by gjm · 2015-01-20T23:21:41.067Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure it exactly counts as food, but there are substantial geographical variations in genes related to alcohol metabolism.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-19T22:47:22.387Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This depends how fast evolution happens, and I'm not an evolutionary biologist.

It seems reasonable to think meaningful evolution happens over the course of centuries (especially because there was rapid population growth over the time period in question). It's not obvious to me what the impact of gut flora is, though- I would expect their generations to be much faster (thus it would be reasonable to imagine there are potato-optimized bacteria even if there aren't potato-optimized humans yet) but it seems that the more your microbiome matters the less your evolutionary heritage matters.

But regardless, many aspects of a modern diet (e.g. food additives) are very new, and not present in anyone's ancestory.

Agreed, with the observation that the 'traditional' diet doesn't include those either. My claim is that I'd expect an Irishman to be better off eating 10 pounds of potatoes a day than eating at McDonald's every day or eating an all-meat Paleo diet.

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-01-20T05:05:12.788Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rapid population growth decreases the efficiency of purifying selection.

EDIT See below for corrections. Only vaguely true under certain circumstances. Mostly wrong. Was tired and thinking of the wrong metrics.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-20T14:51:42.317Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rapid population growth decreases the efficiency of purifying selection.

Doesn't that depend on how uniform the growth is? If a third of women have 0, 2, and 4 children respectively, then I would expect the genes that put you in the most fertile group to spread more slowly (in both relative and absolute terms) than under conditions where a third of women have 0, 3, and 9 children respectively.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-21T16:41:38.068Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rapid population growth decreases the efficiency of purifying selection.

I don't think that's true, unless we're thinking about "efficiency" in different ways.

In general we think of selection in terms of gene frequencies, not raw abundance. Which means that all that is relevant is relative fitness, and if your fitness advantage remains the same, doubling everyone's reproduction rate doesn't change the force of selection.

Unless you're talking about the time until a deleterious, entirely recessive allele goes extinct? Since in that case drift is the only force that will push it from "very rare" to "non-existent", increasing population size will decrease time to extinction of the deleterious recessive allele (drift is faster/stronger in smaller populations).

comment by Lumifer · 2015-01-21T16:51:27.410Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that's true, unless we're thinking about "efficiency" in different ways.

I think what the OP means is that conditions which allow rapid population growth are conditions which reduce the natural selection pressure.

An extreme version of this is the observation that if everyone survives and breeds, there is no fitness advantage to any gene and the gene frequencies do not change.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-21T20:59:58.138Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm probably being overly anal here, but this something I work with on a professional basis. Preface: when I'm talking about 'fitness', I mean the (slightly simplified) biological definition of the term, which means "number of offspring you have before you die"

I think what the OP means is that conditions which allow rapid population growth are conditions which reduce the >natural selection pressure.

This doesn't need to be true at all - see below.

An extreme version of this is the observation that if everyone survives and breeds, there is no fitness advantage to >any gene and the gene frequencies do not change.

Also not necessarily true (because "everyone survives and breeds" is very different from "everyone survives and has an identical number of offspring).

Selection occurs due to differences in relative fitness, which can be calculated as (personal fitness)/(average fitness of everyone). If everyone has 2 offspring, everyone has a relative fitness of 1. If we have a good year, and everyone has 3 offspring, we have the same relative fitness.

You and OP seem to be thinking about situations in which some sort of environmental limits on fitness have disappeared, and now everyone is limited by some trait for which there is less/no variation. That's actually a really special situation. Certainly the statement "Some events reduce variation in relative fitness while also increasing average fitness" is true. But so is the statement "Some events increase variation in relative fitness while also increasing average fitness". Any time conditions increase the fitness of above-average fitness individuals, average population growth increases and selection becomes STRONGER. This is something you would definitely expect in organisms for which individuals actively compete for patchy resources - in a good year, the alpha/owner/whatever of a given territory will get most of the increased value of said patch, and individuals who were without territory may not gain anything at all. (it really depends on the situation, though)

Anyways, average fitness and variation in fitness are two largely independent things. "Rapid population growth", or even "nobody dies before breeding" doesn't inherently mean less selection/slower evolution. Sometimes just the opposite (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_radiation)

comment by CellBioGuy · 2015-01-25T00:26:18.687Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is what I get for replying shortly after waking up while thinking not all that clearly in terms of the rate of extinction of new variants over the rate of appearance of new variants.

comment by c_edwards · 2015-01-29T13:24:20.018Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've definitely made the same mistake before. More than once. Which is why I felt confident enough on this to offer a correction.

comment by skeptical_lurker · 2015-01-20T14:16:20.503Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My claim is that I'd expect an Irishman to be better off eating 10 pounds of potatoes a day than eating at McDonald's every day or eating an all-meat Paleo diet.

Do you mean just potatoes? Doesn't seem to be a very balanced diet. And paleo diets are not all meat - humans are naturally omnivores.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-01-20T14:47:44.175Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you mean just potatoes? Doesn't seem to be a very balanced diet. And paleo diets are not all meat - humans are naturally omnivores.

Agreed that there are more balanced paleo diets- I brought up the all-meat one in the hopes of making it clear I was comparing over-simplified diets to each other. You can be okay on an all-meat diet so long as you avoid rabbit starvation, and similarly I'm under the impression that you can be okay with just potatoes, but an actual diet would look more like 80-90% of calories from potatoes, 10-20% of calories from whatever (vegetables, animals, etc.).