Which Of These Birds Spends More Time Aloft Than Any Other?

Which of these bird species spends more time aloft than any other?

1. Wandering Albatross
2. Common Swift
3. Great Frigatebird
4. California Condor

The answer is the common swift:

Common swift skimming a pond for a drink. Audobon says “most birds can’t pull off a daredevil, in-flight drink because they just aren’t built for it.”

Here’s what How-To Geek says:

When you think of a bird that spends its life on the wing, it would be easy to focus on huge birds, like the wandering albatross, that can effortlessly glide for several hours without so much as a pump of their broad wings. The reality, however, is quite different: the bird that spends most of its life and certainly the longest spans of time aloft is the common swift.

Except for their time nesting to raise a new brood, common swifts spend practically every moment of their lives in the air. They eat insects they catch during flight, drink moisture that condenses on their wing feathers, they even mate and sleep (bursts of microsleep), all while in the air. In fact, researchers attached tiny data trackers to groups of swifts and found that many of them stayed aloft for upwards of ten months at a time, typically only stopping to roost because extreme weather briefly grounded them.

Not only do they spend nearly their entire lives aloft, but they are quite speedy — their very name, swift, is well earned as they have a maximum horizontal flying speed of 69 miles per hour (111.6 kilometers per hour), and over the course of their lives, they can easily cover millions of miles in flight.

I guessed the albatross. I never would have thought a little swift. Ten months in the air!

BROAD Study: Randomized Controlled Trial Using Whole Food Plant-Based Diet

A diet consisting primarily of starchy foods, including those pictured, was shown to reduce weight, BMI, waist circumference, cholesterol, and other markers of health.

This study is a big deal. It shows that high-carb, plant-based diets work out in the real world where people are pressed for time, don’t have a lot of money* or cooking expertise, don’t want to feel hungry or be denied in other ways:

The BROAD Study: A Randomised Controlled Trial Using A Whole Food Plant-Based (WFPB) Diet In The Community For Obesity, Ischaemic Heart Disease Or Diabetes, Nutrition and Diabetes, 20 March 2017

Conclusions: This programme led to significant improvements in BMI, cholesterol and other risk factors. To the best of our knowledge, this research has achieved greater weight loss at 6 and 12 months than any other trial that does not limit energy intake or mandate regular exercise.

I want to repeat that … the diet did not limit calories. No weighing or measuring or fretting over serving sizes. Participants ate until they were satisfied (ad libitum).

The key difference between this trial and other approaches to weight loss was that participants were informed to eat the WFPB diet ad libitum and to focus efforts on diet, rather than increasing exercise. The mechanism for this is likely the reduction in the energy density of the food consumed (lower fat, higher water and fibre).

They lost weight (mean weight loss at 6 months was 26 lbs, dropped from 209 to 183 lbs), lowered their BMI and waist circumference, lowered their cholesterol (from 209 to 174 mg/dl in 3 months), lowered their blood glucose. How can this not be a good diet?

This is what they were eating:

Intervention participants followed a low-fat plant-based diet (approximately 7–15% total energy from fat). We chose a low-fat iteration of the plant-based diet as this has been shown with previous research to achieve optimal outcomes, especially for heart disease and weight loss. This dietary approach included whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits. Participants were advised to eat until satiation. We placed no restriction on total energy intake. Participants were asked to not count calories. We provided a ‘traffic-light’ diet chart to participants outlining which foods to consume, limit or avoid (Supplementary Table S1). We encouraged starches such as potatoes, sweet potato, bread, cereals and pasta to satisfy the appetite. Participants were asked to avoid refined oils (e.g. olive or coconut oil) and animal products (meat, fish, eggs and dairy products). We discouraged high-fat plant foods such as nuts and avocados, and highly processed foods. We encouraged participants to minimise sugar, salt and caffeinated beverages. We provided 50 μg daily vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) supplements.

Here’s their Supplementary Table S1. It’s just a guide, not a dictum. Click to enlarge:

Since all of these participants were overweight, researchers restricted nuts and seeds. Whole nuts and seeds, as Dr. McDougall explains in his books, can be consumed if weight loss is not a goal. I personally think that a diet with nuts and seeds is better than a diet without them.

In the discussion section, they compared their intervention (WFPB diet) to other interventions, including very-low-calorie diets, gastric bypass surgeries, and low-carb diets. This is what they said about low-carb diets:

However, studies on the effects of low-carbohydrate diets have shown higher rates of all-cause mortality, decreased peripheral flow-mediated dilation, worsening of coronary artery disease, and increased rates of constipation, headache, halitosis, muscle cramps, general weakness and rash.

I keep saying … low carb diets may help you lose weight, but you mortgage your health doing it.

Eat starch. Eat carbs. You’ll lose weight. You’ll lose your diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol meds. You’ll lower your risk for cancer. You’ll feel better. The thing people do to muck this up is  eat the carbs with fat and animal food. Totally negates the benefit, as I’ve discussed in my various “meat-and-potatoes” posts.

* “The intervention involved patients from a group general practice in Gisborne, the region with New Zealand’s highest rates of socioeconomic deprivation, obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

Tsimane Study In The Lancet

Here’s the actual study behind my post about the Tsimane. I meant to include it there, but it’s here now:

Coronary Atherosclerosis In Indigenous South American Tsimane: A Cross-sectional Cohort Study, The Lancet, 17 March 2017

From their abstract:

Despite a high infectious inflammatory burden, the Tsimane, a forager-horticulturalist population of the Bolivian Amazon with few coronary artery disease risk factors, have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population recorded to date.

These findings suggest that coronary atherosclerosis can be avoided in most people by achieving a lifetime with very low LDL, low blood pressure, low glucose, normal body-mass index, no smoking, and plenty of physical activity. The relative contributions of each are still to be determined.

I like this photograph of a Tsimane village, from Sci-News, who also said:

Their diet is largely carbohydrate-based (72%) and includes non-processed carbohydrates which are high in fiber such as rice, plantain, manioc, corn, nuts and fruits.

People Eating Gluten-Free Diets Shown To Have Higher Levels Of Arsenic And Mercury In Their Tissues

I knew this would be a problem:

The Unintended Consequences Of A Gluten-Free Diet, Epidemiology, online 15 March 2017

Reseachers found higher levels of arsenic and mercury in the urine and blood, respectively, of participants eating a gluten-free diet compared to non-gluten-free controls.

To our knowledge, this is the first analysis to suggest that Americans on gluten-free diets may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic and mercury.


Rice may be contributing to the observed higher concentrations of metal biomarkers among those on a gluten-free diet as the primary substitute grain in gluten-free products.

This is from Howard G. Smith MD at Business Insider:

Studies have shown that rice accumulates these toxic metals from fertilizers, pesticides, the soil, the rocks and the water from which it is grown.

Although it is a deadly poison in huge quantities, arsenic in small quantities can still increase the risk of bladder, lung, and skin cancers, as well as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Mercury, on the other hand, produces neurological, psychological, and hearing issues.

Air pollution is also contributing. Coal-fired power plants are the biggest industrial emitters of arsenic and mercury … which fall onto soil and into the flooded paddies in which rice is grown. Even organic rice has high levels of arsenic. Fixing this problem means cleaning the air, which means regulating power plants, which is done in part by the EPA, which is an agency being defunded by the current administration.

Related (Thanks to Shaun):
Low Gluten Diets May Be Associated With Higher Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes, American Heart Association Meeting, Presentation 11, 9 March 2017

Tsimane, Modern-Day Hunter-Gatherers, Are Essentially Vegetarians With “Lowest Rates Of Heart Disease Ever Measured”

A Tsimane man transports bananas in La Embocada town, Bolivia on Sept. 16, 2011. David Mercado, Reuters.

After reading the title of this article…

These People Eat Monkeys And Piranhas. They Also Have The Lowest Rates Of Heart Disease Ever Measured, Washington Post, 17 March 2017

… and looking at the accompanying photograph of a father and son hunting, and reading the first paragraph describing daily meals of monkey, hog, fish, and other animals, you may come away thinking this modern-day group of hunter-gatherers had low rates of heart disease because of a meat-rich diet. But read this:

By calorie count, about 14% of the Tsimane diet is protein, 14% is fat and 72% is carbohydrate. (By contrast, the typical U.S. adult diets has more fat — about 16% protein, 33% fat and 51% carbohydrate.)

So, 72% of 1800 calories (as an example) is 1296 calories or about 324 grams of carbs a day. That is a lot of carbohydrate. Compare that to the less than 30 grams carb/day in the diet I just posted about, the one that says it reverses diabetes.

The Tsimane’s macronutrient breakdown is similar to that of the Cuban’s during their Special Period (I just reposted it.) during which their rates of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer dropped. Cubans were eating 77% carb and 13% fat, a diet researchers described as “more vegan in character.”

Another news outlet, NBC, decribed the Tsimane’s diet, more appropriately I think, as consisting of mostly starches (“filling up on starchy food”):

Their staple foods are home-grown rice, plantains and corn. If they want meat, they go catch it.

Large populations throughout millennia have subsisted on starches, and have achieved health and longevity because of it. Whether it’s the diets of native Africans (corn meal), Okinawans (sweet potatoes and rice), Cubans (rice and beans), or Tsimanes (rice, plantains, corn), “filling up on starchy food” seems like some good diet advice.

Tsimane Study In The Lancet

A Population-Wide Experiment In Cuba In The Early 1990s Slashed Rates Of Diabetes, Heart Disease

I posted about the Cubans’ Special Period back in 2013. This is a revisit of that post:

What if we could conduct a big experiment, put everyone in the country on a diet higher in carbohydrates, lots of fruits, vegetables, starches, and other plant foods, and lower in animal products, fat, and protein. Have them be more active. Have them eat less. Would they lose weight? Would it lower their risks for diabetes, heart disease, cancer?

Gary Taubes and others in the low-carb community may argue that it wouldn’t. In his book, “Good Calories, Bad Calories,” Taubes said:

“Any enforced decrease in intake will have to induce a compensatory decrease in expenditure – a slowing of the metabolism and/or a reduction in physical activity.”

“Neither eating less nor exercising more will lead to long-term weight loss, as the body naturally compensates.”

“Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating, and not sedentary behavior.”

“Expending more energy than we consume does not lead to long-term weight loss; it leads to hunger.”

A situation much like I described at the beginning of this post came to pass in Cuba in the early 1990s. The Soviet Union had just dissolved and Cuba was left without its major trading partner. It entered a time of economic hardship known as the Special Period.

“Manuel Franco describes the Special Period as “the first, and probably the only, natural experiment, born of unfortunate circumstances, where large effects on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality have been related to sustained population-wide weight loss as a result of increased physical activity and reduced caloric intake”.

The people of the island by necessity adopted diets higher in fiber, fresh produce, and ultimately more vegan in character.”

The latest study by Franco continues to support this:

Population-Wide Weight Loss And Regain In Relation To Diabetes Burden And Cardiovascular Mortality In Cuba 1980-2010: Repeated Cross Sectional Surveys And Ecological Comparison Of Secular Trends, British Medical Journal, April 2013

His video abstract:

From his study:

“Severe shortages of food and gas resulted in a widespread decline in dietary energy intake and increase in energy expenditure (mainly through walking and cycling as alternatives to mechanised transportation). … The largest effect of this economic crisis occurred over a period of about five years [1991-95, the “special period”], resulting in an average weight loss of 4-5 kg [9-11 lb] across the adult population.”

“We found that a population-wide loss of 4-5 kg in weight in a relatively healthy population was accompanied by diabetes mortality falling by half and mortality from coronary heart disease falling by a third. Furthermore, a rebound in body weight was associated with an increased diabetes incidence and mortality.”


Overall diabetes incidence decreased by 53% from its peak in the pre-crisis years (1986) to its lowest point after the crisis (1996 and 1997). Subsequently, incidence rose by 140% from 1996 to 2009.”

In an accompanying editorial, Walter Willett of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston wrote that the findings:

“… add powerful evidence that a reduction in overweight and obesity would have major population-wide benefits. To achieve this is perhaps the major public health and societal challenge of the century.”

What were Cubans eating? From The Atlantic:

“It wasn’t only the amount of food that Cubans ate that changed, but also what they ate. They became virtual vegans overnight, as meat and dairy products all but vanished from the marketplace. … Protein consumption dropped by 40%.* People were forced to depend on what they could grow, catch, and pick for themselves – including lots of high-fiber fresh produce, and fruits, added to the increasingly hard-to-come-by staples of beans, corn, and rice.”

* “Diet composition in Cuba also changed during the study period. By 1993, carbohydrate, fat, and protein contributed 77 percent, 13 percent, and 10 percent of total energy, respectively, whereas in 1980 their respective contributions were 65 percent, 20 percent, and 15 percent. The primary sources of energy during the crisis were sugar cane and rice.”
Impact of Energy Intake, Physical Activity, and Population-wide Weight Loss on Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes Mortality in Cuba, 1980–2005, American Journal of Epidemiology, 2007


The experience in Cuba challenges many of Gary Taubes’ claims:

  • He says that when you eat less, you will be less physically active (“Any enforced decrease in intake will have to induce a compensatory decrease in expenditure – a slowing of the metabolism and/or a reduction in physical activity.”) Cubans ate less and were more physically active.
  • He says eating less will not lead to weight loss. Cubans ate less and lost weight.
  • He says exercising more will not lead to weight loss. Cubans exercised more and lost weight.
  • He says eating more carbohydrates leads to weight gain, and “the fewer carbohydrates we consume, the leaner we will be.” Cubans ate more carbohydrates and lost weight.
  • He says carbohydrates are responsible for diabetes and heart disease. Cubans ate more carbohydrates (mostly rice and sugar) and had much lower rates, as well as deaths from, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. They had higher rates, and deaths from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer when they ate fewer carbohydrates and more protein.

So, Cubans ate less, ate more of a vegan diet, and were more physically active … and their rates of chronic disease dropped precipitously. I think there’s a lesson there.

Modest Population-Wide Weight Loss Could Result In Dramatic Reductions In The Burden Of Type 2 Diabetes And Cardiovascular Disease, News release from BMJ, April 2013
How Cubans’ Health Improved When Their Economy Collapsed, The Atlantic, 18 April 2013

Another “Low-Carb Diet For Diabetes” Study: Don’t Be Fooled

I feel bad for people who believe this study. It promotes a low-carb diet for “reversing” diabetes:

A Novel Intervention Including Individualized Nutritional Recommendations Reduces Hemoglobin A1c Level, Medication Use, and Weight in Type 2 Diabetes, JMIR Diabetes, January-June 2017

A lot of people are latching on to it, as evidenced by the traction of these tweets by low-carb “diet doctors”:

First of all, it appears in an “eHealth publication.” That’s suspicious. If it truly reverses diabetes, if it’s helpful and not harmful, why not get it published in a more mainstream respected diabetes publication, like Diabetes Care? Dr. Barnard’s famous study, A Low-Fat Vegan Diet Improves Glycemic Control and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Randomized Clinical Trial in Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes, was published in Diabetes Care.

The diet they’re promoting is high in protein, “targeted to a level of 1.5 g per kg body weight.” That’s almost twice the RDA of 0.8 g/kg. And since it’s a low-carb diet (actually very low-carb, less than 30 grams of carb a day, so little that it forces the body to generate ketones for energy), that protein isn’t coming from plants, like whole grains and beans, because they supply too much carb. It’s coming from animal food. And since it’s a high-fat diet, it’s coming from fatty animal food. It’s also very low in fiber.

This diet – high animal protein, low fiber, high fat, high saturated fat – is a recipe for poor health. The World Health Organization says that meat causes cancer:

  • Red meat was classified as Group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans
  • Processed meat was classified as Group 1, carcinogenic to humans

Lots of meat also increases your renal acid load, which is hard on the kidneys. It draws calcium and other minerals from bone to buffer acids entering bloodstream, so it’s hard on the skeleton. It contributes to systemic inflammation. It has a high pesticide load, since pesticides bioaccumulate in fatty animal flesh. It promotes irregularity. It requires supplements for plant-based nutrients that are missing, like vitamin C and B-vitamins.

All these problems I’ve written about over the years. Yes, it may help you lose weight, but you mortgage your health doing so. Don’t be fooled.