Malaysia’s Leader Stirs Up a Tempest in a Quinoa Bowl


To millions of Malaysians, rice is at the center of most meals. Many start and end their day with it. Rice is the basis of the national dish, nasi lemak, which translates to “fat rice.”

So when Prime Minister Najib Razak said this past week that he preferred quinoa because it was “better than rice,” he stirred up a tempest in a lunch bowl.

Mr. Najib is facing general elections under a cloud of a corruption accusations. He has denied wrongdoing in connection with a graft scandal centering on the 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund.

Though he has been blamed for a higher cost of living since a goods and services tax began in 2015, Mr. Najib is widely expected to win a third term, thanks to a divided opposition, an upbeat economy, rural support and the redrawing of electoral boundaries that critics say favors the government.

But now the prime minister has been labeled out of touch with ordinary Malaysians because of his quinoa remarks, made while he was visiting a hospital on Thursday.

Opponents pounced and other Malaysians took to social media to fret and fume when Mr. Najib was caught saying: “I don’t eat rice. I eat quinoa. My son introduced me to it.”

Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister who is leading an opposition coalition in elections expected by August, took to Twitter to jeer the prime minister and to express his support for Malaysia’s traditional grain.

“I only eat local rice,” Mr. Mahathir tweeted.

Another opposition leader, Lim Kit Siang, said he had never even heard of quinoa.

“I had to ask around whether anyone knew anything about quinoa,” he said, according to the news agency Malaysiakini.

Making rice porridge near Kuala Lampur. Rice is the staple food in Malaysia.CreditDaniel Chan/Associated Press

He noted that quinoa “is about 23 times more expensive than rice, eaten by 30 million Malaysians.”

Mr. Lim added, according to Reuters, “The 14th general election will be quinoa vs. rice; clean government vs. kleptocracy; and Najib vs. people of Malaysia.”

Adults in Malaysia consume, on average, two and a half plates of rice a day, according to a paper on ScienceDirect, a database for scientific and medical research, that explored the challenges of the rice industry in the country.

Rice — the second-most important crop in the world after wheat — was subsidized by the government until 2015.

After social media users took exception to the quinoa remarks, Mr. Najib’s office said on Friday that “certain quarters” had manipulated his comments. Quinoa, his office said, was part of Mr. Najib’s healthful diet and had been recommended by a doctor.

In the question-and-answer session, the prime minister said he had to watch his diet because he did not exercise as frequently as he wanted, according to the Singapore news site The Straits Times.

“I like to eat,” he said. “My problem is I love food — like most Malaysians.”

He explained that quinoa — originally from South America — has less carbohydrates and sugar.

“It is better than rice,” he declared.

Mr. Najib said he was thinking about whether quinoa could be cultivated in Malaysia. “I’m trying to find out whether we can grow quinoa or its equivalent in Malaysia.”

But the grain is more expensive than rice; prices soared between 2008 and 2013 as global demand for the grain increased.

Mr. Najib also said that Malaysians had to live within their means if they wanted to improve their lives. “If you live within your means,” he said, “God willing, you will be all right.”

It’s not the first time Mr. Najib has caused outrage with his culinary comments. He was jeered in 2014 after responding to complaints about the rising cost of living by pointing out that prices had fallen for some popular foods, like water spinach.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Stirring Up Malaysia, With a Serving of Quinoa. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe


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Op-Ed Columnist: A Month Without Sugar

I know that Triscuits and pita bread are our friends. They have only a few ingredients, and no sugar. Wheat Thins and most packaged sandwich breads, on the other hand, have an ingredient list that evokes high school chemistry class, including added sugars.

See if you can stay under a healthy limit.

If you give up sugar for a month, you’ll become part of a growing anti-sugar movement. Research increasingly indicates that an overabundance of simple carbohydrates, and sugar in particular, is the No. 1 problem in modern diets. An aggressive, well-financed campaign by the sugar industry masked this reality for years. Big Sugar instead placed the blame on fats — which seem, after all, as if they should cause obesity.

But fats tend to have more nutritional value than sugar, and sugar is far easier to overeat. Put it this way: Would you find it easier to eat two steaks or two pieces of cake?

Fortunately, the growing understanding of sugar’s dangers has led to a backlash, both in politics and in our diets. Taxes on sweetened drinks — and soda is probably the most efficient delivery system for sugar — have recently passed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland, San Francisco and Boulder, Colo. Mexico and France now have one as well, and Ireland and Britain soon will.

Even before the taxes, Americans were cutting back on sugar. Since 1999, per capita consumption of added sweeteners has fallen about 14 percent, according to the Agriculture Department.

Yet it needs to drop a lot more — another 40 percent or so — to return to a healthy level. “Most public authorities think everybody would be healthier eating less sugar,” says Marion Nestle of N.Y.U. “There is tons of evidence.”

A good long-term limit for most adults is no more than 50 grams (or about 12 teaspoons) of added sugars per day, and closer to 25 is healthier. A single 16-ounce bottle of Coke has 52 grams.

You don’t have to cut out sugar for a month to eat less of it, of course. But it can be difficult to reduce your consumption in scattered little ways. You can usually find an excuse to say yes to the plate of cookies at a friend’s house or the candy jar during a meeting. Eliminating added sugar gives you a new baseline and forces you to make changes. Once you do, you’ll probably decide to keep some of your new habits.

My breakfasts, for example, have completely changed. Over the past few decades, typical breakfasts in this country have become “lower-fat versions of dessert,” as Gary Taubes, the author of a new book, “The Case Against Sugar,” puts it.

Mine used to revolve around cereal and granola, which are almost always sweetened. Now I eat a combination of eggs, nuts, fruit, plain yogurt and some well-spiced vegetables. It feels decadent, yet it’s actually healthier than a big bowl of granola.

How should you define sugar during your month? I recommend the definition used by Whole 30, a popular food regimen (which eliminates many things in addition to sugar). The sugar that occurs naturally in fruit, vegetables and dairy is allowed. “Nobody eats too much of those,” Nestle says, “not with the fiber and vitamins and minerals they have.”

But every single added sweetener is verboten. No sugar, no corn syrup, no maple syrup, no honey, no fancy-pants agave. Read every ingredient list, looking especially for words that end in “-ose.” Don’t trust the Nutrition Facts table next to the ingredient list, because “0 g” of sugar on that list really means “less than 0.5 g.” Get comfortable asking questions in restaurants. And avoid the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas, too.

Part of the goal, remember, is to relearn how a diet that isn’t dominated by sweeteners tastes. I’ve always liked fruit, but I was still pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was during the month. When I needed a midday treat, a Honeycrisp apple, a few Trader Joe’s apricots or a snack bar that fit the no-sugar bill saved me.

Finally, be careful not to violate the spirit of the month while sticking to the formal rules: Have only one small glass of juice a day, and eat very little with added fruit juices.

There were certainly times when I didn’t enjoy the experience. I missed ice cream, chocolate squares, Chinese restaurants and cocktails. But I also knew that I’d get to enjoy them all again.

The unpleasant parts of a month without sugar are temporary, and they’re tolerable. Some of the benefits continue long after the month is over. If you try it and your experience is anything like mine, I predict that your new normal will feel healthier and no less enjoyable than the old.

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The New Health Care: Sorry, There’s Nothing Magical About Breakfast

However, they also found major flaws in the reporting of findings. People were consistently biased in interpreting their results in favor of a relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity. They improperly used causal language to describe their results. They misleadingly cited others’ results. And they also improperly used causal language in citing others’ results. People believe, and want you to believe, that skipping breakfast is bad.

Good reviews of all the observational research note the methodological flaws in this domain, as well as the problems of combining the results of publication-bias-influenced studies into a meta-analysis. The associations should be viewed with skepticism and confirmed with prospective trials.

Few randomized controlled trials exist. Those that do, although methodologically weak like most nutrition studies, don’t support the necessity of breakfast.

Further confusing the field is a 2014 study (with more financial conflicts of interest than I thought possible) that found that getting breakfast skippers to eat breakfast, and getting breakfast eaters to skip breakfast, made no difference with respect to weight loss. But a 1992 trial that did the same thing found that both groups lost weight. A balanced perspective would acknowledge that we have no idea what’s going on.

Many of the studies are funded by the food industry, which has a clear bias. Kellogg funded a highly cited article that found that cereal for breakfast is associated with being thinner. The Quaker Oats Center of Excellence (part of PepsiCo) financed a trial regarding consumption of oatmeal or frosted cornflakes (if you eat it in a highly controlled setting each weekday for four weeks), and found that only the no-breakfast group, which lost weight, experienced an increase in cholesterol.

Many studies focus on children and argue that kids who eat breakfast are also thinner, but this research suffers from the same flaws that the research in adults does.

What about the argument that children who eat breakfast behave and perform better in school? Systematic reviews find that this is often the case. But you have to consider that much of the research is looking at the impact of school breakfast programs.

One of the reasons that breakfast seems to improve children’s learning and progress is that, unfortunately, too many don’t get enough to eat. Hunger affects almost one in seven households in America, or about 15 million children. Many more children get school lunches than school breakfasts.

It’s not hard to imagine that children who are hungry will do better if they are nourished. This isn’t the same, though, as testing whether children who are already well nourished and don’t want breakfast should be forced to eat it.

It has been found that children who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight than children who eat two breakfasts. But that seems to be because children who want more breakfasts are going hungry at home. No child who is hungry should be deprived of breakfast. That’s different than saying that eating breakfast helps you to lose weight.

The bottom line is that the evidence for the importance of breakfast is something of a mess. If you’re hungry, eat it. But don’t feel bad if you’d rather skip it, and don’t listen to those who lecture you. Breakfast has no mystical powers.

Correction: May 26, 2016
An earlier version of this article misstated the result of a study by the Quaker Oats Center of Excellence. It showed that a no-breakfast group had higher cholesterol levels, not that those eating oatmeal or frosted cornflakes had lower cholesterol levels or lower weight.

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Public Health: You’d Be Surprised at How Many Foods Contain Added Sugar


Some pasta sauces have high amounts of added sugar. Credit Todd Heisler/The New York Times

You may know there’s added sugar in your Coke or cookies. But did you know that it’s in your salad dressing, pasta sauce and bread?

The Food and Drug Administration came out Friday with its new template for nutrition labels. One big change was the addition of a line for “added sugar,” to be placed below a line for total sugar. The change is designed to distinguish between sugars that are naturally occurring in a food — like the milk sugar in a plain yogurt — and the sugars that food manufacturers include later to boost flavors — like the “evaporated cane juice” in a Chobani Kids strawberry yogurt.

A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina conducted a detailed survey of the packaged foods and drinks that are purchased in American grocery stores and found that 60 percent of them include some form of added sugar. When they looked at every individual processed food in the store, 68 percent had added sugar. Some of those products are more obvious sugary foods, but not all. The list includes many sauces, soups, fruit juices and even meat products.

You might think it’s easy to figure out whether the food manufacturer added sugar to your food, but it isn’t always so. While some foods include “sugar” in their ingredients, many use different words for products that are nutritionally similar. Most of us have heard of high-fructose corn syrup, a sugar made from processing corn. But there are also things like the “evaporated cane juice” in the yogurt, and “rice syrup” and “flo-malt,” which are less obvious and amount to the same thing.

Words That Really Just Mean ‘Added Sugar’

  • agave juice
  • agave nectar
  • agave sap
  • agave syrup
  • beet sugar
  • brown rice syrup
  • brown sugar
  • cane juice
  • cane sugar
  • cane syrup
  • clintose
  • confectioners powdered sugar
  • confectioners sugar
  • corn glucose syrup
  • corn sweet
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • date sugar
  • dextrose
  • drimol
  • dri mol
  • dri-mol
  • drisweet
  • dri sweet
  • dri-sweet
  • dried raisin sweetener
  • edible lactose
  • flo malt
  • flo-malt
  • flomalt
  • fructose
  • fructose sweetener
  • glaze and icing sugar
  • glaze icing sugar
  • golden syrup
  • gomme
  • granular sweetener
  • granulated sugar
  • hi-fructose corn syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • honibake
  • honi bake
  • honi-bake
  • honi flake
  • honi-flake
  • invert sugar
  • inverted sugar
  • isoglucose
  • isomaltulose
  • kona ame
  • kona-ame
  • lactose
  • liquid sweetener
  • malt
  • malt sweetener
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • maple
  • maple sugar
  • maple syrup
  • mizu ame
  • mizu-ame
  • mizuame
  • molasses
  • nulomoline
  • powdered sugar
  • rice syrup
  • sorghum
  • sorghum syrup
  • starch sweetener
  • sucanat
  • sucrose
  • sucrovert
  • sugar beet
  • sugar invert
  • sweet n neat
  • table sugar
  • treacle
  • trehalose
  • tru sweet
  • turbinado sugar
  • versatose

Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina, and one of the paper’s authors, said that the wide variety of sugars is not always meant to confound consumers. Instead, he said, the many sugar types are chosen by food scientists to give their products the best flavor and texture. Some sugars are better for baked goods, while others are better in soft drinks. Some are also cheaper than others. Sugar tariffs and import laws make it expensive to bring in too much foreign sugar. But not all of the sugar formulations count toward the laws’ quotas.

There’s also the matter of fruit juice concentrates, which are juices that have been stripped of nearly everything but sugar and evaporated. A lot of seemingly natural foods include ingredients like “apple juice concentrate.” That’s sugar. That will be a lot clearer when the labels are updated.

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The New Health Care: A Study on Fats That Doesn’t Fit the Story Line

The Minnesota Coronary Experiment was a well-designed study that was conducted in one nursing home and six state mental hospitals from 1968 to 1973. More than 9,400 men and women, ages 20 to 97, participated. Data on serum cholesterol were available on more than 2,300 participants who were on the study diets for more than a year.

At baseline, participants were getting about 18.5 percent of their calories from saturated fat, and about 3.8 percent from unsaturated fats. The intervention diet was considered a more “heart healthy” one. It encouraged a reduction in the amount of calories from saturated fats (like animal fats and butter) and more from unsaturated fats, particularly linoleic acids (like corn oil). The intervention diet lowered the percent of calories from saturated fats to 9.2 percent, and raised the percent from unsaturated fats to 13.2 percent.

The average follow-up for these participants was just under three years. In that time, the total serum cholesterol dropped significantly more in those on the intervention diet (-31.2 mg/dL) than in those on the control diet (-5 mg/dL).

There was, however, no decreased risk of death. If anything, there seemed to be an increased mortality rate in those on the “heart healthy” diet, particularly among those 65 years and older. More concerning, those who had the greater reduction in serum cholesterol had a higher rate of death. A 30mg/dL decrease in serum cholesterol was associated with a 22 percent increase in the risk of death from any cause, even after adjusting for baseline cholesterol, age, sex, adherence to the diet, body mass and blood pressure.

Of course, this is only one study. It involved only institutionalized patients. Only about a quarter of the participants followed the diet for more than a year. The diets don’t necessarily look like what people really ate, then or now. But this is still a large, randomized controlled trial, and it’s hard to imagine we wouldn’t at least discuss it widely.

Moreover, the researchers conducted a meta-analysis of all studies that looked at this question. Analyzed together, they still found that more people died on the linoleic-acid-rich diets, although the results were not statistically significant. Even in a sensitivity analysis, which included more studies, no mortality benefit could be found with a diet lower in saturated fats.

It’s important to note that other meta-analyses both support and dispute this. A 2010 study argued that substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats would reduce the rates of coronary heart disease. So did a 2015 Cochrane review. A 2014 study in Annals of Internal Medicine, though, showed the opposite.

People’s reactions to this news have been much as you’d expect. Supporters of a diet low in saturated fat have called the new study an “interesting historical footnote that has no relevance to current dietary recommendations.” Others have said that if this research had been published when the study was over, “it might have changed the trajectory of diet-heart research and recommendations.”

This isn’t the first time that data from long ago have run against current recommendations. In 2013, an analysis was published of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study, a randomized controlled trial of a similar nature performed in men with a recent heart attack or angina. Although the study was done from 1966 to 1973, results weren’t available publicly until three years ago. It, too, found that a diet higher in unsaturated fats led to a higher rate of death from heart disease.

Why wasn’t this research published decades ago? It’s possible that modern computer technology allows us to do analyses that couldn’t be performed then. It’s possible that researchers tried, but were unable to get the results published.

But it’s also possible that these results were marginalized because they didn’t fit with what was considered to be “truth” at the time. The two principal investigators on the Minnesota study were Ivan Frantz and Ancel Keys, the latter of whom may be the most influential scientist in promoting saturated fat as the enemy of heart health. (Mr. Keys died in 2004.)

I’m not suggesting anything sinister. I’m sure that both these scientists absolutely believed that their prior epidemiologic work established that diets lower in saturated fat led to lower cholesterol levels and better health. Research consistently confirmed the former. When that lower cholesterol didn’t translate into actual outcomes like lower mortality, though, they must have been baffled.

Like others today, they may have been able to rationalize the result away and decide that it “has no relevance.” Unfortunately, other, similar controlled trials seem to support the notion that the case against saturated fat isn’t as robust as many think.

We all must be concerned about publication bias, which occurs when results of published studies are systematically different from results of unpublished studies. Research has shown that studies with statistically significant results are more likely to be published than those without. Studies with a low-priority topic or finding may be less likely to be published.

One of the reasons that epidemiologic evidence often leads us to conclusions that can’t be supported is likely publication bias. Studies that find significant associations between foods (like meat) and scary findings (like cancer) are more likely to be published than those that don’t find those associations. When controlled trials are finally done, though, the scary results often can’t be replicated.

But the most common reason research isn’t published is because researchers don’t write it up and submit it. That could be because they think it won’t be accepted. It could also be because they don’t believe the results. In the charged environment of nutrition research, when people’s careers are built on certain hypotheses, it’s hard not to imagine our biases creeping into play.

Unfortunately, the health of Americans and others is at stake. Should we be eating more polyunsaturated fats? Should we be avoiding saturated fats? The honest answer is: I don’t know. Given my review of the evidence, I stand by my previous recommendations, which essentially focus more on foods and less on nutrients. I think the state of nutrition research in general is shockingly flawed.

It’s hard enough to debate the data we can see. Knowing there’s probably data out there that people haven’t shared makes everything much, much harder.

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The Future Issue: You, Only Better

Asprey says he finally lost faith in Western medicine at 23, when a doctor told him that vitamin C could kill him. It turns out this isn’t true, but for Asprey it was the last straw. As a boy, he suffered from inexplicable rashes and alarming, recurring nosebleeds. He says he also felt a mental sluggishness that never seemed to recede. This frightened him, especially as he entered college. By the time he was 22, he weighed 300 pounds. He bought disability insurance when he was about 25 because he was worried that there would come a day when he wouldn’t have enough energy to work.

His poor health didn’t hold back his career. Asprey rose through a series of high-profile positions at several successful technology companies in the ’90s and ’00s. Still, he felt restless and unhappy. In 1995, determined to get his weight under control, he spent 18 months on a strict diet and exercised six days a week. He got stronger, but lost little fat. And the food restrictions made him even more miserable.


Asprey built on a personal obsession with tracking his own food intake and health data to create a multimillion-dollar company selling the Bulletproof Diet, which includes coffee spiked with butter and oil. Credit Jeff Minton for The New York Times

In the ’90s, Asprey studied a form of information management called a decision support system at California State University, Stanislaus. Such systems use artificial intelligence to analyze data and present it so users can more easily make difficult business decisions. Asprey decided to apply similar tactics to his health. He began closely tracking his food intake alongside his energy levels, mood, sleep and physical activity to create a data set so he could see what patterns emerged — which inputs correlated with positive outcomes and which didn’t.

After his failed low-calorie diet, he tried others: the Zone, Atkins, raw veganism, high-protein and intermittent fasting. At the same time, he went to extreme lengths to collect additional data on his body’s performance. He had adrenal testing done to better understand how his hormones worked; extensive blood work let him monitor his glucose and albumin levels. He got DNA tests to look for genes that might cause immuno­deficiency and sent out samples of his feces to learn about the microbes in his digestive tract. He bought an electroencepha­logram, or EEG machine, to monitor his brain waves. Once, in 2006, hoping to treat gut problems, he placed an order online for a shipment of parasites called porcine whipworm. The eggs arrived from Thailand a few days later in a saline solution. He drank the whole thing hoping they would trigger an anti-inflammatory reaction in his gut. They didn’t.

In all, Asprey says, he has spent more than $300,000 over 20 years on this self-funded research. He talks about himself almost as a lab rat, or as a monkey that was shot into space and returned intact, bearing data to share. But, with his background in computer science, he also fancies himself a hacker — someone who endlessly manipulates a complex system, troubleshooting and looking for vulnerabilities to exploit.

He eventually developed his dietary guidelines, which emphasize that half the day’s calories should come from healthy fats like coconut oil and avocados. Asprey believes these provide more energy and satiation than carbohydrates. The rest is a mix of organic proteins and vegetables. It is both strict and decadent. Sugar (including fruit), grains, legumes and pasteurized dairy are to be avoided, as are many trendy health food items like raw kale and nut milks, which Asprey says contain toxins. The diet is ketogenic; it forces the body to burn fat, instead of carbohydrates and glucose, for energy.

The centerpiece of the Bulletproof Diet — and the business — is Bulletproof Coffee: a blend of freshly brewed coffee, the Brain Octane oil and grass-fed butter, consumed at the beginning of each day to boost energy and curb hunger. It comes with a remarkable patter. In 2004, as part of his campaign of self-improvement, Asprey went to Tibet to study meditation. On a trek in the Himalayas, he began to feel the effects of altitude sickness. At a local guesthouse, he was served a cup of tea mixed with yak butter, which he found to be revitalizing and energizing. After returning home, he tried to make his own version, and eventually landed on the recipe he sells today — almost.

Asprey and Bulletproof employees are fond of asking whether you’ve had ‘‘real’’ Bulletproof Coffee — meaning not made with store-bought butter and coconut oil in your kitchen, but with their branded products. Asprey insists that most American coffee is riddled with a fungus that causes a post-consumption crash. He is especially hung up on mold toxins, or mycotoxins, which he believes were responsible for the health conditions that afflicted him while growing up. The mold in American coffee, he says, leads to illnesses, inflammation and weight gain. Asprey sells his own specially treated mold-free coffee for as much as $18.95 a pound online and at the shop. Next month, he is releasing a Bulletproof cookbook.

Despite some superficial signs of age, Asprey’s face is unlined, and after a while his self-assuredness and unflinching confidence in his methodology becomes contagious. Listening to his story, I stopped questioning his logic. I found myself growing impatient as he described the benefits of his medicine cabinet of ‘‘brain nutrients,’’ and asked for some — ‘‘I feel like I need them,’’ I said. An assistant brought in freshly blended cups of Bulletproof Coffee in Bulletproof-branded stainless-steel travel mugs. The fattiness of the butter and oil lent the coffee a mouth feel similar to Guinness. After a few sips, I started to feel giddy, and almost high — as if I could run a marathon and deliver a keynote lecture and do my taxes, all at once.


Credit Photo illustration by Andrew B. Myers. Prop styling by Sonia Rentsch.

The next morning, I arrived at the Pasadena Convention Center for the first day of the Bulletproof Biohacking conference. Inside, the crowd was almost comically Southern Californian. The bodies were firm, the jawlines sharp. The women were no strangers to cosmetic enhancement, and most of the men wore aggressively sculpted updos or low-slung man buns. Five-toe Vibram shoes and neoprene yoga pants were the popular pan-gender wardrobe choices. This was the vanguard of the quantified-consumer class — health-conscious Angelenos, the same types who were early adopters of the Master Cleanse and green juices.

The event was billed as a cutting-edge biohacking event, but it was tame compared with what goes on at the fringes of this community. Seven months earlier and about two hours away, in Tehachapi, a much more extreme clique of biohackers gathered to share the recent discoveries from their world at a gathering called GrindFest. These are the real transhumanists, the kind of people who implant magnets under their skin and embed microchips in their bodies to replace key cards. Asprey’s ethos is not so dissimilar — he wants to push humanity past its biological limits — but his sell is a little more palatable: We need only think of our bodies as hardware in order to improve upon them.

Little of the technology on display at the Bulletproof convention was new. No one was being implanted or fused with anything. They preferred to upgrade the old-fashioned way, with a miracle drug or pill or elixir that would transform them from the inside out, and there was no shortage of products that promised to do so. The Bulletproof Coffee was abundant, as were the Bulletproof-branded collagen bars, grass-fed meat jerky and small paper cups of steaming, earthy bone broth. There were samples of Fat Water, a new Bulletproof sports drink infused with a certain fatty acid that Asprey believes the body processes into energy more efficiently than it does glucose. There were Bulletproof-branded supplements, like glutathione, an antioxidant that Asprey says helps detoxify the body. I narrowly missed the cricket brownies smeared with colostrum icing — the crowd descended on them as soon as they were set out. I watched a woman drip a tincture made from deer antlers on the eager tongue of a slim and handsome attendee. I rolled my eyes at a hypnotist putting a woman into a trance, and then, hours later, the same hypnotist talked me into taking an injection of vitamins labeled simply a ‘‘shine shot.’’ (He had taken one, too.)

There are more than a few nutritionists who are dubious of Asprey’s bold claims. It’s hard not to be — there’s little research outside his own that backs them up. Asprey’s diet advises against calorie counting. It is also high in fat. Marion Nestle, an author and professor of nutrition and public health at New York University, is among those skeptical of what Asprey is selling. ‘‘I don’t know any diet, exercise or healthful-living shortcuts,’’ she wrote in an emailed exchange. ‘‘We all want to live forever, and if changing one thing in our diets can do that, we can all hope. The success of the dietary-supplement industry is best explained by wish-fulfillment fantasies.’’

On the day before the conference began, I asked Asprey about his childhood. He quickly rattled off a few sentences about his parents. They worked at Sandia National Laboratories, which taught him the value of scientific inquiry. That wasn’t what I had meant. Were his parents particularly health-oriented? Or did he grow up eating takeout and frozen meals? He gave a dismissive shrug. ‘‘My parents gave me squeeze margarine and bran muffins because that’s what the magazines said,’’ he said. He paused for a moment, reconsidering. ‘‘They did their best.’’

During the ’80s, when Asprey was a kid, eating bran muffins was the fad diet of the day — that, and a little Jazzercise, and you’d be set. Eventually, people came to recognize that the benefits of the fiber were canceled out by the heavy ca­loric load and sugars. Margarine was also peaking in popularity around that time, seen then as a sensible alternative to butter. But since then, nutritionists have questioned the wisdom of the low-fat, high-carb diet that Americans have been steered toward for years. Asprey’s diet is, for all its technological fervor, a refutation of the last generation’s hollow wisdom. In its avoidance of complex carbohydrates and its pseudoscientific rhetoric, it’s not so dissimilar from the Paleo diet — along with a bunch of supplements that would befuddle a cave man, or even a New Yorker.

My own parents were trim and active; they were also Southern, which meant that butter-and-sugar sandwiches and cheese grits were staples of our diet. I was a heavy teenager, with more acne and eczema than I’d like to remember, and it wasn’t until my 20s that I understood the role dietary habits played in that. Since then, I’ve endlessly experimented with raw diets, green juices, Paleo-inspired meal plans and various cultish boutique fitness classes, trying to figure out what works best to maintain a healthy weight. I still don’t have a definitive answer. Fad diets persist because they are seductive, and offer the promise of unlocking a better you by following a few simple rules. And Asprey’s pitch couldn’t be more epistemologically fashionable: A/B testing, hacking and data analysis have already provided us with many novel insights and conveniences.

Asprey believes that nutrition should be as effortless as everything else in our technology-enhanced existence — why shouldn’t it be? His background is in information management, and that is what he is skilled at: distilling oceanic volumes of information for easy consumption and decision-making. The allure of the Bulletproof lifestyle is that you can outsource that work. ‘‘That fundamental laziness, where I want everything to be easier, is part of what drives me,’’ he told me that first day. ‘‘I don’t want to do more work than is necessary to do great things. I don’t see why anyone should do more work than is necessary to do great things.’’

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The New Health Care: Simple Rules for Healthy Eating

1b. Eat lightly processed foods less often. You’re not going to make everything yourself. Pasta, for instance, is going to be bought already prepared. You’re not going to grind your own flour or extract your own oil. These are meant to be eaten along with unprocessed foods, but try to eat less of them.

1c. Eat heavily processed foods even less often. There’s little high-quality evidence that even the most processed foods are dangerous. But keep your consumption of them to a minimum, because they can make it too easy to stuff in calories. Such foods include bread, chips, cookies and cereals. In epidemiologic studies, heavily processed meats are often associated with worse health outcomes, but that evidence should be taken with a grain of salt (not literally), as I’ve written about before.

2. Eat as much home-cooked food as possible, which should be prepared according to Rule 1. Eating at home allows you to avoid processed ingredients more easily. It allows you full control over what you eat, and allows you to choose the flavors you prefer. You’re much less likely to stuff yourself silly if you eat home-cooked food. I’m not saying this is easy. Behavioral change takes repetition and practice. It also, unfortunately, takes time.


The green market in Union Square in New York in September 2014. Foods that have not undergone lots of processing — fresh tomatoes, for example — should be the mainstay of a healthy diet. Credit Edwin J. Torres for The New York Times

3. Use salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed in food preparation. Things like salt and fat aren’t the enemy. They are often necessary in the preparation of tasty, satisfying food. The key here is moderation. Use what you need. Seasoning is often what makes vegetables taste good. Don’t be afraid of them, but don’t go crazy with them either.

4. When you do eat out, try to eat at restaurants that follow the same rules. Ideally, you should eat at restaurants that are creating all of their items from completely unprocessed foods. Lots and lots of restaurants do. Follow Rule 1 even while out to dinner. Some processing is going to be fine, but try to keep it to a minimum.

5. Drink mostly water, but some alcohol, coffee and other beverages are fine. As I’ve pointed out before, you can find a study to show that everything either prevents or causes cancer — alcohol and coffee included. But my take is that the preponderance of evidence supports the inclusion of a moderate consumption of most beverages.

6. Treat all beverages with calories in them as you would alcohol. This includes every drink with calories, including milk. They’re fine in moderation, but keep them to a minimum. You can have them because you like them, but you shouldn’t consume them as if you need them.

7. Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible. This has benefits even outside those of nutrition. It will make you more likely to cook. It will most likely make you eat more slowly. It will also make you happy.

I’ve avoided treating any food like the devil. Many nutrition experts do, and it may turn out they’re right, but at this point I think the jury is still out. I’ve therefore tried not to tell you to avoid anything completely. My experience tells me that total abstinence rarely works, although anecdotes exist to support that practice. I think you’ll find that many other diets and recommendations work under these rules. These are much more flexible and, I hope, reasonable than what some might prescribe.

All of these rules are subtly trying to get you to be more conscious of what you’re eating. It’s far too easy these days to consume more than you think you are, or more than you really need, especially when eating out. I’ve found that it’s impossible to tell any one person how much they should be eating. People have varying requirements, and it’s important for all of them to listen to their bodies to know when they should eat, and when they should stop.

One other thing: Don’t judge what others eat. One of my closest friends has been avoiding carbohydrates for months, and has seen remarkable results. Another was a pescatarian — a person whose only meat dishes are fish — for a year and was very happy with that. I, on the other hand, avoid no food groups in particular.

People are very different. Some may have real problems consuming even the smallest amount of carbohydrates. Others may be intolerant of certain foods because of allergies or sensitivities. It will most likely take a bit of experimentation, on an individual level, to find the actual diet within these recommendations that works for you. But the above rules should allow for a wide variety of foods and for remaining healthy. At least, I hope so.

I’m curious what readers think of these. I welcome your comments to this column, as well as tweets to me in response.

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