Where We Are and Where We’re Going

The last 2 weeks I’ve blogged mainly about what shouldn’t be, or limited, in a healthy diet and how to structure your diet to start lessening the toxins. Eliminating the most toxic aspects of a modern diet goes a long way towards reaching health goals, whether it be weight-loss or general, overall health. So let’s review:

Stop Drinking your Calories. Sodas, canned and bottled juices and other drinks usually are full of sugar and empty calories. Even the no calorie versions of these products have been show to be problematic.

Action: Eliminate or drastically reduce all sodas, juices, drinks, etc. Replace with water, tea and coffee.

Hitting the Reset Button Transitioning from a typical modern diet of processed foods and drinks is usually best performed by “resetting” the body. Using a low carb or cyclical low carb approach for a couple of weeks or longer- depending on goals- the body “learns” how to properly run on fat(dietary and body fat) and glucose regulation(blood sugar) is improved.

Actions:  If you are trying to lose weight, 1)I highly recommend eating 50-70g of carbohydrates or less a day for at least 2 weeks. Those carbs should be gotten from green vegetables and 2-3 pieces of fruit a day. The rest of the calories should be gotten from a moderate amount of protein and mostly good fat.  2)After 2 weeks, those who need to lose a lot of weight can continue low carb(I do recommend throwing in a starchy vegetable or rice every 2-3 days at dinner). Others can start eating carbs again if they choose. Those carbs should come from starches(potatoes, sweet potatoes and rice) and fruit.  When inserting carbs back into the diet, be sure to balance out the energy balance(calories) by bringing your fat and carbohydrates into balance with your caloric needs.

Sugar: What’s the Skinny(or Fat) This post was an introduction to the carbohydrates glucose and fructose- the good, the bad and the gray areas.

Actions: During the low carb reset phase, limit carbohydrates(glucose and fructose) to the levels stated above. When not low carb, glucose(starch) is generally benign and can be eaten liberally. Just be sure to alter caloric fat intake in relation to carbohydrate intake to match your energy balance. Fructose from natural sources such as fruit is relatively benign and can be eaten liberally. Fructose from high fructose corn syrup and table sugar should be avoided.

Fat: The Other Fuel I explored the different kinds of fats in this post and pointed out the good and the bad.

Actions: Throw out all PUFAs such as vegetable oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. Replace them with animal fat, butter, coconut oil and olive oil. Note that almost all restaurant food is cooked in PUFAs so eat out as little as possible and when you do eat out, eat baked, unbreaded meats or ask for the dish to be fried in butter.

Grain, Grain Go Away The relative good, bad and ugly concerning grains was explored in this post.

Actions: Wheat and its products should be drastically limited at least with the goal of total elimination. White Rice is benign and a great source of starch. Corn, oatmeal and quinoa are gray areas and if tolerated should be eaten in limited quantities. If not tolerated, avoid.

Legumes: Bean There, Done That This post was an overview on legumes, which are generally a gray area in the diet. They contain many beneficial compounds but also contain lectins and phytates.

Actions:  If properly prepared and tolerated, legumes are generally okay in limited quantities except for soy(and it’s products) and peanuts. These should be eliminated.

 

Taking the actions outlined in this overview goes a long way towards improving health. I would argue that toxin avoidance in food is even more important than seeking out the “healthy foods” and consuming them.

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Don’t Let the Biscuit Win! (and other encouraging words)

You, like tens of millions of other people, are almost about 2 weeks into the new year. Some of you may be doing awesome- hitting every goal, breaking old bad habits, replacing them with positive new habits- and doing it with few problems. To you I say, congratulations and keep doing what you’re doing. This post isn’t for you.

This post is for the people like me. What almost every person who has successfully made positive drastic changes has had to deal with is the “false start” or as I like to call it, the “slow start”. Many people, especially with new year’s being fresh and all, start off gung ho about changes they want to make for the better. Some of these are well-planned; others, not so much. In most cases, after a few weeks in the bloom is off the rose and despite our bravest efforts, entrenched old habits have won in a rout. There is a familiar process by which we get to this point if we take a closer look. There is always an inflection point. There is always a point where a battle can be won or lost and recognizing that point and focusing your energy there is one of the best kept secrets of getting through the rough spots. Walk with me for a sec.

It’s January 12, 2013, a grey(shout out to my readers in the UK) Saturday morning. There’s a bit of a nip in the air and you don’t want to get out of bed. When you finally get out of bed and stagger to the kitchen, you rub your eyes and on the counter you see your nemesis: a warm biscuit that Satan himself has left on the counter just for you. In the fog of early morning delirium, you tear into that biscuit and as the last crumb hits the plate, that feeling of failure begins to bubble up.*

Let me stop here. In a past life, I would have said that the inflection point of this battle is when the biscuit was on the counter and the decision was to eat it or not. And I would have been wrong as two left shoes. The inflection point is what do you do after you’ve eaten the biscuit.** In accounting, the phrase “sunk cost” is used to describe costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. The biscuit is gone into your belly and there’s nothing you can do about that, the only thing left to consider is what happens next.

Do you use the biscuit as an excuse to have a “free day” or “free weekend”? Do you follow the biscuit up with all the stuff you’ve been craving to “get it all out of your system”? Those types of reactions are the first steps on the short road to failure. As in most things, failure- when it comes to your health- is very easy. All you have to do is nothing. Make no effort and you will fail. If you’re going to crumble at the first setback, then you probably shouldn’t have even started the journey in the first place. Whether you have ten or a hundred pounds to lose, you’re never going to get there if you let the biscuit win.

Rewind back to that last crumb dropping onto the plate. At this point, a person in it for the long term wipes their mouth, gets a drink of water and starts their day as they would any other Saturday. Chalk the biscuit up to a learning experience. Don’t regret it. Don’t feel guilty. Those feelings will probably do more to make you gain fat than the actual biscuit will. Really. We’ve all been through it and it’s only a big deal if you let it be a big deal by exasperating it.

In doing what many of those following this blog are trying to do, whether it be  weight loss or general wellness, there’s a certain mentality it takes to be successful. It takes a very determined mind and resiliance. There is something you have done in your life that you are proud of, something you are successful at. Whatever drive and passion you have brought to that, bring it to your health because in the end, without your health, what really do you have?

*No biscuits were harmed during the writing of this post

** Ideally, you probably shouldn’t eat the biscuit and multiple encounters like these will impede progress 🙂

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Legumes- Bean there, done that :-)

Legumes include beans, soybeans, lentils, peas and peanuts(we’ll come back to peanuts and soybeans later). Let’s start with the “bad”. Like grains, beans are high is lectins and phytates which can wreak havoc on the digestive system. This can be negated in legumes by soaking and cooking. Soaking beans over night in water covering the beans in a covered pot is the traditional method but you can do a quick soak by bringing a pot of beans to a simmer, then taking them off the range, cover them and let them sit for an hour before slow cooking. This method will reduce the overall amount of lectins and phytates.

Now let’s talk about the good stuff in legumes. Outside of meat, legumes are a good source of protein. Even if the amino acid profile isn’t as complete as meat, the level of protein is impressive. Legumes also have useful nutrients such as magnesium, manganese, calcium and folate. Legumes are also high in fiber. Legumes are also relatively high in carbohydrates but unlike simple starches in potatoes and rice, legumes have been shown to actually help with blood glucose control. Studies have also shown that some legumes are protective against colorectal cancer. Finally, legumes are high in resistant starch which increases butyrate production. Butyrate is a major player in gut health, appetite control and helping thyroid function. This alone may be reason enough to include legumes regularly in your diet.

The one legume I want  single out as being squarely in the “not ok” column is soy(and soy products*). Soy is problematic on multiple levels. First off, it is so full of phytates that no amount of soaking negates them to safe levels. Secondly, soy is phytoestrogenic, which means that in the body it mimics estrogen and causes all kinds of health effects. Finally, soy is goitrogenic(it suppresses the thyroid). In the long run, it inhibits the functions of the thyroid, including controlling body fat. Soy should definitely be cut out of the diet.**

So the final verdict on legumes is, except for soy, with proper preparation they can be beneficial. Like with the non-gluten grains I talked about before, listen to your body and see if you have any negative effects from legumes. If you do, then you should probably cut them out because you may be sensitive to some of the lectins which are still present in trace amounts.

*a food called natto is fermented soy and is a great source of vitamin k2.

**even though many believe that their diet has little if any soy in it, many processed foods have soy products.

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Grains

“Heart-healthy whole grains”. How many times have you heard this phrase used in TV commercials and other advertisements, on the news and other places in the media? It’s one of those things that has become so pervasive that it’s just taken as fact.

Most of the medical and diet establishment will agree that refined grains- particularly, refined wheat are problematic. They are lacking in nutrients and are calorically dense meaning that you are getting very little nutrition and a boatload of calories. So far, so good. But the problem arises when they then started recommending “whole grains”- which are basically less refined grains. The medical and diet establishment point at the nutrient content and the fiber content as the reason people should be eating whole grains. The reality is, there are reasons many people should not be eating some grains, especially wheat.

Gluten(a protein found in wheat, barley and rye) containing grains are a known problem for a subset of the population who suffer from celiac disease. What they are just beginning to recognize is that many people suffer from what is commonly known as non-celiac gluten intolerance. The number of people in the latter group are unknown because there are so many presumably undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. What is known that gluten and other lectins in wheat, such as WGA, is harmful to the gut lining of many people and are pro-inflammatory. The damage to the gut lining can show itself in other symptoms that are seemingly unrelated even if there is no stomach pain. Not everyone has issues with gluten, but many do who are unaware. If you are in the process of losing weight, definitely limit wheat and other grains in your diet. This means bread, rolls, cakes, pies, pasta, beer, processed foods- anything that may have wheat in it. If losing weight is not your goal, but you think you have some health issues going on like migraines and rashes, pull it out for a couple weeks and see if the conditions improve.

What about the other common dietary grains such as rice, corn(yes, corn is a grain), oatmeal, quinoa, etc? As with all grains, they all contain lectins that may or may not agree with the individual.  Fat, protein and starch(as always, levels of starch depending on your what your goals are), fruits and vegetables should be the bedrock of a healthy diet. Grains can be part of that diet if you have good gut health.

If you find yourself not tolerating grains well (a good way to check this is to pull them out for 2 weeks and see if there are improvements in different areas of your health) then your gut may not be in good health. Paying attention to this aspect of health is very important in that the rest of your body’s well-being is dependent on it. Probiotics from food such as yogurt, kimchi, saurkraut, kefir, kombucha, etc are a good way to build up your gut flora. Eating resistant starch from sources such as legumes(beans, lentils), bananas, potatoes(cool) and oatmeal increases butyrate levels and helps overall gut health. These are good ways to increase gut health via food.

 

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Fat: The Other Fuel

In my last post, I gave a basic overview of sugar- particularly glucose and fructose. In this post we’ll be taking a closer look at fat and it’s role in our diets.

One of the most important dietary recommendations I make is that people stop using the most common oils available and replace them with oils and saturated fats that are considered taboo by many in the medical establishment. So it appears I have some ‘splainin to do. The demonization of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950’s and a man named Ancel Keys. He released a study that was the basis for the diet-heart hypothesis which demonized animal fat as the reason for atherosclerosis and heart disease. The diet-heart hypothesis and Keys’ work has been the basis of institutional dietary recommendations since the 1970’s. It ushered in the low and no-fat dietary recommendations. Though correlation doesn’t equal causation, this is right around the time that the collective health in the country started going downhill at a faster rate. Recently, the growing number of academics questioning the diet heart hypothesis has started to show up in the mainstream media. (I highly recommend this Men’s Health article. It’s lengthy but it covers it all).

Since fat was one of our two main sources of fuel and low-fat was the recommended for the diet, carbohydrates were pushed as the fuel source. But not just any carbohydrates, but grains,  which can be inflammatory when in a processed state- especially wheat. (I will deal with this subject in a separate post) The fat that was recommended to be included in the diet was high omega 6 polyunsaturated fat(PUFA). This includes vegetable oil, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, margarine and shortening. These fats are highly inflammatory because of their drastic omega 6/3 balance. These fats are not found in nature and are created through a very nasty process involving hexane. Regardless of the benign sounding names, no vegetables are involved in the processing. These oils put you in an inflammatory state and make your body more susceptible to disease and obesity.

So now that we’re going to throw out all those inflammatory oils and fats, what are we going to replace it with? Well we’re going to replace it with the fat that every healthy traditional society on this planet uses- saturated fat. Coconut oil, butter and animal fats. We’ll also put olive oil in the good fat category. Though the fats we mentioned aren’t inherently unhealthy, they are high in calories so be mindful. Get enough fat in your diet to be healthy but no need to eat a stick of butter at a sitting.

Fat and carbohydrates are both energy sources the body can use to function- although they are better at fueling different types of activities. Neither one are bad and both are healthy in a balanced diet as long as energy balance is maintained- ie, you’re not overeating.

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Sugar: What’s the Skinny(or Fat)?

The two main types of sugars that we encounter are glucose and fructose. Many whole foods contain these two carbohydrates. Table sugar is equal parts glucose and fructose.  Glucose is found mainly in starchy root vegetables(potatoes, sweet potatoes, taro root, turnips, etc), grains(rice, corn, oatmeal, wheat, quinoa,etc), and certain fruits(bananas). The main function of glucose in the body is as fuel. It fuels the brain and muscles. Glucose is so important in this role that the body is able to generate glucose even when it’s not available from diet through a process called gluconeogenesis. When glucose is consumed, it immediately causes insulin to be released into the bloodstream. Insulin is the transport system utilized by the body to shuttle nutrients through the bloodstream to get where they are needed. Insulin takes the glucose the places where it is needed- the muscles, the brain and the liver. The glucose is converted into glycogen in the muscles where it is stored for future use. It is transported to the brain which continually burns glucose to function.(The in the absence of enough glucose the brain can also run off of ketones via a process called ketosis) . Glucose is also shuttled to the liver where it is stored as glycogen. The liver is a major part of the system which regulates blood sugar levels by effectively rationing out the amount of glucose the body needs- particularly the brain.

Glucose is very beneficial to the healthy, lean body. In recent years, glucose has been accused of causing obesity because the insulin-spiking effect of glucose. This process has been accused by low carbohydrate advocates of disrupting glucose regulation, causing obesity and leading to type 2 diabetes. I have not seen any evidence that Glucose causes any of this. There’s much evidence to the contrary- primarily being that some of the healthiest societies on this planet eat a starch heavy diet. However, once one has gotten to the point in their health where they have a significant amount of damage to their metabolism starchy foods, possibly,  are no longer your friend until your glucose regulation is back to normal. Exercise and timing your starchy carb consumption after it is helpful in reteaching your body how to properly utilize glucose.

Fructose in its natural state is mostly found in fruit. There is a drastic difference in the way the body handles fructose as opposed to glucose. Once ingested, fructose is shuttled directly to the liver where it’s converted to glycogen to be used in glucose regulation. The amount of fructose that can be consumed via fruit and vegetables is safe but the amounts that are in processed foods and drinks via high fructose corn syrup are not. Fruit is packed with antioxidants, fiber and other things that are generally good for you, along with the fructose. When it is not in a natural whole food at moderate levels, fructose is starting seen to be the culprit in getting the ball rolling with obesity by causing the liver to malfunction and causing people to overeat. This is why it is necessary to limit processed foods and drinks in the diet.

All sugar is not the same and the sugar found in nature is benign in healthy individuals. However, if you’re in the process of losing weight, starchy foods should be monitored since they are calorically dense. Fruit is ok in moderation.

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Day 1: Hitting the Reset Button

Confession time. I actually hit the reset button the day after Christmas. After doing fairly well the weeks following Thanksgiving, the wheels fell off about 10 days before Christmas and I had a lead up to Christmas that was pretty full of debauchery. This isn’t(for me) necessarily a bad thing. I’m very good about diet year around so a 10 day splurge isn’t going to put ten pounds of fat on me- though water retention can possibly do it. By the time Christmas was done, I was ready for a reset because my achy joints unhappy stomach told me to back off.

So what does a reset look like for me?

1. A significant amount of protein in my first meal. This can be accomplished several ways. For me, it’s ranged from a half pound of ground beef with a couple scrambled eggs and some cheese; a large cup of Fage greek yogurt(plain); several scrambled eggs with sausage/bacon/ham. There’s a lot of ways to get there. The reason it’s good to get a good whack of protein down first thing in the morning is because research has shown that it is beneficial in many important ways. But the one that helps the most during a reset phase is that it reduces appetite during the day- which will keep you from mindlessly snacking between meals. Though not as apparent as making you less hungry, a hit of protein in the morning does good things for the hormonal profile which is the most underrated aspect of weight loss and other body functions. You should aim for at least 30g of protein in the morning- more if you’re still hungry after that. You can measure how much is enough by seeing if you can keep from being hungry again at least 4 hours after eating your first meal.

2. I cycle carbohydrates during this period. There is a lot of back and forth about the wisdom of using a low carbohydrate approach to losing weight. The benefits of it are real and really helpful for those who are in the beginning phases of weight loss. I tell most people to go low carb for at least the first 2 weeks. This helps to repair glucose regulation(sugar) and teaches the body how to run on fat- dietary and stored fat. This means you are eating meat and vegetables with a piece of fruit thrown in during the day. Make sure you are getting enough fat in during these days. If you are eating fatty cuts of meat, you should be fine. If you are eating chicken breasts, tuna or other low fat meat, make sure you slather your vegetables in butter.

After those two weeks, if an individual feels good in the low carbohydrate phase, they can continue on that path until they reach their desired weight loss or begin to cycle carbs. I recommend the latter for a few reasons. Going low carb for a long period of time can induce skeletal muscle insulin resistance(this is different from pathological insulin resistance that leads to metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes) and is not good for those who plan on doing a good amount of working out. Cycling carbohydrates negates this by giving you the benefits of low carb but by periodically eating starchy carbohydrates to keep insulin sensitivity high. It also helps your body understand how to deal with carbohydrates once you are at a place you want to be and want eat in a way to maintain that. Paul Jaminet has written extensively on how glucose(from starchy food) is essential for many body functions.(I highly recommend his new book, “The Perfect Health Diet”)

The best way to cycle carbohydrates is to eat low carb for 3 days and on the third meal of the third day, eat a starchy carbohydrate such as white rice, potato or sweet potato. During weight loss, if you find yourself having to eat out at anytime, try to schedule it during one of these “carb up” days to make it beneficial. (Speaking of eating out, when having your food cooked in restaurants, tell them to cook it in butter and put all sauces on the side. Simplicity is your friend).

3. Space your meals 4-6 hours apart with no snacking in between. The reason that you will be trying to eat a good amount of protein in the morning is so that you won’t be hungry during the day. This may take a few days to get adjusted to. If you get hungry between meals, throw down a piece of fruit but the goal is not to snack between meals.

If weight loss or a general reset of the “blah” following the holidays is your goal, these 3 steps will go a long way to curing it.

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