Improve Your Hormone Levels

As I promised a few weeks ago, I’ll provide some simple steps you can take to improve your hormone levels.

Just to reiterate, your hormone levels dictate a large part of your health, performance, and body composition.

For the actual details about healthy hormone levels and effects, please refer to my post about testosterone.

Without further ado, here are the safest and most effective tactics to manage healthy hormone levels:

• Make sure you are consuming a nutrient rich diet.
Any nutrient deficiency has the potential to negatively impact hormones, but the biggest culprits will be zinc, vitamin A, vitamin D, and magnesium. I’ll do a post explaining which foods have the most nutrient value later on but, for now, I’ll just recommend oysters, liver (if you can stand the flavor and have a high-quality source), avocados, eggs (particularly the yolk), and plenty of naturally-raised, well-treated meats, full of the fats and proteins your body needs to manufacture testosterone.

• Consume dietary cholesterol on a regular basis.
The best sources are eggs, shrimp, and fattier cuts of beef (grass-fed of course!). Cholesterol is a precursor to testosterone production. Keep in mind, the cholesterol you eat will only raise your HDL a little and have hardly any effect on triglycerides (the “bad” cholesterol in the blood).

• Avoid over-consuming carbohydrates.
Starches and sugars will cause insulin spikes in the blood. Your muscles can only store so many carbs before the insulin forces carbs to be stored in fat cells. This insulin will also disrupt normal hormone signaling.

• Get 8-9 hours of sleep a night.
During the first few hours of sleep, your body will release the largest amount of human growth hormone, allowing your body to recover from the day. I know everyone says they can get by with 6 hours…but your body composition, mental performance, and energy levels will always be better with a proper 8 hours of sleep.

• Lift something heavy a few times a week.
This will stimulate the body to produce testosterone to recover from the stimulus. Again, keep in mind that heavy lifting isn’t what produces bulky muscles…that would be higher repetitions (8-15) for multiple sets (3-4) with very little rest (30-90 seconds).

• Do some high intensity interval training.
Refer to my post from a few weeks ago. This has the potential of benefiting hormones more than any other exercise.

• Avoid alcohol.
Or at least try to moderate your intake. Alcohol will convert testosterone to estrogen within the body.

• Avoid stress.
This might be the most difficult but cortisol, released when you’re stressed, will lower testosterone levels. Some of the easiest things you can do are to limit your caffeine intake and take time during the day to stare off into nature or distract yourself from the stresses of our modern lives.

One final method for increasing testosterone levels is to supplement directly with hormones (a.k.a. steroids). However, this is a much more controversial and potentially unsafe method that I’ll save for another post.

Give all these things a try and see if you notice an improvement in body composition, strength, recovery, or just general mood and energy on a daily basis!

Ketosis

As I mentioned a few posts ago, some words are met with a great deal of confusion. An example of this, and the topic of today’s post, is the word “ketosis”.

When I use the word ketosis, most people immediately think of “ketoacidosis”.

Ketoacidosis is a condition that occurs in Type 1 diabetics or alcoholics. Simply put, the body becomes dependent upon sugar and loses the ability to use fats or proteins for energy. The energy substrates produced from fat, known as ketones, accumulate in the blood, increasing acidity, and causing a host of health issues, potentially leading to death.

However, ketoacidosis is quite different from ketosis.

Ketosis is the human body’s natural energy state. When an infant is born, it is born in ketosis. When we wake up, we are in ketosis. Whenever we go more than a few hours without sugar, we start producing ketones.

Ketosis is simply the body using fat, instead of sugar, for energy.

Even with regular carbohydrate intake, most of us should be able to go in and out of ketosis frequently. This is because the body’s production of ketones varies based upon activity level and energy sources available.

After a week or two of no sugar, the body will start producing and running exclusively off of ketones (as long as too much protein is not consumed). With regular sugar consumption, the body will have a much more immediate energy source and therefore will not produce as many ketone bodies.

However, the body can still achieve ketosis with a moderate intake of carbs if an individual is eating fewer calories than they need to maintain their weight. In this situation, the body will first use the sugar consumed but, since not enough calories are being consumed, the body will start breaking down its own fat stores for energy.

So, why am I talking about ketosis to begin with?

Well, as I mentioned, it is how the body uses its own fat stores for energy. However, with supermarkets, convenience stores, and fast-food restaurants every few blocks, very few of us ever go long enough without sugar to become as “fat-adapted” as humans were meant to be.

To ensure my body is able to use every fuel efficiently, I spend about 2 months of early spring in ketosis. This means I don’t consume any carbs beyond fibrous vegetables. Also, I don’t over consume protein in an attempt to gain muscle mass, as extra protein will be converted to glucose via gluconeogenesis.

Not only does this help my body run efficiently regardless of my access to sugar, but it is also a very easy way to lean out. In just the first week of lower carb consumption, most people will lose 5 to 10 pounds from depleting their glycogen stores and not holding as much water weight.

Also, it is the constant fluctuation of insulin levels, and leptin signaling, from a short-term energy source such as carbohydrates, that dictates our hunger levels. So, when we are consuming healthy fats, fibrous veggies, and protein, our bodies don’t experience frequent drops in blood sugar and ravenous hunger or cravings for more sugar.

Finally, I find my time spent in ketosis helps improve my mood and energy levels. Usually my mind is racing and I am prone to seeing the negative side of things. However, when I am not regularly running off sugar, my thoughts are a lot more organized and focused while my energy is far more stable. This is because ketones are the most therapeutic fuel for the brain.

Ketosis, or limiting sugar intake, is becoming more commonly understood as doctors learn it is an effective way to prevent seizures in epileptics, reverse certain forms of cancer, or treat other conditions.

However, I feel the need to remind all my readers that I am not a doctor. I am not recommending a ketogenic diet for everyone. As with anything pertaining to the human body, if done incorrectly, it can be quite dangerous.

But, if you would like to try something a little different, and more natural than crash-diets and weight loss supplements, please contact me directly via e-mail or phone.

Remember – I’m here for you!

New York Times Op-Ed Piece

I had prepared a post for this week and was in the process of editing it when I received a New York Times article in my e-mail inbox from a family member…and then a coworker…and then a printed copy from the owner of my gym!

Below is an excerpt but I would highly suggest everyone follow this link to read the full article (which is only a few paragraphs longer).

“That the worm is turning became increasingly evident a couple of weeks ago, when a meta-analysis published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine found that there’s just no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease. (In fact, there’s some evidence that a lack of saturated fat may be damaging.) The researchers looked at 72 different studies and, as usual, said more work — including more clinical studies — is needed. For sure. But the days of skinless chicken breasts and tubs of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter may finally be drawing to a close.

The tip of this iceberg has been visible for years, and we’re finally beginning to see the base. Of course, no study is perfect and few are definitive. But the real villains in our diet — sugar and ultra-processed foods — are becoming increasingly apparent. You can go back to eating butter, if you haven’t already.

This doesn’t mean you abandon fruit for beef and cheese; you just abandon fake food for real food, and in that category of real food you can include good meat and dairy. I would argue, however, that you might not include most industrially produced animal products; stand by.

Since the 1970s almost everyone in this country has been subjected to a barrage of propaganda about saturated fat. It was bad for you; it would kill you. Never mind that much of the nonsaturated fat was in the form of trans fats, now demonstrated to be harmful. Never mind that many polyunsaturated fats are chemically extracted oils that may also, in the long run, be shown to be problematic.

Never mind, too, that the industry’s idea of “low fat” became the emblematic SnackWell’s and other highly processed “low-fat” carbs (a substitution that is probably the single most important factor in our overweight/obesity problem), as well as reduced fat and even fat-free dairy, on which it made billions of dollars. (How you could produce fat-free “sour cream” is something worth contemplating.)

But let’s not cry over the chicharrones or even nicely buttered toast we passed up. And let’s not think about the literally millions of people who are repelled by fat, not because it doesn’t taste good (any chef will tell you that “fat is flavor”) but because they have been brainwashed.”

– Mark Bittman, New York Times Contributing Op-Ed Writer

I post this not only because it is written in a fun and approachable manner, but because it sums up the exact philosophy I attempt to convey on my blog and in my sessions.

Articles like this, and the studies it links to, help keep me positive that in the next 5 to 10 years our aversion to fat and protein, and obsession with constant sugar feedings, will come to an end.

I hope this article is a nice break from my slightly more dry (and nerdy) posts. Haha.

Next week I’ll get back to posting my original content.

Thanks for reading!

How To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels

As promised, this week I’ll give you a few easy tips to improve your cholesterol levels. Before I start though, I want to remind everyone that “improving” cholesterol levels does not necessarily mean lowering them.

If you remember my post about cholesterol, you’ll remember that the body creates and uses LDL as a temporary bandage that, once the threat to the body is resolved, HDL will transport back to the liver to be excreted. It is only when inflammation persists in the body that LDL becomes oxidized, hardening and risking blockages in the arteries.

In fact, low total cholesterol levels in the body have been linked to shorter lifespan! Therefore, for this post, we’ll talk about how to adjust your cholesterol levels to the optimal zone…as opposed to the range statin companies usually promote.

First off, the easiest number to alter is your HDL. This is what carries cholesterol back to the liver after it has served its purpose.

The best way to boost your HDL is to consume more monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado. Consuming these in a raw form, as opposed to cooking them, will be more beneficial. Also, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found almost exclusively in grass-fed beef and dairy, will help raise HDL.

In addition, weight training and moderate aerobic activity are shown to increase HDL.

Now, on to LDL. To reiterate, high LDL is not necessarily a bad or dangerous thing. However, LDL can become oxidized in the blood so I understand why people may want to lower their LDL numbers.

To lower LDL, be careful when consuming other saturated fats. Saturated fat is actually the safest to consume, and most stable source of energy for the body, but make sure you’re consuming it from natural sources. This would include coconut products (again, with minimal processing), grass-fed beef, and other humanely raised animals fed a natural diet, with plenty of space to roam and forage.

Exercise may also help control LDL levels since low-level aerobics will improve the body’s ability to metabolize fats for energy.

Finally, the only truly problematic form of cholesterol found in the body is triglycerides. Anytime you see claims that cholesterol in the blood is dangerous, I will guarantee the samples were people with extremely elevated levels of triglycerides and low HDL.

The best way to decrease your triglyceride count would be to avoid processed or heated polyunsaturated fats which are highly unstable and prone to oxidization.

I’m not saying to fear nuts and seeds and every food containing high amounts of omega-6 (the primary inflammatory constituent of poly-fats). Just avoid foods that are high in this AND have been processed or altered. Examples of foods to avoid would be corn oil, soybean oil, and other vegetable oils.

Finally, limit your sugar and refined carb intake. Again, no need to fear fruits, sweet potatoes or other whole foods; instead, skip the center aisles of the market made up of processed and packaged food.

Please keep in mind that all my suggestions of what to eat more or less of are based on the assumption that we already know things like candy, chips, ice cream, and soda are unhealthy. Fortunately, our health and nutrition systems have not yet become so infiltrated by major corporations that McDonalds and pizza is labeled as healthy.

Nonetheless, as exemplified by my own past food choices, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding what is optimal for our bodies. Just last month Mazola ran a massive marketing campaign (and must have spent billions of dollars) to convince researchers and doctors to claim that corn oil is “safer for the heart” than extra virgin olive oil!

And with that, we should all have a decent level of knowledge regarding what to consume and not consume to maintain the most beneficial cholesterol levels in our bodies.

Hope it helps!

Orange Juice vs. Coca-Cola

How’s everyone’s week so far? I’m taking a recovery this week so, without the high intensity workouts or morning coffee, my energy levels aren’t as high as normal. However, my energy is much steadier all day and my anxiety is less severe without the stimulants from coffee and espresso.

This week, I wanted to exemplify how marketing by food companies have blinded the general public. Before I jump in, a little back-story explaining my motivation for this post:

I was having Christmas brunch with my family and, when asked why I was eating grapefruit but passing on the orange juice, I replied: “Orange juice is the same as soda, chemically speaking.”

Now, this statement sounds completely absurd based upon what we’ve been told our entire lives. How could the natural juice, squeezed fresh from an orange, be anywhere near as problematic for the body as a man-made liquid consisting of chemicals and corn syrup?

Now, of course, I was speaking casually and merely thinking of the actual breakdown of the sugars within the two beverages. But, due to how emotionally charged personal nutrition choices are, and how long we have been brainwashed to “start our day with a tall glass of orange juice”, my statement was met with hostile denial.

For all my followers trying to improve their health, I wanted to present the solid facts about how the body metabolizes these two liquids.

First, let’s look at a simple comparison of the nutritional content of the two drinks side-by-side.

Orange Juice

Coca-Cola

Calories

117

98

Total Carbs

27

25

     Sugar

24

25

     Fiber

0.8

0

     Other Carbs

2

0

Protein

1.7

0

Fat

0.4

0

Vitamins

     Vitamin A

9%

0%

     Vitamin C

125%

0%

     Folate

15%

0%

Minerals

     Magnesium

6%

0%

     Potassium

13%

0%

At first glance, we can see that orange juice has more calories per serving. I personally think other things are more important than number of calories but, usually doctors and dieticians prefer “low calorie” options…hence their aversion to fat which has twice as many calories per gram as carbs, yet offers better fuel for the human body.

We also see that orange juice has more sugar per serving. Maybe not according to how the labels are presented…they specify the grams of sugars and fiber but leave the remaining carbohydrate content unaccounted for. If you’ve read my post on carbs, you’ll remember that ALL carbs (besides fiber), have the same effect on the body. So, in essence, orange juice has 26 grams of sugar while Coke has 25 grams.

What about the trace amounts of fiber and all the vitamins and minerals in orange juice?

Well, first off, these facts are for juice with a medium amount of pulp. I personally loved the “lots of pulp” orange juice when I was young but, from what I’ve seen in the marketplace, the “no pulp” is more popular, negating the fiber content.

This brings me to my next issue with orange juice – the process of pasteurization.

Orange juice is heated to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit to kill all the living enzymes, thereby extending its shelf life. This heating separates the pulp (fiber) from the juice. The fiber in fruit mitigates blood sugar spikes and is one of the key elements that make such a high-sugar food healthy.

This pasteurization process also destroys most of the nutrients in juice which is why producers add synthetic vitamins to their products. Take a look at the ingredients in orange juice…I can almost guarantee “ascorbic acid” will be on the list.  This is to add vitamin C back into the drink after it was destroyed during heating.

For the sake of full disclosure, I left out about a dozen more vitamins and minerals that orange juice provides because it fulfilled less than 5% of the recommended daily values. And also, very few sources will be upfront when listing the nutrients that remain after pasteurization.

Maybe I’ll have a full post on pasteurization later because I feel myself getting off on a tangent. The takeaway point is that pasteurization takes a living thing (fruit and its juice) and damages everything in it…including beneficial bacteria, antioxidants, and nutrients.

So, to be fair, I should have stated that “Drinking orange juice is like drinking soda and taking a multi-vitamin and fiber pill at the same time.” Hahaha.

I certainly prefer a client drink orange juice rather than soda. But, at the end of the day, the profits are going to the same companies (for example, Coca-Cola owns Minute Maid) and the sugars are equally as damaging to the body.

To avoid sounding like a complete fanatic, I’d like to mention that I eat an orange, and plenty of other whole fruit, almost every day. This is a much healthier and more satisfying option. An orange is a natural, living thing from the earth that we were meant to consume.

If you really need your juice, try making your own either by squeezing or blending the whole fruit with a little water or ice. This will provide you with plenty of vitamin C and fiber, along with plenty of other nutrients and antioxidants.

I hope I didn’t scare anyone away from fruit with this post – just keep in mind that any packaged product will never be as healthy as the food it is made from.

So, enjoy a Navel or Valencia orange, especially before or after a workout, but skip the liquid sugars!

Pizza In A Bowl

This week I’ll pass along one of my favorite “weekend recipes”. I call it that because, as you’ll see, it contains some indulgences that I wouldn’t recommend people eat on a daily basis. However, when compared with the original dish this is based upon, it is far healthier and can be a perfectly safe meal to consume.

Growing up, my favorite day of the week was Friday’s. On this night, my family would order pizza and I’d get an entire large pepperoni pizza and finish it all in about 15 minutes.

My biggest fear before eliminating grains was that I would miss pizza. But, after 30 days without bread substances, I ordered a pizza and, after one slice, ended up eating the toppings off the pizza and throwing out the crust because of its cardboard-/sponge-like consistency. Sure, it is salty and garlicky, but compared to the tomato sauce, cheese, and toppings, it added nothing to the flavor.

Finally, after 2 years of grain-free living, I realized that, as a kid, the bread was merely a delivery medium for the best part of the meal. Whether it’s pizza crust, topped with cheese and sauce, or pasta topped with Bolognese sauce…it was never the grains my body craved, but the salt, fat, and protein (again, all things that are necessary for life…particularly for a growing boy).

So, without further ado, I give you, “Pizza in a Bowl”:

1.)    Pour half a cup of unsalted, pure tomato sauce into a saucepan and turn stove on low

2.)    Put a few tablespoons of butter into a frying pan and place over medium heat

3.)    Place desired amount of ground beef into frying pan and chop into small pieces with a spatula as it browns

4.)    Once the meat is sizzling, chop up mushrooms, olives, onions, garlic, and whatever other topping you enjoy most, and toss into frying pan

5.)    Keep stirring the toppings around as you add your favorite seasonings to the tomato sauce

6.)    Once the beef is cooked, pour everything into the saucepan and stir for a few minutes

7.)    Turn off the stove and pour your sauce and toppings into a bowl

8.)    Shred your favorite cheese on top (if you tolerate dairy)

9.)    Enjoy!

You can try experimenting with your own favorite ingredients, or the ratios of each of these inputs. I tend to use more beef and the result is closer to chili, but still amazing!

I mentioned that this is a good meal to indulge with…that depends on the ingredients you include. I usually slice up some dry salami or pepperoni if I can find relatively healthy options. This can be difficult between the use of nitrites, nitrates, or corn syrup to preserve the meat and enhance the flavor. Also, the incorporation of cheese will greatly increase the calorie content so beware!

As with all the recipes I post on here, keep in mind that all the beef and dairy should be 100% grass-fed and the vegetables and other ingredients are ideally locally and naturally grown.

That last note is important to mention because, believe it or not, grass-fed beef is actually leaner and less inflammatory for the body than most white meat (such as chicken, turkey, or pork).

Typing up this recipe makes me realize that I need to do some posts on dairy, nutritional comparisons of red and white meats, as well as the use of nitrites and other preservatives that may be found in prepared meats. But, I’ll save those topics for another time.

Let me know if you enjoyed this healthy alternative to typical pizza and what your favorite ingredients are! See you all next week!

Two Interesting News Articles

Over the past week, I came across two news articles that I’d love to share with all of you.

The first article is from MSNBC.

This article reveals that billions of dollars’ worth of subsidies goes towards producing and distributing unhealthy food. The reason I want to share this is not solely to point towards archaic food subsidies as a major barrier to health…but to exemplify the conflicts of interests involved in allowing the USDA to dictate dietary guidelines.

The United States Department of Agriculture was created to sustain adequate food production for our country’s growing population…it now exists to ensure its agricultural endeavors remain profitable. As the USDA was able to invest more resources, they were also able to start dictating policy and recommending what Americans should and should not eat.

And guess what studies, research, and information dissemination they funded? Anything that even remotely suggested complex carbs and unsaturated fats are best for human consumption. And guess what the USDA produces best? Corn, dairy, soy, and wheat – all foods that are high in carbs, polyunsaturated fats, and low in protein.

And now, even though humans are consuming more of these foods than ever, the organizations are still searching for any means to increase sales and profits. Thus, they have started using subsidized foods to create a “value-added” product that they can market and package…and oh yes, genetically modifying foods to override hunger-signaling and light up the pleasure-centers of our brains!

The second article I found on NBC.com.

This article discusses how organic milk is more healthful than regular milk. Again, my motivation for sharing this article is not just to convey the direct message but rather to discuss the reasoning that they gloss over…the fact that cows are meant to eat grass!

They discuss organic milk as being optimal as if it’s the label organic that ensures a better nutritional profile. However, for milk to be labelled organic, the cows must consume grass for a certain number of months out of the year. This article does mention that grass-feeding, as opposed to grain-feeding, is what results in a better product…but why is it discussing organic milk rather than local, 100% grass-fed milk?

It also mentions that 2% or full-fat milk is preferable because of the healthy fat content. Again, I have to ask why the article is focused on organic versus conventional milk while local, raw milk will be grass-fed AND contain its natural fat profile, seeing as it is not manipulated or processed.

The answer is that organic milk is a marketable product that results in greater profits. The profits that federal agencies receive from small family farms are far less, or, at times, nonexistent.

These issues of subsidizing the corn, soy, and dairy industry, as well as the value of dairy in general, are both topics I’d like to discuss in greater depth down the road. However, I’ll wrap up here because sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I get emotional or frustrated with our current food and healthcare system.

The positive takeaway is that these issues are coming to light! The general public now has easy access to the concept of omega-3 vs omega-6 content in milk and the power of food production conglomerates. And remember the old adage: “Knowledge is power”!

So, let’s keep learning and hopefully, we can reverse our spiral of steadily declining health in the modern world.

Mark’s Daily Apple

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving – I know I did! I definitely consumed enough turkey and Woodchuck Hard Cider to tide me over until next Thanksgiving! Haha.

This week, I figured I’d keep my post short and merely direct all my followers to one of my favorite sources: Mark’s Daily Apple.

This is a blog run by Mark Sisson –  previously one of the nation’s best endurance athletes. His endurance endeavors, and adherence to the USDA food guidelines,  had an enormously negative impact on his health and, in turn, he changed his approach to health.

He has since adopted a more natural and healthy way of eating and exercising. He tends to favor a lower-carbohydrate approach, high in nutritionally-dense animal / fish products and vegetables, with a reasonable consumption level of naturally occurring fats. His workouts consist of fun, sports-like activities (slack-lining, paddle-boarding, etc), and occasional sprinting.

He recently turned 60 and is one of my primary sources for health-knowledge, as well as being an amazing motivator as an example of perfect health.  I’d recommend his blog for anyone that enjoys healthy recipes and learning some unbiased science behind fitness and nutrition. You may even recognize some similar themes between our two blogs!

Bookmark his blog…he posts at least once a day. I hope you all find it as valuable as I do!

 

5 Simple Nutrition Tips

This week, I’d like to take a break from the in-depth exploration of such misunderstood topics such as cholesterol or dietary fats. Also, I don’t want to become a target for pharmaceutical companies or dieticians that are waging a misguided “war on cholesterol”! Hahaha.

Instead, I’m going to list some interesting and simple steps you can take to improve the nutritional value of every meal.

  • When using garlic, crush it to maximize surface area, expose it to the air until it turns green, and add it to your food after the cooking process. The most beneficial compound in garlic, allinase, is damaged during cooking, minimizing some of its amazing health benefits.
  • Try not to drink excess water during meals. Water will dilute the stomachs natural digestive enzymes and cold water will lower stomach acidity, further interfering with proper digestion.
  • Start every day with a healthy serving of protein and fat. The protein will prime your neurotransmitters, releasing dopamine and serotonin, resulting in improved mood. The fat will keep you full, improving leptin signaling and stabilizing blood sugar, eliminating intense sugar cravings or energy crashes later in the day.
  • I’ve mentioned this one before but try to consume your olive oil in its raw, unheated form. Olive oil is predominately monounsaturated fats that can become oxidized. High quality olive oil will sacrifice its antioxidants to protect the fat molecules, but this will limit its benefits.
  • Use balsamic vinegar to season meat or dress vegetables. Vinegar will increase stomach acidity, thereby improving digestion. It will also mitigate blood sugar spikes and improve carbohydrate tolerance. Balsamic vinegar has many other health benefits but I’ll save those for another post.

Well, I think I’ll cap this post at 5 nutrition tips. I kind of like this idea (thanks to my follower that recommended it!) and I’ll continue this theme with other health topics as well.

Hopefully these simple steps can help you improve the quality of your meals without requiring extreme planning or expensive / exotic inputs!

I’ll be visiting my family (and trying to stay as health-conscious as possible) during Thanksgiving, so I’ll see you all again in two weeks. Have a good holiday!

Reducing Cardiovascular Disease Risk

As a logical follow-up to last week’s post, let’s look at what we can do to reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease.

So far, we learned that eating cholesterol does not increase the risk of cardiovascular events. In fact, 75% of people that suffer a heart attack have normal or low cholesterol levels in the body. Furthermore, taking cholesterol-lowering medications (such as statins) does not reduce the risk of heart attacks in 98% of the population.

So, if cholesterol consumption is irrelevant, what is causing our nations deterioration in cardiovascular health?

One word – inflammation!

It is the process of inflammation that damages the arteries, signaling the body to send cholesterol to protect the area. And it is, once again, inflammation that damages the cholesterol in the blood, causing it to harden, leading to plaque formation and clogged arteries.

There are a few things that cause inflammation. The first is consumption of unstable, easily-oxidized fats . The worst is man-made trans-fats. These are found in most butter replacements and aerosol cooking oils. Another problematic fat would be omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. The biggest offenders here are corn oil, soy oil, and other modern vegetable oils.

Many natural foods, such as nuts and avocados, are quite high in O-6’s but, as long as they are consumed fresh and in moderation, without extremely volatile processing methods, they should not be problematic.

The second biggest cause of inflammation is excess sugar in the blood. If an individual consumes more carbohydrates than their muscles can store, the excess sugar will wreak havoc in the body until insulin forces it into fat storage. Sugar is toxic in very high amounts so it is no surprise that too much, idling in the blood, causes inflammation and damages the arteries.

The third biggest cause of inflammation is eating foods that are detrimental to the gut. Eventually I will have an entire post on gut health but, to put it simply, if you eat enough foods that have the potential to damage the gut lining, the offensive compounds will pass through the gut (a condition referred to as “gut permeability”) and cause inflammation elsewhere in the body. Grains and legumes contain many of these compounds…predominantly lectins. Lectin content can be diminished through extensive soaking, sprouting, and cooking but it’s still not wise to base a diet around such a problematic food.

So, man-made vegetable oils, excessive carbohydrate consumption, and grains cause inflammation…what does that leave?

Instead of using vegetable oils, try cooking at high-temperatures with coconut oil or grass-fed butter. Save your olive oil, avocados, and nuts for raw consumption.

No need to count every gram of carbohydrates; rather, focus on more nutritional sources such as vegetables and fruits (which will also have far less calories and sugar per serving than grains or legumes).

Finally, avoid grains when you can. I personally replaced them altogether with vegetables and locally, humanely-raised meat, but I know the idea of eliminating a food group we have grown up with can be daunting. So, maybe try only eating grains when you go out to your favorite pizza joint or restaurant.

Also, don’t forget to eat your healthy fats! Monounsaturated fats and even saturated fats will be far less inflammatory than grains and legumes. Since you’ll be limiting your intake of problematic carbs, that are high in calories and low in nutrition, a few extra calories from good fats will help keep you feeling satisfied and well-fueled.

As a personal trainer, I always have to mention to stay active as well! The more relaxing walks you can take the better. Throw in a couple weight-training workouts a week and an occasional high-intensity-interval-training session (sprints, rowing, etc) and you’ll be on the path to having a perfectly conditioned heart.

Best of luck!