Standard American Diet (S.A.D.)

Last year I started a series of posts comparing grain-free meals with meals from the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).

To review:

The S.A.D. breakfast contained oatmeal, juice, fruit and milk. The grain-free breakfast was made up of eggs, veggies, avocado, and bacon. Click here for a full analysis.

The S.A.D. lunch was a serving of yogurt, one piece of fruit, and a sandwich made with whole wheat bread, lettuce, turkey, ham, and mustard. The grain-free alternative was a salmon salad with walnuts. Click here for a full analysis.

Finally, the S.A.D. dinner was a plate of pasta, a cup of milk, and a “healthy brownie” touted by a widely renowned Registered Dietician. Meanwhile, the grain-free dinner contained a burger topped with guacamole, a side of vegetables, and a large sweet potato. Click here for a full analysis.

Today, let’s conclude this comparison by adding up a whole day’s worth of nutrients from each eating style. Every meal was about 650 calories, providing about 2,000 calories in one day.

First up are the macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) and breakdown of each category. This includes sugar versus fiber for carbohydrate content and inflammatory versus anti-inflammatory fats for the fatty acid profile.

Total Carbs Fiber Net Carbs Protein Sat Fat Mono Fat Omega 3 Omega 6
Standard American Diet 337 27 310 63 8 8.5 525 16750
Grain-Free Diet 106 40 66 130 25 46 10500 16800

Immediately we see that the American Diet provides a massive carb load with very little fat to mitigate blood sugar spikes. Sadly enough, these numbers are exactly in line with recommendations the USDA and ADA has made for over 50 years! The American public has been told to get 65% of their calories from carbs, resulting in the 300+ grams of sugar we see here.

Also, the American Diet hardly provides 60 grams of protein. This could be a contributing factor to the major health decline seen in our aging population. Without sufficient protein muscle dies, bones lose density, energy levels drop, and overeating results from lack of satiation.

Finally, the Omega 3-to-Omega 6 ratio of the American diet is 1-to-30 while the Grain-Free Diet is 1-to-1.5. Consuming 30 times as much omega 6 as omega 3 creates an inflammatory and unstable environment in the body. Omega 6 is easily oxidized, leading to formation of hard plaque in the arteries.

Next is a comparison of the vitamins provided by each meal.

Vit A Vit C Vit D Vit E Vit K Vit B6 Vit B12 Folate
Standard American Diet 7330 160 50 5.5 39 2 3 373
Grain-Free Diet 71410 427 71 17.5 1207 34 15 1140

There is not one category where a grain-based diet provides anywhere near the amount of vitamins present in a diet built around vegetables, protein, and healthy fat. In fact, the grain-free diet has almost 10 times the vitamin content of a grain-based diet!

Finally, a totaling of the nutrients from each style of eating.

Calcium Iron Magnesium Potassium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium
Standard American Diet 1470 10 395 3775 10 1 5 127
Grain-Free Diet 600 25 505 6525 22 3 5 219

Once again, a grain-free diet provides more nutrients than a grain-based diet. However, in this category, the numbers are much more close.

Most notable is the fact that the Standard American Diet provides more calcium than a grain-free diet. The grain-based diet included a serving of dairy in every meal while the grain-free diet did not. While grains clearly do not provide any significant nutrition, raw dairy from grass-fed animals may be a safe and worthwhile inclusion.

After examining three meals built according to healthy American standards, and three alternative meals void of grains and dairy, we can begin to understand why our nations health worsens every year.

This analysis doesn’t take into consideration the lack of physical activity in the U.S. or the issue of man-made “health-foods” such as margarine, canola oil, or low-fat snacks. I would never suggest that the inclusion of a moderate amount of whole grains is dangerous, but basing an entire diet on such a low-nutrient food group is not wise.

The final takeaways are:

  1. Opt for vegetables instead of grains. Grains contain less nutrients and fiber, while providing more sugar and inflammatory fat, than vegetables.
  2. Do not fear proteins and fats found in nature. Fat and protein make up our entire body so, as long as they are from a natural source, they should make up the bulk of our diet.
  3. Look beyond recommendations made by USDA-backed organizations and professionals. In what other industry are producers allowed to dictate consumption?

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Calorie Confusion

The notion that all calories are the same; that calories-in (consumed) compared to calories-out (burned) is the end-all-be-all in terms of bodyweight; is an archaic notion that is damaging public health.

Studies have shown that overeating calories on a high-protein diet may not result in weight gain…even when an individual is consuming 500 extra calories a day!

These studies suggest:

1.) Excess calories coming from protein may not lead to weight gain. This may be invaluable for those trying to lose weight since protein is also the most satiating nutrient.

2.) It is not necessary to consume extra protein to gain muscle. This is most useful for individuals trying to put on muscle, since protein can be the most expensive macronutrient.

3.) Protein has the highest “thermogenic” affect. This simply means that our bodies will only “net” about 70% of the calories that we consume from protein. So, 100 calories of meat, fish, eggs, and certain forms of dairy, will only count as 70 calories!

I’ve always suggested clients consume one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This means a 150-pound male athlete trying to play middle school football should consume 150 grams of protein while a 300-pound woman trying to lose weight should aim for 300 grams of protein a day. This has been the standard for performance- and health-oriented individuals for decades. Unfortunately, the general public has been convinced that protein is bad for the kidneys or the body as a whole.

There are many studies showing that individuals with kidney impairment have issues with high-protein diets…but these results have never been replicated with healthy populations.

The way major food companies produce meat can make it harmful to our body (and the environment). Feeding corn to cows literally becomes a race against the clock to see if the cow can grow fat enough to slaughter, before it dies of indigestion and infection. At the same time, feeding grains to animals will skew the omega-3 / omega-6 ratio, increasing the amount of unhealthy omega-6 in the animals fat.

However, if cows, or any animal for that matter, are given enough land to wander about, and a natural diet for them to freely consume, their meat will not only be healthy for us, but may be the most beneficial food we can consume.

So, if your goal is to reduce body-fat, and you plan to achieve weight-loss using calorie restriction, make sure you are not reducing your protein intake. And keep in mind, if you are hungry or have trouble staying full, have a few extra bites of protein.

Alternatively, if you are trying to increase muscle mass, consume 1g protein per 1lb bodyweight but, after that, save your money and get extra calories from natural carbs or healthy fats. Scoops of expensive protein powder or additional pounds of chicken breast may not make a significant difference.

Nothing that comes from nature, meant to give us sustenance, is automatically bad for us. It is only when we tinker with nature, maximizing production while minimizing cost, that problems arise.

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3 Easy Ways to Improve Heart Health

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., responsible for over half a million deaths per year. Yet less than 25% of the population has a genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease. This means that most people are able to ensure proper heart health through diet and lifestyle.

So today I am going to list the top 3 things you can do to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and suffering a heart attack.


1.) Remove all vegetable oils from the house. This includes, but is not limited to, corn oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. These are products that are already chemically unstable, yet exposed to massive amounts of refining and processing.

For the last few decades, the public was told that replacing naturally occurring fats (butter and olive oil) with these man-made alternatives, would prevent clogging of the arteries and heart attacks. Unfortunately, the studies that led to these recommendations were falsified.

Since 1970, our nations consumption of calories from added vegetable oils has increased 37%, while our rates of cardiovascular disease and diabetes have rose correspondingly.

2.) Eat vegetables at every meal. They can be cooked or raw. Fermented or pickled. Topped with butter or olive oil. Seasoned with salt, pepper, or anything else you desire.

Not only are veggies loaded with vitamins and minerals, but they also provide more fiber per serving than any other food. Fiber helps move cholesterol around the body as needed and feeds the healthy bacteria in our guts.

Vegetables are also loaded with phytonutrients. These are compounds that give plants their distinct colors. When consumed, they act as antioxidants, improving many functions of the human body.

3.) Do not keep any refined sugar products in the house. White sugar is a prime example, but this also includes packaged goods that are sugar-based, such as baked goods, juices, and even skim milk.

Once again, we were misled when we were told to eat more carbohydrate-dense products (pasta and cereal) and limit natural foods (meat and eggs).

We have increased our consumption of refined grain products by 39% since 1970. And just like replacing nutrient-rich butter with rancid man-made oils, our nations population has experienced worsening cardiovascular rates.


If you notice with the “restrictions” of manmade oils and sugar products, I merely say to eliminate storing these in the house. There is nothing wrong with going out for an occasional pizza at a restaurant sourcing products locally…and there is no need to obsess over what kind of oil a friend cooked with when you are a guest at a dinner party. Just by not consuming these things 90% of the time, internal health will improve greatly.

In terms of the vegetables…well…we are all adults so you have to eat your vegetables!   Now that butter and naturally occurring sea salt are recognized as safe again, we should all be able to make veggies bearable, if not enjoyable.

I personally have seen dozens of clients improve their blood cholesterol numbers, and even some get off statins and reverse Type II diabetes with these 3 simple steps.

So, try instituting one at a time or all at once – either way, your heart health will improve!

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Fermented Foods & Probiotics

This past winter I got into the habit of consuming homemade sauerkraut on a regular basis. I did this for a few reasons:

First, it tastes delicious! In my opinion, any vegetable is improved when salt is added and the texture is softened.

Second, I feel good buying local foods and eating seasonally.

It’s easy to get in the habit of picking up a box of spinach and having the same salad for lunch. However, regularly buying prepackaged and prewashed spinach, flown in overnight from California in the middle of December, makes little sense. But, buying a dozen heads of local cabbage in the fall, to shred and store in jars for the winter, is much more natural and earth-friendly.

Thirdly, it introduces more variety to my diet.

Every food has a distinctive nutrient profile. For example, sauerkraut will provide more Vitamin C than spinach.

Conversely, all plant-based foods contain anti-nutrients. Over-consumption of oxalic acid in spinach interferes with mineral absorption. Fermenting or cooking vegetables breaks down anti-nutrients.

Finally, fermented foods provide beneficial probiotics to the body.

As research progresses, we learn that more and more of our health is dependent upon the intestines or gut. This is one of the last stops for everything we consume and is a vast ecosystem with over 100 trillion living microorganisms. The balance of these microorganisms, or bacteria, determine how our bodies function. 80% of our immune system exists in our guts and literally hundreds of health conditions can be tied to the balance of its bacteria.

Although the science of this ecosystem, known as the gut flora or microbiota, is still developing, we are aware of some general affects.

Non-digestible fiber, known as prebiotics, found in vegetables and fruits, stimulate the growth of advantageous bacteria in our gut.

Probiotics, living cultures present in fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut, also benefit our gut flora.

Alternatively, antibiotics and excessive sanitary practices, although sometimes necessary to fight disease, can destroy healthy gut flora.

Unnatural foods such as refined sugar and artificial sweeteners also starve good bacteria. This is one proposed reason that sugar-free and even calorie-free products, such as diet soda, still result in weight gain and diabetes.

Finally, overconsumption of grains feed bacteria with inflammatory properties. Some constituents of grains even have the ability to tear through the gut lining, resulting in autoimmune conditions such as arthritis, eczema, and GERD.

Since I have little need for antibiotics and have already replaced grains with vegetables, regularly consuming probiotics from fermented foods is that last major step I can take to improve my gut health.

The best part about fermenting food – it’s easy!

  1. Simply shred or finely chop desired vegetable.
  2. Massage thoroughly with non-iodized salt until vegetable juices are released.
  3. Pack into a glass jar and fill with water.
  4. Weight down vegetables under water to prevent mold from growing! Check regularly for visible mold growth resulting from vegetables floating above the water line.
  5. Let jar sit at room temperature for desired amount of time. Do a quick Internet search to confirm appropriate fermentation time. Some foods only take a few days while others can take months!

So far I have made and LOVED sauerkraut and beet kvass. I have also tried fermenting raw goat milk with kefir cultures but did not enjoy the taste.

Use trial and error to find your favorite inputs and fermentation time. At worst, you’ll dislike the strong vinegar flavor and lose about 15 minutes of preparation time. At best, you’ll improve the health and function of your entire body!

fermented-food2

Fasting

As some of you may have noticed I didn’t post anything on my blog last week. I swear I haven’t become lazy; and unfortunately I wasn’t enjoying a vacation; instead, I was stuck in bed with the worst stomach bug in years!

After surviving on chicken broth for 5 days, I am back to work and my regular life revolving around fitness and nutrition.

In order to better accept the losses I suffered last week, I had to find a silver lining to my sickness. One of the only positives is that I experienced an “extended protein fast”.

Fasting refers to a time we are not consuming nutrients. Most of us fast overnight while sleeping. Some of us fast longer for various health reasons.

I try to extend an overnight fast to about 16 hours on the weekends. To do this, I have dinner on Friday and Saturday between 6 and 8 PM and don’t eat again until after noon the next day.

Fasting has the following benefits:

  1. Increased fat burning. In the absence of carbs, and insulin, the body ramps up lipolysis or it’s natural fat-burning abilities.
  2. Cellular maintenance. When we are fed, our body is working to use and store nutrients in cells. When we give our body a break from this process, it can repair damaged cells and recycle bad ones…known as cell autophagy. This helps prevent the growth of cancers and can extend lifespan.
  3. Improved metabolism and hunger signals. Simply put, the more frequently we eat, the more frequently our body wants food! Additionally, a diet high in sugars or processed fats can override our natural hunger signals and trick us into thinking we need more food. By fasting, we are able to adjust our metabolism and re-balance hunger signaling.
  4. Benefits to blood markers. Fasting allows the body to move cholesterol around in the body as it is needed, resulting in lower blood cholesterol numbers. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels will also go down.
  5. Better hormone levels. Fasting can increase growth hormone release in the body, allowing recovery within the body.
  6. Improved mental functioning. Occasional fasts improve neurological processes. In addition, fasting can pause pre-occupation with food and cravings. Meditation is more effective when done in a fasted state.

There are many more benefits but these are the top ones supported by science.

A “protein fast”, as I was forced to experience last week, is merely a time without protein or essential amino acids. This has many of the same benefits but allows for some calories and nutrients to still be consumed.

The greatest benefit of a protein fast is that it retrains the body how to use protein efficiently.

This is not as important if you are eating a low-protein diet – below one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. But for someone such as myself, consuming over this amount daily, the body can start to convert excess protein to carbohydrates. This is an inefficient process in the body and a waste of money since high-quality protein is far more expensive than healthy carbs.

Fasting may not be a good idea if you have ever struggled with eating disorders, are an insulin-dependent diabetic, or under an immense amount of stress.

Fasting is not a cure all. It would fall under the category of a “hermetic response”.

Hormesis is a beneficial response within our body to a low level of toxin or stress. Fasting is one such stressor. It can improve our health but, if overdone or done incorrectly, it can have dire consequences.

The takeaway from all this is:

  • Don’t worry if you miss a meal. Your metabolism won’t shut down. The lean body mass you worked hard for won’t evaporate. In fact, body composition and health may improve!
  • Only experiment with purposeful fasting after the major health factors are taken care of. Sleeping a minimum of 8 hours, engaging in daily activity or exercise, and eating a diet based around plants and protein will provide far more immediate benefits. What’s worse, if you aren’t sleeping or eating properly, forcing yourself to fast may damage your health even more!

Once again, conventional wisdom recommending to eat every 3 hours to keep blood sugar up and metabolism running, may not be perfectly accurate. Eating the right foods when you are hungry, and not eating when you are not hungry, will be far more beneficial to your mental and physical health!

fasting

Top 5 Proteins, Carbs, and Fats

One of the most exciting things about having a blog is the tremendous feedback I get from people throughout the day.

Direct and simple posts, including lists or comparisons, tend to earn the most praise. For that reason, my blog this week will be a list of the top 5 healthiest proteins, fats, and carbs, in order.

Protein:

  1. Organ Meats – Although these have fallen out of favor in modern American culture, organs, such as liver and kidney, are the healthiest sources of protein in the world.
  2. Shellfish & Other Fish – A single oyster may offer 70% Vitamin D, 300% Vitamin B12, 500% Zinc, 200% Copper, and 75% Selenium for the day! All seafood will be high in Omega 3, vitamin D, calcium, and selenium, so eat up!
  3. Pork – Believe it or not, pork raised on a natural diet of nuts, fruits, and small rodents will offer more vitamins and minerals per serving than any other animal! The difficulty is finding a source that hasn’t been raised on grains and corn.
  4. Beef – Grass-fed and grass-finished of course! A mere 14 days of corn or grain “finishing” can skew the omega 3 profile of the meat, leading to the risks commonly associated with “red meat”.
  5. Eggs – Yolks are one of natures multivitamins. They contain Vitamin A, D, and B12, along with Riboflavin, Phosphorus, and Selenium. Even more importantly, they offer a healthy dose of Sterols, necessary for proper hormone function and protection against heart disease!

Carbs:

  1. Herbs & Spices – These have more vitamins and minerals, with less calories, than any other plants in the world!
  2. Vegetables – With most calories coming from fiber, and still chalk full of nutrients, veggies are the second most valuable carbohydrate source.
  3. Legumes – These still contain nutritious with a reasonable amount of fiber, but humans can only reap the benefits by soaking and sprouting the bean first. Consumption of beans before sprouting will result in unpleasant digestive effects, lack of nutrient absorption, and possible inflammation within the body. Also keep in mind they are rather high in “active” carbs, so save them for workout days!
  4. Fruits – A delicious, raw, and living food! Berries are the best, with more fiber and less sugar, but most fruits will be “self-limiting”, hopefully preventing overconsumption of the fructose they contain.
  5. Roots & Tubers – Different types of potatoes and various roots will contain more active carbs than most other plants, but still offer a decent nutrient profile. For those of you that are very active, exercising in the 75-95% range on a regular basis, opt for a “carb reefed” consisting of these post-workout.

Fats:

  1. Nuts & Seeds – These will offer more vitamins and minerals, along with fiber, than any other fat source. However, they can be very easy to over-consume so either buy them in the shell or portion out one serving before eating. Soaking is once again necessary to improve nutrient aborption.
  2. Avocadoes – A truly perfect food! Loaded with healthy fats, fiber, and tons of nutrients. Not to mention portable and versatile. I usually have one every day.
  3. Grass-fed Butter – Vitamin A, K, D, along with stable and healthy fats and beneficial sterols…there’s really no wrong use for butter. Cook in it, top veggies with it…heck, it’s even become popular to put it in coffee to make “bulletproof coffee”.
  4. Animal Fats & Oils – The days of extracting, bleaching, aromatizing, and processing oils from corn, canola, and soy is over! Leave behind these rancid, inflammation promoting substitutes and use what nature provides – tallow from cows, leftover grease from healthy bacon, etc.
  5. Coconut – Although coconut does not contain a wide array of vitamins, it offers many benefits to the body. It can increase metabolism, improve skin and hair health, and even function as an anti-microbial or anti-viral substance.

And with that, we have a list of the top 5 healthiest foods from each macronutrient category. Build your meals around these foods you’ll be on your way to perfecting your health!

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Pancake Recipe

My biggest qualm with the current “gluten-free fad” dominating society is that companies market gluten-free alternatives that are just as unhealthy as the original product!

A prime example is the industry of baked goods, including cookies, cakes, pancakes, muffins, and bagels. While over-consumption of gluten can “tip the scales” towards autoimmune conditions developing, loading up on highly-processed, sugar-laden, pastry-like substance is a much bigger problem.

However, I am human as well – I love a home baked cookie or pancakes as Sunday brunch. For this reason, I wanted to share the best grain-free pancake recipe I have ever tried.

  1. In one bowl, mix 2 tablespoons coconut flour, 2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon baking powder, and a pinch salt.
  2. In another bowl, mix ½ cup coconut milk, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and a drizzle of honey.
  3. Combine powdered mixture and liquid mixture and stir. It’s important to wait at least 5 minutes for the flaxseeds to absorb the liquid, thereby creating the typical pancake batter we are all so fond of.
  4. Grease nonstick pans with coconut oil and set heat to low. Pour batter into pans and cook at least 5 minutes on each side. Once several bubbles have developed in batter, you know its time to flip them.
  5. Serve with desired toppings and enjoy!

The best thing about this recipe is that it will provide 3 large pancakes without a great deal of ingredients. What other pancake or waffle recipe only calls for 4 tablespoons of ground mix?

Another amazing thing about this recipe is that it can be modified to meet your tastes or needs.

If you are active and have a sweet tooth, load the pancakes with bananas, top with berries, or drizzle maple syrup on top.

If you prefer a richer and more sustaining breakfast, top with almond butter and maybe add a tablespoon or two of powdered 100% cacao into the mix.

No matter what fruit, nut, or natural product you add, these pancakes will provide far more nutrients, with far less detriments, than typical flour pancakes, or even gluten-free, alternatives!

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