Eat Protein and Plants!

As most of you know by now, I recommend consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This means that a 100-pound girl running track should eat 100 grams of protein; a 200-pound strength athlete should consume 200 grams of protein; and a 300-pound adult trying to lose weight should aim for 300 grams of protein.

The reasons for this recommendation are as follows.

  • Protein has the highest thermogenic effect. 30% of the calories from protein are used during digestion and processing.
  • Protein is the most satiating nutrient, leaving one full for 4 – 9 hours.
  • Protein breaks down to amino acids. These are not only used for cell repair and maintenance, but also trigger the release of serotonin, dopamine, melatonin, etc, in the brain. These are chemicals that affect moods, energy levels, and feelings.
  • Excess protein will either be converted to sugars, to be used for fuel, or excreted in the urine.

A reservation people have to eating more protein is that it is “dangerous for the kidneys”. Studies of individuals with renal impairment, or complete kidney failure, show a worsening of symptoms when administering a high protein diet. However, no study has ever suggested that a healthy population can’t handle high amounts of protein. Processing excess nutrients is the main role of our kidneys.

Recent studies have gone as far as feeding participants up to 400 or 500 grams of protein a day. The worst side effects reported were feelings of being “bloated” or “hot”. As a side note, these individuals gained no fat, even though they were consuming over 1000 extra calories a day from protein.

The other concerns I hear stem from certain studies suggesting that protein, specifically meat, causes cancer. Next time you hear this, look at the study to verify the following:

  • Was the meat naturally raised? Was beef from 100% grass-fed cows? Were chickens raised in open pastures, feeding on seeds and bugs? More likely, the beef was from feedlots and the chickens were fattened to the point they could not stand.
  • What were the cooking conditions? Was the meat slow roasted or seared? We already know that black, crunchy sear-marks are carcinogenic.
  • Who were the individuals in the study and how were they tracked? The average American that consumes over a pound of protein a day is usually resorting to McDonald’s and pepperoni pizza, not chicken eggs from a friends backyard or a local burger with multiple cups of fresh vegetables.

Protein does cause an insulin release and increases mTOR signaling, leading to cell survival and proliferation. This is a good thing if you are exercising and attempting to displace fat with lean body mass. However, if you already have cancer, a lower protein diet, such as a ketogenic diet, will be more suitable.

A review of all macronutrient studies shows that diets higher in fat and protein, compared to high carb diets, result in:

  • Maintenance of more lean muscle mass
  • Greater loss of fat mass
  • Maintenance, or even an increase, in strength and performance

The only downside of protein is that healthy sources may not be inexpensive.

In areas with sustainable farming (such as where I live in Vermont), you can buy directly from a farmer. You may even be able to invest in a “cow-share” or similar program, paying for the cow before the government charges various fees. I have found grass-fed ground beef for as low as $3/lb. Search around and develop a relationship with local farmers.

Grass-fed beef, or pastured chicken and pork, may cost $5 – $10 a pound in typical markets. However, sales always occur, and meat can last for up to 12 months in a freezer before it loses flavor. Investing in a meat-freezer can help save money in the long run.

Another option is to find a high-quality protein supplement. I always recommend whole food from nature, but I am aware that having a full serving of protein (4 – 8 ounces of meat/fish, or 3 – 6 eggs) is not always easy and convenient.

In these situations, find a whey protein powder that is affordable and has as few ingredients as possible. I will do a post in the future comparing different forms of protein powders and brands.

In my experience, a client consuming 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, is able to experience easy improvement in body composition and performance.

Ideally, every meal should have a large serving of protein, about the size of your hand, surrounded by vegetables, cooked in healthy fats, with a serving of berries or fruit as desert. And if you’re still hungry, have seconds of the veggies and protein. Don’t wait an hour or two and resort to crackers, cookies, or other packaged goods.

Just eat more protein and plants!

Steak and Veggies

Meal Comparison, Part 1: Breakfast

Over the last year, news headlines showcased that saturated fat is not dangerous, animal products are not inherently unhealthy, and most of our health problems stem from over-consumption of refined carbohydrates.

However, change takes time. For the last 50 years, the public has been taught to fear fat and cholesterol, and to eat meals built around dense sources of carbs – particularly grains.

The science is now widely available showing that grains disrupt healthy gut function, provide an enormous carb load with few nutrients, and are inflammatory. But even with this information, many people are bewildered by recommendations to choose healthier options.

I can post in-depth articles discussing anti-nutrients, biological mechanisms, and studies…but sometimes a side-by-side comparison is more effective.

So, today I will post part 1 of a series comparing the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) with a grain-free approach. Each post will compare two meal options, starting with breakfast!

Since I clearly favor a grain-free approach, I have taken the following steps to ensure objectivity:

I picked the healthiest standard breakfast options doctors and dietitians recommend. This includes:

oatmeal1 cup of oatmeal (not instant; fortified and enriched)

1 cup of orange juice (not from concentrate; fortified)

½ cup of skim milk (fortified with vitamins A & D)

1 handful of raisins

For the grain-free breakfast, I picked foods that conventional wisdom would classify as too “high calorie” or “unhealthy”, including:

omelet1 omelet made with 4 whole eggs, spinach, and sweet red peppers

1/2 avocado

1 tomato

2 slices of bacon

Both meals provide 600 calories and take less than 15 minutes to prepare.

After running all the foods through a nutrient spreadsheet, here are the total offerings of each meal:

Meal Carbs Fiber Protein Sat Fat Mono Fat Omega 3 Omega 6
Standard Breakfast 136 9 15 1 1.5 50 2000
Grain-Free Breakfast 25 13 35 10 20 1300 3500

The oatmeal breakfast provides a major carb bolus, with very little fiber or fat to mitigate the resulting blood sugar spike. At over 100 grams of sugar per meal, it’s no surprise that almost 30 million Americans suffer from diabetes.

These carbs also increase small, dense LDL, causing atherosclerosis. Meanwhile, the grain-free breakfast provides 13 grams of fiber, along with 10 grams of saturated fat and 20 grams of monounsaturated, both raising HDL, or “good” cholesterol.

I included a column for omega 3 and omega 6. These are both essential fats, but O-3 has an anti-inflammatory affect while O-6 causes inflammation, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Historically, humans consumed a 1-to-2 or 1-to-4 ratio of O3-to-O6. The oatmeal breakfast skews this massively, with a ratio of 1-to-40, while the omelet and guacamole is more ideal (1-to-3).

Clearly the grain-free breakfast is healthier in terms of cardiovascular function, inflammation levels, and blood sugar control. But what about vitamin content?

Meal Vit A Vit C Vit D Vit E Vit K Vit B6 Vit B12 Folate Choline
American Breakfast 2700* 125 50* 0.4* 3* 1 0.5 280 70
Grain-Free Breakfast 10000 250 70 8 184 2 3 330 560

Once again, the omelet, bacon, and guacamole trump the oatmeal and fruit in every category!

You’ll also notice an asterisk in the vitamin A, D, K, and E categories. The oatmeal breakfast offers less of these vitamins but also lacks the fat and cholesterol necessary to activate and absorb these 4 fat-soluble vitamins.

The American breakfast offers far less B vitamins, and folate, which is problematic since carbohydrates use up B vitamins in their processing. It is common for Americans that don’t consume enough animal products, yet eat a large amount of grains, to require vitamin b supplements and sometimes even injections.

Finally, let’s look at the minerals offered by each meal:

Meal Calcium Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium
American Breakfast 500* 160 590 1300 2.9 0.5 2 24
Grain-Free Breakfast 170 120 600 1700 4.4 0.8 0.8 75

The oatmeal and fruit offers more in 3 categories! Grains are an excellent source of magnesium and manganese, while dairy provides a substantial amount of calcium.

I have once again put an asterisk next to calcium. Dairy and grains create a very acidic environment in the body, potentially leaching calcium from the bones.

The omelet and guacamole offer more minerals in total…but a daily serving of nuts may help shore up the few shortcomings.

As evidenced by this side-by-side comparison of a Standard American Diet breakfast, and a breakfast based around plants, animal products, and healthy fats, grains are not necessary.

There are a few minerals that are more abundant in grains which may support an argument for their occasional inclusion, but the idea that we should eat 6 to 11 servings a day is ludicrous.

Whether we look at carbohydrate load, inflammatory factors, or nutrients, grains clearly are not the “heart healthy” option we have been told.

Next time you’re contemplating what to make for breakfast, crack a few eggs and fry up some bacon – I’ve never heard someone complain that these foods aren’t more tasty…and now we know they are healthier too!

The Most Nutritious Foods

As many of you know by now, I try to consume the most nutritious foods possible. However, I’ve never listed exactly what foods provide the most nutrients per serving.

Advertisements claim that certain foods are important nutritionally. Markets assign numbered scores to various products. Most of these rating systems, such as NuVal and ANDI, are inaccurate for a number of reasons.

First, they look at nutrients that are not essential for life, and conversely, overlook nutrients that are necessary for life. Second, they draw from disproved nutritional norms, such as dietary cholesterol and saturated fat being “bad”. Thirdly, they are designed by agricultural companies or individuals with a bias.

Scientists, such as Loren Cordain and Mat Lalonde, have done extensive work in the last few decades to redesign nutrient rating systems. They set aside non-essential nutrients in food and focused purely on what the body must consume from outside sources.

The body cannot produce the following:

Fatty Acids: Omega 3 and Omega 6

Amino Acids: isoleucine; leucine; lysine; methionine; phenylalanine; threonine; tryptophan; valine; histidine

Vitamins: A; Bp (choline); B1 (thiamine); B2 (riboflavin); B3 (niacin); B5 (pantothenic acid); B6; B7 (biotin); B9 (folic acid); B12; C; D; E; K

Minerals: calcium; chloride; chromium; cobalt; copper; iodide; iron; magnesium; manganese; molybdenum; nickel; phosphorus; potassium; selenium; sodium; sulfur; zinc

These nutrients were plugged into the following formula to determine nutrient density:

(sum of essential nutrients per serving) ÷ (weight per serving)

I’d like to make a few points before posting Mat’s nutrient density list.

First, the database he drew from did not have complete data for certain nutrients.

The database did not differentiate between preformed vitamins and their final form. Vitamin A, “beta-carotene”, in sweet potatoes and carrots, must be converted to “retinol”, found in egg yolks and liver. Vitamin K1, found in green leafy vegetables, requires conversion to K2, found in grass-fed dairy.

There was no way to account for bioavailability of nutrients. Most grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds contain high levels of phytates which prevent absorption of nutrients and minerals.

Finally, and most importantly, the diet, age, and lifestyle of animals were not specified. Grass-fed beef, raised on open pastures, is much healthier than corn-fed beef, raised in stalls that restrict movement. Also, mature ducks having more nutritional value than baby ducks.

Taking this unavailable data into consideration, we can assume that most animal products would move up a few spots. This is because most plants have limited amino acids and fatty acids, and the vitamins found in vegetables must be converted or activated.

Without further ado, the ranking of nutrient density averages for the food groups:

1.) Organ Meats and Oils
2.) Herbs and Spices
3.) Nuts and Seeds
4.) Cacao
5.) Fish and Seafood
6.) Pork
7.) Beef
8.) Eggs & Dairy
9.) Vegetables (raw & unprepared)
10.) Lamb, Veal, and Wild Game
11.) Poultry
12.) Legumes
13.) Processed Meat
14.) Vegetables (cooked, canned, blanched, pickled)
15.) Plant Fats and Oils
16.) Fruit
17.) Animal Skin and Feet
18.) Grains and Pseudocereals (cooked)
19.) Refined and Processed Fats and Oils
20.) Grains (canned)
21.) Processed Fruit

Many people will be surprised by how low grains appear on the list. The nutrient value of raw grains would place them in the top 5. However, our bodies cannot digest raw grains. Taking nutrient loss during cooking and expansion of grains (1/4 cup raw rice = 1 cup cooked rice) into account, their value decreases dramatically.

I was quite surprised to see herbs, spices, and cacao near the top of the list. I always considered these foods to be enjoyable additions to a healthy diet, but not the most valuable sources of nutrients.

Two final notes regarding this list:

It is not a requirement to eat the most nutritious foods all the time. Certain nutrients, such as activated vitamin A (retinol) and selenium (abundant in Brazil nuts) are actually toxic in high doses.

Second, as previously mentioned, this rating system only looks at essential nutrients. Many vegetables contain antioxidants and fiber that can improve health, even though they are non-essential for life.

I would recommend consuming foods higher on this list and keeping your meals full of vegetables.
For Mat Lalonde’s complete presentation, follow this link to YouTube.

Matheiu Lalonde has a PhD in Organic Chemistry and a postdoctoral degree in Inorganic Chemistry from Harvard. He teaches, lectures, and is the Science Safety Officer at Harvard’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology. I have to give him credit for the motivation behind, and information in, this post.

I hope this sets aside all confusion of what is best to eat.

Keep in mind that human-run studies can be flawed, correlations from epidemiological studies can be weak, and research can be conducted to prove a point, rather than discover the truth, but the actual make-up of foods cannot be disputed!

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!

Chocolate!

Due to the positive feedback from last week’s post discussing coffee consumption, this week I’ll do a similar analysis of another dark and flavorful food – chocolate!

Chocolate, as we know it, is much different than the cocoa bean that grows in nature. The beans are roasted, de-shelled, and ground into a paste. From there, sugar, cocoa butter, and emulsifiers (usually soy lecithin) are added. Finally, it is refined, treated with an alkalizing agent to reduce the acidity, and often combined with dairy.

The darker the chocolate you consume, the less inputs are added. For the sake of discussion, let’s look at the health benefits of 100% raw cocoa:

  • It has more antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, than any other substance. These help the body maintain healthy cardiovascular function by improving endothelial function, blood lipid levels, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.
  • It is predominately saturated and monounsaturated fat, the safest and most stable forms of fuel for the body.
  • One ounce (less than a single square from a bar) fulfills the listed percent of recommended daily values for the following minerals:
    • 50% Copper and Manganese
    • 35% Magnesium
    • 25% Iron and Phosphorus
    • 15% Potassium and Zinc

These are minerals that most people are deficient in…particularly when you consider the anti-nutrient content, and resulting absorption issues, of the foods they are predominately found in (nuts, seeds, and grains).

I would list the following facts as downsides of cocoa:

  • One ounce contains 65mg of caffeine (not nearly as much as coffee but on par with black tea).
  • One ounce also contains 200-500mg of theobromine – another stimulant that takes the body longer to process than caffeine.
  • As mentioned above, it is usually processed with sugar, dairy, and soy.

Again, all these facts are for 100% raw cocoa, often sold in the baking aisle of grocery stores as baking chocolate. In this form, it is very bitter and difficult to over consume.

I’d recommend buying the darkest chocolate you can still enjoy. Most people can find a 75%-85% dark chocolate bar that they like…just experiment with different brands!

I personally buy 100% raw cocoa and melt it into smoothies or shave it on top of yogurt and homemade ice cream. When mixed with other foods, particularly sweeter foods, I find the bitterness of the 100% dark to be perfect.

I use 1-2 ounces (one square from a full bar) on each day of the weekend. I personally would not want to consume cocoa on a daily basis due to the stimulant properties. However, if you are consuming 85% or darker cocoa, there is no reason not to enjoy one square a day (just try to eat it earlier in the day due to the stimulant properties). Be on the lookout for bars loaded with sugar, milk, or other inputs that could lead to over consumption.

One separate matter worth mentioning, that I unfortunately did not touch upon in my last post, is the environmental and humanity issues involved in the production of cocoa. Very often, child slaves and impoverished farmers are subject to terrible treatment. Also, deforestation is a major concern when growing and harvesting cocoa beans.

Try to find cocoa that is certified Fairtrade. This implies that a certification body has approved the environmental, labor, and developmental standards involved in the production of a food. Like many other bureaucratic systems however, this certification is far from perfect and does not guarantee fair treatment of every person involved in the cocoa trade.

In closing, I would like to reiterate: check the list of ingredients on the back of whatever you buy. Find a product with the shortest list that does not contain any ingredients you could not find in nature. And also, consume in moderation. Just because a food has more benefits than detriments, doesn’t mean more is better.

Enjoy!