Donate Blood!

I am always offering ways to improve health and performance. Improvement in these areas is an admirable goal for any individual.

My number one recommendation for everyone is to first improve their diet –replacing packaged foods with vegetables, fruits, and local meat and eggs.

However, an ideal diet, high in nutrient density, can have one unfavorable outcome: elevated blood iron levels.

High iron levels become an issue when an individual starts eating adequate protein but doesn’t participate in activities that result in bleeding. Historically, we would risk injury during hunting, defending ourselves from prey, or just living life with fewer comforts than we have now.

This is more problematic for men than women, as women have a natural method for disposing of excess iron through blood on a regular basis.

High iron levels in the blood can pose as an oxidative stress for the body. And, if you recall the concern of fats becoming oxidized, you’ll remember that it’s the process of oxidation that causes most of our health problems.

Many studies that claim red meat causes cancer, actually examine iron levels in the blood. It is well accepted that unnaturally high iron levels can indeed be a precipitating event in the formation of different cancers.

So, if we are shooting for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and understand that grass-fed beef is the second healthiest protein source after seafood, what can we do to avoid the risks of over consuming iron?

Donate blood regularly!

This is something I have started recently and recommend for most healthy individuals, particularly men.

Not only can you help an individual that may be in dire need of blood, but you will also reduce the oxidative stress in your own body.

The American Red Cross allows you to donate blood once every eight weeks. This is because most donations will take about one pint of blood, which takes the body four to six weeks to fully replace. However, the plasma in your blood will be replaced within 24 hours so symptoms of fatigue should not last longer than this.

Donating blood is a stressor for the body, so you will need to curtail your exercise schedule accordingly. I usually donate blood on the Saturday before a recovery week. This means that I won’t have any scheduled exercise within 2 days of donating blood, and even when I do return to the gym on Monday, my workouts will be at half intensity for the following week.

Even though eating after giving blood can be beneficial, make sure you are still making healthy choices! Some donation sites still offer juices, cookies, or candy. I would recommend coming prepared with a piece of fruit or a protein smoothie.

Anemia, often caused by low iron levels, is common in our country and may be more problematic than “high-normal” levels. For this reason, I recommend getting a ferritin blood test before donating blood on a regularly basis.

On average, 10% of women nationally have anemia, while only about 2% of men have it. Because of this, I believe a regular blood donation schedule is far more beneficial for males.

Take a look at the effort you put into exercise. Consider how much time you spend shopping, cooking, and eating. Add up how much you spend on health insurance. Now ask yourself: is donating blood every few months to improve your health and possibly save a life, worth 30 minutes of slight discomfort?

Not every step we take to improve our health will directly help a fellow human – but this one will!

Blood-Donation

Epidemiological Studies

I spend hours every day reading studies, articles, and researching health-related matters. When I find a new publication or exploration of a topic, I get excited to dive in. That being said, some studies and articles are more useful than others.

One type of study that is used frequently to make health claims and guide public policy is an “epidemiological study”. Epidemiology is the study of a set population, or group of people, to develop correlations or inferences.

The problem is that these do not prove anything. When we find a strong correlation between factors, we should use that as a starting point to conduct further research. An epidemiological study, by itself, should never be the basis for making health policies.

Let me give some examples.

Epidemiology suggests that soy is a healthy incorporation in a diet. This is due to the fact that Asian countries consume high amounts of soy on a regular basis and don’t experience the same health problems as Western nations.

However, no other factors are taken into account.

The soy that Asians consume has not been genetically modified to the same extent as ours, nor has it been grown in soils depleted of minerals. Also, most Asian dishes use fermented soy or the bean in its natural state.

Asian cultures consume more wild-caught fish (high in anti-inflammatory omega-3s), sea vegetables (loaded with vitamins and minerals), and opt for white rice, with less anti-nutrients and gut-damaging proteins than typical “heart-healthy” whole grains such as wheat and oatmeal.

Historically, Asians don’t consume as much processed food as Americans. They don’t cook in corn or canola oil, they don’t have packaged foods at every meal, and they don’t go out to eat as often.

And finally, they are far more active – walking, biking, and taking the stairs as part of daily life.

Because of these factors, we cannot confidently say that the consumption of soy in Asian countries is the cause of their better health.

When we look at soy mechanistically, we find phytoestrogens that have the potential to skew hormone levels, leading to fat-storage and growth of cancer cells. It is extremely high in inflammatory omega-6s. Take into consideration our growing practices, extensive refinement process, and consumption of soy byproducts, and soy consumption in the US no longer seems as safe.

Another example of epidemiology lacking substance:

In March of this year, there was a headline stating: “Animal protein-rich diets could be as harmful to health as smoking”. These news reports were based upon two studies: one epidemiological study of over 6000 adults and one study of mice in a laboratory.

The results of these studies suggested that a high protein diet (over 20% of calories) was “positively associated with diabetes-related mortality”. When you look at the numbers, one person in the “high-protein” group (consisting of over 1000 individuals) died from diabetes.

The lead researcher running this study owns a plant-derived protein supplement company…explaining the claim that only animal-protein is dangerous.

Some other issues:

There was no way to control for protein quality. There has never been a study showing negative outcomes from consumption of wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, or eggs from pasture-raised chickens.

The mice that experienced growth of cancer tumors were implanted with melanoma cells before the study began. Plus, the study found that high protein consumption was “not associated with all-cause, CVD, or cancer mortality”. Therefore, the protein-cancer correlation was in fact disproved.

Finally, diet was self-reported. The average participant reported consuming 1,800 calories a day…30% lower than the national average. This suggests major under-reporting.

So, even though the study was riddled with flaws, and actually found no increased risk from animal-protein consumption, the results were phrased to dissuade individuals from consuming meat.

To get back to my original point – epidemiology is used too often to prove a pre-existing belief, promote a political agenda, or increase profits.

By itself, epidemiology is no different than trying to claim that the number of birds flying over a particular region somehow determines cancer rates in that area.

Certainly we should use any research tactic available to ask questions and form a hypothesis…but ultimately, we need to examine issues in every way possible.

Once we’ve investigated mechanisms, done cohort studies and some “food-diary” studies with pictures, it’s time to form a hypothesis and conduct a blinded, crossover, metabolic ward trial to draw some real conclusions!
correlation

Spaghetti Bolognese

One of the dishes I miss most since replacing grains with vegetables is Spaghetti Bolognese.

I do not miss how the processed, high-carb pasta overrode my hunger signals, causing lethargy, bloating, and unhealthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

A few years ago I found the perfect substitute for highly-refined pasta products that are packaged with enough preservatives and chemicals to allow for a nearly infinite shelf-life…

A spaghetti squash!

Below is my adapted recipe for an all-natural version of Spaghetti Bolognese:

1.) Select your favorite ingredients for the tomato sauce. I like onions, carrots, garlic, mushrooms and two cans of tomatoes – one crushed and one diced.

2.) Empty the jars of tomato sauce into the largest pot you own and turn the heat to medium-low (if it starts to bubble and splatter, turn it down a little).

3.) Chop up veggies to your liking and stir into tomato sauce. Add herbs & spices to taste.

4.) Add ground beef, pork, or preferred protein source (local and naturally fed is optimal). Cover and let sit on low heat. Stir every 5-10 minutes to break up meat and ensure equal cooking.

5.) Heat oven to 350 F. Cut spaghetti squash in half, length-wise, and scrape all the seeds out (you can throw these out, add them to the sauce, or toast them in the oven with spices).

6.) Place both halves, cut side down, on a baking sheet and place in oven. Start checking the texture of the squash after 25 minutes. The shorter they cook, the more the final result will resemble al dente spaghetti.

7.) Remove squash from oven and drag a fork along the inside to create spaghetti strands. Continue to cut/scoop the spaghetti onto a plate or bowl. One squash can make 3-5 large plates of spaghetti.

8.) Check the Bolognese sauce to see if it is done to your liking. You may also want to add butter or heavy cream to reduce the acidity of the sauce and bump up the nutrient density.

9.) Pour your sauce on top of your spaghetti and enjoy!

Spaghetti

I love this recipe because it allows me to enjoy one of my favorite childhood dishes without any of the negative effects on my health or body composition. Also, there isn’t much preparation involved, just time spent checking how the sauce and squash are cooking.

Keep in mind that you will need to experiment with different cook times to find out how soft or hard you like the spaghetti strands. I’ve always been a fan of a slight crunch, although cooking for longer may provide the softer texture some people prefer. Just be patient and give this recipe a few tries before giving up and returning to the less-nutritious packaged options.

For the sake of comparison:

One-cup of whole-wheat spaghetti has about 200 calories, with over 30 grams of refined carbs. It contains a significant amount of manganese and selenium.

One-cup of spaghetti squash has about 40 calories, with less than 10 grams of natural carbs. It is higher in Vitamin A, C, K, B, Calcium, and Potassium.

I hope this recipe helps provide a healthier alternative to the beloved American-Italian dish!
Enjoy!

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!

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!

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!

Cholesterol

This week, I’d like to discuss a topic that, like dietary fats, is surrounded by a great deal of confusion and fear – cholesterol!

First, what is cholesterol? It makes up cell membranes and travels through blood plasma. Its major roles in the body are as follows:

  • Transports fats to be used as energy
  • Allows the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, K, E)
  • Helps maintain healthy hormone levels
  • Encases and protects neurons
  • Builds and maintains cells

Cholesterol is essential for life and therefore, the body has its own mechanisms for maintaining healthy levels. It is estimated that the body produces 1,000 to 1,400mgs of cholesterol a day.

An important detail is that very little of the cholesterol you consume actually makes it to the blood, meaning it has little effect on cholesterol levels in the body. However, if you consume enough cholesterol to affect levels in the blood, your body will simply create less, and vice-versa.

It may also be beneficial to list the different forms of cholesterol within the body.

HDL, commonly referred to as “good cholesterol”, carries cholesterol, after its work is done, to the liver to be excreted.

LDL is where a great deal of confusion lies. LDL comes in two forms, large puffy particles or small dense particles. The large puffy LDL carry cholesterol to the areas in the body as needed. One of the major needs for LDL is to cover up lesions caused by inflammation on the walls of arteries. The purpose is to protect the artery from further damage and, if the inflammation ends, the HDL will clear out the LDL. However, if the inflammation continues, the LDL becomes oxidized and hardens, forming a buildup that can lead to clotting…a major cause of cardiovascular disease.

In the early 50’s, research was done on individuals that had suffered cardiovascular events such as heart attacks. The research showed that there was cholesterol present in the inflamed areas of the body so immediately, medical organizations started “educating” the public about the dangers of cholesterol.

Interestingly, the lead researcher realized that cholesterol was merely a symptom, and not a cause of cardiovascular problems, and retracted his findings in 1959. However, the pharmaceutical companies and food industry, in response to the medical community, had already invested too much to reverse their campaign against cholesterol.

In the coming weeks I’ll write a post discussing how to manipulate cholesterol levels as well as how to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, I wanted to simply touch upon the importance of cholesterol and dispel any fears regarding its consumption.

My anecdotal experience: I eat 4-6 eggs and almost a pound of beef a day…about 2000mg of cholesterol total. I have eaten this way for over two years now, five days a week, and my HDL has continued to rise as my triglycerides (carried by small, dense LDL particles) and inflammation markers have stayed unbelievably low.

I will continue to track all markers of health and, like everything, will adjust accordingly as necessary. But, at this time, I have no plan of avoiding foods I enjoy due to cholesterol content.

See you all again soon!