Meal Comparison, Part 2: Lunch

This week I continue my series comparing meals from the Standard American Diet to grain-free alternatives.

Today will compare a healthy USDA-approved lunch, consisting of the following:

A sandwich made with:

2 slices whole wheat bread (enriched & fortified)

2 leaves of lettuce

2 slices turkey

2 slices ham

2 tablespoons honey-mustard dressing

1 8-ounce container of yogurt with fruit

1 medium apple

Sandwich

The grain-free meal will contain:

8 ounces salmon

1 ounce of walnuts

A salad made with:

2 cups mixed greens (spinach, romaine, lettuce, etc)

1 carrot

½ onion

Salad

Both meals total less than 650 calories and take less than 15 minutes to prepare.

Here is a macronutrient breakdown of the two meals, including a comparison of the fatty acid quality (omegas) of each.

. Total Carbs Fiber Net Carbs Protein Sat Fat Mono Fat Omega 3 Omega 6
Standard Lunch 111 8 103 23 1.8 2.2 225 2250
Grain-Free Lunch 36 12 25 50 5 9 8700 11300

The sandwich and fruit results in over 100 grams of sugar released into the bloodstream! Carbs are not inherently bad, but if this pattern is repeated regularly, for 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, diabetes and cardiovascular disease can result.

Even though “whole grains” are known for their fiber content, we see that a meal based around vegetables will provide far more fiber content. Fiber mitigates blood sugar spikes and maintains healthy gut function.

The most apparent difference is in the protein content. The sandwich and yogurt provides just over 20 grams of protein while the salmon salad weighs in at an impressive 50 grams. Imagine the benefits to cognitive functioning, physical performance, and body composition one could reap with such an adequate supply of amino acids!

Finally, we see that the omega 3-to-omega 6 ratio is about 1-to-10, risking an inflammatory state within the body. However, the salmon salad provides a much more balanced 1-to-1.3 O3-to-O6 ratio. A ratio in the range of 1-to-2 to 1-to-4 can help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, and certain neurological disorders.

Next is the vitamin comparison of the two meals:

. Vit A Vit C Vit D Vit E Vit K Vit B6 Vit B12 Folate
Standard Lunch 130 15 0 2 6 0.4 1.2 43
Grain-Free Lunch 34410 135 0.2 2.6 940 30 7.2 400

There’s really no need to examine any particular column. The numbers show that vegetables and healthy protein provide far more essential vitamins than refined grains, processed dairy, and “low-fat” deli meat.

Last is the mineral content of each meal:

. Calcium Iron Magnesium Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium
Standard Lunch 400 2.8 85 975 1500 3 0.1 0.7 48
Grain-Free Lunch 300 7.5 235 2825 700 3.8 1.5 2.6 108

Since the Standard Lunch includes yogurt, it will provide more calcium…but also a more acidic environment which may leech calcium from the bones.

The salmon salad still wins in every other category but we still see that grains are a decent source of minerals. As I mentioned last time however, a small serving of nuts will provide certain nutrients that aren’t found as abundantly in vegetables.

In conclusion, this side-by-side comparison of a “well-rounded, heart-healthy American lunch” and a salmon salad showcases the benefit of opting for more vegetables and healthy proteins.

Save the bread for the birds and start eating what nature provides!

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!

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

Coconut Oil

CoconutDue to the positive feedback on my recent post about gluten, I decided to tackle another food that is very popular right now: coconut oil.

Coconut oil is entering the mainstream at the moment because it has numerous health benefits and is one of the best oils to cook with.

Coconut oil is pressed from the flesh of a coconut. It is a solid, white substance below room temperature and turns into a clear liquid as temperatures rise over 70° F.

The consistency changes because it is over 90% saturated fat. Remember, saturated merely means that it is completely stable chemically. It won’t go rancid when stored or oxidize when cooked. These properties also hold true after consumption – it is the least likely, of all fats, to oxidize in the blood…oxidization being a precipitating factor in cardiovascular disease.

Not only is the fat content of coconut the safe saturated variety, but 66% of it is in the form of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

MCTs are interesting because they don’t require digestion to be converted to fuel. Therefore, it is very unlikely they will be stored as fat. They also ramp up the body’s ability to burn calories and fat. For these reasons, MCTs are often used by individuals trying to lose weight.

MCTs aren’t only a useful energy source for those looking to reduce body fat. They also produce ketones which are extremely therapeutic fuel for the brain. Ketones can protect against, and improve symptoms from, neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy.

All fats are made up of many different acids. One such acid that makes up most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is Lauric Acid (usually only found in breast milk). Lauric acid helps increase HDL in the body, once again protecting against cardiovascular disease. Finally, lauric acid has anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties, thereby protecting the body in many other ways too.

Due to the high concentration of chemically-stable fats in coconut oil, it is the most useful oil for high temperature cooking (above 300°F).

Vegetable and nut oils are predominately polyunsaturated fat, prone to oxidization when heated. Olive oil is a monounsaturated fat which is still not optimal for cooking.

Oils that are not very stable (poly and mono fats) will sacrifice their phytosterols in an attempt to prevent oxidization. Since coconut oil is almost purely saturated fat, its phytosterol content will remain even after cooking.

Life cannot exist without sterols – animals have cholesterol while plants contain phytosterols. It is believed that phytosterols improve cardiovascular health and act as antioxidants.

The oil certainly has a coconut-scent but most people find that the flavor dissipates quickly while cooking and has no effect on the taste of the final meal.

Coconut oil is often used as a moisturizer, lip balm, and in soap or other hygiene products.

Coconuts provide many other amazing foods too!

Coconut flour is an excellent alternative for sugar-laden grain flours. Coconut water is a more balanced, natural form of a sports drink. Coconut milk is a perfect substitute for animal milk. You can even buy coconut butter (pure raw coconut flesh) to spread on other foods…although it’s so rich and tasty that I’ve even eaten it straight out of the jar! And of course, you could just buy a whole coconut and make all these products yourself.

Now that we know the value of such a food, it’s time to throw out the rancid vegetable oils, save olive oil for salads, and start using coconut oil for your cooking endeavors!

3 News Articles

I know I reviewed a news article just last week, but this week I wanted to try something new and discuss multiple articles at once.

My hope is to provide more information at a time. Reviewing multiple articles also means I won’t get into the same level of detail – but this may make my postings easier to get through (I know not everyone is as interested in the scientific details and mechanisms).

The first article is about the updated F.D.A. guidelines recommending women that are pregnant or breast-feeding consume at least 8 ounces, or half a pound, of fish a week. This is a major shift in our nation’s guidelines.

Some fish, such as albacore tuna, have high levels of mercury that can be dangerous to women and infants. However, sardines and salmon (that happen to have the highest omega-3 content), will have much lower mercury because they simply do not live as long. As previously mentioned, mercury binds with selenium (found in high amounts in fish) so our bodies will not absorb the mercury.

An interesting thing I learned back in college: in the U.S., we recommend women avoid alcohol and eat vegetables while they are pregnant. However, in France, pregnant women used to be told to consume wine and to avoid certain vegetables such as spinach and broccoli.

As with everything, our knowledge is constantly changing and food producers are powerful enough to influence health recommendations.

Just consume the foods humans were meant to eat, in the quantity that is realistic in nature, and be aware of food sources. This way you will know if it contains more of something (mercury) or less of another (magnesium) than it once did.

The next article goes along with the typical understanding we are slowly coming around to – that saturated fat has no correlation with heart disease.

By now, we know that the science to vilify saturated fat and cholesterol was falsified:

“But as Tiecholz and other critics point out, Keys cherry-picked the seven countries he visited: the United States, the Netherlands, Finland, Yugoslavia, Italy, Greece and Japan.
Noticeably absent? Countries well known for their rich fatty foods but without high rates of heart disease, like Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany.
Based on his study, Keys promoted the Mediterranean diet: a diet high in fruits and vegetables, along with bread, pasta, olive oil, fish and dairy. But Teicholz pointed out that Keys visited Greece during Lent, a time when people abstain from eating meat, which in turn skewed his data.”

But, I also wanted to share this article for another quote:

“Take the 30-year follow-up to the landmark Framingham Heart Study, for example. It is one of the largest epidemiological studies evaluating the roots of heart disease in our country.
In the follow-up, scientists found that half the people who had heart attacks had below-average cholesterol levels. In fact, scientists concluded that “for each 1% mg/dL drop of cholesterol, there was an 11% increase in coronary and total mortality.””

This shows that lower total cholesterol levels increases ones risk of death!

I still think triglycerides, carried by oxidized (small and dense) LDL particles, can be a good predictor of inflammation and cardiovascular risk. However, high total cholesterol, with high HDL and fluffy and benign LDL, is actually protective for the body.

And, finally, the last article I’ll share with you today is comparing the sugar content of fruit juice and sugar.

Sound familiar? Scroll back a few months on my blog and you’ll see a post I had detailing how drinking orange juice is the same as drinking a coke, taking a fiber pill, and a multivitamin. Well, now the mainstream is coming around!

I always stay open to new information, and love to learn when I’m wrong, because it means I’m learning something new…but I do have to pat myself (and my “nutrition guru” peers) on the back occasionally.

Not that staying more up-to-date on research and delving into biological and chemical mechanisms more often than CNN, New York Times, and NPR is any amazing feet – things only make the news when there’s a catchy headline, photo, or agenda!

Well, I hope these 3 articles were interesting and helped provide just a few more reasons to move away from a diet based on processed foods and towards a lifestyle based around nature.

See you next week!

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!

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!