A Testament to Health

This week I was not able to put my normal time into researching, writing, and editing a blog post. On Monday, December 8th, I was in a car crash.

I was at an intersection a few blocks from my apartment waiting for the light. When it turned green, I looked both ways (out of habit), saw no cars, and rolled into the intersection. Suddenly, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a minivan hurdling through their redlight. Next thing I knew, all my windows were covered by airbags, my possessions were strewn around the the car, and there was bent and broken plastic everywhere.

As soon as I caught my breath, I opened the drivers side door (requiring some force) and climbed out.

After surveying the damage to my car, the car that hit me, and the road, it was clear I was very fortunate. My car hood had been ripped clean off and the nose was pushed back to the front wheels.

I was fortunate for a number of reasons:

First, I entered the intersection slowly and cautiously. If I accelerated quicker, the oncoming car would have hit my drivers side door and the outcome would have been much different.

Second, I was driving a 2012 Subaru Impreza. The steering wheel, dashboard, and every door deployed an airbag, protecting me from any impact against metal, plastic, or glass. Also, the front of the car folded in on itself like an accordion, absorbing the impact that otherwise could have crushed the driver and passenger compartments.

Lastly, and most pertinent to this blog, is that I was very healthy at the time.

I am not saying that muscles and low bodyfat makes one invincible…but it can’t hurt.

I don’t feel like I would have hopped up out of my seat without a bruise, after being broadsided at over 40 miles per hour, if I wasn’t generally fit and relatively strong.

A common quote in the powerlifting community, and amongst Navy Seals, is “Stronger people are harder to kill”.

Again, I am not claiming that my fitness level prevented bodily injury. But I think my dedication to a healthy lifestyle allowed me to exit the car unscathed and continue my week as usual.

I am confident that the resilience my body displayed in this situation is a testament to the importance of physical health.

car

Seasonal Affective Disorder

For all of my followers in the northeast United States, it’s that time of the year again!

The sun is rising late and setting early, the sky is cloudy, and the temperature is dropping. All this can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).

S.A.D. affects about 6% of the United States every year. Common symptoms may include oversleeping, low energy, carb cravings, poor focus, social withdrawal, lack of pleasure, and hopelessness.

It is believed that S.A.D. is caused by a lack of sunlight, resulting in a skewed circadian rhythm and lowered serotonin levels.

Fortunately, there are many things one can do to combat symptoms and improve their emotions and outlook.

The first step is to purchase a “lightbox” for light therapy. These emit a much brighter and whiter light than typical lamps. Exposure to this bright light, particularly first thing in the morning, will simulate the sunrise, improving serotonin production and establishing a healthy circadian rhythm.

I am in the process of purchasing such a light source and will provide a review of my personal experience with this protocol.

The second recommendation is to stay active. Find 30 to 60 minutes every day for exercise. Exercise is known to improve mood by providing a sense of success as well as releasing endorphins in the brain.

The last recommendation I can make is to eat healthy. This means starting your day with a large serving of protein and ending your day with a moderate serving of carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or fruits. Adequate protein in the morning, and throughout the day, will provide the body and brain with amino acids necessary for healthy cognitive function and stable emotions. Carbs at night will help induce sleep and up-regulate serotonin production. Eat fewer carbs throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes, causing lethargy and furthering negative emotions.

Many people find success with certain supplements. I personally have tried 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor), GABA (a dopamine precursor), and melatonin (the brains natural sleep chemical). Thus far, the melatonin seems to be the most effective, but only at regulating proper sleep-wake cycles. I noticed no results from any other supplement, regardless of timing or dose.

I do increase my supplemental Vitamin D in the winter from 2,000 to 5,000 or 10,000 a day. I don’t notice a direct result from this but I’m lucky if I get 5 minutes of direct sunlight a day when the temperature drops below freezing. Sunlight is our only significant source of vitamin D, and low levels have been linked to depression as well as many physical conditions.

Finally, there is always the option of medications. If feelings of hopelessness or despair become strong enough, visit a doctor to discuss further options.

I will post a follow up after I experiment with light therapy / dawn simulation for a few weeks. Try these tactics and let me know if you have some of your own!

SAD

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!

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

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 Simple Lunch Recipe

I’d love to share my recipe for lunch on the weekdays.

My typical weekday consists of one-on-one work with clients from 7 to 11AM. At this point, I do my own workout for an hour or so and then eat. After a quick lunch, I have more clients until about 1PM, at which time I do administrative work at my gym. This lasts until 5:30PM, after which I finish the workday with a couple more clients.

I keep myself scheduled back-to-back for most of the day, meaning I don’t have time to spend 30 – 60 minutes preparing lunch. At the same time, I refuse to resort to snack bars, sugar drinks, or other meal-replacements.

Instead, my approach is to bake a few chicken breasts on the weekend and package them in microwave-safe containers. At the same time, I put a few avocados on the counter so they can ripen throughout the week.

By the time lunch rolls around, all I have to do is mash up the avocado with a little salsa or hot sauce, microwave the chicken for a couple minutes, and I have a perfectly balanced and satisfying lunch!

Below are instructions for the initial food preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. While waiting, trim the chicken breast of fat if it is not locally and naturally raised. If it is from a local, humane source, the fat will be healthy and therefore, won’t need to be trimmed.
  2. Place chicken in oven when at temperature. No need to use any seasonings as these will go in the guacamole the day of the meal.
  3. Check chicken after 30 minutes. It will be done when the internal temperature reaches about 170°F.
  4. Remove and let cool. Separate into meal-sized portions and store in fridge.
  5. Pack chicken, seasonings, and avocado in the morning before leaving home. I usually use local salsa or hot sauce, but garlic, salt, honey, lemon, or herbs and spices may be used as well.
  6. When hungry, microwave chicken for 2 minutes. Mash avocado, with seasonings, while waiting.
  7. Voila – you have homemade guacamole and a healthy protein source in only a couple minutes!

I usually recommend that active individuals weighing over 150 pounds shoot for about 8 ounces of chicken and a full avocado. Smaller individuals may dial back to half an avocado and 4 to 6 ounces of chicken.

Even if you use the larger portion size (8 ounces of chicken and a full avocado) the entire meal will only come to about 600 calories while providing 50 grams of protein, 30 grams of healthy fats, and 14 grams of fiber.

The nutritional profile of this meal will fulfill the following daily requirements:

10% Vitamin A

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA90% Vitamin B6

16% Vitamin B12

33% Vitamin C

21% Vitamin E

53% Vitamin K

80% Selenium

20% Iron & Copper

30% Magnesium & Zinc

45% Potassium

Clearly this meal provides a significant amount of vitamins and minerals, but it is also very affordable. Avocados are usually $1 each (or less if you live where they grow), and chicken breast costs between $2 and $4 a pound. The maximum this meal will cost is $3!

The nutritional density of this meal, the affordable price of the ingredients, and the quick and easy preparation proves that there’s no longer an excuse to resort to meal replacement bars – frequently loaded with sugar, processed soy, and refined grains.

So, this weekend, pick up some avocados, put some chicken in the oven, and you’ll have the perfect lunch for the following week!