Gluten

At this moment, there appears to be a “gluten-free” craze or fad.

By now, you all know that I recommend a gluten-free lifestyle. But, I advocate learning the reasons behind elimination first.

Imagine if, in 1949, when doctors were recommending cigarettes, that I came out of nowhere and just said “stop doing what your doctor tells you – it’s bad for you!”

Instead of just hoping that people will go against “conventional wisdom” to improve their health, I’d rather provide some facts about gluten.

First, let’s look at the actual plant that has the most gluten – wheat. The plant in the bottom of the picture is wild-grown wheat, while the top plant is commercially grown wheat.
Wheat
This picture is slightly deceiving because the “ancient einkorn wheat” is actually a modern day variation of wheat grown in the wild. Originally, the stem would continue even further and there would be far less seeds. But, even in this picture, you can see that the output (the size and amount of protective “hairs”) of the plant has changed.

While scientists tinkered with the genetics of the plant to increase profits, they also increased the protein content immensely. This was considered an added benefit but, unfortunately, no testing was done on human tolerance.

As acetaminophen (Tylonel) was developed, it had to be researched mechanistically, tested on animals, and finally on humans, before each generation of the product could be sold in stores. This was never done with wheat.

Next, let’s consider the role wheat played historically. For the last 10,000 years, grains helped humans develop villages, cities, and countries, allowing us to leave behind 2.6 million years of hunting and gathering.

Imagine life as a hunter-gatherer – traveling around in groups, moving your “home”, and collecting food.

Would it make sense to spend hours every day picking tiny seeds off a plant, that would then have to be soaked, sprouted, and ground to make one thin cracker? Or would it make sense to throw a spear into a herd of antelope and provide enough food for weeks?

Would you rather search for days to find a few grasses of wheat? Or would time be better spent picking berries and plucking leaves (requiring no preparation) as you travel?

Wheat, and other grains and seeds, would be stored for a time of famine…when a hunt was unsuccessful or in winter when plants were scarce.

Now we know the role wheat played historically and how the plant changed through recent genetic hybridization. But, what about the actual affects gluten has on humans?

It is predicted that 1% of the world population has celiac disease, an overt allergy to gluten, while about 10% report having “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”.

Gluten sensitivity can result in over 250 symptoms, including joint pain, dry skin, or indigestion.

There is no test for “gluten sensitivity”, as there is with celiac disease. The only way to discover sensitivity is to completely remove gluten from the diet and reintroduce after a few months. Finally, one microgram of gluten can change the gut chemistry for up to 6 months – therefore, an accidental exposure, or short-term elimination, may provide invalid results.

I don’t want to bore you by exploring every issue involved with gluten, so I’ll just mention the two most compelling facts:

Gliadin, one of two proteins that make up gluten, breaks down to polypeptides. These are small enough to travel through the gut lining, into the blood, and cross the blood-brain barrier. At this point, they bind to opiate-receptor sites, producing euphoria, similar to a tiny dose of morphine or heroin. Studies show that gluten stimulates appetite so much, through the reward/pleasure centers of the brain, that individuals eating gluten consume an extra 400 calories a day.

Finally, transglutaminase is the enzyme in that breaks down gluten. The more gluten one eats, the more transglutaminase their body must produce. The issue here is that transglutaminase has the ability to affect every cell in the body. This is one reason gluten sensitivity can manifest in hundreds of different symptoms. The literature shows that high levels of transglutaminase are present in individuals with neurological diseases such as Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia.

I could continue but I don’t want to make this post too dry or sound like I’m trying to make gluten into some boogey-man.

The takeaway points are:

We have genetically-altered the wheat plant to contain far more gluten than it should.

Humans are not meant to consume as much gluten as we have in the last 50 years.

Gluten has the potential to affect nearly every function within the body.

Considering these facts, it is no surprise that there is a “gluten-free” craze at this moment. As more people eliminate gluten from their diets, they discover that it was the cause of many different health issues, ranging from fat-gain to Type II diabetes to anxiety.

And with that, you know the risks of over-consuming gluten, and the benefits of opting for more nutritional foods.

The science is out there – why not give it a try and see if removing gluten from your diet for a few months improves your life in any way? What will you have to lose (besides a few pizza nights or conveniently packaged snack bars)?

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!

Protein

Today’s post will be much more straight-forward than the one last week about fats. The science and function of protein within the body is just as complex but protein can easily be summed up as the “building blocks” of life.

Protein is the second most abundant molecule in the body after water. Protein is necessary for the growth and maintenance of every cell in the human body.

As an energy source, protein has 4 calories per gram, the same as carbs but less than half that of fat. However, protein is only used as fuel in the absence of carbs. There are certain parts of the brain that require glucose (a carbohydrate) to function. A diet devoid of carbs for long enough will cause the body to convert protein to carbs via gluconeogenesis (an inefficient process compared to eating a piece of fruit or baking a sweet potato).

Protein is an interesting macronutrient because the body can survive with very little of it.  Of course, a diet too low in protein causes malnutrition and other serious conditions, slowly leading to death. This is seen in many developing nations that lack access to enough wild-game or fish.

Protein is made up of amino acids. Some amino acids are essential, some are non-essential, and some are conditionally essential (meaning they are only needed during illnesses or times of stress). A “complete protein”, such as meat, will have the necessary amount of all essential amino acids for the body to function.

Amino acids are building blocks for all bodily structures, but they also affect hormone levels and neurotransmitters. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is necessary for serotonin and dopamine production, affecting mental well-being.

So, protein is necessary for life, but how much should we consume?

Goals and activity levels will dictate what is ideal but I think a great place to start is 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight. No need to count every gram; merely build a meal around a protein source that you can fit in one hand. For women, this may end up being about 4-6 ounces of meat or 2-4 eggs. For a large man, this may be more like 6-12 ounces of meat or 3-6 eggs.

Protein is very satiating. A lean cut of meat with a side of vegetables, cooked in grass-fed butter or coconut oil, will be far more filling than pizza or rice pilaf. This may be quite useful for those trying to lose weight.

Another thing to consider is your health history. If you have severe kidney issues, you may want to dial back to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. For a 150lb individual, this would be about 100 to 140 grams of protein (assuming 10-30% bodyfat).  Perhaps you’ve heard claims that protein stresses the kidneys. Studies suggesting this were conducted on people that already suffer from renal impairment.

While on the topic of studies that are misinterpreted, or flawed to begin with, maybe you’ve also seen reports that meat consumption is unhealthy. Studies include pepperoni pizza or fast-food burgers (with refined flour buns) as meat products. In terms of meat causing cancer and other diseases – when meat is charred, the blackened portion contains cancer-promoting carcinogens…so avoid overcooking!

Also, studies do not control every aspect of diet or lifestyle. There has never been a study that only included naturally-raised meat, such as pasture-raised cows eating only grass or chickens with the freedom to peck in the dirt for seeds and bugs. No study has required participants to avoid refined carbs or engage in load-bearing activity while increasing meat consumption.

These flaws are the reason I will be using this blog to address studies as they appear in the news.

The best sources of protein are wild-caught fish, grass-fed beef, free roaming chickens and pigs that forage for food, eggs from such chickens, and other wild game.

Optimal vegetarian sources of protein include eggs; dairy (local, raw, and grass-fed); tempeh (fermented soy); avocados (predominately fat but still a complete protein); and quinoa (rather heavy in starchy carbs but also a complete protein).

One common vegetarian food that is absent from this list is tofu. Fermented soy, and the miso bean that soy comes from, are fine sources of protein but soy products, such as tofu, are processed and contain elements that are detrimental to the body. Three of these elements would be phytoestrogens (aid in the growth of cancerous tumors), isoflavones (disrupt healthy thyroid function), and phytic acid (prevent absorption of minerals).

Clearly, I am a proponent of healthy intake levels of high-quality protein but, ultimately, you’ll have to experiment and find out what optimizes your health and performance. Try varying your intake every few weeks while keeping everything else the same. Most people notice improved recovery and lower body fat when they find the optimal level of protein consumption for their body.

I personally love eggs and beef, am trying to gain muscle, and have access to humanely-raised meat, so I consume more like 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. This is by no means necessary but, with my goals, and based on my health markers, consuming a moderately high amount of protein works best for me.

Well, that should do it for now! As I mentioned, whenever news reports come out claiming the dangers of meat, I’ll try to respond to them with a post.

Hope to see you all next week when we discuss carbohydrates, the third and final macronutrient group.