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!

How To Improve Your Cholesterol Levels

As promised, this week I’ll give you a few easy tips to improve your cholesterol levels. Before I start though, I want to remind everyone that “improving” cholesterol levels does not necessarily mean lowering them.

If you remember my post about cholesterol, you’ll remember that the body creates and uses LDL as a temporary bandage that, once the threat to the body is resolved, HDL will transport back to the liver to be excreted. It is only when inflammation persists in the body that LDL becomes oxidized, hardening and risking blockages in the arteries.

In fact, low total cholesterol levels in the body have been linked to shorter lifespan! Therefore, for this post, we’ll talk about how to adjust your cholesterol levels to the optimal zone…as opposed to the range statin companies usually promote.

First off, the easiest number to alter is your HDL. This is what carries cholesterol back to the liver after it has served its purpose.

The best way to boost your HDL is to consume more monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado. Consuming these in a raw form, as opposed to cooking them, will be more beneficial. Also, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) found almost exclusively in grass-fed beef and dairy, will help raise HDL.

In addition, weight training and moderate aerobic activity are shown to increase HDL.

Now, on to LDL. To reiterate, high LDL is not necessarily a bad or dangerous thing. However, LDL can become oxidized in the blood so I understand why people may want to lower their LDL numbers.

To lower LDL, be careful when consuming other saturated fats. Saturated fat is actually the safest to consume, and most stable source of energy for the body, but make sure you’re consuming it from natural sources. This would include coconut products (again, with minimal processing), grass-fed beef, and other humanely raised animals fed a natural diet, with plenty of space to roam and forage.

Exercise may also help control LDL levels since low-level aerobics will improve the body’s ability to metabolize fats for energy.

Finally, the only truly problematic form of cholesterol found in the body is triglycerides. Anytime you see claims that cholesterol in the blood is dangerous, I will guarantee the samples were people with extremely elevated levels of triglycerides and low HDL.

The best way to decrease your triglyceride count would be to avoid processed or heated polyunsaturated fats which are highly unstable and prone to oxidization.

I’m not saying to fear nuts and seeds and every food containing high amounts of omega-6 (the primary inflammatory constituent of poly-fats). Just avoid foods that are high in this AND have been processed or altered. Examples of foods to avoid would be corn oil, soybean oil, and other vegetable oils.

Finally, limit your sugar and refined carb intake. Again, no need to fear fruits, sweet potatoes or other whole foods; instead, skip the center aisles of the market made up of processed and packaged food.

Please keep in mind that all my suggestions of what to eat more or less of are based on the assumption that we already know things like candy, chips, ice cream, and soda are unhealthy. Fortunately, our health and nutrition systems have not yet become so infiltrated by major corporations that McDonalds and pizza is labeled as healthy.

Nonetheless, as exemplified by my own past food choices, there is still a great deal of confusion regarding what is optimal for our bodies. Just last month Mazola ran a massive marketing campaign (and must have spent billions of dollars) to convince researchers and doctors to claim that corn oil is “safer for the heart” than extra virgin olive oil!

And with that, we should all have a decent level of knowledge regarding what to consume and not consume to maintain the most beneficial cholesterol levels in our bodies.

Hope it helps!

Fats

My last post touched upon the 3 macronutrient groups – fat, protein, and carbohydrates. This post will cover fats, the most misunderstood macronutrient.

The major confusion regarding fat stems from the word itself. There are fats you eat (dietary fat) and there is body fat (adipose tissue). Consumption of dietary fat does not directly increase body fat but, since both phrases contain the word fat, people worry that one affects the other.

Fats are found frequently in nature. They are in animals and fish, nuts and seeds, fruits such as avocados and coconuts, and oils.

One thing worth mentioning is that fat is more calorically dense than carbs or proteins. Fats have 9 calories per gram while the latter only have 4. This is great if you only have time for two or three meals a day and want to keep your energy steady, but, calories in versus calories out will affect body weight.

As mentioned in the last post, fat is essential for life. It is necessary to assimilate vitamins A, D, E, and K. It is one of only two fuels that power the body efficiently. Fats are used for the construction and maintenance of cells within our bodies.

Let’s look at the different forms of fat to understand where the beneficial features lie and where the fearful stigma may come from.

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First, a quick chemistry note: fats are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms bonded together.

Saturated fats are named because every carbon atom is “saturated” with hydrogen; there are no double bonds. This makes them very stable, meaning they are the safest for cooking and the least likely to oxidize. Another interesting fact is that they make up half of our cell membrane structure.

These are found predominately in animal and fish products but are also in coconut and palm oil.

Monounsaturated fats contain one double bond between two carbon atoms meaning they are fairly stable but still subject to oxidization.  Maybe you’ve noticed when cooking with olive oil, if you turn your back for a moment, it will start to smoke. Similarly, if you leave a cut avocado out, it will start to turn brown. If consumed in a raw form, in a timely fashion, these can improve cholesterol levels within the body.

These fats occur in plant foods such as avocados, nuts, and olive oil.

Polyunsaturated fats contain two or more double bonds meaning they are unstable and prone to oxidization and rancidity. It’s not a great idea to overheat or overfill our bodies with such an unstable substance. It’s not a particular macronutrient group but rather the process of oxidization that really damages our bodies.

So, eliminate all polyunsaturated fat, right? Again, when it comes nutrition and the human body, things just can’t be that simple.

Remember those essential fats I mentioned last time…Omega-3 in particular? That’s a polyunsaturated fat! The key is to balance your sources of polyunsaturated fat intake.

O-3 is essential for life so incorporate wild-caught seafood into your diet (algae and flax can be used by vegans but keep in mind that the type of O-3 provided by these plants sources, ALA, is only converted at around 6% to EPA and 0.5% to DHA, which are the forms our body needs).

Another polyunsaturated fat, Omega-6, is also essential but it is found abundantly in nuts, grains, soy, and oils (and any animals fed these foods too). O-6 is so prevalent the average American consumes 20 times more O-6 than O-3. This is problematic because, being an easily oxidized poly fat, the body can quickly accumulate too much O-6 leading to inflammation and increasing risks of cardiovascular disease. An optimal ratio for O-6 to O-3 would be 2 to 1.

For the sake of comparison, let’s look at two healthy foods – salmon and almonds. One ounce of salmon has 550mg O-3 while the almonds have 3500mg O-6. When I have almonds, I can eat 4 handfuls (one handful is about one ounce) before I even pour them into a bowl and sit down. This means, just in that one day, if I consumed nothing else containing O-6 (nearly impossible), I’d have to eat close to a pound of salmon.

I’m not recommending you count every milligram…just increase intake of certain foods (wild-caught fish or grass-fed beef), consume some in moderation (nuts, oils, avocados), and avoid others altogether (soy, corn, and other modern vegetable oils).

Trans fats are the most dangerous type of fat. These are formed through chemical modification and are unrecognizable to the human body. They will inevitably be stored as abdominal fat or fat around the internal organs (the deadliest form of fat in the body).

These fats are found in processed oils, butter-replacements, and other packaged goods. Basically, if the word “hydrogenated” is anywhere on the package, do not consume it under risk of death!

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I know that was a lot of information but, the point is, dietary fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet. Certain fats (poly fat O-6 and trans fat) may not be as optimal as others (saturated and mono), but, if it’s naturally occurring in nature, it is not inherently bad for you.

Now, let’s examine goals and activity levels to determine how much fat to consume.

If weight loss is the goal, higher fat and lower carb may be beneficial because fat is very satiating while carbs wreak havoc on blood sugar and leptin signaling (both tell us when we are full). Also, fats would be a wiser choice for those trying to reverse or prevent certain diseases or illnesses (I’ll talk about this more in the post about carbohydrates).

When the heart is working below 75% of its maximum, the body is using fat as its primary fuel. As the heart rate decreases to a resting rate, the body will naturally use 95% fats and 5% carbs as energy. So, if you work a desk job and don’t engage in intense physical activity daily, your body will naturally run leaner with adequate fat and lower carb intake.

To use myself as an example…on the days I lift heavy and want to gain muscle, I eat about 40% carbs, 30% fats, and 30% protein. On my recovery days, when the most I do is slow, steady walking, I eat about 60% fat, 10% carbs, and 30% protein. My carbs on lifting days come from raw goat’s milk, white and sweet potatoes, and fruit. On my recovery days, I’ll have a cup of milk and a banana in the morning and the rest of my meals will consist of fibrous carbs like vegetables. I tend to keep protein high on most days due to my strength focus in the gym…but the story of protein is best saved for the next post…

Hopefully this provides a basic understanding of the importance of fats. In future posts I’ll refer back to certain things I’ve discussed here and offer practical solutions to specific health and performance goals. See you all next week when we cover proteins – the building blocks of the human body!