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!

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!

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!

Two Interesting News Articles

Over the past week, I came across two news articles that I’d love to share with all of you.

The first article is from MSNBC.

This article reveals that billions of dollars’ worth of subsidies goes towards producing and distributing unhealthy food. The reason I want to share this is not solely to point towards archaic food subsidies as a major barrier to health…but to exemplify the conflicts of interests involved in allowing the USDA to dictate dietary guidelines.

The United States Department of Agriculture was created to sustain adequate food production for our country’s growing population…it now exists to ensure its agricultural endeavors remain profitable. As the USDA was able to invest more resources, they were also able to start dictating policy and recommending what Americans should and should not eat.

And guess what studies, research, and information dissemination they funded? Anything that even remotely suggested complex carbs and unsaturated fats are best for human consumption. And guess what the USDA produces best? Corn, dairy, soy, and wheat – all foods that are high in carbs, polyunsaturated fats, and low in protein.

And now, even though humans are consuming more of these foods than ever, the organizations are still searching for any means to increase sales and profits. Thus, they have started using subsidized foods to create a “value-added” product that they can market and package…and oh yes, genetically modifying foods to override hunger-signaling and light up the pleasure-centers of our brains!

The second article I found on NBC.com.

This article discusses how organic milk is more healthful than regular milk. Again, my motivation for sharing this article is not just to convey the direct message but rather to discuss the reasoning that they gloss over…the fact that cows are meant to eat grass!

They discuss organic milk as being optimal as if it’s the label organic that ensures a better nutritional profile. However, for milk to be labelled organic, the cows must consume grass for a certain number of months out of the year. This article does mention that grass-feeding, as opposed to grain-feeding, is what results in a better product…but why is it discussing organic milk rather than local, 100% grass-fed milk?

It also mentions that 2% or full-fat milk is preferable because of the healthy fat content. Again, I have to ask why the article is focused on organic versus conventional milk while local, raw milk will be grass-fed AND contain its natural fat profile, seeing as it is not manipulated or processed.

The answer is that organic milk is a marketable product that results in greater profits. The profits that federal agencies receive from small family farms are far less, or, at times, nonexistent.

These issues of subsidizing the corn, soy, and dairy industry, as well as the value of dairy in general, are both topics I’d like to discuss in greater depth down the road. However, I’ll wrap up here because sometimes, no matter how hard I try, I get emotional or frustrated with our current food and healthcare system.

The positive takeaway is that these issues are coming to light! The general public now has easy access to the concept of omega-3 vs omega-6 content in milk and the power of food production conglomerates. And remember the old adage: “Knowledge is power”!

So, let’s keep learning and hopefully, we can reverse our spiral of steadily declining health in the modern world.

Chocolate!

Due to the positive feedback from last week’s post discussing coffee consumption, this week I’ll do a similar analysis of another dark and flavorful food – chocolate!

Chocolate, as we know it, is much different than the cocoa bean that grows in nature. The beans are roasted, de-shelled, and ground into a paste. From there, sugar, cocoa butter, and emulsifiers (usually soy lecithin) are added. Finally, it is refined, treated with an alkalizing agent to reduce the acidity, and often combined with dairy.

The darker the chocolate you consume, the less inputs are added. For the sake of discussion, let’s look at the health benefits of 100% raw cocoa:

  • It has more antioxidants, particularly flavonoids, than any other substance. These help the body maintain healthy cardiovascular function by improving endothelial function, blood lipid levels, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.
  • It is predominately saturated and monounsaturated fat, the safest and most stable forms of fuel for the body.
  • One ounce (less than a single square from a bar) fulfills the listed percent of recommended daily values for the following minerals:
    • 50% Copper and Manganese
    • 35% Magnesium
    • 25% Iron and Phosphorus
    • 15% Potassium and Zinc

These are minerals that most people are deficient in…particularly when you consider the anti-nutrient content, and resulting absorption issues, of the foods they are predominately found in (nuts, seeds, and grains).

I would list the following facts as downsides of cocoa:

  • One ounce contains 65mg of caffeine (not nearly as much as coffee but on par with black tea).
  • One ounce also contains 200-500mg of theobromine – another stimulant that takes the body longer to process than caffeine.
  • As mentioned above, it is usually processed with sugar, dairy, and soy.

Again, all these facts are for 100% raw cocoa, often sold in the baking aisle of grocery stores as baking chocolate. In this form, it is very bitter and difficult to over consume.

I’d recommend buying the darkest chocolate you can still enjoy. Most people can find a 75%-85% dark chocolate bar that they like…just experiment with different brands!

I personally buy 100% raw cocoa and melt it into smoothies or shave it on top of yogurt and homemade ice cream. When mixed with other foods, particularly sweeter foods, I find the bitterness of the 100% dark to be perfect.

I use 1-2 ounces (one square from a full bar) on each day of the weekend. I personally would not want to consume cocoa on a daily basis due to the stimulant properties. However, if you are consuming 85% or darker cocoa, there is no reason not to enjoy one square a day (just try to eat it earlier in the day due to the stimulant properties). Be on the lookout for bars loaded with sugar, milk, or other inputs that could lead to over consumption.

One separate matter worth mentioning, that I unfortunately did not touch upon in my last post, is the environmental and humanity issues involved in the production of cocoa. Very often, child slaves and impoverished farmers are subject to terrible treatment. Also, deforestation is a major concern when growing and harvesting cocoa beans.

Try to find cocoa that is certified Fairtrade. This implies that a certification body has approved the environmental, labor, and developmental standards involved in the production of a food. Like many other bureaucratic systems however, this certification is far from perfect and does not guarantee fair treatment of every person involved in the cocoa trade.

In closing, I would like to reiterate: check the list of ingredients on the back of whatever you buy. Find a product with the shortest list that does not contain any ingredients you could not find in nature. And also, consume in moderation. Just because a food has more benefits than detriments, doesn’t mean more is better.

Enjoy!

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.