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!

A Calorie Is NOT A Calorie!

This is something health coaches, nutritionists, and scientists (trained in biology, chemistry, or endocrinology, as opposed to conventional medicine) have said for decades.

The notion that all calories are the same; that calories-in (consumed) compared to calories-out (burned) is the end-all-be-all in terms of bodyweight; is archaic and damaging to our public’s health.

Just last week, a study was published showing the results of consuming a high-protein diet. However, fat and carb intake was held constant between the two groups, meaning the high-protein group was consuming over 500 extra calories a day.

After 8 weeks, there was no difference between the two groups, in terms of bodyweight or body composition.

This suggests:

1.) Excess calories coming from protein may not lead to weight gain. This may be invaluable for individuals trying to lose weight considering that protein is the most satiating macronutrient.

2.) It is not necessary to consume extra protein to gain muscle. This is most useful for individuals trying to put on muscle, since protein can be the most expensive macronutrient.

I’ve always suggested my clients try to consume one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This has been the standard for athletes and performance-oriented individuals for decades. Unfortunately, the general public has been convinced that protein is bad for the kidneys or the body as a whole.

There are many studies showing that individuals with kidney impairment have issues with high-protein diets…but these results have never been replicated with healthy populations.

The way major food companies produce and prepare meat will make it harmful to our body (and the environment). Feeding corn to cows literally becomes a race against the clock to see if the cow can grow fat enough to slaughter, before it dies of indigestion and infection. At the same time, grain-feeding will skew the omega-3 / omega-6 ratio, increasing the amount of inflammatory omega-6 found in the animals fat.

However, if cows, or any animal for that matter, are given enough land to wander about, and a natural diet for them to freely consume, their meat will not only be healthy for us, but may be the most beneficial food we can consume.

So, if your goal is to reduce body-fat, and you plan to achieve weight-loss using calorie restriction, make sure you are not reducing your protein intake. And keep in mind, if you are hungry or have trouble staying full, have a few extra bites of protein.

Alternatively, if you are trying to increase muscle mass, consume 1g protein per 1lb bodyweight, but, after that save your money and get extra calories from natural carbs or healthy fats. Scoops of expensive protein powder or additional pounds of chicken breast may not make a significant difference.

This study is just one more step towards correcting our understanding of food and the human body. Nothing that comes from nature, meant to give us sustenance, is automatically bad for us. It is only when we tinker with nature, maximizing production while minimizing cost, that problems arise.

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!

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.