How do YOU define a “healthy” food?

defining-healthy-foods

There may be a chance for you to influence change when it comes to food labels!

As most of us know by now, food marketing, packaging, and labels can be extremely misleading. There is little over-watch and even the standards that are in place are outdated.

kind-bars.jpgAbout a year ago, the FDA required the Kind bar company to remove the word “healthy” from their labels. But, based on the ingredient list, I would argue that their bars are far healthier than standard American snacks like chips, soda, and soy-based granola bars with 40 grams of sugar.

For example, the Honey Roasted Nuts & Sea Salt bar has 10 ingredients – and the first 4 are whole foods (nuts and honey). Then there is some additional sugar (a mere 5 grams), fiber, soy, and salt for flavor and shelf-life. That’s it! No carcinogenic soy-protein, no oxidized seed oils, no massive dose of sugar.

Well, the FDA skipped over the ingredients and, determined to not risk any critical-thinking, glanced at the Total Fat and started sending legally-worded requests and threats.

And now, after a year of Kind fighting back with science-driven data, supported by the sofosbuvir-fda-approvalpublic’s growing awareness that all fat is not bad, the FDA finally dropped its demands.

What’s even more amazing, the government posted an article on its Regulations.gov site, requesting information and content from the American public regarding the use of the word “healthy” on labels.

Click here to read the article. And please, please, please, click the blue “Comment Now” button to the right of the resulting page to make your voice heard!

My personal comment was:

Current standards rely too much on trying to find or recommend “perfect numbers”, whether in terms of total fat, saturated fat, total carbs, sugars, etc. 

Why not have the use of the word “healthy” on labels be dependent upon the ingredient list? For example, a food that has 4 ingredients, with 75% coming from whole foods, can be labelled “healthy” while a food that has 12 ingredients, with only 20% coming from whole foods , cannot use the term “healthy”. 

To use the example of Kind Bars…let’s say they have a product that has 6 ingredients (almonds, walnuts, honey, cocoa, salt, and vitamin e / tocopherols as a preservative). The first 4 ingredients are found in nature while the salt and potassium are made by humans, in a lab. So, the product has 6 ingredients, with 4 coming from natural foods, thus it is “healthy”. 

Meanwhile, let’s look at a box of Cheerios (following ingredients copied and pasted from their website): whole grain oats, corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, wheat starch and Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols) as a freshness preserver. Vitamins and minerals include calcium carbonate, iron, zinc and Vitamins C, B6, A, B1, B12, D3, folic acid and niacinamide. That’s 18 ingredients, with only the very first 1 coming from nature. Everything else goes through a great deal of modifying by humans or machines (whether we are talking about sugar and starch extracts, or even synthetic vitamins). So, only 1 out of 18 ingredients in Cheerios come from whole foods that can be found, prepared, and consumed in nature. Thus, they cannot use the word “healthy” on their labels. 

So, if you believe, as I do, that looking at the quality of ingredients is more important than some arbitrary government-dictated number, please take 60 seconds to submit a similar comment at the above address.

Thank you for not only taking the time to read my blog, but taking a moment out of your busy day to invest in our future – those that are less enlightened, along with future generations, will owe you a debt of gratitude!

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Nature’s Multi-Vitamin

At this moment, our concept of what is healthy is changing.

For the last 50 years, we were told that calories should come from carbs, fat caused heart attacks, and protein caused cancer. We now know that carbs turn to sugar in the blood and can cause inflammation – the real precipitating factor in cardiovascular disease and most other health conditions.

One food that fell out of favor during the same time is liver. In this post, I’ll address concerns and aversions to one of the healthiest foods on the planet!

Let’s look at the nutritional profile of liver. A mere 1-ounce of liver (about one mouthful) meets daily recommendations for the following nutrients:

390% Vitamin B12

200% Copper

150% Vitamin A

56% Riboflavin

25% Niacin

20% Folate & Pantothenic Acid

15% Vitamin B6, Phosphorus, & Selenium

10% Iron & Zinc

5% Thiamin, Magnesium, Potassium, & Manganese

One ounce of liver provides all this, with 7.5 grams of protein, in only 50 calories!

Liver is one of the most nutrient-dense foods, along with shellfish and spices. For this reason, I eat one bite of liver everyday. To me, it’s an all-natural multi-vitamin!

Why not just take a manmade vitamin? Well, we are finding out that supplementing with unnaturally high amounts of synthetic vitamins actually increases risk of death.

And what about the argument that the liver processes the body’s toxins?

This is quite true. Whenever we take Tylenol, drink alcohol, or consume other drugs, our liver works to break these substances down. Otherwise they could accumulate in our body and kill us.

However, cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals don’t use recreational drugs or take chemicals! In fact, studies of feedlot animals (raised in horrible conditions and given various injections) showed that their livers contained no more toxins than the muscle meat we regularly consume. Properly raised animals are not exposed to toxins that require processing by the liver. Therefore, the belief that the liver contains toxins is unfounded.

Now the kidney, responsible for removing waste and filtering it out through the urine, is an organ meat I cannot comfortably consume!

The last argument against liver would be the taste. And to be honest, it does have a very strong metallic flavor. For this reason, I cover it in cayenne, turmeric, salt, pepper, garlic, and ginger. With this amount of powerful seasonings, one bite a day can be quite enjoyable.

Finally, the price is simply amazing! Most grass-fed beef liver can be found for under $3 a pound…and if you know a farmer personally, they may even give it to you for free!

So, now that we know that liver is one of the healthiest parts of an animal, doesn’t actually filter or contain toxins, how to season it properly, and how affordable it is, why not set reservations aside and try a bite?

Liver

Meal Comparison, Part 3: Dinner

Today’s post will be the last side-by-side comparison of a Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) meal and a grain-free, unprocessed meal.

For Part 1, a breakfast comparison, click here. For Part 2, a lunch comparison, click here.

The healthy American dinner consists of:

Pasta1 cup whole wheat pasta (enriched)

1 cup generic tomato sauce

2 ounces low-fat ground turkey

1 cup skim milk (fortified & fortified)

1 brownie (using a recipe recommended by Ellie Kroger, Registered Dietician)

The whole foods meal contains:

Burgers

8 ounces ground beef (grass-fed)

½ avocado

1 cup asparagus

1 large sweet potato

Both meals provide 650 calories.

First, let’s look at the macronutrients and fatty acid profile:

. Total Carbs Fiber Net Carbs Protein Sat Fat Mono Fat Omega 3 Omega 6
S.A.D. Dinner 90 10 80 25 5 5 250 12500
Whole Foods 45 15 30 45 10 17 500 2000

As we saw in the previous comparisons, the S.A.D. meal provides almost 100 grams of carbs with only 10 grams of fiber and very little healthy fat. Even adding sweet potato to the grain-free dinner results in only 30 net carbs, fewer than half the carbs in the Standard American dinner.

The whole foods dinner offers a more adequate amount of healthy fat, particularly saturated and monounsaturated, aiding in absorption of vitamins, providing a stable energy source, and maintaining healthy cells.

Finally, the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, which should ideally be close to 1-to-2, is 1-to-50 in the Standard American Diet meal. The tomato sauce and “healthy” brownie both contain canola oil, molecularly the same as corn oil, causing inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

Next is the vitamin content of both meals:

. Vit A Vit C Vit D Vit E Vit K Vit B6 Vit B12 Folate
S.A.D. Dinner 4500 20 0 3 30 0.5 1 50
Whole Foods 27000 42 0 7 83 2 5 180

No surprise here! Vegetables, meats, and healthy fats provide far more vitamins than refined grains, diary, and oils.

Finally, the mineral content of each meal:

. Calcium Iron Magnesium Potassium Zinc Copper Manganese Selenium
S.A.D. Dinner 570 5 150 1500 4 0.5 2 55
Whole Foods 130 10 150 2000 13 1 1 36

If you recall the previous comparisons, you’ll remember that grains and dairy provide more of certain nutrients.

The Standard American Diet provides more Manganese and Selenium, and ties for Magnesium. However, just a handful of nuts would close this gap and set the whole foods meal ahead in all categories.

In conclusion, the dinner based on whole foods provides more for the body, with less detriment, than the S.A.D. dinner.

I will do one more follow up post totaling the days’ worth of macro- and micro-nutrients. In the meantime, feel free to ask any questions about particular values, foods that may address shortcomings, or if you’d like me to analyze your own meal options.

Thanks for reading!

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!

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!

Carbohydrates

Time to discuss the third and final macronutrient – carbohydrates!

Carbs are the only macronutrient that is not essential for life. However, this does not mean they are not an important part of a healthy diet.

There are many different forms of carbs but, let’s look at the top 3 that make up most foods.

There are starchy carbs like potatoes and grains. These contain glucose which is stored as muscle glycogen and used as fuel. The brain needs a small amount of glucose (about 30 grams a day) but this can be converted from protein via gluconeogenesis. The body can store between 300 and 500 grams of glycogen in the muscles.

There are sugary carbs such as fruit and honey. These contain fructose which is stored as liver glycogen but can also be hepatotoxic in high amounts. This isn’t a problem when consuming a few pieces of fruit but, soda, loaded with high fructose corn syrup can overwhelm the liver. The sugar floods the blood stream, causes a sugar spike and crash, accompanied with fatigue and hunger, and is ultimately stored as body fat. For this reason, I avoid processed foods containing sugar and enjoy fruit as a desert or pre-workout snack.

Finally, there are fibrous carbs such as vegetables. These have much more fiber which regulates healthy digestive function and stabilizes blood sugar. Vegetables are one of the most nutrient dense food groups next to maybe mussels or offal. When I eliminated grains, I simply replaced them with extra veggies…adding more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and color to every meal!

Most plants contain a combination of these. For example, an orange is about 70% sugar, 10% starch, and 20% fiber. A white potato is about 5% sugar, 80% starch, and 15% fiber. A cup of spinach is about 10% sugar, 10% starch, and 80% fiber.

To determine carb intake level, let’s examine goals and activity levels.

When the heart rate rises above 65% of its max (a brisk walking pace) the body starts burning more carbs than fat…at 65% it burns a 50/50 mix. An hour of walking burns approximately 250 calories and carbs have 4 calories per gram, so, about 30g of carbs are burnt in that one hour.

You don’t have to do all these calculations but it’s clear that, unless you are an athlete, you won’t be emptying your glycogen stores regularly.

The government recommends 65% of your calories come from carbs. This means, if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should consume 325 grams of carbs – more than most people could possibly utilize in one day!

If you are an athlete or attempting to gain weight, maybe 40-50% of calories from carbs may be beneficial. When I am attempting to gain muscle, I have about a pound of potatoes in every meal (totaling 300-400g carbs a day) to stimulate an insulin release. Insulin is a good topic for another post but, simply put, it helps shuttle nutrients to different parts of the body. If you are eating clean and training hard, the nutrients will be sent to the muscles. However, if you’re eating processed foods and not creating an adequate stimulus to recover from, the insulin forces excess calories into fat stores.

If fat loss is the goal, less carbs will make this easier due to the satiating nature and blood sugar stabilizing effect of protein and healthy fats. Perhaps have a sweet potato or piece of fruit post workout but focus mostly on meat and vegetables.

If the prevention or reversal of blood pressure or blood sugar issues is a concern, low carb eating would be advisable. Also, the blood sugar spike from too many carbs causes an increase in triglyceride levels in the blood, contributing to unfavorable cholesterol levels.

There are certain conditions or diseases that are treated by lowering carb intake. Epileptics are often put on ketogenic diets, consuming less than 50 grams of carbs a day, to prevent seizures. Forms of cancer require glucose so patients may be advised to restrict carbs to literally starve their cancer.

At this point, I would like to reiterate, I am not a doctor. I am merely suggesting you do a little research to understand the science behind your condition and bring this information to your doctor so both of you can make an informed decision together.

It is my opinion that most Americans consume more carbs than they need and this, in part, causes many modern health issues. However, I want this blog to be objective and useful for everyone; regardless of what I believe is best. So, like everything else – experiment.

For a couple months every year, I consume zero carbs (besides vegetables) to prime my fat metabolism and lean out. Other times of the year, when local starches, fruits, and grass-fed dairy are available, I consume more carbs.

I feel that a moderate level of carbs (around 150 grams a day) is optimal for exercise recovery and weight maintenance; low carb is ideal for leanness, stable energy, and mood; and high carb is best for muscle gain or frequent high-intensity training.  But, let me know what works best for you!

Well, that should do it for the 3 macronutrient groups. I tried to keep the info as simple as possible while still offering real-world application. As always, feel free to contact me directly for more specifics to satisfy your curiosity or to achieve your goals!

Going forward, I will continue to shoot for 1 post a week but will vary my topics more. If an interesting study is discussed in the news, I may dissect it. If one of my clients has remarkable success with a specific training protocol, I’ll talk about that. If I come up with a new recipe that is particularly tasty, I’ll share it with you…

I guarantee this blog will always be a source of valuable information. To stay up to date, just click the “+ Follow” in the right-hand corner and every post will be emailed directly to you.

Thanks!