BACON: Delicious or Devilish?

the best

breakfastFor many years a healthy, balanced breakfast consisted of a few eggs, a couple strips of
bacon, a serving of fruit, and a single piece of toast.

But, for the last few decades, the public has been told to rely upon endless servings of processed, sugar-laden foods such as a bagels, muffins, cereals, and juices.  

As I’ve said before, health and fitness beliefs seem to operate as a pendulum. First things are amazing, then they become less popular, until they are outright feared, before they return in popularity.

Bacon is no different – a few years ago is was beguiled as a cause of cancer but nowadays you can’t go to a market without seeing an organic package of bacon for over $10 a pound, or a local restaurant that doesn’t have bacon as a side for at least 1 of their dishes.

What are the real facts surrounding this food? It is a whole food that anyone could make, found in nature. But it also goes through processing methods that may increase its downsides.

Well, today let’s break things down and explore the objective facts of bacon.bacon-chart

Just to clarify, bacon, regardless of producer or source, is made from the belly of a pig. It is often cured using salt and spices, before being cooked or smoked at a very low temperature for multiple hours. It is then cut into thin strips, packaged, and later fried in a pan.

Let’s start by looking at the actual nutritional quality of bacon – what does it provide us with, for better or worse?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s use 3 strips of bacon as a single serving. Although it is very easy to consume an entire package in one sitting (and I have before), bacon is typically a side or garnish. Below is the nutritional data for 3 strips, or about 1 ounce of bacon:

135 calories

0 grams of carbs, 9 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fat, including:

3.5 grams saturated, 5 grams monounsaturated, 1.5 grams polyunsaturated fat

The 3 strips fulfill the daily needs of the following vitamins / minerals:

12% Vitamin B3 (Niacin)

6% Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)

6% Vitamin B12

3% Vitamin B6, B2 (Riboflavin), and Panthothenic Acid

21% Selenium

21% Sodium

12% Phosphurus

6% Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, and Copper

What we see here certainly doesn’t qualify bacon as an empty source of calories, but neither does it show bacon to be the most nutritional-dense food.

Similar to any meat or seafood, it has a significant and balanced amount of B Vitamins. It also contains useful minerals that are not found in a lot of modern foods (specifically selenium, zinc, magnesium, and copper).

It contains no carbs which may be good for a typical person working a desk-job, but it also means bacon lacks any fiber to improve gut health. However, it offers a substantial amount of naturally occurring fat and a moderate amount of protein, which could benefit most Americans.

What about the negatives?

During the curing process, a significant amount of sodium is added. While sodium is an essential nutrient, vital for maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte levels, it is very easy to over consume.

Also, most producers add sweeteners (to once again promote overconsumption) and preservatives that may have concerning health effects.

However, the nitrates/nitrites are not the biggest issue. These actually occur naturally in all plant foods, and you’ll even see that “no nitrite added” bacon will list “naturally occurring nitrites from celery salt” in the ingredients. The fact of the matter is, the average person will consume far more nitrites/nitrates from veggies than they ever will from bacon!

Really, the most concerning issue is the sourcing of the meat.

32fd64b0a87000487ecda0019781c3e1If you raise a pig with plenty of land, allow it to root around for fruit, plants, nuts, small rodents, and occasionally supplement its feed with food scraps from the family dinner table, then the resulting meat will be amazingly nutritious. Pigs raised this way can have as much omega 3 as some fish!

However, if the pig is raised in a commercial feedlot, unable to move or avoid its own waste, pumped full of corn, soy, and wheat, then its meat will have higher levels of inflammatory omega 6 fats and less nutrient-density. Not to mention the disastrous effects this style of “farming” has on the environment!  

Now that the objective facts are listed, the decision to include bacon is up to you.

Is the crunch, amazing flavor, and even more addicting smell of fried bacon worth the couple hundred calories (and sodium) it may contain?

For me and my goals, 3 strips of bacon every day for a week is a perfectly healthy incorporation. Then, for the sake of variety, maybe I’ll have breakfast sausages or smoked salmon the following week.

Maybe one Sunday I’ll fry up half a pound of bacon with a massive amount of broccoli and eat it as one meal…but again, I probably won’t have it again for another month or two.  

But I also consume no other processed meats or foods with added sodium. If you are eating cold-cuts, you are already consuming the exact same molecules and inputs as bacon, with maybe half the flavor!

So, try to find a local farm with properly raised pigs, buy a few packages of bacon when they are available, and enjoy a few strips now and again – I promise your taste buds will thank you!

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What I’ve Been Up To: Nutrition

 

What I've been up to.jpg

Before I return to my typical health tip lists, discussions of a healthy lifestyle, and analyzing articles / studies, I thought I’d fill you in on what I’ve been up to in the last year. This will be a 3-part series, detailing my changes in diet, exercise, and daily life.

Today, let’s dive into my last year in terms of my nutrition!

I left you at the end of summer, one year ago. I was leaning out by reducing my carb intake. Meals were built around vegetables and protein, cooked in healthy fat, with 1-2 pieces of fruit a day and 1 large sweet potato (usually post-workout).

As I went into fall / winter, I transitioned to building new muscle. I did this by increasing calories, over many weeks, from my maintenance level of 2,500 a day to over 4,000 a day. Every time my bodyweight plateaued for more than 2 weeks, I would bump my calories up another 250-500 a day.

It is very difficult to consume 4,000 calories a day without relying upon calorie-dense but nutrient-lacking foods like liquid sugars (Gatorade / fruit juice), refined grains (bread / cereal), or junk food (ice cream / fast food). Sure, I could consume these foods on a daily basis and probably gain 5 pounds a week – but it would be all fat!

paleo pyramidSo instead, 3 meals a day  would contain about 1 pound of starch (white or sweet potato), half a pound of protein (eggs, meat, or fish), 1 serving of healthy fat (an avocado or large handful of nuts), 1 cup of vegetables, and, if I could fit it, 1 serving of fruit.  Then I would also have 2 shakes a day, containing either coconut milk or raw cow/goat milk, full-fat Greek yogurt, avocado, honey, cocoa powder, a banana or plantain, and 1 scoop of whey protein powder.

For the first time in my life, my bodyweight reached 200 pounds and I was still able to see my abs!

No matter how nutritious the foods are, and how slow the gain, some of the weight will be stored fat. With spring starting, and summer – the season of beach trips and shirtless runs around town – around the corner, I slowly brought my calories back down in order to lean out once again.

To avoid losing any muscle I had worked so hard to build, I kept my meals based around the same half pound of protein. To create the calorie deficit I needed to lose fat, I eliminated the multiple servings of fuel (fats/carbs) at every meal. I would still use fat to taste when preparing my meals, but I no longer had sides of avocados and nuts. I also reduced my carb intake similar to the previous year.  

Once I reached maintenance, I slowly replaced every carb calorie (not counting veggies) with fat calories, transitioning into ketosis for one month. For a refresher on what this is and the benefits, click here!

sports-nutrition.jpgAnd that brings us to the present. I weigh about 185 right now. I have maintained my strength and my arms / legs are the same size, so I can safely say I didn’t lose much muscle.

I try not to obsess about numbers so I can only guess my body-fat is just below 15%. Once I reach my desired level of leanness (maybe 10%?), I’ll return to building more muscle.

I’ll discuss the reason for this back and forth between periods of gaining weight and losing weight but, for now, here are the objective numbers from my own process:

In December of 2014 I weighed 190 with maybe 25% body fat. At the end of 2015 I weighed 200 with a body fat of about 20%. I weighed 10 pounds more but had 5 pounds less of fat.

I had gained 15 pounds of muscle from one year to the next!  

I hope this gives you an idea of how a “health-nut” such as myself eats, as well as how to adjust your eating habits to ensure specific outcomes.

Next I’ll talk about the different exercise programs I’ve done over the last year, what weaknesses I discovered, what records I broke, and my opinion of how to best balance training modalities for general health.

See you very soon!   

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Seasonal Affective Disorder

For all of my followers in the northeast United States, it’s that time of the year again!

The sun is rising late and setting early, the sky is cloudy, and the temperature is dropping. All this can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.).

S.A.D. affects about 6% of the United States every year. Common symptoms may include oversleeping, low energy, carb cravings, poor focus, social withdrawal, lack of pleasure, and hopelessness.

It is believed that S.A.D. is caused by a lack of sunlight, resulting in a skewed circadian rhythm and lowered serotonin levels.

Fortunately, there are many things one can do to combat symptoms and improve their emotions and outlook.

The first step is to purchase a “lightbox” for light therapy. These emit a much brighter and whiter light than typical lamps. Exposure to this bright light, particularly first thing in the morning, will simulate the sunrise, improving serotonin production and establishing a healthy circadian rhythm.

I am in the process of purchasing such a light source and will provide a review of my personal experience with this protocol.

The second recommendation is to stay active. Find 30 to 60 minutes every day for exercise. Exercise is known to improve mood by providing a sense of success as well as releasing endorphins in the brain.

The last recommendation I can make is to eat healthy. This means starting your day with a large serving of protein and ending your day with a moderate serving of carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes or fruits. Adequate protein in the morning, and throughout the day, will provide the body and brain with amino acids necessary for healthy cognitive function and stable emotions. Carbs at night will help induce sleep and up-regulate serotonin production. Eat fewer carbs throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes, causing lethargy and furthering negative emotions.

Many people find success with certain supplements. I personally have tried 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor), GABA (a dopamine precursor), and melatonin (the brains natural sleep chemical). Thus far, the melatonin seems to be the most effective, but only at regulating proper sleep-wake cycles. I noticed no results from any other supplement, regardless of timing or dose.

I do increase my supplemental Vitamin D in the winter from 2,000 to 5,000 or 10,000 a day. I don’t notice a direct result from this but I’m lucky if I get 5 minutes of direct sunlight a day when the temperature drops below freezing. Sunlight is our only significant source of vitamin D, and low levels have been linked to depression as well as many physical conditions.

Finally, there is always the option of medications. If feelings of hopelessness or despair become strong enough, visit a doctor to discuss further options.

I will post a follow up after I experiment with light therapy / dawn simulation for a few weeks. Try these tactics and let me know if you have some of your own!

SAD

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!

Donate Blood!

I am always offering ways to improve health and performance. Improvement in these areas is an admirable goal for any individual.

My number one recommendation for everyone is to first improve their diet –replacing packaged foods with vegetables, fruits, and local meat and eggs.

However, an ideal diet, high in nutrient density, can have one unfavorable outcome: elevated blood iron levels.

High iron levels become an issue when an individual starts eating adequate protein but doesn’t participate in activities that result in bleeding. Historically, we would risk injury during hunting, defending ourselves from prey, or just living life with fewer comforts than we have now.

This is more problematic for men than women, as women have a natural method for disposing of excess iron through blood on a regular basis.

High iron levels in the blood can pose as an oxidative stress for the body. And, if you recall the concern of fats becoming oxidized, you’ll remember that it’s the process of oxidation that causes most of our health problems.

Many studies that claim red meat causes cancer, actually examine iron levels in the blood. It is well accepted that unnaturally high iron levels can indeed be a precipitating event in the formation of different cancers.

So, if we are shooting for one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, and understand that grass-fed beef is the second healthiest protein source after seafood, what can we do to avoid the risks of over consuming iron?

Donate blood regularly!

This is something I have started recently and recommend for most healthy individuals, particularly men.

Not only can you help an individual that may be in dire need of blood, but you will also reduce the oxidative stress in your own body.

The American Red Cross allows you to donate blood once every eight weeks. This is because most donations will take about one pint of blood, which takes the body four to six weeks to fully replace. However, the plasma in your blood will be replaced within 24 hours so symptoms of fatigue should not last longer than this.

Donating blood is a stressor for the body, so you will need to curtail your exercise schedule accordingly. I usually donate blood on the Saturday before a recovery week. This means that I won’t have any scheduled exercise within 2 days of donating blood, and even when I do return to the gym on Monday, my workouts will be at half intensity for the following week.

Even though eating after giving blood can be beneficial, make sure you are still making healthy choices! Some donation sites still offer juices, cookies, or candy. I would recommend coming prepared with a piece of fruit or a protein smoothie.

Anemia, often caused by low iron levels, is common in our country and may be more problematic than “high-normal” levels. For this reason, I recommend getting a ferritin blood test before donating blood on a regularly basis.

On average, 10% of women nationally have anemia, while only about 2% of men have it. Because of this, I believe a regular blood donation schedule is far more beneficial for males.

Take a look at the effort you put into exercise. Consider how much time you spend shopping, cooking, and eating. Add up how much you spend on health insurance. Now ask yourself: is donating blood every few months to improve your health and possibly save a life, worth 30 minutes of slight discomfort?

Not every step we take to improve our health will directly help a fellow human – but this one will!

Blood-Donation

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!