How do YOU define a “healthy” food?

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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 There is little over-watch and even the standards that are in place are outdated.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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Paul’s Palate: Lamb Roast Recipe

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Today I’ll share one of my favorite dinner recipes for lamb roast and veggies.

I love this recipe so much because: 

  1. It’s affordable. Depending on the time of the year, you can buy lamb shoulder from New Zealand or Australia for under $6.99 a pound! Considering most grass-fed beef roasts can be over $10 a pound, this is an amazing deal.
  2. Since it’s imported, there’s a better chance the animal was raised in a more humane and natural way. Recent reports suggest that Australia has begun to create lamb feedlots, but, for the most part, lamb from New Zealand and Australia is probably raised in open pastures, eating primarily grass.
  3. It has a milder flavor than beef, meaning the flavor of the dish can be more varied. It can be light and minty or hearty and spicy – it all depends on what herbs, seasonings, and sides you use!
  4. Lamb is one of the healthiest foods in the world! It offers roughly the same amount of vitamin and minerals as most grass-fed beef, but with less fat. This means you may get the same amount of nutrients as 8 ounces of beef, but with only 6 ounces of lamb, thereby reducing your total calories.

So, without further ado, here is my go-to recipe for a boneless shoulder of lamb:

  1. Wash 5-10 carrots, 2-3 cups Brussels sprouts, 1 cup mushrooms, 1 yellow onion, and 5-10 sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme, in warm water and apple cider vinegar.
  2. Cut all veggies to desired thickness and pluck herbs from stems.
  3. Mix thyme, rosemary, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 teaspoon sea salt, and 5 crushed cloves of garlic in a bowl. Rub this mixture on the outside of the lamb evenly.
  4. Place carrots in crockpot first, followed by mushrooms and then lamb. Surround lamb with Brussel sprouts and place onions on top.
  5. Pour ½-1 cup beef or lamb stock over vegetables (careful not to pour over the lamb as this will rinse all the seasonings off). If you don’t have any homemade broth / stock available, don’t buy store-made versions (they will be loaded with sugars, chemical thickeners, and rancid man-made fats), just mix ¼ cup water with ¼ cup balsamic vinegar, ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce, ½ cup red wine or red wine vinegar, and a little mustard.
  6. Cover crockpot and cook on low for 6 hours.

And voila – you have an amazing meal with less than 30 minutes of prep time!

Lamb provides a substantial amount of protein, and a moderate amount of healthy fat, particularly beneficial omega-3’s (assuming it is grass-fed). As such, it is the perfect center-piece of any meal. Feel free to experiment with different veggies and seasonings…just make sure you have some plants to compliment this protein.

Let me know how this works for you, and what seasonings you like best. See you all next week!

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BACON: Delicious or Devilish?

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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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Keep on track on Vacation…without missing out!

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I just got back in Vermont a few days ago after spending a long weekend in Portsmouth, NH. I don’t go on vacation often so when I do, I like to know I’m taking every opportunity to enjoy myself.

But how does someone as conscientious as myself “live it up” without sacrificing my health, performance, and body composition goals?

Well, that’s the topic of today’s post! I’ll use my experiences over the last few days to show how you can enjoy yourself and indulge without suffering ill-effects, in the short or long term.

1 – Skip breakfast

images (1)This may not work for everyone, particularly if your body is still dependent upon sugar (whether from candy, juice, or whole grains). But, for me, having 1 to 2 cups of coffee with a little heavy cream, can sustain me until early afternoon.

By skipping breakfast, I’ve eliminated a third of the calories I would have eaten that day, meaning my indulgences later may not push me into a calorie excess.

 

2 – Bring healthy snacks

If I’m at a hotel or a friend’s home, with access to a fridge and healthy foods, I’ll have a couple hard boiled eggs or full-fat Greek yogurt with berries. I also pack EPIC Bars in case of emergencies – offering a perfect balance of flavor and nutrition.

3 – Walk more

I rented a hotel room that was almost exactly 1 mile from the downtown which means, weather permitting, two trips back and forth resulted in over 20,000 steps a day!

4 – Don’t completely give-up on working out…but don’t overcommit

I made it a goal to find a gym and do two full workouts over the 4 days I was there. Normally I go to the gym everyday (simply because I love it so much), but this was vacation so 2 workouts was more realistic.

5 – Keep meals balanced & Opt for healthy choices

Sure, I would have hot wings as an appetizer and ice cream as a desert, but I would also have a salad instead of the bread and fries.seafood_louie(1)

Also, if I wanted a burger for dinner, I’d pick a restaurant that offered grass-fed beef from a local supplier. And if I wanted seafood, I’d go to a restaurant that had raw oyster shooters or sushi, instead of breaded and fried scallops.

6 – If you choose to drink, mitigate the negatives

gin-and-tonic-1This would include: using calorie free mixers (such as club soda); squeeze fresh lime juice as needed for flavoring; consume alcohol away from other foods; have your last meal of the day based around proteins and fats; consume plenty of water all day and night.

Not all these tactics will work for all people. If you have food allergies and health conditions, you may have to be more diligent. If you tend to over-indulge when you haven’t eaten recently, rely more upon healthy snacks. If you love aerobics, start every day with a run outside to burn extra calories.

But, the plan above worked so well for me that after 4 days of burgers, wings, ice cream, and gin & tonics, I actually weighed 1 pound less!

Next time you go on vacation give some of these a try – let me know what works and what doesn’t. And let all of us know if you have some “damage mitigation strategies” of your own!

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What I’ve Been Up To: Nutrition

 

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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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Stay Healthy During the Holidays

With the holidays right around the corner, I thought I’d put together a list of things you can do to stay healthy while still enjoying the holiday season. So, without further ado, here are the top 6 recommendations I would make:

  1. Stick to your normal eating habits. Don’t try skipping meals or eating less as this may lead to over-consuming snack foods and holiday treats.
  2. Build meals around protein and veggies while minimizing starchy or sugary carbs such as fruits, grains, legumes, and potatoes. Always opt for more vegetables and protein to feel full.
  3. Avoid liquid calories such as juices, milk, and mixed drinks. Get your calories from whole foods!
  4. Once you are full from your meal, then indulge in whatever holiday treat you like most. My favorite is chocolate peanut butter balls! It’s a lot easier to enjoy one or two treats, rather than a dozen, after filling up on healthy food during mealtime.
  5. Exercise whenever possible! This will mitigate stress that occurs during the holidays and protect your body from the damage of the indulgences. Exercise can be as simple as sprinting up a flight of stairs, going for a walk after meals, or performing a few sets of body weight pushups and squats.
  6. For those that plan to consume alcoholic beverages: drink on an empty stomach. When alcohol is ingested, all other calories are sent to fat storage so the body can break down the alcohol as fast as possible. Pick drinks lower in sugar such as dry wines, champagnes, and hard liquors. Forgo the prepackaged sugary mixers and try flavoring with a lime or lemon. My approach is to have a NorCal Margarita (2 shots tequila, juice from an entire lime, ice, and club soda) a few hours before dinner. Finally, make the following meal high in protein and healthy fat. This will help blood sugar levels, protein synthesis, and hormones return to normal.

I personally choose to consume a whey protein shake and digestive enzymes before any meal that is high in processed carbs and low in nutrients, such as pasta or pizza.

Finally, don’t stress about indulging! The holidays should be about family, relaxation, and a change in routine. Sure, under-consuming protein and vitamins while over-consuming sugar and anti-nutrients isn’t going to improve health – but allowing stress levels to increase will only exacerbate fat storage and skew hormone levels.

Make the best choices you can as often as possible, but plan to enjoy yourself and have some indulgences. Then jump right back into clean eating and living on in January.

Hope these tips help everyone enjoy their holidays while staying healthy. See you all next year!

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A Testament to Health

This week I was not able to put my normal time into researching, writing, and editing a blog post. On Monday, December 8th, I was in a car crash.

I was at an intersection a few blocks from my apartment waiting for the light. When it turned green, I looked both ways (out of habit), saw no cars, and rolled into the intersection. Suddenly, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a minivan hurdling through their redlight. Next thing I knew, all my windows were covered by airbags, my possessions were strewn around the the car, and there was bent and broken plastic everywhere.

As soon as I caught my breath, I opened the drivers side door (requiring some force) and climbed out.

After surveying the damage to my car, the car that hit me, and the road, it was clear I was very fortunate. My car hood had been ripped clean off and the nose was pushed back to the front wheels.

I was fortunate for a number of reasons:

First, I entered the intersection slowly and cautiously. If I accelerated quicker, the oncoming car would have hit my drivers side door and the outcome would have been much different.

Second, I was driving a 2012 Subaru Impreza. The steering wheel, dashboard, and every door deployed an airbag, protecting me from any impact against metal, plastic, or glass. Also, the front of the car folded in on itself like an accordion, absorbing the impact that otherwise could have crushed the driver and passenger compartments.

Lastly, and most pertinent to this blog, is that I was very healthy at the time.

I am not saying that muscles and low bodyfat makes one invincible…but it can’t hurt.

I don’t feel like I would have hopped up out of my seat without a bruise, after being broadsided at over 40 miles per hour, if I wasn’t generally fit and relatively strong.

A common quote in the powerlifting community, and amongst Navy Seals, is “Stronger people are harder to kill”.

Again, I am not claiming that my fitness level prevented bodily injury. But I think my dedication to a healthy lifestyle allowed me to exit the car unscathed and continue my week as usual.

I am confident that the resilience my body displayed in this situation is a testament to the importance of physical health.

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