Monday, February 28, 2011

News Impacts Your Physical and Mental Health

Why pay attention to news? 
When I was young(er), I hated learning about history or paying attention to politics. Since these things were outside of my immediate control, I considered them irrelevant to my personal life. Over the last four years in college, I've become acquainted with a couple of truly amazing history and political science professors. Learning from them enlightened me to how relevant these topics actually are to my every day life, and I found a passion that I didn't know was there.

History is the reason we are all here. When I stopped taking our culture, rules, society, etc for granted and started to wonder why they are the way they are, I realized that understanding history is the only way to understand why the world is how it is. 

Political science has a similar relationship and is almost inseparable from history. The true implications of politics never really hit me until after I became interested in nutrition. A politician's decision about what crops to subsidize with our tax dollars influences a series of complex integrated systems that eventually impacts the physiological processes going on in our cells. This is just one example of how all these fields are tied together; the implications are staggering.
Learning about politics, economics, and history then using what you've learned to analyze news within a context is almost an addicting occupation. Hours can fly by reading political analysis and trying to understand what's going on in the world. And it's easily justifiable because I truly believe that having an educated populace is the key to a functional nation. 

On the other hand... 
While I enjoy staying up-to-date on world news, there are drawbacks. For example:
  • The constant influx of negative news from around the world is a chronic stressor
  • My mind spins out of control thinking about options, implications, solutions
  • All the negative news can lead to feeling angry or depressed
  • Having no personal control over things can make situations seem hopeless
I think about the trade off between following world events and the stress they cause. Mark Sisson released an article today called 'How the News Impacts Your Health (and What You Can Do About It)'
which inspired me to write this. In the article, Mark makes some great points and cites some interesting research.
"Our constant access to all that ails, however, comes with genuine mental and physical health costs. Although we might think we don’t participate in media representation of disturbing news, research tells us otherwise. A study of 89 people who were shown footage of four traumatic events showed that nearly 20% reported symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) as a result of the viewings. (Frequency of exposure was a factor in participants’ emotional reactions.) As the head of the study explained, “’Acts of violence erode our sense of security and create intense feelings of anger, fear and helplessness. Watching these events and feeling the anguish of those who are directly experiencing them can impact on a certain percentage of individuals causing longer lasting effects."
So apparently research shows that watching traumatic events causes serious problems. Mark goes on to make the point that we are exposed to a far wider net of news than ever before in our evolutionary history:
Until recent times, our context for experiencing the world and empathizing with those around us was very limited – a tribe, a town. Our modern media and the “connected world” hand us each, in some regards, the fate of Atlas.
Later he address the exact question I've been thinking about:
In the end, the question remains: is there a way to be informed in a meaningful, deeper sense while not immersing ourselves in the constant barrage of bad news? While we all have the power to turn off or throw out the TV or otherwise unplug, there’s got to be a healthier middle ground between sticking your head in the sand and putting yourself in the middle of every human tragedy. What information truly obliges our attention for the sake of self-improvement and social action and what information simply constitutes unnecessary – even cruel – emotional clutter?
Earlier in the post he mentions that relaxation exercises helped reverse the effects of watching traumatic events. What other strategies are there?
[C]onstant exposure to endless threads of instantaneous, disassociated “news” without the natural filters of time and context has the power to leave us overwhelmed and still lacking in larger perspective. We’d do better, he suggests, spending less time staying on top of each trivial update and devoting more time to discussing, reflecting, and thoughtfully acting on the major issues and events that we feel require our attention. 
I think this is a really smart strategy. Keep news in context, don't pay attention to each "trivial update", and spend more time reflecting on a few major issues that we can impact.

Cortisol is a hormone that the body releases in response to stress. Although having some is important, too much causes fat gain, muscle breakdown, a reduction in insulin sensitivity, and unfavorable changes in hormone status. Cortisol is released primarily in response to stress. My current understanding is that the body does not differentiate very well between different types of stress, so physical, mental, and emotional stress can all add up together to increase cortisol levels. We don't want this to happen.

Here are the strategies I use to manage this:

  1. Limit the amount of news I read each week. As Mark says, ignore the "trivial updates".
  2. Keep news in context and don't view it as a disassociated stream of negative events. 
  3. Focus on the important local issues. These are the ones we are much better at dealing with.
  4. Spend time relaxing, laughing, meditating, or whatever helps foster a positive mood.
  5. I always keep in mind that the current moment is the only one I can control because the past has already happened and the future isn't here yet. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Real Food 5: Lamb with Mushrooms and Sweet Potatoes

Sourcing Local Meat
Whenever I visit our local North Coast Co-Op, the first place I always go is the butcher. They have, without a doubt, the best meat selection I've ever encountered at a local store. Meat options range from wild salmon, fresh bay shrimp, local grass-fed beef, local lamb, local pork, buffalo, elk, and more. Here are some of the cuts I frequently buy:

  • Local and grass-fed ground beef 80%: $2.49-2.99/pound
  • Local and grass-fed beef liver: $2.99/pound
  • Local and grass-fed lamb stew meat: $3.99/pound
  • Local and grass-fed lamb roast: $3.99/pound
  • Local natural pork stew meat: $3.99/pound
  • Local natural pork roast: $4.99/pound
  • Natural pork country style ribs: $3.99/pound
If these aren't amazing prices for top quality meat, I don't know what is. I rave about the butcher at the Co-Op to everyone who will listen. 

On my trip to the butcher on Sunday they had some more local lamb stew meat, so I bought two pounds all of it.

Slow-Cooked Local Grass-Fed Lamb, Mushrooms, and Sweet Potatoes

Lamb in slow-cooker

Woke up at 9am this morning to put the lamb in:
  • A couple lbs lamb
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Rosemary
  • Cumin

Then I just press go and leave it for 6 hours or so on high. 

Sweet Potatoes brazing in coconut oil and ghee

When I got home I threw sweet potato slices in to a mix of ghee and coconut oil.
- 1 lb sweet potato (one medium)
- couple spoonfulls of oil (can use butter, ghee, coconut oil.).

Then just turn to med heat, cover and let the slices sizzle in the oil until they are soft on the inside, a little crispy on the outside, and soaking in oil. 

Absolutely delicious, this is a go-to dish for me.

Finished lamb with mushrooms on top.

The last step was to sautee some mushroooms in olive oil until they were soft and soaking with oil, then pour them over the lamb in a bowl. 

This meal was amazing, so simple and easy, but tastes fantastic.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Get Over Fear of Bacteria: Fermentation Primer

Fun with fungi and bacteria. 
In my last post I mentioned how I had been experimenting with some home fermentation techniques. Well it took a little while, but the ball is really rolling on this now. I just tried a bottle of the latest elixir... Wow! It inspired me to sit down and type this out right now.

Some gooood stuff. 
Here's a brief explanation of  what fermentation is, its history, and benefits.

What is fermentation?
Fermentation is when microorganisms eat a carbohydrate, usually sugar, and release byproducts such as ethanol, lactic acid, and carbon dioxide. Basically you feed bacteria or yeast (fungi) sugar and they produce copious amounts of alcohol, CO2, and lactic acid. This results in a well preserved and usually bubbly (and sometimes alcoholic) food or drink. Think of fermentation as bacteria predigesting food to make nutrients more available for absorption.

History of fermentation.
Fermentation has been occurring in nature for longer than humans have been on the planet; in fact it's a vital process in the cycling of nutrients through the food chain that makes life possible.

The earliest evidence of humans controlling the fermentation process is wine-making about 8,000 years ago in the country of Georgia [1].

The first alcoholic society. Just kidding.
Iran, Babylon, Egypt, Sudan, and Mexico all were using fermentation techniques thousands of years ago and nearly every indigenous culture has developed some type of fermentation techniques. But why is it that fermentation has been sought out by so many different societies?

What kinds of food are fermented?
Here's a small sampling of foods that are dependent on the action of bacteria and yeasts.
  • Alcoholic beverages: Wine, Beer, Liquors, Mead
  • Lacto-fermented vegetables: Sauerkraut, Kimchi
  • Fermented dairy products: Yogurt, kefir, cultured milk, cheese
  • Bread: Such as sourdough (CO2 gas from bacteria causes bread to rise)
  • Fermented teas: Kombucha
  • Water kefir
  • Beet/bread kvass
  • Fermented soy: Miso and tempeh
  • Cured meats: sausages, salami, etc.
  • Other meats: rotten fish in the ground (yum!)
  • Poi - fermented Taro root
  • Fermented cassava
  • Many types of fermented grains and legumes.

Benefits of fermentation.
Although there are probably a lot of things I'm missing, fermentation seems to be generally used for these reasons:
  1. Adds a diversity of textures, flavors, and smells to foods.
    • Fermented foods taste awesome, but are definitely an acquired taste. 
  2. Preserving foods to last a long time without refrigeration.
    • Using bacteria or yeasts to convert carbohydrates in to alcohol, lactic acid, and acetic acid dramatically increase the amount of time that foods can go without spoiling. Before refrigerators, this is what everyone had to use.
    • For example lacto-fermentation creates lactic acid, a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of putrefying bacteria. 
  3. Improves nutrients available in foods.
    • Fermentation dramatically increases the availability of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and amino acids through a variety of mechanisms. Bacteria predigest foods and make them available for us to absorb. This really deserves an article of its own.
    • Fermentation creates Vitamin K2, an extremely important nutrient that nearly everyone is deficient in.
  4. Gets rid of anti-nutrients.
    • Double star this one- this is really important. A main part of ancestral nutrition is to not eat the anti-nutrients that are present in grains and legumes such as phytic acid, lectins, and other proteins. 
    • Fermentation breaks down phytic acid, destroys lectins, and can eliminate other problematic proteins. This is why it's so important to properly prepare grains and legumes if you are going to eat them.
  5. Decreases cooking time and uses less fuel.
    • This isn't so important in the modern world, but if you had limited amount of time and fuel this could be a big benefit. 
  6. Indirect benefits- Probiotic Bacteria:
    • Double star this one too, probiotic bacteria deserve an article of their own. In short, humans depend on the bacteria in our guts for a huge range of physiologic functions. With our industrial diets, good bacteria are often forced out and putrefying bacteria take over the gut which leads to a wide variety of nasty problems. 
So here's what some experts say on fermented foods:

Chris Kresser - The Healthy Skeptic:

"Almost all healthy, traditional cultures that have been studied regularly consume fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kim chi and kombucha. These foods have numerous health benefits, but in the context of heart disease one of the most important reasons to include them in the diet is that they are one of the few dietary sources of vitamin K2.  
...A 1993 study showed that those in the highest third of vitamin K2 intake were 52 percent less likely to develop severe calcification of the arteries, 41 percent less likely to develop heart disease, and 57 percent less likely to die from it."
"Probiotics found in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi strengthen and maintain the mucosal barrier system (in our respiratory and intestinal tract), which is our first line of defense against pathogens. What’s more, 75% of our immune system if found in the gut."
 Stephen Guyenet - Whole Health Source
"Healthy grain-based African cultures typically soaked, ground and fermented their grains before cooking, creating a sour porridge that's nutritionally superior to unfermented grains. The bran was removed from corn and millet during processing, if possible. Legumes were always soaked prior to cooking.

These traditional food processing techniques have a very important effect on grains and legumes that brings them closer in line with the "paleolithic" foods our bodies are designed to digest. They reduce or eliminate toxins such as lectins and tannins, greatly reduce anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and protease inhibitors, and improve vitamin content and amino acid profile. Fermentation is particularly effective in this regard. One has to wonder how long it took the first agriculturalists to discover fermentation, and whether poor food preparation techniques or the exclusion of animal foods could account for their poor health."
Good resources from Stephen:

Chris Masterjohn - The Daily Lipid
"Vitamin K2 is abundant in grass-fed animal fats and fermented foods, and promotes broad facial structure, healthy bones and teeth, a properly functioning nervous system, and robust cardiovascular health.
An accumulating body of research suggests that vitamin K2 may also protect against cancer."
 Robb Wolf - Paleo Solution
"The roles these bacteria play are varied, but they are critical in not only the digestive process, but also in actually protecting the gut lining. Our beneficial flora (the living mass of bacteria in our intestines) actually line the villi and microvilli in such a tight association that the bacteria are literally the first layer of our intestines. These bacteria displace potentially pathogenic bacteria, yeast,k and parasites; help us to digest macronutrients; and are responsible for production of various vitamins from precursor molecules.
...Most people are familiar with various fermented foods such as yogurt, kiefer, miso, kimchi, and raw sauerkraut. All of these foods (if not pasteurized) provide live cultures of beneficial bacteria."
Mark Sisson - Mark's Daily Apple

"[F]ermentation can render previously inedible or even dangerous foods edible and somewhat nutritious. The lectins, gluten, and phytates in grains, for example, can be greatly reduced by fermentation. I don’t advocate the consumption of bread, but if you’re going to treat yourself to any gluten grain-derived food, make real, long-fermented sourdough bread the one. The Romans managed to do okay on the stuff, but that’s only because meat was expensive and didn’t travel as well. Real sourdough is a good choice for guests who simply must have their bread, but don’t think fermentation makes it Primal approved.
Dairy is another beneficiary of fermentation. In fact, next to no dairy at all, I put fermented, raw, grass-fed dairy as the optimum form. The fermentation process breaks down the lactose, thus mitigating a potentially problematic sugar and decreasing the carb content (you can consider the official carb count of real yogurt cut in half; producers list the number of carbs present in the dairy before fermentation, and the fermentation process breaks down the lactose/sugar)." 

Wrap up.
Fermented foods is fun to make and has numerous health benefits. Stay tuned for part 2 where I'll show you what I've been making.

What kind of fermented foods do you like? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tyler Does Power Cleans, Military Press, Squats

Had a fun day in the gym for our Saturday track lifting. I brought in my camera to get video of some exercises- very interesting as I had never seen myself lift from the third-person view before. I'll go through my workout and do a little self-analysis on the lifts.

Today's Training.
Mostly keeping the weights in a comfortable range. Were getting in to track season so I want everything to be fast and explosive, no grinding reps or having to psych myself up for a really heavy set (save it for the off-season). This is something Dan John and I talked about at his seminar a couple weeks ago.
  1. Power Cleans: 
    1. 135 x 5 (warmup)
    2. 185 x 3 (warmup)
    3. 205 x 3 (video 1)
    4. 205 x 3
    5. 205 x 3
    6. 205 x 3
    7. 225 x 1 (video 2)
  2. Military Press:
    1. 45 x 5 (warmup)
    2. 75 x 5
    3. 95 x 5
    4. 115 x 3 (video 3)
    5. 145 x 2
  3. Squat:
    1. 135 x 5
    2. 185 x 5
    3. 225 x 3
    4. 275 x 3 (video 4)
  4. D/B Farmer's Walks
    1. 3 x 1 lap w/ 85 lb dumbells
Video 1: Power Clean 205 x 3

I feel like this is pretty good overall. Watching it in slow motion, I notice that my hips could extend and "pop" more, and my elbows are pulling a little bit too early. Fixing these two things should make this even easier.

 Video 2: Power Clean 225 x 1

I felt pretty good about this too. Catch could have been a little bit more smooth w/ high elbows, and I still need to pop the hips and keep the arms straight as long as possible.

Video 3: Military Press 115 x 3

Since watch Mark Rippetoe's Basic Barbell Lifts DVD, my military press form has improved significantly. The bar is more or less traveling in a vertical path with my head pushing through my arms at the top. More practice will smooth it out further.

Video 4: Squat 275 x 3

Not bad on the squats either. I've been staying pretty light lately and I think my strength has gone down a little bit because this did not feel as easy as usual. Everything looks pretty solid, but my hips came up a little too fast on the last rep.

See anything I missed? Let me know what you think in the comments. Any tips are appreciated!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Healthy Home Economist, My Fermented Food Adventures

Bringing it back.
I apologize for the hiatus- my last semester of school just started and time is stretched pretty thin between 17 units of class, track & field season, getting a business going, and applying for internships and grad school. Exciting stuff, but had to push the blog to the side for a while. Now that things are starting to even out I've got some good stuff coming down the line.

Healthy Home Economist.
In my internet travels I recently came across Sarah's blog 'The Healthy Home Economist', and I have to admit I'm very impressed. Her views on nutrition are pretty aligned with the Weston A. Price Foundation (A good thing- check out their site if you haven't).

After reading a couple of articles I went through several months of archives reading articles and watching her videos (which are excellent). Sarah covers a variety of topics from nutrition, environmental pollutants, medicine, food politics, exercise, and has several great videos how to do the stuff yourself. Sarah obviously follows her own advice, she is in amazing shape for a 40-something mother of 3 (but who's counting, right?).

My favorite parts of her site are the videos showing how to make fermented foods. A lot of these recipes are from Nourishing Traditions, one of my top nutrition and recipe books, but the recipes are far easier after you watch the process in a video.

In case you don't know, fermented foods are incredibly important for a variety of reasons that I will cover in depth in future posts such as repopulating intestinal bacteria, displacing bad bacteria, neutralizing plant toxins and more. They are one of the main things that modern people (Americans especially) are severely lacking in our diet.

Here are some of my favorite food videos so far:



Beet Kvass:

And here are some of my other favorite articles:

Great work Sarah, keep it up.