Thursday, March 31, 2011

Precision Nutrition on Low Carb Diets

PN on Low-Carb Diets

Precision Nutrition is a pretty good resource for most people, and it's what got me in to nutrition in the first place, over 6 years ago. I like that they are staying pretty up to date with the research, and are not afraid to say "New evidence has come out and we're updating our approach."

Although they haven't fully caught on with the grains and fats, it looks to me like they are heading in that direction. John Berardi (founder) is a smart guy and I'm guessing they will start implementing some of this stuff in the next couple years. 

Check out this article for a great summary of low-carb diets: Lean Liver With A Low-Carb Diet.

They also explain NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) and look at a study that used low-carb diets to treat it. 

I really like that they acknowledge that the increase in LDL cholesterol seen on a low carb diet is most likely NOT a bad thing, because it is the friendly Type A, large fluffy LDL, and these do not cause any damage to the blood vessels.

Here's what they say in the conclusion: 
In this study, a lower carbohydrate diet had a metabolic advantage over other diets due to more liver lipid oxidation, higher ketones and higher whole body fat oxidation.
Low carbohydrate diets in general have been shown to:
  • lead to weight loss
  • lead to fat loss
  • improve blood triglycerides — a key risk marker for cardiovascular disease
  • improve HDL-C — a key risk marker for cardiovascular disease
  • increase or cause no change in LDL-C, though it seems to change the size distribution to a more favourable pattern (more large lower density LDL-C).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Food Sovereignty Part 1: Freedom and Responsibility

Sovereignty of Food Choice

What is food sovereignty? It is the idea that each individual has the right to choose what food they put in to their body.

If you know me or read this blog, you probably can guess my views on local food sovereignty and regulation of local food trading, farmer's markets, CSA's, etc.

Laws limiting the ability to buy food from your neighboring farms or that regulate farmer's markets or anything even close to that are misguided and dangerous.

Our local farmer's market
Why Centralized Control of Food is Dangerous

1. The idea that any state, federal, or other institution should be able to choose the food you eat or limit what is available to you is very dangerous. Putting aside the philosophical question of whether food choice is a fundamental right, we have a perfect example of why institutional control of food is a bad idea:
Our federal government claims that saturated fats ruin our health, when in reality, they are one of the safest and healthiest sources of calories. 
That's it right there. Sometimes the "experts" are wrong. If they really did control what was available to eat, we would all be obese, diabetic, and malnourished. As long as you are educated in what is good to eat and have a choice, you can stay healthy, regardless of institutional guidelines.

Perhaps the underlying motives are good, but it doesn't really matter. The results are bad.

More of Arcata Farmer's Market
2. I want to emphasize the trade off between freedom and responsibility. Credit to fully understanding the implications of this idea go to Dan Faulk, one of my top two professors of all time. This applies to everything in life, and food is no exception.
When you have the freedom to choose your food, you also assume responsibility for making sure that the food is of good quality. 
Go get to know the farmer. Check out their animals and their crops. Ask them about their operations. If you want to buy unpasteurized raw milk, then it is your responsibility to make sure the cows are healthy, it is bottled cleanly, and stored well. If you want to be able to choose your food, take responsibility for making sure your food is healthy and safe.

Likewise, if you do not take responsibility for making sure your food is of good quality and get sick, who's fault is that?

Local Grass-fed beef
3. Keep in mind that there is a spectrum of food freedom, it's not totally black and white. When you have huge multi-national corporations, industrial CAFO's with thousands of animals, mass meat processing and distributing plants, etc, it makes sense to have institutional oversight and regulations.

The risk of contamination of foods is drastically higher in these situations and requires good oversight. It's impossible to check these out for ourselves: You no longer have the responsibility to inspect the animals yourself and you trade some of your food freedom for that. And that's ok - I know not everyone has the same interest in food quality or has the financial capabilities to even worry about things like that. They should just understand that there is a trade-off; you can't have freedom without responsibility.

By no means do I think that these are a good things, but I know that at this time and in this cultural climate, they are the only way that we can feed many people cheaply. Not to diverge too far here, but remember that the price you pay in the store may be cheap, but the long-term costs on us and our land are immeasurable. 

This is why it is so insane to have legislation that forces small local farmers to comply to the same standards set for industrial food production: The circumstances are totally different for these two models; they do not require the same treatment.

The trend in food control and regulation is worrying for many people, myself included. The inept, ineffective, and corrupt FDA is in control of industrial food and it is a disaster. Extending their power over local and small farms would be a serious setback.

In my next post I will look at some encouraging developments that are a great template of what you can do in your area.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Tyler's Top Reads #1

I subscribe to and keep updated on about 70 different blogs. These range through nutrition, anthropology, exercise, political science, and psychology. I'm going to start posting a recap of some of my favorite content that comes up once a week. 

Top Reads #1

Chris Masterjohn writes about some of the things that he finds important for getting great sleep. I agree with every point he makes here, great info.
2. Why Did We Evolve a Taste for Sweetness? - Perfect Health Diet
Paul Jaminet writes on why we probably developed a taste for sugar. The content at the Perfect Health Diet blog is really good. 
3. Fasting insulin and weight loss - Hyperlipid
"I am on blog as stating that dietary fat, in common with carbohydrate, is stored in the aftermath of a meal. If you did not store your dietary fat it would sit there in your chylomicrons until you were as hyperlipaemic as a diabetic on an ADA approved low fat diet. All fat which is not used for on going metabolism must be stored." Technical for a layreader, but very interesting. 
4. 9 Steps to Perfect Health – #9: Practice Pleasure - The Healthy Skeptic
 "We know that when we’re faced with stress, a cascade of physiological changes occur triggered by stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system: blood flow increases to the muscles, lungs and other areas needed to mobilize us for action, and decreases to areas like the digestive and reproductive system that aren’t necessary for immediate survival. Hormones like adrenaline pump through our body to make us stronger and faster. Extra fuel (glucose) is released from the liver so that it can be burned quickly for energy."
5. Seth Roberts and Circadian Therapy - Perfect Health Diet
 This fits right in with the sleep post at #1. Some unique ideas on sleep and body rhythms.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wheat and Sugar: Addiction in the Brain

Kris over at Kris' Health Blog has just posted a really nice summary of the addictive effects on the brain of junk food, namely sugar and wheat. I've quoted a few of his paragraphs here, but you should check out his article for a more in-depth look at things.

Junk Food and Physiological Addiction
Over the last 30 years, there has been some leaps in our understanding of how foods can cause physiological addiction.

The majority of this research has looked at how foods effects our opiate and dopamine receptors in the brain, just like nicotine, amphetamine, heroin, cocaine, etc. 

The top two culprits in our diet are sugar and "healthy whole wheat" (sarcasm), two of the foods that to be leaders in causing our "diseases of civilization"- heart disease, diabetes, obesity, fatty liver, etc.

During our evolution, sugar just was not available in the quantities and with the relative ease that it is now. As Paul Jaminet at the Perfect Health Diet explains, sugar was a signal that foods were probably safe to eat.

We probably evolved a taste for sweetness and bitterness as a mechanism to detect which foods were poisonous. 

Kris looks at two studies on this,
"When rats are fed with sugar, they experience behavioral and neurochemical changes that are similar to what happens when they consume narcotics. These changes are specificially related to dopamine and opioid receptors in the nucleus accumbens of the brain (1).
Another rat study found that development of obesity in rats was correlated with down regulation of dopamine receptors in a part of the brain (2), which is similar to the changes involved in reward homeostasis in cocaine or heroin addicts. These rats ate bacon, sausage, cheesecake, pound cake, frosting and chocolate."
So you wonder why it's hard to stop eating bagels, bread, cakes, and sweets? They really are addictive, in the same way drugs are.

Kris does a really nice job of explaining where the opioids in wheat come from, and how they exert their effects on the brain: 
Soft, fluffy, poison
"Opioid peptides are short amino acid sequences that can cross the blood-brain barrier and stimulate opioid receptors in the brain. What substances do we know that do this as well? Well, heroin and morphine are the most commonly known, along with natural opioid peptides like endorphins that the brain releases after activities like exercise.
When wheat is broken down by enzymes, it forms four types of opioid peptides: A4, A5, B4 and B5 (3). These substances are believed to be able to cross the digestive tract, in to the blood, across the blood brain barrier to get to the brain and stimulate opiate receptors there, making us addicted to wheat."
He makes the speculation, that I would agree with, that children are exposed to wheat and sugar at a very young age, and develop the beginnings of addiction. They are rewarded in school, sports, etc with sweets, which also contributes to the psychological addiction component.

Addiction isn't Permanent
Just keep this in mind: addiction can be overcome, especially when you make a good plan that allows you to replace the foods that are addictive, with foods that you enjoy but are more in line with your goals.
Side Effects of Avoiding Wheat and Sugar, plus some x-fit
When I first stopped eating the majority of sugar and began eating an evolutionary based diet, I definitely had some cravings for candy, soda's, baked goods, and all that good stuff... but what I did is replace those foods with things that I enjoy, but aren't negatively impacting my health in moderate quantities: 
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Berries and Cream
  • Coconut Macaroons
  • Fruit
  • Full Fat Ice Cream
After a few months of this, my cravings for sweet and wheat completely disappeared.

Now, when I see sugary foods and baked goods, I am mildly revolted. If I actually taste them, they are disgustingly sweet, evidence that my taste buds are probably much more sensitive now.

What are your experiences with food addiction or overcoming a sweet tooth?
Are there other foods that you prefer now?

Be sure to check out Kris' article here: Junk food causes addiction in the brain.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Real Food 6: Classic Breakfast - Homegrown Eggs, Bacon, Sausage

Fresh Eggs
One of my friends is taking care of a couple acres with a small greenhouse and garden on it, so I went over and helped him out with some gardening stuff. He also has a chicken coup with the chickens laying an abundance of eggs, so he sent me off with a dozen fresh eggs!

He has three types of chickens which all have distinctly different eggs.

Here's a picture of the dozen:
In case you didn't know, the eggs from chickens that get to scratch around outside for their natural diet of fresh plants and insects have a much higher vitamin content.

Conventional vs Free-range
Compared to conventional, pastured eggs have: 
  • 1.6 times the Vitamin A 
  • 6 times as much Vitamin D
  • 8 times as much Beta-carotene
  • 3 times as much omega-3
Keep in mind, all these wonderful vitamins and fatty acids are found in the yolk, so be sure to eat it.

Organic vs free-range

This is evident by the vibrant color of the egg yolks. Here I have three organic eggs from the Co-Op and one free-range egg:

Can you guess which is from the free-range hen?
Organic vs free-range

Here is another picture, the lighting is not great in the first...

So after eating a couple of the yolks raw, I decided to fry up some of the eggs with some bacon and sausage.

First I threw some bacon on a baking sheet, put it in the oven, turned it on to 400 degrees, and set the timer for 15 minutes. I have found this cooks the bacon perfectly, and leaves the stove open to cook other stuff.

When the bacon had about 5 minutes left, I threw some sausage in the pan to start cooking. When the bacon was done, I took it out of the oven and poured the rendered fat in to a pan and cooked the eggs in it.

Last, I seasoned the sausage and sprinkled salt, pepper, and a little paprika on the eggs.

I like my yolks runny, and although I don't have any direct evidence of this, I suspect that they retain more vitamins and minerals when not fully cooked.

Here's the result:
Paleo power breakfast

For some more info on pastured eggs check out: Stephan Guyenet - Pastured Eggs

Monday, March 14, 2011

Good Stuff: Mat Lalonde on the Paleo Diet

Really good article Q&A with Mat Lalonde from last year:
"I’m not married to Paleo. Or to low-carb or high-carb diets. I want people to make the switch to a healthier lifestyle. I’d like to think that vegans, vegetarians, omnivores or carnivores would all be healthier if they were to choose foods from these lists. And to be honest, it’s usually not a hard sell. If you tell someone they can eat till they’re full and still lose weight, the usual response is, “sign me up.” I think the best thing someone can do is give it a try. Start with 30 days and see the results for yourself. You’ll see, food quality is way more important than food quantity."
"What are some of the foods people should eat and what are some of the foods they should avoid? 
A: Stay away from grains, legumes and sugar (especially fructose).  If your goal is to lose weight, you may also want to limit dairy to fermented options or eliminate it altogether. Artificial sweeteners are an absolute no, as are soft drinks, which have zero nutritional value. Eat things like grass-fed meats, fish and seafood, vegetables, tubers, roots, bulbs, as well as animal fats and oils. Nuts, seeds and fruit should be limited to two servings or less per day.  Essentially, minimize your fructose intake, minimize your linoleic acid intake (from seed and vegetable oils like corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, cottonseed oil, etc.) and reduce legumes and grains in your diet."

Read it here:

Q&A: Mat Lalonde discusses The Paleo Diet

Friday, March 11, 2011

Stealing Meat from a Pack of Lions

Three african hunter-gatherers steal meat from a pack of hungry lions... No more needs to be said, just watch it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Secret to Success - In Anything

How to Do Anything
Some of the most valuable advice I have ever received came from Dan John. Dan is really great athlete and coach based out of Utah. In 2007 I flew down from Alaska to L.A. for a Strength and Conditioning Seminar where I met Dan.

One of the things he told us has stuck with me for years and has been critical to my ability to succeed at what I set my mind on. Incredibly simple and elegant; it goes like this:
Look at your behaviors. Look at your goals. Make your behaviors match your goals. 
It's so simple that it's something that can easily be overlooked, but this is crucial for achieving what you want to do from health to athletics to academics to relationships. 

When people ask me why they can't improve their body composition or get stronger or whatever, I ask them these two questions. 
  • What are your behaviors or habits?
  • What are your goals? 
  • Do your behaviors match your goals? 
Usually any problems are easy to spot right there. Setting goals is great, but it's futile unless you also make the commitment to actually change part of your lifestyle to meet these goals. If you don't make an attempt to change your behaviors to match your goals, then obviously that goals was not worth the "cost" of changing the behavior.

If your goals is to lose weight, improve your health, or just feel better..
  • Using a paleo or evolutionary diet?
  • Are you still eating vegetable and seed oils or cooking with with them oil? Change your behavior, replace them with foods that bring you closer to your goals- butter, ghee, coconut oil, egg yolk, olive oil.
  • How much sugar are you eating?
  • Have you eliminated cereal grains from the diet? Replace them with safe starches- sweet potatoes, yams, potatoes, etc. Or if you really want to lose weight fast, decrease your carbs as well.
  • Are you doing some type of physical activity that you enjoy regularly?
  • Getting at least 8 hours of beauty sleep each night? 
Sprinting makes you very lean

You don't need to change every behavior at once, especially at first you can probably make great progress starting with one at a time. Just keep in mind, the more behaviors you change to be in line with your goals, the faster you will reach them.

It's difficult to completely stop a habit/behavior. Instead, modify that behavior so that it is health promoting and brings you closer to your goals. 

You can implement this right now. Honestly look at your behaviors and see if they match up with your goals. Make changes, refine, and repeat.

The next part of success? Preparation.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mainstream Finally Getting a F*cking Clue? Coconut Edition

Andrew Scrivani for The New York Times: Coconut Oil Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Coconut Oil In the News.

The New York Times just ran an article called "Once a Villain, Coconut Oil Charms the Health Food World"

I have to admit, I'm a bit surprised that the mainstream media and health authorities are starting to catch on (a little bit) about how fats actually effect our health. This article is pretty good overall, considering the current nutritional climate in our country.

The article starts out with some knee-jerk saturated fat bashing:
"[C]oconut oil was supposed to be the devil himself in liquid form, with more poisonous artery-clogging, cholesterol-raising, heart-attack-causing saturated fat than butter, lard or beef tallow."
I think this shows how bad things still are in conventional nutrition knowledge; this is probably what the average person believes. Apparently the American Dietetic Association and Federal Government are still on this page, despite a complete lack of evidence. Maybe they're hiding it?

At least some people are catching on. According to Whole Foods' senior grocery coordinator, Errol Schweizer,
"Annual sales growth at Whole Foods “has been in the high double digits for the last five years"
Must be why the damn prices have gone up on my 5 gallon containers of coconut oil! Grow more palm trees. Anyway, why did people get the idea that coconut oil is bad stuff?

“Most of the studies involving coconut oil were done with partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which researchers used because they needed to raise the cholesterol levels of their rabbits in order to collect certain data,”
So they hydrogenated it... Then gave it to an obligate herbivore, the rabbits, who would never naturally have coconut oil in the diet... Wow. No shit it looked bad on paper! Just as a refresher, rabbits do not have an omnivorous digestive capability- and unlike humans, they did not evolve eating a high-fat diet. 

Next up: the American Dietetic Association and Dietary Guidelines for Americans show exactly why their own advice has been making people sick and obese:

"Marisa Moore, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, a nonprofit association of nutritionists, said, “Different types of saturated fats behave differently.”
The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of good HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and bad LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, in the blood, but is not thought to negatively affect the overall ratio of the two.
She went on to say that while it is still uncertain whether coconut oil is actively beneficial the way olive oil is, small amounts probably are not harmful. The new federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of total dietary calories a day come from saturated fat. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that’s about 20 grams."
If someone said this to me, it would probably start a fist fight. And I would kick their ass because they would be obese and inflamed from all the vegetable oil and grains they've been eating. Take advice from the ADA and Federal Government at your own risk... I would say that coconut oil is safer than olive oil in that is much more stable at high-temperatures (resists oxidation), and that it has negligible amounts of dangerous omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  

Coconut Oil: The Evidence

  1. Health: First off, some observational evidence that coconut oil is not harmful: Several indigenous cultures that are completely free of modern disease eat a large percentage of their calories from coconut oil. These include the Tokelau Islanders, who obtain about 50% of calories from coconut oil [1], and the Kitavans at about 21% of calories from coconut oil [2].

  2. Health: Coconut Oil is about 92% saturated fat. This is a good thing; it doesn't go rancid, oxidize, and contains very few of the poisonous omega-6 PUFA's.

  3. Fat Loss: Coconut Oil is primarily "medium-chain triglycerides". These fatty acids are preferentially metabolized in the liver in to ketones and burned for energy in the brain, muscle, and other tissues instead of being stored as fat. Remember though, if you significantly overeat coconut oil it still gets stored as fat.

  4. Fat Loss: Studies show that consuming coconut oil leads to lower levels of body fat than other oils [3].

  5. Cancer: Coconut Oil produces far less cancer than industrial seed oils (vegetable oils) in animal experiments [4,5]. This is probably due to the drastically lower levels of omega-6 PUFA in coconut oil. 
The Bottom Line
Overall, there is very little research using unrefined coconut oil in humans. The small amount of clinical research seems to show benefits that are congruent with what we see in epidemiological research from healthy indigenous cultures like the Tokelau Islanders and Kitavans. 

I believe unrefined coconut oil is safe and has potential benefits as part of a healthy diet. 

For some more resources on coconut oil, I highly recommend: