07 May 2014
Colorful plates are in these days, and don’t just mean the cool red and mint ones you can get from Crate & Barrel (although those are awesome too). I mean the “eat the rainbow” slogan is starting to take hold in the healthy eating community, and we’re packing our plates full of green, red, blue, purple, orange, and red for maximal vitamins and nutrition. No white foods on our plates!
But wait, why no white foods? Well, probably because we’ve been so conditioned to view them as nutrient void, low quality foods. And many white and tan foods are just that – like fried chicken, french fries, white bread, rice, mayonnaise, etc. But some colorful foods are not so good for you either, like ketchup (in red, purple, and green) and green sprinkles from JP Licks.
White vegetables are white because of flavenoids (a substance known to have antioxidant activity and thought to help prevent cardiovascular disease by decreasing inflammation and platelet aggregation (1)) called anthoxanthins. Some white fruits and vegetables like bananas and potatoes are also a good source of potassium, an important electrolyte in muscle and heart function.
Some white fruits and vegetables have even been given the impressive label of “super food”. Some of these include:
- Bananas – bananas are high in potassium and are a great pre or post workout snack due to their carbohydrate and potassium content.
- Garlic – garlic, as well as onions and leeks, is high in allium, which has been associated with protection against colorectal and gastric cancers (2).
- Ginger – often used as a flavoring, ginger has been associated with such benefits as reduced inflammation in the colon (a precursor to colon cancer), decreased muscle soreness after exercise, and nausea among others (3).
- Cauliflower – in addition to all the antioxidants, cauliflower is also a cruciferous vegetable high in fiber, and as a bonus it’s super versatile (you can even make rice and “mashed potatoes” out of it).
Also don’t forget about potatoes. They aren’t as bad as you might think (if prepped the right way).
30 Apr 2014
Over the past week I’ve had a few young, healthy people in my life discover they had high cholesterol. Which naturally leads to confusion/fear, considering a. they are young and healthy and b. high cholesterol = death by heart attack. But wait, is cholesterol really the defining factor for your risk of heart disease? I’m no cholesterol expert (there’s been a lot of research since I left clinical nutrition) so I decided to do some refresher research, and this is what I found.
Cholesterol Is More Than One Number
When you get your cholesterol numbers evaluated, you don’t just find out one big number. There are usually four numbers you get, and a few more you should think about. The ones you get are:
- Low Density Lipoprotein or LDL – LDL is one of five lipoproteins that transport fat molecules (including cholesterol) through extracellular fluid (the fluid in your body that is outside blood vessels). LDL has been nicknamed the “bad cholesterol” because it transports these fat molecules and deposits them in artery walls, which leads to atherosclerosis.
- High Density Lipoprotein or HDL – HDL is similar to LDL in makeup but is known as the “good cholesterol” because it tends to transport fat molecules away from the arteries (usually into the liver, adrenals, or ovaries or testes). Higher levels of HDL have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
- Total cholesterol – this is a measure of all the cholesterol in your blood, including HDL and LDL. This number is going to be higher than just a sum of LDL and HDL.
- Triglycerides – this is a measure of fat buildup in your bloodstream. When you eat, your body converts any excess calories to triglycerides, where they are stored in fat cells. Between meals these are released to provide energy, so regularly eating more calories than are needed can lead to high triglycerides.
Notice a pattern there? Neither HDL or LDL are cholesterol in the first place, they are just the transporters. And cholesterol isn’t necessarily bad for your body, in fact it’s needed to make steroid hormones like androgen hormones and estrogen.
In addition to these numbers, you should also pay attention to:
- Cholesterol Ratio – this is the ratio between your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends levels below 5, with an ideal ratio of 3.5 So, if your total cholesterol is 210 (high) but your HDL is 90, that puts you at a ratio of 2.2 (ideal)
- Pattern A vs. Pattern B – according to some newer research, there are different types of LDL. Small, dense LDL and large, buoyant LDL. The small dense LDL is what causes harm to the arteries, whereas the larger, buoyant LDL does little to no harm as it floats happily through your blood vessels. In Pattern A, the small, dense LDL is low while the larger, buoyant LDL and HDL are high. In Pattern B, the small, dense LDL is higher while the large, buoyant LDL and HDL are lower. Pattern B is associated with higher risk of heart disease, while Pattern A isn’t. According to this study, the high carb, low fat/saturated fat diet can turn Pattern A into Pattern B.
We often treat cholesterol like the end all be all risk factor for heart disease. And it is still an important indicator of heart health when interpreted correctly. But there are other factors that determine whether or not you’re having a heart attack. These include:
- Weight and anthropometric measures (like body fat)
- Physical activity levels
All of the above can impact a person’s risk for heart disease (which includes heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart failure). All of these factors should be considered when assessing someone’s risk for heart disease and suggesting prevention and treatment options.
If you find you have higher than “normal” cholesterol lab values, don’t freak out. Talk to your doctor (or friendly CrossFit Dietitian), who can help you look at your lifestyle and other risk factors that may be in play. And don’t jump on the statin bandwagon before you’ve looked at other things. When should you be worried? I’d be worried if your triglycerides were high, as this indicates a pattern of overeating, if HDL was very low, or if any of these numbers were exorbitantly high.
23 Apr 2014
Picture it, any CrossFit gym, 2014. A well educated adult starts CrossFit at their local affiliate and gets super excited about their health and fitness. After about a month, he hears about the Paleo diet and gives it a shot. He doesn’t really have much guidance, so he buys a book on Amazon and looks at some blogs. Over the next month or so he’s doing pretty well. Eating Paleo about 80% of the time. He makes Paleo muffins or pancakes for breakfasts, some meat and vegetable dishes like Paleo spaghetti or chili. He eats lots of meat (mmmm PROTEIN) and a few veggies on the side. Plenty of dried fruit and nuts throughout the day, and maybe a Paleo cookie or two for dessert. He still drinks some beer on the weekends. After two months, he’s lost a little weight and feels a little better, but isn’t quite seeing the results he wants. After doing some online research, he decides he may need to try intermittent fasting, Zone, or even ketosis to see results. So he comes on in and asks his coach and some other gym members what they think.
Sound familiar? As I’ve read blogs and spent time around CrossFitters over the past few years, I’ve noticed this happening a fair amount (not calling out anyone in particular, just a general observation). Sometimes we get so caught up in pursuing results via the next big idea, we forget to really think about what we’re doing. This approach can hurt us for a few reasons.
1. The Foundation isn’t there. The foundation of CrossFit is nutrition. And in my humble opinion, the foundation of nutrition is a clean, pretty much Paleo diet. I’m talking about a diet mostly fruits and vegetables, with a little meat, some nuts and seeds, healthy fats, and maybe some dried fruit or dark chocolate here and there. While not the ideal diet for everyone, this is where the experiment starts. If you’re not seeing the results you want on a diet like this, there are lots of things to look at (how much are you eating, when are you eating it, what are your goals, how are stress levels, etc). If a diet like this is too strict for you, then your goal should be working to get as close to it as is sustainable for you.
2. It plays into the American Diet System (which sucks). You know this system. Weight Watchers. Atkins. South Beach. Nutrisystem. Jenny Craig. Alli (or what I like to call the lose lose weight by pooping your pants pill). Anything you’ve ever seen advertised on TV with a tagline like “eat all your favorite foods and still lose weight!”. In America we like to follow diet rules, deprive ourselves, etc. We’ve been so conditioned to adhere to a diet and self shame when we don’t. So while the Zone diet is a WAY better option than Jenny Craig, if you are a person who has jumped from diet to diet, figuring out a sustainable, clean diet that moves you towards your goals is going to be way more successful then bringing food scales and time restrictions into the equation.
3. More stress. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t stand the Zone diet. Weighing all my food makes me feel obsessive and stressed out, negatively impacting my quality of life. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have Camille’s abs this July, but given my experience with this diet, no matter how good it is on paper, it isn’t going to help me. Not when I could do a better job of cutting out alcohol and grains first. On top of that, stress negatively impacts weight and health, raising cortisol levels (a hormone released in response to stress that raises blood sugar levels, boosts the metabolism of macronutrients, and suppresses the immune system) and increasing inflammation in the body. Unless you are a very high level athlete (I’m talking the kind who makes a living from their sport), in all likelihood a complicated diet like ketosis is not worth your time and energy when you could achieve a pretty good level of fitness and body composition just by eating clean most of the time.
Now, I’m by no means telling you NOT to try something new with your diet. It is, after all, YOUR diet. If you’re not having results you should always be trying something new. When it comes to nutrition, dietitians and experts can provide guidance, but ultimately you are your own laboratory. You need to figure out what works for you through trial and error. I am simply pointing out that before you try something complex like carb cycling, you should be eating clean, have cut out processed junk (yes, that includes Paleo baked goods), and achieved a balanced diet that generally makes you feel and perform well. If you want to level up your performance or body composition from there, by all means jump right in. But for most people, keeping it simple will work out best in the long run. Remember, a lot of us have 30-50 or more years to maintain health and fitness. Who wants to be on a crazy, complex diet for 50 years?
Have you ever tried a complex diet? How did it go?
16 Apr 2014
In case you haven’t seen the epic pie order in When Harry Met Sally, watch now for context. While I don’t advise ordering complicated desserts as a great way to stick to a clean diet, I’ve got a point to make.
When I say “it’s OK to be Sally”, I mean that it’s OK to be a huge, pain in the butt when you order at a restaurant. Go ahead, be all “Can you please cook my vegetables in olive oil or steamed instead of in butter, unless the butter happens to be grass-fed” and all “Do you have any BBQ sauce made with just molasses and honey, with no cane sugar or corn syrup?”, and “can you grill that instead of frying it, please?”. It’s OK to complain when you ask for a side of vegetables instead of some other processed carbohydrate and receive a quarter cup of sad looking veggies smothered in butter/oil.
It’s OK for you to ask the Butcher or Fish Peddler to cut your meat to just the right amount. It’s OK to ask for grass fed beef or bison, and if they don’t have it ask them to go check or maybe even order some. It’s OK to ask for wild caught salmon and decide to go elsewhere if they don’t have it.
It’s OK to be honest with your friends and coworkers about what you eat. If someone is grilling Bubba Burgers, it’s OK for you to ask them to throw on a piece of chicken or bison for you. Hell, vegetarians do it all the time with their Kween-o burgers (see this ad if you don’t get the joke). It’s OK to ask that your coworkers don’t get you cupcakes on your birthday because you’re trying to avoid sugar. It’s OK to ask for the gluten free option at catered work lunches (although be advised, this isn’t always healthier per se).
I know this is a fine line. It is obviously not OK to go to your friends house for dinner and look upon the white rice, rolls, or cheese platter and condescendingly inform them “I don’t eat that”. But I feel like we have spent too much time waiting on old fashioned economics of supply and demand to produce heather products, and the movement has been slow. ‘Cause the food industry is way behind. Remember how we thought egg yolks were bad for us from like the mid 1980’s until the end of the 1990’s? Want to guess when McDonalds came out with an egg white option? THIS YEAR. While we appreciate your effort guys, it’s not the yolk we have a problem with, and we haven’t for over fifteen years. Other companies are better at picking up on trends, but not necessarily to our benefit. I mean, thanks for the gluten free wanter, peanuts, and yogurt I guess… And shout out to Dunkin Donuts for the turkey sausage and turkey bacon offerings, which are really not any healthier for you than regular bacon and taste way worse.
So my point is this: If you want a healthier, better food product, ask for it. Loudly and often. Because right now the food industry is making lots of money based on the assumption (and their efforts to keep it so) that everyone just can’t get enough soda, snacks, and processed convenience dinners. That we don’t care what’s in the food as long as it sounds “healthy” or is low calorie/low carb/low fat, etc. If we want better food, we have to demand it. And nothing speaks louder with food industry than your wallet.
What do you think about this?
** A little context on the Flickr donut: when I searched “demanding” on flickr for a nice illustrative image, I stumbled upon a protest demanding Flickr give out free donuts. I think this makes asking for better food sound a little less ridiculous. I was also greatly amused, thus explaining the inclusion of this image.
02 Apr 2014
No, this is not a belated April Fool’s, although I am now kicking myself for not asking to blog a day early. I could have had a lot of fun with that one.
There’s been a lot of hate going around in the media for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and fructose. Some “nutritionists” may even tell you to cut back on fruit because fructose is so dangerous. But is this all true?
What We Know
We know in studies of mice, feeding them diets upwards of 40-50% of their diet from HFCS leads to development of cancer, obesity, and other side effects. We can also see a graph (right) of obesity rising significantly in the 30+ years after HFCS was introduced to the food supply in the 1970’s. Meanwhile other studies are finding there are no significant negative effects attributed to HFCS.
Now, it’s become a fierce debate. One camp blasting the many ways HFCS will kill you and the other defending it’s honor, proclaiming that HFCS is perfectly safe.
The line industry and the FDA has settled on is “HFCS is no more harmful to your health than sucrose (table sugar)”.
The thing is, I agree with this. But that doesn’t mean HFCS is OK. It means the FDA and industry are missing the forest for the trees, and hoping you will too. To say HFCS is no more harmful to your health than table sugar is like saying gin is no more harmful to your health than bourbon. Would you really argue that drinking gin is fine but bourbon is not or vice versa? Of course not. You recognize that both in moderation can be enjoyed, but in excess BOTH will produce harm (in this example, in the form of liver cirrhosis and alcoholism).
I will however, agree that HFCS can cause obesity, although not directly on it’s own. After all, HFCS isn’t even that “high” in fructose – only about 5% higher than sucrose. What happened was, HFCS made sugar SO CHEAP that the industry could put it in everything, even things that never had sugar before. They could manipulate sweetness to further addict you to foods, to produce larger serving sizes for basically nothing. HFCS doesn’t chemically cause obesity, but it set the stage for the environment that would.
- Don’t eat a lot of HFCS. Anything it’s in is usually cheaply made. Personally, I prefer the taste of barbecue sauce made with molasses and honey over HFCS, but if you treat your self to something that has it every now and then you will not give yourself cancer immediately.
- Don’t fool yourself – a cookie with HFCS is just as bad for your waistline and health as a cookie made with “organic evaporated cane juice” (which is just fancy speak for sucrose).
- Keep your intake of added sugar -a ALL sugars – to a minimum. Get your carbs from complex carbs and satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit.
- Don’t avoid fruit – drinking straight fructose may be a bad idea, but eating fructose in the presence of fiber and other vitamins and minerals is the way nature intended. I mean, don’t eat 10 bananas in a day, but if you’re stressing about eating a second piece of fruit because you’re afraid it will harm your health and impact your weight loss, just stop it right now.
*There are some people for which avoiding fructose (and most other carbohydrates) at all or some parts of the day will be appropriate, including body builders on a cutting diet or women with Gestational Diabetes.
25 Mar 2014
Growing up I learned that fat was bad. Butter, beef, nuts, avocado – all “fattening” (seriously, we never had guacamole in my house growing up for this very reason). Lean meat lean beef lean lean lean has been drilled into us for the past thirty or so years. Even the American Heart Association – trusted resource for all things heart disease – recommends limiting saturated fat to just 5% of daily intake If you eat a 2,000 calorie diet, that leaves you with about 11 grams or less than a tablespoon of coconut oil per day. (Although as a side note I somewhat question AHA’s wisdom after learning they endorsed Subway as a healthy meal option. But I digress.) Heck, I even learned it in college, and told I don’t know how many patients while I was working in the hospital to “choose lean meats and avoid foods high in saturated fat”. There has been questioning of this saturated fat-heart disease link recently, with a lot of it coming from the Paleo camp (Robb Wolf, etc).
Now, a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has cleared saturated fat of its charges. The review looked at 21 studies of over 347,000 people with follow up anywhere from 5-23 years. The results found no association between saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Basically, there is no evidence to conclude that saturated fat is the devil incarnate.
What Does This Mean?
My general rule about saturated fat remains unchanged (and is essentially supported) by this study. Don’t be afraid of sat fat – there are a lot of food containing saturated fat that provide nutrients we need. Beef for example, is a good source of iron (which is needed to produce hemoglobin, a part of red cells that shuttles oxygen through the body. Not getting enough iron can result in anemia) and zinc (important for wound healing and immune health). But, most if not all of your saturated fat should still come from healthy, whole food sources – meat, milk, eggs, butter, etc and not from fried/processed foods or high sugar foods (like ice cream). Just as with carbohydrates, it’s not about the nutrient itself, it’s about where it comes from and the quality of that source.
The Bottom Line
Don’t be afraid of saturated fat. Just get it from the right place.
12 Mar 2014
Sorry for the late blog post! I’ve seen lots of new faces in the gym over the past few months, so I am reposting my go-to article on the good and bad aspects of the paleo diet, and some recommendations for using it to improve your diet for anyone who’s heard of the paleo diet during their intro sessions but still wants more information (or for anyone who wants a refresher). Also, I’m a little short on time as I’m in California for work (you feel so sorry for me, right?).
The Paleo diet – also known as the “caveman diet” – is a way of eating inspired by the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors, the men and women who lived 2.5 million years ago, before the agricultural revolution began about 10,000 years ago and provided mankind with a steady supply of grains, corn, dairy, and domestic meat. The theory behind Paleo eating is that our bodies are genetically programmed to eat certain foods, and that many modern health problems like obesity result from the introduction of grains, dairy, and other processed foods, which wreak havoc on our metabolic systems. The diet, and it’s “allowed” and “restricted” foods, are based on anthropological research providing insight into what pre-agricultural humans ate.
Foods allowed on a strict Paleolithic diet include lean meats and seafood, eggs, fruits and non-starchy vegetables, nuts (except peanuts), seeds, and plant-based oils such as olive, coconut, avocado, walnut, or grapeseed. Restricted foods include processed meats (like salami), dairy, grains such as rice, pasta, wheat, and corn, starchy vegetables like potatoes, soy products, legumes like beans and peanuts, alcohol, and refined sugar. Following a Paleo diet does not require minding of portion sizes or food measurement. The recommendation is to eat Paleo approved foods when you are hungry and stop when you are full. The idea is that it’s fairly hard to eat too many calories when they are coming from protein sources and high fiber, filling sides like vegetables, fruits, or healthy fats. The Paleo diet can be followed strictly or modified to meet your individual needs. For instance, some follow an “80/20” rule, eating Paleo about 80% of the time and allowing room for leniency with other foods or cheat days. Others follow a strict Paleo diet but include dairy, butter, or both.
The Research on the Paleo diet, while promising, is fairly limited. Several small studies have shown a Paleolithic diet may help improve markers of health in both healthy people and those with chronic disease. For example, one study showed that a Paleolithic diet resulted in lower mean glycated hemoglobin (a measure of blood sugar control over time) values, diastolic blood pressure, and waist circumference, and higher HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) when compared to a standard diabetes diet. Among healthy adults, a small metabolically controlled study (meaning what participants ate was strictly controlled) found improvements in blood pressure, glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity, and cholesterol without weight loss over a 10-day period.
In addition, while the evidence for the Paleo diet specifically, especially in athletes, is not prolific, research has shown high-protein, low-carbohydrate type diets to be effective for fat loss in a number of studies. Recently, a study appearing in Nutrition & Metabolismfound that Paleo dieters not only felt more satisfied in terms of appetite, but also had lower levels of circulating leptin, a hormone that regulates appetite, food consumption, and body fat storage.
Why Eating Paleo is Awesome…
- It eliminates the crap – eating whole foods and avoiding food products with refined sugars, preservatives, harmful additives, high levels of sodium, and added fats has numerous benefits in terms of weight management, health, and athletic performance.
- More vitamins and minerals – because you eat more fruits and veggies on a Paleo diet, you are getting much more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than on a typical Western Diet. Vitamins can help, but 90% of the nutrients in a typical multivitamin tablet are not absorbed but are excreted (meaning you pee them out). Studies have shown that eating more fruits and vegetables reduces cancer risk, but when researchers attempted to isolate and supplement specific vitamins common in produce, the effect wasn’t replicated.
- Less “bad” fat and more “good” fat – the Paleo diet typically consists of more omega-3 and unsaturated fats via increased intake of foods like almonds, walnuts, and avocados and reduction in saturated fats by eliminating high fat meats and processed foods like chips and desserts. Unsaturated fats may reduce inflammation, which is good for everyone, especially athletes.
- Health Benefits – although the research is limited, the Paleo diet has been associated with greater weight loss success, greater satiety, and improvements in markers of chronic disease. There are numerous anecdotes of people having found success eating this way.
Why it’s not so awesome...
- It takes more planning – it’s easy to get enough carbohydrates and calcium on a standard American diet. It’s also easy to grab lunch at the office if you forgot to pack it. So while it’s possible to meet all your nutritional needs on a Paleo diet while enjoying good food, it requires more planning and, often times, ahead of time meal preparation. If you’re not used to packing your lunch or cooking nearly all of your meals, it will take an adjustment.
- $$$ – I don’t subscribe to the belief that it is more expensive to eat a healthy diet, but following a strict Paleo diet will up your grocery bill, at least a little bit, due to increased purchasing of meat and vegetables. This increase will be greater if you switch completely to organic and grass-fed products. On the flip side, if you give up junk food and soda and eat out less, this will probably even out.
- Does it make sense? – Dr. Cordain argues that our bodies are genetically adapted to a Paleo diet, and the influence of grains and processed foods has led to our current health problems. But people started eating bread 10,000 years ago, and the epidemic of obesity and chronic disease is at best a 30 year old problem. So is bread and dairy the devil? Or is an increasingly sedentary lifestyle combined with more people eating out more often and ever growing portion sizes the real culprit?
- Carbohydrates – for most people the moderate carbohydrate levels in a Paleo diet are enough to support normal functioning and maintain glucose and glycogen stores. However, people with higher carbohydrate needs, like endurance athletes, or rowers doing multiple workouts per day, may have a hard time meeting them on a Paleo diet.The Paleo Diet for Athletes, written by Dr. Cordain and endurance coach Joe Friel, actually recommends following a Paleo diet for most of the time while supplementing other foods, such as sports drinks, around workouts to get adequate carbohydrates.
- Difficulty – A US News Report rated the Paleo diet one of the worst diets for 2011 and difficulty was a factor. For some people, eliminating 3 major food categories (grains, dairy, legumes) may just be too much to stick with over an extended period. Going on a drastic diet that you won’t be able to maintain could result in frustration, stress, and ultimately giving up and just “eating whatever” for a while, which will be a weight loss and/or goal setback and just leads to more stress.
So what should you do?
As far as I’m concerned, there is no “perfect diet” for all people. That being said, I think there is merit to the principles behind the Paleo diet and at the very least I would consider it a good framework for building a healthy, maintainable diet. Ideally, you do want to eliminate processed foods (like Spam, Cheetos, fast food, etc) and focus on more “Paleo foods” like meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, and oils. However having the occasional whole grain (that’s wheat bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal etc), dairy product, or legume isn’t going to kill you (unless you have a food allergy).
Here are some good guidelines to follow:
- Load up on lean meats, veggies, and fruits first. They contain those essential nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- Eat a healthy diet that works for you and doesn’t drive you nuts. You want to follow a healthful nutrition plan, but you don’t want to set yourself up for failure either.
- Avoid processed crap. It’s that simple. If the ingredients list is longer than your entire grocery list and you find yourself trying to decide if it’s healthy, just put it back on the shelf. It’s probably not that great for you.
- Avoid added sugars and sodium. That includes canned stuff, “pre-made” meals, sugary beverages, junk snacks, and many breakfast cereals.
- Limit the booze. It’s empty calories and makes you feel not awesome the next day, which can increase cravings for less healthy foods and limit your desire and/or ability to work out.
- Disregard all of the above and have a cheat day every now and then. It can be good for you. Check out why here.
04 Mar 2014
Yes, the title is sarcasm. But these are real…
From TMZ: “High protein diets ‘nearly as bad as smoking'”
From LiveScience: “High protein diets raise cancer risk as much as smoking”
From the LA Times: “High protein diets: bad in middle age, good for the elderly”
Let me start out by saying that I’m not going to tell you to eat less animal protein. But I saw this headline earlier and felt like having a rant.
I read the Washington Post iteration of this story first but couldn’t find the study cited. I then searched in Google News and found 66 articles. I read 10 of them, and none cited the actual source of the article. I also searched on PubMed but lost my patience after a page or two. So I haven’t actually read the original study or abstract, just the mainstream media reports.
What We Know
The study followed 6,000 people over age 50 for 18 years and found that people age 50-65 who ate a “high protein diet” (over 20% of calories from protein) were almost 4 times more likely to die of cancer during the 18 year study period than people who ate a low protein diet (less than 10% of calories from protein). The link between cancer and protein was only noted in people whose diets were high in animal protein (milk, eggs, cheese, and meat), but people whose protein was mostly from plant sources were not at high risk. On the other hand, people over 65 were less likely to die of cancer if they ate more protein. The higher protein diet in that age group was thought to be beneficial because it helped older participants maintain a healthy weight and avoid frailty.
There was a concurrent study in mice looking at IGF-1 (a growth factor) and showing that the higher protein diet promoted tumor growth by increasing the IGF-1. The researchers also measured IGF-1 in 2,000 of the study participants and found that increasing IGF-1 levels were linked to increasing risk of cancer death.
A Few Thoughts
- What kind of “animal protein” were participants eating? Was it grass-fed steak and grilled chicken? Or was it dollar value hamburgers and fried chicken?
- Was there any health bias? Comparing vegetarians to meat eaters can be tricky, because vegetarians have already made a conscious effort to do something healthy, whereas “everyone else who eats meat” may not have. A better comparison might be comparing vegetarians to people who are following a healthy diet that includes meat.
- Did they account for physical activity and other health behaviors? Often the health bias works both ways – people who make one choice in the name of health improvement tend to make others (like exercising, not smoking, etc). It’s likely they did, as most studies do now, but worth asking.
It’s also important to remember that this is a long term, cohort study. These types of studies are good for identifying associations, but they can’t prove cause and effect.
So What’s The Point?
Don’t listen to mainstream news when you want nutrition information. Keep eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, healthy protein and fat, avoiding processed crap and staying active. And join me in praying for a study that FINALLY compares plant based diets to healthier diets that include animal proteins. Until then, pass the bison burger…
25 Feb 2014
As the open approaches, many of us are entering competitor mode. I’m sure Neal and the other coaches will be telling us lots about mobility and recovery, so I’m just going to talk about food. How you eat can seriously impact how you perform. Read on for a few nutrition tips to help you perform your best during the Open.
Before The WODs
Before a workout, your body should have a topped off fuel tank. This means you should have enough glycogen (the body’s stored form of carbohydrate) stored as well as some more readily available from food. In general, pre workout meals or snacks should be:
- Enough energy to prepare you for the workout without leaving you hungry or with undigested food in your stomach
- Low in fiber and fat
- Higher in carbohydrates
- Moderate in protein
Meals low in fat and fiber will allow your stomach to empty in time so you can avoid stomach discomfort. The carbohydrates will top off glycogen stores (which is important, since the body relies on glycogen rather than fat stores for energy during shorter CrossFit WODs), maintain blood sugar levels, and provide energy. Protein will help you avoid hunger. In addition, it is important to be hydrated before exercise. The recommendation is that athletes drink 2-3 milliliters of water per pound of body weight at least 4 hours before working out to hydrate and get rid of any excess fluid (Rodriguez et al 2009).
After The WODs
Post Workout/Recovery is the most important time, as it is the time when your body reaps the benefits of all the hard work you’ve done. During the workout your body burns through your stored glycogen, you lose fluid to sweating, and muscle tissue is broken down. Recovery is when you can replenish your stored glycogen, replace lost fluid, and rebuild damaged muscles.
We used to think the precise timing of recovery was very important, advising that within one hour of a workout you had to have 30-60 grams of carbohydrate and15-20 grams of protein because this was during the time your metabolism was most active. The consensus was that eating right after the workout improved muscle strength and hypertrophy. However now we know that eating within this window is less important than previously thought (Schoenfeld et al). So, as long as you eat a good, nutrient rich (read: lots of vegetables and fruits) meal with protein and carbohydrates, and maintain an adequate calorie intake throughout the day, you will continue to build strength and fitness.
What To Eat
Try to eat something that not only provides these nutrients but also provides vitamins and minerals. Research has shown that chocolate milk may be a good recovery option because the milk provides calcium and magnesium, two minerals important in muscle contractions, and potassium, which is an important electrolyte lost in sweat. Other good options include a veggie omelet with fried plantain, sweet potato, or wheat toast and grilled steak with roasted vegetables.
What’s your favorite post workout meal?
18 Feb 2014
In response to our collective interest in eating healthier, food companies have started trying to make healthier products. Well, sort of. They are trying to make products that LOOK and FEEL healthier, though they may not be. Hence the emergence of things like veggie chips and other “natural products”. (As a side note, my biggest pet peeve these days is a bag of veggie chips proudly bragging “1 serving of vegetables in each portion”. Um, NO because fried potato and corn with some salt is not a serving of vegetables! But I digress).
What does the natural label mean?
Nothing. Squat. The “All Natural” and “Natural” labels on food are not regulated by the FDA or any other organization. Which means unlike labels like Organic and Low Fat, a food sporting Natural claim doesn’t have to meet any type of requirements. If not for worry of public backlash (or lawsuit), M&Ms and Coca Cola could use a Natural label on their soda and candy, too. The good news is, people are starting to recognize this (or at least lawyers are). Last year Naked Juice lost a class action lawsuit claiming that their use of the Natural and All Natural claims, despite the juices containing non-natural things like GMO soy.
How do you know what’s really natural?
Look at the ingredients label. If it contains something that don’t sound like they occur immediately in nature (like soy lecithin, GMO products, corn starch, etc), avoid it. And of course, use common sense. Something can claim it’s natural, and contain all ingredients that are, but that doesn’t make it natural. Just like frying some potatoes does not a vegetable serving make (although I can’t make the same argument for home made kale chips).