What is good science?

Wine drinkers and chocolate lovers  love it when a new study comes out claiming that wine or chocolate is good for us, “yippee! I don’t have to feel guilty about eating something I love.”

This is a natural reaction, nobody likes to feel guilty and we want to be able to justify our actions.  However it seems like we are getting a little too good at extrapolating, being biased and failing to see the big picture.  For instance, the cocoa bean has health benefits but how many of you chocolate lovers are eating 100% cocoa powder?  Hot chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate candies and chocolate chip cookies are not the chocolate with health benefits.  The scientific community is still debating whether wine is healthy.  Good science seems to tell us that abstaining is healthier than consuming one glass of wine a day but there is good science telling us that drinking one glass a day will not harm us and may provide some health benefits.   Can drinking wine reduce our risk of heart disease?  When BBC’s Trust Me I am a Dr team asked “How can I avoid getting heart disease?” they found that “The evidence on alcohol at the moment suggests that it is not protective against heart disease.”

Click here to read a great article discussing both the pros and cons of alcohol consumption.

We are too quick to leap onto a study that tells us what we want to hear and it is our tendency to make that leap that I want to call to your attention.  Being aware of your bias is critical in being able to evaluate good science.  I love sugar and I do not like alcohol.  I want to believe that alcohol is bad for us.  I think wine is a horrible thing to do to a grape and chocolate cake is a beautiful thing to do to cocoa.  I am fully aware of my bias so when I am reading studies, instead of looking at what the study says I first ask, IS IT A GOOD STUDY?

THE RULES OF GOOD SCIENCE

When it comes to distinguishing which studies are good or which studies are questionable look for the following;

Randomized-A Randomized Control Trial (RCT) is a study in which the participants are assigned by chance to separate groups; neither the researchers nor the participants can choose which group.  (PubMed Health Glossary-Source: NIH – National Cancer Institute).

Peer Reviewed– A Scholarly peer review (also known as refereeing) is the process of subjecting an author’s scholarly work, research, or ideas to the scrutiny of others who are experts in the same field, before a paper describing this work is published in a journal or as a book. (Wikipedia).

Double Blind-A double-blind study is one in which neither the participants nor the experimenters know who is receiving a particular treatment. This procedure is utilized to prevent bias in research results. Double-blind studies are particularly useful for preventing bias due to demand characteristics or the placebo effect. (Verywell.com).

It would be a good idea to become familiar with these terms as well,

Anecdotal Evidence-Evidence from anecdotes, i.e., evidence collected in a casual or informal manner and relying heavily or entirely on personal testimony. (Wikipedia).

Dictionary.com defines anecdotal evidence as non-scientific observations or studies, which do not provide proof but may assist in research efforts.

Cherry Picking-Cherry picking involves suppressing evidence because a company or person selects which studies it is going to reference to support their claim, or to confirm a particular position while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.  (Wikipedia).

Extrapolate-to infer or extend the application of (a method or conclusion) to an unknown situation by assuming that existing trends will continue or similar methods will be applicable. (Oxforddictionaries.com).

In addition look for studies that are current and that have been reproduced several times, by different researchers.

This means you have to spend a little bit of time verifying what you read. Before I read an article I do a quick search on the author; what is their background and who is paying them? A friend of mine follows the Paleo diet and I am skeptical of this diet as it eliminates legumes, a very healthy food group and a staple in my diet so I did a quick Google search “paleo diet randomized studies.”  I found some interesting articles, this one was particularly good, it examined several studies on the paleo diet.  Adding these words to your vocabulary gives you a new language allowing you to be more critical and informed.  Once you know the words to use in your searches it becomes a lot easier to weed out the “bad science” and become aware of the “media’s habit of oversimplifying and overstating study results” (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “Paleo diet still lacks evidence.”)

Let’s take a closer look at a couple of diets and examine the science behind their claims.

Wheat Belly

I have read Wheat Belly and it has affected how I eat. It motivated me to reduce my overall intake of white flour and grains. Vegetables are my staple, grains are a treat. However, Wheat Belly breaks several of the rules of good science. This book is full of anecdotal evidence, Dr. Davis claims that the wheat of today is a “frankenwheat”and that our modern wheat is not only unhealthy and toxic, but also addictive.    The “Frankenwheat” notion has never been scientifically proven.  Dr. Davis uses a study on rats from 1979 to support his claim of wheat being addictive and that study is not recent and has not been peer reviewed or replicated.  This CBC article summarizes the shaky science behind Wheat Belly.

In a recent BBC Horizon Episode: Clean Eating Dr. Giles Yeo spoke with Dr. Davis who is now extrapolating from Dr. Fasano‘s research on Celiac  disease to support his claim that,  “the consumption of grains is harming all of us to some degree.”  A claim which has not been scientifically proven.

  • Dr. Davis uses the increase in Celiac Disease to support his position, however the increase in cases of this disease is mostly attributed to, according to Dr. Fasano, our improved ability to detect and diagnose the disease.
  • In addition Dr. Fasano’s research shows that you need to have some pre-existing conditions (four in fact; genetic predisposition, a leaky gut, a faulty immune system AND an imbalance in gut microbes) in order for Gluten to be a problem.
  • Finally, Dr. Fasano disagrees with Dr. Davis’ claim that the Gliadin protein can initiate the process of an autoimmune response leading the body to attack its own organs.  Dr. Davis is not only extrapolating to support his philosophy but ignoring good science (cherry picking).

Dr. Bill Davis is particularly dangerous because he portrays himself as someone, like me, who is trying to wade through all the misinformation out there and give people the facts.  He is guilty of questionable science.   Dr. Giles Yeo summarizes Dr. Davis and his philosophy like this “Bill Davis has no proof that giving up grains will have all these health effects on this wide range of diseases.  Extreme dietary advice requires proof otherwise all you are doing is stoking fear about a food group that most people shouldn’t have to worry about.”  BBC Horizon: Clean Eating.

The China Study

The China Study is known as the “most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted” however it too has been found to have used questionable research methods. The main author, Dr. Colin Campbell asserts that “plant based foods are beneficial and animal based foods are NOT, period.”   However eliminating ALL animal based foods  has not been scientifically proven to be a healthier way of eating.

Dr Giles Yeo asked if Dr. Colin could have been affected by Observational Bias- when a researcher sees what they want to see instead of what the data shows while researching for the China Study.   Dr. Colin does admit that this may have occurred.  In addition Dr. Colin used Cholesterol as a Proxy;

  • Proxy Method-in which a variable (Dr. Colin used increased levels of Cholesterol) which correlates with the variable of interest (Increased risk of cardiovascular disease)  is measured, and then used to infer the value of the variable of interest.  (Wikipedia).
  • Proxy Method, is a form of Extrapolation-A= Meat Intake, B= Increased cholesterol levels and C= Increased risk of cardiovascular disease. If you have data linking A to B and B to C, you cannot then conclude that A=C.  Many factors contribute to increased cholesterol, like genetics, not just meat intake.

Dr. Colins went into his research looking to prove that meat consumption increased the risk of CV disease, he picked the data on cardiovascular disease that supported his position instead of considering all of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

A new language

I want to give you a new language which allows you to read articles, journals and studies with a critical mindset.  I found some useful tips on how to tell fake news from real news  and the tips apply here, especially this one,   How does it make you feel?  Is the study/article telling you what you WANT to hear?  Is it confirming your bias?  It is important to be aware of your biases otherwise it is too easy to fall prey to extreme health claims that ultimately lead to disappointment, frustration and not knowing who to trust and what to believe.  Reading a study published in a scientific journal can be intimidating but you can save yourself time by looking for these key words; randomized, peer reviewed, and double blind.  Knowledge is your best weapon against media hype and bad science.

Your Microbiome, Probiotics, and Fermented Foods: Myths and Facts

Microbiome: Cool Facts

Cool facts about bacteria that I learned from Martin Blaser‘s, Missing Microbes:

  • Your body is composed of an estimated 30 trillion human cells – and more than 100 trillion bacterial and fungal cells. That’s right – bacterial cells substantially outnumber your own human cells.
  • When you were in your mother’s womb, you had NO bacteria. During the birth process (vaginal birth), you were colonized by trillions of microbes.
  • The microbes that constitute your microbiome are generally acquired before the age of three.
  • Your microbiome is responsible for your immunity, metabolism and cognition. It’s what keeps you healthy.

I thought of my body as being composed of cells, organs and complex structures. I never thought about my body as trillions of microbes working together, waiting, feeding, communicating, fighting and dying.  “Collectively these bacteria weigh about three pounds and represent perhaps 10,000 distinct species. Over time they have evolved specialized properties that allow them to thrive in and on particular niches in the human body,” writes Martin Blaser in Missing Microbes.

The theory of microbes was formulated in 1543. Humans have known about microbes for a very long time but only in the last 100 years have scientists really started to understand the impact our microbes have on health and longevity.

These days, you can’t open a newspaper or health magazine without seeing an article about gut health, probiotics, and more recently the importance of fermented foods. In Missing Microbes, Blaser shows how our overuse of antibiotics has negatively affected our microbiome, making us more susceptible to “modern plagues.”

Jason Tetro’s book, The Germ Files is another excellent guidebook about the roles microbes play in our body, what we can do to improve the diversity of our microbiome, and how to work with our microbes to lead healthier lives.

Probiotics 101

There is a wealth of fascinating and useful information in both of these books. But, in this article, I will focus on probiotics and fermented foods; are they really beneficial? Does the latest research back up their health claims?  As a personal trainer I feel a responsibility to help people wade through the masses of information on the latest hot topics in health and nutrition and there is already a lot of misinformation circulating regarding gut health. I would like to help you sort the facts from the marketing half truths.

Let’s start with some definitions (most paraphrased or copied from Blaser and Tetro):

BACTERIA are microscopic living organisms, usually one-celled, that can be found everywhere. Everywhere on the planet and everywhere in and on your body.

VIRUSES “strictly speaking are not alive, they propagate by invading and co-opting living cells.”

MICROBIOME is defined as the collection of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment, creating a sort of “mini-ecosystem”. Our human microbiome is made up of communities of symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic bacteria (along with fungi and viruses) all of which call our bodies home.

PROBIOTICS are live bacteria and yeasts.

PREBIOTICS are chemical compounds that stimulate the growth of organisms we consider favourable.

SYNBIOTICS are mixtures of probiotics and prebiotics. The prebiotic increases the chances that the probiotic will colonize the intestines in greater numbers and for a longer time.

FERMENTATION is the process in which a substance breaks down into a simpler substance. Microorganisms like yeast and bacteria usually play a role in the fermentation process.  Jason Tetro defines fermentation as “the deliberate spoiling of food with known species of bacteria or fungi in order to prevent rotting from more harmful microbes.”

PASTEURIZATION is the process of exposing a food or drink to an elevated temperature for a period of time sufficient to destroy certain microorganisms, mainly bacteria. (Dictionary.com)

PLACEBO EFFECT Also called the placebo response. A remarkable phenomenon in which a placebo — a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution — can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful. The more a person believes they are going to benefit from a treatment, the more likely it is that they will experience a benefit (Medicinenet.com)

  • Martin Blaser explains that “when you go to a health-food store looking for probiotics, the very act of walking in suggests you are seeking something to make you feel better. By buying the product, you are ready to be helped and the placebo effect kicks in.”

Probiotics: Good or Bad?

Martin Blaser is skeptical about the many claims surrounding all the probiotics on the grocery and health food store shelves. “They are almost completely untested. The packages make all sorts of vague claims about health promotion, yet in most cases no rigorous trials were done to show that the ingredients were actually effective.” Blaser continues: “The definition of probiotics is broad but so are the different types of bacterial cultures sold in stores. Sometimes what are apparently the same strains are sold under different labels with different text extolling their benefits…. It is the wild west; the field is almost completely unregulated.”

Jason Tetro shares a similar concern, stating: “Some probiotics may do more harm than good.”  He then gives these tips on how to find good probiotics:

  1. Know the types of bacteria in the product. If you don’t see Latin, the product probably is not going to help.
  2. Know exactly what benefits can be gained from taking in these microbes. The claims can include improving digestion, improving the diversity of the microbial population of the gut and helping heart health. 
  3. Know if you are getting enough. Research has proven that adults need at least ten billion bacteria in each serving to make any difference. For the record, yogurt only contains millions per serving.

According to Trust Me, one of my favourite health resources, “it is possible to alter the proportions of different bacteria that already live in our guts by making changes to our diet.” Check out the Trust Me website for lots more information on probiotics and gut health.

The Probiotic Family

Tetro writes: “Only a few microbial species qualify as probiotics and most come from one of two groups: Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. These are the primary fermenters of yogurt and other solid forms of dairy. Other fermenters include Bacillus, Enterococcus and Streptococcus and many probiotic mixtures now include these bacteria. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most tested forms of probiotics and they have shown the most benefit to humans, including aiding in digestion and producing beneficial chemicals which promote balance in metabolism and the immune system.”

When choosing a probiotic product, be sure to read the ingredients list. The list should either be exclusively microbial or at least have those species at the top of the list.  If the first ingredient is sugar PUT IT BACK.

Fermented Foods

We probably know someone who is experimenting with fermented foods right now and rightfully so, as “analyses of several fermented food products reveal that many contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and metabolism regulating molecules,” Tetro reports.  BUT as with the probiotics, we need to know what to look for to get the health benefits.

First and foremost, the fermented foods must be raw or UNpasteurized. Remember the definitions earlier? Pasteurization KILLS bacteria, both the bad and the good. It is the fermenting organisms present in fermented foods that benefit us, they enrich vitamins to aid in their absorption and produce chemicals that calm our immune system. Tetro explains: “The bacterial and fungal species are either the same as or related to the healthy bacteria we already have in our gastrointestinal tract.”

When we change milk through fermentation we end up with yogurt, cheese or Kefir.  Trust Me did an experiment with Kefir and the results were positive. The subjects who consumed Kefir regularly had increases in one type of bacteria. The experiment was a success because they were trying to see if Kefir increased the amount of a specific bacteria, already present in the gut and it did. It did not increase the diversity of the gut bacteria by introducing new species – this is an important distinction because a lot of products make this claim and as of yet there is no research proving it.

According to Tetro, one of the ways that we can improve the diversity of our microbiome is to change our environment. For instance, if you live in the city take regular trips to forests, farmland, rivers, mountains and coasts. It is important to note that new bacteria tend to stay in our system for only a few days so it is crucial to visit these environments regularly.

Stay Tuned

There is a wealth of information on gut health, probiotics and fermented foods. I chose to read the two books that I reference here (Missing Microbes and The Germ Files by Jason Tetro), as well as reading up on the Trust Me website to familiarize myself with the basics and find out the latest results from research.

I chose books written by scientists because I feel that they are a trustworthy resource.  We are being inundated with fake news and media hype, especially in the areas of fitness and nutrition. We need to be more critical in choosing our sources of information. I will be discussing this in more detail in my next article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s Trust Me, I am a Doctor

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Trust Me, I am a Dr is a BBC TV Series that got me really excited especially with the latest research in the fields of health, nutrition and fitness. I would like to summarize some of those findings here, in particular what I find to be the most relevant to this blog.

Protein drinks are a waste of your money

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We have become protein obsessed

In a Trust Me experiment a group of participants were put on an exercise regime, throughout their exercise program some drank a protein drink and some did not.  Results showed NO difference in muscle or strength gain between the two groups. Everyone increased strength by about 30% and muscle mass by 1-2% irrelevant of protein supplementation! Your body can only use about 20-30 grams at a meal anything extra is either stored as fat or comes out in your urine.

I feel that we have become a protein obsessed culture, I am not sure who is to blame for this I think both the fitness and body building industry as well as meat and dairy farmers but we have certainly embraced what they are selling, to the detriment of our health and our pocketbooks.

When you eat matters

It is not just about WHAT you eat but WHEN you eat

It is not just about WHAT you eat but WHEN you eat

A new theory suggests that giving ourselves longer periods without eating can make us healthier. In a Trust Me experiment 12 people changed their eating habits over 10 weeks to test this new theory.  They ate breakfast 1.5 hours later and supper 1.5 hours earlier and no snacking after supper.  This meant there were three hours more per day when they were not eating. There were no restrictions on what they ate. Results showed that those that restricted their eating time had lower resting blood sugar levels, cholesterol and body fat. WHY? because (a) your body deals with the calories more efficiently, (b) increased metabolism during the day and (c) possibly a fasting effect.
Fat levels naturally rise in the evening due to Melatonin, when you eat during this time you “spike” the natural effect. Results do suggest that we should be eating most of our calories earlier in the day. Late dinners and evening snacking make it really hard to maintain a healthy weight and almost impossible to lose weight.

I have put this theory into practice by fasting between 6pm and 8am everyday and I do like the results.

Competition is a good motivator

Competition and collaboration are effective motivational techniques

Competition and collaboration are effective motivational techniques

Trust Me conducted a study where three groups of people were given different motivational techniques to establish which technique worked best.

  • Control group were given no incentives, no prizes and no coaching
  • Competitors were given incentives to achieve the most weight loss within the group (individual goals for weight loss and a prize for the individual who lost the most weight).
  • Collaborators were given incentives to work as a group (prize given to group who lost most weight, total pounds lost).

It was found that the collaborators improved 16% with improvement staying stable throughout the month and competitors improved 30% improving on a week by week basis. When it comes to weight loss, social pressure motivates us.  This is why it is crucial to let others know when you are trying to lose weight, get people to compete with you or at the very least have a group of people who can help motivate and support you.

Get to know your gut

Gut bacteria may be key to weight loss

Gut bacteria may be key to weight loss

Our gut bacteria is key to how we process food, different foods will spike blood sugar levels in different people causing weight gain. In another Trust Me experiment two women (same height and same weight) had the exact same diet and activity for one week but each woman had a very different gut bacteria profile.
It was found that the foods that spiked for one woman had the opposite effect on the other so the woman that gained weight on those foods changed her diet to avoid foods that spiked her blood sugar levels and this resulted in a change in her microbiome.

Research is showing that we can change our gut bacteria. Knowing what foods to eat and changing our gut bacteria so we process food better may be key to weight management and weight loss.  For more information on this fascinating subject consider reading one of these; Missing Microbes, The Germ Files and The Diet Myth.

Some other interesting findings included;

 

  • Women seem to benefit more from working out on an empty stomach whereas men do better after they have eaten because men have more muscle which means they have a greater capacity to store and utilize carbohydrates.
  • Stop buying high antioxidant smoothies and fruit drinks. Yes, antioxidants sweep up free radicals which are thought to cause damage to cells BUT free radicals are vital for muscle growth, free radicals are signal molecules that tell the body when to repair muscles.  Most of us have the amount of free radicals we need and our bodies are very good at maintaining homeostasis.  When you ingest a smoothie or fruit drink that is loaded with antioxidants, yes the level of antioxidants in your body will initially spike but your body will then do what ever it takes to get back to homeostasis and compensate by lowering free radicals BELOW baseline and it will take up to 24 hours to get back up to baseline. So instead of getting an antioxidant boost you are forcing your body to overcompensate and reduce free radicals below baseline for up to 24 hours impairing your body’s ability to build and repair muscle.
  • Is there a difference between outdoor and treadmill running? The short answer is no however we do get more benefits from running outside because running outside forces you on to different surfaces improving balance, you get an increase in Vitamin D and it is better for your mind; read Your Brain on Nature for more information on this topic.  If you want to get some of the benefits from outdoor running but prefer to run on a treadmill use at least a 1% incline to compensate for the lack of wind resistance and vary your speed and incline throughout your workout.

This show inspired me to make several changes in my life and all have had positive results.  Please visit the Trust Me website for lots more eye opening and inspiring information.

My Food Rules

My junkfood then vs now

Most of you know that I have a sweet tooth and I have struggled to get it under my control over the last few years, I have even pledged publicly to eliminate sugar (except local, seasonal fruit) by the time I turn 50. This deadline does not come for another seven years but I want to make the transition as easy as possible by slowly making changes along the way that reduce my sugar intake.

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I will confess now that only five years ago I was eating candy, cake, pie, cookies you name it, if it was sweet I wanted it! Learning more about our food industry really pushed me to change the foods that I was eating and as a result of this newly acquired knowledge I have made and stuck to some very strict rules;

As you can imagine this eliminates a lot of junk food. But as we all know sugar is addictive and I wanted to wean myself off gently so that I could do it long term. It may not surprise you to learn that I make almost everything I eat, meaning I do not dine out often and I rarely buy treats/desserts because this puts me in a situation where I am not in control of the ingredients. No matter how high quality or expensive the restaurant they will not be as strict as I am with ingredients.

challenge

 

Setting myself challenges

A client once said to me “you like to challenge yourself don’t you” and I had never really thought about it that way but he was right. I do like to set myself challenges I find it incredibly rewarding to turn those challenges into permanent lifestyle changes. I think most of us live with underlying feelings of shame and guilt that we are not necessarily aware of, we know that all the cheap stuff we buy has negative effects on people, animals and the environment and I think we underestimate the impact that that shame and guilt have on our well being. For me, setting these dietary challenges and succeeding at making them into lifestyle changes contributes greatly to my quality of life. I feel really good about the food I eat on many different levels including my impact on the worldwide community.  In addition, I believe that food more than anything else has the most significant impact on my health and therefore I am willing to invest a lot of time, money and effort into looking for high quality ingredients and food preparation.

My go-to sweet recipes

“Eat what ever you want BUT make it yourself.”  I like this quote for several reasons, it is actually a pretty effective weight loss/management strategy and it encourages people to get in their kitchens and do their own food prep and by doing that we can control all of the ingredients that goes into our food.

Until my no sugar deadline comes I want to be able to eat some sweets (chocolate being one of my preferred indulgences), that meet my food rules of course, so I asked myself “how can I eat chocolate regularly, without gaining weight?” The answer is finding the right recipes. The following are two of my favourite recipes that I use for desserts/sweets, I would not call either of these recipes healthy, they are calorie dense BUT they are also very filling. Unlike something like timbits where it is easy to eat twenty in one go, the most raw balls I have ever eaten in a short period of time is two to three. (Bliss point is what makes those timbits so dangerous, to understand the bliss point of sweet foods read Salt, Sugar, Fat.

Raw Balls

Raw Balls

Nut Bar

Candy Bar

 

 

 

 

 

Raw Ball Recipe: (The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone)

  • 1/2 cup raw organic walnuts
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates, chopped (I prefer Medjool)
  • 1/2 cup fairtrade cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup local maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup organic almond butter/cashew butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup whole raw organic almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1-2 cups fairtrade shredded unsweetened coconut
  1. Place walnuts in food processor and process until coarsely ground, add dates and pulse until combined.
  2. Add cocoa powder, maple syrup, almond butter, vanilla and salt.  Process until mixture is thick and desired smoothness.
  3. Add the almonds, at this point I just stir by hand.
  4. Form the mixture into golf sized balls and then roll in coconut.
  5. Place balls into a sealed container in the freezer.

Candy Bars: (It’s All Good, Gwyneth Paltrow)

  • 1 1/2 cup raw organic cashews
  • 1 1/2 cups dates, pitted and roughly chopped (I use half Medjool and half regular baking dates)
  • 1/2 cup organic almond/cashew butter
  • 1/2 cup local maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup fairtrade organic coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup fairtrade organic shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups fairtrade dark chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 tbsp organic coconut oil
  1. In a food processor grind cashews until fine (I don’t like it too fine), add dates and process until combined then slowly add the rest of the ingredients (Except chocolate chips and coconut oil) until just blended.
  2. Line a dish with parchment paper and press cashew mixture evenly to about 1″ thickness.
  3. Melt chocolate chips and coconut oil in microwave and pour over top of mixture.
  4. Let set in fridge overnight.

I had heard that when you start to eliminate really sweet food after a while if you try to eat it again it will taste overly sweet and unpalatable and it is indeed true. My palette has changed.  I loved marshmallows, they were a rare indulgence for me because they usually contain corn, palm or soy (which are no no’s) but recently I bought some homemade marshmallows and I was really looking forward to eating them but when I did they tasted disgustingly sweet and I did not feel well afterwards.  On the other hand I can eat raw balls and candy bars and they do not make me feel bloated or sick, they satisfy my sweet craving with no negative side effects.

Think global

The more negatives a food has the easier it is for me to eliminate. I do not use just the effects on my health and least of all the effect on my bank account,  to determine if I eliminate a food I also take into consideration how the growing of that food affects the surrounding environment, wildlife and the livelihoods of the people directly involved in the growing and processing of that food.

I think people underestimate the positive impact on their mental well being of making (hard) choices that do not have a negative impact on the global community. I feel good about my food choices and I feel this has a significant impact on my overall health and quality of life.  I like challenging myself, I find it rewarding to say that “yes it was not easy but I did it” and I don’t think enough people do this. We make the easy decision to buy cheap food that makes us fat, we make the easy decision to not exercise and be active, we want quick fixes like pills, programs and surgery (not that those are easy but somehow they are easier than moving our butts and making better food choices) and I think we are short changing ourselves, we deny ourselves that feeling of success and accomplishment.  We have forgotten how good it feels to sacrifice and compromise we have been seduced into feeling that we are entitled to and deserve to eat what ever we want and when ever we want it just because it is available, and this has had devastating effects that we too easily ignore.

It is a sad and shocking state that we have reached, we take food for granted, FOOD!  Let me finish with a story that illustrates our disconnection with food, we are currently traveling in Mexico and there is plenty of fishing here but when we went to a restaurant for my birthday and I was hoping to order the “catch of the day” we were told that no fish were caught, I was momentarily stunned and doesn’t that say a lot?  I was so used to being able to order foods that are normally seasonal anytime I wanted.  Do you know why there were no fish caught by local fisherman?  It was because big ships run by corporations that trawl the ocean floor and destroy fish stocks catch the majority of fish because they want to provide fish to those of us that live no where near the sea and/or want to eat fish all year round.  I have come to appreciate food in a way that I never did before and I am so grateful-one of the unexpected benefits of traveling full time.

Do you really want to work out?

Working out, fun?

535861517In a recent article “Why working out causes weight gain” on Precision Nutrition, Craig Weller asserts that if people can have fun while exercising and being active then they will avoid the pitfalls of Hedonistic Compensation ( defined by Weller as, “a feeling of losing out on pleasure in one area, and then looking to compensate for it elsewhere.” Thus, the thought process of “I’ve had a lousy day-or a tough workout; I deserve a treat.”)  According to Weller, research has also found that if people perceive a physical activity as fun rather than exercise they are more likely to choose healthy snacks and to eat less junk food at mealtime.

In theory I agree with this in fact in one of my first newsletters for Iron Rose I encouraged clients to incorporate “play” into their exercise routines BUT I have since come to the realization that this is simply unrealistic and near impossible.  Let me explain, first we need to differentiate between working out and being active.  Their is a huge difference between the two, working out for me means in a gym or at home lifting weights (including body weight exercises) doing a certain number of reps and sets, with the intention of building muscle/strength and/or fat loss.  Being active on the other hand includes NEAT and any recreational sports and leisure activities.

In my experience working out is not fun and is very difficult to make fun.  In order to build muscle, strength and/or lose fat you need to be pushing yourself hard enough that you fatigue the muscle, which is uncomfortable thanks to lactic acid build up.  You also need to concentrate on your technique which means you cannot let your mind wander, you need to be aware of what you are feeling in your body (Body awareness).  Instead of trying to make your workout fun, modify your expectations, deal with it.  The workout is going to be hard, do it anyway, NIKE was on to something with, JUST DO IT.   The recreational and leisure activities that we choose to participate in are fun, otherwise why would we do them? We can have fun in our lives but fun does not happen during your workouts.

As I have stated in previous articles and newsletters, I do not believe that you need to workout to be healthy or lose fat BUT I do believe it is essential to be active in order to be healthy and to have some control over your weight.

Intensity Dependent

Working out is not fun mostly because the intensity has to be high enough in order to yield the results of increased strength, muscle gain and/or fat loss.  My clients will know this all to well because in my last years as a personal trainer I changed all my sessions to shorter, higher intensity 1/2 hour workouts rather than the traditional one hour sessions.   Shin Otake, a reputable former competitive athlete, coach, chiropractic soft tissue therapist and personal trainer states that “Fitness is intensity dependent NOT duration dependent”  and I tend to agree.  Short, high intensity workouts form the foundation of his training philosophy (click here to read Shin’s excellent article about the six worst things that sabotage fat loss and muscle gain).  I have found that most people can endure some discomfort if they know it will be for a short time and that it is easier for people to push themselves to their limits, give 100% physical effort as well as mental focus, if their workouts are short.

We need to take responsibility for our health by being informed clients/participants.  If you tell your trainer or teacher that you don’t want flabby arms or back fat or that you do want a flatter stomach and a firmer butt then you need to be prepared for the work involved to achieve that goal OR accept and realize that maybe you do not want to put in the effort required and perhaps you need to re-evaluate what you really want.

Intensity: the key to preventing plateaus 

Why do we inevitably plateau when we start a fat loss or muscle building program?  Basically the body starts to fight back.  Our metabolic rate (MR) determines how fast we burn calories but age, gender and size all influence our MR.  As people lose weight, metabolism decreases thus making it harder to lose weight and to keep losing weight.  Latest research now tells us that if we want to keep losing weight at the same rate you have to eat less (or increase the intensity) as your diet continues.

Take note of this because this supports exactly what I referred to in a previous article about taking small steps and making small changes.  In order to prevent plateaus you need to be able to reduce your caloric intake,  if you drastically reduce calories at the beginning of your program then how can you steadily and incrementally decrease calories over time?

And the same goes for working out, if you want to prevent plateaus you have to increase the intensity as you progress through your program.

dance___graffiti_by_shikimori23I guess it comes down to this, how do you define “fun?” For me, anything fun will not cause me discomfort, a grueling hike although highly rewarding is not fun, dancing on the other hand is extremely fun for me.  Dancing gets my heart rate up, it burns calories, it keeps me mobile but it DOES NOT increase strength or build muscle, two of my fitness goals.  If you want an “easy” workout, then YOU DO NOT WANT TO WORKOUT!  If you want effective workouts they are going to be hard and you need to be aware of hedonistic compensation and plateaus and find ways around them and you can do this by;

  • changing your perceptions (no you do not deserve a treat for working out),
  • modifying your expectations (workouts are not fun)
  • and planning ahead (build higher intensity into your diets and workouts)

Do you really want to work out?  A friend of mine, after many years of trying to find an exercise that she liked or could even tolerate, finally accepted the fact that she does not like to exercise.  She is a healthy, vital, exuberant and most importantly happy woman who is maintaining her ideal weight by investing that time on food prep, tweaking her diet and making sure her NEAT is high, these factors combined have a much bigger impact on weight loss and weight management than working out.  Imagine the relief of finally accepting yourself and letting go of the guilt and pressure to exercise, now my friend walks to and from work and gets enjoyment out of moving her body and being outside and although she may not see this as “fun” she will keep doing it long term and reap the health benefits not only from an improved diet and her level of NEAT but the sheer joy of self acceptance and peace of mind.

iStock_000009530246Small2Ask yourself, do you want to work out? or do you want to spend more energy and effort being active? or working on your diet?  or cooking in your kitchen?  Be honest with yourself and be more accepting of what you are actually willing to do with your time.

REMEMBER THIS: When it comes to fat loss and overall health you are better off spending time in your kitchen cooking than in a gym!

Fitness Myths

In my next Iron Rose on the Road article I was planning to write about a wide spread discrepancy I have been noticing regarding people’s fitness goals and lack of results or to say it another way a discrepancy between what people say they want and what they are actually willing to do.  I realized that before I publish my next article I had to spend some time dispelling some persistent fitness myths.  These are my top three and I hope that I can finally put these to rest.

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Notice her knees, they are slightly beyond her toes. Perfect squat technique.

Myth #1 Don’t let your knees go beyond your toes/Squatting is bad for your knees

Squatting on your haunches is a very natural human position, in fact a lot of people in the world still squat to go to the bathroom.  When it comes to exercise the squat is an absolute must and Paul Chek includes squatting as one of six primal movement patterns, these patterns form the foundation from which all movement originates.  Click here to watch a short video of Paul explaining the primal movement patterns.

In my years as a personal trainer I have had a few clients say to me that they don’t want to squat, mostly because they are worried about their knees but in fact we know that because squats build all the muscles around the knee joint, squatting is good for your knees.  Very few knee issues make squats contraindicated and there are so many variations of the squat that even with a knee issue there is always a way to squat without making a pre-existing condition worse.  I am concerned that people are eliminating this vital and beneficial exercise from their fitness routines, if you go to the bathroom, if you get in and out of a car and if you go up and down steps throughout your day then you NEED to squat.  Click here to read Paul Chek’s article “Fear the squat no more!” (Paul gets pretty technical in his writing, if you find this article a challenge skip down to the “For Those Who Have Been Injured by a Squat” section and the Conclusion.

Myth #2 The fat burning zone (The long slow burn)

Look at any cardio machine and you will see a little chart that shows what intensity to work at to burn fat, which is low intensity (about 65%).  Although this is based on fact it has been taken out of context to the point that it is no longer accurate and in fact, very misleading.  Yes if you work at 65% of your max then a higher percentage of calories burned come from fat BUT if you work at a higher intensity you burn more calories and even though a smaller percentage comes from fat you have burned more calories total.  However this is all irrelevant, the ratio is NOT IMPORTANT, if you want to burn fat then do workouts that burn lots of calories, period.

In my next article I discuss the importance of high intensity training to gain maximum results but in order to understand why high intensity is more effective than lower intensity training you need to have a basic understanding of the three metabolic systems.  Every one who has done any kind of resistance training program will be familiar with sets and reps and rest periods, this, proven, effective, training method is based on the metabolic training systems. When it comes to maximum fat burning you need to work in both aerobic and anaerobic systems, click here to read this excellent article on the “fat burning zone.”

My clients will be all too familiar with this concept as I encouraged my clients to do shorter and higher intensity workouts.  Shin Otake, a reputable trainer and a former competitive athlete, coach and chiropractic soft tissue therapist agrees with me.  Shin states that “fitness is intensity dependent NOT duration dependent” and I could not agree more.

Myth #3 You can “lengthen” your muscles (long, lean muscles)

What does this even mean?  Yoga makes this claim and it is a physiological impossibility. We as clients and participants benefit from knowing some basic physiology and anatomy, the more we understand about our own bodies the more we can modify our expectations in regards to our to fitness goals.  This short video illustrates how our muscles work.

Unfortunately, women not wanting to “build” muscle but wanting to look more toned have at least partially lead to this pervasive and false claim in the fitness industry.  Ladies if you want a firmer butt you need to build bigger butt muscles.  If you want toned arms you need to build bigger deltiods, biceps and triceps.  Actually there is another way to do it and it is to reduce your body fat enough that you see more of your muscles BUT in order to do this your body fat percentage, especially for women, has to get really low which is just not a realistic goal for most.  In addition if you reduce body fat alone without building up your muscles you can still be flabby, small but flabby and NOT toned.

Women are understandably hesitant to weight train to “build muscle” they are afraid of looking bulky but this just does not happen, I have been consistently weight training to build muscle for several years and I do not look bulky.  Women do not have enough testosterone (and too much Estrogen) to build muscle the way men do.  I would like to see more women weight train and working to build up their muscle mass, the benefits are numerous and include;

  • increased fat loss
  • more tone and firmness
  • better sleep
  • stress release
  • prevent muscle loss due to age, prevention of joint deterioration
  • prevention of osteoporosis
  • reduced Cortisol levels, which reduces belly fat.   In an op-ed piece in Forbes magazine, Jennifer Cohen outlines several strategies that burn up cortisol to reduce belly fat.  Cortisol is a hormone in your body that depletes lean muscle and holds on to fat in the abdominal region.  One of the most important ways to prevent this process is to reduce stress in your life, because stress causes cortisol levels to spike. Other strategies that help reduce your cortisol levels, include getting enough sleep and doing short bursts of high intensity training-more on this in my next article.

I hope I have provided enough information to finally dispel these myths, as a personal trainer for well over a decade it was heart breaking to see my clients getting frustrated when they did not see the results they were expecting.   The actual workouts are only part of the process, management of expectations and setting realistic goals are also key. In order to manage expectations when it comes to our fitness goals, we need to have a basic understanding of our anatomy and physiology.  Please take the time to click on the links I have provided in this article, I believe this information will change the way you exercise.

My weight loss story

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I currently live in a motorhome and get to travel full time and this lifestyle seems to suit me rather well. Staying in shape is part of who I am and I have been able to maintain an active lifestyle through hiking and working out.  However, while visiting my home town of Ottawa this past Spring I gained weight, not a lot (3-4 lbs) but enough that my pants no longer fit. I was not surprised that this had happened, no more hiking and our diet went through a major change, more wheat, more meat, more dairy and a lot less vegetables and fruits. I was well aware of these changes, I let myself indulge but to compensate I did consistent workouts 2-3 each week and I walked regularly for 2 hours 2-3 times each week.
Some of you might say “3-4 lbs, gimme a break” but for me this was the first time I had ever experienced not being able to fit into my clothes. Most of my pants have stretch fabric in them and it is easy to hide 3 lbs in those pants but I have one pair of hiking pants with zero stretch and let me tell you 3lbs cannot hide, I could not zip the zipper at all! I do not have a lot of clothes with me and we hike regularly so this was a problem. I immediately went into “I have to get this weight off, NOW”, “I just need a kick start”, how many of you have said that? so I did four workouts in nine days.  My normal workout routine consists of two workouts each week. Exasperating my problem was a knot in my upper back causing me a fair amount of discomfort so I was doing only lower body workouts (mostly legs with some core work).

Drastic changes, specifically in diet or exercise, especially with the human body, are a recipe for disaster and/or failure. One of the best ways to get injured is to do too much too quickly, four lower body workouts in nine days certainly was too much in a short period of time. I thought “but I am in shape, I am a personal trainer I can handle a few extra workouts”- Nope! As a result of my impatience an old hip/lowerback injury resurfaced and I was forced to face up to my own stupidity and focus on rehab for a week before continuing with my old fitness routine.

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A month after leaving Ottawa the weight has come off.  After that first week of four workouts I returned to doing my regular twice weekly workouts but I believe the workouts had little impact, it was getting back to our regular diet (mostly vegetables and fruits) that took the weight off.

Exercise is not the best way to lose weight.  I love this comment, I believe it to be true and I think it is a good wake-up call because this view is not widely accepted, in fact gyms would not be as successful as they are if we accepted this uncomfortable truth.

I wanted to share this story with you because the fitness industry really pushes this mentality of “get it done yesterday” “Lose 6lbs in 6 days!” “Gain 10lbs of muscle in four weeks”  Drastic changes will give you big results.  This drives me crazy! The wonderful, amazing human body does not work this way and most of us know this and accept it BUT I think I can safely say almost all of us get seduced by the “I want results now” mentality, especially when we want to lose body fat. Building strength and muscle mass and losing body fat, all take time. As a personal trainer I know this all too well and I try to teach this to all my clients but I too fall prey to wanting to “kick start weight loss” and make drastic changes.

I will end with some lessons I have learned over the last two months.

  • I consider a diet high in meat, wheat and dairy and low in vegetables a poor diet. (Yes, even if you make all the meals at home, even if it is all high quality ingredients; local, organic, grass-fed).
  • When my diet is poor (see above) I find it incredibly difficult to maintain my weight and impossible to lose weight.
  • There is a big difference between walking and hiking. Hiking burns a heck of a lot more calories than walking. Websters defines hiking as ” a long walk especially for pleasure or exercise” but I would add that hiking includes a significant amount of climbing and is therefore high intensity exercise while walking is low intensity exercise. I believe that difference in intensity is enough that when I am hiking regularly I can indulge in my diet and not see any weight gain.
  • Walking (2 hrs x 2-3/week) plus working out (2-3 short high intensity) is not enough to maintain my weight when my diet is poor.
  • When my diet is poor, there is no amount of exercise-that I am willing to do, that will take the weight off.  Exercise is not the best way to lose weight.
  • It gets harder to lose weight as we age. The last time I gained weight was 2006 when I gained 6-8 lbs but my diet was poor back then and I remember the weight coming off within 2-3 weeks. Being ten years older really makes a difference! This confirms for me that it is worth the time and effort to focus on maintaining my weight and preventing weight gain rather than having to struggle with weight loss.

Fat loss and muscle building are both slow processes and when we get seduced into making drastic changes we either get hurt or the results will not last.

I would like to acknowledge those of you that have lost significant amounts of weight (body fat).  The strength, commitment and determination required to take weight off long term is truly admirable, I applaud you!

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Food Behaviour

Which diet is right for you?

This was the latest documentary I watched about diet, nutrition and health. It was a three part series that studied a group of 75 overweight and obese people. Unlike most studies the group of participants were only in monitored living quarters and under 24 hour supervision for a handful of days and on their own for the majority of the length of the study, which was three months. “On their own” did involve keeping journals, doing video chats with the researchers and coming in to participate in experiments.

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The researchers involved were people at the top of their fields and using the latest research.  I really liked this documentary and I learned a lot because this was GOOD science. The main structure of this study involved putting the participants into 1 of 3 groups based on their food behaviour.

The groups

Feasters: People in this group find it hard to stop eating once they start. If you are in this group, you do not get that feeling of “being full” at meal time. Research tells us that feasters produce less of a gut hormone that tells them when they are full. If you are a feaster you have to tell yourself to stop eating because your brain will not send you the message. When the feasters were monitored in a buffet situation the Feasters would eat 2-3 times their recommended caloric intake at ONE meal.

Constant Cravers: These people think about food all the time. Latest research has found that cravers have a higher number of “hunger genes.” Cravers feel hungry all the time so they are constantly searching for food. Research found that hormones are sending signals to the brain tricking it into thinking the fat stores need replenishing.

Emotional Eaters: I think we are all familiar with this group, they eat for psychological reasons. This group desires food more when they are stressed, sad or down in the dumps. When an emotional eater who is feeling stressed, is put in an MRI their reward center lights up when they see images of desirable foods.

The Diets

Feasters were put on a diet consisting of higher protein (25%), lower GI foods (25%) and the lots of vegetables (50%). Sugars and high GI foods were not permitted. The researchers explained that this diet plan, higher protein and lower GI foods, would “trick” the body into feeling full.   Feasters especially benefit from eating whole foods like vegetables because they stretch the stomach which signals nerves to tell the brain that “I am full”. Thick soups full of vegetables stay in the stomach longer and result in you feeling full which means you will eat less.

The constant cravers were put on an intermittent fasting diet, meaning for two consecutive days they only consumed 500-800 calories. The other five days they could eat what they wanted but obviously making wise food choices, not binging on junk food but they could indulge.

Emotional eaters received cognitive behavioural therapy and used group support in addition to nutritional guidance. Group support is vital for emotional eaters.

The Experiments

Feasters: One of the experiments had the feasters eat a hamburger standing up and only using their hands. They were not told to eat quickly. Then the next day they were given a hamburger to eat but this time they sat down at a table and were told to use cutlery and to take 30 minutes to eat the hamburger, eat slowly. The results showed that we eat faster when standing up (as there is nowhere to set down your food) and slow eating increases the hormone GLP1 which makes you feel fuller and you feel full for a longer period of time. The participants said that when they ate the burger sitting down it felt more like a meal as opposed to standing up when it felt like a snack.

Constant Cravers: When these participants were put in a public place and their eye movements were tracked their eyes looked at food twice as often as other groups. They are constantly searching for food. In addition when constant cravers did without breakfast they found sugary fatty foods 40% more appealing. Seventy five percent of successful dieters eat breakfast.

Emotional eaters are more prone to the effects of tiredness, when sleep deprived they crave sugar, fat and or salty foods-junk food.  This group was asked to do groceries when half of the participants were sleep deprived and they bought 2.5x the amount of high sugar foods, 3x the amount of high fat foods and totaled 1.5x more calories than the non sleep-deprived participants.  It is especially important for emotional eaters to go grocery shopping with a list, and to stick to the list and ideally to never do groceries when sleep deprived.

Catastrophic Thinking: Most of us have experience with this when we are limiting our caloric intake to lose some weight and we indulge in a moment of weakness.  Catastrophic thinking is when you say to yourself ” that’s it the diet is blown, screw it I am going to eat whatever I want.  I can’t follow a diet”  Emotional eaters tend to fall into catastrophic thinking more easily than others, so much so that in one experiment when the researchers told them that they had gone over their allowable limit of calories they went on to eat 8x their allowable limit.  Catastrophic thinking can lead to eating more calories and doing more damage than the original indulgence.  Catastrophic thinking is one of several reasons why group support is so important for emotional eaters, to be able to communicate with someone who can empathize and stop the vicious cycle of catastrophic thinking & on-off dieting is crucial.

BEING SKINNY

Those of us that read about nutrition and diets have heard most of this stuff before however I found that describing these three food behaviours did shed some light for me.   This got me thinking about another BBC Horizon documentary “Why are Skinny People not Fat?” (you can watch the episode here or read an article summarizing the documentary here) This documentary focused on skinny people, people that have been skinny their whole lives and have never struggled with weight issues and basically ate whatever they wanted. I found this fascinating as I have been slim my entire life but I CANNOT eat whatever I want, I have to regulate my eating habits. These skinny people did not think about food at all, in fact many of them had to be reminded to eat as they would forget if they were busy. They did not seem to get hungry, they ate because they knew they had to, “Oh, it’s 12pm I should eat lunch.” Let me just say this I NEVER FORGET TO EAT, my body does not let me forget, I get a physical discomfort in my stomach and sometimes a headache. Although I have been skinny all my life I could not relate to the skinny people in this documentary, my food behaviour was significantly different from theirs.  When I watched “Which is the Right Diet for You?” a bell went off, I am a constant craver.  I think about food a lot, I will go to bed thinking about or planning what I am going to have for breakfast or lunch the next day and now that we are traveling full time I have noticed that whenever we drive through a town or city the first thing I am looking for are the grocery stores and cafes.  You may find that you do not fit neatly into one of the three food behaviours outlined in “Which is the Right Diet for You” however I think most of you will relate to one behaviour more than the others.  Click here to take the test to find out your food behaviour.

 

Dangerous Advertising

I wanted to talk about this when I was still in Ottawa however my last few months there were, as you can imagine, a bit hectic. I took this photo in a Real Canadian Superstore location because I was furious and I wanted to point out how misleading marketing, especially of food, can be and how important it is to be an educated consumer. IMG_0780crop I don’t know if this display is still up but even if it isn’t it is worthwhile talking about it as this method is used by the food industry constantly. A typical consumer looks at this display and makes an assumption; that everything in that display case meets the criteria advertised (“Our stores carry the widest range of MSC and ASC certified sustainably wild-caught and responsibly farmed seafood products in Canada”). This is normal, this is what most of us do and companies know this, so they take advantage. In reality when my husband and I looked thoroughly through that bin and read EVERY package there was only ONE bag of fish that met the criteria advertised on that sign.  And what does responsibly farmed mean anyway?  Well to the best of my knowledge farmed seafood is not responsible on any level it is the equivalent to a CAFO, the only responsible seafood farming is organic and/or inland farms  (for more detailed information on fish farms please read Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe) but I have yet to see any seafood from those farms at a supermarket. We make this assumption over and over again on many levels:

  • if it is sold in a health food store it must be healthy-WRONG
  • if it is gluten-free it must be healthy-WRONG
  • if it is low in calories (100 calorie snack packs!) it must be healthy-WRONG
  • if it is made from 100% fruit juice it must be healthy-WRONG and there are hundreds more examples
  • if it is made with 100% natural ingredients, it must be healthy-WRONG

Food Labels I cannot stress enough the importance of reading the ingredient list  and NOT the food label (the black and white label that shows percentage and/or amounts of the macro nutrients).   The most important and relevant information on any food package is the ingredient list.  This list enables me to make better food decisions. I would even venture to say that the food label is almost useless and even used as a diversionary tactic to lead you away from the ingredient list. The food label does not tell you what type of sugar is in the food (very important), the food label tells you calories but a calorie is not a calorie-the type of calorie matters so just because a food is low calorie does not mean it is healthy. Please, please, please read the ingredient list before making the decision to buy. Calories do not matter (ultimately) if the ingredients are not high quality. We have become a little too preoccupied with the calorie content of food, again the food industry knows this and this is why you will often see the calorie count advertised on the front of a food package. This way you are persuaded that it is healthy and you have not felt the need to look further and read the ingredient list, which is more telling.

Agave-the big swindle I am sure many of you have noticed recently that agave nectar has popped up everywhere especially in “health food” stores. I put health food in quotation marks because a lot of what is sold in these stores is not healthy but that is another newsletter.  Back to Agave Nectar, I recently watched a fantastic lecture on youtube, Sugar: The bitter truth by Dr.Lustig, this man is seen as the authority on sugar, he gets interviewed in almost any documentary about the food industry. The lecture is about 90 minutes long and it gets right into the science of sugars and exactly how they impact your body. One of the take home messages is this, Fructose is the worst kind of sugar for your body, it is a poison and here is the kicker Agave is almost 100% fructose!!! Table sugar is only 50% fructose, table sugar is “healthier” than Agave.  Agave is basically the same as high fructose corn syrup and we all know how bad that is yet somehow Agave is permitted to be advertised as healthy. Which brings me back to my earlier point, read the ingredient list. In fact someone said that if a food is trying to convince you that it is healthy it probably ISN’T and I tend to agree. Dr.Lustig also explains why fruit (whole fruit-not fruit juice), although a sugar, is healthy because of fiber and how fiber is missing in our diets.

A  Recommendation I read this book a few years ago, Buyology: the truth and lies about why we buy by Lindstrom and Underhill and I learned a lot about marketing and I was convinced of the importance of understanding how and why companies choose their advertising. This book helped me become a more educated consumer. Also check out Under the Influence on CBC radio, visit their website to listen and download the podcast. Host “Terry O’Reilly explores why we make the shopping decisions we make, and how we are influenced by words, colours and images. He tells stories of the remarkable creativity found at the higher realms of marketing, and analyzes the ads we love to hate. ” My husband and I have listened to this show several times and we always enjoy it.

Protein: how much?

How much protein do we need? There is still a lot of confusion out there. As we often see regarding “facts” from the food industry, it is hard to know who to believe. I will rely on John Berardi for the answer on this issue, as he is a science guy and I believe that science (good science) will have the most reliable answer.

Berardi recommends approximately 80g-120g of protein per day for women and 160g -240g for men. Berardi points out that increased protein intake is not just for bodybuilders and muscle growth but for everyone concerned with overall health.  Some of the health benefits of increasing your protein intake include:

  • Increased thermic effect, eating protein can lead to a higher metabolic rate which means greater fat loss when dieting and less fat gain during muscle building.
  • Increased Glucagon, this hormone aids in greater fat mobilization. Glucagon also decreases the amounts and activities of the enzymes responsible for making and storing fat in adipose tissues and liver cells.
  • Increased IGF-1, this anabolic hormone aids in muscle growth.
  • Reduction in cardiovascular risk, studies have shown that increasing the percentage of protein in your diet lowers LDL and triglyceride concentrations and increases HDL concentrations.
  • Increased weight loss profile, this includes increases in body fat loss, sparing muscle mass, improving satiety and improving blood glucose management (please see article in Journal of Nutrition 2003 Layman et al)
  • Increased protein turnover, by increasing both protein synthesis and protein breakdown, a high protein diet helps you get rid of the old muscle more quickly and build up new, more functional muscle to take its place.
  • Increased consumption of auxiliary nutrients, when we eat high quality high protein foods we get the additional benefits of the auxiliary nutrients like creatine, branched amino acids and conjugated linoleic acids.

BUT a very important point to make here is this: protein does not equal meat. More specifically, 100 grams of meat does not equal 100 calories of protein. In fact, chicken, beef, and lamb all provide approximately 21-28 grams of protein per 100 grams of meat, and most sausages contain only about 12 grams of protein.

Variety is key, there are so many different sources of protein available to us please include nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and high quality dairy into your diet.  I believe we need protein from a variety of sources and we to easily rely on meat as our primary source and deny ourselves the many health benefits from the high protein vegetarian foods.