Saturated Fat & Cholesterol, Not My Enemy

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big-breakfastIf I asked you what causes heart disease, the leading cause of death (according to the CDC), what would your answer be? I’d be willing to bet many would say something along the lines of, “artery clogging cholesterol.” Five years ago that would have been my answer too because that’s what has been pounded into my head pretty much my whole adult life. If I asked you what causes this “artery clogging cholesterol?” I would guess many would blame dietary fat–specifically saturated fat.

That message certainly made sense to me and here’s why. What do butter, tallow, and lard all have in common? These saturated fats are solids at room temperature. The heart surgeons, flooded with bypass patients, show videos of blocked arteries and it’s easy for me to believe that eatingclogged-artery too much fat, especially this solid, sticky saturated substance, would cling to artery walls, eventually harden, inevitably creating a blockage and then a heart attack. In fact, you hear the doctor blaming the patient in the video linked above blaming the fat in the burger and the “butter fat” in the cheese and the ice cream/milkshake for clogging the poor guy’s artery. Pretty convincing, eh?

Our so called experts were so convinced that saturated fat caused obesity and heart disease that in 1977 the low-fat diet was recommended to all Americans. This was the precise time that Americans began suffering from the obesity epidemic. Hmmmm, coincidence? french-friesThe war on saturated fat even forced McDonald’s to switch from using beef tallow to make their fries to vegetable oil in the 90s.

Now, 40+ years later, our population is fatter and sicker than ever! None of this made any sense which is why, after much research and self experimentation, I made the switch to my version of a Primal/Paleo diet. As a result I eat butter, bacon, and homemade french fries fried in 100% grass-fed beef tallow (just like the McDonald’s fries from my youth :) ). I’ll admit that going directly against conventional wisdom was a concern, especially after all those years of being told saturated fat is bad.

deadlift-featuredWell, I no longer have those fears and here’s why. My waist size is the same as it was in high school. According to my FitBit Aria Smart Scale, my body fat % is around 11% give or take. I am in the best shape of my life at 50 years of age and lifting the heavier weights than in my 20s! I’m no expert, so don’t go by me, this is a great article on cholesterol by Chris Kresser if you are interested.

But what about my heart? Eating all that fat–especially saturated fat–shouldn’t my cholesterol numbers must be through the roof? We’ve been warned to keep that total number below 200 or you get to take a pill daily, right? My research leads me to believe cholesterol is a good thing, given the right mix of HDL, the so called good kind, and LDL, the alleged bad kind. This blog is all about transparency, so here are the lipid results from my latest blood work taken on December 23, 2014 as part of my annual physical.

lab-12-23-2014As you can see, my total cholesterol (TC) is 170, the “good” or HDL number is 59 (the recommended level is >39), and my triglycerides are 43 (well below the high number of 149). My VLDL, which stands for Very Low Density Lipoprotein (these are the tiny particles that are very bad because, usually due to inflammation, can stick to the artery walls and create blockage), is 9, nice and low in the range of 5 – 40. Here is another good article on how to interpret cholesterol numbers.

I would bet many physicians look primarily at the metrics above, but my research, like this article from Mercola.com, leads me to look at a couple of ratios to better understand my lab results. The first, is the HDL:TC ratio which is calculated by dividing HDL by TC and then multiplying by 100. Dr. Mercola states in the article:  ”

Generally the HDL ratio should be above 25 and preferably in the 30s. If it is in the 40s, that nearly guarantees immunity from heart disease. Whereas if it is below 15, and certainly below 10, a heart attack is inevitable.

Let’s see if I will live based on my latest lab results! :) My ratio is 59/170 or .34, then multiply by 100 to get 34. Looks like I’m not “guaranteed immunity from heart disease,” but I think I’ll probably live.

Similarly, the Triglyceride:HDL ratio, according to Dr. Mercola, should be below 2.0 (and the lower the better). So, 43/170 comes out to .25–again, I’m pleased with those results.

Clearly a diet high in saturated fat, while avoiding trans fats and industrial seed oils, like vegetable oil, hasn’t resulted in terrible cholesterol numbers, so what does? My theory is excess bad carbohydrates–refined sugar, grains, and processed food–is what drives up VLDL and, when combined with systemic inflammation and oxidation (also caused by bad carbs) is a recipe for arterial damage and potential heart disease.

man-on-wheel

The junk food loop?

I’m not a lunatic about consuming fat–if you look at my food diary you probably see I eat lots of fat at times and not so much other times. Hopefully I’ve learned to listen to what my body needs and feed it what it’s hungry for.

I also use fat consumption as a tool–when I get cravings for “bad” food (and believe me, I battle this all the time), I try to fight them off by eating “good” fat. Many times I succumb to the cravings and eat garbage and this, more often than not, leads to more hunger and then more junk food–a bad loop to get caught in. However, when I use fat to combat cravings I feel satisfied and can better avoid the junk food loop.

Incidentally, the biggest objection I get from people when I describe my dietary habits is consuming saturated fat. Given our country’s low-fat nutritional history, I completely understand that fear. I’m not an expert or a medical professional, but my n=1 experiment shows that my high(er) saturated fat, low carb diet works for me and I have the lab results to prove it. But, everyone is different! Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts on saturated fat and cholesterol and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Enter 2015 & New Year’s Resolutions

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happy-new-yearIt’s a new year. For many of us a time to checkpoint our lives, evaluate the previous year and, you guessed it, make the all popular New Year’s resolutions. It is estimated that about 45% of us usually make them but research shows that only 8% of us are actually successful in achieving our resolution(s). That’s right, 92% of us fail!

Here are the top five resolutions for 2014:

  1. Lose Weight
  2. Getting Organized
  3. Spend Less, Save More
  4. Enjoy Life to the Fullest
  5. Stay Fit and Healthy

No surprises, right? Interesting that two are directly related to fitness and health, #1 and #5, and I would argue these are both keys to #4!

Why are we humans so consistent at being inconsistent when it comes to permanently changing our lives for the better? What good is it to make these resolutions year after year when the overwhelming majority of us never achieve success? Should we even waste our time, effort, and resources on this silly tradition when, for the most part, we all will fail?

My opinion is a resounding yes!

I have met some amazing people who, for many different reasons, made the decision to change and, more importantly, have successfully followed through with their decision!

My buddy Rhonda's transformation is amazing! Check her out on FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rhondas-Fitness-Fandom/331249303743362

My buddy Rhonda’s transformation is amazing! Check her out on FB: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rhondas-Fitness-Fandom/331249303743362

In the context of health and fitness, some desire change because of the doctor’s warnings, some wake up in the morning and don’t recognize the stranger they see in the mirror, some endure the lose of a dear friend or relative and realize they could be next, some get tired of watching their children climb into the seat of amusement park ride, crying inside because are forced to watch from afar, unable to participate. The catalyst doesn’t really matter–what’s important is that people who achieve these amazing life changes all have one thing in common: they each make the decision and commitment to change their lives.

gym-peopleSo the first step in achieving life changes is to simply make the decision and commitment to change for yourself and for no one else. Seems like this is no different from making the annual January 1st resolution, right? It appears making the decision part is easy since nearly half of us successfully accomplish this each year through our resolutions. But what makes 92 out of 100 of us fail on these decisions, in my opinion, is the other critical part, commitment. I see this every year at my local YMCA where I work out. During the first few weeks of January there is a huge increase in folks packing the gym, eagerly sweating–they’ve undoubtedly made the decision, through their New Year’s resolution, to change. You know the story…by mid-February the vast majority of them are gone until next January. My theory is that their decision lacked the necessary commitment to go along with it!

Commitment to these decisions/resolutions is critical because life changes, like losing weight and becoming fit and healthy, can be very difficult. I don’t have to tell you that getting up at 4:30am to get your workout in three times a week isn’t easy–it takes commitment! Skipping the drive-thru and cooking and eating real food isn’t easy–it takes commitment! Skipping that 90 minutes of American Idol and The Real Housewives of Blah Blah and getting off the couch and walking instead watching TV isn’t easy–it takes commitment! I think you catch my drift. :)

drunk-guyI also think resolutions are often times poorly defined and that can make attainment difficult. It’s pretty easy at 2am on January 1, with your head buzzing with booze, to declare, “This year I resolve to lose weight and get fit and healthy!” Those seem to me to be fairly general goals. How much weight? What exactly does “fit and healthy” really mean? I believe these types of nebulous goals can be terribly overwhelming, especially if a person needs to make significant progress.

What has been effect for me when setting goals is to steal from the business world and employ a technique called setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. If you are unfamiliar with this concept, a S.M.A.R.T. goal is defined as:

  • Specific: the goal should include the What, Why, and How and in some cases Who and Where as well.
  • Measurable: the goal needs to include metrics or measurements for success.
  • Achievable: the goal should be challenging but also attainable.
  • Relevant:  the goal needs to consistent with an overall mission or effort.
  • Time-bound: the goal must have a reasonable deadline.

This is how I would attempt to rewrite our half-drunk New Year’s resolution, “This year I resolve to lose weight and get fit and healthy!” into a S.M.A.R.T goal:

By my annual Memorial Day beach trip I will be able to confidently wear my red bikini on the beach by eliminating sugar, grains, and processed food from my diet and implementing the Starting Strength weight training program on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and walking two miles every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday in order to reduce my risk of disease and increase my happiness and self-esteem.

red-bikiniWhew! Let’s see how I did. Is my goal:

  • Specific? Did I answer the What, Why, and How questions?
    • What: “confidently wear my red bikini on the beach”
    • Why: “to reduce my risk of disease and increase my happiness and self esteem”
    • How: “by eliminating sugar, grains, and processed food from my diet and implementing the Starting Strength weight training program on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and walking two miles every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday”
  • Measurable? Is the goal measurable?
    • By the beach weekend I either will or won’t be able to “confidently wear my red bikini on the beach,” so, I believe the goal is measurable.
  • Achievable? Is the goal realistic?
    • Okay, this example makes the assumption that I’ve worn my red bikini before confidently and, through some hard work, I can get my body back to that state.
  • Relevant? Is the goal consistent with the overall effort?
    • Transforming my body through better nutrition and exercise will ultimately reduce my risk of health problems, make me happier, and boost my self-esteem, so, this goal is relevant.
  • Time-bound? I have to get this done by the end of May!

I find writing S.M.A.R.T goals can sometimes require a bit of effort, but that extra effort gives me a better chance for success.

I also think many of the folks who charge into the gym the first week in January and pound the weights without following a program or take off running long distances without easing into it will most likely wake up so sore they can barely walk and this can lead to frustration and ultimately failure. Ditto with radical changes to one’s diet. Quitting sugar and processed carbs “cold turkey” is a sure fire way to fail. Enthusiasm is great, but working toward goals at a reasonable, sustainable pace will help with consistency which is the key to permanent lifestyle changes. The old cliche, “It’s a marathon not a sprint” is applicable in my humble opinion!

Another important factor in achieving life changing goals for me is getting educated and using the right techniques and tools that work. Everyone is different and unique and what might be highly effective for me may not work at all for someone else. I know this from years of self-experimentation with my diet and exercise routines. The point is, I have and will always be learning, testing and adjusting in my search for optimal health with the goal to be fit, active, and thriving for the next 50 years.

I would love to get comments on your New Year’s resolutions and goals for 2015 and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Happy “No Stress” Holidays

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

2014-Holiday-PostI want to wish everyone a happy and joyous holiday season–I love this time of year! For me this season is all about family and making memories, however, the holidays and everything that comes with it can be overwhelming for me, for sure. Some years I deal with the stress better than others. I can get caught up in a self-imposed pressure cooker of deadlines to complete an endless to do list:

  • put up the Christmas tree,
  • hang the lights outside,
  • shopping for gifts,
  • wrapping gifts,
  • send out cards,
  • going to and hosting parties,
  • and on, and on, and on…

This year I decided to not stress about the holidays and to make a conscious effort to enjoy. That’s right, I said I’ve made a choice to enjoy this season and not let the stress of all the things I “should do” or “need to do” that I clearly “don’t want to do” or “have time to do” ruin this great time of year.

To be fair, circumstances greatly aided me in making this choice as I will have traveled for work each of the first three weeks in December and am traveling for pleasure the final week of December. Yep, on a plane at least once each week in December. Instead of stressing about cramming in all the normal, mostly fun activities (see list above) and doing them without joy because I really don’t have the time or motivation, I’ve just made the choice to skip it and not worry. I sort of sound a bit like Luther Krank in John Grisham’s book, Skipping Christmas: A Novel, which I enjoyed! :)  Now I will say I had full support of my wife and kids on this–if they had insisted I get up on the ladder and hang the lights on the house, I would have (but they didn’t :) ). Plus, I have publicly thank my wife who, knowing my schedule has been demanding, took on ALL of the holiday tasks including all of the shopping, wrapping, Christmas cards, handling the kids’ parties…everything! Thanks, Babe!!!

I plan to carry on this choice to not stress as it applies to my eating habits throughout this season as well. You will see me eating and drinking all kinds of bad stuff over the next week while on vacation and I will consume this junk without apology! :) Furthermore, I refuse to stress about this decision. Now, come the week of January 5th if my food diary is full of pizza, pie and Guinness, then I hope you fine folks will stage an intervention, but hopefully it won’t come to that! :)

I am incredibly fortunate and thankful for this wonderful life of mine. I thank you for taking an interest in my life by reading this blog. I wish you and your family a most joyous holiday season–a time of minimal stress! Eat and drink some bad things if you want (unless that causes you stress). Whatever works for you and makes you happy, I encourage you to make those choices and limit stress and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Walking Is So Underrated!

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

walking-men-featuredI have rediscovered the simple act of walking—what the Oxford dictionary defines as:

Move at a regular and fairly slow pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at one.

I have fond memories as a youngster of walking, specifically, hiking! Growing up with a father who taught high school, our family took long car trips across the country in the summers, seeing the sights, especially our nation’s landmarks and national parks. We did these wonderful trips by tent camping, meaning we would drive from destination to destination (following our AAA TripTik, remember them? The Google Maps of the 70s :) ), pitching our tent and setting up our campsite, then immediately wandering off to investigate the area. With six family members, we weren’t able to take our bikes, so we used our legs to hike all over the campgrounds and parks we visited. These are some of the best memories of my childhood!

Jenny-Lake-MapAt the age of about 13 our family moved to Florida and the suburbs. To get anywhere I had to get a ride in a car or ride my bike. Once I turned 15 I bought a motorcycle and walking nearly ceased! :) From a fitness perspective, I still exercised by playing sports, but the simple act of walking began to taper significantly as I gained access to motorized transportation.

My first "real" job in 1982

My first “real” job in 1982

Then I got my first “real” job at the end of my senior year of high school–game room attendant at Chuck E. Cheese’s! :) Now walking was a major part of this gig since my entire shift consisted of monitoring (walking) around the enormous game room making sure the coin mechanisms worked and cleaning up. I’m sure if the FitBit One tracker had existed in 1982, it would have shown my clocking many, many miles. In college I got a job waiting tables and I remember being on my feet during my entire shift–on Friday/Saturday nights this would often be from 4pm until well after midnight! Again, I’m sure I walked countless miles a night and remember being completely exhausted at the end of those long shifts. During that time, as a full time college student and working as a waiter, I had no time for exercise, yet I remember being physically fit. Could all that walking have been a factor?

Once I graduated from college and started my career as a programmer/analyst, I spent most of my day sitting in a chair in front of a computer screen–walking, again, faded from my life. I did many other forms of exercise–weight lifting, basketball, tennis, etc.–but not walking. At this time, the mid-eighties, running seemed to be the fitness craze, and I’ve never really enjoyed running. In fact, I can remember feeling guilty about my lack of running and thinking I really should be out there putting in the miles and pounding the pavement in order to be fit and healthy. Based on some of the research I’ve read, I may have accidentally done my body a huge favor by avoiding “chronic cardio” in the form of running!

runnersIf you Google for articles comparing the health benefits of walking verses running, there are thousands of articles and posts and, like most “arguments”, there seems to be evidence on both sides as to which form of exercise might be superior. For me, there is no one “right” answer and, since we all all different, what might be best for me certainly doesn’t mean that works for everyone else. Tim Ferriss, author of the The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, said, in the context of dieting, something along the lines that adopting a “perfect” diet that is nearly impossible to sustain is much less effective than adopting an effective (not perfect) diet that the dieter can maintain over time. I think this applies to me and running verses walking–since I dislike distance running I have never been able to maintain any type of consistent running regime. On the flip side, if a person loves to run and it works for them, they should run!

beach-sunset

I rekindled my love of walking a few years ago on family trips to the beach. I would get up early and just walk, enjoying the splendor provided by the white sands and the Gulf of Mexico. My favorite hike is just under eight miles and I’ve listened to many audio books on these walks! When I began focusing on the Primal/Paleo lifestyle, I began listening to health and fitness related podcasts and eventually stumbled on a podcast on blogging which gave me the idea for this blog.


One piece of technology has pushed me to increase my walking on a daily basis: my FitBit One tracker. As I’v written before, consistency is key for me, and having goals and tracking my progress against those goals is highly motivating. Right out of the box, my tracker had a default goal of 10,000 steps per day, and I really try to exceed that goal as many days as possible. And this doesn’t mean that I have to set aside time in my day to “go for a walk.” Instead, I make it a point to get out of my chair and move during the endless conference calls as each one of those steps gets me closer to my goal. When I fly through Atlanta I now walk between terminals instead of taking the train. If you are like me and a type-A, competitive, goal oriented individual, adding a tracker has been a huge enabler for increasing my day-to-day walking.

I’m happy that I’ve rediscovered walking as it certainly benefits my health, but it also allows me an opportunity to broaden my horizons through audio books and podcasts or just to experience to the waves lapping against the beach helping me to decompress from my stressful life. Do you use walking as part of your fitness routine? Please let me know your thoughts and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!