Food: May 17, 2015

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Relax, Sort Of

It’s Sunday and my goal was to relax a bit (after a very long swim meet yesterday). I woke up feeling great after catching up on some much needed sleep. I did spend most of the afternoon catching up on work, but did manage to kick back and recharge in front of the tube for a bit.

I generally followed my version of Primal/Paleo today except for the indulgence in popcorn while watching a movie. I did pack my eating into about a five hour window, keeping my habit of intermittent fasting. I really believe the fasting and intense weight lifting keep my blood sugar levels low and my body in a ketogenic state. The more I research, the more it is clear to me that high glucose levels and the resulting over production of insulin has the potential to create excess fat and inflammation–the ultimate cause of disease (in my opinion).

I sure hope everyone had a great weekend and, as always…

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


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, 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.


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!

Nourishing My Body: Juicing (sort of?)

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I like most vegetables and enjoy eating them however, I like protein and starch more! :) You’ve heard the phrase, “He’s a meat and potatoes kind of guy.” Well that’s me. Again, I like the taste of veggies, but if I were to be executed by the state of Florida tomorrow and the warden came to take my final meal order, I would not specify a plate of steamed vegetables.

I think almost everyone would agree eating fruits and vegetables, especially green leafy vegetables have incredible health benefits. Most of us don’t eat the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, What I Eat and Why, not too many years ago, as I searched for my optimal “diet,” I saw the documentary “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead,” which make a big impact on me. Seeing how consuming fruits and vegetables by juicing changed the lives of some very unhealthy people in the show compelled me to want to do the same. Being the obsessive/compulsive I am :) , I immediately bought the recommended, top-of-the-line juicer. I quickly became known as the “juicing guy” at the local grocery store as I showed up about every other day buying multiple bags of produce to create my magic elixirs. In the beginning I felt healthy, energetic and great! But…

It turned out juicing, for me, is quite difficult! All those trips to the store to buy the fruits and vegetables. Then I had to store them–it took a bunch of refrigerator room to house all that produce. The juicing part was so much fun! Jamming carrot after carrot into the machine and eagerly seeing the bright orange liquid trickling out, so cool! After all the fun came the cleanup–yuck! :( Cleaning the straining screen was the worst and very time consuming for me. I was doing this a couple or three times a day and in no time I began to hate it!

The thing that really caused me to question my decision to juice was the waste! The machine itself seemed quite efficient in extracting the juice from the produce, but there were bags and bags of waste (dry fibrous material) I ended up throwing away. Sure, the internet is full of helpful ideas and recipes about how to use all that byproduct, but implementing those techniques just wasn’t practical. No way I was going to save the carrot fiber and incorporate it into some other dish or start a compost pile in my back yard. Also, as I began to get more and more calories from juice (and probably less from protein and fat), I started losing energy and my workouts began to suffer.

I just didn’t consistently feel great and I began to juice less while searching for a more optimal eating strategy which eventually lead me to Primal/Paleo. Like many new Primal/Paleo folks, I began this new way if life by going crazy eating high amounts of protein and fat. Think about transitioning from a diet where I drank much of my daily calories from the juice of fruits and vegetables with all the fiber removed–think massive carbohydrates–to heavy amounts of eggs, bacon, and steak. :) Sure I would eat whole fruits and vegetables too, but deep down I knew I needed to eat more vegetables–especially the leafy green kind.

Vitamix-green-smoothyThen a good friend of mine told me about the Vitamix. He explained how the Vitamix could give me all the benefits of juicing but with none of the waste. The powerful motor is able to make drinkable juice from whole produce–nothing gets thrown away (except normal skins that I wouldn’t eat anyway like banana peels, etc.). Plus, I can incorporate other highly nutritious ingredients into my smoothies, like avocados, coconut oil, almond butter, and more, that I could not do with my old juicer. As much as this may sound like nothing more than a commercial for the Vitamix, I truly believe this device enables me to consume much more whole fruits and vegetables by drinking them in the form of smoothies than if I tried to incorporate them into my diet by eating them whole as part of my meals. There is no way I would eat a salad containing two cups of kale and two cups of spinach plus carrots, celery, avocado, a lime, a beet, an apple and a banana in one or even two sittings. Plus, cleanup for the Vitamix is a snap–I just rinse it out then fill it halfway with hot water and a squirt of dish soap, then run it on the smoothy setting and rinse. Easy!

Now I feel like even when if I am only able to drink a giant smoothy three or four times a week (I try to every day), combined with the regular salads and vegetables I normally eat with meals, I am getting more than the recommended fruits and vegetables I need. I also supplement daily to fill in any gaps as well. The bottom line for me is getting all of this good stuff in me nourishes my body and makes me feel healthy and great!

Do you eat enough leafy green vegetables? Is there a better way? I’d love to get your comments and, as always…

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


Food: October 20, 2014

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10-20-2014-over-under10-20-2014-weight 10-20-2014-water 10-20-2014-sleep

The start of a new work week is here and as usual I am excited for my early morning workout! I followed my morning ritual by taking my daily 5g dose of creatine and then drinking my caffeine and BCAAs on the way to the gym. My mood started out great because I love getting into the gym first thing, but this would change…

I returned to my ketogenic state after yesterday’s departure, so I clearly made better choices on Sunday. Today I continued to follow my Primal/Paleo eating pattern and did my eating within my intermittent fasting window. I used my Vitamix to blend up a red smoothy (this is my green smoothy with a beet added) and had the last of the leftover Paleo Meat Sauce over spaghetti squash for my first meal at about 1pm. I ended the day with leftover grilled steak and asparagus.

So about that mood change…I had a mid-morning appointment at Moffitt Cancer Center to have a biopsy (fine needle aspiration) done on my thyroid. A couple of years ago I had a CT scan (for a rib injury) and the radiologist found a small nodule on left side of my thyroid. After consulting my regular doctor, an ENT, and then an endocrinologist, I decided to have the biopsy to see if the nodule is cancerous. I wasn’t really nervous until my drive to the appointment–then it hit me, “I could have thyroid cancer!”

neckMy procedure, scheduled for 10am, didn’t start until noon. They numbed my neck and then, using an ultrasound machine, stuck a needle into the thyroid nodule on the left side. They did this five times and the whole thing turned out to be relatively painless.

What is really cool about Moffitt is they ship my samples across town to their pathologist and I was able to return later the same day to get the results. The doctor told me there are three potential outcomes, the nodule could be: benign, cancerous, or indeterminate.

I returned to the doctor and the results were indeterminate. We decided to send the sample off to another lab where they do a molecular comparison looking for specific gene mutations that will further determine odds the nodule could be cancerous. I will have the results from this test in early November.

So, yeah, slightly stressful day :) but I am hopeful the tests will come back positive! As always…

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



Why I Practice Intermittent Fasting

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.

monkThe mere mention of fasting used to conjure up visions of emaciated practitioners of exotic religions who had the discipline and training to accomplish a feat I would never be able to even attempt, let alone complete: to skip a meal or even not eat for an entire day or two! After all, conventional wisdom tells us we must eat every few hours, especially if you do any type of physical activity, to keep our blood sugar up lest we become woozy and pass out. :)

Not now, not me! I practice intermittent fasting (IF), popularized by the leangains web site, meaning I try to keep my eating inside an eight hour window everyday. What works best for me is attempting to eat all my calories between roughly noon and 8pm which ends up to be about a 16 hour, daily fast. There are some days that I “accidentally” fast for much longer as work or commitments get in the way–I simply forget to eat until much later in the day.

So why in the world would I choose to not eat, especially breakfast–haven’t we been told since we could remember that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Oh, and breakfast has to eaten as soon as you get up in the morning or your day will be less than productive. That’s how I was raised and how I lived for nearly 50 years!

Once I became Primal/Paleo–by attempting to remove all grains, refined sugar, and processed food from my diet–I began reading about the possible health benefits of fasting and decided to give it a try. I believe there are numerous benefits for me–here are three big ones:

  1. Low blood sugar = less insulin which lowers inflammation
  2. A smaller feeding window = consuming less calories which keeps me lean
  3. Fasting promotes autophagy which helps with anti-aging and, hopefully, functional longevity

Controlling Blood Sugar

Based on the many books I’ve read on nutrition and understanding how my body works I’ve concluded high blood sugar is a very bad scenario which could potentially cause a plethora of serious health issues and diseases. My basic theory is when I eat food that excessively raises my blood sugar my pancreas produces insulin to lower the blood sugar. Excess insulin will cause chronic and systemic inflammation (not to mention, over time this insulin could damage my cells’ insulin receptors eventually leading to diabetes).  I believe inflammation is a primary cause of almost all of our modern diseases and certainly accelerates aging. I’m obviously simplifying here, but I personally want to keep my blood sugar low and my insulin production minimal in order to prevent disease, slow the aging process, and promote longevity. IF has been proven to be a great method for me to keep my blood sugar low for very long periods of time. Let’s face it, if I’m not eating food for two-thirds of a 24-hour day, then the chances of me spiking my blood sugar during that fasted time are pretty slim.

For me, minimizing my blood sugar levels has some awesome benefits. I am no longer a slave to eating! Once I removed most of the refined sugar, grains, and processed food from my diet and began eating tons of vegetables, meat/fish, and quality fat, my body switched from primarily burning glucose (blood sugar) as fuel to burning fat. So at a high-level, once the fuel from my latest meal is burned off then my body’s own stored fat becomes the fuel source. That’s right, I have become a fat burning beast and can pretty much stay lean without effort.

Before converting to using fat as my primary fuel source and relying on glucose as fuel, I was a slave to eating. If I didn’t get carbohydrates into my system every couple of hours, especially on days with heavy physical activity, I would get the typical headaches, foggy brain, and dizziness associated with “low blood sugar.” I had to eat and if I didn’t my brain and body made me miserable!

Plus, I could never seem to shred those few extra belly pounds covering up those abs I knew were hiding under there. Want to know why? I would eat and spike my blood sugar, then my pancreas would pump insulin into my bloodstream to control the blood sugar and insulin essentially prevents the flow of fatty acids out of my fat stores making it impossible for me to burn fat. So once the glucose is consumed just a few hours later, my brain starts signaling for more fuel and it is time to eat again. Slavery.

Consuming Less Calories

Another benefit I derive from my practice of IF is I actually end up eating fewer calories verses when I eat all day. I think there are a couple of things going on here. Partially this is might have less to do with the IF and more to do with eating less carbohydrate and more quality fat and protein. Bad carbs, like processed grains and refined sugar make me hungry. For example, I can remember eating a huge plate of spaghetti with garlic bread at dinner time, say 6pm, and then be starving again by 8pm causing me to eat yet another huge plate! Compare that to a typical IF eating pattern where a meal of four eggs, bacon, and a large green smoothy at noon will often times keep me satisfied until 7pm and beyond (circumstances are different, obviously, like on workout days I’m probably going to eat more and maybe more frequently as I refill my tank).

In fact, I find myself really only eating two meals a day while fasting which leads into the second thing I believe causes me to eat less: compressing the eating window, combined with only eating two main meals daily, seems to make it harder for me to consume excess calories. I can only eat so much a one sitting and, as long I listen to my body and eat until I am satisfied (and not “Thanksgiving” stuffed), I am really finding it difficult to massively over eat. When I do observe a fairly high calorie day, I can usually go back and see a greater than desired amount of carbohydrate consumed.

So for the reasons above, IF coupled with a nutritious, low-carb, high-fat diet seem to act as a natural and painless governor on my calorie consumption resulting in a leaner body fat composition.

Promotes Autophagy

What is autophagy?

The word autophagy is derived from Greek words “auto” meaning self and “phagy” meaning eating. Autophagy is a normal physiological process in the body that deals with destruction of cells in the body. – Ananya Mandal, MD

This concept intruigues me as a 50 year old interested in figuring out how to thrive as I age. As the definition states, autophagy is a normal process that happens in each of us and, according to Primal guru Mark Sisson,  it is also “the process by which cells recycle waste material, eliminate or downregulate wasteful processes, and repair themselves.” What does this fancy process have to do with IF? Well research shows fasting turns on autophagy. The benefits are fantastic, again from Mark Sisson’s post on IF:

Why is autophagy so important? It’s required to maintain muscle mass, and inhibiting it induces atrophy of adult skeletal muscle.  It reduces the negative effects of aging and reduces the incidence and progression of aging-related diseases. In fact, researchers have determined that autophagy is the essential aspect of the anti-aging mechanism of fasting. Without the autophagy that fasting provides, you would get very few of the benefits. Fasting even increases neuronal autophagy, which aids in maintaining mental health and function. Short term fasting, too. No marathon thirty-six hour fast required.

So what’s not to like about IF? For me, I love it as the benefits listed above align perfectly with my health goals. Additionally, I enjoy the discipline required to execute IF. I feel great satisfaction in being able to adhere to my IE schedule when I can, along with knowing that being without food for an extended period of time not only won’t kill me but doesn’t adversely affect my physical or mental performance.

Clarifying Answers

As I wrap this up, it occurred to me there are probably a couple of obvious questions so I’ll just go ahead and preemptively clarify…

“But aren’t you starving all morning and late at night?”

For the most part, no. It did take some getting used to and I became successful because I eased myself into it. I remember trying the eight-hour eating window once a week, then increasing to a few times a week and so on until the practice just became “normal” for me. Also, I would never be able to pull this off if I had not first become adapted to burning fat as my primary fuel source as opposed to glucose. Did I mention I’m a fat burning beast? :)

“Doesn’t working out fasted hurt your performance? Aren’t you worried about consuming your own muscles for fuel?”

Not in the least! Check out the expert on working out fasted, Martin Berhan, and let me know if you think IF is killing his athletic performance! :) His site has a link to a comprehensive study on “The Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Human and Animal Health” that is good reading if you are interested in details. That being said, everyone is different and your mileage may vary–I can only relate my own experience which does not show any athletic performance degradation due to IF. I do have friends way stronger than me and much more athletic that simply cannot workout in a fasted state. I do follow Martin’s recommendation to consume BCAAs before and during my workouts but the brand I use does not throw me out of my fasted state.

I would love to hear about your experiences with fasting and, as always…

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