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Nutrition Basics

Much of the content of this site will be devoted to analysis and discussion of recent studies, blog posts, news articles, and book, podcast, and movie reviews that are concerned with nutrition.  Many of these studies, posts, and books (and the Western medicine in general) attempt to make false dichotomies when it comes to health and nutrition.  The fact is that human biology, metabolism, the immune system, and a whole host of other processes are incredibly complex and can differ significantly from person to person so in some cases there is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘healthy or ‘unhealthy’.  For this reason, it’s always important to remember that regardless of what any study, book, or news article says about a nutrition topic, YOU are the final arbiter.  You’re an experiment of one.  And in any good experiment, you MUST have variables and constants.  So many people struggle with nutrition because they’re getting dozens of inputs a week about what is and isn’t good for them and throwing them in and out of their diet haphazardly.  In addition to their attempts at making good choices, they cater to their whims and sporadically eat meals of very poor quality.  With such a jumbled mess of inputs, it’s impossible to interpret what is and is not working.

In order to gain some control over this, I put to you this challenge, or experiment if you will.  At your discretion, give the following items a fair shake for 3 weeks each.  21 days.  The list is in order of importance, so you’ll do best to start with item number 1 and work your way down the list.  Go forth and first tackle the big three in order; sugar, grains, and  fat.  It would be extremely counterproductive and borderline useless, on the other hand, to obsess over your omega 3:omega 6 ratios and supplementation while you’re still eating fettucine alfredo and french fries three times a week.  My honest opinion is that it’s easier to tackle a number of these items in the same 3 week period since they are in fact very much connected pieces of the same puzzle.  Personally, I shored up my protein and fat sources before taking a crack at sugar and grains.  Getting in quality animal protein and fat at nearly every meal really helped alleviate some of the sugar and grain cravings later on.  And in the end, we’re only talking about 3 weeks.  If you absolutely can’t go without a certain type of food for 21 days, there may be bigger issues at work than simply nutrition.

That’s not to say it won’t be difficult.  For sugar and grains especially, there WILL be some days in the first few weeks where it’s hell. You’ll feel lethargic, foggy headed, and you’ll think the one thing you need to restore your energy are some big pieces of bread, a bowl of pasta, or some gatorade.  But if you make the push, hold on, and get yourself to 21 days, you’ll reach that point where you no longer feel cravings and you’ll be able to make an unbiased decision. Scary how much this sounds like drug addiction, doesn’t it?  At the end of the experiment, you’ll see the whole picture and will be able to make a reasonable assessment of how those inputs have been affecting you.

  1. No Processed Sugar
  2. No Gluten Grains
  3. Improve Your Fat Sources
  4. Improve Your Protein Sources
  5. Improve Your Omega 3 & Omega 6 Balance
  6. Improve Your Digestion and Gut Flora
  7. No Legumes
  8. Tweaking Supplementation
  9. Putting it Together

1.  No Processed Sugar

How

  • Cut out ALL products with processed sugar.  Read labels.  If it says syrup, cane, juice, sugar, or has a suffix -ose, don’t eat it.

Wisdom

  • The most important hormone in the metabolic process is insulin.
  • Increased sugar consumption leads to higher blood sugar, higher insulin levels, and eventually obesity and coronary heart disease.
  • Elevated insulin levels from sugar result in a negative feedback loop that cause us to have hunger cravings very soon after meals and eventually consume more sugar.
  • To be safe, don’t buy anything with a barcode, or as little as possible
  • Don’t buy anything frozen, unless it’s bagged fruit, vegetables, or chicken
  • All fresh meat, fish, eggs, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and most dairy are free of processed sugar.
  • You will get cravings for sugar, especially if you’re a fan of sweet drinks and soda.  Keep fruit and nuts on hand to give yourself some sweet and salty goodness, but don’t go overboard.
  • Almond butter + apples = the perfect answer to stave off a sugar craving

2. No Gluten Grains

How

  • Remove all wheat, flour, barley, rye, and oats from the diet.

Wisdom

  • Gluten is a large, insidious plant protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats
  • Gluten intolerance and celiac disease is widespread
  • Gluten is very inflammatory
  • They inhibit the repair mechanism of the GI tract
  • Gluten are grass seeds that employ a biological strategy to avoid consumption = toxicity
  • Eliminating or restricting grains reduces body fat, improves metabolism, and aids in cases of diabetes
  • Gluten has a poor omega 3 : omega 6 balance
  • If you buy packaged food, be absolutely sure it’s gluten free.  In reality, anything that purports to being gluten free is probably carb-laden, processed food anyway.
  • All fresh meat and fish, animal fat, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables are gluten free (are we seeing a pattern here?)
  • Removing bread and pasta can be very hard for people.  Stay strong.  21 days, remember?
  • Eggs and bacon cooked in butter in the morning with fruit.  Do it! Who doesn’t love that meal?
  • Leftover chicken for lunch in a nice big salad with walnuts, avocadoes, and tomatoes drowned in olive oil. This is the 21st century. You don’t have a lunch box and thermos. Lunch does not equal sandwich.
  • Oh yeah, no beer.  Did I mention stay strong!  Remember, no gluten in wine and tequila, but drink responsibly.

3. Improve your Fat Sources

How

  • Remove all seed oils from your diet except extra virgin olive oil
  • Replace them with healthy saturated animal fat like butter, lard, and ghee
  • Make use of healthy coconut oil and coconut milk for cooking and salad dressing

Wisdom

  • We’re only 2 steps in and the hard part is over.  Once you’ve kicked the sugar and grains, you’re clear to move on to improving your fatty acid profile
  • This section doesn’t even warrant pump up speeches and wisdom.  I’m telling you to cook everything in butter, lard, and coconut oil.  Doesn’t get much better than that, does it?
  • Saturated fat constitutes 50 % of our cell membranes and enhances our immune system
  • Saturated fat has a much better balance of omega 3 to omega 6 than vegetable oils
  • Saturated fat is NOT linked to heart disease and obesity.  This is a fallacy of conventional wisdom
  • Vegetable oils overhead quickly and become unstable
  • Distinct possibility that vegetable oils are involved in the obesity epidemic

4. Improve Your Protein Sources

How

  • Get the vast majority of your protein from fresh beef, lamb, fish, chicken, and eggs
  • Try as hard as possible to get your meat from the best possible source.  This means grass fed beef from a local farmer, free range chicken and eggs, and wild fish
  • Do NOT eat soy products
  • Do NOT rely on legumes as a major source of protein

Wisdom

  • Similar to improving your fats, this should be a relatively easy step for most people, unless you’re a vegetarian or vegan.
  • This was one aspect I dialed in perfectly while at the same time avoiding grains and sugar
  • Quality protein at every meal becomes a crucial factor when attempting to cut out sugar and grains from the diet.
  • Protein and fat as a satiating effect that will leave you full after you meals and will effectively stave off sugar or grain cravings
  • There is a big difference in the nutritional value of meat, depending on the source it comes from.
  • Pasture raised beef and poultry will have a much better omega 3 balance, no added hormones and antibiotics, and will produce less fatty cuts than the grain fed animals in pens or feed operations.

5. Improve Your Omega 3 & Omega 6 Balance

How

  • Cook with healthier, more balanced fat like butter and coconut oil and drop the omega 6 laden vegetable oils
  • Go easy on the nuts like almonds and cashews, which have an uneven balance of polyunsaturated fat
  • When possible, get grass fed and pasture raised animal products
  • Take fish oil or cod liver oil

Wisdom

  • The hunter gatherer diet for which we were evolved had a much more favorable omega balance than we currently have in our diet
  • The current diet of processed food is heavily balanced in favor of omega 6
  • A high omega 6 imbalance can lead to coronary heart disease, asthma, cancer, and autoimmunity, among other things
  • Cows were designed by nature to consume grass and turn it into usable protein.  This produces a natural balance of omega 3 and omega 6
  • Feeding cows and chicken grain and soy products destroys this balance and leads to higher levels of omega 6 in grain fed dairy products
  • Do your best to scour farmer’s markets, trader joe’s and your local grocer for grass fed beef, butter, eggs, and milk
  • Since it’s very difficult in the modern world to replicate the excellent omega balance of hunter gatherers, it’s wise to supplement with fish oil or cod liver oil

6. Improve Your Digestion and Gut Flora

How

  • Buy raw milk, butter, and cheese
  • Cook your vegetables less so fewer digestive enzymes are broken down
  • Take probiotics to promote healthy gut bacteria
  • If you can’t find probiotic-rich raw products in your state, drink kefir instead.  It is pasteurized but contains a number of active cultures and typically will not contain the corn syrup found in some yogurts.  Kefir is one aspect where it is necessary to bend the added sugar rule in order to re-constitute good bacteria in the gut.
  • Eat grass fed beef, which was raised without the antibiotics that would have killed good gut flora
  • Do not drink fluids during meals so digestive enzymes aren’t dilluted

Wisdom

  • While antibiotics are seen as revolutionary, they make no distinction between killing good bacteria and bad bacteria alike
  • We have 5 times as many bacteria in our bodies as we do cells, most of which is concentrated in the digestive tract
  • Our ability to digest, process, and mobilize nutrients to the cells is dependent on this bacteria
  • The effectiveness of our immune function is driven by our gut flora
  • Antibiotic use, whether on us directly, or in the food we consume, kills most or all bacteria, good or bad
  • A positive ratio of good to bad bacteria must be maintained, so when it is all wiped out by antibiotics, the result is for good and bad bacteria to be restored at equal levels, which is not good.

7. No Legumes

How

  • Cut out intake of peanuts, peanut butter, beans, and cashews

Wisdom

  • Like grains, legumes contains lectins and phytochemicals, just not on the same level as gluten grains
  • Compared to protein, legumes are a poor source of protein
  • Compared to fruit and vegetables, legumes are a poor source of vitamins and minerals
  • There are allergies and intolerances linked to certain legumes like peanuts

7. Tweaking Supplementation

How

  • Add in possibly beneficial supplements like Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium, and Iodine
  • You should already be taking some fish or cod liver oil to balance omega 3′s

Wisdom

  • At this point, you’re about 97% of the way there diet-wise.  You’re serious as hell about health and nutrition and you know your body.
  • If you don’t get out in the sun quite enough in the winter, stock up on some vitamin D.  Otherwise, try go get some moderate midday sun a few times a week without wearing sunscreen.
  • A Zinc and Magnesium supplement (ZMA) can be helpful for sleeping
  • The typical paleolithic low carb diet can be low in iodine, so it might be necessary to supplement this, but likely not
  • Switch from a store bought brand of fish oil caps to a liquid version from a better source
  • Remember that your diet is now extremely well rounded and you’re kicking ass on every level.  There is very little else you need from supplements.  Paleolithic man did just fine without a multivitamin.

9. Putting It All Together

How

  • Remember that going through all these steps does not give you the ‘perfect’ diet.  It’s simply a road map to get you closer to feeding yourself the way nature intended.
  • Each stage involves a bit more of an investment and I realize some people will weigh the costs and benefits and decide that certain levels of health are simply not worth what they would have to give up
  • And in all fairness, once you get your ducks in a row regarding sugar, fat, and grains, you’re about 80% of the way there.  Even with some gluten grains, it’s possible to maintain a very healthy diet given you moderate your calorie intake and stay away from all other processed food.
  • So the main questions we’re left with after running these experiments are:
    • How did each of them work?
    • How can I best implement what I’ve learned into my life?
  • Irrespective of the answers, it is my hope that this little guide gave you some insight into methods for improving your nutrition.  I’ll be elaborating on a number of these topics in the blog posts.

Main credit for my learning process goes to Kurt Harris, Stephen Guyenet, Mark Sisson, Michael Eades, Gary Taubes, and Robb Wolf

4 Comments

  1. Priscilla / Apr 28 2010

    I really, really, LIKE this. Am sending it to some buddies asap :) . xoxo.

  2. 1 Week Diet / Apr 30 2010

    i favored the post, i by no means discover exactly what i would like, i am looking out more specific particulars, i hope you might make a second part

  3. Tom Woodward / May 1 2010

    1 Week Diet – What type of particulars are you looking for? I’d be happy to answer any specific questions you might have.

    All the best,
    Tom

  4. Alethea Andrews / May 20 2010

    So interesting about not taking in fluids while eating meals, so as to maximize the effectiveness of digetstive enzymes. Traditionally, in Korean cuisine/culture, we don’t sip our corn-nut tea until after the meal and it makes sense why!! I also heard that taking antacids like TUMS will thwart the efforts of digestive enzymes, so it’s better to avoid those trigger foods. Great info Tom, so proud of you!

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