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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Is Red Meat Really Bad For You? - Think Again


You’ve heard it for years - red meat is bad for you!  Especially from the media, who takes every opportunity they can to sound alarms about red meat.  I then hear the aftermath of this from clients and others, some of whom unknowingly tout the fact that they don’t eat red meat like it’s a health badge of honor; unfortunately they have been woefully mislead. 

The reality is that red meat, when you look objectively at the evidence, is one of the healthiest things you can eat.  Now before you dismiss this reality as nonsense, and close this article, let me actually detail for you why much of what you hear about red meat is not accurate.

For one, most of the research done on red meat is observational in nature and is therefore, for a variety of reasons, unable to prove causation.  Basically, in this type of research there is no way even the most careful researcher can control for every possible factor that could have influenced an outcome.  For example (this is very simplified), when they say red meat causes colon cancer they are basing this on asking people to recall what they’ve eaten (dietary recall is notoriously inaccurate) over long periods of time and then concluding that the chances of getting colon cancer are higher for those eating red meat.  What they fail to mention directly, is that people who tend to avoid red meat also tend to do a number of things that actually do contribute to reducing risk of disease (regular exercise, eating less processed food, less sugar etc.).  While those who eat more red meat (which oftentimes includes all kinds of processed meat), tend to do things that increase risk of disease (e.g. smoke, not exercise, don’t manage stress).  Therefore, based on these realities, drawing such conclusions and blaming red meat is not only baseless but also intellectually dishonest, bad science.  Bottom line is…correlation isn’t causation.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How Do I Grocery Shop for Fat Loss?

Not sure what to buy?
This is another of the many questions I'm asked by people on a regular basis.  Everyone wants to know how they should shop, where they should shop, what to buy and so forth.  Here I'm going to take you on a tour of your local grocery store in an attempt to make it much easier for you to make better choices...these things apply whether you're trying to lose fat or not.  Knowing and implementing these shopping strategies is the first step in setting up your kitchen and preparing meals that will lead to the weight loss results you want.


First and foremost, and you likely already realize this but may not have thought too much about it, you have to realize that grocery stores are designed primarily to make money (not that there's anything wrong with this as they are for profit companies).  Thus, everything about the store - from product availability and placement, all the way down to the lighting is designed to maximize your purchases while minimizing the stores cost.  While this may be good for the store it's typically not very good for your health.  So in order to make the healthiest choices and set yourself up for success you need to have a shopping plan.

Not Everything at Whole Foods is Healthy


Before I go into the specifics let me give you a high level overview and shopping strategy.  If you've read my previous posts on Why You Get Fat Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 you're aware that the key to fat loss is limiting quickly digested carbohydrates and other sugars.  Therefore when shopping you want to navigate to the areas of the store which will keep you as far away from the aforementioned junk food that will sabotage your efforts.  Since most every grocery store is laid out in the same way it's pretty much always a good idea to spend most of your shopping time on the perimeter of the store where the freshest most unprocessed items are located.  You only want to navigate into the center portion of the store on a limited basis to get select items.  The best way to make sure you stick to this plan is to abide by certain guidelines.

  1. First, go grocery shopping after you've just had a meal and are in a good mood.  
  2. Secondly, always have a grocery list with you and stick to the list (again don't make the list when you are hungry or in a bad mood).  Click here to download an excellent free shopping list.
  3. Third, avoid buying items based on price alone because typically the cheapest and best deals are often some of the worst items from a health standpoint.  The unfortunate reality is that healthy foods are more costly because they require more time, energy and money to produce.  If you want to get the absolute best deals and still eat the highest quality foods you're going to have to do some legwork to find local sources where you can buy direct from the farmer, typically in larger quantities.  
  4. Finally, absolutely avoid purchasing items based on convenience as they are typically the least healthy...think about convenience stores items (certainly not the place to go for health fare).  Here is a good grocery list to download and use.  

By following these shopping guidelines it will make it much easier to stay on the outside perimeter of the store with few if any trips to the dangerous middle aisles that are filled with processed foods and drinks that will ruin your fat loss efforts.

With these basic guidelines in place here are the specifics about the various sections of the store:

1.  Produce Section - typically the first section you come to in the store and one of the sections where it's easier to make the right selections than in many others.  Focus on the vegetables more so than fruits (except for berries which are lower in sugar and higher in nutrients).  When buying produce you'll want to preferably choose the organic as they will be free of chemicals and typically have more nutrients (despite what popular media propagates - take a look at who funded the studies that say there is little nutrient difference - big food companies or universities funded by them).  Even though most people have their favorites it's always good to try produce you've never had before, the more variety the better (changing your food choices helps prevent food intolerances and oftentimes helps fat loss).  The foods you'll want to avoid in the produce section are starches such as potatoes and corn along with most fruits (especially for the first 14 days of a fat loss program).  Most people who need to lose fat can't handle anything more than 2 pieces of fruit per day without causing themselves problems.  With produce, the thicker the skin typically the fewer the anti-oxidants (e.g. berries contain more antioxidants than bananas).  Additionally, choose vegetables with a variety of colors as you will be getting a larger variety of nutrients.  Each of your meals should involve vegetables along with the healthy fats and high quality proteins which need to be the emphasis of your eating for fat loss and for health.

2.  Meat -  Though adequate protein and fat are keys to fat loss, this area of the store requires a bit more scrutiny than the produce section if you really want to  be successful.  Meat has gotten a bad rap for a long time as the media and so called "health authorities" have scared people into thinking the only meat they can eat is a boneless, skinless chicken breast (yuck!).  Like most things, the devil is in the details - and that's why you have to be very particular about the quality of your meat.  I'll go ahead and say it...95% of the meat in most conventional supermarkets (Safeway, Raley's, Lucky etc.) is not the best quality.  The animals are raised improperly and thus the contents of the meat is not the healthiest.  There are however some that is good, you just have to look closely.  When it comes to beef you want organic and 100% grass fed as this will ensure that the fats in the meat are healthy and you won't be getting the chemicals, hormones etc that come with conventionally raised beef (i.e. corn fed, feed lot animals).  For any poultry you want pastured organic chickens or at least free range and the same goes for eggs (even though they are usually in the dairy section of the store).  The standard brands in your major supermarkets, like tyson/foster farms etc are not high quality.  To get the good quality meats you need to shop at either smaller local markets or places like Whole Foods, Sprouts, New Leaf and Trader Joes.

3.  Dairy -  Most commercially available dairy products are not healthy or helpful for fat loss, sorry all you cottage cheese and yogurt fans.  The biggest issue is the fact that the processing the dairy products have gone through render them low in nutrients and high in reactivity for most people as dairy is one of the top food allergens.  No this doesn't mean you have to have an anaphylactic attack...rather if you find your stomach feeling lousy and you're quickly looking for a restroom after consuming dairy products odds are you are sensitive to something in them and you should avoid them.  All dairy in the majority of stores is pasteurized (this means cooked) and some is homogenized (this has been shown to raise cholesterol).  There are some smaller local stores that carry raw dairy products in California (in many states it's illegal to sell in stores).  Butter is one thing that is very healthy for you if it's from grass fed cows (the fat profile is better...more omega 3's).  You should avoid any of these butter replacement products that, regardless of what the package says, are nothing more than processed vegetable oils and other bad fats.  If you insist on buying dairy it should be organic and from grass fed cows full fat.  Yogurt and cottage cheese should also be organic, plain and full fat.  You have to read labels because they put all kinds of other things in dairy products.  The same goes for soy, almond and all of these other "milk" concoctions...they are highly processed and loaded with sugar.  You do not need dairy products to be healthy.

Caution
4.  Other Important Items -  When you venture out of the perimeter of the grocery store it should only be for oils, nuts, frozen vegetables, some canned fish and carefully selected condiments and perhaps water if you buy bottled water (Nestle Pure Life is a good option).  You can buy a filter and make your own water for much cheaper (I use the Nimbus Watermaker Mini which is excellent portable r/o).  The only oils you should purchase are extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, organic palm oil and possibly pumpkin oil and all should be organic.  Do not purchase any vegetable oils, organic or not and also avoid products that have these vegetable oils in them (basically any packaged food).  Nuts should be organic and raw as well as free of added poor oils like canola etc.  Peanuts are not nuts and they should be avoided (they naturally contain a mold, are common allergens and have estrogenic properties)

All of the other items not mentioned should be avoided, this includes all breads and baked goods, pastas, sauces, condiments and so forth.  Virtually all of these products contain bad oils, soy, or other food additives that you do not want to consume.  Unless you are extremely well informed it will be virtually impossible as well as ridiculously time consuming to search through these products in a store to find ones that may be marginally acceptable at best.  Thus it's easier to just avoid them all unless you've been personally taught by someone who knows the fine details.  As a side note...you cannot buy a healthy salad dressing in any grocery store (this includes Whole Foods etc.).  You can make your own at home with olive oil and apple cider vinegar.

Use this shopping guide.

There you have it, the rundown on how to shop for groceries.  I would encourage you to purchase the book...Rich Food Poor Food by Jayson and Mira Calton and use it.  It's a very easy to use healthy shopping guide that will delve into much more detail about what to look for as well as specific names of products to buy and avoid.  Please feel free to post specific brief grocery shopping questions in the comments below.  If you live locally in Pleasanton, CA, I do offer fee based individual grocery shopping tours on a limited basis.  This involves me going shopping with you and showing you exactly what to pick out.  Please call me at 925-931-1120 if you are interested in these local grocery store tours.  F7MZKK4KPGYK

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What's A Healthy Body Fat? - You Will Be Surprised...

In your quest for fitness, you likely want to lose fat.  But what level of fat should you shoot for?  You may have seen charts that place you in a category, such as underfat, healthy, overfat and obese, based on your body fat levels.  But where do these categories come from, are they accurate, and what do they really mean?

As with anything that categorizes you in a general way, looking a bit closer does much good.  For instance, with the various body fat charts and guidelines you'll find, many interestingly enough site no sources while others give a vague reference to a book or journal article.  When looking at the body  fat charts from some of the organizations considered to be "authorities" you'll find one particular reference often sited.



What you discover when reading this study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is that the study was not designed to establish body fat norms but rather to explore possible ways of establishing body fat ranges.  In this case they attempted to link "healthy" BMI(Body Mass Index) numbers with predicted percentage body fat.  Using "healthy" BMI numbers is inherently flawed as BMI considers height and weight without regard to fat vs lean weight.  With that and some of the other characteristics of this study in mind it's safe to say one can hardly extrapolate body fat ranges with this single study of little over 1000 participants whose age tended to be in the 40-60 range on average and who were recruited via newspaper ads, flyers or referral for body weight evaluation(these aren't usually apparently healthy individuals).  The study itself, in discussion of its limitations states "the aim of this study was not to provide population ranges for body fatness".  Yet it's used as a reference for charts that people use to provide population ranges for body fatness.  Suffice to say there are no absolute standards for body fat and the ranges that are provided in most instances are quite wide and vague.

What's the bottom line on body fat then?

What's healthy and normal largely depends on what your situation and goals are.  For example, a wide receiver in football will perform better at a lower body fat percentage than a lineman in football.  However, most people will have better blood test and health numbers, whether they are an athlete or just someone wanting to feel better, look good and be healthy, with a markedly lower body fat than they currently have. 
For men that means sub 10% is ideal and for women sub 20%.  You may be scoffing and saying that's impossible and I say yes if you have a standard American diet and lifestyle that may be true.  But, if you fix your diet and lifestyle and work out properly you can get to these levels safely and don't let anyone tell you you can't.  It won't happen overnight, it will require hard work, but it can happen - that is if you are willing to go against the grain and take action.   

Visually where do you fit in?

Remember, we're genetically programmed to be lean...it's our modern lifestyle that has lead to the acceptance of high levels of body fat as normal.  Native humans were not fat...they also didn't sit at desks 10 hours a day and then plop on the couch for 4-5 more every night.  You have to make significant lifestyle changes to get to these healthier levels of body fat, many of which you may not be willing to make.  That's perfectly fine, just don't expect to have flat abs and a lean fit look when you have a lifestyle that involves eating whatever you want and working out a few hours a week.  It won't happen.  However, if you do what everyone else won't, you'll look like everyone else doesn't.


As an end note, all methods of body fat testing are just estimations that extrapolate fat percentage based on various methods, body water, density, skinfolds etc...and should be taken as such.  There is inherent error in each...and thus visual appearance is a much better guide.  This is true with other "health measurements" as well...for example your total cholesterol numbers have to change by more than 35 points in either direction to have statistical confidence that they have actually changed at all.  None of this gives you permission to totally dismiss your numbers to justify your preferred habits (if the body fat scale reads 35% you're still fat), but what it does say is don't place such fanatical emphasis on one test that you stress yourself trying to get to a certain number.  Take a look at the whole picture of your lifestyle, health and well being and you'll be much  better off in the long run.
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