Before I get started I wanted to provide a final reminder that today is the last chance to capitalize on my 20% OFF Online Training & Nutrition Consulting! Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let’s get your training or nutrition headed in the right direction!
Moving on, today I wanted to showcase an awesome product that I have never discussed before. Many of you have become fans of Organic Valley’s Pasture Butter, which I have blogged about many times. It is an absolutely delicious grass-fed butter that is available nationwide, and I highly recommend it. The only downside is it is often not available in traditional supermarkets, and you have to check out a Whole Foods or local health food store to pick it up.
Fortunately for you I have come across another amazing grass-fed butter, and I came across this one right in a traditional Hannafords. Not only that, I personally think it might actually be better than Organic Valley Pasture Butter! It ranks right up there with butterI bought this summer that was straight from the farm in Maine!
It is called Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter. This is a delicious grass-fed butter straight from Ireland. Let me tell you, it is a beautiful yellow color, and makes the most amazing scrambled eggs!
I will point out that I found this butter on accident, while perusing the cheese options in fact. I had heard of Kerrygold butter before, but did not expect to find it in Hannaford’s! So check your local grocer, and make sure to check the butter section as well as the near the cheese.
To be totally honest I don’t have a huge problem with this title, as you can certainly make an argument that carbs can help you lose weight. A reasonable person would simply point out that they provide fuel to help you train more intensely, and they help you to recover from that training, among a few other things.
Unfortunately reasonable recommendations are not sexy, and sexy sells. So instead this article has paragraph headings like eating carbs makes you thin for life, carbs control blood sugar and diabetes, and carbs blast belly fat. It also focuses on the term resistant starch, without providing any real world examples of resistant starch foods.
The author refers to research without providing any references. I will admit that I do this in my blog too, because it is a blog, not an article. However when readers ask for the references, I gladly provide them. There were requests, but no follow through as far as I could tell.
This just might be my favorite quote in the whole piece:
“A recent multi-center study found that the slimmest people also ate the most carbs, and the chubbiest ate the least. The researchers concluded that your odds of getting and staying slim are best when carbs make up to 64% of your total daily caloric intake, or 361 grams.”
First, you can’t conclude anything from observational research. It simply provides data to generate a hypothesis, from which you do intervention trials to test that hypothesis. You want to know when your odds of getting and staying slim are best? When you don’t eat to caloric excess. Lame I know, but true.
I also love how we all require 361 grams. So a 110lb 75 year old sedentary female requires the same amount of carbohydrate as a 250lb 22 year old linebacker? Does that make sense to anybody. Your carbohydrate needs are dependent upon many, many things, not some pre-determined number.
How about carbs control blood sugar and diabetes?
“The right mix of carbs is the best way to control blood sugar and keep diabetes at bay. In one study at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Center at the USDA, participants who consumed a diet rich in high Resistant Starch foods were able to lower their post-meal blood sugar and insulin response by up to 38%.
Eat the carbs you want, but you need to combine them so that they don’t cause a spike in your blood sugar. Instead of eating white rice, switch to brown and combine it with beans, corn, or other high Resistant Starch foods that keep your blood sugar more balanced than low-carb diets.”
First of all, extrapolating data on blood sugar and insulin response in healthy people to a diabetic population is a recipe for disaster. People with diabetes have an altered metabolic response to carbohydrate, and their post-meal blood sugar and insulin will be vastly different than that of non-diabetics.
Second, when are people going to realize that the difference in blood sugar response between white rice and brown is virtually non-existent? On top of that, blood sugar response to any food is highly variable by person, as well as the other foods in the meal.
Third, yes let’s tell diabetics to just eat the carbs they want, but to simply combine them with these special foods and magically their blood sugar will remain stable. Pay no attention to amounts, those aren’t important.
Finally, carbs blast belly fat.
“Carbs help you lose your belly fat faster than other foods, even when the same number of calories are consumed.
When scientists fed rats a diet rich in Resistant Starch, it increased the activity of fat-burning enzymes and decreased the activity of fat-storing enzymes. This means that the belly-fat cells were less likely to soak up and store calories as fat.”
Again, this research is simply theoretical. Ok so it certainly seems like resistant starch might be helpful, but did these altering of the enzymes actually lead to less fat accumulation? Soft end points are all well and good, but if the research did not look at a hard end point (like actual weight loss), you can’t extrapolate it out to actual weight loss! Where was the control? Did the control group also see the same result? This research could be completely meaningless.
In the end I think articles like this do more harm than good. Are carbohydrates these evil foods that they have recently been made out to be? Clearly not. Do some people do better with less of them in their diet? Absolutely. Do some people do well with lots in their diet? Yes to that too. Telling people that simply eating carbs, and resistant starch, is going to lead to long-term weight loss is ridiculous. Its like telling people that just eating protein is going to lead to weight loss. Neither is true.
Long-term weight loss or maintenance of a healthy body weight is not achieved by a singular focus or removal of any one macronutrient. Especially one as easy to over-consume and make poor choices with as carbohydrate.
The key is to focus on the actual food sources of your carbohydrate intake. Foods that have sustained humans throughout history, not nutrient-empty refined foods (white flour, sugar, HFCS, etc). Things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, fruits, vegetables, etc should make up the majority of your carbohydrate intake.
The next focus is on amount. I firmly believe that most people would do best with a moderate intake of all of the macronutrients. Obviously there are exceptions to this, but I think it fits best for the majority of the population. As long as you maintain energy balance and the majority of your intake is from real, whole, minimally processed foods you should be A OK.
While I tend to do most of my blogging about nutrition, I did spend almost 3 years as a strength coach working with and learning from Eric Cressey and Tony Gentilcore. I like to think I know a thing or two about training, even though I don’t write about it as much on here.
(obligatory video of me sorta-dominating 615)
Due to this background, I know a good training product when I see one. Conversely I know a crappy one when I see that too, and when I was at CP we got sent crappy ones all the time from people just trying to make a quick buck!
There are a ton of programs and products out there that can help you get lean, or get jacked, or get strong, but these programs often lack a lot of essential components to a thorough and complete training program. This often leads to poor tissue quality, poor movement patterns and generally a poor long-term prognosis in terms of training.
Unfortunately there are probably more poor articles and products on training than there are good ones, so when those rare good ones do come around (like AMD 2.0 or Show and Go), I like to let people know about them. These are training programs that I believe are not only effective, but are smart and safe.
They take into account soft-tissue considerations, proper warm-ups, exercise selection, exercise execution and more. In a nutshell they incorporate all of the things I talked about in Eating and Training for Health, Body Composition and Performance. While individual programs and products may emphasize one of these components more than others, it is not to the exclusion of the others.
This all leads me to the upcoming release of Lean Hybrid Muscle Reloaded from strength coaches Elliot Hulse and Mike Westerdal. While not officially being released until next week, they have provided a kick-ass and free report called The Muscle Shifting Doctrine that outlines some smart and straight-forward ideas on building a strong and lean body.
This is merely a taste of what the product offers, and I assure you it is of very high-quality, from two guys who actually train people for a living (you would be surprised at how many products are released from people who don’t actually train anybody)! So if you are interested, check it out!
I have written before about pasteurization and some of the problems associated with it, such as 7-keto cholesterol formation. I have also written about the health benefits of whey protein, mainly its ability to boost glutathione (our master antioxidant).
Today I wanted to talk a little bit about both, but first I wanted cover glutathione in a bit more detail.
Glutathione has many important functions:
Neutralizes free radicals and peroxides
Maintains blood levels of antioxidants vitamins C and E
Helps the liver and white blood cells in the detoxification of foreign compounds and carcinogens
Is essential for the immune system to be maximized
Plays a key role in a plethora of metabolic and biological processes like DNA synthesis, protein synthesis, prostaglandin synthesis and more.
We know that whey protein’s cysteine content is responsible for much of its ability to boost glutathione, but not all of it. This ability may also come from two biological fractions: beta-lactoglobulin and serum albumin. These proteins contain some very unique glutamyl-cysteine bonds that tend to enter our blood stream intact, and are much more readily turned into glutathione. Unfortunately it seems that when whey protein undergoes extensive heat treatment, these two delicate fractions are destroyed.
Not only is this a problem in whey protein powder processing, it is a problem with pasteurizing milk. In fact, pasteurization in general decreases the whey protein concentration in milk. The heat causes the proteins to denature and associate with the casein proteins. The higher the temperature, like when milk is ultra-pasteurized, the greater the denaturing of whey.
In fact whey normally makes up about 20% of the protein in raw milk. Gentle pasteurization (high temperature, short time) causes this to drop down to about 12-13%, while ultra-pasteurization causes whey to fall to only about 5% of the total protein content!
On top of that, exposing raw milk to different heat treatments also affected those delicate biological fractions of whey. In raw milk beta-lactoglobulin makes up almost 90% of the whey protein. After gentle pasteurization it made up just under 70%, and after ultra-pasteurization it dropped down to just over 20%!
In addition to the beta-lactoglobulin, serum albumin levels are also affected by pasteurization. Gentle pasteurization has been found to decrease serum albumin levels by 40%, while ultra-pasteurization reduced it by 77%!
I point out all of this simply to highlight the fact that much of what we have done to our food supply, and this is just one example, has significantly decreased the benefits of those foods. We have gone away from using traditional (and by that I mean non-industrial) methods of food preparation and food safety, and much to our dismay our health has diminished and our food safety is not what it should be. Is pasteurized milk healthier? I would say no. Is it safer? Maybe.
I am not telling you that you need to drink raw milk, in reality you don’t need to drink milk at all. I am simply giving you the information so that you can make an informed choice.
From a personal standpoint I was consuming raw milk before my wife was pregnant, but have not done so since. As much as I feel it is a healthier food, to me the difference between that and the Maine’s Own Organic Milk(gently pasteurized) that we drink now is not enough to justify the risk of listeria to her and our unborn daughter.
This atlas allows you to see things like access and proximity to grocery stores, availability of grocery stores and restaurants as well local food options such as number and percentage of farms with direct sales, farmer’s markets and more.
You can see these and more in your home state, as well as across the country. Check it out and see what you find!
I am a firm believer that humans should minimize most vegetable oils in our diets. I believe them to be detrimental to health, as they contribute enormous amounts of omega-6 fatty acids at the expense of omega-3 fatty acids, at ratio’s never before seen in human history.
These oils: corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean and sunflower are not potent fat sources (who eats corn and worries about its fat content?), so how is a substantial amount of oil extracted from them? I am glad you asked. To concentrate the oil and make it usable, it has to be exposed to high heat, degummed, refined, bleached, deodorized, and more to produce a clear oil with a long shelf life. These oils are now devoid of the polyphenols that provide antioxidant protection for the easily oxidized polyunsaturated fats.
Sounds delish! These oils are a food product, not a food.
There are exceptions, and that’s what I really wanted to talk about today: a vegetable oil that almost everybody is already consuming, olive oil. Olive oil is a tremendous food, but I don’t really want to discuss its health benefits as I think we all know those, instead I wanted to cover more of a what-t0-look-for when you are purchasing, as it is more complicated than you might think.
Olives have been consumed for roughly 10,000 years, and made into oil for probably 6,000 (nobody knows the exact dates). Regardless of the exact time-frame, this is clearly a food and an oil that we have been consuming for a long time.
Industrial seed oils like corn, cottonseed, safflower, soybean, and sunflower were never a significant contributor to the human diet until the past 50 years, so why should they be now? Because they’re cheap, that’s why, but I digress. Olive oil does not require any of that above-mentioned harsh processing to extract its oil. In fact, you can just squeeze an olive and oil comes out! Unfortunately the production of olive oil isn’t as simple and rosy as one might think.
The problem is the olive oil industry is pretty much as corrupt as it gets. Italy is known as the mecca of olive oil, there is just one problem: much of the olive oil “from” Italy that we have here in the US is actually made in other countries, and just bottled in Italy. This maybe doesn’t seem so bad on the surface, but these oils are of inferior quality, are often not of the grade claimed on the bottle, and are sometimes oils from other sources mixed with chlorophyll to make it look live olive oil. You probably are not getting what you pay for.
Where is the regulation? There is a regulatory agency in Europe, the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC) that regulates quality and labeling. There is a problem however. The US is not part of the IOOC.
While the US refuses to join the IOOC, the USDA does not regulate the market either, so the quality of the olive oil sold here is almost anyone’s guess. However, the US does have a private equivalent to the IOOC, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC). The COOC ensures purity, freshness and origin of the oil. The COOC also requires that the oil have less than 0.5% acidity, which is a measure of damage to the oil, and actually exceeds IOOC standards. The COOC labels oils it approves of, and I give them my highest recommendation.
Look for the COOC label on the next bottle of extra virgin olive oil you buy. It may cost a few bucks more, but at least you know exactly what you are getting.
In my recent blog on the awesomeness of potatoes, I got some interesting and common questions from people that I thought should be shared more fully than on the comments section.
Q. Good information and makes a good case to eat potatoes. However, how much of the nutrients do you think are in the skins – the part that most Americans don’t eat? Haven’t done the research myself but I’ve heard most of the nutrients are in the skin.
A. The idea that most of the nutrients are in the skin is a myth. While it is true that some nutrients, and much of the fiber is in the skin, the flesh itself contains plenty of nutrients and some fiber too. I honestly don’t think it makes too much of a difference if you eat the skin or not. If you enjoy the skin, eat it, if you hate it, don’t eat it. It isn’t worth forcing it down and making your meal less enjoyable for extra gram or two of fiber.
Q.Great articles, as always, Brian.
I’m wondering what your thoughts are on the glycoalkaloids and saponins found in both potatoes and quinoa? For someone with no known auto-immune of GI dysfunction, are the levels contains in these foods even worth worrying about? For myself and most of my clients, I’m a big fan of adding in quality starchy carbs in the form of peeled yams, sweet, red and white potatoes. Quinoa seems like a nutritional powerhouse, but the saponin levels are much higher than that of peeled potatoes. Cause for concern, or overblown hype?
A. The glycoalkaloids of potatoes are tightly controlled and monitored in the US. The most common varieties have incredibly low quantities of glycoalkaloids.
The level that is generally recognized as safe is 200 mcg/g. As you can see, only the flesh of one variety exceeds this level – snowden. I have never seen these sold anywhere, and I believe they are only used for potato chips.
It is absolutely true that glycoalkaloids can be toxic at high doses, and can cause low birth weight, liver damage, anemia, weight loss, diarrhea, and even death. However, pretty much every plant on the planet (and some animal foods too) contain some form of toxin. These defenses are how they prevent themselves from being eaten. There are dangerous levels of these toxins, but we are adapted to tolerating them in small doses.
On top of that the research that showed the ill effects from glycoalkaloid consumption used amounts that far exceed anything we could get from normal potato consumption. Stephan also explained this in great detail in one of his posts, so I am just going to post what he laid out, because it was incredibly well done:
“What happens when you feed normal animals normal potatoes? Not much. Many studies have shown that they suffer no ill effects whatsoever, even at high intakes (1, 2). This has been shown in primates as well (4, 5, 6). In fact, potato-based diets appear to be generally superior to grain-based diets in animal feed. As early as 1938, Dr. Edward Mellanby showed that grains, but not potatoes, aggravate vitamin A deficiency in rats and dogs (7). This followed his research showing that whole grains, but not potatoes, aggravate vitamin D deficiency due to their high phytic acid content (Mellanby. Nutrition and Disease. 1934). Potatoes were also a prominent part of Mellanby’s highly effective tooth decay reversal studies in humans, published in the British Medical Journal in 1932 (8, 9).
Potatoes partially protect rats against the harmful effects of excessive cholesterol feeding, when compared to wheat starch-based feed (10). Potato feeding leads to a better lipid profile and intestinal short-chain fatty acid production than wheat starch or sugar in rats (11). I wasn’t able to find a single study showing any adverse effect of normal potato feeding in any normal animal. That’s despite reading two long review articles on potato glycoalkaloids and specifically searching PubMed for studies showing a harmful effect. If you know of one, please post it in the comments section.”
In my opinion the skin and the glycoalkaloids are not worth worrying about. There might be conditions where they aggravate the symptoms, like inflammatory bowel disease, but in an otherwise healthy person, the choice is yours.
As for the saponin content of quinoa, that is another example of a bitter plant-based toxin to prevent itself from being eaten. In most commercially available quinoa’s in the US, the saponin content has already been removed, so this is not an issue whatsoever. Another concern is the phytic acid issue in all grains and seeds. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that binds to minerals and prevents their absorption.
Quinoa does contain phytic acid, but the same process used to remove the saponins also removes about 30% of the phytic acid (reference), so this isn’t a big issue either. If you want to ensure that their are no saponins, and decrease the phytic acid content even further, you can germinate or sprout the quinoa.
To do so, you simply soak the quinoa in water for 2-4 hours, and then rinse well in running water in a fine strainer. Quinoa has a very short germination period, which is convenient. This step will probably improve your quinoa even more, though it isn’t necessary if your quinoa has already been washed and/or rubber to remove the saponin content.
“Fat is not the problem,” says Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. “If Americans could eliminate sugary beverages, potatoes, white bread, pasta, white rice and sugary snacks, we would wipe out almost all the problems we have with weight and diabetes and other metabolic diseases.”
“The good news,” adds Willett, “is that based on what we know, almost everyone can avoid Type 2 diabetes. Avoiding unhealthy carbohydrates is an important part of that solution.”
Walt Willett is a smart guy, and one of the leading nutrition researchers in the world. While I still believe that a lot of academics need a paradigm shift in how they view nutrition (focus less on isolated nutrients, and more on actuall food), their work is still of great importance.
However, when did the nutritious potato get lumped into the unhealthy carbohydrate category? Sure, potatoes contain a good amount of carbohydrates, and they do raise our blood sugar quickly, but is this the only measure of a food’s quality? Not even close. In reality the glycemic index is vastly overrated. Helpful, but overrated.
Potatoes have been consumed in enormous quantities by many cultures for tremendously long periods of time, and their health was impeccable. Potatoes are one of the greatest sources of potassium on the planet (which lowers blood pressure), and are also among the most satiating foods ever tested.
Another argument often put forth is that potatoes are low in vitamins and minerals compared to vegetables on a per-calorie basis. This is true yes, but potatoes are simply more calorie-dense. Instead if we compared them on a per-serving basis (which is how we eat food), suddenly that is no longer the case.
One medium potato is a good source (meaning it has at least 10% of the Daily Value) or more for 10 vitamins and minerals: vitamin C (28%), vitamin B6 (27%), potassium (26%) and manganese (19%) are the best, as well as niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. This is all packaged in about 160 calories, with 37 grams of carbohydrates, 4 of it being fiber, and 4 grams of complete protein while weighing in at 173 grams. I would also like to point out that potatoes have a low phytic acid content, allowing their vitamins and minerals to be well absorbed.
Now let’s take a look at a fantastic vegetable – broccoli. Two cups of broccoli weighs in at 182 grams, so this is a pretty close comparison in weight and normal serving size. This serving size provides about 60 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 5 of it being fiber, and 5 grams of incomplete protein. This two cup serving is a good source or more for 11 vitamins and minerals, only one more than the “unhealthy” potato: vitamin C (270%), vitamin K (232%), folate (28%), vitamin A (22%), and manganese (20%) are the best, while riboflavin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium, phosporus and potassium round out the rest.
While broccoli clearly was slightly better in these measured categories, does this make the potato inherently unhealthy? Broccoli is supposed to be one the superstars of health, and yet it isn’t that much better than a potato (at least in these measures). When you compare potatoes to other starches like quinoafor example (another fantastic food), it compares even more favorably, as quinoa is a good source or more of 10 vitamins and minerals: manganese (58%), magnesium (30%), phosphorus (28%), folate (19%) are the best, with thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, iron, zinc and copper rounding out the rest. All this comes in 222 calories, with 4 grams of fat, 39 grams of carbs, 5 of it being fiber, and 8 grams of complete protein, while weighing in at 185 grams (1 cup cooked).
How does the potato seem now?
While simply looking at macronutrient as well as vitamin & mineral content does not tell the whole story of a food, it gives us a glimpse. In reality we can also look to how these foods supported cultures throughout history, and how well they fared on these foods. The fact is many cultures throughout history have relied on potatoes as their chief calorie source, and have thrived.
To me that is a much greater indication of the health of a food than simply looking at its nutrient content. The point is, real whole foods should not be lumped in with industrially refined foods. They are not one and the same. Stephan over at wholehealthsource did a 3 part series on potatoes and their impact on health, I highly recommend checking them out: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
Many of you have probably heard the phrase “When you all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” This is often used in reference to orthopedic surgeons. When people with knee or other joint problems seek them out for counsel on their pain, more often than not, they get surgery as the answer. Makes sense, surgery is what surgeons do, even if it is not the best course of action.
Recent research actually found even more damning evidence against orthopedic surgeons – If you see an orthopedic surgeon who also owns (or co-owns) a surgical facility, you are even more likely to get surgery. Awesome. While orthopedic surgeons most definitely have their place, see a good physical therapist first. They will let you know if physical therapy alone can solve the issue, or if surgery is the next step. Its worth a shot. Surgery should be the worst-case scenario, not the immediate solution.
In other interesting news, among the growing amount of research done on green tea it was found that EGCG, green tea’s major antioxidant, can actually raise your VO2 max. Your VO2 max essentially tells us how well your body uses oxygen – ie your cardiovascular fitness. We aren’t talking hugely dramatic increases (about 4%), but since we already know that green tea improves endothelial function and increases blood flow, it makes perfect sense. The study used EGCG pills, which were equivalent to about 3 cups of green (or white) tea per day.
On top of that a diet rich in flavanols (of which EGCG is one) found in tea, wine and dark chocolate improved blood vessel dilation up to 47%. This separate research only makes the above study make even more sense, and lend further credence to the idea that what you eat is just as important as how much.
Lastly a recent 12 week study looked at Norwegian cross-country skiers. They had half of them lift weight and do cardio, and compared them to the other half who did cardio only. Unsurprising to those who actually lift weights, but probably very surprising to those who want to believe that cardio is god, the group who lifted and did cardio were able to perform at a higher level for a longer period of time than the cardio-only group. Just one more reason to do cardio, and lift weights for your best performance.