Eat Real Food – (Re)Defining Nutrition (Part 1)

Someone asked me when exactly I became interested in nutrition and why I started researching about it. It was at that point that I realized that I didn’t actually ‘start’ it per se. I mean, I know when exactly I decided to not be a wuss and start getting fit, but, like a many others, nutritional research was really a slippery slope that I mistakenly led myself into.

Though my entry into nutrition was pretty typical, my stance is a little unique. Unique in that, I refuse to enroll in any one particular school of thought. I try to read everything about nutrition instead of reading only inside the circle agree with. This helps me come up with my own recommendation and ensures that my thoughts are not just a an average of the thoughts of people who I follow. In short – I’m never married to any nutritional ‘ism’ and I don’t buy into anything unless I am completely convinced!

But the draw back of such open-mindedness is confusion! The more you read, the more you learn and the more you learn, the less you know!

On one side you have low carb purists saying you totally need to keep your carb intake to under 50 g (or 100 g or 150 g), and on the other side you have lipid hypothesis lovers saying fat, and especially saturated fat, is bad and you need to keep your fat intake low by replacing fat with carbs from whole grains. On one side you have registered dieticians saying too much protein affects kidney function and on the other side you have well-seasoned fitness enthusiasts telling you to up the protein ‘cos it is invaluable. I can go on, but you get the idea.

Though I’m sure I’ll come across as a smartass, my response to all this is – Stop. The. Nonsense.

But why is this nonsense?

Ummm… let’s see…

What do you observe? No trend! None! Nada! You have arrows pointing in every direction there is!

So what’s your point Raj?

Clearly, no one knows anything definitively when it comes to nutrition! The truth is that there is enough scientific evidence to prove and disprove everything! Funny isnt it? Sure. But its scary too right? I mean, who do you trust?

  • The low carb researcher who has stacks of evidence supporting his claim that carbs causes diabetes or your doctor who says eat whole grains and less fat else you’re going to end up with heart disease?
  • The vegan Gods who say animal protein causes cancer or the paleo kings who say animal protein is paramount?
  • This study that says cheese consumption increases risk of bladder cancer or this study that says cheese consumption protects against bowel diseases?

Honestly, the answer to the above questions is – none! You can’t trust either one or anyone! If you drop down dead tomorrow will Mr. Low Carb shed a tear or will Dr. Whole Grain give a crap? Does the fact that there are so many contradicting studies prove that the human body is capable of adapting to various types of foods or does it just prove that we are masters of designing studies with known outcomes? Does the one size fits all concept apply to nutrition alone because we are all basically humans or is it more like every size fits all? If it is the first case, what is that ‘one size’? If it is the second case, then why is the majority of the population diseased?

These are all questions that I kept asking myself over and over again during my path towards the ideal diet. But did I answer these questions? What dietary recommendations did I come up with? Why those dietary recommendations? Did my recommendations evolve over the years?

The answer to all these questions, I’ll share in the next post. In the meanwhile, you tell me what you think – low carb or low fat? paleo or vegan? pro or anti dairy? What has your experience been? How have you fared in one or more of these diets?

39 responses to “Eat Real Food – (Re)Defining Nutrition (Part 1)

  1. Vijay Kaushik April 18, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    For a long time I just ate everything, lot of junk. I got up to 95 kg. I didn’t know BF could be measured.

    Then for 18 months, I did a high-carb, low-fat, whole grain diet. Worked out 4-5 days a week – All cardio, sometimes for 3-4 hrs (cycling 110k for eg). I came down to 87 kgs and measured BF at 24.5% (I don’t know what my BF might have been before those 18 months )

    For the last 5 months, I have done a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet. Worked out mostly in the gym (weights) or ran sprints or did yoga. I weigh 72 Kgs now and BF’s 17%. I have muscle definition for the first time. I might have lost a good part of my endurance though.

    No idea how my lipids have moved over this period.

    • RG April 18, 2011 at 10:44 pm

      Thank you for sharing Vijay.

      Your story is pretty much the story of every guy/girl spending countless hours on cardio machines in the gym followed by low fat healthy diets!

      About endurance – Always, strength before endurance. It takes very little training and time to develop endurance. But strength, on the other hand, is a skill and it takes years of training to get genuinely strong. So don’t worry about it. With more lean mass and hence more strength you will come back faster and last longer than before.

      Lipids – As long as you have been eating the right fats, I’d say that they wouldve definitely improved.

  2. Hynek April 18, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    Absolutely high-fat primal/paleo.

    Reading “Good Calories Bad Calories” explained a lot of those “There are tonnes of studies proving low fat diets result in fat loss and superior health.” to me: They are just flawed. 🙂

    I went the low-fat, low-calorie, cardio (up to half marathon) route and had the same weight as I have now, but felt exhausted all day. I also had this skinny fat look nobody wants to have. While I’m plateauing right now again, I feel much better overall. No wonder, I’m running around 60km less per week. 🙂

    And by the way, I’m pretty sure the kitavan carbs differ _a lot_ from ours. 🙂

    • RG April 18, 2011 at 10:59 pm

      They are just flawed – True dat!

      And who didn’t go the low fat route right??

      Kitavan carbs – All sweet potatoes.

      But… there is more… much more. I’ll talk about it in Part 2!

      • Hynek April 19, 2011 at 12:10 am

        …and sweet potatoes are part of the primal diet.

        It’s great how much sense it makes over and over again. I stopped calling it low-carb at some point as it simply isn’t.

  3. Soundarya April 19, 2011 at 1:45 am

    Great post as always Raj and you have addressed the issue which has been on my mind always. Each one proclaims something is the best and something is the perfect diet. What really is the perfect diet? My understanding based on my experience is this. I was 82kg and reached a 72 kg and plateaued for a long time doing loads of cardio and running (2 half marathons) and eating a grain rich diet(following the words of a dietician i used to buy only ‘wheat bread’:) no white bread allowed) no fats and less protein. Then after which i consulted you and read a lot of what you write and understood much better what works for my body. at 61 kg i eat rice atleast thrice a week and enjoy whole milk, cheese, paneer and lots of vegetables and some frutis.Now i feel eat much more and I am losing fat, and building muscle doing a lot of lifting and as i read another comment above I feel endurance automatically builds when u lose fat, sprint and life weights so not worried about that aspect:) I dont know If what diet i follow is THE PERFECT one or something but it seems PERFECT FOR ME and am HAPPY:)

  4. laks April 19, 2011 at 3:32 am

    Nice post. Better slogan i found is “Eat local ” . Enjoy whatever you eat ,moderation is key.

  5. JP April 19, 2011 at 4:22 am

    Animal protein + (veggies – some nightshades)+ white rice + starchy tubers + some fruit.

    I am pro dairy as whole milk and cheese taste too good to ignore.

    I find that peanut butter (and nuts) is the main cause of my acne because it is tough to only eat the recommended serving size. I am in a bulking phase and eat half a jar causes my 03:06 ratio to go crazy and results in break outs.

    Excited for part 2!

  6. sowmya April 19, 2011 at 4:30 am

    I don’t know how I survived 10 years back but after being introduced to eggs, now after a work out I don’t feel full unless I have an egg or two. I crave for carbs (rice, potatoes, Idli etc) out of habit. Not so if I have an egg before though.
    I don’t eat too much cheese or milk because it’s nauseating to me. For a while, right after my son was born, the doctors advised me to go vegan for the baby. I only missed curd or buttermilk to be more exact. I loved rice milk and almond milk and could totally survive on that.
    What works for me is eating smaller quantities and at frequent intervals. As long as I don’t overeat I feel good the whole day but that’s also the hardest for me.

    • RG April 19, 2011 at 8:13 am

      Awesome. Finally one commenter who thrived in more than one diet! Thank you Swomya for the comment.

  7. Kevin Greer April 19, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Minor correction: Jack LaLanne lived to the age of 97, not 94. Also, didn’t he take over 100 desecrated liver pills a day? He took so many that he had to use a blender to drink them in a shake form. Wouldn’t these have contained a lot of fat?

    • RG April 19, 2011 at 8:15 am

      Actually he died when he was 96. Change made.

      About getting fat without knowing it – the next couple of posts will talk about it!

  8. Gayatri April 19, 2011 at 7:21 am

    My husband belongs to a heavy meat eating family and after we got married, I went the so called healthy route by eating whole grains and going low on meats. And guess what, his triglycerides were high and my HDL was going low. Meanwhile his parents who are in their early 60s have everything normal. Now am convinced that cholesterol per say doesn’t increase cholesterol. As for losing weight nothing works as well as getting off the couch 🙂

  9. Arunima April 19, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Hi Raj,

    This is our 5th week going on Paleo with dairy products. We transitioned slowly with first 2 weeks have 2-4 meals with rice. My husband has lost nearly 6-7 lbs and I have lost 4 lbs. I started working out 7 years back when I was pretty fat ( 170 + ) and obviously the weight came down with working out for the first time + changed diet of low fat+whole grains. Then I plateaued and tried 2 different trainers which would leave me tired and sore most days…but no freaking weight change ! Hence the diet then was not working for me.
    But protein & veggie rich, with less fruits and some dairy has worked wonders for us WITHOUT even exercising. I am confident if I could work out I would lose more and get more definition but I cant seem to get away from a ever-fussy, waking-up-multiple times a night 8 month old( aside crib ) :-(.

    Thanks for your pointers as always.

    • RG April 19, 2011 at 8:17 am

      Thank you for sharing Arunima. Now, what makes you so sure you wont plateau again? Hard to answer I know. Wait for the remaining posts in this series!

      • Arunima April 19, 2011 at 10:07 am

        I am pretty sure I will plateau but atleast now I know what conventional wisdom dictates is NOT the only way to go…I might try skipping dairy / completely go away with fruits and add something new…

      • RG April 19, 2011 at 11:56 pm

        “I know what conventional wisdom dictates is NOT the only way to go” – Word. But there is a way to never plateau! I’ll write about it in the upcoming posts.

  10. Rahul April 19, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Raj, this was precisely my question to you in one of your previous posts. There are just so many studies out there that point to different things and in different directions. Which to believe ?… I think it is best to check what works for you and follow that. Listen to your body and some general common sense…..One of the comments talked about acne and diet patterns. Can you please write a post on the relation between diet and skin health – dryness, acne, etc ?

    • RG April 19, 2011 at 11:55 pm

      Stay tuned for the remn posts in the series Rahul.

      I will write about nutrition and skin, but for now remember this – acne, dryness, paleness = something in your diet is messing you up. Remove (and reintroduce after a while) the following in the given order of importance and see how you feel with and without each – gluten containing grains, other grains, legumes, dairy, nuts, nightshades.

  11. Souj April 19, 2011 at 11:21 am

    I never followed a whole lot of diets till now in my life. I had simple rules: Limit deep fried, sugary, white floor foods and limited fats. If I found myself eating a lot of these food for period of time, I would avoid them for a extended period of time. I am aversed to Milk. I can handle limted yogurt and no butter milk. I equally hated meat/fish. I hate cereals and am eating 2 eggs with some veggies/friut for breakfast for the past 6-7 years. Tried taking out yellows for the husband for few days and then started adding them again. Probably, thats the only protein I would get in the day. May be some yogurt in dinner on few days, beans, fruit, vegetables with rice/roti.

    When I was young, I used to dance quite a bit. 3 -4 hours a week + practice. . Until 6 years ago, used to hike a lot 2-3 hours 2-3 times a week and do yoga(2-3 times a week up to an hour). I never had lot of strength. The max weight I can lift was 3lbs dumb bells. Most gyms didnt have them. I hated working out on machines and love being outdoors.

    Once I stopped all the activites 6 years ago, my weight gradually started going up. From 125 lbs to 145 lbs. I got pregnant at that time and was at 163 lbs right after child birth. Size 4/6 to size 14. What got me interested in nutrition was the the number of cavities I had as a child and now. As a child I had vitamin A deficiency. Ran into different resources and settled into the following diet.

    I changed my diet to this:
    Breakfast: 2 eggs with veggies. usually 1-2 cups depending on whats on hand.
    Lunch: some protein and veggies ( Big salad with chicken usually or soup and salad) with vinaigrette
    Snacks: Yogurt or fruit or nuts
    Dinner: Yogurt with little rice and pickle and paneer with veggies etc.

    I am cooking with Idayam sesame seed oil/ghee for the time being. I am working on adapting to fish. Hopefully, will get there soon. Ofcourse, coconut (Not the oil) is part of my diet always.

    At this time, the only exercise I get is running up and down 4 flights of stairs untill I run out of breath and little bit of stretching and running behind my naughty toddler. I am going to add some jump rope in few days ( I love the idea). Have a long way to go in the exercise front. But I am taking baby steps. I promised myself a trainer when I can lift 5lbs dumbbell 😀 . I haven’t measured myself in the past couple of months and never measured body fat. The changes I see is in my pant sizes and shin. Right now its at 8 and inching towards 6. The change I see is my inspiration

    • RG April 19, 2011 at 11:58 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story Souj! We all have our journeys dont we? I’m happy you are seeing results and that is keeping you motivated.

      But I have to say, lifting a 5 lb dumbbell isn’t much of a goal. Shoot me an email and we’ll fix that right up for you. No programming required.

  12. Lavanya April 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    The French Paradox really intrigues me. Food is more than the sum of the ingredients, as Pollan said. What, depends on the person.
    One thing I see, based on my personal experience, is that good diet / nutrition / fitness is a long haul process. After an initial weight loss, mine plateaued – I am keeping at it but one thing that has gone up is my stamina. Take today, for example – I spent the whole day in 23 deg heat, wandering with my two kids in London. Walked for miles, some of which was up a really steep hill, pushing the stroller and with a big backpack on my back; carried the dratted stroller up and down the steps and generally had a pretty tiring day. Despite that, I had energy to run the last quarter mile home.
    So, there is no one-size-fits-all. That that man, that that method.

    • RG April 19, 2011 at 11:59 pm

      Now, are we sure we plateaued or maybe there is a chance we’re eating too much? 😉

      Jokes apart… “Despite that, I had energy to run the last quarter mile home.” – Proud of you!

  13. NA April 19, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    What do I think? I think eating REAL, whole food is key to staying healthy and living a long life(and yes, that includes whole grains).
    BUT, on the other hand, if you just want to get skinny and toned, it can be done on a mix of real and processed food….just as long as you are eating less calories than you are burning. I did it personally and got to 100 lbs with toned arms, legs and a flat stomach(with visible lines at the side).. I used to eat Healthy Choice fudge bar for crying out loud… should read the ingredient list on it. ::Shudder::
    These days, I eat 95% real food with very little junk. My philosophy is I’ll only eat the “junk” food that I prepare myself at home…and since that is a lot of work, I don’t end up cooking/baking as much, which is good.
    These days, I eat a lot of vegetables, fruits, grains, meat and dairy(a little bit too much of it, maybe)….and I try to keep 90% of this organic. I feel great on this diet but I’ve gained weight(10 lbs) because I’m not burning as many calories…and probably eating way too many calories from all that cheese and milk too….sigh.

    • RG April 20, 2011 at 12:01 am

      I agree with the concept of eating real.. but don’t agree that whole grains are real and I’ll explain why soon. Different strokes for different folks… but you’ll see why I recommend what I recommend in the next post. We’ll jump right back to this discussion of ours then!

    • RG April 20, 2011 at 12:04 am

      Also… totally agree that one can get to a super low BF% eating junk (proof – every bodybuilding website). But our goal here is not aesthetics. It is health while remaining lean and strong.

  14. NA April 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Oh I forgot to say that I got my body fat down to 15%(according to my Tanita Ironman bodyfat monitor…but I think it was closer to 19%) on that mix of real food and crappy low cal junk diet.

    • RG April 20, 2011 at 12:03 am

      Not a fan of BF monitors. Magnetic impedance is highly inaccurate and the ones that are made for home use are particularly inaccurate. So I wouldn’t go with them. The best BF monitor and the only one that matters is the mirror! Happy with the way you look? Live it up! Not happy? Work harder.

  15. Deepti Natarajan April 20, 2011 at 1:21 am

    Going Paleo has certainly worked for me (forget the figures on body fat percentage, weight, hip size etc). Cutting off carbs except on high intensity work out days and lotsa of protein and vegetables and moderate amount of fat, zero junk like chips, canned food, aerated drinks, lotsa water and regular exercise makes me feel energetic and healthy. my strength, and flexibility have also increased. but yes i agree with ur post. even now i have loads of people shooting various theories at me and my husband and they set us thinking.

  16. Mahesh April 21, 2011 at 6:59 am

    went from carb (what?)+ fat (what?) + protein (what? (when i first joined a gym, didnt know what the hell is this) to high carb + low fat + some junk ( started running) to high carb + moderate fat (my marathon years) to fat > protein>carb over the last 10 years since I started my fitness regimen. I feel happy with the current diet. Most of my carbs only pwo. Been keeping the food real and have cut all the crap over the last 2 years. And with regular exercise, I have been able to build strength.

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