Eat Real Food – Redefining Nutrition (Part 2)

In the previous post, I wrote about how there are so many different nutrition camps and everyone seems to be recommending what they, per their research, believe is the best way to eat. Unfortunately though, all these theories have research and anecdotal evidence proving and disproving them! A sad state really.

My Experience

In my journey towards health and fitness, I’ve spent a significant amount of time (and money!) experimenting with myself. High carb, low carb, high protein, leangains, p90x, weight watchers, very low carb, zero carb, zone, paleo/primal, south beach, atkins, vegetarian, ketogenic, vegan, raw, GOMAD, warrior – I’ve tried ’em all! Which one works? Well, every single one of them! Let me explain.

It all depends on your goals. If your goal is “weight loss”, then pretty much any diet that restricts calories in some way will work (for a while). So every time I tried one of these diets, I had a specific short term goal in mind (fat loss mostly) and these diets helped me reach my goal. But this wasn’t enough. I wanted to learn to eat in a way that helped me stay healthy, strong and in shape for the rest of my life without having to worry about diseases that plaque 90% of todays population – from the common cold to cardiovascular disease!

But the way it turned out,

  • The diets that gave me quick results weren’t healthy in the long run.
  • The ones that were healthy weren’t affordable.
  • The ones that were healthy and affordable were not ‘real life friendly’.

Clearly, none of these ‘diets’ are really a solution! So, how do I get past this yo-yo dieting that most of us end up doing and find an ultimate solution? How do I redefine nutrition? The answer was simple really – Read more. Learn more. Experiment more.

This was when I met Arvind Ashok, who was on the exact same journey as me and from that day forward its been nothing but research, experiment, measure and record… over and over and over! From all the experimentation and monitoring we did on our bodies, lipid profiles, CRP, performance, endurance, strength and body composition and from all the data we collected from our clients, we came up with the following dietary guidelines which we believe will result in long term health while helping one stay in awesome shape without having to go on multiple diets. In other words…

This is the last ‘diet’ you will ever be on!

Without further ado, here are the ‘Eat Real Food’ guidelines in my words…

Rule No. 1 – Eat Real Food

Real food is any food that you can safely consume raw. Oh hell no! I’m not suggesting that you eat everything raw. I’m just saying choose foods that can safely be consumed raw and base your meals around these foods. To get specific, things that can be eaten raw are meat, seafood, vegetables, fruit, nuts, dairy and tubers and things that cannot be eaten raw are grains, legumes, food additives, junk, fillers and other chemicals/ingredients you can’t pronounce! This is a pretty harmless recommendation I think, but if you are wondering why you should eat real food, here is why.

Nutrient density

Let’s say you earn 100$ a month and thats it. What will you spend your money on? New shoes? TV? Candles? Maybe a haircut? No? Why not? Well, you earn only a few and you want to use the money wisely on stuff that really matters… like food, water, clothing and shelter.

Similarly, you can only eat so much per day without getting fat and you want to use those calories wisely to supply your body with as much nutrients as possible. Real foods are loaded with micro and macronutrients and any smart person will ensure he/she takes advantage of this.

Food and evolution

In the most simplistic terms, all living thing (plants and animals) don’t want to be killed and eaten and hence have developed defense and offense mechanisms to help protect themselves. Animals fight/run/hide and plants contain harmful toxins. While we, as a part of evolution, have learnt to fight/chase/find animals and have developed defense mechanisms against some of these plant toxins, evolution is an excruciatingly slow process and we still haven’t physically evolved to digest grains, legumes and other non-real foods. While these toxins are not acute toxins (like alcohol) they are chronic toxins and do have a cumulative negative effect on our health. For example – Grains are rich in energy (calories) and will be an amazing source of calories for a population of 7 billion people. But unfortunately we (unlike birds and rodents) haven’t evolved yet to deal with the anti-nutrients they posses. Oh well!

To spell it out, base all your meals around…

  • Meat – Grass fed beef/lamb, organic free range poultry, wild caught fish, pastured pork
  • Vegetables – Any and all vegetables that you can tolerate
  • Fruit – Any and all fruit that you can tolerate (in moderate quantities)
  • Nuts – Raw nuts (in limited quantities)
  • Dairy – Raw or organic unprocessed full fat dairy

Rule No. 2 – Mix it up

By now it should be obvious that no one food contains everything we need and there is no food that isn’t harmful at high doses. So clearly, eating the same food day after day will result in the deficiency of some nutrients and overdosage of some others. For example, spinach, though extremely nutritious, contains oxalates which when consumed in high doses can lead to kidney stones.

These potential risks can be overcome by eating a wide variety of foods in each class. Practically speaking, quit eating the same rice and lentils or chicken salad or turkey sandwich day in and day out. Vary your food choices every week and eat some seafood, poultry, eggs and red meat along with a nice mix of cruciferous, fibrous and starchy vegetables with a bit of fruit to satisfy the Vit C cravings! Whole unprocessed (and especially fermented) dairy can of course be added to some of these meals. As for the vegetarians, get a bunch of eggs along with whole milk yogurt, some organic tempeh, natto and miso instead of meat and seafood.

Rule No. 3 – Hate them numbers!

Your body isn’t dumb! Realize that the human body is a product of 4 million years of evolution. It is a machine that has been continually improved for years and years and years. This machine is equipped with some stunning organs and millions of cells, all with one purpose – to keep you alive and well! So, in spite of whatever crap you do to your body, it will doing everything it can to make the best out of the situation and keep you alive and kicking for as long as possible.

Are you telling me that such a complex machine with such a noble cause can’t control hunger and appetite? You can bet you ass it can! Your body doesn’t need you to periodically feed it with a certain number of calories. Listen to your body. When you are genuinely hungry – eat. When you are satisfied – stop. I swear to God it is as simple as this!

Note: The issues related to obesity/appetite dysregulation (which is caused by and result in leptin & insulin resistance) come into play only when you eat non-foods… especially sugars. As long as you eat real food, you have nothing to worry about.

Rule No. 4 – If its food… eat it!

This is simple. Really. You need protein, carbs and fat. Sure your body can make do without carbs. Sure your body can survive with minimal protein. And sure you can build an awesome physique on a super low fat diet. But considering each macronutrient plays one or more critical roles, your body thrives when all three are available in optimal amounts. Now how much of each is optimal? Totally depends on your activity level and training regimen and I’ll be sure to dedicate a post to macro-nutrient ratios in the near future.

But what about the good protein? Good carbs? Good fat? Well, this could get really long, so I’ll try to come up with a general rule.

Protein:

  • How much? 1 gm per kg of bodyweight is plenty if you are sedentary. That amount can increase unto ~ 3 gm per kg of bodyweight if you strength train.
  • From where? From animals and animal products just ‘cos those are the most complete and bio-available proteins. I’m talking meat, seafood, eggs and dairy. Click here for a comprehensive list of vegetarian protein options.

Carbs:

  • How much? As much as you want “need”. If you do a lot of glycogen depleting work, you’ll need more and if you don’t do much, you need less.
  • From where ? Plants… and not plant products. I’m talking vegetables, fruit, roots and tubers.

Fats:

  • How much? As much as you need to feel satiated. There is really no upper limit to this.
  • From where? Real foods. Meaning, try to limit the use of “oil”. Get your fats from meat, eggs, milk, coconut, avocado, fish and raw nuts. Ghee is an exception simply because it is fureeeekin delicious (and bloody damn healthy!).
  • What about good fats? Here ya go!

Rule No. 5 – Fuel ‘your’ body

As far as I’m concerned you need to fuel your activities. In other words, you need to eat based on your lifestyle. If you strength train 4 days a week your diet should be drastically different from that of someone who runs 40 miles a week or someone who hardly ever trains. If your definition of exercise is walking to the restroom and back, then you’re better off with some protein, fat and a tonne of fibrous veggies. But if you consistently workout/train, things get a little tricky.

You need to feed your body based on the stimulus you provide it. If the stimulus is high in intensity and frequent, deviations may be required and are acceptable. Folks who strength train on a regular basis or are currently undergoing a body transformation can do well with some quality liquid protein (whey or egg protein) immediately post workout. Sure it isn’t the most real food, but its also not real to balloon up and then work hard to shrink down. Desperate times calls for desperate measures. Once you have reached your goal, drop the liquid protein and get back to real food.

I’d make a similar argument for rice. If you perform some form of glycogen depleting activity, glucose becomes a requirement and the best source of glucose is starch. In addition to sweet potatoes, yams, taro and tapioca, white rice seems to a decent source of starch with very little anti-nutrients. It is also noteworthy that the most long lived traditional cultures have been consuming rice on a regular basis with no known ill-effects (unlike wheat and corn).

Rule No. 6 – Devour that ice-cream!

Ha! I saw those eyes light up!

The paleo diet with organ meats and grass finished beef and wild eggs might be the diet that will help you do the chicken dance on your 112th birthday… but what if you just cant live on meat and veggies and fruit? What if eating a pizza meal every other Sunday will take you to say 95? Heck I’ll take it!

Listen, I agree that a diet which is 100% real and minimally cooked is the best diet there is. But you need to realize that we live in a different world today. A world with weekly parties and donuts and pizza and TV and sport and movies! In such a world, the best ever diet is of no use to you if it isn’t sustainable! Make the ‘eat real food’ guidelines sustainable for you! And yea, even when you cheat, have some common sense and stay away from stuff that you are allergic to.

Summary

Nothing ground breaking here really. I’m saying, for the most part,

  • eat red meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, whole milk, whole milk yogurt, unprocessed cheese, any and all vegetables, any and all fruits, nuts, coconut, rice and whey.
  • eat per hunger/appetite and never count calories.
  • make the diet sustainable by eating your favorite foods once a week.

You tell me – Is this really too hard? Is extended disease free life, strength, endurance and awesome body composition not worth giving up junk and sugars and grains?

Finally, I realize that this is just a very broad framework and most of you will have specific questions about how much protein/carb/fat, what kind, when etc etc. In the next few days, I will get into the nitty gritty of eating real food and follow this post up with a post on macro-nutrient composition for various ages and activity levels (pre-natal, senior, endurance, strength, general fitness, general health etc.). I obviously can’t tell you the exact numbers here, but I’ll guarantee you that this ain’t low carb or low fat or anything that even resembles a diet!

But I can do this only if there is enough interest! So 50+ comments and I’ll write the macro-nutrient recommendations post soon!

Let me know.

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74 responses to “Eat Real Food – Redefining Nutrition (Part 2)

  1. Divya April 24, 2011 at 5:24 am

    As always, fabulous post! Rule no. 6 is extra fabulous 🙂

  2. GSL April 24, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Stupid simple !!! “Dieting for dummies” We live in a world of diet confusion and this is a very nice post. I am happy to find your take so logical when so many trainers are so fanatical. My fav rule # 3 !!

  3. Earl Cannonbear April 24, 2011 at 9:57 am

    I agree 100%

    It is how I have been eating for a few years now with great success. It is basically the evolutionary /paleo / primal way of eating,

    To sum up:

    If wheat is full of anti-nutrients and sugar is a toxic poison to Human cells and seed oil is nothing more than glorified diesel fuel then surely doughnuts are the spawn of Satan. Avoid this abomination like the plague.

    The key point is this: if you can’t kill it with a stick or dig it up and eat it without having to cook it, don’t eat it.

    Two exception: rice and skinless white potatoes are relatively safe starches. However they should be limited and reserved for fueling intense training.

    • RG April 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm

      “If wheat is full of anti-nutrients and sugar is a toxic poison to Human cells and seed oil is nothing more than glorified diesel fuel then surely doughnuts are the spawn of Satan. Avoid this abomination like the plague.”

      Word!

  4. Thor Falk April 24, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Great post. Those are the fundamentals, and everything else is the icing on the cake. I would disagree with the counting though: I would think that most of us benefit from doing it for a limited period of time

    • RG April 24, 2011 at 10:40 am

      I agree with your take on counting Thor. But then it isnt the same as using fit day for every morsel you eat. I’ll discuss this in detail in a future post.

  5. sam April 24, 2011 at 10:31 am

    50+ comments or not.. we need you to keep going and giving us this priceless information and encouragement.!!
    As usual a very good blog, keep them coming

  6. Hynek April 24, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Heh, that’s basically primal eating with the 80/20 rule. 🙂

    I just wish I’d pull rule 6 less often.

    • RG April 24, 2011 at 10:51 am

      Hynek – Every diet is some other diet. Primal is paleo + dairy. Paleo is raw vegan + meat. Zone is the standard american diet portioned in 40:30:30. You get the point.

      The idea here is to emphasize eating mostly real foods and not obsess about too many things. Sure, bone broth and calf livers are extremely nutritious… but how many people here (or elsewhere) do you think will actually make bone broth? or stomach calf liver? Hardly any. Why? Because these are “normal” people who cant really afford to go out of the way to make these changes. Normal people who have other stuff to worry about… like making ends meet or getting out of work before 9pm.

      And what about vegetarians? I (being an Indian) have a lot of vegetarian readers and clients. For Indians, even the thought of supplementing with fish oil is a hard one. For such folks… a practical approach to “eating” (as opposed to dieting over and over again) is more important than anything that calls for hard-to-do stuff.

      Dont get me wrong… I absolutely adore Mark (and Robb and Richard and Dr. Harris) and every single one of their recommendations are legit. But. like I’ve mentioned in the post, it is all about sustainability! And for most people reading this, the recommendations I have laid out are very doable and sustainable.

      • Hynek April 24, 2011 at 10:59 am

        Absolutely. I always considered Primal a kind of laid back paleo (but there’s no clear definitiion of paleo anyway).

        I found it funny how you more or less described my diet. I always considered Mark’s 80/20 rule as a lincense to get exactly there.

        I still have to get “cleaner” (we have a bit better quality processed food in Europe than in US though) and as said pull rule 6 less frequently. Right now is Eastern and even for atheists like me that means a lot of chocolate temptations. *sigh*

  7. Arunima April 24, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Like the outlining in Rule #4 Raj.
    I have noticed that since we started eating real food, we get hungry less often and tend to over eat less – its hard to overeat veggies and meat I guess :).
    Thanks for the post as usual !

    • RG April 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      Youre welcome Arunima.

      And yes meat and veggies regulate appetite and hence it is hard to overeat. Throw in some sugar and you’ll see you can eat a tonne more!

  8. Liteman April 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm

    Cannot figure out why rule #2 seems impossible for so many to comprehend

  9. Smita April 24, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    Excellent post Raj! I will be directing everyone who asks me the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of eating real food to this post.

  10. SG April 24, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Execellent Post Raj!

  11. JP April 24, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Great post Raj!

    Like to hear more on the overdoses of nutrients i.e. oxalates in spinach. I’m sure kidney stones only occur at extreme levels of spinach intake right?

    • RG April 24, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Happens with extreme overdose – yes. But definitely no unheard off. Its more common than you think. I’ll write bout it at some point but read the link on WHFoods in the meanwhile. It is pretty informative.

  12. Asha April 24, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Thanks for the great post!!
    Would you please fix your link for the complete list of proteins for vegetarians please?

  13. Hima April 24, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    Awesome post 🙂 I started reading your blog some weeks back and I kept coming back your blog to educate myself. I have started eating real food more often these days.

    Eagerly waiting for the next post 🙂

  14. anand srivastava April 25, 2011 at 1:10 am

    I am interested in your take on the macro-nutrient ratios for different stages. I haven’t seen them spelt out before.

  15. Roopa April 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Thank you very much Raj for this very informative post.I came across your blog through a food blog (jugalbandi) and kept coming back for more. Through your blog, I came to know about clean eating and was introduced to paleo and primal kind of diets.
    Before this I always thought veg diet was the best and always stuck to being vegetarian.But now a days I am trying to eat lots of fish, eggs and will work to add chicken to my diet, though I don’t think i’ll ever be able to eat any red meat. I am also working to reduce my grain intake and hope to gradually eliminate it from my diet. Wish me luck as my family is not very supportive of no grain diet 🙂

    • RG April 25, 2011 at 5:13 pm

      “Wish me luck as my family is not very supportive of no grain diet :)”

      – This seems to be a recurring trend! Sucks.

      I’m working on a detailed post about grains. Hopefully that will be the go-to article for everyone concerned about avoiding grains.

  16. Albert April 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Raj — great info, as always. Still finding my way with regard to incorporating carbs to fuel exercise while keeping on the low glycemic index side. Also still have questions on supplements; currently, I take a fish oil pill, but my reading would seem to indicate that adding in some CoQ10 would be a good idea, if for no other reason than to offset depletion caused by the statin prescription I’m on (and which I’d love to wean myself off of). But — how much? (100mg?) CoQ10 or ubiquinol? (and, if the latter, should I take it at the same dosage level as I would for CoQ10?) Or, are supplements even necessary, provided you eat clean/smart (I do) and stay active (I do XFit 4 nights/wk)?

    So, looking forward to the macro-nutrient post — and would also love to hear your thoughts on micro-nutrients.

    • RG April 25, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      Albert – The post on macros should help you immensely wrt adding carbs into your diet. Trust me… you’ll feel the difference when you add in the right type and amount of carbs.

      And before I answer your question on CoQ… why are you on statins? Email me if you want to take this discussion offline.

  17. Sruti April 25, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    Excellent excellent post as always!
    Would love to read the macro-nutrient post too

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  19. Sheetal G April 26, 2011 at 7:44 am

    Informative post. Thank you 🙂

  20. JK April 29, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Great Post! Exactly like you said,one diet for my life is never going to work for me. Paleo – No frikkin way coz I don’t eat meat/eggs. So , I always take good points from all sources. One thing I have learnt from here..Don’t eat rice all the time. So now , most of my weekday lunches consist of some form of veggie gravy dish like kootu, subji and one dry vegetable curry and big bowl of curd/greek yogurt. I don’t even feel like I am missing the rice.

    Keep up the good work!

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  22. JP May 3, 2011 at 5:57 am

    Great Post Raj! Always really awesome info.

    I couldn’t find the post where I asked about nutrition for strength training and gainin weight, but just to give you an update I’ve gotten rid of the jar of peanut butter a day 2-3x a week and now drink a lot more milk. To be honest, all though I was consuming crazy amounts of calories with the pb, I didnt’ see a lot of benefits and gains… I’ve been on a dairy kick lately (about three tall glasses of milk a day, yogurt, and plently of cheese) and feel and see the gains.

    Cheers!
    JP

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  30. Sue June 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I was considering the paleo diet, and read your comment. I am gluten free, and learning more about the best functioning for my body. I have already decided to go the whole foods route, no packaged goods. The next step will be the balance.

    • RG June 15, 2011 at 11:24 pm

      Hello Sue – Welcome! Balance is definitely a necessity. Check out my post on macronutrients to get an idea of my recommendations.

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  36. krishna September 24, 2011 at 1:18 am

    hey raj
    fitrst of all thanks to me that i have joined your
    Quad bootcamp in chennai and Kudos to you to getting us know what we ought to have to look wht we ought to be
    grt help
    keep sharing and pls do let us know the tips of nutritional diet for strict vegetarians who might not get into eggs
    regards
    Krishna

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  45. Fahad Nari March 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    very nice article. It would be good if you could specify what kind of meals for people who do strength training vs ppl who run 5-6 km a day just cos they like running. ALso if you can seggregate the food based on age groups 20-40 and 40+ folks it would be useful

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  48. Vaidehi M April 1, 2012 at 1:01 am

    Hii Raj, You have wonderfully summarized the concept of real food. There was something interesting I came across in my discussion about religion and food with my colleague recently, apparently “in Hindu religion food is to be eaten only to satisfy hunger and not for pleasure “. Not that I am overtly religious or anything but this makes me think that how moved we are today from our traditional mindset of eating. I converted to primal lifestyle in November and have experienced fantastic results. Recently I forced my mom to change her eating and exercise style as well (shes diabetic and desk-bound) and her sugar levels have drastically lowered! Real food makes all the difference!

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