Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Gluten(free) Myth – Are you really gluten intolerant? Should you live gluten free?

In the first two parts of this series, we spoke about whether going gluten-free is worth all the hype it is getting and if you will benefit by purely going gluten-free. In this 3rd part, I’ll answer the most important questions of today’s affluent society…

Are breads and rotis and parathas and pastas out of my list of ‘foods I can eat and not feel like I’ve sinned’? Should I always eat that burger without the bun? Should I eat my pizza crust-free, base-free and taste-free? Should I forever call food induced happiness a “cheat”?

Should I live gluten-free?

The short answer is… NO. A big freakin NO. Paleo/primal/real food/gluten-free advocates, read before you let steam out of your ears. Food lovers who want to have their cake and eat it too, continue to sport that wide grin, but do listen to the why.

Let’s talk anti-nutrients

Before we talk about gluten, let me clarify the concept of anti-nutrient. The truth is that all foods contain anti-nutrients. From wheat to spinach to fruits to eggs to seafood to meat. But before we get into any of that nonsense… what is an anti-nutrient?

Antinutrients are natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients.

So basically anything (and everything) that interferes with the absorption of nutrients is an anti-nutrient. So then, as far as real food goes, are anti-nutrients a list of foods everyone should avoid? Or is it a list of food YOU should avoid based on what effects these foods have on YOUR body? Say for example you’re allergic to shellfish.

All food allergies are caused by an immune system problem. Your immune system identifies certain shellfish proteins as harmful, triggering the production of antibodies to the shellfish protein (allergen). The next time you come in contact with proteins in shellfish, these antibodies recognize them and signal your immune system to release histamine and other chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.

Histamine and other body chemicals cause a range of allergic signs and symptoms. Histamine is partly responsible for most allergic responses, including runny nose, itchy eyes, dry throat, rashes and hives, nausea, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, and in some cases, anaphylactic shock.

So in this case, shellfish contains an anti-nutrient that harms your body. Sure it is real food and sure it is loaded with nutrients and sure it is superfood and sure the paleo/primal/real food folks love it, but if you are allergic to it, it is poison to you.

Now on to gluten madness

That said, gluten and especially the gluten from wheat that is cultivated today, is an anti-nutrient to “most” folks. I believe that everyone is allergic to gluten at some level. But this belief is similar to my believing that alcohol and sugar affect everyone at some level. This could be so minute that the person may not be able to ever identify it or so large that the person might actually die from an exposure or anywhere in between. You know, kind of like what alcohol does to a person – maybe just a buzz or maybe complete liver failure. Or like what sugar does to a person – maybe just empty calories or maybe fatal due to uncontrolled diabetes.

So then, this bring us to three questions…

  • Does gluten actually affect you?
  • How badly does gluten affect you?
  • How does this severity influence how much or how frequently you can consume gluten?

Without answers to these questions, any, and I repeat, ANY recommendation means nothing to you and is in all probability not optimal for you. So how do you get answers to these questions?

Method to the madness

Step 1: The Elimination Protocol

If it isn’t clear from the term “Step 1”, this is the first thing you need to do and this step cannot be skipped. Without this step, everything else is null. Let me repeat, if you don’t do this initial first step, anything and everything you say about whether or not you are allergic to gluten (or any food for that matter) is nothing more than bullshit you tell yourself. So suck it up and do the following.

– For a period of 6 (ideally 12) weeks, remove any and all potential allergens from your diet.

  • Remove all grains except cooked white rice.
  • Replace all industrial seed and vegetable oils with coconut oil, ghee and butter.
  • Pre-soak all your lentils/beans/legumes before cooking.
  • Remove all boxed and junk foods.
  • Stay away from sugars and sweeteners.
  • Eat only whole foods – whole eggs, farm fresh whole milk and other dairy, raw nuts, organic vegetables and fruits, high quality meat

– In other words, eat RealFood and be very true to yourself. Don’t cut any corners. Don’t cheat. Don’t obsess. Just do it right.

Step 2: The Monitoring

Though this is step 2, it happens simultaneously with step 1. During your 6 (or 12) week phase monitor how you look, feel and function.

– Weigh yourself every week (first thing in the morning, before eating/drinking anything but after clearing your bowels and with little to no clothes on or wear the exact same clothes each time) and record it.

– Measure yourself every week and records the results. I recommend measuring neck, chest, bicep, waist, belly button, hip/butt, thigh and calf circumferences.

– If you are diabetic, test your fasting blood sugar, post pranadial (15 min and 120 min) blood sugar and random blood sugar once a week using any home test apparatus.

– If possible, do a complete blood count (CBC) test on day 1 and on day 42 (or 84).

– Listen to your body and make notes of how you feel.

  • How good/bad are your energy levels?
  • How good/bad is your appetite?
  • How regular are your bowel movements?
  • How good/bad is your sleep quality?
  • Do you have any mood swings? If you had them earlier, are they better or worse?
  • Has your skin cleared up?
  • Do you see any improvements wrt digestion? If you had acid reflux, is it getting any better? If bloating was a frequent occurrence earlier, is that getting any better? What about gas?

– Track your performance in life and on the field.

  • How good/bad is your libido and/or menstrual cycles? If you suffer from menstrual cramps, is there an improvement in either severity or frequency?
  • If you workout or play a sport, is your performance improving?
  • Are you more/less productive at work? Do you tend to handle stress better/worse?

I understand this is a huge list of stuff to keep track off, but the better you monitor yourself, the more solid your experiment and the better the learning. So, even if you can’t do all these things, make a sincere effort to monitor as many aspects of your life as possible.

Step 3: The Re-introduction

This step happens at the end of the 6 (or 12) week phase and, is a very interesting phase because most people are looking forward to this day like none other. Here is what you do.

– At the completion of your 6 (or 12) week experiment…

  • Gradually, start including grains (wheat included) into your diet. Now, don’t go crazy but slowly add in foods that you have stayed away from.
  • Hold on to the grain included diet for 2-3 weeks. This is very critical. I’ve had enough of folks going gluten-free and then after a significant period of time of not exposing their gut to gluten, they eat a whole damn pizza, feel like a drum of crap and blame it all on the pizza. Sudden (re)introduction of any grain (especially in large quantities) will definitely result in some form of reaction and this is falsely assumed as the true effect of that grain. Effects of reintroduction of any food needs to be assessed gradually over a period of a few weeks.
  • Monitor how you look, feel and function i.e. as laid out in step 2.

Step 4: The Learning

So, what did you learn?

  • Are you allergic to wheat (or any of the foods you briefly eliminated) at some level?
  • What benefits did you see when you stopped eating certain foods?
  • And did those benefits disappear once you reintroduced those foods?

This is of course, the most important step but the effectiveness of this step is dictated by how well you did the first 3 steps.  If you did this brief experiment sincerely, you’d have the answer to the question…

Am I intolerant to gluten?

And more importantly, you’ll have answers to the question…

What foods are good for ME?

And the results are out!

So let’s see how you did.

– Firstly, if you are celiac or have a condition wherein even a whiff of gluten could potentially kill you, then you shouldn’t be here doing funky experiments. You need medical assistance. This article (and this entire series) is more suitable for people who are either controllably allergic to gluten or are unsure if they are truly allergic to gluten.

– If your health and life changed drastically (complete reversal of an autoimmune condition, disappearance of chronic fatigue, relief from frequent chronic migraines etc.) once you eliminated gluten (or any other food), clearly you are pretty darn allergic to that food and, obviously, you need to stay away from it like the devil.

– If benefits included better skin, controlled mood swings, increased fat loss and other not-so-scary results, then while you are allergic to gluten (or whatever anti-nutrient you avoided), consuming it infrequently can be tolerated.

– If you noticed no improvements then you probably aren’t allergic to that anti-nutrient or you’re intolerant at a small level that it doesn’t really affect you visibly. But honestly, chances are you didn’t do the experiment properly!

Now depending on how much or how little an effect gluten (or any other anti-nutrient) has on you, you can decide to include it that (in)frequently. But do remember, anti-nutrients are not the only reason to stay away from wheat (and other grains). Grains, when compared to real foods, are empty calories and building your diet with them as the foundation will almost surely result in undernourishment.

But… there’s always a but!

If you are intolerant/sensitive to gluten at some level, small or big, does that mean you need to stay away from gluten forever? Is it acceptable that you feel like someone dropped a cannon ball in tummy after you eat a meal that contains gluten? Is it OK to experience fatigue crashes after eating gluten? In short, is it OK to suffer after eating gluten? Is staying away from gluten the only solution to that?

Drawing parallels, if you are unable to run/trek/workout due to respiratory issues, do you live your entire life without any running/trekking/training? Or do you find a way to fix it and start living life? If you are unable to squat/climb stairs/dance because you have knee problems, do you modify your life such that you never squat/never climb stairs/never dance? Or do you work on the knee problem, fix it and get back to living a normal life?

So, if you are indeed gluten intolerant, would you obsessively avoid and uncontrollably crave foods you love? Wouldn’t you rather find a way to (at least partially) fix the intolerance and enjoy what the 21st century has to offer while still staying healthy?

How? We’ll find out in part 4.

Adios!

The Gluten(free) Myth – Is gluten-free the solution?

So, with the last post, looks like I’ve gotten a bunch of people confused, a bunch concerned and another bunch plain curious. To recap, for anyone even remotely aware of where health, fitness and nutrition has been heading towards in the last few years, answers to the following questions are very significant.

Will going gluten-free help me? Should I try a gluten-free diet? Should I stay away from gluten forever?

Firstly, let’s go against the grain

If you haven’t read my take on grains yet, I recommend that you read it right now. No, it isn’t a random monologue on how grains wreak havoc in your body and neither is it a love letter to the beautiful wheat. Trivialities and special cases aside, I don’t think grain consumption causes any problems. Grain dominance, on the other hand, does wreak havoc.

Grains, in general, have two major nutritional issues.

1. They are, for the most part, empty calories. Nutritionally, they don’t offer much of anything other than calories. And since now we live in an age of calorie abundance (I’m talking about the affluent society we are all a part of), we don’t really foods that are dense in calories. Many years ago when agriculture flourished and a grain dominated diet was the norm in every part of the world, our activity levels were extremely high due to the lack of machines, cars, microwaves, storage facilities, PS2s, cushy chairs covering every inch of the floor etc. and more important than micronutrients (and even macronutrients) was… calories. And hence, a diet that provided the consumer with plenty of calories and, especially, from a food that was easily storable and portable was the solution. Today, we are, as a society, rich in calories (read: overweight) and deficient in multiple vitamins and minerals. So the grain dominated diet is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist anymore. Instead, we have other problems and for that we need to be consuming, mostly, foods that are not dense in calories but filled with micronutrients.

2. They contain anti-nutrients. Like gluten in wheat and avenin in oats, all (whole) grains contain anti-nutrients that have various deleterious effects on the gut which in turn affects the entire human body.

Now, while I understand and embrace the anti-nutrient part of the argument, my biggest reason for not letting grains dominate one’s diet is the fact that they are empty and have nothing to provide other than calories (from starch).

Having gotten this out of the way, let’s get back to the question…

Should I go gluten free?

Good bad gluten

And from what we know about grains and gluten, here is my answer…

Yes and no.

Yes, you need to remove anti-nutrients like gluten from your diet in order to strengthen your gut. And no, you should not purely focus on going gluten free and as a result use other grains to dominate your diet or turn to gluten-free boxed foods.

The goal is to not remove only gluten but to remove any and all anti-nutrients, like gluten, from your diet.

Anti-nutrients from grains and legumes can cause a host of issues in the human body from irritable bowel syndrome to bloating to gas to other major autoimmune diseases and this has been proven and well documented. Depending on the person, the kind of food he/she ate while growing up, genetics, deficiencies, quality of food consumed and other lifestyle factors, the effect of these anti-nutrients vary from non-existent to mild to pronounced to severe.  For the purpose of this post, it is important to know that anti-nutrients affect your gut and that in turn affects health. Nothing more, nothing less.

So then, does it make sense to remove wheat (and hence gluten) and fill that space with another grain (and hence another anti-nutrient)? Clearly, no. Drawing a parallel, if your liver is bust due to excessive whisky consumption, would you remove the alcohol or would you just dump the whisky and move to vodka? You see my point?

Sorry, but pulling wheat out and replacing that with an equivalent amount of millet or corn or magic-grain-number-332 will NOT help.

So the problem is gluten, but not only gluten. The problem is anti-nutrients. But is that all?

Escaping the devil so you can chill in the deep blue sea

Shonali, after writing that amazing article about gluten sensitivity and intolerance on Metro Plus, decided to go gluten-free and it looked like she was pretty committed to staying away from all forms of gluten. She had taken the time to find out what foods contain gluten and did a nice job of staying away from them all. But then she told me something very interesting.

“…I went bonkers the first week. Cut gluten and ate stuff I normally wouldn’t eat – murukku, adhirasam, ice cream. also felt super energetic and doubled my gym and yoga. Which made me hungrier… so I ate more…”

Though interesting, this is a very common occurrence. The problem arises when you start to see one particular food (or component of food) as the devil (as in gluten) or as the panacea (as in superfoods). While your intention is good health, a good dose of food marketing makes you choose the (what seems like) route to health.

Since gluten is a part of pretty much all ‘junk’ foods and many many easily available, quickly cookable and efficiently storable foods, once gluten is off the table, too many foods that you would normally eat are also off the table. But that’s when the horns start growing and you start to ‘think’…

“Oh wait! Ice cream doesn’t have gluten! And holy sheeeeet! Milkshake doesn’t either! And wait for it… waittt for itttt! Chocolate!”.

And what happens? Wheat and gluten are replaced by other possibly anti-nutrient rich but definitely nutrient-less foods and (gluten-free) junk foods, and hence sugar, start featuring in your diet much more frequently than before.

That’s a lot of rice!

Even if you don’t give in to junk, you will now need to replace all those gluten containing foods with something else and chances are you will choose something that seems to be a lot more benign but still fills your plate and tummy like wheat did. So rotis are replaced with ragi rotis, bread is now gluten-free bread and mountains of rice fill the space that chapathis used to.

What if you ate a diet dominated by something that doesn’t contain anti-nutrients? Say, white rice? Something like the typical south Indian diet – idly/dosa/puttu/pongal/aapam for breakfast, 2-4 cups of rice with some vegetables on the side for lunch and breakfast or lunch for dinner. That should be fine right?

Well, no.

Sure, you’ve removed the anti-nutrients and that is definitely a good first step, but where are the nutrients? By making rice as the biggest component of your diet, you are filling yourself up with empty calories (from starch) and this, in the long term, will probably result in a bunch of micro-nutrients deficiencies because the diet is rich in calories but poor in micronutrients which are found in other real foods like vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs and dairy.

The real deal

So to summarize the goal is…

  • to remove anti-nutrients containing foods from your diet,
  • reduce or optimize empty calories based on your activity level (no activity = very little empty calories etc.)
  • replace these with nutrient rich foods like organic vegetables and fruit, high quality dairy, grass fed/free range meat, wild caught fish and country eggs.

Or in short… eat RealFood for the most part! While a gluten-free diet is a part of the solution, it is not THE solution.

Now, I’m sure most of you are going ‘Well, of course! What else did I expect Raj to say? This guy asks me to stay away from all grains! Crap! Where the hell is that unsubscribe button?!’, but the more important question is…

Should you stay away from gluten and grains forever if you want to live a long healthy life and/or sport a hot body?

Should you? Is it truly that bad? Are you stuck with RealFood till your doctor says you have 30 days to live and you decide to finally eat that cheeseburger with fries and gravy? Or can you actually eat your pizza and cake regularly and not end up a fat diabetic slob with plaque filled arteries?

My thoughts, we’ll find out in part 3. But what are your thoughts? Is RealFood sustainable? Can you stay away from wheat? Should you stay away from wheat? Let’s talk in the comments section.

Adios!

The Gluten(free) Myth – Part 1

I haven’t blogged in a while and a whole bunch of interesting things have been happening. Some funny and some not so much.

  • I’m trying to complete a little study I’ve been doing on myself and for that I’ve been eating more gluten and sugar than ever. Eating pizza and subs and ice cream at will is harder than I thought! Oh well. I suffer so you can smile 😉
  • Folks seems to be pulling my leg plenty with the whole no gluten no sugar thing. I’m talking to you Orange Ice Candy and Sin-A-Mon! 😉
  • We, The Quad, had a think RealFood event during which Arvind & I spoke about sustainable nutrition as a whole and that inspired plenty of folks to starting eating RealFood and go gluten-free.
  • I was at Subway ordering the awesome chicken, bacon, ranch foot long (with extra jalapenos of course) and this dude, who was on his phone, walks up to me and goes “Are you Raj Ganpath? The Quad”?. Great place to meet someone, who I’m eventually going to keep away from that very place! And no I didn’t go “Yes. And why did the guy make me a footlong?! I asked him for a damn salad!”. Always fun when self-experiments go against the grain (or in this case, the opposite).
  • I’ve been working with a bunch of folks helping them get back to eating gluten. Yep, you read that right. And guess what? These folks are happier than when they went off gluten. Who’d have thunk?!
  • And finally, I’ve been experimenting (on myself and some unsuspecting guinea pigs) a way of eating that involves eating dessert (or anything you’d normally call cheat food) everyday or at least 2-4 times a week. Sounds like BS? Wait for it!

But before I get into the practical application of all this, I want to talk about gluten, gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance and gluten love.

I am, of course, not going to go into detail about what gluten is and why it is bad for you, but I am going to address the most important questions…

Will going gluten free help me?

Should I stay away from gluten forever?

If you spend a little time dicking around at pubmed you’ll see that there are reams and reams of peer reviewed published literature talking about gluten and how it is bad for you and gluten intolerance and celiac etc etc. So clearly the argument that gluten is bad for you, is valid.

But if you change some key words and look for studies that look at wheat as a health food, you’ll, again, find reams and reams of peer reviewed published literature talking about how wheat (and other grains) helped (and will help) humanity walk towards a healthier future.

Well, this is typical isn’t it? If you are half way into nutritional research, you’ll notice that pretty much anything has evidence on this side and the other. But if you go past half way, you’ll notice that some of these studies aren’t as well conducted as you think they are. And if you read the entire study, you’ll notice that most of these studies have some major holes. Funnily, this applies to both sides of any issue. Studies that say wheat is awesome and studies that say gluten kills, both have these biases and unfortunately, anyone quoting studies, consciously or subconsciously, cherry picks studies to prove their point. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not calling anyone a fraud. I’m only talking about the human tendency to find what you look for, especially in complicated matters which don’t have a black and white answer (like this issue). It is extremely easy to get carried away.

So then, what is the real deal? What studies should I rely on? What is a myth? Gluten or gluten-free? Will going gluten free help me? Should I stay away from gluten forever?

Answers to this and more in the next article. No need to comment or anything but keep your eyes peeled ‘cos this is going to be good… RealGood!

Adios!

Breaking down breakfast

A big part of making RealFood sustainable is figuring out how these wholesome RealFood ingredients come together to form a meal and one fairly significant issue most of us face is during breakfast. While we understand the concept of real food, it seems to me, that a lot of us are a little lost when it comes to cooking and/or assembling a legit real food breakfast. In this post, I’ll try and fix this.

Breakfast is the first meal of the day (hence the name break-fast) and doesn’t have to be consumed at a specific time as falsely believed. While it is in no way the most important meal of the day and skipping breakfast is extremely beneficial, if you do eat it, it makes sense to eat a good meal with the right ingredients as opposed to falling into the trap of believing that processed junk like cereals, energy bars, fruit juices and health drinks are actually healthful and relying on them to keep you healthy.

It is true that we have been eating breakfast for a long long time but that doesn’t mean we know, today, what to eat for breakfast. In the last 50-70 years our lifestyles have changed so drastically and we’ve been forced to shift to a lifestyle that involves minimal physical exertion. So, obviously, what we eat today cannot be the same as what we used to eat back when we lead very active lives, if we worry about health that is.

Today, most of us, wake up, sit and then go back to sleep. I’m really not kidding. Take a piece of paper (or open a spreadsheet) and note down your posture (sitting, standing, lying down, walking etc.) for an entire day and you’ll see that sitting or lying down dominates your 24 hours by a big margin. As important as it is to fix this and find ways to feature standing, walking etc. more often, it is absolutely necessary to fuel yourself depending on your activity.

The requirements

Now let’s assume that most people (who read this) spend the majority of their day doing little to no physical work. For such people, here is what is expected out of a perfect breakfast (in the order of importance w.r.t sustainability from a common man’s perspective).

  • Taste
  • Momentary satisfaction or (vaguely) instant fullness
  • Duration of satiety or ‘time to hunger’ after breakfast and energy levels between breakfast and next meal
  • Micro-nutrient richness (and absence of allergens/anti-nutrients)
  • Hassle-free availability and societal acceptance

The ingredients

Now that we have the requirements listed, let’s look at the ingredients that satisfy these requirements (in the order of significance)

1. Whole food proteins

  • Sources: Country eggs, natural cheeses and high quality meat/seafood.
  • Offerings: Excellent momentary satiety, long gastric emptying time resulting in lasting satiety and micro-nutrient richness.

2. Organic produce

  • Sources: Any and all vegetables and fruits.
  • Offerings: Excellent momentary satisfaction, taste (when cooked right) and micro-nutrient richness.

3. Farm fresh dairy

  • Sources: Whole milk, whole milk yogurt, cheese, whey, kefir, salt lassi and buttermilk.
  • Offerings: Taste, long gastric emptying time resulting in lasting satiety, micro-nutrient richness, easy availability and social acceptance.

4. Benign starches

  • Sources: Cooked white rice, rice based dishes (idly, dosa, vermicelli, pongal, puttu), pre-soaked/sprouted legumes/beans/pulses, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes, taro and other tubers.
  • Offerings: Taste, excellent momentary satisfaction, micro-nutrient richness (pulses and lentils), easy and wide availability and social acceptance.

5. Oils

  • Sources: Ghee, butter and coconut oil for cooking and olive oil/sesame oil for toppings
  • Offerings: Taste, long gastric emptying time resulting in lasting satiety and micro-nutrient richness.

The meal

Now that we have the identified the right tools to do the job, let’s talk about how to do the job. Here are some examples for a 65-70kg male who works a desk job and works out 2-3 times a week.

Example 1

Two home-size ghee dosas topped with an egg each and a handful of vegetables + coconut/spinach chutney + 1 cup milk/yogurt + 1 fruit (if required).

  • If eggs aren’t an option, make them cheese dosas using about 20g of cheese per dosa.
  • If meat is an option, have the dosa with a light (little to no oil) meat gravy.
  • If fat loss is a goal, drop it down to 1 dosa and keep everything else the same.

Example 2

Three home sized idlys or 1 cup pongal/poha + coconut/spinach chutney + 1/2 cup sambar + 2 cups vegetables cooked in 1 tsp oil + 1 cup milk/yogurt + 2 eggs.

  • If eggs aren’t an option, a scoop of whey protein mixed in with the milk/yogurt will do.
  • If fat loss is a goal, drop it down to 2 idlies or 1/2 cup pongal/poha and keep everything else the same.

Example 3

Three eggs cooked any style + 150 g potatoes baked/pan-seared + 2 tsp oil + 1 cup roasted/steamed vegetables + 30-40 g cheese.

  • Potatoes can be replaced with any other root or tuber from radishes to beetroot.
  • If cheese is not an option, a cup of yogurt or salt lassi or raita will do.
  • If eggs are not an option, a scoop of whey in a cup of milk is a fair (but in no way an equivalent) replacement.
  • If meat is an option, eat bacon.

Example 4

Two cups of daal or pulses + 1-2 cups of cooked vegetables + 1-2 cups of fruit smoothie made with 1 cup yogurt and 1 cup fruit.

  • If meat is an option, add some grilled meat or smoked salmon etc and drop the pulses and yogurt to 1/2 a cup.

Example 5

Two cups of breakfast smoothie made with 1-1.5 cup whole milk, 1 scoop vanilla whey powder, 1 medium fruit/1 cup berries, 1/2 cup baby spinach, 8-10 cashew nuts.

  • If chocolate whey powder is what you have, make a similar smoothie with milk, whey, coffee powder, fruit and cashew nuts or almonds.

Example 6

Forget all of this and have a couple of cups of green/black tea or black coffee without sugar and enjoy intermittent fasting.

The reasoning

  • Listen, I know we don’t need much protein to stay healthy. But we also don’t need to sit in front of a freakin TV for hours and hours everyday or eat mountains of rice in every meal. We do the latter oh-so-happily and frequently, so we need to balance it out by doing the former. So stop trying to fight change and embrace it. If for nothing else, protein is extremely satiating and hence helps keep you fuller longer and in-turn controls overall calorie consumption.
  • If you’re going to eat any food in plenty, you better make sure you buy the best quality. Obviously you should be eating vegetables in plenty and so make sure you buy organic. No way around it. Stop being penny wise, pound foolish and invest in high quality ingredients. You’ll eat better tasting food and live a longer lasting life.
  • Starches aren’t ‘necessary’. That doesn’t mean you completely avoid them. Starches aren’t evil. That doesn’t mean you base your meals around them. Considering today’s food scenario, starches are important because they are easily available, satisfy most people’s taste buds and help most meals look & feel complete. In other words, starches are important because they make eating RealFood sustainable. So eat your starches per your activity levels and make them benign by avoiding allergenic grains.
  • If fat loss is your goal, you need to pull out as many empty calories as possible. That translates to removing as much starch as possible. If endurance training is your thing, you’ll need more starches than listed here. Eat up!

A good breakfast isn’t where it ends. Understand the concept of RealFood and make smart choices during all meals. If you think this will be of help to your friends or family, do share.

Peace out.

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Photo credit: http://www.esquire.com

Pre-menstrual syndrome, weight gain, carb cravings and cramps

One of the hardest times for all of humanity is when women have their period. While men walk around thinking “Ummm… what the hell did I do to deserve that firing?” women walk around ready to beat up anything in sight. Being the excruciatingly painful experience that this is, the reactions are definitely understandable. But, in addition to feeling physical pain/discomfort, suffering from fatigue and giving in to the almost irresistible urge of believing that “Hey honey, would you like some more cheese?” actually means “Hey fatty! Want more cheese to fill in that bellay?? huh??”, the week(s) leading up to the period is one of the hardest chapters in getting and staying in shape.

Many many women face problems during this time that they aren’t able to understand or deal with and I end up getting a tonne of SOS emails. In this post, I’ll address a few of them.

I’m having my period and feel exhausted but I don’t want to miss a workout session! Should I workout? What should I do?

Firstly, kill the obsession. Realize that you’re not going to workout for only the next 3 months. Fitness a lifelong thing and you need to stay active and/or train forever to be able to stay in shape forever. So missing a workout session here and there for legitimate reasons is absolutely fine.

Secondly, treat your period as any other day. If, in a normal day, you feel wiped out for whatever reason (say, stress, lack of sleep, not enough food etc.) how would you deal with that? Would you power through it and workout? Would you take the day off and recover? Would you still workout but only do as much as you can? Same deal. Listen to your body when you have your period.

  • If you are truly exhausted and aren’t able to focus physically and mentally, it is definitely a great idea to skip the workout. No big deal.
  • If you feel not too tired but not 100%, do something light. Work on mobility. Do a series of bodyweight moves (squat, pushups, pullups, burpees, planks, thrusts, hinges etc.) at a relatively low intensity i.e. never going to failure and resting plenty between sets.
  • If you feel like you can power through it, go ahead and kill the workout.

Bottom line is to listen to your body and act based on how you feel.

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I weighed myself today and I’ve gained 2 kilos!! I’ve been eating right and working out regularly but still, this happens! This happens to me all the time. Maybe I’m not cut out to be in shape. Maybe its my genetics. Maybe I’m just cursed. I just don’t seem to lose weight consistently. I lose some and in about three weeks gain 1-2 kilos! Why is this happening to me? Please help!

Here’s some good news for you. You haven’t gained fat. Those 2 kilos are not fat, but water. 1 kilo of fat is 7,700 calories. So for you to have gained 2 kilos of fat, you should have eaten ~ 15,000 calories in excess and that ain’t happening unless you eat 2000 extra calories every day for a week. That’s like eating half a dozen donuts everyday for seven days straight. Well, if you did eat similar to this, then yea, what you gained is fat but chances are you didn’t eat like my man Doug Heffernan.

Water retention is a very common PMS symptom. It generally occurs a week or two before your period and tends to wear off by day 2 or 3 of your period. Though why this exactly happens is still unclear, it is due to hormonal fluctuations that are possibly hereditary. The increase in scale weight is merely due to excess water being retained in your body and is not worthy of phone calls or emails starting with “O… M… F… G!!!”.

That said, here are some ways to keep water retention under control,

  • Watch the salt. No reason to go salt-free or super low salt, but don’t over-salt your food.
  • Drink more water than you normally do. And no, the excess water will not be retained.
  • Remove allergens like wheat, vegetable oils, unsoaked legumes/lentils/beans etc from your diet for the most part.
  • Get more calcium. Don’t even think about popping in pills. Just get yourself a couple of extra cups of whole milk  or probiotic yogurt or a few ounces of cheese.
  • Supplement with Magnesium, if required.
  • On other days, exercise intensely and consistently and stay active all day every day.

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I get very severe carb cravings a week before my period! I try hard to resist it but end up eating sugary junk until the cravings subside. What is happening here? Am I doing something wrong?

Once again, this is a common PMS symptom and something that needs attention. The carb cravings that happen during the week leading up to your period are not the same as other general carb cravings that need to be controlled.

For those who don’t know serotonin, it is a neurotransmitter that is primarily found in the GI tract (gut) and is a major contributor of feelings of well-being and happiness and during menstruation a woman’s serotonin levels are at their lowest. Since carbs increase the availability of tryptophan (amino acid precursor to serotonin), it is fairly natural to crave carbs during this period.

The solution here isn’t really to power through the cravings and fight against them and, at the same time, also not to give into the junk food. The the best and most healthful way to address the issue is to eat a more carbs than usual but stick to high quality carbs, especially starches like sweet potatoes, cooked white rice, fruit etc. How much more? That depends on the craving but it is also wise to remember that you’re only addressing the lack of serotonin and don’t posses a pass to binge and get fat.

While it is true that during the week leading up to your period, your glycogen storage potential/capability is increased and hence your body can utilize the excess carbs for glycogen repletion/storage as opposed to storing them as fat, too much in excess and you will start adding goo.

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Every month I get pre-menstrual cramps. These cramps are so brutally painful I roll into a ball and weep. I take the day off from work and I’m at home all day doing nothing but suffering through the pain. What can I do?

Many (too many) of my female clients start working with me (for fat loss of course) and within a few weeks report that the unbearable pre-menstrual cramps are now very bearable and in a couple of months, they say, it is almost non-existent.

Why this happens is definitely a huge topic and is something I’ll discuss in detail later because it is outside the scope of this article but I’ll talk quickly about how to fix this.

  • Remove all allergens from your diet – wheat, other allergenic grains, vegetable oils high in omega-6, unsoaked legumes/lentils/beans.
  • Get plenty of omega-3s from fish or fish oil.
  • Supplement with Magnesium.
  • Get a good dose of sunlight or supplement with vitamin D.
  • Get enough and more calcium from high quality dairy.

For 6 weeks do the above. Don’t cheat by tricking yourself into believing a little bit of wheat is fine or junk food every 3 days is fine etc. Do the 6-week stint with utmost sincerity, gauge your results and then make a call on what foods you want to keep in your diet and what foods you want out. Julianne from Paleo & Zone Nutrition talks about pre-menstrual cramps and ways to overcome them with nutrition in great detail and is an absolute must read if you suffer from pre-menstrual cramps.

Peace out.

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