Category Archives: Listening To Your Body

Grains – Friend or Foe?

Note: This post is dedicated to my very own bread-loving, exercise-hating, makes-life-worth-living, astonishingly gorgeous wife-to-be!

I’ll be honest here. I’ve been working on this post on grains for a long time now and I wanted to talk about what grains really are and how they became a staple and how they wreak havoc in our bodies and how they are the most evil things in the word and you know, other such usual blabber you would expect from a no-so-much-of-a-grain-fan as me. But then, I wasn’t able to do it. I tried multiple times but with no success. I had some sort of a block. Finally I realized, this wasn’t because I didn’t have the time to write or literature to back this up, but because I just didn’t really believe that grains were evil!

Picture credit: Pinch My Salt

As you guys know, I don’t blindly follow the herd but like to question beliefs and experiment everything on myself before recommending it to others. That being the case, I just found it impossible to write a post demonizing grains when I didn’t really think it was the case. This might come as a surprise to a lot of you folks considering I am known for hating grains and recommending against their consumption, but my argument here is really not for or against grains. It is about the all or nothing approach that is being applied towards grain consumption in general! You know, like the concept of distance running. It was once touted at the panacea for everything and now its being demonized and blamed as a cause of everything from Oprah’s bellay to Osama’s death!

So, Raj, are you just going from loathing to actually recommending grains?

Well, sadly, you won’t know until you read the rest of the post! So hold onto your horses for a second and read the post to fully understand my thoughts on the subject.

The Debate:

Firstly let’s look into the arguments generally used in support of and against grains and my thoughts on each one of these.

For…

  • Whole grains are heart healthy – In a country where leading fitness trainers recommend Faker’s Oats and companies compare thier cereal to the ever awesome egg, this is not surprising, but still, this claim is a bunch of crap! Why? Because the studies done to prove this were flawed! Any and every study that proved that whole grain consumption in test subjects improved health markers, compared people’s health when they consumed the standard junk food laden diet to a diet that had whole grains along with vegetables, fruit and lean protein.
  • Whole grains are fiber rich: Ever heard of vegetables and fruit? Any idea how much fiber they contain? Check this!

Against…

  • Grains are empty calories: True dat! No arguing here.
  • Grains are high in carbs: Legit! But so are potatoes. And I think we all know carbs dont kill. The act of OD-ing on carbs (and anything else for that matter) is what kills!
  • Paleo peeps didnt eat it so we shouldn’t eat it either: Meh! Too stupid to even reason.

Ummmm…

So they’re not bad and they’re not good. Great Raj! Thank you! Now we’re back to knowing nothing!

Well, not so soon.

The Knowledge:

Considering all the scientific and anecdotal evidence we have and having read arguments for and against grains and having tried and tested grain consumption on myself, my clients and my loved ones and having looked at the Ayurvedic diet, the Vegan diet and (all forms of) the Paleo diet without bias, here is what we actually know today…

1. Though there is evidence of grains being consumed millions of years ago, grains were NOT a significant part of the paleolithic people’s diet and were, at best, nutrient sparse survival food.

2. Grains have been a part of the human diet for about 10,000 years and many (if not all) traditional cultures soaked/fermented grains and included them in their diets and lived long healthy lives.

3. There is enough scientific and anecdotal evidence to prove that chronic grain consumption is detrimental to health and prosperity.

4. Wheat consumption has been associated with various different minor and major health issues ranging from acme to asthma to IBS to celiac and has a bunch of published literature supporting it.

5. White rice, though completely devoid of nutrients, seem to be extremely benign for most people and all traditional cultures that have predominantly consumed white rice have experienced little to no negative health effects.

6. All studies showing negative effects in health due to grain consumption have looked at chronic overconsumption of grains. Anecdotal evidence shows that small amounts of grain consumption (< 10-15% of total calories) does not have any significant or measurable effects on one’s health. Note: Exceptions exist here based on health condition and type of grain consumed and they will be discussed shortly.

7. Many other factors, including but not limited to vegetable oil consumption, stress, sedentary lifestyle, pollution etc., have been proven to be much more harmful to health in comparison to grain consumption.

From this mixed bag of scientific, epidemiological and anecdotal evidence, I’m sure the following questions pop right into our heads.

  • Are all grains detrimental to health?
  • What about in small quantities?
  • Are all humans allergic to grains at some level?

Honestly, I don’t have the answers. And I don’t think anyone has the answers to these questions. Let me rephrase that. I don’t think anyone has the right answers to these questions yet! I’m sure you can point me to blog posts and articles that talk about perils of grain consumption but, as mentioned above, even those articles are related to chronic and/or excessive grain consumption.

Gary Taubes, the greatest proponent of low carb eating and the author of Good Calories, Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat, when on Robb Wolf’s podcast asked this question (Note: not verbatim).

I get the paleo thing. But are you telling me that my health will drastically improve if I substitute the one tiny piece of pumpernickel bread that I have everyday with, say, sweet potato?

And thats exactly my point. No one knows! We all know grain dominance is a bad news for long term health, but is the poison in the dose? Can you get away with 1 cup of corn everyday? How about a slice of bread? Or how about a cup of oatmeal? Again, no one knows! And guess what – no one is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars designing and performing a study that analyzes the effect of 1 slice of bread in an otherwise very well controlled real food diet.

So, Raj, how do we find out what works?

Let me shoot that question back at you…

Just going by common sense, how would you find out what works for you?

And you’ll say…

Self experimentation?

And I’ll say…

Attaboy!

You’ve abso-bloody-lutely got to find out what works for YOU! There is no substitute to that. But, while this is a part of the puzzle, its only a part! Some general guidelines need to kept in mind by all of us when it comes to grain consumption. So with merely common sense being the governing factor, here are some general recommendations.

General recommendations:

* Realize grains are ‘unnecessary’ in a healthy diet. You can argue all you want, but grains have nothing to offer that you cannot get from real foods. ‘Nough said.

* Move the heck away from a grain based diet! Now this is key. Like I mentioned before, all data that points towards demonizing grains are actually demonizing chronic overconsumption of grains i.e. grain dominance. So whatever you do, do not eat a diet that is dominated by grains. And yes, this applies to whole grains too. As a matter of fact, this applies especially to whole grains.

* Realize the difference between fine wine and cheap liquor! Fine wine is prepared with great care and tastes like heaven and not readily available and only consumed in limited quantities purely for enjoyment and never for the ‘buzz’. Cheap liquor is, well, cheap and crappy and inexpensive and easily available and overconsumed and results in a whole host of issues from liver problems to orphans! If you didn’t get the analogy, eat exquisite and specially made grains that are well prepared and stay the hell away from junk grains! For eg. freshly baked sprouted sourdough walnut cranberry bread? Yes please! I’ll have a slice. A dozen bread sticks? Heck no! Thank you for trying to kill me.

* Nourish your body with whole real foods and supplement your taste buds minimally with grains (and sugars) realizing they aren’t helping you and possibly slightly hurting you. Stated differently, don’t eat a pasta/bread dinner every night and end up walking to celiacville. Instead, load up on meat/tempeh/seafood with roasted vegetables and have a spoon of a decadent chocolate cake/ice cream.

* For God’s sake know your limitations! No sane person will have a sip of alcohol (even the finest wine) if he/she has liver complications. And no sane person should have even a bite of any bread or any other grain, if he/she has gut related issues (IBS, leaky gut, celiac etc.).

* Understand health and work towards it! Health is a result of a real food based diet, stress free lifestyle, good sleep and happiness that spans over a lifetime! Sustainability. is. the. key!

* Stay true to your short term goals. If you are on a leaning out phase and are eating fewer calories than is required for optimal functioning of your body, stay the crap away from grains and sugars because they add empty calories and possibly weaken an already weak immune system. If you are an endurance athlete who needs 4500 calories a day but are adamant about not eating any grains and feel that your performance is dropping, stop kidding yourself and eat some cooked white rice! Yes you can get those carbs from sweet potatoes but for how long are you going to chomp on 3 lbs of sweet potatoes everyday? Once again… sustainability! Similarly, if your short term goal is gaining bodyweight, getting calories should be your primary concern and it doesnt matter if you get those calories from rice and beans or potatoes and cheese. Do what suits your body (bloating, gas, sleep, energy etc.) and yourlife style (cost, availability etc.). Keep it simple and sustainable!

* Understand preparation and do it! You wash your hands before you eat. You wet your hair before you shampoo.  You better soak/ferment your grains before you cook ’em!

* Differentiate yourself from your ancestors. You can’t eat like your ancestors when you don’t move and cook like your ancestors did! Yes you should embrace your roots, but you should also understand that you’re not half as active as your ancestors were and the grain based meal you eat today is not prepared with even a fraction of the care and detail used to prepare grains back then.

* Be smart and understand that the success of a diet solely depends on physical nourishment and mental satisfaction. Customize your real food diet in a way that it keeps you healthy and happy! Healthy here is strong, immune, lean and disease/allergy/symptom free and happy here is giving you the leeway to eat your favorite foods.

* Listen to your body! If you eat a grain and it messes you up, stay away from it. This is not rocket science.

* When you start, create your diet with purely real food (vegetables, meats, eggs, fruit, nuts and organic dairy). Drop any and all form of unstable PUFa (vegetable oils). Throw the junk out. Remove all grains. See how you feel. Now try having a small serving of whatever grain you desire. See how you react. Bad? Dont do it again. No change? Perfect. Now, you  can eat it every once in a while. This is exactly how I work with my clients. I don’t give them any random diet/meal plan and a macronutrient split. We work together. From the bottom up. And ten out of ten times, my clients find what works for them! I just merely facilitate it.

* Always remember that food is meant to nourish the body and the mind. Why do you think repressed emotions (anger, stress, jealousy etc.) result in health issues? Because such repression can change your entire gut flora leading to digestive issues and, since health begins at the gut, this paves the way for other diseases! Consume only foods that ensure health and happiness. Both the “H”s coexist and one  cannot exist without the other. If you absolutely need to eat some rice/quinoa/oats to stay happy and consistent and if it only causes very minimal discomfort, then by all means include it in your diet. But only as much as or as frequently enough to not cause any considerable discomfort.

Remember…

Customization is a requirement for consistency and consistency is a requirement for sustainability and sustainability is a requirement for long term health and fitness!

What about my diet?

From whatever experimentation I’ve done, I’ve learnt a lot about my body and the following are what I do to keep myself healthy and happy!

1. I know oatmeal destroys me! Maybe its the whole grain or the avenalin in oats, but having a cup of cooked oats makes me run to the little boys room half a dozen times! So the health va happiness graph is pretty crappy here and so I stay away from it.

2. But I know that white rice works like magic for me! Maybe its my roots or the fact that white rice is basically benign, I feel awesome everytime I eat white rice. In this case the health vs happiness graps looks pretty darn great and so I make it a point to eat white rice multiple times a week. Since I workout pretty hard, I mostly consume post workout in an effort to put the starch to good use, but if I am caught at a social event with crappy food, white rice is always my goto grain.

3. I’m 20 something. If I really want to eat pizza, I will eat pizza. Simple enough. But the key words here are “really” and “want”. I have pretty good self control and hence wont down a pizza everytime I remotely feel like eating one and I don’t tolerate the ‘Oh have just one slice! It wont kill you’ crap one bit and hence wont have any just because someone else thinks I should.

4. I’m not a fan of couscous or corn really, but if I do go to an authentic isereli/mexican restaurant and my host tells me their couscous/tamale is to die for, I’d order it without hesitation or guilt.

The way I see it, all food is good and all food is bad… either for the body or the mind. A food that nourishes you with nutrients but makes you feel deprived and stressed is just as bad as a food that gives you happiness but destroys your body. It all depends on the dose and the your physical state. This is what works for me right now and so this is what I do. If, at some point of time, this stops working for me or my experiments show me something better, I’ll certainly be happy to change things up.

The Summary:

1. Call a spade a spade. Grain consumption is not the issue. Grain dominance and dependance is!

2. Grains have nothing nutritious to offer and so don’t try to make it a part of your diet.

3. Grains are not evil and you needn’t avoid them like the plague! Be smart and eat grains for the experience/enjoyment and call it a day.

4. Cut your losses by soaking/fermenting grains before preparation and consumption.

5. Eyes on the goal. If grains throw you off, you better be ready to throw them out.

What are your thoughts? What grains do you love? How often do you eat them? What works for you? I’m very curious to know what you guys think about this. Do share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section and please take a moment to share this post on Facebook, Twitter and other networking sites!

Stay sane. Stay happy. Stay healthy. Stay fit!

Peace out.

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Macronutrient Madness

  • How much protein do I need Raj?
  • I read I should get exactly 17% of my calories from carbs for fat loss. Is this true?
  • How many grams of fat should I eat to not get fat?
  • I eat very healthy – hardly any fat and lots of whole grains. I still am not losing weight! Why?
  • I eat super clean – hardly any carbs and lots of saturated fats. I still am not losing weight! Why?

These are some common questions I receive on the blog and via email all day everyday! No I’m not kidding. You have no idea what kind of questions people come up with! But why? Why do people have these questions? Well, because their experts/gurus/researchers make ridiculous, baseless and sometimes compelling statements like…

  • Carbs cause obesity. The average man gets 45% of calories from carbs and the average man is fat!
  • Eating fat will make you fat. The average man gets 40+% of calories from fats and the average man is fat!
  • The body runs best on ketones and hence most of your calories must come from fat.
  • Protein is toxic in high doses.
  • Protein spares muscle, gets converted into glucose and even fuels the brain when needed. Load up on protein!
  • Eating more than 150 g of carbs a day will cause insidious weight gain.
  • Chicken breast and brown rice for the win! This is the way to get ripped!
  • Carbs are required for glycogen replenishment… low carb will starve your muscles!
  • Eating carbs at night lead to fat gain.
  • Never eat carbs and fat in the same meal!
  • A protein:carb:fat ratio of 30:30:40 is ideal for fat loss.
  • A protein:carb:fat ratio of 50:35:15 is ideal for gaining muscle AND losing fat!
  • A protein:carb:fat ratio of 10:20:70 is perfect for health and longevity!

Holy bambolly!! Who would not be confused right? I’ll admit that I’ve fallen for every single one of these statements. I’d read one experts blog/article/book, get convinced and change my diet. Then I’d read something else which says the right opposite and change my diet again. This cycle kept repeating itself for too long… but only until I realized I have the ability to think!

This post is a result of years of gullibility which resulted in astucity.

All macronurient recommendations are BS

Firstly let’s address in general the claims made my the million diet gurus in the gazillion diets they create/recommend.

Plain and simple – it is absolutely ridiculous for anyone to come up with any macronutrient split and claim it to be universal! I mean come on. Everybody is different and every body is different! This is line 1 on page 1 of the million page book of nutrition, fitness and health. If a health and fitness professional doesn’t realize this, then, well, he/she ain’t no professional!

The fact that we are all humans and hence we should all thrive with one magic macronutrient split is downright stupid! The fact that we all have the same kind of digestive system only means that we are all meant to digest the same kind of food. That is it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Why?

Let’s talk evolution for a little bit… just a little bit.

We humans today are at the peak of the food chain. We are so awesome that we have no predators! The only way we can die is if we kill ourselves (which we’re so good at) or due to some natural calamity. Why do you think we’re at the top of the food chain? We were never the strongest species! Neither were we the longest lived species! Neither were we the species with the more defense/offense mechanisms!

But… we were, are and will always be… the most adaptable species!

Sorry folks, survival of the fittest was true only to an extent. After a point it was all about survival of the most adaptable and we sneaky little humans excelled in it! How else could you explain 7 billion weak and diseased humans controlling the entire planet today? We control the survival and extinction rates of every other animal and plant and fish there is today!

The point I’m trying to make here is that we were, and still are, bloody damn adaptable! A lion is a hundred times stronger than a human. But if he doesn’t find his meat, hes done! But we humans can live off  leaves and yams and coconuts as well as we can live off bugs and milk and cow blood! And if you think I’m bullshitting you, read about the kitavan diet and then read about the masai diet.

So then… the answer is easy right? Macronutrient composition doesn’t matter! Boom! Done!

But wait… this is only true if you are healthy and lean and if your only goal is to live long and reproduce. But that isn’t the case today is it? We are fat and diseased and/or we all have different goals. Some of us want to lose every ounce of fat while some want to get big and strong and some others want to keeping running till our legs fall off!

In other words, what is the optimal macronutrient split for different people with different goals? Is there a health biased split? What about fat loss? What about strength/mass gain? What if you’re a competitive endurance athlete?

The Split

The answer is – Yes. Goal based optimal macronutrient splits change drastically with goals. Stated differently, what is optimal from a health and longevity standpoint might not be optimal for a 4-6 month strength gain phase or for marathon training. But before we get into grams and percentages…

First –  you need to be eating real food. Food quality is paramount and as far as long term health is concerned, there is much more to be gained from a real food based diet than from a perfectly weighed and measured processed food based diet. So step 1 – Eat real food! Get 70% of your calories from meat, eggs, vegetables, fruit and dairy, 20% from performance enhancers like rice and whey protein and 10% from whatever it is that keeps you happy (cheesecake anyone?!).

Second – you need to know what you are after in the short term. What do you want in the next 3 months? Lose 10 lb? Run 50 miles? Do 20 pullups? Deadlift 3 x BW? So step 2 – Define your goals and decide to stick to them!

Now on to macronutrient splits and other fun stuff.

Case 1 – Health & Longevity

Let’s say your goal is general long term health and you don’t really have a short term goal. You don’t care about losing weight or looking ripped or lifting 200 kg. You just want to live long and healthy. If you’re a lean and in good health, then macros shouldn’t matter much.

You would need to get about 10-20% of calories from protein to ensure normal functioning of your body. The remaining 80-90% of your calories can come from either fat or carbs. It’s all about food quality and it doesn’t matter if you’re eating fat or carbs or when you eat what. The only conditions are…

  • Your carbs need to be from fibrous and starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, yams, taro, cassava etc.) along with some fruit
  • Your fats need to be the good ones (mostly saturated and monounsaturated and a tiny bit of polyunsaturated).
  • You need eat to satiety. Never stuff yourself. Never starve. Done!

Case 2 – Fat Loss

But let’s say you’re a good 15-20 lb overweight, what should your macros in order to produce optimal fat loss in the next 3 months?

Irrespective of what your diet was like previously, you will need to eat a bunch of protein. Protein, though not the preferred fuel, is the king when it comes to leaning out. There are three reasons for this –

  • Protein is extremely satiating and hence helps with curbing appetite and prevents overeating.
  • It has the highest thermic effect among all three marconutrients and hence helps burn some extra calories.
  • It builds, repairs and spares muscle tissue which is critical when leaning out.

Though there is a lot of debate about how much protein is really required, about 0.8-1 g of protein per pound of body weight should keep you satiated and healthy. For most folks this will work out to be ~ 25-35% of their calories. The remaining 65-75% of your calories need to come from either fat or carbs.

If you’ve been on a high carb diet (like most people are), then there is no questioning the low carb approach. Realize – low carb doesn’t mean no carb. It just means reducing your intake of carbs from the current level. For eg. if you eat ~ 350 g (~ 70% of a 2000 cal diet) of carbs per day, you’ll do really well if you drop that down to about 100-150 g (20-30%) and get the lost calories from fat and protein.

On the other hand, if you’ve been on a very low carb (< 50 g per day) or a zero carb diet for a while and if you’re weight loss has plateaued, you’ll definitely do better with the addition of carbs. Once again the 100-150 g of carbs per day seems to work best for most people (more or less depending on body weight and activity level). The reason folks plateau in chronic low carb diets is that severe restriction of carb results in messing with  normal thyroid functioning and hence slows down metabolism to a crawl. Reintroduction of carbs (and by that I mean safe starches and fruit), almost always results in breaking such plateaus.

So for efficient fat loss, carb-cycling seems to be the best tool. In other words, go low carb and ride that pony for as long as you see results. Once you stall, do a major carb reload for a couple of days and get back on the low carb pony. For more fun stuff about carb cycling check this and this.

Case 3 – Strength Gain

Surely, all this becomes super easy ‘cos the only diet plan that works for strength/mass gain is… Eat! Eat real food and eat as much as you can. The only things you need to keep in mind are…

  • Get enough protein (~ 1-1.5 g per lb of bodyweight)
  • Eat about 30-100 g of starch starch post training depending on the intensity of your training and your body weight. From what I’ve seen in my clients, ~ 0.5 g of carbs per lb of lean body mass seems to be a good place to start. So if you’re 200 lb with ~ 20% BF, start with ~ 80 g of carbs post training and modify as you go on.

And No, you can’t gain slabs of muscle without gaining almost equal amounts of fat (unless you’re a genetic freak or you’re juiced up!)

Case 4 – Endurance

The thing with endurance training is that you need to constantly fuel your body and more importantly provide it with the right fuel. Like I mentioned earlier, protein is an inefficient fuel for the body and hence needs to be low compared to the other two macronutrients. Depending on the intensity of the sport/event and the nature of your training, you would need either a fat dominant or a carb dominant diet but based on anecdotal and scientific evidence it looks like a carb dominant approach works better when it comes to competitive endurance sports. So, if you are…

  • endurance training ‘cos you love it and are fat adapted – drop the protein, up the fats and eat little carbs.
  • endurance training to compete and/or are carb adapted – drop the protein, up the carbs and eat little fat.

Moving on to special cases…

What about cholesterol?

As much as the media would have you believe that eating fat will kill you and the blogoshpere will have you believe carbs mess you up, the truth is that macronutrients seem to have little to no effect on blood lipids. Sure eating transfat and/or huge amounts of sugar and/or gut irritants like wheat regularly will wreak havoc, but if you stick to the ‘eat real food‘ recommendations and base your diet around real foods, eating more fat or carbs won’t have any negative effect on your blood lipids.

What about diabetes?

Low carb is definitely helpful here, but then, building all your meals from real foods will automatically drop your carbs down and up your fat and protein. So as long as you keep your fruit consumption low to moderate and stay away from fruit juices and sugars, real food meals which are rich in fat, starch, fiber, protein and micronutrients will keep your blood sugar in check.

In summary…

  • There is no one macro-nutrient split that is applicable for everyone.
  • Humans are super well adapted to thriving on both high fat and high carb diets.
  • Protein is essential for normal functioning but also toxic in very high doses and is an inefficient source of fuel.
  • If fat loss is a goal, up the protein, cycle carbs and eat good fats without guilt.
  • If strength gain is a goal, up the calories. Eat anything you see, smell, feel or dream!
  • If (competitive) endurance is the goal, drop the protein and fat and up the carbs. Or get fat adapted and run on ketones!
  • Macronutrient splits have little to no effect on blood lipids.
  • Diabetics benefit from a low carb approach (which is built into the eat real food recommendations).

I know this isn’t like the other maronutrient posts you’ve read, but recommending random numbers without understanding the person’s goals and current physical condition is just nonsense. As always, be patient and keep experimenting till you find what works for you. Irrespective of what the studies or experts say, at the end of the day, n = 1 is all that matters!

If there is enough interest, I’ll follow this post up with sample meal plans for each one of these cases. Let me know in the comments section.

And as always, if you found the post useful please do help spread the word by sharing it.

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.

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?

(Re)Defining Fitness – The Basic Capabilities

Has to…

  • play multiple channels.
  • be capable of swaping from one channel to another.
  • have volume control.
  • have remote control capability.
  • have color/contrast adjustment capability.
  • be portable.
  • last for 3-4 years.
  • produce picture of good quality without streaks.
  • be cable ready.

These are what you expect from a machine called Television. I’m not talking about LCD/HD/Flatscreen TVs. I’m talking about the oh-so-common run-of-the-mill 24″ color TV that anyone in almost any country can afford today. It is an idiot box for which you pay a very modest amount of money and you still expect it to perform at a certain level. Why? Because it is ‘meant to’ perform at that level! It was designed with these features and it needs to live up to the design. If it doesn’t… well then its just a piece of junk!

Now your body is a machine too. Albeit, a much more complex, a much more valuable and a MUCH MUCH more capable machine. So what is your machine capable of?

Can you…

  • squat till your butt touches the floor?
  • run fast as you laugh your ass off?
  • jump around for hours without getting exhausted?
  • go for long hours with even thinking about food?
  • roll?
  • sleep like you’ve been hit by a log?
  • carry a 40-lb backpack and walk miles?
  • climb a tree?

Well, these are things every 8 yr old can do! And guess what… you were able to do every single one of these things when you were 8 yrs old! What about the adult version? Can you…

  • jump over a 15 inch parapet wall?
  • run a mile without gasping for breath?
  • do a few push-ups?
  • at least a single pull-up?
  • sprint?
  • bend at your waist and touch your toes?
  • lift 100-lb off the floor and not damage your back?
  • cover long distances by foot? say walk 10 km?
  • easily go 24 hours without food?
  • climb a rope?
  • squat down with your heels on the floor and butt low enough to touch your heels?
  • wake up every morning feeling well rested, strong and awesome?

It’s not about being able to do one of these things. You HAVE TO be able to do every single one of these things because these are the basic capabilities of the human body!

Why? Because you were designed to be able to do all these things! Because your body has the potential to build enough muscle and strength and endurance and flexibility and mobility to be able to perform these feats! Because like how telephone is a telephone only if it can make calls, a human body is a human body only if it is capable of effortlessly exhibiting these actions! If it isn’t… well then its just another piece of junk!

Listen – I’m not trying to guilt trip you here. I’m only trying to tell you that these basic movements are pre-programmed in you… like talking and hunger and greed. Sure you have spent the last how-many-ever years in successfully reprogramming your body to do nothing but sit in front of a computer, but what you were born with never goes away! These things are there for the taking! This is money on the table! Just open your eyes, reach out and grab it!

Your body is one bloody awesome piece of equipment. It superior to every other equipment you have ever come across and it is the only thing… ONLY thing… that will stick with you forever.

So don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can not do. Set your goal and go get it. Period.

Peace out.

Picture credit: Industrialfocus

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