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5 “cheat” foods you SHOULD eat

Most people get caught in the ‘what not to eat’ pages that they fail to understand the concept of nutrition. A food isn’t always bad or good. Whether a food item is healthful or not purely depends on the ingredients and to an extent cooking/processing method. If my plate of meat and vegetables contains fried chicken and gravied vegetables, is that still a healthful meal? What if my fresh fruit juice contains a truckload of sugar? What is my anti-nutrient free real food nutrition plan is 70% rice? On the other hand, if my ice cream contains mostly cream, milk, eggs and berries with a little bit of honey, is that still junk? What if my dosa is cooked with ghee, topped with an eggs, an ounce of cheese and a cup of vegetables?

Thanks to conventional wisdom (and the low fat mafia and the low carb squad and the vegan police and the paleo primates), we’ve successfully reached a point in life where we have no idea what to eat and what not do. And as a result, we end up not eating foods that are shining with nutrients and replace them with nutrient-less cheap fillers like grains.

Here is a list of 5 such foods that taste delicious and are undeniably healthful.

1. Ghee

Contrary to what you’ve been told, ghee is not fattening and is in no way atherosclerosis promoting. Ghee contains the same amount of fat and calories as any other oil but, unlike processed industrial seed oils like sunflower oil, groundnut oil, canola oil etc., ghee is rich in many nutrients that are essential to the human body.

Consume ghee on a daily basis because it…

  • contains vitamins A, D, E & K.
  • has a high smoke point and hence is perfect for high heat cooking.
  • contains essential fatty acids.
  • is free of lactose (for the intolerant).
  • is free of oxidizable polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • tastes bloody awesome!

Note:

  • Watch out for over consumption ‘cos anything you cook with ghee tastes bloody awesome!

2. Dark chocolate

Chocolate isn’t the first guy to show up when you call for health, but that is because of the sugar content and other processed junk and preservatives that are added. Chocolate is (or at least should be) rich in cocoa which has myriad health benefits. So what happens if you pull out the junk, preservatives and fillers, reduce the sugar content and increase the cocoa content? It starts to taste like crap? You couldn’t be further from the truth. It tastes pretty darn amazing and ends up becoming a super healthy snack.

Eat dark chocolate everyday because it…

  • is one of the most potent anti-oxidants ever known to man. Yep, way better than green tea and your acai berry madness.
  • is rich in vitamins and minerals required for the proper functioning of the human body.
  • has been shown to reduce CVD risk and blood pressure.
  • controls cravings.

Note:

  • Dark chocolate means >80% cocoa. Don’t fall for the “Dark chocolate!!” marketing scam you see in pretty much all chocolate bars nowadays.
  • Banana + dark chocolate + quick zap in the microwave (~10-20 sec per banana) = best sweet thing you’ve had.
  • Watch out for over consumption. A couple of 1″ squares of dark chocolate is all you need per day.
  • Add a pinch of cocoa and coffee to your cooking (especially red meat) and take flavoring to the next level.

3. Ice cream

Like chocolate, ice cream gets the bad wrap it does due to the high sugar, junk and preservative content. But if you break it down, you’ll see that ice cream can be truly healthful when made at home using the right ingredients. If you can make your own ice cream with full fat milk (or coconut milk), whole eggs, honey, vanilla beans and/or cocoa and/or fresh fruits and berries, there is absolutely nothing you need to worry about.

Eat homemade ice cream because it…

  • is free of junk and anti-nutrients.
  • is rich in fat soluble vitamins.
  • is an absolute treat with respect to taste, appearance and smell.

Note:

  • Honey or sugar, make sure you use as little as possible. The idea is not to come up with a cloyingly sweet concoction but to enjoy a mildly sweet creamy frozen treat.
  • Since the ingredients used are extremely calorie dense, watch your portion sizes. Once again, the idea is to enjoy it as a treat and not to make it a meal.
  • Vary the fruits you use and keep your palate fresh.
  • Feel free to dump the dairy and go the sorbet route. And use tender coconut water in place of water for some added flavor.

4. Mangoes

Pretty much everyone’s told you mangoes are “fattening”. Honestly, I have no idea what that means. Mangoes, like other fruits, are rich in carbohydrates but are fairly less calorie dense and completely devoid of allergens compared to the regular starches (oats, rice, wheat etc.). A 100g serving of fresh mango contains only about 70 calories (most of which are from carbohydrates) but is also rich in vitamins C and A. So if you live in a place where mangoes are in season, eat up!

Eat mangoes because they are…

  • a seasonal fruit and hence are only available for a few months during the year.
  • rich in vitamins C and A.
  • absolutely delightful and can brighten up any meal.
  • extremely effective in controlling sugar cravings.

Note:

  • Like with any fruit, watch your portion sizes ‘cos the total sugar consumed can easily creep up.
  • If you’re prone to an increase in body temperature, be sure to drink some milk (or eating ‘cooling foods’) after.

5. Coconut

A perfect example of a hero being bad mouthed as a villain, thanks to half-science and improper understanding of nutrition. Coconut and coconut products with all the health benefits they have to offer, are as close to magic as you can get.

Eat coconuts and other coconut products because…

  • Coconut oil contains lauric acid, a medium chain saturated fatty acid.
  • Coconut oil incredibly heat-stable and hence, like ghee, are perfect for high heat cooking.
  • Coconut products are rich in medium chain triglycerides.
  • They help in balancing our your lipid profile by increasing your HDL.
  • Coconut oil is anti-fungal helping with candida, IBS and other gut related issues.
  • They help with skin and hair care.
  • They help in keeping your immunity levels up high.

Note:

  • Coconut flakes, coconut milk, coconut flesh, coconut water, tender coconut – they are all fair game.
  • Watch out for packaged processed coconut milk. Read the ingredients and make sure it contains only coconut and water.
  • Like other fatty foods, coconut products tend to be significantly calorie dense and hence monitoring portion sizes is critical.

So next time you deem something unhealthy, think twice ‘cos nutrition isn’t about going on a diet or eating boring foods or giving up on certain foods or going blahblah-free or even making compromises. Sustainable nutrition aimed towards long-term wellness starts where health, taste and consistency meet.

Adios!

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The Saturated Fat Scam – Part 2

A couple of things before we even get started…

  • This article is meant to be an eye-opener of sorts with respect to the truth behind saturated fats and by no means the definite article.
  • Obviously, if you have any health concerns, please talk to your physician before making any drastic changes to your diet.

For those of you who don’t have the time or patience or intelligence absorb the contents of this post…

Saturated fat (SaFa) is not harmful and there is no evidence that it causes heart disease. It is, in fact, healthy!

For rest of us who have nothing better to do, let’s grab a cup of coconut milk and sit back, ‘cos this is going to be fun!

A little introduction…

There are 3 kinds of naturally occuring fats and 1 frankenfat that we created. The naturally occuring fats are saturated fat (SaFa), monounsaturated fat (MUFa) and polyunsaturated fat (PUFa). When we consume a dietary fat (nuts, butter, canola oil, acocado, etc.), most times, we are consuming a mix of these three fats and different foods contain different ratios of these fats. For eg. Olive oil is 73% MUFa, 14-15% SaFa and 11-12% PUFa and coconut oil is 87-88% SaFa, 6-8% MUFa and 2-4% PUFa.

I really don’t want to get into the chemistry of these fats, but let’s try to keep this super simple. Fats are made up of triglycerides which are made up of glycerol and 3 fatty acids. Check out this figure…

Notice only this…

  • SaFa have no double bonds in the chain.
  • MUFa have one double bond in the chain.
  • PUFa have multiple double bonds in the chain.

That’s all you really need to know for now.

Rule # 1: Do no harm

Though the whole point of food is to nourish you with nutrients, the first rule for any food is that it should not hurt you. If a food affects you, irrespective of how awesome it’s nutritional profile is, it should be considered off-bounds. Shrimp (prawns) for example, though is an awesome source of protein and micronutrients like tryptophan and selenium, is of no use to me because I am allergic to it.

So in our analysis of SaFa, the first step will be to see if it is harmful to us in anyway.

Remember those chemical structures and the double bonds? What they really mean is that the more double bonds there are in the chain, the more chemically unstable the fat and the more prone to oxidation the it is. While it is possible to safely store and use foods that contain such chemically unstable fats, when they do get oxidized, they result in free radical production. These free radicals, in addition to funding the anti-oxidant industry (acai berry anyone?), run around wild inside the body causing damage to cell walls, artery wall and everything else they come in contact with. Over time this oxidative stress results in premature aging, vascular injury, liver damage and much more.

If you’ve understood the whole oxidation thing, you should have two questions.

1. Which fatty acid is prone to oxidation?

Scroll back up to the part with the chemical structures. Which fatty acids have the most double bonds and which have the least? Yep! PUFa are extremely prone to oxidation and capable of producing free radical damage while SaFa are super resistant to oxidation!

2. When does oxidation occur?

While heat enables almost instant oxidation, extended exposure to light and air also results in oxidation. Hence the recommendation to not cook with oils that are high in PUFa and to store such oils away from light and moisture.

Summing up…

  • SaFa are the most stable of fats.
  • PUFa with the most double bonds are the most unstable. And yes, this means that your all powerful omega 3 fish/flax oil are extremele unstable t00.
  • PUFa get oxidized when exposed to heat… and even light!

Rule # 2: Nourish the body

OK, I understand that SaFa are harmless, but are they beneficial? I mean, considering all the controversy around them, how about just sticking to MUFa and avoiding SaFa?

Firstly, here some things about SaFa that you need to know.

  • 50% of all our cell membranes are made up of SaFa.
  • The fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated and is the prefered source of fuel for the heart.
  • Even adipose tissue, the fat you “put on” which is stored by your body for future use, is SaFa.
  • What do you think happens when you go on a diet? Your body feeds on stored fat which is saturated fat. So whether you eat saturated fat or a high carb low calorie diet, your body is being fed saturated fat!
  • Human breast milk contains high levels of SaFa (and cholesterol!). (Seriously, if SaFa are so bad for you, why would you feed your new born so much of it?)

So clearly, SaFa is not something foreign to the body. The body is very familiar with SaFa and hence extremely efficient in using it. That said, let’s move on to why you should eat SaFa.

  • Consumption of saturated fat improves immunity and hence aids in prevention of infectious diseases.
  • Saturated animal fats (dairy, red meat, organ meats etc.) come with plenty of fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Saturated fat consumption reduces risk of stroke.
  • Helps improve liver health by protecting it from alcohol and other toxins.
  • Helps with asthma prevention
  • Improves bone health by facilitating effective calcium absorption.
  • (Coconut oil) Increases metabolism which helps with fat loss and maintaining a healthy bodyweight.
  • Saturated fat consumption is associated with prevention and lessening progression of coronary heart disease.

But you know what? I’m not even close to qualified to explain the benefits of SaFa for proper functioning of the human body. So, in an effort to keep this post legit, I’m going to respectfully step aside and let some top notch scientisits, researchers and doctors do the talking!

Pretty incredible stuff huh? OK I know! There’s still a little something thats bothering you. Refill that glass of coconut milk and read on, ‘cos you’re going to love this part!

The heart disease and cancer scare

This section is going to be smaller than you expect it to be because all the hard work has already been done and I’m only pointing you towards it! That said, let’s look at the link between SaFa and heart disease and cancer.

How much is too much?

There are no established limits for SaFa and the ‘consume less than 10% of calories from SaFa’ is pure BS! But considering the fact that they are natural, not prone to oxidation, non-toxic and are critical for the normal functioning of the human body, I don’t see any reason to limit their consumption. But hey, who the hell am I to tell you how much of what to eat?! You have everything you need to know about SaFa in this post. Figure it out for yourself!

As for me, I’ll continue to devour my coconut milk and butter and cheese and paneer and bacon and cream and whole milk yogurt and stay the hell away from all vegetables oils as much as I can! How much SaFa do I eat? I don’t know! If you have been reading this blog for a while and/or follow me on twitter and/or are a member of my Facebook group, you will know that I don’t count calories and just eat high quality real food at portions that match my activity levels/goals.

Putting it all together

Honestly considering how pretty much all nutrition related recommendations are baseless in one way or the other, this is how I approach nutrition and it seems to work for me and others!

  • Do not fear foods rich in SaFa and include nutritious foods like coconut, grass fed red meat and organic dairy liberally in your diet.
  • Eat foods rich in MUFa (avocado, olive oil etc.) since there is plenty of data to prove that they are truly heart healthy.
  • Stay away from fats that are rich in PUFa like vegetable oil, canola oil, soy bean oil, corn oil, peanut oil etc.
  • Use only stable fats like coconut oil, butter, ghee, lard etc for cooking purposes and use MUFa rich avocado oil, olive oil and mustard oil as topping/dressing only.

I know this is a lot of information, but I guarantee you, if you read this post diligently taking the time to visit all the links provided, you will know the real truth behind saturated fats! And folks, if there is one post that needs to be shared with anyone and everyone you know, it is this one ‘cos by avoiding SaFa people are forced to over-consume vegetable oils and other PUFa which are causing unrepairable damage! Please do the needful… sharing buttons are below.

Peace out.

Coconut Salmon Cake

Ingredients:

  • 6 oz wild pacific salmon
  • 1 whole cage free egg
  • 3-4 tbls real coconut milk
  • 1-2 tbls salsa or pasta sauce
  • 2 tbls coconut/almond four
  • 2 tsp crushed ginger
  • 2-3 cloves thinly sliced garlic
  • 1 pinch thyme
  • 1 pinch turmeric
  • 1 pinch dried basil
  • Salt to taste
  • Cayenne to taste

Procedure:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 380 F.
  • In an oven safe bowl, mix all ingredients.
  • Bake for 25 min.
  • Remove and top lightly with basil and cayenne.
  • Have this by itself along with a side of vegetables/fruit.

Prep time ~ 5 min

Cook time ~ 25 min

Nutrition:

  • Total calories ~ 600
  • Protein ~ 50 gm
  • Fat ~ 30 gm
  • Total Carbohydrate ~ 20 gm (with 10 gm fiber)
  • Net Carbohydrate ~ 10 gm
  • Ginger, turmeric, thyme and basil have too many amazing health benefits to be listed here.
  • Egg yolks are a powerhouse of nutrients.
  • The fats in coconut products help in everything from healing the gut to losing weight.

This is just how I made it because these were the ingredients available. You can improvise and make it your way.

That’s all for now!

Peace out.

In Defense of Fat

Anything you put in your mouth is made up of one or more of these three macro-nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates and fats and each one of these have their functions in the body. That said, I’m sure we’ve all heard fitness experts say one macro-nutrient or the other is bad for you. There’s the camp that says fat is bad, the camp that says carbs are poison and even the camp that says protein is fatal.

So what’s the truth then?

“All macro-nutrients are healthful if consumed moderately AND in their wholesome natural form.”

“All macro-nutrients are harmful if consumed in excess OR in some processed form.”

That’s all I want to say about macro-nutrients and all the crazy drama about one or the other. Now let’s talk about the one macro-nutrient that ‘most’ people consider evil – Fats.

Note: In an effort to keep this post very practical I will omit the chemistry and other technical information and give you just what you need to know. But rest assured that I will point you towards the right articles/publications if in case you are interested.

What are fats?

Dietary fats are basically fatty acids and are either saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids (trans-isomer fatty acids) and all fat sources are mostly a mix of these different fats acids.

For example, 1 tbls of olive oil has the following fatty acid profile.

Total Fat 14.00 g 100%
Saturated Fat 1.96 g 14%
Monounsaturated Fat 10.78 g 77%
Polyunsaturated Fat 1.26 g 9%

And 1 tbls coconut oil has the following fatty acid profile.

fat – total 14.00 g 100%
Saturated Fat 12.89 g 92%
Monounsaturated Fat 0.89 g 6%
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.22 g 2%

Note: Data from WHFoods

Dietary fats contain 9 calories per gram (compare to 4 calories per gram of protein and 4 calories per gram of carbs) and are the most calorie dense among the macros. Being super calorie dense fats are the body’s preferred fuel source and are as healthy as carbs or protein. Oh and they are pretty darn delicious!

For those interested in reading more about the different kinds of fatty acids this article (part 1) and this article (part 2) by Lyle McDonald are great places to start.

The Good Fats

Let’s cut to the chase and look at some great sources of fats (in no particular order of greatness).

1. Coconut (flakes, milk, oil and butter)

What’s good…

  • Coconut milk has been proven to have gut healing effects.
  • Coconut oil is extremely stable due to the abundance of saturated fat.
  • Coconut Oil is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin control and therefore the prevention and management of diabetes.
  • Coconut oil has been found to help normalize blood lipids and protect against damage to the liver.
  • 2 table spoons of coconut flour has 10 grams of carbs and 9 grams of it is fiber. That is 36% your daily requirement of fiber.
  • More info here, here, here, and here.

What to watch out for…

  • Coconut oil does have a low smoke point (~360 F/ 180 C) and hence requires low temperature cooking.
  • Stick to the organic virgin coconut oil as the ‘refined’ versions have a load of crap in them.
  • You can get the best quality coconut milk and oil from Indian or Asian stores.

2. Avocado

What’s good…

  • Great source of fiber.
  • Contains vitamin K, B6, B9, C, E, potassium, niacin and more.
  • Good source of monounsaturated fat.
  • Easy to incorporate into salads or eat raw.

What to watch out for…

  • Avocados are calorie dense and are easy to over eat.

3. Butter/Ghee

What’s good…

  • Butter is rich in Vitamin A, D, E & K.
  • Saturated fats in butter have anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.
  • Contains Arachidonic Acid (AA) which is important for brain function and is a vital component of cell membranes.
  • It is a source of Vitamin K2, which is important for treating arthritis, osteoporosis, tooth decay, tuberculosis, emphysema and asthma.
  • Butter is rich in trace minerals, especially selenium, a powerful antioxidant.
  • Butter also contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which gives excellent protection against cancer.
  • Though butter has a low smoke point (350 F / 177 C), ghee has a pretty high smoke point (485 F / 252 C) which makes it easier to cook at high temperatures.
  • More info here and here.

What to watch out for…

  • Grass-fed butter is way more nutritious than grain-fed butter.
  • Info here and here.

4. Nuts & Seeds

What’s good…

  • In 1996, the Iowa Women’s Healthy Study found that women who ate nuts >4 times a week were 40% less likely to die of heart disease.
  • Rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as Vitamin E and selenium.
  • Easy to incorporate into all kinds of foods.
  • Nuts are very portable and can serve as great snack options.

What to watch out for…

  • Nuts and seeds can pack on the calories very easily. 1/4 cup of nuts ~ 180-240 calories.
  • Stay away from the seasoned/flavored/coated/fried nuts. Stick to raw or dry roasted nuts.

5. Raw Unprocessed Cheeses

What’s good…

  • Contains good amounts of fat and protein.
  • Contains vitamin A, B2, B12, calcium and selenium in significant quantities.
  • There is evidence that the Conjugated Lineolic Acid (CLA) in raw cheese has anti-cancer properties.
  • Adds incredible flavor to pretty much all foods.

What to watch out for…

  • Definitely easy to over eat.
  • Too much cheese can make your stomach acidic. Consuming more vegetables (which are alkaline) will negate this effect. Refer this article by Dr. Cordain for information on acid-base balance.

6. Cocoa/Dark Chocolate

What’s good…

  • Contains flavonoids which are plant pigments capable of acting as antioxidants.
  • Cocoa powder has also been shown to lower blood pressure and improve blood flow in humans.
  • A cup of cocoa has almost three times the antioxidants of a cup of green tea, another drink renowned for its health benefits.
  • Contains phenylethylamine which has a mood elevating effect (wonder why you feel awesome after eating chocolate?)

What to watch out for…

  • Cocoa is great but chocolate on the other hand is made by processing cocoa and by adding a whole host of junk (look behind the next chocolate you come across).
  • Milk chocolate can contain tonnes of sugar and hot chocolate is no different.
  • Stick to dark chocolate which is 70% or high in cocoa to get the health benefits of cocoa without getting much of the negatives.

7. Egg Yolk

What’s good…

  • Contains carotenoids, vitamins A, D, E, K and essential fatty acids.
  • Can contain omega-3 fatty acids.
  • 95% of the egg’s nutritional value is present in the yolk.
  • Visit this site for great information on the yolk.

What to watch out for…

  • High in cholesterol so I limit consumption to 3-4 per day.
  • Stick to organic farm raised bird eggs to get the most nutritional benefit and to stay away from salmonella etc.
  • Omega-3 eggs from chickens fed flax seeds are great sources of Omega-3 fatty acids.

8. Olive Oil

What’s good…

  • Mostly comprised of monounsaturated fats.
  • Offers protection against heart disease by controlling LDL cholesterol levels while raising HDL cholesterol levels.
  • May also offer benefits in terms of colon cancer prevention.

What to watch out for…

  • Olive oil is like other oils and can easily go rancid when exposed to air, light or high temperatures.
  • Stick to the virgin olive oils to stay away from junk added during ‘refinement’.
  • Virgin olive oil does have a low smoke point (~375 F/ 190 C) and hence requires low temperature cooking.

9. Fatty Fish

What’s good…

  • The benefits of fish oil are superior to almost any food item you can ever consume. Fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, sardines etc. contain are extremely rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. I have spoken about the awesomeness of fish oil earlier.

What to watch out for…

The Bad Fats:

If there is good there’s got to be bad.

1. Hydrogenated Oils

What’s bad…

  • Everything!
  • Almost always contains trans fat.
  • Increases LDL cholesterol and decreases HDL cholesterol which is a perfect recipe for cardiovascular diseases and coronary heart diseases.
  • Tonnes of information in here.

2. Soybean Oil

What’s bad…

  • Extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids and super low in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Almost always partially hydrogenated.

3. Corn Oil & Vegetable Oils

What’s bad…

  • Extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are virtually absent.
  • Can cause inflammation leading to weight gain.
  • Extremely prone to oxidation which results in general free radicals which in turn destroy cell membranes, cause aging and degenerative conditions.

How much?

We already know that fats are delicious and now we know that fats are pretty great for our health. So what’s the deal with quantity? How much fat is good?

I would recommend that at least 25% of your calories come from fat and there is no upper limit for fats really. But you will serve yourself well if you refrain from eat blocks of cheese and chocolate and drink gallons of coconut milk everyday. Fats are calorie dense and can be easily over consumed. Like everything else moderation is key.

Personally, depending on what training phase I am at (fat loss/strength gain/maintenance), I set my protein and carbohydrates grams and eat fats ad libitum. All my efforts are geared towards eating real wholesome foods. Quantities and ratios are a far second.

Peace.


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