Monday, November 29, 2010

Zone and Paleo inspired recipes!

Here is the first of many recipes that I will be adding to help all of you in your quest for optimal health!  Most of the recipes I will add or doctor up from a recipe I already have will be Paleo-inspired.  I will always include the Zone blocks, and ideas to make complete Zone and Paleo Friendly meals!

"Holiday Meltdown" is 3 weeks in and I will be posting results so far at the end of the week!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Guilt-Free Turkey Day

You've been doing well and sticking to a sensible Zone Rx for over 2 weeks now.  You've emptied out your cupboard, you bought a food scale, you've planned out all your meals and resisted the temptations of office holiday cheer in the form of donuts and apple pie.  You're starting to notice a difference in the mirror and in the way your clothes fit.  You've done really, really well.

Here comes the hard part...  4 days at home with mom's famous mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and a bottomless supply of homemade comfort food, remember those exorphins?  After all, from a woman's standpoint, it's in our nature to want to feed our men.  There's good and bad news.  The good news is that you have all the tools you need and the motivation to not have a complete nutritional derailment.  The bad news is that the temptations are on overload and most of the time, our families are not on board with our quest for "optimal health", especially if it means you passing up on seconds of the pecan pie that they spent all day making.

First let me say that living life and enjoying time with family and friends is #1 on the priority list.  No one should sacrifice the joy that comes from a nice home-cooked meal with the fam and the food coma that undoubtedly pursues.  The trick is moderation.  You have to have a goal going in, a plan of attack, and a little ammunition to help with your war on holiday weight gain.  For those of you that are 3 weeks deep in "The Holiday Meltdown", this is your chance to practice that discipline that you know you wanted to attain when you signed up and were so motivated to put in practice that first week.  Do not give in!  You are on a mission and you will not fail.  There's a prize at stake and don't forget, pictures to take in 3 short weeks.

Here are a few tips to help you on your quest:

1.) Allow yourself a cheat meal/day.  and DO NOT feel guilty.... with a few caveats.  Choose more turkey instead of potatoes, more veggies instead of dinner rolls.  You all know how calories stack up and the insulin repercussions that you face when choosing one form of nourishment over another.  Thanksgiving festivities offer MORE than a few healthy options in terms of good sources of protein and vegetables. 

2.) Test your culinary skills.  There are a lot of ways to turn Thanksgiving Day into a really healthy primal feast.  This is probably your vacation too, so don't try to tackle all of it.  But a good solution could be to volunteer to be in charge of the one dish that you know you'll be tempted with.  Pumpkin, pie, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, these can all be easily transformed with a few tweaks in the preparation process.  Here are some good recipes I have found below, try one or all of them to round out your holiday feast!

Download these recipes for a guilt-free Turkey Day!

3.) Monitor your alcohol.  We all know how quickly these calories can add up.  Ask yourself if you really want and need these extra calories before diving into the family liquor cabinet.  Have some sparkling water between glasses of wine.  This will keep you full, satisfied and allow you to partake in all the toasting without the guilt.

4.) Spread out the holiday buffet.  Tell yourself BEFORE the toast that seconds are not an option.  Left-overs are always better a few hours later or even the next day so pace yourself.  You've learned how to do it in the box... practice it at the dinner table.

Jen's Skinny:  Moderation is king, enjoy your holiday and time with your family. Drink lots of water and keep your goals in sight.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't be cheap, take your Omega 3's!

Get your Omega 3's!  How many times have you heard me say that.  Fish oil, fish oil, fish oil... it is the one supplement that I will recommend over any other to everyone.  While it's great that most people trust me enough to start popping fish oil pills like candy, I thought you might want a little science behind this magical 2:1 ratio of Omega 6's to Omega 3's that I want you working towards to keep you healthy and strong.

The increase of Omega 3 awareness is staggering.  I think we have always known that it was something that was healthy, but only recently has it been a popular topic in the nutrition world.  While digging up a little dirt on these fatty acids, I discovered there's even an International Omega-3 Awareness Day coming up in 2011!  Not to mention the new prescription drug, LOVAZA, that hit the markets in 2008 that is prescribed to patients to safely lower their triglycerides.  The ONLY active ingredient in LOVAZA is... you guessed it, Omega 3 fatty acids.  Fish Oil people... Costco and has a high-potency fish oil that is also an ethyl ester form of Omega 3's.  People are paying over $3000 for Lovaza on an annual basis for the recommended dosage (called a drug only because it's FDA approved and the FDA does not regulate supplements).   I'll spare you the math but when all the calculations have been done, the same dosage of 3360 mg EPA + DHA per day will cost you the following on a yearly basis:

Lovaza: $3,360
CostCo brand fish oil: $150/year

This post could take a significant turn towards drugs, marketing and healthcare practices right now... but I'll save my hearty opinions on these fun topics for a later post.

Now for the science lesson:

Inflammation has two forms: Classic inflammation which is an acute and intense inflammation causing localized pain.  The second form, termed "silent inflammation", is a chronic low level of inflammation that is below our pain threshold and can go undiagnosed and untreated for years.  Prolonged high levels of SI will eventually cause chronic disease conditions to appear including Alzheimer's, arthritis, Parkinson's, cancer, and for the purpose of this post, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Chronic silent inflammation is now accepted as a warning that something is drastically out of balance in a person's overall health.  But why so much recent hype?

CrossFit prides our program on measurable results.  It's hard to talk about how good something is, unless you can measure it to document marked improvements.  Unless you get stronger, faster, lose weight or increase your Fran time, how do you know all your hard work is paying off?  Much like this mentality of wanting to measure our results for our fitness,  it would only make sense that we need some clinical markers for our inflammation health as well.

These two tests for inflammation have emerged recently in the medical community:
- A high sensitivity-C-Reactive protein test can be one good marker - these protein levels will elevate when our immune system if fighting an infection or virus.  If no infection is present and these proteins are high, high inflammation is most likely the primary culprit.
- A better indicator and less selective marker is the ratio of the two key fatty acids in the blood, Omega 6 to Omega 3's.
Omega 6's, or arachidonic acid (AA), are precursors to pro-inflammatory eicosanoids.  Omega 3's, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), generate anti-inflammatory eicosanoids.  Higher levels of AA/EPA ratio in the blood translate to higher levels of silent inflammation in our bodies. Eicosanoids are signaling molecules that regulate inflammation.

There are a few things that are leading our society down the path of high inflammation and declining health including:
- Higher consumption of high-glycemic carbohydrates that produce elevated levels of insulin
- Higher consumption of refined vegetable oils rich in Omega-6 fatty acids
- Decreased consumption of Omega-3 rich foods including salmon and grass-fed meats. 
These trends in the Standard American Diet (SAD)... how appropriate, make sense given that the first two are cheaper and more convenient.  Modern conveniences and penny pinching are now dictating our health, and not in a good way.

Jen's skinny: We need Omega 3's and lots of them.  High ratios of Omega 6 to Omega 3's in our blood are strongly associated with virtually every chronic disease condition including obesity and diabetes.  Higher consumption of Omega 3's is absolutely vital for optimal health to prevent silent inflammation and eventual disease.  While a test is optimal to test your risk and monitor your progress, the first step should be running to your local health store to pick up a supplement or adding some fatty fishes to your weekly diet.  Optimal levels will require an intentional effort and a few extra bucks, but it beats being labeled cheap and convenient.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Reward Yourself

I spend most of the weekend proving to myself what I already know and have known for well over a decade.  Eating like sh*t makes me feel like sh*t!! Friends in town on Friday, (who can resist truffle fries from Rockit?); Atlas anniversary party on Saturday (tequila and celebration cake); and a chili-cookoff at Jay and Rachel's on Sunday (Chris's chili placed 2nd!).  These are the temptations that we face... everyone faces.  It's easy to revert back to a little of this and a little of that knowing that you're good 80% of the time.  But it's also easy for that 80% to gradually slip down to 70, 60... you know where I'm going with this.  Eating well 50% of the time, while better than none, is not going to get you where you want to be.  There are ALWAYS temptations, especially in the urban jungle in which we reside.  Parties, happy hours, College game-day, these are all things that we shouldn't give up yet they are disastrous to our health-seeking quest.

As I woke up this morning still feeling the effects of my sugar-laden 3 days, it hit me that it's just not worth it. We call our diets restrictive and we reward ourselves with cheat meals.  The way I felt this morning was not in any way rewarding!  My body and my health are valuable, even precious if we want to get dramatic.  I plan on rewarding my body with optimal nutrition this week... I challenge you all to do the same.  Be strict, don't "cheat", be good to yourself, fuel your body to thrive, not just survive, and most importantly have a good attitude... don't think "I can't eat that, I'm on a diet."  Instead, think about your nutrition choices as a lifestyle... today, tomorrow and 5 years from now.  We all want to be lean and lose those last 5 or 10 lbs.   More importantly, we should also want to feel great on Sunday so we can spend some quality time with friends and family instead of wasting an entire day on the couch either hung-over or just plain tired. 

Challenge for the week:  Use the fancy new Zone Block chart below that I created this weekend (while on the couch) and eat ONLY Rx Choices in Zone ratios this week.  See how great you feel, I promise it will be worth it.  Post thoughts and results to comments.

   Download this chart here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Coconut Diet

There is no one magic food that is going to suddenly cause all of your health problems to disappear and fat to start melting away.  It's just not that easy, sorry.  However, there are certain foods that will undoubtedly help you in your quest to become healthy, strong and vibrant if used in conjuction with a healthy primal diet. Coconut oil is one of these foods that might be the missing link to pushing your health-seeking quest to the next level.

I am currently reading The Coconut Diet, by Cherie Calbom. "The SECRET INGREDIENT That Helps You LOSE WEIGHT While You Eat Your Favorite Foods."

At first glance... gimmick. The marketing cover sounds like a fad diet right in line with the twinkie diet! However, I was browsing the isles at Borders looking for an interesting and educational read on coconut oil when I spotted this book.  I had been using coconut oil here and there for a little over a year and was re-intrigued by a client to give it a real go to make it a staple in my diet.  Reluctantly, I picked it up and paid my $14.99 in hopes of expanding my knowledge of this controversial saturated fat.

I was pleasantly justified in my purchase after only a few short chapters.  Although most of the information that Calbom gives falls nicely in line with everything that I teach to my clients regarding insulin regulation, I did pick up some specifics about coconut oil and some tasty recipes that I'll share with you.  Coconut oil has many pros that will hopefully convince you to start adding it to your daily nutrition plan including metabolism boosting power, anti-cancer effects, antiseptic effects (think immune system on steroids) and a stability when cooking at high temperature that most oils do not have.  I think the most relevant benefit that most people will be interested in is the weight loss catalyst that coconut oil can serve as.

Thyroid Health: Your thyroid is your body's metabolic thermostat.  It produces the hormones that are responsible for normal operations in our cells, tissues and organs... particularly the operations that determine how well our body metabolizes food.  Laymens explanation: How efficiently and quickly our body processes food and converts it to energy to be used instead of storing it as fat.  Over 13 million people have under-active thyroids.  This is the primary reason that some people might not be able to lose weight efficiently even while following the strictest of primal diets.  The book states a dozen other conditions that poor thyroid function is said to have a part in including high cholesterol, fibromyalgia and even PMS, but what we really need to know is that we want our thyroid functioning properly for many health reasons and to kick start that fat-burning engine.  Coconut oil and the properties of MCT's which we will cover below have a direct thyroid stimulating effect. 

Stimulate your thyroid => improved metabolism => weight loss.

* Calbom recommends taking your resting body temperature for 4 consecutive mornings to see if you could possibly have an under-active thyroid.  If you're below the normal range of 97.6-98.2, you might be at risk.

Saturated Fat.  We've all been taught over and over that saturated fat is bad.  We've been under-educated!  Saturated fats fall into 3 categories, short-chain, medium-chain, or long-chain fatty acids.  Coconut oil boasts the unique composition of medium-chain triglycerides (MCT's), unlike most other oils that are comprised of long-chain fatty acids (LCT's.)   MCT's have the ability to be rapidly absorbed, transported directly to our liver and almost immediately converted into energy.  LCT's must be transported through the entire body before they reach the liver.  This slow metabolism of LCT's results in our body having a much easier time storing these suckers as fat.  Not ideal.  MCT's on the other hand produce a thermogenic response in the body.  The difference between these two forms of saturated fat can be related to the difference between premium and unleaded fuel.  Do you want the fuel you ingest to help your body run like a 1972 El Camino or a 2011 Diablo?

The Other Mother. Coconut Oil is comprised of 40% Lauric Acid, a highly anti-viral component that helps to destroy bacteria, fungus and viruses.  We won't get into the science here but basically lauric acid is so powerful that it is present in breast milk to protect infants from viral and bacterial infections.  There is no other substance that lauric acid is naturally found in other than mother's milk and coconut oil. 

Lastly, coconut oil does not turn rancid like most all other oils at high temperatures, making it a great cooking agent.  Coconut oil can be used in place of olive oil in all of your cooking endeavors and will yield a great tasting salmon or filet.  I am replacing most of my fats with coconut oil over the next few weeks and will report back with energy levels and any body composition changes as I just started a strict Paleo Zone Rx for myself this week after being 80/20 unweighed and unmeasured Paleo for the last year.  I would like to challenge everyone else to do the same and post back with thoughts, experiences and comments.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Twinkie Diet For Dummies

Recently, Mark D. Haub, a professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, decided to test out a reduced-calorie diet of Twinkies, Little Debbie Ho Ho's and Doritos to see if it is the quality or quantity of food that really mattered for weight loss.  The professor drastically cut his caloric intake from over 2,600 calories to a mere 1,800 calories - a hefty 30% deficit in his normal caloric intake.  His goal was to consume junk food as his staple food, accounting for 2/3 of his calories, while taking a multi-vitamin and a protein shake for essential nutrients.

Here was a typical day of eating for Haub as reported by CNN:

Espresso, Double: 6 calories; 0 grams of fat
Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat
Centrum Advanced Formula From A To Zinc: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Little Debbie Star Crunch: 150 calories; 6 grams of fat
Hostess Twinkies Golden Sponge Cake: 150 calories; 5 grams of fat
Diet Mountain Dew: 0 calories; 0 grams of fat
Doritos Cool Ranch: 75 calories; 4 grams of fat
Kellogg's Corn Pops: 220 calories; 0 grams of fat  

Whole milk: 150 calories; 8 grams of fat  
Baby carrots: 18 calories; 0 grams of fat
Duncan Hines Family Style Brownie Chewy Fudge: 270 calories; 14 grams of fat
Little Debbie Zebra Cake: 160 calories; 8 grams of fat
Muscle Milk Protein Shake: 240 calories; 9 grams of fat

1,589 calories and 59 grams of fat

10 weeks on this diet resulted in the following for Haub:
  • He lost 26 lbs, going from 200 to 174.
  • Body fat decreased by 8.5%.
  • LDL (bad cholesterol) dropped 20% and HDL (good cholesterol) increased by 20%.
  • He reduced his level of triglycerides, (the major form of fat stored in the body) by 39%.
  • Blood sugar dropped from 94 to 75.
  • Blood pressure stayed normal.
So does it really matter what we eat???  First glance at this might lead us straight to 7-11's snack isle. I have a few thoughts on this that both support and admonish Mr. Haub's efforts.

Overeating will cause inflammation.  This goes back to my Zone vs. Paleo argument where Paleo-eaters are encouraged to eat as much as they want, as long as they are consuming high quality foods.  Overeating or over-nutrition is not healthy in any diet realm.  Sears will adamantly agree that anything over 500, maybe 600 calories at one meal is disastrous for our metabolic health and will actually lead to a pro-inflammatory response within our bodies.  Aren't we trying to lower inflammation by eating all those healthy and nutrient-dense foods?  If you take a hard look at Haub's caloric intake at each meal, it's never above 300 calories... a positive in the inflammation nation.

Sidenote: I feel strongly that Paleo foods will lead to optimal health... they just need to be eaten in Zone quantities correlating to our personal body composition and activity levels.

Glycemid Load matters.  The glycemic load takes into account not only the rate of the entry of carbohydrates into the bloodstream (the glycemic index), but also the amount of carbohydrates that you eat in one sitting.  This, my friends, is what actually determines how much insulin our pancreas is going to produce in response to those digested carbohydrates.  Twinkies undoubtedly have a higher glycemic index than brown rice but if you're eating just 1 cup of cooked brown rice (almost 50g carbs), your body will undoubtedly produce more insulin than if you were to stick to that little cream-filled sponge containing a mere 27g of high-glycemic carbs. 

Fat is bad.  Being fat this is... not necessarily the fat you eat.  Being overweight is what eventually leads to metabolic syndrome or risk factors that include high blood pressure, belly fat, high triglycerides and high blood sugar.  Losing weight and shedding body fat will initially help these health markers, regardless of how you do it.  Long term health is what is not taken into consideration here.  These markers don't give any indication of our actual fasting insulin levels... i.e. how hard our pancreas is working to keep that blood sugar in check. My bet would be a diet such as this would not yield optimal insulin levels, ultimately leading to insulin resistance, and finally type II diabetes.

Who eats 1 twinkie?  Back to those little exorphins from my last post... eating oreos and ho ho's will increase your sugar cravings, period.   Ultimately, most people that would try this type of diet would not be able to stick to a handful of Doritos or 1 twinkie at a time... portion control does matter and the average junk food eater does not stick to these small portions.

Haub himself agrees that although he lost weight, calling this diet "healthy" is one hard ho ho to swallow. "There seems to be a disconnect between eating healthy and being healthy," Haub said. "It may not be the same. I was eating healthier, but I wasn't healthy. I was eating too much." Haub was referring to the higher calorie "healthy" diet he was on that included plenty of grains, berries, bananas and the occasional pizza, all of which are insulin-spiking carbohydrates that he was most likely consuming in higher portions than 27g at a time.

Final point:  quality and quantity of calories consumed do matter.  We really need to take a look at dropping our body fat to get control of those risk factors mentioned above.  If you can lose weight by eating the occasional rices and breads, but in zone proportions... do it.  Eating healthy is not always healthy... if overweight and overeating.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cookies and morphine

Here's a newsflash that shouldn't shock you too much... carbs are addictive! Bread, cereal, pasta, pastries, pancakes... yes, all addictive.  Your favorite macaroni and cheese dish from Ditka's and those homemade biscuits that your grandmother makes are called comfort foods for a reason... but these fav foods might be closer to a drug than you think.

We all know that we are much more likely to overeat on french bread and cheesecake than hard boiled eggs and brocolli, but why?

I'm deep into The Protein Power Plan by Dr. Michael Eades where he points out the significant research showing that cereal grains, especially wheat, barley, maize and even some dairy contain opioid substances called exorphins.  I've heard of endorphins, they make us feel good right?  Endorphins are those crazy little hormones that get released in our body when we laugh, cry, exercise, or have sex!  But exorphins, let's look at those.

Exorphins: Opioid peptides derived from food proteins.  Exorphins are primarily found in wheat gluten and casein and show morphine-like properties when digested in the body.  This leads to a sense of well-being and a reduction of anxiety that makes us want to keep eating and can to a degree lead to addiction!  Cookies and morphine, who knew?  There is no doubt that carbohydrates are top dawgs on the list of foods that we crave and have a hard time saying no to even for the most disciplined of Paleo disciples.  This is just one more reason that wheat should have no place in the diet of someone looking to improve both their body composition and their health.

Let's recap what we already know and have learned:

- Wheat consumption drives up insulin production, making us fat.
- Excess insulin can and most likely will increase your likelihood for developing diabetes.
- We eat wheat containing carbohydrates like bread, cookies, cake and pasta, supplying our body with peptides that have morphine-like addictive properties that make us want to keep doing it!

I always tell my athletes to treat their food as a drug.  Though that daily dose of wheat-based goodness might not seem all that bad and will undoubtedly have less effect than some intravenous morphine, we have the power through our food choices to affect our hormones several times/day, everyday for the rest of our lives.  Think about it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Trial: Zone vs Paleo

First entry to share my knowledge and passion of finding optimal health through optimal nutrition.  It is coming with good timing too since today is DAY 1 of the "Holiday Meltdown" at Atlas CrossFit.  We have 25 challengers all ready to Zone it up for 6 weeks for a chance at a cash prize and an excuse to ask for those skinny jeans for Christmas!

I gave a pretty straightforward lecture last Thursday on strict "Zone" concepts as opposed to strict "Paleo" nutrition.  This 6 weeks is all about really dialing in on our portion sizes and macronutrient ratios to get us into an optimal fat-burning zone and lower that inflammation.  I love Paleo nutrition for all the healthy options that it encourages one to consume.  However, I have seen from my own experiences, and from some of my athletes... that it is pretty darn easy to overeat on Paleo! Yes, one will hold steadfast to their rule of absolutely no whole-grain goodness or dairly bliss... but don't think for one minute that a Paleo adherent would hesitate to eat an entire jar of almond butter in one Saturday night while proudly pushing away an 8 oz. cocktail of vodka because of its potato base!

I'm not saying that vodka is even remotely a better choice than Almond butter... but sometimes it's just about balance.  Over 2000 calories of nuts at one sitting cannot be the best option.. it can actually be an inflammation nightmare! So, I wanted to create a challenge to create this balance, from both a mental, physical and a hormonal aspect.  If you want to have a beer (after the first 2 weeks of course)...  have a beer and feel accomplished about it because you gave up 2 carb blocks for that meal to have it!

Ultimately, I believe that the best course of action for truly optimal health is to consume high quality Paleo-friendly foods in perfect Zone ratios.  Is this hard... you betcha!  This is why America's obesity is on the rise... and why everyone doesn't CrossFit. It's not that easy... at first.  The motivation is typically the hardest part to any equation when it comes to self-improvement, but once we have the motivation, we still need the education and the discipline to make sh*t happen. But now each of the Meltdown contenders should have all 3: the motivation to sign up, a personalized Zone Rx based on current body fat, and the discipline, well... 6 weeks time will tell! 

Remember the most important rules:
  • Buy a food scale and measure everything for 2 weeks!
  •  Carb Requirements are cut in half for the first 14 days. Carb blocks are added to total fat blocks.  Example: 16/16/16 => 16/8/24
  • ONLY Paleo Approved foods are allowed for the first 7 days.
  • NO alcohol or caffeine for the first 14 days.
  • Track your weight at the same time every week.
  • Journal your food choices and energy levels.
  • Drink at least 8 glasses of water and take at least 10g of fish oil daily.
  • Get at least 7 hours of sleep!

As far as I'm concerned, I have 25 athletes that are motivated, disciplined and armed with all the tools necessary to break that inflammation cycle down to Chinatown...