Understanding food and nutrition

 

Over last 14 or so month, my understanding and relationship to food has changed dramatically. From thinking of food as fuel or just calories, I now think of food as much more than fuel for this body. Food is biochemical information that interacts with the bio-chemistry of our bodies and our genes. I thought it will be fun and instructing to list the various steps and phases I went through in trying to understand food and what will work best for me.

Step 1. It’s all about the MACRO Nutrients

Step 2. To be or not to be, FAT is the question

Step 3.  Carbage, Garbage

Step 4. Gluten is not my friend

Step 5. FAT is the lord of the realm

Step 6. I discover Grok Man, Mr. Paleo himself, Mark Sisson and www.marksdailyapple.com , it’s not just about food alone

Step 7. FATs and Oils rule but which ones exactly

Step 8. Quality matters when it comes to MACRO nutrients

Step 9. Healthy gut is key to healthy body, your micro biome matters

Step 10. It’s not just about MACRO nutrients, MICRO nutrients matter too and so do supplements

Step 11. I go BULLETPROOF

1.       Dialling in macro nutrients: Jonathan Baylor was pretty much the first health author I listened to. After reading his ‘The Calorie Myth’, my takeaway was to eat high-water high-fibre high-protein food. I remember reading in the book that we must eat 30 gms of protein thrice a day. Book also explain relationship between insulin resistance and refined carbs and sugar. I remember eating heaps of salads and cans of chicken pieces and tuna. As long as there was enough protein in the can, I would eat it. I wasn’t too concerned with the quality of the protein itself.


Interestingly, I remember switching from a breakfast of margarine on toast with a glass of milk to weetbix with milk. I am not sure what I was thinking of at the moment, but it seemed like a pretty good idea because weetbix is touted as energy for growing kids.  In reality it is highly processed and very carbohydrate intensive. It is made from whole grains which I basically consider toxic now.

 

2.       To be or not to be, FAT is the question: Next I listened to Dr. Perlmutter of The Grain Brain fame. For those who don’t know he is a brilliant brain surgeon, board certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. I remember him being very pro FAT and explaining how keto-adapted body and brain is the most desirable state. I didn’t understand the word keto and realized after a few weeks that it meant being fat adapted. I still didn’t understand why we need to fat adapted or a fat burning beast but the message was clear  – FAT is your friend. Around this time I went a bit nuts on nuts. I didn’t realize the anti-nutrients load of nuts.

 
Contrary to the popular belief , 2 very important and then radical concepts I had to get my head around were:

i.                     Food is more than just calories. Focus should shift from calorie or quantity of the food to quality. And not all calories are born equal. A calorie of protein has very different impact from a calorie of FAT vs Carbs.

ii.                   FAT is your friend. So I recognized the role of FATs in our diet very quickly. What I didn’t realize at the time was that not all FATs are born equal too.


3.       Carbage, garbage – Both the books made it pretty clear to me that refined carbs and sugar were at the root of modern obesity epidemic. Understanding the hormonal effects of sugar and refined carbs on insulin and eventually making us insulin resistance and diabetic left a very deep impression on me. I would basically shun anything that had excessive carbs. Be it so-called energy foods like weetbix or safe starches like rice or potatoes.  Bread was out of my life and all its incarnations like pizza, bagels, and doughnuts.

 

4.       Gluten – You couldn’t help but hear about gluten and never in good light. It just seemed like a problematic protein to digest, something to be avoided. I think I more or less stopped having rotis (made from wheat), stuff I grew up on. I still didn’t know just how bad gluten was. I had pretty much switched to having eggs in the morning, free range eggs. At this point I also started experimenting with coconut oil in black coffee. I knew coconut oil in coffee felt awesome but it was not until I discovered BulletProof coffee that I understood the science behind mixing MCT oil in the coffee

Pastured  eggs being done in butter
 

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5.       FAT is the lord of the seven kingdoms – As if I wasn’t already convinced that FAT was essential for good health, I ran into Nora T. Gedgaudas. I discovered Primal Body, Primal Mind and also ended up finding the now discontinued podcast by the same name. If it’s possible, she is even more pro FAT than Perlmutter and that’s saying a lot. She is totally against consuming pretty much any kinds of carbs and grains. Imagine the impact of below quotes on my mind:

 

There is no known carbohydrate nutritional deficiency.”

There are essential amino acids (proteins) and essential fatty acids (FAT), stuff body can’t live without but there is no such thing as essential carbs.”

“We are born in a state of ketosis (or fat burning)”

All the above 3 statements are true but not all carbs are equal. I now believe there is a role for certain carbohydrates or safe starches like sweet potato or rice in an active lifestyle. When you do heavy workouts, safe starches have a place in your diet and you can use them smartly as fuel with minimum impact on insulin.

 

6.       I discover Grok man, our beloved Cave man: I was introduced to www.marksdailyapple.com by a close friend who was an avoid paleo eater himself couple of years ago. Mark Sisson and his primal blueprint is the complete package. It’s not just about food. Primal living is a way of life. As Mark says “honouring the expectation of your hunter gatherer genes”. Yeah. Chew on that for a minute. It’s about eating foods that our genes expect and ones that will allow us to thrive and not just survive, it’s about getting adequate sleep, go out and play, lift heavy things and get in touch with nature. Primal living is not about living in the dark or hunting your neighbour’s pets. At the time I discovered Primal Blueprint, I also started listening to Robb Wolf podcast.

Mark Sisson and Robb Wolf are the original paleo masters.

This holistic approach took my understanding to a new level, I was also motivated to get active and put on some lean mass and basically get stronger.

Nutrition wise, it became crystal clear to me that gluten was not just not nice but very bad. It basically should have no place in my diet. It causes all sorts of gastro and neurological issues, even linked to auto-immune conditions like arthritis.

Secondly, no good could come out of ‘healthy whole grains’. Just rolls right of the tongue aye, healthy whole grains? Grains are so full of anti-nutrients and so damaging to the gut, only good thing you can say about them is that they are cheap and has helped humanity settle down and build the civilization. But they have made us very weak.

 Around this time I more or less went milk free. Just about the only milk I would take now is the organic, raw and unpasteurized type.

7.       FAT of the land but which FATs really rule the land – As I discovered this paleo and primal lifestyles, FAT again seemed like the star macro nutrient. I still had not paid much attention to the oils we were using to cook our food in, for instance canola oil. I didn’t realize until now that industrial vegetable oils and margarine have no place in our modern diet. Together with sugar, they are one of the big drivers of creating inflammation in the body. I think around this time, it finally started to dawn on me the importance of saturated fats. We switched to cold-pressed coconut oil, olive oil for salad dressings, ghee and butter for cooking.  I read about how grass fed lamb and beef were not only safe but best sources of protein and fat. They were not harmful for us but medicinal.

 

8.       MACRO nutrient quality – I knew for a while now that a healthy diet is built on good FATs and proteins but now is when I really started looking at the quality of macro-nutrients especially protein. For example, free range chicken is better than soy protein, pastured chicken is better than free range chicken, pastured eggs are better than pastured chicken, and pastured lamb and beef is da bomb. It’s not enough to have plenty of fats and moderate proteins in your meal. Quality of proteins and fat is everything. It matters what the chicken ate that you are eating. Same goes for the eggs you are eating or that steak. Pastured and organic meat would have lower level of omega-6 fats and more of omega-3. They will also be richer in micronutrients. Grass fed butter should be favoured over butter made from milk made from cows that ate whole grain. It’s a cycle, nutrition and life vitality flows from the soil to the animal to the milk to the butter.

 

Steak, salad, kumara, avodcado

 

9.       Microbiome and GUT – The topic of gut bacteria would come up again and again. Apparently we have 10 times as many bacteria in our gut than the cells in our body. And these bacteria have a DNA that is separate from our DNA. Put another way, you have 10 times the external DNA sitting in your system and so what impacts these gut micro-biomes directly impacts us and it’s not an ephemeral connection. Gut is like the root of the trees, this is where most of our immunity lives and decisions are taken where external entities are allowed to enter the system. If gut is compromised, so is your health. Imagine you have leaky gut because of lifelong consumption of grains and you have all sorts of toxins leaking in through your gut. Gut healing is what turned me onto bone broths where simmering of bones and ligaments releases all sorts of healing compounds for our joints, tissues and gut.

 

Chicken bone broth with and bok choy

10.   Micronutrients and supplements – Food is not just about MACRO nutrients or focussing solely on proteins, fats and carbs. There are vitamins and minerals that are essential for thriving. You could eat the cleanest protein power in the world but the reason why pastured eggs or grass fed lamb and beef will trump it is because they are loaded with micro-nutrients. This is why safe starch like sweet potato has a place in my diet now, especially on a day I have done heavy work out. It provides my muscles with the glycogen it needs and I choose it over regular white potato. Organic livers are extremely nutritionally dense in vitamins and minerals. So my focus now is eating nutritionally dense foods – foods high in micronutrients and essential vitamins and minerals. It’s why I choose Himalayan Sea Salt over regular white sea-salt. And this is where supplementation also becomes important. For example, it’s nearly impossible to get adequate vitamin d3 in the diet unless you are nudist and live close to the equator. One of the realities of living in 21st century and working in artificial and closed environments is that we are exposed to much more environmental stressors than what our genes have evolved for. Add to that the fact that soil and consequently food is not as nutritionally dense. So supplementation is not just nice to have but extremely important and critical.

 

Chicken livers and hearts


B12, Folate and Vitamin k2

 

11.   I go BulletProof – BulletProof coffee has been the gateway drug to BulletProof lifestyle. It has been the next breakthrough after discovering Mark Sisson’s primal blueprint. Quoting Dave Asprey from the BulletProof Diet book: “A good diet is supposed to provide you with these five things – fuel for your body, energy for your brain, nourishment for your cells, low toxin load and most importantly satisfaction.’ Think about not just macro nutrients and micro nutrients but anti nutrients too. In fact cognitive enhancement is a very important goal of my diet now. Pastured eggs and wild bacon, both done in butter was my stock breakfast before I got hooked onto BulletProof coffee. There is something amazing about a pure fat breakfast of BulletProof coffee which give constant energy and focus for several hours. It’s like turning on the brain and most days I am not tempted to have proteins in my breakfast anymore. This makes intermittent fasting so much easier and there are very important advantages of taking a break from proteins. Not only is quality of proteins is important, it’s also important once every week or 10 days to do protein fasting – that is don’t have proteins for 24 hours.


BulletProof coffee, done right

 



 

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Hola – I discover food

Hola!

In the final months of 2013 I decided to do something about a bit of belly fat. I was lean overall , some would say even underweight and so I desired a lean stomach too but that wasn’t the case.  And how did I go about fixing the issue: like every one thinks this issue should be solved. Exercise more, eat less. In other words, watch the calories and because we are heat engines and nothing more and nothing less, calories in – calories out == weight gain. I had been on this path for only a few days when out of sheer good luck* after a lunch of wheat rotis and Indian curry, which naturally make you feel very sleepy, as I lay on bed for an afternoon sleep, I happened to listen  to Jonathan Bailor of “The Calory Myth” on Fat Burning Man podcast. It kind of blew my mind as Jonathan explained how a calorie of food itself doesn’t have any context. How the impact of 100 gms of PROTEIN is very different from that of 100 gms of CARBS and which again is very different from that of FAT. They elicit different hormonal response.
In fact Jonathan seemed to be suggesting that we basically need lots of good FAT and good PROTEIN. 

/*
I call it good luck because in hindsight by focussing on just calories I could have damaged my brain, thyroid, cells and suffer muscle loss.
*/

This made me very curious and next I listened to Dr. Perlmutter of The Grain Brain fame. Dr. Perlmutter is very pro FAT and he went on to explain how FAT is the fuel your brain desires and keto adapted (which I didn’t understand at the time) state is ideally what you want. You should become a FAT burner from a sugar\glucose burner. I think at the time it sent my brain into a tizzy because I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that it’s not FAT which makes you fat but rather a combination of refined carbs and sugar mixed with FAT in the food. Grains were also pooh-poohed in the podcast and I couldn’t believe the wheat rotis I grew up on were not the health food I thought they were.

I kept listening to as many Fat Burning podcasts as I could even though I wouldn’t understand half of it.  However, a few things started to crystalize in my head like

– Not all calories are equal. They have very different impact on our bodies. So, quality of food is much more important than focussing on quantity of food.
– Being FAT adapted or KETO adapted seemed like a good thing. In fact, it seemed that good FATs were very important for us.
– Grains and sugars seemed to be big issue in causing modern diseases.

Over next few months I read books like ‘The Calorie Myth’, ‘The Grain Brain’, ‘Primal Body, Primal Mind’. Soon thereafter I discovered the works of Mark Sisson, then Robb Wolf and finally The BulletProof Executive podcast.  Because I kept feeling better and started putting on some lean muscle mass, it kept me very thirsty to constantly learn new things. When I look back over the last 14 months, I have gone from a typical westernized India diet built on bread, sugar, grains-beans-legumes curries to a diet of whole foods like vegetables, salads, meats, eggs etc. In fact, food is only a small part of this primal\bulletproof lifestyle equation. Sleep, stress, inflammation, fitness, movement, primal connection with nature are equally important aspects of the equations.

Food
 

In my next post I should talk about how I went through different stages of food-nutrition enlightenment.