Food Journal

I don't suggest that people count calories or even track with great accuracy the macronutrients they eat.  I believe if you just focus on avoiding the macronutrients that can be a problem for most of us (carbs) and eating good quality, real foods, then the rest will take care of itself.  That has worked pretty well for me in the last several years.  I don't count calories, at all.  I just watch what I eat in terms of avoiding carbohydrates and focusing on real food.

Even with that, when I was learning to eat better three years ago, and when I've talked with others about how they eat and can improve, I see that tracking what you eat with a food journal can be very helpful.  That snapshot of where you are at a point in time can give insight as to how you are doing, allows you to focus on the right balance of food, and can help you learn if changes are needed.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what I typically eat today and compare it to how I used to eat years ago.  In other words, my "before" and "after" snapshots, using food journals.

I didn't actually capture a food journal for before, but it is pretty easy to think about a typical, representative day, and recreate a food journal that's probably pretty accurate.  While I knew this exercise would be pretty educational to demonstrate the use of a food journal for the purpose of this blog post, I was quite surprised by the insight it gave to me about how and why this diet works.

BEFORE

Here is my diary from a typical day of food a few years ago was when I was trying (not always successfully) to follow the "conventional wisdom" guidelines for diet.  

During my typical day years ago I estimate I would consume a total of about 2,900 calories, 43% from carbs, 44% from fat, and 13% from protein.  The protein intake would have been around 96 grams.

I was also consuming roughly the recommended, or slightly higher, calorie intake for someone my size and activity level.  I was consuming around 2,900 calories per day with the recommendation being around 2,700 - 2,900 calories per day.  I also remember that I often felt hungry and that I had to eat something every few hours or suffer shakes, headaches, etc, despite my eating on the high side of the recommended range of calories.

The protein intake was probably right where it should have been based on my current understanding, while the carbohydrate intake is much higher and fat lower than what I understand today to be the best approach for me.  The carb intake is on the low end of the conventional recommendation (about 43% versus the recommended 45-65%) and fat intake is above the conventional recommendation (about 44% versus the recommended 20-35%.)

AFTER

My diary from a typical day of food today is a bit different, to say the least.

During my typical day today I estimate I consume a total of 2,200 calories with a minimum recommendation for someone my size and activity level being around 2,600.  Keep in mind that I do not feel like I'm starving and am almost never hungry despite the lower calorie intake, and can go for hours, or even a day, without feeling like I need to eat or risk having the shakes or headaches.

My protein consumption works out to be exactly the same at 96 grams!  (This was not a setup, it actually came out exactly the same.)  If you ever hear of this being a "high protein" diet or the dangers of a "high protein" diet, realize that this is not, and that is not what I recommend.

I now consume around 76% of my calories from fat (well above "conventional wisdom" of course) and my carbohydrate intake is around 7% (well below "conventional wisdom".)

WHAT I'VE LEARNED

This was a very interesting exercise for me and I've learned the following from it:

  • I ate more calories before, and too many for my size and activity level, so I was having issues controlling my weight.
  • I ate a little less fat in terms of total grams before as I do now (141 grams vs. 187 grams) but not nearly as much difference as I would have thought.
  • I ate many more calories before, and most of the additional calories came from carbohydrate.
  • I ate more calories before, BECAUSE I was eating more carbohydrates and had poor control of glucose/insulin swings and the resulting hunger.  This also lead to most of the other health issues I was having.
  • I may be eating too few calories today, so it might not hurt to consciously increase consumption a bit, but I'll look to add a little more healthy fat instead of carbohydrate.  I'm pretty convinced that these added calories won't lead to increased weight but probably increased energy.  When I had done this previously while I was adapting to this way of eating, I observed that when I increased consumption of fat, my weight decreased even faster.
  • Although not obvious from the food diaries, I eat much better quality food, and much less processed food today.

I don't believe that anyone should constantly calculate these detailed numbers about their food, or constantly count calories, fat, carbs, or anything else.  But occasionally tracking exactly what we're eating can lead to discovery and ensure that we're on the right track.

Egg Casserole

At a recent morning presentation on the Primal Blueprint, where I decided to bring some primal-acceptable foods for a snack, I decided to whip up a breakfast casserole with what I had on hand.

I did some online searching and found some basic recipes so I had a target for time, temperature, etc.  I also had this list of ingredients available to work with;

  • 1-1/2 dozen eggs
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Swiss cheese
  • Baked ham (~1 pound)
  • Fresh broccoli
  • Chopped bacon
  • Chopped onion
  • Grass fed butter

I don't actually remember the time and temperature but it took quite a bit longer than I thought but turned out quite good, and it's a good, balance dish from a nutrition standpoint.

A good balance of fat, protein, and some carbohydrate.

Quality, as usual, is a little more difficult to estimate since the sources aren't always known.  I did know I had good quality eggs from pastured chickens at a local farm.  The broccoli was organic so the quality there is good.  The ham, cheese and bacon are just what I could pick up at the store so I suspect the quality there is not quite as good.

Finally, the micro-nutrition in this dish is probably pretty good as well.  With eggs from pastured chickens and the organic broccoli, there are some good micronutrients.  I think a dish with more vegetables might be a bit better from a micronutrient standpoint but I think this dish isn't bad.

Processed Food Jumping on the Bandwagon?

It's very difficult to know what the right things are to eat.  It's not any easier when all around us are advertisements, slogans, and claims on and about packaged foods.  Everywhere you look these days among packaged food -- particularly high-carbohydrate packaged food such as cereal, snack bars and the like -- you see protein being advertised as the next great food benefit.  What's with this new trend?  Is this an earnest effort by these food companies to improve our nutrition?

I don't want to claim that these companies are out to harm us, they're not, but their objectives are exactly what they are required to do to benefit their shareholders.  They're out to sell more product.  This is not necessarily the same as your objective to eat healthier food.

I think these big food companies are seeing a trend toward paleo, primal, low carb diets and they want to jump on the bandwagon.  But they've got a problem.  If they were really to embrace this approach, they would develop food that was low in carbohydrate and not lower in fat, but not necessarily higher in protein.  If they did that, they'd do two things which aren't in line with their objective to sell more product.

For one, they would scare a large part of their customer base away.  That base is made up of average Americans who are convinced, from years of the low fat mantra, that fat is to be avoided at all cost.  They avoid any mention about reduced carbohydrates, whether or not their new products have reduced carbohydrates or not.  If they mentioned reduced carbohydrate, they fear they would sound like they were suggesting "healthy whole grains" should be avoided.  The only safe thing they can say is that they have more protein.

Another likely reason is fear of stirring the wrath of experts in conventional nutrition who would disparage food that is higher in fat or lower in healthy whole grains.

To those who are trying to understand what to eat and what's good for them, particularly those who are trying to follow a low carbohydrate approach, be cautious about buying into the message from these processed food manufacturers.  High protein is not necessarily the way to go.  You probably are getting enough protein and having more is not going to help you reach your goals.

The list of new Protein-enhanced processed foods I found on a walk through the grocery store;

  • Special K Protein Cinnamon Brown Sugar Crunch Cereal
  • Special K Protein Chocolatey Peanut Butter Granola Snack Bar
  • Special K Dark Chocolate Granola Snack Bar
  • Quaker Select Starts Protein Cranberry Almond Instant Oatmeal
  • Quaker Select Starts Banana Nut Instant Oatmeal
  • Fairlife reduced fat ultra-filtered milk.  (The issues with this product go far beyond the focus on 50% more protein.  The shear idea that milk itself needs to improved is hard to believe.  See this blog post for more at PrimalPastures.com)
  • Rockin' Refuel protein fortified, low fat milk
  • Weightwatchers Frosted Shredded Wheat with Protein
  • Fiber One Coconut Almond Chewy Bars with Protein
  • Nature Valley Mixed Berry Protein Greek Yogurt  Chewy Bar with Naturally Flavored Greek Yogurt Coating
  • Nature Valley Strawberry Greek Yogurt Protein Chewy Bar with Naturally Flavored Greek Yogurt Coating
  • Fiber One Cranberry Almond Protein Cereal
  • Fiber One Maple Brown Sugar Protein Cereal
  • Special K Protein Cereal  (One listing 10g of protein the other with 14g including milk.  Other than that I see no difference -- could this be an experiment on their part?)
  • Cheerios Cinnamon Almond Protein Cereal
  • Cheerios Oats and Honey Protein Cereal

It's interesting that these protein-enhanced packaged foods are almost all foods that are normally high in carbohydrate.  (Cereal, snack bars, etc.)  There's also no mention of them having lower carbohydrate since I suspect they don't.

 

 

 

Newk's Ultimate Salad

I usually don't end up getting as many vegetables as I would like, so at least once a week I will usually go get a big salad for lunch.  In this case I went to Newk's, a restaurant located a short walk from where I work.  The "Ultimate" salad is what I usually get, and it's a pretty healthy and appetizing choice.

Newk's ultimate salad is basically a chef's salad including leaf lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes as well as cheese, grilled chicken, ham, turkey, and bacon.  I get it without their honey mustard dressing and instead use the olive oil and vinegar they have available.  In this way I avoid the sugar and bad fats that are likely in the pre-made dressing and probably get something more healthy.  (I say probably because so many olive oils are cut with unhealthy oils it's hard to tell.  I figure I am more likely to get a healthier oil if it at least says olive oil, but no guarantees.)

The macro nutrient content in a salad like this is pretty good.  A good balance of fat and protein and low level of carbohydrates.  (Note that I eat this without the croutons.)  The only thing I would change is the grape tomatoes which have a higher sugar content than regular tomatoes but there's not that much to worry about.

The quality of this meal is a little more in doubt.  I have no idea the source of the meats or cheeses.  The saving grace on the meat in this meal is that most of the proteins are lean (chicken breast and turkey breast.)  The good nutrients in properly raised meat, or the bad nutrients in improperly raised meat, is stored primarily in the fat.  This means that when the quality of the source is questionable, a leaner cut is better.  Not much choice as far as the cheese, so you're stuck with the quality that you get.

On the micronutrient scale, I would rate this meal reasonably high.  With the raw vegetables and possibly the olive oil, (assuming it's reasonably high quality virgin olive oil) there are plenty of vitamins and minerals.  There could be a wider variety of vegetables to make it even better, but this isn't bad.

Overall a good lunch and a good part of a healthy, low carbohydrate diet.

Brummel & Brown Yogurt Spread


I wrote this article because someone had asked me what I thought of this product.  As you'll read in the article, I don't think much of this product from my own nutritional perspective.  What blows me away is that this is by far the most popular post on my site!  I frankly can't figure out why.  I'd love to get feedback on what you, my readers, are looking for when you've visited this page.  Please leave comments below, or use my feedback page for private feedback, and help me figure out why this page is so popular!


Recently, I was asked what I thought about Brummel & Brown butter made with yogurt.  I had never heard of it so I checked it out online.  What I found was that it is based on some key things about how we're mislead about what's healthy, and despite the Brummel & Brown web site name, I don't believe it is making our lives better.

Brummel & Brown yogurt spread is a butter-like spread that says it's a "Spread made with nonfat Yogurt."  That's a clue right there.  Nonfat is not something that you want.  (Note the key word there; "spread."  There's no mention of butter -- they wouldn't dare.  There's no butter to be found.)  The web site lists the nutrition label with the ingredients.  Here's the link to the web page.  (You need to click the link for "Nutrition Facts/Ingredients below the picture of the spread.)  

Let's take a look at the ingredients, in the order on the label:

Water: OK, not bad shouldn't hurt anything

Vegetable Oil Blend: So, other than water, it's main ingredient is highly inflammatory seed oils, Soybean, Palm Oil, Palm Kernel Oil, Canola Oil)

Salt: Not a problem.  I like salted butter more for most things anyway

Gelatin: Generally OK, but real butter doesn't need it, but I guess they do to hold together the water and vegetable oil.

Nonfat Yogurt: There's the star ingredient.  Yogurt's generally good but of course the fear of fat means it's nonfat.  This is not a good choice.  Real butter is a much better choice.

Soy Lecithin: While soy is generally to be avoided, soy lecithin doesn't contain enough of the anti nutrients to affect most people, but again, real butter doesn't need it.

Then there's a number of other additives and artificial ingredients that real butter doesn't need.

I would say this for Brummel & Brown Spread with Yogurt, as well as other vegetable oil-based spreads.  They are definitely to be avoided.  Use real butter, preferably from grass fed dairy.  Kerry Gold is a good reliable brand you can now find at many stores.  If you haven't tasted real Irish butter like Kerry Gold, you haven't tasted real butter.  I feel it's a much better option that this artificial stuff that's not really good for your health.

Calories In = Calories Out

The conventional wisdom, and the mainstream approach to diet and exercise is that you must balance "calories in" with "calories out."  What does that really mean?  I'm going to attempt to answer that from my perspective, and talk about why I think it is more or less true, yet misguided advice.  While calories in may balance calories out, a low carbohydrate approach can take the natural processes that our bodies use and turn them to our advantage.  We can make the process of improving our body composition and improving overall health (usually that also means losing weight) relatively easy and automatic, instead of a tremendous feat of willpower.

The conventional wisdom on diet and exercise can be summed up in the concept that the calories in the food you eat (calories in) is either burned up, or is converted to fat.  When you exercise you burn calories (calories out.)  Part of the “calories out” is your “basal metabolic rate” which is simply the energy your body needs to stay alive, even if you are doing nothing else. The idea is that this simple equation governs whether we gain or lose weight.  If we eat more and don't exercise more, we gain weight.  If we eat less or exercise more, we lose weight.  When put this simply, it’s essentially true, but there are more things going on and our bodies aren't that simple, and how easy it is to hold that equation in balance can depend a lot on what kind of calories you consume.

If we eat a conventional diet, high in carbohydrates and low in fat, we really can affect our body composition by consciously limiting our intake of calories and constantly exercising to burn calories (think “The Biggest Loser”).  If you can do that, you can improve body composition, lose weight, and be fit.  The problem is, you will have to really work at it, you’ll need to have strong willpower.  (Think “The Biggest Loser” again and all the made-for-TV drama as the contestants struggle to stay on the program, driving themselves or being driven to exhaustion, while basically starving.)

ExhaustedExercise.jpg

If we try to limit our food intake, we are fighting our own body’s chemistry and will have a real struggle. The primary reason this happens, is that when we consume carbohydrates, they quickly turn to glucose in the blood.  (See my post on why LCHF diets work.)  As glucose goes up after a meal, it must be removed from the bloodstream since too much is toxic so insulin is secreted. Insulin drives blood glucose back down.  Assuming someone on the standard American diet high in carbohydrates, the constant insulin surges keep the body form having access to burning fat so when blood glucose drops, this signals more hunger which must be countered with sheer willpower.

If we try to hold our “calories in” the same and just try to burn more calories (exercise more) we run into another problem.  Our bodies know we’ve burned a lot of calories.  If we are consuming a high carbohydrate diet, we can’t access our stored body fat because the constant insulin surges cause fat cells to hold on to their fat stores.  This leads to fuel not being available, particularly to the brain which triggers an overwhelming drive to find food.  Unless we have tremendous willpower, we’re going to eat more and cancel out all that work we did to burn more calories.

The worst case of ramping up exercise and forcing ourselves eat less compounds the problem.  And if we're constantly exercising (again, like you see on "The Biggest Loser") you crank up cortisol (the "fight or flight" response) which also triggers the body to hold on stored fat and more hunger.

If we eat a low carbohydrate diet, we still have to eat fewer calories than we burn, more or less, if we want to lose weight.  The advantage with this approach is that without the constant insulin surges, our fat cells are more than happy to provide the energy the body needs, and we don’t experience the drive the eat.  In fact, if we have some fat to lose, our bodies will actually seek ways to burn more of our fat, giving us a tremendous amount of energy.

So we’re not violating some natural law that calories in equal calories out.  We’re not cheating the system.  We’re leveraging the body’s natural systems to our advantage.  Turning from the need for a an almost superhuman feat of willpower, to an almost effortless, automatic, and quite natural process.

Very short story why LCHF works

Building on my previous post on how I do a LCHF diet as succinctly as possible, this post describes why I think it works.  Maybe not as brief as the last post, but tried to make it as simple as possible, while still describing how it works.  Here goes.

  • Human bodies have evolved to be very adaptable and survive eating many different things -- we're omnivores after all.
  • Highly sweet fruits and highly concentrated starches rarely were found by our ancestors, and when they were, there was a healthy portion of fiber along with them.  (Well, in the case of honey they came with lots of bees.)  These were things which moderated the availability of these concentrated carbohydrate calories.
  • We adapted to use any of these concentrated energy sources when we found them, burn what we could immediately for fuel, store some in the muscles and liver as glycogen, and store the rest as fat.
  • Because of that we have several hormones that balance all those energy sources a help to keep things in our bodies stable.
  • When we ingest sugar (or carbohydrates which almost immediately turn to sugar) insulin is released in our bloodstream to tell our muscles and fat cells to open up and take in the sugar.
  • In our current society, we have an endless supply of sugar and carbohydrate that we consume far more of, far more continuously than our bodies evolved to handle.
  • Over time, our muscles become insensitive to the insulin signal that seems to never end, and don't take in the sugar because they have plenty already.  This is called insulin resistance.
  • Eventually, our bodies can't produce insulin very well, leading to pre-diabetes and full-blown diabetes.
  • The sugar has to go somewhere and the fat cells take it in since they don't become insulin resistant as quickly.  In any event, we pump out more insulin into the bloodstream to make sure the sugar gets taken care of.
  • This causes a drop in blood sugar and the brain thinks; "it's time to eat again!"  Starting a vicious cycle.
  • Fat cells release a hormone called leptin.  The more fat cells or the more full those cells are with fat, the more leptin is released.
  • Leptin is supposed to signal the brain that "we're good here, we don't need more to eat."  It also signals that our bodies have plenty of energy and it will trigger the urge for activity, movement, and generally increased metabolism.
  • Here's the key: Insulin blocks leptin!  That means, if we're consuming lots of carbs, that signal to the brain is shut down the brain doesn't get the message that we don't need to eat more. (In particular, if we have insulin resistance we're in that vicious cycle and are continuously consuming carbs and keeping insulin high.)
  • So when I significantly cut carbs (only takes cutting it below 100 to 150 gms/day or so) the high insulin goes away, my leptin signal was unblocked, and I naturally ate less -- my body's natural control systems start working again.  That leptin signal also told my body to move more -- giving me lots of energy I didn't know I had.

So admittedly, this is still a little complicated to explain, but certainly not rocket science.  This is the mechanism that allowed me to reduce my weight and enjoy renewed health and lots of energy I thought I had lost for good.

I welcome your feedback!

Very short story on how I eat LCHF

I thought I would see how succinctly I could describe what this Low Carb, High Fat (LCHF) diet is, (at least the way I do it) to those who may be unfamiliar.  Here goes.

FoodonForks.jpg

I eat virtually no sugar.  (Including sodas, sugar in other drinks, deserts, etc.)

I eat virtually no grains.  (Including breads, pasta, cereal, rice, etc.)

I eat virtually no starchy vegetables. (Potatoes, etc)

I eat little or no sweet fruits. (Citrus, ripe bananas, apples, etc)

I eat a "normal" amount of protein, about 100 gms./day  (Beef, pork, chicken, fish)

I eat fat, about 70-80% of calories. (Mostly saturated and monounsaturated)

I eat eggs. (About 1-1/2 dozen a week.)

I eat full-fat dairy. (Butter, full-fat cream, hard cheeses)

I eat some nuts. (Mainly macadamia, but also some almonds, Brazil nuts, pistachios, cashews)

I eat some less-sweet fruits. (Blueberries, strawberries)

I eat very dark chocolate (usually greater than 85% cocoa)

I strive for quality food sources. (Dairy and beef from Grass fed cows, eggs and meat from pastured chickens)

I eat very little packaged or junk food, or food with labels containing more than 2 or 3 recognizable ingredients.

I never count calories.

I don't worry about getting it all perfect.

I welcome your feedback!