Macros and Other Foolery

macros everywhere

First let me start out by stating that fad diets are the bane of my existence. Second, let this serve as fair warning that my harsh opinions might be, well, harsh. Third, if you say any of the following words to describe your eating style (or flavor of the moment, as I’d rather call it), then I will make fun of you: Paleo, Atkins, counting macros, primal, clean, blood-type, etc. Sorry…not sorry.

(If you’ve received this blog update twice, sorry; there were some glitches the first time around!)

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Due to some recent discussions on the matter, I am forced to talk about “macros.” But before I do, I will kindly say to those of you who requested I talk about macros: my words are not directed at you personally (and yes, there are several of you who will feel like I am talking at you) so please do not take it that way. Any insensitivity that is exuded from this article is directed toward the not-nutrition-professionals-but-think-they-are-because-they-lift-weights dudes who somehow decided to start this fad of using annoying buzzwords like “macros.” *rolls eyes*

If you’re wondering what a “macro” is, it is the cutsie term for “macronutrient.” There are three macronutrients: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. No self-respecting, credentialed, real nutrition professional would be caught dead using the term “macro.” There is no “macro aisle” at the grocery store. Macronutrients are contained in the foods we eat. No single food or food group contains only one macronutrient; rather, the foods we eat are often a combination of at least two, if not all three macronutrients.

In the interest of addressing the issue of “counting macros,” I must declare first that I absolutely despise teaching anyone to count anything. You’ve probably heard the saying “don’t miss the forest for the trees.” I feel very strongly that once we start crunching numbers on the calculator and counting calories or carbs or proteins or whatever, we miss the big picture of eating healthy. I have seen it a million times with my patients; and it is ALWAYS the ones who are STRUGGLING with their weight or health (or both) who are counting stuff. Always.

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Furthermore, if we only focus on how much carbohydrate, protein, or fat we are consuming, we lose sight of quality. Cookies would provide me with some fat and carbohydrate. Are cookies healthy? Come on. If you focus instead on having a meal that contains real, whole foods—a small amount of fiber-rich carbohydrate-containing foods, a moderate amount of protein-rich foods, and a little fat (especially from fish/nuts/whole foods)—then you are far more likely to consume an appropriate amount of macronutrients AND micronutrients…without counting anything…

DISCLAIMER: A very important point to consider here is that each and every single one of us has a unique health situation, and specific nutrition advice can and should be tailored to YOU. This is general advice, and may not apply to you. Seek counsel from a registered dietitian nutritionist (NOT a personal trainer) for more individualized guidance.

Ok, ok, ok….without further adieu, I will reluctantly give you some numbers. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrate, protein, fat for the average Joe or Jane is as follows:

Carbohydrates: 45-65% of caloric intake
Protein: 10-35% of caloric intake
Fat: 20-35% of caloric intake

If it sounds like a lot of math, that is correct. You’d first have to determine your estimated energy needs in terms of calories (or kcals in clinical terms). You next would calculate the calorie percentages based on the AMDRs as a starting point. Then you’d convert the calorie amounts to grams of each macronutrient. Then you’d have to determine how that measures out in terms of actually putting together a real meal composed of real food. Complicated? Yup. You wouldn’t get this advice from me, I’ll tell you that right now.

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What you would get from me is real concepts. Even athletes trying to “bulk up” can eat real food and achieve results. Athletes likely DO need more calories and protein than the average Joe or Jane. Some individuals, even athletes, perform and feel better with less carbohydrates. A slightly higher emphasis on protein can increase the calories burned in the digestion of food (known as the thermic effect of food). A too-high intake of protein can damage your kidney function and lead to some serious health problems. A too-high intake of fat can cause strain to your heart or liver function. That said, if you are just a regular dude or dudette trying to get in shape, lose weight, or simply improve overall health and wellness, then stop obsessing over numbers. Stop it, stop it, stop it.

Here are a few usable takeaways:

  • A real nutrition professional will not utter the word “macro.”
  • We need some carbs, some protein, and some fat to be healthy.
  • Whole foods (i.e. whole vegetables, whole fruit, whole-food-fat-sources, plant-based proteins, lean meat, etc.) not shakes/bars/powders/pills are how you should get your macronutrients.
  • Aim for ½ your plate of non-starchy vegetables, ¼ your plate filled with fish/plant-based protein-rich foods/lean meats, ¼ your plate filled with whole grains/starchy vegetables, maybe a little fruit on the side or separately as part of a snack.
  • If you are choosing whole food sources, often your fat intake should be built-in or otherwise part of the meal. Limit the amount of added fat (mayo, butter, oils) and try your best to eat foods that naturally contain fat—avocados, olives, nuts, seeds, and fish are some sources of great types of fat.
  • Choosing whole foods affect more than just your intake of macronutrients. Whole food choices ensure that you obtain appropriate vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and other phytochemicals.
  • Not all carbs are created equally. Fruit juice and white-flour grain products increase the insulin response. If consumed in copious amounts for a long time, this increases the likelihood of belly fat and insulin resistance.
  • Weight loss is not as simple as “calories in versus calories out” or “counting macros.” Health condition, hormones, and many factors are involved in the physiological functioning of the wonderful, awesome machine we call our body. But if you’re eating a ton of junk food, then reducing that would be a good start…
  • Adequate vitamins and minerals are crucial to the success of creating or enhancing a healthy metabolism, as micronutrients ensure that you efficiently “burn” energy.
  • Consistency is critical. Eating about the same time each day, and trying not to go more than 4 hours without eating something of nutritional value is important.
  • Every meal/snack should contain a protein-rich food, but you don’t have to get crazy with it (i.e. stop it with the protein shakes – eat a handful of peanuts or almonds for goodness sake). Click here for more information on protein. You actually have to do some strength-building and cardiovascular exercise to really, truly, improve your overall health.
  • Don’t forget the 80/20 rule. ANYTHING that requires utter restriction or “cheat meals” or “cheat days” is not an improvement to your lifestyle. If 80% of the time you are spot-on with choosing healthy, whole foods, then 20% of the time you can include some real-life stuff (have a burger once in a while or enjoy cake at the birthday party).
  • Another 80/20 rule to follow is that 80% of weight regulation (in either direction) comes from eating; 20% of weight regulation is related to exercise type and frequency. Translation: you cannot exercise your way out of an unhealthy eating style.

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Stay tuned for posts in the near future re: carb-cycling, ketogenic diets, and intermittent fasting…

XOXO – Casey

The Skinny on Fat

1 1_2 pounds ground beef1 clove garlic, minced1 teaspoon hot sauce Salt and freshly ground black pepper4 strips bacon, diced

We were taught to fear fat. We were taught that eating fat makes us fat. But what if I told you we were WRONGLY taught? Yep, eating fat does not automatically make you fat. Eating fat doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to die of a heart attack either. In fact, some types of fat decrease the likelihood of developing heart disease. But before you go smear yourself in butter, read on.

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In the interest of ending on a good note, I am going to explain dietary fats in order from worst to best.

Trans Fat = BAD…bad…bad.

This type of fat is found naturally in some foods; but, to a much larger degree, trans fatty acids are man-made. Trans fatty acids are formed by a process called hydrogenation. As mentioned in previous posts, the most important factor in determining if a food is “healthy or not” is determined mostly by reading the ingredients list. If you see the word “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” anywhere on the ingredients list, your food contains trans fat (even if it says “zero grams trans fat per serving”).

What’s up with trans fats? Well, I will tell you that trans fats lead to the rare occasion that I will say that something is “bad for you.” I tend to have a pretty real-life approach to foods, but trans fats are nasty little buggers. Trans fats do a lot to our internal physiology; but they are most famous for increasing our “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while simultaneously decreasing our “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

The following foods may or may not contain hydrogenated fat, but they tend to be the most likely hiding places:

  • Vegetable shortening (Crisco is a popular brand of this!)
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Cake mix
  • Brownie mix
  • Store-bought cookies
  • Store-bought crackers
  • Store-bought frosting
  • Pie crust
  • Fried foods (grandma’s pan-fried chicken perhaps?)
  • Some popular brands of peanut butter
  • Some margarines

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Saturated Fat = Not the greatest, yet not the worst thing either…

Despite their reputation for trying to kill us, saturated fatty acids might not be to blame for the continuing rise of heart disease. I am not going to take the time to post a full literature review here to support my thoughts on the matter, but I have done one recently if you really want to read it. J I will add that just because saturated fats might not be “as bad” as we once thought, it does not mean that you can load up on a belly full of them each and every day. Saturated fat will raise BOTH your “bad” (LDL) and your “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

Saturated fats are most abundantly found in animal-based foods. However, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil are the three exceptions to the rule, as they are plant-based saturated fat sources.

The following foods are most abundant with saturated fat:

  • Beef, chicken, pork, chicken, lamb. (any animal meat)
  • Butter
  • Bacon, sausage
  • Yogurt, cheese, milk (1%, 2%, or whole)
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm oil
  • Palm kernel oil

The bottom line is to still limit your intake of saturated fat to some degree (limit your intake of meat by consuming plant-based proteins often; trim excess fat off steaks and roasts; consume smaller amounts of butter, milk, and cheese).   In other words, it is not too big a deal if you consume 2% milk provided you are only having 2 or 3 – 8 oz glasses per day. If you’re consuming your body weight in cheese AND eating lots of meat…then you’ll have some problems. I’d add that “fat-free” dairy isn’t automatically better.

Polyunsaturated Fat = Mostly good, if you do it right…

Ever hear all the buzz around omega-3 fats? Well, omega-3 fatty acids happen to fall under the umbrella of polyunsaturated fatty acids. I’ll spare you the chemistry lesson here, but rest assured that omega-3 fat is super good for you. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid, meaning your body cannot make it “in-house” and must consume it through food. Omega-3 helps to reduce inflammation; and inflammation is they underlying foundation underneath nearly every single chronic health ailment you can think of. Omega-3 fats also do a host of other awesome things inside your body; too many to list here! One of its most famous party tricks is that omega-3 fat helps to reduce your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while increasing the “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

Foods high in omega-3 content include:

  • The infamous wild-caught salmon
  • Tuna, especially albacore tuna
  • Cod fish
  • Halibut
  • Sardines
  • Flaxseed (ground)
  • Chia seeds

Interestingly, there is another essential fatty acid we are required to obtain from food: omega-6 fatty acid. However, in the Standard American Diet (SAD), most of us get WAY TOO MUCH omega-6 fat, and not nearly enough omega-3. Because a too-high-intake of omega-6 fat in the absence of adequate omega-3 fat increases systemic inflammation, this imbalance leads to increased risk of heart disease and many other health ailments. All that said, I highly suggest you do your best to avoid high omega-6 foods.

Foods with a high omega-6 content:

  • Tilapia
  • Vegetable oil (it is actually soybean oil)
  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Catfish
  • Margarine

When you read the list of omega-6-rich foods, keep in mind that although you may not overtly consume these oils, they are hidden inside about 90% of processed foods you may eat on a daily basis. If you order fish off a restaurant menu, and that menu item doesn’t specify the type of fish, odds are it is tilapia. Those potato chips you just snacked on probably were fried in either corn or safflower oil. Nearly every single thing we eat these days from a bag or a box contains soy in some form, and usually soybean oil (aka vegetable oil). Grandma’s Country Crock? Omega-6. Be on the lookout – it is literally everywhere…

Monounsaturated Fat = Beautiful…wonderful…downright marvelous.

Ah, my darlings…I’ve saved the best for last. Like its omega-3 polyunsaturated buddy, monounsaturated fat is superb in terms of its effect on our health. Monounsaturated fatty acids help to reduce systemic inflammation, thus reducing our risk for many chronic disease states including heart disease. Monounsaturated fats are, in part, what the Mediterranean Diet is known for in terms of improving our heart health. Monounsaturated fatty acids help to simultaneously reduce our “bad” (LDL) cholesterol while increasing our “good” (HDL) cholesterol.

Foods high in monounsaturated fatty acid:

  • Olives
  • Peanuts
  • Natural peanut butter (NOT Jif (see Trans Fat section) containing only peanuts & salt
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (best for use in things not heated, such as salad dressing)
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Sesame oil

Image result for dietary fat memesI know you’re tired of reading, but here are some final thoughts:

  • This post was all about the fats, but how we eat overall still can make or break our body’s response to our fat choices.
  • “Whole foods first” is the mantra to live by. For example, you can get “good” fat from avocado oil; but you can get “good” fat, potassium, fiber, B-vitamins, magnesium, and more fullness in your belly from eating a whole avocado.
  • Too much of a good thing is still too much. Just because olive oil is a “good” type of fat doesn’t mean you can or should guzzle a bottle with dinner.
  • Try to replace some of the less-healthy fats with better options rather than simply adding the other fats. An example of this would be using mashed avocado instead of mayo on your sandwich or in your egg salad. It doesn’t mean you’ll die if you eat mayo; it’s just that avocado gives you better fat and more nutrition.
  • Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. Eating too much and sitting too much will. As a matter of fact, including healthy fat with your meals and snacks (or built in, such as in a handful of almonds) can help you stay fuller for longer, which helps you eat less overall and lose weight.

Just to recap:

  • Trans Fat = BAD…bad…bad. Watch out for the word hydrogenated.
  • Saturated Fat = Not the greatest, yet not the worst thing either. Eat the butter (not the margarine) but don’t get crazy with it!
  • Polyunsaturated Fat = Mostly good, if you do it right. More salmon, less tilapia.
  • Monounsaturated Fat = Beautiful…wonderful…downright marvelous. Use canola oil instead of vegetable oil; better yet, eat a handful of peanuts and put avocado on your salad instead of dressing!

That was a lot of information to digest (pun intended). Let it sink in a bit. Even if it doesn’t sink in, just focus on an eating style that includes a ton of whole vegetables, some whole fruit and whole grains, some plant-based proteins, a little bit lean meats and dairy, and a whole bunch of water and exercise. Keep it simple.

Until next time…

All About the Base…’Bout the Base…No Acid

TO RESERVe, CALL 718 917 645 347chieftainresto.comIt appears to me that “eating alkaline” or “alkalizing your body” are part of the short list of the most popular buzzworthy terms in the mainstream right now. What is striking about this concept is that buying into this theory means a complete lack of understanding of human physiology. Let me explain…

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Our circulating blood has to stay within a quite narrow pH range for us to survive. That range is a pH between 7.35 to 7.45 if you’re counting. If your blood’s pH dips below that range, your blood is too acidic; if it raises too high, your blood is too alkaline. In other words, if your blood is out of that narrow range for too long, the initial risks would be respiratory failure and kidney failure, then eventually death. If you’re upright, and not in the ICU, you can give a shout out to your lungs and kidneys for keeping your pH in range. Good job, little guys.

When we eat high acid foods (meat, sugary foods, etc.) or high alkaline foods (fruits and vegetables), it’s important to remember that they will end up in our stomach. The pH of the stomach is somewhere in the neighborhood of about 2 or 3, give or take depending on individual circumstances. Your body requires that range of pH in the stomach to properly digest the food you eat.

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After partially digested food leaves the stomach, its next stop is the small intestine. In there, your pancreas spits out a bunch of enzymes that raise the pH of the partially-digested food (chyme) to allow the rest of the digestive process to occur. A series of further rises and falls in the pH occur in the small intestine through the large intestine, and so on. Eventually your body absorbs what nutrients it needs (hopefully!) from the chyme, and you poop or pee anything that’s not needed.

Something very important to note here is that testing the pH of your pee, which I’ve known the “alkaline followers” to do, is absolutely no indication of the pH of your blood. To consider them the same is simply big ol’ wrong. Save your money – don’t waste time testing your pee with pH strips.

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The bottom line is this: an “alkaline diet” is simply one that is high in fruits and vegetables, contains less meat, and less sugar. Is that a good style of eating? Yup! Does it help to prevent cancer? Sure. Can it make you have more energy and simply feel better? Absolutely. Should you spend $6 on a bottle of “high pH water”? Nope. I mean, unless you want to drink expensive water; but regular water would be just fine, especially if you’re washing down a nice big bite of leafy greens.

Until next time…xoxo
~Casey