The secret to a bright and yummy morning

Food, Eating, Health, NOT FOOD

Look at those colours!

Wanna know the secret?

Here it is: There is no secret.

Just like for healthy eating, the kind of eating that allows your body to optimally do what it evolved to do. There is no secret that will make you healthy.

There are just a bunch of things we tend to forget in the hectic pace of our modern lives.

So this morning, as I was reminding myself of some of them, I thought I might as well write them down.

No, there won’t be a recipe. See below to figure-out why.

The things we forget about eating in a way that allows our bodies to be healthy

Don’t worry, it’s actually a short list. And it should look familiar.

  1. Cook food at home. Meals you actually prepare, not eat at a restaurant or order in, or take out of a box to pop in the microwave oven. (Nothing wrong with the microwave oven, by the way.) And while you are at it, make some extra to take to work as your lunch the next day, instead of hitting the food court. (That’s where the microwave oven comes in.)
  2. Start from real, whole ingredients, that have not been processed into some barely recognizable version of something that grows or moves of its own volition. Mix and match as you feel, letting the natural flavours do the job.
  3. It is not the specific ingredients that matter. For instance, good stuff like what I had for breakfast this morning (eggs, kale, onions, garlic, turmeric, red peppers, coconut oil) are just that: good stuff. No magic involved, no super food.
  4. Take the time to sit down and eat. It is when we rush that we make the most eating mistakes. Lack of time means bad decisions like food that has been processed, but as well an added stress to our entire bodies, making it harder to process the food properly.
  5. Minimize the NOT FOOD part of your daily intake. That’s just common sense, but the problem is that we often mindlessly put stuff (and by “stuff” I really meaning things that just take space without providing nutritional value) into our mouths.

That’s it. If you keep this in mind, you’ll let your body do its job with minimal impediment.

And you’ll be having a lot of bright and yummy mornings as well. Especially if you exercise regularly, either before or after breakfast. Enjoy!

IMG_1065P.S.: In case you were wondering, there is no recipe in this post. This is not a blog about food.

Photos by me. This morning.

Getting to the gut of the problem

I’m really trying not to talk about food anymore.

Food, Diet, NOT FOOD, Everyday

Bacteria (and archaea) are your friends. Feed them well.

But I keep being drawn back to it, somehow.

Here are the reasons, I suspect:

1) Exercising more is very simple, and you can find all the advice you can possibly need elsewhere on my blog. So without going into highly specialized training regimen, which I don’t advocate anyway, there are only so many things that can be said about moving everyday. It is simple, but it requires effort. Everyday.

2) Food is fascinating, pleasant, and something we do effortlessly multiple times per day. So fixating on it comes easily. Also, the entire process from the food we eat to the energy we have to spend is so complex that, depending on your intentions, you can fool a lot of people some of the time, or try to enlighten one person at a time, with the same amount of energy.

So, because I’d rather enlighten a single person (I’m that kind of person), and I’ve talked about how to move more aplenty, and because more people want to read about food, let’s talk about food.

Actually, let’s talk about food that feeds the many, on top of feeding the one person who eats it. In so doing, we will get to what some have come to consider the “gut of the problem.”

Let’s talk about the food that feeds the bacteria and archaea that live in our guts.

A summary of recent research published in Scientific American spells it out quite nicely. You should really read it.

To save you time, however, here are the main facts, and what they hint at for optimal health:

  • Fact 1: Our digestive system is home to millions of other living beings. It is an ecosystem for them, and there is an interaction between their living, and our absorption of nutrients from food. It is what we refer to as the “gut microbiome” or “gut microbiota.” Or just “microbes” if you prefer.
  • Fact 2: Who says “ecosystem” also says “food chain,” “competition,” “natural selection,” etc. For instance, there’s a constant battle between “good” and “bad” bacteria; between those that help us (by helping our digestion not causing diseases) and those that can hinder us (by causing inflammation, diseases, etc.).
  • Fact 3: The gut microbiome didn’t just appear out of the blue this week; it has evolved along with us (co-evolved is the term). Different species have different gut microbiota. In each case, the gut microbiota has evolved and adapted to thrive off of what the host species typically eat.

Hint 1: Just like our own body should be fed the kind of food it is capable of handling (i.e. food, not too much, mostly plants), so too the bacteria and archaea that live inside us. Basically, the “good” ones strive on a diet that is precisely the kind of diet we should eat. And when the “good” ones don’t strive, then the “bad” ones do, and that can lead to problems for us.

Hint 2: One aspect of the research focused on fiber. We’ve known that fiber is important, and that we don’t have enough in our modern diet, but it seems a big part of the reason is that, without fiber, those “good” bacteria and archaea don’t fare so well.

Hint 3: Moreover, in the absence of enough fiber in our diet, a part of the gut microbes to the next best thing for them: the mucus that lines the walls of our digestive tract, particularly in the large intestine. But we need that mucus for the digestive system to work correctly and for the protection of the rest of our bodies, so when bacteria and archaea eat it, we get ulcers, inflammation, and a slew of other problems.

The article talks about positive results from adding fiber, even just a little, to the diet. It seems to help.

So, go ahead, add fiber to your diet. But not just any fiber.

Real food contains fiber. NOT FOOD that claims to contain fiber often contains the wrong kind of fiber. What I might call NOT FIBER, were it not for the fact that it is, in fact, fiber. Just not the kind that our gut microbiota can be expected to eat.

So we are back to the food we eat. What are we to do?

The same that we’ve known all along: Lots of veggies and fruit. And stay away from NOT FOOD.

No surprise there. Have we learned anything new today?

Yes, I think we have. Or at least this story serves as a reminder.

Nutrition is more complex than “calories in,” and just a count of carbs, proteins, and lipids. What you eat does not end up directly in your blood stream and then inside your cells. It goes through many steps of processing, natural processing, by our guts and the multitude that live in it.

Our own enzymes and guts mechanically and chemically disassemble the food we eat into its basic constituents (glucids, lipids, amino acids, various micro-nutrients) which can then enter the blood stream. What’s left behind is then further processed by gut microbes, and that can sometimes provide more nutrients for us as well.

By further (and co-processing) food, the gut microbiota play an essential role. They help make the whole machinery run smoothly. Provided they get benefits from it as well. Those benefits come from having a relatively safe place to call home and lots of food.

If we create the wrong kind of home for them, or if we provide food that the rowdy relatives prefer, then the “home” becomes less peaceful, and everybody suffers.

Sure, I’m simplifying by using such an analogy, but it is closer to the truth than a lot of the advice out there. (And much better than a car analogy.) Basically, feed your gut bacteria well, by feeding yourself real food (not too much, and mostly from plants), and you’ll improve your digestion.

So next time someone tries to sell you a super food, supplement, or miracle cure for what they claim ails you (but probably doesn’t), simply grab a veggie or a fruit, and chew on that. Everybody involved will feel better…

*****

See the article “Fiber-Famished Gut Microbes Linked to Poor Health” in Scientific American, March 23, 2015, by Katherine Harmon Courage.

Image from Pixabay.

The problem (as I see it) with nutrition advice

Food, Advice, Nutrition, Everyday, Diet

Food, the final frontier? It is all about how you think about it.

This is going to be a short post.

Primarily, because it doesn’t take long to express what, to my mind, is the problem with nutrition advice.

But also because I would like this to be the starting point for a conversation. (I know, I tend to go on and on when I write, and that can give the impression that I don’t listen to what others have to say. But I promise it is not the case. So there.)

Here we go:

The problem with nutrition advice, and it permeates pretty much all advice on nutrition that I’ve come across, is the idea that good nutrition will make you healthy.

How often have you heard or read that a specific diet will make you healthy? That a supplement ensures health? That this food (or that food, the very next week), will prevent disease?

The truth is the reverse: Bad nutrition makes your body more susceptible to diseases.

In part, this is because it does not have what it needs to function optimally. For instance, to fight off infections; but one often reads that better nutrition will enhance your immune system, whereas the problem is that bad nutrition impedes the immune system from functioning optimally.

The other part is because, over time, bad (or simply excessive) nutrition leads to weight gain in the form of fatty deposits, primarily in the abdomen region, which is proven to lead to chronic diseases like diabetes and nasty stuff like cancers (to name only those main life shorteners).

In my estimation, the way nutrition advice is given, implying that eating right will make you healthy, leads perniciously to all sorts of damaging beliefs about nutrition and health. It points towards a constant search for a special diet, super food, secret ingredient, or other magic pill, to keep disease at bay.

But the truth is otherwise: Given what it needs, which is a lot of movement and good nutrition, the body is, naturally, healthy. The body does not become healthy by having plenty of exercise and good food; removing those things from your body, however, can (and often does) lead to chronic disease and problems coming from sub-optimal functioning.

You might be tempted to say that the difference is only semantics. My contention is that the difference has a big influence on how we think about food and nutrition. The way the advice usually goes (eat well to be healthy) leads to thinking some additional, external, and effortless solution can be applied. The advice focusing on the way the body works (eat well to allow your body to be healthy) hints, on the contrary, at changing habits, removing bad nutrition, and letting nature take its course.

Let’s use an example, albeit an extreme one, to illustrate the logic.

Does not smoking make you healthy? Can we say “if you don’t smoke, you will become healthy”? No, of course not. That would seem absurd. Smoking can, and does, cause you to be at risk for a whole lot of nasty things. Absence of smoking is how things should be for optimal health, but not smoking is not the cause of good health.

This is analogous to what I was saying earlier: If you stop eating bad food, you will not become healthy. The absence of bad food, or the presence of good food, is not the cause of health. The presence of bad food on a daily basis is an impediment to your body’s optimal functioning (a.k.a. health).

So eating “right” will help the body restore itself, and will reduce the likelihood of chronic diseases and the incidence of other problems. But it won’t make you healthy. Your body will do that all by itself, given half a chance.

And to give it more than half a chance, to give it a full chance (and a chance-and-a-half), it is not just a matter of eating right. In fact, a larger proportion of the solution resides in moving more.

But that will be a subject to be covered (again) in another post.

Picture from Pixabay.

Do you really want to know what I eat?

No-brainer Fitness is not a blog about food.

This is not a blog that provides recipes.

But…

No-brainer Fitness is about being healthy and fit. And, of course, after having done the correct “first thing first” and exercised regularly, what logically comes next is to eat right.

And it is a blog that is not afraid to go off the beaten path. Once in a while.

So in case you’ve ever wondered, I’m going to share one of the staples of my diet. (That’s diet in the correct, noun sense of the word, not in the verb sense. Just to be perfectly clear.)

My wife and I start all our days pretty much in the exact same manner: By eating a good breakfast. (Yeah, I know, we’re boring people.)

Since we try to put as many veggies and fruit in our diet as we can, essentially eating a largely plant-based diet, breakfast has become a major part of our “greening the plate” effort.

To achieve that, we use a product found at Trader Joe’s called “Cruciferous Crunch Collection.” It consists of a mix of shredded kale, cabbage (both green and red, light on the red), broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Yummy! Especially when you sautee it with some coconut oil…

Here’s the detailed recipe:

Food, Diet, Everyday

The main ingredients. Good fats, proteins, and a mountain of green stuff.

  • 1/4 cup of roasted and unsalted cashew pieces
  • 1 tbs coconut oil
  • 184 g Cruciferous Crunch Collection (1 bag)
  • 1/4 cup of raisins
  • 4 large eggs (cage free)
  • Spices to taste (I use a bit of salt, pepper, garlic powder, curry powder, turmeric, chili powder, and red pepper flakes)

Simply roast the cashes pieces at high heat a little in coconut oil before adding the green stuff and reducing to medium heat. Stir and mix until the green stuff is pretty much glistening and feeling soft, then start adding in turn the spices, raisins, and finally the eggs. Continue mixing between each ingredient, and finally until the eggs are cooked and completely mixed with the rest.

According to the software I used for the calculations, this recipe provides 64 grams of carbs, 39 grams of protein, and 49 grams of fat. Total calories: 830. If you share equally between two persons, divide those numbers by two. (We share roughly 55-45.)

The fat comes essentially from the cashews and the coconut oil, both recognized as sources of healthy fats. But feel free to substitute. The cashews, by the way, add a nice crunchiness to the mix.

The proteins come from the eggs almost exclusively, and as we all know now, eggs are good eating.

The cruciferous crunch mix provides some of the carbs, and a whole lot of phytonutrients and stomach-filling (and gut-friendly) fiber. So the big contributor to the carbs count is obviously the raisins.

Food, Diet, Everyday

Breakfast! I think of this as yummy. Maybe it takes some getting used to.

That’s breakfast.

It may not look appealing to you, but in fact it is full of textures and shades of colours, admittedly mostly in the green-yellow range. But your digestive system does not care, ultimately, what the food looks like, and your taste buds can be reset to consider this very tasty.

Notice how there is no juice, no milk, no toast (no, not even whole wheat or gluten-free anything) in that breakfast? We drink a bit of coffee (add some 10-20 calories, because it is espresso, black) and some water. That’s all we need.

And we feel full for a good long time.

Were we to add those other things, often referred to as “parts of a balanced breakfast” but really just loads of extra carbs and some fats, our individual calorie counts would likely double. And we’d get very little additional nutritional value for it.

Notice also how none of this is done in order to get some “super foods” onto our plates. This is just our normal breakfast.

And that’s the key: The normal food has to be good food. Everyday.

NOT FOOD, like coffee, and other stuff that might happen during the day, must become a very small part of your diet. Not the main part.

That being said, keep in mind that I’m not here to provide meal plans, or tell you what to eat. You’re grownups, so you should be able to figure it out for yourselves.

I’m here to tell you to move more, to exercise regularly: To become everyday athletes.

But sharing recipes among everyday athletes is fair game. So feel free to try this.

Pictures by Sacha Veillette, yesterday morning, while making the usual breakfast.

Why do we keep talking about dieting and special diets?

Dieting, Diet, Food, Movement

What shall we eat? No more pixie dust, that’s for sure…

Recent posts by one of the very few sources I consider reliable on nutrition prompted me to revisit the theme of diet. So I hope you can stomach one more post on this topic. I’m going to try to make it worth your while by presenting a hint of a solution.

If you have not yet read what Dr. David Katz has to say on the subject, stop reading this right now, and go read a few of his posts instead. I won’t mind. Really.

Still with me? Perhaps you only have a few minutes, so allow me to summarize the current status. (And provide links to his most recent and relevant posts; some are on LinkedIn and may require an account to access.)

Let me make something clear right off the bat:

Dieting does No Good

Dieting does not work. It’s that simple. I’ve written about it myself, and this post by Dr. Katz is quite entertainingly showing that all serious nutrition experts, those not trying to sell you something, say so.

This video about a much-publicized recent study does what journalists always (erroneously) think is better journalism: providing statements from both sides, even though it is a non-debate.

Even having a good overall diet, eating food (not too much) and mostly from plants, is not enough if you are trying to lose a lot of weight, and/or remain healthy for a really long time. For that, you need to exercise, to move, on a daily basis. It is a lifestyle issue, not a diet issue.

But that’s hard work. Are we sure there’s nothing we can do about the food we eat? (Or so we keep asking ourselves.)

In the absence of successful “mainstream” diets, people turn to even stranger diets, like the would-be paleo diet. But even that, as I’ve indicated previously, and as Dr. Katz has put it time and time again (as reported here as well), is part of repeated attempts at making believe we can get fit and slim without doing real work.

So despite dieting not working, why do we keep talking about diet as if it is the solution? Why is it that every so often a new kind of special diet starts and claims to be the solution we’ve been looking for?

Basically, the question is:

Why do we keep focusing on dieting?

Because it is appealing to us.

Most (all?) of us have a tendency to seek easy fixes, magical solutions, silver bullets. I feel this is primarily due to our innate tendency to assign simple cause and effect relationships to phenomena: if this bush moves, that’s probably because there is a tiger ready to jump on me, sort of thinking. In this case: I’m getting fatter, so it must be what I’m eating.

To some extent it is, but that’s not the point. We focus on the wrong culprit at the expense of the white elephant on the couch.

The main aspect of our lifestyle that is different from what our ancestors of even a hundred years ago had to deal with is lack of movement.

Yes, it would be harder to move a lot more; it is effort. But there is more at play:

We are constantly bombarded by good stories that, even though they are scientifically unsound, appeal to our innate need for those causation narratives. Those stories are how modern snake oil salespersons get us time and time again.

If, as I surmise, this is a big part of the problem, it also suggests a way to fight.

A way forward?

While I generally agree with Dr. Katz that we should “grow up” about it, and that we must make the effort to eat well, along with exercising, not smoking, etc., I think we need a pro-active approach as well.

Since the ease with which stories can be created about special diets is part of the problem, perhaps a good story could be part of the solution. We need new narratives to replace those of the pixie dust diets, successful precisely because, although they don’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, they appeal to us through simple (simplistic) stories. We can keep telling ourselves, and others, the well-articulated lies we were told by the dieting peddlers precisely because they are simple enough.

On the other hand, the “I eat food, not too much, mostly from plants” story requires more explanations when you try to discuss it with others, and few of us have the knowledge to feel comfortable doing that.

There should not be a need for more explanation; our ancestors did not feel such need. They just ate what food they had.

The problem nowadays is that we have way too much, and it is all way too rich for our own good. In a see of contradictory advice and the occasional about-face of scientists themselves (which is even harder to explain for non-scientists), we all feel a need to justify our choices.

What better way to justify those choices than a good story?

So that’s the narrative, the story, we need to work on, instead of just de-bunking the others (not that there’s anything wrong with de-bunking). Allow me to have a go at a first draft.

A proto-story for healthy living

Begin Story

I am a human being, an animal that has evolved over millions of years to actively seek and eat a wide variety of plants and other animals.

Lately I’ve been extracting even more nutriments from my environment by cooking and domesticating my food sources. That’s great progress.

But my body has not yet evolved to remain healthy by staying put all the time and eating heavily processed stuff. Yes, stuff: there is no better word for some of what our modern society provides.

So I need to move on a daily basis, a lot, and eat foods that are as close to their natural forms as possible. That means different things to different people, but to me it means plants and some animals that have not strayed very far from their natural lifecycles. When I eat that way, I find that I eat less because I feel full sooner. And the more I move, the more I crave good food, and the better I feel.

If machines and chemical processes other than the digestive systems of other animals have been involved, I am very careful with how much I consume.

And always, no matter what I eat, I make sure to move a lot. Everyday.

End Story

That’s it. C’mon, it’s not that hard to memorize. Give it a try. You can even substitute something for “plants and animals” if you are so philosophically inclined. No problem.

Or comment with suggestions to improve it…

But, in any case, I have a final piece of advice for you about the claims of Diet Peddlers:

Diet, Exercise, Movement, Everyday

What to do when somebody tries to convince you their dieting approach is going to work…

Top picture from Pixabay.