Pop Goes the Diet—The Worst Food in the World

Soda
Since all great things come in threes (or is it celebrity deaths?), we’re going to complete our sugar trilogy with a look at the worst food in the world: soda pop. Forget about brands; whether it’s Coke, Dr. Pepper, or even Hansen’s Natural, it’s all junk. There are different degrees of “junkiness,” but this is Nutrition 911, so we’re sticking with the bird’s-eye perspective. The taste might make you happy, but from a nutritional point of view, soda’s only place in the world is to make people fat, sick, and unhappy.

Alarming statistics
In America, we drink a lot of cola (or “un-cola”). A lot. On average, we each drank 52.4 gallons in 2005, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers in particular are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from “pop.” If this doesn’t scare you, it should. In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diversity. And soda pop is the antithesis of “any food.” It’s bad food.

“Empty calories”
We use the term “empty calories” for foods like soda that have no place in a nutritious diet. This term is ridiculously misleading. The calories in soda are far from empty. Most of them come from sugar. In the U.S., it’s nearly always high fructose corn syrup, the cheapest, most processed sugar on the market. Other ingredients include caffeine, various phosphates and acids, and artificial colorings. We’ll get to their effects on the human body in a minute, but first, let’s stick to the simple stuff. Per day, the average teenager consumes between 10 and 15 teaspoons of refined sugar via soda—which, according to government standards, is about their daily requirement for all foods. This means that for the average teenager, his or her soda consumption virtually eliminates his or her chances of eating a balanced diet. There’s nothing empty about that.

Weird science
The soda companies are a marketing juggernaut. They spend roughly $700 million a year on media advertising alone—not to mention hundreds of millions more sponsoring events, athletes, musicians, and such. This volume of cash makes it difficult for consumers to avoid them, by design. To avoid the temptation to drink Coke, you’ve got to be highly principled or living in the middle of the jungle. And even then, well, I once happened upon a soda vending machine halfway up Mount Yarigatake in the Japanese Alps, and a friend traveling in Guatemala found Coke in a rural area that didn’t have running water. Let’s just say that soda companies are going to continue making it easy for you to find the stuff. This type of marketing machine won’t go away quietly. With the stats listed above, you could certainly put two and two together and link soda companies to the childhood (and adult) obesity epidemic that is arguably the world’s most serious health crisis. Yet, while researching this article, I came across a widely published “study” stating that “soft drink consumption has no effect on childhood obesity.” Suspicious from the get-go (the word “no” being a huge red flag), it didn’t take me long to find this statement: “The research paper was supported by an unrestricted gift from the American Beverage Association.” Bingo. Remember those Philip Morris tobacco “studies” that promised a long and healthy life from chain smoking?

What makes it so bad?
Besides the simple caloric trade-off, sodas are formulated to give you a rush. The sugar is mixed with phosphates designed to speed it into your system. It’s so good, in fact, that many cyclists prefer Coca-Cola to specific sports food when they need a sugar rush near the end of races. And while a sugar rush is a good thing when you’re trying to exceed your anaerobic threshold and you’re out of blood glycogen (never mind if you don’t know what this is), it’s a bad thing whenever you’re not, which even for a competitive cyclist is 99.9 percent of the time.

Beyond the simple sugar rush, these acids and phosphates alter your body’s pH levels and inhibit the absorption of other nutrients. Then there are the effects of certain artificial coloring agents. For example, yellow #5, commonly used in soft drinks, has been linked to attention deficit disorder, hives, asthma, and other allergic reactions in some children.

Then there is the nutrient trade-off to consider. A person who drinks one Big Gulp per day must go to great lengths to maintain a balanced diet. Otherwise, he or she will almost certainly be deficient in numerous vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty or amino acids—none of which is found in soda. For this reason, soda is often linked to type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, dental erosion, and a higher risk of kidney stones and heart disease. And that’s just a start. There’s plenty of less scientific data linking soda to poor scholastic habits, which we’ll get to in a later class.

Diet sodas and juices
In an attempt to become thought of as healthier, soda companies have diversified into non-carbonated beverages and diet sodas. While these are an improvement in some ways, they are hardly a solution to the problem. First off, most juices and other caloric non-soda alternatives are mainly just sugar and water without the carbonation. A quick label comparison between a commercial orange juice and a Mountain Dew would show a similar “bottom line” with regards to calories and sugar. The only improvement would be the lack of the non-caloric offenders. But that’s no small matter, as the true effects of these ingredients have not been thoroughly studied. Despite their no-calorie status, diet sodas have been linked to assorted illnesses. Recent studies have backed up my more anecdotal evidence that I’ve yet to have a client not lose weight by kicking diet soda. Granted, all of my clients drank an excessive amount, but regardless, there is little doubt that the pH balance of diet sodas hinders the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, and that just may be the tip of the non-caloric iceberg.

A large-scale study in 2007 showed that men and women who had more than one diet soda a day were 31 percent more likely to be obese and 25 percent more likely to have both high triglycerides and blood sugar, and they had a 50 percent greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Never mind if you don’t know what metabolic syndrome is. Just trust me when I tell you that you don’t want it.

How can you help?
In my world, soft drinks would come with the same type of regulatory language as cigarettes and booze, at least. Actually, in my world, we’d all be educated and wouldn’t require this language at all, but that’s Politics 911, not Nutrition 911. Anyway, here are five ways you can help educate the public about the dangers of soda, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Contact your local government officials and/or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and suggest that:
1. National and local governments should require chain restaurants to declare the calorie content of soft drinks and all other items on menus and menu boards.
2. The FDA should require labels on non-diet soft drinks to state that frequent consumption of those drinks promotes obesity, diabetes, tooth decay, osteoporosis, and other health problems.
3. Local, state, and federal governments should provide water fountains in schools, government buildings, parks, and other public spaces.
4. School systems and other organizations catering to children should stop selling soft drinks (as well as candy and other junk foods) in hallways, shops, and cafeterias.
5. State and local governments should consider levying small taxes on soft drinks, with the revenues earmarked for promoting health and fitness. A national 2-cent tax on a can of soda pop would raise $3 billion annually.

Are you scared yet? You should be. Or you could just stop drinking soda. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?

How Do I Keep Going?

Motivation
Here’s a question people ask me: “I’m finding that my exercise routine is very intense and I’m seeing the benefits on day 1, so what can I do to stay motivated and keep going?”

Most folks struggle with motivation every day. I’m one of them. Motivation can be broken down into a few subcategories. My fifth Law of Health and Fitness is “Loving It.” Progress and motivation are possible if you look forward to your workouts. They have to be challenging and interesting to you. If you despise them before you start them, you’re not going to survive them for very long. If your reasons why are meaningful to you, then staying motivated is easier. I’m always promoting health, fitness, quality of life, and feeling good as reasons to get and stay motivated. Not to say that a person’s goal to lose weight or fit into smaller clothes isn’t motivating—it’s just that when these goals are obtained then new ones need to come into play.

When the numbers on your scale and measuring tape are low enough to make you happy then it’s important to start to explore some new numbers. I’m talking about numbers that relate to ability, improvement, and achievement. Your physical appearance will improve at a more rapid rate if you can start to exercise with your focus on power, speed, and strength. This mind set applies to both men and women. This means that your motivation comes from your desire to “Bring It” during exercise at home and out in the world. Let your P90X® or Power 90® workouts trigger something new and bigger than anything you’ve done before. For me it’s skiing and gymnastics. For you it could be anything that pushes you beyond the confines of repeating the same workouts the same way, day after day.

Fat, Not Glucose, is the Preferred Fuel for Your Body

Dietary FatWhile we may consider ourselves to be at the pinnacle of human development, our modern food manufacturing processes have utterly failed at improving health and increasing longevity.

During the Paleolithic period, many thousands of years ago, our ancestors ate primarily vegetables, fruit, nuts, roots and meat—and a wide variety of it. This diet was high in fats and protein, and low in grain- and sugar-derived carbohydrates.

The average person’s diet today, on the other hand, is the complete opposite, and the average person’s health is a testament of what happens when you adhere to a faulty diet. Humans today suffer more chronic and debilitating diseases than ever before.

And there can be little doubt that our food choices play a major role in this development. Quite simply, you were not designed to eat large amounts of refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup, cereal, bread, potatoes and pasteurized milk products.

As Mark Sisson states in the featured article1:

“If you want to live a better life and eat the best foods nature provided for health and fitness, then it’s time to ditch the old paradigms and climb on to the primal approach to eating better.”

Is Glucose Really Your Body’s Preferred Fuel?

The notion that glucose is the preferred fuel for your body is a pervasive one. Everyone from diabetics to top athletes are advised to make sure they eat “enough” carbs to keep their systems from crashing. This is unfortunate, as this misguided advice is at the very heart of many of our current health failures.

As Mark so succinctly spells out in his article, FAT is actually the preferred fuel of human metabolism, and this can be traced back to our evolutionary roots.

Historically speaking, carbohydrate intake has always been quite low. Likewise, the diseases we now know are associated with insulin resistance—which is primarily caused by excess consumption of refined carbs—have been quite rare.

The evidence is both clear and overwhelming: Carbohydrate intake is the primary factor that determines your body’s fat ratio, and processed grains and sugars (particularly fructose) are the primary culprits behind our skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates.

“It follows logically that if you can limit carb intake to a range of which is absolutely necessary (and even up to 50 grams a day over) and make the difference up with tasty fats and protein, you can literally reprogram your genes back to the evolutionary-based factory setting you had at birth – the setting that offered you the opportunity to start life as a truly efficient fat-burning organism and to continue to do so for the rest of your life as long as you send the right signals to your genes,” Mark writes.

Why the Low-Carb/High-Fat Diet Works for Weight Loss

Switching from a carb-based diet to a fat- and protein-based diet will help rebalance your body’s chemistry, and a natural side effect of this is weight loss, and/or improved weight management once you’re at an ideal weight. One explanation for this is that you don’t really get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. Nor do you get fat from eating fat. One researcher that has clearly established this is Dr. Richard Johnson, whose latest book, The Fat Switch, dispels many of the most pervasive myths relating to diet and obesity.

Dr. Johnson discovered the method that animals use to gain fat prior to times of food scarcity, which turned out to be a powerful adaptive benefit. His research showed that fructose activates a key enzyme, fructokinase, which in turn activates another enzyme that causes cells to accumulate fat. When this enzyme is blocked, fat cannot be stored in the cell. Interestingly, this is the exact same “switch” animals use to fatten up in the fall and to burn fat during the winter. Fructose is the dietary ingredient that turns on this “switch,” causing cells to accumulate fat, both in animals and in humans.

In essence, overeating and excess weight could be viewed as a symptom of an improper diet. It’s not necessarily the result of eating too many calories, per se, but rather getting your calories from the wrong sources. In simple terms, when you consume too many sugars and carbs, you set off a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that makes you hungry and craving for sweets:

  1. First, fructose is metabolized differently from glucose, with the majority being turned directly into fat because fructose stimulates a powerful “fat switch.”
  2. This rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity (“beer belly”), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
  3. Dietary carbohydrates, especially fructose, are also the primary source of a substance called glycerol-3-phosphate (g-3-p), which causes fat to become fixed in fat tissue.
  4. At the same time, high carb intake raises your insulin levels, which prevents fat from being released.
  5. Fructose further tricks your body into gaining weight by turning off your body’s appetite-control system. Fructose does not suppress ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and doesn’t stimulate leptin (the “satiety hormone”), which together result in feeling hungry all the time, even though you’ve eaten. As a result, you overeat and develop insulin resistance, which is not only an underlying factor of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a long list of other chronic diseases.

The resulting equation is simple: fructose and dietary carbohydrates (grains, which break down into sugar) lead to excess body fat, obesity and related health issues. Furthermore, no amount of exercise can compensate for this damage because if you eat excessive fructose and grains—the primary ingredients NOT found in our ancestral diet—it will activate programming to cause your body to become, and remain, fat.

How Much Glucose or Carbs Do You Really Need?

The debate about whether or not you really need glucose, and if so, how much, is by no means settled. Earlier this year, I ran a series of articles featuring the back-and-forth discussion between two well-researched experts on this topic, Dr. Jaminet and Dr. Rosedale.

Dr. Jaminet is a proponent of so-called “safe starches,” and is of the conviction that depleting your glycogen store can stress other systems to provide the glucose your body requires to perform. Dr. Rosedale, on the other hand, points out that because glucose consumption will undoubtedly spike blood glucose levels and increase insulin and leptin, promoting resistance, glucose consumption is always associated with some incremental degree of damage and/or increased risk of mortality. His diet is subsequently extremely carb-restrictive.

Yet another diet similar to Drs. Jaminet and Rosedale’s is the GAPS diet, created by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, which is specifically designed to help “heal and seal” your gut. As such, it primarily consists of easily digestible, lightly cooked foods that are high in protein, fats, and fermented foods, and low in fiber and carbs.

Mark Sisson also adds valuable insight to this discussion2:

“At any one time, the total amount of glucose dissolved in the bloodstream of a healthy non-diabetic is equivalent to only a teaspoon (maybe 5 grams). Much more than that is toxic; much less than that and you pass out. That’s not much range for a so-called “preferred” fuel, is it?

Several studies have shown that under normal low MET conditions (at rest or low-to mid- levels of activity such as walking and easy work) the body only needs about 5 grams of glucose an hour. And that’s for people who aren’t yet fat-adapted or keto-adapted. The brain is the major consumer of glucose, needing maybe 120 grams a day in people who aren’t yet on a low carb eating program.

Low carb eating reduces the brain’s glucose requirements considerably, and those who are very low carb (VLC) and keto-adapted may only require about 30 grams of glucose per day to fuel the brain… Twenty of those grams can come from glycerol (a byproduct of fat metabolism) and the balance from gluconeogenesis in the liver (which can actually make up to a whopping 150 grams a day if you haven’t metabolically damaged it with NAFLD through fructose overdosing).

Bottom line, unless you are a physical laborer or are training (exercising) hard on a daily basis, once you become fat-adapted, you probably don’t ever need to consume more than 150 grams of dietary carbs – and you can probably thrive on far less. Many Pbers [Mark’s diet, Primal Blueprint] do very well (including working out) on 30-70 grams a day.” [Emphasis mine]

Key Point: Replace Carbs with Healthful Fats

As I see it, this is really a non-issue for most people as few people anywhere near Dr. Jaminet’s recommendation of cutting carbs from the standard 50 percent down to 20-30 percent of total calories. However, if you’ve already begun to seriously address your carb intake then you may want to experiment with various amounts of “safe carbs” like rice and potatoes. As Mark describes, the actual amount of carbs could vary anywhere from 30 to 150 grams a day, depending on whether your body has adapted to burning ketones and your level of exercise.

Keep in mind that when we’re talking about harmful carbs, we’re only referring to grains and sugars, NOT vegetable carbs.

When you cut grain/sugar carbs you actually need to radically increase the amount of vegetables you eat since, by volume, the grains you need to trade out are denser than vegetables. You also need to dramatically increase healthful fats such as avocados, coconut oil, egg yolks, raw grass fed organic butter, olives and nuts.

You would not want to use highly processed and genetically engineered omega-6 oils like corn, canola and soy as they will upset your omega 6/3 ratio. Of course you want to avoid all trans fats, but contrary to popular advice, saturated fats are a key component of a healthy diet that will promote weight loss.

A reasonable goal will be to have as much as 50-70 percent of your diet as healthy fat, which will radically reduce your carbohydrate intake. It can be helpful to remember that fat is far more satiating than carbs, so if you have cut down on carbs and feel ravenous, this is a sign that you have not replaced them with sufficient amounts of healthy fat. Sources of healthy fats that you’ll want to add to your diet include:

  • Olives and Olive oil (for cold dishes)
  • Coconuts, and coconut oil (for all types of cooking and baking)
  • Butter made from raw grass-fed organic milk
  • Raw Nuts, such as, almonds or pecans
  • Organic pastured egg yolks
  • Avocados
  • Pasture finished meats
  • Palm oil
  • Unheated organic nut oils

Most people will likely notice massive improvement in their health by following this approach as they are presently consuming FAR more grain and bean carbohydrates in their diet, and any reduction will be a step in the right direction. To help you get started on the right track, review my Nutritional Plan, which guides you through these dietary changes one step at a time.

Recent Research Confirms Benefits of Low-Carb/High-Fat Diet

Conventional advice has focused on low-fat diets for weight loss and heart disease prevention, but again and again, studies demonstrate that this advice is diametrically opposed to reality… In one such study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Heart and Vascular Institute compared the effects of two diets on vascular health; one low in fat, the other low in carbs. The study in question was presented at this year’s meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Denver, on June 33.

The study included a total of 46 men and women weighing on average 218 pounds. The six-month long weight loss program consisted of moderate aerobic exercise and strength training, and one of two diets, either:

 

  • Low-carb, high-fat: Less than 30 percent of calories from carbs (pastas, breads and sugary fruits), and up to 40 percent from fats (meat, dairy products, and nuts)
  • Low-fat, high-carb diet: Less than 30 percent of calories from fat, and 55 percent from carbs

The low-carb group on average shed 10 pounds in 45 days, while the low-fat group took 70 days to lose the same amount of weight. In terms of vascular health, the low-carb, high-fat dieters showed no harmful vascular changes, which is the primary reason for why so many are afraid of high-fat diets.

According to the lead investigator, professor of medicine and director of clinical and research exercise physiology, Kerry Stewart, Ed.D:

“Our study should help allay the concerns that many people who need to lose weight have about choosing a low-carb diet instead of a low-fat one, and provide re-assurance that both types of diet are effective at weight loss and that a low-carb approach does not seem to pose any immediate risk to vascular health. More people should be considering a low-carb diet as a good option.”

Stewart also believes that the emphasis on low-fat diets has likely contributed to the obesity epidemic in the US by promoting overconsumption of sugars and grains. I couldn’t agree more. The simple reason for this is that grains and sugars raise your insulin levels, which causes insulin resistance and, ultimately, weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease.

Listen to Your Body

The evidence is quite clear that chronically raising your blood glucose through consumption of grains and sugars will increase your insulin resistance, which in turn will increase insulin and leptin resistance. And avoiding insulin and leptin resistance is perhaps the single most important factors if you seek optimal health and longevity.

That said, the degree to which you choose to reduce carbs however is, ultimately, up to you. And certain individual biochemical differences can make one diet more beneficial for you than others. The key point is to be aware that consuming sugar, grains and starches will promote insulin resistance to some degree or other, depending on the amount you consume.

As always, remember to listen to your body as it will give you feedback if what you are doing is right for your unique biochemistry and genetics. So listen to that feedback and adjust your program accordingly.

Christmas Health Tips for Eating Right at the Dinner Table

Christmas Health Tips for Eating Right on the Dinner TableYou often find the urge to kill the diet routines as the holiday season brings feasting and festivities – Oh the desserts! Hence, health eating is often at par and fitness is a long forgotten thing.

Like Thanksgiving, you forget all about your health before sitting down at the Christmas table. However, you can control many factors to avoid losing the willpower in front of the treats galore.

Saying that, how can you smartly manage eating healthy during the Christmas season, without starving yourself of all the delights?

Here are some simple tips for you to control yourself from going crazy over the Christmas dinner table:

Healthy Christmas dinner Eating Tip #1: Dump the Junk!

Christmas foods are usually high in calorie count and therefore you need to avoid taking the extra. Junk food is a health and fitness killer. Try to avoid taking junk food items like sweets, frizzy drinks, or other snacks while you are sitting down in front of the TV with your family and friends.

Healthy Christmas Dinner Eating Tip #2: Take Plenty of Liquids

Generally, hydration is never a bad thing and you can take liquids to reduce hunger. If you feel the urge to eat something off hours, try to overcome the feeling by taking some healthy beverage or just plain water. You can also take Shakeology shake to avoid the off-hour hunger pangs.

Healthy Christmas Eating Tip #3: Carry Healthy, Nutritious Snacks!

This is a good idea especially if you are spending hours on Christmas shopping. Just when you are about to go to the food courts, take a Beachbody snack bar (P90X Peak Performance Bars) and munch on it. It will help to keep you light and healthy and prevent you from choosing other unhealthy options.

Healthy Christmas Dinner Eating Tip #4: Pace Yourself on the Table!

We tend to eat when delicious food sits in front of us on the table. It is hard to say No! Well, you do not really have to say that unless you can pace your food intake.

Do not take food in huge portions as this may end up in overeating. Take the best food items from the table and put them in smaller portion sizes. Avoid taking the dips, the creamy stuffing’s, and the crackers.

Healthy Christmas Dinner Eating Tip #5: Be a Role Model!

Try to be a role model for your kids. Set as example as an adult by consuming more vegetables in your meals and cutting on the desserts. This will not only help you with eating healthy, but will also send out a positive note for them.

Making A Healthy Christmas Dinner Table:

Now that you know smart tips to eat healthy on the Christmas Dinner and Parties, you should also know how you can make your Christmas Dinner Healthy for everyone.

Add plenty of veggies with the Christmas feasts. If you do not want to keep with the traditional Christmas feasts, add healthier side dishes and snacks to keep goodness as well as health together.

Lastly, Make sure you remember that healthy eating is not just for Christmas, it is for life!