Archive for May 2013

Trust the Body

A “detox diet” is a bit of a misnomer.

The body is geared for detoxification. Organs—the lungs, kidneys, liver, skin, spleen, lymph nodes—rid the body of unwanted waste, viruses, and carcinogens.

When we eat to detoxify the body, it's not the diet doing the detoxification, but the body detoxifying itself.

Eating the Standard America Diet (SAD), eating out, eating processed foods, we consume more carcinogens and create more waste than the body can deal with on its own. We get backed up, and after years of buildup, we get sick. This is a very simple way of looking at the process of disease. Disease occurs when the body breaks down, and the body breaks down because it's too dirty and clogged to run—much like a car or a toilet.

Enter the “detox diet.” It's almost ridiculous to call it that, but by eating whole foods, by no longer consuming the chemicals in processed foods—food from boxes and from cans—we take the pressure off our organs, allowing them to gain back the ground they've lost, to catch up on the continuous task of cleaning us out.

This “diet” is really the way we humans have always eaten, at least before we began to heavily process our food, especially before added chemicals. Calling it a detox diet sounds as if when we're done we'll go back to the way we've always eaten—burgers and french fries, pizza, milk, and candy.

As if the real, whole foods that grow in nature are only a medicine.

I don't want a medicine—I don't want to be sick! I don't want to look at real food as a stopgap, something to eat for a time when I feel off or ill, only to fall back into the SAD.

If eating healthy, naturally, is going to give my body the ability to heal itself because it's not being overrun by the chemicals I consume when I eat unhealthy, then as far as I am concerned, eating healthy is my only option—my only option because I no longer wish to think of what I buy at McDonald's as food.

But I don't have to single out McDonald's. Even most “healthy” foods aren't so. The health claims on cereal boxes, and many other grocery store products, are grossly misleading, or are flat-out lies. It's often a case of “the blueberries aren't real.” Piggy-backed health claims: it's easy to slap on a sticker that says a food cuts the risk of disease, and put a minimal amount of that food into the product, selling a sexy version of the same old shit.

As clich√© as it sounds, what we must do is think outside the box—or more accurately, eat outside the box.


At least most of the time. As much as we can.

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Inflammation


The Diet, Part III

Inflammation

I began this new diet largely because I've been experiencing some inflammation around the top of my neck, under my jaw. I've had lymph issues in the past, when I am eating poorly and stressing out. I have been eating poorly and stressing out, so it was a time for a change.

I made a list of foods that were anti-inflammatory, in an effort to replace the inflammatory foods I have been consuming, like whole milk, ice cream, and pizza (ugh).

I found a website called Self Nutrition Data at http://nutritiondata.self.com/. It lists the macro- and micro-nutrients for most foods along with their estimated glycemic load and inflammation factor.

Glycemic load and glycemic index are two terms I'm familiar with, and an important part of my diet. Simple carbohydrates (not sugar), once broken down by the stomach, turn into sugar: glucose. I'm choosing to eat vegetables and fruits (fructose in its natural state), high-protein foods like fish and chicken, as well as adding healthy fats like olive oil and coconut oil to carb-rich foods like oatmeal and sweet potatoes to help reduce their glycemic load.

Inflammation factor is a term I'm not familiar with, and I'm still doing research on inflammation and food. But in the meantime I've used Self Nutrition Data to create a list of anti-inflammatory foods, along with a list of low glycemic foods.

This is useful because it gives me a better idea of what I can eat, and what I want to avoid. Not that I can't have some pizza or ice cream once in a while, but that I want to limit such foods. A list is a more concrete way of deciding what to eat than relying on the statement “I want to eat healthier.”

Just saying “I want to eat healthier” doesn't allow me to picture a healthy diet in the same way writing such foods down does.

~*~

Inflammation is the body's way of protecting itself. It's an immune response to illness, injury, and stress. Our bodies become inflamed when we are injured, or we have a disease like diabetes or cancer, or experience high-stress states and lifestyles. Inflammation is linked to disease in this way, and many say that inflammation may predict serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease—or that cancer and heart disease are inflammatory diseases.

Even some fruits and whole grains are pro-inflammatory. Coconut oil is very pro-inflammatory, because it contains a high concentration of saturated fat. Knowing this doesn't mean I'm going to avoid fruits, whole grains, or coconut oil, because each food offers unique health benefits, but that when I have these foods I balance them with anti-inflammatory foods like vegetables, olive oil, and spices.

The best way to balance any meal is to rely on the spice turmeric.

Turmeric is the most anti-inflammatory food on my list. It packs an anti-inflammatory factor of 1,500 in a single tablespoon (about what I may put into a bowl of coconut oil-flavored oatmeal).

The typical bowl of oatmeal I make, with coconut oil, raisins, and cinnamon has a pro-inflammatory factor of nearly -750—it's recommended that we have a daily anti-inflammatory factor of 50 (an average of all the foods we eat). Adding a single tablespoon of turmeric (and some black pepper to increase turmeric's bioavailability) turns the inflammatory factor upside down—giving that same bowl of oatmeal an anti-inflammatory factor of 750.

Adding foods like turmeric, olive oil, fish, and vegetables to my diet I find it very easy to exceed that factor each day.

Already in the first week since starting this new lifestyle I've noticed the inflammation in my neck has been reduced. I also feel better in other ways, as well, which is an added bonus.

~*~

The inflammation rating system is not an absolute. I like it as a guideline to go by, to compare with what I know about certain foods. It's also a little extra motivation to stop eating foods I don't want to eat. Milk, for instance, isn't something I want to depend on in my diet; it's one of the few foods that upsets my stomach, and let's face it, drinking modern processed milk is kind of gross, and only tastes good to me if it's whole milk, which is loaded with saturated fat—fat which contains all of the nasty chemicals and wastes left over from the cattle industry. Milk is also pro-inflammatory, so it's easier to say no to if I'm looking to include anti-inflammatory foods.

Pro-inflammatory foods can be misleading. Coconut oil contains high amounts of saturated fat, but unlike processed milk it is more nutrient dense, containing fats that are actually healthy for me. Quinoa is pro-inflammatory but it's also healthy in moderation, containing a high amount of protein for a plant food, rich in fiber, healthy fat, and a host of micro-nutrients.

So far I have discovered that anti-inflammatory foods are healthy (are plant-based, or contain large amount of healthy fat: fish), or is a healthier alternative to an unhealthy food choice (olive oil over vegetable oil). Most pro-inflammatory foods should be avoided, but there are several that are so nutrient-dense or contain rare and necessary micro-nutrients or fats that they should be included in a healthy diet (coconut oil and many fruits are pro-inflammatory).

Because the long-term average of all foods matters more than each food's inflammation factor, it's more important to focus on the general diet rather than excluding every single pro-inflammatory food. It's convenient that the inflammation factor mimics closely other factors like the glycemic load, or whether a food is processed (trends toward pro-inflammatory) or plant based (trends toward anti-inflamatory).

The inflammation factor doesn't itself determine whether a food is good for me or not, but it may be a good indicator. And it's one more tool to help me define a healthy diet.

I plan on researching inflammation more over the next few weeks and months.


~*~

My list:

Inflammatory index: all servings 100 grams.

Negative values are pro-inflammatory.

Almond Milk: N/A+
Almonds: 200
Mixed Nuts: 175
Cashews: 78
Celery: 14
Peanuts: 69
Avocado: 78
Bananas: -51
Carrots: 163
Chicken: -21
Cinnamon: -55 (-1 for 1 teaspoon)
Coconut Oil: -825 (-111 for 1 tablespoon)
Eggs: -92 (-41 for medium egg)
Flaxseed: 490 (34 for 1 tablespoon)
Garlic: 3,576 (107 for 1 clove)
Ginger: 6,452 (129 for 1 teaspoon)
Lentils: -4
Muskmelon: 43
Oatmeal: -41
Olive Oil: 526 (71 for 1 tablespoon)
Onions: 234
Peanut Butter: 31
Pepper: 31 (13 sauteed)
Protein Powder: N/A?
Prunes: -210
Quinoa: -222
Raisins: -338
Salmon: 466
Spinach: 259
Sweet Potatoes: 189
Tilapia: 74
Tomato: 9
Tuna: 162
Turmeric: 22,564 (451 for 1 teaspoon)
Yogurt: -78
Water: 0

Obviously this list is far from complete, but it's a good idea of what's out there.

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The 24-Hour Fast


My diet revolves around eating cycles. For 24 hours I eat...and for 24 hours I fast.

This is by no means meant to be absolute, do or die, but an ideal to strive for—not to get upset about if I fall short of the mark, and I am free to make adjustments. I can easily turn this into a 20-hour fast, or a 36-hour fast.

I am aiming for three 24-hour fasts a week. Ideally the end of each fast will fall on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, but I'm open to adjustments if/when necessary. Sundays will be an off day, in which I can eat at my leisure throughout.

Today, for instance, I'm eating through the day until 3 P.M., at which point I'll fast until 3 P.M. tomorrow.

After 3 P.M. tomorrow, I'll eat until about 9 P.M. Only sleep will divide my last meal at night and my first meal in the morning.

At 3 P.M. of the third day, my fast begins anew.

~*~

Why would I want to fast at all?

For me personally, the reason I fast is simply because fasting feels great. I have a ton of physical energy, and mentally I feel very peaceful and serene. This means that while my body feels invigorated, I also feel spiritually invigorated. There's much more of a mind-body connection during a fast.

Fasting is a great opportunity to work on my practice of awareness, practicing making conscious decisions. This can be viewed on a spiritual level, but also on a practical, everyday level because the practice I get while fasting lends itself to the times when I'm not fasting, when I may be more susceptible to stress—in which case I can better choose not to give into my reactions, whether they're emotional (depression or anger) or physical (having a craving for ice cream).

Mentally I have never felt depressed in a fasting state. I have felt little to no anxiety, and what anxiety I've had has been very manageable. I experience less anger, and feel less concern for the usual emotional triggers that usually, when I'm full of food, would drive me to be overly angry or sad or worried. Eating becomes my biggest worry, and that's no worry at all.

~*~

There are negative side-effects to fasting.

It may sound strange to hear, but my biggest difficulty with fasting isn't going without food, but eating. I'm trying to gain weight, but by fasting I'm giving myself less time to feed. I must overeat 2,500-3,000 calories in a short amount of time, which can make me feel sluggish and edgy (even hostile, which defeats the purpose). The remedy to this is to deviate from the 24-hour routine. I can ether shorten each fast to 20 hours (eat for 28 hours and fast for 20) so that I have a larger eating window, or lengthen the fast to 36 hours (alternate-day fasting) in order to have a full day to eat at my leisure.

The 20- and 36-hour fasts are variations of a theme, and provide the same benefits as a 24-hour fast but to different degrees.

I have to be very careful about how much water I drink. Obviously during fasting water is a necessity and my body functions better and I can think more clearly if I am drinking water continuously, but water is at least as important while I'm eating. I can get just as dehydrated during my eating cycle as I can my fasting cycle if I neglect water.

While my physical and spiritual energy rise (along with my creativity), my mental concentration and raw ability to focus on anything but my body are diminished. Any writing I want to do must be done early in the morning, as soon as possible, because by the last several hours of my fast I don't have much of an attention span left.

~*~

There are numerous health benefits to fasting, and if you've related to what I've written above, or have found what I've had to say interesting, please read on. But keep in mind that I put less emphasis on the experimental data—the claims of detoxification, longevity, and reduced risk of disease—as I do on how fasting makes me feel, because whereas data is abstract, how I feel is concrete in the sense that I can feel it, and do not merely have to hope it's true.

Perhaps there is a link between the way fasting feels and its health benefits, but let's put that aside for now and look at the claims.

From the research I've read in the last few years I've found that intermittent fasting has been studied and shown to lower the risk of all major forms of disease—the big killers—heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, but also helps with some auto-immune disorders by reducing inflammation.


My favorite theory as to why fasting is so beneficial is that fasting allows a major function of the body—the digestive system—to rest.

We sleep, resting our conscious mind and bodies (letting the subconscious mind perform maintenance). We take it easy exercise. When our eyes grow strained we close them.

But we seldom think about our digestive system's need to rest and recover. The way many people eat causes an almost continuous barrage of activity. Some people really do eat around the clock, even getting midnight snacks, and keep their digestive system working nonstop for decades.

After we eat, it takes 6-8 hours before the stomach and small intestine are finished digesting the meal, but if we do not go longer than 8 hours without a meal, we'll never experience a fasted state, and our digestive system will not rest.

The colon takes even longer to process food—around 24 hours for someone eating a whole foods diet, and more for someone eating the standard American diet.

This means that within the first 24 hours since your last meal, your stomach and small intestine have been off-duty for 16-18 hours.

Fasting for 36 hours (every other day) gives the digestive system an even deeper rest, benefiting not just the stomach and small intestine, but also the colon.

Theoretically, this rest allows the body to turn its energy elsewhere. The digestive process is a tremendous load, burning around 10% of the calories you take in each day to function from start to finish. When the body is no longer using energy to digest food, it has more energy for other processes. It's like stopping to sit after a long run. We soon feel more energized and able to keep running.

It has been said that during a fasted state the body will break down cancer tumors and the plaque on artery walls, and re-regulate functions like insulin secretion, as if the body is running a defragmentation program.

Fasting also helps regulate the digestive system, resting it so that when it's time to digest food again it does so more efficiently. This is vital for good health because we're then able to get more out of the food we eat, absorbing more vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, protein, etc.


I could go on, and even write a book on fasting—as many others have—especially on the weight-loss benefits, which I have not touched on. There's a lot of material to digest, but I think it's enough here to cover some of the key benefits of fasting.

Further reading:

An Overview of Intermittent Fasting An objective talk on intermittent fasting.

Mark's Daily Apple A comprehensive look at fasting, including many links to other resources.

And if you want a reason not to fast, I've got that, too: The Dangers of Intermittent Fasting. The stance of organizations like the American Cancer Society seem not to be too enthusiastic about accepting fasting as a treatment, providing ample warning against it, while admitting that in animal trials fasting has shown benefits.

To be honest, and I'm being subjective here, I've never seen a valid argument against fasting. Most arguments fall apart in light of research and peoples' personal experiences.

Like anything, it's necessary to research it and try it in moderation before committing to it as a lifestyle. Fasting may not feel good, it may cause unsavory side-effects. It's not a panacea for everyone.

Think for yourself, and listen to your body.

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The Diet: Part 1


I haven't posted in a while but today I decided to begin blogging my new dietary changes, my experiments with food, and some of the research I'll be doing on living a healthy lifestyle.

Going forward I must note that I have several biases that will make this scientifically inaccurate. I expect this to be positive. Based on past experience with intermittent fasting and eating whole foods, I expect to feel good.

I'm not testing this objectively-rigorously. I'm searching for things, have an already formed opinion, and cannot be counted on to be biased to the point of perfection.

But I am generally a non-biased person. I do not lie, to myself or to anyone else.

I say this because I believe that human health is tricky business, and shouldn't be simplified to the point of idiocy. It's hard to know if something is “healthy” when health evolves over a lifespan of decades. There are many factors involved, making it impossible to isolate one ingredient in a complex system (consisting of diet, exercise, stress-reduction, genetics, environmental carcinogens, etc), and saying without a doubt that it is what makes or breaks one's health.

There are no absolutes in medicine but only generalities. This has become my mantra when discussing health in any capacity, be it physical or emotional. I can use smoking as an example of this. 

It is true that smoking cigarettes is generally unhealthy, but saying that “cigarettes kill people” is a ridiculous statement in any scientific context. Saying cigarettes are a cause of cancer is logical and rational, and can be backed up by years of research. Saying cigarettes caused someone's cancer makes less sense when viewed from a whole-health perspective—in which case cigarettes alone do not cause cancer, but are a factor among many factors (even if it is the largest factor), because cancer is dependent on many factors, be they genetic, environmental, and behavioral.

Someone's lung cancer has a lot to do with who they are on a molecular level as well as what they eat. You can expect a higher rate of lung cancer among cigarette smokers who eat processed foods than you can among smokers who eat whole foods—but that doesn't mean that diet alone causes lung cancer either. You have to also consider exercise and stress, two factors that may play as big of roles as genetics, diet, and carcinogen exposure.

Health is infinitely complicated when we look at it in a broad spectrum, and it must be looked at in a broad spectrum to be even remotely accurate. So I'm not going to try to prove anything with this blog, because I lack the tools and the objectivity to factor everything in, and I'm studying myself, over a short amount of time at that. 

I'm doing this mainly for me, and for anyone else interesting in health who would like to read along, get some ideas, or be pointed in a particular direction.

~*~

My most basic guideline for health is simply: “How does it make me feel?”

I've found through experimenting that eating a lot of unhealthy carbs, specifically simple sugars in the form of candy and cakes makes me feel like crap. It tastes great, there's no doubt about that, but I experience more depression, more anxiety, more tiredness, and more strange bodily symptoms when I'm on the Standard American Diet (SAD).

In my experience fasting for about 17 hours each day, or fasting 24 hours every other day, fills me with physical energy, and helps me to feel an astounding peace of mind. I'm less agitated, feel far less depression—none—and experience less anxiety; what anxiety I do feel tends to be less volatile and easy to deal with.

Something I have never tried before is to eat a diet lower in carbs. I'll still eat fruits like bananas, whole grains like oatmeal, and vegetables like sweet potoatoes, but balance these with healthy fats like olive and coconut oil to further lower these foods' glycemic load. How will this make me feel eating a diet containing a higher percentage of fats and proteins (lots of chicken and fish)?

I will find out.

~*~

For the record this diet started on Sunday, May 5, 2013.

It's a dietary blend of whole foods and intermittent fasting. I am not striving for perfection, but a general direction, so I'll likely have cheat meals and perhaps some cheat days once in a while, and If I need it, I'll have some protein powder with water or almond milk (I am bodybuilding).

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