The POWS Food Pyramid

Standard

In my previous post, I explained how I like the idea of having an expansive approach to food, but I also recognize that can lead to either consuming too many bad foods or too many calories in general. I wanted an eating strategy that I didn’t have to think about that kept me full and kept me lean. I not only succeeded, but I did it in a way that saved me time and money.

I developed my own 5 level food pyramid.

  1. Peasant Diet
  2. Old School Bodybuilder
  3. World Cuisine
  4. Super Foods
  5. (optional) Modern indulgences

I took the first letter of the first 4 levels and named this the POWS Food Pyramid. The levels are in order from consume the most to consume the least. So from the bottom of the pyramid to the top. Let us drill into it.

#1 Peasant Diet

The base of my food pyramid is the Peasant Diet, which describe in the post Designing a Modern Peasant Diet. There I made the case for consuming a large portion of your calories using foods traditionally associated with peasants. Think potatoes, beans, oats, etc. Nutritious and dirt cheap. I do want to stress these are traditional peasant foods, not the foods consumed by poor people today. So no french fries and Mountain Dew.

Legumes can be time consuming to make for true peasants, but we all have pressure cookers. Right?

#2 Old School Bodybuilder

There was a time before the Internet where a group of mostly men worked hard on developing some of the most amazing physiques to ever walk this planet. I’m thinking of the bodybuilding era from the 1950s up to the 1980s. Not the steroid monsters we see today, but the classic physiques.

Without access to the information we have today, they figured out how to sculpt amazing bodies. They weren’t in chat rooms arguing about the most minute details. They were hammering out the basics day in and day out. And they got damn good results. Let us set aside the training debates for now. On food, they consumed a lot of protein. Eggs, tuna, cottage cheese, ground beef, chicken breasts, turkey and seafood.

Most people associate higher protein intake with building muscle, but higher protein suppresses appetite. It helps you get lean and getting lean makes your muscles look bigger.

There is a lot of cross over between the Peasant Diet and the Old School Bodybuilder. For my own clarity, I envision the Peasant Diet as more carbohydrate based and the Old School Bodybuilder more focused on protein. Whenever I don’t separate the two in my mind, I tend to under consume protein.

#3 World Cuisine

If one only ate food consumed by peasants and 1970s bodybuilders, life would be pretty miserable. One of the things I love most about modern life is that I have access to foods consumed by people all over the world for hundreds or even thousands of years. Thanks to the internet and globalization, I can try so many different cuisines via restaurants and ethnic grocery stores that were not around when I was a kid in Central Ohio. Now add in ideas from YouTube, cookbooks, food shows and the number of food possibilities is enormous.

There are two keys to this section of the POWS Food Pyramid. First the cuisines need to be as traditional as possible. Just because some deep fried flour thing is the rage somewhere in Asia now, doesn’t make it a candidate for this tier. Ask if it was popular 50, 100 or 200 years ago. Aim for dishes that have been altered less since industrialization. In other words, avoid the high heat foods cooked in oils. Favor soups and slower cooked foods. Those that follow a Weston A. Price diet are aware of how to make many traditional American dishes. Now take that thinking globally.

The second key is moderation. If I had the metabolism of an Olympic swimmer, almost 100% of my calories would be in this tier, but I’m not, so I need to be realistic. I need to consume a majority of my calories from the Peasant Diet and Old School Bodybuilder in order to create a calorie deficit that I will spend here.

#4 Super Foods

If 60-70% of my calories are from staples that I’ll consume repeatedly, there is a possibility that a few nutrients could become under represented and since there is no guarantee that I’ll get them on my World Cuisine visits, I created this tier as extra insurance.

Super Foods are not going to be a high source of calories, but they will be a high source of nutrition. Bone broth, offal, oysters, natto, ginger, kelp, garlic and mushrooms are the foods that first come to mind. The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth is a book with more ideas.

Nutrient density is a topic that is popular in nutritional blogs. I like to also think of nutrient diversity. This means from the group of Super Foods, rotate your selection. This is the opposite of the staple approach used to get the bulk of our calories in Peasant Diet and Old School Bodybuilder. That is by design. We should spent the least amount of time, thought and energy with those calories.

#5 Modern Indulgences (optional)

The least amount of your calories should go towards processed industrialized calories, unless your desire is to gain weight or feed a very active lifestyle. If I were one of those guys running 50 mile races in the desert, you can bet I’d be consuming a fair amount of calorie dense processed foods. But I don’t, so I keep this tier as small as possible.

Using the POWS Food Pyramid

Unlike the USDA Food Pyramid, I am not assigning a number of portions to each tier. The reason is we all have different needs. For someone trying to lose weight, increase the percent of calories on the Peasant Diet and Old School Bodybuilder tiers. For someone more active that needs more calories, increase the calories from World Cuisines and Modern Indulgences.

Why POWS Works

POWS takes advantage of three proven nutritional principles that work for fat loss and weight management.

  1. Higher volume foods are more filling. Peasant foods such as potatoes and legumes are filling at a much lower calorie level than most foods. Displacing calorie dense foods with high volume low calorie food works at a hormonal level. (see Eating for Volume to Loss Weight and The Potato Diet is a Calorie Savings Account)
  2. Protein suppresses appetite. This is the Old School Bodybuilder tier of eggs and tuna working. (see Just Count Protein For Fat Loss)
  3. By having a high percentage of weekly calories as “OK tasting”, you greatly reduce your exposure to hyperpalatable foods. (see How ‘Hyperpalatable’ Foods Could Turn You Into A Food Addict)

The POWS Pyramid saves you time and money and if you calibrate the ratios right you’ll get fat loss without hunger. You can read the excellent book Forever Fat Loss by Ari Whiten for the science that supports the statements above.

I’ve been doing a variation of the POWS for over a year and it works. I’ve saved money, calories and time.

What I Eat and What I Don’t Eat – 2017 Edition

Standard

It has been 3 years since my last “What I Eat…” update. If you want to follow my journey on food selection, here are links to the prior editions:

What I Don’t Eat

My 2017 Avoid list has gotten smaller. Now the only thing that I go out of my way to avoid are industrial seed oils. What this means primarily is I avoid fried food when I’m eating out. No french fries ever. I choose foods that will require the least amount of frying. At home, I can use safer fats such as coconut oil or butter.

After following the nutritional blogosphere battles for almost 10 years now and reading numerous perspectives from people much smarter than me, I’ve decided that excess PUFA (poly-unsaturated fats) are The Common Enemy in Nutrition. The only real debate is defining excessive.

By Hayford PeirceOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Diet colas are still on the list, but I don’t think they are as dangerous as their critics claim. I just don’t think sugar colas are that bad in moderation. Plus my personal observation is that in the short run diet colas can suppress your desire for something sweet, but the effect wears off quickly and I’ve found myself much more hungry later. So the short term calorie deficit later becomes a surplus. My guess is our response is highly personal. For me diet colas were a waste of money.

Neutral Foods

I moved Wheat from Avoid to Neutral in this edition. For a more in detail explanation see the post Gluten / Wheat – The Final Chapter. I still think there are many unanswered questions about wheat and I’m not recommending others eat or not eat wheat. Do your own research. These days I eat a little wheat each week, not all is bread. I’ve become a fan of farro and will be trying other grains soon.

I debated on if I should move Alcohol back to the Avoid list. My reactions have been mostly negative and always unpredictable. I could be fine with a few ounces of a cider or craft beer or I could have a sinus headache for 18 hours. I’ve found no rhyme or reason and trust me I’ve looked. I’ve dug far too deep into this topic.

Peanuts and nut butters are on the neutral list. They contain a high amount of PUFA, so I would consume them only minimally.

Processed foods are a tool. If you are highly active and need a lot of calories, I don’t see a problem with them. However when you aren’t active and you start to displace nutritious food, that can be a problem.

What I Eat

In this edition I added oranges / tangerines to the list. It was the only food in my adult life that I knew was healthy yet I didn’t like the taste. Now I enjoy the taste. For that story see the post Overcoming My Only Irrational Food Fear.

Pretty much everything else is fair game.

There is a downside to having an overly expansive diet. We see it everywhere. People either eat food with little nutrition or they eat too much food and gain weight. Restrictive eating is a tool that has been used successfully by many people, but it is not for me.

In my next post I am going to cover how I resolved having an expansive diet without eating like crap or eating too much.

What I Eat and What I Don’t Eat – 2014 Edition

Standard

It has been two years since I updated this list. If you want to see how my diet has become less restrictive over time, let me point you to the two prior editions.

Most of the reasons I had for restricting certain foods turned out to be weak at best or just flat out wrong.

I have rejected the neurotic overly restrictive diets peddled by many in the nutritional blogosphere. Most foods aren’t bad, but eating them in excess can be. People are quick to accept the narrative that the blame lies with the food and not with the excess. But in a world of endless eating options, I still feel it is a rational decision to remove the foods most likely to cause issues and those with the worst nutrient profiles. Often they are one in the same.

What I Don’t Eat

#1 Industrial Seed Oils – What if it is all about vegetable oil? Once you strip away allergies and intolerances, what if the decline in health many experience can all be tied back to consumption of industrial seed oils? I did a three part series on this topic last December. Start with The Common Enemy in Nutrition.

#2 Wheat / Gluten – Since my 2012 edition, the gluten defenders have been at it in full force. The logic goes something like this: most people are fine with gluten, therefore strict gluten avoidance is unnecessary, therefore gluten is fine and thus gluten is healthy. I appreciate the motivation of the defenders in that we shouldn’t be falsely demonizing any food, yet it is a big leap to go from saying “gluten isn’t bad for most people” to “gluten is healthy”.

Even if you have zero issues with gluten, I don’t consider it to be risk free. From the post Was I Wrong About Gluten? Part 2:

When I listened to Evil Sugar Radio Episode 9, Antonio Valladares and Alan Aragon were mostly dismissive of gluten issues. Alan shared his research stating that 90-91% of the population does not have any gluten issues, so therefore gluten is fine and that projecting these problems out to everyone is absurd.

I have a few problems with the logic here. One is 10% is not a small number. What if it really is 30%? That is a tremendous number. Something is going on and even if I wasn’t gluten intolerant, I’d be taking notice. Why are so many people having so many issues with a food that is so prevalent? And what does “fine” really mean? Do we know? I have trouble believing that a food would be harmful to 10% (or 30%), but beneficial to 90% (or 70%).

My concern here is that we still don’t know that much about gluten issues. So instead of focusing on what is causing the problem, the defenders focus on how small the problem really is and how most people are perfectly fine with wheat. Absence of evidence is not absence of risk. As a healthy person who has dealt with this issue, I see their callous attitude as counter productive to figuring out what is causing the problem.

I also find it interesting that many of the gluten defenders are quick to advise their clients to cut out processed foods. I don’t know where you draw the line on the term processed, but with the exception of the WAPF group that soaks, sprouts and ferments grains, I’d consider all the wheat based products you find at the grocery store or in restaurants to be processed. I’m actually surprised I don’t see others pointing this out.

So if I avoid gluten and I’m not “gluten sensitive”, then that makes me neurotic. Yet if I avoid processed carbs, most of which have gluten in them, that makes me health conscious?

Anthony Colpo’s latest book is a good primer into why grains still aren’t healthy.

Whole Grains, Empty Promises: The Surprising Truth about the World's Most Overrated 'Health' Food
Whole Grains, Empty Promises: The Surprising Truth about the World’s Most Overrated ‘Health’ Food by Anthony Colpo

Regular readers now know I no longer avoid gluten 100%. I drink about 1 beer a month. I no longer go out of my way to avoid soy sauce or gojuchang. I believe I have restored my ability to handle some gluten by restoring my gut flora with fermented foods (dairy kefir, kimchi) after heavy use of antibiotics. However, that is just my best guess. I have no way of knowing for sure what happened. And because I don’t know, I am not going to return to eating bread. It took me years to restore my health and I like how I feel without it.

Many nutritional gurus are jumping on the idea that the gluten shark is gone (or never existed), so we can all jump back in the water. I’m unconvinced. I’ll be on the shore watching you guys. As someone with a background in investing, I do not think the gluten defenders understand risk or appreciate my concept of nutritional alpa.

#3 Diet Colas – On the list, off the list, on the list, off the list and now back on. Although I am not convinced this food is dangerous, I’m also not convinced it is safe. If I want a cola on a hot day, I’ll get one with sugar.

#4 Food From China – I will not knowingly purchase food from that ecological disaster. I’m sure I get some China based food when I eat out at some Asian restaurants, but I’m not going to buy any for home.

#5 Peanuts – I do not think peanuts are good for us, yet I purposely will expose myself to a few each year. For an explanation see Healthy vs Resilient.

That is the entire list.

Neutral Foods

#1 Alcohol – I can only handle a small amount of beer. Thankfully the style I seem OK with is the saison, which is my favorite.

hilliards saison

Hilliards Saison Photo by Luke Dorny.

#2 Nuts – I am less down on nuts than I was last year. See the post Nuts, PUFA and Vitamin E for an explanation. I still minimize their consumption, because I tend to overeat them when they are around.

#3 Oranges, Tangerines – I’ve moved these foods off the Avoid list as I am less repulsed by their smell. Still not a fan. Maybe someday. For a background explanation, see Why I Don’t Like Oranges.

#4 Sugar – I feel sugar has gotten an undeserved bad reputation. Once the saturated fat/cholesterol boogie man was killed, everyone went looking for a new villain to fill that role. Sugar was picked. I think sugar has a lot of bad friends such as industrial seed oils and wheat, but by itself I am longer swayed by the weak evidence that is inflammatory or heaven forbid “toxic”. The phrase excess sugar is used so much, I think a lot people stopped thinking about the term excess.

The only reason it is on the neutral list is because it can be easy to over consume and it can displace more nutrient dense calories (nutritional alpa). But eating sugar when your nutrient demands are met and you aren’t in caloric surplus is fine and can even be beneficial. I’ve used sugar to increase appetite to gain muscle and used to help my sleep.

What I Eat

Pretty much everything else is now fair game. Inclusive eating is so much more enjoyable.

What I Eat and What I Don’t Eat – May 2012 Edition

Standard

The last time I posted on what I eat and don’t eat was over two years ago. Time for an update. The biggest difference between now and then is I no longer follow a strict low carbohydrate interpretation of the Paleo diet. In fact, I don’t even primarily consider myself Paleo. I’m more in the WAPF camp, which places greater importance upon traditional methods of food preparation.

What I Don’t Eat

I have found that most of my health benefits came from eliminating the foods with the highest amount of anti-nutrients. People who preach moderation when it comes to toxins never seem to have excellent health. Here is what I avoid.

  • Gluten (Wheat, Barley, Rye, Couscous)
  • Vegetable and Seed Oils (Corn, Canola, Soy, Sunflower, etc)
  • Excessive Sugar
  • Soy that hasn’t been fermented  (I eat miso and natto, not BOCA burgers and Tofu)
  • Legumes that haven’t been soaked and sprouted (#7 on If I Were Still a Vegetarian)
  • Beer, Wine, Cider (my body hates liquid sources high in histamines)
  • Milk (unless raw, which is a very rare treat)
  • Fruit Juice (no fruit without fiber)
  • Food from China
  • Peanuts (except purposeful trace exposure)
  • Oranges, Tangerines. (I hate the taste and smell)

Things I have taken off the No List include starchy vegetables and white rice. My experiences suggest that The Perfect Health Diet is accurate in labeling them safe starches. I’ve also started drinking the occasional Coke Zero again. It helps me when I have extreme headaches in a way that coffee, tea and water don’t. In Podcast #15 of Upgraded Self Radio, I felt James Krieger made a strong case for the safety of diet colas. In an ideal world, I wouldn’t drink Coke Zero, but it is more effective than Alleve or Advil for my headaches.

Neutral Foods

Here are some foods I eat that fall into a middle ground. They aren’t necessarily healthy, but I have found they don’t cause me problems. Run your own experiments.

  • Popcorn
  • Gluten-free grains (in small quantities)
  • Ice Cream (occasionally and on high activity days)
  • Cheese

What I Eat

Once the toxic foods have been removed, I like the strategy of loading up on highly nutrient dense foods. The post High Velocity Super Warrior Foods has a list of ideas. Here are the foods I eat.

  • Mostly pastured, organic meat
  • Mostly clean seafood
  • All vegetables (raw, fermented, cooked)
  • Seaweed
  • Some fruit
  • Coconut oil, butter, lard, tallow, ghee, palm oil, olive oil
  • Eggs
  • Yogurt (Full Fat)
  • Coffee and Tea
  • Dark Chocolate
  • Soaked almonds
bacon-egg-cupcakes
My kind of cupcakes!

Questionable Foods

As much as I’ve tweaked my diet in the past few years, there are some foods I still have some uncertainty about. I will run tests on these foods to determine my personal tolerance.

  • Nightshades – I plan on doing a 30 day elimination test on this food group later this year.
  • Tyramine / Histamine Foods – My test last year was flawed, I need to do a strict test to see if this is a cause of my headaches.
  • Coffee – My 2 week test last year was flawed as well. I need to go a full month and not have decaf during the test period. I am not ready for that test. It’ll be much later in the year.
  • Cheese and Almond Butter – The two foods I find the most hyper palatable. They are fine foods, but I can’t control myself when they are in the house, so I’ve drastically cut back on both.
  • Gin – Recently, I’ve discovered that my body might be able to handle very small amounts of gin. More data is needed.

Less Rigid

This list is less rigid than the one I made two years ago. I now know which foods are the most toxic and which are the most nutrient dense. I suspect having a healthy attitude about everything in between is a better approach than becoming a neurotic eater obsessing about the quality of every calorie.

What I Eat and What I Don’t Eat – March 2010 Edition

Standard

I’ve received a few requests asking me what foods I eat and which ones I avoid. I slapped a date on this post, because I expect it to change over time. Although I don’t expect major changes, there will be minor adjustments from time to time.

What I Eat

  • Pastured organic meat.
  • Clean seafood.
  • All non-starchy vegetables, often organic.
  • Palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, butter, lard, tallow, ghee
  • Yogurt (plain, organic and full fat)
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Coffee and Tea
  • Dark Chocolate (73% and higher)
  • Fruit occasionally and when in season, not daily.

What I Don’t Eat

  • Sweets/Sugar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Factory Farm meat
  • Dirty seafood
  • Starchy veggies
  • Grains – no bread, no gluten, no pasta
  • Rice
  • Alcohol
  • Processed food
  • Milk
  • Soy products
  • Any food from China.
  • All caloric beverages except Kombucha (fermented tea).

Exceptions

  • Sweet potatoes on days I lift weights.
  • Milk when it inside a recipe or the rare macchiato.
  • Quinoa and other non-gluten grains on days I lift weights.
  • Ice cream is my chosen special treat. (Haagen-Dazs 5)

Trying to Eliminate from Diet

  • Most nuts, unless soaked.
  • Beans, unless sprouted.
  • Regular oatmeal as it can contain gluten. Irish / Steel Cut is a better option.

Notes

  • I am using the Italian definition of macchiato, not that poison drink that *$ peddles.
  • In Seattle is easy to locate sources of high quality meat. I use Thundering Hooves. There are several more.
  • Keeping track of clean seafood is getting harder, so I tend to consume more pastured meat than seafood these days.
  • I may try red wine later this year. Not really motivated at this time.
  • I’m not 100% perfect on the lists above, but I am in high 90s. 🙂

UPDATE (March 22): Added lard, tallow, ghee, vegetable oil and dark chocolate to post.