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

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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.

Podcasts I Listen To (2014)

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Another year, another list. I love podcasts. I love them more than I have hours in the day to listen to them. And because new shows or recommendations are coming at me faster than I can keep up, I have to keep pruning my list. For those interested, here were my top 10 podcasts in 2012 and 2013.

Here are my top podcasts for 2014.

  1. EconTalk (economics)  #1 for 3 years in a row!
  2. RadioLab from WNYC (stories, reporting)
  3. James Altucher Show (interviews)
  4. NPR Planet Money (finance)
  5. Accidental Creative (productivity)
  6. Tim Ferriss Show (interviews, productivity)
  7. Adam Carolla Show (comedy)
  8. Podcast of Doom (history)
  9. House of Reggae (music)
  10. Revolution Health Radio with Chris Kresser (health)

I still love EconTalk. When I am not listening to new shows, I am digging through the archives going back to 2006. Some of the shows I’ve listened to multiple times. In the past few months, I’ve read three books by guests on the show. In each case, the interview was better than the book.

I stopped listening to Freakonomics. Too much filler and too many logical errors.You get more info in a single EconTalk than a year of Freakonomics.

My newest find is the James Altucher Show. I couldn’t stand this guy when he was the perma-bull on CNBC, but I gave his show a chance and I’m really digging it. MAS Better tipped me off to Radio Lab, which is awesome. And my friend Dave is doing a great job with Podcast of Doom.

podcasting

Photo by Kin Mun Lee

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

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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

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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.

Ranking My Positive Health Changes

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Recently someone told me my approach to nutrition and fitness was too extreme and not practical. I suppose if you took everything that I do together and ranked them equally it could look overwhelming. However, they aren’t all equal. In fact, a few changes represent the majority of the positive health benefits with the rest playing minor roles.

Here is how I rank my positive health changes.

#1 Eliminate Wheat / Reduce Carbs

I would estimate 50% of the positive benefits from my health since 2008 has been the reduction and eventual elimination of all wheat. I consume no bread, pasta, cereal, pastries, pizza, beer or anything where the wheat protein gluten plays a role. My appetite is controlled now. I cured my rosacea. My waist size is now the same as it was when I was a freshman in high school.

In many posts on this site I preach “cutting the carbs”. Unless you are very carb sensitive, I’m not taking about parsnips and yams. The evil ones are sugar and wheat. And they are often found together. I never had a sugar problem, but like most Americans consumed wheat on a daily basis. Although I am not celiac, I have ran numerous self experiment tests to confirm that wheat has been the most destruction element to my health.

Wheat is not healthy. Organic, stone-ground, home-made, it doesn’t matter. It is all poison. Wheat spikes your blood sugar more than ice cream. It is nutrient robbing. It stimulates appetite, which increases your risk for obesity. This could lead to diabetes or heart disease. It can lead to intestinal issues. It can cause skin inflammation. I could go on and on. There is NOTHING of value in wheat that can not be found in other safer foods.

Although less dangerous, I do not encourage the regular consumption of Gluten-free treats. They are junk food.

#2 Intermittent Fasting

Up until 2008, I like most Americans believed that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. I also believed that hunger was this unbearable state that needed to addressed or I’d lose muscle. So I ate meals and snacks from morning to night. I didn’t eat processed foods, but I still ended up with weight gain, despite being very active. But worse than the weight gain was being a slave to hunger. I had to have a case of protein bars around me at all times.

Then I read Art De Vany’s essay and everything changed. I began experimenting with Intermittent Fasting. Not only did I lean out, but something much more important happened. From the post Intermittent Fasting Adventures in Not Eating:

I consider IF to be amazing success if for no other reason, I am no longer a slave to eating by the clock. If I come across poor food options, I can now choose to eat nothing. Hunger is now an acceptable feeling. Because I am now comfortable being hungry, I am longer pressured to eat fast. Taking the time to prepare a healthy meal even if it means waiting another hour is no longer a dilemma.

#3 Cooking My Own Meals (eliminate veggie oils / soy, add SuperFoods)

Once I removed wheat and was comfortable with hunger, that gave me the time and patience to cook my own meals. From The More You Cook, The Better You Look:

I had this same Ah-Ha! moment this summer. I was upset with food inflation and tired of getting sick, so I decided to attempt a strategy of nutrient loading. The theory was that if load up on SuperFoods then my immune system would be stronger and I wouldn’t get sick. The only way to affordably get those high levels of nutrients was to cook almost all my meals.

Not only did I stop getting sick, but I lost 10 pounds and almost 3 inches off the waist. And I did it without changing my portion size.

By cooking my own meals, I was able to eliminate the highly inflammatory vegetable oils and all non-fermented soy. That is an near impossible task if you are buying processed foods or eating out at restaurants on a regular basis.

Cooking at home has exposed me to some of the most powerful Superfoods (aka High Velocity Super Warrior Foods), which are hard to source at restaurants and stores. They include fermented food, bone broth and offal (particularly beef liver).

ground-pork

Ground Pork and Cabbage

#4 Discovered the Cause of My Back Pain

This won’t apply to everyone, but I went through many years where I would get awful back pains. I covered this topic in the posts How I Figured Out the Cause of My Back Pain and The Psychology of Back Pain. I have eliminated 95% of my pain and on those rare occasions when it does surface, I understand that I am not broken and know how to make the pain go away.

#5 Cold Weather Exposure

I will never know if my experiments with cold temperature exposure helped me lean out. Nor will I know with certainty if it boosted my immune system. I suspect they did, but what I do know for certain is that I am far more resilient than I was when I moved to Washington State. I’ve become more adaptable and increased my metabolism.

Brief exposures to cold temperatures represent a minor safe stressor. Being able to adapt and overcome these minor stressors has made me much tougher. By continually testing my resolve to discomfort, I am rarely uncomfortable. The benefits of cold weather exposure have had spillover effects into other aspects of my life.

#6 Better Sleep

My sleep was not bad to begin with, but just by increasing the duration and depth of my sleep, I feel much better. I covered my ideas in the post Turning Down the Lights.

#7 High Intensity Training

I can’t believe it has been less than a year since I fully adopted High Intensity Training as my core exercise protocol. I outlined HIT in the post High Intensity Training at Ideal Exercise. HIT is about trading duration for intensity. These days I do a single 15 minute workout every 6th day. It is brutally hard and I train to failure. The rest of the week, I allow for recovery and do nothing more than walking.

The result is I am in the best shape of my life and I never get the aches and pains that came with higher volume, lower intensity exercise plans. My resting pulse is as low now as it was 20 years ago when I ran 2 marathons. Only now, I have more energy and more muscle.

Conclusion

I have done other actions to improve my health. They didn’t make the Top 7 list. Looking at the list above, I would attribute 80% of the health gains I’ve made over the last 3 years to the first 3 items on this list. Yes, diet is that important. It took me years to fully understand that. Remove the toxins, load up on highly nutritious foods, increase resiliency, improve sleep and exercise intelligently with a bias towards brief highly intense safe movements. That isn’t extreme, is it?

What I eat can be found on the post What I Eat and What I Don’t Eat March 2010 Edition. The only change since then is I now will occasionally eat white rice during the summer or days when I am very active.