Category Archives: fiber
Fiber Made Simple
Let’s talk fiber. Do we really need as much as doctors claim? If so, how much? Can we get too much? Will it prevent cancer? Are grass-fed steak and whole eggs good sources of fiber? How the heck do I get rid of this constipation?
This is just a sampling of the many questions I get regarding dietary fiber.
What is Dietary Fiber?
Fiber is a complex carbohydrate made up of non-starch polysaccharides, resistant starches, and/or cellulose. In simple terms, when you hear fiber, think plants, namely veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Just as we have cells that give our body structure, so do plants. (Don’t eat humans, though. They don’t provide fiber.) These plant cells can hold nutrients, water, and other things. There are essentially two kinds of fiber. Each is unique, and possesses specific beneficial qualities.
This type is very resistant to breakdown by the digestive enzymes in your mouth, stomach, and small intestine. Gums, pectins, and inulin are in this category.
Gums stabilize food, giving it more of a shelf life. They also add texture to food. Probably most importantly, they slow down the absorption of glucose.
Pectins are a little different in structure than gums. They’re more acidic, aiding in the absorption of certain minerals like zinc. Similar to gums, they also lower blood sugar levels. Probably the most well known source of pectin is apples. They’re the source for many commercial pectin formulations.
Inulin is a FOS, or fructooligosaccharide. If you read my article on digestion you’d know that inulin is a pre-biotic that feeds the good bacteria in your stomach. When I noticed this was in Metabolic Drive®Muscle Growth, I did cartwheels (figuratively, of course). When you see foods containing FOS in the chart below, take note.
You’ll generally find soluble fiber in fruits, beans, barley, oats, and some other sources. It does get digested – sort of – but not until it hits the large intestine, where good bacteria ferment it, producing butyric acid (found in butter) and acetic acid (found in vinegar). This helps the digestive system maintain its acidity.
Some soluble fibers provide a bit of energy, about two calories per gram; likely not enough to get you through a particularly harsh drop-set on the leg press. Others such as gums are non-caloric.
So what are the key benefits to soluble fiber? There are three that warrant attention.
Three Key Benefits of Soluble Fiber
Stabilizes blood sugar. Soluble fiber slows down transit time (the time it takes for food to enter and leave the body) and encourages a more gradual breakdown of food. Specifically, it slows down the emptying of the stomach and the digestion of starches (and subsequent entry of glucose into the blood stream). Since glucose absorption will be slower, you can avoid the blood sugar ups and downs.
I’ve even heard of people mixing guar gum with water before meals to accomplish this. If you’re a diabetic, you should consider this before you opt to skip the veggies. Eating your veggies could mean you’ll need less insulin.
Lower LDL levels. When short chain fatty acids are made as a result of the fermentation of soluble fiber, it appears to result in a decrease in LDL levels. Good news for those concerned about cardiovascular disease.
Increased defense against cancer. Fiber can bind with cancer-producing compounds and remove them from the body, rather than letting them hang around to wreak havoc. Also, as fiber is fermented into short chain fats like acetic acid in your intestine, it helps the colon maintain its pathogen-killing acidity.
This type of fiber doesn’t get digested anywhere. It’s essentially lignin, cellulose, or hemicellulose, and you’ll typically find it in wheat or veggies. Its job is to simply carry food and water through the digestive system.
Unlike soluble fiber, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. This means that it swells up like a sponge, and adds bulk to the stool. This makes your feces move faster through your intestines (called intestinal hurry). There are several key benefits to insoluble fiber.
Three Key Benefits of Insoluble Fiber
Less constipation. Since insoluble fiber adds bulk to your stool, it aids in elimination, resulting in less constipation. One of the most common complaints I hear from dieters is that they’re constipated. If you’ve ever competed in bodybuilding, you know what I mean. It happens to almost everyone, and can be very problematic. I go so far as to consider it a sort of “silent killer,” like high blood pressure. There are many studies that demonstrate adding raw bran decreases intestinal transit time. Constipation and the non-evacuation of waste tie directly into the next point.
Toxic waste dump clean up. When your colon doesn’t completely evacuate, or when bad bacteria begin to dominate the good bacteria, putrefaction occurs. This means that toxic substances can get reabsorbed back into the blood and other tissues. By binding with toxins and hormones, insoluble fiber is very good at keeping you “cleaned out.” The payoff is that without so much of these toxins and hormones sitting around in your gut, you’ll be better protected against bowel diseases, cancers, and other maladies.
Note: You may have heard of the “fiber hypothesis.” It means that a low intake of fiber promotes certain diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, colon disease, and 30-40 other diseases, while a high fiber intake protects you against them. If you’re a research junkie, look up the work of Drs. Denis Burkitt and Hugh Trowell. Their work in Africa is what formed this hypothesis.
How much do we need and where do find it?
First, you shouldn’t rely on fiber supplements. I believe it’s best to get your fiber from a wide variety of whole food sources that contain different types of fiber. One of the major benefits of dietary fiber is that the phytonutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, etc., within the food choice often accompany it. This is also what makes fiber research problematic. Which of these factors is helping the most? Or is it all these things working in concert that prevent disease? It’s a tough call.
For how much should we eat, the common recommendation is 25-35 grams a day, with some experts saying around 40 grams. It’s recommended that diabetics get upwards of 50 grams a day.
When determining your needs remember that as a weight training athlete, you’re probably eating way more protein, fat, etc., than the “normal” person these recommendations were designed for. In all likelihood, fiber is simply one of those things that you have to play around with until you get it right. When you’re passing soft bowel movements a few times a day without reliving the dinner scene from Alien, you’re probably there or well on your way.
Note: You may get gassy and bloated upon increasing fiber intake. You may also get diarrhea if you eat too much insoluble fiber (mainly from bran). For the sake of your social life, increase gradually!
So now that we’ve covered the fiber basics, where do we find it? Here’s just a sampling to get you started.
Whole oats contain a type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan, a gummy soluble fiber. Studies demonstrated a lowering of cholesterol from this type of fiber, hence Quaker’s label claims that oats reduce cholesterol. Oat bran is also very popular due to its insoluble fiber content.
Rice bran is an interesting fiber source. According to Dr. Ann Gerhardt, it’s been shown to lower LDL levels.
Cocoa Bran sounds tasty. This is the outside layer of the cocoa bean. According to Dr. David Jenkins of the University of Toronto, it’s been shown to protect against oxidized cholesterol and raise HDL.
Konjac mannan is another interesting fiber. It contains a high concentration of glucomannan. I’d never even heard of this until I recently bought some “Miracle Noodles.” Turns out that researcher Dr. Hsaio-Ling Chen has also been using this type of soluble fiber to lower LDL levels.
Buckwheat. I had to add this whole grain as many don’t understand that it’s completely unrelated to wheat. The nice thing is that even with buckwheat flour, you still get the good parts of the seed.
Beans, lentils, peas, and peanuts are all part of the legume family. Beans in particular are a great source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. My favorite are black-eyed peas (not the band).
I toss them in rice, add a cayenne-based hot sauce, and it’s pure awesomeness. If you’re concerned about flatulence because you’re in a new relationship or work around a lot of exposed flames, you have to give beans a few weeks to work. They contain loads of soluble fiber, which means it’s going to get fermented in the large intestine. This is a good thing. Be patient and your flora will adjust.
Pectins are common in fruits, and being a soluble fiber get fermented in the large intestine, thus producing short chain fatty acids. Fruit also contains cellulose much of the time, an insoluble fiber that will keep things moving.
You may have heard about “phytates” in nuts, which are anti-nutrients that bind with certain minerals that cause a depletion of that mineral. Here’s my take: in a well-balanced diet, it’s not something worth losing sleep over. If you’re concerned, I suggest soaking the nuts until they begin to sprout, and then dry them again. Sprouting breaks down the phytate into inositol and phosphate. You’re good to go.
I should also mention a few seeds. Flax seeds are very high in fiber, 7 grams per tablespoon, and have a portion of lignan (insoluble fiber type), which have been reported to be cancer protective. Sesame seeds are popular too, but have the phytate issue to contend with. As stated, I wouldn’t worry about this, as a strong case could be made that phytates are also cancer protective.
The first thing people usually associate with fiber are veggies, and for good reason. My favorites are spinach, kale, asparagus, and broccoli.
Every good nutrition article needs a chart to help make sense of all the information. Ask and you shall receive!
|Source||Portion||Total Fiber||Miscellaneous Notes|
|Apple||1 whole||4||Good source of pectin.|
|Avocado Hass||1 whole||8|
|Banana||1 whole||3||Contain FOS and inulin, food for good bacteria.|
|Blueberries||1 cup||4||Very high ORAC fruit, and good for the brain.|
|Dried Figs||5 figs||9||Have some laxative and diuretic properties. My first contest carb load was with figs! No, I didn’t keep those posing trunks….|
|Kiwi||1 whole||3||Great source of Vitamin C.|
|Papaya||1 whole||5||Great source of digestive enzyme papain.|
|Pineapple||1 cup||2||Source of bromelain, but much is in the stem.|
|Raspberries||1 cup||8||High in fiber! Great choice.|
|Strawberries||1 cup||3||Good source of anticancer nutrient ellagaic acid.|
|Whole Grains (cooked)|
|Brown rice||1 cup||4|
|Buckwheat||1 cup||17||Whole-grain pancakes are awesome.|
|Oat bran||1/3 cup dry||2||High amount of insoluble fiber.|
|Artichokes J||1 cup||2||Good source on inulin.|
|Asparagus||4 spears||1||Mild diuretic. Good source of inulin.|
|Green beans||1 cup||4|
|Broccoli||1 cup||4||Don’t forget the stems, a good source of cellulose.|
|Onion – raw||1 cup||2||Good source of inulin.|
|Potato – baked||1 whole||5||Half the vitamin C is in the skin. Just saying.|
|Spinach||1 cup||4||Good source of cellulose and pectin.|
|Kidney beans||1/2 cup||6.5||Red kidney beans.|
|Pinto beans||1/2 cup||7|
|Lentils||1/2 cup||8||Green ones have the most fiber. High in folate.|
|Black-eyed peas||1/2 cup||7||My favorite! I mix it in rice and put hot sauce on it.|
|Almonds||1 ounce||4||Great source of monounsaturated fat.|
|Cashews||1 ounce||1||This measure is for dry roasted.|
|Brazil||1 ounce||1.5||Great source of selenium.|
|Walnuts||1 ounce||2||Good source of omega-3 essential fatty acids.|
- If you’re thinking that simply adding fruit to your diet will relieve constipation, think again. Most of the fiber in fruit is soluble and thus broken down in the colon and doesn’t really have the bulking effect of cereal fibers like wheat bran.
- Be very careful with fiber if you have an intestinal disease like Crohn’s disease. High amounts of fiber can aggravate it.
- It’s possible that even a perfect diet will not relieve constipation problems.
So what else can we do to ensure we stay “regular?”
- Drink a lot of water!
- Move around, exercise. When I was in the hospital, my digestive system was essentially asleep after my digestive surgeries. The doctors were on me 24-7 about walking to wake my system up. I must’ve clocked 50 miles walking the halls of the Mount Carmel Medical Center.
These things aid in a faster transit time, which means it can help solve constipation problems.
The Straight Poop
When you’re new to the iron game, all you want to learn about is the training side of the equation like sets, reps, and exercises. You know, the fun stuff. But as you progress and graduate from white belt to yellow or blue belt, you soon learn that the nutrition side is just as important to bodybuilding success, if not more.
Moving beyond good nutrition is the pursuit of long-term health and vitality. While not sexy or exciting – what, fiber isn’t exciting? – topics that prioritize health may be the most important of all. Because the strongest, most jacked physique on the stage or at the beach can still be a ticking time bomb if care isn’t taken to keep key health markers in check.
That’s the next level of enlightenment, when you marry a love for the iron with sound bodybuilding nutrition and lifestyle practices that promote lasting health and vitality. That’s when you graduate to black belt. That’s the level I hope all T NATION readers aspire to.
I’ll see you there!
Getting the most nutrition for your money isn’t as hard as you may think. To come up with the list of healthy foods below, Consumer Reports consulted a number of nutrition experts and food scientists. The foods are grouped by nutrient—antioxidants, calcium, fiber, omega-3’s, and protein—to make it easier to plan meals.
Whenever possible, select items that are labeled USDA certified organic, but note that the prices below are for conventional items.
Antioxidants—cheap ways to get a super nutrient fix
Cabbage – 16 cents per serving (½ cup cooked); $2.50 for one medium head (4 pounds).
Usually the cheapest member of the super-nutritious cruciferous family that includes broccoli and Brussels sprouts, cabbage is loaded with Vitamins A and C plus cancer-fighting sulforaphane.
Canned unsweetened pumpkin – 38 cents per serving (½ cup); $1.32 per 15-ounce can.
The bright orange hue is a tip-off to high levels of beta carotene, an antioxidant that might help protect vision. Skip the sweetened purees, which can be full of calories.
Dried plums – 31 cents per serving (¼ cup); $3.99 per 18-ounce container.
Often a little cheaper than its healthful cousins — dates, figs, and dried apricots — this concentrated version of a ripe plum packs antioxidants, fiber, and potassium. Portions are less because it is concentrated according to experts.
Frozen blueberries – 66 cents per serving (½ cup); $3.29 per 12-ounce package.
Keep a stash of these powerhouses in your freezer. They have been associated with the prevention of Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, according to experts.
Kale — 37 cents per serving (1/2 cup); $1.49 per bunch (about a pound).
Dark, leafy kale and other greens (collards, mustard greens, and Swiss chard) are sometimes cheaper than lettuce mixes and packed with Vitamins A, C, and E.
Canned tomatoes – 28 cents per serving (1/2 cup); $1.99 per 28-ounce can.
Heat-processed canned or boxed tomatoes contain more of the antioxidant lycopene than fresh ones. To keep sodium down, buy those with no salt added.
Calcium—feed your bones for less than $1 a serving
Canned salmon with bones – 32 cents per serving (1/4 cup); $2.24 per 14.75-ounce can.
The soft, edible bones are loaded with calcium, plus it’s a superstar for heart-healthy omega-3s (see below). To cut calories, look for salmon packed in water and to avoid mercury and other toxins, choose a wild Salmon variety.
Plain yogurt – 70 cents per serving (6-ounce container); $8.39 per case of 12.
Yogurt is a quick and handy way to get calcium. It’s also brimming with protein and good bacteria that aids digestion. To flavor it for fewer calories, stir in a bit of your own vanilla extract or all-fruit spread.
Nonfat dry milk powder – 17 cents per reconstituted cup; $5.99 per 26-ounce container.
This is just milk that has had the water removed, so it equals the calcium and protein of regular milk for around 10 cents less per serving. (3 tablespoons equals 1 cup of milk.)
Fiber—stay regular for less than 50 cents a serving
Edamame and green peas – 25 cents per serving of peas ( 1/2 cup) and 90 cents per serving of edamame (1/2 cup); $1.99 per 16-ounce bag (frozen peas) and $2.69 per 16-ounce bag (frozen edamame).
These legumes have a good amount of fiber and protein—about ¾ cup of peas has more protein than an egg.
Rolled Oats – 28 cents per serving (1/2 cup); $3.59 per 18-ounce container.
Because these fiber heavyweights soak up more water than instant oatmeal, they fill you up more, so you eat less. They’re also gluten-free. To shorten cooking time, you can soak rolled oats in milk overnight in the fridge and pop them in the microwave the next day.
Whole-grain spaghetti – 23 cents per serving (2 ounces); $1.59 per 13.25-ounce box.
When it comes to fiber, not all whole-grain pastas are equal. Check the package—a serving should have 5 grams of fiber or more. Use instead of white pasta.
Quinoa – 50 cents per serving (1/4 cup); $3.99 per 12-ounce package.
Quick-cooking quinoa has almost 50 percent more fiber than brown rice, plus a dose of protein; one cup of cooked quinoa has more protein than an egg, according to the experts.
White potatoes – 13 cents per serving (1 medium spud); $1.99 per 5-pound bag.
Do your health a favor and eat your potatoes unpeeled, which will give you another gram of fiber for every small potato.
Popcorn – 12 cents per serving (1/4 cup unpopped); $1.89 per 28-ounce bag.
It’s a fun and easy way to get some fiber; research shows that popcorn eaters get about 22 percent more fiber than non-popcorn eaters. But don’t pile on calories with butter.
Omega-3s—heart healthy bargains
Frozen shrimp – $1.36 per serving (3 ounces); $14.99 per 2-pound bag.
Though not as high in omega-3s as sardines, frozen shrimp is a good, low-calorie, and relatively cheap source. Look for U.S.-farmed freshwater shrimp, one of the most sustainable seafood choices on the market.
Canned sardines in water – $1.59 per serving (3.75-ounce can).
On the eco-friendly list of fish and a health bargain not to be missed, sardines (with bones) are rich in heart-healthy omega-3s and bone-saving calcium. The healthful fats in fish are also linked to arthritis relief, according to the experts.
Flaxseed – 11 cents per serving ( 3 tablespoons); $1.79 per 16-ounce bag.
This mighty seed has omega-3s and other fatty acids linked to immune-system strength, cardiovascular health, and cancer prevention. Be sure to grind the whole seeds so that they can be digested properly.
Tofu – 48 cents per serving ( 3 ounces); $2.39 for 14 ounces.
Tofu is an American Heart Association-recommended source of omega-3s. It’s also cholesterol-free and high in protein. Silky soft tofu is best suited to soups and desserts.
Protein—fuel up for as little as 18 cents
Dried brown lentils – 27 cents per serving (1/2 cup); $1.45 for 16 ounces.
Quick-cooking lentils need no soaking, so they’re easy to prepare. They’re a good source of protein, fiber, and folic acid (important for pregnant women).
Eggs – 18 cents per egg; $2.19 per dozen.
A large hard-boiled egg is packed with 6 grams of protein. Although eggs contain cholesterol, they aren’t high in saturated fat (which increases LDL levels), making them OK to eat regularly even when you’re trying to reduce your bad cholesterol.
Frozen turkey – $1.59 (per pound).
Don’t wait for the holidays! Frozen birds are a good deal all year. The ratio of lean to fatty meat is a trim 2:1, and there’s less saturated fat than in beef or pork.
Dried black beans – 24 cents per serving (1/2 cup); $1.45 for 16-ounce bag.
All beans (such as navy, cannellini, and pinto) are stellar sources of protein, fiber, and blood-pressure-friendly potassium, but darker beans pack more nutrients. Draining and rinsing reduces sodium.
Peanuts in the shell – 12 cents per serving (small handful); $1.99 for 16 ounces.
They’re a cheap protein fix, and they shell out more than 30 essential nutrients and phytonutrients, including resveratrol, a phytochemical linked to a reduction in heart disease and cancer risk.
True or False: All Fiber is Created Equal
FALSE: There are two basic types of fiber, with different functions. Insoluble fiber is found in wheat bran, nuts, and many vegetables. Its structure is thick and rough, and it won’t dissolve in water, so it zips through your digestive tract and increases stool bulk. Soluble fiber is found in oats, beans, barley, and some fruits. It dissolves in water- to form a gel-like material in your digestive tract. This allows it to slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. What’s more, soluble fiber, when eaten regularly, has been shown to slightly lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
True or False: Fiber Has No Calories
FALSE: Fiber is essentially composed of a bundle of sugar molecules. These molecules are held together by chemical bonds that your body has trouble breaking. In fact, your small intestine—can’t break down soluble or insoluble fiber; both types just go right through you. That’s why some experts say fiber doesn’t provide any calories. However, this claim isn’t entirely accurate. In your large intestine, soluble fiber’s molecules are converted to short-chain fatty acids, which do provide a few calories. A gram of regular carbohydrates has about 4 calories, as does a gram of soluble fiber, according to the FDA. (Insoluble fiber has essentially zero calories.)
True or False: Fiber Can Help You Lose Weight
TRUE: Fiber’s few calories are more than offset by its weight-control benefits. The conclusion of a review published in the journal Nutrition is clear: People who add fiber to their diets lose more weight than those who don’t. Fiber requires extra chewing and slows the absorption of nutrients in your gut, so your body is tricked into thinking you’ve eaten enough, says review author Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., R.D. And some fibers may also stimulate CCK, an appetite-suppressing hormone in the gut.
True or False: Fiber is All-Natural Goodness
SORT OF: Fiber is showing up in everything these days—yogurt, grape juice, artificial sweetener. If this seems impossible, remember that these are molecules; you don’t have to see or feel fiber for it to be present. Scientists now have a new class of fiber they refer to as “functional” fiber, meaning it’s created and added to processed foods. “You can make fiber from bacteria or from yeast,” says Slavin. “And as long as you prove that it can lower cholesterol or feed the good bacteria in your gut or increase stool weight, it’s fiber.
True or False: Supplemental Fiber is Healthy
TRUE: Foods with added fiber don’t necessarily provide the benefits you might expect. Inulin, for example, a soluble fiber extracted from chicory root, can be found in products like Fiber One bars. In addition to boosting fiber content, it’s also commonly used to replace fat. Inulin is known as a prebiotic, which means it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. That’s good, of course. “But,” says Slavin, “inulin doesn’t have the same cholesterol-lowering effect as the fiber found in oat bran.”
True or False: Food Companies are Jumping on the Fiber Bandwagon
DUH: In 2007, the FDA declared that polydextrose can be called fiber. Polywhat? Polydextrose is made from glucose, sorbitol (a sugar alcohol), and citric acid. It’s what puts the fiber in Fruity Pebbles (not actual pebbles). Polydextrose received FDA approval because it mimics some attributes of dietary fiber: It isn’t absorbed in the small intestine, and it increases stool weight. Polydextrose mainly bulks up foods so they’re not as high in calories. However, there’s no research to prove that polydextrose is as beneficial as the fiber found in whole foods.
True or False: Fiber Helps Prevent Colon Cancer
MAYBE: This idea arose in the 1960s when it was noted that fiber-scarfing Ugandans rarely developed colon cancer. But nearly five decades later, it still hasn’t been proven.
In 1999, Harvard researchers found no link between dietary fiber intake and colon cancer. But a European study that tracked more than a half million people correlated a high-fiber diet with up to a 40 percent reduced risk of colorectal cancer. Then a 2005 review in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who ate the same amount of fiber as those in the European study didn’t experience any benefit. The American Institute for Cancer Research calls protection “probable.” This controversy aside, high-fiber diets are associated with preventing many chronic diseases, so it’s smart to boost your intake, says Arthur Schatzkin, M.D., Dr.P.H., of the National Cancer Institute
True or False: You Need 38 Grams of Fiber a Day
FALSE: That’s the recommendation from the Institute of Medicine. Scientists there crunched data from three studies and squeezed out the number 38 in 2005. It equals 9 apples, or 12 bowls of instant oatmeal. (Most people eat about 15 grams of fiber daily.) The studies found a correlation between high fiber intake and lower incidence of heart disease. But none of the high-fiber-eating groups in those studies averaged as high as 38 grams, and, in fact, people saw maximum benefits with a daily gram intake averaging from the high 20s to the low 30s. Also, it’s worth noting that these studies don’t show cause and effect, and that unless you’re taking a supplement, it’s hard for even those who eat the healthiest of diets to consume 38 grams of fiber. It’s fine to shoot for that amount, but you’re certainly not failing if you don’t meet it.
True or False: This is Complicated
FALSE: A simple strategy: Eat sensibly. Favor whole, unprocessed foods. Make sure the carbs you eat are fiber-rich—this means produce, legumes, and whole grains—to help slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. “The more carbohydrates you eat, the more fiber becomes important to help minimize the wide fluctuations in blood-sugar levels,” says Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D., a nutrition researcher at the University of Connecticut.
by Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
Organic Not So Good?
Q: What’s all this I read in the newspapers about a study showing that organic food isn’t more nutritious than the regular stuff? I thought organic was always better?
A: Studies on organic vs. non-organic food are all over the map, with some studies showing no nutritional differences, some showing a lot. And different studies investigate different sets of nutrients, so they’re hard to compare.
For example, one study found that organic vegetable soups contain almost six times as much salicylic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin) compared to nonorganic vegetable soups. And research in 2001 found that organic crops had higher average levels of twenty-one nutrients including vitamin C and iron.
Other studies haven’t shown much difference in nutritional composition. Interesting, not one study has ever shown that conventionally grown food is better than organic — the best they can do is show it’s no worse.
However, this misses the point. We don’t really eat organic food simply because it has more nutrients, though that’s very possible and hotly debated. We eat it because of what it doesn’t have: poison.
Conventional crops are grown with a massive amount of pesticides and, no matter what they say, some of it remains on the crops and winds up in our bodies. Make no mistake, some of this shit does wind up on organic crops, but there’s a lot less of it.
Consumers Union did a study in 2002 analyzing three large data sets of twenty major crops and found that conventionally grown samples had pesticide residues way more often than organic, and that the amounts of pesticides were higher in the conventional crops 66% of the time.
So I think much of the debate about the nutrient content of organic vs. non-organic is misfocused. You could say omega-3’s are useless because they don’t prevent divorce, but that’s not why we eat them, is it? And we eat organic food primarily to minimize our intake of the crap they spray on regular food, not because it necessarily has more vitamin C.
When all is said and done, only about 2.5 percent of food eaten in the US is organic, and
let’s face it, organic costs a lot more. It may be much more important to focus on eating more fresh food — organic or non-organic — than to have endless debates about marginal benefits of one over the other.
If you want to dig deeper, check out the book America’s Food by Harvey Blatt.
Cereal at Night?
Q: In the new Special K cereal commercials, they promote eating a bowl of their “Chocolatey Delight Special K” as a healthy post-dinner snack. What do you think? And while we’re on the topic, what about those Special K protein drinks?
A: What a bunch of horseshit.
That “healthy” post-dinner snack has sugar, trans-fats (check the label: partially hydrogenised palm kernel oil is right there, despite the “no trans-fat” claim) and high fructose corn syrup with about all of one gram of fiber and two grams of protein.
On what planet is that a great snack? Oh yes, I guess if you compare a bowl of this crap to two pints of ice cream and three chocolate brownies then the cereal is a better snack, but not by much!
Sad to say, the protein shake is probably an improvement over what most of America consumes for breakfast. But that’s like saying Froot Loops are good because they’re an improvement over donuts.
Anyone serious about nutrition shouldn’t waste their time with crap like this. It’s got 10 grams of protein, but that comes with 29 grams of carbs and a list of ingredients that include sugar, canola oil, corn syrup, and a whole bunch of other highly processed stuff.
Why anyone reading TMUSCLE would even consider this shit is beyond me! If you want a protein shake, just get some high quality whey protein powder and mix it in a blender with some berries and water and call it a day.
The Truth About “The Grapefruit Diet”
Q: I think I remember my mom doing that dumbass “grapefruit diet” when I was a kid. While that diet has been debunked, I heard something recently about grapefruit actually being good for fat loss and health? What’s up with this?
A: Yup, I remember that too. In fact, pre-Internet days there was a diet passed around called “The Mayo Clinic Diet” that was basically grapefruit at every meal followed by some bastardized (and not very good) version of the Atkins diet. People swore by it despite the fact that it had absolutely nothing to do with the Mayo Clinic (which has completely disavowed it).
The grapefruit was believed to have some special magical “fat burning” properties, and I remember spending an awful lot of time explaining to people why that was a bunch of crap.
Now it turns out there may be something there after all. In 2006, a study from Scripps Clinic in La Jolla investigated the effect of grapefruit on weight and insulin resistance. (1) They took 91 obese patients and divided them into four groups. Group one got grapefruit capsules before meals; group two got grapefruit juice; group three got half a grapefruit, and group four got a placebo.
The placebo group only lost one-third of a pound, but the other three groups lost between 1.1 and 1.5 pounds. Only the fresh grapefruit group reached “statistical significance” but among a sub-group of patients with Metabolic Syndrome (pre-diabetes) all three lost significantly more weight. And insulin resistance improved in all of them.
The authors admitted that they really didn’t understand the mechanism by which it worked, but the fact is that it did.
Either way, grapefruit is a whole food with low calories, high volume, and good enzymes. It can fill you up and be a part of any good fat-loss program. The red and pink varieties even have some cancer-fighting lycopene.
Soy and Bodybuilding
Q: What do you think of soy as a health food, particularly for we musclehead types?
A: I’m underwhelmed. The amino acid profile is so-so, and even though the phytoestrogens in soy are weaker than estrogen itself, they’re still estrogens. Do you really need estrogens in your diet? Much better to use whey or casein, or a combination of both.
And most soy foods — soy milk, soy lattes, soy burgers etc. — are junk food and no healthier than the crap they replace. (However, traditionally fermented soy products such as miso and tempeh can be healthy.)
An interesting note, for my book, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, I interviewed fifteen notable nutrition experts and asked them to list their top ten favorite health foods. How many listed soy? Not a single one!
I wouldn’t go so far as my friend Charles Poliquin — who, as I recall, said an unprintable version of “Soy is for sissies” — but I think soy is pretty overrated as a health food. Bodybuilders would obviously be better off looking elsewhere!
Fiber or Fibber?
Q: What’s your opinion on these new compounds like polydextrose that are finding their way into every food source imaginable? I’ve read that food companies are inserting it into their products because the FDA allows polydextrose to be classified as fiber. Is it garbage or does my ice cream really have two grams of legit fiber in it now?
A: There are a number of these ingredients that manufacturers use in food products that are showing up as “fiber” on the nutrition facts label, and to my mind, the jury is still out on them. The best known are polydextrose and inulin. (More on those in a minute.)
The Institute of Medicine classifies fiber into two large categories: dietary and functional. Dietary fiber comes in three flavors — soluble, insoluble, and the new trendy one called resistant starch.
As the name “dietary” implies, they come from real food. These are the fibers your grandmother used to call “roughage” and which are associated with a lot of health benefits.
“Functional” fiber refers to both man-made substances like polydextrose and natural substances like inulin.
Polydextrose is a kind of sugar substitute made from dextrose and sorbitol. It’s low- calorie and low-glycemic which makes it appealing for many people. It’s perfectly legal to list polydextrose under “fiber” on the nutritional facts label in the US, so manufacturers do it.
But although it’s classified as a “functional fiber,” truth is we don’t really know if it confers the same benefits as the old-fashioned kind from vegetables and fruits. (In Canada, their version of the FDA — known as Health Canada — doesn’t allow it to be listed as a fiber on the nutritional facts label.)
It’s hard enough to separate the health benefits that come from fiber from the well-known health benefits that come from eating high-fiber foods like beans, fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, etc. No one seems to know for sure the benefits, if any, of adding these man-made substances to food.
At least one study shows that consumption of polydextrose significantly improved bowel function (2) and others show that it promotes the growth of probiotics, so it certainly isn’t a bad thing — though whether it’s equal in value to food fiber is an open question.
Inulin, the other fiber that’s showing up on these products, is a natural soluble fiber that acts as a pre-biotic, meaning it feeds the “good” bacteria in your gut (probiotics). For that reason alone, it’s good stuff. It also seems to lower glucose and insulin response.
The Best Oils
Q: You’ve written here at TMUSCLE that canola oil as a health food is a total con. What about palm oil? I thought it was bad shit, but now I’m seeing it in health food stores.
A: Like coconut oil, palm oil got a bad rap because it’s relatively high in saturated fat. But unless it’s been hydrogenated (i.e. “partially hydrogenated palm oil”), there’s absolutely no reason to avoid it.
Good organic red palm oil is about 10% omega-6, 40% omega-9 (monounsaturated fat) and about 50% saturated fat, and it has a high smoke point (450 degrees) making it pretty darn stable for cooking. It’s red because of its high beta-carotene content.
I wouldn’t make it my only oil, but I see no reason not to use it occasionally. I trust the kind sold by Tropical Traditions.
2) Z Jie, L Bang-Yao, X Ming-jie, L Hai-wei, Z Au-kang, W Ting-song, and S Craig. 2000. Studies on the effects of polydextrose intake on physiologic functions in Chinese people. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 72: 1503-9.
Organic foods — Still good.
Inulin is added to many health foods and can be purchased
in supplement form as well.
Virgin Palm Oil — Good stuff!
About Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, is a board-certified nutrition specialist and a nationally known expert on weight loss and nutrition. He has a master’s degree in psychology and counseling and a Ph.D. in nutrition, and has earned six national certifications in personal training and exercise. His books include: The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, and The Healthiest Meals on Earth. Learn more about Dr. Bowden and download one of his free audio courses at JonnyBowden.com.
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