I’ve had lots of nutrition questions lately so I thought I would post some a short primer on what to eat and why.  We are thinking of doing a spring lean out challenge. Any takers?

What should I eat?

1. Eat mostly meat, fish, lots of vegetables and healthy fats, and some fruit.

2. Eat a variety of different foods. Rotate your proteins, vegetables and fats.

3. Avoid processed foods. Prioritize quality, local, seasonal foods. Unpackaged naturally sourced foods are your best bet. Anything with an ingredient list should be considered suspect and should be carefully inspected before consuming.

4. Avoid added sugars, including natural and artificial sweeteners.

5. Minimize grains. In particular, avoid gluten.

6. Minimize legumes and beans. In particular, avoid soy, peanuts, and canned beans.

7. Minimize dairy. In particular, avoid low fat dairy products.

What types of protein should I eat?

Meat, fowl, fish, seafood and eggs. Whenever possible, choose grass fed meats and wild fish. If these are not available, stick to lower fat cuts of meat.

What types of carbs should I eat?

Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits of any kind. Green vegetables are the best bang for your buck, nutritionally speaking. Roots, tubers, and bulbs: beets, burdock root, cassava, carrots, celeriac, manioc, parsnips, rutabagas, squash (all varieties), sweet potatoes, tapioca, taro root, turnips, yams, yucca root. Limit fruit intake if you are inactive or if you want to lose bodyfat. Best choices for fruit are, in order of preference: berries, citrus fruits, orchard fruits, melons, tropical fruits.

What types of fat should I eat? Isn’t dietary fat bad for you?

Fat is essential for health and longevity, but not all fats were created equal. Good sources of fat include animal fats from pastured or grass fed meats as well as fats from fruits such as avocado, coconut and olives. Best fats for cooking are coconut oil, red palm oil and animal fats such as tallow and ghee. Olive oil is a good option for salads but should not be used for cooking. Be conscious of getting enough omega 3 fatty acids; the best sources are fish and algae, but you can also get them from eggs and a fish oil supplement. Avoid trans fats and anything labelled hydrogenated. Minimize linoleic acid. In particular, avoid vegetable oils such as canola oil, corn oil, safflower oil and grapeseed oil. If you are looking to lose body fat, limit nut and seed intake, particularly those that are high in linoleic acid, such as pine nuts and walnuts. The best nuts are macadamia nuts, cashews and hazelnuts.

What about cholesterol?

A diet high in certain fats can increase blood cholesterol in a certain subset of the population. However, increase blood cholesterol from a high fat diet is not proven to have a negative impact on cardiac health, particularly in the absence of inflammation. However, inflammation plays a huge part in heart disease and a diet lower in grains and refined carbohydrates tends to be much less inflammatory, thus lowering the risk of death by heart disease.

What’s wrong with grains? Don’t I need the fiber?

Grains contain toxic anti-nutrients such as lectins, gluten and phytates. These are defense mechanisms evolved by plants to deter animals from eating them. They cause inflammatory reactions in the gut lining, which have been linked to metabolic disorders and auto-immune diseases. They also keep us from absorbing important vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin D. Lastly, grains are high in carbohydrates, which cause insulin spikes, and may contribute to gut dysbiosis. As for the fiber, you can get better quality less destructive fiber from fruits and vegetables. Grains are essentially “empty inflammatory calories”.

What’s wrong with dairy? How do I get enough calcium without dairy?

Dairy can produce an inflammatory reaction for many people, which is different than lactose intolerance. Many people who are sensitive to dairy are not aware of it until they remove it from their diet for a period of time. Dairy also has a special combination of milk protein and milk sugars that provoke an exaggerated insulin spike, which is great for gaining weight, but not so great for losing weight. Low fat dairy, in particular, is associated with stroke and heart disease.

Also keep in mind that many sources of dairy are suspect in terms of quality. Consider the cow’s diet and how this can impact the nutritional quality of the milk; fatty acid content based on whether the cow was grass fed or grain fed, anti-biotic content, growth hormone content, pesticide and herbicide content, etc.

The main context for calcium requirements is bone density in women. Dairy is not necessary to maintain good bone health. First, calcium is more available and better absorbed from sources such as greens, fish, nuts and seeds. Second, dietary calcium may not be as important in maintaining bone health as other factors; such as magnesium intake, vitamin D intake and weight bearing exercise. Even more interesting is that excess calcium can affect magnesium absorption.

The take home: organic, grass fed butter, ghee, full fat cream and full fat unsweetened yogurt might be appropriate for some people, but stay away from low fat dairy.

What’s wrong with legumes?

On the positive side, legumes such as beans, lentils and peanuts are a good source of soluble fiber so there are worst things to eat than beans and legumes. However, the main problem is the lectins, which are associated with inflammatory diseases and digestive diseases. Another common problem with peanuts specifically is a carcinogenic mold called “aflatoxin.” Beans & legumes need to be fermented, soaked, cooked or otherwise processed significantly to become edible.

What about the Food Guide?

Remember that the Canada Food Guide is created by the government, which is held accountable to lobby groups that represent our farmers and industries. They often represent what is good of the economy rather than what is good for your health. Besides, how well has the food guide served us over the past few decades?  The guidelines we recommend here are based on what has worked for our members in the past.  We think it will work for you too.

What is the best type of sweetener to use?

Your best approach is to avoid refined sugars and sweeteners altogether, particularly if you are seeking to lose body fat. The longer you avoid them, the less your body will crave them. Some of the worst offenders are artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, which are exitotoxins, meaning they can damage your brain cells.

Another red flag to watch out for is fructose. Avoid high fructose corn syrup at all costs, it is highly processed and particularly high in fructose. Fructose is associated with chronic disease and metabolic disorders and should be avoided by those who are inactive or those who seek to lose bodyfat. Other products that are high in fructose include agave nectar, honey, and concentrates or sweeteners derived from fruit such as dates and grapes.

With all of this being said, for those occasions when you absolutely need to bake something, there are “lesser evils”, such as coconut/palm sugar, corn sugar/dextrose, stevia and sugar alcohols.

What should I eat before my workout?

That depends on your goals, your body composition and the type of workout. For a regular CFW class, most people will not need to eat immediately before the workout. A well balanced meal a couple of hours before the workout should do the trick.

What should I eat after my workout?

Again, that depends on your goals, your body composition and the type of workout. If your priority is to lose bodyfat, we recommend a high protein and low to moderate carbohydrate post workout snack. This could be a whey protein shake (if not sensitive to dairy) or a solid meal focusing on meat and veggies. If you are very lean or if you exercise quite often or competitively, you can add more carbohydrate, either in your shake as maltodextrin or ribose or as a starchy vegetable in a solid meal, such as sweet potato or squash.

How can I lose weight/fat?

Most people will lose bodyfat if they follow these guidelines. However, everyone is different and may have different obstacles to overcome in order to lose fat. For example, many people will get faster results by lowering carbohydrate intake because insulin management plays a big role in body composition. This can be done by focusing on green vegetable as your main source of carbohydrates and avoiding excess fruit. Others may have issues with caloric intake, and may need to limit nut intake and be more strict with their portion control.  Others may need to focus on quality foods and detoxification in order to see fast results.

How can I gain weight/muscle?

To gain muscle, you will need to eat a lot. Adding more sources of good fat will increase overall caloric intake. A whey protein shake with some carbohydrates first thing in the morning, immediately post workout and last thing before bed is an easy way to increase overall calorie intake as well as protein intake.

What supplements should I take?

Fish oil or algae based Omega 3 supplement – 2 to 3 gr of EPA + DHA per day.

Vitamin D – 4000-5000 IU per day, especially during winter

Magnesium – 200 to 400 mg per day in chelated form in the evening.

Digestive support – enzymes, probiotics, HCl, depending on your situation

How much should I eat? Isn’t it all about calories in/calories out?

Eat when you are hungry and until you feel satisfied, but prioritize good quality foods. Although excess calories can be problematic, they are not the be all and end all of weight management. It appears that the type of foods consumed and their impact on hormones and metabolism are just as important as caloric intake.

What about “cheat days”?

Some people find that they can maintain better nutrition practices if they are less strict or if they have a regular cheat to look forward to. If you are one of those people, by all means, plan a cheat meal. The leaner you are, the more often you can plan a cheat meal. For someone who is overweight, every 2 weeks, for someone who is very lean (10% BF or under in men, 15% BF or under in women) 1 cheat meal every 5 days is appropriate. If possible try to make it a single sit down meal, and be smart about the cheats. This means that you still want to avoid trans fats, gluten and toxins during your cheat.

How long will it take me to see a difference?

Some people will see a difference within a few weeks and most will see visible results within a month.

But won’t eating like this be time consuming? I don’t have time to cook 3 meals a day.

Preparing any type of meal takes time, but a meal focussed on meat and vegetables doesn’t take any more time than other types of home cooked meal. There are strategies you can employ to make it very quick and convenient. Cooking in batches is important, as is keeping some easy staples in the house for those days when you don’t have time to cook.  There are plenty of recipe books and online recipes to choose from.

But it’s so expensive; I can’t afford to eat this way…

Home cooked foods are no more expensive than processed foods. Although meats can be expensive, you can make delicious and nutritious meals with cheaper cuts of meat. Grass fed meats are expensive but not a necessity. Grass fed should be prioritised over organic. Seek out farmer’s markets and co-ops to connect with local producers.  Check out some local resources on the Friends of CFW page.

I just started eating paleo and I have no energy.  Why do I feel so crappy? 

Your body needs time to adapt to this new way of eating.  Depending on how drastic this change is for you, you may feel worse before you feel better.  This is often a result of positive changes in how your body manages blood sugar levels, but it can also be your digestive system acclimatizing itself to the increase protein and fat intake.