Caloric Bargaining

Caloric Bargaining

Caloric bargaining

These stairs in Norway attempt to make the point that if you take the stairs, you may enjoy the extra calories in regular Coke. Seems counter productive for Coke to remind us that one is bad for us and the other is supposedly better (Movers don’t do “diet” drinks either). The beauty for Coke is that rather than reminding us that we shouldn’t be drinking sugar sweetened beverages, they show us that we deserve the reward for completing our activities of daily life. It’s bad enough when we binge after a workout because, “we deserve it” but now we’re giving ourselves “calorie credits” for taking the stairs.

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Real Food is ALIVE!

Think about it…

If you are a living and breathing person, you are nothing but a colony of specified cells that themselves, are living and breathing. Sure, there’s that little old thing called a soul but that’s another topic for another blog.

I have spent the better part of the last decade with one foot in mainstream medicine and the other in the study of traditional health systems. Still, with as much study and practice as I have committed to the pursuit of health, I find myself at a loss when people ask me about diet; not for lack of knowledge on the part of either party but simply because we are seldom even speaking the same language.

When it comes to making food choices, it seems American public is fixated on just a handful of parameters; Calories, fat, carbohydrates, taste and cost. It’s no wonder we talk about food in such myopic terms. Watch enough daytime television and you will see doctor after dietician after celebrity trainer giving a nutrition sermon using this language of dietary dogma. They’ve got us focused on the minutia so we never stop to think about what real food is and why we eat what we do.

Dr. Catherine Shanahan deems this language, foodspeak (a play on Orwellian newspeak). She describes how and why we willingly abandoned our cultural relationship with food in her book Deep Nutrition. Dr. Cate makes the case for reverting to a more traditional language about food for the benefit of our health as well as that of future generations.

Like everything else, foodspeak has to meet the requirements of a sound bite culture and is limited to grunting imperatives such as “eat your veggies,” “watch your carbs,” and “avoid saturated fat.” Having lost the old ways of talking about food, we’ve also lost the physiologic prosperity that once endowed us with the gift of perfectly proportionate growth.

Catherine Shanahan M.D.

Food, as our ancestors understood it, was a most sacred gift. Be it from a deity or the plant/animal itself, that which was consumed as food was seen as pure life to be incorporated in to the person. This type of “new age” (ironic) language that our ancestors used does not lend itself to our overly cerebral health authorities today. In fact, scratch the word, “today”. This concept of food didn’t lend itself to the health authorities of last century. Why not? Well because it is only in the last half century or so that food production has become so consolidated in to a few corporate interests. As Dr. Cate says, foodspeak had to be invented so that they could fit the message in to an ad. Since industry drives research, it was only a matter of time before the medical schools were chock full of studies and statistics that cast these new “processed foodstuffs” in a good light. Ever since then, they have been coming out with new research that seemingly contradicts itself as time goes by. This constant supply of novel dietary advice is no failure of science. It is intentional. As the saying goes, “keep them rowing so they don’t have time to rock the boat.”

What we need now is the mind of a child.

This little girl is smarter than most people at the USDA. In fact, I’d go so far as to say she is more wise  than even the top health and medical authorities in the nation in reaching the conclusions she did from her experiment. How can this be you ask? Because she possess the mind of a child that is immune to analysis paralysis and is able to use common sense.

Gary Zukav calls this “a beginners mind“. In his 1984 classic, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, Zukav reveals how “the new physics” (Quantum Mechanics) was discovered by forgetting what we think we know of the world, and accepting what we observe as the truth. He notes that Einsteins genius had minimally to do with his brain power and more to do with his ability to see possible alternative explanations that his contemporaries didn’t. When we discuss diet and nutrition with our respected health authorities it is almost as if they are intentionally diverting our attention to calories and fat content while we yearn to cry out, “the farmer is naked.”

A scientist should accept reality as he sees it, even if that lands him in contradiction and nonsense; a scientist must have a beginner’s mind…. a childlike ability to see the world as it is, and not as it appears according to what we know about it.

Gary Zukav


Organic? But studies show “no health benefits” to organic food

We intuitively know that organic food (formerly known as food) is what we should be eating. There are many forces that keep us from bringing organic food to our family dinner table. For some it is cost. Others don’t like the shorter shelf life of organic food. Perhaps the largest reason these unadulterated genetic information packets don’t make it to our homes is because we haven’t been convinced it is worth it.

We are a society that is rarely convinced of anything unless we can either see it with our own eyes, or we see enough studies to prove it. The problem with the issue of organic food is that no study is possible to show the benefits. The only tests the FDA runs on our food is to see if it will cause you to keel over and die after consuming (see GRAS laws). To add to the problem, headlines like this make for a great story because it goes against common sense.

The reason the debate about organic still exists is twofold. The harm of industrialized food is only seen in the chronic degradation of health throughout the course of ones life as well as throughout the generations. Also, the benefits of organic are not measured in the short-term outcomes our current food regulatory system is monitoring. It all comes down to how you define health and sickness. If you are merely looking for acute infections and quick-onset disabilities, you could pretty much eat anything non-toxic and it would pass the GRAS standards of the FDA.

It is impossible to expect to create a healthy, vibrant individual from dead food. There must be life in your food. Every bit of processing and every additive is for the expressed intent of rendering the food undesirable to microorganisms that may want to eat it before you do. If they won’t eat it, why would you?

Bugs won't eat it, why would you?

The Great Ca Calorie Count 2011

A menu at a McDonald’s drive-through window in New York, calorie counts included.

Ed Ou/Associated Press

It has been in effect for almost half a year and many Californians still don’t know what to make of the calorie labeling law.  It seems that more people were up in arms when municipal officials in New York City and San Francisco passed more surgical laws aimed at sugar sweetened beverages and kids meals respectively.  There was a lot of debate going around about personal liberties and other TEA Party ideals, and all that was at stake was the prospect of switching to diet soda and swapping apple sticks for your french fries.

It seems this grand-scale food labeling law was passed and implemented with nothing more than a collective, “hummmmm” as we let these ubiquitous nutritional qualifiers rain all over our lunch-time parades.  I find myself balking at the 4-digit figures on the rare occasions the forces of nature drive me to such an establishment.

Lawmakers and Public Health officials hope that they can lead us to make better choices about our food through, quite literally, “in-your-face” caloric content labeling.  I hope they can, however, even before the latest behavioral studies started trickling in, I had my doubts about the success of this tactic.  Ok, I can’t lead you to believe my doubts were purely intuition and professional prowess.  The sad fact is that New York City has already had a similar law in effect for nearly two years.  So why would CA attempt to pass it across the State after sad reviews from New York City?  Four silly little words that has the power to concentrate more hubris then you’ll find in a back alley pissing contest behind some Texas roadhouse:

More Research is necessary…

Gee, wouldn’t it have been nice to do the research, then pass the laws?  I can tell you right now that even after we spend millions of tax dollars on self-evident research, I will still not incorporate this public calorie count tactic in to the Movement for Wellness.  Food is a very personal thing and needs to be addressed in a highly specific manner.  I applaud those government officials responsible for this law for being progressively minded in that they are looking for ways to improve our overall health using the means available to them.  My regret is that this broad-brush health promotion directs the conversation to a place where we find ourselves stumbling over decisions that in the (rear) end, are of little consequence.

Knowledge ≠ Behavior

I can remember in school, just as we were awakening from the overly romanticized dream of getting an education and being promised the world at our fingertips, our professors would periodically try to pump us up with a little study-related pep-talk.  Being an Exercise Science major, I often heard such studies cited that correlated level of education with longevity and quality of life.  I remember thinking, “If knowledge equates to better health, why are we not doing a better job at spreading the word as a society?”.

The truth is that leading a person to approach their everyday health decisions armed only with a slew of numerical goals and limits reduces the human being to a Newtonian closed-system machine subject only to the ancient physics of yesteryear.  Our relationship with food is one of both emotion, quantum mechanics and finally caloric consumption.

Few scientists have explained this truth better than Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology.  In his very long and comprehensive lecture titled Sugar: The Bitter Truth, he explains how we obsess over our intake and expenditure of energy when it comes to our diets.  As a specialist of the hormones, Dr. Lustig asserts that when it comes to our food having an impact on our body shape, it’s not the amount of calories that we should worry about; however we should worry about how our body responds on a hormonal level to the type of food we ingest.  The new fixation on calories takes us even further than we already are from the true focus according to so many ant-obesity researchers such as Dr. Lustig.

New loop-holes

It goes without saying that with new legislation comes new possibility to cheat the system.  When the public is lulled in to a false sense of security and they abdicate all of their food consumer responsibility to the suits in the FDA, USDA, NHS, et al., it creates open season on the public for the wiley marketing teams and media manipulators in the food industry.  This has been at work for quite a long time.  How else did we get to a point where we down Anti-oxidant soda, and stuff ourselves with sugary “low-fat” treats in the name of making healthier choices.

Childs Play

Keep in mind that adults are not the only ones exposed to these new social eating norms.  Children learn what is valued in their society by their keen sense of observation.  As they see adults torture themselves over indulging in a calorie-dense meal, they’ll learn to largely base their food choices on caloric values.  Children should be taught to maintain their innate sense of intuitive eating.  Sure we need to limit their affinity to the sugary and salty but they certainly do not need to inherit our obsession with calorie content over quality of food and eating that truly matter; food, farm and family.

Jamie Oliver is on the right track when he partnered up with a Los Angeles fast food restaurant in his latest season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  One of the first questions he asks the owner of the restaurant is, “do you know where your food comes from?”.  It’s sad to hear that the well-meaning guy only stumbles as a response and mentions a guy…in a warehouse…downtown somewhere.  These are the questions we should demand get answered by those who feed us; not the caloric value rather the integrity of the product itself.  Get back to basics and as my good friend Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness says, JERF!…….Just Eat Real Food!

Defining Real Food

The rules no eater should be without.

We all love food.  No creature on  Earth is indifferent when it comes to filling up on the finest available fare.  But what is food exactly.  Until recently, even the medical community didn’t pay much attention to what FOOD is exactly.  In his book  Food Rules, Michael Pollan suggests we “Eat Food”.  He goes on to say further that most of what we see on the shelves in our markets is food-like substance.  He proposes that we ask ourselves one simple question about the food staring at us from or plate.  “Would your grandmother recognize this as food?”  For some things we feed ourselves (or worse yet, our kids) it is pretty easy to identify the food-impostors.  The problem is when we think we are buying something healthy and it’s really just a stripped down food item with a bunch of healthy sounding additives made in a laboratory, molded in to shapes that resembles real food.  And you thought you were playing make-believe when, as a child,  you whipped up a batch of those play doh hot dogs for all to enjoy.

Healthy People on Real Food?

I recently attended the Healthy People Conference at Loma Linda University.  This years slogan was “The Food Factor”.  This struck me as a bit telling of the ten-foot-pole with which modern medicine and public health at large deal with the actual food of the population.  Sure we’ve had Registered Dietitians and Clinical Nutritionists in hospitals for decades now but they either deal with the single macro/micro nutrients or caloric intake of their patients.  It was quite a sight to hear how top authorities in medicine and public health were fumbling with the terms”organic” and “non-GMO” as if these were two of the most mysterious of medical technologies.

Being the guerilla health and fitness warrior that I am, I decided to take up the phrase of our 40th President,”Trust but verify“.  I started asking some of the MDs, PhDs and MPHs buzzing around the expo hall what their definition of Real Food is.  The responses were as varied as if I had asked their favorite color.  It got me thinking that if these medical professionals had no idea what real food is, how can the general public have a clue?

The next day, I took to the books on my shelves and scoured the internet to see how others identify real food.  Here are some popular definitions of real food from health and fitness professionals in print and across the internet:

The Visualization Technique

Can I imagine it growing?

Even the most conscious calorie-counter or label-reader still gives little thought to the fact that their food was once alive in one way or another.  We are overwhelmed by the subjective experience of eating (as we should be; food is meant to be enjoyed) that we fail to consider that our food was once a living, eating and breathing organism.  It is important to not only scrutinize the food you eat but also the food your food ate….and the food your foods food ate….and so on.

This book will bring family time back to the kitchen and the dinner table.

Just as it is impossible to be healthy by eating sick animals, it is equally impossible to be good stewards of the life gifted to you by your food by their ultimate sacrifice if you are not fully aware of the pice paid.  I hope someday we would require that food packaging include an actual picture of the animal, or plant growing in nature; not so that we be discouraged from eating it, but so we fully appreciate the sacrifice made so that we may be nourished. The harsh reality of this world is that it takes life to give life.

In her brilliant book, Feeding the Whole Family, Cooking with Whole Foods. Cynthia Lair of cookus interruptus asks, “Can I imagine [my food] growing” as a handy little way to teach young and old how to identify real food.  This is a great stand-alone question to keep in mind as you stroll down the aisles of your mega-mart.  For me, this goes a bit beyond the popular suggestion to shop the perimeter of the store…after all, you can find this and this along the perimeter of the store even though they are perfectly stable in the center aisles.  Real food goes bad quickly.  Grocery stores now place food-like substances along the perimeters right next to real foods in order to trick the eater.

The Paleo Paradigm

If it wasn’t around 10,000 years ago, it’s not real food.

Easy to follow, easy to read Primal tips for a healthy life.

Mother Nature has experimented with an infinite number of genetic traits and characteristics in every branch of the genetic tree.  We all know all of life evolved from single-cell organisms.  Some grew legs, some wings, others fins.  Some adapted to eating flesh while others put more genetic stock in to their GI system, giving them the ability to digest and absorb plant nutrients efficiently.  We as a species distinguished ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom 200,000 to 100,000 years ago.  Since then, our genome has changed very little with respect to how we eat.

Mark Sisson explains in his book, The Primal Blueprint, that our primal ancestors who hunted and gathered this Earth around 10,000 years ago were bigger, stronger, faster and more full of life than we are today.  Although we possess greater knowledge today, they had bigger brains than the modern human.

So what changed 10,000 years ago?  Agriculture.  We thought we could beat the system. We stopped moving around as much and tried to replaced our animal-based calories with plant-based calories.  I say attempted because we need only look at the health of both us and the Earth to see the result of that 10,000 year old experiment. Our general state of health and the now barren “fertile crescent” serve to exemplify the gradual taking of life that goes along with mass agriculture.

Please do not read this and think Mark and I think that plants are not real food.  The simple truth is that we humans do a lot of thinking.  Our brains are calorically expensive to run.  Feeding our bodies solely on plants is something to which we are not well adapted.  The artificial abundance of plant calories available in the food supply is detrimental to our health.  (remember the plant material I speak of is mainly grains and not leafy vegetation)  If you wish to go out to a meadow and shovel fistfuls of wheat in to your mouth, by all means, do it.  Chances are you won’t enjoy it.  It is only through our supposed ingenuity and invention of the millstone that we have artificially made something otherwise unpalatable, in to the staff of life.

I’d be remiss if I led the reader to believe that Marks book is simply a diet book.  He succinctly explains in great detail how to enjoy the luxuries of modern life while maintaining the health and happiness of our ancestors by applying the 10 laws of the Primal Blueprint

The Healing Effect

Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food


Until the modern age, food was regarded as the primary source of medicine.  It is only through our conscious dissociation between what we eat and how we subsequently feel that has allowed us to ignore this eternal truth.  Hippocrates is credited with having said these famous words thousands of years ago.  By contrast, the US Surgeon General didn’t officially acknowledge the value of a good diet with respect to ones health until 1988.  Still today the best your doctor can do in the way of dietary guidance is regurgitate some industry funded and government endorsed research that employs standardized formulas and one-size-fits-all guidelines shown to be good for “most people”.  I don’t blame the doctors nor the system however it’s foolish for us as individuals to gamble with our health and hope we land somewhere at the top of that bell curve shown in the study.  Your food is the most intimate object your body will ever encounter.  Why we let somebody else tell us what our bodies need is beyond me.

Healing with Whole Foods includes complete sections on Ayurvedic principles of food—combining; the treatment of disease conditions through meals

The traditional Whole Medical Systems of the East are uniquely suited to explain and execute therapy through real food.  The Indian subcontinent spans such a range of elevation and latitude that it contains every type of climate on the rest of the planet.  Through this diversity the indigenous people have had thousands of years to experiment with the myriad of vegetables and herbs native to their land.

Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine alike designate certain qualities, characteristics and actions to foods.  If you have a cold, only a warm food such as chicken soup can help you come back in to balance.  It is an intuitive and uncomplicated way to look at food and realize its full potential.  These intrinsic qualities and potencies are mitigated as the food is removed further from its true nature.  This could be done by genetically altering the genome, growing it out of season, feeding it something other than its natural diet, etc.  This disconnect with nature can also take place if food is heated beyond stability.  This happens with oils, milk (through pasteurization) and bottled water baked in their plastic containers in warehouses across the country.  These otherwise real foods are chemically altered to improve shelf life and inflate a profit margin for some entity involved.

Integrity of the cycle

Normally I try to abstain from “circle-of-life” type arguments because I just end up breaking in to song and never get any work done.  This time, there simply is no other way to describe the holy dynamic that is the way in which we nourish ourselves and sustain our own lives.  Try as we may, we can not scientifically explain how intense energy burning light-years away from us becomes the infinitely unique life-form you think you are.  When does life start; be it you own, your foods, your foods food, your foods food food, and so on?  If you want to feel alive, you have to eat that which is filled with life.

My definition for real food involves understanding this cycle.  There is a set amount of life-force available in the world.  This is a concept known as Chi (or Qi) in TCM and Prana in Vedic traditions (Yoga, Ayurveda, etc).  Since the creation of the universe there has not been any addition no subtraction of life-force to the system.  If you care not to have such a broad metaphysical approach, suffice it to say that as far as the individual is concerned, the amount of life-force he or she will take in and give out is part of a zero-sum game.  That said, if you trace back the journey of the meal you will eat tonight, you could give an honest evaluation of how it got there and who exactly profited and lost in the process.  By my standards, if anybody involved disproportionately gained or lost, from the fowl to the farmer, your meal is not made of real food.

This seems a little stringent but consider it on a grander scale.  If anything is done to synthetically amplify the eternally present amount of life in a fruit, vegetable or animal, the nutritional integrity is compromised.  The profit of the farmer or food supplier must be paid by someone else in the system.  Who pays that bill?…you do.  After the food-like substance is “laundered” through your body, year after year, your medical bills start to pile up.  Remember, there is and will always be a set amount of life-force available in the universe.  If somebody tilts the scale in their favor, someone else will come up short.  It may take years and sometimes even generations, but as we continue to insist that we can sustain life from lifeless food, we will be met with the cold reality that is our collective decline in vitality and health.

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