Meet Mark

Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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Month: June 2007

When Was the Last Time Anybody Starved?

Sara here. I was just cruising through my morning RSS blog batch and one post in particular made me think about food (never a bad thing). A useful blog covering all manner of personal improvement topics, Ririan Project , had a very handy list of tips for revving up your energy, with the inclusion of “energy bars” on the list. Being the nutrition nerd that I am, I suggested that dried fruits and nuts were a healthier option than energy bars, as many energy bars are loaded with corn syrup, artificial ingredients and empty calories – not much different from a Babe Ruth or Snickers bar.

Here’s a Snickers bar ingredients list (click to zoom):

Now, that’s not really healthy. How about an energy bar? Great! Let’s go check out the ingredients in a Tiger’s Milk bar . Hmm. Well that’s depressing.

In the Bag

I like to keep baggies of snacks at the ready: broccoli florets, dried fruit and seeds, all the typical rabbit food. But perhaps we should reconsider the merits of snacking. I don’t have a gaggle of kidlets to chase after, so I’m rarely so busy that I miss a regular meal, and besides, one can always get something healthy from even the dustiest gas station ( nutritive finery at the Arco : it is possible, sayeth Sisson).

We are a snacking nation, and health experts are quick to suggest smart on-the-go foods to substitute for all those French fries, Hershey bars and peanut M&M’s. But do we really need to find healthy snacks to stay alive, let alone healthy? Does the tank need to be sloshing full of fuel at all times to keep the machine humming? Children are a bit different from adults, of course. We’ve all seen what can happen when a tot goes too long without some calories (usually at such ideal locales as the movie theater, the airplane, the church service). Of course, this can even be a concern for some adults with fast metabolisms or blood sugar conditions – a friend of mine is so famous for her Speedy Gonzalez tummy, we all know that glint in her eyes and the question to ask: “How much time do I have?” At that point, get some snackery in the woman, or else.

But most Americans eat far too many calories , on average. Would it be so bad to actually have a growling stomach by the time dinner rolls around? Does anyone even remember what it feels like to conceal a gurgle in a meeting? (The cough-yawn-stretch requires finesse.)

Forget healthy snacks versus junk food. Why do we have vending machines, 100 calorie packs , protein bars? Short of hiking the Santa Monica “mountains” or running a marathon or getting stuck in the traffic to Vegas, I’m not sure I really “need” my at-the-ready arsenal of nutritious snacks. I just like them. I like eating.

Considering Mark’s Primal Health philosophy, I wonder if it might be good to be a little hungry now and then – or at least give your stomach time to reflect. Then again, we’ve been told constant grazing is healthy. Early

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It’s the Calories, not the Carbs!

Although I think the current food pyramid ought to emphasize vegetables over other sources of carbohydrates, you still need some carbohydrates in your daily diet. (Yes, you read that correctly.) I happen to believe a nutrient-loaded bowl of fresh broccoli is a more intelligent – not to mention tastier – dietary choice than a slice of bread and infinitely better than a Pop Tart. I don’t think many would quibble with my Pop Tart derision, but plenty of people take understandable issue with my unfavorable opinion of grains. We’ve been told grains are healthy – to say otherwise must be crazy-talk!

Grains do have a little fiber – sometimes – and offer some vitamins and protein. But, so do vegetables – for far fewer calories. Even whole grain food products tend to come with preservatives, added fats, and corn syrup – not always, of course, but I’m thinking in terms of the typical American diet. Someone is buying all those hamburgers and french fries. Not you? Okay, good.

One of many reasons for favoring vegetables over grains is the calorie factor – grains just have more calories than vegetables. A lot of people hope to lose weight without cutting calories, so they eliminate an entire macro-nutrient category. Axing a whole category is easy at first, and gives one a sense of accomplishment. It feels good. We did it in the 90s with fat. As it turns out, many forms of fat are vital and nutritious, so that wasn’t a smart idea. Now we condemn carbohydrates, which is fine, but I see people chowing on bacon and avoiding “too many” vegetables! How long before we start rethinking carbohydrates? This is why I stress the need for portion control. Eat a little fat, eat a little protein, eat a little (smart) carbohydrate – eat a little.

You can lose weight on a high-protein diet, but few stick with it for more than a few months. I agree with the philosophy of the higher-protein, higher-fat diets in that it’s essential to cut out the refined carbohydrates for optimal health. If we eliminated refined foods, particularly refined sweeteners in the form of snacks and sodas, I think it’s probable that we would see a welcome drop in heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Refined and even whole-grain carbohydrates are not the most nutritious source of calories.

What’s more important to you: being healthy or being thin? I would hope both! If you want both, you’re going to have to come up with a sensible long term solution beyond completely eliminating a macro-nutrient, because that’s not reasonable or healthy. Eliminate refined carbohydrates from your diet, but remember that weight management is still about calories, calories, calories. None of us needs to be feasting on massive steaks or wolfishly consuming the excessive portions restaurants dish out. Shaq is an exception.

To that end, I recommend limiting portions and getting the most out of every single calorie. Why eat a bag of peach-flavored chips when you could eat

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1500 Pounds

That’s how much corn we eat per capita per year.

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Ten Awesome Carbs

Here are ten delicious, natural, smart carbohydrates we enjoy at the Sisson household. For comparison, I’ve included unhealthy but popular items that I think these smarter choices can replace. The flavor and texture components aren’t a perfect match by any stretch, but I think there’s enough similarity that you’ll find it painless to switch to the healthier selections.

10. Baked, buttered, and salted acorn squash instead of french fries

9. Butternut squash instead of spaghetti

This is Mindgraph’s Flickr Photo CC

8. Sweet potatoes instead of potatoes (amazingly, a much lower impact on blood sugar)

7. Grilled eggplant instead of breaded chicken

This is Moria’s Flickr Photo CC

6. Portabello mushrooms with soy sauce instead of hamburgers

5. Raw heart of palm instead of fried mozzarella sticks

This is Lana Stewart’s Flickr Photo CC

4. Tempeh with chili sauce instead of white rice with jug “teriyaki sauce”

3. Green peas with shredded parmesan and olive oil instead of macaroni ‘n cheese

This is Himachal’s Flickr Photo

2. Artichoke hearts baked with a bit of cheddar instead of fried chicken nuggets

1. Caprese salad instead of pizza

This is Avlxyz’s Flickr Photo CC

Further Reading:

My Carb Pyramid

More Top Ten Health Posts

Carbs Are Not the Devil

What are your favorite healthy alternatives to refined carbohydrates?

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[tags] low-carb, healthy carbs, healthy recipes [/tags]

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Organic Is the New Natural

Organic is a loaded term that has different meanings for different people. I think most of us assume it means food and food products produced without the use of chemicals, inhumane living conditions when animals are involved, or environmental damage. But as we blogged in a post called Semantic Salmon, defining the label “organic” could mean that wild salmon – arguably one of the most natural, nutritious foods on the planet – would not pass muster.

So, what does organic even mean? After all, the USDA is considering opening the organic umbrella so far, seeing the word “organic” on a product will have about as much impact as seeing the word “natural” on a can of 7up.

While I’m at it:

My previous rant on 7up.

And Coke.

And Coke again.

(Sorry, the USDA link is a subscription-only but does show a worthy snippet. I’ll fish around for the whole thing in a sec…)

UPDATE: Here’s the USDA’s own report.

[tags] organic, USDA, wild salmon [/tags]

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…But We’ll Still Sell Them

Kellogg’s plans to modify its unhealthy products aimed at children, such as Pop Tarts and some of their breakfast cereals. In Kellogg’s own estimation, at least half their products are missing important nutritional marks. To address the childhood obesity epidemic, Kellogg’s will be reformulating these unhealthy processed foods…except where consumers do not like the taste change, in which case, they’ll just stop marketing those products to kids.

Hmm. They’ve read a page from the failed New Coke playbook, as this article explains. I understand that Kellogg’s doesn’t want to upset or turn away its core users (intentionally loaded term), and I suppose ceasing marketing to children is a decent compromise. But I wonder how long it’s going to be before companies start taking more responsibility. We’re just selling what people want… And so, they dance around the problem – make the product slightly more healthy, or just market it to adults. Eliminating the problem would mean radically changing the products, likely ruining the brand and killing off the company. The company’s products are the problem.

Kellogg’s could announce that they’re completely abolishing all the beloved unhealthy products and will henceforward only be producing nutritious, high-fiber, lightly-sweetened, naturally-made, ethically-produced foods. They could create a campaign enjoining the public to get behind their huge risk, their about-face, their earnest attempt to change the world by caring about children’s health. Can you imagine the promotions, publicity and the wallop of terror to their competitors? Well, more likely, the cackles of glee, because Kellogg’s would never do this, nor would any other big food producer.

The products are the problem, sure. But people do like their Pop Tarts. Someone has to make the first move…

Kellogg’s, from the article:

“It means we have a lot of work to do,” said Chief Executive David Mackay. “If we can’t make those products taste just as good as they do today and make them as appealing, then we won’t reformulate them and we won’t advertise them.

More on Kellogg’s products (Has MacKay had a change of heart?)

Lean is in the eye of the marketer (scroll down to point #4)

HT: Cardio Blog

[tags] David MacKay, Kellogg’s, children’s health, snack foods, Pop Tarts, breakfast cereals [/tags]

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