Saturday, March 31, 2012

Red Meat: Friend or Foe?

No matter your involvement in the health and fitness field, I'm willing to bet that at some point in your life you've heard that red meat does nasty things to your body.  It has been claimed to increase mortality rate in all sorts of ways, including increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.  Those are some pretty hefty claims, all due to the good ol' moo cow.  But let's look at this a little more closely, and try to shed a light on red meat.  You may be surprised to discover that it's not the killer it's been made out to be.

Firstly, I know there have been many studies done on the correlation between red meat and increased mortality.  But every study I come across doesn't quite hold up to the claim that red meat is the actual reason the test subjects died an early death.  In fact, it's virtually impossible to prove that red meat is the reason for premature mortality.  Sure, it's associated.  But hey, if most of those test subjects were on the average American diet of fatty meat and high carb-loaded, chemical packed, sugary junk, then don't you think the latter might have had a bit to do with it?  And what about genetics?  There are just too many factors to blame it all on red meat.  Don't get me wrong, there's some bad red meat out there, but is all red meat inherently dangerous?  Heck no.  Let's look at what makes up the difference between healthy red meat, and the nasty crap.

First thing you should know.  When you eat an animal, you eat parts of what that animal has ingested.  You're getting a little taste of its diet history, and that may be good, or bad.  If you're eating venison, I wouldn't worry too much, as deer tend to have about the cleanest diets going.  If you're eating a cheap cut of beef though, I'd be a little wary, as most of the cheap stuff was fed feed corn and antibiotics on a daily basis in order to make the cows as big, meaty, and profitable as possible.  When fed corn, the cow puts on a lot of excess fat, which marbles (or interlaces) with the actual muscle, making the cuts absolutely delicious, but packed with saturated fat.  The antibiotics most cattle are given have two distinct purposes: First, they prevent the herd from contracting common diseases, and destroying profit.  Second, smaller doses actually cause the animal to gain weight, which INCREASES profit the farmer obtains at slaughter.  Cows are also given growth hormones which...well...cause growth.  All this equates to more meat and more money.

Unfortunately for us, these chemicals remain in the cuts of meat when we consume them, and they don't do our bodies any favor.  And THAT, my friend, is why red meat is bad for you.  There isn't any curse in the meat itself which causes health problems.  In fact, apart from the chemicals, red meat is actually very, very nutritious.

Protein:  Red meat is packed with protein, and has always been a favorite of the muscle building crowd.  In fact, lean ground beef is one of the most useful muscle building tools going.  A little less than a quarter pound of lean beef has about 25 grams of protein, which is pretty darn awesome.  Not to mention it's delicious, cheap, and readily available at almost any grocery store.  And to top it all off, the protein in red meat is very bioavailable, meaning your body can readily use that protein to rebuild muscle fibers with a high degree of efficiency.  Neat!

Vitamins and Minerals:  Surprisingly, red meat has a ton of vitamins and minerals that your body will love you for consuming.  It's extremely rich in B vitamins, and provides about 70% of the required value of B-12 in 100 grams.  It's also very rich in vitamin B-6, vitamin A, riboflavin, and niacin.  Red meat is also one of the best sources out there for both zinc and iron, and will provide about a quarter of the daily recommended value per serving.  Red meat is also extremely rich in selenium, providing about a fifth of the daily recommended value in one 100 gram helping.

Antioxidants:  That's right, red meat has antioxidants!  Actually, it's got a whole bunch, including generous amounts of glutathione, lipoic acid, carsonine, and anserine.  These substances have been proven to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels, act as "anti-aging" compounds, and help maintain healthy metabolic rate.

Fat:  Now you may think you know what's coming here, but prepare to be surprised.  Red meat doesn't just have saturated fat, in fact the majority of the fat in red meat is monounsaturated, and is of the same chemical construction as the healthy fats in olive oil.  It will lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise (HDL) cholesterol. The majority of the saturated fat in red meat is stearic acid, which will increase good cholesterol, but have no effect on bad cholesterol, resulting in only a small deficit in the "bad" direction.  The rest of the fat in red meat is polyunsaturated, and will lower bad cholesterol, and have no effect on good cholesterol.  All in all, about 70% of the fat in red meat is beneficial toward your desired cholesterol ratio.  Doesn't sound so bad, right?  Definitely not as bad as it's been made out to be.

So the real question is, how do you get all these health benefits without all the nasty hormones and fat associated with cheap cuts of beef?  What you need to look for in the grocery store is GRASS FED BEEF. Ground, grass fed lean beef is very low in unhealthy fats, packed with protein, and basically eliminates most of the marbled fat that exists within the meat itself.  Grass is a much healthier alternative for the cows, and by eating it the cows retain much less fat overall and build higher quality muscle.  The same can be said for pork, and you should look for grass fed, or pasture raised varities.  This will virtually ensure that the animal was healthier, and carrying less fat at the time of slaughter.

But wait, even if you choose a nice cut of grass fed meat, you're not out of the woods yet.  You should also make sure you look on the label for something like "no hormones" or "no antibiotics," to ensure you're getting meat WITHOUT all the nasty chemicals.  This will provide you with a healthy and fantastically delicious dinner which will definitely help you build some muscle and trim the fat.  Just be smart about your purchase, read the labels, know your red meat.

Here's a link to the FDA's list of labels that can be placed on food, and what you should look for depending on your goals:

Still scared of the myths you've heard about huge caloric content?  Let me brush that nonsense aside right now:

This is for lean, ground, grass fed beef.  Not bad at all.  I could fit that into so many diets I couldn't even come close to counting them all.  Don't be scared of red meat.

Hmmm...maybe I shouldn't have put this picture in...a little too cute...
Bottom line:  Red meat isn't inherently bad for you, and is in fact quite healthy in its natural state.  Don't be scared to eat it, and pay no attention to all the haters of red meat and all its glory.

Enjoy your food, love red meat, and as always, GOOD LUCK!


Friday, March 30, 2012

Make Caloric Density Work For You

In today's world, it's easy to eat something small that's EXTREMELY calorie dense.  I think McDonald's gets picked on enough, so I'll use Burger King as an example.  Their Whopper has a "whopping" 670 calories per burger, and anyone who's got a stomach like mine (which is pretty much any college guy I can think of) could down three of those things before feeling full.  Guys have big stomachs, and even you women, who get full more easily, still could effortlessly consume a tuna salad wrap which, with added Mayo, could break 500 calories without trying too hard.  And who eats just the sandwich, right?  You gotta have a few extras, like coleslaw, or a ranch smothered salad, or even some fries.  Before you know it, you've broken 1000 calories in one meal, gotten very little actual nutrition, and worst of all you may not even know you did it!

So how is it possible to avoid these calorie dense meals that don't fill you up?  It's pretty simple really.  First, know your food, how many calories they contain, and assume as little as possible.  Find out tooth and nail how many calories that piece of pizza has, and limit yourself based on that.  Knowledge is power, and to succeed in dieting, you need to KNOW as much as possible about the food you eat.  No guesswork.  But we all know this, right?  What I really wanted to talk about with you today is a neat little method to ensure you stay full, and don't go overboard with caloric content.  Check this out:

Now by this point we should have a grasp on the term "caloric density."  Basically the less amount of food per calorie, the greater caloric density that food has.  Peanut butter is 2 tablespoons per 200 calories.  That's VERY dense, because two tablespoons ain't that much.  Lettuce is extremely NON calorie dense, because you can have like 10 or 12 cups of the stuff and would be hard pressed to break 100 calories.  The trick is finding the foods that AREN'T calorie dense, yet are still delicious and filling, and stacking those on top of each other for each meal.  Here's an example:

For lunch at home, I'll usually have:

1 tilapia fillet (~100 calories)

1 hard boiled egg (~80 calories)

1 whole wheat flatbread (~100 calories)

1 bag of "steam in bag" carrots (~100 calories)

1 grapefruit (~100 calories)

1 tomato (~30 calories)

1 big salad with lettuce, mushrooms, bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices and balsamic vinegar (<100 calories)

1/2 serving of peanuts, almonds, or cashews (~100 calories)

mmmmm... Tilapia
So that's about a 700 calorie lunch, and ladies and gentlemen, that's a LOT of food.  Keep in mind that if i were to have 1 Whopper, I would have consumed about the same number of calories, I'd have gotten almost zero nutritional value, and I'D STILL BE HUNGRY!  Plus, there's a lot more your body can do with that boatload of nutrients you give it in MY meal than all that saturated fats, sugars, and chemicals you give it in BK's meal, and therefore you'll be more likely to maintain a lean figure and feel like a million bucks.  

Another tip, try to keep your foods around whole calorie numbers.  Notice most of my meals items were 100 calories a piece.  This made the addition quite easy, and the foods more numerous.  Feel free to substitute more calorie dense HEALTHY items, but remember that once you do your plate might start to look a little empty.  

Now in terms of the actual food items chosen, I'm pretty sure I've given you enough information in all my other articles to do that on your own (do some reading if you have to, there's PLENTY to read in this blog), but just to refresh, if you're looking for low caloric density go with: lean meats (fish, chicken, turkey, even lean beef), veggies (broccoli, brussels sprouts, green beans, asparagus, carrots, corn), and fruits (grapefruits, bananas, apples, pears, oranges).  Nuts may be higher in caloric density, but don't be afraid to throw a few in there for some healthy fats (WHICH YOU NEED!), just watch the overall quantity.  They are quite satiating though, so don't worry about still being hungry.

And my final advice:  You really want to make sure you leave that dinner table full?  Drink a glass of water before the meal, and one during.  Big, full glasses.  That'll keep you topped off guaranteed, and you won't have room for any of that cheesy casserole.  

See?  It's not so hard.  Keep the foods lean, healthy and light, and you'll be eating big meals that keep you slim, trim and strong.  You'll feel like you're just shoveling the food in, but in reality you're eating the same amount, if not less than you were before.  Crazy how this stuff works, right?

Enjoy your food, eat healthy 'til you're full, and as always, GOOD LUCK!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Food Worship #13: Grapefruit

I am a huge fan of the grapefruit.  If given the opportunity, I'll eat at least two a day, sometimes more.  They're juicy, delicious, filling, packed with nutrients, and HUGE.  They're a fantastic source of natural sugars, and boy do they taste great.  Many of you are probably familiar with the grapefruit as a breakfast food, and probably remembering preparing it by sawing it in half, adding some sugar, and digging in with a spoon.  But did you know that eating these things as you would an orange works just as well?  A ripe grapefruit is plenty sweet on its own, and if you can eat one in its natural state (without the added sugar) you're doing your body a TON of good.  And as I always do with this article series, let's look a little closer at the grapefruit.

Firstly, where does this thing even come from?   Well, it's a subtropical citrus fruit, and actually the largest producer of grapefruits in the world is our own United States of America (obviously in the more southern parts, where it stays a little bit warmer.)  The actual tree that sprouts these remarkable fruits is an evergreen tree, which to me seems somewhat strange, but then again nature always seems to confuse me at least slightly.  Grapefruits generally come in three main varieties, containing either red, white, or pink flesh.  I've only tried the first and the last, and I can say both are absolutely heavenly.  But what makes the grapefruit so darn healthy?  Let's explore a few of the unique health beneficiaries a grapefruit possesses.

Antioxidants:  The grapefruit is packed with a large amount of the very beneficial antioxidant lycopene, which can help to protect your cells from oxidative damage from free radicals.  This means grapefruit has an anti-carcinogenic effect, which I'll take any day of the week.  In fact, a study was recently done on a large group of men, and it was found that men who consumed foods rich in lycopene (such as grapefruits, tomatoes, etc.) had an 82% less chance of contracting prostate cancer.  That's pretty amazing.

Lowers Cholesterol:  Grapefruits have the fantastic ability to significantly lower cholesterol levels.  They contain a type of fiber called pectin which slows the process of atherosclerosis, which in layman's terms means that consumed high cholesterol foods are less effective at raising LDL or "bad" cholesterol.  Red grapefruit also lowers blood triglycerides, another nice benefit to get whenever you can.

Low Calorie:  Surprisingly, despite grapefruits being so large, they're actually a low calorie fruit.  Even the big ones only have about 100 calories, which is fantastic if you want a nice, filling meal without all the calories you're trying so desperately to avoid in your quest for a slimmer waist.  And believe me, a grapefruit can really bulk up a meal.  They're loaded with water, meaning they're very filling.  After you eat an entire grapefruit, you'll more than likely stay satisfied until your next scheduled meal, meaning it's much easier to stay on track with your diet.

Vitamins/Minerals:  Grapefruits are packed with these little guys, and everyone will do your body and mind a whole-lotta good.  Probably the most significant vitamin in grapefruit is vitamin C.  A grapefruit has a whopping 70% of your daily vitamin C, which besides being a great immune system booster also has awesome anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.  Honestly, the more you can get, the better.  Grapefruit is also very rich in vitamins A, B5, and B1.  In terms of minerals, grapefruit is a great source of potassium.

Fiber:  Last but not least, grapefruits, like most fruits and veggies, are packed with fiber.  This stuff is extremely important to get a lot of, and will help to keep your digestion system healthy as well as provide a full, satiated feeling for hours on end.  That's a pretty sweet double whammy.

So there you have it, a little look at a pretty hefty fruit.  As I've said many times before, I LOVE grapefruits and eat them on a regular basis.  I suggest you do the same, as they give a great energy boost and have a TON of healthy features inside that peel.  What are you waiting for?  Go pick some up and enjoy!

Keep peeling, munching, and living healthy.  GOOD LUCK!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pure Pro 50 *Review*

I'm coming to you today with another rave review, this time regarding a pre-packaged protein shake that really impressed me.  This weekend I spent two days in the gym with my coach, working high volume days with pretty heavy loads.  I'd say I worked out for a total of 6-8 hours over those three sessions, and boy was my entire body feeling it after just the first one.  I was spending the night in the gym, and was going to be completely on my own for breakfast.  I knew I needed something protein packed as soon as I woke up to feed my muscles quickly after the crazy double session the previous day, and therefore that night I ran out to the local Rite-Aid and picked out the first protein shake I saw on the shelf.  After taking a quick glance at the nutritional label, I knew I'd come upon something very special.  This product not only has great macros, but tastes fantastic and works like a charm.  Its name?  Pure Pro 50 by ABB.

That next morning, as soon as I woke up, a sore and tired mess, I immediately cracked open this shake and prepared to chug it down (just in case it didn't taste so hot, as some canned shakes can be disgusting.)  But as soon as the first drop glanced across my tongue, I immediately threw all intentions of chugging it out the window, and instead savored this liquid goodness as well as I could.  The shake was thick, creamy, and extremely chocolatey (as it should've been, being the milk chocolate flavor).  I could definitely taste the thick milk used in the ingredients, which was an extremely refreshing change of pace from all the watery protein shakes I've had in the past.  Unfortunately the stuff was gone before I would've liked it to be, but throughout that day I noticed a resurgence of power through all my snatches, clean and jerks, and even my extremely high volume squats at the end of the workout, where I hit 105kg for four triples AFTER a total of 40 reps of varying lighter weights.  Thank goodness for that morning protein fix.

But what exactly had I just consumed?  More specifically, what's in Pure Pro 50 that makes it such an optimal shake for strength athletes?  Well, before I get going on why I love the nutritional breakdown of this shake, let me show you the nutritional label:

12/14.5 Fl. Oz. BottlesMilk Chocolate
Serving Size1Bottle(14.5fl oz)
Servings Per Container12
Amount Per Serving
Calories From Fat20
% Daily Value*
Total Fat2g3%
Saturated Fat1g5%
Trans Fat0g
Total Carbohydrate9g3
Dietary Fiber3g12%
Vitamin A0%
Vitamin C0%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Water, Protein Blend (Milk Protein Concentrate, Whey Protein Concentrate), Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Natural And Artificial Flavors, Cellulose Gel, Sucralose, Cellulose Gum, Acesulfame Potassium, Carrageenan.
Allergen Information: Contains Milk Ingredients.

First and foremost, this stuff is PACKED with protein at a whopping 50 grams!  If that doesn't help those tired muscles recover, I don't know WHAT will.  And what I really like about this product is that it gets those proteins from various sources, including a quick digesting whey concentrate and a more slowly digesting milk protein concentrate.  This means that Pure Pro 50 will feed muscles both IMMEDIATELY and over an extended period of time, giving you a more complete recovery.

Second, this stuff is very low in both sugar and total carbohydrates!  I prefer low sugar protein sources, because once you start adding a ton of sugar you start to lose a lot of the support for lean muscle mass, and instead start coaxing your body to start storing some of those simple carbs as fat.  Now I know a lot of people out there say that you need fast acting carbs after a workout in order to force more protein into your muscles, but there have been multiple studies done refuting that claim.  Many EXTREMELY successful athletes don't supplement simple carbs after a workout, and if they do consume carbohydrates, they're usually a more complex carb like waxy maize, oats, or even vegetables (like sweet potatoes!)  You don't need sugar, and I'd much rather live without it.  The low total carbs in this product also promote its usage on low carb diets, and make it a much more versatile option for most people.

And on the subject of carbohydrates, Pure Pro 50 has 3 g of fiber!  That's AWESOME!  The more fiber you can get in your diet, the better.  Fiber helps digestion, allows your body to more effectively use the food it's been given, and helps to keep you lean.  Sweet!

Pure Pro 50 is also very low in sodium, and high in potassium, which is just what you want following a workout.  After working hard, your electrolytes have been severely depleted, and you need a decent dose of potassium to ensure your body can rehydrate effectively.  The fact that Pure Pro 50 takes this into account impresses me greatly.

And finally, Pure Pro 50 is very low in fat, with only 2 total grams, only 1 of which is saturated.  This is a perfect compliment to the average American's diet which is absolutely loaded with saturated fat.  Cut that crap out little by little, and I guarantee you'll like the results.

Now in terms of price, I have to say that these shakes become more fiscally feasible when consumed every now and then as a supplement to your normal protein powder.  They're relatively cheap on their own, but don't really become practical when bought in a 12 pack (like they're commonly sold in.)  It's between 40-50 bux for a 12 pack of Pure Pro 50, where as 4lbs of whey protein powder, which is about 50 servings, is around the same price.  12 vs. 50...hmmmm...I wonder which one I'd choose.

All in all though, Pure Pro 50 is a GREAT alternative to nasty canned shakes that are packed with sugar and lacking on the protein.  It's made with quality ingredients, has a great nutritional profile, is loaded with muscle building protein, and tastes absolutely DELICIOUS.  I would definitely recommend trying the milk chocolate flavor, boy was it yummy.  Who knows, you might get hooked on the stuff.  Thanks Pure Pro 50 for helping me recover from some of the craziest workout sessions of my life.