AtA: The Pollan Conclusion and Brain Over Brawn

Posted June 7th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

[...]when I was reading the section on food and obesity and your critiques on the food industry, I though I was reading Pollan. Yet you arrived at a very different conclusion, and a low carb one at that, with room for exceptions. I was wondering if you came across Pollan when you were researching the food and nutrition section, and if so what your opinions are of him? More broadly, is the recommendation of 40:20:40 p/c/f because you feel this is a reasonable goal for people to aim for, or is this what you have found is an ideal ratio from your experience helping your individual clients?

Pollan is certainly a hell of smart dude, and even though some of his thoughts are hard (for me) to mutually reconcile, his books are worth reading just because he has an incredible style, and puts forth some really well-researched analysis that may blow your mind, even if the particular study may be familiar to you. He also manages his activism where he can get his point across without coming off with that slimy ulterior-motive aftertaste that’s so frequent lately in the wake of evolutionary/historical diet becoming A Big Thing. I’ve only read “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, but Food Rules is in my cart and I intend to read it soon.

My major divergences are probably summarized due to two things:

1) Individuals. People are radically different not just on the genetic and biological levels, but on the ways all these systems interact with each other. There are millions of permutations that make it to where two people on the exact same diet and program will almost invariably get differing results. Hard to say with someone’s lineage what sort of responses, tolerances, and so forth will apply, and each of those things complicate still further based on the the interactions of food, stress, stimulus and so forth.

In short, people are mad complex and there’s no blanket solution. However, one thing that is becoming apparent (thanks to diabetic research more than anything diet or supplement companies have contributed) is that many diet profiles are complicated and hindered by poor carbohydrate control, especially in excessive sugars. Vice versa, controlled-carb diet studies suggest that body composition and health are improved, independent to exercise or even (gasp) genetic/ethnic diversity.

That said, I seldom advocate extremism (the exception being against trans fats) and I feel like carbs have a place in a diet, and exercise both enhances the benefit from carbs and minimizes the potential negative impact.

2) Practicality. A pragmatic, realistic approach for “everyone” is a core concept of Brain Over Brawn. Even if we had the infrastructure in place for everyone to switch to a quinoa-and-red-yeast-rice diet tomorrow morning, not everyone has the money to buy everything organic and local, and even fewer have the immediate desire. Or to give up all their foods, or eat “mostly plants” or anything else. It’s certainly something I can agree with philosophically, and I respect Pollan’s stand against the factory-farm food industry. But it’s not going to change overnight, and my target with Brain Over Brawn was specifically designed to be things that can change overnight, or even right now, as someone reads it.

And all that said, I agree with you. Macros really aren’t that important in the grand scheme, especially since the type and quality of food, the foods with it, the eater’s internal chemistry (both genetic disposition and at-the-time), add so many factors that the same meal could have a significantly different effect on a different person or just a different day.

The best practical solution I’ve found is to orient carbs to exercise, making carbs less of a factor for people when physical activity is also less of a factor for them, and allowing for increased carbs alongside more exercise (both as a reward, and due to the tendency for higher tolerances due to improved physical profile). I allow for most vegetables in Base meals (without fearing for carb count), and for fruits as well in Peak meals; the 40/40/20 split is a target for people who simply can’t come to terms with the Base/Peak division of meals. Going with the Base and Peak meal design makes accurate counting/hair-splitting largely irrelevant; restricted carbs for sedentary people, carb allowance for active people. Bing bang boom.

AtA: Thoughts on ‘The China Study’ and meat

Posted May 12th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

Have you ever read the book The China Study? I’d be curious what your thoughts on that are, if you have.

I read it back when it came out. Though I thought the findings from his sourced studies were interesting, I didn’t find them conclusive and feel he had to make some serious stretches to attempt to correlate them with the anti-meat/dairy agenda he’s pushing. The main thing I ended up taking away from it was that it came off like promotional material for a Vegan lifestyle, albeit significantly less slimy-salesman and shameless than the crew that writes the “Skinny Bitch” series.

While it might very well be true the average American could benefit from adhering to the lifestyle proposed, that’s because we’re by and large so awful that just about any change is an improvement. While I am convinced of the necessity and manifold benefit of vegetables and fruits (and thereby recommend having at least a serving with each and every meal), I feel there are also a multitude of benefits from the consumption of meat and animal-related protein products. The DHA/EPA from fish, essential amino acids that are extremely low or unavailable in plant sources (like carnitine and carnosine), iron, zinc, B-complexes and so on.

I’m not saying there’s nothing to the study, but I think the conclusions he draws don’t tend to follow. You can also find reasonably credible studies showing that wheat is killing us, and that soy will give your unborn children sexual deformities.

I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t really advocate any sort of extremism. Everything’s got cancer in it, we’re all gonna die immediately, sky is falling. I think meat and dairy are an important part of a diet, but I strongly recommend the vegetables and their glorious antioxidants and phytochemicals and so forth also, not instead of.

While I don’t have a fundamental concern with the consumption of meat and dairy, the ‘factory farm’ situation and the unethical and insane treatment of animals and what we do to them chemically and biologically for profit purposes is mortifying. I however do not have a solution at present and have yet to see one manifest (a whole lot of yelling ‘fire’ but few people with buckets). It’s ever in my thoughts though.

Recommended Reading: Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe

Posted January 22nd, 2010 in Recommended Reading by Clint

Though I’ve many times said in Brain Over Brawn and elsewhere that you do not need to go to a gym, some people have access by default through their school, their company or as an amenity of ownership or membership of property or association. And some people just enjoy going to a gym for the atmosphere and camaraderie. Though it’s not for everyone, I might like for it to be in my personal neo-utopian fantasies.

I’ve also said that personal trainers are by and large hacks and charlatans, and that has yet to change in any measurable metric.

With these two facts in mind, I would suggest for both the novice and veteran gym-goer and barbell enthusiast alike to pick up Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength: 2nd edition”. For as much as someone could capably learn a physical, spacial movement (well, a series of movements) via a book, Mr. Rippetoe goes into exhaustive (approaching neurotic) detail. If you intend to mess with big iron plates and bars as your preferred method of resistance training, this is about as close as you can get to someone with accurate information getting uncomfortably close to your ear and rubbing their stubble against your jaw while whispering all the collected minutia and errata they have dutifully gathered over decades of legitimate training.

Ball-busting aside, Rippetoe knows what the haps are, and if you plan to formally lift this is the resource for you. Even if it is your first time in your life entering a gym, chances are excellent you would be far better equipped after reading this book than by taking that ‘complimentary session’ from lycra-clad “Kev” at your local McGym.