Are protein powders real food? Yes and no. While I don’t consider protein powder to be “real food,” I think it can be beneficial to supplement your mostly real food eating regimen if you choose a clean whey protein powder. I like to make a protein smoothie either for breakfast or a mid-morning snack every day because it’s delicious and I jam-pack it with all of my powdered vitamins. It also comes in handy when you’re in a pinch with no time to cook, on the go, or you don’t feel like eating (sick days or post-workout). Protein powders are a great way for vegetarians to ensure they are getting enough protein and all of their essential amino acids without the high sugar, high carbohydrate load that comes from combining grains like beans and rice. That said, quality matters, and not all protein powders are created equal. A protein powder full of sweeteners, fillers, additives and other mysterious ingredients is never a good choice. Get one that is just whey protein isolate or concentrate; maybe some added vitamins and minerals, and vanilla or cocoa for flavoring, like this one.
Is Quinoa considered a carb or protein? Is it something you recommend? Quinoa is a carbohydrate. If you look at the label, a 1/2 cup serving (the appropriate amount to eat at one sitting) has about 20 grams of carbs and only 4 grams of protein. In other words, quinoa has five times the amount of carbohydrate as it does protein, so I would definitely consider it to be a carbohydrate source. Because quinoa is gluten-free, I consider it to be a better option than bread or pasta. However for most people, I recommend getting most, if not all carbohydrates from veggies and fruits. If you do choose to include quinoa, cook it in some chicken broth with butter to increase it’s nutrient density and flavor and be sure to include a quality protein source with it (refresh your memory on quality protein sources by referring to Part 2.)
What about oatmeal? Can a bowl of oatmeal be a PFC balanced breakfast? Like quinoa, I don’t generally recommend oatmeal because I encourage getting carbohydrates from veggies and fruits. Besides, oatmeal gets way too much press for being “heart healthy” which it doesn’t deserve. It is a highly processed grain that can spike blood sugars and increase inflammation. Not to mention most people eat far more than the appropriate ½ cup serving size and top it off with even more sugar, or eating the oatmeal packets that contain as much sugar as an entire candy bar. Not good. But if you DO choose to eat oatmeal, be sure to make it PFC balanced by mixing in a scoop of a high quality protein powder (after you cook it) and a couple tablespoons of heavy cream or butter, and try to stick to the appropriate serving size of ½ cup after its cooked.
What about cow’s milk? Unnecessary. Breast milk provides babies what they need to grow and develop, but no one needs cows milk and I don’t believe it’s a good source of nutrition. We don’t have any nutritional requirement for cow’s milk and are able to obtain any and all nutrients that we’d find in milk from meat, seafood, veggies, fruits and nuts. The truth is milk is particularly “insulinogenic.” which means it stimulates the production of insulin (your fat-storing hormone). So basically this means that milk elicits a surprisingly high insulin response, causing you to secrete lots and lots of insulin, and in turn your body stores lots and lots of fat. End result: When you consume milk, you pack on the pounds.
Now, don’t get mad at milk. It does what it is actually supposed to do. Milk, whether from cows, sheep or goats, contain hormones and factors that help baby mammals grow. Just like breast milk promotes a baby human’s growth, cow’s milk helps baby cows grow, sheep’s milk helps baby sheep grow and goat’s milk helps baby goats grow. It makes sense for babies that need to grow, but not so much for an adult like yourself looking to maintain or lose weight.
In addition, because of its inflammatory properties it is a common offender of acne, sinus congestion, sneezing and digestive distress so if you struggle with any of these, I’d recommend cutting milk out right away. Besides, even if you don’t have a documented sensitivity and you feel fine, it may be blocking your calcium absorption! Milk is not well tolerated by many, maybe even most, people. If it’s something you’ve been drinking your whole life, I know it may seem like the norm, but it’s not really healthy for you. The good news here is that certain dairy products, such as heavy cream, butter and hard cheeses are not very insulinogenic, so they get a free pass in this discussion. And, if you do choose to drink milk, because of the amount of hormones and antibiotics fed to the dairy cows it’s important to buy organic, or even better, raw, unpasteurized grass-fed milk. Milk is perfect as it comes out of the cow. By refining it to make it low fat, they remove many of the vitamins and minerals which they end up adding back. (What’s the point?) Most conventionally raised cows are kept confined in a small area, fed a diet that they are not accustomed to eating (cows eat grass, not corn and grain. We’ve also heard of claims of leftover holiday candy, orange peels, and whatever they can scrape up from the bottom of a chicken coop…yuck!) Because of this junk, they eventually find themselves with weakened immune systems. Just like in humans, a weakened immune system can lead to cow sickness. To prevent this, many farmers add antibiotics to their chow, along with hormones necessary for increased and extended milk production. This means that if you’re purchasing conventional dairy products, you’re getting higher than normal levels of these contaminants. Not good. That’s why if you do choose to include dairy, it’s a smart idea to pick up the highest quality milk you can find. Raw, grass- fed, organic, unpasteurized is the gold standard. Do your best to find something close to this. There are many local farmers who will sell you high quality dairy if you head out to their farms, or join their farm’s dairy cooperative. Otherwise, make the best selection from what your co-op or grocery store offers. Note: Local laws may prevent sales of raw dairy products—in that case, find something grass fed and/or organic.
But I heard chocolate milk was a healthy post-workout recovery drink? The claims for chocolate milk being a great post-workout recovery drink revolve around its protein and carbohydrate content. Most of the studies done compare chocolate milk to plain water and sports drinks, so of course getting in your protein and carbs from the milk is going to outweigh those two. The thing is, we don’t need to drink milk to get carbs and protein! You can get the same nutrients, and even more from eating real foods for recovery like a homemade balanced smoothie or eggs and spinach, along with plain water for hydration. The dairy industry spends lots of money convincing us that we need to drink milk, so as always, be on the defense.
Do you recommend ANY kind of milk? If you’re eating eggs instead of cereal and you’re putting heavy cream or butter in your coffee, what do you need milk for anyway? 🙂 If you want an alternative, almond milk and coconut milk can be healthy options. I count coconut milk as a healthy fat, and almond milk is pretty much a freebie since it’s not a significant source of protein, fat or carbohydrate. Both are much better options than cow’s milk or soy milk. Make sure you choose the unsweetened variety and don’t get either of these varieties in the refrigerated section, as these can contain loads of additives (counterintuitive, right?). Get coconut milk in the cans and almond milk in a shelf-stable carton or better yet, they’re pretty simple to make at home.
How many eggs can I really eat? You may still be scratching your head at the very thought of including saturated fats like butter and cholesterol-filled egg yolks. You’re not alone in feeling this way. I was confused, too. There are a lot of misconceptions and flat out bad information out there on this topic of heart disease and cholesterol. For years, doctors and dietitians have prescribed a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet (and plenty of statins) for heart health, and coincidentally (or not!), the prevalence of type two diabetes, obesity, cancer and yes, heart disease has skyrocketed! The good news is that the science is finally being publicized that saturated fat and dietary cholesterol are not linked to heart disease. There was no evidence to support the low-fat message in the first place, nor in generating those guidelines. A group from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology says there is simply not enough evidence to recommend limiting cholesterol in diets. We’ve been taught to believe that foods manufactured in a laboratory are healthier than real, whole foods from nature, and this is a shame, not to mention flat out dangerous. It’s time to make egg white omelettes a thing of the past. (More on that in this post.)
What do you recommend for protein sources for vegetarians and vegans? I believe animal protein sources support our brain, body and metabolism best so meat, fish, eggs and protein powder are the sources I recommend. So if a vegetarian eats eggs and/or fish, which are excellent sources of protein, I would recommend focusing on those. It’s more difficult for vegans, since I don’t recommend the usual processed protein options that are typically high in carbohydrates and full of soy and other additives. Using a protein powder, such as Pure Whey Redefined for vegetarians, and a pea/rice one for vegans, such as Inflam-Ez Powder Redefined or Estro Bal Protein Redefined, is beneficial to help them meet their protein needs, but my overall stance is that I don’t recommend vegan diets.
What about animal fats? It depends on the quality. If you’re buying conventionally raised meat, it’s not the best quality, so choose a lean cut since the toxins are stored in the fat. Make sure you then ADD good fat in the form of butter, olive oil or avocado. If you’re buying high quality grass-fed, organic, pasture-raised meat and dairy, I recommend purchasing full fat. It’s good healthy fat and it tastes fantastic.
What about alcohol? Oh alcohol… 🙂 It depends on your goals. It can be helpful to limit or significantly reduce alcohol intake if weight loss is a goal, or if you’re not sleeping well. Of course, not all drinks are created equal. From a nutritional standpoint the biggest concern with alcohol, like coffee, is not the substance itself but all the crap added to it. Many mixed and specialty drinks are high in sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. To make matters worse, liquor isn’t regulated like foods so they aren’t required to list ingredients. Because of this, you can be sure that the nasty ingredients and artificial sweeteners included in processed foods are in your favorite fancy drinks as well.
My mixed drink of choice is soda water with vodka or tequila and a LOT of fresh squeezed lime. It’s refreshing and free of sugar and artificial sweeteners. Wine is another one I enjoy, as it’s a far better choice than beer (which I don’t recommend) and less sugary than many of those mixed drinks. But also keep in mind, the sweeter the wine, the more sugary it is. So pay attention to your intake as it can stand in the way of your goals. I’ve also been known to enjoy gluten-free hard cider, a fermented alcoholic beverage made from fruit juice, but again, you have to be careful because the sugar content varies significantly depending on the brand. I like ACE Pear Cider and Strongbow; each has 9 grams of sugar in a 12 ounce bottle. (Angry Orchard and Woodchuck are popular brands, but each have 20-something grams of sugar in a 12 ounce serving. IMHO, not worth it when ACE and Strongbow are both excellent with almost 1/3 less sugar.) I don’t recommend beer or any of those fru-fru fruity (sugary) drinks.
Another aspect of alcohol that shouldn’t be overlooked is its effect on blood sugars. Each individual’s body responds in its own way to alcohol. Some people’s blood sugar drops immediately after consuming alcohol while others’ spikes quickly which is then followed by a drop. Know your own body and be smart when you drink. It’s wise to not drink on an empty stomach, make sure to drink water between your alcoholic beverages and it’s a good idea to have fat and protein with your alcohol to help stabilize your blood sugar levels. (Cheese and olives, anyone?) For more of my thoughts on alcohol, check out this blog post.
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