Posts Tagged ‘question of nutrition’

Question of Nutrition: Vol 6
by Dr. Jonny Bowden

Saturated Fat: The Real Story

Q: What’s the final word on saturated fat?

A: Asking about saturated fat is like asking about the war in Iraq: The answer you get completely depends on who you ask.

Since you asked me, I’ll tell you my opinion, but rest assured that if you ask a Stepford Wife Dietitian you’ll get an entirely different answer. Of course, if you were the type to listen to those idiots, you probably wouldn’t be reading my column.

For years and years the main rap against saturated fat is that it raises cholesterol, which in turn  “causes” heart disease. But the importance of cholesterol as a major risk factor for heart disease is beginning to be questioned. And the fact is that saturated fat sometimes raises cholesterol and sometimes doesn’t, and ultimately it may not even matter.

In 2008, The American Society of Bariatric Physicians in conjunction with the Metabolism Society presented an entire two day conference in Arizona entitled: “Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: What’s the Evidence”?  I attended that conference, in which some of the smartest researchers investigating this issue participated, and I can sum up the answer to the question “What’s the evidence?” for you in two words: Not much.

In my opinion, the “fate” of saturated fat in the body depends completely on what else is eaten. If you’re eating a high-carb diet, the effect of saturated fat may indeed be deleterious, but if you’re eating a low-carb diet it’s a whole other ballgame.


Hold the hashbrowns

“If carbs are low, insulin is low and saturated fat is handled more efficiently,” said Jeff Volek, PhD, RD and one of the major researchers in the area of diet comparisons. “When carbs are low, you’re burning that saturated fat as fuel, and you’re also making less of it.”

So, eat way less carbohydrates and way less sugar, and it may not matter how much saturated fat you eat.

One reason that saturated fat has been demonized, in my opinion, is that much of the research on diet and disease has lumped saturated fat together with trans-fats. Trans-fats weren’t even a health issue until relatively recently, and for decades researchers didn’t distinguish between the two when doing studies of diet patterns.

Why does this matter? Because manmade trans-fats really are the Spawn of Satan. They clearly raise the risk for heart disease and stroke, and, according to Harvard professors Walt Willett and Alberto Ascherio, are responsible for 30,000 premature deaths a year.

Another reason saturated fat has such a bad reputation is that much of the saturated fat people consume comes from really crummy sources. Fried foods are not a great way to get fat in your diet. Neither is processed deli meats nor hormone-treated beef. But the saturated fat from healthy animals — like grass-fed beef or lamb — or the saturated fat in organic butter or in egg yolks is a whole different story.

I’ve never seen one convincing piece of evidence that saturated fat from whole food sources like the ones I just mentioned has a single negative impact on heart disease, health, or mortality, especially when it’s part of a diet high in plant foods, antioxidants, fiber and the rest of the good stuff you can eat on a controlled carbohydrate eating plan!

So what’s the verdict? Though there may be certain cases where saturated fat could be a problem — i.e. those with the ApoE4 gene making them more susceptible to Alzheimer’s seem to benefit from avoiding too much saturated fat — for most people a healthy diet of moderate calories that’s low in sugar shouldn’t have any problem with saturated fat from whole food sources.

Of course that won’t stop the diet dictocrats from continuing to tell us how “a low-fat diet prevents heart disease,” but inconvenient facts have never stopped the American Dietetic Association!

Hey, Honey

Q: Some people claim honey is a health food. Is it really good for you or is it just more sugar?

A: Well, there’s two separate questions here:

1) Is honey good for you?

2) Is honey just more sugar?

I’ll take the second one first. From your body’s point of view, honey is sugar, plain and simple.

From the point of view of glycemic impact — how quickly a food makes your blood glucose climb up to the ceiling — it doesn’t much matter if you’re scarfing down turbinado sugar, “Sugar in the Raw,” evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup, honey, or any of the seventy-gazillion variations on the theme, including, by the way, the latest craze in “healthy” imposters: agave nectar syrup, which has an even worse composition than high-fructose corn syrup!

So, if you’re trying to cut out sugar, honey counts. But the first question — Is it good for you? — is a little more complicated and depends on your definition of “honey.”

If by “honey” you mean the crap you buy in the supermarket that comes in a cute little plastic bottle that looks like a teddy bear, the answer is “not on your life!”

If by “honey” you mean raw, unfiltered, uncooked, unpasteurized organic honey, the answer is “maybe.”


Real honey, no plastic bear required.

While it’s true that both types of honey will raise your blood sugar about the same, that doesn’t mean they’re nutritionally identical. Raw, unprocessed honey — straight from the comb — has a number of nutrients and enzymes and is an actual whole food, albeit a sweet one. If you don’t have blood sugar issues, raw honey can be used judiciously as a sweetener.

Generally speaking, the harder the honey the better. The strength of the crystallization (hardness) determines the level of live-state nutrients and heat-sensitive enzymes. Some unprocessed honey is even sold with part of the honeycomb in the jar. Real honey also contains flavanones, flavones, and flavonols, known for their antioxidant activity.

Two companies producing unprocessed honey that I like are Really Raw Honey andTropical Traditions.

But remember, processedhoney, like the squeezy bear kind, is just another highly refined food that’s had all the good stuff boiled out of it leaving nothing more than a sweet tasting golden liquid that’s essentially about as good for you as Frosted Flakes!

Fake “Health” Foods

Q: What’s a food that dedicated gym-goers eat that they shouldn’t eat? In other words, what’s a common “pretend” health food?

A: I thought this was a terrific question to put to my informal panel of experts, and not one of them hesitated to render an opinion, all of them good ones.

Gregg Avedon, one of the world’s most successful fitness models, singled out sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade. “They’re designed for endurance athletes and pro-athletes who burn crazy calories and deplete muscle glycogen very quickly at a very high level, yet you’ve got the average fitness enthusiast training at a mid- to low-level range drinking these beverages without thinking twice.”

Celebrity nutritionist and exercise physiologist JJ Virgin, PhD, chose energy bars, which are often packed with chemicals and even sometimes trans-fats and high-fructose corn syrup.

Gina Lombardi, host of Discovery Channel’s Fit Nation and author of Deadline Fitness, singled out baked chips. “High in sodium, chemicals, and processed carbs!” she notes.

Top New York group fitness instructor, model, and personal trainer Angie Lee chose fruit juice. “Way too high in calories and sugar,” she observed, “and people have a harder time tracking liquid calories.”

But in my opinion, the Academy Award for health-food imposters goes to the smoothie offerings at Jamba Juice.


Jamba Juice: Just say no.

Most of them are high-carb, high-calorie, high-glycemic nightmares and will make your blood sugar race to the ceiling faster than a Border Collie on methamphetamine. Example: The banana berry smoothie with 112 grams of carbs and 480 calories.

Don’t be mislead by these fake “fitness” foods!


Yes, a few days late but I wanted the Miranda interview to linger.

Question of Nutrition: Vol 5
by Dr. Jonny Bowden

Measure Your Belly!

Q: I’ve read that your belly measurements can be the best indicator of your overall health. Is that true? If so, what are the guidelines to go by? 

A: For years we nutritionists have been using a low-tech shorthand for insulin resistance: a 40 inch or greater waist for men, a 35 inch or greater waist for women. If your waist measures that high, you can safely bet the family farm that you’ve got insulin resistance and may be headed for some serious trouble down the road.

Interestingly, those waist measurements were exactly the numbers that correlated with the doubled risk for death when compared with smaller waists — less than 34 inches for men, less than 28 inches for women — in a recent study.

Each 2-inch increase in waist circumference added about 17% increased risk for mortality in men and about 13% increased mortality in women. Earlier research showed that these same numbers — 40″ waist for men, 35″ waist for women — indicated an increased risk for stroke.

Measure Your Belly

No insulin resistance here!

I usually don’t like terms like “the best indicator for overall health” because there are so many interrelated factors that come into play, but if there was such a thing as the single best indicator, belly fat would have to be a serious contender for the title.

You see, all body fat is not created equal. The fat stored around the butt hips and thighs — also known as subcutaneous fat since it’s right below the skin — might drive you crazy and make your jeans fit badly, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as the other kind. Belly fat, stored around the middle — also called VAT or visceral abdominal fat — is a metabolic nightmare.

It’s stored deep inside the abdominal walls and is a metabolically active fat that directly increases the risk for all sorts of health problems, among them metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

In the study mentioned above, researchers looked at data from almost 360,000 Europeans who were followed up for ten years. The men and women with the largest waists had virtually twice — that’s two times! — the risk for premature death compared to the folks with the smaller waists.

This was true even after allowing for all extra factors like smoking and drinking. “There aren’t many simple individual characteristics that can increase a person’s risk of premature death to this extent,” said the lead author, Tobias Pischon, MD, MPH.

So yup, belly fat tells you a lot. It might not be the best single indicator of overall health, but if it’s not, it’s damn close.

Fight Fat with Water?

Q: Hey Dr. B, what’s up with that new study showing that drinking extra water in the morning can help with fat loss?

A: Well, don’t get too excited. As one reporter correctly pointed out about this study, “The impact is modest and the findings are preliminary.” If you’re looking to cut up, water’s not exactly going to replace Winstrol.

But there is evidence that water helps you burn some extra calories, and since the benefits of water for other things are so numerous, you should definitely drink it if you aren’t already doing so! And if you’re not already doing so, you’re an idiot and probably wouldn’t be reading this column.

So here’s the deal: Researchers in Germany tracked calorie expenditure among 14 men and women who were both healthy and not overweight. Within ten minutes of drinking about 17 ounces of water, the subjects’ metabolisms increased by about 30%, reaching a maximum after 30-40 minutes.

Interestingly, there were differences between the sexes — the metabolic increase for the men involved burning more fat, whereas the metabolic increase in the women involved burning more carbs.

Remember though, 30% sounds like a lot, but if you figure the resting metabolism for a 150 pound person is about 1.2 calories per minute (roughly 75 calories an hour), a 30% increase only brings you to 93 calories, for an increase of about 20 calories. Still, when you figure it out, consuming an extra 1.5 liters a day would burn up an extra 17,400 calories or about five pounds a year.

Not much weight loss, but here’s the thing: Water is needed for virtually every metabolic process in the body. It helps flush wastes and toxins out. It helps keep joints lubricated and skin fresh and moist. And — somewhat paradoxically — it helps prevent bloat. So you need to drink it anyway, and if it helps you drop an extra half pound a month, that’s a bonus.

Fight Fat with Water?

For you trainers working with weight loss clients, I have a formula to suggest. There’s absolutely no science to back this up, mind you, but it’s been my experience that it works really well for most people: Take your current weight, divide by 2, and aim for that number of ounces a day. (I was happy to see recently that this is the same formula the great holistic doctor Deepak Choprah uses). For a 180-pound person, that would be 90 ounces a day.

Drinking that much certainly won’t hurt you and it might just help a lot.


Sorry, I know this is a day late.  I wanted Chief’s “Beyond the Athlete” segment to soak in.  Plus, who doesn’t like one more day of Diane Lane?  Ok, lets learn some more from Dr. Bowden

Question of Nutrition: Vol 4
by Dr. Jonny Bowden

Nutrition guru Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., answers all your burning questions about calorie restriction and longevity, chia seeds, L-theanine, tuna toxicity, diet sodas, and “expensive urine.”

Mercury Rising?

Q:What’s the final word on tuna and mercury? Tuna is a bodybuilding staple, but I’m starting to worry that I eat too much.

A: Short answer: Don’t worry about it.

I say that as someone who’s as worried as anybody on earth about the toxic effects of mercury, not to mention the lackluster efforts of governments to control it. There’s no doubt that it’s in an awful lot of fish. Where it gets tricky is when we try to define the point at which it poses a real danger to our health.

That depends on a lot of factors. A pregnant woman and her developing fetus are far more vulnerable than the average bodybuilder. Many of the warnings about high-mercury fish were in fact targeted at that population (pregnant women, not bodybuilders).

Then there’s the question of how you define a “safe” level. Many people think the government’s standards are too lax. To them, it’s as if we said “speeding” only applies to driving over 120 mph. If that’s the standard, then all of us drive safely.

But let’s look at it from the other direction. If you stop eating fish, there’s a price you pay. Most experts think the cost of giving up fish, in terms of global health, far outweighs the possible problems caused by mercury in your system.

Two things you can do: One, consume a lot of selenium, which seems to have a chelating effect on mercury. Two, you can get your tuna from the same place I get mine: Vital Choice in Alaska. I don’t have any ownership in this company, by the way. I just think they have the purest and best fish anywhere.

On balance, I think the benefits of cold-water fish like tuna and salmon, which are such amazing sources of protein and omega-3s, far exceed the possible danger. If you’re pregnant, I might modify that advice, but not by much.

Eat Big, Die Young?

Q: I have a problem. I want to build as much muscle as possible, and that means eating big and training hard. But I also want to live a long time, and it seems that calorie restriction may help with this. Does calorie restriction work? Are muscleheads like me going to die young?

A: Good question, and I wish I had a perfect answer. As in many areas of life, the best strategy for one goal (training for a marathon or the Arnold Classic) might not necessarily be the best strategy for a different goal (living as long as the soy-loving folks on Okinawa).

I don’t know of any studies on how long professional bodybuilders live, but for what it’s worth, consider a couple of examples.

You may remember Chris Dickerson, the 1982 Mr. Olympia.

Fat Loss and Double Trouble for Your Back

When I lived in New York in the mid-1990s, I trained at a gym where Chris worked as a trainer. He sure didn’t look like he did on stage in 1982, but he looked fit, healthy, and robust.

And my friend, former Mr. America Tom Terwilliger, is the picture of glowing good health. He’s a successful motivational speaker and coach, but he’s just a fraction of the guy who was on the cover of Muscular Development.

Fat Loss and Double Trouble for Your Back

Terwilliger then …

Fat Loss and Double Trouble for Your Back

… and now.

While I can’t speak for those guys, I assume neither follows the same “supplement” program he used back in the ’80s, or trains quite as hard. Ditto with Lee Labrada. But these guys are in great shape and have healthy, active lifestyles. It’s hard to see any reason why they would die early. Quite the contrary.

That said, the research does show that calorie restriction is a pretty potent life-extender. Cutting back about 25 to 33 percent seems to do it. That’s not the strategy to follow if you’re trying to bulk up, but you don’t need to look like a vegan bean sprout to get the benefits.

Personally, my guess would be that as long as your calories are coming from really good sources, you’re not abusing your body (you know what I’m talking about), and you’re getting adequate rest, sun, sleep, and balance in your life, you’ll be fine.

And remember, goals change as we get older. When you’re pushing 60 it may not be as important to look like Dorian Yates. You’ll probably settle for low body fat, high energy, nice musculature, and all your sex organs in good working order. Being the biggest on the block may not be as important as being alive and well and still able to go all night.


As promised, Tuesday is all about nutrition.  Here is the next installment of “A Question of Nutrition” by Jonny Bowden.  Some really interesting stuff in this one so read up!

Question of Nutrition: Vol 2
by Dr. Jonny Bowden

A noted nutrition guru tackles the topics of food allergies, fasting, bulking diets, and that crappy weight-loss supplement your wife wants to try.

Bulking Diets: Bashed!

Q: Most strength coaches agree that you need extra calories to build muscle. The question is, how much extra? On one side you have those who say to eat a few hundred calories per day over maintenance levels. Others say to just eat a ton and train hard. What do you think is best for the bodybuilding male?

A: “Train hard and eat a ton” sounds like a great philosophy … if you’re training to be a Sumo wrestler.

I think the “eat a ton and train hard” school is kind of like practicing skeet shooting with a blindfold on. You might hit the target, but you might also pull a Dick Cheney.

I think it’s way smarter to start with a controlled amount of extra calories and see if that’s enough to do the trick. Ask yourself how you’re performing, what your energy is like, and if you like the results in the mirror. If you’re not coming up with positive answers, adjust the calories some more until you do.

If you’re a bodybuilder, you’re going to train hard anyway, so all that’s on the table here is how much to eat so that most of that extra food goes into making muscle as opposed to fat. “Eating a ton” is way too unscientific for most bodybuilders these days.

huge man

‘Eat a ton and train hard” isn’t too scientific.

The Scoop on Fasting

Q: What do you think of intermittent fasting? I’ve read about some plans that involve fasting for 24 hours every so often. Some plans call for alternate-day fasting. It’s said to improve insulin sensitivity and increase longevity, among other benefits. Any thoughts?

A: Many, actually. Are you surprised?

Fasting as a strategy to enhance health has been around since the days of Hippocrates, the dude considered to be the father of modern medicine. It’s used by religious orders as a spiritual discipline, and many high-end spas have some form of a fast — often called a “detox” program — as part of their rejuvenation retreats.

“Fasting and detoxification is the missing link in Western nutrition,” says my pal Elson Haas, MD, author of The New Detox Diet. Haas has been running detox programs as part of his medical practice for more than 30 years.

“Fasting is the single greatest natural healing therapy I know,” he told me. “People need to take a break from their substances. A fast or detox can give the body a rest so it can rebalance.”

But a true fast — even for one day — can be really hard on the body. “A more common and liberal definition of fasting would include the juices of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as herbal teas,” says Haas. “Fresh juices are easily assimilated, require minimum digestion, and still supply many nutrients. They also stimulate our body to clear wastes. Juice fasting is safer than water fasting since it supports the body nutritionally while cleansing and maintains your energy level.”

fruit juice

You probably heard about the whole “alternate day” stuff because of some mice experiments done at the University of California at Berkeley. The researchers basically fasted (read: starved) the poor mice on alternate days, and then allowed them to eat whatever they wanted on the non-fast (“feast”) days.

“We found that fasting can reduce cell proliferation rates in skin and breast,” lead researcher Krista Varady told me. “That’s equivalent to a decrease in both breast and skin cancer risk.”

I won’t bore you with the details of the research, but they actually found out that you didn’t need to do a full-blown fast on the “fast” days to get measurable benefits. You could still consume about 25 percent of your normal food intake on those “fasting” days — about the equivalent of one meal — and still get value.

But don’t use fasting as a weight-loss strategy. It never works. Even in the mice experiments, the mice overcompensated for their fast days by overfeasting on the eating days, so that at the end of the week they had consumed the same amount of calories as they normally would.

Since the only strategy that’s ever worked to extend life in the lab is calorie restriction, and since some theorists reason that downregulating insulin signaling may be part of the reason, eating fewer calories within the context of a high-nutrient diet makes sense in general.

If you want to take a day off from regular eating every so often and give your digestive system a rest, it’s not a bad idea.


I got a lot of feedback from you all on “The Truth About Nutrition” and it seems that everyone felt it was packed with interesting information.  I too think that Jonny Bowden has a lot of good opinions backed with real science (did you see the alphabet soup behind his name?).  So, as promised I am posting a series that Jonny did with the T-Nation Editors called “A Question of Nutrition” where he takes readers’ questions and answers them in his own special way.  Do you notice the trend with the guys that are experts in their field in fitness and nutrition?  They all are no-nonsense with a touch of smug asshole thrown in for good measure, and I like it.  Alright gang, time to learn:

Question of Nutrition: Vol 1
by Dr. Jonny Bowden

A noted nutrition guru shoulders the glycemic load, stands up for fiber, and zaps some myths about zits.
What a Load!

Q: I read that the glycemic index is overrated and that what we should really be paying attention to is glycemic load. What’s the difference?

A: The glycemic index is overrated. You should be paying attention to glycemic load. There’s a big difference. Here’s the scoop:

Glycemic index is a way of measuring the impact a given amount of carbohydrate has on your blood sugar, something you definitely want to know. But to do a fair comparison, they have to use a fixed amount. In the case of the glycemic index, it’s a standard 50 grams of carbohydrate.

Problem is, very few carbohydrate foods in real life are 50-gram portions.

See, if you go to a store to buy spices and there’s a spice that’s $500 a pound, that sure sounds like a lot of money. But if you’re only buying a half-teaspoon of the stuff, it’s pretty irrelevant. You want to know what you’re going to pay at the register, not necessarily what you’d pay if you bought a pound.

Similarly, you really don’t care what the impact of 50 grams is on your blood sugar; you care what the impact of the amount you’re actually eating is.

Glycemic load is a more sophisticated formula that takes into account the actual grams of carbs you’re eating — the portion size. The glycemic index of carrots is high, leading a lot of people to think you should never eat carrots, which is a dumb conclusion. Fact is, the average carrot has 3 grams of carbs. You’d have to eat like a giant rabbit to have a significant impact on your blood sugar.


The glycemic load of a carrot, on the other hand, is only 3, making it an extremely low-glycemic food — unless you’re drinking pure carrot juice or eating 13 carrots at a sitting.

Pasta, on the other hand, has a moderate glycemic index, but is almost never eaten in 50-gram portions. Factor in the portion size at a typical Olive Garden and your blood sugar will be on the roof, and stay there for a week. Not surprisingly, the glycemic load of pasta is very high.

The technical formula for glycemic load is GI (glycemic index), multiplied by the number of grams of carbohydrates in the portion, then divided by 100. Low glycemic load is between 1 and 10, medium is between 10 and 20, and anything over 20 is very high.

That said, remember that both glycemic index and glycemic load only refer to the food eaten alone. Add some fat or protein and the total impact goes down. And plenty of high-glycemic foods are good for you (say, carrot juice) while plenty of low-glycemic foods (fried donut holes) are not.

So take glycemic load into account, but don’t be a slave to it. It’s just one measurement to consider when planning a diet.

Incidentally, athletes in training actually can benefit from high-glycemic foods, especially when they’re training twice a day. Mrs. Smith with Metabolic Syndrome… not so much!