This will be my last post about food for a while as I have a whole array of other topics to talk about. Next will be sleep, but I wanted to finish this series on food I’ve been doing.
Are all foods created equal? Does it matter? Is organic better? Is it worth stressing about? I know fat is good, but what kind of fats? Let us begin:
Go to farmer’s markets (when they’re in season) for the freshest seasonal stuff. If it’s local, it’s much more likely to have been fresh picked and not sitting on a truck and then a fridge for days/weeks. It’s going to have highest nutrient value, and most importantly, it’s going to taste the best. Even better: grow your own! At least to some degree, why not?
Grocery stores are just fine though, and there are different options there. Organic is good, but it doesn’t HAVE to be organic. From the studies I’ve seen, organic is typically more nutritious, but not always by enough to justify being neurotically religious about it. Just wash your veggies/fruits, and conventional produce is still produce (ie: WAY better than donuts). Your best bet is to find places that sell “natural”, so you know that it’s only mildly contaminated with chemicals, and you’re not paying the premium for the “organic” label (specific produce stores are good for this). Sometimes the organic stuff is incredible, but sometimes it’s a bit of a rip-off. Just get fresh stuff and wash it.
Frozen stuff is a great compromise. They’re usually frozen at their peak of ripeness, and retain most of their nutrition. Fresh tastes better, but having some frozen veggies/berries around is super handy and still pretty good. Frozen berries in smoothies are fantastic. See my last post for a dynamite smoothie recipe.
Include variety. The more veggies/fruits you try and learn to enjoy, the more options you’ll have. That way, whatever is in season and cheapest becomes your selection.
Nuts are expensive, but are typically cheaper if you buy them in bulk. I don’t recommend eating TONS of nuts and seeds (unless properly soaked/sprouted, which is a pain) since they do contain a dose of anti-nutrients, and are high in poly-unsaturated fatty acids (see below). A handful or two is great as a satisfying protein-and-fat packed snack, but that’s all they should ever be (or maybe a topping on a dessert). Macadamias are my favourite! Coincidentally, they are usually the most expensive. I was in Australia where they are native (and thus somewhat cheaper), and holy crap they were addictive.
This is probably more important. You’re going to start getting a lot more of your calories from animal products since you are NO LONGER AFRAID OF FAT. As an aside: don’t fear cholesterol either. If you don’t eat cholesterol, your liver will produce it for you, keeping the total amount of it relatively constant. Cholesterol is very important, and is necessary for our survival. Cholesterol turns into plaque and can cause obstruction only where there is chronic inflammation, so control your inflammation (with proper diet and stress control), and don’t fear your friend cholesterol. For more info, read this.
I’ll start this off by saying that FACTORY FARMS SUCK. They’re gross. Stressed out animals are all crammed in together eating unnatural foods (for them), and are loaded up with antibiotics (because they’re SICK) and growth hormones. Not only does this negatively effect the surrounding environment, but this also results in lower-quality and somewhat toxin-ridden food for us. As meat-eaters in modern society, it’s hard to avoid this stuff completely. At most restaurants this is what you’re getting (definitely at fast food joints, and even at “fancier” ones). This is why I typically try not to go to restaurants much, but will compromise and go sometimes for social and convenience reasons (like a “normal” person, as they say). Another reason I avoid restaurants is that a lot of them use liberal amounts of the industrial seed oils for cooking (canola, soy, corn, etc). Especially in the deep fryer (it should be beef fat! Or coconut oil). Gross. I do find myself eating (and enjoying…) this stuff when there isn’t a better choice though. The world ain’t perfect, but we can try our damndest to support the good guys more. There are ways to responsibly eat animals.
Most of the big grocery stores will have “natural”, “hormone and antibiotic free”, and for the big-spenders “organic”. These are all a step-up from factory farms, but do cost more to produce since it has to be done (currently) on a smaller scale. For beef specifically, the best for us, for the cattle, and for the environment is fully grass-fed and grass-finished. Produces the best product: a healthy, natural cow/steer. It can be tough to find, and you’ll pay big if you buy it one steak at a time. For this reason, my number one tip for eating all animals is to BUY A FREEZER and ORDER DIRECTLY FROM NATURAL FARMERS. You get the best products (in taste AND nutrition) at the cheapest prices (down below $5 a pound depending on the animal and provider). You can find these people at farmer’s markets, or on the internet. Just google your city and whatever animal you’re looking for. You can usually get ~20 pound sampler packs, or you can go big and get a quarter/half/whole animal. You get to learn how to cook all sorts of great animal parts!!! You usually get an organ or two with your order, and I must say, these are actually the most nutritious parts of the animal! Look for a good recipe and try them out. Heart is the easiest to start with as it tastes like meat (wait…it IS meat!). Liver tastes like…liver. Liver goes great chopped up real small with ground meat though. You can make bone broth out of the bones too, which is CRAZY nutritious, and hella good in all sorts of recipes. Get creative, and don’t be a wuss.
If you don’t want to take that plunge, then find a good grocery store, or my favourite: a great butcher shop! They might have bulk order packs to save even more money. The cheapest bet for “normal” meat (aka muscle meat), and what I use a lot of, is ground meats. You can put this stuff in anything. I’ll show a couple options below. Then there’s the tougher whole cuts. These usually have to be marinated before being good, or slow cooked. Always Google it to know how to cook it! The pricey stuff rules, but is pricey. Save it for special occasions, or just be baller. It’s up to you. For chicken, which is pretty cheap, the best thing to do is buy WHOLE CHICKENS. That’s usually $2-$4 a pound as opposed to up to $12 a pound for boneless/skinless/worthless. I eat LOTS of ground meats, sausages, and whole chickens due to cheapness. I have tricks for making it great. See my meal ideas if you’re interested.
Fats and Oils:
This stuff is fun. Since really starting to understand nutrition, I’ve put a lot of time into learning the biochemistry of all the different macronutrients, and most notably that of fat. I’m planning a more in depth post I’m currently calling “The layman’s guide to fatty-acid chemistry” (I swear this will be interesting…to me), but for now I’ll just briefly discuss the different types of edible fats that are good for human consumption and basically how to use them and where to get them. All fats contain a mix of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The relative amounts of each type determine a fat’s fatty acid profile. The fatty acid profiles determine which situation the fats should be used in.
For cooking (heat!):
You want fats that contain mostly saturated fatty acids for situations where you’ll be applying a lot of heat. These are typically solid at room temperature. Now, there are “artificially” saturated fats that are usually labeled “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or, at least SOMETHING hydrogenated. This is the process of taking liquid (at room temperature) fats, and through the chemical process of hydrogenation (yes, hydrogen is involved) turning them solid. The result is mutant gunk that we should not consume, but most of us unknowingly do. I hate to shock you bakers out there (actually, I truly enjoy it), but Crisco is exactly that: hydrogenated vegetable oil. Avoid it. Use lard like the old days!!! Or screw baking in general (I’m cool with that, but most people are not…).
So, good cooking oils:
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil (sort of like coconut oil, but slightly less saturated)
- Animal fats (lard, bacon fat, beef tallow, duck fat etc.)
Butter can easily be purchased at any grocery store. The best of the best comes from a grass-fed cow, but that can be tricky to find. Any good quality butter will do for cooking though. Coconut oil can now be found at most grocery stores, and certainly at any decent health food store, but it’s expensive (and awesome). The best bet if you like coconut oil is to buy a gallon off of a distributor like Tropical Traditions. A gallon lasts me six months, and doesn’t go bad since it’s so stable. Chemistry! Same goes for palm oil. Animal fats can be purchased from butchers, or can be collected yourself! Leftover bacon fat? Now it’s cooking fat. Same goes for fats from all meats (FROM HEALTHY ANIMALS!!!). Stop trimming it off! It’s great!
And, for very light sautéing, there is the ever-popular and easy-to-find olive oil. This stuff contains mostly monounsaturated fatty acids (read: only one unsaturation, so it’s a liquid, but just barely). Don’t get this stuff super hot for a long time, but use for light sautés, as the flavour rules. More unsaturated fatty acids below.
Here’s where we step into liquid. Fats that contain mostly mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids aren’t as resistant to heat (wussies!), but are nutritious nonetheless. By “less resistant” I mean they "oxidize" and produce a bunch of toxic and inflammatory free-radicals when exposed to lots of heat and/or light. These include olive oil, avocado oil, all nut/seed oils, fish oils, and the industrial seed oils. Eliminate the industrial seed oils completely (or as much as possible – no soy, canola, or corn oil), but you can use the others somewhat liberally as they are less processed, and as a result there is WAY less oxidative damage in the form of free-radicals. Mono-unsaturated fatty acids are fantastic for energy, but too much poly-unsaturated can lead to problems. This is why nuts shouldn’t be a HUGE part of your diet, but are good and nutritious in moderation (think a few handfuls a week, and occasionally more of a splurge).
Olive oil is really easy to find (make sure it’s not mixed with canola) almost anywhere, and the others are generally at higher-end grocery stores and good health food stores. They’re not hugely necessary, but are good enough, and add variety and delicious flavour to foods.
An aside on fish oils: these provide certain "omega-3" poly-unsaturated fatty acids that provide tons of health benefits. I recommend a good fish oil supplement if you don't eat fatty fish on a regular basis. Nuts provide "omega-6", which is also essential, but we tend to get waaaay too much of it.
As always, Mark Sisson does a better job of talking about fats than I do:
Okay, enough about food! Next post will be about another huge part (and often sub-prioritized) part of your health: SLEEEEPPPPP!!!!!!!!