Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Principals of the Paleo Lifestyle

I'm guiding a friend on a one month trial of the Paleo way of living, and thought I'd share this email I sent her, explaining to her what I feel she should know about the Paleo lifestyle before she jumps in. What do you think? Do you have anything else you want to add the the principals of Paleo?

Paleo Principals

  1. The food selection is based on fossil evidence from the Paleolithic era showing healthy hunter gatherers, as well as studies on modern hunter gatherers. A food that we ate for millions of years is probably one that is healthful for us since we have had time to adapt to it. It doesn’t mean that modern foods are bad for us (take dairy for instance) but it gives us a good place to start looking for clues as to what is good for us
  2. The big three things avoided by Paleo dieters are grains, sugar and industrial seed oils (canola, soy bean, sunflower, safflower, rice bran, corn).
  3. Two big reason why the Paleo diet works is because it promotes healing due to the consumption of
    1. Nutritionally dense foods (a lot of nutrition compared to the amount of calories contained within the food)
    2. Food that is low in toxins
  4. There is more to Paleo than just eating. You also have to
    1. Sleep better, trying to avoid artificial light after sunset (install f.lux on your laptop) and get 8 hours of sleep in as dark a room as you can
    2. Get exposed to sunlight so you can manufacture vitamin D
    3. Exercise
      1. Move often at a moderate pace (1 hour a day of moderate walking in total, including walking to work and back)
      2. lift heavy things (20 minutes twice a week is enough)
      3. Sprint (or high intensity interval cycling) 5 to 8 bursts of all out energy sustained for 10 to 15 seconds each (once a week is enough)
  5. Not over exercise and get adequate rest between exercise sessions
  6. Eating a Paleo diet does not mean eating less carbs. It is, however, generally accepted that limiting carbs is a good idea for weight loss due to insulin control. The type of carbs you end up eating on a Paleo diet will mostly be berries and roots, and have minimal effect on blood sugar than other sources of carbs
  7. Bones broths and offal are central to a Paleo diet – you can’t claim that you eat a Paleo diet without consuming liver once a week and making your own bone broth. (this has the added benefit of promoting the consumption of whole animals, eating skin, bone, organ and all, not only scotch fillet)
  8. It’s a diet that encourages a locavore mindset. People are always looking for grass-fed and pastured meats and eggs as well as vegetables from local sources.
  9. It’s not a fad diet because we have eaten some form of the Paleo diet for most of our history as humans.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Calories are Out

A calorie is a calorie, so the sound bite goes. Calories in/calories out proponents make the claim that weight gain is simply a matter of storing more energy than you burn.

Well. In a way, that's true. But the statement is overly simplistic, and as it turns out, irrelevant.

The formula that calories in/calories out proposes appears, at face value, to look something like this:

          Change in Calories (in a body) = Calories eaten - Calories burnt

So, if a person, say, who burns 3000 calories a day eats the equivalent of 2500 calories a day will end up in a deficit of -500 calories (which should make that person lose weight).

But as a matter of fact, the story is more complicated. Here are two things to consider.

1- The human body does not burns all the calories it takes in. Have a look at this article here about a study that showed that we do not use all the calories from higher fat and higher fiber foods. Almonds, the article describes, have 20% of their calories showing up in poop. That's a lot of unused calories, giving high fat and high fibre foods a metabolic advantage. Let's revise the formula:

Change in Calories = Calories eaten - Calories burnt - (x% of high fat and high fibre calories)

2 - Let's look at the idea of calories burnt. We burn calories when we exercise, and we also burn calories when we are at rest. The human body has what is known as a basal metabolic rate, which is a specific amount of calories it would burn when completely at rest. 

The Calories in/Calories out formula then can be expanded to look like this:

Change in Calories = Calories eaten - Calories burnt during activity - Calories burnt at rest (BMR) - (x% of total high fat and high fibre calories)

Looking good. But does it say it all?

Here's a link to an article about another study that showed that people on low carb diets burned more calories than people on low fat diets. This is just amazing. Low carb diets INCREASE the basal metabolic rate. By 350 calories a day! That's around half a meal's worth of calories a day, burnt, simply by eating more fat and protein instead of carbohydrates. 

So, put simply: a calorie provided by carbohydrates would result in a lower BMR than a calorie provided by fat or protein. 

So let's look at our formula below, one more time, with the above statement in mind:

Change in Calories = Calories eaten - Calories burnt during activity - Calories burnt at rest (BMR) - (x% of total high fat and high fibre calories) - 350 Calories (if on a low carb diet)

Let's take 2 people with identical body composition and activity levels and give them a controlled diet. Let's assume the BMR for both people is 1500 calories a day and they are totally at rest

Person 1: Eats 2000 calories a day from almonds (high fat)
Person 2: Eats 2000 calories a day from sugar/starch (high carb)

Applying the formulas:
Person 1: Change in Calories = 2000 (calories from food) - 0 (activity calories) - 1500 (calories burnt at rest) - 400 calories (20% of almond calories excreted) - 350 (calories burnt/BMR increase due to high fat diet) 
Person 1 calorie deficit: 250 calories (lost)

Person 2: Change in Calories = 2000 (calories from food) - 0 (activity calories) - 1500 (calories burnt at rest) 
Person 2: calorie surplus = 500 calories (stored)

Person 1 loses weight. Person 2 puts on weight.

So there you have it. A calorie is a calorie, but the source of the calorie is what can make a food fattening or not. A low carb/high fat diet gives you a metabolic advantage over the traditionally touted low fat diet. You can eat the same amount of calories, but loose more weight.

There are more pieces to the puzzle, of course. We haven't even discussed the role of insulin in fat regulation here, but the point I'm trying to make is that there is a real danger when we go around equating all the sources of our energy. When it comes to the the human body, a calorie from carbohydrates is not the same as one from protein or fat. Not all food is the same when considered from the hormonal and metabolic perspective, even if their calories appear to be identical on paper.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Yacon-Sweetened Macadamia & Hazelnut Chocolate Recipe

This post was originally posted on my other blog, The Food Blog

With The Food Blog nearing its seventh year, it's almost impossible to believe that I have never written a post about chocolate. Having deprived you guys from chocolate recipes, I'm amazed I have a readership at all. I hope this might make up for it, but excuse the health-oriented take on chocolate. Most of you know that I have been off sugar for well over a year now, in an attempt to regain my health. With abstinence from sugar, chocolate consumption declines drastically. I've looked for sugar-free/insulin-friendly chocolates, but most of them are made with aspartame (or some other artificial sweetener) or maltitol and emulsified with soy lecithin, and I try to stay away from these things. Of course, there are agave-sweetened chocolates, but health-wise, that stuff is the worst sweetener ever. Agave is higher in fructose than high-fructose corn syrup, and if you want to see why too much fructose is bad, do yourself a favour and listen to this.

 My sweetener of choice is xylitol, but when it comes to home-made chocolate, xylitol doesn't do the trick since it is not fat-soluble (does not dissolve in fat). I've found that the best sweetener to use is yacon. Yacon is a sweetener derived from a south-American tuber. The syrup is a sweet-tasting fructooligosaccharide, which is a prebiotic fermentable fiber and seems to have little/no effect on blood sugar (my blood sugars went from 4.3 to 4.8 on one of the tests I did to see if yacon affects me, which is pretty okay). It has a rich, caramel flavour and a buttery mouthfeel, and it also works wonders in chocolate. Now, yacon isn't cheap (340ml for $22.40AUD from, but for special occasions, it's worth it. I'm a huge fan of hazelnuts and chocolate, and macadamia is by far my favourite nut, so to make my home-made chocolate a bit more of a treat, a few handfuls of roasted hazelnuts and Australian macadamias are perfect. One last thing. I recently bought a Thermomix and have used it to make the chocolate at home.

The recipe below is a Thermomix recipe based on Quirky Cooking's recipe (thanks Jo) but can easily be adapted if you don't have a Thermomix. My guess is that you can melt the cacoa butter in a bain-marie, making sure the temperature doesn't go over 50degrees C.

Yacon-Sweetened Macadamia & Hazelnut Chocolate Recipe


  •  100 grams cacoa butter, chopped in small pieces (I bought mine here)
  • 35 grams cocoa powder (I bought mine here)
  • 70 grams yacon (or 40 grams yacon and 30 grams xylitol. The yacon will allow the xylitol to melt through)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla syrup (the real stuff)
  • 1/3 cup roasted hazelnuts
  • 1/3 cup roasted macadamia (or raw, if you prefer)


  1. Line a banana bread tin with baking paper
  2. Evenly distribute the macadamias and hazelnuts inside
  3. Melt cocoa butter in Thermomix on speed 1 at 50c for 6 minutes. Make sure it's all melted.
  4. Add cocoa powder and mix on speed 5 at 50c for 3 minutes
  5. Add yacon (and xylitol if using), salt and vanilla syrup and mix on speed 5 at 50c for 3 minutes
  6. Pour over the nuts
  7. Refrigerate overnight. You can eat it as soon as it sets, but it will have a lower melting point and will feel as though it is melting instantly on your fingers.
Makes 1 large chocolate bar

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Chocolate Cows

Here's one gem of a news story. With corn prices increasing due to drought, one rancher has taken to feeding his cattle - you will never guess - CANDY! Yes, cheap, second-hand candy, the evolutionary appropriate feed that cows all over the world are designed to metabolise for a healthful life. It's a win/win. The rancher gets to affordably and swiftly fatten his cattle, and candy manufacturers now have a market where they can offload product that is unfit for selling to humans. Indeed, chocolate CAN fix anything.

If you're worried that candy is too unnatural a food for cattle, don't be: the rancher mixes the sweet stuff with good-old ethanol by-product to ensure a balanced diet. These animals will be fit for slaughter in record time. In my opinion, the rancher is missing out on capitalising on a unique selling point. If I were him, I would bottle and market any milk they produce as single-origin chocolate malt. That'd make a killing.


Hallux Limitus - Going Barefoot to Fix a Stiff, Painful Big Toe

As my weight peaked at 122kg, my big toes stopped working. The joint was painful and stiff and walking became difficult. For a 30 year old, that wasn't a great place to be. But it's not as if it happened all of a sudden. For years, the signs of what was to come were there but I wasn't listening. The biggest giveaway was a clicking noise coming from my big toes. Simply moving my toes up after a short walk, and there it was, CLICK! I visited a pediatrist who told me that my walk and posture were the cause. I paid close to $500 for a set of paediatric inners-soles to support my feet and correct my posture. It helped, but only a little bit. Hallux limitus (a big toe with limited movement) is hard to fix. My bones were deforming and actually enlarging, making the toe joint incapable of flexing. Surgery, it seemed, was only a few years away. The bones of the big toe (both feet, but the right foot was more painful) would need to be shaved to create space for the joint to move freely. Shaving bones wasn't an exciting prospect for a 30 year old, I can tell you.

After losing 25 kilos on a low-carb Paleo diet, things began to look up a bit. Toe pain became slightly less pronounced and even mobility improved a little. However, while I started integrating exercise into the Paleo lifestyle, I found my toe issue too problematic. Sprinting was particularly painful. Soccer would cause bouts of sharp pain to go on for days on end. I also returned to a corporate job where I wore restrictive business shoes that further limited the movement of my toes and exacerbated the problem. What seemed to be progress quickly reversed to the same old pain and rigidity.

The thing that happens when you get into the Paleo mindset is that your brain kind of sets itself free. You find yourself questioning norms and conventional wisdom; and, to an extent, you get pretty suspicious of the modern world. The seed of doubt is planted when you end up, for the first time in your life, healthy and skinny after eating large quantities of saturated animal fats. Then, things like artificial light, medication and heart-healthy margarine start making you angry. It becomes apparent that almost every time we humans try to outsmart nature by drastically changing our environment to suit us, things go bad. The skepticism in the case of my foot trouble was carried on to a logical conclusion, and all signs pointed to shoes. Were they necessary? Were they even helpful? And how about $500 inner-soles? Would a hunter-gatherer on a low income of berries and bison have considered such creations?

Hunter-gatherer footwear, if used, is made from animal skins. Skins provide protection, but no structural support. At some point, modern society looked at the impeccable design and evolutionary wonder that is the human foot and decided to surround it with a shoe that completely restricts it from performing its job as it had evolved to do. For 30 years, I wore shoes that were supposed to provide "support" for my foot, but were perhaps slowly disabling it.

I decided, it was time to go barefoot. I read about barefoot running, how it strengthened the foot, and how, in fact, the foot would not misbehave if it were allowed contact with its environment. Days before going "barefoot", I found out about the Cluffy Wedge, a brilliantly simple wedge that nudges the toe up slightly and allows the joint to be more flexible while walking. Not being able to find it in Australia (and not wanting to wait weeks before it got posted), I sticky-taped tissue paper to the bottom of my big toes. Within a week, the swelling on the top of my toes disappeared, and I gained a huge improvement in mobility. After that week, I bought a pair of barefoot shoes (Merrell) and another for exercise (Vibram Five Fingers) and found that with the heal dropping because of barefoot shoes (they have no heal or arch support), I no longer needed the makeshift Cluffy. My feet were going to be okay. Yesterday, I bought a pair of Vivo Barefoot Ra (from Athlete's Foot at Westfields Burwood for $189) which are minimalist/barefoot shoes that work well for the office. Now that I no longer look like an idiot in the office with both a suit and sneakers on, I feel my career is going to be okay too.