Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Is It Nuts To Eat Beans and Grains?

In recent years, I've heard more and more admonitions about beans, grains, and nuts, saying that they'll pretty much turn your gut into a Toxic Wasteland of Horribleness.  Some pick and choose some as being more lethal than others:  "NEVER eat lentils!"  or "only black beans are OK to eat" or "Macadamias are OK, but no other nuts!!" or "SOY???  SOY WILL KILL YOU!!!"  or "Consumption of grains will bring about the zombie apocalypse!!"  OK, maybe I'm paraphrasing a bit.  But that's the general gist of what I've been reading and hearing.

One of my dinners:  Buckwheat, quinoa, barley, chia seeds, split peas, lentils, kale, purple cabbage, carrots, lemon juice, EVOO, cayenne.  Because I'm a risk-taker.

And, in a way, they're right.  Beans, nuts, and wheat have various biologically active compounds in them that can be toxic to the human system.

Now, let me start by saying this:  if we try to avoid every toxin that exists in our food, chances are, we're going to starve.  Just about everything on your plate has toxins or antinutrients of some sort in it.  From spinach (oxalic acid) to grains (phytates) to eggs (conalbumin, avidin) to parsnips (psoralins), and many more, toxins are everywhere in lots of the things we eat.  Avoiding the toxins does not necessarily outweigh the benefits of eating these foods.

There are a whole ton of anti-nutrients and toxins in beans, grains, and seeds we could discuss, but it would take me all year to write that blog, so we'll narrow it down.  One issue in particular that people get very concerned about is something called lectin.  Lectin is scary stuff. When the offending plant parts are raw, they protect themselves from being eaten by creating antinutrients such as lectin.  Consumption can cause all kinds of gastrointestinal yuckiness and possibly death, which, as we know, is tough to recover from.  There were even some incidents of kidney bean poisoning due to consumption of incorrectly prepared kidney beans. 

Ah, but there's the thing:  the key part of that sentence would be "incorrectly prepared."  The antinutrients and toxins in these beans are present in undercooked and dry beans.  Beans have to be prepared correctly.  Pressure cooking and boiling seem to denature lectin and other antinutrients, and canned beans are also considered perfectly safe. (1) (2) (3

Sprouting/soaking many types beans, grains, and nuts also lowers (but does not remove entirely) lectin content; the longer they sprout, the more the lectin denatures. This doesn't work for every kind of bean and grain, but as a general rule, it's a good prep method.  The reason you soak beans and grains before cooking them is for the purpose of lectin reduction/easier digestion.  You can even add some baking soda to the soaking water or try autoclaving to help reduce lectin even more.

 Fermentation also seems to significantly reduce or eliminate lectin in many cases. (1) (2)

And remember-- lectins aren't all bad.  As a matter of fact, lectins have been found to be useful for cancer treatment, fungi, and even HIV and retroviruses.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)  So, while too much of a good thing is not so good, the right amount of a good thing can be... good.

 But what about gluten, you ask?  Isn't that some sort of inflammation-causing beast of the devil? 

Well, yes.  Gluten is really, really bad for you...

If you have celiac disease.  Or are gluten-intolerant.  But in a healthy digestive system, gluten is broken down just fine.  If you don't feel good when you eat gluten, by all means, get rid of it.  But if you're fine with gluten, chances are, gluten is fine with you, too.  If in doubt, go without for 30 days and then slowly re-introduce it and see how you feel.

Here are my takeaway notes:

-ALWAYS prepare your beans and grains properly-- soak them first, and cook them fully under high heat (pressure cooker is my favorite method).  If in doubt, buy canned beans (look for those without any added sugars, meats, or other unnecessary ingredients-- you really just need to see beans and water there).  Don't forget to use the bean cooking liquid-- a lot of the nutrients end up there!

-I prefer einkorn, sourdough, and sprouted grains to regular wheat, personally.  They are more nutritious and digest better.  Modern wheat has been bastardized to create a higher-yield product, which, unfortunately, also created a not-as-easily-digestible product.  Einkorn wheat is what wheat was before money got in the way.  It's easier to digest and has a lot of beta-carotene and other nutrients in it (and I dig the way it tastes, too).

-Don't ditch healthy foods (beans, spinach, whole grains, fruit, etc) just because you read somewhere on the internet that they're the ONE WORST FOOD you can eat.  Do your research and see if the alarm is justified.

-Always do what works best for you.

-And remember:  many cultures have survived and thrived on diets full of beans, nuts, seeds, and grains.  Diets containing beans, whole grains, and nuts/seeds have been found to have many excellent health benefits, too. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) Chances are, you'll be just fine.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Being Your Own Valentine

I was inspired to write this blog post by this and by this.  

What those wonderful posts made me realize was something I had only a hazy awareness of until now:

I rarely get photos taken with my belly showing.  I don't wear midriff-flaunting shirts, I don't wear a sports bra in the gym.  I just about always keep it all under wraps. 

I am lucky enough to have as friends some of the greatest people in the fitness industry.  And many of them have phenomenal, flawless, lean and tight six-pack abdominals.  I've seen them, I've admired them, I've envied them.  No matter how low my body fat gets, how straight I stand, or how much I suck it in-- this is simply not a state of physicality I am able to achieve.  I think I might have had a two-pack once, but I looked emaciated, and I did not like being that thin. 

But here's the thing:  I'm strong (not as strong as I'd like to be, but certainly stronger than the average bear).  I'm flexible.  I'm extremely healthy and vibrant.  My body fat hovers between 14% and 16%, and I feel great.  I have very few hangups about my appearance...

Except for that belly.

I catch myself analyzing it in the mirror sometimes.  In someone as small as I am, even a little bit of bloat looks huge, and in the eyes of my worst critic (me), that hugeness doubles.  I cast a critical eye and announce, "I've gained weight."  And then I get annoyed with myself, because I'm doing exactly what I tell people not to do.  If I mention this insecurity of mine to anyone, they look at me like I'm nuts, and they retort, "Are you kidding me?  Have you seen MY belly?"  And we have a ridiculous insecurity swordfight, followed by a "WHAT??  You look fine!!  Look at how bloated I am!!" And so the cycle progresses.

But I get it.  We're surrounded by images of flat bellies in magazines and on television.  It's hard to be imperfect in this world, even though all of us are.  And all I really have to do is go visit one of my abdominally blessed friends to feel juuuust a little physically inferior. 

One time, I was at a hotel for a conference with one such friend.  And I noticed her walk up to the mirror and check out her own abs.  But not with a proud eye-- with a critical one.  And she said to me, "They don't look like this all the time.  It depends what I eat, or how I slept, or what I drank."  And then she went back to glaring at her reflection, analyzing her perfect (to me) 6 pack abs.

When I opened my studio in September, I bought some acrylic mirrors online.  When they showed up, they were much thinner than I'd realized, and they warped when I put them up.  People complained about them.  But I decided to keep them, because what they do is make people aware of their form in their lifts without focusing on their insecurities about their bodies.  And now my clients seem to like my funhouse mirrors.  "If I stand over here, my right leg looks huge!  *giggle*" 

I guess we've all got it in us, to take our beautiful, healthy bodies, however they may present themselves, and nitpick about them until we're convinced we're just a hair away from being Jabba the Hut doubles.  We compare ourselves to others, no matter how unrealistic that is, and we judge ourselves by media and our peers.  It's sad, and it's unfortunate.  And I'm just as guilty as the rest.  

So how about this Valentine's Day, we all learn to love our bodies just as they are, without comparing them to anyone else's?  That's not to say don't strive to improve on your health, strength, or anything else.  Just love who you are at this very minute, however you look in the mirror.  Don't make perfection your goal, and don't make anyone else's body your goal. Make being the best you you can be your goal.

So I am accepting Lauren Fleshman's challenge, and I'm posting my belly right here on my blog.  I love this challenge, and I think it is extremely important to us as a society to realize that we are beautiful just as we are. 

Happy Valentine's Day to you all. 

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Five Ways You Might Be Messing Up Your Goals (And Five Fixes)

In the over 20 years I've been a trainer, I've seen a lot of mistakes that have prevented people from reaching their health and fitness goals.  Here are some of the more common ones.  Recognize yourself?

"I'm going to stop (insert bad habit here) for one month!"  Awesome.  But what happens after one month?  Here's the problem:  if you set an end date for stopping bad habits (or starting good ones), and then you go back to it after that date, has it really done you all that much good?  I have had several clients through the years who have declared that they are cutting out alcohol, pot, junk food, etc for a set period of time, with no intentions of quitting for good.  And for that period of time, they do great.  Once it's done, they start again.  And then they regain the problems that came along with the bad habit, and it's back to business as usual until they take another break from it.  It's Yo-yo Habiting.

The fix:  If you want to quit a bad habit or start a good one, don't give yourself a time limit for it.  Just do it.  Embrace it.  And don't go back.

Buying junk food "for the kids."  First of all, you know you're going to eat it if it's in the house.  Second of all, why is it not OK for you to eat it, but perfectly OK for your kids to eat it?

The fix:  Stop buying junk.  Adopt a household healthy eating policy, and teach your kids that healthy foods can be awesome.

Not making time to move.  Most of us have, either by necessity or not, adopted an extremely sedentary lifestyle that is also so packed with work/obligations that exercise falls to the wayside.  Unfortunately, the more you sit, the higher your disease and mortality risk appears to be. (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

The fix:  You have five minutes, right?  I don't care how busy you are.  You have five minutes here and there.  Do something physical for five minutes in the morning, five minutes in the afternoon, five minutes in the evening.  There.  That's 15 minutes.  Now, how about you walk up escalators, park a little further away, take stairs whenever the option is there?  How about taking phone calls walking?  Going over to your co-workers' desk instead of calling them?  Having walking meetings?  Maybe getting a standing desk? What if you set an alarm on your computer to go off every half hour or so, got up, and did 10 quick deep knee bends or pushups?  What if you used some of your TV time to take a walk, go biking, swing a kettlebell, dance like no one's watching?  There are a lot of ways to sneak exercise into your life, no matter how busy you may be.  Write it in your schedule if that's the only way you can do it.  But do it.

Forgetting the veggies. If I've told you once, I've told you a million times-- eat your veggies!!!  They provide a myriad of incredibly healthy benefits for a very low caloric load, and they are filling and delicious.

The fix: If you're not eating veggies because you're just not in the habit, make it a point to include them with every meal.  If your problem is that you don't like vegetables, it's time to get over it.  Put spinach and sprouted broccoli in your sandwiches.  Make soup.  Blend them up into shakes.  Make green lemonade.  Grind lots of leafies into pesto.  There has to be at least one way you'll eat them.  Find it.  It's worth it.

"I don't cook."  I meet a lot of people who say their diet suffers because they don't cook.

The fix:  There are basically three ways you can fix this.  1) learn to cook.  2) hang out with someone who cooks, and get them to cook you lots of healthy things.  3) order healthier.  Skip the white breads, the pasta dishes, the white rice, the fried foods, the fast foods.  Ask for extra vegetables, and that they not be fried or covered in butter or other weird sauces.  Remember that just because it says "salad" does not mean it's healthy.  If you're getting a salad, make sure it has a lot of different kinds of vegetables in it (iceberg lettuce is barely a vegetable, IMHO), and skip the croutons/won ton strips/taco shells/tortilla strips and the creamy dressings (stick with extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar whenever possible).  Make sure the majority of your plate is vegetables, whatever you order.  If you do meat, stick with grass-fed meats and wild-caught fish.  If it says "crispy" or "creamy" (or Krispy Kreme), stay away.  And remember just because you're out doesn't mean you have to order the dessert or overindulge on the alcohol.

Hope you found this to be helpful.  How do you get in your own way, and how do you think you can fix it?  Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!