If you have less than 100 mg of caffeine in your system while you're reading this, then you are in the minority. Caffeine is undoubtedly the world's (yes, world) most popular drug, with over 450,000,000 cups of coffee consumed in the United States alone every day. I'm sure many of you are like me, and simply have trouble believing that something with such noticeable energy/mood/focus/endurance enhancing effects could possibly be as perfectly healthy as it seems to be. I decided that I was going to get to the bottom of this, so I emailed my Indian virtual assistant from ihabilis.com and asked him to research the in depth effects of caffeine in the body. Specifically, I wanted to know what happens in your body when you drink caffeine, what the studies say it is good for, and what the studies say it is bad for. He came back to me in 5 hours with a 26 page word document containing what appeared to be 5 to 7 different websites' information pasted into a word document with no indication of which site was which. Over the next 3 days I read the whole thing, and started thinking to myself, "Oh man, this blog is going to be fun." So here we go.

Before we get into the details, I would like to point out that the internet is full of folks who insist on having empirical evidence for everything before they will give it any credibility. While I can't blame them for wanting information to be correct, this generally means a study where scientists were able to isolate caffeine and test whether or not it was the single determining factor in whether or not someone experienced a reported symptom. If isolated caffeine does not cause the symptom directly, caffeine is deemed to have little to no effect on that symptom. Unfortunately, this is somewhat unrealistic in my opinion. As you will soon find out, 50% of the human population would die if we all ingested 10,000 mg of caffeine at once (50 strong cups of coffee). This is called the LD-50 for those who like scientific terms, which stands for Lethal Dose - 50% and is determined using rats. But who is to say that a liter of alcohol, 3 super sized french fries, 1000 mg of caffeine and 4 cigars wouldn't kill 50% of people as well? My guess is that study has yet to be done (at least in a lab). So just keep this in mind when it appears that we've come to the conclusion that caffeine is been deemed as "healthy in moderate doses."

Now that the disclaimer is over with, it's time to hear the fun stuff!  

The Basics

While coffee is clearly the most common source of caffeine in the world, there are over 60 plants that naturally contain caffeine. It turns out plants developed caffeine for their own personal reasons and not to help us pass our final exams. Caffeine is a natural pesticide because it has a very bitter taste and is toxic to the system of an insect given the volume to weight ratio (it literally paralyzes and kills them). It can be equally toxic to humans when consumed in large quantities as you read above. Ordinary human consumption of 500 mg per day is generally accepted to have low health risks, and even has a protective effect against some diseases. 

What Does Caffeine Do to Me?

I'm sure you all know the basic effects of caffeine: energy, clear thinking, jitters, increased heart rate, etc. and it may even be relatively clear to you that these types of effects can be very harmful when doses are taken to the extremes, but what is really going on inside your body? 

Caffeine literally tricks your brain and blocks it from telling you that you are drowsy. Here's how it works. When you have a thought, your brain uses energy. Just like when an alkaline battery produces battery acid, any energy producing process will have an acid byproduct. In this case, neurons firing in your brain produce adenosine as a byproduct. Your nervous system constantly monitors your adenosine levels through receptors in your brain and spinal chord to determine when you have used too much energy and it needs to release a number of drowsiness chemicals to nudge you toward sleep. 

Caffeine is a chemical relative of adenosine and the receptors in your nervous system can't tell the difference between the two. So when you ingest caffeine, it is accepted by the adenosine receptors as a kind of "placeholder" and serves to block the real adenosine from getting in. Not only does your nervous system not get the depressant effect of adenosine, the caffeine actually stimulates the nerves and puts the body into a state of emergency (hence, stimulant). This causes the pituitary gland to release hormones telling your adrenal glands to fire up your "fight or flight" response. 

This master of disguise can also mimic epinephrine within your heart. The effects of this on the heart are very similar to those on the nervous system, but it is more of a complicated multi-step process. Basically, epinephrine normally binds with receptors in your heart to tell them to release enzymes that block cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate) which would in-turn activate a protein kinase which produces the adenosine triphosphate (ATP) needed for muscle contractions and relaxation of the heart. To make a very long story short, your heart rate increases because caffeine has tricked your nervous system again. 

Read more: Why Does Caffeine Raise the Heart Rate? | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5185453_caffeine-raise-heart-rate_.html#ixzz2FjUlKqlI

Is Caffeine Addictive?

In the United States the average daily intake among adult caffeine drinkers is 280 mg, which is the equivalent of 17 ounces of brewed coffee (Folgers not Starbucks, Starbucks has more) or 84 ounces of coca-cola. Anyone that goes through life with their eyes open, even if their squinting a lot, can tell that caffeine is addictive. The question then becomes what is really going on inside your brain that causes this? 

I won't get too in-depth on the subject of brain plasticity, but if you like the stuff you're reading, I recommend The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge. Basically, it was long believed that the brain is a static machine that cannot be changed, and after years of controversy, neuroscientists finally agree that the brain does in fact change itself to adapt to it's environment. As it turns out this happens extremely fast too, like in a few training sessions on Sudoku or a week of consuming caffeine. 

This process is extremely applicable to caffeine consumption in the body and is entirely responsible for both tolerance building and withdrawal symptoms. Our brains are a bit smarter than we gave them credit for when they got tricked by the caffeine molecules. After a few days of drinking coffee, your brain literally restructures itself to better exist in the environment that you have built for it. It increases the amount of receptor cells so that it can handle the load of the caffeine and still have room for the adenosine. This works out okay if you have a way to keep your caffeine levels consistent, but caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours and it's pretty difficult to keep the levels the same all the time. This means that if you have 100 mg of caffeine in the morning, there will be 50 mg in your system 6 hours later, and 25 mg in your system 6 hours after that. Unfortunately, when your caffeine levels get low, those extra receptors detect too much adenosine and make you drowsy. The good news is that the brain will also remove the extra receptors after about 2 weeks with no caffeine, but they will be busy messing with your nervous system in the meantime causing headaches, nausea, drowsiness and more of the familiar side-effects of caffeine withdrawal. It is recommended not to go cold turkey when you decide to cut back, and just reduce by about 50 mg per day.  

Caffeine in Sports:

I don't want this blog post to get too long for fear of people not reading it all, but I just had to include this part. 

Anyone who plays sports and drinks caffeine has without a doubt noticed that it has some effects on your ability to do things, and in most cases enhances it, but I stumbled across this study that was extremely interesting to me. It was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology and compared the effect of coffee and caffeine on run time to exhaustion. A group of nine men took part in five trials. The following is taken directly from the article summary:

Sixty minutes before each run, the men took one of the following:

  • A placebo
  • Caffeine capsules
  • De-caffeinated coffee with caffeine added
  • Regular coffee
Performance times were up to 10 times longer in subjects using the caffeine capsules, with no differences in times among the other trials. Since the level of caffeine absorption was similar during the caffeine trials, researchers concluded something in the coffee itself that interferes with caffeine's performance-enhancing effects. This makes sense considering that there are literally hundreds of compounds dissolved when coffee beans are roasted, ground and extracted.

Results of this research suggest that if benefits of caffeine on endurance times are desired, caffeine capsules work better than coffee.

Interesting huh? Recognizing that this was a pretty small number of test subjects, it still seems to have pretty overwhelming result. Personal experience with coffee before work outs compared to energy drinks (the healthy-ish kind like Hi-Ball Energy which is carbonated water and caffeine only) has shown me the same type of results but to a lesser extent than the ridiculous factor of 10 mentioned above.

Is Caffeine Healthy?

If you read my disclaimer, you are probably already aware that most of the research I came across does say that caffeine is perfectly safe for long term use in moderation, and it generally is. You will have to deal with the roller coaster of drowsiness that we have generally become accustomed to, but it is "safe." I'll go through a few quick specifics without too much detail.

There are claims that caffeine leads to osteoperosis because it increases the amount of calcium in urine. While these have been debunked by the Mayo Clinic, it was on the basis that this is not "enough" calcium to cause osteoperosis. As I said before though, it is contributing to the overall cumulative effect of calcium depletion, and could contribute if combined with other things. 

There are also promising claims that caffeine has an moderate protective effect on Alzheimer Disease, but the evidence is generally deemed inconclusive on the basis that there are a large number of factors thought to cause the disease. This might be another example of the cumulative effects mentioned above. 

A study recently showed that coffee drinkers have an average of 20% less cases of Cirrhosis in the liver among heavy long term alcoholics. This was actually a large sample size with conclusive results, but they could not determine whether the results were due to caffeine itself, or the other compounds in coffee. Either way, this is somewhat encouraging for coffee.

A report from the National Research Council on Diet and Health stated, "evidence linking coffee consumption to the risk of coronary heart disease...is weak and inconsistent."

According to a 1989 report from the Framingham Heart Study: "Caffeine does not cause chronic hypertension or any persistent increase in blood pressure. Some individuals sensitive to caffeine may experience a short-lived rise in blood pressure, usually not lasting more than several hours. Studies show any rise in blood pressure is modest and less than that normally experienced when climbing stairs."


It would appear that Michael Pollan's 7 words for eating "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants" pretty much sums this one up again. Caffeine is perfectly acceptable to drink every day in moderation, but much like cacao leaves vs cocaine and so many other refined things in today's society, it's definitely not a good idea to extract active ingredients of food and take a bunch of it all at once. It's hard to drink enough coffee to kill you before you throw up, but you could definitely hurt yourself with a mega shot of caffeine that has been extracted and concentrated. So drink up and have a Merry Christmas!  

If you are a faithful follower of my blog, you may have started to notice my occasional references to eating like a caveman or hunting for your food. Well it turns out someone else shares my sentiment. Enter the Paleo(lithic) Diet.

Now the first part of the diet involves learning to hunt and gather your own food. You can buy an axe here for chopping through big roots and finishing off that deer you accidentally shot in the hind legs, or if you prefer a machete, that is also a great option....ok I'm kidding. You don't have to hunt your food, but you do have to act like you hunted your food (I dare you to tell everyone you did). All jokes aside, the general premise of a Paleo diet is to eat unprocessed, mostly raw (except for meat), organic, grass fed or free range type foods. So what's the difference between this and all the other diets I've discussed? Good question. The answer really is always going to be that it's not that much different, but this one has some special characteristics that make it stand out. 

Grass Fed and Free Range Meat: 
Let's face it, there are a lot of athletes out there that just won't listen to you any more after you suggest a vegetarian diet, no matter how well you can explain that the combination of amino acids from a diverse plant based diet will create plenty of protein to support their muscles and cells. This is why Paleo diets have been so popular among athletes. Paleo suggests meat with pretty much every meal based on research that states that as much as 65% of a hunter-gatherer's diet came from animal products. Granted, early man was not eating corn fed Angus beef from the supermarket, but he was eating the meat, the organs, and the bones of his wild prey. They recommend 4-8 oz of lean protein such as chicken, lean beef, turkey, pork loin, or seafood. But the Paleo guidelines are very specific about where you get your meat.

One of the greatest deviations away from our ancestral diet is the amounts and types of fat found in modern grain fed animals vs. the amounts and types of fats found in grass fed or wild meat, birds, and fish. Studies have observed that wild meat is remarkably lean, and has relatively low amounts of saturated fats (omega -6), while supplying significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The National Institute of Health suggests anywhere from a 4:1 to a 1:1 Omega-6/Omega-3 fatty acid ratio, and says that anything above that begins to cause an increase in coronary artery disease, hypertension, arthritis, cancer, and other inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis and Asthma. A cut of grass fed beef typically has a ratio around 3:1, where a "grain finished" (all cows are fed grass for the first 6 months) cow is typically around 20:1, in addition to the hormones and antibiotics it contains. Free Range Eggs and chicken follow this same pattern due to the high nutritional content of the insects that they typically eat.

On the topic of essential fatty acids, fish typically makes it's way into the discussion due to being marketed heavily for it's good fat content. Unfortunately, due to the fact that over half of the US burns coal to provide electricity, we dump 80,000 lbs of mercury into our oceans each year. All fish contain mercury, and there are unfortunately not many options of getting around it at this point. So it is recommended to avoid fish entirely unless you are certain that it has been laboratory tested. 

Here's another way of thinking about it: we've all heard the "you are what you eat" phrase. Well the same rule applies that "you are what your food ate" and I recommend that you be made of grass and insects as opposed to sugars and starches. 

Organic Everything
As a general rule, any farmer that will take on the extra cost of "raising a cow right" will be practicing mostly organic agriculture. But what about your plants? There has been a lot of debate over whether or not an organic plant is more nutritious than its modern or "conventional" counterpart. It amazes me that this has continued to be a debate at all. In general the argument from the proponents of conventional agriculture has been that studies have shown there is "no difference" in nutritional value. A simple taste test or even looking at a picture of two tomatoes is enough to make anyone wonder. Not to mention the obvious problem of pesticides.

I highly recommend taking a look at this amazing article on soil depletion in the United States, but it is relatively long so I will attempt to summarize some important points. The basic premise is that nutrients in soil do not come from nowhere, and there is not an infinite supply in soil. Plant removal or harvesting can be thought of as the removal of nutrients from the soil. Whatever that plant took with it is gone from that soil unless it is physically added back. Most fertilizers contain N-P-K or (Nitrogen, Phosphate, Potash) which only accounts for the "Macro nutrients" in the soil, giving the plant enough to make itself look like it's reasonably healthy, but starving the plant of "Micro Nutrients" creating something called "hidden hunger." This is similar to feeding a person McDonald's all day and arguing that it is the same as a nutritious diet because they continue to get out of bed every morning. The implications of these deficiencies are enormous. This is fairly complicated example from the article referenced above:

"Iron, Manganese, Zinc and Copper are often called the metal micronutrients. They are responsible for the extraction of energy from high energy biomolecules like sugars and starches (electron transport chain). They are also heavily involved in the regulation of enzymes that mediate cellular biosynthesis and metabolism. Soil minerals include pyrite, limonite and olivine (iron); manganite, pyrolusite and rhodonite (manganese); franklenite, smithsonite and willemite (zinc); Chalcopyrite, chalcocite, and bornite (copper)."

In the case of organic farming, a common fertilizer would be cow manure, which is much more aligned with the natural cycle of mineral replacement in soil. i.e. the cow eats grass, steals what nutrients it needs, and the rest are put back into the soil. This cycle would lead to a deficiency as well if the cows limited to eating grass from the soil that you were attempting to fertilize, but that is not the case in modern organic farming. Even transporting the cow's milk away from the farm will contribute to nutrient depletion in the soil. 

In the end, there are a number of environmental factors that contribute to soil depletion, and overpopulation creates a significant problem as well, but if you're looking to be healthy yourself there are enough sustainable organic products available to you as long as the entire world doesn't go organic overnight.

Ditch the Starches and Sugars
No surprise here. The Paleo diet suggests you cut out all cereal grains and legumes from your diet. This includes, but is not limited to, wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, brown rice, soy, peanuts, kidney beans, pinto beans, navy beans and black eyed peas. As you may have heard, America has a sugar problem. The fact is that paleolithic man just had a hard time gathering much of these things, and cooking them was even more difficult without pots and pans. As a result, we developed physical mechanisms that allow our bodies to require small amounts of sugar to survive, and we simply don't do well when we get too much. As you have read in my previous posts, cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to diseases caused by too much sugar. 

In the spirit of keeping this post within a reasonable length, I suggest you check out this link if you're looking for a simple summary of the rules of the Paleo Diet. But as always, let's put it to my diet criteria test:
  1. The correct ratio of Carbohydrates (40%-50% of Calories), Fats (20%-30% of Calories), and Proteins (25%-35% of Calories): Leans more toward protein and fats, but could make it work.
  2. Very high in all nutrients, and diverse enough to include all essential nutrients: Yes, definitely.
  3. Devoid of foods that can be identified as obviously harmful: Yes, definitely. It is a specific criteria of the diet.
  4. Ideally but not necessarily, tested by centuries of tradition: Yes, definitely. Once again, specific criteria of the diet. 

All in all, you are very likely to find yourself having success if you stick to this diet. The unfortunate part is that this diet will actually have the opposite effect if you aren't getting your food from the prescribed sources. Grain fed meats have in fact been shown to increase risk of cancer and heart disease along with number of other detriments due to the fatty acid ratios. Pesticides on non-organic vegetables are undoubtedly toxic to our bodies, and hormones and antibiotics in non-organic meat are equally harmful. But if you do follow the diet as prescribed, you are successfully seeking out the best nutrition available in today's world and making sure that you get all of it in a balanced and safe manner. Other than the effort, research and cost involved in this diet, I definitely give it my stamp of approval.

I'm back in action in the blogosphere. I apologize for not making any new posts last week, it was partially due to the holiday, but I have also been putting some work into becoming an official resaler for the Greens products that I sell through Amazon on this website. To make a long story short, there aren't exactly a lot of massive (or even minor) profit margins available in the world of retail and shipping is not an easy feat to accomplish at a low cost. As promised though, I will now continue on with my series of diet reviews.

So today has been a particularly "Low Glycemic Index" charged day in my life. On my way to work I had a lengthy phone discussion with my mother who recently got somewhat severely injured and broke a few bones in a battle with a staircase. She has gone three weeks now living on pain medications and doing her best to force solid food down, but hasn't had much success. At the start of this weekend she went cold turkey and ditched the pain medications, and surprisingly pain was the least of the symptoms. She reported hot and cold flashes as well as extreme moodiness and inconsistent energy levels. The average person would probably write this off as a "detox" which it is, but not have a clue how to fix it other than to wait it out. As a general rule, there aren't too many quick fixes to three weeks of anti-pain medications and general starvation, but there are things you can do to speed things up. What has happened here is that she has likely consumed all of her body's Glycogen (sugar) reserves as well as depleted most of her nutritional reserves throughout the last 3 weeks. I recommended she gulp down some Gatorade for a quick spike in energy and to recover some brain power, and then force down some high fiber "Low Glycemic" nutritious foods to help level off her blood sugar levels and avoid a crash. Low blood glucose levels are likely the culprit of the most obvious symptoms of low energy levels and moodiness, but the hot and cold flashes are likely the bodies attempt to "sweat out the bad." We discussed how the hot flashes and sweat typically took place after drinking water, because the body finally had more water to use in its detox. My mother of course knew most of this being a nurse herself, and her husband had already suggested most of these things, given that he is a biology major as well as an all around educated guy, but it makes a nice segue (yes, that's how you spell "segway") into the concept of the "Low Glycemic Index Diet."

What is the Glycemic Index?
The Glycemic Index has gained popularity over recent years due to its inclusion in popular diet plans such as South Beach, Nutrisystem, The Zone, Sugar Busters, Glucose Revolution, and Ending the Food Fight. It was originally developed to help diabetics monitor blood glucose level increases from food. The basic concept is that a glass of orange juice causes a much quicker rise in blood sugar than a bowl of oatmeal, which takes longer because of the type of carbohydrate and amount of fiber. The response is affected by many factors, including the quantity of food, the amount and type of carbohydrate, the cooking method, degree of processing, and more. On the Glycemic Index scale, each food is assigned an index number from 1-100, with 100 as the reference score for pure glucose. Typically, foods are rated high (greater than 70), moderate (56-69), or low (less than 55).

There is no doubt that the Glycemic Index works well for diabetics who simply cannot handle irregularity in their blood sugar levels, but recent diets have made the assumption that monitoring blood sugar levels will help control weight gain as well. Using the Glycemic Index in diet plans is based on the concept that low-index foods are more satisfying, take longer to absorb, make you feel full longer, and therefore make you less likely to overeat. Coincidentally, most low-glycemic foods tend to be healthier, less processed, more nutrient rich, and high in fiber. 

How it Works for Weight Loss:

There is good reason to believe that combining low-glycemic carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fats will naturally crowd out many of the less nutritious high-glycemic foods and you will lose weight as a result. Anyone that has ever had a glazed doughnut knows that it wont satisfy you for very long and that 40 grams of sugar probably could have been better used it if were eaten 1 gram at a time over the course of 2 hours. However, the question is whether or not the Glycemic Index itself accomplishes an effective separation of these foods. 

In 2010, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the Glycemic Index, in combination with higher protein, helped overweight adults in eight European countries maintain their weight.  However, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that "consistent evidence shows that Glycemic Index and/or glycemic load are not associated with body weight and do not lead to greater weight loss or better weight maintenance.

One might conclude from the above that the weight loss was due to an increase in protein intake.

A 2008 report, which analyzed data from 37 studies and was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, linked low-GI diets to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. However, it was noted that they did not prove that the low-GI diets prevented those diseases.

In addition to the above controversy over the topic, there are some intuitively problematic conclusions that the glycemic index seems to draw with regard to weight loss (not diabetes). For example: 

Brown and white rice rank comparably on the index scale as do white and whole wheat bread, yet clearly the whole grain choices are healthier.

Some scores are confusing. For example, carrots are a nutrient-rich, high-fiber vegetable that can range from low to high on the GI scale. Likewise, some candy that includes nuts gets a better GI score than a potato. Ripe bananas have higher GI scores than under-ripe bananas. Cook pasta al dente and it ranks lower than fully cooked pasta.

Not only do the food scores vary within the same type of food, but so does the response from person to person. It can even vary within the same person from day to day.

My Thoughts:
Unfortunately, we haven't found our one size fits all solution to weight loss yet. The Glycemic Index is not by any means a failure though, it just won't let you ignore everything that you already know about nutrition and focus on only one thing. When we take a moment to think about our food, it doesn't require a medical journal to realize that white bread (made from highly refined and often even bleached grain) is going to break down more quickly than that chewy piece of whole grain that still has its skin intact. It should also be fairly easy to recognize that apple juice has much more readily available sugar than an apple which you only manage to chew into 1 cm chunks before it gets to your stomach. In most cases though, if you carry a Glycemic Index chart around with you, you're going to be healthier than the average American (especially if the chart is heavy), but I've seen too many dieters who see one slightly bad item that they like which falls under the diet, and they eat it for every meal causing the whole diet to be a failure.

There are a few other things to consider when adopting a diet like this though. While the foods are generally nutritious, this criteria alone does not direct you to find a balanced diet as far as nutrition goes. Also, while glucose is a major culprit in America's obesity problem, you still need to be wary of what you replace your calories with. 

Let's see if it passes my diet criteria test:
  1. The correct ratio of Carbohydrates (40%-50% of Calories), Fats (20%-30% of Calories), and Proteins (25%-35% of Calories): Possibly, but not prescribed.
  2. Very high in all nutrients, and diverse enough to include all essential nutrients: Possibly, but not prescribed.
  3. Devoid of foods that can be identified as obviously harmful: In general yes, but would still allow for low sugar processed foods like Margarine.
  4. Ideally but not necessarily, tested by centuries of tradition: No.

It is apparent to me that this diet criteria could work wonderfully for some, but unfortunately has the potential to be abused if not used in conjunction with other diet advice. I have, of course simplified the diet to focus on the Glycemic Index itself, where many of the books and diets mentioned at the start only used it to monitor the type of carbohydrates one takes in. They then recommended an overall diet with criteria for fats and protein. After all of that explanation though, it appears we keep ending up right back where we started. Eat your fruits and vegetables, monitor your calorie ratios (Carbs, Fat, Protein), and keep yourself informed enough to know when food is good or bad for you. One positive for the "Meatatarians" out there, is that this type of a diet leaves room for some lean-protein in the form of meat. I will save my comments on types of meat for a future post, but as a preview I highly recommend sticking to the grass fed or free range varieties whenever possible.    

Cancer is scary, sneaky, confusing, overwhelming, and in my opinion starting to get kind of annoying. While annoying is not a word that you usually hear associated with cancer, I really don't think we should have to spend so much time and energy avoiding this "condition" that we have tended to refer to as a disease. There are many different ways to describe cancer such as "a healing reaction that never stops" or "out-of-control cell growth" but what is it really? Well the source of cancer is really cellular DNA damage. 

The following is from cancer.org

"DNA is in every cell and it directs all the cell’s actions. In a normal cell, when DNA gets damaged the cell either repairs the damage or the cell dies. In cancer cells, the damaged DNA is not repaired, and the cell doesn't die like it should. Instead, the cell goes on making new cells that the body doesn't need. These new cells all have the same abnormal DNA as the first cell does.

People can inherit abnormal DNA, but most DNA damage is caused by mistakes that happen while the normal cell is reproducing or by something in the environment. Sometimes the cause of the DNA damage may be something obvious like cigarette smoking or sun exposure. But it’s rare to know exactly what caused any one person’s cancer."

It turns out that less than 15% of cancer comes from inherited genetics, and the other 85% comes from the things that happen throughout our lives. The people who make statistics say that half of men and one third of American women will develop cancer in their lifetimes (did you catch that? Okay, it was the American Cancer Society that said it). So I suppose it is reasonable to want to spend every moment of our lives avoiding cancer, but unfortunately the stress of doing that will inevitably cause cancer no matter how healthy your diet is. So I guess we should focus on things that "avoid cellular DNA damage." I wish I could tell you that were simpler than it is, but the entire health industry has spent years attempting to simplify and group together foods and activities that we know to be healthy in a campaign against cancer that I would consider to be largely unsuccessful. The simple fact is that people who continue to educate themselves about avoiding cancer and also "practice what they preach" will generally have a substantially lower chance at getting cancer, but there is no magic bullet you can do that will allow you to live the rest of your life like a typical American and still avoid cancer. The Anti-Cancer Diet acknowledges this and simply attempts to give you all the facts. 

Enter "The Anti-Cancer Diet."

Based on a book by David Servan-Schreiber, a PhD and Doctor of Medicine who defeated brain cancer and spent the next 15 years dedicating his life to the development of an Anti-Cancer lifestyle. I cannot say that I have read the book myself, but I have researched the concepts in detail and will do my best to summarize them here (A very long description can be found here).

There are a number of basic principles to the diet, most of which I agree with entirely:

  • Focus on Organic, Plant-Based Foods
  • Cut Way Back on Sugar
  • Bulk up on Fiber
  • Cut Down on, or Eliminate Meat
  • Choose your Fats Wisely (omega-3 vs omega-6 etc)
  • Choose Cancer-Fighting Foods
  • Prepare your Food in Healthy Ways
  • Reduce Stress
  • Exercise
  • Avoid Foods and Activities that Cause Inflammation

It appears that the book gives exhaustive lists and descriptions of each of these principles, a sample of which can be found here. There are lots of interesting facts such as a discussion of how the grilled part of barbecued meat is actually a notable carcinogen which contributes to the cancer increasing discussions around meats. In addition there is a discussion and a large focus on how cancer is caused by inflammation:

"Cancer cells do not behave like normal cells. They refuse to die after a certain number of divisions, and they poison the tissues around them with chemical substances, creating inflammation, which they need to sustain their growth. Recent research reviewed in the journal Science confirms that the more successful cancers are in provoking inflammation, the more aggressive the tumour and the better it is at spreading over long distances, ultimately reaching lymph nodes and spreading to other organs. Links have been found between several types of cancer and chronic inflammation caused by either a virus such as papillomavirus in the cervix or environmental factors such as asbestos or smoking. Oncologists at the University of Glasgow have been measuring inflammation levels in the blood of patients with various cancers since the 1990s and have found that patients with the lowest levels of inflammation were twice as likely as the others to live for several years."

The message of the book is that while modern medicine is attempting to figure out a method to stop inflammation of cells, there are already a number of natural ways to do this. It goes on to say:

"It’s simply a matter of eliminating certain toxins from our environment, adopting an anti-cancer diet, seeking emotional balance and getting enough exercise."

Just as with any article or book on cancer, you are likely to hear a lot of things that you already knew and a few that you didn't. While the above is not at all groundbreaking news, the book doesn't claim to have any new "magic bullet." It simply gives a description of the best natural ways humans currently known to prevent cancer, and why western medicine has learned that there are good reasons that these things work.

So let's see if it passes my test from the previous post. 

  1. The correct ratio of Carbohydrates (40%-50% of Calories), Fats (20%-30% of Calories), and Proteins (25%-35% of Calories): Yes
  2. Very high in all nutrients, and diverse enough to include all essential nutrients: Yes
  3. Devoid of foods that can be identified as obviously harmful: Yes
  4. Ideally but not necessarily, tested by centuries of tradition: Yes (not specifically this diet of course)
I would say that each of these could certainly be accomplished within the bounds of the Anti-Cancer Diet. The book gives a LOT more detail on the individual foods that are recommended, and a sample can be found on the page I referred to above. This can be extremely useful for someone who is looking to enhance their knowledge of health and nutrition, and who refuses to believe anything without an explanation (like any of us really know what polyphenols are anyways, but how else are they supposed to explain that green tea prevents tumor growth?). I think the book is one that would need to be read multiple times in order to ingrain the lists of foods and the reasons that they are healthy, but overall it gets my stamp of approval.

The Anti-Cancer Diet will undoubtedly work to keep you healthy (and probably lose weight in the process), and I highly recommend the foods and behaviors described in the book. It isn't groundbreaking information and the regimen has not been simplified in a way that makes it easy to follow without constant reference to the book or other resources, but that is largely because avoiding cancer in America is not a particularly simple task. Having not read the book myself, I did not have an opportunity to pick out any extra special sentences that might help to simplify the diet, but overall I think that the book is a great way to educate yourself on a living a healthy lifestyle and serves as an excellent "one stop shop" for natural anti-cancer resources. It's one of the next audio books I will be ordering when I finish the incredibly long "Atlas Shrugged."

P.S. The new revised addition currently available adds a few newer pieces of research, but was largely rewritten to make sure that the "Mind-Body Connection" portion of the book was more effectively received, focusing on avoiding feelings of helplessnes 

A good friend of mine recently sent me an email asking that I put together a diet comparison for some popular diets, specifically with the goal of General Health and Anti-Disease. She suggested reviewing the Alkalizing Diet, The Anti-Cancer Diet, and the Low Glycemic Index Diet. I would like to add the Paleo diet as well. I spent some time contemplating the best way to put this together, making sure that each diet is thoroughly researched, the blog post isn't too long, and most importantly, it remains objective and doesn't play any favorites. As I started doing research on some of the suggested diets, I began to realize exactly how lightly I will need to tread when reviewing these diets in order to maintain credibility.

Allow me to explain further. You've heard me explain that it is important to Alkalize your body in my previous posts Body Basics Part 1 and Part 2 (this post won't completely make sense if you haven't read those). And some of you may have found yourselves saying that this is an entirely foreign concept to you, so you headed to the University of Google to get some answers. You would find lots of sites in favor of the diet, with tons of testimonials, but you would likely also find sites like Quackwatch or an article like this (which is extremely long but worth reading) explaining the story of a now famous Kim Tinkham who was enthralled by the book The Secret (a book that takes the power of positive thinking to the point of literal control of the universe) and opted out of traditional cancer treatment, going for an Alkalizing Diet regimen only to die 3.5 years later. These sites typically criticize folks like Robert O. Young, who is attributed with being the founder of the Alkalizing Diet (his book The pH Miracle) because he has a Nutritionist degree from a university that no longer exists, he sells the products that he promotes, he provides enthusiastic anecdotal evidence but rarely publishes data, and unfortunately does not appear to be willing to negotiate any of his premises when people challenge his results. Admittedly, there he could do a better job of defending the diet that he promotes. The nail in the coffin is that he claims unwaveringly that an alkaline diet can prevent and entirely reverse cancer. I personally think it is extremely important to remain open to disagreements and other opinions, but I don't think that any of the above reasons should necessarily discredit a person who has been working with patients in person for 40 years simply because he isn't capable of producing PhD level laboratory results. For example, the fact that I don't use citations or bibliographies on my blog posts doesn't necessarily mean that I am giving incorrect advice and evidence would still be required to prove that I am. 

Let's Talk about Curing Cancer
I'll start by tackling the biggest reason for disagreement with the Alkalizing Diet; its claims to prevent and cure cancer. There is a large amount of debate over the term "Cancer Survivor" ranging from anyone who is currently alive that had cancer at some point, all the way to including friends and family members who have helped the diagnosed individual go through the emotional and psychological process of cancer treatment. "Cancer Survival Rates" are quite a bit more standardized though. In 1996 the definition of a cancer survival rate was redefined by the National Cancer Institute to include any individual who lived for more than 5 years after diagnosis. That patient was considered successfully cured, despite what they died from in the future. It's not a surprise that there was a massive increase in the cancer survival rate when this definition was changed. Previously, it had taken into account what the individual eventually died from but until they did actually die of cancer, they were a survivor from the moment that they were diagnosed. I can understand why they did this, because the statistical inaccuracies of the previous definition had to be absolutely awful given the difficulty of tracking someone's cause of death 20 years after their treatment. We still have to be aware of it though when we hear statistics that say that cancer survival rates are increasing. 

So the next question would be, how long do people live when they don't treat their cancer? There's a study for that. The following is regarding a classic study examining the natural history of untreated breast cancer:

Published in 1962 by H. J. G. Bloom, W. W. Richardson, and E. J. Harries, and examined data from Middlesex Hospital from 1805 to 1933 where 250 cases of untreated breast cancer were identified and studied. They calculated survival as the period of time from onset of symptoms to death. What they found was that 18% of the 250 patients survived five years; 3.6% survived 10 years; and 0.8% survived 15 years. Of note, it was 19 years before all patients were dead. Overall, the median survival was 2.7 years. A survival graph from this classic paper is below:

Now I know things have changed since 1933 and untreated cancer today could mean drinking water with flouride, breathing polluted air, eating processed foods, and living a sedentary lifestyle. So I would expect the survival period to go down in a 2012 undiagnosed cancer patient. 

So What Prevents Cancer?
We are all too familiar with the types of cancer treatments that are approved in today's world: Surgery, Radiation, Chemotherapy. With very few exceptions for specific types of cancer, those are in fact the only treatments that it is legal for any doctor to prescribe in America. It is, in fact, illegal for a doctor to prescribe nutritional therapy in place of any of the above mentioned treatments. To clarify though, I am not an advocate of turning down any of these treatments if you are diagnosed with cancer. Most people however, pursue diets to help prevent cancer or keep it dormant after it is put into remission. As you will see in my next post on The Anti-Cancer Diet nearly all of the foods approved in the Alkalizing Diet are in fact cancer preventing foods, regardless of whether you agree with the pH scale as an effective way to decide what to eat. To give a few examples as well as a preview of The Anti Cancer Diet:

Taken from this page on the Anti-Cancer Diet:

Rich in polyphenols that reduce the growth of the new blood vessels needed for tumour growth, green tea is also a powerful antioxidant and activates mechanisms in the liver which help to eliminate cancerous toxins from the body more rapidly. In mice it has been shown to block the effects of chemical carcinogens responsible for breast, lung, oesophageal, stomach and colon cancer.

The most powerful natural anti-inflammatory identified today. In the laboratory it enhances the effectiveness of chemotherapy and reduces tumour growth. To be assimilated by the body tumeric needs to be mixed with black pepper and, ideally, it should be dissolved in oil.

These all help to regulate blood sugar levels, which in turn reduces insulin secretion and thus the growth of cancer cells. They promote the death of cancer cells in colon, breast, lung and prostate cancer

Cabbages, sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower contain powerful anti-cancer molecules. But boiling will destroy them — steam briefly or stir-fry rapidly in a little olive oil.

Carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, apricots, beets and all the brightly colored fruits and vegetables contain vitamin A and lycopene, which have the proven capacity to inhibit the growth of particularly aggressive cancers.

Shiitake, crimini, portabello and oyster mushrooms stimulate the reproduction and activity of immune cells. They are often used in Japan as a complement to chemotherapy to support the immune system.

Rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil and mint are rich in essential oils of the tarpene family which reduce the spread of cancer cells by blocking the enzymes they need to invade neighboring tissues.

Oranges, tangerines, lemons and grapefruit contain anti-infammatory flavonoids which are also present in the skin. So buy organic, unwaxed citrus fruit and add the zest to salad dressing or steep the skins in hot water or tea.

Every one of the foods on that list is either neutral or alkaline. Now while there is no mention of alkalinity in any of those paragraphs, it starts to appear to be more than a coincidence when the batting average is near 100%.

As a wrap up on the Alkalizing Diet post as well as a framework for the future diet reviews, I have some criteria. It is my belief that any healthy diet must absolutely have the following things without compromise:
  1. The correct ratio of Carbohydrates (40%-50% of Calories), Fats (20%-30% of Calories), and Proteins (25%-35% of Calories).
  2. Very high in all nutrients, and diverse enough to include all essential nutrients.
  3. Devoid of foods that can be identified as obviously harmful.
  4. Ideally but not necessarily, tested by centuries of tradition.

That's not rocket science, but the Atkins Diet didn't seem to pull it off, and it is actually extremely difficult to accomplish without what would be considered a massive amount of fruits and vegetables by today's standards. It happens that the criteria of the pH level of food when digested in your body seems to lend itself to foods that meet these criteria in nearly all cases. This is likely due to the fact that the most alkaline parts of foods are in fact minerals themselves. One could spend all of their time isolating exactly which chemical in each food seems to be the one preventing cancer, but the stress alone from that could lead to cancer growth. Ultimately, I fully approve of the Alkalizing Diet with the exception of one claim:

Alkaline Water: There are good alkaline waters on the market, which are simply mineral rich water from springs that get their minerals from the mud that naturally filters them. However, there are also people on the web trying to sell water ionizers that add hydrogen molecules to your water and blatantly manipulate the pH scale. There is little to no evidence anywhere that this is even possible to sustain chemically, let alone that it has any benefits. There is nothing wrong with putting pH drops in your water, but know that those "trace minerals" are doing little more than a multivitamin would and your body likely cannot work with most of the minerals if not taken with the proper enzymes in food. Ultimately, the best way to get a concentrated dose of alkaline nutrition other than food itself is through whole food based supplements such as the green powders recommended on this website or any other greens on the market. Ionized water is a clear misunderstanding of the reason why the pH scale is generally a good gauge of how healthy a food is for our body.

P.S. Tune in for my next posts which will introduce and compare The Anti-Cancer Diet, The Low Glycemic Index Diet, and the Paleo Diet! I realize I did not provide a description of the Alkalizing Diet in this post, but this is only in the spirit of keeping the post relatively short and this diet has been covered in other posts. 

I am just as guilty as the next guy who has tried to lose weight with the not-that-ridiculous notion that diet soda would reduce my overall calories and somehow increase my health. There is a relatively equal amount of information on the internet saying that aspartame is safe and unsafe, plus the people saying it's safe have more credibility indicators (like doctor or PhD), while the people saying its unsafe are just flimsy nutritionists and hippies at this point, so why not just go with the more convenient option? I knew a guy that was over 400 lbs that switched to diet soda and lost 100 lbs in 6 months, claiming that was the only thing that he changed. That is however, the only example I have ever seen of such a result in my personal life, and I have witnessed hundreds of failed attempts, including myself. There are a lot of sweeteners out there, and many of them are not so famous, but I will do my best to go one by one to figure out once and for all whether hours of internet research can actually figure this problem out. 

First off, the FDA says they're all safe, otherwise it wouldn't be legal for america to shovel them in by the pound. After all, using real sugar to sweeten your toothpaste would be somewhat counterproductive to the purpose of cleaning your teeth. The key word is safe, nobody said they are healthy, other than the blurry interpretations that people make when they're trying to be "right" because they read an article once. You might notice that people get pretty passionate when you attack their limited conventional diet wisdom, so tread lightly if you learn anything from this blog. 

Taste Buds
Sweetness doesn't just come from sugar -- there are hundreds of organic, synthetic, and inorganic compounds that taste sweet. Many plants contain sugar derivatives known as glycosides. Stevia, for example, is a plant high in glycosides that has been used for centuries to sweeten foods and drinks. To be clear though, it was not used in the way we use it today in America.

The degree of sweetness we taste depends on how well the receptors in our tongue interact with the molecules of the sweet food. The stronger the interaction, the sweeter we perceive the taste.

Taste scientists at a company called Senomyx have identified the taste bud receptor that is responsible for finding what we consider "sweet." (Believe it or not, they have a lab full of tiny manufactured taste buds that glow green when in contact with sugars and other sweet substances.) Sugar and artificial sweeteners bind to this receptor, creating the sweet sensation that we get when we eat them. The receptors are found on the surfaces of cells all over the tongue and inside the mouth. They send messages to the brain through the our oral mucosa glands to tell it that we're eating something sweet. 

Artificial sweeteners are compounds that have been found to elicit the same (or a similar) "sweet" flavor we get from sugars. Some are low-calorie because they are so much sweeter than sugar and only a tiny amount is needed. Others are low-calorie (or no calorie) because our bodies can't metabolize them. They simply pass through our digestive system without being absorbed.
Knowing this, does it make sense that all artificial sweeteners would cause cancer or other side effects more than sugar itself? Or is it reasonable to believe that there is a sugar equivalent or even a better alternative out there? Good question, and despite the fact that I started my research on this topic to prove that artificial sweeteners are unhealthy, I have come to realize that it may be just as reasonable to extract the glycosides from a plant as it is to extract the sugar from one. Who decided sugar was healthy anyways?

So how did artificial sweeteners get such a bad wrap? It's appears to be all Saccharin and Cyclamate's fault (Sweet and Low and Sucaryl). When public health trends such as an increase in certain types of cancer show up, scientists look to newly-introduced substances. These two sweeteners were the first up to bat, and they were eventually both linked to bladder cancer in laboratory mice and rats. Studies associating saccharin with bladder cancer may have spurred the long-term perception that all artificial sweeteners could cause cancer. Cyclamate still has not been approved for use in the US since it's discovery in 1937, but can be purchased as Sucaryl in the UK. 

Saccharin is in-fact approved by the FDA, and has quite a history to back it up. It turns out that the bladder cancer studies in rats and mice were found to be absolutely true, but the reason it was overturned was that this doesn't correlate to humans. In 2000, the warning labels on foods containing saccharine were removed because scientists learned that rodents, unlike humans, have a unique combination of high pH, high calcium phosphate, and high protein levels in their urine. One or more proteins that are more prevalent in male rats combine with calcium phosphate and saccharin to produce micro-crystals that damage the lining of the bladder. Over time, the rat's bladder responds to this by over-producing cells to repair the damage, which leads to tumor formation and cancer. As this does not occur in humans, there is currently no reason to believe that saccharin causes an elevated bladder cancer risk. I'm sure we've all heard the casual smart guy tell you that it was approved because the saccharin concentrations in the study were 9000% of the rat's body weight and humans don't use that much, but while that is partially true, that wasn't why. 

Regardless, ever since the saccharine approval roller coaster, artificial sweeteners have been scrutinized to the point of absolute exhaustion by the public and scientific community, to the point that the FDA released a statement saying that they are actually more confident in the safety of artificial sweeteners than any other product they have ever tested.

That doesn't mean that it's not still a hard sell to folks like me and you who are avoiding processed foods as a general rule. Let's look at the more popular ones.

Saccharin (additional information): pH 1.66
Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar and not metabolized by the body, so it has no calories. Saccharin is believed to be an important discovery, especially for diabetics, as it goes directly through the human digestive system without being digested. Although saccharin has no food energy, it may trigger the release of insulin in humans and rats, presumably as a result of its taste, but this is not conclusive as the same study states "No statistically significant changes in plasma insulin were found." You may find this to be a common theme among artificial sweeteners, seeing as the triggers for insulin release are currently thought to be related to our taste buds.

Aspartame (formerly known as NutraSweet, now called AminoSweet): pH 4.3
This is by far the most commonly used artificial sweetener. The majority of major brand diet sodas and "diet" foods contain aspartame. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, and is completely broken down in the body unlike many other sweeteners that go undigested. When it is broken down in the body, the result is two amino acids: Aspartic Acid and Phenylananine, as well as a small amount of Methanol. Phenylananine is a necessary amino acid in your body, found in many fruits, vegetables, meats and milk, and has been identified as safe for all except those who have an extremely rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria, which is a very serious condition that is to be treated regardless of any contact with artificial sweeteners so as to avoid symptoms such as mental retardation and seizures. The approval process did not reveal any concerns about the Aspartic Acid, but Methanol is another story. Methanol, also known as rubbing alcohol or wood alcohol has very well known negative side effects when ingested in large quantities. Methanol ingested in large quantities is metabolized to formic acid or formate salts, which is poisonous to the central nervous system, and may cause blindness, coma, and death. However, the amounts produced when ingesting aspartame are akin to eating a slightly degenerated (ripe) piece of fruit. 

Sucralose (Splenda): pH varies between 1 and 5.5 (chemically modified to match what it is being used for)
This sweetener has made a huge insurgence in the last few years marketing itself as "made from sugar." Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar and is undigested by the body. It is commonly found in baked goods because it does not break down under heat like aspartame does. While I don't particularly approve of using this product (more information to come) there is a silver lining. Due to its excellent cooking properties, it is most commonly used as a replacement for High Fructose Corn Syrup, the bane of America's health. Don't think you're cutting that genetically modified corn out of your diet just yet though. Splenda mixes sucralose with corn (malodextrin) and corn (dextrose) as bulking agents since sucralose itself doesn't take up much space in your baked goods. While the FDA still approves it as healthy, recent studies are showing that sucralose reduces the healthy bacteria in your intestines by up to 50%, severely reduces your bodies ability to regulate calorie intake (likely related to the bacteria) causing weight gain, increases the pH in the intestines, and affects glycoproteins in your body causing certain crucial medications to be rejected by the body. A "Expert Panel" funded by the makers of Splenda concluded that this study was not rigorous enough, and the FDA did not pursue the matter. 

Stevia: pH varies between 6 and 8 depending on brand and ratio of steviosides. 
Available for centuries in Japan and other countries in the far east, this product is a new addition to America's diet. It was rejected by the FDA in 1990 unless labeled as a dietary supplement due to an anonymous complaint from the food industry causing them to state that there are insufficient studies to deem the product safe, then after rigorous studies, an extract of the stevia leaf called rebaudioside A was finally approved in 2008 as a food additive. Stevia has become a favorite among green dieters and health fanatics because it is the most alkaline of the sweeteners, it comes from a leaf (rather than tar or chemically engineered sugar), and it has centuries of use in countries that have low incidence of cancer and diabetes. It is 300 to 400 times sweeter than sugar, depending on the quality of the product. It was previously thought to be undigested in the body, but recent studies have shown that a small amount of stevioside is absorbed in the body through the intestines during fecal reuptake. The brand of this product does matter because the amount of rebaudiosides in the product has a strong effect on the taste and is not yet standardized. Stevia has a negligible effect on blood glucose, and may even enhance glucose tolerance. Due to this, it is recognized as safe for diabetics. In relation to diabetes, studies have shown Stevia to have a revitalizing effect on β-cells of pancreas, to improve insulin sensitivity in rats, and possibly even to promote additional insulin production, helping to reverse diabetes and metabolic syndrome (starting to sound good huh). South Americans have in fact used stevia leaf for generations in their "ethnomedicine" to treat diabetes. The political controversy (read here) around this product serves as an interesting example of how easily Coca Cola and PepsiCo were able to block the use of stevia leaf for others until they themselves were ready to get their own products approved (Truvia and PureVia are still the only two stevia products available on the market according to my research).

In the end, it is important to note that the FDA does not exist to make sure Americans stay skinny or even happy for that matter, and they do fold to industry pressure in addition to having ALL of the studies performed by the approval applicants themselves. Their stamp of approval simply says that this food is "Generally Recognized As Safe." Ask Morgan Spurlock of Supersize Me if you can do terrible things to your body with an excess of table sugar, something that no American has ever insisted should be outlawed. It is important to note that the pH of all of the sweeteners except for Stevia are extremely acidic (keep in mind that the pH scale is logarithmic meaning every point on the scale is 100 times more acidic or alkaline). Most of these sweeteners are not something that necessarily needs to be avoided like the plague, but rather considered to have no place in a perfectly healthy diet. Stevia being the only natural option, its colors appear to shine through as one would expect, and I have been unable to find any credible negative consequences of Stevia. If I were to attempt to rank the sweeteners in order of least to most dangerous, it would be Stevia (white packets) > Aspartame (blue packets) > Saccharin (pink packets) > Splenda (yellow packets). Stevia being the obvious choice when available, but if you're at Starbucks and don't have that option, opt for sugar in the raw or the blue packet if you insist on skipping the calories.

P.S. I wrote this article over the course of two weeks and did a large amount of research. I honestly started out to explain why the artificial sweeteners are unhealthy. The credible evidence all seems to point to the information that I stated above, and the fact is, they simply are not THAT unhealthy. Comments and corrections are welcome. 

So far today you've had a breakfast made in your Vitamix Blender consisting of a well rounded mixture of dark leafy greens and a variety of other plants to ensure that you have all the essential nutrients to power you through your day. It's lunch time and your smoothie is a thing of the past, so it's time to head to Whole Foods and refuel at their incredible salad bar to push you through the rest of your day, avoiding the cheese and sticking to pure olive oil or vinegar as dressing. But there's a problem. Chipotle is right next to Whole Foods and you haven't had a bite of meat, cheese, or even anything resembling a simple carbohydrate or sugar in 2 days. Just the thought of a Chipotle burrito gives you that weird burning tingling feeling in your stomach that you KNOW a salad just won't satisfy.  That's what we're talking about. That Feeling! What IS that feeling! The highly informed nutrition researcher inside your head knows that the super salad you were going to build has more than enough nutrition to power you through the day, but your stomach insists that it needs some white rice NOW and wants the animal protein you have been so effectively starving it from. It turns out, there is a reason for this and that feeling is real and can be stopped. 

It's the Microbes
We all know that our body is made up of billions of cells and we would like to believe we are getting pretty good at understanding how those cells interact with each other, or at least the microbiologists are doing it for us. A topic not so commonly discussed outside of the Kombucha drinking nutrition fanatic community are the billions of micro organisms that your body is a host for. We all know about the bad bacteria that cause infections and make a two day old cheeseburger extremely unappetizing, but it turns out there are extremely normal and perfectly healthy bacteria that reside on your skin, in the saliva and oral mucosa (cells in your mouth that tell your stomach what's in your mouth by releasing hormones) in the conjunctiva (inside of your eyelids), and the gastrointestinal tracts. These little buggers have a massive impact on everything from infections to acne and dry skin, as well as the way food tastes to you and what you crave for lunch. I would love to cover all of them, but I doubt you would read a 50 page blog post, so I'll focus on those responsible for your cravings. 

Why did my food die?
Let's start at the beginning of the process. When you leave a Twinkie sitting on the counter for a few days unpackaged, it will likely dry up and turn a bit more rubbery than usual, but that's about it. The moment you remove the skin from a fruit however, it begins to turn against you. Two days later you have a completely degenerated food product that you wouldn't dare to use for anything but the compost bin. So why did your food die? Well, you're not the only one that knows fruits and vegetables are nutritious. Granted, there are numerous processes taking place helping the food to compost itself, a major component of that is all of the microbes that are feeding on it. Does that mean that you eat those microbes when you eat that food? Yep.

Eww, I ate how many microbes?
Don't worry, as long as your food is good food, your microbes are good too (let me know if there is an exception do this). Here's my best "Microbes for Dummies" explanation of what takes place. When you take a bite of your food, your saliva immediately begins reacting chemically with that food and your mouth releases enzymes into your saliva that your oral mucosa tell it to. At the same time, existing micro organisms test the water and see if that food works for them. Some of the micro organisms decide they can eat that food, and help you break it down, excreting waste products that are either helpful or harmful to your body, depending on the food and the microbe. Others decide that it's not for them and opt to wait for something that suits them better. A nearly identical process, with regard to micro organisms, takes place in your stomach. Don't forget though, the food brought some micro organisms with it. Some of these will decide to stay and help, others will decide to stay and fight, and some will simply die when they hit the various chemical soups in your body.

So why do I still want Chipotle? 
Remember that confusing word I keep using called oral mucosa, well I would like to double down and introduce its cousin the gastric mucosa. These mucosa are glands that make up a layer in the surface of their respective body parts (mouth and stomach) and they are the ones responsible for releasing hormones into your bloodstream to tell your brain what to do next in the digestive process. Well it turns out they are also responsible for keeping your brain in the loop on what your body wants to eat today. Where do they get their information? You guessed it, from those hungry little micro organisms living in your body. So the micro organisms that came in with your Twinkie and managed to survive and thrive, well they want more Twinkies! But those that entered your body by hitching a ride on a stalk of broccoli would prefer you stick to the greens and they are willing to fight for it. Crazy huh?

Time to starve those little buggers.
Now that we understand that annoying hunger feeling, we can finally start to manipulate it. You would be surprised how much easier it is to stick to your healthy regimen in those first 3-7 "cleansing" days when you know that there is an end in sight. You are literally starving to death the micro organisms that were helping you to break down your junk food (and then asking for more) and stocking up on the health food craving types. At first, this can feel like you are starving right along side the bad micro organisms though, because they are fighting like hell to get you to put that junk food in your mouth so that they can feed. Don't give in, you'll find that the worst of it is usually about 3 days unless you prolong the process with what you may have previously considered a "harmless" snack. On day 4 or so you will wake up feeling refreshed, lacking hunger, and when it comes time to eat you'll be happy to scarf down a giant salad.

In conclusion, it always comes back to the fact that the foods we always knew were healthy still are. But sometimes it's handy to have some nice ammo when your friends aren't exactly supporting your food choices by claiming that you're starving yourself without meat products. Enjoy!

Being ripped is awesome. Simple: 3 protein shakes per day, have lean meat at every meal, and only eat carbs after an anaerobic workout exceeding 20 minutes. Those poor cave men. They didn't know all of this! Not to mention Power Gels weren't around yet for that quick energy boost when they had not caught their food for the day yet and started getting fatigued. Never fear, grab a handful of berries off of the nearest tree, rip up some roots from the ground, and get back on track with your persistence hunt of 26.8 miles so that the village can share some veil today before the meat spoils.

Even if you're good with a spear, it would be pretty challenging to procure your own meat at every meal before the days of farming, industry and refrigerators. Ok, you get the point. I'm not done writing this post yet, so I'm not going to tell you that there is enough protein, carbohydrates, and fats in a plant based diet to help you reach all of your superhuman fitness goals. Instead I would like to propose that we figure it out together and see what the results are, because I would like to know too.

First, let's talk about protein:

Proteins are described as essential and nonessential proteins or amino acids. The human body requires approximately 20 amino acids for the synthesis of its proteins. The body can make only 13 of the amino acids -- these are known as the nonessential amino acids. They are called non-essential because the body can make them and does not need to get them from the diet. There are 9 essential amino acids that are obtained only from food, and not made in the body. If the protein in a food supplies enough of the essential amino acids, it is called a complete protein. If the protein of a food does not supply all the essential amino acids, it is called an incomplete protein.

All meat and other animal products are sources of complete proteins. These include beef, lamb, pork, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, milk, and milk products. Protein in foods (such as grains, fruits, and vegetables) are either low, incomplete protein or lack one of the essential amino acids. These food sources are considered incomplete proteins. Plant proteins can be combined to include all of the essential amino acids and form a complete protein. Examples of combined, complete plant proteins are rice and beans, milk and wheat cereal, and corn and beans.

You can imagine why body builders tend to gravitate toward the simpler options rather than relying on food combinations to perfect their amino acid profile. It is admittedly quite difficult to find a protein source as convenient and abundant as animal products, but let's look at what you can accomplish without them in an attempt to avoid highly acidic foods keeping in mind that "Low" in protein is relative to how much you eat.

A typical salad that I eat on a daily basis contains Spinach, Cauliflower, Broccoli, Tomatoes, Avocado, Tofu and Olive Oil. I usually put some salt and pepper on top to add some flavor. Courtesy of http://nutritiondata.self.com/ I came up with these: 

Spinach (half of a 10 oz package): 32.5 Calories, 4g Protein, 5g Complex Carbohydrates, 3g of Dietary Fiber, 224mg Sodium (NOT Salt - the alkaline mineral sodium), .5g Fat, .5g Sugars. In addition: Niacin and Zinc, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2626/2#ixzz291umDIb2

Cauliflower (half of a large head):  105 Calories, 8.5g Protein, 22.5g Complex Carbohydrates, 10.5g Dietary Fiber, 126 mg Sodium , .5g Fat, 10g Sugars. In addition: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Magnesium and Phosphorus, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Pantothenic Acid, Potassium and Manganese.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2390/2#ixzz291sMjcXr

Broccoli (1 Stalk): 51 Calories, 4g Protein, 10g Complex Carboydrates, 4g Dietary Fiber, 50mg Sodium, 1g Fat, 3g Sugars. In addition: Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Selenium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2356/2#ixzz291wZ4sOh

Tomatoes (1 Yellow Tomato): 32 Calories, 2g Protein, 6g Carbohydrates, 1g Dietary Fiber, 49mg Sodium, 1g Fat, (No Data on Sugar on site). In addition: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Vitamin C, Niacin, Folate, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2776/2#ixzz291xzZnjz

Avocado (1 California Avocado): 227 Calories, 3g Protein, 12g Complex Carboydrates, 9g Dietary Fiber, 11mg Sodium, 21g Fat, 3g Saturated Fat, 0g Sugar. In addition,  Vitamin K and Folate.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1844/2

Tofu (2 Slices Extra Firm Raw 168g): 92 Calories, 12g Protein, 2g Carbohydrates, 0g Dietary Fiber, 53mg Sodium, 2g Fat, 1g Sugars. In addition: Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/legumes-and-legume-products/4412/2

Olive Oil (1 Ounce):  248 Calories, 28g Fat, 4g Saturated Fat, 1mg Sodium. No additional notable nutrients.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fats-and-oils/509/2

So what would the nutrition label look like on that salad?

Calories: 787.5
Protein: 33.5 g
Complex Carbohydrates: 57.5 g
Dietary Fiber: 27.5 g
Sodium: 514 mg
Fat: 55 g
Saturated Fat: 4 g
Trans Fat: 0 g
Sugars: 14.5 g (not counting tomato due to no data)
Cholesterol: 0 g

And you'll never have to touch a multivitamin again. 

If you're looking to reduce calories further, the Olive Oil is the obvious calorie culprit, but you need to be careful reducing calories too much because you will lose muscle along with the fat. Overall, the nutrition facts on a high quality spinach salad are not what the average person would expect. 

The recommended daily amount of protein varies from source to source, but generally is somewhere around .37 g per pound of body weight. So if you weigh 175 lbs, two of these salads per day has you covered. If you're interested in salad for breakfast, or take on the blender option I suggested in my last post you can manage to have 3 of these bad boys per day (hopefully with a bit more variety than exactly what I posted) and you will be at a healthy 2362 Calories, 100.5 g of Protein, 172.5 g of Complex Carbohydrates, and 165 g of Fat. 

If you feel you need more Calories in your diet, it's not difficult to dump more than 1 ounce of olive oil on your salad, or increase the amount of tofu, and if you get hunger pangs at first in between meals (which shouldn't happen if you eat often enough), I highly recommend drinking Green Drinks to make sure your blood sugar levels stay comfortable. 

It does appear that one can replicate a traditional diet for sports with entirely plant based foods, and it doesn't even require a large amount of creativity. This is not to say that replacing your tofu with meat is going to be catastrophic to your health, but if you're looking to repair a damaged body, or maximize your nutrition, vegetables seem to be up to the task.  

Before I go, there is one more important point to make. The below is taken from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition website

"Muscle wasting appears to be an adaptive response to acidosis (14-17). With muscle breakdown, amino acids are released into the bloodstream. These amino acids provide a substrate for the hepatic synthesis of glutamine. Glutamine is used by the kidney to synthesize ammonia (18). Ammonia molecules spontaneously accept protons and are excreted as ammonium ions; the excretion of ammonium thus removes protons and mitigates the acidosis."

So basically, your body breaks down your muscle in order to neutralize excess acid in your body. This would certainly be counterproductive for the guy who just drank a protein shake with milk (acidic) after his lean chicken dinner (acidic) and Red Bull (do I have to say it?) before his work out.

There are definitely a lot of different ways to reach your fitness goals, and our bodies are extremely resilient, but if you are looking for a lifestyle that has no downside and will guarantee an increase in your health there are certainly notable benefits to going out of your way to get your protein and other nutrition from high quality alkaline foods. 


On my quest for witty topic sentences and references to various other diets, I came across this site (a list of every diet ever) as a great example of how people are extremely interested in new ways to lose those pounds and stay healthy, but the common principles in the diets that work are always the same. If you're looking for the Alkaline Diet on that site, it's called "The pH Miracle Diet" based on Dr. Robert Young's and his wife's book The pH Miracle.

This probably isn't the first time in your life that you've been told to eat your vegetables, so I'll be sure to explain the reasons why it matters.

What makes a food alkaline?
The answer might not be what you expect. It turns out that many foods that would intuitively seem acidic, are in fact alkaline when digested, and the same goes for the reverse. For example, lemons, limes, and tomatoes are all alkaline when digested in your body. But that doesn't make sense! I'll explain. Citric acid is a "weak" acid, meaning once it's done it's job in providing energy in metabolism it's eliminated easily via sweat and respiration. It is alkaline forming in that it stimulates the formation of calcium carbonate in the body. Calcium carbonate then neutralizes the "strong" acids in the body, acids that can only be gotten rid of through urination, including uric acid which is the end result of protein metabolism. In fruits such as lemons, the mineral content is also taken into consideration, and the lemon's alkaline minerals are many: calcium, magnesium, potassium, and selenium. So after the citric acid has done it's job and is easily eliminated, one is left with a very alkaline "ash" or end product from the fruit.

Got all that? Don't worry, nobody expects you to do a chemical analysis on everything you eat. Not only have people done that for you, but most of them are "no brainers" anyways. See the chart below:

So there you have it, now you just have to be 100% disciplined: drink plenty of water, avoid sugar, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, meats, and dairy products and limit your sugary fruit intake. It's the easiest diet ever! Okay, you caught me fibbing again. There is still hope. I'll break it down for you into simple steps:

  • Drink a TON of water: Minimum should be half your body weight in ounces e.g. if you weigh 200 lbs, you need about 100 ounces of water per day (about 3/4 of a gallon). I do at least double that and couldn't feel better. There are 4 ways your body can get rid of acid: Urination, Defecation, Sweat, and Breathing. These all require a large amount of water in order to work properly. In addition, you will tend to lose some water weight when you get hydrated because your body turn off "dehydration mode" and stop storing extra water in your cells (making you look fat).
  • Eat vegetables with every meal: The goal here is to get the veggies in, then do whatever you want after that. Your body can handle chocolate cake when it follows a giant salad for dinner, but the snowball effect of resource depletion begins to occur when you have a hamburger for dinner and follow it up with desert. The goal is ultimately to have somewhere between 70-80% of your foods and drinks be alkaline, because it requires 4 parts alkaline to equal one part acid in your body. 
  • Drink green drinks: This one might be new to you, but it's catching on fast. It's hard to get enough veggies every day, and we're American. We like quick fixes, powders, and pills. Fortunately, there are a number of companies selling green drink powders now, that actually work incredibly well. Typically, they consist of a large number of vegetable, grass and herb ingredients as well as a smaller number of fruits. They are juiced or finely ground, then dehydrated and made into a powder that you can mix with water. There are a lot of brands to choose from and they all work, but some better than others. My favorite tasting green drink is Delicious Greens 8000 and it's also one of the cheapest (due to the fact it was sold on infomercials and sells a huge volume, not because the ingredients are no good). It's a lot sweeter than the others due to the Stevia content, but it's great for mixing in smoothies or directly in water. The highest quality green powder I have found is made by Vibrant Health and is only slightly more expensive, but has a much more grassy taste. You will get a noticeable healthy energy boost after drinking one of these. Another option if you're totally gung-ho is to make your own green drinks in a blender. Spinach, kale, cucumbers, ginger root and most leafy greens will generally pulverize into a liquid without much trouble, If you have the financial means, I highly recommend a Vitamix blender, but for some people that might mean they're late on their car payment. Blendtec makes a slightly cheaper and functionally equivalent model as an alternative. If you have to choose between blender or juicer go with a blender, because it keeps the fiber to slow digestion and reduce glucose spikes in your bloodstream. 
  • Optional: Do a cleanse: This one is not for everyone, but you won't believe the benefits if you can stick it out. The process is simple, go on a liquid diet drinking only green drinks and water for 3-7 days. This will give your body a very well deserved break, and allow it to replenish all of it's vitamin and mineral reserves. It's called a cleanse for a reason though. Remember the 4 ways your body can get rid of acid? Well expect Urination, Defecation, Breathing, and Sweating to all happen quite a bit. Usually somewhere around day 2.5 or 3 you might get a headache, diarrhea, or even throw up in some cases, as well as breaking into a cold sweat or getting light headed. This is your body saying "Okay.....I'm pretty convinced you are going to stop putting acid into me and I'm all replenished, so I'm gonna start working on the stuff I stored away." The good news is that you've made it over the hill at that point. Generally a few hours later you will feel better than ever and that feeling will stick with you. 

Do these things and you can expect to see very effective weight loss (that stays off), acne will disappear, blood pressure will level out, cholesterol will correct itself, acid re-flux and heartburn go away, and virtually all diseases will die (or never develop) in an alkaline environment. 

Hope you enjoyed the post! I will answer questions in the comments section if anyone has any. And if you are buying the products recommended, I would appreciate you using the links on this site because Amazon will pay me a small commission without increasing your price (plus they are the cheapest place to buy them).
Remember back in your high school chemistry class when your teacher talked about how pH is a measure of the activity of the solvated hydrogen ion p[H] which measures the hydrogen ion concentration in a given substance? I don't either, I just stole that from Wikipedia. Most of us do, however, remember the term pH and know that it refers to how acidic or alkaline (basic) a substance is. Although Wrigley's Winterfresh Gum so nicely reminded us that our temperature is "A blistering 98.6 degrees inside your mouth" no marketing campaign has successfully socialized the concept that the human body has a hefty pH requirement in order to keep itself alive. Well I'm here to spill the beans. When your pH is too acidic it will generally cause drastic changes to your body which, unfortunately, we see quite often in today's world. An acidic pH leads to weight gain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fatigue, acne, bone decay, vision decay, diarrhea, and in extreme cases coma or death. 

Let's start by taking a look at some background as to why this is so important. We all know how it feels when you get the flu and your body temperature climbs up in the 100+ degree Fahrenheit range, but what is it about that which causes you to feel so awful? Your body is like a giant automated laboratory doing thousands of chemical reactions all the time and temperature is a key factor in the speed that a reaction takes place. Unfortunately, not all chemical reactions are affected in the same way by a temperature increase. So when your temperature raises by 2 degrees, some of the chemical processes in your body take place 1% faster, and others take place 50% faster. You can imagine the havoc that this causes and this is why your body has so many mechanisms to regulate your temperature. 

As it turns out, your pH balance is similarly important and analogous to your body temperature. If you poured bleach, or battery acid in your veins in even the tiniest of concentrations, it wouldn't be long before you were in a coma. Even a .2 deviation from 7.36 pH in your bloodstream will put you in the hospital. As you can see in the figure above, other parts of your body have appropriate pH values which are different from your blood. For an in-depth explanation of how digestion works, follow this Link, but if you're reasonably knowledgeable and don't have time to read that, allow me to do my best to summarize one major way that acid affects the body:

  • How Acid Makes You Fat and Raises Your Cholesterol: When you eat acidic foods they are broken down in your saliva, then stomach, then small intestine like any other food. Depending on the type of food (Fat, Protein, Carbohydrate) when the partially digested food is pushed into your small intestine, it will either be greeted by enzymes from your pancreas, small intestine, liver or some combination of each. These enzymes, as well as saliva and stomach acids are manufactured in your body by using all of the essential minerals we know to be necessary in a healthy body, such as all of the B Vitamins, Vitamins C, A, D, E, and K in conjunction with minerals such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium and others. In general, this process is very effective, and when acidic food is eaten in smaller amounts it doesn't cause a problem, but when a person eats pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner they can create an environment inside their body where they are vitamin/mineral deficient because the body has used all of its resources digesting food. The human body is designed not to allow it's blood stream to become too acidic (this is regulated by hormones released by the cells of your mucosa in your stomach and small intestine). The good news is this won't kill you yet because your body has a backup plan. Fats and Cholesterol are relatively inert (don't react with chemicals) and particularly resistant to acid. So in the event that your body does not have enough resources to neutralize the acid in your food, it will proceed to prepare your veins and arteries for the upcoming acid by coating them with cholesterol. In addition, it will increase your fat stores as a buffer to the acid. This is good news for the guy who wants to stay alive, but not so great for your figure.
So why are alkaline foods important to losing weight and lowering cholesterol? Can't we just reduce calories and take the yolks out of our eggs? Many failed Atkins Dieters serve as proof that you do, in fact need vegetables in your diet (notice I didn't say fruit, I said vegetables). You will notice highly accelerated weight loss when you begin replenishing your alkaline reserves (vitamins/minerals) and eliminate acidic foods from your diet, as well as an almost immediate reduction in cholesterol. 

So, I'm Sold. How do I get Alkaline?
I hate to do this to the 10 of you that will read this first blog post before I type up my second blog post, but that is the topic of my next blog post, so stay in touch!