Welcome back, Partisans! It’s been a bit since I last posted, but I’m back to provide the next installment of the Lean N’ Mean series! In this post, we’ll get into the weeds of nutrition by looking at how commonly consumed food and our metabolisms are connected. Now, I’m not gonna lie – this post is very long, due to its comprehensiveness; but read on, and ye shall be rewarded! As always, though, any information I provide in my posts on fitness and nutrition will be in non-technical terms, so that regular, everyday American Partisans can quickly grasp important ideas about fitness and nutrition that actually are worth knowing – but, in plainspoken English. Again, I really can’t stand excessively technical explanations – they have their place for some folks, but really, most people just want the understandable lowdown, and don’t care for the technical science. At the same time, it definitely pays for the American Partisan Operator to have some depth of understanding of nutrition and metabolism, so that he can make better lifestyle choices to build his health and state of physical readiness (the national situation is getting quite dire, wouldn’t y’all agree?). This post intends to begin to explore the complex subject of good nutrition, but in a “conversation at the kitchen table” style.
Good Nutrition: Necessary for our Bodily Machines to Work Well, as Designed by God
The subject of nutrition is a legitimate and highly technical science in and of itself, complete with an array of different specialized PhD’s and even additional sub-specializations to go with those PhD’s. However, this American Partisan primer on nutrition and digestion (and, really, all my writings on fitness) has been written with the express purpose of cutting through the many technical abstractions of nutrition science in order to provide commonsense and actionable information for Partisans. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, much of the time, information related to key areas of life is deliberately complicated with the purpose of disempowering everyday Americans and to create their dependence on “experts” (like lawyers, accountants, scientists, and other “experts”), but American Partisans are a smart, resourceful group, and we can empower ourselves to be our OWN authorities! That’s been my approach to fitness for decades at this point, and any American Partisan Operator can do the same. As such, the information in today’s post is intended to provide Partisans with an improved understanding of how to improve their health through good nutrition.
First, let’s really, really simplify the subject of nutrition by recalling the notion that the body is a high-performance machine – in truth, the most high-performing machine ever created, by the Almighty Himself. Any machine needs certain inputs to run smoothly, as well as occasional maintenance and replacement of its working parts. But the divine human body is special in that it is a living machine made of microscopic units called “cells”, which represent the smallest functional working part of the bodily “machine”. Specialized cells working together on common functions form our internal organs and other bodily systems (like muscles, bone, nerves, etc.). Cells come in various shapes, sizes, functions, and lifespans; fresh, new cells are constantly being created while old, sick, and abnormal cells are constantly being destroyed and recycled by the body in its normal processes, and in the trillions – every second of every day!! Quite remarkable in and of itself. And the body distinguishes itself from a man-made machine in that, by the grace of God, it has been programmed to maintain its engine and working parts on its very own, and potentially perfectly… provided that we give our bodies the proper food inputs (good nutrition) and take care of it via healthy mental/physical lifestyle habits (exercise; proper rest; low-stress environment, where controllable). Look at how few things we need to do to have good health! The healthy body, with its vast capabilities, is truly a gift from God.
The body’s nutritional needs, unlike the stressors of life, are well within our control, and can be properly satisfied by a mix of high quality macronutrients, micronutrients, and accessory nutrients in order to produce optimal performance. Briefly, according to Webster’s Dictionary Online, a nutrient is “a substance or ingredient that promotes growth, provides energy, and maintains life”. Therefore, “macronutrients” (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) are relatively large-scale (“macro” = large) nutrient inputs, usually measured in grams. “Micronutrients” are relatively small-scale (“micro” = small) nutrient inputs, usually measured in milligrams or even micrograms (and for some micronutrients, in “international units” or “IU’s”). Please note: the definitions provided are my own. Typically, macronutrients (food of real nutritional value) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are considered “essential”, which means they need to be consumed by us in order for us to live and be healthy; the absence of these “essential” nutrients will cause nutritional deficiency and eventually lead to health problems and worse.
In the world of health and fitness, an “essential” element is one that is vital, but must be supplied to the body externally, since the body can’t supply that element on its own. For example, a lack of adequate protein (a “macronutrient”, measured in food by grams) or a lack of vitamin C (a “micronutrient”, measured in food by milligrams) – both of which the body cannot make on its own, and that must be supplied to the body through external consumption – will lead to deficiency, symptoms, and eventual disease. Finally, “accessory” nutrients are optional/supplemental to essential nutrition, and can be measured in either grams or smaller units, depending on the nutrient. For example, supplemental creatine can be beneficial, but is not considered “essential”, because the body produces its own creatine. The specific focus of today’s post is on the macronutrient part of the nutrition equation; separate posts in the future will focus on micronutrients and accessory nutrients, each of which deserve their own separate posts.
Macronutrients – A More Detailed Look
Basically speaking, macronutrients form the vast bulk of what we eat, and are made up of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and water (alcohol is also considered a macronutrient, but I don’t count alcohol as anything essential for consumption, hence not worth covering here). Once again, macronutrients are measured in grams. The sections below provide a detailed look at the macronutrients and their metabolic properties, in simple terms. To reiterate, “metabolism” for our current purposes is defined as “how the body deals with food”, or put in a slightly more refined form for this post, “how the body utilizes and assimilates the chemical elements contained in food”. Keep this definition in mind as you read on.
Protein represents growth and repair, and can be thought of as the primary building material that the body uses in all of its countless biological processes; protein is literally found in all tissues of the body. Protein is versatile too, in that it can also provide some fuel for the bodily activity, in addition to being a building material. Digestion and assimilation of protein is a very demanding task for the body, and it actually takes more energy to process (“metabolize”) protein than the energy that is furnished by the protein. In other words, your body burns more calories metabolizing protein than the calories provided by the protein being metabolized. The metabolic demands of protein consumption, together with its vital growth and repair role, distinguish protein as a must-have nutrient that, in my experience-based opinion, should compose at least 50% of food intake by weight (and possibly more, but certainly, no less! I consume around 60% protein by food weight). It should be said that any reference to protein in this post is specifically referring to low- to non-processed, high quality sources of protein; ultra-processed junk like Slim Jim’s and deli meats (which I do enjoy occasionally) don’t count as protein worth consuming.
Food proteins come from animals (ex., meat; dairy) and, to a lesser degree, plants (ex., nuts; legumes). Plant sources of protein – particularly, legumes (beans, etc.) can work, but are not majority-protein foods, as they include other elements too (usually, starchy carbohydrates) that need to be taken into consideration. As a general rule, an adult should consume ½ – 1 gram of high quality protein per pound of bodyweight per day.
Keep in mind, though – not all protein is equal, by any means; the actual quality of food protein is mostly determined by how how much of the food is actually composed of protein, and also how readily your body can absorb and use that protein. For example, the protein content of low-processed meat still requires quite a bit of digestive work to be obtained from the meat, and the protein from very processed forms of protein (like deli meats) require the most amount of work, while probably also coming with a fair amount of attached toxicity due to the heavy processing of the protein. So, just because a cheeseburger or fried chicken appear to have a lot of protein, it doesn’t mean these proteins are worth eating. Milk is very rich in protein, but comes with a lot of sugar as well, in around a 1:1 relationship – not favorable. Finally, whey protein powder (derived from cow’s milk) and eggs are, hands down, the purest, most easily digested and absorbed sources of protein your money can buy. Beyond these ultra-pure protein types, animal proteins from meats are most people’s best and most easily-purchased options for protein, in terms of availability and richness in protein content.
Here is a brief list of recommended protein sources for the American Partisan Operator:
Supplemental Protein Powders
- Whey Protein (the purest and most easily-absorbed protein)
- Hempseed Protein (best option for vegetarians/vegans)
- Pea Protein (not as good as whey or hempseed protein in terms of absorption by the body, but it works)
Animal Protein Sources (Baked/Stewed/Grilled/Roasted/Steamed)
- Salmon (best option – rich in “essential” fats, especially Omega-3’s, to be covered below)
- Tuna (fresh is best; canned in water if no other option available)
- Any type of fish fillet (no frying!)
- Other Seafood: Shrimp; Lobster; Crab; Squid; Octopus
- Land Animals
- Chicken (any part of the chicken – not just lean chicken breast!)
- Beef; Pork; Lamb; Goat; Venison
- Eggs (preferably raw, poached, or very soft-boiled; DO NOT THROW AWAY THE YOLK!!)
Other Sources of Protein
- Cottage Cheese (if no dairy intolerance/allergy exists)
- Bone Broth (including chicken meat)
Additional Notes on Protein Sources
- Organic, grass-fed, or wild-caught animal protein sources are always preferred, where possible and affordable – deer meat is the ultimate version of this
- Beans have not been included in the High Quality Proteins section; beans and other legumes (for example, lentils) have some protein content and other worthwhile nutrition, but are not a majority protein food. Legumes are something of a hybrid food composed of complex, starchy sugars and plant-based protein, and are often problematic for many people to digest. Legumes will be covered in the section below, on Carbohydrates.
- Note that no portion sizes were provided for protein consumption; let your bodyweight (1/2 gram – 1 gram per pound of bodyweight) and/or satiety point determine how much high quality protein you eat – it’s hard to binge on high quality, low-processed protein. Also eat sufficient amounts of high quality protein to knock out any sugar cravings!
Carbohydrates is the technical name for chemical sugars, whose types range from multi-part, long molecular chain sugars (known as “complex carbohydrates”) of the type found in vegetables and whole grains, to the highly-energetic, short molecular chain, fast-burning simple sugars like the common refined, processed table sugar (“sucrose”) found in junk food and white bread, and finally, fruit sugar (called “fructose”). Carbohydrates (aka “carbs”), in a strictly biological sense, function to provide fuel to the body, as well as form and protect different tissues of the body (ex., cartilage and mucus). “Fiber” is a yet another type of carbohydrate that passes through the digestive system and aids the body in elimination of solid wastes, making it critical to a good eating lifestyle. Please note that this post will use “carbs” and “sugars” interchangeably.
The American Partisan Operator should ideally eat vegetables as his prime source of carbohydrate energy (to go with energy gained from eating fats, as discussed in the next section). Vegetables (ex., squash; legumes; green, leafy vegetables of all types) are near-perfect sources of nutrition, providing slow-burning energy and more vitamins and minerals (“micronutrients”) per gram than probably any other food on the planet. The complex, multi-part nature of slow-burning sugars contained within vegetables causes them to be digested rather slowly; the multiple chemical parts composing these sugars are themselves loaded with nutrients that are typically healthy for the body. Furthermore, slow-burning sugars are low in energy density, which makes sense, considering the complexity of chemical parts contained in the complex sugar; there is more nutrition to the complex, slow-burning sugar molecule than just pure energy content, as is found in simple sugars. That means these complex sugars provide a good, slow, sustained energy release when metabolized, unlike simple sugars, which are all high energy, with nothing else to buffer it.
Eating slow-burning vegetable-based carbs will satisfy hunger, provide a wealth of nutrients, and give your body a safe source of energy, unlike simple fast-burning sugars. Vegetables should ideally be consumed fresh at a rate of 1/2 – 1 lb. of vegetables for every 50 lbs. of bodyweight. Please bear in mind that, relative to other vegetables, onions, carrots, tomatoes, and beets are particularly high in simple, fast-burning sugars (despite being very nutritious otherwise), and so the intake of these should be limited as needed. A detailed discussion of “fast-burning” sugar follows just below.
Finally, starchy carbohydrates from grains (wheat; oats; barely; corn; etc., and all derivatives) are a whole separate consideration, and will be covered more below. The quick answer for now is that carbohydrates of the type found in grain-based foods are basically of a fast-burning type, and should be limited to the bare minimum needed to perform the physical work in your life (such as workouts; job-related or other serious labor), if consumed at all. And the carbohydrates in junk food should be avoided completely.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the concept of “fast-burning” sugar to get a better understanding of how consumption of simple sugar can cause major health problems and fat gain.
Blood Sugar Metabolism: The Dangers of Excess Simple (“Fast-Burning”) Sugar and the Blood Sugar Spike
So, what about “fast-burning” sugars? Fast-burning sugars are simple, short-chain sugar molecules, and not complex, multi-part molecules, like their complex sugar “cousins” – that is to say, simple sugars are composed of practically NO nutrition and LOTS of pure energy. In fact, simple sugars are literally explosive when burned for energy! Think about the way a marshmallow literally bursts into flames when ignited; it basically vaporizes in a matter of seconds, if permitted. Alcohol derived from sugar – in the form of ethanol to power cars – represents this same phenomenon of “fast-burning” sugar as well, even if indirectly; simple sugar just burns that well. Now, compare this explosive combustion of sugar to the slow burning of an oil lamp or tree log when lit; the oil and log also provide a tremendous amount of energy, but in a sustained, controlled way. The same concept neatly applies to the body’s burning of simple sugar vs. fat or complex sugars as a source of energy.
The body likes steady-state in general, and dislikes abrupt changes of condition, instead favoring a slow and steady approach to pretty much everything, energy-burning included. The body actually views a spike in the blood’s sugar levels from excessive consumption of sugar as an actual emergency; the so-called “sugar rush” is really just a cute name for the unhealthy activation of stress chemistry as initiated by the metabolism of large amount of simple sugar, which then shows up as excessively energetic behavior – think: children eating junk food. Or, how many Partisans out there have experienced a major increase in heart rate and a feeling of being hot after binging on sugar? This is the sign of a body in stress mode. So, even though that fast-burning, sugar-rich food was super-tasty, your body enters “emergency mode” and begins to work strenuously to evacuate from the blood the explosive sugar you ate, which it does via the action of insulin, a very important and powerful multi-purpose hormone (hormones are biochemical messenger substances that cause changes to occur in cellular chemistry). In a healthy body, insulin is released into the blood in whatever small amount is necessary in order to stabilize blood sugar and bring it back down to biologically proper levels in the bloodstream. Via the action of insulin, whatever energy the body needs from the sugar is utilized more or less immediately, but the excess portion of sugar in the blood (and there is usually much excess, rest assured) gets whisked away and converted into fat shortly after, which is then shuttled into fat-storing cells. In this way, you can effectively think of body fat as sugar in a “frozen” form, put into that suspended state because the body can’t naturally just dump out super-combustive, excess sugar on its own – it has to go somewhere… like your love handles and big old gut!
In the immediate/short term, regularly consuming and burning simple sugar (vs. burning fats or slow-burning carbs) as a source of energy, along with the ongoing burden on the body of excess blood sugar, creates a bodily environment that tends towards fat storage (especially in the gut and love handles for adults around 35 and up). In other words, using sugar as the body’s main source of energy causes the body to become an energetically inefficient sugar-burning, fat-storing machine. And, over the course of years or decades, the body’s ability to handle excesses of, and multiple spikes in blood sugar gets degraded, and often leads to obesity and a reduced effectiveness of insulin’s powers in a condition called “insulin resistance”, which is unfortunately a very common lifestyle-based problem in the United States. Insulin resistance occurs when secretion of ever-increasing amounts of once-powerful-but-now-less-potent insulin are required to lower blood sugar to proper levels, since the body’s sensitivity to this powerful hormone has been reduced from so much ongoing insulin secretion; this effect could be compared to developing an alcohol tolerance for the regular drinker.
You can readily tell someone is dealing with insulin resistance to a greater or lesser degree by how much fat they have around their middle. A thick midsection is the visible sign of dysfunctional sugar metabolism, also known as dysglycemia, or “dysfunctional levels of sugar in the blood”; with dysglycemia, the mechanisms for blood sugar control aren’t working well anymore, and the body is now subjected to ongoing wild swings in blood sugar from too low to too high. You might even say that, whether officially diagnosed or not, a person regularly carrying around too much body fat is prediabetic. Sustained insulin resistance and dysglycemia can then lead to diabetes, which is a partial or total collapse of the insulin secretion and blood sugar control systems, as well as other diseases. So the next time you reach for that candy bar or other type of fast-burning sugar for a quick energy bump, you ought to pause for a moment to think about the consequences.
So… what SHOULD you do when you experience a sugar craving? You need not give in to this craving. Simply pause, take a moment to recognize what’s happening, and reach for some tactical protein instead of fast-burning sugar! Protein is a truly wonderful source of multi-benefit nutrition that tactically satisfies hunger and cravings – especially sugar cravings – extremely well; protein biochemically hits the brain’s sugar-craving drive in the same way as sugar itself, but without any of the ill metabolic effects. However, it just doesn’t occur to most people to pause and pivot to protein instead of sugar. As such, if you are feeling a craving for sugar/carbohydrates (like an urge to eat a candy bar or a piece of bread, for example), this is a sign that your body probably needs some protein and is asking for it; you’d be wise to provide a yourself a serving of quality protein (for example, a whey protein shake) to satisfy that carb craving, instead of reaching for typical dysglycemia-promoting fast-burning carbohydrates (snack bar, bread, chips, etc.). In fact, the more protein you eat, the less desire you’ll have for fast-burning carbs altogether, and this alone is a very powerful tactic for deactivating the sugar cravings that so many people surrender to, and end up looking and feeling poorly as a result.
Grains – A Potentially Problematic Food Source, to Be Used Sparingly If at All
Again, the grain-based foods that are such a beloved and common staple of the average American diet are composed of fast-burning sugars. The carbs in grains (especially whole grains) are somewhat more complex than refined, super-simple sucrose/sugar; grain-based carbs do indeed burn a bit more slowly than table sugar, BUT… in the end, the body breaks grain-based carbs down relatively easily and quickly into fast-burning simple sugars (a process that starts in the mouth with chewing and saliva), leading to the aforementioned spike in blood sugar, similar to sucrose’s effects, but just not as acutely intense. So when consuming grains, you’re kind of back to square one with the fast-burning sugar; only a fool would say that “it’s not as fast to burn, so it’s not the same thing.” Wrong. The final result of consuming relatively fast-burning grain-based sugars IS indeed the same: increased levels of body fat and insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes and many other disease states, to say nothing of the fat gain that comes with these sugary foods.
And entirely aside from spiking blood sugar and all of its associated evils (as described at length just above), grains are simply a problematic food group in general due to certain proteins they contain; the proteins attached to grains are often hard for the body to digest, if not impossible for some people – gluten is the most outstanding, well-known example of these problematic grain-based proteins. An entire category of foods – “gluten-free” – has even been created to accommodate the substantial number of people who can’t digest gluten. Grains are a relatively “recent” addition to the human diet – only around 7,000 years old. The human organism had already finished its physical evolution long before grains were discovered and became widespread in the human diet, which is to say that grains are foreign to the human digestive system. It is for this reason that gluten allergies exist. Additionally, grains are really just edible seeds for certain species of wild grasses that have been domesticated, but nature wants its seeds to sprout and not be eaten, so nature has given these seeds a protective shell and internal chemical elements to protect the seed from the digestive juices of animals. Humans then have to grind/mill grain seeds to extract the edible portion, but the proteins (like gluten) remaining in the edible part of the grain can cause all kinds of issues ranging from food allergies to constipation to thickening of the blood. Not good.
In practical terms, for the most part, grain consumption should either be kept to a bare minimum, or even avoided altogether. Nevertheless… like I said above, grains DO have their very particular place in sound nutrition. Specifically, highly-energetic, grain-based foods (like pasta, bread, rice, corn, oatmeal, etc.), when eaten at all, should be used tactically to power a high-output physical event. For example, I went through a phase in my late 30’s in which I ate nothing but meat and vegetables, with NO grain-based anything, as well as no sugar/carbs of any kind (not even fruits) – it was pretty extreme; I guess you could call it a “keto” or “paleo” type of diet. During that 2-year phase, I had a phenomenal six-pack abdominals, but my ability to lift heavy iron really crashed, and so my weightlifting performance was reduced by 15 – 20% on most lifts; I also felt sluggish and irritable much of the time, because I was trying to power my high-output physical work (mostly fitness and lawn care/snow removal) with vegetables and fat, and it just didn’t work well. After much disappointment in the gym and getting fed up with feeling sluggish and irritable, I decided to tactically consume a moderate portion of rice and beans (again, legumes can be an excellent source of energy and protein, for those that can digest them without issues) on nights before a heavy day of physical work (whether yard labor or fitness), and so pretty much instantaneously, my physical performance and energy levels improved dramatically; I also felt much more upbeat. In this way, grain-based carbs do have a role to play in the life of an ACTIVE Partisan. But again, in moderate quantities only – not much is needed to get physical activity-boosting benefits! The main point here is that, when it comes to consuming grains, if you are not engaging in activities of intense physical output, then you shouldn’t eat grains. Period.
Lastly, what about whole-grain products that claim to be “healthy”? Just ignore the lying marketing hype. While it’s certainly true that whole grains have more nutrients and also have more fiber per serving than the non-whole grain version of that food (e.g., white bread vs. whole wheat, or white rice vs. brown rice), and whole grains burn more slowly than their more processed grain counterparts, the same problem still persists: even whole-grain foods break down into simple sugar in the body without too much digestive effort, and they have the same issues attached to them as the non-whole grain version of the same food – pretty much six of one, half a dozen of the other. The sweetness of all grains is the main reason why people like them in general – after just a bit of chewing, grains taste pleasantly sweet because of the easily-accessed simple sugar content, and simple sugar… is simple sugar. The additional fiber and nutrients present in whole grains don’t offer enough benefit to compensate for simple sugar content.
The Bottom Line on Carbs for Energy: for days of lower activity, or for those Partisans that don’t lead super-active lifestyles, I’d suggest that, instead of eating grains as a main source of satiety and energy, Partisans should be getting most of their energy and nutrition from healthy, unprocessed fats together with slow-burning carbohydrates of the type found in vegetables (as described above). Doing this will go a very long way towards trimming the gut and improving your energy levels, without a doubt.
Fruits – A Bit Better than Grains and Simple Sugars, But…
Fruits are a natural source of different types of sugar, which include both sucrose (= table sugar) and fructose (fruit-based sugar, chemically and thus, metabolically different than sucrose). Fruits also contain various plant-based nutrients and some vitamins as well, although not as much as people would like to believe. The advantage of eating fruits over eating outright simple sugar (in whatever form) is that the sugar in fruits comes together with biochemical substances (called “enzymes”) that aid the body in digesting them. However, during the time that fruits have existed as a domesticated crop – again, around 7,000 years or so, they have been transformed through selective breeding practices and genetic modification in a way that has dramatically increased their size and sugar content, bringing us back to the original issue of… fast-burning sugars and the blood sugar spike. That being said, fruit should definitely not be used as a snack, but eaten together with other foods as a buffer to the sugar content.
This means that whatever amount of beneficial nutrition a fruit contains is negated by the outsized sugar content relative to its beneficial nutrition. And fruit juices… don’t even get me started! I get a kick out of people who drink hyper-sweet orange juice (even without added sugar), thinking they’re getting a nice dose of vitamin C with their big ol’ sugar dump. Let’s look at that real quick – with an 8 oz. serving of OJ, you get SOME vitamin C (124 mg), but even then, you also get a hefty amount of simple sugar (21 grams; source: Calorie King), the equivalent of a whopping FOUR TEASPOONS of table sugar. Like, wow! Is drinking OJ then worth it, when you could just take a supplemental C-1000 capsule (1,000 mg of pure vitamin C) with water, and get 8x the amount of vitamin C, with ZERO calories? I don’t think so. The nutrition-savvy Partisan will skip fruit juices altogether. At least fruits themselves have roughage content, which helps with bowel movement regularity, whereas fruit juices are just total junk and not worth consuming at all, no matter what the cute label on the juice tells you.
What’s more, fructose itself is not processed by the stomach like other sugars, but rather, it is processed by the liver. The liver has many critical biological responsibilities (such as blood detoxification and fat processing, among others) and already has much, much work to do, even under the best of circumstances. Eating excessive amounts of fructose can be an additional toxic burden for the liver to handle which, over time, can cause the fatigued liver to become diseased in a condition called “fatty liver disease”. Fatty liver disease is similar in effect to the cirrhosis of the liver experienced by alcoholics! In fact, around 25% of American adults today are dealing with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (which even has its own acronym, NAFLD), which can then lead to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and other disease states. So fructose is no cost-free end-run around simple sucrose, unfortunately.
Therefore, like whole grains, fruits are not a problem-free food that can be eaten without limits. Having a whole fruit or two every day is acceptable and can provide valuable roughage for the diet, but fruit should generally be treated with caution when it comes to blood sugar stability and liver health.
Fats (Essential and Non-Essential)
Fats, not carbohydrates, are the body’s preferred source of energy, as well as a vital source of biochemical building blocks for nerve, brain, hormone, and general cellular health. Natural fats in general are so important for so many things in the body that anyone telling you to follow a low-fat diet is terribly misguided; this especially applies to cholesterol, a super-useful type of fat with countless applications to hormone health. Fats come from animal and plant sources in “non-essential” and “essential” forms, meaning that some types of fat are vital (“essential”) for normal biological functioning and must be obtained by consumption, while others are optional (“non-essential”), and may or may not provide worthwhile health benefits. A list of recommended fat sources is provided at the end of this section.
As far as the “essential” fats, Essential Fatty Acids (“EFA’s”, specifically, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids) are life-sustaining fats that must be obtained from the diet, and are vital for good health. EFA’s compose various keys structures in the body, like the brain (composed largely of EFA’s) and nerves, and EFA’s are also the building blocks of all hormones in the body. Every cell in the body has a sophisticated protective wall (called the “cell membrane”) and internal substructures made of EFA’s. EFA’s are natural skin moisturizers, support heart health, are anti-cancer by supporting cell health, and are essential for the body’s internal production of proteins for its various needs. Pretty important, right? Again, EFA’s must be obtained from external sources, usually in the form of oils or capsules.
Here’s a quick lowdown on what EFA’s do in the body:
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
- Lower blood fats
- Improve blood circulation and heart rhythm
- Have anti-inflammatory properties
- Lower blood pressure
- Support brain, eye, and nerve health
- Blood sugar control
Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids
- Moisturize skin
- Support hormones, the immune system, and cellular health
Just look at all the huge, desirable benefits of Omega-3 EFA’s! However, the diet of most Americans is typically very deficient in essential Omega-3 fats, which are generally expensive to obtain and produce due to their relative scarcity in nature; they also don’t store for very long. You ain’t gonna find no Omega-3’s in French fries, most meats (though some types of seafood, like salmon, are rich in Omega-3’s), or common cooking oils. “Big Food” corporations prefer high-profit margin, low-quality inputs that can line supermarket shelves in mass quantity, and most sources of Omega-3’s don’t fit that bill very well, so you often don’t readily find Omega-3 oils or products on most supermarket shelves. On the other hand, Omega-6 fats are much more common in nature, and are widespread in the foods Americans regularly consume, due to their abundance in nature and subsequent presence in many mass-produced oils, such as canola oil. However, with these typically processed sources of Omega-6 fats, quality is a big issue.
Most fats require complex digestive processes to be properly broken down for use (“metabolized”) by the body, which means that the body’s fat digestion machinery needs to be running smoothly in order for the digested fat to be assimilated by the body. Think of how fat from food sticks to dishes, and absolutely requires soap and water in order to be rinsed off, while most other non-fat foods just rinse right off with merely water. Because of their complex molecular nature, the body needs specialized digestive elements to deal with the oily consistency of fat and properly extract its nutrition. At the same time, certain fats, known as medium-chain fatty acids (or triglycerides), can bypass much of the fat digestion process and go straight to work as a source of energy.
Here is a short list of quality fats for the diet:
Essential Fatty Acids (“EFA’s”: Omega-3’s and Omega 6’s)
- Organic Flax Oil (best all-around option for price and nutrition)
- Organic Hempseed Oil
- Udo’s Blend Essential Fats Oil
- Fish Oils (Krill; Cod Liver; other)
Food Sources of Essential Fats
- Ground Flaxseed (golden flax has more nutrition than brown flaxseed)
- Chia Seeds (easily obtained, and one of my favorites)
- Fish: Salmon; Tuna
- High Quality EFA Gel Capsules (not just fish oil, get a mix of EFA sources)
Medium Chain Triglyceride Fats – Excellent for energy and easy to digest
- Palm Oil; Coconut Oil
Other Sources of High Quality Non-Essential Fats
- Animal fats – don’t trim them from your meats!
- Nuts (except peanuts, which are not a real nut!) and nut-based butters
- Almonds/almond butter
- Cashews/cashew butter
- Macadamia nuts/macadamia nut butter
- Olives; Olive Oil
- Macadamia nut oil
VERY IMPORTANTLY… whether a fat is essential or not, most fats or oils that have been cooked or processed are damaged fats that American Partisans should stay away from. As such, when I advise Partisans to avoid a low-fat diet and eat lots of fats, I am specifically referring to healthy, naturally-occurring, non-processed fats. Processed fats, on the other hand, should be avoided as much as possible! So, that “healthy” extra virgin olive oil that you use to fry your steak… isn’t healthy anymore after being chemically damaged by the ultra high-heat frying process. Interestingly, though, using animal fats like butter and lard to lightly fry or sear your food is acceptable, because the chemical structure of animal fat and butter is more stable under high temperatures than plant-based fats (like olive oil, a non-essential type of oil). Other processed fats to avoid as much as possible include canola and vegetable oil, which are heated and adulterated as part of the manufacturing process, and then further heated by the end user to become quite toxic to the body. An eating lifestyle containing lots of processed fats can, and very often does, lead to problems digesting and absorbing fat over time (similar to dysfunctional sugar metabolism resulting from fatigue of that metabolic system), which can and often does lead to long-term health issues. Remember, when we say “toxic” to describe a food, it doesn’t mean toxic like drinking poison and falling dead. In our context, toxicity from low food quality and processing is something that builds up over time and potentially leads to metabolic issues and illness.
The other thing about processed fats is that they have a higher satiety threshold than non-processed fats, meaning that more of it can be consumed before reaching a natural appetite stopping point; this obviously promotes overeating of all the wrong stuff. Taking the example of olive oil again – a person could only tolerate consuming so much raw extra virgin olive oil (“EVOO”) – even on a salad – before they can’t stomach another drop of it. However, far more EVOO could probably be consumed if it were used to fry a piece of meat, and even then, the fat shut-off mechanisms in the body may not even be activated yet. Along those lines, just think about how much super-damaged, toxic fat is retained in a serving of French fries or deep-fried chicken wings! And not unimportantly, an excess consumption of processed fats (which most Americans are guilty of) can and will lead to undesirable weight gain too, just like an excess of fast-burning sugars, although perhaps not to the same degree – an overload of fat will often quickly relieve itself through diarrhea. On the other hand, consumption of healthy, unprocessed fats (like the raw EVOO in our example, or Omega-3-rich oils) is self-limiting, and promotes a natural point of hunger satisfaction that can also help with any efforts to lose weight. Cravings for fatty foods are basically a signal that your body needs essential fats, so instead of having some fries, cheese, or other food rich in crappy processed fats to quench that fat craving, just have a tactical teaspoon of healthy oil, and watch that craving disappear in a hurry, with the huge added benefit of not activating blood sugar metabolism at all! Once again, we’re not powerless in the face of cravings; just look at all the tactics and tools at your disposal to stay healthy, if you CHOOSE to use them…
Water is considered a macronutrient for our purposes, and is critical for life. Nevertheless, most people don’t drink anywhere near enough clean, unprocessed water which, considering water’s many life-supporting functions, may lead to health problems sooner or later. Beverages (defined by Webster’s as a “drinkable liquid”, i.e., NOT water) just don’t cut it when it comes to satisfying the critical biological role played by water. That’s right: plain old boring water has many uses in the body, which is composed of 60 – 70% water. Water detoxifies by diluting toxins in the body and by helping eliminate solid wastes. And, as the body is very much an electrical organism, water improves the body’s electrical energy availability for biological processes through better conduction. Water also helps keep the digestive system to function properly. In short, water has many vital functions in the body and should therefore be consumed in large amounts – ½ to 1 gallon per day. Again, most people don’t come close to drinking this much plain water, opting instead to drink beverages which actually serve to dehydrate in many cases (especially sugary beverages).
The best type of water to drink is distilled, spring, or clean well water, since most tap water sources are contaminated with toxic chemicals like fluoride and waste residuals flushed into the sewer system. Despite the added expense, distilled or spring water are worth the extra investment in your health!
Transform Your Body into a Fat-Burning, Lean n’ Mean Machine With the Right Foods
Winding down here, if there is one, all-important takeaway message that Partisans should get out of this lengthy post, it is this: fast-burning sugars, not fats, are the enemy of health and appearance. Removal of fast-burning sugars and grains (where applicable, as described at length above) could truly be one of the single-most important steps American Partisans could ever take in staying lean and healthy, period. Keep in mind, removing processed fats comes in a very close second, to support health and lose body fat – but fast-burning sugars are really the worst offender!
In all fairness, nobody is saying that weaning off of tasty, fast-burning sugar is easy at all. In fact, most people will find it near impossible to stop eating bread, rice, pasta, fruits, snacks/junk food, etc., and will probably suffer the ugly health and appearance consequences sooner or later. What keeps carb “addicts” hooked is: a mix of psychological attachment to certain foods for personal or even cultural reasons; flavor manipulation by food manufacturers; and the drug-like sense of well-being induced by the physiology of sugar metabolism in the body. Fast-burning sugar truly is a drug in its nature and effects, and needs to be recognized as such. But… there ARE alternatives to fast-burning sugars that are tasty and can satisfy cravings while boosting health.
Therefore, for American Partisans concerned about health and appearance (and most of us are and should be), it is in your best interests to eliminate fast-burning sugars altogether and transform yourself from a sugar-burning, fat-storing clunker machine into a fat-burning, lean, high-performance machine. How do Partisans accomplish this awesome and worthy transformation? It’s simple:
- Reduce or totally eliminate all fast-burning sugars from the diet, whole grains included; knock out sugar cravings using “tactical protein” (as described above)
- Generally replace fast-burning carb foods with high quality protein, fats, and vegetables
- Bust specific cravings for sugar and fat as soon as they happen, using a mix of easy-to-prepare whey protein (or whatever you’d prefer) and essential fatty acids or other healthy fats to eliminate the craving at its biochemical source in the brain
- Indulge occasionally and without guilt in a DELIBERATE AND PLANNED way, but remain the master of your indulgence, and not its slave
Follow the advice above alone, and you’ll be amazed at the results in health and looks, guaranteed! ‘MERICA BABY!!!
Smart Food Selection in Real Life – Understanding Nutrition Labels for Nutrient Breakdowns of Foods
Most foods – especially packaged foods – show the gram count of macronutrients present in a serving of that food on the “nutritional label”, located somewhere on the package or container; oftentimes, for produce foods like fruits and vegetables found in supermarkets, nutrition information for a serving of that produce is provided by a sticker or sign next to the food in question. The savvy Partisan, especially one who is new to the eating lifestyle effort, will make heavy use of nutrition labels so that he can be good and aware of exactly what is going into his body. After all, the inner sacred space of the body needs to be respected! So I’d suggest that Partisans take a few moments to seek out nutrition information by either seeking the nutrition label on a package, or even going online to get additional info (I use Calorie King when I need nutrition info) where no nutrition label is provided. After enough instances of looking up nutrition info, you won’t have to do much of it for the foods you regularly eat.
Here is an example of a nutrition label, in this case, for ice cream (source – please note that I personally disagree with a lot of the suggestions provided on this web page):
So, for the container of ice cream in our example above, we get eight 55 gram servings of 230 calories each. Nutrition labels follow a certain mandated format set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so a lot of the information presented is just useless for any real application (that’s government for you). For example, nutrition information on these labels is based on a 2,000 calorie daily intake. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t get into pointless calorie counting, so I couldn’t care less about the percentages provided on the right side. I also don’t give a rat’s ass about any informational breakdown of “trans” or saturated fats, or any other contrived “boogey man” contents (like cholesterol, which is actually a vital nutrient for hormone production, like I mentioned above). The main contents to pay attention to on a nutrition label are:
- Grams of protein – You want a high protein count per serving – remember, we’re trying to achieve at least 50% protein volume in our daily consumption. In our current example above, 3 grams of protein in a 55 gram serving is very low (around 5%), which indicates that this food is probably not worth consuming for health purposes. That is, for every 3 grams of protein, you get tons of other stuff you probably don’t want.
- Grams of carbohydrates (especially sugars) – You want this number to be as low as possible. Any fiber content included in the carbohydrate count is a beneficial thing, but the proportion of fiber within the overall carbohydrates needs to be substantial relative to the sugars, where sugars are present. In our current example, 37 grams of carbohydrate in a 55 gram serving means you’re getting a whole lot of sugar in each serving. Even if you subtract out the fiber portion of the carbohydrates, you still have a hefty 33 grams (60% of the serving size) of love handle- and diabetes-promoting fast-burning carbohydrates. Not good at all – not worth touching if you’re serious about getting/being healthy.
- Grams of fat – I don’t ever sweat the fat count of any food, so grams of fat in a food are pretty much irrelevant to me. However, knowing the percentage of fat in a serving relative to the serving size can be helpful. In our example above, it’s approximately 15%. That’s not too bad of a relative percentage, but again, the low protein count and the sugars taken together present a fatal problem; also, the fat is likely processed – most of the time, if you’re actually reading a nutrition label about a food’s fat content, then it has been processed; after all, it’s been containerized, which typically means processing. In the final analysis, though, the worthiness of a food’s fat content is pretty much a “yes/no” matter. That is, if a food’s fat content is processed (cooked or chemically adjusted somehow), then you should probably stay away completely; conversely, if the fat in a food occurs naturally to that food, then it is probably desirable and healthy. The American Partisan shouldn’t get wrapped up in the fat gram count of food, since most undesirable weight gain (i.e., fat gain) comes from excessive intake of sugars/carbohydrates, and not fats per se, as explained in detail above. However, as I mentioned above in the section on fats, processed fats can also lead to weight gain, and the Partisan should bear in mind that a combination of fast-burning sugar and processed fat is a double-whammy for weight gain, and is best avoided.
In conclusion, what we can understand from the above example exercise of checking the nutrition label is that a 55 gram serving of this slop is composed of 60% sugar, 5% protein, 15% fat, and 20% who-knows-what-else. Does this look like a food that an American Partisan Operator should be eating for high performance battle-readiness? Not at all. And so, nutrition label analysis as shown in the example provided above should be standard operating procedure for the eating lifestyle-savvy Partisan who is serious about optimizing their health.
Simple, Quick, and Commonsense Rules on Quality of Macronutrients – Think Raw!
With an improved and functional understanding of digestion and macronutrition from the information presented above, we can now focus on creating a commonsense definition of “high quality” as it applies to the foods (macronutrients) we eat, using these four simple rules.
- Raw is Best – Especially when it comes to high quality macronutrients, raw and unprocessed foods are always best. End of story! The way God and nature made a particular food is almost invariably the best way to eat that food, and it also gives the body less digestive work. Generally speaking (there are notable exceptions), if a food comes in a wrapper, bag, box, or container of whatever sort, that food has likely been processed (i.e., altered) from its original, natural form for whatever reason, usually for longer storability and improved taste. Beware!
- Uncooked/Low-Cooked – Also, the heating of food by whatever means is definitely considered processing; frying, boiling, and char-grilling can render even healthy foods less nutritious, or even toxic. In short, processing reduces or destroys the freshness of food and, hence, the available nutrition contained within that food. Therefore, whenever possible, processed foods should be avoided, and heating of food should be kept to a bare minimum. Baking is probably one of the best options, where feasible.
- Low Ingredient Count & Pronounceable Ingredients – Another important thing to understand about processed foods is that eating such foods – especially those with preservatives, processed fats, and/or are high in sugar – can actually cost you nutrition. That is, eating these foods provides no appreciable health value, but instead literally robs the body of its existing stock of nutrients, since the body processes them as poisons. Food falling into this category includes any fast food or junk food (chips, candy, soda, etc.) – a chock full o’ shit, quite frankly. A useful rule of thumb here is: the greater the ingredient count and the more hard-to-pronounce elements there are in a food, the worse it is for you. So again, not everything edible has value – quite the contrary! It can very much be edible non-food, which is basically garbage made tasty while also being toxic.
- Organic, Grass-Fed, and/or Non-GMO – Additionally, it follows that organic, non-genetically modified (“GMO”) foods that are free of pesticides, antibiotics, etc., are superior to their adulterated versions. Unfortunately, eating mostly organic foods – especially fresh foods – is very expensive and hard to sustain as a lifestyle for most people. However, it should be noted that, if your budget permits, you should make the switch over to organic, etc. unadulterated food sources. Start organic with one or two of your favorite food types, the ones you consume most often, and try to branch out from there.
Final Thoughts on Macronutrients and Healthy Metabolism – A Simple Three-Step Process to Make Positive Eating Lifestyle Changes
There we go… a comprehensive look at macronutrients, filtered through my own personal, experience-based fitness “lens” – take it or leave it. This post appears to be my longest one yet, but I did take a lot of time to edit it down to the elements I felt were still necessary and useful. Again, my posts are not written in a “fun facts”, instant gratification format, but rather, in a “bottom-up”, foundation-building style so that American Partisans know not just what to do, but also why they should be doing something. When we’re talking about something as significant and even difficult as meaningful lifestyle changes that can be kept, the person seeking change needs to understand the purpose of what they’re doing, and not just blindly do it. This is especially true with attempting any changes to an eating lifestyle – you need to understand and believe in the WHY of it, and not just blindly follow some eating formula you’re given.
For those interested in using this information and maximizing success, I’d say the best way forward after reading EVERYTHING (and many won’t even do that – especially with long reads like this one; I can fully expect know-nothing idiots to lavish their ignorant “wisdom” in the comments section, as has already happened in previous posts) is to undertake a very simple three-step eating lifestyle change process.
The first step for the Partisan seeking lifestyle change is to decide which foods from the ones suggested in this post can be added into his existing eating lifestyle; merely adding healthy foods into your mix of foods may reduce your appetite for lower-quality foods to some degree, and that’s already a great starting point! This first step of eating lifestyle change is also a good time to introduce individual vitamins and minerals (to be covered in more detail in the next post), or even just a multivitamin to start, if you’re not already taking one.
The second step in eating lifestyle change is for the Partisan to use the foods suggested in this post to sustainably substitute high quality foods for other lower-quality foods in his diet, and evolve from there. That is, any substitutions the Partisan makes need to be changes he can STICK WITH, or the substitution is destined to fail; relying on discipline to eat foods you hate is just not going to work over the course of time. In my case, I won’t TOUCH okra or tomatoes, period. Yeah, they’re healthy… but I just hate them, so I never ever tried to use them!
The third step (and, by far, the hardest) to take for a Partisan seeking to change his eating lifestyle is to actually remove any remaining, un-substitutable low-quality food from the diet altogether (alcohol and sweet desserts are good examples of such nutritionally worthless consumables), and so this should be done as a final step, once healthy foods have been added (Step 1) and then used as substitutes in an acceptable form (Step 2). Here is a concise list of the Three Steps to Eating Lifestyle Change, to be done in sequence:
- Step 1: Add – Add healthy foods, as listed in this post, to your eating lifestyle – choose the ones you like; add nutritional supplements as well – specifically, individual vitamins and minerals, which are easy to add, and are of immediate benefit if you’re not taking them yet.
Example of Step 1: Adding an organic spring mix salad to your dinner where you typically don’t have salad at all.
- Step 2: Substitute – Substitute healthy foods for the less-healthy or unhealthy foods in your lifestyle – choose the ones you like and/or you can tolerate eating over time; sustainability of substitutions is absolutely vital, or your efforts are guaranteed to fail.
Example of Step 2: Substituting pizza and chicken wings the day before a hard workout with a small portion of brown rice and lots of grilled chicken thigh filets instead, to go with your salad from Step 1.
- Step 3: Remove – Remove low-quality and unhealthy foods completely – ditch those foods that really have absolutely no contribution to your health, but that you love; this will require some motivation and a realization that positive eating lifestyle change is both working, and worthwhile!
Example of Step 3: You drop two pant sizes and improve your run time by a whole minute after several weeks of lifestyle improvements from Steps 1 and 2, as suggested by Conan of American Partisan. You’re so motivated and encouraged that you decide it’s finally time to ditch that 30-pack of Busch Light every week, thus taking you to the next level of fitness and health altogether. A great victory! ‘MERICA BABY!!!
To to quickly recap: Add – Substitute – Remove. First add high quality foods, then substitute, and then start removing low-quality foods, first through substitutions, and then through outright removal of low-quality foods in the eating lifestyle. Once the American Partisan starts to realize the incredible powers of good eating – that is, fat loss and increased well-being through healthier consumption (increased energy; mental clarity; better physical output; even better sexual performance! What’s there not to like?), then he will be very much inclined to evolve his eating lifestyle in a healthier direction automatically! That’s how things went for me, and that’s how it has gone for my personal training clients as well – success promotes success, as well as a desire to improve the lifestyle yet further for more empowerment.
Don’t waste another minute, Partisans! We need healthy warriors, and that need becomes more dire by the minute these days, as I’m sure you’ll all agree. Now, go empower yourselves!
Lean n’ Mean Series Posts