The Eighth Day of Caveman Christmas

Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way to Success

Day 2 (12/21): Every Diet and Nutrition Plan Ever Agrees on One Thing: You Should Eat More Vegetables

Day 3 (12/22): This is Where We Break With the Vegetarian Crowd–Eat Meat!

Day 4 (12/23): An Eggstra-ordinary Addition to One’s Diet

Day 5 (12/24): To Dairy or Not to Dairy… A Paleo Question

Day 6 (12/25): Nuts About Seeds and Nuts

Day 7 (1/5): Sprint!

Day 8 (1/16): Yoga and Meditation

On the Eighth Day of Christmas, the caveman brought to me eight yoga poses… The Twelve Days of Caveman Christmas” is a series exploring the major health benefits and challenges associated with living a primal lifestyle, and offering suggestions to help city-dwellers overhaul their lives in time for the new year.

**Note:  This will be the last of these posts.  I’ve gotten bogged down with life-stuff and gone way past my self-imposed deadline for finishing the series.  So, I’m just going to call it.  The final four “days” will likely make their way into future posts.

The Smartest Things Ever Said About Yoga and Meditation

“Yoga is the glue, yoga is the magic.  If joints and connective tissue are crap, you can’t perform with speed and agility and balance.” – Tony Horton, the P90X Guy

“Meditation is the life of the soul: Action, the soul of meditation. and honor the reward of action.” – Francis Quarles, Poet

“Sleep is the best meditation.” – Dalai Lama

“Yoga is a great thing and meditation is also great to get connected to yourself more.” – Ziggy Marley, Musician

“If you want to find God, hang out in the space between your thoughts.” – Alan Cohen, Writer

Introduction

I am grouping two big subjects together here because, in my experience, they relate to each other well.  In the interest of full disclose, I am nowhere close to being a yogi.  My pigeon pose is pathetic and quieting my mind for any space of time is hard for me.  Even so, my yoga practice makes me fitter, both mentally and physically, and it can be a great addition to any urban caveperson’s life.

**Note: When this article refers to “yoga,” I mean hatha yoga, the system of yoga practiced in most American yoga studios, focusing on physical poses, breath practice, and meditation.

Tradition

I don’t think that our paleo ancestors ever consciously attempted to meditate.  Perhaps, though, they lived most of their lives in a kind of meditative state and modern meditation is simply striving to get in touch with a paleolithic way of being.  Regardless, men and women have been actively meditating and/or engaging in yoga practice for thousands of years.  From Buddhist monks, to Jesuit priests, to Stoic philosophers, meditation has played a major role in the shaping of our civilization.  For more information about the tradition and history of meditation, check out Jason Marshall’s great piece over at the Art of Manliness.

Health Benefits

I had originally planned to separate this section into “mental” benefits of yoga and meditation, and “physical” benefits but it occurs to me that this distinction is complete nonsense.  Body and mind are inextricably tied together.  I could classify stress reduction as a “mental benefit”, but that would ignore all the ways that reducing stress levels makes us physically healthier.

Speaking of stress reduction, the stress response (fight or flight) creates havoc in our bodies if it fires too often.  It elevates cortisol levels which leads to weight gain.  This cortisol release forces our immune system to shut down temporarily, affects digestion,  and impairs normal function of the endocrine system.  Effectively managing stress, then, if important for our health.

Yoga is a stress reducer, first, because it is a great form of exercise.  The link the between exercise and effective stress management is well-documented.  Other aspects of yoga or meditation practice that might help to reduce stress include:

  • support from and social interaction with the teacher and classmates.
  • a sense of improving the self
  • calm and relaxation of practice and/or meditation give us a chance to escape stressors of everyday life and to restore our bodies to working order
  • the practice of yoga and meditation have been shown to reduce cortisol levels
  • The slowing and deepening of breath activates the body’s parasympathetic system, creating a relaxation response

In addition to reducing stress, yoga asanas (poses) decrease inflammation by increasing lubrication of joints, ligaments, and tendons.  Learning, improving on, and striving toward perfection of various asanas will improve flexibility, balance, range of motion, and strength.  Improving these areas of fitness makes us look and feel better while simultaneously reducing the potential for catastrophic injury in our other daily exertions.

Finally, meditation provides us with an opportunity to un-plug, de-screen, and absorb all of the input we take in on a daily basis.  It allows our thinking mind to process and chew on problems.  There is a ton of anecdotal evidence of extreme creativity coming after meditation.

When you imagine mediation, you probably think of a bearded man in the classic lotus pose, murmuring a mantra to himself with eyes closed.  This is one way to meditate, but it is not the only way.  Anything where you shut off the thinking mind for a period of time will work.  Some people do exercise as meditation.  I understand how those might serve, but my mind is usually very active when I’m lifting weights or sprinting up steps.  Yoga gets me closer, but I still get distracted.  What works best for me (after sleep), is shooting free throws at a park near my house.  I bend my knees, rise up, and follow through.  The net swishes as the ball drops trough.  I retrieve the ball and walk back to the line to shoot another.  Lather, rinse, repeat, and my whole focus is on controlling my body in a way that will create another beautiful swishing sound.

Social Benefits

I’ll let my friend Adam Lyons take this one:

Resolutions

  • Try a yoga class.  It might click with you or it might not.  For my money, depending on the instructor and type of class, it is the best hour’s worth of exercise there is.
  • Find a way to carve out thirty minutes, twice a week, to decompress through meditation.  Do something that absorbs your focus completely and shut off your thinking mind.

The Seventh Day of Caveman Christmas

Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way to Success

Day 2 (12/21): Every Diet and Nutrition Plan Ever Agrees on One Thing: You Should Eat More Vegetables

Day 3 (12/22): This is Where We Break With the Vegetarian Crowd–Eat Meat!

Day 4 (12/23): An Eggstra-ordinary Addition to One’s Diet

Day 5 (12/24): To Dairy or Not to Dairy… A Paleo Question

Day 6 (12/25): Nuts About Seeds and Nuts

Day 7 (1/5): Sprint!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take a look at the above images.  Both these men are world class athletes.  On the left is an iconic image of 1992 Olympic 100-meter champion Linford Christie.  He captured the gold in Barcelona with a blazing fast time of 9.96 seconds and was, for a period of time in the early 90s, the best sprinter in the world.  On the right is 2011 world marathon champion Abel Kirui.  He won that event with a time 2:07:38.  That is a pace of under five minutes per mile!  His body is the ideal for distance running, but look at him.  If he wasn’t such a badass world champion, his friends would tease him mercilessly for being skinny.  The takeaway is obvious:  If your goal is a chiseled Linford Christie-like physique, then sprint.  If you want to look like Abel, then run long distances at a steady pace.

The reasons why sprinting builds muscle are pretty intuitive.  Every time our paleo ancestors had to sprint away from danger or sprint to make a kill, their bodies adapted to make the next time a little easier.  This meant growing large, fast-twitch muscle fibers that can generate an immense amount of power in a short amount of time.  This explosive power is not necessary for distance running (even at the kind of speeds Abel maintains) and our bodies do not need to adapt in the same way.

The benefits of sprinting come with any kind of workout that punctuates low-intensity exercise with brief periods of very high-intensity movement.  The fancy-pants sports science word for these kinds of workouts is “high-intensity interval training” or HIIT.  HIIT has manifold benefits in addition to building muscle.  It paradoxically seems to be better for fat loss, even though the “number of calories burned” according to the treadmill indicator is higher for slower, long-distance runs.  A study by the University of New South Wales indicates that HIIT burns three times as much fat as running for twice as much time at a moderate, steady pace.  In addition to building muscle and torching fat, HIIT has been shown to improve heart health and increase VO2 max (the maximum capacity of an individual’s body to transport and use oxygen during exercise) far more than distance running.

Sprint workouts on the road or the beach are one way to gain the benefits of HIIT, but let’s face it:

Here are some alternatives:

  • Basketball
  • Tennis
  • Ultimate Frisbee
  • Football
  • Soccer
  • Wrestling
  • MMA
  • Boxing
  • Swimming–Try for 8-12 50-yard sprints with 1:00 or more of rest in between.
  • Cycling–Stick to the HIIT principle.  Punctuate an easy ride with several all-out sprints.
  • Hiking–Pick six or eight hills to sprint over the course of the hike.
  • Stadium Stairs
I sprint a lot too, but my favorite way to get my HIIT workout is a pickup basketball game.  If you don’t like hitting the hard wood, any intense, fast-paced sport will grant similar benefits.  Boxing or MMA are probably the ultimate HIIT workout.  The intervals are the rounds.  Of course, if these sports are your thing, you will have to deal with all of the negative health impacts linked to getting hit in the head.

Resolutions

  • If you’re currently doing little or no cardio, incorporate one sprint workout into your weekly routine.  Just one.  Carve out 20-30 minutes and shoot for 6-8 fifteen-second sprints.
  • If you’re running many miles a week, substitute an HIIT workout for one (or all, if you want) of your longer-distance runs.

The Sixth Day of Caveman Christmas

Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way to Success

Day 2 (12/21): Every Diet and Nutrition Plan Ever Agrees on One Thing: You Should Eat More Vegetables

Day 3 (12/22): This is Where We Break With the Vegetarian Crowd–Eat Meat!

Day 4 (12/23): An Eggstra-ordinary Addition to One’s Diet

Day 5 (12/24): To Dairy or Not to Dairy… A Paleo Question

Day 6 (12/25): Nuts About Seeds and Nuts

On the Sixth Day of Caveman Christmas, the caveman brought to me six nuts-a-crunching… “The Twelve Days of Caveman Christmas” is a series exploring the major health benefits and challenges associated with living a primal lifestyle, and offering suggestions to help city-dwellers overhaul their lives in time for the new year.

Get ready for a bullet-point post.  Just as nuts are packed with great protein and fats, I’ve got some “nuts” of information for you that are packed with great content about seeds and nuts.

  • A nut is a complete source of nutrition.  They are “tree eggs” that contain all kinds of good stuff that trees need to begin life.  Nuts have the complete macronutrient package of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and whole nuts contain antioxidants reduce inflammation.
  • Keep in mind that nuts were snacks for cavemen.  Our ancestors were not eating nuts at every meal.  We should follow their lead and use nuts as a supplement to our diets.  They are not a staple.
  • There is nothing wrong with roasted nuts as long as they are roasted at lower heats.  Roast them yourself to control the heat and subsequent oxidation.
  • Avoid canola (rapeseed) oil.  The Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are destroyed in the creation process.
  • Flaxseeds are also rich in Omega-3 PUFAs.  Sprinkle them on a salad if you want, but avoid the oil because it has a lot of Alpha-Linolenic Acid.  High ALA levels have been linked to higher rates of prostate cancer.  Fish oils are a better source for Omega-3s.
  • Avoid peanuts and peanut oils.  Paradoxically, they are legumes, not nuts.  The nutritional makeup of peanuts is better than it is for most legumes but peanuts commonly come with a variety of molds.  The mycotoxins that accompany these molds can cause a wide variety of health problems.  A 1993 study found 24 different types of fungi in a single batch of peanuts.
  • Almonds are a superfood.  They’re loaded with Vitamin E (an antioxidant that decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and helps with muscle recovery), magnesium, and manganese.  They also are high in Omega-3 fats and protein.
  • Trade almond butter for peanut butter because of the above bullets.
  • Cashews have more iron than almonds, and more carbs as well.  Because of this, they make a good pre-workout, or mid-workout, snack.
  • Walnuts are high in fat, but the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio is not as favorable as it is for other nuts.  Still, the 5:1 ratio in almonds isn’t going to kill you and they are worthwhile for the anti-inflammatory polyphenols.
  • Pecans help prevent arterial damage, are high-fat and low-carb, and have been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease.
  • Brazil nuts bring selenium (keeps sperm healthy) to the table.  The Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio, however, isn’t as favorable as other nuts.
  • Macadamia nuts are very high in good fats and have the best Omega-6/Omega-3 profile of all nuts.
  • Pistachios lower bad (LDL) cholesterol.
  • Hazelnuts have arginine (an amino acid that builds muscle and lowers blood pressure) and can raise good (HDL) cholesterol.
  • Sunflower seeds have as much Vitamin E as almonds.  In addition to improving cognitive function, Vitamin E is a powerful anti-oxidant for fighting aging effects caused by inflammation.
  • Pumpkin seeds have plenty of magnesium (plays a role in all kinds of bodily processes and reduces the risk of heart disease).
  • Sesame seeds are rich in iron, copper, manganese, and calcium.

Now you know why you should incorporate some nuts and seeds into your diet.  They’re great sprinkled into a salad or ground up with garlic and mixed into a stir fry.  Go and experiment in good health.

References

1.  Weber, Joel (2011).  The Men’s Health Big Book of Food and Nutrition.  Rodale, Inc.

The Fifth Day of Caveman Christmas

Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way to Success

Day 2 (12/21): Every Diet and Nutrition Plan Ever Agrees on One Thing: You Should Eat More Vegetables

Day 3 (12/22): This is Where We Break With the Vegetarian Crowd–Eat Meat!

Day 4 (12/23): An Eggstra-ordinary Addition to One’s Diet

Day 5 (12/24): To Dairy or Not to Dairy… A Paleo Question

On the fifth day of Christmas, the caveman brought to me claaaaaaaarified butterrrrrr… The Twelve Days of Caveman Christmas” is a series exploring the major health benefits and challenges associated with living a primal lifestyle, and offering suggestions to help city-dwellers overhaul their lives in time for the new year.

Introduction

Dairy is something of a sticking point for a lot of modern cavepeople.  For a long time, even after changing my diet for the paleo, I drank a whole-milk smoothie post workout.  I don’t anymore.  Let’s take a look and see if milk is, as the ad says, doing our bodies good.

In Defense of Dairy

Recently, at Cressey Performance, Brian St. Pierre explored whether dairy is healthy.  This article is a good place to start and it’s worth a read if you haven’t already taken a look at it.    First things first, we have to note the sorry state of most of the dairy cows in this country.  There are all kinds of things wrong with modern dairy production on factory farms.  Dairy cows stand in their own waste, eat corn, and are injected with growth hormones and antibiotics.  There is nothing natural about this life.  Not surprisingly, the dairy cows who live this kind of lifestyle do not produce the most nutritious milk.  Dairy that comes from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows, however, has more going for it.  It has a higher concentration of vitamins, minerals, and Omega-3s.

Second, full-fat dairy is more nutritious than reduced-fat dairy.  We know that dietary fat is something to be embraced rather than feared, and full-fat dairy has a bunch of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K2) and healthy fatty acids.  Whole milk post-workout also seems to contribute more to muscle growth than an equal amount of skim milk.

Now, let’s talk about pasteurization.  Pasteurization is the process of heating milk to a certain temperature in order to destroy bacteria.  Pasteurization decreases the whey (good) protein content in milk, while also destroying the beta-lactoglobulin and serum albumin that tend to boost our body’s production of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant.  Because of this, raw, fermented milk is probably healthier than pasteurized milk if you feel comfortable going that route.

Therefore, if you are going to drink milk at all, raw, fermented whole milk is probably the way to go.  But, there are good reasons to just skip it entirely.

The Case Against Dairy

For one thing, as Mark Sisson points out, that the majority of the world’s population is lactose intolerant is compelling evidence that we probably didn’t evolve to consume cow milk.  Even if you’re not lactose intolerant, the lactose in milk spikes insulin levels way more than you would expect given the amount of sugar created.  In general, we want to avoid these kinds of insulin spikes.

In addition to lactose, the casein in dairy is worrisome.  Casein is the main protein in dairy products and, like gluten, it causes inflammation of the gut which can lead to tiny perforations in the intestinal lining.  These holes allow proteins into the bloodstream.  This induces an immune response as the body attacks the foreign proteins.  It’s not surprising, then, that asein protein has been linked to a number of auto-immune diseases ranging from acne to lupus.  Moreover, T. Colin Campbell found that diets containing a large amount of casein protein dramatically increased the development of cancerous tumors in mice.  Of course, as we found in Part 3, he then made the unfounded leap to lump in all other animal proteins with casein as cancer-causing.

Judgment

For me, the bad significantly outweighs the good here.  I can get almost all of the worthwhile stuff that comes in whole milk from other animal sources without the casein and the elevated insulin levels.  I’m going to skip cheese and yogurt for the same reason.

Butter, though is an exception.  It is a fantastic cooking fat that, from a nutritional standpoint, doesn’t really have anything wrong with it.  Don’t worry about the saturated fat content.  Saturated fat intake is not responsible for heart disease.  There are some problems, however, with your standard store-bought stick or tub of butter.  First, just like with other animal products, we want to avoid the factory farming complex.  Buy butter that comes from cows raised on natural diets that are not pumped full of antibiotics and/or growth hormones.  This means choosing the “organic” butter that comes from “grass-fed” or “pastured” cows.  Second, butter is only about eighty percent fat.  The other twenty percent is made up of milk solids, which means there is some sneaky casein in there.  Luckily, it is easy to clarify our butter to remove those milk solids, leaving only golden, delicious butter-fat.  Yum.

Let Chef Mike Isabella will show you how to clarify butter at home:

The Fourth Day of Caveman Christmas

Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way to Success

Day 2 (12/21): Every Diet and Nutrition Plan Ever Agrees on One Thing: You Should Eat More Vegetables

Day 3 (12/22): This is Where We Break With the Vegetarian Crowd–Eat Meat!

Day 4 (12/23): An Eggstra-ordinary Addition to One’s Diet

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, the caveman brought to me four pan-fried eggs… The Twelve Days of Caveman Christmas” is a series exploring the major health benefits and challenges associated with living a primal lifestyle, and offering suggestions to help city-dwellers overhaul their lives in time for the new year.

The Smartest Things Ever Said About Eggs

“Ah, eggs. We Primals appreciate your delicious creamy yolky goodness and fluffy decadent ivory insides, like so many edible clouds upon whose buoyancy our breakfast relies.” – Mark Sisson, Fitness Writer

“When I was a lad, I ate four dozen eggs/every morning to help me get large/and now that I’m grown, I eat five dozen eggs/so I’m roughly the size of a baaaaaarge.” – Gaston from Beauty and the Beast

That’s it.  People don’t talk about eggs enough.  Eggs are totally awesome, especially if you are trying to gain muscle for whatever reason.

Eggs and Cholesterol

“But Andy,” you might be saying, “eggs have a lot of cholesterol and cholesterol is so bad. It makes us fat, and causes heart attacks, and kicks puppies!”  Check your correlation at the door, I say, and check out this and this and this.  In a nutshell, dietary cholesterol isn’t really linked with cholesterol levels AT ALL, so don’t worry about it.  Instead focus on eating good fats, which eggs have in abundance.  Eat the yolks, folks.

The Nutritional Profile of Eggs is Pretty Awesome

Whole eggs are a superfood.  They are up there with kale in my culinary heart.  My go to morning meal is an egg and kale omelette.  Numerous studies have shown that people who eat eggs as part of their breakfast eat less calories the rest of the day.  Probably because eggs are so chock-full of vitamins and minerals that the body needs.  Once our bodies get these, they no longer crave them.  In an egg, you’ll find all the essential amino acids, a nice mix of protein and fat, selenium (prevents prostate cancer), riboflavin (aids in all kinds of cellular processes), Vitamin B12 (improves cognitive function and may ward off Alzheimer’s), choline (good for brain function), lutein (eye health), and Vitamin D (boosts the immune system and decreases inflammation.

That being said, not all eggs are created equal.  For an egg-buying primer, check out Mark Sisson’s Egg Purchasing Guide.

Resolutions

Resolve to never, ever eat fruit loops for breakfast again.  Crack an egg or three and let the good health roll.

The Third Day of Caveman Christmas

Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way to Success

Day 2 (12/21): Every Diet and Nutrition Plan Ever Agrees on One Thing: You Should Eat More Vegetables

Day 3 (12/22): This is Where We Break With the Vegetarian Crowd–Eat Meat!

EAT THIS                                                                   NOT THAT

On the third day of Christmas, the caveman brought to me three steak strips… The Twelve Days of Caveman Christmas” is a series exploring the major health benefits and challenges associated with living a primal lifestyle, and offering suggestions to help city-dwellers overhaul their lives in time for the new year.

The Smartest Things Ever Said About Meat

“I’ve been a vegetarian for so long, I forgot how much I missed meat.  You know, you don’t realize how important meat is until you don’t have it for a long time.” – Brittany Daniels, Actress

“If God did not intend for us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?” – John Cleese, Comedian

“Not eating meat is a decision, eating meat is an instinct.” – Dennis Leary, Actor

“Processed pig is white trash meat.  Some people call it Spam.” – Scott Weiland, Musician

“When comparing the fatty acid profiles of grass-fed and grain-fed beef it’s easy to see why the pasture grazers are the best choice.” – Robb Wolf, Paleo Baby Jesus

What About the Vegetarian Crowd?

A thick, juicy slab of prime rib.  Sizzling, dripping bacon.  Ground beef mixed with red onions and oregano before being pressed into patties.  These things are the big differences between a paleolithic diet and most responsible vegetarian diets.  Otherwise, they’re the same.  Denise Minger gave a talk about just this at the AHS that got rave reviews (I, sadly, was not present).  Here is the talk and here are her slides.

This is a big divergence, though.  The argument from the vegetarian side of things is that  ingestion of animal protein leads to much higher levels of mortality resulting from an increased risk for heart disease and various types of cancer.  See the China Study.  Now, there was some good stuff going on in the China Study.  The emphasis on nutrition to prevent disease is spot on.  But, the data doesn’t support Dr. Campbell’s vilification of animal protein.  Probably the most well-known critique of the China Study (at least it came up first on Google), is Denise Minger’s “The China Study: Fact or Fallacy.”  If you click that link, buckle up for a long (though fascinating) ride.  The takeaway is that Dr. Campbell’s conclusions are based on unvariate correlations drawn from a carefully chosen part of the China Study data set, and Minger herself was able to use the same data set to arrive at (equally irrelevant) unvariate correlations between animal protein intake and greater health and longevity.  Moreover, Campbell projects his research about casein protein and cancer onto all animal protein, an unfounded leap.

Minger isn’t the only China Study-critique game in town.  Check out Micheal Eades, M.D. criticizing the observational nature of the China Study.  Here is Chris Masterjohn’s critique over at the Four-Hour Workweek.  Also, courtesy of Denise Minger, here’s a collection of peer-reviewed papers using the China Study data that conflict with Dr. Campbell’s conclusion.

All that being said, my mom is a vegetarian, I have some very good friends who are vegetarians, and I don’t think there is anything wrong with the vegetarian lifestyle.  I think it is a little bit trickier to navigate for men (because soy acts like estrogen in the body), but a vegetarian diet can be healthy for some people.  Also, vegetarians are confronting the status quo in their own way, and kudos for that!

What Kinds of Meat?

Real meat, y’all.  Don’t step into a Slim Jim, Macho Man.  Skip the hot dogs and anything else that has been processed and packaged for mass consumption.  Ideally, your beef is grass-fed and hormone-free.  Grass-fed beef has a better overall fat profile (more omega-3s) than grain-fed beef.  The same goes for chicken, pork, and bacon.  Try to eat animals that have lived their lives in as close to a natural state as possible, both to avoid supporting factory farms and for your own health.  As for fish, eat wild-caught stuff and skip the farmed fish.  Generally, the toxin load of wild-caught fish is much lower than that of farmed fish.

Resolutions

I only have one for you.  Resolve to have no fear of meat, despite what your vegan friends are saying.  Shoot for 100-150 grams of protein a day, try to keep your carbohydrates under 150 grams per day, and don’t be afraid of fat.  Paradoxically, fat doesn’t make us fat.  It has little to no impact on insulin.  Animal products are a great way to meet our body’s protein and nutritional requirements and are not the villains they are made out to be.

The Second Day of Caveman Christmas

Day 1 (12/20): Sleep Your Way To Success

Day 2 (12/21): Every Diet and Nutrition Plan Ever Agrees on One Thing: You Should Eat More Vegetables

On the second day of Christmas, the caveman brought to me Two Romaine Heads… “The Twelve Days of Caveman Christmas” is a series exploring the major health benefits and challenges associated with living a primal lifestyle, and offering suggestions to help city-dwellers overhaul their lives in time for the new year. 

The Smartest Things Ever Said About Vegetables

“Using lots of fresh foods, fruits and vegetables, helps to keep the menu buoyant.  I don’t know if that is the right word but it keeps a balance of freshness and health.” – Sally Schneider, Chef

“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables.  They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” – Elizabeth Berry, Food Writer

“The colors of a fresh garden salad are so extraordinary, no painter’s palate can duplicate nature’s artistry.” – Dr. SunWolf, Legal Scholar

“I’m a vegetable man.” – Magic Johnson, Professional Basketball Player

“I consider the 70s to be the youth of old age.  So all you women out there who are afraid of getting older, just keep your orgasms in place, eat a lot of vegetables, take exercise, and you’ll be fine.” – Betty Dodson, Sex Educator

Why Eat Vegetables?

Well, aside from the fact that every modern diet plan screams that they’re awesome, vegetables are good carbohydrates.  Every type of carbohydrate you eat is eventually converted to glucose.  Our bodies use this glucose as fuel but, in excess, it is a toxin.  Because of this, our bodies use insulin to get excess glucose out of the bloodstream and into cells for storage as glycogen.  And, once our muscle and liver cells are full of glycogen, it gets stored as fat.  Vegetables deliver your body a host of micro-nutrients (depending on the veggie, in question) accompanied by a very reasonable carbohydrate load.

What Veggies are the Best?

  • Spinach was Popeye’s muscle-builder for a reason–it has as much protein as it does carbohydrates, and treating human muscle cells with a hormone found in spinach increases protein syntheses by twenty percent.  The nutrient profile of spinach is impressive–it has Vitamins A and K, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and selenium.  For those of you (like myself) who like to toss back a few gins in a night, selenium is a liver-protector.
  • Avocados are full of good fats and have a ton of fiber.
  • Sweet, crunchy fennel bulbs offer a bunch of fiber and Vitamin C, and a mix of cancer fighting antioxidants.  More importantly, it’s traditionally an aphrodisiac that,  according to a report by the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation, may help increase bloodflow to the penis.  Yee-haw.
  • A cup of cooked Kale has seven grams of carbohydrates and is loaded with Vitamins A and C, potassium, calcium, iron, and folate, as well as carotenids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are pigments that collect in the retina and absorb damaging light rays.  Moreover, kale (it’s my #1 superfood, y’all) has flavonol kaempferol which has stopped pancreatic cancer cells from growing in a study performed at the Baylor College of Medicine.  One cup also has ten times your recommended daily value (I know, fuck the FDA, but still) of bone-fortifying Vitamin K.
  • Broccoli is a close second to Kale.  In addition to protein, it provides manganese, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron.  Also, like most other greens, it is a good source of Vitamins A, C, and K.  Finally, its indole 3-carbinole supply may reduce excess estrogen in the body, making us manlier men.
  • Last of my Super Six are brussels sprouts, which, in addition to large amounts of Vitamin C and K, contain glucosinolates, compounds that may reduce cancer risk.
Holy cruciferous vegetables, Batman!  Embrace it, they’re fresh (when they’re fresh, anyway), crunchy, earthy, and nutritionally dense.  Moving away from cruciferous options, some other favorites are basil (stimulates short-term memory), lemongrass (an exceptional amount of antioxidants), carrots (significantly lowers risk of skin cancer), asparagus (a nice folate-rich side that pairs well with steak), rosemary (carnosic acid may protect against Alzheimer’s and prevent stroke), and garlic (enzymes release seratonin which boosts memory and relaxes us).


 

 

 

 

 

Resolutions

It can be hard for some of us to give vegetables a starring role on our dietary stage, especially if we are not in the habit of eating any greens at all or if those around us are intent on living and eating badly because they “hate vegetables” or some other such hogwash (Do you hate yourself?!  Do you hate feeling good?!).  Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”  Some of these modest resolutions might help coax along the habit in yourself of consistently eating vegetables:
  • If you rarely eat vegetables now, commit to eating at least one serving of a green vegetable per day.  You can (and should) amp this up over time, but eating patterns are tough to change all at once.
  • I love vegetarians (I’ve dated a few, I was one for awhile), especially those that are eating that way because of sustainability/environmental/health concerns.  Though I don’t think a vegetarian diet is the best way to eat for optimal human health, at least vegetarians are having some of the right conversations.  And they make some damn fine cookbooks.  Buy one of these and commit to making one of its veggie-centric meals at least once a week.
  • Or, better yet, take one of these for a spin around the kitchen.
  • Identify at least five restaurants in your area that have great, vegetable-friendly menus and try to start steering friends there for lunch instead of Olive Garden or Panera.
  • Just add one vegetable to your diet this month.  Maybe it’s spinach.  Maybe it’s carrots.  But you find ways to work it in.  Develop your palate.  Next month, add another.
  • Mix greens into your morning smoothies.  A leaf of Kale won’t change the taste of that almond butter, whole milk, strawberry, banana, and whey smoothie in the slightest.
  • Resolve not to force the issue on a particular vegetable.  If you hate the texture or flavor of kale (I don’t see how this is possible, kale is the bomb), move on and try spinach or romaine or red chard instead.

References

1.  Weber, Joel (2011).  The Men’s Health Big Book of Food and Nutrition.  Rodale, Inc.