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August 31, 2011 posted by

The Great American Nutrient Heist

The final prep before my race has me attempting to shed the last vestiges of extra weight from my body while eating enough to recover from both training and the injuries sustained in a couple of crashes. The key to making that happen is nutrient efficiency, which means that I want to get as many nutrients as possible from each calorie I consume.

This strategy is the opposite of how Americans are taught to eat by the food industry. In an attempt to sell calories as cheaply as possible, Big Food peddles calorie dense, but nutrient deficient, processed vittles whenever they can. Pretty much anything you find in the center of a supermarket (i.e. most of it) fits the bill. From cereals to juices to bread, whenever you see words on a label like enriched or fortified you’re likely evaluating junk food in one form or another.

Most things in boxes or bags are so far from a natural state that there’s hardly any nutrients left in them. Everything we eat has macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) so Big Food makes sure that this features prominently on the label. But macronutrients only give you a big picture of a food’s energy, not its nutritional content, which comes in the form of micro and phytonutrients. These, in most processed foods, are practically non-existent. So in order for you not to notice these foods get “fortified” or “enriched” with whatever the makers can source on the cheap. Marketers then turn these into “essential vitamins minerals” or something else that sounds catchy, even though they’re almost never added with any forethought about what your body might need to function well. The result is that much of America now must consume more and more calories in order to sustain their body’s nutrient requirements. And you know where this leads; to eating more calories than required to maintain a healthy weight.

“We’re fat because we’re gluttons,” was a comment on one of my recent posts. This is hard to argue. But we’re also being made to eat more than we need by a food industry that won’t feed us nutrient dense calories. Sure, they are also guilty off using additives that make us hungry, as well as crave more of the slop they’re shucking, but they’re doing something even more insidious; filing us up with calories they won’t allow our bodies to function properly. This puts us in a Catch-22, where we feel the need to eat more because we’re lacking nutrients, yet the more we eat the worse we feel.

And this entire scenario was set-up by Big Food. It’s impossible to eat this way naturally. Humans are omnivores, meaning that plants and animals, for the most part, are loaded with everything we need to exist. Natural foods don’t just contain “8 essential” vitamins but often hundreds of different things that our bodies can use—-check out this melon article to see what’s in these fruits often called “mainly sugar” by the uninformed. Granted, poor animal raising and farming practices are chipping away at this, too, but it’s still a lot tougher to make a living organism devoid of nutrition than it is to add nutrients to something that’s been so processed that it begins at zero.

So when I find myself in a situation where I need to lose weight and add nutrition at the same time, I start by eliminating stuff in bags and boxes and making veggies and fruits the cornerstone of my diet. Vegetables are the most nutrient dense food on the planet. And due to their calorie to fiber ratio you can’t over eat them. Fruits, too, are almost perfect and can really only be overindulged when dried or juiced. I then add legumes, nuts, and seeds for their energy and fatty acids and, voila, any extra weight melts away. Five days of this and I’m down to fighting weight, provided I’m in the ballpark when I begin.

My one exception is Shakeology, but it’s formulated in exactly the opposite way of convenience food; to maximize nutrient density. In fact, in a way it’s the foundation of my diet because I’m very busy and it’s the quickest and easiest way to make sure I’ve got all the nutritional bases covered in one fell swoop.

Sadly, my omission includes cans and bottles. As healthy as studies show drinkers are there’s no way to justify it as part of this strategy. As much as it may help your lifestyle it’s simply not a nutritionally dense food. Last night I set a personal record; making it through two episodes of Mad Men with nary a cocktail, or even a beer. And this, of course, is mental training. It’s another important aspect of race prep, but a topic for another time.


  • Do you consider that a sustainable diet, or one only to be used for short term weight loss? Obviously it would have merit all the time to some degree, but is there anything you'd consider crucial to a lifetime diet missing from it? Would you be willing to post an example of what a day's eating on that plan would look like?

  • I'm absolutely appalled that you'd watch Mad Men with the intention to not drink. That's gross. You're dumb.But, back to the point of your post: I've been harping this for some time. I just finished 2 weeks in China. I ate tons of food – mostly rice, veggies, fish and pork – probably ate 50% more daily than I do when I'm in America – and I probably exercised 1/2 of what I do in America. And I lost weight. I always do. Every trip.Weighed in on my first day over there @ 67 kilos, this morning before leaving I was at 64.5 kilos. That's 5.5 lbs in 2 weeks – with less exercise and more food. (Sadly, I'm still 2.5 kilos above ideal fighting weight.)Whuck?

  • Somewhat related to the topic at hand, but what's your take on a keto diet? I've been hearing a lot about of late, with a lot of praise.I just can't get over eating bacon and cheese, etc, to lose body fat. And then when I heard it doesn't negatively affect your heart or LDL or anything, I had to double take on this diet…

  • Amen, brother. And to add to this, when you're hitting the fruit, make a point of mixing up the colors. Some of the most important phytonutrients, carotenoids, are also responsible for pigmenting fruit and veggies, so a variety of color means a variety of nutrients.Love, The Melon Man

  • And to research your melons in pairs.

  • steve, love the blog and have read it for a couple of years. but i take issue with the comment about food companies being "guilty of using additives that make us hungry" with junk food that is "fortified" and "enriched." i don't revere them but think that a lot of what they do is misunderstood–to nobody's fault but their own.but at the end of the day everything on this planet: you, me, carrots, twinkies and rocks are comprised of nothing but chemicals. i look at a shakeology label and am puzzled why this is an exception? i don't want to enter a protracted debate about its merits vs. its drawbacks but would just like to be fair and assess the facts. you are normally an advocate of such an approach. Note: I don't eat processed food (for the most part) and cook from scratch for my meals.

  • GW,Have you ever sat in a marketing meeting? Most big food manufacturers are in the business of staying in business. They don't give a crap about anyone's health. Hell, Monsanto–king of GMO–won't allow its management to consume their own GMO products yet they consitently sue farmers who try to avoid using them. It's insane.I'm not going to name the companies but I work with people who used to work in Big Food and the issue of food, and health, hold little interest to most of the food manufacturing companies. They want to make money and keep from getting sued. That's it. What actually goes in the food has to:1) be cheap to max profits.2) not kill or mame anyone in a way that can be traced back to the company.That's it.but if it will make the customer crave more, that's a plus (there examples of this everywhere–from msg to restaurants fighting government sodium restrictions, etc)The big food industry, not just meat but all of it, completely blows. They lobby subsidies so they can overuse land and they make very small profits because they are lazy and don't want to change they way they work. It's like a big glandhanding scarm. One example off the top of my head is the average acre of subsidized ag land in the US yields something like $200 per acre whereas a properly run ranch, like a guy in Virginia who features in Fresh, Food, Inc, Omnivoire's Dilemma, etc yields over $3,000 per acre. None of it actually makes any real sense except that big companies, who've been around a long time and gotten lazy, are still using their influence to try and control a game that they aren't really all that interested in. If consumers were more aware they'd all either go out of business or be forced to change their game.You might think I'm ranting, or exaggerating, but if you get into the nitty gritty my view it tame compared to the shenanigans these companies pull.Shakeology is the opposite and this is why. We proactively go after regulations of sourced materials, which didn't exist when we began making it. Our development process is crazy slow due to our attention to detail. We began developing it in 2005 and only have ONE product on the market. That's how careful we are being. Big Food would never do business this way. Our goal is to make the healthiest thing we can and find a way to sell it at the smallest margins we can afford to stay in business. The process could not be more different.

  • More fun from Big Food. Check out the USDAs rules for "ingredients" in meat.

  • Disco,The keto diet can be effective for very overweight deconditioned folks who are at high risk (or already have) health problems. As for a diet for a healthy person, check out the definition of ketosis. Does this sound like a state a healthy person wants to promote their body to be in on a regular basis to you?

  • Marketing meeting? Yes. AND for Big Food. Am I employed by them? No. But I am familiar enough with the industry and, to be fully transparent, am publishing a consumer-friendly book that deciphers the science of flavor. Look, I am not going to defend them (especially Monsanto) nor the agricultural subsidies. I think most of that stuff stinks. I am just concerned about managing the messages and wanting to make sure that facts are accurately portrayed (I know you love science). What’s wrong with MSG? That gets back to my chemical issue. Monsodium glutamate has received a ton of bad press but nobody understands it. The public cries about “allergies to MSG” or “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” without an iota of knowledge. It’s an isolated glutamatic acid (amino acid). It occurs naturally in a number of whole foods and provides us the umami taste sensation in conjunction with two other amino acids. This may sound scary but we’re conditioned to respond to the presence of glutamate from our mother’s milk as infants. Even tomatoes have a ton of glutamic acid. People mistakenly believe a vine-ripened tomato is better because it is sweet when, in fact, it is the umami that we crave. We could go back and forth for a very long time and I will happily debate offline. I respect your opinion and enjoy reading your blog. I just wanted to address that fact that chemicals aren’t necessarily a bad thing. And if you insist as much, on the chemical issue alone, then Shakeology has to be the baby in the bath water.

  • I see what you're saying. Of course, in no way was I making a chemical statement other than as a colloquial for strategic substances placed in food for insideous reasons. As to the chemical thing, yes of course they can't be vilified. Even the simplest substance, like salt, is life giving in one situation and poison in another. I certainly didn't mean to take a derogatory stance against chemicals!

  • "So when I find myself in a situation where I need to lose weight and add nutrition at the same time, I start by eliminating stuff in bags and boxes and making veggies and fruits the cornerstone of my diet."Steve,I really like this part of your post, and I find everywhere that vegetables and fruits are a main staple of any good diet. My question is rather unusual, I'm sure. What are the best things you can make staples of your diet if you can not make fruits and vegetables staples of your diet? I am allergic to almost all fruits and vegetables, been checked by a GI specialist, and there's nothing that they can do. Having said that, I try to eat as healthy as I can, focusing on healthy fats from nuts and seeds, whole grains for carbohydrates, and lean meats. But, I don't know if proportion really matters all that much. I've seen different opinions on the matter, and I would say the majority of my diet is healthy fat (probably 50%), followed by protein (around 25%, and, finally, carbs (around 25%). The numbers there are really rough, but I'm sure it's more healthy fats than anything.Anyway, thought I'd ask your opinion on the matter since I have an unusual situation.

  • Steve,Most diets I see are about losing weight or gaining weight. I still haven't been able to find a diet that allows me to maintain what I got. I started from waist size 40 inches, cut down to 28 inches (then I felt ashamed because there were no clothes in a mall for me and was difficult to find a decent jeans at that size.) I restarted gaining weight and then it got little out of control. I ended up waist size 33. Again I am on weight loss journey. How do I maintain waist size 31 and live with it. Moreover, whoever made Asylum diet – Gave me exact guidelines what I can eat and what I can't. However I don't see myself getting ripped like lot of people showing off their photos. I am very satisfied that I went from XXL to S. But instead of getting ripped, i went XS which is what I don't like.Please give your insights.

  • GW, I think you're missing the point that "Synthetic Chemicals" are at issue here. And if your researching the flavoring industry, then you might want to include "The Hundred Year Lie" ( as a reference. I have friend that was a flavorist and they fully know and are aware that they are using carcinogenic synthetic chemicals in secret formulas as long as they use so many X per millions ratio. It's horrifying and asinine that they can keep this hidden..but big food can deem it as protective copyright, thus insuring they can mass produce what ever crap it's going into on the cheap. To Steve's point, it's about maximizing profit…pure and simple.

  • Tom, I don't think I am missing the point. I advocate greater transparency for everything and dissemination of facts (that's one of the reasons that I enjoy Steve's blog–due to the scientific approach to fitness research). My point is that someone can't blame the food industry's use of chemicals on all of our health woes. The individual needs to take some responsibility both for her diet/exercise and also understanding what she eats.I wrote earlier that the food industry had done a horrible job managing the message. Your response is proof positive of this. Synthetic? What does that really mean? Do you know? It means that it wasn't naturally derived. Chemists found a more efficient way of creating the same chemical compound. But in the end it is the same chemical compound. Water is only two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom–nothing but chemicals. You can easily (actually you have to work hard at it) kill yourself by drinking too much water. Would you blame it on the chemicals? Probably not, but that would be the root cause.Let me ask you this…have you ever balked at taking an aspirin because it's a synthetic chemical? Or what about a protein shake or recovery drink–chemicals there too. Ever have a beer? Think about all the chemical reactions that took place to generate the ethanol and create carbon dioxide.I just want to reverse some of the ignorance about this subject. Because those that continue to selectively propagate false myths are doing more harm than good. Thanks for the link. I hadn't heard about The Hundred-Year Lie. I'll take a look. It looks a bit like sensational journalism but I like to read.

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