Category Archives: Health

Right, where was I?

Apologies for never finishing the last post – life, well mostly work, poked it’s ugly nose in the way. I’ll be posting a lot of new food photos anyway, so no stress.

First of all, here’s how I’m looking:

Dave Progress

And here’s the weight:

Dave's-Weight-20130531As you see, I had a big blip at Christmas, which I recovered to hit my lowest recorded weight of 76.9kgs and then again at Easter – from the latter I haven’t yet recovered, but I appear to have things under control again.

What caused this? Simple, booze, too much booze, mostly beer, which I love. So the new rule is that I stop drinking at home and allow myself whatever I want if I go out. Given that I only go out once or twice a month it should make quite a difference (plus wifey will be happy). Still a few bottles in the house to, uhm, dispose of, but I’ve promised her (and myself!!) not to buy any more.

Regardless of this, I’m not looking too bad right now, but still feel I need to lose about 5kgs – this is mostly a little bit of a belly and some fat around the upper torso. Goal for this year is to expose my abs, the famous six-pack. Not sure if that’s feasible, but I’l going to try for it.

Interesting Weight Gain (and Loss)

While not exactly horrified I was somewhat disappointed that I put on 2 – 3 kgs over the holiday period:

Daves Weight20012013

Zooming in on the details for the last month:

Daves Weight20012013Zoom

What caused this? Good question, but as you can see the trend was already positive again and then the last day has seen a dramatic drop of 1.5 kgs, well that’s because I had flu (or something else with very similar symptoms), so I expect to regain at least a kilo over the next couple of days. Nevertheless I had stymied the gain and started to lose again, how?

First of all I had been drinking a lot of booze over the Christmas period, I think every day since mid December until the end of the first week of January I was drinking every day and on many occasions to excess. Mostly beer, but also wine and then in some cases whisky. In fact I got to the point where I questioned whether I was an alcoholic or not and took the decision to just stop alcohol altogether. Never say never of course, but a sustained period without booze will do me no harm at all and I have a colleague at work who’s doing the same, so we can motivate each other a bit. Two weeks and counting now and despite craving a beer on many occasions I’m holding out!

I also suspect that I just ate way too much – several family lunches and a dinner party with friends. Too many roast potatoes. On top of that Charlotte’s been making some gluten free bread and I had been scoffing way too much of that too. Finally of course, being home meant a lot less daily walking, so this no doubt factored into the equation.

The good news is that I knew it was transitory. By going back to basics and I was sure I could reverse the situation and, sure enough, that is exactly what has happened – the bout of flu only accelerated it dramatically in the last day…

Charlotte’s been Paleo now for six months or so and in many ways her transformation has been more dramatic given a) that she was already quite skinny and b) she doesn’t do any conscious exercise at all, just walking the dogs twice per day. This is all a consequence of stopping the grains and sugar, but interesting to see that she also had a little plateau over Christmas:

CharlottesWeight20012013Coming next: “If you don’t eat bread and pasta, what do you eat?”

 

Blood Test Results

I always had in my mind to recheck my blood when I reached the end of my first three months on krill oil @ 3g per day before dropping to the maintenance dose of 0.5g per day. It also coincides nicely with my weight dropping below 80kg on a regular basis and also a change of fasting strategy – I’ve just switched from 5/2 to 16/8. Have to say it’s looking pretty good:

Screen Shot 2012-12-26 at 16.16.32

 

Highlights are that my triglycerides are down from 92 to 63 and my HDL up from 49 to 71 – huge jump. LDL and overall cholesterol has risen, but I’m not fussed about that. My calculated “atherosclerosis index” has dropped from 3.78 to 2.99; I’m not sure what that means, but it’s obviously a good thing…

Other points of interest is my vitamin D has gone from 30 ng/mL in August to 58.2 – that’s a result of taking 3000iu’s twice per day, I can probably cut that back a little bit. My uric acid is lower 7.1 now versus 9.6 in August, but I’m talking Allopurinol, so it ‘ought to be! Fasting blood sugar is OK at 94 mg/dL, fasting insulin 5.6mUI/L and c-peptide 0.82ng/ml

One small worry is an increase in IGF1 from 180 ng/mL to 240 , but even more scary is my CRP is at 0.88 mg/L – that would tend to hint at some kind of inflammation. Need to do some reading up!!

 

Stalled weight loss?

Weight loss was my primary driver when I started the Atkins Diet, but after moving beyond that to a Paleo approach it took on a secondary importance behind other health improvements. Nevertheless it’s still on my agenda and one of the key indicators of forward progress or at least up to the point where I hit my target of 82.5 kilos.

With all this in mind I’ve been a bit concerned that things seemed to have ground to a halt in the last couple of weeks, with the weight pinging up and down between 84 and 85 kilos, seemingly dependant on either hydration levels or the last time I’ve had a crap:

In fact this last point has been quite a problem the last week as I’ve been quite bunged-up which I’ve been trying to understand. Firstly I don’t think I’ve been eating enough veggies, so my general fibre levels are too low. Second reason can be magnesium deficiency, so I’ve started supplementing this and as of Thursday I’ve been taking 900mg per day – and voilà, this seems to have done the trick as the gates have been open over the weekend and I’m feeling a lot better and have lost that pesky kilo again.

Other factor playing here must be increased muscle mass counteracting the fat decrease. I’m absolutely certain that the fat is still dropping off as my trousers are getting looser almost daily – the jeans I bought a month or so ago that were a bit tight in the store now need the belt to keep them up (for once the “I’m losing weight so I’ll buy them slightly small” seems to have worked! I’m also doing body-weight exercises a couple of times per week as well as sprinting from time to time and the extra muscle on my shoulders, biceps and pectorals is quite marked.

I’m also suspecting though that I’ve been eating too much carbohydrate. Eating some white rice or boiled potato is part of my daily food plan as recommended by the Perfect Health Diet that I’m broadly following. However, I suspect that the 400 – 600 calories recommended I think it could be more like 800 – 1000. So I’ll keep an eye on that and up my veggies.

All this being said, I physically feel very good right now – mentally less so though, I’m certainly not getting enough sleep (average 6 and a half hours per night), and work has been quite demanding in recent weeks. Fair to say in fact that I have been totally exhausted from time to time. I’m not going to show any pictures, but I’m looking a lot better without my clothes on too – body fat is dramatically less, even if the reading on the scales doesn’t show much change.

I’ve just finished reading It Starts With Food – this book began a bit slow and dumbed-down in my opinion, but improved dramatically as I went through it; an a quite staggering 241/252 5-star reviews on Amazon. Now I’ve started on Mark Sisson’s The Primal Blueprint and that’ll be me through the backbone of the Paleo literature. I’ll be making a comparative book review once I’m done.

And for the food I’m eating? Well I’ve dropped the smoothies for breakfast and am now eating pretty much the same as I would for lunch or dinner. It’s a bit weird at first, but you get used to it. Here’s a selection of recent meals:

So here’s something I concocted for Charlotte. Chicken, onions, mushrooms, garlic, coriander, coconut oil. What makes this a little different is the spices that I put on the chicken: ground coffee beans, cocoa powder, garlic and onion powder, vanilla, cloves, ginger, four-spices, salt and pepper. Tastes pretty good I think.

A nice steak is my usual treat on fasting days (so Monday and Tuesday). The cut I’ve found I like the most is called “pelé royale” in French. I’ve no idea what it’s called in English, but the meat has quite a coarse grain.

This was this morning’s breakfast: rice (with extra virgin coconut oil, red palm oil, tamari soy sauce), spinach (mixed into the rice), scrambled eggs, wild-caught smoked salmon (yes it really is very red in colour and quite tough compared to aquaculture reared fish) and some smoked tilapa that they had reduced in the supermarket, so I bought it to try and it was really quite pleasant (and not at all expensive).

Yesterday’s breakfast – more of that salmon and rice, this time with some leftover cabbage, avocado and a drizzle of avocado oil.

Friday’s breakfast: rice (the usual), scrambled eggs and cabbage with avocado oil. This was a bit insipid if I’m honest, but nutritionally it hit the spot.

Catch-Up

Two weeks since the last post – been extremely busy both at home and work… So, my gout eased-off after a few days on the medication, unfortunately after that I got a cold. The main symptoms only lasted three days, but I’ve been blowing out loads of green snot for the last ten days…

In all other respects things are fine. I’ve been eating some really great food, as much as I can of course and still losing weight, or more precisely body fat.

When I first started following the Perfect Health Diet I gained 1.5 kilos – this has since been lost and I’m consistently losing about a kilo per week. I’m still fasting on Mondays and Tuesdays, but the weight loss seems to spread through-out the week. Nevertheless once I get to my target weight of 82 kilos I’ll change from the 5/2 fast to a 16/8 daily routine, i.e. eating only in an 8 hour feeding window each day. Why is this so good? Well they say that autophagy - the body’s cell repair mechanism – begins after 12 hours of fasting, so doing a 16 hour daily fast means you’ll take benefits of the process every day. The goal here isn’t weight-loss, but health.

I also bought myself a FitBit – this clever little device tracks activity and sleep patterns. The real benefit is that it encourages you to move more and in my case to get to bed a bit earlier. Most people think that exercise helps weight-loss by helping create a calorie deficit, personally I think it’s more beneficial as it decreases liver glycogen stores encouraging the use of body fat as the primary energy source.

I’m exercising a couple of times per week: interval hill sprints one day, body-weight exercises another (pull-ups, push-ups, planks and squats). Been quite active moving around furniture too (thanks to my dear wife) and I’ve stopped taking the car to work, so I’m walking a lot more too and of course I never take the elevator if there are stairs available. The FitBit reveals just how sedentary we are sitting at work all day, I alleviate this by using toilets on other floors in the building, getting a walk and some stairs every hour or so.

Food-wise I’ve been making some stews in the slow-cooker. I tried a lamb ragout, but the bones in the meat went too crumbly, like chalk, and were not at all nice. Instead I’m now making with steak and I put in some beef marrow bones too. Along with the coconut oil this makes for an incredibly delicious and nutritious meal which I eat along with some smashed vegetables and potato. It’s cheap too, total cost is about €15 and I get four meals out of it.

Paleo stew with marrow bone, mashed potatoes and veggies

Marrow bones – pre-cooked in the oven prior to dropping in the stew

O.M.F.Gout!

I was shocked/horrified/perplexed/mortified (choose the one you want) when my left foot started hurting on Monday and by Tuesday felt like it was on fire. My initial suspicion was gout, and this was borne-out by my subsequent research and later doctor’s diagnosis on Wednesday.

I’ve never knowingly had gout before, but to be honest I think I’ve been lucky. Gout is basically acute arthritis brought on by the accumulation of uric acid crystals, most commonly in the sinovial fluid around joints and in 50% of these cases in the metatarsal-phalangeal joint at the base of the big toe; exactly my problem. Self-diagnoses was pretty easy given the typical symptoms and I was quite certain I hadn’t injured myself recently (although I had been sprinting & doing body-weight exercises), but perhaps mostly because of my long history of high blood levels of uric acid.

To be honest, I think I’ve just been lucky not to get this before given that my fasting blood level of uric acid has consistently been measure above 7mg/dcl and in my last test it was 9.6 – so not so much a surprise that I got gout, but more a surprise as to why I didn’t get it previously. Ask pretty much anyone what causes gout and they’ll say red meat. There’s a certain element of truth in this, but as usual it’s not so black and white. Actually meat in itself has moderate level of purine, organ meats such as liver contain higher values. In any case, although purine metabolism produces uric acid as a by-product, it’s also a catalyser for excretion of purine, so perhaps the two cancel each other out.

My previous doctor always used to send my blood test results by mail and she’d make notes on the page “good”, “needs to improve” etc. and she’d always circle the uric acid with the comment “Alcohol!”. Now I don’t really dispute this as I’ve been quite a heavy beer drinker since I’ve lived in Belgium (it’s so damn good here), but given that I’d been off the booze since the beginning of January I was a bit miffed to see it higher.

So what brought this on? Well, OK, I have to admit that the Thursday before I did have some beer – I wanted to see how my body would react after being off it for a month, so I decided to drink a couple with my work colleagues. Of course a couple of beers with me often turns into to more and so it was in this case. Then the Saturday before I had half a bottle of tequila – hmmm. Then I have read that the following can increase uric acid: weight loss: check, fasting: check, vitamin C deficiency: probably, low carb intake: check, eating high purine foods (ok, debatable, but I did eat liver over the weekend which is high in purines compared to other foods): check. I also heard from and excellent podcast by Paul Jaminet talking to ‘The Fat Burning Man’, Abel James’, that stated sweet potatoes are high in oxalates, which promoted uric acid. Well guess what I ate at the weekend too…

So I think it’s several of axes playing together that have all converged at the same time. Bad luck for me, but a wake-up call to watch out for this in the future.

So Wednesday I saw the doc – bless her, I has the consultation 15 minutes after calling her. She gave me some diclofenac NSAID for the inflammation, Colchicine to break up those pesky crystals and some Allopurinol to get the uric acid levels under control in the coming months. I can’t say I’m happy to take the drugs, but I really was in some pain and could hardly walk. Today, Saturday, there’s still a dull ache, but no real pain – only issue is the side effect of the Colchicine, which is an upset stomach, so a case of the shits basically and I feel a bit nauseous a lot of the time.

Pushing the omega 3′s

Most of us Westerners have poor levels of omega-3 in our diets, with the bulk of our fats coming in the form of harmful omega-6′s – these have been demonstrated to promote cancer, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s. There are two major sources of omega-6 fat, vegetable oils (except palm, coconut, olive, avocado, walnut and butter) being one and the other being grain-fed meats . Conversely, ruminant animals – cows and sheep – that are fed on grass, i.e. what they are supposed to eat, have a much higher omega-3:6 ratio and are much better for you. The same goes for farmed versus wild-caught fish, the omega-3:6 ratios are way higher as well as a whole host of other micronutrients.

Of course rearing animals the natural way is expensive. You need more land and more time, grass-fed cows take longer to mature and the meat is less fatty also, so they weigh less and thus don’t bring as much revenue – well perhaps not strictly true, as pasture-fed meat will tend to be sold for a higher price to specialist markets. I buy my meat from a local butcher – their animals graze in the fields and you can see with in the fat on the beef, which is firstly much lower than grain-fed, but also with more of a yellow tinge as opposed to white.

Grain-fed left, pature-fed right – photo courtesy of http://habee.hubpages.com

Brains are also a great source of omega-3′s, but most of us baulk at the idea of eating them, despite them being highly prized by our ancestors. Of course the mad-cow epidemic in the UK didn’t give them a good press either and cow brain, along with spinal chord, eyes and a few other items are forbidden for use in the human food chain in the UK (that doesn’t stop a nice bit of anus in your  burger or sausage of course…)

Here’s an interesting meal that I ate yesterday:

Some interesting things here… Firstly there’s some wild-caught, Pacific, smoked sockeye salmon. I get this from Sequoia and amazingly it’s just €7 for a pack of 200g – that’s almost half the price of the bio smoked salmon in Delhaize which is from aqua-culture, so inferior anyway. The taste and texture is totally different from the farmed varieties – it’s much firmer, almost chewy in fact, less fatty and much deeper red in colour.

The meat is a mixture of brain and tongue in gelatin. Sounds a nit yukky, but tastes great and of course is packed with DHA, zinc and B vitamins. There’s the ever ubiquitous salad with avocado and 5ml each of avocado, olive and linseed (flax) oil.

The, what’s that, rice? How come, where’s my low-carb stance gone? In fact I’ve been reading a new book recently – The Perfect Health Diet – and the authors, Paul & Shou-Ching Jaminet, make a very compelling case to consume 400 calories per day of what they term “safe starches” (glutinous white rice, sweet potatoes, potatoes, taro etc.), so I’m trying this out to see how it goes. Their basic theory is that the brain and nervous system need a certain level of glucose (or ketones) to function – between 400 and 600 calories. Now this can be manufactured in the liver on a low carb diet, but they posit that this puts unnecessary stress on the liver and it better to take this level of carbs to make this up and spread throughout the day from the right sources it shouldn’t mess with the blood sugar too much and cause too much insulin secretion.

Another suggestion from the Jaminet’s is to eat 30g of coconut oil per day for the short-chain fats – this causes generation of ketones on the liver which leads to fat-burning and general good health.

And on a similar vein, here’s today’s breakfast: tongue and brains again, three scrambled eggs (omega-3 enriched), fresh strawberries & blueberries, and 30g of golden linseeds soaked overnight in water with a dash of lime juice.

And I’ve a bag of beef bones to boil up for the marrow too. Not something I’ve ever eaten before, but incredible nutritious and apparently very tasty too.

My fourth intermittent fast tomorrow, I look forward to these now!

Bloody Marvellous – Blood Test Results Come In…

A week back I got my blood taken for analysis and I got the results on Monday. I wanted a baseline to work from and by good chance I also had a test back in January after having been a few months (sporadically) on Atkins. On top of that I’ve had quite a few over the years here in Belgium – seems to be the first thing doctors do when you go to them here – but most of them weren’t for lipids. A few were though so I’ve been able to generate a bit of history:

What’s interesting here is that in 2006 the doctor told me my cholesterols were way too high: total cholesterol 255, triglycerides 303, LDL 147 and HDL 47. She told me that if I kept like that then I would have a 50% risk of a heart attack at the age of 65 and that I needed to reduce them somehow or take drugs (statins I guess). Of course I didn’t want any drugs and at that time I was quiet overweight at 94 kgs on the old scales (which translates into around 98 kgs on the current ones). I chose to try the natural route and lose some weight at the same time. This was when I followed Chris Aceto’s super book Everything You Need To Know About Fat Loss… - while being quite badly written, lacking references and touting a few odd viewpoints, this book was my first introduction to the idea that carbs were bad for you. I followed Chris’ guidance exactly and dropped off 10 kgs in just under three months.

I thought I’d had a test not long after that, but couldn’t find anything, so perhaps it was a year later, but what you can see there is already a dramatic improvement of my total cholesterol to 203 and LDL to 99 – triglycerides still above 300 though. Then the test in 2008 shows a gradual degradation once again as I reverted to old eating habits (bread and beer being my worst enemies).

January this year, after some Atkins, show some improvement with the triglycerides down to 161 and the total cholesterol at 233. HDL tends to stay fairly stable around the 50 mark, but LDL too high at 141. Cut to the present, so we’re talking four months of quite strict Atkins from January to May, a lapse in June & July, then started Paelo at the beginning of August: total cholesterol 185, triglycerides 92 and LDL 118 – very positive changes!!

But not yet good enough. Robb Wolf states that Palaeolithic man had the following, and this is my target: total cholesterol 130, triglycerides 80, HDL 50, LDL 80 – I’m not far off in some of the measures, I’ll get another test done in 3 months, see how it has changed.

Fasting blood sugar level has been below 100 pretty consistently.

One thing that always seems to be high for me is uric acid levels. They’ve always been around 7.5, but in the recent test they were even higher. This could be because I was still drinking quite a lot of booze until recently, or I’ve also been reading that ingesting high levels of purine from red meat can cause it to increase, but also to decrease – work that one out. High uric acid can lead to gout, which nobody wants, so I’ll keep my eye on it and do the research in the meantime.

Obesity hastens cognitive decline claims study…

I had other things to write about today – for instance I’m on my second intermittent fast and also I visited the doctor yesterday to have my blood taken for analysis, and I was also planning a brief introduction to paleo, but then I read this on BBC:

Obesity ‘bad for brain’ by hastening cognitive decline

Now on first glance this might seems like a reasonable conclusion: 6000 people tracked over 10 years and the fat ones lost their brains quicker. Simple, right?

I would posit that it’s not a cause and effect, but rather a single root cause. I would be very interested to know the dietary specifics of these individuals, specifically the quantities of omega-3′s they were getting, what about their omega-6′s, were they too high? And how about carbohydrate intake, especially wheat?

Basically, high glycemic index foods, especially grains and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup), lead to insulin de-sensitivity, which is a pre-cursor to diabetes and obesity. Furthermore, modern wheat is really quite toxic to humans leads to obesity and can pass into the blood, through the blood/brain membrane and cause havoc there too.

On top of this, a diet low in omega-3 and high in omega-6 (so too much trans-fats, processed food, processed vegetables oils etc.), leads to deficiencies in EPA and especially DHA - Docosahexaenoic acid – is a major component of brain composition and function, a lack of it can lead not only to cognitive decline and dementia, but to eyesight problems and yes, you guess it, insulin de-sensitivity. ALA - alpha-Linolenic acid – which is found seed oils like rapeseed and flax can be converted in the body to EPA and DHA, but the process is highly inefficient, you need to get some in your diet, mostly through fish or fish oils, more on that another day though.

So I don’t think the scientific establishment has cracked the puzzle yet, but I think they’ve found another piece of the jigsaw and they’re heading in the right direction. Unfortunately for many people it will be too late.