Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Does caffeine increase performance?

My mom was a coffee connoisseur; she had her own blend of preferred coffee beans that she ground fresh every morning.  The sweet smell of fresh brewed coffee permeated the house and it smelled sooo goood.

One day I asked if I could try coffee, I was about age 14 I think (can't really remember). One sip and I spit it out.  Coffee is an acquired taste.

My grandparents (RIP) said that in order for me to behave like an adult, I'd have to start drinking coffee, can't drink milk and water all my life.  Interesting.

I've had coffee drinking friends advise me that yeah, coffee can be bitter.. to get used to it, add lots of sugar and cream to cover up the taste.

I never saw the point of that.  Why not simply drink something you like the taste of in the first place?

Sure, but then you don't get the caffeine buzz.

When I've asked people if they liked the taste of coffee when they first tried it, most said they didn't.  They kept drinking it because of the buzz and it was the social thing to do.  Over time they got used to the taste, some coming to love it, others continuing to rely on the cream and sugar to tollerate it.

That's what most told me.  Maybe my infrequent casual survey of only a few is not representative, but still, the whole process has never appealed to me.

Aside from providing the masses with a morning pick-me-up buzz, caffeine also has a sports performance angle. Studies have shown that caffeine can increase performance in some people, but some studies show no effect or only placebo effect.

I thought I would give caffeine a try before a weight training workout to see if it affected my workout one way or the other.

I bought caffeine pills because the caffeine dose in coffee is highly variable and I wanted to ensure I could control my dose.

I started with a large dose, 200 mg 2 hours prior to, then another 200mg of caffeine 45 minutes before training.  About the same amount of caffeine in 2 to 3 cups of coffee.

On my walk to the gym I was feeling agitated.  Waiting for a light to change at a crosswalk I felt anxious and wanted to bolt across the red light.  I didn't, but I thought to myself, how do people put up with this feeling?  I found it near intolerable. My focus wasn't increased on caffeine, it was scattered by feeling jumpy.  Strike one for caffeine.

Nevertheless I continued onto the gym and thought, who knows, maybe this is just how you feel on caffeine, but exercise performance is still positively effected.

My focus was far worse on caffeine.  I know how to mentally get myself into "the zone" for training, and found my ability to do so was impaired by the caffeine.  Ironically I had to dig deep into my already trained ability to focus to overcome the reduced focus induced by the caffeine.

I managed 3 more repetitions on bench press than I did last time.  Was this a positive effect of caffeine? Maybe it was.  Right on, I thought, this is great!  On my calf raises I was baked.  Not the day for calves.  What about the supposed caffeine response?  How can caffeine positively effect my pectoral muscles, but not my calves?  Impossible.

Alas, I was simply experiencing the normal progression of training where when you're more recovered and adapted to the previous workouts you can do more work, and when you're not completely recovered you burn out early.  Not all muscles are always recovered to the same degree on the same day.  This day upper body was good to go, legs, not so much.

Caffeine had no positive effects on my workout, only negative.  I suppose one could get all hyped up about how they think caffeine will help them, so when they feel the brain buzz effects of caffeine they choose to become more motivated.  Caffeine has been shown to decrease sensitivity to pain durring exercise, so maybe thats how some find a benefit.

I would think though that if pain sensitivity was reduced risk of pushing too hard would increase, plus you never get to tune into your body because you're on drugs.  I say it's better to learn how to monitor discomfort levels during exercise so you can make the right decisions for when to push a bit more or back off.

Caffeine was a bust for my workout, strike two for caffeine.

The worst part was yet to come though.  I felt agitated and restless for the rest of the day, was up to 3 in the morning due to caffeine induced insomnia and felt like crap the next two days.  Strike three for caffeine.

A small but very interesting, and well controlled unique study on Placebo effects of caffeine on cycling performance was done in 2006.

Well trained cyclists were told they would be taking either no caffeine via placebo, a moderate dose, or a large dose of caffeine, then asked to perform 10 kilometre time trials on their bikes.

The unique aspect of this study is that all three trials received no caffeine, everyone got a placebo.

The results?

A 1.4% decrease in power compared to their baseline when the believed they had ingested a placebo, 1.3% more power when they believed they received the moderate dose of caffeine, and 3.1% more power when they believed they had taken the higher dose.

I think I hear a little bell ringing.  It's Pavlov.

For me the most interesting part of the study was that when asked how they felt, the cyclists in the study all reported feeling caffeine related symptoms (caffeine buzz).  The study subjects spoke to each other about how the caffeine increased their performance and they could really feel it, which caused the athletes to congratulate each other on feeling the buzz.  That would be the fake buzz that they didn't realize they were making up.

A similar study was done in 2009 on the Placebo effects of caffeine on short-term resistance exercise to failure

Similar set up to the cycling study.  Those who thought they were on caffeine had a lower rating of perceived exertion, and they pumped out a couple more reps. The performance increase results were the same as studies that use real caffeine.

These two studies are very important because they call into question the results of other studies that don't account for placebo effect.

I think for the most part caffeine use in sports is either useless, or near useless, interferes with athletes developing better body awareness, promotes the idea that performance comes in a pill, and promotes dependancy on pills for performance.

The studies show that athletes can improve their performance by feeling very positive about their abilities.

My study on myself showed that for me, caffeine is a nightmare.

Effects of caffeine on repetiti... [Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2007] - PubMed - NCBI

Placebo effects of caffeine on ... [Int J Sports Physiol Perform. 2009] - PubMed - NCBI

The effects of different doses of caffeine on e... [J Sports Sci. 2012] - PubMed - NCBI

Effects of caffeine ingestion on rati... [Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005] - PubMed - NCBI

Effects of caffeine ingestion on rati... [Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2005] - PubMed - NCBI

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Diet & exercise: Everyone is different. Or are they?

Whenever someone say's "everyone is different, you have to find what works for you", I know that whoever follows this mantra is going miss a lot of opportunity to have success with fitness and maintaining a healthy body weight.

 This sentiment is perceived to mean that two people may need drastically different exercise programs and food intake strategies in order to improve fitness and get all the nutrients they need, but this just isn't case, with the exception of medical conditions. For instance, a food allergy to nuts might cause a severe reaction or even death in one person, and for another, the same food is perfectly healthy, that's a dramatic exception, but not the rule.

However, even between those with allergies and no allergies, we would still find that all the aspects of the body were still pretty similar.  Both would still need balanced nutrition with about the same amount of daily requirements of the same nutrients from the same food sources, except of course those causing the allergic response.

Any person not getting enough vitamin C will develop survey.  No exceptions ever.  No human produces vitamin C, which is why we need to consume it (vitamin C rich foods are your best source).  Nobody is "different" in this regard.

If women don't get adequate amounts of folate in their diet prior to and throughout pregnancy, serious birth defects like spina bifida can occur.  This is why many countries fortify foods with folate, and why women are recommended to consume a balanced diet and take folate supplements.  This is true for all women, no exceptions.

People who don't exercise cannot become physically fit.  It's the exercise that stimulates change.  This true for every person.

What happens with the "everyone is different" mantra is that people become convinced that they are immune to fat loss because they are "different".  Or self proclaimed diet and exercise guru's use the "difference" argument to sell and promote unfounded strategies after convincing people that only their special program addresses their "differences".

Interesting.  When I'm in an exercise lab looking at oxygen and carbon dioxide breathed in and out, I see the same variables at play in everyone; no exceptions ever.  When people increase fitness, any person can observe telltale signs of physiologic adaptation, which are the same in everyone.

I've never had any person not get stronger when they exercise, except when overtraining (which includes emotional suffering as well as performance losses).

Lets's do a quick systems check:

Everyone has a brain, heart, lungs, liver etc, and these important organs are found in the same place, and they perform the same functions in every person.

Arms attach at shoulders, not the knees.  Everybody's biceps bends the elbow.

Everyones body temperature is about 37 degrees C.

Everyones blood cell levels when healthy, are in the same range for how many there are.

Everyone needs to breath air and consume food and water, and everyones digestive system works the same way when healthy.

Strength training makes everyone stronger.  Cardio training makes everyones cardio better.

Overuse injuries are predictable, because the bodies tolerance to exercise is governed by the ubiquitous design of the human body.  When someone is injured they will most likely respond the same way to same the rehab program as someone else with the exact same injury.  There is variability on time to recover, and the total degree of recovery, but the recovery process is the same: heal injured tissue and retrain it.

While there are there are definitely varying degrees of response to the same exercise between different people, with some being more tolerant of more frequent training and others requiring more recovery time, the same training adaptations are still occurring, just at a slightly different rate.

Each of us have more in common with each other than we have differences. This isn't a bad thing and doesn't subtract from our intellectual sense of self or personality traits.  Interestingly though, even with our diverse personalities, we'll still find groups of people who are very similar in personalities.

We can find medical exceptions to many of these commonly shared attributes but these variances don't nullify the rest of everything else that is near identical between all of us.

It's true that we need to find the foods and exercises that appeal to us individually, but really we're all doing the same thing with the same equipment, or at least, very similar equipment.

In practical application when I look at the nutritional and training needs say, of a bodybuilder and a marathoner, the two most commonly juxtaposed athletes, all of the core requirements between the two are the same. Both need to consume adequate amounts of a variety of foods to meet all the basic vitamin and mineral needs, otherwise predictable nutrient deprivation symptoms will start and health will deteriorate, and that goes for any human.

They both need about the same amount of good sleep, about the same amount of protein per kilogram of body mass, they both need fats and carbs, but the marathoner will need more carbs and fat (more emphasis on carbs) when cardio training volume is high and on race day.  We're still talking about the same need for cabs, proteins, and fats, but a small variance in the distribution of the same nutrients.

The carbs are not being used for something "different" in the marathoner versus the bodybuilder.  Both require carbs for energy for sustaining muscles contracting.  The marathoner's muscles are working for a longer period of time, but they still contract and relax in exactly the same way the bodybuilders muscles do.  The tiny contractile filaments are doing exactly the same thing. The marathoner will have developed their aerobic system more, but it is the same physiologic aerobic system the bodybuilder has.

The terms "bodybuilder" and "marathoner" serve practical purpose, but really we're talking  about two humans.  Do we train bodybuilders and marathoners "differently"?  I suppose it can be a matter of semantics.  What we're really trying to do is get the same basic design human body to get better at doing the same thing, but to greatly different degrees.  Both need to maximize muscle contractions, one for very brief periods producing near maximal or maximal force, the other contracting for very long periods with a fraction of peak force production.

If I look at my programs for runners versus bodybuilders or strength athletes, I'll see more similarities than true differences.  They both use weights to train, but of course the strength athletes spend proportionally more time doing the strength training than the cardio training.  But when both athletes to lunges, they're both doing lunges.

They'll both have a mix of high reps and low reps, but the marathoner will do more high rep sets compared to the bodybuilder.

Of course the runner, cyclist, skier etc, does significantly more cardio.  However in order to determine what intensity the two people should train at, both will undergo the same testing and will be given training that is based on the results of the tests.

When either is doing cardio, they are of course..  doing cardio.  Their hearts, lungs, and muscles are still engaging the cardiopulmonary systems, and if we looked at both on a treadmill in an exercise lab we would see the same things happening in both.

In terms of the degree to which each uses their aerobic system (the same aerobic system using the same components), we would see the endurance athlete has greater aerobic capacity (of course).

Importantly, they both have an aerobic capacity that is measured the same way, measuring the same things.

Let's look at muscles.  These images apply to every human on the planet.

This diagram includes an actual image of the contractile fibers (black and white)

This image is what is thought to be happening on the microscopic level.. in everyone.  Never mind the details for now.. the mechanism is the same.

We all have these, mitochondria, and they do the same thing in everyone; they make energy for our cells.

In muscle cells the mitochondria are right next to the contractile fibers.  Yes, these are in the same place and do the same thing in both marathoners and bodybuilders, though sometimes sport culture differences cause the two to feel at odds with each other, and they might not like to admit that their muscles are made the of the same things and do the same things.

What would happen if we convinced the bodybuilder and marathoner to switch places? To spend a couple years training and competing in the other sport?

First, this would pretty difficult to do because these two athletes are typically the antithesis of each other, often not paying much respect to the other.  A shame really, because they are mostly doing, you guessed it, the same thing.

They're pursuing a physical and personal challenge that inspires them to do better, to build their bodies to a higher level. I think if bodybuilders and marathoners could get passed the traditional prejudice they share for each other, they would find their trials, tribulations, and triumphs were pretty much the same experience emotionally, with very similar perspectives as well, on their physical training progress.

If we did find two noble and seemingly disparate athletes to switch off for a couple years we would see the bodybuilder losing muscle mass and gaining aerobic efficiency, and the marathoner would-be bodybuilder would gain muscle mass and strength and reduce aerobic performance.

No kidding.  Why?  Because their bodies would respond to the same training the same way.. because that's what the human body does.  It's coded into our DNA.

 Genetic variability between people dictates the degree of responsiveness to what exercise we do.  Some are more responsive to building mass, others more responsive to aerobic improvements.  Both have the same systems that work the same way and respond the same way, but the degree of response is the variant.

Some people have a genetic predisposition that is better suited to pursuing endurance sports, some for strength sports.  However, the mechanisms that allow for strength and endurance would still be the same between the two people.

My reason for writing this entry is to try and dispel the urban exercise myth that everyone is completely different.  Believing this causes a lot of confusion and the generation of more falsehoods.

I don't want people to be misled into believing that their exercise plan or nutritional plan has to be significantly "different" than anyone else's   Really we're all looking at the same variables applied to different degrees between us.

This doesn't mean that sedentary people should copy elite athlete programs to get fit.. well, actually it does mean that.  Literally.

Elite athletes didn't (or shouldn't have) start out with large volume high intensity training; they started out not as elite athletes, and started with the basics.  That is part of the elite development model, but we often are distracted by the optics of the end point of athlete development and so we don't make the connection that easy, incremental exercise is part of the elite athletes experience.

Anyone who is getting started should start of with very easy, simple exercises that were well within their current ability, and gradually increase loads as their ability increases.  This is what everyone does, including those who become elite athletes.  At some point they had to start with the basics.  So yes, the elite development path in it's entirety, properly and logically starts off well before the person is transformed into the elite athlete.

See how were all more the same than different? We don't all end up in the same place, but we start out about the same.

If a sedentary person tried to train with the same relative loads as a developed elite athlete, that would be a disaster.  Too bad this is actually quite common.  If they did that, they wouldn't actually be on the same program, because they would have skipped all the years of preparation the elite athlete did.

Next time someone tells you how different people have completely different nutritional needs or training needs, rest assured this can't be true, because skin and all, we're made of the same components that work the same way.  That's why the RDA for nutrients is aplicable to nearly everyone.  We all need about the same amount of vitamins and minerals to perform the same functions in us.

If any person on the planet doesn't consume sufficient iron, they will develop anemia.  There are no exceptions.  The reason this is the case is because human physiology requires a certain amount of iron to support critical functions in the body, mainly transporting iron, which is done in the same way in all humans.

What's great for all of us is that the variance to which we can adapt our bodies to is enough satisfy anyones drive.  Using nearly the same bodies, we can adapt to all the different activities and sports we know about.  Genetics play's a roll in dictating the degree we respond, so for peak performance if you're genes are better suited to respond to strength activities, choose a strength sport you like.  Natural endurance ability?  Choose an endurance sport.  Or, to heck with the genetics, you'll respond to anything you do, and you'll respond really well with good training and nutrition habits.

I'm not saying the hocky teams program is 100% identical to the rowing teams program, I hope nobody interprets that.. I'm saying that whether you're training for hockey or rowing, you'll find the two programs follow the same process:

Start with developing the same core competencies.

Gradually spend more time doing the exercises that are specific to the sport

In general most of the exercises will be the same, (pushing exercises, pulling exercises, leg exercises, core exercises, cardio training)

A hockey player and a rower both have brains that coordinate movement patterns, hearts that deliver blood and oxygen to cells, lungs that respirate, biceps that bend the elbow, a need for proper recovery, balanced nutrition, work, life, training balance..  More similarities than differences and the differences are really degrees of the same things.

Don't be fooled by fads, gimmicks, and pseudoscience claims about how the body works.

At the end of it all, all of our hearts are literally, in the same place.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Winnipeg vegan restaurant: Healthy?

What could be healthier than vegan food made with wholesome ingredients?

I'm not vegan, but I do love vegan food.  Even all veggie based foods can be made unhealthy though..

Here's what's in the patty of the burger I ordered:

Black beans, red beans, lentils, brown rice, onion, garlic, seasoned with chili, cumin, tomatoes and fresh cilantro.

Fantastic ingredients.

The rest of my burger consisted of a fresh baked organic whole grain bun, roasted red peppers, sprouts, cucumbers, tomatoes, beets, house dressing, red onion, and lettuce.

Sign me up, that sounds great!  This burger tasted fantastic, but along with the side salad, I felt really stuffed afterwards. It was too much food.  Trying to be my own impartial observer, I questioned why I continued eating when I was thinking, "this is way too much food".  I reasoned, it's mostly veggies, it wont be too bad.

Beans, lentils, and rice in addition to being packed with great nutrition, are also somewhat calorie dense providing around 220 calories per cup (1 cup of grilled lean ground beef has 330 calories). It doesn't matter where you get your excess calories from; too much is too much.  An advantage of having more plant based foods in your diet is the high fibre low fat will have fewer calories but still be filling, plus deliver more vitamins and minerals.  This is sort of good, we don't really want to eat until full.  Doing so is a guarantee of eating too much. Still, it's preferable to eat a big plate of low calorie veggies and feel satisfied compared to eating a 1/4 plate of fatty food that has twice the calories and still leaves a lot of room in the gut that is tempting to fill.

At about 3 inches (7.5 cm) tall and 3.5 (9 cm) inches wide, this burger is taller than the average mouth can open.  Not too much of a big deal, but does this lean towards the concept of serving gargantuan serving sizes? Could it possibly be more reasonable to make a burger that you can actually fit your mouth around?

Trying to get your mouth around this huge burger will trigger most to perceive that this burger is better because it's bigger, and that it's a good deal because you get so much for your dollar, and even that it might be a bit of a fun challenge to try to eat this beast.  Each of these values associate a positive connection with an over-serving of food; and we might be completely aloof to the fact that our enjoyment of a great tasting huge vegan burger is actually supporting overeating.  That's why this kind of eating is referred to as "mindless eating".

It's also another reason I kept eating even though I contemplated stopping.  The high salt, carb (sugar), and fat content will have been messing with my brain, stimulating my appetite.  It's the food chemistry that causes us to feel ravenous while eating, and food companies know this, that's why food is made this way. 

We're responding to external triggers to eat more, as well as chemical triggers, found in high concentrations of salt, fat, and sugar.

What?  Say it ain't so.  A vegan restaurant using the same food composition tactic that big food companies use to get you addicted to their food?  Whether by accident or on purpose, making foods with high concentrations of this tripple threat tastes really good, that's why people gravitate towards it, but for sure the outcome is people will feel very compelled to want to eat it again, because of the resulting altered brain chemistry that increases appetite.

And what a nice twist on the tripple threat; make it vegan so it has the image of being healthy, thus diverting our attention from the fact that it's still very high calorie and high sodium, perhaps even allowing us to go into denial and justify the huge serving sizes because we perceive it all as being ok because it's green, it's local, vegan, organic, and animal friendly.  All good things for sure, but when the serving sizes are too big and sodium is through the roof, do we really want to fool ourselves?

I fooled myself, those are the justifications I made.  When I decided to do the breakdown of what I was eating from this much venerated vegan burger joint, I was surprised, and upset at the same time.  It was like an "et tu Brute" moment.

Serving sizes have increased by more than 40% since the 1980's, even more than 100% for some items like popcorn, soda, and potato chips.  We've become more expecting of the bigger is better idea, while not necessarily being cognizant of the fact that big servings results in mega calories.

At 448 grams, how does this vegan burger compare to other popular burgers?

Big Mac  209 g, 540 calories

Cheeseburger  115 g, 300 calories

DQ Ultimate burger  262 g, 760 calories  

DQ 1/4 lb Flame Thrower GrillBurger 239 g, 730 calories

The vegan burger consisted of a 173g patty, 111g bun, about 75g of veggies, and about 89g of some kind of spread.

Using nutrition databases on the internet I've put together a reasonable estimate of how many calories there are in this 1 pound burger.. 

I'm not sure what the fat content of the condiments are, but in total this burger will be anywhere between 500 and 600 calories, which isn't that bad at all, if that's the only item you oder, but it's very easy to miss hidden fats and sugars in the condiments so there might be more calories.   This burger could easily be 700 + calories, and is unlikely to be less than 500.  Very comparable to typical fast food burgers in terms of calories, but significantly more nutrient dense.

For the sodium content I called the restaurant and they were friendly enough to tell me how much sodium they put in a batch of 400 bean patties, which worked out to about 140mg of sodium per burger, which would be perfectly reasonable.  However, the food prep person I spoke with was candid, letting me know that the canned beans, the peppers and the other ingredients already have salt in them from their supplier, which will likely be very high sodium items.

The person on the phone mentioned since they went on a low sodium diet themselves that they had stopped eating food at this vegan restaurant.  She mentioned that they are not a low sodium place, but did mention that they are animal friendly. I told her I wish they were as concerned about humans health as much as they were about animals.  She sighed and said she would pass that along to the owners.

I told her some of the food they sell is just as high in calories and sodium as a meal at McDonalds so I'm reluctant to keep eating there. 

The sodium content in this burger is likely to be around 500 mg, but could be higher.

What about the fries?  Can you really make fries healthy?  Sure. I've made oven baked fries that were healthy.  I used spices instead of oil and salt to add flavour.

How do the vegan fries compare to other fast food fries?

Size small 206g, approximately 600 calories, and about 1600 mg of sodium.


Large fries  292g,  860 calories, 1180 mg sodium

Medium fries  113g,  360 calories,  270 mg sodium

Small fries   71g,  220 calories,  170 mg sodium

The fries were oven baked potatoes, "drizzled in sunflower oil, sea salt and pepper".  The sea salt thing is offensive to me.  Offensive because there is absolutely zero health advantage to sea salt.  It is no different than processed salt, but, it's sold as being a healthy alternative to regular table salt.  Why is that offensive?  Because it's a lie.  A lie meant to convince people that sea salt is better for their health, but is actually no different.  And you pay a premium for that lie.

Greasy fingers from greasy fries.  I don't find any redeeming nutritional qualities to these fries.  They are no better for your health than regular fries at any fast food place.

Burger and fries (small) total calories:  Between 1100 and 1300 calories.

Total sodium:   2000 mg +  (you need 1500 mg for a whole day and the upper intake limit is 2300 mg)

Order medium or large fries and you're over 1500 calories and 2500mg of sodium total.

I went to this place on opening day.  Couldn't wait.  Loved the taste.  Even tried the fries, which I didn't finish because they were just as greasy as any fries I'd had, and I don't like greasy.

I spoke to the owner about how greasy I thought the fries were and he didn't take it very well.  In fact he was quite certain one could drink a cup of olive oil straight and it would be good for you.  I told him no, drinking olive oil straight would have a laxative effect causing very oily stool, and although olive oil is healthy in appropriate amounts, consuming 1600 calories of olive oil at one time would certainly not be healthy.

I also pointed out that virgin and extra virgin olive oil have a low smoke point and are not suitable for high temperature cooking, such as baking fries in an oven.  Also, the high temps will break down much of the healthy compounds in olive oil negating any health effects.  You can get processed olive oil that is more heat stable with a higher smoke point, but typically other oils like safflower and sunflower oil are used for cooking.  Although he blew a gasket at me, he also contacted me later to apologize for doing so and comped me a meal.

I don't know if it was my conversation with the owner back then that caused them to switch from olive oil to sunflower oil, but I think I may have planted the seed.

Recently I spoke with a server working there after having finished a burger.  We spoke about the high calorie, high sodium thing, and how that seems to be the opposite of what a vegan, organic ingredient restaurant is trying to portray.  She replied, "it's burgers and fries, what do you expect?"

So they know their food is high sodium, and that much of what they serve is very high calorie.

I guess I expected that since this place is all about organic, vegan friendly ingredients, that finally somebody decided to create a restaurant that made truly healthy meals, including consideration for sodium and  total calories.

You will get substantially better nutrient density from the food at this Winnipeg vegan burger restaurant, which is promising, but your total calories and sodium with a burger and fries will be the same as high calorie fat bombs you get at any major burger joint, and the health risks with a high sodium, high calorie diet will still be the same.

You'll also get the same appetite altering effect (makes you more hungry the next day, makes you seek out high calorie foods).

If you manage what you eat anywhere, classic fast food burger joint or modern foodie joint, you can maintain a healthy weight, but beware of blindly falling into the habit of making these places a regular feeding trough.

It's still buyer beware, even when food is sold under the pretence of being natural and good.

This place has a lot of potential. Hopefully they realise that high sodium and high calorie is not so great.  We'll see if they change.

BTW, the burger and fries I bought for this review went in the garbage.  I didn't want to repeat my mistake of eating this stuff.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Salty lies: nutrition labels misleading

The average adult needs about 1500mg of sodium per day.

The upper limit for the daily intake is 2300 mg.

The average Canadian consumes around 3300 mg/ day, but many will take in over 7000 mg per day when eating out.

Nearly 80% of Canadians daily sodium intake comes from packaged processed foods and restaurant foods.

If you're exercising for hours and you're a salty sweater, you'll need more sodium, but I seriously doubt these manufactures thought that most of their customers are training for hours every day, thus resulting in an elevated upper sodium intake value.

CBC Market Place says the percent of daily sodium intake listed on most food labels is based on an intake of 2400 mg/ day, instead of the recommended 1500 mg/ day.   What could possibly motivate a company to make percentage of sodium intake for daily needs appear smallar than it actually is?

You all know I love myth busting.  Rarely am I more motivated to dig into something more intently than uncovering an urban myth where diet and exercise are concerned.

The column on the right in the food nutrition label shows the percentage of recommended daily value, the percentage of how much you need for a day.  The recommended daily intake for sodium is 1500 mg.

For the nutrition label below, sodium is shown at  290 mg, which makes up according to this label, 12% of the daily need for sodium.  290 is 12% of 2416.  That's 100 mg more than the 2300 mg upper tolerable intake, and 900 mg more than the recommended healthy intake of 1500 mg a day.

Here's the reality check on common food items:

Milligrams of sodium per serving size - percentage of daily intake

Organic yogurt:  85 mg   4% of daily value              calculated daily intake = 2125 mg

Multigrain bread:  300 mg  13%                                              2307 mg

Skim milk        140 mg         6%                                              2333 mg

Almond milk     150 mg        6%                                             2500 mg

Vegan kale juice  80 mg       3%                                              2666 mg

Low fat mayonnaise   135 mg 6%                                           2250 mg

Low sodium Ketchup 60 mg    3%                                          2000 mg

Mustard            55 mg    2%                                                     2750 mg

Canned pizza sauce  250 mg  10%                                           2500 mg

Canned kidney beans    350 mg 15%                                       2333  mg

Low sodium canned peas  15 mg  1%                                      1500 mg 

Canned sardines        200 mg  8%                                             2500 mg

Tomato paste            20 mg  1%                                                 2000 mg

Potato chips        180 mg  7%                                                     2571 mg

"Healthy" potato chips  210 mg  9%                                          2333 mg

If you use the percent of daily intake on nutrition labels as your guide for your sodium intake, you will always be far above the recommend intake of 1500 mg/ day.

The only product out of these samples that based the daily intake of sodium on the recommended intake of 1500 mg a day was Safeway "Eating Right" low sodium canned peas.  Hooray for Safeway!

But wait.. Safeway "Eating Right" multigrain bread used 2300 mg/ day, and Safeway brand tomato paste used 2000 mg/ day.

The superfood superstar, super expensive, ultimate-in-health-anti-cancer organic vegan kale juice?  They think you need 2666 mg/ day of sodium.

Even within the same brand, you can't expect consistency, and don't expect that makers of health foods are beyond tweaking their values to appear more healthy than they actually are.

The percent of daily sodium needs value is bogus on nutrition labels.  I wouldn't pay any attention to it.  Instead, look at the total milligrams of sodium and do the math yourself, since food companies math can't be trusted it seems.  Who knows if companies actually put in the amount of sodium they claim in the first place.  This is self-regulated by manufacturers, there isn't any third party process in place that ensures nutrition label claims are accurate.

A final note: Sea salt has the exact same amount of sodium in it as regular processed table salt and affects blood pressure exactly the same; there is zero health benefit to using sea salt instead of regular salt.  In fact sea salt might even be worse for you if it isn't fortified with iodine.

The Great Salt Shakedown, CBC Marketplace:

Marketplace tests the sodium levels in junior hockey players, masters swimmers, and non-athletes.

Government of Canada stats, info on sodium intake in Canada:

Reading food labels Health Canada

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Junk food bliss

Have you heard the news?  Food companies commit substancial resources to figuring out how to manipulate food composition that in turn manipulates brain chemistry that makes people have a serious craving for eating that food.

They actually call it the "bliss point".  A sense of satisfaction that is achieved with the right dose (large dose) of sugar, salt, and fat.

What's interesting is that once hooked, you don't need to be stimulated by advertising to provoke the idea of eating more junk, you'll take care of that yourself.  Or, your brain will.

Once the brain gets that hyper-stimulis it will want to get it again.  Your brain adapts by influencing your reasoning to justify seeking out this junk food.

It isn't just candy bars and potato chips. Everything from poutine to salads, pasta, dinner rolls, wraps, burgers, milk shakes, ice cream, yogurt, soups, sandwiches, and even some veggie burgers.  Most of these foods can be made without high concentrations of sugar, salt, and fat.. (poutine not so much) and can be enjoyed without the hyper altered brain chemistry.  You'd be hard pressed though to find restaurants or packaged food companies not making foods with this "bliss point" chemistry, and that's why you want it so much.

You will most likely be oblivious to the actual reasons for the cravings, but you will feel strongly motivated to want to eat junk, and moreover to defend eating junk.  Eating junk and celebrating eating junk with others makes it a communal event, and re-enforces positive association with overeating bliss point junk food.

You may believe that you're arguing in support of eating junk because it's your right to choose, or that it doesn't really cause any harm, or that you do it only occasionally.. and some of the time, these reasons may apply.  Most of the time it will be because of a narcotic like addiction process.

Like a junkie in denial of overtly justifying their next hit, all of us that have experienced junk food bliss are actually responding to the brain chemistry changes that are caused by a mega dose of salt, sugar, and fat.

You think you simply like junk food as a matter of personal choice.  Perhaps partially, but really it's triggered brain chemistry that is desperately trying to achieve the reward stimulation provided by the food.

It's psychologically challenging to overcome the expected reward of the bliss point reward.  Once hooked, overeating foods with high concentrations of salt, sugar, and fat becomes a habituated norm.  Trying to break the habit results in withdrawal symptoms.

To make it worse, since the majority of the population is into seeking foods with this chemical bliss point, it is difficult to find support amongst peers to avoid this food.  More likely, your peers will try to cajole or guilt you into giving in to the junk food bliss.  Who can blame them?  They're like you: addicted, and unaware of the underlying brain chemistry that is the driver of the desire felt to eat and eat and eat.

Ok I'll lighten up a little now.

Happily this can all be reversed by realizing that our desire for junk food bliss is really from hijacked brain chemistry, and that the effect is reversible.

Choose healthy foods.  One of the greatest things about eating healthy, aside from that it's healthy, is that there is no baggage with it.  You never have the post-eating guilt associated with appeasing oneself through junk food bliss, and you never have excessive cravings to overeat that are caused by the "bliss point".

Expect emotional challenges with denying the overconsumption of crap food.  If you make it through this though, your brain will adapt to being satisfied with healthy eating.

What about those companies doing dastardly deeds in the lab; purposefully making unhealthy, cheap to make foods, addictive?

Shouldn't that be illegal? That's debatable.  It isn't like we don't have a choice though.

The special interest groups can battle it out with food companies to try to sway favor with legislators.. in the meantime, we have power over our own choices.

We all have the choice to not fall for junk food bliss, even though due to altered brain chemistry, that choice can be difficult to follow through on.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ontario: Ban junk food advertising to kids?

In Ontario 27.5 % of kids ages 2 to 17 are overweight or obese, a 75% increase over the last 30 years.

If the trend continues it's estimated that by 2040, 70% of todays kids will become overweight adults, according to the Ontario report (Healthy kids panel report).

The Ontario government has set a goal to reduce childhood obesity by 20% by 2017.

In addition to education for current and possibly to-be parents, school nutrition programs, and other health initiatives, the report has some contentious recommendations:

Ban the marketing of junk food to children under age 12

Ban point-of-sale promotions (junk food typically displayed at the till of retailers)

To be fair many of the 35 recommendations in the report are pretty reasonable, promoting the basics of healthy living.

So what about these bans.. will it work?

I completely understand this recommendation.  There have been many times where in a state of frustration I've mumbled cantankerously about how crazy it is that the open and agressive marketing of unhealthy food is so prevalent. 

What is the point of making food that is only unhealthy?  Who actually needs 100% or more of their sodium and half their calories for the day in one serving?

We know this stuff is factually bad for our health yet we make it and buy it in large quantities, smiling all the way.

Are we whistling past the graveyard?  Worse. We're whistling while lying in the grave having dirt thrown on us.  We spit out the dirt so we can make room for another donut while giving a thumbs up.

Is that some fancy embellished fear-mongering by myself being a bought and sold healthy living advocate?

I think that our health is undervalued.  That's why we choose to do so many unhealthy things.

It seems to me the sense of personal responsibility for our basic health is more and more being replaced by the lure of instant gratification of food and liesure along with the belief that health conditions happen to 'other people'.

So here we are at the till.  There is junk food there, cleverly advertised, and made to stimulate reward centers in our brains making us want more of it.

Did the customer put the effort and money into this advertising and product development?  No, the company selling the product did.  Thats is their doing, or their 'fault', if you will.

Take this away and there will be less opportunity to buy this junk.  Makes sense.

What about the parent though?  Is the parent capable of saying, "no"?  If a parent decides to buy junk food and feed it to their children, are the parents involved in that process; or is that all on the company selling the junk food?

There's a reasonable counter to that. Eating junk food changes brain chemistry, substantially increasing the desire to seek out more junk food, to the point of interfering with reasoned judgment.  So while personal responsibility ought to be front and centre, we need to recognize that once hooked on junk food, exercising personally responsibility is impaired. And yes, food companies know this.

Still, the way out of junk food addiction is to practice being mindful, becoming more educated, and personally re-establishing self control, sometimes with professional help.

Wouldn't someone who really wants junk food simply go to the junk food section of the store instead of waiting on the impulse buy section?  Yes, but I suppose the idea is that without the impulse buy, less overall will be bought.

I feel that junk food, to the extent that it exists today is contemptible.  As strongly as I feel about this, I'm not sure that a ban is necessarily a significant part of the solution to the obesity epidemic.  I've managed to overcome overeating myself, no government ban was needed.

I do think there should be some reason based limitations on what can be sold though.  I mean, how far are we going to take this?  What constitutes being not-ok?  So far more than 100% of what we need for a whole day in one or two servings is somehow thought to be acceptable.  I think a reasonable line has to be drawn somewhere, and that line has to be lesser than what it appears to be now.

What about the percentage of the population of children who are not overweight?  What is happening in these families?

Research shows that parents who practice healthy living lead by example and their kids tend to be a healthy weight.

It would seem then, that despite the efforts of advertisers, some parents and kids are doing just fine and not giving in to the trend.

OK, but there are situations where despite a healthy eating environment in the home, some children for whatever reason, develop their own eating habits, different than those of their parents, despite their parents best efforts.  So it isn't always the parents that are 100% to blame either.

Still, it doesn't hurt to put more emphasis on personal responsibility.  If consumers change their buying habits, rejecting junk food, I think we'll see junk food making up less of the product isles.

I think an effective way to show a company they are making an unacceptable product is to not buy it, instead of banning it.

It's more important to adapt healthy living standards personally than it is to put all the blame on food companies, or on the government for not having enough bans.