Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sidebar: Why does Travis Cook?

This blog is obviously full of what I cook—but I wanted to step back and discuss why I cook what I cook. I'll lump them into three categories, but the lines are admittedly pretty blurry.

Ethical Reasons

I buy meat from local farms that treat their animals well. A lot of mass-produced meat was, frankly, physically ill at the time of slaughter. Cows force fed corn and cow byproducts does not a healthy cow make. Chickens crammed into a "free range" pen with their beaks clipped so they can't damage each other, wallowing in their feces, does not a healthy chicken make. Giant monoculture crops that are loaded with pesticides because monoculture crops are more vulnerable to disease does not good produce make.

That is not for me. Local farms with diverse, organic crops and happy, healthy animals is what I want to eat.

Health Reasons

Processed food is the bane of modern, obese America. Buck the trend. Don't waste time reading labels—buy food that doesn't have labels, and it's hard to go wrong.

Stop and consider: what did homo sapiens eat when they first became a species? That's what we evolved to eat, what our digestive systems and bodies are best at using for fuel. I'll give you a few hints: there was no corn syrup (in fact, no corn, as maize was selectively bred after the advent of agriculture). There was a lot of meat and animal fat. Lots of leafy greens. Plenty of berries, seeds and nuts. There was no grain, no grain mills, no bread, no pastries, no pasta.

Just because we have advanced technology and most of our bodies CAN handle things like Wonder Bread doesn't mean that we SHOULD.

Eat local, eat seasonal! I have very little fruit in the winter, but I will gorge myself this summer when the farmers' market explodes with produce.

Eat grass-fed. Fun fact: omega 3 fatty acids—the good fats—come from grass. Lots of people think they come from fish, but the fish get them from algae. If you eat grass-fed beef, you get more omega 3s and less omega 6s (the bad fats, that come from things like corn seeds that are counter-evolutionarily fed to cows). And remember, our evolutionary ancestors hunted meat—all of that meat was grass fed.

Glycemic index and insulin response. Know this: sugars and high glycemic-index carbs trigger a spike in blood sugar, which triggers a spike in insulin, which shuttles nutrients around—usually to fat for long-term storage, but can be tricked into building muscle if you time it right.

Fitness Reasons

Timing certain macro-nutrients (carbs, proteins and fats) around fitness is important to maximizing your gains. After high-intensity strength training, your muscles are screaming out to your body for repair. It's at this time that simpler (note the –er, as in, not sugar, but maybe potatoes or rice) carbs can be used for muscle repair. But if your body fat isn't below 10 or 12% (for men), then skip it—force your body to use fat stores.

In general, I want to gain muscle and lose fat. The simplest way to do that is to keep an eye on the glycemic index of what I eat: carbs are fine if they're locked up in fiber and don't spike blood sugar (e.g., beans, not potatoes). So my diet has lots of protein (1 to 2g per day per lb of lean body weight), some very-low-GI carbs (in the form of beans), and green veggies (broccoli, spinach, peas). Very low sugar, very low fruit, absolutely no fruit juice. I've also begun experimenting with "intermittent fasting," which means you only eat in an 8-hour window every day (say, noon to 8pm) and don't eat for the remaining 16 hours.

In summary: eat local, eat seasonal, eat grass fed, eat healthy animals, eat primal, eat food without labels, and get some exercise. Good health and well being will follow.

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