Eat for Health & Energy

This is the essay for the first theme of my 2020 goals.

Food is something we deal with every day. It’s something that most people in The Netherlands have an abundance of. The marketing, endless choices, well-meant health advice, and more stuff our ears almost every day.

So, how do we make a good choice, a better choice than the day before? That is what I want to find out over the period that I’m writing this essay.

It’s motivated by a feeling of drift. I have Queal as my basis, I (or Lotte) cook most days. But I snack random things at the office, I have no idea what is in my meals exactly, and I don’t know exactly what better choices there are.

This might be a bit exaggerated. I don’t normally eat fast food, there might be no more than a few lost saturated fats in my diet, and I eat as many greens as your average rabbit.

Still, I think I can do better. So here are the learning goals and a plan of attack.

Learning Goals

  1. What foods should I be eating every day/week?
  2. How many calories should I be eating (and are calories really a good measure)?
  3. What are good (and easy) meals I can eat, and what is in them?
  4. I hear that fasting can have many benefits, should I do it?
  5. I eat mostly vegan, do I need to supplement anything?
  6. When to eat best for energy (next to sleep, sports, etc)?
  7. What about protein, it should be high for sports (I think) and low for longevity?
  8. And what about IGF-1, it’s good for sports, bad for ageing?

Plan of Attack

  1. Recap what I’ve already read (books)
  2. Visit trusted sources (web/books)
    1. And read underlying research if possible/needed
  3. Write down what I’ve learned
    1. And write down the longer arguments (appendixes)
  4. Make an implementation plan (creating new habits)

What I’ve Learned

“For most of our leading killers, nongenetic factors like diet can account for at least 80 or 90 percent of cases. As I noted before, this is based on the fact that the rates of cardiovascular disease and major cancers differ fivefold to a hundredfold around the world. Migration studies show this is not just genetics. When people move from low- to highrisk areas, their disease risk nearly always shoots up to match the new setting.” – Dr. Greger, How Not To Die

Bad food can kill us. Unless we do other stupid things, it is probably the thing that will do us in. Below all the things I’ve learned and want to implement.

Calories

Based on my height (194cm) and weight (90-94kg), my basal caloric need per day is 2219 kcal (also see Appendix 1). This is the amount I need if I sit still the whole day.

At an earlier date, I’ve calculated that this would translate to the following:

  • 222g carbs
  • 166g protein
  • 74g fat

On very active days I will burn about 3500-4000 kcal. That is with doing a full session in the gym to running 10km. This was taken earlier from my Fitbit.

I estimate that I burn through 3300 kcal per day.

Daily Dozen

I want to eat 3300 kcal, but where should they come from? Here I’m basing most of my research on Dr. Greger – his books How Not To Die, How Not To Diet, and his website Nutrition Facts.

One of his main recommendations is to try and eat a variety of foods called the ‘Daily Dozen’. Here is a short summary of the list, see Appendix 2 for further analysis.

  • Beans ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Black beans, black-eyed peas, butter beans, cannellini beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), edamame, English peas, great northern beans, kidney beans, lentils, miso, navy beans, pinto beans, small red beans, split peas, tempeh (which is made from beans, duh)
    • 3 servings
      • 1/4 cup hummus or bean dip
      • 1/2 cup of cooked beans, split peas, lentils, tofu, tempeh
      • 1 cup of fresh peas or sprouted lentils
    • €0,20-€0,50 (per serving)
  • Berries ☑
    • Acai berries, barberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, concord grapes, cranberries, goji berries, kumquats, mulberries, raspberries, strawberries
    • 1 serving
      • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen
      • 1/4 cup dried
    • €0,20
  • Fruits ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Apples, dried apricots, avocados, bananas, cantaloupe, clementines, dates, dried figs, grapefruit, honeydew, kiwifruit, lemons, limes, lychees, mangos, nectarines, oranges, papaya, passion fruit, peaches, pears, pineapple, plums (black), pomegranates, pluots, prunes, tangerines, watermelon
    • 3 servings
      • 1 medium-size fruit
      • 1 cup cut-up fruit
      • 1/4 cup dried fruit
    • €0,50 (per serving, or free at the office)
  • Cruciferous ☑
    • Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress
    • 1 serving
      • 1/2 cup chopped
      • 1/4 cup brussels or broccoli sprouts
      • 1 tbsp horseradish
    • €0,50
  • Greens ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Same as above plus, beet greens, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup raw
      • 1/2 cup cooked
    • €0,50 (per serving)
  • Vegetables ☑ ☑
    • Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, carrots, corn, garlic, mushrooms, okra, onions, purple potatoes, pumpkin, sea vegetables (nori, dulse, arame), snap peas, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
      • 1/2 cup raw or cooked non-leavy vegetables
      • 1/4 cup dried mushrooms
    • €0,30 (per serving)
  • Flaxseeds ☑
    • Flaxseeds
    • 1 serving (1 tablespoon)
    • €0,06
  • Nuts (and Seeds) ☑
    • Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, hazelnuts/filberts, hemp seeds, macademia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
    • 1 serving
      • 1/4 cup nuts/seeds
      • 2 tbsp nut/seed butter (including peanut butter)
    • €0,05-€0,30 (or free at office)
  • Grains ☑ ☑ ☑
    • Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, rye, teff, whole-wheat pasta, wild rice
    • 3 servings
      • 1/2 cup hot cereal or cooked grains, pasta
      • 1 cup cold cereal
      • 1 tortilla or slice of bread
      • 1/2 bagel
      • 3 cups popped popcorn
    • €0,10-€0,50 (per serving)
  • Spices ☑
    • All you can think of (salt-free) (garlic, ginger, nutmeg, oregano, etc)
    • 1 serving (e.g. 1/4 tsp turmeric)
    • €0,05
  • Beverages ☑ ☑ ☑ ☑ ☑
    • 2 litres of water +
    • green tea, etc
    • €0,00 (free or a few cents for tea)
  • Exercise ☑
    • 90. min moderate OR 40min. vigorous
    • Moderate examples: bicycling, dancing, housework, hiking, surfing, swimming recreationally, yoga
    • Vigorous examples: backpacking, circuit weight training, football, jogging, running, swimming laps
    • €0,00-€3,30 (if €100 gym, per day)

See a picture of this here.

I will strive to get as many as possible done on this list every day. And at the same time not get lost in the woods by wanting to do it perfect.

Some things I already do very well (beverages, exercise), others I do only sometimes (nuts, 3 fruits).

I think this advice is also in line with most other nutritionists and can be summarized as ‘eat greens, don’t eat too much’.

Below I’ve listed my cheatsheet as to how I will get as many of these as possible.

Other Things To Eat

Next to those things listed above, I have also thought about the ingredients listed below.

  • Salt ☑
    • I should get between 3-6 grams (see video here)
    • I’m more concerned about not getting enough (because no processed foods)
    • And that I should also get enough iodine (which isn’t in seasalt, and is very much in bakers salt)
    • In four pieces of bread, you should get enough iodine for the day (from ‘Wat is nu gezond?‘)
    • The bread I’m making myself, I make with iodinated salt.
  • Dark Chocolate ☑
    • Maybe positive because it contains flavanols
    • But not much conclusive research
    • It’s also processed, so cocoa powder is probably better
    • Could sometimes be a good snack (better than white/pink chocolate)
  • Coffee ☑
    • There is a high chance I will get my caffeine fix in a pre-workout (good for the gym, but haven’t found a good one for the gut/microbiome)
    • I personally found that a cup helps me be a bit more alert, but I’m not particularly sensitive
    • And that I felt (after drinking a few cups per day for a few months) that I’m not the most productive/creative with it
    • So, I aim to drink one cup of coffee or less on workdays
    • Without milk, or (in the weekends) with soy/oat milk
  • Alcohol ✖
    • It’s not good for you (not even red wine, ok)
    • But good socially and widely accepted
    • I aim to drink fewer than 2 drinks on weekdays (mostly 0)
    • And drink a maximum of 5 drinks when with friends/going out
    • Still, one of my goals to improve, I do think that becoming older (chronologically speaking that is), that the temptation is lower and social situations less geared towards heavy drinking

Feeding the Microbiome

This part is mostly based on The Good Gut (also see this video, 3). There is much overlap for feeding your microbiome and eating healthy in general. Very specifically it also recommends eating fermented foods and prebiotics.

Personally, that means I will drink some kefir almost daily (made at home).

  • Kefir ☑
    • 1 small glass per day
    • €0,05 (bought starter once, now just add some sugar and things to flavour it)

The recommendation is also to eat 28g of fibre (men, 25g for women) per day (so more than generally recommended).

Supplementation

Before doing this research (January 2020), I wasn’t really using any supplement for health. I was using Creatine and NAC only for sports.

So, I think you can survive – and thrive – without them. But they might be beneficial for the reasons listed below.

  • Vitamin B12 ☑
    • 2500mcg cyanocobalamin serving 1x p/w
    • (I have 1000mcg so once every 3 days)
    • Reason: because of good sanitation, it isn’t in our food anymore (it used to be on the dirt)
    • This form is the best supported/bioavailable
    • If you’re over 65, raise it to 1000mg per day
    • €0,02 per day (€0,04 per pill, from bulkpowders)
  • Vitamin D ☑
    • 2000 IUs of D3 1x p/d
    • (I have 5000mg, so once every 2 days)
    • Reason: we’re not in the sun enough, so no need to take it if in the sun (without too many clothes) for more than 15 minutes
    • €0,01 per day (€0,01 per pill, from bulkpowders)
  • Creatine ☑
    • 3-5g per day (when doing sports)
    • Creatine use can increase maximum power and performance in high-intensity anaerobic repetitive work (periods of work and rest) by 5 to 15%” (source, via wiki – also see here)
    • It might lead to a bit of bloating, so maybe not take it if cutting weight
    • €0,04 per day (5x per week)
  • NAC ✖
    • To be honest, I can’t find research that conclusively supports taking this (a prodrug for L-cysteine – an amino acid)
    • So, once it’s gone, I won’t be getting it again

When to eat? (for longevity, weight loss, energy levels)

Conclusion: late breakfast, no late-night snacks.

Breakfast might not be necessary, but skipping breakfast (on average) also doesn’t lead to weight loss (video). The main reason mentioned is that the group that did eat breakfast, exercised (read: moved) more. There was no change in metabolic rate.

What is also mentioned (and I’ve read before too), is that calories later in the day are worse for you (i.e. let you gain weight more) than during the earlier times. So late-night snacking or eating a very large dinner, is also out the door.

Where to get food?

I was inspired by a new look at The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan to think a bit more about where I get my food.

In the book, Pollan challenges your view of organic food (and shows how meat is made too).

What I do want to do more (and have yet only done once) is order more local food. Here I can buy interesting vegetables for cooking, and I would still want to eat some eggs and I believe that here they can do this in a way that is more sustainable/less harmful. The website for this is Rechtstreex.

What about IGF-1?

Conclusion: Difficult to say. I should watch my sports performance, but not really strive for higher or lower IGF-1 I think.

Should your levels of IGF-1 [insulin-like growth factor] remain too high when you reach adulthood, however, your cells will constantly receive a message to grow, divide, and keep going and growing [which may of course be what you want for muscle growth]. Not surprisingly, the more IGF-1 you have in your bloodstream, the higher your risk for developing cancers, such as prostate cancer.

The release of IGF-1 appears to be triggered by the consumption of animal protein. This may explain why you can so dramatically bolster the cancer-fighting power of your bloodstream within weeks of eating a plant-based diet. … One of the ways your body tries to protect itself from cancer—that is, excessive growth—is by releasing a binding protein into your bloodstream to tie up any excess IGF-1.”

From a study, mention in this (not super) YouTube video, it’s mentioned that the cancer risk is also higher if you have low IGF-1 (i.e. it’s a v-shape). He also talks about low-carb and intermitted fasting (and by that having low IGF-1 despite eating meat/keto).

Cheatsheet

Here is my cheatsheet (check-list) for the day, cooking, and week. As mentioned earlier, this is aspirational and I won’t check off everything every day. That is ok.

Waking (6 am)

  • Vitamin B12 and/or D (if needed)
  • 300ml of (green) tea

Breakfast (10 am)

  • Homemade bread with hummus
    • 1 serving beans
    • 1 serving spices
    • 1 serving salt (iodine)
    • 3 servings grains
    • 1 serving flaxseed
    • 1 serving nuts
    • 660kcal, 24g protein, 9.2g fibre
  • Serving of (frozen) blueberries (75g, 1/4 cup)
    • 1 serving berries
    • 36kcal, 0.7g protein, 1.8g fibre
  • 1 litre of water (with citrus) and (green) tea combined

Fruit (11.30 am)

  • Kiwi and/or apple
    • 1 or 2 servings fruits
    • (kiwi) 42kcal, 0.8g protein, 2g fibre (more with skin on)
    • (apple) 95kcal, 0.5 protein, 4.4g fibre

Lunch (1 pm)

  • Queal Ready (100g)
    • 1 serving grains
    • 0.5-1 serving berries – if Berry Good
    • 400kcal, 26.6g protein, 6.6g fibre
  • 600ml of water (with citrus)

Exercise (2 pm)

  • Weightlifting and/or Bodybuilding
  • 60 to 90 minutes + warm-up
  • 600ml of water

Second Lunch (4 pm)

  • Protein shake + creatine + 2 scoops Queal Steady (66g)
    • (protein) 197kcal, 34.8g protein
    • (Steady) 275kcal, 13.9g protein, 4.6g fibre

Subtotals until now:

  • 21 checkmarks (water and sports included)
    • 16 of those from Daily Dozen
  • 1705 kcal
  • 101g protein
  • 28.6g fibre (and that is another check!)

Dinner (6-7 pm)

So here it gets trickier/less standard, the cheatsheet reflects mostly what I haven’t yet gotten and/or foods that I think are good.

  • 2 servings beans (e.g. black beans, tempeh)
  • 4 servings (cruciferous) green (e.g. broccoli, spinach, cauliflower)
  • 2 servings grains (I’ve already had some, but most dinners do include this)
  • 1 or more servings spices (e.g. turmeric, pepper, garlic)
  • 600ml water (at least 2 cups of water in the evening)
  • 1 serving kefir (a small glass when getting home/during dinner)
  • 1725 kcal left, 70g protein left, 0g fibre extra needed

(historic note 27 jan 2020) I’m totally lying/misremembering/overeating above what I state here. If it’s really just 1300kcal during the day, then I’m eating 2000 in the evening. I really want to start tracking this and probably need to add some more foods during the day! I will start with some more Queal (Steady) at lunch. (update 20 feb 2020, now at 1700kcal so closer to what is expected).

Appendix 1 – Caloric Need

Based on Calculator.net I would need to eat the following amount of calories per day:

  • Sedentary: little or no exercise 2415
  • Exercise 1-3 times/week 2767
  • Exercise 4-5 times/week 2948
  • Daily exercise or intense exercise 3-4 times/week 3119
  • Intense exercise 6-7 times/week 3472
  • Very intense exercise daily, or physical job 3824

If I would have to estimate, I would be needing 3300 kcal per day to maintain my weight.

At about 500 calories in deficit (eating for instance 2800 calories) I would lose about 500 grams per week (MayoClinic).

Or if you spread that out over a week it might look like this:

  • Monday: 3000 kcal
  • Tuesday (no sports): 2000 kcal
  • Wednesday: 3000 kcal
  • Thursday: 3000 kcal
  • Friday: 3000 kcal
  • Saturday (no sports): 2000 kcal
  • Sunday: 3000 kcal

The total would be a deficit of 4100 kcal or 585 kcal per day.

I would want to get a bit leaner sometime soon. And after I’ve done most of the research for this article I might attempt this and document it.

Finally getting that six-pack

Appendix 2 – Daily Dozen

There is no incentive from the industry/medical to promote food healthy. It’s like smoking in the 50s. Take control yourself.

My translation of daily dozen:

  • Beans: Hummus (beans), 1 serving during lunch, most days.
  • Berries: 75g frozen berries (blueberries) or mix, most days.
  • Fruits: at least 1 (serving) apple, kiwi, banana per day.
    • Citrus skin (grated) in water/drink
    • Vary the fruits with some more exotic/different ones
  • Cruciferous vegetables: some during dinner
  • Greens: some during dinner
  • Vegetables: some during dinner
  • Flaxseeds: 1 tbsp of broken/powdered flaxseed with some nuts – or already in homemade bread
  • Nuts: Mix of nuts (with flaxseed) in a small container (1/4 cup or less) – or already in homemade bread
  • Grains: some during dinner or home-made bread
  • Spices: add to dinner (and get tumeric and garlic in there many times) – and/or already in homemade hummus
  • Beverages: lots of water, 2 to 3 cups of a variety of teas (green, black, ginger, etc)
  • Exercise: yes, 5x per week weightlifting/bodybuilding, biking 20 minutes, walking 20 minutes (but slow pace for both – with Max)

Some more detailed meals

  • 2 Whole-grain pieces of bread with hummus and avocado
    • 180g bread (472kcal 4.3g fat 88g carbs 17.6g protein 2g salt)
    • 1/4 cup hummus (190kcal 11g fat 18g carbs 6g protein)
    • 1 avocado (322kcal 29g fat 17g carbs 4g protein)
    • Vegan
  • Queal Ready 100g + Flaxseeds
    • Ready (400kcal 12.3g fat 42.6g carbs 26.6g protein 0.6g salt)
    • Flaxseeds (tbsp)
    • 1 serving berries, 1 serving seeds, 1 serving grains
    • Vegan
  • 3 home-made thin-slices of bread with hummus + Flaxseeds
    • 130g bread (340kcal 3.1g fat 63.5g carbs 12.6g protein 6.2g fibre 1.4g salt)
    • 1/4 cup hummus (190kcal 11g fat 18g carbs 6g protein 3g fibre)
    • Flaxseeds (tbsp)
    • Vegan
  • Protein shake + creatine
    • Protein powder 1,5 scoop (197kcal 3.7g fat 5g carbs 34.8g protein)
  • 1/2 cup of blueberries
    • About 75g (36 kcal 0g fat 8g carbs 0.7g protein)

Daily dozen,

  • Beans
    • Amount: 1.5 cups (235ml*1.5=350ml, 1.5x small glass) of cooked beans OR 3/4 cup (176ml) hummus (some breads with royal spread of hummus)
    • Why: contains fibre (good against heart disease and almost all others)
    • How to incorporate: Eat hummus and cook with beans a few times per week
    • What are some of the truly potassium-rich foods? The healthiest common whole-food sources are probably greens, beans, and sweet potatoes.
    • “Folate is a B vitamin concentrated in beans and greens.
    • Costs: €1.90 per 900g dry. With some olive oil, tahini, herbs (and/or roasted paprika, garlic, etc). Guesstimated cost of 50g prepared product (1 serving), €0.20
  • Berries
    • Amount: 0.5 cup (120ml – 75g) of frozen blueberries/mix
    • Why: contains fibre (see above), antioxidants, may prevent cognitive decline, polyphenols (which contain antioxidants amongst others), protective against cancers
    • “Some berries have more than 1,000 units [of antioxidants]”
    • “Berries offer potential protection against cancer (chapters 4 and 11), a boost to the immune system (chapter 5), and a guard for the liver (chapter 8) and brain (chapters 3 and 14). An American Cancer Society study of nearly one hundred thousand men and women found that those who ate the most berries appeared significantly less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.”
    • The colors are the antioxidants.” i.e shop for the brightest fruits.
    • Costs: €1.99 per 1kg frozen. So at 100g (47kcal) it’s €0.20
  • Fruits
    • Amount: 3 fruits
    • Why: same as above, also mention of longer telomeres
    • Apples, Citrus (skin of it, scraped), kiwi – all mentioned favourably
  • Cruciferous
    • Arugula, bok choy, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, horseradish, kale, mustard greens, radishes, turnip greens, and watercress
    • 1 serving
      • 1/2 cup chopped
      • 1/4 cup brussels or broccoli sprouts
      • 1 tbsp horseradish
  • Greens
    • Same as above plus, beet greens, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup raw
      • 1/2 cup cooked
  • Vegetables
    • Artichokes, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, carrots, corn, garlic, mushrooms, okra, onions, purple potatoes, pumpkin, sea vegetables (nori, dulse, arame), snap peas, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini
    • 2 servings
      • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
      • 1/2 cup raw or cooked non-leavy vegetables
      • 1/2 cup vegetable juice??
      • 1/4 cup dried mushrooms
  • Flaxseeds
    • Amount: 1 tbsp
    • Why: lower blood pressure (original article, via HNTD)
      • Other research also links to lower breast and prostate cancer
    • How to incorporate: Add a tablespoon to lunch or when eating a mix of nuts (see next one)
    • Extra: Another video about Flaxseeds
      • 3 tbsp is 30% of magnesium needs, B1, 20% phosphorus, 10% selenium
    • “Though lignans are found throughout the plant kingdom, flaxseeds have around one hundred times more lignans than other foods.117 What are lignans? Lignans are phytoestrogens that can dampen the effects of the body’s own estrogen.”
    • “Mother Nature packs them a little too well. If you eat flaxseeds whole, they’re likely to pass right through you without releasing any of their nutrients. So, for best results, first grind up the seeds with a blender or coffee or spice grinder, or buy them preground or “milled.” “
  • Nuts (and Seeds)
    • Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, chia seeds, hazelnuts/filberts, hemp seeds, macademia nuts, pecans, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts
    • 1 serving
      • 1/4 cup nuts/seeds
      • 2 tbsp nut/seed butter (including peanut butter)
  • Grains
    • Barley, brown rice, buckwheat, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, rye, teff, whole-wheat pasta, wild rice
    • 3 servings
      • 1/2 cup hot cereal or cooked grains, pasta
      • 1 cup cold cereal
      • 1 tortilla or slice of bread
      • 1/2 bagel
      • 3 cups popped popcorn
  • Spices
    • All you can think of (salt-free) (garlic, ginger, nutmeg, oregano, etc)
    • 1 serving (e.g. 1/4 tsp turmeric)
  • Beverages
    • 2 litres of water +
    • green tea, etc
  • Exercise
    • 90. min moderate OR 40min. vigorous
    • Moderate examples: bicycling, dancing, housework, hiking, surfing, swimming recreationally, yoga
    • Vigorous examples: backpacking, circuit weight training, football, jogging, running, swimming laps

Sources

Most sources are linked throughout the article, but here are some more great links.

  1. Youtube: Dr. Gregor’s Daily Dozen Checklist
    1. https://nutritionfacts.org/app/uploads/2018/03/metric.png
  2. Youtube: How Not to Die: An Animated Summary
  3. Youtube: How the Gut Microbiome affects the Brain and Mind
  4. Red Pen Reviews – great website that reviews nutrition books
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