Saturday, September 16, 2017

Recipe: bone broth



I keep being surprised how far my blog has gone. It originated as a community outreach project and was meant to be decommissioned soon after. Instead, I got readers from more than 50 countries from all continents and a steady weekly page-visits count. And this, despite the fact I publish very few articles.

Most of my readers are from the Northern Hemisphere, and may have noticed a sudden drop of temperatures last week. While the calendar says it's still summer, the feeling is definitely that we are in autumn.

Some of my favourite recipes for cold seasons are stews, goulash, spezzatino, minestrone, vellutata, beans soup... All with a secret ingredient: bone broth.

A lot of people asked me how do I proceed to make gelatine from the bones and most important where do I find the time. Actually it is very simple as I will illustrate with the aid of some pictures.

Let's get started!



First you need a big cauldron. Mine holds 10 litres. Obtain some bones from a trusted butcher, in this (old) picture I used 4Kg of beef bones.

Add some vegetables. My personal choice includes:
  • mandatory: onions and garlic
  • roots (carrots, beets, kohlrave, parsnip, celery root, …)
  • stalks (celery, broccoli stalk, the final and fibrous parts of asparagus, ...)
  • ...and whatever else which will not stain the broth (don’t use beetroots for example)
You can also add peels from vegetables and that’s in fact what you can see in this picture.

Herbs and spices. Good ones are:
  • cloves
  • juniper berries
  • peppercorn
  • bay leaves
  • parsley
  • summer savoury
Avoid sage, rosemary or origan unless your purpose with the gelatine is to make a goulash or a civé, where these spices are required. In short, know in advance what your broth will be used for.

Add a generous spoon of salt and some vinegar. I noticed that the gelatine becomes less thick without them.

Cook for 6 hours, filter out the solid part and collect the broth. Add some water/salt/vinegar and cook again. The bones can still release a lot of gelatine and minerals so it would be such a terrible mistake to throw them right now.

The cooking part is the one that confuses people the most. It is true it takes “hours” to cook bones, but you don’t need to stay there with your face on the steam to make it happen.

Time: the active effort required is about 5 minutes per batch, the time to put everything in the cauldron and filter it.



Here you can see two 3-liter pots full of bone broth (one is still hot, the other has been cooling overnight already).

When the gelatine solidifies, you’ll find a tick layer of tallow on the top. That’s because fat is lighter than water (especially water+proteins!!!). Don’t throw this away, collect it instead, melt it gently and re-solidify it in a jar. This fat is overwhelmingly tasty as it contains all the flavours of the beef, the vegetables and the herbs/spices.

Again, you don’t need to sit next to the batches and sing a mantra for hours to make it become solid. If the temperature is cold enough it will happen alone.

Time: effort required… it depends how much you have to walk from your kitchen to your balcony and back, for me it is 10 seconds.



Tallow in a jar, as you see it will be impossible to completely isolate the fat, there will be some gelatine at the bottom, especially if you are lazy at doing things (yes, I am lazy… yet I do my own homemade broth).

Use the tallow to cook your steaks or eggs in your non-nostick cast iron pan or grill. Or a swiss rösti.

This fat is also an excellent choice for deep frying, so if you are doing a fondue bourguignonne, fried meatballs or even french fries. No cooking fat can top this one. Not even coconut oil, anybody saying:

mmm... how tasty those french fries cooked in coconut oil

are either lying to themselves or should have their taste buds assessed.

Time: this step definitely takes your active presence for an insane amount of time, let’s say… another 2 minutes.

However, If you are willing to invest 3 minutes you won’t get the gelatine at the bottom.



Before throwing the bones, scrap away the meat, tendons and ligaments.

I know a lot of people will turn their nose up at the very idea. That’s cultural, we have been brainwashed to think that the only edible part of the animal is the filet. That’s a HUGE mistake: these little pieces of meat which used to be one with the bone and now come off so effortlessly with the aid of a fork are the tastiest part of the animal. And for a reason:

our tongues are designed to love those scraps,
our body wants us to crave them!

Why? Because they are the most nutritious part. Evolution...

You can prepare a number of delicious recipes with those meat scraps, for example you can hash them into hamburgers, or meatballs. Or mix them into a larger meatloaf. Or stuff a turkey...

I personally like bringing them to work for lunch, so I prepare a cold salad by adding:
  • some vegetables
  • herbs (origan, parsley, …)
  • spices (peppercorn, cumin, capers…)
  • and healthy fats (oil of olive, sesame oil or walnut oil are highly recommended pair very well the taste of tendons)
Time: the bone cleaning step costed me 10 minutes, which is not bad for 750g of free meat.



The broth can be used in countless recipes like:
  • stews, spezzatino or goulash
  • a base for a risotto
  • if your gelatine is thick enough you can make aspic (a cold dish of meat, eggs or vegetables in solid gelatine)
  • or use it instead of pure water in a soup of mixed vegetables or a vellutata, they make such a great dinner in winter
In the picture above, I used the broth to prepare tyrolean knödel (boiled meatballs).



This is what I am throwing away: the bare bones and the vegetables. If I had a garden I would put them underground and let Nature decompose them while enriching the soil. Unfortunately I live in an apartment at the 11th floor in a residential area, so they are going to be thrown in the rubbish.



Alas… in this picture you can see the dark side of making bone broth. That’s the only tedious part of the process.

The quickest solution to clean everything would be with muriatic acid but for obvious reasons I am not using that on a pot where I cook.

So it will be hot water, cheap vinegar and “oil of elbow”. It is a price worth paying for the most nourishing (yet the cheapest) recipe ever. And will save you some time at the gym.

Time: 5-10 minutes depending how fast you are at cleaning.

Conclusion

I prepared
  • 6 litres of multipurpose bone broth / gelatine
  • 300g of spiced beef tallow
  • 750g of meat
And this costed 5 bucks of my wallet and a cumulative 30 minutes of my time.

Bones bonus paragraph: benefits of bone broth

  1. The long and slow simmering process doesn't extract only proteins from the bones, but minerals as well: minerals from the bones. Guess what is the first health benefits you can expect from introducing bone broth in your menu? Exactly.
  2. Another very important health benefit not to be ignored involves the health of cartilages, ligaments and joints. The amino-acid glycine and the amino-sugar glucosamine are contained in quantities in bone broth (actually that's the reason why broth becomes gelatine once it's cooled down). If you are an athlete, you should consider buying that 10 litres caldron.
  3. Skin health is also greatly improved by glycine. Want to prevent wrinkles? Get rid of creams, oils and other chemicals and start boiling bones instead. Disclaimer: if you are already 90yo and want to cure wrinkles, it's kind of late.
  4. Gut health. While still being as rich in proteins as a steak, a soup with bone broth is less likely to stress the digestive system, allowing it to rest. Who wouldn't like to work 50% of the time and get 100% of the salary?
  5. Immune support. Why grandma was preparing chicken stock when you got sick?
  6. Several studies showed that Glycine (her again...) improves sleep quality and memory.
  7. Glycine needs to be balanced with methionine, another amino acid. Nowadays we eat way too much muscular meat (which contains a prevalence of methionine) and little organ meat (which contain more glycine). While I can understand that for some people eating offal meat is a taboo what will never be possible to overcome, bone broth can be a good alternative.
  8. Ehm... it tastes great?
Let me know in the comments how it worked for you. And stay tuned!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Recipe: rye sourdough



A lot of people asked me how do I prepare homemade whole rye sourdough from spontaneous fermentation.

The interest for this recipe is justified by many facts:
  • Bread baked with alternative flours sucks, and it’s not even that healthy
  • The way bread is prepared today, so with baker’s yeast, is not the same way bread has been prepared for the majority of our history
  • While baker’s yeast only contains one strain (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) spontaneous fermentation employs a plethora of wild yeasts and bacteria. You can make an interesting analogy with mono-crops and wilderness
  • A such, the fermentation is so much slower. Yes, this is an advantage: if it takes 4 days to prepare a loaf you’re likely to eat less bread than if you were buying it in the supermarket. It will also teach you the cost of healthy food, and why junk food is so cheap
  • The fermentation breaks down gluten, in fact sourdough is extremely well tolerated by people with REAL celiac disease. Those for which gluten intolerance is all in their heads, will still experience adverse reactions even with sourdough (it’s called nocebo effect)
  • Bacteria and yeasts are lazy, just like us… they will consume with preference simple sugars and starches, before attacking longer chains of carbohydrates. This means that sourdough has a Low Glycemic Load. Sourdough is to white bread what broccoli is to pastasciutta
  • The by-product of lacto-fermentation is lactic acid, a natural preservative. Industrial bread may contain artificial preservatives: while they efficiently preserve food from spoiling early, they surely don’t preserve us… from spoiling early
  • Minerals in the cereal and the bran are released and made bio-available (longer fermentation activates phytase)
  • The fermentation process also produces tons of vitamins from the group B and Vit-K
  • If you have kids at home, this is a fantastic activity to do together

And last but not least (actually it should have been the first) rye sourdough is damn good. You all know I am a “bon vivant”, if I go through the hassle of doing homemade sourdough believe me, it is not because of phytic acid, gluten, glycemic load or Vit-K2. It’s because I like spreading raw-butter on it.

So, let’s start.

Ingredients




The ingredients are pretty straight:
  • Whole rye flour from organic produce, but you can use any cereal based flour
  • Salt, for the taste and for preventing the proliferation of moulds
  • White sugar, to support the initial phases of fermentation, when yeasts and bacteria are still weak
  • Water (not in the picture)

Let's start the batch!



In a sterilised bowl (hot water is enough), put 20-30 grams of flour, with 15-20 grams of water. Add a teaspoon of sugar and a pinch of salt. Add some water, keep the batch pasty, not too liquid. Whisk everything with a sterilised fork.

First refresh



After 24 hours, add some flour, some sugar and water. Whisk everything again with a sterilised fork.

And again, cover the bowl and store it.

Next refreshes



Let 24h pass again.

I am preparing this batch in June, temperatures are high so it took only 2 days for the yeasts and bacteria to wake up. If you do it in winter you may need a 3rd or even a 4th refresh.

You know you are doing it right because your batch is inflating and you can see some nice bubbles through the glass. It also has to smell pleasantly, if it doesn’t (or if you notice the formation of white moulds on the top) throw everything and start again. However, if you follow my instructions and sterilise your tools this is very unlikely to happen.

Also, don’t breath or sneeze over the batch. And don’t put the sterilised fork in your mouth and then keep mixing.

The “mother” is ready



This is your homemade version of the backer’s yeasts cube you can buy at the supermarket. It can be used to make bread and not only: I successfully prepared sourdough pizza, sourdough muffins and Alsatian pain d’épice.

Prepare your bread



Add flour, some sugar and water. Mix everything. Keep the batch pasty, if it becomes too liquid add some flour.

Hydration



This picture is to give you an idea of the expected consistency.

If you think it is too dry, remember this: yeast fermentation transforms sugars into alcohol, and lacto-acid fermentation transforms sugars into lactic acid. You don’t want your batch to be too runny, or the texture will break down and you won’t get those nice holes, so characteristic of sourdough bread.

Preparing the pan



Put some oil of olive in a pancake pan and spread it with a brush or a cloth. Alternatively you can rub the interior with some butter. Add some flour, move it around and throw the extra. This is to ensure your bread is not going to stitch to the bottom and to the corners.


It is an important step… so I mention it twice: add a thin layer or fats and flour. Thy be warned!

Put the bread into the pan



With the help of a spoon or a spatula, pour your batch into the pancake pan. As usual cover it with a humid cloth and let it leaven for 6-8 hours.

Longer fermentation is possible, but I would advise to use whole wheat in that case: over leavening rye is not giving good results: you’ll get a very compact and pasty dough.

Leavening phase



I usually let it leaven directly in the oven so that all I have to do is to remove the cloth and turn on the oven, thus not breaking down the bubbles that are going to form during the final leavening phase.

Ready for baking!



Look how beautiful it is... ready for baking!

Bake it, at 200°C.

Depending on your oven, it may take from 50 minutes to 1h. I cannot give precise instructions here, every oven is different. Do your experiments and accept the idea that the first loafs will not be perfect.

Done!



Carefully extract the loaf from the pan (I did a small one this time).

Let it cool down.

Use your bread for spreading butter, or cream cheese, or make a club sandwich. Do whatever you would have done with fake bread from the supermarket.

With its nutty, sometimes cheesy, with some acidic after-taste… you’ll fall in love with it and you’ll wish you had a time machine to go back in time and teach your younger self how to make it.

Final notes

Sourdough is particularly addictive. Even if it is 1000 times healthier than white bread or those “works of fantasy” you may have seen in gluten-free blogs… it is still a lot of carbohydrates! 

Unless you are digging your fields and harvesting and grinding your rye, you’d better not abuse it: this used to be a staple for people doing manual jobs and soldiers, not for internet surfers.

Consider it a tasty, healthy and nutritious treat.

Sourdough gallery



Follow my instructions and you will never fail one.



The True Alsatian Pain d'Epice is prepared
with a very long sourdough fermentation.
Here, in muffin version.



Real pizza is done with sourdough and cheese,
not coconut and pineapple...



Was it put some butter on your bread...
... or some bread under your butter?
I never remember, in doubt I did 50/50

Monday, January 9, 2017

Detoxification demystified


The end of year break is over, spring is coming soon. As per tradition, in this period there is a boom of articles in magazines, blog posts, offers from healthcare professionals and obviously products... about detoxification. I am a convinced follower of traditions, so why shouldn't I write something about it, too? Especially since there is so much to say.

Warning: despite the carelessness with which many people speak about the subject (not to mention the para-scientific solutions proposed) detoxification is a science. As such it has its own language and includes many difficult concepts. In this post I'll try to do my very best to convey the facts in the most simple and accessible way, all by staying scientifically correct.

Let's start as usual, by defining the problem: if we don't have a good understanding of the causes we can't evaluate the validity of a solution.

What is detoxification


Toxins and detoxification

I already spoke abundantly about toxins in a previous post. However toxins must not be intended exclusively as poisonous substances we introduce in our bodies, but also the end-product of the metabolism of other molecules that are not perforce unhealthy. I'll come back to this point later.

Detoxification is a series of processes that metabolize and eliminate toxins, drugs, hormones, dead cells and even nutrients. Detoxification occurs contiuously, just to make a simple example: adrenaline (the hormone of fear). Its action is immediate however, if the stimulus that triggered its secrection ceases, its effects last just some minutes. The half-life of adrenaline in the human body is about 2 minutes (every 2 minutes the amount of adrenaline in our blood is halved). What is happening is that our body is detoxifying it: the adrenaline is metabolized into inactive by-products and the same are eliminated through the urines. If this mechanism didn't exist, once we have been scared once we would stay scared for life.

The same happens with countless chemicals, both organic and inorganic, for example:
  • alcohol (if we didn't metabolize alcohol we would stay drunk forever)
  • caffeine (we would stay awaken for ever)
  • toxins in the food (both natural and artificial), in the air we breath or the water we drink
  • even the toxins we absorb through our skin (creams, soaps, shampoos, hand-sanitizers, ...)
  • metals (lead, aluminium, mercury, ...)
  • medicaments
This wonderful system is what allows us to survive. When the body cannot metabolize a substance, this represents a poison for us (think about deadly mushrooms).

Our body also has a limited capacity to metabolize other substances, hence the saying "the dose makes the poison":
  • drink one coffee and you'll be fine
  • drink the equivament in caffeine of 50 espressos in one go, and you're dead

Detoxification Protocols

A detoxification protocol is a series of actions taken with the intent to facilitate the naturally occurring detoxification processes.

Although in an ideal world one should not need to regularly undertake this kind of exercise, we live in a progressively more and more imperfect world, so yes: our detoxification processes need support.

It is not a coincidence that every traditional culture and religion included what effectively is a recurrent detoxification protocol, often paired with spiritual practices to underline the importance of purifying the soul together with the body (hint: detoxification is a parasympathetic process and, as such, it works better if you manage stress properly).

If our ancestors felt the need for detoxification practices, why shouldn't WE need them, since we are living in a period of unprecedented toxins exposure?

Let's start digging more into the details of detoxification, starting from...

The lymphatic system

Everybody has a basic understanding of the circulatory system in the human body (blood, heart, arteries, veins and capillares). With a huge abuse of scientific talk, one can say that our bodies have a second circulatory system: the lymphatic one.

The role of the first is to bring nutrients, oxigen, hormones to the organs, help dispose the waste, and is ativated by a pump (the heart). The heart can pump around 5 liters of blood per minute.

One of the roles of the lymphatic system is to drain the extra-cellular liquids (including toxins), to collect them in the lymphonodes and there, reintroduce those liquids into the blood stream. The lymphatic system doesn't have a pump and can generally process 3 liters of liquids per day.

Poor circulation of the lymphatic system causes swelling and water retention or œdema. The lymphonodes is "where the magic happens", so the goal is to help the liquids travel towards them. This can be done in several ways:
  • exercise being the first: move, jump, walk, practice inversions... the movement of lymph is propelled by the action of nearby skeletal muscles, the movement of the lungs and the contraction of smooth muscle fibres
  • dry brush massage: remember that the movement is always from the extremities to the core
  • lympho-drainage massages
Many detox solutions propose soaking your feet in warm water with either some special salts or some electrodes. Others propose detox patches to be applied again under the soles of the feet. These methods are becoming quite popular in alternative health circles due to the fascination our feet elicit on our hunger for natural remedies (you know... feet, contact with the ground, rooting, mother earth, network of living-beings, healing energies, etc...).

The claim is that the salty water (or the special patch) pull toxins from your body, the proof is that they become brown. However, considering that the natural flow of lymphatic fluids is from the extremities to the core, this claim is very corageous (my politically correct way to say quackery). There are several causes that explain the browning of the detoxifying support, none of them are actually associated with the action of pulling toxins through the skin.

If a pediluvium helps you feel relaxed and gives you pleasure, feel absolutely free to do it. Don't expect to detoxify any better that you would have done with a good sweat. Sorry... you have to move!

Detoxification pathways

Ok, the toxins are in the blood, the extra-cellular toxins have been collected through the lymphonodes and those too are in circulation again. Let's detox them!

Phase I

Phase I happens in the liver, it uses enzymes (such as cytochrome P450) to break down toxins into intermediate metabolites. Some toxins, at this point, can already be eliminated from the organism, this is the case for example of caffeine, a molecule that impact enormously Phase I detoxification.

For most toxins however, a second Phase is required. Often intermediate metabolites are even more toxic than the original molecule.

Phase II

There are six different pathways within Phase II detoxification. They are required to complete the breakdown of chemicals, hormones and toxins, thus completing the job of Phase I. They do so by binding the intermediate metabolites to specific type of proteins and molecules that "escort" them out of the body.

I won't go into the details however, the list is the following:
  • Glutathione conjugation, 
  • Sulfation
  • Peptide Conjugation
  • Glucuronidation
  • Acetylation
  • Methylation

Enzymes and nutrients: you need to be well nourished!

We need nutrients to manufacture those enzymes that are needed for detoxification. Without the proper nutrients our body won't be able to produce enzymes and molecules to bind toxins to, and we won't therefore be able to properly detoxify.

Diets low in nutrients as well as periods of intense use of nutrients (detox protocols, or long periods of stress) deplete our resources. Often those deficiencies are chronic, that's the reason why, if we decide to start a serious detoxification protocol, we need to follow a properly individualised plan: just like overeating slows down detoxification, ingestion of proper macro and micro nutrients play an important role in our body's ability to detoxify.

Fundamental nutrients for detoxification are, for example, vitamins C and B2. Minerals like magnesium, molybdenum and manganese, which are required to activate metabolic and detox enzymes. Chelation of bad minerals may dispose good minerals at the same time, hence the need for replacement.

It is important to mention that amongst the macro nutrients required for proper detoxification, we also find amino-acids and hence proteins. Food for thought to rethink the food for detox.

Elimination pathways: how toxins leave our body

Once the toxins have been metabolised and transformed, it is necessary to eliminate them from our body.

Digestive system

Our digestive system does way more that breaking down and absorbing food. For example it:
  • scans the food for invaders
  • detoxifies poorly digested food and fermented toxins
  • filters food and intestinal bacteria
  • receives the toxins detoxified by the liver through the gallbladder
  • ... and obviously eliminates toxins and unusable substances from the body through the faeces
Being constipated is not a good starting point for a detoxification diet: if toxins and their metabolites cannot leave the body they will be reabsorbed and reput in circulation. When prioritising the issues, a healthy digestive system always takes the precedence and this includes having regular bowel movements.

I mentioned the gallbladder, such an important and yet underestimated organ: it is through the bile that the liver eliminates some of the toxins it processes. Having a congested gallbladder (often because of low-fat diets) or having a thick, viscous, poor quality bile (usually this is caused by bad fats in the diet) incapacitates the liver to eliminate them.

Bile also stimulates peristalsis, and so elimination of solid waste from the intestine. We often think that when somebody is constipated, the solution is to eat more fiber. That would be the equivalent to try to gush-out the drain pipe of the kitchen sink... by throwing-in a cup of chopped salad. Adding some healthy fats and food that supports the gallbladder may be way more efficient, this is in neat opposition to typical detox diets which recommend instead to eliminate fats...

In the endless list of detox protocols, we also find coffee enemas. My rule is that digestion is a process that works from-north-to-south, not the other way round, so I prefer not to waste time with them. The subject would even be fun if it weren't for the cases of deaths associated to it (hint: fix the causes, not the symptoms).

To resume the paragraph: it is fundamental, before attempting a detoxification diet, to make sure that the stomach, intestines, the liver and the gallbladder are working efficiently.

Kidneys

The primary role of the kidneys is to filter the blood to remove cellular wastes, such as water, bile pigments and obviously toxins that had been processed by the liver.

Kidneys have literally the ultimate task in the elimination of many toxins from the blood, it is fundamental to support them with nutrients and proper hydration.

Once again, it is non-sense and potentially harmful to initiate a detoxification diet if this main elimination pathway is not working properly.

Skin

Skin, or better the sweat glands, can be considered a second kidney, although not as efficient. Some toxins can be eliminated through perspiration and in fact many cultures acknowledged the importance of it.

A very popular mean to have a good and deep sweat going, especially in the winter period, is to regularly spend some time in a sauna or steam room. During summer the best solution is probably to exercise outdoors.

Respiratory system

Last but not least, the respiratory system.

The lungs eliminate a variety of waste products in particular, but not limited to, carbon dioxide. They also play a major role in maintaining the correct pH of the blood: I'll speak more about this in a future article about alkaline/acidic diets.

And now the big question...

What happens when any of these steps is not working? What if we can't metabolise toxins or if we can't eliminate their by-products?

Where and how toxins are stored

In an healthy and well nourished body, toxins are eliminated through the pathways mentioned above. If not, our body's first action is to remove them from circulation: poison should not circulate freely. It decides to stock them in tissues that are not very metabolically active.

Body fat

Fat tissue can store toxins such as metals, petroleum, fat soluble chemicals and other organic and inorganic compounds. Toxins can accumulate in the fat tissue for years, this is a well know issue when eating meat and fats from animals raised in non-organic ways: they are themselves toxic (exposure to toxins, hormones, anti-biotics, stress, etc).

This should also make the reader aware of the potential risks associated to weight-loss programs, especially when a lot of stubborn body-fat is lost in a short period of time. Some toxins that have stayed silent for years are now massively pulled back in circulation, maybe at a pace we cannot keep-up to.

A properly designed weight-loss diet must always take this into account: the detoxification pathways must be working and elimination open. An initial detox protocol can make a tremendous difference between a generic weight-loss diet and a healthy one.

P.S. The brain is estimated to be composed of 60-80% from fat. Fat also wraps our nerves in the form of myelin, meaning that the same toxins that are stored in body fat can be stored in our nervous system as well. An additional reason to choose wisely how to approach the problem of weight-loss...

Soft-tissues, connective tissues, lymphs, joints

This is the second favourite place for our body to store toxins. The good news is that it is also the place from where it is easier to remove them... provided one follows the correct steps.

Bones

Because of its chemical affinity with calcium, bones are the preferred stockage area for lead. Bones are the most long-lasting tissue in our body, but they are not eternal neither. A complete renewal of our skeleton takes from 7 to 10 years.

If you have a history of lead exposure, you may have to cope with it for another decade.

Detoxification diets

Please note that our metabolism is not stupid, it is not storing toxins because it is masochist, it is trying to save our lives: PCBs are better in our belly that in our blood.

As frustrating as it is, once again we cannot blame our body: the sole responsibles are ourselves who introduced toxins and didn't take care of the good functioning of our own detoxification mechanisms.

Detoxifying body tissues takes a lot of time, even years as we saw. This will immediately ring a bell and cast some doubts on some very popular miracolous 7-day detox diets.

The best that can be done in such a short periods is:
  1. to re-open the elimination pathways (first and foremost)
  2. to initiate to support the detoxification phases (Phase-II first, then Phase-I)
That said... most typical protocols of 7-day detox diets are indeed good starting points for a bigger and more in-depth detoxification program. With obvious counter-indications of course (one example for all, juice fasting is not recommended to people with blood sugar regulation issues).

P.S. You may wonder why we need to work "backwards" when reactivating the detoxification pathways (elimination, Phase-2, Phase-1). The reason is that every step requires the following to be working in order not to get stuck in the process. Now... how many detoxification specialists have you met that take this into account?

You are what you eat, literally

Sometimes toxins literally become you. I am speaking of the use of unhealthy nutrients as building blocks of your body, if this doesn't interest you I don't know what will.

Every cell of our body is enclosed by a membrane, this is self-evident. What is less evident is what that membrane of made of.


The membrane is made of a double layer of:
  • phospholipids (fatty acids containing phosphorus),
  • cholesterol,
  • glyco-lipids (fatty acids attached to carbohydrates).
Contrary to popular belief, they are not made of proteins: they are made fat, cholesterol and fat again.

Long story made short, fats are not just a source of concentrated calories like we have been brought to believe. They are fundamental structural bricks of our cells, and therefore our tissues, our organs, and finally our body. They become you.

Now, imagine your body patched with plaques of
hydrogenated palm oil and oxydized cholesterol

How long does it take to rebuild our cells?

In my opinion, the tissue that is more interesting in a detoxification protocol is the blood, since it is the "organ" that links all the other organs together.  Let's not forget that one of the roles of the blood is to deliver toxins to the liver and by-products to the kidneys, the skin and the lungs. For this reason it is also the tissue that is more susceptible to stay in contact with toxins like metals, chemicals, hydrogenated fats, drugs, and such.

Let's take red blood cells: the average lifespan of red blood cells is ninety days, this means that it takes 90 days to make a whole new set of red blood cells.

When I am asked how long a detoxification protocol should last, the unpleasant truth is that one should do it for at least three months. This is very different from the common belief according to which one can eat junk food 51 weeks per year and then detox everything with a 7-day juice fast (if only...).

It also put into a different perspective the frequency with which we should eat clean, and consequently the frequency of exceptions.

Things that may slow down detoxification


Additional toxins

It goes without saying that if one is following a detoxification protocol, the first thing to stop doing is to introduce more toxins into the body. This includes also non-food sources like smoke, chemicals, exposure to radiations and unsurprisingly: stress. Actually, wilful intake of toxins and chronic stress are better avoided all year long.

Caffeine

As mentioned before, caffeine has precedence on Phase-I detoxification. Heavy coffee drinkers may in fact be sabotaging the correct functioning of their detoxification pathways.

In the other hand, because of the fact that caffeine is metabolised only in the first phase, it may be a good ally in case Phase II needs some initial support before it can be fully engaged.

Everything is very subjective and there is not a single answer for everybody.

Nutrients that engage the detoxification phases

I was once at a table speaking with some people I just met. A man mentioned that during a trip to India he followed a detoxification program, and one of the recommendations was to avoid spices during the treatement. He joked on how weird it was to spend time in India and not be allowed to eat their tasty recipes.

I wondered why that should have been the case and immediately recalled my nutrition classes and how phytonutrients, anti-oxidants are indeed processed by our liver to be eliminated. And herbs and spices are great sources of these kind of organic compounds.

Some nutrients support detoxification, others may work against it. While not toxins themselves, they anyway provide additional job to our Phase-I, Phase-II and elimination pathways, with the potential risk to deplete the nutrients that are required for the correct functioning of this complex, yet wonderful, mechanism.

Conclusions

Thanks for reading until the end, and sorry if sometimes in this article I had to digress to complex concepts: I know why you are here, you'd like to read simple and possibly reassuring answers, like:

Alright... so that’s 2 carrots, 1 head of broccoli,
10 grapes, a couple slices of ginger, and some celery

The fact is that our bodies are complicated. I felt it was necessary to be a bit more precise to avoid writing another generic article on detoxification that wouldn't have provided much added value compared to the countless articles that are already on-line.

I hope that this post didn't discourage anybody from attempting a detoxification diet. On the contrary, my expectation is that you maturated awareness of its importance and decide to initiate one, maybe with the support of a qualified expert.

And stay tuned! More exciting stuff coming very soon!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The occasional exception


This is a new episode from the series of posts where I discuss the typical questions a nutritionist is asked ([1], [2], [3]). The question of today is:

But... if I eat
[unhealthy food of your choice]
only once in a while...
...it is still ok, isn't it?

I usually take a big breath and hold it in the hope to faint so I have an excuse not to reply. Unfortunately my expectations are not satisfied and find myself facing another dilemma:
  1. Say a categorical no, and be seen as a food-nazi, knowing that they will occasionally do exceptions anyway
  2. Say that, yes, it is possible to do an exception from time to time, and accept the fact that they will interpret "from-time-to-time" as an ultra-liberal:
Woah!!! He said we can!!!
Let's eat unhealthy more often
than we eat healthy!!!

Let's begin with the most obvious starting point: defining the problem.


Where does the need to cheat come from?


Diets which are low in nutrients

And for nutrients I mean anything that our bodies need to function properly.
  • Low-fat diets or diets with bad quality fats will very likely trigger an incontrollable need to binge on greasy junk-food
  • Low-carb diets will keep sending messages to our brains to eat sugary treats. I take this opportunity to remember how adrenals and the thyroid are particularly impacted by ketogenic diets.
  • Diets low in proteins. Despite everybody acknowledges the importance of this macro-nutrient, and some people even abusing of them, many don't get the required minimum amount. One tricky thing about proteins is that we will never be 100% satiated until we fulfill the needs, thus we will keep eating (often carbohydrates).
  • Diets low in vitamins and minerals. This is the case of diets that rely heavily on refined food. 
Cravings are signals from our body that something is missing in our diets, the solution is not to binge randomly, but instead to identify that our diet is deficient in. One example for all:
  • it is perfectly fine to eat more fats, as long as they are the healthy ones
  • what is not good is to stay low-fat all the week following the outdated and debunked myth that fats-will-make-you-fat-and-clog-your-arteries, just to eat industrial chips on Saturday evening because-you-live-only-once


Not eating enough

As I said several times, calorie-restriction diets cannot work on the long period. Actually the need for cheat-days show that they are not feasible even in the short period. Enough said.


Unresolved metabolic addictions to some food

This is often the case of sugar. Almost everybody knows how addictive carbohydrates are and how important it is to reduce the quantity of bad carbohydrates we eat, to replace some of them with low glycemic-load sources.

A sugar-detox diet is no joke and the initial phase is likely to discourage even those with the highest motivation. I observed that, if properly done, it takes from one to three weeks to get rid of sugar dependency from a metabolic point of view: this is what is needed for most people to restart the far-burning pathways. In short: it is tough, but it can be done.


Dysregulated taste...

Getting rid of the taste-dependency from sugars instead, that's another thing.

There is a (very unhealthy) growing tendency in adult people to keep looking for food that tastes sweet. This fact remembers me a blog post I read five years ago, complaining about this trend: how almost nobody today can, for example, simply drink a black coffee. It has to be somehow edulcorated. Quoting:

"Now coffee comes in a myriad of flavors including vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, and peppermint."

Or, tea. Quoting again:

"Take iced tea for instance, whereas older people tend to enjoy unsweetened tea, younger people cannot palate it without some sort of sugary substance."

His major complaint however was on alcoholic drinks, quoting:

"as a whiskey aficionado, I was stunned to see apple and cinnamon flavored whiskeys creeping onto the shelves. Only then did I realize whiskey was also beginning to undergo a sweetness transformation"

Which is what we see today, even in healthy circles:
  • People don't eat meat, they eat protein bars, shakers and meal replacements that taste chocolate, caramel and vanilla
  • Blogs about healthy recipes contain more desserts than main courses and side dishes
  • Mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks are... sweet treats.
  • Cheat days are for... sweet treats (or abuse of carbohydrates like pasta or pizza)
While protein bars and homemade desserts are often better than an industrial donut fried in rancid sunflower oil, what is missing in this scenario is the need for re-education of taste buds, from an preference for the sweet taste (typical of children) to a preference for bitter, salty, sour and umami (typical of adults).

As long as this is not resolved, one will always crave sugar and, with a growing numer of researches showing that alternative sweeteners are unhealthy, that can potentially be an issue. It had already been an issue in the past (external link, worth reading).


Psychological dependency for forbidden food

Often, this does not cause cheat days but instead replacements. I see this a lot:
  • vegans crave meat and cheese (that's perfectly normal, we have a taste for umami). This is where an extraordinarily flourishing industry of fake-meats and fake-cheeses is literally making billions out of this newly created problem which takes advantage of an ancestral and hardwired (hence not easily disposed) physiological need.
  • paleo-dieters and the gluten/lactose-free tribe crave bread and dairy, again ending up in grotesque replacements on which I don't want to spend any more words.
Some don't replace and simply decide to cheat occasionally, actually doing themselves more good than harm.


Poor cooking skills when cooking healthy

A lot of people recently jumped onto the healthy-eating wagon, and that is just fantastic: there is a more and more widespread awareness of the role played by what we eat on our health. Unfortunately, often, they are confronted with lack of cooking skills. It's ok: I wasn't born with a chef's hat neither.

Because of this, they end-up eating recipes with such low organoleptic properties that the only solution not to go insane is to wait for the weekend or for a social event to cheat on junk food. Stated this way, it is obvious to everybody that something is wrong with this approach: your weekly menu should not be so unsatisfactory to let you frustrated thirteen meals out of fourteen.

I personally went through this and know that there is only one solution: learn to cook. One of the things I wanted to avoid in my blog was to make it a recipe blog, however I recently opened a Facebook Page, too. I plan to start publishing recipes there.


The 80/20 rule


A case against 80/20

In healthy eating circles, the 80/20 rule is becoming very popular. The thesis is that if you eat healthy 80% of the time, this allows for a 20% of freedom.

The first question that comes to mind is:

Freedom from what?

The mindset itself is wrong and it is the heritage of a culture dating back to the Eighties, when we have been cheated into believing that eating healthy must perforce be a torture, a stoic proof of superhuman self-control where all the delicacies are forbidden and all what is allowed is chicken breast and white rice. Needless to say, it is once again a problem of cooking skills.

The second question is more intriguing:

Why would anybody want to do 80/20 at all?

I'll make a practical example to explain how I see it:
  • our hands have 10 fingers
  • we deliberately hammer two of them
  • we still have eight healthy fingers, which are enough to perform most daily activities
Again, stated this way, it becomes evident that the approach is non-sense: only a masochist would want to have less than 10 healthy fingers, even if 8 still allow to write a letter, drive a car, type a keyboard, etc.


A case in favour of 80/20

That said... shit happens. We don't always have control of the situation and we may have to eat something we haven't cooked ourselves or the menu in the restaurant doesn't have options that fit our regimen. And guess what?

That's fine!

I believe the 80/20 rule is true. If one is healthy, his or her body is perfectly capable of handling the occasional not-so-perfect meal.

Back to the 10 fingers example: we do our best not to break any finger but... should we break one or two our body will fix them.


Bonus paragraph: trivia on the 80/20 rule

When speaking about the 80/20 rule, some people invoque the Pareto Principle, hoping to gain more credibility by doing some scientific talk.

Unfortunately they didn't get it right: if we want to apply it correctly, what Pareto truly says is that 80% of the damage is caused by 20% of what you eat.


Orthorexia

This post wouldn't be complete if I didn't spend some words on orthorexia.

As I mentioned before, more and more people are realizing that eating 2000KCal of junk food is not the same as eating 2000KCal of Mediterranean Diet. We live in a time when we have to be particularly careful and well-informed with regard to the choice of what is in our dishes, in particular its origin, and knowledgeable about the correct preparation processes. Sounds logic. However, instead of being encouraged, this behavior has been proposed to be recognized as a psychiatric disorder, luckily it hadn't been accepted (for the moment).

My personal point of view is: making informed decisions on what we eat (and when, how and howmuch) in order to avoid disease and feel better, this is not an eating disorder: that's intelligence and insightfulness, Basing decisions on shame, or guilt, or self-exteem issues, or trends, or not basing one's decision at all and eating randomly... those are eating disorders.

In short, orthorexia is way over-sensationalized and I think (being caustic here) that this is just the last desperate attempt of a corrupt food system to keep us away from adopting healthy eating habits. I am worried about the day when psychiatrists will start diagnosing orthorexia as a fully recognized disorder and will recommend a therapy based on fast food, twice per day.


Conclusions

Okaaay, yeees... It is possible to eat unhealthy once in a while and still enjoy all the benefits of eating unpeccably the rest of the time.

We don't have to freak-out because the gourmet chef used a spoon of wheat flour as a thickener in a stew, our bodies can pretty much handle the occasional contumely: honestly, if it were that easy to become intoxicated there wouldn't be a single organism alive on this planet anymore.

However, it should not be a planified cheat day... that would be the equivalent of looking forward for the weekend to deliberately break a femur.

The ideal exception is represented by the case when we don't have a choice: either we are invited, or the restaurant we are going to has no alternatives. People break bones everyday, it happens... that's life. In healhy people bones repair: this is life, too.

The take-home message of today is:

Eat healthy whenever you are in control of the menu
Be in control of the menu as often as possible
Accept the compromise when you have to

And stay tuned: here there are no exceptions allowed!