Sunday, February 05, 2006

#3 in the Plan For Success series

The Basics of Healty Living

“Remember, I am offering you the truth, nothing more.”

Monitor and Control
Health care in the U.S. soon will not be reliable when you need it most. So what can you do to not need it? The answer is Monitor and Control! Nearly every physical condition can be controlled, alleviated, reversed, or prevented through eating habits and exercise alone. According to functional medicine practitioners, you can control 80% of all disease by regulating your adrenaline, cortisol and insulin, which means in daily life you must lower your stress levels and manage your sugar.

Insulin, which comes from your pancreas, is the hormone you have greatest control over and is the master hormone to control if you want all your other hormones to stay balanced. You control insulin by regulating what you eat. If you feel you have lost control of your body shape, ask yourself this question: "Have I ever eaten anything by ?" Next time you look at yourself in the mirror, remember that your body fat is telling you something. It is giving you a sneak preview of the health of your hormonal system.

Most people take better care of their vehicles than they do their own body. When was the last time you had a physical or check up? This year? Last year? The year before? When was the last time you had your car in for work? If you follow your oil change recommendations you have your vehicle checked out about four times a year. But you only check your own personal health, once a year, once every two years, or more? Does that make sense? Most every insurance policy covers at least one yearly physical. In fact they encourage you to do so. They want any potential conditions caught early and rectified to avoid costly treatments. This should also be your goal. Monitor and Control. I know it’s scary to go for a checkup. What if they find something? However, you shouldn’t be afraid of what they’ll find, you should be afraid of not finding it in time. Of the 2.2 million people that die each year in the US, cardiovascular diseases account for the most victims, more than 48% of all s! Moral of the story: get a physical/checkup once a year, every year.

So what exactly does it mean to be “healthy”? What is it that the doctor “checks up” during a physical? And what exactly should you be monitoring and controlling? Let’s discuss that.

I'm going to go over each of the most common tests. I'll include why it's performed, what it tells you, and what the typical ranges are for normal humans. That way, you'll have something more to go on in assessing your health other than your family doctor saying, "Well, these few values are a little worrisome, but you'll probably be okay."

One note, though, before I get started. The values I'll be listing are merely averages and the ranges may vary slightly from laboratory to laboratory. Also, if there's only one range given, it applies to both men and women.

Lipid Panel — Used to determine possible risk for coronary and vascular disease. In other words, heart disease.

HDL/LDL and Total Cholesterol
These lipoproteins should look rather familiar to most of you. HDL is simply the "good" lipoprotein that acts as a scavenger molecule and prevents a buildup of material. LDL is the "bad" lipoprotein which collects in arterial walls and causes blockage or a reduction in flow. The total cholesterol to HDL ratio is also important.

Your HDL should be 35 or higher; LDL below 130; and total to HDL ratio should be below 3.5. Oh and don't forget VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) which can be extremely worrisome. You should have less than 30 mg/dl in order to not be considered at risk for heart disease.
On a side note, I'm sure some of you are wishing that you had abnormally low plasma cholesterol levels (as if it's something to brag about), but the fact is that having extremely low cholesterol levels is actually indicative of severe liver disease.

Triglycerides are simply a form of fat that exists in the stream. They're transported by two other culprits, VLDL and LDL. A high level of triglycerides is a risk factor for heart disease as well. Triglycerides levels can be increased if food or alcohol is consumed 12 to 24 hours prior to the draw and this is the reason why you're asked to fast for 12-14 hours from food and abstain from alcohol for 24 hours. Here are the normal ranges for healthy humans.

16-19 yr. old male
40-163 mg/dl
Adult Male
40-160 mg/dl
16-19 yr. old female
40-128 mg/dl
Adult Female
35-135 mg/dl

Unfortunately, the doctor doesn’t always order this test. They should. Homocysteine is formed in the metabolism of the dietary amino acid methionine. The problem is that it's a strong risk factor for atherosclerosis. In other words, high levels may cause you to have a heart attack. Luckily, taking folic acid (about 400-800 mcg.) as well as taking a good amount of all B vitamins in general will go a long way in terms of preventing a rise in levels of homocysteine.
Normal ranges:

Males and Females age 0-30
4.6-8.1 umol/L
Males age 30-59
6.3-11.2 umol/L
Females age 30-59
4.5-7.9 umol/L
>59 years of age
5.8-11.9 umol/L

The Hemo Profile
These are various tests that examine a number of components of your and look for any abnormalities that could be indicative of serious diseases that may result in you being an extra in the HBO show, "Six Feet Under."

WBC Total (White Cell)
Also referred to as leukocytes, a fluctuation in the number of these types of cells can be an indicator of things like infections and disease states dealing with immunity, cancer, stress, etc.
Normal ranges:

This is one type of white cell that's in circulation for only a very short time. Essentially their job is phagocytosis, which is the process of and digesting bacteria that cause infection. Both severe trauma and bacterial infections, as well as inflammatory or metabolic disorders and even stress, can cause an increase in the number of these cells. Having a low number of neutrophils can be indicative of a viral infection, a bacterial infection, or a rotten diet.
Normal ranges:
2,500-8,000 cells per mm3

RBC (Red Cell)
These cells are also called erythrocytes and their primary function is to carry oxygen (via the hemoglobin contained in each RBC) to various tissues as well as giving our that cool "red" color. Unlike WBC, RBC survive in peripheral circulation for approximately 120 days. A decrease in the number of these cells can result in anemia which could stem from dietary insufficiencies. An increase in number can occur when androgens are used. This is because androgens increase EPO (erythropoietin) production which in turn increases RBC count and thus elevates volume. The danger in this could be an increase in pressure or a stroke.
Normal ranges:

Adult Male
4,700,000-6,100,000 cells/uL
Adult Female
4,200,000-5,400,000 cells/uL

Hemoglobin is what serves as a carrier for both oxygen and carbon dioxide transportation. Molecules of this are found within each red cell. An increase in hemoglobin can be an indicator of congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, sever burns, or dehydration. Being at high altitudes can cause an increase as well. A decrease in number can be a sign of anemia, lymphoma, kidney disease, sever hemorrhage, cancer, sickle cell anemia, etc.
Normal ranges:

Males and females 6-18 years
10-15.5 g/dl
Adult Males
14-18 g/dl
Adult Females
12-16 g/dl

The hematocrit is used to measure the percentage of the total volume that's made up of red cells. An increase in percentage may be indicative of congenital heart disease, dehydration, diarrhea, burns, etc. A decrease in levels may be indicative of anemia, hyperthyroidism, cirrhosis, hemorrhage, leukemia, rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy, malnutrition, a sucking knife wound to the chest, etc.
Normal ranges:

Male and Females age 6-18 years
Adult Men
Adult Women

MCV (Mean Corpuscular Volume)
This is one of three red cell indices used to check for abnormalities. The MCV is the size or volume of the average red cell. A decrease in MCV would then indicate that the RBC's are abnormally large (or macrocytic), and this may be an indicator of iron deficiency anemia or thalassemia. When an increase is noted, that would indicate abnormally small RBC (microcytic), and this may be indicative of a vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiency as well as liver disease.
Normal ranges:

12-18 year olds
78-100 fL
Adult Male
80-100 fL
Adult Female
79-98 fL

MCH (Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin)
The MCH is the weight of hemoglobin present in the average red cell. This is yet another way to assess whether some sort of anemia or deficiency is present.
Normal ranges:

12-18 year old
35-45 pg
Adult Male
26-34 pg
Adult Female
26-34 pg

MCHC (Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration)
The MCHC is the measurement of the amount of hemoglobin present in the average red cell as compared to its size. A decrease in number is an indicator of iron deficiency, thalassemia, lead poisoning, etc. An increase is sometimes seen after androgen use.
Normal ranges:

12-18 year old
31-37 g/dl
Adult Male
31-37 g/dl
Adult Female
30-36 g/dl

RDW (Red Cell Distribution Width)
The RDW is an indicator of the variation in red cell size. It's used in order to help classify certain types of anemia, and to see if some of the red cells need their suits tailored. An increase in RDW can be indicative of iron deficiency anemia, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency anemia, and diseases like sickle cell anemia.
Normal ranges:

Adult Male
Adult Female

Platelets or thrombocytes are essential for your body's ability to form clots and thus stop bleeding. They're measured in order to assess the likelihood of certain disorders or diseases. An increase can be indicative of a malignant disorder, rheumatoid arthritis, iron deficiency anemia, etc. A decrease can be indicative of much more, including things like infection, various types of anemia, leukemia, etc. On a side note for these ranges, anything above 1 million/mm3 would be considered a critical value and should warrant concern.
Normal ranges:

(Most commonly displayed in SI units of 150-400 x 10(9th)/L
(Most commonly displayed in SI units of 150-400 x 10(9th)/L

ABS (Differential Count)
The differential count measures the percentage of each type of leukocyte or white cell present in the same specimen. Using this, they can determine whether there's a bacterial or parasitic infection, as well as immune reactions, etc.


As explained previously, severe trauma and bacterial infections, as well as inflammatory disorders, metabolic disorders, and even stress can cause an increase in the number of these cells. Also, on the other side of the spectrum, a low number of these cells can indicate a viral infection, a bacterial infection, or a deficient diet.
Percentile Range:

These cells, and in particular, eosinophils, are present in the event of an allergic reaction as well as when a parasite is present. These types of cells don't increase in response to viral or bacterial infections so if an increased count is noted, it can be deduced that either an allergic response has occurred or a parasite has taken up residence.
Percentile Range:


Lymphocytes and Monocytes
Lymphocytes can be divided in to two different types of cells: T cells and B cells. T cells are involved in immune reactions and B cells are involved in antibody production. The main job of lymphocytes in general is to fight off bacterial and viral infections.
Monocytes are similar to neutrophils but are produced more rapidly and stay in the system for a longer period of time.
Percentile Range:


Selected Clinical Values
This cation (an ion with a positive charge) is mainly found in extracellular spaces and is responsible for maintaining a balance of water in the body. When sodium in the rises, the kidneys will conserve water and when the sodium concentration is low, the kidneys conserve sodium and excrete water. Increased levels can result from excessive dietary intake, Cushing's syndrome, excessive sweating, burns, or getting to drink for a week. Decreased levels can result from a deficient diet, Addison's disease, diarrhea, vomiting, chronic renal insufficiency, excessive water intake, or congestive heart failure.
Normal range:
136-145 mEq/L

On the other side of the spectrum, you have the most important intracellular cation. Increased levels can be an indicator of excessive dietary intake, acute renal failure, aldosterone-inhibiting diuretics, a crushing injury to tissues, infection, acidosis, dehydration, etc. Decreased levels can be indicative of a deficient dietary intake, burns, diarrhea or vomiting, diuretics, Cushing's syndrome, licorice consumption, insulin use, cystic fibrosis, trauma, surgery, etc.
Normal range:
3.5-5 mEq/L


This is the major extracellular anion (an ion carrying a negative charge). Its purpose is to maintain electrical neutrality with sodium. It also serves as a buffer in order to maintain the pH balance of the . Chloride typically accompanies sodium and thus the causes for change are essentially the same.
Normal range:
98-106 mEq/L

Carbon Dioxide
The CO2 content is used to evaluate the pH of the as well as aid in evaluation of electrolyte levels. Increased levels can be indicative of severe diarrhea, starvation, vomiting, emphysema, metabolic alkalosis, etc. Increased levels could also mean that you're a plant. Decreased levels can be indicative of kidney failure, metabolic acidosis, shock, and starvation.
Normal range:
23-30 mEq/L

The amount of glucose in the after a prolonged period of fasting (12-14 hours) is used to determine whether a person is in a hypoglycemic (low glucose) or hyperglycemic (high glucose) state. Both can be indicators of serious conditions. Increased levels can be indicative of diabetes mellitus, acute stress, Cushing's syndrome, chronic renal failure, corticosteroid therapy, acromegaly, etc. Decreased levels could be indicative of hypothyroidism, insulinoma, liver disease, insulin overdose, and starvation.
Normal range:

Adult Male
65-120 mg/dl
Adult Female
65-120 mg/dl

BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen)
This test measures the amount of urea nitrogen that's present in the . When protein is metabolized, the end product is urea which is formed in the liver and excreted from the stream via the kidneys. This is why BUN is a good indicator of both liver and kidney function. Increased levels can stem from shock, burns, dehydration, congestive hear failure, myocardial infarction, excessive protein ingestion, excessive protein catabolism, starvation, sepsis, renal disease, renal failure, etc. Causes of a decrease in levels can be liver failure, overhydration, negative nitrogen balance via malnutrition, pregnancy, etc.
Normal range:
10-20 mg/dl

Creatinine is a byproduct of creatine phosphate, the chemical used in contraction of skeletal muscle. So, the more muscle mass you have, the higher the creatine levels and therefore the higher the levels of creatinine. Also, when you ingest large amounts of beef or other meats that have high levels of creatine in them, you can increase creatinine levels as well. Since creatinine levels are used to measure the functioning of the kidneys, this easily explains why creatine has been accused of causing kidney damage, since it naturally results in an increase in creatinine levels.

However, we need to remember that these tests are only indicators of functioning and thus outside and supplements can influence them and give false results, as creatine may do. This is why creatine, while increasing creatinine levels, does not cause renal damage or impair function. Generally speaking, though, increased levels are indicative of urinary tract obstruction, acute tubular necrosis, reduced renal flow (stemming from shock, dehydration, congestive heart failure, and atherosclerosis), as well as acromegaly. Decreased levels can be indicative of debilitation, and decreased muscle mass via disease or some other cause.
Normal range:

Adult Male
0.6-1.2 mg/dl
Adult Female
0.5-1.1 mg/dl

BUN/Creatinine Ratio
A high ratio may be found in states of shock, volume depletion, hypotension, dehydration, gastrointestinal bleeding, and in some cases, a catabolic state. A low ratio can be indicative of a low protein diet, malnutrition, pregnancy, severe liver disease, ketosis, etc. An important thing to note again is that with a high protein diet, you'll likely have a higher ratio and this is nothing to worry about.
Normal range:

Calcium is measured in order to assess the function of the parathyroid and calcium metabolism. Increased levels can stem from hyperparathyroidism, metastatic tumor to the bone, prolonged immobilization, lymphoma, hyperthyroidism, acromegaly, etc. Decreased levels can stem from renal failure, rickets, vitamin D deficiency, malabsorption, pancreatitis, and alkalosis.
Normal range:
9-10.5 mg/dl

Liver Function
Total Protein

This measures the total level of albumin and globulin in the body. Albumin is synthesized by the liver and as such is used as an indicator of liver function. It functions to transport hormones, enzymes, and other constituents of the .
Globulins are the building blocks of your body's antibodies. Measuring the levels of these two proteins is also an indicator of nutritional status. Increased albumin levels can result from dehydration, while decreased albumin levels can result from malnutrition, pregnancy, liver disease, overhydration, inflammatory diseases, etc. Increased globulin levels can result from inflammatory diseases, hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), iron deficiency anemia, as well as infections. Decreased globulin levels can result from hyperthyroidism, liver dysfunction, malnutrition, and immune deficiencies or disorders.
Normal range:

Total Protein: 6.4-8.3 g/dl
Albumin: 3.5-5 g/dl
Globulin: 2.3-3.4 g/dl
Albumin/Globulin Ratio:

Bilirubin is one of the many constituents of bile, which is formed in the liver. An increase in levels of bilirubin can be indicative of liver stress or damage/inflammation. that may increase bilirubin include oral anabolic steroids (17-AA), antibiotics, diuretics, morphine, codeine, contraceptives, etc. that may decrease levels are barbiturates and caffeine. Non-drug induced increased levels can be indicative of gallstones, extensive liver metastasis, and cholestasis from certain , hepatitis, sepsis, sickle cell anemia, cirrhosis, etc.
Normal range:
Total Bilirubin for
0.3-1.0 mg/dl

Alkaline Phosphatase
This enzyme is found in very high concentrations in the liver and for this reason is used as an indicator of liver stress or damage. Increased levels can stem from cirrhosis, liver tumor, pregnancy, healing fracture, normal bones of growing children, and rheumatoid arthritis. Decreased levels can stem from hypothyroidism, malnutrition, pernicious anemia, scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) and excess vitamin B ingestion. As a side note, antibiotics can cause an increase in the enzyme levels.
Normal range:

16-21 years
30-200 U/L
30-120 U/L

AST (Aspartate Aminotransferase, previously known as SGOT)
This is yet another enzyme that's used to determine if there's damage or stress to the liver. It may also be used to see if heart disease is a possibility as well, but this isn't as accurate. When the liver is damaged or inflamed, AST levels can rise to a very high level (20 times the normal value). This happens because AST is released when the cells of that particular organ (liver) are lysed. The AST then enters circulation and an elevation can be seen. Increased levels can be indicative of heart disease, liver disease, skeletal muscle disease or injuries, as well as heat stroke. Decreased levels can be indicative of acute kidney disease, beriberi, diabetic ketoacidosis, pregnancy, and renal dialysis.
Normal range:
0-35 U/L (Females may have slightly lower levels)

ALT (Alanine Aminotransferase, previously known as SGPT)
This is yet another enzyme that is found in high levels within the liver. Injury or disease of the liver will result in an increase in levels of ALT. I should note however, that because lesser quantities are found in skeletal muscle, there could be a weight-training induced increase . Weight training causes damage to muscle tissue and thus could slightly elevate these levels, giving a false indicator for liver disease. Still, for the most part, it's a rather accurate diagnostic tool. Increased levels can be indicative of hepatitis, hepatic necrosis, cirrhosis, cholestasis, hepatic tumor, hepatotoxic , and jaundice, as well as severe burns, trauma to striated muscle (via weight training), myocardial infarction, mononucleosis, and shock.
Normal range:
4-36 U/L

Endocrine Function
Testosterone (Free and Total)

Just as some background info, about 95% of the circulating Testosterone in a man's body is formed by the Leydig cells, which are found in the testicles. Women also have a small amount of Testosterone in their body. (Some more than others, which accounts for the bearded ladies you see at the circus.) This is from a very small amount of Testosterone secreted by the ovaries and the adrenal gland (in which the majority is made from the adrenal conversion of androstenedione to Testosterone via 17-beta HSD).
Normal range, total Testosterone:

Age 14

LH (Luteinizing Hormone)
LH is a glycoprotein that's secreted by the anterior pituitary gland and is responsible for signaling the leydig cells to produce Testosterone. Measuring LH can be very useful in terms of determining whether a hypogonadic state (low Testosterone) is caused by the testicles not being responsive despite high or normal LH levels (primary), or whether it's the pituitary gland not secreting enough LH (secondary). Of course, the hypothalamus — which secretes LH-RH (luteinizing hormone releasing hormone) — could also be the culprit, as well as perhaps both the hypothalamus and the pituitary.
If it's a case of the testicles not being responsive to LH, then things like clomiphene and hCG really won't help. If the problem is secondary, then there's a better chance for improvement with therapy. Increased levels can be indicative of hypogonadism, precocious puberty, and pituitary adenoma. Decreased levels can be indicative of pituitary failure, hypothalamic failure, stress, and malnutrition.
Normal ranges:

Adult Male
1.24-7.8 IU/L

Adult Female
Follicular phase: 1.68-15 IU/L
Ovulatory phase: 21.9-56.6 IU/L
Luteal phase: 0.61-16.3 IU/L
Postmenopausal: 14.2-52.3 IU/L

With this being the most potent of the estrogens, I'm sure you're all aware that it can be responsible for things like water retention, hypertrophy of adipose tissue, gynecomastia, and perhaps even prostate hypertrophy and tumors. As a male it's very important to get your levels of this hormone checked for the above reasons. Also, it's the primary estrogen that's responsible for the negative feedback loop which suppresses endogenous Testosterone production. So, if your levels of estradiol are rather high, you can bet that you'll be hypogonadal as well.
Increased estradiol levels can be indicative of a testicular tumor, adrenal tumor, hepatic cirrhosis, necrosis of the liver, hyperthyroidism, etc.
Normal ranges:

Adult Male
10-50 pg/ml

Adult Female
Follicular phase: 20-350 pg/ml
Midcycle peak: 150-750 pg/ml
Luteal phase: 30-450 pg/ml
Postmenopausal: 20 pg/ml or less

Thyroid (T3, T4 Total and Free, TSH)
T3 (Triiodothyronine)

T3 is the more metabolically active hormone out of T4 and T3. When levels are below normal it's generally safe to assume that the individual is suffering from hypothyroidism. that may increase T3 levels include estrogen and oral contraceptives. that may decrease T3 levels include anabolic steroids/androgens as well as propanolol (a beta adrenergic blocker) and high dosages of salicylates. Increased levels can be indicative of Graves disease, acute thyroiditis, pregnancy, hepatitis, etc. Decreased levels can be indicative of hypothyroidism, protein malnutrition, kidney failure, Cushing's syndrome, cirrhosis, and liver diseases.
Normal ranges:

16-20 years old
80-210 ng/dl
20-50 years
75-220 ng/dl or 1.2-3.4 nmol/L
Over 50
40-180 ng/dl or 0.6-2.8 nmol/L

T4 (Thyroxine)
T4 is just another indicator of whether or not someone is in a hypo or hyperthyroid state. It too is rather reliable but free thyroxine levels should be assessed as well. that increase or decrease T3 will, in most cases, do the same with T4. Increased levels are indicative of the same things as T3 and a decrease can be indicative of protein depleted states, iodine insufficiency, kidney failure, Cushing's syndrome, and cirrhosis.
Normal ranges:

Adult Male
4-12 ug/dl or 51-154 nmol/L
Adult Female
5-12 ug/dl or 64-154 nmol/L

Free T4 or Thyroxine
Since only 1-5% of the total amount of T4 is actually free and useable, this test is a far better indicator of the thyroid status of the patient. An increase indicates a hyperthyroid state and a decrease indicates a hypothyroid state. that increase free T4 are heparin, aspirin, danazol, and propanolol. that decrease it are furosemide, methadone, and rifampicin. Increased and decreased levels are indicative of the same possible diseases and states that are seen with T4 and T3.
Normal ranges:
0.8-2.8 ng/dl or 10-36 pmol/L

TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone)
Measuring the level of TSH can be very helpful in terms of determining if the problem resides with the thyroid itself or the pituitary gland. If TSH levels are high, then it's merely the thyroid gland not responding for some reason but if TSH levels are low, it's the hypothalamus or pituitary gland that has something wrong with it. The problem could be a tumor, some type of trauma, or an infarction.
Drugs that can increase levels of TSH include lithium, potassium iodide and TSH itself. that may decrease TSH are aspirin, heparin, dopamine, T3, etc. Increased TSH is indicative of thyroiditis, hypothyroidism, and congenital cretinism. Decreased levels are indicative of hypothyroidism (pituitary dysfunction), hyperthyroidism, and pituitary hypofunction.
Normal ranges:
2-10 uU/ml or 2-10 mU/L

Hopefully this will help to shed some light on the questions you have, or may have in the future, in regards to your health profile. Now perhaps you can truly rest assured after viewing things yourself. Knowing how to interpret these tests can be a very valuable tool in terms of health and your body composition progress. Use your new knowledge wisely!

Now you understand what to look for from your health and how that impacts your body and your life, but how do you control these factors? Eating Habits and Exercise! Eating habits have a huge impact on your body and your health and it‘s a multi-faceted approach. Again here the key is Monitor and Control.

Changing The Rules
What kind of body do you really want?
Think about it for a second. Ask yourself, “What kind of body do I really want?”
Women often say something like, “Oh, I just want a nice, toned body. Not too big, but firm.” Toned and firm? Okay, sounds good to me. Men usually say something like, “I want to be big, muscular, and lean.” Well, I’m with ya. That’s a noble goal.

You know what you want to look like. You can picture it in your mind. You know exactly what kind of body you want. Now brace yourself and ask yourself honestly, “Why don’t I already have the body I want?” “Why don’t I look the way I want to look, right now?” “What’s holding me back?” Well, let’s consider the possibilities . . .

Is it a lack of motivation?
Maybe. In my experience, however, people who actively seek out solutions to their problems have motivation enough. You don’t need to move mountains to get in the best shape of your life; you just need to get started, and everyone can do that. If you can start, you can finish, as long as you do the right things! You see, once you’ve started to change your body, you don’t need motivational slogans and pep talks. What you need are results! Results are the true motivation. When you’re doing something that works, you just look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I look good, this stuff really works.” It’s positive reinforcement of what you’ve been doing, and you keep doing it. So the problem isn’t inspiration. It’s something else.

Poor exercise habits?

Sometimes, especially if you’re completely sedentary. If your daily activity involves nothing more than moving from one piece of furniture to another, you’re simply not going to get that body. Looking good requires exercise and probably more than you’re told is necessary.
30 minutes three times a week? I don’t think so. I know lots of people who are already exercising with highly skilled trainers and coaches, and even then, the results don’t come easy. So what else could it be? What is it really?

Bad genetics?
Look, this is a definite NO. A complete cop-out. You know what bad genetics are? Being born without legs. A propensity to gain fat around your midsection is NOT bad genetics. Sure, each of us has certain genetic limitations; for instance, you may not be equipped to play quarterback for the Patriots, play center for the Celtics or win the Boston Marathon. In other words, you may not have the genetic makeup to reach the upper limits of human performance. But you can always lose fat or gain muscle. In years of working out with people of all stripes, from office managers to elite athletes, I’ve yet to see a single case where they couldn’t make significant body composition change, and that’s what you really want, isn’t it? So if you’ve been using the old “bad genetics” routine, stop shaking your fist at the heavens, and look a little closer at the real problem.

So what is the real problem?
Ask yourself again: “Why don’t I have the body I want?” What’s really holding you back. Look, it’s not your lack of inspirational posters. It’s not the set/rep scheme you use in the gym, and it’s definitely not your genetics. Make no mistake about it, your limiting factor nearly always resides in the 160+ hours per week that you spend outside of gym. And what do you think is the most important factor in those 160+ hours? What, in that time, has the greatest impact on your body composition, health and performance?
Answer: Nutrition. Whether you want to gain muscle, lose fat, or just live healthy, the limiting factor is almost always nutrition.

Poor nutrition is what holds you back.
And good nutrition is what will move you forward. Good nutrition is what will feed muscle and shed fat. It’s what will improve nearly every health marker you can measure. It’s what will drastically improve recovery and mood, so you can work harder, longer. Good nutrition is what will get you the body you never thought you could have. Change your nutrition, and you’ll change your body entirely. Change your nutrition, and you’ll quite literally change your life.

Just look at people who have made major changes to their body. And I mean major changes, the type of changes that make people take notice when you enter the room. The common denominator is that they all completely changed their nutrition.“Well, great,” you say, “I understand the importance of nutrition to my body, and I do want to change. The question is how!”

But I think my nutrition is already pretty good – do I still need this?
Well, first of all, how do you know your nutrition plan is good? Because you “try to eat healthy?” Because you think your diet is low-carb, or high-carb, or low-fat or high-fat, or low-protein or high-protein or high in fiber? Because it looks good on paper? Or because it meets some other criteria for "pretty good nutrition"? Let me lay this out in the clearest, most concise way I know how . . .
If you don’t already have the body you want, then your nutrition plan is not good enough.

Listen, the only one way to determine whether your nutrition plan is any good is to look at your results. That’s the plain truth. I don’t care if your plan meets so-and-so’s guidelines, or is “low-carb” or contains enough vitamin C or whatever the latest B.S. indicator of good nutrition is in the popular press. There is only one rule: what works is good; what doesn’t is not. That’s the only rule to live by.

My approach is entirely outcome-based. It’s about getting results and nothing else. So if you want to know whether it’s right for you, then just ask yourself this question:
"Do I have the body I really, truly want?" Answer it honestly. Don’t worry, no one is listening.

If the answer is yes, then great. But if you answered no, “in all honesty, I don’t yet have the body I really want,” then I can say without the slightest hesitation that this plan is exactly what you need. Optimizing your nutrition plan is the true secret to transforming your body, and I’ll show you exactly how to do it.

Simple Strategies Remarkable Results
People think that radical changes to their exercise and nutrition habits are extremely difficult to make. And you know what? They’re right. Radical changes ARE extremely difficult to make. But who said you need radical changes to get great results? Here’s the reality: the changes that get remarkable results are SIMPLE. The hard part is figuring out what they are. We need to establish a system of specific, simple steps that will allow the results we want.

Most diets and nutrition plans fail to get the results they claim. It’s that simple. They survive only as novelty items, as fads or gimmicks that help them stand out on an overcrowded bookshelf. If you want to succeed, you have to learn how to filter out the nonsense. You have to avoid the pitfalls that lead to failure, and focus your energy only on what works! Well, the reality is that some plans do work. Some do get the results. And guess what? The successful plans are surprisingly similar, as different as they claim to be. The key, then, is not to worry about what’s different between the successful plans, but rather to discover what is the same. Those similarities are the key to your success.

What are the rules of good nutrition? What types of things must you absolutely do to succeed. What types of things must you avoid? Seriously, take a moment and think about it. What rules do you think you’ll need to follow if you want to eat in a healthy way. A way that will improve the way your body looks and the way it feels? Pause for a moment and come up with that list in your mind right now.

Now that you’ve considered these rules, I want you to take a second and think about your list. Specifically, think about where you learned these rules. Certainly your rules have been influenced by how you were raised, no? Certainly they’ve been influenced by your experiences dining with friends and relatives. Comfort foods, right? Of course, no set of nutrition rules is immune to media influences. You can’t help but be arded by those Got Milk ads! Your rules have probably also been influenced by what you’ve heard others say. Heck, every 3rd episode of Dr. Phil is about food and dieting. And, no doubt, your nutrition rules have probably been influenced by your own past attempts at changing your body, whether you’ve been successful or not. I could sit here all day and list potential nutritional influences. But I’ll stop here since there are probably hundreds of ‘em and to enumerate them all would be gratuitous.

At this junction, I’d like to go ahead and make my point. And the point is this: very few of your “Good Nutrition Rules” have been influenced by those who know anything about good nutrition, let alone about long-term success or about what it really means to eat in a healthy way! And worse yet, most of those rules have been hammered home without you even knowing it! It’s time to change the rules.

Now I’ll admit it. Changing the rules, just like changing your habits, is difficult. Not only does it take a desire to change, “want to,” but it takes a strategy for change, “how to.” The “want to” is all your own. But the “how to” is what I’m here for. I’ve committed myself to helping people do just this, to change their rules and change their habits.

In changing these rules and habits, everything changes; the way you’ll eat, the way you’ll sleep, they way you’ll look, the way you’ll feel when you wake up in the morning, and the way you’ll perform in day-to-day activities.

I’m going to teach you a system; a system based on three criterion. What are the criterion for? Well, they represent a three step way of evaluating a strategy for its usefulness.
Step 1 – Simplicity Are the rules easy to follow?
Step 2 – Science Are the rules based on sound scientific principles?
Step 3 – Success Have the rules produced success in the past?
Using this criterion, the systems developed will always produce a positive result.

Think again about your nutritional rules, rules that you might be quite attached to. Which criterion did you use when determining your rules? Are your rules based on Simplicity, Science, and Success? Have your rules produced the desired effect? A lean, healthy body that you’re able to maintain; a body that you’re happy with when looking in the mirror? If not, perhaps they could use a re-evaluation.

Now that we agree that your nutrition habits are ineffectual, lets identify some of those possible habits and discuss why they are poor behaviors to embellish.

Dietary Displacement
I’ve got this friend who seems to love going out for coffee with members of the opposite . Wait; let me clarify. He loves going out for coffee with exceptionally good-looking members of the opposite . Almost every time I call this guy during afternoon hours, he’s on one of these coffee dates with one of his little hottie "coffee friends." My buddy assures me these "coffee dates" are components critical to his style of dating, and his success. Intrigued, I decided to give the coffee date a try.

The Origin of Obesity?
So there I am, sitting in my favorite coffee shop across from my "coffee friend." Things are off to a good start. We’re laughing, she’s playing with her hair, and she’s reaching across the table touching my arm when I make a particularly witty comment. Note to self: "I’m in there!"

I order a green tea, a pitcher of water, and two chicken breast sandwiches (no bread, no mayonnaise, double the vegetables, please). Because it’s my "free" or "cheat" day, I pre-order dessert. A slice of warm apple pie. With mouth agape and that "where do you put it all?" look on her face, my coffee friend orders a chocolate brownie and a double latté. Then it happens: she starts asking nutrition questions.

Internally, I groan. Only fifteen minutes into the meeting and we’re talking about the subject I usually like to steer clear of with new people. It’s better to slowly wean them onto my nutrition ideas than to launch right into it during the first meeting.

Damn my buddy and his "coffee dates"! But then, during the ensuing conversation, which wasn’t as bad as I'd initially predicted, something else happened. In talking nutrition with my coffee friend, I realized that during this meal I was getting a very clear insight into the very "obesification" of North America.

Now, this is definitely not obese. She’s young, thin, and a real hottie. But in ten or twenty years, she will be obese if she continues to regularly dine on rich chocolate brownies and frappaccinos for lunch, bagels and coffee for breakfast (her admitted breakfast of choice), soda throughout the day, and leftover casserole for dinner.

Of course, obesity isn’t imminent in her case. She’s a young, intelligent, and reasonably disciplined woman and she’ll probably be able to restrain her eating habits enough to stave off full-blown obesity. But the fact is, simply moderating ones portions isn't enough to achieve optimal body composition and health.

The "All-Treat" Diet
At this point some of you might be thinking, "Hold on just a minute, didn’t you order the apple pie? Why are you berating her when you’re just as guilty of ordering junk as she is?" Sorry, that sort of thinking is flawed.

There's a big difference between a healthy diet to which treats are occasionally added and an all-treat diet. In the former, less healthy foods are consumed rarely and in addition to healthy foods. In the latter, less healthy or unhealthy foods are consumed often and instead of healthy foods. This is called food displacement and must be avoided if optimal body composition and health are your goals.

Sure, I did indulge in a slice of sugar-laden junk food, this being one of the two "treats" I ate that week. But looking only at the junk food that we ate presents a woefully incomplete part of the picture. The presence of bad food in both of our diets is much less important than the absence of good food in hers.

To elaborate: I ate a small amount of junk food in addition to my antioxidant rich, protein filled, nutrient dense meal, which was just one of seven such meals I ate that day. And that was one of seven such days that week! She ate some junk. Period.

She started her day with junk, ate a lunch of junk, and filled the rest of the day with junk as well. I got all the antioxidants, micronutrients, and protein I needed, while she spent the entire day eating the nutritional equivalent of a cardboard box.

Based on our activity levels and basal metabolic needs, we both probably met our energy needs for the day (in terms of total energy ingested vs. total energy expended), but I actually got some nutrition that day. She just got calories, and her calories came from what we call "displacing foods."

You see, the bagel, the brownie and latte, the soda, etc. were consumed instead of good healthy choices. So, in essence, their empty calories displaced the good, nutrient dense food she could've otherwise eaten. She consumed nothing but empty calories, calories more likely to be stored as fat than burned, calories that actually degrade health or do nothing to improve it, calories that'll make her hungry and food-obsessed all day, and calories that'll make her tired just an hour or two after consumption.

I ate 49 healthy meals plus two treats that week. She had all treats. Big difference, huh?

Convenience and Calories
Know anyone else like this ? Chances are you know lots of other individuals like her! In the US alone, there are about 129.6 million overweight individuals and probably many more well on their way, just like my coffee friend.

These stats beg the question; how did otherwise intelligent people get to be so bad, exchanging good nutrition for empty calories? While an explanation is probably multifactorial, there are a few simple answers that pop into my mind.

First, I think that North Americans strive daily for nutritional convenience. Sure, when the typical person goes out for a nice dinner at a restaurant, he or she usually gets a decent meal. But, unlike many Europeans, North Americans select everyday meals for speed and convenience.

A nice egg and spinach omelet with oats and pineapple on the side takes some time to prepare and eat. On the contrary, a bagel and coffee can be carried into the car and eaten on the way to work. So in our quest for speed and convenience, we get very little in the way of good nutrition. That’s why we’re overfed and undernourished, and that's how people can eat so much yet still have nutrient deficiencies.

Secondly, I think we’ve gotten too calorie conscious. Most people who make poor food selections aren’t stupid. They know if they want to be thin, they can only eat a certain amount of calories per day. If they eat more, they either feel monumentally guilty or, much less often, they head to the gym for marathon cardio sessions designed to exercise those extra calories off.

In trying to walk that thin tight rope of energy balance, they realize if they eat good, healthy food (i.e. marinated chicken breast with a spinach salad and a piece of fruit), they’ll be eating a bunch of calories which simply don’t taste as good as the brownies they’re craving. In this sense, the healthy food will displace the tasty junk they often crave.

So in an attempt to get the tasty brownie calories, they choose instead to displace the good chicken and spinach calories, kicking them out of the diet. In their minds, "a calorie is a calorie" and therefore if they simply eat a brownie instead of the chicken, they’ll stay just as thin. Thin, in our society, is synonymous with healthy. Little do they realize they’re setting themselves up for losses in lean body mass, an ever slowing metabolic rate, micronutrient deficiencies, and all sorts of nutrition related health problems including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and syndrome-x. It’s hard to stay lean when the metabolism is dwindling as a result of insufficient protein intake and a low thermic effect of feeding. The metabolic rate takes another plunge because of deficiencies in essential fatty acids, not to mention decreasing muscle mass.

It’s also pretty difficult to stay lean if you’ve got diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and/or syndrome-x. To support this notion, all we need to realize is that in the last twenty years the incidence of obesity has doubled, yet our average daily energy intake hasn’t increased much at all!

North Americans aren’t getting so darned fat and/or unhealthy simply because of overeating. Often they replace good foods with the super-sized sugars, the trans fats, and the other fast food ingredients. The good foods have the power to negate the effects of these , health-degrading junk foods, but because people become too concerned with energy balance, they simply displace the good stuff.
In fact, if people simply ate a high protein, antioxidant and micronutrient rich diet supplemented with junk food, they’d end up leaner and healthier than those who got the same amount of calories (and often even fewer calories) from empty, displacing foods.

Obesity is epidemic, diabetes is on the rise, and heart disease is our number one killer. Even those who exercise fairly regularly can find themselves struggling with body fat and related health issues. Yet, bizarrely, rather than choosing wholesome foods, we’re often taught portion-control as we live and eat in a world of processed, pre-packaged abominations.

Where does this leave a health conscious person like you? Without good dietary judgment, it could leave you a frustrated, metabolic and hormonal train wreck struggling to get off that body fat in a world polluted by "frankenfoods." Sound familiar? This is most commonly the situation.

Sometimes I wonder what my grandfather would say if he walked into a modern grocery store. Probably something like: "Where’s the FOOD?" He’d see aisle after aisle of brightly colored cans, boxes and bags of tasty, processed, confectionary delights. But he’d be thinking: "Don’t these people eat actual food? Where are the lean cuts of meat, the fruits and the vegetables? That’s what we used to eat."
They’re along the side or in the rear of the store, Grandpa. They’re stuck over there because they’re boring and nobody eats actual food anymore.

Perhaps saddest of all is that those of us who want to stay lean without being hungry all the time are offered "health foods" that are just as false and freaky as the junk foods. Let’s take a look at foods that you may have in your own cupboard. Foods that leave your body wondering how the heck it’s going to deal with them…

Low-fat Peanut Butter
Brilliant. Let’s take the healthy, mostly monounsaturated fat out and mix-in some corn syrup solids. Whether this appeases the leaders of the "fat witch hunt" or not, it just creates a nice fat-plus-sugar combo that we just don’t need. And although Consumer Reports has stated that there is actually little trans-fat in most peanut butters, I still pass on the creamy run-of-the-mill stuff. I like the taste of real mashed-up peanuts in their own oil. It’s bizarre, if you think about it, that we have to pay significantly more for "natural peanut butter." In the name of George Washington Carver! That’s the REAL stuff! In fact, it’s sometimes only offered in stores with a specialty foods section. Ugh.

Here’s another smart move, eh? Industry’s efforts to find an alternative to butter (which admittedly isn’t something that should be over-indulged-in) brought our society to margarine. Trans fatty acids replaced the saturated ones and voila, vascular disease is more common than ever.

When I use margarine, it’s an olive oil-based, trans fat-free type. Or, on occasion, I even use actual butter. Or how about just getting used to life without it? Learn to suck it up, you pampered child of the kindly West! You’re just smearing fat on your carbs by remaining dependent on buttered toast and margarine-fried pancakes. Not good for a dieter. These foods aren’t really that different from donuts; would you eat those regularly?

Listen, margarine, at least in its original form, was basically a mistake. Even if it is a modern-day staple. On holidays, I still find myself smiling at how far society has drifted into our fancy new hydrogenated world when my mom announces "I’m serving this with REAL butter!"

Fat-free hotdogs and bologna
Exactly what is this stuff, anyway? More demonization of fat, as if our ancestors didn’t evolve on the stuff, has resulted in these freaky little processed thingamabobs. They’re typically just as riddled with nitrites as the fatty versions. And nitrites are (arguably) potently carcinogenic.

Admittedly, however, not everyone agrees on the carcinogenic potential of n-nitroso compounds. One study found significant relationships between hotdog consumption and brain cancer in kids, especially those rugrats who didn’t get a multivitamin. Not good. I don’t even want to think about how many hotdogs and bologna sandwiches I ate as a kid. Although an upcoming summer picnic can admittedly leave me buying a pack of low-fat dogs for indulgence ("real" hotdogs and bologna are similarly abominable), this stuff just has no place in usual eating habits.

Fat free ice cream
Hey, I know! Let’s take all the fat out of something that was never meant to be eaten regularly so we can indulge in a little sugar rush/ insulin nightmare every night! Forget the fact that it’s supposed to be a rare treat. Gobbling the stuff as an after dinner desert is even better! At this time our glucose tolerance is so bad, we might as well insert an intravenous drip of Karo syrup. But hey, it’s fat free, right?

Of course, we can take the advice of certain nutrition authorities and self-enforce rigorous portion control, frustrating ourselves on a nightly basis with a mere quarter cup! Why do this to yourself? Time once more to suck it up and lose the crutch.

Historically, Frankenfoods have been myopic mistakes that folks use as a crutch (unwittingly to their own detriment) rather than learning REAL, biologically correct dietary choices. It has yet to dawn on us that our efforts to make something "healthy" that was never meant to be anything but a rare treat backfires more often than not. By trying to fool Mother Nature, we have perennially created abominations that catch up with us in the long run. Why frustrate yourself continually when learning not to crave these foods, which admittedly takes months for most of us, is so much more logical? Then, if you want the REAL stuff on a special occasion, go eat a big bowl without guilt.

Diet Pop
Although perhaps less offensive, this useless Frankenfood is one of the most common. It rots your teeth with its acids, adds in a little extra sodium and caffeine and offers nothing by way of actual nutrients—aside from the fluid itself.

Still (and sadly) it’s a big improvement over the even more tooth-rotting, occasionally sodium and caffeine providing, nutrition-less AND sugary soda pops. Did you know that pop is being called "liquid candy" by researchers? Did you know that Pepsi has a pH of just 2.4? Yikes! Whose teeth wouldn’t demineralize? I personally don’t want to swish around in my mouth and then actually swallow something that would eat a hole through my living room carpet.

Here’s a tip: go drink some freaking water. If you need some flavoring to help increase consumption, find some spring water with a twist of lime or perhaps small amounts of sucralose flavoring.

If you’re a diet pop junkie, try replacing just one diet soft drink daily with water containing a twist of lemon or lime; barely-sweetened green tea is a great choice too. And regarding your teeth, mineral waters are a research-supported "safe alternative to more erosive acidic beverages", not to mention they actually give your body a fluid it recognizes. By sweetening drinks yourself, you can titrate the sweetness downward each month. Over time you’ll actually lose your taste for ultra-sweet Frankenfoods.

Regular Hamburger
I’ve certainly admitted before that I love beef in a big y way. But as a society we’ve taken cattle off their natural diet (grass) and served them up copious quantities of corn. Can you imagine a free-ranging cow up on its hindquarters nibbling the tip of a stalk of corn? Me either. It’s like the furniture commercial says: "that’s just not natural!"

It’s true that the term "corn-fed beef" does sound appetizing to a carnivore like me but "grass-fed beef" is far superior. The fatty acid composition is much better suited for human physiology. Although I am grateful that agriculture successfully maintains much of the world population, I am also grateful that I live in a culture that provides a biologically correct alternative.

That’s right, bread. Don’t let its prevalence fool you. White bread is perhaps more disturbing than the rest of the Frankenfoods put together. Just because you grew up on the stuff doesn’t mean it’s okay. There is actually literature describing Americans’ preference for white bread over healthier types. There’s also literature relating this spongy Frankenfood to obesity. Here’s a scary quote:
"The mean annual change in waist circumference was more than 3 times as great for subjects in the white-bread cluster as for those in the healthy cluster.”

It's been stripped of most of the grain’s benefits and artificially fortified a bit in an effort to resuscitate it. It's so insulinogenic that it’s actually used in glucose tolerance tests (e.g. in labs to spike sugar/ insulin as rapidly as possible). This kind of food doesn’t exactly lend itself to fullness and satisfaction. In fact, did you know that 76% of foods offer more satiety than white bread? This stuff needs to be saved only for post-workout periods, if ever consumed.

And the "wheat" bread you see is usually just white bread dyed brown. It’s like a fat guy with a tan. He’s still a fat guy. Unless it specifically says "whole wheat" in the ingredients list, it’s not. The fiber content and other nutrients are just like white bread. Besides, if you’ve been feeling good about consuming the usual brown stuff instead of white, ask yourself what the white stuff is made of… wheat, duh!

Canned Vegetables

Since so few people eat vegetables at all, it would be remiss to chastise everyone for consuming some canned green beans or corn. Vegetables are a great way to increase fiber intake, reduce calorie load, take-in beneficial phytochemicals, and even lose body fat over time. But if you’re trying to eat more veggies for health reasons, why bother with sodium-loaded, unattractive canned types? Most fresh or frozen vegetables aren’t typically expensive and they're WAY more attractive than those grayish, canned "green" beans you’ve been choking down.

My guess is that you’ve had a hard time complying with recommendations to eat more vegetables; do you think those daily canned, gray, salty "Franken-beans" are helping? Have you ever thought: Oh yeah! Give me a second helping! Conversely, a purposeful attempt to buy a different bag (or three) of fresh or frozen veggies each week can go a long way toward complying with your nutrition plan and reverse your downward spiral into that hormonal-metabolic-physique trainwreck we mentioned earlier. You’ve just got to take a moment and think about preparing them in a quick, visually-appealing way.

Summary Table
• Frankenfood/ Better Choice

• Low-fat PB/ Natural PB, mixed nuts

• Hydrogenated corn oil margarine/ Olive oil margarine, straight olive oil or nothing

• Fat free processed meats/ Fresh chicken breast - perhaps bought un-brined; salmon; 93% lean burger or grass-fed beef; round steak

• Fat free ice cream/ Low-fat or no-added-sugar ice cream, as a treat only

• Diet pop/ Water, tea

• White or "wheat" bread/ 100% whole-wheat (or 100% whole-grain) bread or better still: baked potatoes with skin, oatmeal, oat bran hot cereal, wheat bran cereals (hot or All-Bran type) or other unrefined sources of carbohydrate (vegetables)

• Processed, canned vegetables/ One to three 16-oz. bags of frozen veggies weekly to be entirely consumed within seven days

Listen, eating real food doesn’t have to be excruciating. Blandness and unattractive presentation of wholesome foods is a real (and huge) factor that drives people away. Unfortunately, the ever-convenient, ever-tasty, ever-colorfully-packaged Frankenfoods are beckoning. They aren’t just fun-foods, they masquerade as "healthy choices" that are little more than a crutch for the weak minded. Some people "cave" to the temptation but some resist with a little effort at the grocery store and the stovetop. You have to ask yourself flatly and DAILY: what is my choice?

I often mention that physique success is 90% nutrition and recovery, at least temporally. That is, even with a lengthy two-hour training session (which admittedly is a critical 8-9% of one’s day), one is still left with 22 hours each day outside of the gym. That’s over 90% my friends. Do you want to put in thought and effort only 10% of the time? What kind of health and progress do you expect to achieve living on Frankenfoods, even if you do train well?

Maybe this little tirade was a wake-up call; maybe we all just need to be reminded of some basic, obvious stuff at times. But for those struggling to rid themselves of body fat and improve health, these adjustments away from Frankenfoods would be a measurable help. Don’t make your diet a horror story.

This is the short list, just to open your eyes. Later I’ll go over some specific food choices, what you should be eating everyday and more of what you should avoid. Remember that if you don’t buy it you only have to resist the temptation once. Avoid these foods one time, while in the grocery store, and you are home free. Lets talk about that.

The First Stop on the Road to Muscle
Welcome, my friends, to grocery shopping for health. Grocery shopping?!? That's right; this section is all about grocery shopping. And I'm not kidding either! So what's up with that? I'll tell you what's up with that, you don't know how to shop.

Okay, maybe some of you do. But I'd wager that most of you don't have a clue as to how to navigate the perilous aisles of the grocery store. And I'm willing to bet that at least half of the men out there aren't comfortable at the grocery store either.

I maintain that learning how to navigate the grocery store is critical to your progress if you're trying to lose fat or improve your health. When I say that your trip to the grocery store is the first, and probably the most important stop on your road to success, I mean it.

Interval Shopping
In North America we shop less frequently than our European counterparts. While we shop every 1-2 weeks, they may shop every 1-2 days. Why the difference? One reason is that these norms have become habit, for sure. But the other is that Europeans typically buy items that are closer to their natural state, items that have short shelf lives. Conversely, we North Americans buy a lot of packaged stuff loaded full of preservatives that takes a little (or a lot) longer to expire. So we need to shop with less frequency. Of course, this is to our detriment.
I suggest that you shop once per week or even more frequently, based on your schedule (but never less than once per week). With all the fruits, veggies, and meats you're buying, once per week usually is just about right to ensure nothing goes bad.

Getting in a set pattern of shopping ensures that there are fewer occasions to run out of food. Amazingly, when some start with this program, they forget to shop and even claim that they forget to eat! Obviously, if the fridge is stocked, it's less likely that you'll forget. And if it’s stocked full of the right stuff, it’s less likely you’ll eat the wrong foods.

The Psychology of Shopping

You will always visit the grocery store prepared. You will visit the store with a pre-planned list that'll cover you until the next planned shopping excursion. Below is an example of a one week shopping list. You can use this as a template to start with. Eventually, once you customize your intake, you'll need to make your own lists based on the number of calories you should be eating as well as which foods you're going to incorporate into your plan.

5 large bags fresh spinach
2 large bags fresh carrots
1 pineapple, either fresh or precut
7 apples
7 plums (or oranges, pears, etc.)
4 bananas
7 potatoes/yams
1 bag of quinoa (ancient grains)
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
4 large red bell peppers
1 onion
1 lb walnuts
1 container non-stick cooking spray
1 box high fiber cereal
1 jar of pesto
1 box green tea
1 container apple cider vinegar
1 bottle flax oil
1 bottle extra virgin olive oil
5 lbs extra lean beef
3 packages of chicken or turkey sausage
5 containers egg whites
1 dozen omega 3 eggs
1/2 lb sliced cheese
2 large containers plain yogurt
1 bottle salmon oil/fish oil capsules

High Intensity Shopping
Once you've got a grocery list goin' on you'll be able to breeze in and out of the grocery store in a mere 15-20min; you'll know exactly what you need and exactly where it's located.

Sure, from time to time, you can feel free to browse the aisles for new healthy offerings and interesting food variety. But most of the time, you're not going to want to waste time walking up and down the aisles being tempted by the newest BBQ sauce or frozen entrée. Make your shopping a high intensity affair and you're in and out of the store in a flash.

Disease AislesIf you knew someone had the clap, would you mess around with them? Probably not? Heck, you probably would just steer clear of them for fear of catching somethin' through simple proximity.

Well why not treat the grocery store the same way. Since many of the aisles contain foods that'll surely "infect" you with diseases like diabetes, heart disease, etc. why not just steer clear of them? To this end, I encourage you to avoid all the aisles that contain foods not conducive to your goals.

Much of the best food is found around the perimeter of the grocery store. Around the perimeter you'll find the produce section (fruits, vegetables, potatoes, nuts, etc), the meat section (chicken, lean beef, fish, etc), the bakery section (choose the fresh whole grain breads and not the desserts, please), and the dairy aisle (cottage cheese, plain yogurt, eggs, etc). Sure, the middle aisles might have to be visited from time to time for things like legumes, oats, etc. But be on guard, it's the aisles in the middle (snacks, juices, etc) that can get you into trouble with their pretty packaging and "magically delicious" flavors. Stay away from the bright, shiny objects.

Why So Many Rules?
Ok, I know what you're thinking. Does shopping really matter that much? Why so many rules? Well, if you're looking in the mirror and aren't liking what you see, the chances are that you've got your own set of rules (whether you know it or not) and these rules are just perfect for creating a sorry physique. The rules I put forth are perfect for creating a perfect physique. So which would you like to follow again?

When you're trying to re-pattern your life, there's little room for "winging it." Although training to lose fat is fun, eating to lose fat is fun, and watching other people's faces as they appreciate your new body is fun, exchanging old, ineffectual habits for new habits isn't always fun; in fact, it can be downright difficult. However, like all good investments, the larger the amount of capital you're willing to put into the investment, the larger the reward.

Reading The Food Label
Grocery store aisles are avenues to greater nutritional knowledge.
Under regulations from the Food and Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the food label offers more complete, useful and accurate nutrition information than ever before.

With today's food labels, consumers get:
• nutrition information about almost every food in the grocery store
• distinctive, easy-to-read formats that enable consumers to more quickly find the information they need to make healthful food choices
• information on the amount per serving of saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, and other nutrients of major health concern
• nutrient reference values, expressed as % Daily Values, that help consumers see how a food fits into an overall daily diet
• uniform definitions for terms that describe a food's nutrient content--such as "light," "low-fat," and "high-fiber"--to ensure that such terms mean the same for any product on which they appear
• Claims about the relationship between a nutrient or food and a disease or health-related condition, such as calcium and osteoporosis, and fat and cancer. These are helpful for people who are concerned about eating foods that may help keep them healthier longer.
• standardized serving sizes that make nutritional comparisons of similar products easier
• Declaration of total percentage of juice in juice drinks. This enables consumers to know exactly how much juice is in a product.

These and other changes are part of final rules published in the Federal Register in 1992 and 1993. FDA's rules implement the provisions of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990 (NLEA), which, among other things, requires nutrition labeling for most foods (except meat and poultry) and authorizes the use of nutrient content claims and appropriate FDA-approved health claims.

Nutrition Information Panel
Under the label's "Nutrition Facts" panel, manufacturers are required to provide information on certain nutrients. The mandatory (underlined) and voluntary components and the order in which they must appear are:

• total calories
• calories from fat
• calories from saturated fat
• total fat
• saturated fat
• polyunsaturated fat
• monounsaturated fat
• cholesterol
• sodium
• potassium
• total carbohydrate
• dietary fiber
• soluble fiber
• insoluble fiber
• sugars
• sugar alcohol (for example, the sugar substitutes xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol)
• other carbohydrate (the difference between total carbohydrate and the sum of dietary fiber, sugars, and sugar alcohol if declared)
• protein
• vitamin A
• percent of vitamin A present as beta-carotene
• vitamin C
• calcium
• iron
• other essential vitamins and minerals

If a claim is made about any of the optional components, or if a food is fortified or enriched with any of them, nutrition information for these components becomes mandatory.

These mandatory and voluntary components are the only ones allowed on the Nutrition Facts panel. The listing of single amino acids, maltodextrin, calories from polyunsaturated fat, and calories from carbohydrates, for example, may not appear as part of the Nutrition Facts on the label.

The required nutrients were selected because they address today's health concerns. The order in which they must appear reflects the priority of current dietary recommendations.

Understanding Serving Sizes
To understand more about food labels and serving sizes, look to the sample food label above. At the top of the label under Nutrition Facts, you'll see the serving size and the number of servings in the package. The rest of the nutrition information in the label is based on one serving. In this example, one-half cup is designated as one serving, and the package contains four servings.

That means that if you eat the whole box of macaroni and cheese, you’re eating four servings, not one, so you’ll have to multiply the number of calories, fat grams and other nutrients by four to get accurate nutrition information.

Calories, Calories From Fat and Percent Daily Values

This part of the label provides the calories per serving and the calories that come from fat. If you need to know the total number of calories you eat every day or the number of calories that come from fat, this section provides that information. In this example there are 90 calories in a half-cup serving of macaroni and cheese. But one third of the calories, 30, come from fat. Remember that this part of the label doesn't tell you whether you are eating saturated or unsaturated fat.

On the right side of the label, you'll see a column that lists percentages that are highlighted in light green. These percentages refer to the percent daily values (%DV). Percent daily values tell you how much of something, whether it's fat, sugar or vitamin A, one serving will give you compared to how much you need for the entire day. It will help you gauge the percentage of a nutrient requirement met by one serving of the product. One way to use this section of the label is when you comparison shop. For example, if you're concerned with sodium, you can look at two foods and choose the food with the lower % DV. Are you trying to eat a low-fat diet? Look for foods that have a lower percent daily value of fat.

Fat, Protein, Carbohydrate, Sugar, and Sodium
The sections on the label highlighted in green show the name of a nutrient and the amount of that nutrient provided by one serving of food. In our example, one serving of macaroni and cheese contains 3 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 300 milligrams of sodium and 13 grams of carbohydrate.
Food labels also include information about how much sugar and protein is in the food. If you are following a low-sugar diet or you're monitoring your protein intake, it's easy to spot how much of those nutrients are contained in one serving.

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Information
The next lower part of the label lists nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the food and their percent daily values. Try to average 100% DV every day for vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and fiber.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Reading a Food Label
Until you become accustomed to reading food labels, it's easy to become confused. Avoid these common mistakes when reading labels:
• A label may say that the food is reduced fat or reduced sodium. That means that the amount of fat or sodium has been reduced by 25% from the original product. It doesn't mean, however, that the food is low in fat or sodium. For example, if a can of soup originally had 1,000 milligrams of sodium, the reduced sodium product would still be a high-sodium food.
• Don't confuse the % DV for fat with the percentage of calories from fat. If the % DV is 15% that doesn't mean that 15% of the calories comes from fat. Rather, it means that you're using up 15% of all the fat you need for a day with one serving (based on a meal plan of 2,000 calories per day).
• Don't make the mistake of assuming that the amount of sugar on a label means that the sugar has been added. For example, milk naturally has sugar, which is called lactose. But that doesn't mean you should stop drinking milk because milk is full of other important nutrients including calcium. What you can do is look at the list of ingredients. If you see the words high-fructose corn syrup or sugar high on the list of ingredients, it probably means refined sugar has been added to the product.

A common mistake people make, especially with packages dispensed from vending machines, is to assume that a small item contains one serving just because the package is small. If you eat a bag of pretzels from a vending machine, for example, you may find that it contains 2.5 servings. So you need to multiply the numbers by 2.5 to figure out how many calories and the amount of sodium and other nutrients you are eating.

Nutrient Content Claims

The regulations also spell out what terms may be used to describe the level of a nutrient in a food and how they can be used. These are the core terms:
• Free. This term means that a product contains no amount of, or only trivial or "physiologically inconsequential" amounts of, one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, and calories. For example, "calorie-free" means fewer than 5 calories per serving, and "sugar-free" and "fat-free" both mean less than 0.5 g per serving. Synonyms for "free" include "without," "no" and "zero." A synonym for fat-free milk is "skim.”
• Low. This term can be used on foods that can be eaten frequently without exceeding dietary guidelines for one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories. Thus, descriptors are defined as follows:
o low-fat: 3 g or less per serving
o low-saturated fat: 1 g or less per serving
o low-sodium: 140 mg or less per serving
o very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving
o low-cholesterol: 20 mg or less and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving
o low-calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
Synonyms for low include "little," "few," "low source of," and "contains a small amount of."
• Lean and extra lean. These terms can be used to describe the fat content of meat, poultry, seafood, and game meats.
o lean: less than 10 g fat, 4.5 g or less saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving and per 100 g.
o extra lean: less than 5 g fat, less than 2 g saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving and per 100 g.
• High. This term can be used if the food contains 20 percent or more of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient in a serving.
• Good source. This term means that one serving of a food contains 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient.
• Reduced. This term means that a nutritionally altered product contains at least 25 percent less of a nutrient or of calories than the regular product. However, a reduced claim can't be made on a product if its reference food already meets the requirement for a "low" claim.
• Less. This term means that a food, whether altered or not, contains 25 percent less of a nutrient or of calories than the reference food. For example, pretzels that have 25 percent less fat than potato chips could carry a "less" claim. "Fewer" is an acceptable synonym.
• Light. This descriptor can mean two things:
o First, that a nutritionally altered product contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the reference food. If the food derives 50 percent or more of its calories from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat.
o Second, that the sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food has been reduced by 50 percent. In addition, "light in sodium" may be used on food in which the sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent.
The term "light" still can be used to describe such properties as texture and color, as long as the label explains the intent--for example, "light brown sugar" and "light and fluffy."
• More. This term means that a serving of food, whether altered or not, contains a nutrient that is at least 10 percent of the Daily Value more than the reference food. The 10 percent of Daily Value also applies to "fortified," "enriched" and "added" "extra and plus" claims, but in those cases, the food must be altered.
Alternative spelling of these descriptive terms and their synonyms is allowed--for example, "hi" and "lo"--as long as the alternatives are not misleading.

Healthy. A "healthy" food must be low in fat and saturated fat and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium. In addition, if it' s a single-item food, it must provide at least 10 percent of one or more of vitamins A or C, iron, calcium, protein, or fiber. Exempt from this "10-percent" rule are certain raw, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables and certain cereal-grain products. These foods can be labeled "healthy," if they do not contain ingredients that change the nutritional profile, and, in the case of enriched grain products, conform to standards of identity, which call for certain required ingredients. If it's a meal-type product, such as frozen entrees and multi-course frozen dinners, it must provide 10 percent of two or three of these vitamins or minerals or of protein or fiber, in addition to meeting the other criteria. The sodium content cannot exceed 360 mg per serving for individual foods and 480 mg per serving for meal-type products.

Other Definitions
The regulations also address other claims. Among them:
• Percent fat free: A product bearing this claim must be a low-fat or a fat-free product. In addition, the claim must accurately reflect the amount of fat present in 100 g of the food. Thus, if a food contains 2.5 g fat per 50 g, the claim must be "95 percent fat free."
• Implied: These types of claims are prohibited when they wrongfully imply that a food contains or does not contain a meaningful level of a nutrient. For example, a product claiming to be made with an ingredient known to be a source of fiber (such as "made with oat bran") is not allowed unless the product contains enough of that ingredient (for example, oat bran) to meet the definition for "good source" of fiber. As another example, a claim that a product contains "no tropical oils" is allowed--but only on foods that are "low" in saturated fat because consumers have come to equate tropical oils with high saturated fat.

Although not mandated by NLEA, FDA has issued a regulation for the term "fresh." The agency took this step because of concern over the term's possible misuse on some food labels.

The regulation defines the term "fresh" when it is used to suggest that a food is raw or unprocessed. In this context, "fresh" can be used only on a food that is raw, has never been frozen or heated, and contains no preservatives. (Irradiation at low levels is allowed.) "Fresh frozen," "frozen fresh," and "freshly frozen" can be used for foods that are quickly frozen while still fresh. Blanching (brief scalding before freezing to prevent nutrient breakdown) is allowed.
Other uses of the term "fresh," such as in "fresh milk" or "freshly baked bread," are not affected.

Health Claims
Claims for 10 relationships between a nutrient or a food and the risk of a disease or health-related condition are now allowed. They can be made in several ways: through third-party references (such as the National Cancer Institute), statements, symbols (such as a heart), and vignettes or descriptions. Whatever the case, the claim must meet the requirements for authorized health claims--for example, they cannot state the degree of risk reduction and can only use "may" or "might" in discussing the nutrient or food-disease relationship. And they must state that other factors play a role in that disease.

The claims also must be phrased so that consumers can understand the relationship between the nutrient and the disease and the nutrient's importance in relationship to a daily diet.
An example of an appropriate claim is: "While many factors affect heart disease, diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of this disease."

The allowed nutrient-disease relationship claims and rules for their use are:
• Calcium and osteoporosis: To carry this claim, a food must contain 20 percent or more of the Daily Value for calcium (200 mg) per serving, have a calcium content that equals or exceeds the food's content of phosphorus, and contain a form of calcium that can be readily absorbed and used by the body. The claim must name the target group most in need of adequate calcium intakes (that is, teens and young white and Asian women) and state the need for exercise and a healthy diet. A product that contains 40 percent or more of the Daily Value for calcium must state on the label that a total dietary intake greater than 200 percent of the Daily Value for calcium (that is, 2,000 mg or more) has no further known benefit.
• Fat and cancer: To carry this claim, a food must meet the nutrient content claim requirements for "low-fat" or, if fish and game meats, for "extra lean."
• Saturated fat and cholesterol and coronary heart disease (CHD): This claim may be used if the food meets the definitions for the nutrient content claim "low saturated fat," "low-cholesterol," and "low-fat," or, if fish and game meats, for "extra lean." It may mention the link between reduced risk of CHD and lower saturated fat and cholesterol intakes to lower cholesterol levels.
• Fiber-containing grain products, fruits and vegetables and cancer: To carry this claim, a food must be or must contain a grain product, fruit or vegetable and meet the nutrient content claim requirements for "low-fat," and, without fortification, be a "good source" of dietary fiber.
• Fruits, vegetables and grain products that contain fiber and risk of CHD: To carry this claim, a food must be or must contain fruits, vegetables and grain products. It also must meet the nutrient content claim requirements for "low saturated fat," "low-cholesterol," and "low-fat" and contain, without fortification, at least 0.6 g soluble fiber per serving.
• Sodium and hypertension (high pressure): To carry this claim, a food must meet the nutrient content claim requirements for "low-sodium."
• Fruits and vegetables and cancer: This claim may be made for fruits and vegetables that meet the nutrient content claim requirements for "low-fat" and that, without fortification, for "good source" of at least one of the following: dietary fiber or vitamins A or C. This claim relates diets low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables (and thus vitamins A and C and dietary fiber) to reduced cancer risk. FDA authorized this claim in place of an antioxidant vitamin and cancer claim.
• Folic acid and neural tube defects: Folic acid and neural tube defects: This claim is allowed on dietary supplements that contain sufficient folate and on conventional foods that are naturally good sources of folate, as long as they do not provide more than 100 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A as retinol or preformed vitamin A or vitamin D. A sample claim is "healthful diets with adequate folate may reduce a woman's risk of having a child with a brain or spinal cord defect."
• Dietary sugar alcohols and dental caries (cavities): This claim applies to food products, such as candy or gum, containing the sugar alcohols xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, isomalt, lactitol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, hydrogenated glucose syrups, or a combination of any of these. If the food also contains a fermentalbe carbohydrate, such as sugar, the food cannot lower the pH of plaque in the mouth below 5.7. Besides the food ingredient's relationship to dental caries, the claim also must state that frequent between-meal consumption of foods high in sugars and starches promotes tooth decay. A shortened claim is allowed on food packages with less than 15 square inches of labeling surface area.
• Soluble fiber from certain foods, such as whole oats and psyllium seed husk, and heart disease: This claim must state that the fiber also needs to be part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and the food must provide sufficient soluble fiber. The amount of soluble fiber in a serving of the food must be listed on the Nutrition Facts panel.

Ingredient Labeling
Ingredient declaration is required on all foods that have more than one ingredient.
Because people may be allergic to certain additives and to help them better avoid them, the ingredient list must include, when appropriate:
• FDA-certified color additives, such as FD&C Blue No. 1, by name
• sources of protein hydrolysates, which are used in many foods as flavors and flavor enhancers
• declaration of caseinate as a milk derivative in the ingredient list of foods that claim to be non-dairy, such as coffee whiteners.
As required by NLEA, beverages that claim to contain juice must declare the total percentage of juice on the information panel. In addition, FDA's regulation establishes criteria for naming juice beverages. For example, when the label of a multi-juice beverage states one or more--but not all--of the juices present, and the predominantly named juice is present in minor amounts, the product' s name must state that the beverage is flavored with that juice or declare the amount of the juice in a 5 percent range--for example, "raspberry-flavored juice blend" or "juice blend, 2 to 7 percent raspberry juice."

Check back soon for the next installment in the Plan For Success Series.


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