This is the start of the holidays season: Thanksgiving is now over but Christmas is just around the corner. This is the special time of year where you can eat anything without any guilt. And even if you are in the process of losing 10 pounds, you have to indulge. This is a requirement to become a real American. In order to prove my love for this country, please find what I got for my post-thanksgiving breakfast. You have to take care of your diabetes, and you have to do it right.
Of course, with thanksgiving comes black friday, cyber monday and the wave of so-called good deals. Too scared to be killed in a store, I hit the trails instead of the stores. The weather was so nice that I was able to run 14 miles in short and t-shirt. Being able to do that in November is worth any potential deal and priceless.
Beyond the multiples food comas, sugar overdose and trail runs in and around the city, I was able to see running and non-running friends, meet new people and balance work, running and social life. As I recently spent more time with other people, I realized how foolish and possessive we are with others. Our relation or love often rely on our own interests. We like somebody not because of him or her but for what he or she can gives us. This person will help us doing something, will make us feeling better (for whatever reason) but at the end, many relations are just fake. These relations are conditional: we are interested by somebody not because of who he or she is but because of what he/she can provide.
But this is not what a true relationship (friendship, partner, whatever) should be. A sane and stable relation should be based on unconditional love. No matter what they think, how they look like and what they like: we will be there for them. No matter what. Friends can think different than us, have different taste, that is ok: we love them for who they are. This is unconditional: we do not expect anything from them and we are willing to support them and give without any return.
This should be the basis of any true relation. But after socializing a bit over the last weeks, it seems to be the exception rather than the norm.
The beginning of this holiday season reminded me how foolish we can be but also how thankful I am to have some great real friends for years. The feeling of giving and receiving this unconditional love is a unique and valuable gift. Let’s not lose it.
After one month of travels between Seattle, Ottawa, Paris and Cedar Rapids, it’s time to come back in Pittsburgh and running Tussey Mountainback 50 milers on Sunday. Between meetings, conferences, family reunions and hanging out with friends, I gained 10 pounds, did not run any hills since a long time and the training has been way less intense than usually. This race will be an interesting experience.
Whatever, it will be a good time. And after this race, it will be time to stay home for a while, lose the fat, train slightly and enjoy some time with friends.
It is exciting to be back, and start this week-end. It will be fun.
Meat is tasty, juicy, there is nothing better than smashing pulled pork and brisket in your mouth at a barbecue joint. With a good barbecue sauce, it tastes like heaven! For a very long time, I was a meat eater and when looking for a place to get dinner, my first thought was to find a good spot for getting burgers or barbecue. Also, as an active person and a runner, there is a lot of articles recommending a meat-centered diet to help muscle recovery. And with the common belief that high-quality protein comes from meat, you can’t help thinking you have to eat meat. At that time, all my meals included a high-quality protein source, such as a piece of white meat, fish or sometimes, red meat.
However, after a while, I started to read articles, books and understand if these claims were legitimate and if we really need meat. Not only for active people (and potential runners) but for everybody. Long story short: you do not need to eat a cow per week and you might be better not to eat meat. I started to embrace the vegetarian diet (not vegan!) months ago and since then, feel better than ever. Since then, many folks ask me what motivate me to stop eating meat and what I am eating instead. So, here it goes.
Are you willing to eat shit?
I did not start being vegetarian because I did not like meat or wanted to save animals. Just because meat production is now gross, disgusting and a hazard to our health. Let’s face the facts: today, 90% of meat contains fecal matters. And a recent study from Consumer Reports reported the same issue recently. This is why you need to wash the meat before cooking it and make sure you do not contaminate your vegetables and other food items. Is also means that basically, when you eat meat, you are literally eating grilled shit. Bon Appetit!
If eating shit is still ok for you, consider the antibiotics, medication and the feeding process of animals and the impact on the meat you eat. According to the Consumer Reports study, more than 50% of beef contains more than 2 types of bacteria. Are you willing to take the risk? And about the raising process, let’s face it: keeping a cow in 23 square feet and feeding them with chicken coop waste, remains of pig or even soy is just no sane. Back in the days in the country-side of France, I remembered watching cows in farms eating grass. Why did you compromise the raising process so much and just drive it towards profits?
The following table shows the resources required to produce a Kg of meat. Let’s face it: it takes a lot of resources to just feed the animal. Now, think also about the impact of the overall production process: land pollution (having hundreds of cows/chicken/pigs at the same place increase the pollution), transportation (need to move the animals and their grain/forage), etc.
And with the current evolution of the population, this is not realistic to keep the same diets. Alternatives have to be found. This is why people invest massively in meat substitute (see Bill gates note on that – the dude is investing in meat alternatives production).
But dude, I need protein!
Your body needs protein for sure, especially if you exercise. But we eat way too much. And way too much protein. Look at our society: obesity, diabetes – the impact of our food on our health is obvious. And the need of a high protein diet is a myth: in fact, if you drop meat from your diet, you are more than likely to meet your daily protein needs. And if you think that meat is the best protein source, think twice: eggs are actually the best protein source (and please stop thinking about the fat content of the egg, this is probably better than the fat from the meat you will eat), even better than meat and also contains vitamins. Thinking about efficiency? A chicken will produce plenty of eggs – so, rather than killing the animals, just take the eggs!
If you want to focus on plants, there are no complete protein so, you will need to combine plants to meet your protein needs. There is no real difficulty and very easy to meet your daily needs. Take some hummus (peas) with bread, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (between 10 and 15g), lentils with pita bread (easily 20g of protein) or greek yogurt with granola (between 10 and 20g, depending on the yogurt and granola contents). Comparing to meat? A 4 oz steak will provide around 20g of protein, which is close to the values reported below.
If you are not exercising, you likely need about 1g of protein per Kg of body weight. So, a dude like me needs about 75g per day, which is easy to meet. Exercising every day, you might need more and I usually end up by eating between 80g to 100g a day. Again, this is rather a matter of balance and some day you will eat more than others but as long as you are around your target, you are just fine!
Where can we find good meat?
Short answer: nowhere but in a farm you know.
One of my friends argued that meat in fancy dinner places served good meat. For example, in the USA, fancy steak houses are not impacted by the problems usually found in meat found in the grocery stores. Bottom line is: these places have good reputations and if the steak is expensive, it should have a good quality, right? She tried to bring me to such places when there was some good deals. But it turns out that such places serve meat that comes from animals raised with antibiotics and have often the same issues than the meat in your grocery store. As pointed out by a French Chef in “Bon Appetit”, the meat in fancy dinner place has likely the same issues as the meat you can get you your grocery shop.
Just think about the cut of costs: even with a steak at $20 in a steakhouse. Much of the money goes to the store, the wages of the employees, chef, etc. At the end, how much is dedicated to your meat (and only the meat, not the side and other sides)? Probably not much and I would assume less than $5). So, how a restaurant can have a good piece of meat at that price when organic meat costs more, about twice? There is no magic: this is not possible and the solution is just to cut on the quality. That is by decreasing the quality of our meat that we also lowered our quality standards. By the time, the meat we considered bad several years ago appears good now.
Why not being vegan?
Seriously, vegan is the boring side of being vegetarian – there are so many constraints that this is almost impossible to follow such a diet. Also, meeting your protein need with a vegetarian diet is easy: you can eat milk, cheese, eggs – there are plenty of combinations and the probability to have deficiency is very low. On the other hand, you have to be very careful is you choose to go vegan (especially for vitamins or iron).
On the other hand, when going vegan, getting your protein is more challenging and you have to juggle with the different potential combinations. Then, cooking not only becomes a real challenge but being a full vegan is difficult to follow when going out. There are almost always vegetarian substitution in restaurant but vegan options are not so popular. From a personal perspective, I have no problem eating milk or eggs (after all, I use the products from the animals, I do not kill them) and love the different types of cheese I eat when I go back in France!
Example of a vegetarian diet
I have been following a vegetarian diet for more than 6 months now. Switching in the beginning was difficult and I had to find alternatives. Once you are used to it, this is not an issue. This is the typical things I eat through a typical day:
Breakfast: greek yogurt with granola, a toast with peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal
Lunch or dinner: lentil stew with some potato chips, hummus with pita bread, spinach dip with chips, egg-salad sandwich, spinach salad with an avocado/egg sandwich, chili with piece of bread, sandwich with egg and hummus, bean salad, veggie burger with salad, sweet potato taco, veggie stew. There are a lot of opportunities!
Mid-day meal: shake with chocolate milk and half banana, a toast with peanut butter and jelly, protein bar, yogurt with chestnut cream
This keeps me full for the day and provides enough fuel to run between 50 to 100 miles and 2 to 3 hours at the gym every week. Of course, when running more, I take more fuel (for example, instead of having one toast, I might go for another one) – but not too much. Many folks think you need to eat way more if you run but you do not need too much and eating more than you need will makes you heavier, slower and might impact the joy of running.
Is the vegetarian diet the bulletproof diet? No at all and there are still a lot of issue to address if you go vegetarian (e.g. chemical used in crops, impact of pesticides, safety of GMO, etc.). To mitigate these issues, I buy most of my food local, organic and try to promote responsible farming. This might be not the definitive answer but will reduce potential issues. But there is clear scientific evidence that we do not need meat, that the production process is not safe for the consumer and that meat production is not sustainable considering the evolution of the worldwide population.
Unfortunately, I still eat meat sometimes. When going out with friends, at a party or at a work meeting there are sometimes no vegetarian alternatives. As I do not want to stay hungry forever, I might consume meat sometimes if there is no alternative. I hate food-snobs and I do not want to impose my vision or choices: when being in a group, I accept what the majority wants. Unless there is a real safety issue and a potential threat, I do not want to bore other and accept from time to time that meat will not kill me right away.
But after six months, I have no regret for being now vegetarian. I feel better, I love the food I eat every day and think I avoid many potential health threats with this change. In addition to my transportation policy (run commuting), it decreases my impact on the planet. If you ever considered to switch for a vegetarian diet, I suggest you give a try for a month, you might be surprised by how easy it is to change.
Yep, I am turning vegetarian. And I am not kidding: I love meat, was even looking for the best burger in Pittsburgh but after a while, I felt a need for a change. This is really not an ethical choice about animals and is rather motivated by sustainability and health concerns. It is obvious that the way the actual industry produces meat cannot be safe for human consumption and the future, we will clearly not be able to produce enough animals to feed everybody without paying a price. Between 1950 and 2000, the world population increased by 200% while the the meat production increased by 500%. At that rate, trying to continue to raise livestock will just kill the planet by the use of intense farming which will be at the expense of earth resources but also ourselves because meat cannot be produced safely and will ultimately impact our health.
Going vegetarian is only part of the answer. You do not only need to remove the meat but think about the food chain and how we feed ourselves. This creates other challenges as well.
The Sustainable Perspective
The impact of the meat production industry is obvious. There are some facts:
We kill more than 10 billions of animals a year in the USA only. At this production rate, there is no way to make it tasty (you need to speed up the rate at which the animal grows which make the taste of the meat worst than usual), good (animals are fed with junk food – corn, wheat, all the produces that is not their natural diet) and safe (that is why more than 90% is contaminated with fecal bacteria).
This massive industrial production impacts the environment: in France, the pig farms has impacted the beach in Brittany. In the Netherlands, architects are trying to optimize building design to collocate more animals in a small tiny space. These so-calledpig towers will then keep animals standing in a tower, feed them and collect waste. But do the maths, the equation is very simple: if you want to overproduce meat, you need to overproduce animals food which will ultimately lead to over production of waste. And this will impact water quality, soil and the global environment. By going vegetarian, you reduce the number of animals used and the potential impact on the environment.
Many meat products contains a lot of fat and lead to heart diseases and hypertension. Pork, beef contains a pretty decent amount of fat. By going vegetarian, you can then using more better (more efficient) source of fat, such as olive oil or nuts.
By going vegetarian, you increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. As pointed out before, meat consumption is not really healthy (contamination with fecal bacteria, lot of fats, salt when preparing that increase likelihood of heat diseases, etc.). On the other hand, many agriculture practices uses pesticides, which can have an important impact on your health as well. In addition, there is clear evidences that pesticides pollute the soil and the water system. So, if you want to stop meat to get healthier, you also need to be careful about where you get your vegetables and avoid pesticide-contaminated products.
Concerns of GMO have been raised over the last years. Some folks believed there are safe for consumption while other think this might be a big issue. Unlike the pesticide, there is no clear evidence of GMO risks. There was one study done on rats but it as been removed since. On the other hand, it does not mean that GMO are safe to consume: we have to remember the case of asbestos, which has been used for decades (about 100 years) before being declared as unsafe (and there was evidence since decades that is was responsible for many lung cancers). “Better to be safe than sorry”: just avoid GMO as much as possible – let’s wait a few years (probably one or two decades) and see what will happen on the long term.
Buying organic and local
In order to avoid pesticide and GMO food, there is no snake oil or silver-bullet. No matter what, you are going to eat some of it even if you do not want. GMO cultures spread over farms so that GMO products contaminates non-GMO produces. So, even if you buy non-GMO, there is a chance you still get some.
On the other hand, in addition to buy USDA-organic labeled food, it is also important to buy locally sourced food products. Why buying organic products to reduce your impact on the environment if you package comes from overseas? For that reason, this is better to buy your products from a store that sells local products. In the Pittsburgh area, the food co-op provides food products that are locally sources, located 250 miles around the city as much as possible.
Why not going vegan?
Since a couple of years, many folks are going vegan, which is different from vegetarian: the vegetarian cannot eat meat but can still eat animal produces, such as cheese or eggs whereas vegans cannot eat them. On the other hand, the vegan diet is just extreme: by buying organic vegetables and animal produces (such as eggs, cheese), you ensure not only a good quality but also, animal products does not require to kill the animal early and is more efficient.
There is no way to go vegan and no evidence of health benefits. Eggs, milk, cheese is something I love (after all, I am French for a reason!). Why refrain yourself from enjoying what you like if it does not harm others? I do not think going vegan is an answer to the problems listed: you can embrace the vegan diet, buy vegetables from overseas (that use air transportation) which would be potentially contaminated with pesticides. What the point in that case: such a diet will impact the environment and your health. On the other hand, a vegetarian diet, associated with good choices that limit environmental impacts seems to be a reasonable choice.
I am seriously going vegetarian and reduce significantly my consumption of meat. However, there are some situations where this is difficult not to eat meat: lunch meeting, dinner at work, social events, etc. In that case, eating meat from time to time seems hard to avoid. Because, food is a also a social component in our society, this is difficult and sometimes not the best choice to put ourselves aside for dietary reasons. Of course, this is necessary not to eat something if you have an allergy, but this is another story. The objective is to reduce the environmental footprint and health issues from my diet, not to embrace a specific dogma. For that reason, the main guideline is just to stop buying meat products and just reduce as much as meat consumption when going outside.
Over the last few years, documentaries and TV shows about diet and fitness have been popular. It started with Supersize me and a lot of other movies were about the same topic (such as Fat Head – the anti-Supersize Me). Over the last months, several folks asked me to watch Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, reporting it has been a inspiring movie that motivated them to lose weight. As I cannot run so much these days, my workouts have been focused on indoor activities, which offered the opportunity to review the Netflix catalog while exercising.
I was then able to watch the initial movie as well as the follow-up. The pitch: Joe Cross was the typical cliche of our society: he was obese and ate enormous amount of food while focusing mostly on his wealth (and not his health). He was severely overweight and that might reduce is life expectancy. In addition, he was really sick and his health metrics (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) were not very good. He decided to change his lifestyle to adopt a cleanse diet, which consists in having meals made with vegetable and fruit juices. The general idea is to clean the system from the bad stuff and load on nutrients (what he called macro-nutrients and is obviously wrong – but we will come back on that later).
After a diet of 60 days with only juice, he lost weight and improved his metrics significantly. Since then, he has its own website to promote his method and inspire people. Great. The second movie is mostly a follow-up and shows the impact of the first movie. In this reboot, Joe talks with people that experienced the method all over the world. Basically, the second movie is more a promotion of the method, nothing really fancy. Now, let’s have a look at the good and bad aspects of the movie.
Joe is not dogmatic during the movie and does not say this diet is the only way to lose weight but one over several. This is something really appreciated because in nutrition and diets, people are mostly dogmatic, telling you that if you do not follow their rules, you are doing it all wrong and gonna die/be fat again/lose your toenails (pick one or several of these).
The diet is also about having more balance and adding more vegetables. Not having eating only vegetables. On the other hand, the movie does not educate about how to balance and with what other food you can balance your diet.
Joe is seeking for medical advices during his study, which is a great decision. Many other folks are starting a new diet that could be potentially dangerous (pineapple diet anyone?). By seeking medical advice and compare his health metrics, he shows also that the objective is not only to get thiner but mostly improve your overall health.
There is no real emphasis on the activity, which is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Movies such as Fat Head includes this aspect, emphasizing that Americans became very lazy over the last years. For sure, you cannot run if you are obese but starting to walk will exercise your body, develop your muscles and make your core stronger (and add more calories burned every day).
The nutrition details are confusing and even totally wrong. For example, Joe talk about macro-nutrients for vegetables, saying he “needs to get his macro-nutrients”. But vegetables and fruits are not about macro-nutrients. This has been pointed out by other critics as well.
Even if the movie mentioned to mix with other food, there is no example about the ratio of juice and other food. Telling people to drink juice is one thing but educate the audience with information on food, the content, where to seek protein, fat could be even better and avoid any potential mistake: somebody that drinks juice everyday can ruin his efforts by mixing them with high-calories/low-nutrient food.
The change is too radical and hard so that many people will not keep the pace. Who want to drink juice for the rest of their life? This diet is clearly not realistic and rather than focusing on drinking vegetables, I would rather recommend to have a balance between food, exercise and sleep.
The method is not too bad and Joe not dogmatic. But nutrition is like a religion for many folks and once they find their church, they try to convince you at all cost. And some newly converted to the cleanse diet are trying to justify their choices using ridiculous arguments. For example, on the second movie, one guy explains that he cannot eat anything but veggie because his body rejects them. He also argues that his son, when seeing the veggies on the table, have his digestive system lubricated to digest his vegetables to put down the good fiber. At first, I thought the dude was joking but after seeing the platters of veggies, it turns out he was pretty serious!
If you have some time and like informative and inspirational shows about diet, this is a good entertainment for sure! The story is funny, there are some good information (except some nutrition basics) and this can be a good inspiration for people looking to lose weight.
Now, does the juice diet really work? On paper, the equation is really simple: to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. By eating only vegetables (that are very low in calories and high in vitamins), this is almost impossible to reach your basal metabolic rate so that you will lose weight if you stick to the plan.
On the other hand, during this loss of weight, your body will need calories and will burn fat but also muscles. In addition, as you do not provide enough energy, you will quickly feel low on energy and sleepy many times during the day. There is a fair chance you will become cranky or irritable, which is another side effect that will potentially impact your personal and professional relations.
“Do you really want to do that?”
Probably not and the change should not be radical but just to re-adjust the balance in your lifestyle: be reasonable most of the time but treat yourself, when you go to a party or a special occasion. Food has also a social aspect in our society: we go for ice cream with our girlfriend/wife/kids, we celebrate birthday at restaurant, we go for lunch or dinner with colleagues. And we remember these moments. They are special and connected to a special occasion.
Carb-loading is bullsh!t and is rather a way to stuff your stomach with a ton of bad food what will makes you hit the bathroom stop before crossing the finish line. Fueling your body is not a matter of a meal before race-day but rather adopting good and sound nutrition guidelines. Running a lot of miles does not allow you to eat whatever you want and is rather a good reason to stick to good nutrition strategy that will help you to replenish your batteries and build stronger muscles.
Seek for efficiency: avoid empty calories and bad fat. Want carbs? do not take candies (sugar without anything else) but whole wheat bread (low Glycemic Index, fibers, vitamins, etc.). want protein? stick to non-fat greek yogurt (yes to the additional pro-biotic) or fish and avoid the fatty beef patties! A better switch guide is available in the “Eat Smart” section of “Eat Move and Love”)
Moderation and balance are keys: avoid extremes, do not follow strict rules or guidelines. Do not follow any extreme diet (paleo, vegan, vegetarian). Rather than decrease your weight, it will decrease the size of your wallet and over consume your time and sanity. Also, indulge from time to time, having a beer, a glass of wine <whatever-is-not-part-of-your-daily-diet> should be an exception, not regular. But it is totally fine to make exception from time to time.
Plan ahead and stick with whatever works for you: stop wondering what you are going to take for dinner. For your daily routine, try to know what you like, what you can process and makes you feel good. You can also plan ahead and cook ahead of time so that everything is already prepared and you know what is your food intake (in terms of calories, nutrients, etc.)
Also, many people usually ask when they should eat. The old following proverb still apply:
“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper!”
By taking most of your food intake during the first part of the day, you will ensure you get enough nutrient to fuel your body. In addition, avoiding heavy meals at the end of the day ensures that you do not overload your body with too much food that might then creates discomfort when sleeping. If you are looking for meal examples and other recipes, some are available on the recipes section of “Eat Move and Love”.
I continued my quest around the city to find the best burger in Pittsburgh this Saturday. After Over the Bibycle last Thursday, I tried a local spot next to me beloved Swissvale neighborhood: Root174.The place always attracted me. To me, it sounds like a beautiful and wonderful girl seating alone at a bar without anybody to speak with: the outdoor space looked often empty while many people tell good stories about it. So, if it is so attractive and good, why they are not so many folks eating there? Places in the same block (such as Square Cafe) are pretty packed and you have to wait to get a table while you do not have to wait at root 174. This was time to make my own investigation.
It was a nice day. After helping my partner in crime to organize the Swissvale 1 mile dog walk, I went for a short 10 miles run. So, we needed to refuel. Since a long time, I wanted to try ROOT174 and their burger. Unfortunately, they do not propose it for dinner – only during lunch time. That was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
I wanted to try this spot because this sounds to be a place where people reason about what is in your plate and how they cook it. Many places serve frozen food ordered from big companies (such as sysco). It can taste good but everything comes from the same place. So, why bothering to go in different places where all the restaurants reheat the same frozen package? On the other hand, Root seems to be one of the fews guys (such as Legume or the Penn Avenue Fish Company) that really cares about the basics: the ingredients. As a french guy that used to taste the dishes from his grand mother (that cooked the family dinner all Saturday with the vegetables from our family garden or fresh from the local market) this is something I learned when I was young …
So, I ordered the root burger. Simple stuff: a brioche bun with mustard, a patty with a pork belly underneath and an egg on top (at least, you cannot say you do not have protein in your meal!). Some fries are served on the side. No ketchup but a home made hot sauce. First impression: the bun is too small. But you quickly realize how wrong you are: size does not matter. The bun is really thick and tasty and makes you full after two bites. The combination of the ingredients is very tasteful and I really liked it. Not light and not too heavy. Surprisingly, this burger does not have cheese, but I did not miss the taste at all and the pork belly was a good addition. The fries were ok – if this was not the best fries I had, they were definitively good. Also, my partner in crime tried the tacos and it seems to be a good as the burger.
The beer and wine selection is decent ; the beer selection is definitively small, even if they have good ones (especially some from Dogfish Brewery). Having more good beers on tap would be appreciated, especially because there are a lot of good micro breweries across the city! On the other hand, the wine list is decent with good options.
Is it the best burger in Pittsburgh? Probably my favorite so far with the one from Legume (which still needs to be reviewed). One downside: there is no ketchup, which is a bummer when eating fries! The home-made hot sauce was really good but having ketchup for dipping the fries is definitively my favorite.
But the most important is what this spot demonstrates with this meal: good food can be affordable. Many folks will argue that such places are expensive. That is a fact: good food come at a price! But this burger is proposed at $10 and the tacos were at $4. The same price as the ones from all the spots in the same street and serve frozen food. Many other spots (Square Cafe, D’s) propose burgers for $10, but there is nothing to compare in terms of quality. Since this meal, this difficult to understand why others places are still crowded in this street at lunch time while better food is available next door without having to wait …
To summarize, try root174, especially at lunch time, when the burgers, tacos are available and you can enjoy a nice outdoor seating! The place is great and I will probably come back soon. On another note, the restaurant will have a special barbecue platter with a beer on July, 4 for $19. Bummer: I will be away for a wedding, I will have to wait next year to give it a try …