Skip to content

A question of nutrition - calories

Eine Frage der Ernährung - Kalorien

Mass building nutrition

Q: Most weight training coaches agree that you need extra calories to build muscle. But the question is, how many extra calories? On one side you have those who say you should eat a few hundred calories more than your maintenance calories and on the other side you have those who say you should eat a ton of food and train hard. What do you think is best for a man who wants to build muscle?

Dr. Bowden: "Train hard and eat a ton of food" sounds like a great philosophy.... if you're working towards becoming a sumo wrestler.

I think the "eat a ton of food and train hard" approach is kind of like practicing clay pigeon shooting with a blindfold on. You might hit the target, but you might also hit one of the other shooters. I think it's much smarter to start with a controlled amount of extra calories and see if that amount is enough to hit the target. Ask yourself what your performance looks like, what your energy levels look like and whether you like the results in the mirror. If you are not happy with the results, keep adjusting the calories until you are satisfied.

If you're a bodybuilder, you're going to be training hard anyway, so it's just a matter of how much you should eat to ensure that most of the extra calories are used to build muscle rather than fat. "Eat a ton of food" is way too unscientific for most bodybuilders today.

How healthy is fasting?

Q: What do you think about intermittent fasting? I've read about plans that involve periodic 24-hour fasts. Other plans involve fasting on alternate days. It is claimed that this type of fasting can improve insulin sensitivity and prolong life expectancy, among other things. What are your thoughts on this topic?

Dr. Bowden: The idea of fasting as a strategy to improve health has been around since the days of Hippocrates - the man who is considered the father of modern medicine. Fasting is used in the religious realm as a spiritual discipline and many spa clinics use some form of fasting - often referred to as a detoxification program - as part of their treatment program.

"Fasting and detoxification are the missing pieces of the Western diet," says my friend Dr. Elson Haas, author of "The New Detox Diet." Haas has been using detox programs as part of his medical treatments for over 30 years. "Fasting is by far the best natural healing therapy I know of," he told me. "People need a break from what they eat every day. Fasting can give the body a break during which it can restore its balance." But true fasting - even for just one day - can be really hard on the body. "A more widespread and looser definition of fasting includes juices from fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as herbal teas," Haas says. "Fresh juices are easily absorbed by the body and require minimal digestion, while still providing lots of nutrients. They can encourage the body to eliminate waste products. Juice fasting is healthier than water fasting because it supports the body nutritionally while cleansing the body and maintaining your energy levels."

You've probably heard about all this fasting on alternate days because of some experiments done on mice at the University of California at Berkeley. The scientists starved the poor mice on alternate days and allowed them to eat whatever they wanted on the days in between. "We found that fasting can reduce the proliferation rate of cells in the skin and breast area," lead researcher Krista Varady told me. "This resulted in a reduced risk of breast and skin cancer."

I won't bore you with the details of the research, but just mention that the scientists also found that you don't have to completely abstain from all food intake on fasting days. You can maintain 25 percent of your normal food intake on these days - which is roughly equivalent to one meal - and still reap the benefits.

But don't use fasting as a weight loss strategy. It never works. Even in the mouse experiments, the animals overcompensated for their fasting days by eating more on the non-fasting days and ended up consuming the same amount of calories as they would on a normal diet.

Since the only life-extension strategy that has ever worked in the lab is calorie restriction, and some theorists suggest that downregulation of insulin signaling may be part of the reason for this, consuming fewer calories in the context of a nutrient-dense diet makes sense. So occasionally taking a day off from your regular diet and giving your digestive system a break is not a bad idea.

Food allergies and the elimination diet

Q: Is it true that if you eat a certain food all the time, you can develop an allergy to that food?

Dr. Bowden: It is true that both allergies and hypersensitivity (which is much more common) can develop later in life and this can be the case even with foods that you have been able to eat for a long time without obvious reactions. This problem seems to be more prevalent with foods that contain ingredients (such as wheat) that are found everywhere and that we consume in far greater quantities than ever before in the history of the human diet. A very good way to find out if your body is reacting to a particular food, or to identify a possible "suspect", is to use a so-called elimination diet, which I have described in more detail in my book "The Most Effective Natural Cures on Earth".

Such an elimination diet is simple detective work. You simply eliminate a potentially intolerable food from your diet for a few weeks. If certain symptoms such as headaches, concentration problems or tiredness disappear as a result, then you have identified the culprit. It is often possible to reintroduce this food into your diet periodically, e.g. once every four days, without any problems.

An alternative sweetener?

Q: I recently read that xylitol powder can be used as a sweetener. What is xylitol and do you recommend it?

Dr. Bowden: Xylitol is often referred to as birch sugar and is made from birch bark. It is my favorite sweetener that has quite a specific taste. Xylitol has no real drawbacks - except that it can be lethal to pets. It tastes like sugar, but has 40 percent fewer calories. Xylitol can be used in hot drinks such as coffee and has virtually no glycemic impact. It also has the added benefit of preventing certain bacteria from sticking to body tissues, making it the perfect sweetener for healthy chewing gum. You can also use xylitol in baking, using the same amount as sugar. This makes xylitol the perfect sugar substitute for diabetics and as part of a low-carb diet.

Is my microwave trying to kill me?

Q: Is a microwave really dangerous or is this just another conspiracy theory?

Dr. Bowden: I'm torn on this question. The general consensus is that microwaves are perfectly safe, but they say the same thing about cell phones...and I don't think the last word has been said on the subject. Among natural food advocates, it is considered a kind of given fact that microwaving changes the "energetic" nature of food, but this is very difficult to prove and easy to dismiss as the gobbledygook of the aluminum hat faction. There was a lawsuit in 1991 in the case of a hip surgery patient who died after a simple blood transfusion after a nurse heated the blood in a microwave. (Blood is normally warmed before a transfusion, but not in a microwave). This has given new impetus to the argument that more happens during microwave heating than we previously believed. But who really knows? It's hard to get really good information on this topic - much like cell phone radiation. Most of the arguments come from obscure European studies that are almost impossible to find, but still, the whole thing is a little scary. I'm of the opinion that microwaved food tastes pretty awful. If heat from any source was the same, then a microwaved potato should taste the same as a baked potato, but it doesn't - and this supports the suggestion that there's more going on here than we realize. You can try this out for yourself by microwaving a sweet potato. Horrible.

Personally, I rarely use a microwave for cooking.

Fish oil for depression

Q: Does fish oil really help with depression? I don't suffer from clinical depression, but who couldn't benefit from a mood booster?

Dr. Bowden: There is some ongoing research by Dr. Andrew Stoll at Harvard University regarding the use of fish oil for depression in people who suffer from bipolar disorder. These studies are using really high doses - 10 grams - but even lower doses are showing an effect, which is especially true when combined with nutrients like folic acid and a low-sugar diet. That's good for a lot of things, but also for depression? It would seem so. While it's not proof, it is a fact that almost every behavioral or cognitive disorder that has been studied has been found to have really low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the bloodstream.

As omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated into cell membranes, making them more porous and flexible, it could make it easier for neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which have mood-enhancing effects, to enter the cells, which would be reflected in a better mood.

Alli to support fat loss

Q: My wife insists on trying this Alli weight loss drug now that it is available over the counter. This seems like pretty garbage to me. What's really going on with Alli?

Dr. Bowden: Well, no one has ever called me a marriage counselor and certainly not someone who is always politically correct, so I'll be blunt and direct: You're right and your wife is wrong. Alli is total garbage. But it's a lesson for us. Salespeople - including salespeople in the drug manufacturing business - love to throw percentages around because they can be accurate and dishonest at the same time.

For example, let's say there's a 1 in 10 million chance of winning the lottery and I have a system that I can guarantee to increase your chances of winning the lottery by 100%. However, this only increases your chances of winning from 1 in 10 million to 2 in 10 million! Think about this the next time you read about how people who took a certain weight loss drug "lost 43 percent more weight." Or that someone who took a certain bodybuilding supplement "built 37 percent more muscle. This can be accurate but still bullshit. Often this means that the control group lost one pound of weight per month, while the group that used the drug lost 1.43 pounds per month.

Alli is nothing more than an over-the-counter, weaker version of the long-standing drug Xenical (the generic name of the active ingredient is orlistat). It already didn't work very well as full strength Xenical. I'm not sure why changing the name and reducing the dosage would solve this problem, but what do I know.... Alli is a member of the group of weight loss drugs called digestive inhibitors. It prevents some of the fat you eat from being digested and absorbed by your body. It does this by inhibiting the digestive enzyme lipase, which breaks down fat.

The result? About 30 percent of the fat you eat doesn't end up on your hips. A side effect of this drug is euphemistically called "anal leakage" and describes what happens to the fat you don't digest. Any more questions? How about this one: "What happens to the fat that's already on your hips?" The answer is: nothing.

The first major study to publicize Xenical was a two-year European study that showed that patients using Xenical lost between two and three percent more weight than members of the placebo group. A second two-year study put overweight patients on a calorie-restricted diet and gave them 120 mg of Xenical three times a day. At the end of the year, these patients had lost 9 pounds more than the control group. Look closely at these figures. Nine pounds within a year - that's three quarters of a pound per month. A similar study from the US produced a weight loss of 1.5 pounds per month in Xenical users.

People lose weight when they use Xenical or Alli because these drugs basically reduce calorie intake automatically. For example, if you consume 2,500 kcal per day and 30 percent of those calories are fat, then you would normally consume 750 kcal in the form of fat. By taking Xenical, a third of these fat calories are not absorbed, so that 750 kcal theoretically become 500 kcal. So you save 250 kcal while eating the same meals (note the word "theoretically"). Stick with this plan for a week and you will have saved 250 kcal times seven or 1,750 kcal or about half a pound of fat.

Of course, you could easily cut unhealthy calories and unhealthy simple carbs and give up Alli, but that idea is not supported by a 150 million dollar marketing budget.

So is Alli the answer? Probably not, unless you own shares in Glaxo.

Is brown rice healthy?

Q: I don't do well with carbohydrates, which is why I strictly control the carbohydrates in my diet. However, I have been thinking about adding brown rice to my diet. What's the real story behind brown rice: is it good for me or is it overrated?

Dr. Bowden: Brown rice is not the worst thing, but it is overrated. The glycemic index and glycemic load of brown and white rice are very similar and brown rice is quite poor nutritionally. It contains more fiber, which is good - 3.5 grams per cup compared to half a gram for white rice - and slightly fewer carbohydrates and calories. That said, there is not that much difference. Nutritionists love brown rice, but they also love whole wheat bread, which is pretty much the same garbage as white bread. Brown rice is not the worst thing in the world. If you want to add some carbs to your diet, small portions are fine - especially if it's not the main course and is combined with fat, protein and vegetables in a relatively low-calorie meal.

Apple cider vinegar: Quackery?

Q: Is there any truth to all the hype about apple cider vinegar? I've heard everything from weight loss benefits to acne prevention.

Dr. Bowden: Ah, apple cider vinegar. You can be sure that if this stuff had been developed at the time of multi-level marketing, it would be selling for $40 a bottle with claims ranging from curing cancer to regrowing hair on balding people.

I also wrote about apple cider vinegar in my book "The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth". Why? Because foods (or medicines) that have lived up to their reputation for hundreds or sometimes even thousands of years should get attention - even if there is no "hard" evidence of their value. If there is no evidence of an effect, this is not proof that something has no effect.

So it looks like this: Apple cider vinegar is probably a good thing, but there is little scientific evidence for its effects. This does not mean that apple cider vinegar is worthless. First of all, it's a real thing, made from natural foods and loaded with many of the same phenols found in apples.

Second, a study published in the journal Diabetes Care suggests that apple cider vinegar may promote healthy blood sugar levels. A friend of mine, Dr. Jeff Volek, a highly respected scientist, believes that salad with apple cider vinegar at the beginning of each meal has the potential to help control blood sugar levels. Unpasteurized vinegar is overloaded with nutrients and contains up to 50 different minerals, vitamins and amino acids, depending on the raw material used in its production. Is apple cider vinegar a cure-all? Probably not and it is definitely not a cure for obesity. But I always have a bottle of apple cider vinegar in the fridge. When you buy apple cider vinegar, look out for terms like unpasteurized, unfiltered, traditionally fermented or something along those lines. The process of pasteurization destroys many of the heat-sensitive vitamins and enzymes that make apple cider vinegar so healthy.

by Jonny Bowden, PhD


Previous article 12 healthy foods that are rich in antioxidants