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A question of nutrition - Part 8

Eine Frage der Ernährung - Teil 8

Q: The Original Zone Diet was published in June 1995. After all these years of discussion about this concept, is it possible to say anything definitive about macronutrient ratios? Is there one ratio that works better than others for most people in most circumstances?

A: Barry Sears was on to something when he introduced his original 40/30/30 formula. There's a lot of research where the experimental diet tested was very similar to the diet presented in The Zone and the results were impressive: significant improvements in insulin resistance within days, improvement in body composition, better glycemic control - all good things.

The only definitive thing we can say about macronutrient ratios is that everyone is different. I had many conversations with Barry and he was of the view that some people will respond better to lower levels of carbohydrate, while others will do better with higher levels. He probably wouldn't share my view that some would do well with an Atkins approach, but it would be a friendly discussion. Having said that, I think a ratio of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat is a good starting point for most. This approach is light years ahead of the standard recommendations from the idiots at the American Dietetic Association who still think you should eat 90 servings of bread a day.

Oh, wait. Did they change that? Oops! Sorry!

Reducing the acid load

Q: You mentioned in the article "A Question of Diet Part 5" that fruit is important for someone who wants to balance an acid-heavy diet - a diet with a lot of meat. Does this also apply to someone who is trying to lose weight? Won't too much fruit lead to too much body fat? Are certain types of fruit better than others when it comes to fat loss?

A: You can balance an acidic diet with vegetables or fruit or a combination of both. Vegetables have fewer calories and a lower glycemic impact. If these factors are a concern, then eat more of the green stuff. You only need to worry about eating too much fruit if you have a real problem with insulin resistance or your blood sugar, and even then, low-sugar fruits like berries, cherries, apples and grapefruit should be fine. A study conducted at the Scripps Research Institute showed that eating half a grapefruit before a meal contributed slightly to fat loss.

I understand that you're only concerned about fat loss and building a great body right now, but it's worth noting that a 26-year study of men in Sweden showed that fruit consumption in general is associated with longer life expectancy (1).

Remember that no one has ever gotten fat from eating apples. If you are trying to lose fat, then fruit and vegetables are not what you should be worrying about.

How can you eat on the go without losing your abs?

Q: I travel a lot and sometimes I end up in places where the only place to get food is a McDonalds. In this situation, what should I order that will fill me up but not ruin my chances of having visible abs in the summer?

A: A few years ago, I traveled across the country from New York City to Los Angeles. I realized pretty quickly then that if I didn't want to starve to death, I needed to learn how to use rest stops and fast food restaurants without ruining my body. It's not easy, but it can be done.

The best kept secret at McDonalds is the breakfast burrito. You can also order the scrambled eggs or the eggs McMuffin during breakfast hours (which end at 10:30 or 11:00). For lunch, you can try one of the salads or burgers without a bun. At Subway you can choose turkey or roast beef with vegetables and avocados. Order the 15 centimeter sandwich (never choose the 30 cm option) in a whole grain version. Choose oil for the dressing (which is a mix of olive oil and rapeseed oil).

Too good to be true?

Q: As a nutrition expert, do you believe that it is possible to build muscle and lose fat at the same time? If this is possible, what is the best way to go about it? Common sense says that you need to increase calorie intake to build muscle, while you need to decrease calorie intake to lose fat.

A: According to my friend Charles Poliquin, the whole bulking and dieting story is obsolete. Here's what he told me: "I can get a 90 kilo guy with a 20% body fat percentage to a 6% body fat percentage in 8 weeks with no change in body weight. That would mean a loss of 13 kilos of fat and a gain of 13 kilos of muscle.

Of course, there is a catch. You would have to train twice a day and Poliquin describes his nutritional strategy as follows: "I usually give them 4.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day and the carbohydrates come from licking a dried plum 10 times." I'm not sure I completely agree with these recommendations, but who am I to question the master?

Own urine?

Q: More than one UFC fighter believes that drinking their own urine has medicinal benefits. Is there any truth to that?

A: The idea of drinking your own urine for health reasons is not as insane as it may sound at first glance, which is why those UFC fighters you mentioned are not alone in their choice of beverage.

People have been drinking their urine for thousands of years. In the Bible, there seems to be a cryptic reference to this in Solomon's Book of Proverbs 5:15: "Drink water from your own cistern." (Okay, he's probably talking about marital fidelity, but it's not like you could ask the original author.) There is a Sanskrit text that has no less than 107 verses on the benefits of "the pure water of your own urine". And in 1978, Morarji Desai, the Prime Minister of India Dan Rather, said that urine therapy would be the perfect solution for millions of Indians who cannot afford medical care.

Urine is sterile and free of pathogens as long as you don't have a kidney or urinary tract infection. It consists of 95% water. The rest is urea, salt and non-toxic solids in solution or suspension. Drinking your own urine is therefore safe and harmless. And the health benefits? No one really knows. Urine contains small amounts of hormones, proteins and antibodies, which are probably the source of the belief that urine has medicinal qualities.

However, just because we don't have Western science to support the health benefits doesn't mean there aren't any. How would one go about getting funding for such a study? By going to the National Institutes of Health and asking for money for a clinical trial on urine-based therapies?

Not much will happen. And even then, if you got private funding and approval from the university committee, what would you give the control group? Apple cider vinegar?

The spice of life

Q: I've heard about some amazing health benefits of cinnamon. Does cinnamon really improve insulin sensitivity? And if so, does this mean I can include apple pie in my diet as long as it contains cinnamon?

A: Two promising studies by USDA scientist Richard Anderson and colleagues do indeed show that cinnamon extracts may lower blood sugar levels. In a 2003 study, just one gram of cinnamon per day was enough to help people with type II diabetes lower their fasting blood sugar, triglyceride levels and LDL cholesterol levels after 40 days of treatment, with levels continuing to fall for 20 days afterward. And in another study, cinnamon's water-soluble compounds, known as polyphenolic polymers, were found to increase sugar metabolism in fat cells by a factor of 20.

Other studies have not found such promising benefits. What's more, in addition to making everything taste great, cinnamon is rich in antioxidants. Adding a little cinnamon to food and drink can't hurt and might even help you improve your insulin sensitivity a little. On its own, cinnamon won't cure diabetes or turn apple pie into a health food.


  1. Strandhagen, et al, "High fruit intake may reduce mortality among middle-aged and elderly men", Eur J Clin Nutrition 2000; 54: 337-341

By Jonny Bowden

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