Fighting Colds with Bone Broth: Another Non-Recipe

 
Photo © Michael Horan

Photo © Michael Horan

 

I have to admit: I’m not a huge fan of medication.

Obviously, some medications have their place. But more often than not, medications nowadays are doled out for the purpose of masking or suppressing symptoms than actually fixing problems.

Our bodies are incredibly well-adapted to fixing themselves when damaged (just start looking into the hugely complex process of blood clotting, for example), but they have to be generally healthy in order to do so.

What I am a fan of is purposely leading a healthy life that helps you avoid infection altogether (or at least as much as possible). 

Enter: Bone Broth

In addition to being delicious, bone broth is packed with nutrients that help your body stay healthy and fight off infection, even during the most infection-wrought times of the year.

We keep some broth in our kitchen pretty much year round. And at the faintest trace of a sore throat or runny nose, we whip some out and consume it regularly.

I don't have any scientific studies to back me up on this, but f’real - it’s pretty miraculous. Consuming our homemade broth—either in a soup just out of the jar—works FAR better for keeping colds at bay than any high-dose vitamin C garbage (and it's certainly better than getting a cold and suffering through its effects).

Why Bone Broth?

The name bone broth is kind of dumb. Maybe not dumb, but at least needlessly divisive. What I mean is that, while it appeals to those in search of the next awesome, against-the-grain health “hack,” it just as readily turns off those with more...traditional sensibilities, shall we say.

So if you’ve made it this far but are a little squicked out by the term “bone broth,” feel free to call it “homemade chicken (or beef or pork) stock.” Because that's really all it is.

As far as comparing bone broth to any product out there, there are two reasons I prefer my stuff.

First, homemade broth doesn't come with any fillers or flavorings. All you get is some water, salt, and the flavor (and nutrients!) of whatever ingredients you use.

Second, there are very likely compounds or nutrients or...things...found in whole foods that we have yet to identify, but that are beneficial nonetheless. That vitamin C powder you bought is just vitamin C and filler.

Can't I Just Buy It?

I'm sure there are companies out there that make a quality bone broth, but I'm also sure you won't find them at your local grocery store (or for a price you care to pay). Most commercial broths use preservatives, fillers, and other such gross additives to either extend the shelf-life or artificially enhance the flavor. 

The homemade stuff is tastier, more nutritious, and, if you do it right, probably a lot cheaper.

What's the Recipe?

You know me - I don't love relying on recipes. I believe that the skill of cooking is far more valuable than amassing a collection of steps and ingredients.

Sure, you could very easily hop over to Google and find hundreds of bone broth recipes, but you really don't need to go through the hassle.

Instead, just follow these guidelines…

Ingredients

  • Vegetable scraps (peels, stems, ends, etc.)
  • Chicken (or beef or pork) bones
  • Salt
  • Vinegar (we use apple cider, but I’m not convinced the type matters since we use so little of it)
  • Water
  • Butter (or ghee or coconut oil) to grease the slow cooker pot

If you haven't been saving the ends and pieces from your vegetables or the bones from your meat, that's fine - you can buy some just for this. But that’s only an excuse once! Start saving those scraps. It’s more economical AND less wasteful.

The Method

Before I lay out my method, I'd like to say this: don't stress about the details. When it comes down to it, all you're doing is simmering a bunch of vegetables and bones for awhile.

  • Grease the inside of your slow cooker (just to prevent stickage).
  • Fill the pot halfway with vegetable scraps and the rest of the way with bones (be sure to follow your manufacturer’s suggestion for how much space to leave at the top)
  • Sprinkle a bunch of salt over it. How much? Depends on how big your pot is, but it’s probably more than you think. Maybe ¼-½ cup? The salt is to help break everything down, but remember that, as for its seasoning effect, you can add but you can't take away.
  • Add a splash of vinegar. Start small and adjust with each batch. More than a tablespoon or so made it taste weird to me, and we have a really big slow cooker.
  • Cover it all with water.
  • Cook it (I do it on high) for 24 hours (lid on).
  • Strain out the "stuff" and store the liquid in glass jars

Really, every step listed above could have “about” or “approximately” in it somewhere. None of this needs to be exact, no two batches will be exactly the same, and that’s totally OK. Unless you’re planning to sell it, who cares?

Tips

Cut the bones in half before you throw them in the freezer. Cutting them in half helps get at the marrow, but it's difficult to do when frozen.

If you’re going to freeze any of the broth, don't fill the container all the way (and start with the lid off). Remember - water expands when it freezes!

Some recipes call for skimming the fat off the top. That’s silly to me.

Don't worry about always using it in recipes - seriously, it's really good just sipping it from a mug.

Use whatever types of bones you want, but be wary of mixing them. We threw a couple beef bones in with a chicken-based broth once and it did NOT taste good.

When straining, I like to spray the stuff in the colander with a little water. I can't prove that it helps get more of the goodness into the strained liquid, but I feel like it does. Plus, it adds volume (which you might end up doing, anyway, since it will come out so concentrated).

Don't worry about seasoning it beforehand. After cooking, you’ll have a much better idea of what and how much to add to complement the flavors from the vegetables and bones. But when you do season it, garlic powder and black pepper are almost always a good place to start.

The Takeaway

Making a homemade broth is a really simple, healthy, economical, and tasty way to stay healthy during cold and flu season (and year round). I obviously can't guarantee any results or benefits, but I really hope you try it.

 

 

Why "Why" Matters

 
weights-664766_1280.jpg
 

In a recent article, I made the case for not needing to have fitness goals. I argued that, for people merely looking to lead happy, healthy, strong lives, setting goals has the potential to be, at the very least, cumbersome and, at worst, downright counterproductive.

However:

I do think everyone should have a why.

Now, it could be argued that a why and a goal are the same thing, so let’s make this distinction: a goal is tied to a specific, measurable outcome [I want to squat 500 pounds; I want to get down to 12% body fat]; a why is a more nebulous, less-measurable (but no less important) outcome [I want to keep up with my friends playing Ultimate Frisbee; I want to avoid chronic illness as much as possible].

Why “Why” Matters

Motivation

By their very nature, whys have the potential to be broader and further reaching than goals. Though that might sound like a bad thing, it actually opens them up to being much more deeply rooted and meaningful, too. For instance, exercising in order to provide your children with a strong, healthy role model is a fantastic why that isn’t tied to any specific outcomes.

We can use whys like these push us on, especially when times get tough and motivation wanes.

[And because I’m me, I have to clarify that I don’t mean “I’m tired and rundown and sluggish, but I should hit the gym - for the kids!” That would be silly - get some sleep! I mean “Bleh, I’d rather sit and do nothing. But I should hit the gym - for the kids!”]

Additionally, without an endgame or specific outcome in mind, you have an ongoing, consistent, unwavering source of motivation. You can achieve a specific body fat percentage, but you’ll never go to the gym enough times to be “done” with setting a good example for the younglings in your life.

Making Choices: Part 1

We are in a constant state of decision-making.

I’ve previously made the point that any choices we’re presented with can be viewed on a never-ending, overlapping spectrum (or, more precisely, A Spectrum of Spectrums*). Rather than “a healthy choice and an unhealthy choice,” it’s more accurately "a more healthy choice versus a less healthy choice (with several other choices in between).”

What needs to be clear about this spectrum, though, is that it is not fixed. As you change and morph and adapt throughout your life, so will your spectrum.

How is your spectrum arranged at the moment? Well, that depends on your why.

If you are trying to build muscle, for instance, you might make the choice to lift weights 4-5 times per week. But when your life gets busier with work and you also have to cat-sit for your neighbor when he goes to the Galapagos for 6 months, you might shift to more of a “maintain my muscle mass without getting sick” type of why. As such, you would be wise to cut back and maybe only do some full-body workouts 2 days per week.

Things change. Go with the flow.

[*I know "spectra" is the correct pluralization of "spectrum," but I think "spectrums" flows better here. So...there.]

Making Choices: Part 2

In addition to our own choices, we are also in a constant state of hearing what decisions other people are making. Without a clear grasp of our own why, it can be difficult to distinguish what’s best for ourselves from what’s best for someone else.

For example…

When I work out, I’m usually surrounded by people with bigger muscles than me who are lifting more weight. And while I would often love to emulate their physiques or athletic feats, my why of wanting the mobility and strength to continue lifting weights well into my 90s supersedes my desire to build muscle.

Don't get me wrong, I do like building muscle and want a little more of it. But my choices will be based primarily on longevity; any choices that help me build muscle will first have to support that.

There might be some similarities in our approach to exercise and nutrition, but when it comes to that spectrum of spectrums, mine is going to look a lot different than theirs overall.

The Takeaway

You might not need a goal, necessarily, but a reason for doing what you’re doing can only help.

What about you? What’s your biggest why?

 

 

Things That Do Not Exist (in Fitness)

 
 

I’ve had (and overheard) a lot of conversations about health and fitness. From folks around the office chatting about their latest diet, to someone in the gym asking for advice, to friends-of-friends reaching out with questions, to strangers on a train having a conversation they didn’t think I could hear, I’ve heard a whole lot of talk about what it takes to get fit.

Through these conversations, I’ve noticed a few little mindsets and thoughts that, while they are patently untrue, can’t seem to make their way out of the common conversation.

I want to tackle a few of them here, and try to set the record straight on them once and for all.

Here, in no particular order, are ideas and concepts that simply do not exist in health and fitness.

#1 - Permanent Change

I’ve mentioned this one numerous times before, but it still bears repeating: nothing in health and fitness is permanent.

Unfortunately, the biggest reason this myth persists is the large number of unscrupulousor just horribly misinformedpeople out there looking to prey on the hopes and aspirations of the desperate.

It’s a simple fact of the universe, and it applies just as readily to health and fitness: the only constant is change. You cannot hope for a desired outcome to stick around once you’ve achieved it; you have to actively keep it around.

#2 - Losing Quickly, Then Just Maintaining

I’ve heard this one too many times to count. Someone will tell me what (horribly unhealthy and unsustainable thing) they’re doing to lose weight, I’ll explain to them why I think it might not be the best approach, and they tell me, “Oh, well I’m just going to lose 20 pounds [using this method] and then maintain it.”

Sorry, but...no, you’re not.

I’m sure there are people out there who have done something along these lines, but as a general rule it does not happen. Why not? See #1 above: nothing is permanent.

There are healthy and sustainable ways to lose weight and keep it off. But if you are unwilling to use those methods to get fit, then there is not much hope for you to use them to stay fit.

And to add insult to injury, the body you’re left with after using unhealthy weight loss methods is likely now unhealthier than it was to begin with, thus necessitating even more diligence and discipline to maintain the results you just suffered to get.

#3 - “That One Thing…”

This one is actually pretty interesting to me in its manifestation. Most people know that there is no magic bullet that will solve all of their health and fitness woes. If you ask them, they will tell you so.

But in searching for answers, it becomes very clear that this one thing is still what everyone is actually searching for.

For me, it becomes the most evident when I’m asked for advice. When I start laying out the idea of the 4 Tenets of Health (nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management), I almost invariably end up seeing a look in their eyes that says, “Oh. I wanted you to tell me what thing I needed to do in order to reach my goals.”

This is where my job becomes difficult. There are plenty of people in the health and fitness space ready to sell you on ideas of singular solutions, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.

#sorrynotsorry

#4 - Accidentally Getting “Too Muscular”

“I don’t want to get too bulky” is a very common, very understandable, and completely misguided objection to strength training. I’ve heard it from both men and women, and my response is always the same:

You won’t.

Based on the conventional wisdom about weightlifting (high weight, low reps to get big; low weight, high reps to get “toned”), it’s no surprise that this idea makes its way into people’s minds.

But the fact is, it just doesn’t happen.

First of all, growing large muscles is difficult. Sure, some people grow more easily than other people, and everyone has body parts that grow more readily than other parts, but adding a lot of mass takes hard work and a lot of dedication.

Secondly, it takes a very specific training style to make your muscles grow really big. Muscle strength and muscle size can be correlated, but they are not synonymous. For example, check out these two guys.

This is Drew. Drew is pretty damn swole:

 
Photo © Jan Rattia

Photo © Jan Rattia

 

Drew’s current 1RM (the maximum amount of weight he can do for one repetition) for the squat is 365 pounds.

While that’s certainly impressive, meet Sam:

 
 

Sam does not train for bodybuilding, he trains for strength. Though he is not quite as large and muscular as Drew, his 1RM on the squat is well over 500 pounds.

Lifting weights does not always equal large muscles.

#5 - Ideal Body Weights

For some reason (actually, for many reasons), people love to pick a weightusually one that’s less than what they currently weigh, but it goes the other way, as welland fixate on it. It consumes their thoughts, and, so, consumes their decision making.

This fixation is what leads to yo-yo dieting. It’s what leads to desperate and unhealthy attempts to lose weight. It’s what leads people to justify what they’re doing by saying they’ll just do it for a while and then “maintain.”

There are no ideal body weights. And if anyone with a weight loss goal were forced to really dig deep and think about it and explore, they would come to realize that a specific weight is not actually what they want. What they want is to look different, to feel different, to be perceived differently. But none of these things is directly correlated with weight.

Many factors affect body weight. Muscle mass. Bone density. Hydration. Heck, even the amount of hair you have technically makes a difference.

The Takeaway

As obvious as some, or all, of these ideas may sound to you, you might be surprised at how they can sneak into your brain and influence your judgment.

Take a moment to reflect and make sure none of these toxic ideas is holding you back from making real, lasting progress.

 

9 Reasons Sleep Deprivation Sucks

 
 

“Lack of sleep damages every aspect of your life!”

Starting off with a bang, right?

Most people turn off pretty quickly at the mention of sleep. A non-sexy issue that many folks let fall by the wayside, sleep is second only to “meditation” on the list of who-cares-I’m-doing-fine health topics.

So why the hyperbole?

Well...that’s just it: it’s NOT hyperbole. Sleep deprivation sucks.

The above is a quote from Dr. Kirk Parsley, a medical doctor, sleep researcher, and former Navy SEAL. A world-renowned expert on sleep, he’s not alone on his views about how impactful sleep is..

[And as a side note, here’s the sentence that immediately precedes the above quote: “I’m not prone to hyperbole; so when you read the next sentence, please know that I mean exactly what it says.”]

Yes, I Mean You...

I’ve always found it funny how we, as humans, can take a fundamental idea and apply it to some contexts of life and not others. For instance, it’s easy for us to acknowledge the major biological impact hormones have during both puberty and menopause, but the subject is rarely broached at other points in our lives.

Likewise, we tend to relegate the negative effects of sleep deprivation to children under the age of about 10 or so. If a child is being fussy or grumpy, it’s easy to say “she’s just tired” or “he needs a nap.”

But what about the rest of your time here on Earth? Don’t YOU need adequate sleep, too?

This is, unfortunately, where it all tends to break down. When you spend allor at least mostof your life getting the same 4-5 hours of sleep every night and still functioning on some level, it’s difficult to admit that lack of sleep is an issue.

But it is.

They say that the first step to recovery is admitting that there’s a problem. But I’m going to do you one better: I don’t want you to admit that you have a problem. All I want you to do is pretend.

What if you weren’t getting adequate sleep every night? What if there was a way you could feel even better than you already do? What if you could improve your relationships, your productivity, and your overall health?

What if getting more sleep was beneficial?

Ok, now that you’re all primed (remember, you don’t have a problem - you’re just pretending!), let’s look at some of the effects that sleep deficiency can have…

#1 | Increased Risk of Alzheimer's Disease

Though there's still some controversy and plenty of mystery surrounding the origin and development of Alzheimer's Disease, it appears that experts agree that it is characterized by the buildup of certain types of plaques in the brain (plaques made of Amyloid-β proteins).

Part of the object of sleep is to flush these (and other) neurotoxins from the brain.

If sleep flushes these toxins from the brain, lack of sleep helps them accumulate, and they can start accruing as early as 20 years before the onset of dementia, it seems a logical step that prioritizing sleep now can have a profound impact later.

#2 | Increased Risk of Obesity

Lack of sleep is a major risk factor for obesity. For one thing, it can cause disruptions with your normal hormonal rhythms. When those hormones involved with hunger (leptin and ghrelin, if you’re curious) are affected, it’s easy to end up eating more than you would normally. In other words, your satiety signals are thrown off.

Not only this, but lack of sleep also promotes insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to anything from diabetes to an increased waistline, to a whole host of chronic metabolic diseases.

And yes, that means even one night.

#3 | Increased Risk of Cancer

Sleep deprivation can increase your risk of developing cancer. Perhaps more to the point, lack of sleep can increase your risk of not fighting off cancer.

Cancer basically works like this: we all build and carry around damaged cells that need to be destroyed. If, for some reason, these cells are not destroyed, they can continue to grow and divide uncontrollably. The result: cancer.

[Is that a complete and scientifically robust explanation? Not in the slightest. But it serves to illustrate my point, methinks.]

Lack of sleep impedes this process of cellular cleanup and makes elimination of these cells less effective. In fact, the impact is so great that the CDC has categorized shift work (famous for its circadian disruption) as a probable carcinogen.

Yikes.

#4 | Impaired Recovery

I kept that heading general because I meant it in a very general way. If you’re recovering from somethingbe it injury, surgery, an illness, or even just a workoutchances are most of that recovery happens while you sleep.

Sleep is when the body does its repairs. As mentioned above, it flushes neurotoxins from the brain (and replenishes neurotransmitters). It repairs muscle cells, both heart and skeletal. It commences cellular cleanup. Heck, even your hair and nails do the majority of their growing during sleep!

Cut back on your sleep, and recovery will suffer.

#5 | Difficulty Functioning

Another generic turn of phrase, but, again, for good reason: while lack of sleep affects your cognitive abilities, your cognitive abilities affect your physical abilities.

Ergo, lack of sleep affects your ability to “function.” Both physically and mentally/intellectually.

It’s easy to understand how lack of sleep can impact your brain, but it can be more difficult to apply this same thought to your physical self. Remember, muscles don’t move on their own. They move when they are given a signal to by the brain.

But it’s not a simple on/off switch: the process involves complicated neuropathways that tell which muscles to fire, in what order, and to what extent. So when the brain isn’t working optimally, the messages it sends won’t, either.

#6-9 | Suppressed Immune System, Impaired Relationships, Smaller Brains, Decreased Willpower 

...I think you get the point: lack of sleep results in much larger, much more detrimental effects than simply feeling "a little groggy."

And even if sleep-deprived becomes your new normal and you don't notice the difference in energy, all that stuff listed above? Still happening.

Because like I said: sleep deprivation sucks.

Sorry 'bout it. 

The Takeaway

Here is a challenge for you. Nay, a dare! I know you function perfectly well on the amount of sleep you currently get. You’re a rockstar. But we’re playing pretend, remember?

My challenge is this: take the next few weeks and try to increase the amount of quality sleep you get, and report back to me the results.

For tips and tricks on HOW to get more (and better) sleep, stay tuned next week!



 

 

Healthy Fats: A Super-Simple Guide

Photo © cyclonebill

Photo © cyclonebill

Vilified for causing everything from heart disease to obesity and even cancer, fats have gotten a pretty bad rap over the years. And while that trend seems to be on the mend, it’s still a fairly incendiary topic.

A quick google search on fat will lead you to a mountain of articles and blog posts that tend to go one of two ways: they’re either staunchly for or against, with little-to-no middle ground; or they’re overly scientific and complicated, to the point of being functionally useless.

I imagine this leaves you with some questions. So let’s dig in with some practical, applicable answers (and leave the more technical stuff to anyone writing a term paper).

What are fats?

Just as carbs are chains of glucose molecules, fats are chains of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Depending on the chemical bonds involved, they can be saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

They look kind of like this:

 
Click the image for a more in-depth look at the different types of fat.

Click the image for a more in-depth look at the different types of fat.

 

Aren’t fats bad for you?

No, they’re not. Fats are an essential part of the human diet. Fats not only provide us with energy, but they help us to absorb essential nutrients in our food (vitamins A, D, E, and K are all fat-soluble, for example).

Not only this, but fats are an important part of our bodies. Literally! Fats are part of the actual structure of our cells. In fact, our brains are composed of 60% fat.

Sixty. Percent.

The list of functions and benefits of fats is quite long, but let’s get on with our simple approach. The point is that no, fats are not inherently bad.

Yeah, but only healthy fats, right?

Ah, the ever-present rebuttal to the “fats are good” argument.

In my experience, the idea of healthy fats has become FAR too convoluted to be useful in an everyday context. So let’s remedy that, shall we?

First, we’ll define our terms:

What is a healthy fat?

While the FDA doesn’t seem to specifically define healthy fat, the Decidedly Non-Hardcore definition is a simple one:

A healthy fat is any fat that comes from a real-food source (avocado, steak, nuts, etc.) and not a food product (donuts, fried chicken, etc.).

Does it get more complicated? Sure. There are varying ratios of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats that you might manipulate. Or there are oxidation issues to consider when cooking. And yeah, that grass-fed bison might have a better fatty acid profile than your conventionally-raised beef.

But from a functional standpoint, there really is no need to stress over the minutiae.

For anyone simply looking to lead a Happy, Healthy, Strong Life, take yes for an answer and go about your day.

Quick Note: In some instances, it might be appropriate to make sure you are getting enough of the right types of fats. Some ailments or conditions might be caused by a deficiency in (or reversed by a supplement of) certain fats, but that is best left up to your naturopathic or functional medicine doctor to determine. Here, we are simply talking about living a healthy, fit, lean life.

Gray Area Foods

There are, of course, some things that are a little more difficult to define. What about almond butter? It’s made of almonds, but they’ve been ground up. What about oils or butter? They’re from natural sources, but they have gone through some form of processing to become what they are.

The best way to approach this dilemma is to take the specific food you’re contemplating and analyze its context: what it’s made of, and where it came from.

Butter, for instance, is simply dairy fat that’s been mechanically separated from the liquid (the base being cream). No chemicals, no additives (save salt, in the case of...dun dun duhhh!...salted butter): just a minimally-processed product made from real food.

Nut butters, on the other hand, can be a little trickier. While some are simply ground up nuts (or, technically, legumes, in the case of peanut butter) and maybe some salt, others contain all sorts of additives that take them farther from “food” and closer to “food-product.” Check the ingredients list.

Oils

Though mentioned above, I wanted to separate these out as their own topic.

These are where, unfortunately, it pays to get a little more technical with the approach.

Essentially, oils are derived from plants using one of two methods: mechanical extraction or solvent extraction.

Mechanical extraction simply means the oil has been squeezed out of the plant in some way. Some plants lend themselves more easily to mechancial extraction than others. Good examples of these are olives, avocados, and coconuts. But even with these, look for labels that mention being expeller- or mechanically-pressed.

Chemical extraction is a much nastier process. But it’s cheaper and more efficient, so why not?!

Gross.

Essentially, the process works like this: they create a pulp out of the raw material (soy beans, rapeseeds, etc.), mix it with a chemical solvent (usually hexane) to dissolve out the oil, and then remove the chemical solvent to be used again.

Well, they remove most of the chemical solvent. What happens to the rest of it? Well...you eat it.

Again: gross.

For a really great breakdown of common oils and their benefits (or lack thereof), check out Mark Sisson’s Definitive Guide.

So I can eat bacon and not have a heart attack?

Yes.

The Takeaway

From a potentially in-depth and complicated topic, the takeaway is quite easy: if you’re eating whole, real foods rather than food products, there is really no need to worry about the fat content.

There are exceptions, of course, like certain phases of the AltShift Diet, but in the context of plain ol’ healthy eating, go ahead - get the steak.