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Monday, 23 November 2015

Are studies always right?

This is an opinion piece. All I am trying to achieve with this post is to get you to consider the source of the information you are seeing.  If you look at science articles online or even studies you will see a whole host of areas covered. From diets that cause cancer to exercises that cause most fat loss, not to forget that supplement that boosts testosterone by 100% and shreds you while building muscle (all in 8 weeks...that is so cool!).

However before you go and rush out and buy the latest wonder product that has been proven by science try digging a little bit deeper and checking out the evidence.  Here is a simple way to do it.  First of all, if you read an article, find the original research.  On several occasions I have seen an article and discovered that the research quoted said something very different to the claims of the article, or had such a distorted view of the results so badly that the article was meaningless.  Other times I have found that the research was actually done (or funded) by a lobby group or company and the answer was actually a fabrication, or at least the study was set up in such fashion that the results should be seriously questioned.  Groups like the Weston Price Foundation are classic distorters of the facts, as are several companies.  Let’s take a quick look at the latest piece of research from the Global Energy Balance Network, a non-profit that looks at obesity.

The Global Energy Balance Network produces research into which factors are the prime causes of obesity.  The study it recently produced implies that diet has little to do with obesity, it is actually lack of activity that is the major reason for obesity in Western countries.  That is certainly a possibility, but it does go against most current research that suggests that moderate exercise and dietary changes are needed to lower obesity rates in the western world. So you may wonder who are the Global Energy Balance Network?  If you take a look at the non-profits details they are actually registered to Coca Colas head office.  That’s right, their address is the head office of Coca Cola. If you knew this before would you have thought a little differently about this non-profit and the study results?  A non-profit that suggests that diet has little effect on obesity (so sugary drinks are fine), you just need to do a little exercise and obesity will disappear. This is exactly what has happened, the non-profit was found out to be registered at Coca Cola HQ, you can find the whole story at

This however is the tip of a bigger problem.  A lot of big corporations actually fund studies in a less blatant fashion, but never-the-less still get the results they are after with the threat of losing finding as the incentive.  If your job is on the line you will work hard to get the results the funder wants. The best type of study is often a meta-study when they gather many studies together and see if there is actually some common issue that arises.  Places like ( ) are good places to see if there if there are actually likely causes linked to correlations found in single studies, as they gather evidence from all the studies and put them together. If you find a single study that seems to refute (or support) your current views, then look for other related studies.  If most point one way, then there is a larger chance that actually the thing you are researching is true. I also find playing a game of ‘disproving yourself’ is a good test.  Spend some time trying to refute a common claim you hold.  If you manage it, or even throw some doubt on it, then you have spent your time wisely.  If you failed to disprove your current thinking then you have given yourself extra ammo the next time the issue arises.

Below I will put a check list of things you should do when you find an article:

  1. If you read an article find the original research.  If it is an unreferenced article, then contact the author and ask for references.
  2. Once you have found the original research see who funds the study.
  3. If the study is funded by a non-profit, see if you can find who funds that non-profit.
  4. Look for related studies and see if there is generally consensus about the issue.
  5. Try disproving the results using research.

If you do all of the above you will be head-and-shoulders above most of the people who are on the internet right now.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Choices for tooth health

Tooth health may seem like an odd issue for a training & diet related blog.  However, consider this.  If you have teeth issues then your food choices, dietary goals & overall health could suffer[i].  Along with this there is the risk of systematic diseases that could be initiated or associated to bad tooth hygiene[ii], it is even potentially related to heart health[iii]?  With so much involved in the care of your teeth it seems like it would pay to spend a little time caring for your teeth & eating to improve tooth health (which will also improve overall health as well).

The basics

For excellent tooth care you should be doing a few basic things & (in my opinion) avoiding a few common things to maximise oral health. Brushing the teeth & flossing several times a day is the general rule.  To this I would add rinsing the mouth after meals or snacks if brushing isn't possible.
There may also be a case to include extra treatments like oil pulling[iv], as that has showed in some studies a potential benefit (although not proven).  Also the traditional practices such as the chewing of specific ‘teeth cleaning’ sticks may also have some benefits[v]. Avoiding sugars & sticky foods when a tooth brush is not available may be an option if you are suffering from tooth or gum issues, but do not avoid fruits high in vitamin C as the benefits to tooth & gum health from these foods outweigh the dangers.


 I do not actually approve of antibacterial products generally & I am against the use of antibacterial mouthwash specifically (I am not concerned with herbal mouthwashes if you wish to use those).  The body is not a single organism.  A human being is actually a colony of human cells that are very much outnumbered by bacteria cells (about 10 to 1)[vi].  Some of these bacteria allies reside on your skin & in your mouth.  They supply protection, by attacking invaders or using up potential food sources & out-competing invading bacteria.  When you use anti-bacteria products you destroy your first line of defence against invaders. Plain soap & some herbal mouthwashes do not completely wipe out your bacterial army[vii], but using anti-bacteria products does several things.  Firstly they may be causing the creation of super-bacteria[viii].  Secondly, they could leave you undefended should another bacteria invade the body while your bacteria has not recovered[ix]. Thirdly, you could increase blood pressure as the nitrates found in food are changed to nitrites by bacteria in the mouth[x]. As a side note destroying these bacteria could also affect your endurance as an athlete[xi]. For those reasons I advise against anti-bacterial products.  Obviously these are personal choices but upon weighing up the pros & cons I feel that any potential benefit is outweighed by the potential risks involved.


Probiotics are sold as being good for gut health, but there could be a case for including them as part of your oral hygiene routine.  The evidence here is not solid yet, but if you intend to take a probiotic anyway, then why not take them out of the capsule & sprinkle on food or add to a shake (recently I have included them in my morning chia pudding).  That way the friendly bacteria get’s into the mouth & can also colonise the throat.  There is mounting evidence that probiotics can improve health & even help lessen the risk of cancer[xii].  On top of those benefits there are also studies & articles suggesting that oral health could be improved by introducing probiotics into the mouth rather than swallowing a pill[xiii],[xiv]


Fluoride is a much trickier issue to sift through.  There are countless articles online proposing the dangers of fluoride.  Fluoride can be a poison & you can ingest too much[xv]. If you have known tooth issues involving damaged or weakened enamel, then certainly it would seem to make sense to use fluoride in a toothpaste for a while.  I would suggest you are especially vigilant to not swallow any fluoride product & to rinse well after use.  Most people will find that regular dental care means that taking extra fluoride is unnecessary.  Again this is a personal choice, weigh up the risk:reward ratio & see if it makes more sense for you to use or not, & remember no decision is binding & you can use for a while, stop, then use again at any time you feel it is necessary.

Bad breathe

If you suffer from bad breathe then life can seem pretty bad.  There are several causes of bad breathe. Invasive bacteria in your mouth can cause bad breathe.  Certain foods can also cause bad breathe as they are ingested & release chemicals into the lungs that you exhale. Dry mouth can cause bad breathe, as can medications & illness[xvi]. If you have this problem try to discover the root cause of this condition & deal with it.  Things like improved oral hygiene, writing a food diary, changing medication or seeing a doctor are all ways to discover the causes of your bad breathe.

Foods to eat foods to avoid to improve oral health

One of the most important factors outside of brushing & flossing are the foods you choose to eat. Some foods will improve the health of your teeth & whereas others will negatively affect oral health.  Luckily all the foods that positively affect oral health also affect overall health positively as well.  Most of the things to do or avoid doing are common sense & after a little thought you see the need for including & excluding the foods on this list

  1. Avoid sugary foods.
  2. Avoid sticky foods (or brush afterwards).
  3. After eating sweet fruits or meals rinse the mouth with water.
  4. Drink green tea as a few studies have shown that it reduces oral diseases & bacterial growth.
  5. High vitamin C foods (like kiwi & strawberries) actually aid gum health (rinse your mouth with water after eating these).
  6. Nuts & Seeds are full of minerals that help keep teeth strong.
  7. Seaweed is another mineral rich food source.
  8. Celery, apples, fibrous greens are all good for 'scrubbing' bacteria loose from teeth. They actually do a 'mini brushing' effect. You still need to swill the mouth with water &/or brush afterwards, but these aid the process.
  9. Onion family have anti-bacterial value & can lower the amount of unfriendly bacteria in the mouth.
  10. Shiitake mushrooms may also lower bacteria levels in the mouth.
  11. Open probiotic pills & put them in your mouth directly. This replaces unfriendly bacteria with the friendly type that naturally occurs in the mouth. It could also lower the chances of mouth & throat cancers.

Final points

Remember oral health should be treated like any other part of your health routine.  If in doubt go & seek out a dentist to get checked out.  The above ideas cannot guarantee you perfect oral health, but it should go some way to improving your oral health.  Also consider the risk:reward ratio when deciding what to include into your oral care.  If your teeth & gums are fine then there is no need to include time consuming extras that would have limited (if any) benefit. Use that time for other activities that have a higher return like exercise, mobility, stress relief or similar.  However, if your teeth & gums are an issue, then spending a little extra time may well help you overcome these issues & help improve not just your oral health, but your overall health as well. Keep smiling!

[ii] Xiaojing Li et al. Systemic Diseases Caused by Oral Infection. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2000 Oct; 13(4): 547–558.
[iii] Watt, R et al. Toothbrushing, inflammation, and risk of cardiovascular disease: results from Scottish Health Survey.  BMJ 2010;340:c2451
[iv] Peedikayil FC et al. Effect of coconut oil in plaque related gingivitis - A preliminary report. Niger Med J. 2015 Mar-Apr;56(2):143-7.
[v] al-Otaibi M. The miswak (chewing stick) and oral health. Studies on oral hygiene practices of urban Saudi Arabians. Swed Dent J Suppl. 2004;(167):2-75.
[vi] Wenner M. Humans Carry More Bacterial Cells than Human Ones. Scientific American November 30, 2007.
[vii] Burton M et al. The Effect of Handwashing with Water or Soap on Bacterial Contamination of Hands.  Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 Jan; 8(1): 97–104.
[viii] Ballantyne C, Strange but True: Antibacterial Products May Do More Harm Than Good. Scientific American June 7, 2007.
[ix] Chiller K et al. Skin Microflora and Bacterial Infections of the Skin. Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings (2001) 6, 170–174.
[x] Bondonno CP et al. Antibacterial mouthwash blunts oral nitrate reduction and increases blood pressure in treated hypertensive men and women. Am J Hypertens. 2015 May;28(5):572-5. doi: 10.1093/ajh/hpu192. Epub 2014 Oct 30.
[xi] Jones AM. Dietary nitrate supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Med. 2014 May;44 Suppl 1:S35-45.
[xii] Reid G et al. Potential Uses of Probiotics in Clinical Practice. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003 Oct; 16(4): 658–672.
[xiii] Haukioja A. Probiotics and oral health. Eur J Dent. 2010 Jul; 4(3): 348–355.
[xiv] Bonifait L et al. Probiotics for Oral Health: Myth or Reality? Canadian Dental Association.
[xv] Li Y. Fluoride: safety issues. Oral Health Research Institute, Indiana University School of Dentistry. Journal (Indiana Dental Association) [1993, 72(3):22-26].

Monday, 16 November 2015

Becoming an Underground Strength Coach

Just a quick post to update you all on what’s happening. I am beginning to take the “Underground Strength Coach Certification”.  Hopefully, that will mean a few tweaks in the way I train people and offer advice. It will also mean a few experiments in the gym to see how these training ideas compare to what I use already.
I usually try to keep adding to my skill set and be in some form of further education related to either training, nutrition or massage most of the time. I prefer to keep a ‘student attitude’ and continue to learn rather than believe I have ‘the answer’.  I keep it fresh by revolving things I am learning between my interests. The worlds of exercise, nutrition & massage are so large that you would never learn everything in one lifetime anyway, so I suspect I’ll remain busily learning for many decades to come.

If you are interested in getting involved as I learn new skills just email me & we can sort out how I can help you achieve your goals.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

IIFYM – House of straw?

IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros) has become popular within the training world over the last few years. Although this type of eating has always existed within the fitness community, it was never formalised or given a specific name, but there have been many bodybuilders and athletes over the years that have eaten anything and only moderated amounts eaten, not food choices.
The diet has recently been popularised by a guy who is funded by the meat and dairy industry and also believes the latest World Health Organisation study linking cancer to processed meat (& probably red meat) is wrong (he also shows his complete misunderstanding of what that study actually says and what it is not saying...but that is another story I may write later as many people seem confused by the research).

What are ‘macros’?

Macros is short for the word ‘macronutrients ‘.  Macros are the amount if protein, carbohydrates and fats in food.  It does not take into account, vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants or other nutrients in foods.

Let’s look at a few ways to put a diet together

For clarity let’s look at a few examples to make a point.  Suppose I wanted 30% protein, 30% fat and 40% carbs (don’t worry about those numbers, exchange them for your preferred ratios if you like).  Now I will offer a few scenarios and see which makes sense:

  •             Scenario 1: Get protein powder, glucose powder and some fat.  I measure out the correct amounts of each of these macronutrients and have these throughout the day. My macros are spot of man!
  •          Scenario 2: Eat completely processed foods.  I can eat whatever I like, but all the grains must be highly refined, all the food is highly processed (what we’d call ‘junk’ food).  However, I fit the macros so they fit my goals. Again, I end up fairly close to my goal (there may be a little variation as real foods means a little tweaking to fit exact goals...).
  •         Scenario 3: Eat only what are generally accepted as healthy food.  You never deviate from this.  Weigh all food exactly and every meal is carefully measured.  You get close to your goal, you are hardcore!
  •          Scenario 4: You eat mainly whole foods.  You aim at around 80% of your diet being what is considered healthy food, the other 20% you can go a little wild, have something you want that may not be ideal. You get close to your ideal intake, but there will be some small variations day to day.

Which of the above will be the best scenario for most people? Let’s look through the results of the scenarios above.

  •       Scenario 1: This will get you closest to your planned macros intake.  Unfortunately, you will be losing out on fibre and many phytonutrients found only in whole plants. You may well lose fat, you could even look good eating like this over the short term.  Eventually though, nutrient deficiency and lack of fibre will lead to ill health, if  this is continued an early death will almost certainly follow. So, we know immediately that simply fitting a diet to your ‘macro needs’ are not enough to get all the nutrients you need to achieve a healthy condition, even if you can lose fat on this diet.
  •      Scenario 2 : Processed food can make you lose weight.  Take a look at the Twinkie diet[i].  In this diet a professor lost 27lbs eating twinkies and other junk foods, but kept the calories lower than he needed to maintain his weight, so you can lose weight by simply cutting calories.  A lot of fad diets use the cutting out of certain foods or classes of macronutrients to make you eat less calories, so you lose weight, but in reality it is not usually the food or macronutrient itself that is the cause of the weight loss, but the lowering of calories.  So, if you cut carbohydrates or fat from your diet you lose weight, not because you cut that macronutrient out, but because you lowered your daily calorie intake. The issue with eating only processed food is again the lack of fibre and the lack of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients in the foods you are eating.  You could lose fat, but you are setting yourself up for disease as you get older eating only processed food.
  •      Scenario 3: In this scenario you are only ever eating what we call ‘healthy food’ (I will leave you to define healthy food).  This sort of eating should allow the body to get all the nutrients it needs.  There would be enough fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals.  You will lose fat. In fact if you are dieting for a bodybuilding contest or to compete in a specific weight class you may need to do this sort of diet for a specified amount of time. However, if you follow this diet for prolonged periods of time several issues could develop. Foremost could be the development of the eating disorder like Orthorexia, this is not a recognised condition yet, but many of us in the fitness world have experience with this condition[ii].  Becoming obsessed all the time about only eating exact foods, in exact amounts, can lead to all sorts of problems and many people are left with the options of becoming super-obsessive about food or feeling failure as they fail to be 100% ‘clean’ with their diet.  This can cause mental stress and leads to issues like binge eating or other eating disorders.
  •      Scenario 4: Is my preferred choice.  You generally eat healthy whole foods, but you allow yourself some leeway.  You are not super strict on exact calorie intake or food choices.  You can have potato if you can’t find rice.  After you have that salad you can allow yourself that small dessert. Allowing yourself the option to eat mainly healthy, but also giving yourself some permission to stray in moderation allows for cravings to be satisfied while also reaching very close to your ideal intake of calories.  Some days you may feel like being a little stricter, sometimes a little more slack, but generally hovering around the 80:20 with 80% being whole foods and 20% being other foods of your choice seems to be a happy medium where you can achieve your goals with very little stress.

Consider your situation and the options

I believe that ideally you do need a little control over what you eat.  The obesity epidemic in society suggests that some control is needed[iii]. However, just picking on one aspect (in this case your macro intake) and suggesting that this, and ONLY this, is the important factor suggests that a person is somewhat naive about the longer term effects of food on health and well being.  What is needed is balance.  You need to include control into your diet, but you must also allow some leeway to explore new foods and enjoy some variety in your diet.  If you aim at eating mainly whole foods, then allow yourself the option of a few foods that may not be especially healthy I believe you will achieve a better result than just focussing upon the exact intake of protein, carbohydrates and fats.
With IIFYM I consider it like this.  If I was to build my dream home, I employ the best construction workers and the best designers to create the perfect building for me.  Then I pull out a pile of straw and say “OK, build me that building using this”.  Just like the fairy story, no matter how well my designers design & my construction workers construct, the building will still fall down as soon as the big, bad wolf starts blowing it down!  Similarly, if you have a great, training programme, fantastic recovery & plan the ideal calorie and macro intake.  All this will mean nothing if you do not have all the other food factors in place, like phytonutrients, antioxidants, fibre and other factors that can only be found in whole foods. You will have built your own body from ‘straw’ and when it is stressed by hard training, disease, stress or aging it will fail you. Consider your food not just as fuel, consider your food as health.  One of the major factors in your long term health are the food choices you make, so consider including generous amounts of whole foods into your diet for the best results.
If you want more about how to plan your diet or more indepth looks into dietary ideas or planning, then let me know by posting below and I will start researching your question.

[iii] James PT, et al. The obesity epidemic, metabolic syndrome and future prevention strategies. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology February 2004 vol. 11 no. 1 3-8.