Gut Health = Brain Health?

One of my first blogs on this site was about a book called Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter – a neurologist who blames lifestyle diseases (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, etc.) on excessive carbohydrate and gluten consumption. It’s been four years since that post and I have followed much of the book’s advice – I eat a primal diet that consists of meat, vegetables, fruit, and some whole fat dairy. My body is happy when I eat this way and I never have to worry about measuring portions or counting calories – this use to be a requirement because I put on weight easier than a bear preparing for hibernation.  Eating the aforementioned foods is not a diet but rather a lifestyle. Wheat, corn, rice, and added sugars are great once in a while but not as a base for your personal food pyramid. My buddy Chris O’Brien – an aspiring low-carber with a nagging penchant for club crackers – recommended that I read Dr. Perlmutter’s newest book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain. This book changed the way I think about the microbes that live within our bodies. In a sense, we are more bacteria than human – we carry more single cell organisms than actual cells in our body. These microbes help us with a myriad of bodily functions like digestion, immunity, sense perception, and mental processes. Without microbes, we would simply die.

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The health of your gut bacteria determines the health of your brain. The stomach and brain are interconnected – just think of what happens to your digestive system when you are anxious. The rise in diseases like Alzheimer’s, mood disorders, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, and autism are being linked with imbalances in gut bacteria. These imbalances allow bad bacteria to flourish over good bacteria; this leads to excess absorption of energy (obesity), inflammation that stimulates autoimmunity (Multiple Sclerosis), and/or gut permeability which can exacerbate neurological symptoms (Autism).  Studies show that our ultra-sterile environments and antibiotic use is disrupting our microbiome. Added to this is our Western diet low in prebiotic fiber and high in carbohydrates which foster bad bacteria. As an icing on the cake, exposure to environmental toxins like plastic residues, pollution, and workplace stress can all disrupt good bacteria. The connection between the gut and the brain is most obvious in those struggling with mental health disorders – studies show that more then 50 percent of psychiatric patients struggle with digestive ailments.

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So what can we do to help our microbiome? We need to eat diets which are high in fiber so good bacteria have food to eat. Also, eating probiotics like yogurt or fermented foods like sauerkraut help introduce beneficial bacteria to the gut. Avoiding toxins is an obvious must, but don’t forget about toxins lingering in the food supply like gluten and added sugar. Is gluten actually a toxin? I would argue that gluten in high quantities – the amounts seen in normal Western diets – wreaks havoc on the digestive system and on the microbiome. If you require more convincing then I recommend trying a gluten free diet for a month – I bet you’ll start feeling better after the first week. I recommend these things not only from research studies but also from my own experience. I used to eat “healthy” whole grains and I normally had stomach pains, constipation, and bloating; I was even diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) before I started eating a primal diet. Now unsurprisingly, the only time my IBS flares up is when I go back to eating grains. If you suffer from any of the above ailments, it is worth it to read this book. You may not see a complete reversal of your disorder but I would bet your symptoms will get drastically better. Read the book for yourself. You have nothing to lose except some bad microbes.

Ultimate Smoked Pork Shoulder

What better recipe to be the first on the Bohemian Caveman recipe page than the Ultimate Smoked Pork Shoulder. Pork shoulder or Boston Butt is one of my favorite pieces of meat because when cooked properly it is extremely tender and jam packed with flavor. You can cook pork shoulder in the oven or crockpot but those methods are weak sauce compared to slow smoking. BBQ joints always sell pulled pork (which comes from the pork shoulder) but I always feel like I don’t get my money’s worth. I want some fricking MEAT and I don’t want to spend 15 dollars for a little serving. Hence, I am going to show you how to cook your own pork monster and enjoy endless mouth watering servings at a fraction of the cost compared to the BBQ restaurants. Let’s start….

Ingredients:

8-10 LB Pork Shoulder aka Boston Butt
Marinade
2 Cups Apple Juice
1/2 Cup Kosher Salt
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Cup White Vinegar
Rub
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Dry Mustard
1 Tbsp Coarsley Ground Black Pepper
1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
1/2 Tbsp Cayenne Pepper
Glaze
Your favorite bottle of BBQ sauce
Smoke
Apple or Mixed Hardwood Chips or Pellets
Equipment
Any outdoor smoker (I use a Masterbuilt 30-inch Electric Smoke with the A-MAZE-N pellet tray)
Meat Probe
Meat Injector
Aluminum Pan

Alright, you may be saying….”What the frick Jon, I don’t have all of these ingredients and obscure equipment!!!” Fair enough, but most of these ingredients are pantry staples and if you don’t have a smoker then you can slow cook the shoulder in the oven (it will obviously taste different).

  1. The Marinade: Dissolve Apple Juice, Kosher Salt, Brown Sugar and Vinegar in a saucepan (do not bring to boil). Once contents are dissolved remove from heat (see picture below). Take meat injector and inject pork shoulder with marinade every 1 square inch. *Just inject the meat hunk a million times until all that beautiful liquid is inside the shoulder* Place meat in aluminum pan and cover in refrigerator overnight.

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    The Marinade

  2. The Rub: The next day, remove marinated pork shoulder from refrigerator. Combine in a separate bowl the Cup Brown Sugar, Chili Powder, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Dry Mustard, Coarsely Ground Black Pepper, Kosher Salt and  Cayenne Pepper. Mix thoroughly with spoon and then generously rub all over pork shoulder (see pictures below).
  3. The Smoke: I am going to give directions for my electric smoker but these can be translated to any other cooking apparatus. Preheat to 250 degrees. Take A-MAZE-N pellet tray and fill with wood pellets (see below). Light pellets and get them smoking. Place pork butt in the smoker uncovered for 3 hours.

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    A-MAZE-N Pellet Tray with mixed hardwood pellets

  4. The Apple Juice: After smoking for 3 hours, remove pork shoulder and insert meat probe into thickest part (this can be done at the beginning of the smoke also). Place 1 cup of apple juice in the bottom of aluminum pan and cover pork shoulder with aluminum foil. Place back in smoker and continue cooking for approximately 6 hours or until the internal temp reaches 205 degrees. *You have to get the temp up to 205 degrees to properly breakdown the connective tissues and melt the collagen to make it tender*

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    My electric smoker that my beautiful wife bought me for Christmas

  5. The Glaze and the Feast: Remove shoulder from smoker and lightly coat with your favorite BBQ sauce. Place back in smoker uncovered for one hour with no heat. This is the resting phase which is essential to keep the meet extra moist. The glaze will harden and create a nice bark. After the hour wait, your brain will be ready to explode from excitement. Behold your creation for a couple minutes and give yourself a big high five. The first bite will feel like pork nirvana and you may hit unknown levels of ecstasy. Leftovers will be abundant so enjoy!!!

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    There she is! It was so delicious and we barely put a dent in it. We will have a lot of leftovers.

 

Bohemian Caveman

Today marks a new milestone in my life with a domain name that I can call my own…BohemianCaveman.com.

The goal of this website is to give you tools and knowledge to improve every dimension of health so that you can become the best version of yourself. 

So what the frick is a “Bohemian Caveman?” Well, the definition of Bohemian is as follows

a person, as an artist or writer, who lives and acts free of regard for conventional rules and practices.

This definition hit me in the stomach and I feel that my life closely aligns with this funny sounding word. In what ways am I Bohemian?

  1. I spend my free time writing book reports 
  2. I decided to live in one of the most dangerous cities in America (still alive and happy)
  3. I practice meditation and seek to understand my inner consciousness.

Of course, I have a long way to go in becoming a complete personification of the word but I think I have been slowly moving in the direction my entire life.

So what about the Caveman part?

  1. I am a man with a beard.
  2. I am a Registered Dietitian who adheres to the Paleo/Primal lifestyle.
  3. I exercise through functional movements: yoga, walking, weight lifting, and mountain biking.

So what the heck is this blog about? My goal is to make this blog about the improvement of our Mind, Body, and Soul. My previous readers experienced the Mind posts and those will continue into the future. I will post about food, exercise, meditation, yoga, religion, history, self-improvement, minimalism, and a whole host of material that fits into the Mind, Body, Soul categories.

Thank you for the support and let’s continue this awesome journey…

 

Sugar and Gluten: America’s Most Wanted

Would it be an exaggeration to say that sugar and gluten are poisoning most Americans? I would argue that both of these substances, albeit natural, are toxic in levels that are regularly consumed in the United States. As a Registered Dietitian, I have strong views about the subject of nutrition and what merits a “healthy” diet. I am an indomitable supporter of the primal/paleo lifestyle because it makes evolutionary sense. For 95% of human existence the amount of grains, gluten, sugar, and general carbohydrates in the diet was negligible. Today the typical diet of westernized countries includes all those aforementioned categories as staples. Am I extreme in my thinking, a rogue dietitian hell bent on smacking cupcakes out of children’s hands? For a long time I thought so, but I think the medical community is slowly coming around.

One of those coming around in the medical community is David Perlmutter MD, a highly-acclaimed neurologist, who wrote the book Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers. Going into this book I thought I knew the gamut of negative effects that wheat, carbs, and sugar had on the body; however, I had no idea how drastically these compounds affected the brain. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and causes either obvious or subtle inflammation throughout the body. Obvious cases include explosive diarrhea in those with Celiac Disease, subtle cases include bumpy skin or annoying headaches in those with sensitivities. Gluten can affect the brain and body by causing inflammation in the intestines which elicits an immune response and subsequent systemic inflammation. Also, gluten can enter the bloodstream partially digested and act as an exorphin in the brain (think addiction) or deposit in joints, skin, or countless other organ systems. In addition to gluten, excess carbohydrates can cause high blood sugar which results in protein glycation in the blood vessels throughout the body-including the brain. Glycation is a very bad thing because it inhibits neurotransmitter function, and decreases overall cognitive function. A gluten free diet has been shown to be more effective then prescription medications in those suffering with ADHD, Schizophrenia, dementia, Alzheimer’s (delaying the onset), and depression. That last sentence alone is enough to say, “crap Jon why am I eating this piece of bread!” 

Another point that I need to harp about is that saturated fat is not bad for you! Saturated fat does not cause high cholesterol or heart disease….period. Watch the informative video I posted for a little history on how we came upon this scientific lie. The cause of heart disease is extremely complex and is mainly from inflammation and oxidized proteins circulating in the blood. This oxidation is caused by a myriad of things including gluten, Omega-6 fatty acids, and trans fat. High cholesterol compared to low total cholesterol is actually found to decrease mortality, increase cognitive function, and decrease risk of depression. If all of these points make you want to curl up into a vegan ball of fear then you should pick up Grain Brain, Wheat Belly, The Primal Blueprint, or Paleo Manifesto. So my prescription to my readers is simple: Try your best to avoid grains, processed oils, eat less than 100 grams of carbs a day, lift weights regularly, walk in nature regularly, sprint once a week, and get plenty of sleep. So get rid of the gluten and excess carbs so you can start feeling like the best version of yourself.