Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Snacktime in My Kitchen

Here is a photo of all visible food in my kitchen:
Along the back wall, we have glass containers of raw nuts, unsalted roasted nuts, grains, and legumes.  It's easy and attractive to organize your dry foods using inexpensive 2 quart Ball jars.  They also have the advantage of being moth-proof.  On the left, we have fresh fruit and a few onions.  On the far left in the background is our hand-cranked conical burr grinder, for occasional coffee (Skerton).
If I walk into my kitchen between meals, the only food available to eat without doing any cooking or reheating is unsalted nuts and fresh fruit.  There is no other snack food in the kitchen.  No chips, cookies, bars, popcorn, snack mix, candy, or anything else that's tempting and easy to grab and devour. 
When it's mealtime, we eat good home-cooked food.  When it isn't mealtime, we don't have anything available that we would eat without feeling genuinely hungry.  If we do feel genuinely hungry, fresh fruit and unsalted nuts make a satisfying snack.

This is the way of my people. 

What's the point?  Eliminating tempting food cues from our surroundings and creating small barriers to food consumption decreases the quantity of food we eat while increasing the quality.  Engineering a food environment that discourages eating for reasons other than hunger helps match food intake to the body's true energy needs, favoring leanness and health.


Aaron said...

Fantastic minimalism in practice. Do you ever get worried about eating too many nuts if your consumption averages over 1oz a day (potential kidney or intestinal issues)?
I was also wondering the oz's of meat you typically consume in a day. I have always had issues with eggs so I'm usually left with chicken/turkey/beef (at the same time I usually like to keep it to less than 6oz). Lastly, how often would you say you'd have something like a beignet or a coke? Do you allow yourself pizza every so often?

Franc said...

Stacking the deck are you? :)

Looks a lot like our kitchen with one exception, i'm a sucker for salted smoked almonds

@Aaron what's your issue with eggs?

raphi said...


Do you think people should try to get their hunger/cravings under control to the point where any snacking isn't a daily or weekly habit but more of an occasional, happenstance indulgence?

Also, could you tell us what are in the "grains and legumes" jars?


Unknown said...

Hi Stephen,
don't you worry about oxidization by light when you store your nuts and grains in clear/transparent glass containers?

SamAbroad said...

This ties in with a battle that is currently being waged in Ireland about whether junk food impulse buys should be banned from the supermarket checkouts.

I feel these should be banned as they are obviously there to take advantage of last minute impulse buys driven by hungry shoppers and pester-power.

When I made this point others refer to personal responsibility and the 'nanny state'. I can't help but feel nothing will change on a macro scale until we start seriously addressing these environmental issues.

Sanjeev said...

> creating small barriers to food consumption decreases the quantity of food we eat

I've been reading that having a small temptation available and successfully resisting it develops/strengthens executive function.

one must probably gauge one's starting point - be sure there's a high probability of successfully resisting or risk being discouraged.

there are also consumer devices which used to be very expensive (real time-locked safes) but now there is this

I doubt this improves executive function though.

Mirrorball said...

My kitchen would be like yours if it had more nuts and it also has all sorts of disgusting snacks that other people like but I despise, so there's nothing to tempt me... Except for the fruit. Oh, the fruit! What do you recommend for fruitaholics? I'm always hungry for them. My stomach is bottomless pit for bananas.

Aaron said...


I have slight allergenic symptoms from eggs almost always (scratchy throat and stuffy nose).

Also, I'm not sold on the amount of cholesterol, AA, and even choline in eggs. I admit there are a lot of other beneficial nutrients.

Sanjeev said...

after showing the web link properly in the preview, blogger mangled it, so here 'tis again -

Stephan Guyenet said...

Thank you all for the interesting comments.

Hi Aaron,

I don't restrict nuts and I'm not aware of any dangers of eating too many as long as I'm not overconsuming calories. Am I missing something?

I don't ever drink soda because I don't enjoy it, but I do occasionally eat pizza, ice cream, cake, or smoke a cigar! I would allow myself an occasional soda if I enjoyed it.

I eat a bit less meat than most Americans, but my total kcal intake is also high, so as a percentage my meat intake is probably moderately lower than average.

Hi Raphi,

I think that depends. If you're highly active and lean, you might need snacks to meet your energy needs. If you're overweight and less active, it might make sense to limit eating between meals, especially if you aren't actually hungry. One exception is that it's not usually good to go into a meal super hungry. Sometimes taking the edge off with a healthy snack helps support good decisions at the meal. For example, eating a piece of fruit at the beginning of each meal has been shown to increase weight loss.

In the jars, from left: roasted almonds, raw almonds, popcorn kernels, split peas, white rice, brown lentils, chickpeas, buckwheat, brown rice, oatmeal. My main starch is potatoes and sweet potatoes though. I eat a lot of beans and lentils and a moderate amount of rice.

Hi Felix,

I haven't thought about that. I'm not too concerned about non-fatty seeds like grains/legumes, but you may be right about the nuts. One option would be to paint the jars on the outside. That could be a fun project.

Hi Sam,

I agree with you. Leaving it to "personal responsibility" is equivalent to doing nothing to help the problem.

Hi Mirrorball,

It's all about eliminating tempting food cues. If you tend to overeat fruit, then perhaps fruit should be out of sight or even out of the house. However, binging on fruit is a lot less damaging than binging on cake or pizza.

Most fresh fruit is highly satiating per calorie, but there is one exception: bananas. If you believe the "satiety index" paper, bananas are about as satiating as white bread! This is probably one of the reasons why fruitarians focus on bananas: it's hard to get enough calories on such a diet, so they prefer fruit that goes down easily.

Hi Sanjeev,

That is funny. Has it really come to this?

Also, I'm hungry for cookies now...

Newbie said...

Any idea why that is about bananas specifically?
Is there a suggested hormonal/biochemical mechanism?

Sanjeev said...

>Hi Sanjeev,
>That is funny. Has it really come to this?

it's a new product but the technique is old- here are some more variations on the willpower-support, tracking, awareness idea- to wit, donate money when one's goals are not met:

(the actual site looks to be down at the moment)

and a slightly different one-

And of course the original time-locked safes- real metal safes- were regularly repurposed to support will power efforts for many years- I recall reading a self proclaimed internet addict claiming they locked up their modem so they could get some work done.

Sanjeev said...

off topic question for you Stephan, have you seen anything like natto for lentils/legumes/beans?

I'm thinking some culture does it, I just don't know the right search terms to find it.

raphi said...


"[...] if you aren't actually hungry" - What are the consensus definitions in your field for actual hunger vs cravings vs starving? I ask as I've failed to find consistent definitions across multiple studies.

"One exception is that it's not usually good to go into a meal super hungry" How so? How does IF enter the picture here?

"For example, eating a piece of fruit at the beginning of each meal has been shown to increase weight loss." Makes sense, considering the modern food environment. I'm guessing those studies were comparing a Western Diet type meal with or without a piece of fruit before eating it; i.e., fruit displacing processed food options, & not fruit displacing other healthy whole food options?
Or not - set me straight.

Thanks for the jar descriptions....tu sait ce qu'on te demandera maintenant, non? Le frigo, le frigo! :)

elbatrofmoc said...

Hi Stephan,

Your kitchen countertop looks awesome! One thing that I think is important to keep in mind is that the content of one's fridge is as important. I used to have this strange habit of almost completely unconsciously opening my fridge every now and then and staring blankly into its interior, without any particular reason (even when I wasn't really hungry). I find it pretty weird, but I know that I'm not the only person who does that. I'm not sure, but I guess there is not much difference between keeping things on the counter and keeping them in the fridge (correct me if I'm wrong).

One final question, do you only roast nuts (could you share what temperatures you use and for how long you keep them in the oven), or do you first soak and dehydrate them? I'm asking because I have never done it and would like to try. Thanks

Sanjeev said...

found 2 ambiguities in the fermenting question above

> anything like natto for lentils/legumes/beans?

should be:
anything like natto for lentils/legumes/beans other than soybeans?

> some culture does it

should be:
some human culture does a thorough fermentation (not the cursory fermentation that soaking may do)

Logan said...

This is the most reasonable bit of weight loss advice I've ever heard. This is what we keep our house like even with little kids. I don't want my kids being raised to think snacking is normal or healthy. Which is still a completely normal approach in other cultures.

Daniel said...

"I don't restrict nuts and I'm not aware of any dangers of eating too many as long as I'm not overconsuming calories. Am I missing something?"

You used to believe consuming more than, say, 4% of your calories as polyunsaturated fat was unhealthy. Nuts are high in polyunsaturated fat so eating too many is a good way to exceed 4%. Have you changed your views on polyunsaturated fats? If so, given that was a theme of your blog from 2008-2011, perhaps you should consider a blog post on this topic.

jewiuqas said...

Stephan, from what I see on the photo and from your comments I would say you have fully abandoned your previous views concerning phytic acid. Do you make any effort to neutralize PA in all these seeds (this is a term, I reckon, that fits all of them) before consuming them? Am I right thinking that during the last few years your attitude to PA as well as to vegetarianism versus carnivory has undergone a great change? Would it not be time to revisit this subject in some of the next posts, just to keep us informed?

Stephan Guyenet said...

Hi Daniel,

Ah yes, that is true. I've become increasingly skeptical of the 4% rule because it is based on studies in rodents in which the diet didn't include pre-formed long-chain PUFA. It probably doesn't apply to humans who eat pre-formed LC-PUFA. One thing I've gradually realized is that LC-PUFA concentrations seem to be regulated by the body, they do not just respond passively to the quantity of precursor ingested. That among other things has made the 4% idea less appealing. I think LA from whole foods is probably fine and doesn't need to be managed as long as the diet contains sufficient omega-3.

That said, I still avoid refined seed oils (except a small amount of high-oleic sunflower oil for occasional high-heat cooking) because they are the fat equivalent of refined sugar, and the polyunsaturated ones oxidize easily during cooking.

Hi jewiuqas,

I haven't changed my mind about phytic acid, but I have relaxed a bit about it. Phytic acid is not the devil, it just reduces mineral absorption, so that needs to be considered in meal planning. PA-rich foods are not something that needs to be avoided at all costs, they just shouldn't be the main basis of the diet.

For example, I eat non-soaked oatmeal once or twice a week. I usually eat it with yogurt to add readily absorbed minerals. I always soak beans/lentils for 12-24 hrs prior to cooking, which allows 30-70% of the PA to break down during cooking. It's not necessary to get rid of it all. I soak/ferment brown rice to break down PA, or I'll cook it in bone broth without soaking to add minerals. Sometimes I'll have popcorn just because I like it. This is OK in the context of a diet that is otherwise rich in easily absorbed minerals from fruit, vegetables, and animal foods.

Stephan Guyenet said...

Also, I still believe the optimal human diet is omnivorous, which is the same as always.

Jane said...

'PA-rich foods are not something that needs to be avoided at all costs, they just shouldn't be the main basis of the diet.'

Hmmm. They are the main basis of my diet, and have been for 30 years. I do not appear to have mineral deficiencies. I haven't seen a doctor for 25 years except for a thorn in my thumb.

I had skeletal deformities which are now corrected. This depends on good levels of minerals and was not happening on my previous diet, which was by no means unhealthy.

I did this experiment because I needed to know whether the diet found by McCarrison to produce good health 100 years ago in India would work with modern western ingredients. I also needed to know whether a very inexpensive diet could produce good health.

Needless to say, my colleagues at Oxford did not approve of what I was doing, and threw me out. I am very glad they did, because it meant I could spend the next 30 years reading the literature. Nothing I have read makes me think a high-PA diet is unhealthy, although under certain circumstances it can be, like any diet.

jewiuqas said...

Hi Stephan,
As to phytic acid I agree with you that a certain amount in the diet is normal, even desirable. A 100% PA-free diet would certainly be artificial, and by the way quite difficult to achieve. Studies show quite a bit of diffusion as to the ability of PA to bind minerals in vivo. It has been shown that vitamin-rich foods ingested in the same meal as PA can to a great degree stave off its negative effects, above all foods with high vitamin C content. But again, results are rather contradictory. It also can be taken for sure that modern man consumes much more PA than our hunter-gatherer ancestors, even if we can only have indirect information on their diets.
What you say about linoleic acid perplexes me somewhat. You had several posts in the past in which you show graphs that LA consumption has multiplied in the course of the 20th century in industrialized nations. One graph shows the evolution of subcutaneous LA concentration during the same period. You draw parallels between criminality and LA in the diet and allude to possible far reaching health consequences of this nutrition trend. In the present post you state that LA from whole foods is okay if balanced with omega-3 fats. Do you mean that LA from whole foods does not change the body’s fat composition? So, if I choose, for example, cold pressed (linoleic) sunflower oil as my main fat, it would not influence my subcutaneous LA concentration the same as refined oil? To counterbalance LA with omega-3, considering the scarcity of the latter, is not too plausible.

richie said...

Hi Stephan. Do you use roasted and raw almonds for variability? Or do you see a benefit in having some of your almonds roasted since roasting neutralizes some of the phytic acid?

Unknown said...

Hello Stephan. I like how your showing others the right way to eat healthy. I'm a mother of 3(I have a 5 year old son and twin boy and girl making 4 on Easter) and I'm so happy that my little ones love their fruits and veggies. Sometimes our lives can be so busy and we tend to eat lots of fast foods, but in my home I do my own cooking most of the time. I love to cook beans, fish, not so much beef, chicken. My kids would tell me "Mommy we want sports candy (fruits)."

Aaron said...

Not sure if you'll read this stephan, but what about vegetable intake?