Monday, July 28, 2008

where have we been

My computer is currently decomposing.  We will be back, with Gusto, soon.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Eat your Bacon

Bacon is good for you!

We are so paralyzed by the fat myth that we cannot imagine Bacon as being a nice healthy food to eat. 

Let's imagine first that our bacon comes from pasture raised pigs.  The balance of fatty acids (omega 6 and omega 3) is solid in pasture animals. 
For your supermarket bacon the same cannot be said, and I would stay away from it.

This is now health food.  With nice anti-oxidant saturated fat, a massive amount of mono-unsaturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, as well as good proteins.  This is wonderful, hearty, healthy stuff.  If you want your high density lipoproteins (HDL) to increase and your very low density lipoproteins (VLDL) to decrease, do yourself a favor and fry up some bacon!  I actually save my bacon grease and cook with it.  

Get on board.  Bacon and Eggs is a tried and true breakfast.  Let's enjoy it.  

What to drink, take 2

How much sugar, what kind of sugar, fuck it, it's too confusing.

Let's get started then, it was brought to my attention that a very popular drink block is vitamin water/tea drinks.  First, to clear up some sugar mysteries:  

1 teaspoon sugar = about 4 grams.

So if you are drinking a 6 oz. cup of tea with milk (about 2 oz.) and 1 teaspoon of sugar, you are getting 4 grams of refined sugar and 3 grams of milk sugar.  7 grams total.   Add another teaspoon of sugar and you are looking at 8 grams + 3 grams for the milk.   Bear in mind however, that the milk sugars are not nearly as troublesome as refined sugars.  If you eat raw cane sugar, or use honey or agave nectar and the like, you are far better off.

Now, lets compare that to some popular beverages:

Snapple Iced Tea, lemon.   25 grams sugar, all of it High Fructose Corn Syrup.  The green tea is little better, with 24 grams of sugar.  (Only six cups of tea in one!)

Vitamin Water Multi-V.  13 grams.  Crystalline fructose and cane sugar.  (3 cups of tea here)

I really like Inko's White Teas, the maximum sugar content of their teas is 7 grams, crystalline fructose.  But I actually drink their sugar free drinks now more often then the others. (almost 2 cups of tea, or one cup a heaping teaspoon)

I also like the Honest Tea brand, most of their teas have 5 grams of sugar.  Their Mango tea has 10.5 grams per 8 oz serving, the highest sugar content of their drinks.  

Coca Cola is only a bit worse then Snapple, with 28.5 grams per 8 oz serving.  (almost 7 cups of tea!)

What about the Vitamins?

The beverage companies have been throwing vitamins and minerals back in their drinks for a while now.  Smart Water, Vitamin Water, etc, whenever you see "electrolytes", "anti-oxidents" etc, this is code for, "we put some good stuff back in the drink".  

Vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, what are they all?  Well, we know vitamins pretty well.  We put Vitamin D in milk (though the most important source of Vitamin D is sunlight!), we love our OJ for its vitamin C.  These things we know about.  But what of the others?

Electrolytes - Ions that are important to homeostatic balance.  Sodium is an electrolyte, so are potassium and magnesium.  All of which can be found in a good mineral-rich water source.  My favorite water, Gerolsteiner is mineral rich, containing, Sodium, Potassium, Magnesium, and calcium. 

However, if you look at the ingredients for Multi-V Vitamin Water you find that the water has been de-ionized.  Why would we de-ionize our water?  The answer is likely that the source water is not as high in quality as the Gerolsteiner source.  Perhaps containing too much flouride, or trace amounts of arsenic or anti-depressants.  So the companies purify the water (a very popular practice here in America) then add vitamins and minerals back in.  This does not occur much with american seltzer brands, as adding sodium back in to the water is anathema, due to the mythology that sodium causes hypertension.  

This is the same hoodwink that "enriched flour" embodies.  Food producers strip flour of all its nutrients (white flour) largely because it looked pure and lovely,  (this was primarily a european affectation, white sugar has the same reasoning at its origin), then we find that this is not a great idea, so we put nutrients back in.  Of course we could just use wholemeal flour and none of these shenanigans would be necessary.

Antioxidants - The key to anti-oxidants is what they seem to inhibit, which is oxidation.  Oxidation in the body is primarily important because it hardens (actually closer to the rust process) very low density lipo-proteins (VLDL or triglycerides) as they get themselves stuck to artery walls.  This is a primary patho-mechanism of atherosclerosis.  Oxidation can also produce large numbers of free-radicals,  or Oxygen ions which damage cells and generally wreak havoc on the internal milieu.  
Most Vitamins are antioxidants, as are polyphenols (found in red-wine, from the skin of the grapes), Co-enzyme Q10, Lutein (found in dark green veggies), and Lignan (found in flax, oat, barley and rye).

Hope this helps.

Be Well.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What the hell do I drink?!?

Simple rules:

1.  Water, not too much, your body weight in ounces if you are very active is perfectly good.  A bit less if you are not that active.  
{Edit: it should read "1/2 your body weight in ounces"}
Personally, I get most of my water from Sparkling Mineral bottles, which I sadly must purchase.
the best water out there:  Gerolsteiner.  Try it, you will be converted.
Mineral water in general is the way to go.  Most waters outside of america are left with their minerals intact.  We developed some kind of sideways logic that purified = good.  This may be the case in our polluted city water supplies across the country, but not from good sources.  Minerals should stay in.  They have a fancy name in modern health food jargon:  Electrolytes.

2.  Juices.  They are delicious, I love them, but they have a bit too much concentrated sugar in them, so they are best enjoyed lightly or very moderately.

3.  Sodas.  None.  Just say no!  The concentrated corn sugar is basically Adult onset Diabetes in a can.  Diet sodas are filled with aspartame or sorbitol-like substances - these collect in your capillary beds causing things like retinopathy, neuropathy, nephropathy - you don't want these things, and anyone with diabetes knows that they are at risk for them.  The magic part:  drink diet soda and you don't even need diabetes to go blind, lose nervous control, or have renal failure.

4.  Beer.  See #3 Sodas.  Beer is also loaded with concentrated sugars.  Makes you fat.

5.  Wine.  1-2 servings/day.  Red is better then white.

6.  Liquor.  1-2 servings/day, if not accompanied by wine.  

7.  Shakes/smoothies - don't bother, eat veggies and fruits.

8.  Tea/Coffee - fine if not accompanied by sugar.  Both should be moderately consumed.  Too much coffee is obviously problematic, as it drains your adrenal glands.  I wonder if anyone has looked into an association of heavy coffee consumption and Addison's Disease (hypoadrenal).

Be well.

What the hell do I eat?!?

I have been at this for several months now, and I think I finally have some baseline diet recommendations.  

It is important in making food suggestions to actually suggest food.  I will not sit here and give out percentages of diet that should be fat, calories, whatever the fuck.   No, I will give you actual food suggestions.

Food.  What to eat.

All fats are a combination of saturated, poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated content, (see a nice chart on fat content here) the distinctions below are based on the highest content of each type.  The fat content we should be eating can vary greatly.  It is fine to eat very little saturated fat, as well as quite a bit of it.  If we are not eating the hydrogenated fats and not cooking with poly-unsaturated fats we will be fine.
The suggestion that a high fat diet is responsible for Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cancer, etc. etc. is erroneous.

Saturated fats for eating directly:  Red Meat, butter, milk, cheeses, eggs
Saturated fats for cooking:  Butter, Lard, Coconut Oil

{Update:  Red meat is actually 51% mono-unsaturated fat, or oleic fatty acid, 45% is saturated and 4% poly-unsaturated}

Poly-unsaturated fats for eating directly:  vegetable oils, sesame oil.
NOTE:  do not cook with vegetable oils, they are associated with various cancers when used in cooked dishes.  I use only sesame oil, and i use it in the chinese way:  that is, sprinkled on top of a cooked dish after removal from heat.

Mono-unsaturated fats:  Olive oil, avocado, nuts.
NOTE:  nuts should be cooked in some ways, I do not know more then to say that several of my most reliable chinese medical teachers suggest that raw nuts are unhealthy.

Combination fats:  These are foods that spread the fats around, encompassing all three kinds of fats.  Chicken and poultry, fish, fish oil, flax oil.  

On grains:  Grains that are not refined.  Eat whole grains, the quantity is unimportant, as both a high and low content of whole grains has been correlated throughout history with a lack of chronic disease.
NOTE:  Vegetables should, by and large, be cooked.  Cellulose cannot be digested, and it locks in nutrients that cannot be digested unless we start breaking down its molecular structure with heat.

Eat:  Brown rice, whole wheat, whole grains, Oats, high-gluten, low-gluten, whatever, it's all fine.  Unrefined sugars - cane, honey, nectars.

Do not eat:  white flour, white rice, refined sugar.  They have had their nutrients stripped, and repeatedly throughout history have been associated with a higher incidence of all major chronic diseases.  Sugar is the worst.  Stop eating it now.
Sadly, for me, this means limiting the amount of pizza and bagels I eat.  I used to be a 8-12 meals a week guy on those two staples.  But no more. 

On corn:  Sweet Corn is great stuff, but should never be eaten without the vegetables that it has traditionally been grown with:  Peppers, Avocados, Tomatos.  These veggies unlock the nutrients in corn.  
Refined corn should not be consumed.  Although I very occasionally cheat with polenta, which tastes too damn good with olive oil and pine nuts.
Corn accounts for most of our sweeteners these days, and they should all be shunned.   Sodas, candy, etc.  

Protein and fiber and micronutrients
The content of protein and fiber, as well as the micronutrients will sort itself if you are eating a healthy variety of foods.  Veggies, nuts and meats all have protein in them, grains, veggies and fruits have fiber.  They all, if prepared right have gobs of nutrients.

the key for protein is not eating un-fermented soy products.  It is time to cut soy milk, tofu (unless in a meat dish, or with meat dishes), soy protein, etc, from our diets.  Soy, as I have written before, inhibits protein and vitamin and mineral digestion.

Food.  Where to purchase.

Most of my food is now purchased at farmer's markets.  this is the only way to ensure that the growers have been responsible (they must be or they will quickly go out of business) in presenting their wares.  Most farmer's markets have strict standards for quality, if not organic, then equal or better.  this is definitely more expensive then the supermarket, but cuts can come from other places in order to make the farmer's market possible.  For example, I do not use an air-conditioner, saving a decent chuck of change over the summer months.  I also do not buy more then 2-3 new pieces of clothing each year, usually 1 pair of jeans and 1-2 shirts.

The second source of foods I like are specialty markets like the italian deli across the street from my apartment.  Caputo's Fine Foods is a fantastic little market in which the family has been selling their own homemade cheeses and pastas as well as the best imported italian food products for generations.  Stores like this have standards that they have not broken, many, like Caputo's have been around before the food fads, government interventions, and bad medical science intervened in our diets.  
Stores like this can be found all over New York City, and in any other places in which a small ethnic population still clings to its traditions.  Astoria for greek markets, Greenpoint for polish markets, Much of south brooklyn for jewish, russian, italian markets, and many others scattered around the 5 boroughs of NY.  I have found small ethnic markets in many other places around the country, not all of them urban.  

How to eat.

1.  Eat fresh.  though this is not a hard and fast rule.  I like imported foods, like anchovies and San Marzano tomatoes.  These foods are not "fresh" but they are preserved in a way that is not chemically detrimental.  In the same way it is always fine to eat pickled vegetables, fermented soy products, and other fermented products.  
2.  Eat Moderately.  Keeping slim is as much about what we eat as it is about how much we eat.  If we eliminate sugars and refined sugars and eat a moderate amount (2000-2500 calories/day) then we will be strong, slender and healthy.
3.  Eat Calmly.  The digestive system can instantly be abandoned by our blood.  When we eat, we focus a large portion of our blood on the abdomen in order to facilitate the movements of the digestive organs, and the transfer of nutrients.  However, if we eat angry, scared, upset, our Cortisol levels will be raised, Cortisol will divert attention away from the digestive system and toward the muscular, endocrine and nervous systems.  The result will be poor digestion.  So eat calm, and eat without reading or watching television.  It is also beneficial to eat with good company.  This both slows down the process of eating and is a nice adjacent process.  In chinese medical theory the thought and synthesis that goes into conversation is guided by the "Earth" organs of the body, the Stomach and the Spleen/Pancreas.  These two organs are our primary digestive bodies.  The association benefits both processes (digesting and communicating).

When to eat.

1.  Eat seasonally.  shopping at farmer's markets make this possible.  It restores a sense of balance in our diets.  I have been doing it for nearly 3 months now, and I have a much improved respect for our farmers and their products in that short time.  Subjectively speaking, I am feeling great, lots of fruits, veggies, eggs, chicken, fish.  No red meat (with one exception that gave me heartburn) until the late fall.   Pork is a bit of year rounder for me, I love the proscuitto and bacon, both of which are year round treats.  

2.  It is important to eat somewhat regularly.  Anyone who has had a dog or a small child knows that these simpler beings thrive on regularity.  As adults we are a bit more flexible, but it is still better to eat regularly then not.  And it is not a great idea to eat after 10pm.  This flies in the face of the prevailing wisdom in the mediterranean countries I have visited, but they have lifestyle alterations that counterbalance the late hour of their dinners.  We in America generally do not have those counterbalances - long strolls through town, afternoon siestas, etc.

These suggestions are intended as a baseline guide, not a comprehensive diet plan.  Fill in the rest as you go, which is my plan.

Be well.

Sources:  my biomedical coursework, including Pathophysiology for each system of the body; Chinese Medical Dietetic recommendations, mostly from the combined knowledge of my teachers on the subject; Gary Taubes "Good Calories, Bad Calories"; Michael Pollan "Omnivore's Dilemma"; 4 months of research driven by this blog, and my own ideas based on 10 years of conscious eating.

{Addendum:  there are many aspects of food I have not mentioned, mostly in the context of Meat eating.  For information of Omega 3's and the right meats to eat click here}

Fat and the sexes

Of all the hubris, bad science, politics, hand-wringing, strident talk of saving lives and etc that went into demonizing saturated fat and cholesterol in the name of reducing the risk of heart disease, the one that gets me the most is this:

All the studies until 1987 were of men.

When we finally looked at women (through the emerging data at the framingham heart study and several that followed) we found that none of the correlations of men (higher CHD rates and lower overall mortality) of a high fat diet were apparent for women.  Women seem to have a much higher tolerance for blood cholesterol then men.  

Now, the evidence also started mounting that a low-fat diet was associated with higher rates of cancer and stroke.  In fact, from the very start we have found both in tests in which we followed groups (framingham) and in randomized control experiments, that the mortality rate of a high fat diet (>30%) is lower then a low fat diet.  Additionally, test after test has found higher rates of cancer the lower the fat content becomes.

So, we have been recommending to women for nearly 60 years that they significantly lower their Saturated Fat content in their diets (Milk, cheese, red-meat, coconut oil, butter) in order to prevent heart disease.   All along we were finding only that a higher saturated fat diet had a slightly higher association with CHD in MEN.  Additionally we were finding that the low fat diet also had a higher overall mortality rate.  And we never tested women.

A good friend of mine keeps telling me that the medical establishment is filled to the brim with well-meaning, intelligent, caring, incremental thinkers, who are not pushed around by fads and poor data.  

I just don't believe her anymore.  We must look more closely at everything we have come to believe.  

That is just what I did - I looked at the latest framingham data from their website.  Here are some bits:

Probabilities Pts 2-yr - Men, ages 35-74, chance of CHD event (heart attack or stroke)

0 0% 14 1% 28 17%
2 0% 16 2% 30 24%
4 0% 18 3% 32 32%
6 0% 20 4% 34 43%
8 0% 22 6%
10 1% 24 9%
12 1% 26 12%

The chart for women is quite similar, but is separated into menopause groups and non-menopause groups, so I have left it out.  The point system works this way:  Points are assigned to risk factors (high cholesterol, HBP, smoking, etc.)  

What this chart shows us, according the the point assignments on the 2-year risk factor page is that a man or women needs a score of 10 or more to be at risk of a CHD event.  For a 50 year old non-smoking woman, according to framingham, to be at risk she must have a cholesterol level of 290 or above and a systolic BP of 180 or more.  And that would give her an increased risk of 1%.  

{Note:  Doctors will usually medicate a cholesterol of >200 and a systolic of >130}

Look over the figures yourself, those I refer to can be found here.

Be Well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Stupidity reigns

We should now give statin drugs to fat kids.   read all about it here and here.

I know where my food comes from, how about you?

“The purpose of the recordkeeping provision of the Bioterrorism Act was to support going back to the origin of food after people have gotten sick when you are trying to find out how the biological agent got there,” said Michael Taylor, a professor at the George Washington University and a former F.D.A. official.  “But the provisions are of little or no value with respect to trace-backs of fresh produce because of the amount of shoe leather and time it would take.”

This is from today's NYtimes which reports on the now 1,000+ people in this country sick from a nefarious salmonella outbreak.  The problem is that we cannot find out where the food is coming from.  Why? Because nobody knows, and the FDA does not require a label of origin on food.

Last week I ate carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, onions and garlic from Madura Farms, Middletown, NY, and chicken from JohnBoy's Farm, Pound Ridge, NY.  I have had sausage and eggs this week for breakfasts, the sausage from Mountain Products Smokehouse, LaGrangeville, NY and the eggs from Tello's (local greenmarket).

If I have any problems I know exactly where each farmer is located and I can go and complain.  This kind of transparency separates small farmers from large agribusiness.  If John Boy's chicken got me sick he would know about it right away, because I would trek over to Pound Ridge and give him a piece of my mind.  

These producers have the burden of quality.  They will go out of business if anything goes wrong with their food.  Their negligence cannot be hidden away by middlemen and supermarket distribution.  Their food has no label because they stand next to it when they sell it.  And I must continue to stand with them.  

I have said it before, and I will say it again:  buying proper food is a political act.  Big agribusiness is standing on the shoulders of corporate welfare, small farms are standing on their own feet.  Let's all stand with them.

Be Well.

Resist! It is all we have left.

Well, not exactly.  But one conservative writer, a philosophy student at Berkeley, has called on conservatives to embrace the Slow Food International ethics for food culture.  He talks about a nice old hippy in berkeley who is bringing farming and cooking into her local middle school.  I love it when conservatives come around to these kinds of causes, smug bastard that I am.

Anyway, here is a quote from the article, the "little platoons" would be schoolchildren who farm and eat their own food at school.

"Hence even the smallest acts of resistance to the hegemony of the present system, where corporate representatives and industry-funded scientists at public universities collaborate with government officials on regulatory policies and nutritional guidelines, are crucial steps in recovering local culture and reconstituting our “little platoons.” This will nurture the ability to govern—or resist being governed."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica

The times has a bit on 11 healthy foods.   The list is a nice one, as it includes a wide variety of food and spices.  Beets, Cinnamon, Sardines and 8 others are listed with easy suggestions for preparation.

Check it out here.

Be Well.