Saturday, December 27, 2008

Free Book About Lunch

By Diana Hsieh

As the saying goes, there's no such thing as a free lunch. However, you can get a free book about breakfast, lunch, and dinner!

Yesterday, I was delighted to discover that Dr. Michael Eades announced that he and his wife, Dr. Mary Dan Eades, were offering their book The Protein Power Lifeplan for free. (It's a Christmas present; they've done it in the past. Go Santa!) You just have to pay shipping if you order it online. It's totally free if you can pick it up in person in Eagle, Idaho. The offer ends on January 5th.

Guy Adamson of FA/RM wrote me about the offer this morning, saying:

This is an excellent book on diet I highly recommend. Even if you have read Protein Power, I think LifePlan is a more complete book ... If Good Calories, Bad Calories scare the grains [and sugars!] out of you, LifePlan takes similar information and presents it in a way you can apply to your life.
I've not yet read Protein Power but I'm a huge fan of Dr. Eades' blog. So I'll be ordering my copy this weekend, probably with some krill oil.

Thank you, Drs. Eades!

Read more...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Breakfast This Morning

By Diana Hsieh

This morning, Paul and I split the following tasty bits for breakfast:

  • 1.5 slices uncured bacon (Applegate Farms)
  • 4 slices uncured Canadian bacon (Applegate Farms)
  • 3 farm fresh eggs fried in bacon grease
  • 1.5 cups cauliflower, leftover from dinner
  • 4 slices of raw milk cheddar cheese (Organic Valley)
  • 1/2 an avocado
  • 1 clementine
I prepared the whole breakfast in about 15 minutes. It was fabulously delicious, wonderfully hearty, and perfectly healthy. And to think, a year ago, I would have preferred pancakes and syrup!

Read more...

Food Link-O-Rama

By Diana Hsieh

Because I don't have time to write up my planned post on barefoot running (!!), I'm going to dump some links on you from my overflowing "Blog Me - Food" bookmarks folder. It's good stuff, so enjoy!

  • I recently discovered Lorette C. Luzajic, a food writer for Gremolata, via a two part interview on Modern Forager: Part I and Part 2. I very much liked the interview -- and the two articles that I read:
    • Spilling The Beans: The Trouble with Soy. If you eat tofu -- or processed foods of any kind, most of which contain soy -- you might want to think twice about this supposed health food.

    • I'm A Natural Born Killer. Is vegetarianism the healthy lifestyle that most of us just don't have the willpower to adopt? Or is it just modern asceticism slathered in propaganda?
    Also, her blog looks interesting, although not often updated.

  • Stephan has been kicking ass and taking names, yet again. Go check out his latest offerings. You'll never look at your french fries the same again -- and not because of the carb-heavy potatoes.

  • "Eat a Balanced Diet" and Other Useless Advice by Johnny Bowden. He nails the problem with advice like "eat a balanced diet," "everything in moderation, "eat less junk food," and even "eat more fruits and vegetables." He writes:
    What is a balanced diet? What elements should be balanced? Everything in moderation? Does that include sugar for sugar addicts, or alcohol for alcoholics? What is junk food? Is it synonomous with fast food? All fast food, or just some of it? You mean "slow food" can't be junk? And which fruits and vegetables should we eat "more of?" How much more? Are they all created equal? Are fruits and vegetables even equivalent on the nutritional pantheon?
    He then offers some basic (and good) answers to those questions.

  • Inside the Story: Gary Taubes: What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? An interesting interview with Gary Taubes about his 2002 NY Times article, What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?. Here's a tidbit:
    HENRY: Did the reaction to your NYT Magazine story surprise you?

    TAUBES: Yes. Even though I knew the article would be the most controversial article the Times Magazine ran all year, it still shocked me. More than anything, it was the viciousness of some of the responses. One of my good friends in the science journalism business--someone who had written a book on obesity and concluded, as the establishment insists, that the culprits are over-consumption of fatty diets and inactivity--went from considering me one of the four or five best science writers in the country to accusing me of having had a brain transplant and making up the story to get a big book deal.
    I'm not surprised.

  • The Great Divide. A surprisingly good Washington Post article on the Weston A. Price Foundation.

    Read more...
  • Wednesday, December 17, 2008

    Mayo Clinic?

    By Diana Hsieh

    This evening, I decided to make some ham salad with a good hunk of leftover uncured ham, but I didn't like the look or smell of the non-fat mayo I had in the fridge from my pre-paleo days. So I made my own mayonnaise using Monica's recipe. It turned out yummy -- and unlike the non-fat mayo, very real!

    Read more...

    Saturday, December 13, 2008

    The Effect of Laying Off Carbs

    By Greg Perkins

    Last week I mentioned mending my high-carb ways. Tammy's been documenting my progress in swimsuit photos -- sorry, half-naked middle-aged-man alert! -- and since I wasn't thinking there was much of a difference so far, she dug into her archive today to show me the contrast between now and two and a half months ago. (click to zoom in, if you dare)

    Yep, it turns out that making meals of whole bags of tortilla chips with sugary margaritas wasn't helping. But more important, I simply feel better!

    Read more...

    FA/RM

    By Diana Hsieh

    I'm delighted to report that Dr. Monica Hughes recently launched Free Agriculture - Restore Markets (FA/RM) -- a new organization devoted to promoting "agricultural and health policies based solely on the principles of individual rights." Check out the web site including the goals of the organization, opportunities for activism, and readings on rights. Also, be sure to bookmark the blog.

    Until quite recently, I was almost entirely ignorant of the nature and extent of the government controls on agriculture and food production. Sure, I'd heard vague tidbits here and there, but I didn't realize the breadth and depth of the sheer insanity until I began doing just a wee bit of digging for myself, often with Monica's help.

    The simple fact is that the pursuit of one's life, health, and happiness requires a government that respects and upholds the rights of property and contract in all aspects of food production, distribution, and consumption. We have nothing of the sort in America today. The rights of individuals (i.e. producers and consumers) are utterly disregarded by the state -- often in ways that border on a police state (e.g. see here, here, and here). The growing alarming about "carbon emissions" threatens to unleash even more life-threatening statist controls. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

    Our daily sustenance is in peril.

    Visit FA/RM for more.

    Read more...

    Saturday, December 06, 2008

    Fasting and Feasting This Thanksgiving

    By Greg Perkins

    The day before Thanksgiving, Tammy and I tried fasting for the first time! And we didn't die. (Though I'm pretty sure we would have died if we had tried it a few months ago, before mending our high-carb ways.)

    I'd been hearing murmurs about potential benefits of occasional fasting (and more so now that I'm paying attention to some of the blogs and other resources that folks have been pointing out here on Noodlefood). Like the general concept of shaking up the system to keep it on its genetic toes, using the energy stored in body fat, boosting muscle production, strengthening the immune system, helping on the longevity front, etc.

    Anyway, after hearing some random news report say that the average American doubles their already-huge caloric intake on Thanksgiving, we thought we'd just skip food the day before and call it even. (Yes, I kid.)

    I don't normally eat breakfast (I'm a late-dinner kind of guy), so I didn't notice anything until after lunch. At that point, my system felt like it was idly wondering, "hey, where's the usual food?" But since I haven't been running on carbs for a couple months now, there was no crash and it was no big deal. I just moved on with the day and ended up back home around dinnertime. Now that's when things got tough -- not because we felt like we were starving, but because we apparently have some way-heavily-ingrained habits of enjoying nice beverages and eating and snacking the night away. We found ourselves super-fidgety and unfocused, not knowing what to do! We couldn't even break out a glass of wine or cup of coffee or a diet soda (those might undo keeping our systems level, and we wanted to experience the full effect). Sigh. Maybe that's the form in which we experience hunger now. Anyway, there was finally a recognizable symptom: our stomachs growled at us for maybe a half hour mid-evening, then gave up in disgust. We went to bed a early to try to escape the fidgety torture of not being able to pour a glass of wine and munch on almonds.

    Another little surprise: we expected to be ravenous waking up on Thanksgiving, but we weren't at all -- it felt like just another morning! I was approaching 37 hours on just water, and Tammy was approaching 24 hours, not having gotten the spontaneous memo in time. Since I didn't want to even flirt with going beyond fasting and into starvation-mode, we made big omelets and savored some decked-out coffee. Then we proceeded to have two more Thanksgiving meals with our various families. And then we followed it up with late-night leftover Thanksgiving munches. Ahhhh, gluttony. :^)

    Before jumping in, I looked around to try to get a better picture of whether this was a sensible idea and what to expect. Over at Mark's Daily Apple I found this little article: Is Intermittent Fasting Healthy?

    Numerous animal and human studies done over the past 15 years suggest that periodic fasting can have dramatic results not only in areas of weight (fat) loss, but in overall health and longevity as well. A recent article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition gives a great overview of these benefits which include decreases in blood pressure, reduction in oxidative damage to lipids, protein and DNA, improvement in insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, as well as decreases in fat mass. ... Intermittent fasting has also been shown to reduce spontaneous cancers in animal studies , which could be due to a decrease in oxidative damage or an increase in immune response.
    ...
    One thing that is most interesting about the intermittent fasting studies is that slightly overeating on the non-fasting days (to make up for the lack of calories on fast days) yielded similar results, so it wasn’t so much about total calories as it was about the episodic deprivation.
    And over at Modern Forager, I found a nice series exploring What Happens To Your Body When You Fast?
    • Liver glycogen levels are depleted within 8-10 hours. Muscle glycogen falls by 50% over 24-hours, even without exercise.
    • After depleting glycogen, amino acids are recycled to be broken down for glycogen through gluconeogenesis.
    • We see increases in three of the four hormones driving lipolysis, indicating a propensity towards fat burning. Somewhere around 12-18 hours, lipolysis becomes a major energy pathway, producing energy from body fat.
    • T3 levels fall slightly, indicating a slightly lower metabolic rate. Urinary nitrogen excretion falls, indicating less catabolism of muscle proteins.
    • Beta-hydroxy butyrate, hGH, and IGF all increase. Proteins that protect cells from stress also increase.
    • Inflammatory markers decrease. Insulin sensitivity improves. AGEs likely decrease.
    • Cancer protection increases, healthy cells are better protected from chemotherapy, and markers of heart disease decrease. General immunity seems to improve.
    • Brain neurons are protected from stressors, BDNF increases (helps grow brain neurons), and the brain is better protected from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Diseases. Fasting after a brain injury lessens the damage of the injury.
    • Exercise during a fast shows a higher rate of fat burning for fuel.
    • Learning is enhanced and jet lag may be reduced.
    It was a great experiment for us, underscoring a new aspect of our nutritional life that we didn't yet appreciate: it isn't any big deal if we're running around taking care of business and healthy fuel isn't available for a while (we had been carefully timing our eating and even taking snacks with us "just in case"). Well, we don't crash any more -- and spontaneously skipping a meal or three is easy and apparently healthy.

    If you have any good resources to share, please post them in the comments!

    Read more...

    Saturday, November 29, 2008

    Pizza Versus CrossFit

    By Diana Hsieh

    Here's an all-too-telling CrossFit story from Kirez. (The original post has a great picture.) Kirez writes:

    Early Sunday morning we setup our gym at Starbucks. I laid out 360 square feet of rubber flooring, setup the squat rack, three barbells, about 450 pounds of Olympic bumper plates, 5 Dynamax med balls and 8 kettlebells. We took a Concept 2 rower and whiteboards.

    Starbucks donated free drinks for people who won the hourly workout contests. Alicia got a free drink for her 5:27 performance on: 4 rounds for time, 15-12-9-6 reps, Wall ball shots (10 lb. ball), pull-ups. Michelle had an amazing workout, too. Her time was 6:32 for: 5 rounds for time, 5 x 115 lb. Deadlift, 10 burpees. Jim did a workout of 500 m row & wall ball shots, Dean and Kirez worked on Snatches, we demonstrated a lot of kettlebell exercises and taught some Olympic lifting, and had a great time.

    The proprietor of the pizza place next door swore that Sunday was her best day for walk-ins and nobody was walking in if there was something fitness oriented next to her store. "They'll feel too guilty buying pizza if they see your fitness setup outside!" — direct quote, I kid you not. So... next Sunday, we'll be on the other side of Starbucks.
    And pizza is pretty healthy according to the Standard American Diet! Perhaps people know -- even if only implicitly, based on the way they feel -- that stuffing themselves with pizza is not compatible with the kind of high-intensity workout that Kirez and company were doing.

    Read more...

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    Close But No Cigar

    By Diana Hsieh

    While I sometimes disagree with Mark Sisson, I found his recent blog posts criticizing "The Zone Diet" (of Barry Sears) and "The Paleo Diet" (of Loren Cordain) to mirror my own thoughts. You can read his posts here:

    Note that "The Paleo Diet" in this case refers to the specific diet developed by Loren Cordain, not the broad category of what I (and others) refer to as "paleo" diets, of which Mark Sisson's primal eating plan is just one type.

    Also, while I'm not so familiar with The Paleo Diet, I do know The Zone -- and Mark's criticisms are spot-on. You can find more in this post by Richard Nikoley. As I said in the comments on that post:
    The Zone was my first introduction to "paleo"-type diets about ten years ago. It definitely helped me get my blood sugar under some control: mostly by eating more protein, I stopped crashing and burning as I had been doing on a regular basis. So in that respect, it was good.

    However, the allowed calories from carbs was simply way too high -- such it was easy to eat "in the Zone" while still eating tons of processed carbs, including sugars and grains. So I maintained my quasi-addiction to carbs on the diet. As a result, I achieved nothing like the results I've gotten over the past few months.

    It's frustrating to think that Sears understands so much, yet ultimately misses the boat so completely.
    And that's just one problem among many.

    Read more...

    Saturday, November 08, 2008

    Migraines Versus Topamax

    By Diana Hsieh

    Hooray! I seem to be past my recent two-and-half week spell of daily migraines. (Yes, that means I had a migraine every day for about 17 days.) From the outset, I knew the cause of my troubles: I'd recently stopped taking the birth control pill after about 15 years of nearly consistent use, so my hormones were totally out of whack. (No, Paul and I are not having children; we've just changed birth control methods.)

    I'd hoped that the situation would resolve itself, but no such luck. By the second week, the migraines were becoming harder to control with my drug of choice, Excedrin. Even Maxalt, my stronger prescription triptan derivative, wasn't always effective. Frustratingly, even when I wasn't in pain, I was often suffering from a kind of "migraine hangover" that left me unable to think clearly. It was debilitating. And, by gosh by golly, I have a dissertation to write.

    Normally, to break this kind of migraine run, I go on beta-blockers for a few weeks. They work, albeit with some unpleasant side effects. By lowering my heart rate and blood pressure, any kind of physical exertion -- including the simple act of climbing a set of stairs -- becomes an exhausting chore. However, since the beta-blockers in my medicine cabinet expired in 2005 (that's an indication of just how long it has been since my last run of migraines) I made an appointment to see my doctor for this past Thursday.

    And wowee, I'm glad that I did. My doctor offered me a different medication to prevent migraines: Topamax. Now, three days later, my migraines are gone. I felt fantastic all day today -- nary a hint of a migraine, nor even any of the common side effects of the medication. Today I even lifted weights without any fatigue. (My good results may not be representative, of course; in general, my migraines are pretty responsive to medication.)

    Interestingly, Topamax used to be used to prevent seizures, but it's now more commonly used to prevent migraines. And:

    It is not entirely clear how this medication works for epilepsy or migraines. An epileptic seizure occurs as the result of abnormal electrical signals in the brain. Topamax slows down those signals, helping to prevent seizures. The medication also works similarly for migraine headaches. It is thought that migraines may be triggered by nerve cells in the brain that are too easily excited. Topamax helps calm the nerve cells, working to prevent a migraine from ever starting
    Notably, migraines used to be thought of as a vascular disorder, but that's been proven false in recent years. More recent research shows that their origins are "neurological, related to a wave of nerve cell activity that sweeps across the brain."

    I will have to wean myself off the Topamax carefully in a month or so. If I stop cold turkey rather than follow my doctor's instructions about tapering off, I might cause a seizure. That wouldn't be good, obviously. Of course, I'll have to see whether I develop any of the various common side effects of this new drug. However, for the moment, I'm absolutely thrilled with it in comparison to beta-blockers. I feel like I have my life back, at the cost of a few measly bucks.

    So... THANK YOU, BIG PHARMA!

    Read more...

    When Raw Means Not Raw

    By Diana Hsieh

    Recently, Liriodendron pointed me to this May 2008 post by Stephan of Whole Health Source on the pasteurization of almonds. He writes:

    I bought about a pound of almonds yesterday for a backpacking trip I'll be doing this weekend. I like to soak raw almonds, then lightly toast them. It sweetens them and breaks down some of their anti-nutrients.

    When I arrived at the grocery store, the only raw almonds they had were from California. I prefer to buy domestic products when I can, but in case you haven't heard, "raw" almonds from California are no longer raw. They are required to be sterilized using steam or antiseptic gases, despite their relative safety as a raw food.

    The worst part is that they are not required to label them as pasteurized; they can still be labeled as raw. The Almond Board's argument is that there's no difference in quality and pasteurized almonds are safer. I find this highly offensive and deceptive. It flies in the face of common sense. If you walked up to someone in the street and asked them what the phrase "raw milk" means, would they say "oh yeah, that means pasteurized"? A raw seed can sprout. A pasteurized seed can't. Remember all those enzymes that break down anti-nutrients when you soak beans, grains and nuts? Denatured by heat.

    I tried soaking them like I would regular raw almonds. I covered them in water overnight. In the morning, I noticed that the soaking water was milky and had an unpleasant smell. The outer layer of the almonds (the most cooked part) was falling apart into the water. They also didn't have the crisp texture of soaked raw almonds.

    Tonight, I toasted them lightly. They definitely taste "off", and the texture isn't as good. There's no doubt about it, pasteurized California almonds are inferior. Despite my preference for domestic products, I'll be buying Spanish almonds the next time around. If enough of us do the same, we'll hit the Almond Board in the only place that counts: its wallet.
    Here's what Wikipedia says about the change:
    Because of cases of Salmonella traced to almonds in 2001 and 2004, in 2006 the Almond Board of California proposed rules regarding pasteurization of almonds available to the public, and the USDA approved them. Since 1 September 2007, raw almonds have technically not been available in the United States. Controversially, almonds labeled as "raw" are required to be steam pasteurised or chemically treated with propylene oxide. This does not apply to imported almonds.
    According to this blog post, organic almonds are pasteurized with steam, whereas non-organic almonds may be treated with propylene oxide.

    Some months ago, I noticed that the whole, raw almonds I occasionally bought at the grocery store had a chemical taste to them -- almost gasoline-like. They were inedible. I thought perhaps that I'd just gotten a bad batch, but when I tried them again a few weeks later, the taste was the same. Now I wonder whether that taste is some kind of residue from the propylene oxide.

    Since then, I've switched to buying my whole almonds at Whole Foods. They're organic, and they taste fine. However, I'm pretty sure that, contrary to their label, they're not raw but instead pasteurized with steam. I'll have to ask a manager whether the "raw almonds" are actually raw or not. If not, I'll probably order some unpasteurized almonds direct from the farm. Or perhaps I can find a local grocer who stocks imported almonds. I want my raw foods to be raw, with all their enzymes intact, dammit. Is that really too much to ask?

    In the final paragraph of his blog post, Stephan notes:
    One of the most irritating things is that the new rule is designed to edge out small producers. I can't see any other reason for it. Raw almonds are a safe food. Far safer than lettuce. Should we pasteurize lettuce? Pasteurization requires specialized, expensive equipment that will be prohibitive for the little guys. I'm sure the bigger producers will generously offer to fill the production gap.
    Sadly, large food producers often seem eager to use the power of the government to prevent their smaller competitors from providing consumers with much-wanted goods. It's very frustrating -- and very wrong.

    Read more...

    Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Fitness: Get Off That Treadmill and Kick Your Own Ass

    By Diana Hsieh

    For the past few years, I've exercised regularly. That was something of a feat for me, as I've never much liked plain old exercise. Paul and I made ourselves a nice little "exercise room" in the cool recesses of our basement -- with a treadmill, water rower, and elliptical trainer. We put a decent television and dvd player in the room, so that we could watch dvds while exercising -- mostly mostly television shows, but also movies on occasion. The distraction of television was a necessity because I was doing the standard routine of 40 minutes of moderate cardio per day. On occasion, I lifted weights, albeit just 5 to 10 pound dumbells.

    This spring, I was growing somewhat frustrated with that exercise routine. It was keeping me in reasonably good shape, but I wasn't going anywhere with it. Plus, I was still struggling with my weight. All those hours of doing cardio hadn't helped me lose a pound. (Heck, I even gained a few!) At the time, I wanted to lose about ten pounds; now that I've lost that, I think have I another ten pounds to go. (That misjudgment isn't surprising, for reasons explained recently by Dr. Eades.)

    I was forced to change my routine this spring when I developed serious problems in the ball of my right foot: I had a morton's neuroma (enlarged nerve) and capsulitis (irritated ligament) within a half inch of each other. They were quite painful, preventing me from doing any kind of running, ellipticizing, or even hiking.

    Rowing wasn't a problem, thankfully, so I decided alternate that with some more serious weight lifting. I added a TRX suspension trainer to the exercise room. I bought a set of kettlebells, up to 30 pounds. I began rowing in 30 second intervals -- 30 seconds normal pace, 30 seconds kicking ass pace -- usually for no more than two miles. I liked doing the more intense workouts, and once I tried tabata front squats, I was hooked on the more intense CrossFit-type workouts.

    In August and September, I worked out pretty intensely, alternating between interval rowing and weight training. Instead of working isolated muscle groups, I focused on large body movements, including swings. I varied my workouts as much as possible. That kept them fresh -- and difficult. I usually worked out in the mornings, before eating anything. (Hello ketosis!) And I never worked out for more than 20 minutes.

    During this time, I experienced major gains in speed, power, and balance. I put on quite a bit of muscle. And I was spending half the time that I used to working out. It was awesome.

    To my frustration, however, I seemed unable to lose much fat on this intense training regime. I suspected that I needed to ease off a bit -- to switch my body from bulking to cutting. So since late September, I've moderated my weight training -- focusing on maintaining not building strength. That has worked; I've lost weight slowly but steadily since then. (When I work out too hard, I get ravenously hungry.) However, once I lose a few more pounds of fat, I'll be eager to switch back into the more intense exercise.

    Here are some videos for the kinds of large-body exercises I do. Most don't require an expensive gym membership -- or expensive equipment. Many require nothing but your own body, as in this prison workout. Yet they will kick you ass, in very short order.

    NOTE: Please do be careful in trying any of these exercises, particularly if you're out-of-shape!

    Tabata Squats:



    I can't do them that fast. Sometimes I'll add a small jump at the top if I'm feeling particularly energetic. (That kills!) Sometimes I'll do them while holding a kettlebell, usually 15 to 25 pounds.

    Kettlebell Swings:



    Kettlebell Basics:



    Also, Mark has a nice introduction to the kettlebell.

    Burpees:



    Slosh Tube:



    And:



    Mark has the very simple instructions for building your own slosh tube. I'm going to do that as soon as I can get to the hardware store.

    Prone Hold:


    Prone Hold Variations from Lauren B on Vimeo.

    You'll find more instructions here. A 30 second prone hold makes 50 situps seem like a cakewalk.

    Box Jumps:



    Box Jumps with Sandbag Throws:



    In addition to the above, more traditional exercises like wind sprints, push-ups, and pull-ups can be very demanding. For more ideas, you can also check out the CrossFit web site's huge list of exercises, with videos.

    When I have some time, I'm going to head over to CrossFit Denver for some personal training, as I have much to learn. (Don't expect to go to your regular gym for CrossFit training. Look for a specialized CrossFit gym instead. Happily, they're becoming more common.) I also expect to learn much more simply by being observant about my own experiences.

    Overall, I'm very pleased with my new method of high-intensity exercise. I've experienced noticeable gains, and I'm spending less time working out. Best of all, I have more fun!

    Read more...

    Saturday, October 25, 2008

    What I Eat

    By Diana Hsieh

    As I've blogged before, I began eating a substantially different diet over the past few months. I thought some more details might be of interest.

    Basically, I eat whatever I damn well please of real, whole foods. I particularly avoid three kinds of highly processed foods: grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils. My eating is never really regular. Sometimes I eat heartily, sometimes I eat lightly, and sometimes I skip meals altogether. Sometimes I snack between meals, and sometimes I don't.

    One of my major goals in eating is not to spike my blood sugar. So I have been running a series of tests on the foods that I typically eat with my blood glucose meter, sometimes with surprising results. I'll post those in a few weeks, when I have more data.

    To give a better sense of my day-to-day diet, here's a list of what I eat and don't eat for various meals, plus some various comments below.

    Breakfast

    I don't eat pastries, muffins, pancakes, waffles, cold cereals, bread, meat substitutes, or sweetened coffee drinks.

    I eat...

    • Eggs, prepared any way
    • Bacon, sausage, and canadian bacon (uncured only)
    • Vegetables
    • Fruit
    • Yogurt, or better yet, greek yogurt
    • Nuts
    • Crustless quiche
    My standard breakfast consists of about 1/2 cup of homemade raw milk greek yogurt, some fruit, and raw walnuts. It takes about five minutes to prepare, and it's delicious. For a heartier breakfast, I'll eat uncured meat, eggs, and vegetables. That takes about five to ten minutes to prepare.

    Lunch

    I don't eat deli meats, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, or french fries.

    I eat...
    • Leftovers
    • Vegetables
    • Uncured bacon or dry salami
    • Cheese
    • Fruit
    • Nuts
    Leftovers are my favorite option for lunch. If I don't have those, I'll often make myself a "medley" lunch with dry salami, cheese, fruit, and nuts. It takes mere moments to throw the stuff on my plate, and it's very satisfying.

    Snacks

    I don't eat chips, pretzels, cookies, crackers, granola bars, or candy bars.

    I eat...
    • Yogurt, fruit, and nuts
    • Fruit, cheese, often with (uncured) dry salami
    • Nuts and nut butters
    • Milk
    • Cultured buttermilk
    • Leftovers
    Yes, I have been known to eat a spoonful or two of almond butter, straight from the jar, often with a glass of milk. it's very satisfying!

    Dinner

    I don't eat pasta, bread, deep-fried anything, tofu, potatoes, or rice.

    I eat...
    • Meat: Beef, Pork, Chicken, Lamb
    • Fish and Shellfish
    • Vegetables
    My dinners consist of meat and vegetables. My favorite kind of dinner is grilled meat or fish, with grilled vegetables. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare and cook: 15 minutes of preparation while the grill heats up, then 15 minutes of cooking time. However, that will be hard to pull off in the cold and dark of winter, so I plan to make more hearty stews and roasts.

    Dessert

    I don't eat most desserts.

    I eat...
    • Fruit, often with cream
    • A square of dark chocolate
    I don't feel the urge for dessert like I used to. The fruit and cream is very decadent, however.

    Beverages

    I don't drink soda (diet or regular) or fruit juice.

    I drink...
    • Water
    • Raw milk
    • Cultured buttermilk
    • Tea (with milk or cream but no sugar)
    • Wine (on occasion)
    I probably would drink coffee on occasion, but I can't tolerate its bitter taste without a lot of sugar.

    Some Random Notes
    • I recommend only uncured breakfast meats (i.e. bacon, sausage, and canadian bacon). They taste much better, and I don't wish to infuse my body with preservatives. (My mother developed preservative-induced migraines late in life, and I get stomach aches from the preservatives in cured meats.) Whole Foods carries uncured meats. Uncured canadian bacon -- at least from Applegate Farms -- is particularly fantastic. Paul and I have tried a few varieties of uncured bacon from Whole Foods; we most like their "365" brand in the square (rather than flat) package. Cooking bacon in the oven -- as per the recommendation of Cook's Illustrated -- is an easy way to make a large batch.

    • When needed, I save the fat from cooking uncured bacon, strain it, then store it in a small glass jar in the fridge. It adds great flavor in cooking canadian bacon, eggs, pork chops, frizzled cabbage, and more. I haven't tried lard yet, but that sounds promising.

    • On occasion, I eat a slice of sprouted grain toast slathered in raw butter. I keep a loaf in the freezer.

    • Vegetables are fabulous for breakfast and lunch. If you don't have leftovers, you can easily sautée some fresh ones in butter, coconut oil, or bacon fat in about ten minutes.

    • Beware the carb content of the fruits you eat. Berries are a good choice, but bananas, apples, and pears are full of sugar.

    • Crustless quiche is delicious. You can use your favorite recipe for quiche, just omit the crust: bake the filling in an 8x8 pan, then cut it into squares. You can make it, then eat it for breakfast for a few days. It can also be frozen. Mark has a good recipe for individual crustless quiches and other breakfast ideas for people on the go.

    • Beware rancid nuts. They're not just icky tasting; apparently the oils contain free radicals. So avoid the nuts from the baking section of your grocery store; they're always rancid. Paul and I have found that Whole Foods carries the best nuts. Their walnuts (my favorite) and cashews (Paul's favorite) are a few steps above what's available in our local grocery stores.

    • I only buy nut butters containing nothing but nuts and salt. Conventional peanut butter, for example, is loaded with sugar. Plus, the peanut isn't a nut but a legume. I love almond butter.

    • If I didn't make my own yogurt, I would buy only full-fat, plain yogurt. Dairy fat is delicious and nutritious, and flavored yogurts are way too sweet. But check what's in plain yogurt: you'll often find a slew of ingredients that you might not wish to eat. If I weren't making my own yogurt, my choice would be Mountain High, but that's not available everywhere.

    • Similarly, if you drink milk, I'd recommend only whole milk, preferably organic if not raw. Before I switched to raw milk, I found that whole organic milk tasted significantly better than conventional whole milk.

    • Greek yogurt is made by straining regular yogurt to remove much of the whey. It's thicker, richer, and less bitter than regular yogurt; it's also lower in carbohydrates. You can strain yogurt with cheesecloth and a strainer, but if you find that you really like greek yogurt, I'd recommend buying this handy strainer. It makes the job easy.

    • Beware restaurant and store-bought salad dressing. I've checked dozens of bottles in the store, and the first ingredient on every single one is one of the new-fangled vegetables oils high in polyunsaturated fats. Even the "olive oil and vinegar" consists mostly of canola oil. Instead, you can make your own salad dressings in just a few minutes at home: just mix olive oil with something acidic (like a vinegar or citrus juice) and maybe add some spices.

    • I'm highly skeptical of soy products, except when fermented.

    • I prefer my meats without antibiotics and hormones -- and preferably grass-fed. They taste significantly better than conventional meats, and they contain more good fats, from what I've read. (I recently made the best hamburgers ever with ground beef from Whole Foods. Yummy!) I recently bought a quarter of a cow from Colorado's Best Beef Company. The cow is grass-fed, not given any hormones or antibiotics, and humanely treated. (Yes, that last is important to me; I'll say why in another post.) I'll be saving money over buying beef at Whole Foods. Also, I prefer my fish wild rather than farm-raised -- for reasons of taste and health.

    • Beware of corn. It is a grain, and it's high in carbohydrates. Personally, I've found that even a single ear spikes my blood sugar well beyond my ordinary range. A medium-sized sweet potato was even more of a disaster for my blood sugar.

    • I'm not categorically opposed to rice and potatoes. I have no problem eating sushi on occasion, for example. And I have a few dishes that go really well with buttermilk mashed potatoes. However, they're not a part of my daily diet. I do plan to do some blood sugar testing with them to see what kind of effect they have on me in moderation.

    • I'm not fanatical about my diet -- in the sense that, if I feel like eating a potato chip, I'll eat a potato chip. However, I don't eat more than a bite or two of such off-diet foods, except on rare occasion. Eating more will make me feel icky, and I'm usually just wanting a taste. (However, if I had cravings for some unhealthy food, I would strictly avoid it.)
    Happily, I feel absolutely no sense of deprivation with this diet. The good fats are plentiful -- and very, very satisfying. I've also lost ten pounds on it -- without much effort -- even while building significant muscle.

    Life is good!

    Read more...

    Saturday, October 18, 2008

    On Vitamin D

    By Diana Hsieh

    Wowee, via Free the Animal, I found a fascinating story on Vitamin D in Canada's Globe and Mail: Vitamin D casts cancer prevention in new light. Here's the first section:

    For decades, researchers have puzzled over why rich northern countries have cancer rates many times higher than those in developing countries -- and many have laid the blame on dangerous pollutants spewed out by industry.

    But research into vitamin D is suggesting both a plausible answer to this medical puzzle and a heretical notion: that cancers and other disorders in rich countries aren't caused mainly by pollutants but by a vitamin deficiency known to be less acute or even non-existent in poor nations.

    Those trying to brand contaminants as the key factor behind cancer in the West are "looking for a bogeyman that doesn't exist," argues Reinhold Vieth, professor at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto and one of the world's top vitamin D experts. Instead, he says, the critical factor "is more likely a lack of vitamin D."

    What's more, researchers are linking low vitamin D status to a host of other serious ailments, including multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, influenza, osteoporosis and bone fractures among the elderly.

    Not everyone is willing to jump on the vitamin D bandwagon just yet. Smoking and some pollutants, such as benzene and asbestos, irrefutably cause many cancers.

    But perhaps the biggest bombshell about vitamin D's effects is about to go off. In June, U.S. researchers will announce the first direct link between cancer prevention and the sunshine vitamin. Their results are nothing short of astounding.

    A four-year clinical trial involving 1,200 women found those taking the vitamin had about a 60-per-cent reduction in cancer incidence, compared with those who didn't take it, a drop so large -- twice the impact on cancer attributed to smoking -- it almost looks like a typographical error.
    While that doesn't sound like a randomized, controlled study, it's still highly suggestive. For more on the importance of Vitamin D, you can check out the the relevant posts from the Heart Scan blog.

    I've been taking supplemental Vitamin D for a few months. My physician recommended that I increase my dose at my last visit, based on some new research on its importance to bone health. Given what I've read about its wide-ranging effects on health, I think that I might want to get my levels tested. Plus, according to the Heart Scan Doc, unpredictable variation between individuals makes testing a necessity:
    It's probably the number one most common question I get today:

    "How much vitamin D should I take?"

    Like asking for investing advice, there are no shortage of people willing to provide answers, most of them plain wrong.

    The media are quick to offer advice like "Take the recommended daily allowance of 400 units per day," or "Some experts say that intake of vitamin D should be higher, as high as 2000 units per day." Or "Be sure to get your 15 minutes of midday sun."

    Utter nonsense. ...

    [V]itamin D requirements can range widely. I have used anywhere from 1000 units per day, all the way up to 16,000 units per day before desirable blood levels were achieved.

    Vitamin D dose needs to be individualized. Factors that influence vitamin D need include body size and percent body fat (both of which increase need substantially); sex (males require, on average, 1000 units per day more than females); age (older need more); skin color (darker-skinned races require more, fairer-skinned races less); and other factors that remain ill-defined.

    But these are "rules" often broken. My office experience with vitamin D now numbers nearly 1000 patients. The average female dose is 4000-5000 units per day, average male dose 6000 units per day to achieve a blood level of 60-70 ng/ml, though there are frequent exceptions. I've had 98 lb women who require 12,000 units, 300 lb men who require 1000 units, 21-year olds who require 10,000 units. (Of course, this is a Wisconsin experience. However, regional differences in dosing needs diminish as we age, since less and less vitamin D activation occurs.)

    Let me reiterate: Steroid hormone-vitamin D dose needs to be individualized.

    There's only one way to individualize your need for vitamin D and thereby determine your dose: Measure a blood level.

    Nobody can gauge your vitamin D need by looking at you, by your skin color, size, or other simple measurement like weight or body fat. A vitamin D blood level needs to be measured specifically -- period.
    I've also just begun taking high quality cod liver oil and butter oil, based on the recommendation of Weston A. Price and others. (I got my supply here.) Given the cost of the butter oil, I'm definitely looking for noticeable results -- as I've heard other people report. I'm particularly hoping for an improvement to my dental health, as I'm very prone to cavities and inflamed gums. That would be huge for me.

    Update: It's Vitamin D Day! Mark Sisson has a post on the association between Vitamin D and Parkinson's disease. As he's careful to observe, the question is: which comes first?

    Read more...

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Reading Recommendations

    By Diana Hsieh

    I'm so exhausted from my week -- with much more dissertation work to do today -- so I can't possibly write a substantial post of any kind on health issues. So instead, I'm just going to refer you to some good readings, enough to keep you well-occupied for a few hours, if you like. Let's start with some delights from Gary Taubes:

    • What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? by Gary Taubes, New York Times Magazine, July 2002. The controversial article that started it all. (For the story behind the story, see Inside the Story.)

    • Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy? by Gary Taubes, New York Times Magazine, September 2007. A detailed examination of why medical studies often yield conflicting results -- and how you can sort through the mess.

    • We can't work it out by Gary Taubes, The Observer, October 2007. Will exercise help you lose weight? Likely not. (My own experience supports this view: I've only been able to lose weight in periods when I cut down my exercise to mere "maintenance" mode.)

    • "Big Fat Lies" by Gary Taubes, Lecture to the Stevens Institute of Technolocy, February 2008. (I've not watched this video yet.)

    • All of the above sources are merely a teaser for Gary Taubes' excellent book Good Calories, Bad Calories. If you're interested in the science of nutrition, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
    And now for some goodies from Stephan of Whole Health Source:
    And finally, some good posts from Dr. Eades of "ProteinPower":
    That's all for today. Happy reading!

    Read more...

    Saturday, October 04, 2008

    Beef, Zucchini, and Onion Sautée

    By Diana Hsieh

    Note: I'm rather worn out from all the bailout blogging this week, so I'm going to postpone my post on Gary Taubes's Good Calories, Bad Calories until next week.

    I made myself the following sautée on Wednesday for lunch. Since it was quick and delicious, I thought I'd write up the recipe.



    (Yes, I could have made the picture prettier, but I was too damn hungry for that!)

    Beef, Zucchini, and Onion Sautée

    Time: 15 minutes
    Feeds: One Hungry Gal

    Ingredients:

    1 tbsp coconut oil
    1 onion
    1 zucchini
    1 beef tenderloin
    1 tbsp fresh thyme
    salt and pepper
    Instructions:
    Heat the coconut oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, slice the onion to get long strips. When the oil is hot, add the onion to the pan. Cook the onion that for about five minutes, stirring nearly-constantly. (You can cook it for a shorter time if you prefer it less caramelized.)

    While the onion is cooking and while still stirring it periodically, cut up the zucchini and slice the beef into consistent-sized strips or chunks. When the onion cooks to near your liking, add the zucchini. Continue to stir nearly constantly. Chop up the thyme and add that. (You could use dried instead.) Also, add a bit of sea salt and fresh ground pepper too.

    Once the zucchini was almost cooked about 3 minutes later, add the tenderloin. Cook that for just a minute or so, so that it's cooked to around medium, not well-done.

    Then throw it on your plate and eat it!
    If I were to make this precise dish again, I'd probably use more zucchini and less onion. However, I'll probably never make this precise dish again, as it's just a "what I happened to have in the fridge" kind of meal.

    Two Quick Tips
    • The tenderloin was still semi-frozen in the fridge, as I'd only gotten it out of the freezer the day before. To thaw it in just a few minutes, I cut it up, put it in a ziplock sandwich bag, then then put that in a bowl of warm water. It was perfect when I added it to be pan.

      I do not recommend ever using the microwave to thaw meat: you'll inevitably cook it, with gross results. Ordinarily, when I have an hour or more to thaw something, I'll put the meat (in its ziplock bag) in a large bowl of cold water, flipping it over once or twice. That thaws it quickly and perfectly.

    • For any kind of sautée or stir-fry, I always use two implements -- often a spatula and a wooden spoon. That way, I can really turn over the food, rather than just moving it around in the pan.
    A Personal Note

    I didn't plan this meal in any way, shape, or form. I wandered into the kitchen, checked to see what I had in the fridge. I decided to sautée some vegetables. Then after I'd gotten that started, I recalled the tenderloin in the fridge, so I decided to add that. I even took the pan off the heat for a minute or two, so that I could run out to the garden to get the fresh thyme. Nonetheless, I made the whole meal in twelve minutes. Cleaning up took me just a few minutes.

    It was real, hearty food -- and it was delicious! Also, it was the only thing I ate that day, along with two small glasses of milk and a peach. I had a large dinner the night before, so I wasn't hungry until noon. And then, after eating the whole meal, I wasn't terribly hungry that night.

    A Recommendation

    Although my diet has changed pretty radically in the past few months, I do still most strongly recommend Cook's Illustrated as the best source for fantastic recipes. This summer, I've found two sources invaluable:
    This fall and winter, as my cooking moves indoors, I expect to consult a wider variety of Cook's Illustrated cookbooks. (Yes, I have a full shelf of them.) I'll be sure to make some particular recommendations. And I'll try to take better pictures!

    Read more...

    Saturday, September 27, 2008

    Experiments in Eating

    By Diana Hsieh

    As I mentioned in my post explaining my new diet, my exclusion of grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils from my diet over the past few months means that I feel consistently good. I rarely feel sluggish, tired, or slow -- as I used to do routinely. As a result, when I do feel that way, I notice. And, being the curious kind of person I am, I try to figure out the cause, so that I can avoid making that same mistake in the future. I just don't enjoy food hangovers.

    My goal for this post is to outline my process for identifying foods I should avoid, based on their deleterious effects on me. I'm going to discuss three cases: (1) flour and sugar, (2) oatmeal, and (3) Chipolte. With regard to the particulars, your mileage may vary. While I do think that certain kinds of foods are generally healthy while others are not, individuals differ in their response to foods. Even for one individual, the response to a given food may vary based on other factors in the diet.

    Case #1:

    Quite soon after my change in diet -- back in mid-July -- I was able to connect my consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates from sugar and flour to feeling sluggish, even a full day later. Here's what I reported to Liriodendron of Spark A Synapse at the time:

    For quite some time, I've been trying to figure out why I often feel sluggish while exercising. The feeling isn't the same as the light-headed sensation of low blood sugar. (Plus, it often happens even if I've eaten a good snack just before exercising.) Instead, the problem is just an inability to really push myself in a workout: I can go at a certain slow pace, but no faster. I can even go at that slow pace for quite some time, but I'm definitely not enjoying myself.

    The problem was that I just couldn't correlate this feeling with anything about my diet or sleep or whatnot. In fact, I couldn't tell whether I'd be sluggish or not before I started exercising. It would just sometimes happen and sometimes not, seemingly at random -- often as much as two to four times per week. It was very frustrating!

    Today, it happened again. I was doing 11 minute miles on the rower instead of 9 minute miles. However, this time was remarkable -- only because it hasn't really happened in weeks, during which I've been restricting my bad carbs [i.e. eating no sugars and grains]. In particular, it hasn't happened at all this past week, when I've been on a no-bad-carb-whatsoever diet. However, last night at the SuperFROG meeting, I ate some [tortilla] chips, plus two brownies, ice cream, and two madelines over the course of the evening. [Oh, and a margarita.] Yikes! It was a serious bad-carb-fest for me. And today -- this evening, in fact -- I was sluggish in exercising.

    So I suspect that too many bad carbs are the cause of my sluggishness in exercise, but that the effect is often somewhat delayed. That's why it was hard for me to see any pattern. Perhaps what matters most is what I ate yesterday rather than what I've eaten today.

    Obviously, I'm going to have to test out this theory a bit more, but I do think that I'm on to something. If so, it's the most substantial measurable effect that I've seen in myself from eliminating bad carbs -- but it's a huge deal for me.
    Since then, I've further confirmed those initial findings: eating foods with flour and sugar makes me sluggish, often hours and hours later. I'm more sensitive to that sluggish feeling now: I can feel it set in within a few hours of eating, apart from any exercise. However, I suspect that it might peak 12-14 hours after eating the offending food.

    Notably, the kind of "bad-carb-fest" in which I indulged that evening in July used to be a regular part of my diet. In fact, I though I'd been pretty restrained in my eating that evening, by my ordinary standards. Normally, I would have done much worse. In the months since then, I've eating a few desserts -- and by a few, I mean about three. But I've never done anything remotely like that "bad-carb-fest." As a result, I've not rowed any more of those awful 11 minute miles either.

    Case #2:

    For the past few Saturdays, Paul and I enjoyed a breakfast consisting of a bowl of overnight-soaked oatmeal cooked in milk, plus a good helping of delicious nitrate-free bacon. However, I realized that I was feeling sluggish on the weekends as a result -- on the day of eating that oatmeal and on Sunday too. So last weekend, I skipped the oatmeal. And wow, I felt fabulous the whole weekend, just like I do throughout the week. I was able to be much more productive as a result. I expect to do the same this weekend -- and thereafter.

    The lesson is simple: while I could surely tolerate a wee bit of oatmeal, a full serving is just too much for me.

    Case #3:

    Just this Monday, Paul and I went to Chipotle for dinner. I felt particularly good that day: I'd eaten only lightly, and I had tons of energy. At Chipolte, I got a skinless burrito with double pork, black beans, tomato salsa, corn salsa, cheese, and guacamole. I only ate half of it, along with a large glass of my own raw milk. That's a dinner I can handle -- or so I thought.

    In fact, I felt like absolute crap very shortly after eating it -- and for hours thereafter. I felt stuffed -- in a really unpleasant, bloated kind of way -- all evening. (My stomach wasn't upset, however.) The next morning, I still felt awful. I didn't want to eat, so I fasted. Around 2 pm, I finally felt normal again, so I ate -- and I felt fine.

    So what in that meal made me feel that way? Initially, I wondered whether I'd just eaten too much. That's unlikely, as I can chow down tons of good-quality food like steak and veggies. I'll just feel full thereafter, not icky. So I decided to test the meal again by eating half of my remaining Chipotle (i.e. 1/4 of the total) and a small glass of milk. Once again, I felt awful for some hours, although not nearly as bad as before.

    So then I wondered about the composition of the food. The milk couldn't be the problem, as I drink that all the time. I've been known to have a strange reactions to preservatives, but Chipotle uses fresh, high-quality ingredients prepared in-house, so I probably don't have too much to worry about on that score. However, according to this handy nutritional calculator, my burrito did have more carbohydrates than I expected:
    • 920 calories
    • 43 g fat
    • 36 g effective carbohydrates
    • 75 g protein
    The corn salsa accounted for 19 g of effective carbohydrates. However, I don't think that was the problem either. Carbohydrates make me sluggish, not bloated and icky. Plus, I have eaten a fair amount of corn this summer, with nothing like those effects. However, I don't eat beans ordinarily, so that might be an issue. Yet the amount of beans in the whole burrito was pretty negligible.

    The problem -- I suspect -- was the vast quantity of salt in the meal. In part thanks to a question from Daniel, I did notice that my burrito tasted very salty. And based on the nutritional calculator, my whole burrito had 3148 g of sodium. Since a teaspoon of salt is 2300 mg, that means just over 1 1/3 teaspoons of salt in the whole burrito. That's a shocking amount. I do use salt at home, but because I'm preparing my own foods, all the salt in my foods is salt that I add. Personally, I like my red meats a bit salty. I brine chicken and pork in salt water before cooking but I rinse them thoroughly and I don't add any additional salt thereafter. And I don't like much salt on my veggies. However, the critical point is that I would never add anything remotely resembling 1 1/3 teaspoons of salt to a meal. Even a 1/4 teaspoon in a meal would be quite a bit for me, but in eating just half of that burrito, I ate 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt.

    Plus, from what I understand, salt intake does cause the body to retain water. That could explain why I felt nasty, bloated, ans sluggish. So salt is a plausible hypothesis in this case.

    But, one might ask, why haven't I noticed this effect before? I can think of two reasons. First, before my change in diet, I might have been acclimated to more salt in my diet, as apparently 77% of an average person's salt intake comes from processed and prepared foods. In other words, perhaps I'm more sensitive to lots of salt now. Second, given that I routinely felt cruddy in various ways before my change in diet, I simply might not have noticed anything particularly distinctive after eating a high-salt meal like Chipotle's.

    I could test this salt hypothesis by drinking 2/3 of a teaspoon of salt in water with a meal that I know to be otherwise fine for me. However, I'm not eager to do that, given how awful I felt after eating that half of a naked burrito. So instead, I might just watch my salt intake -- and notice whether I feel fine or icky after eating more than my usual amount of salt.

    Of course, my response to salt -- if that is indeed the problem -- may be somewhat unique to me. Others may be able to eat my diet, then eat a meal at Chipotle without any problem whatsoever. As I said at the outset, your mileage may vary.

    Also, I should mention that -- contrary to the proclamations of so many experts -- salt does not seem to be any great danger to health in ordinary people. Dr. Michael Eades has a good post on a recent study showing that consuming less salt (i.e. under 2300 mg per day) was correlated with higher mortality from all causes, including heart disease. It begins:
    Another what bites the dust? Another one of the shibboleths of "healthy living" that the nutritional establishment has been pounding us over our heads with for decades: the idea that salt is bad for us.

    Now, in the wake of the three Woman's Health Initiative studies showing that fat doesn't seem to cause heart disease nor cancers or the breast or colon, comes a study from the venerable NHANES II data showing that not only does salt intake (or to be more precise, sodium intake) not cause premature death from heart disease it actually seems to protect against it. And consuming more sodium appears to protect against premature deaths from not just heart disease but from all other causes as well. It's been a bad couple of weeks for the holier-than-thou crowd.
    In particular, the study found:
    The researchers set the breakpoint of their data analysis at the 2300 mg of sodium recommended in the nutritional guidelines. After analyzing the nutritional and mortality data on this basis it turned out that those subjects who consumed less than 2300 mg of sodium per day had a 1.37 times increased risk (95% CI 1.03-1.81, P=.033) of dying from heart disease and a 1.28 times increased risk (95% CI 1.1-1.5, P=.003) of dying from all causes as compared to those who consumed more than 2300 mg of sodium per day.
    If you'd like to know more, read the whole thing, including the links. Notably, the study was not a randomized, controlled trial, so it shows only correlation not causation.

    Before closing out this post, I'd like to make a few general comments:
    • Often, we must train ourselves to be observant of our own internal bodily states. If you're not eating well, you've probably trained yourself to ignore how your body feels. It might require some effort to notice.

    • To determine what particular foods agree with you or not, you have to get yourself to where you're feeling damn good 95% of the time. Only then will the episodes of yuck become clear and distinct to you. To get to that point, I recommend eating a high-fat, high-protein diet of whole, real foods, without any grains, sugars, and modern vegetable oils. (Of course, ignore that if you have some medical condition.) If that diet doesn't work for you after a few weeks of really eating it, then try something different.

    • Don't assume that the last thing you are was the cause of your present ills. As I discovered with flour and sugar, the effects can be surprisingly long-lasting.

    • Be willing to use yourself as a guinea pig. If a food seems to cause problems for you, try it again in various ways. Attempt to pinpoint the "active ingredient" causing you ill. Then you can just avoid that one thing, rather than needlessly depriving yourself of other foods.

    • Read Gary Taubes' Good Calories, Bad Calories to learn the outlines of a well-grounded and integrated science of nutrition to which you can integrate your own personal experience.

    Read more...

    Saturday, September 20, 2008

    The New Diet

    By Diana Hsieh

    In late June, I blogged about the cow share I bought from Isle Farms, in order to obtain a supply of raw milk, i.e. milk straight from the cow, without any pasteurization or homogenization. In that post, I said:

    As for why I'm going to so much trouble to obtain raw milk, I have two reasons. First, it tastes much better. It's deeply satisfying in a way that its equivalent of pasteurized, homogenized whole milk equivalent is not. Second, it's part of an overall change in diet. I'm consuming more protein and certain kinds of fats, and I'm trying to avoid stuffing myself full of goodness-only-knows-what from processed foods, particularly carbohydrates. I'm also interested in trying natural grass-fed beef, likely from this local supplier, as I have worries about the inappropriate feed given to cows intended for consumption. (I'm also interested in more natural forms of other meats like pork, lamb, and chicken.)
    Since that time, my diet has evolved even further in a "paleo" direction -- with fascinating results. My cholesterol numbers are much improved. I've lost weight, even while gaining muscle. I no longer suffer from strange energy lows. I've made significant gains in strength and balance. My tastes in food have changed -- radically. I can easily ignore feelings of hunger for hours on end, even through vigorous exercise. I've lost all my cravings for sweets. Best of all, I enjoy what I eat immensely -- and I don't miss the rest.

    Overall, I feel so much better than I have in years -- if not ever.

    I'm utterly fascinated by all that I've been reading -- and experiencing -- with these changes in diet. So now I'm going to inflict bestow them on you: I aim to blog on issues pertaining to diet and health on Saturdays.

    Let me start with a brief description of my own diet at present. I'll delve into some of the details and reasons in future posts.

    My general goal is to approximate -- to some reasonable degree -- the hunter-gatherer diet that humans were adapted to eat by a few hundred thousands of years of evolution. That diet changed radically with the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago. It has changed even more in the last 100 years or so. Today, the major effect of that change is the consumption of far more refined carbohydrates -- particularly in the form of sugar and flour -- than most humans bodies can handle well. For many, the result is the infliction of the "diseases of civilization," particularly diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Today's dominant view that such chronic health problems are caused overconsumption of fat (and of calories in general) is not -- and was never -- supported by science. As Gary Taubes painstakingly documents in his stellar book Good Calories, Bad Calories, that view was pushed on us by a few determined dogmatists, with a good dose of help from the federal government, without regard for the facts.

    So what do I eat? My diet consists of plenty of meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, vegetables, and limited fruit. I do not eat pasta, rice, bread, or sugar. (I'm not eating potatoes at present, as they're very starchy. However, I'll likely return to eating them in moderation and on occasion this winter.)

    I usually eat a good hunk of meat at least once if not twice per day. I eat beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and buffalo on a regular basis. I also eat seafood once or twice per week. I go out of my way to buy high-quality meats from animals not treated with hormones or antibiotics. Such meats are more expensive, but they taste much, much better than the barely-edible crap sold in regular grocery stores. I also rely on eggs, greek yogurt, and cheese as sources of protein. I'm not a fan of soy.

    I consume lots of fat. I enjoy deliciously fatty cuts of meat like ribeye steaks. I braise vegetables in raw cream. I drink unskimmed raw milk, and make my own greek yogurt from it. I usually eat cheese and raw nuts at least once per day. In cooking, I use olive oil, bacon fat, butter, and coconut fat liberally. However, I studiously avoid all modern vegetable oils (e.g. canola oil, corn oil) and transfats.

    I eat lots of vegetables and some fruits. I try to eat a wide range of vegetables, within the limits of what's in season -- or better yet, what's ripening in my garden. I limit my fruits because they often contain quite a bit of sugar -- although berries are better on that score.

    I avoid anything made with sugar or high-frucose corn syrup. On rare occasion, I will sweeten something with raw honey or maple syrup. I don't drink juice or soda. I avoid all artificial sweeteners too, as I think they tend to create an expectation of and desire for sweetness.

    I also avoid grains, particularly wheat. I avoid white flour like the plague -- and contrary to contrary to popular belief, whole grains are just as bad. On rare occasion -- meaning less often than once per week -- I'll eat a slice of sprouted bread or a small bowl of overnight-soaked oatmeal. (The sprouting and the soaking are supposed to make the grain more digestible. However, I find that if I eat more than a wee bit, I can feel the ill effects.)

    So that's what I eat, with only very rare exceptions. Notably, I do no counting or balancing or weighing. I'm not particularly concerned with the macronutriet composition of my meals. Instead, I have two basic goals: (1) to eat real, whole, unprocessed foods, and (2) to avoid foods that spike my blood sugar. These two categories strongly overlap, but they aren't quite the same.

    Six months ago, I would have regarded such a diet as a major deprivation. However, that's not how it feels now. It's very easy -- and very rewarding -- to eat well. As for the science supporting my new diet, that will have to wait for another Saturday.

    Read more...

    Monday, August 11, 2008

    CrossFit Fun

    By Diana Hsieh

    Since the Morton's neuroma and capsulitis in my right foot is still causing me problems, my exercise has been somewhat limited this summer. I've been doing mostly interval rowing (30 second normal, then 30 seconds hard and fast, for 2-3 miles per session) and CrossFit-style weight training to keep myself in shape. Since I'd like to build more muscle, I've been on the lookout for new exercises. Variation keeps my workouts fresh -- and difficult. Consequently, I've been watching a fair amount of CrossFit videos on YouTube, some of which are just damn cool.

    Since I just bought a set of kettlebells, I've been doing these swings:



    (Don't miss the end: she swings 70 pounds!) With ordinary dumbbells, you work one muscle group at a time. With the kettlebells, you can do whole-body movements. I like that much better, as the workout is much more intense. I've only done 25 pounds so far as part of a tabata set.

    As for movements that I won't be doing anytime soon, here's a super-cool 57 inch box jump:



    Awesome!

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    Saturday, July 19, 2008

    Inspiring Before and After

    By Diana Hsieh

    Wow, these are an inspiring set of before-and-after pictures highlighting the importance of proper diet in addition to exercise. The before pictures are actually after two months of CrossFit plus an active job, yet eating the usual high-carb junk. The after pictures are from a mere three months later. The couple continued the exercise but switched to a paleo diet, eating whatever "they wanted from meats, fish, chicken, seasonal fruits, and veggies." The difference is almost shocking. (The pictures are found in the link above, but the full discussion is in this MS Word document.)

    The original source, Robb Wolf, says, "From my experience bad nutrition will block virtually all the effects of exercise."

    (One of the benefits of being home again after OCON is the capacity to eat all and only what I want. Life is so much better that way!)

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    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    The Tabata Method

    By Diana Hsieh

    Wowee. Tonight, I tried my first exercise session using the Tabata Method. (I learned of it thanks to some blogging by my old friend Joshua, under the guidance of another old friend Kirez.)

    Here's how it works, according to an excellent introductory article:

    It's simple: take one exercise and perform it in the following manner:

    1) For twenty seconds, do as many repetitions as possible.

    2) Rest for ten seconds

    3) Repeat seven more times!

    That's it! You're done in four minutes! Oh, and that thing you're trying to brush off your face? That would be the floor.
    I did a four-minute block of front squats -- just carrying an extra ten pounds of weights. (I didn't want to overload myself.) And yes, by the end, my face did need to be scraped off the floor. I was breathing like I'd just run a series of sprints, and my quads were quivering like a bowl of jello. (Even an hour later, my legs were still weak!) After I recovered a bit, I did a set of easy pushups on my TRX suspension system. (My shoulders felt huge afterward.) Next I did a set of bicep curls, then a set of situps. Those last three sessions were challenging, but nothing like the squats. Also, I should mention that to track my time, I used the very handy Tabata-Clock on my laptop.

    I suspect that I'm going to be quite sore tomorrow. But if not, then I know that I can ramp up the weight!

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    Raw Milk

    By Diana Hsieh

    I recently bought a share of a cow from Isle Farms, so that I can enjoy the delights of raw milk. One share yields about a gallon per week.

    Raw milk is straight from the cow, without any pasteurization (i.e. heating to kill any bacteria) or homogenization (i.e. forced straining of fats for consistency). It's what I grew up drinking as a kid, courtesy of our local dairy farmer in New Jersey. (When I was 11, my family moved to Maryland. That was the end of our raw milk, unfortunately.) From what I've read, raw milk does entail a somewhat higher risk of food borne illness than pasteurized milk, but it's still less than other ordinary foods like deli meats and hot dogs.

    The regulation of raw milk is completely insane. In California, raw milk and its products like butter and cheese can be bought directly from stores. That's ideal. However, in many states, the sale of raw milk is banned completely, as if it were cocaine. (Not that I'm in favor of the drug war, but raw milk is not on par with addictive drugs, no matter how tasty!) In other states, distribution of raw milk is permitted but heavily regulated -- at the point of the gun, as these government raids illustrate.

    Colorado is one of those regulated states. Basically, it's permissible to drink raw milk from your own cow. That allows a few small farmers across the state to sell shares of cows to people like me, who then pay a monthly boarding fee, all in order to obtain a few gallons of raw milk per month. Farmers are not permitted to sell raw milk directly to willing buyers, nor even give it away. Even under the cowshare program, farms cannot distribute butter and cheese. (I have made my own butter using these simple instructions.) Still, I'm happy that raw milk is available in Colorado at all, as it's only legal in a bare majority of states. (Here's a handy summary of the state of the law in Colorado and all other states regarding raw milk.)

    The New York Times ran a story last year on the demand for raw milk in face of government regulation: Should This Milk Be Legal? It's worth a quick read, if you're interested. Also, if you'd like to learn more about pervasive government control of agriculture, Monica has a good post on that, including links to information on how to fight the attempt to impose more regulations on farmers. (Those regulations would be particularly burdensome for small farms like Isle Farms.)

    As for why I'm going to so much trouble to obtain raw milk, I have two reasons. First, it tastes much better. It's deeply satisfying in a way that its equivalent of pasteurized, homogenized whole milk equivalent is not. Second, it's part of an overall change in diet. I'm consuming more protein and certain kinds of fats, and I'm trying to avoid stuffing myself full of goodness-only-knows-what from processed foods, particularly carbohydrates. I'm also interested in trying natural grass-fed beef, likely from this local supplier, as I have worries about the inappropriate feed given to cows intended for consumption. (I'm also interested in more natural forms of other meats like pork, lamb, and chicken.)

    I'm quite pleased with the change in my diet already. The food tastes better to me, and I've lost my gnawing cravings for sugar. That's definitely good news.

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