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!

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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!

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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!

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