Saturday, December 26, 2009

Paleo Notes on Chocolate

By Diana Hsieh

A few weeks ago, I posted the following notes on chocolate and dairy to OEvolve. As some of them might be of interest, here they are, with some editing:

  • To make unsweetened chocolate milk, just add pure cocoa powder to milk. (You might need to whisk or blend it, as it might not dissolve easily.) That's how I make my hot cocoa -- with just milk and cocoa powder. I find that the milk is sweet enough for me. (In years past, hot cocoa was just a delivery device for marshmallows. Ugh.)

  • The flourless chocolate cake I made for Thanksgiving -- using the Cook's Illustrated recipe -- was fantastic. I used a pound-bar of 70% dark chocolate from Trader Joe's (obtained when I was in California). Other than that, the cake contains only 1/2 pound of butter and eight eggs. You can also add 1/4 cup of liquor or strong coffee. It's super-rich, so a small slice is almost too much. Topped with whipped cream -- no sugar necessary -- it's heavenly!

  • Regarding cream, I recently discovered that Costco sells a very thick whipping cream in 1/2 gallon jugs. All whipping cream in my regular grocery stores is ultra-pasteurized, whereas this cream is merely pasteurized. When I opened it, the top had the nice crust of the super-dense cream that I often find in my raw milk. It tastes great -- much better than any of the ultra-pasteurized cream I've been buying. And it whips up wonderfully, also better than ultra-pasteurized cream. So that cream from Costco is now my backup cream for when I don't have enough raw cream.

  • I accidentally made my own chocolate mouse some months ago. I started with a few spoonfuls of cocoa powder in a small bowl, and I gradually added a bit of cream, then whisked until well-blended, then added more cream, and whisked more, and so on. I was trying to make chocolate sauce for some fruit, as Ari Armstrong does with cocoa powder and water. I was baffled by the fact that the cream just seemed to be continuously absorbed by the cocoa. But I continued. Ultimately, I ended up with a really excellent mousse.
I love chocolate!

Read more...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Food-O-Rama

By Diana Hsieh

  • Is foie gras torture? Although animal rights activists say "yes," the facts clearly say otherwise. The fact that these activists persist in their lawsuits against humanely-raised fois gras tells me that they're far more interested in diminishing human welfare (by preventing any use of animals for human ends) than in promoting animal welfare.

  • The Los Angeles Times reports on the growing criticism of fruit juice: It's time fruit juice loses its wholesome image, some experts say. Despite the connection to rights-violating "sin taxes," I'm glad to see questions raised about the health of juice.

  • What the World Eats -- a fascinating photoessay showing a week's worth of food for families around the world. The two American families stood out: almost everything on their menu seemed to be packaged junk.

  • Someday, I'd love to get a miniature Jersey cow. Seriously. Maybe I can get a curly-haired pig too. I've got plenty of room in my new barn!

  • Monica Hughes of FA/RM, OEvolve, and Ancestral Generation published an op-ed in the Denver Post this week on Animal fat, sugar and diabetes. She analyzes a study to reject the conclusion that exercise and low-fat diet prevent diabetes.

    Read more...
  • Saturday, December 12, 2009

    A Week of Sous Vide

    By Diana Hsieh

    Tomorrow, I'll be 35 years old. To celebrate the occasion, Paul bought me a Sous Vide Supreme, the amazing slow-water-bath-vacuum-cooker developed by the Drs. Eades. I managed to wheedle dispensation from him to open it a week early. As my Twitter followers know, I enjoyed a week of delicious experimental cooking with it. Sadly, Paul wasn't able to partake of the fruits of those experiments, as he was in Florida for medical conference all week. (Don't feel too sorry for him. He also missed our freezing cold weather, including an overnight low of -18° F!)

    This post is my report on my five days of cooking with the Sous Vide Supreme.

    The Sous Vide Method

    First, what is sous vide? It's a method of cooking all manner of foods -- on par with roasting, grilling, braising, or sautéeing. To understand sous vide, let's contrast it with the common features of those other methods of cooking.

    Normally, we cook meat using temperatures significantly higher than desired in the food itself, then remove the meat from the heat when its middle becomes sufficiently hot. If you're cooking a medium-rare steak, the result is that the meat is well-done on the edges, but then increasingly medium-rare toward the middle. If you overshoot by allowing the meat to remain in the heat for too long, the temperature of the meat continues to rise, rendering it overcooked. Also, the meat loses moisture as it cooks.

    The sous vide method of cooking is dramatically different. As the Sous Vide Supreme web site explains:

    Sous vide (pronounced soo veed) is a culinary technique that involves cooking vacuum-sealed food at a consistent, low temperature for a longer length of time than compared to other methods. The term sous vide is French for "under vacuum," and was developed in the mid-1970s by chef Georges Pralus for the Restaurant Troisgros in Roanne, France.
    So if I want a medium-rare steak sous vide, I seal the meat in an inexpensive vaccum ziplock bag with any desired spices. I immerse the bag in a vat of 125° F water for a few hours. (I can remove it from the water bath pretty much whenever I please: the window is hours, not seconds.) The whole steak is cooked to 125° F; it's perfectly medium rare throughout. The fat has melted, and little if any moisture is lost. Then, just before serving, I can create a crust on the meat by a very quick sear in a hot pan or using a torch.

    The sous vide method has long been used in fancy restaurants. Drs. Mary Dan and Michael Eades (of Protein Power fame) recently developed a sous vide machine suitable for home use: the Sous Vide Supreme.

    The sous vide method requires keeping the water at precisely the right temperature, so the Sous Vide Supreme is no small feat. It does that work remarkably well. It's sturdy, well-designed, and amazingly easy to use.

    Here's mine. That's its lid and rack next to it. The machine is a bit large, just a bit bigger than large bread machine. However, with the staggered handles, it's pretty easy to move around.

    As I mentioned, I've been cooking up a storm with my Sous Vide Supreme this week. What did I make?

    Monday

    My very first dish was French-style scrambled eggs, using the recipe posted by MD Eades. I had some problems -- of my own making, as I didn't set the temperature high enough at first. Then I overcooked the eggs somewhat. However, the results were completely completely fantastic, unlike any eggs I've had before. They were not just super-flavorful but also smooth and delicate like pudding.

    Because these eggs are cooked for such a short time, so I'm pretty sure you could make them without any fancy sous vide machine. Dr. Eades has some helpful instructions for Do-It-Yourself Sous Vide, but even that set-up might not be required. (Dr. Eades might seem like a nice guy for posting those instructions, but don't be fooled! He's just trying to get you sous-vide addicted, so that you'll succumb to the charms of his Sous Vide Supreme!)

    For dinner, I made salmon, using this recipe from Free the Animal. Basically, I just threw the salmon in the bag with a bit of butter, lemon, and dill, then cooked it at 120° F for 40 minutes. It was very flavorful and dense, but I might try it at a slightly higher temperature, perhaps 125° F, next time. (Update: I've since tried 130° F, which I liked a great deal.)

    The cooking of fish can be very difficult to time. Even if you watch it like a hawk, it's something of a crapshoot. Plus, it can get stinky and messy. I really appreciated the ease of cooking perfect fish sous vide.

    Tuesday

    For breakfast, I made myself four "custard eggs," based on these instructions. Basically, I just put the eggs directly in the water bath, cooking them at 145° F for one hour. Whereas I normally only eat two eggs at a time, I gobbled up these four eggs in no time at all! The whites were very delicate, something like a poached egg, and the yolk was runny but slightly thick.

    To my surprise, the eggs couldn't be peeled like soft-boiled eggs: they were too soft. So I cracked them open like raw eggs, and they slid out onto my plate perfectly. It was so easy! I plan to try cooking in-shell eggs sous vide using a variety of temperatures, to see what I like best.

    For dinner, I made myself a 1.5 pound ribeye steak. I cooked it sous vide at 125° F for about six hours. Then I seared it in a very hot pan with bacon grease for one minute on each side. It browned up surprisingly well, without the too-deep layer of well-done common with grilling.

    The steak was delicious, but not evenly cooked throughout. I'm not quite sure why not: I might try cooking it for longer next time, but perhaps at a slightly lower temperature. (Update: I need a higher temperature, particularly for cooking that length of time. I've since done 130° F on sirloin with great results.)

    Oh and yes, I did eat the whole thing! I was really, really hungry!

    Wednesday

    I made myself French-style scrambled eggs again, following the recipe properly this time. It was three eggs, plus a bit of cream and butter, plus an added bonus of goat cheese. I cooked it at 167° F for ten minutes, then I massaged the bag, then I cooked it again for another five minutes. Wowee, it was just as phenomenal as the first batch, if not better! The goat cheese was a very nice addition.

    For lunch, I decided to try making vegetables sous vide. I chopped up two zucchini into 1/2 inch thick circles, added a bit of stock, laid them flat in a gallon vacuum ziplock. I wasn't sure how long and how hot to cook them. The guide that came with the machine had some other vegetable recipes, all recommending 183° F for at least two hours. So that's what I did.

    That was a serious mistake! They were terribly overcooked, although still edible. Next time, I think that one hour, if not less, would be sufficient. Also, I suspect that the bit of stock increased the cooking rate. I'll have to experiment with that a bit.

    For dinner, I made lamb loin chops, with butter, dried herbs, and garlic in the bag. I cooked them for a bit over four hours at 122° F, then ate them directly, without searing them.

    As you can see, the chops cooked perfectly evenly. That surprised me a bit, as they can be difficult to cook evenly by conventional methods, primarily due to the bone. Although these chops look quite red, they didn't have any of that raw texture that I find difficult to eat. They were firm and tender throughout. However, I didn't like the garlic flavor: it was bitter. I'm pretty sure that was because I didn't sear them. Overall though, they were quite delicious.

    When I was preparing this lamb, I realized that I could also prepare the other four lamb chops in the vaccum bag, with the herbs and butter, then freeze that. Whenever I want to use it, all that I need to do is thaw it, then throw it in the Sous Vide Supreme. Hooray for easy!

    Thursday

    For lunch, I cooked four eggs in shell again, this time at 146° F rather than 145° F. They were basically the same, but you can see the custard-like yolk in this picture. Next time, I'll do 147° F or 148° F.

    For dinner, I ate my one leftover lamb chop. I just allowed that to sit on the counter for about a half hour to warm up, then I seared it in a hot pan for two minutes per side. To my surprise, the taste of this lamb chop was better than the chops of the night before. The searing transformed the garlic flavor into something more palatable, I think.

    Friday

    For lunch, I made French-style scrambled eggs, yet again. (Hmmm... do I like them? Take a guess!) The results were different than before, to my surprise.

    This time, I used six eggs at 167° F, again with goat cheese. (No, I didn't eat all six eggs: I had a friend over for lunch. However, I'm pretty sure that I could eat six such eggs all by myself!) When time was up, I was worried that they weren't done enough, so I mushed them a bit again, then cooked them for an extra 2 minutes -- meaning 17 minutes total. They were less dense than my previous eggs, yet still insanely delicious. (Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture.)

    I quickly realized that the difference was due to the additional eggs: they just didn't cook as much. Ultimately, they looked far more like the eggs in the recipe posted by MD Eades. (That recipe calls for five eggs.)

    I learned two lessons here: (1) I need to be alert to small changes that might affect cooking times. And (2) these eggs can be cooked more or less, and they're delicious regardless!

    For dinner, I made hamburgers. That sounds crazy, but I wanted to try it! I cooked a pound of hamburger, divided into four patties, for three hours at 130° F, with a dab of bacon grease on each. Then I seared two of them in a hot pan for a minute on each side. (I plan to sear and eat the other two for breakfast tomorrow. The green stuff is creamy broccoli purée.)

    These burgers were delicious! As you can see they were perfectly medium-rare throughout. They were also super-tender. I might try bumping the temperature up to 135° F next time, as I prefer my burgers medium. Still, these burgers had none of that nasty raw taste: they look more rare than they tasted. Also, I could definitely sear them for a bit longer to get a better crust next time.

    I think I could cook the most phenomenal meatloaf in the sous vide: it would be flavorful, juicy, and cooked only to medium, not well done. Yummy!

    The Future

    I didn't cook any pork or chicken this week! So that's definitely on the agenda for next week.

    I'm also interested in experimenting with fruit and other (paleo-friendly) desserts.

    The Upside

    So what do I think about the sous vide cooking method? I'm really, really impressed. Why?

    First, it's incredibly easy. The preparation is simple: pre-heat the Sous Vide Supreme, throw the food into the bag, suck out the air, and submerge it in the Sous Vide. When its time is up, you can simply slide the food out of the bag and on to your plate. You don't need to watch over it, checking temperatures, as you would for other cooking methods. For me, that's huge: I'm now free to fully immerse myself in other tasks while the food is cooking. Plus, I don't have coordination problems with vegetables, as I know that I'll be able to pull out the meat whenever the vegetables are ready.

    Interestingly, the Sous Vide Supreme even makes hefty cooking -- like a Thanksgiving turkey -- far easier. MD Eades blogged about the preparation differences in cooking a turkey in the oven versus in the Sous Vide Supreme. The difference in effort is not trivial.

    Undoubtedly, sous vide does require some advance planning. A steak will take hours to cook, and short ribs require three days. That's something new for me, as I don't do much slow cooking. Ordinarily, my pan-fried hamburgers are a 15-minute meal, from start to finish. So three hours requires something of a mental shift. But I'm more than willing to muddle through that.

    Second, the results are consistently delicious. Apart from my failed zucchini experiment, the food I've cooked sous vide this week has ranged from slightly better to insanely better than when cooked by my usual methods. The eggs are truly phenomenal, unlike anything one can make by other means. The meat is much more evenly cooked, the perfect temperature, and wonderfully moist.

    I've been cooking seriously for over a decade, and I've become a pretty darn good home cook in that time. Over the past year-and-a-half, my switch to a paleo-ish diet has simplified my cooking -- and improved it. The sous vide will take my cooking to a whole new level of yummy simplicity. I feel like I'm cheating! Still, I know that I have much to learn.

    The Possible Downside

    Although sous vide is very easy to use, I wouldn't recommend it for a novice or timid cook -- yet. Why not?

    Given that sous vide home cooking is so new, helpful guidelines can be found for some of foods, but the waters are largely uncharted. (No pun intended!) So sous vide success requires the ability to extrapolate from limited information, based on a background knowledge of methods of cooking. You don't need to be an expert chef, but solid experience as a home cook, preferably based on conceptual instruction like that provided by Cook's Illustrated, would help.

    For example, although I'd seen a mention of people cooking meatballs and hamburgers sous vide, I couldn't find any instructions for doing so. So I improvised based on the recommendations for steak, paying special attention to the standards for safety. It wasn't hard, and the results were excellent. Yet I know that many people wouldn't or couldn't do that. (I will write up a separate post about the hamburgers, as I took a picture with every step.)

    The cooking guide provided with the Sous Vide Supreme is clear, straightforward, and mostly helpful. Yet frustratingly, the temperatures for meats are consistently too high. Presumably, that's for legal reasons: it follows the government guidelines. The government wants us to think that medium-rare is 135° F. Do they think we're morons? (Yes. Yes, they do.)

    The good news is that the web will soon been a good source of advice on sous vide cooking. I'm sure we can expect more great recipes on the Sous Vide Supreme Blog. Douglas Baldwin is developing a great resource with A Practical Guide to Sous Vide Cooking. Also, food bloggers will be stepping up to the plate. (Pun intended!) Richard Nikoley has been blogging up a sous vide storm on Free the Animal of late with Sous-Vide Supreme Maiden Voyage: Chicken, Salmon Sous Vide, and Sous Vide: Scrambled Eggs, Bavette, Pork Chops & Pears. I might do some more sous vide blogging myself, but mostly, I plan to make fairly detailed records of what I cook and the results, so that I have my own private store of data on sous vide cooking.

    Another downside for some people will be the expense of the Sous Vide Supreme. It's pricey. Personally, I think it's worth every penny Paul spent for it. But others might want to think twice about such a purchase.

    Other Notes

    Before I close, let me mention a few more random points of potential interest.

    First: I bought the Reynolds vacuum pump with the Sous Vide Supreme. That was a mistake on three counts. First, it didn't work. (I need to contact customer service about that. I'm sure we'll get it straightened out.) Second, Reynolds has stopped making the bags, although apparently the pump works with some other bags. Third and most importantly, I already own the equivalent Ziploc Vaccum System. (When Paul placed the order, I thought the Sous Vide Supreme required something fancier than the super-simple system I had already.) I'm going to stick with the Ziplock system, so I just ordered a slew of quart and gallon bags from Drugstore.com.

    Second: Food safety is somewhat different using sous vide than using conventional methods. Somewhat to my surprise, cooking temperature isn't all that matters for destroying bacteria: the duration of cooking matters too. Sous vide rocks on that score. Yet if the food is handled improperly, botulism can be a risk. This helpful post discusses these issues.

    Third: One common question about cooking sous vide is whether the plastic might leech chemicals. That's not an unfounded worry, given what we've discovered about the BPA lining canned foods. However, from what I understand, that's not a concern, provided that the proper bags are used. (It helps that the food is cooked at such a low temperature.) Moreover, the sous vide method has some noteworthy benefits such as minimizing the oxidation of polyunsaturated fats.

    Fourth: Congratulations to the Drs. Eades for a very positive article on the Sous Vide Supreme in the NY Times: Sous Vide Moves From Avant-Garde to the Countertop. Publicity doesn't get much better than that! And it's well-deserved.

    Finally: Thank you, Drs. Eades for developing the Sous Vide Supreme! It's going to be tons of cooking and eating fun!

    P.S. If you want to acquire the fabulous device that is a Sous Vide Supreme....

    Special Offer: Easy Sous Vide Demi Promo Package. Shop Now!

    Read more...

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Thyroid Update

    By Diana Hsieh

    Last Tuesday, my thyroid nodule was repeatedly poked for a biopsy. (My neck wasn't happy about that, I must admit!) The biopsy went fine, and results weren't so bad.

    Initially, the pathologist's reading was basically, "maybe cancer, maybe not." That wasn't terribly helpful! The odds were very good that the nodule wasn't cancer. Yet that couldn't be ruled out, based on the mere look of the cells. The standard of care in such cases is to remove the nodule, along with the half the thyroid. Then the pathologist can perform the much easier task of examining a whole slice of tissue to determine whether it's composed of evil mutant cells or not. I wasn't too enthused about that, as you might imagine: I'm eager to get back to work. ("Good news, you didn't need the surgery! Now enjoy your weeks of recovery to full strength!")

    Happily, we were able to get a second reading from a pathologist specializing in cytopathology. He's reasonably confident that the nodule is merely benign goiter, so we plan to simply do a recheck ultrasound in six months.

    I'm not sure if the nodule and the hypothyroidism are related. However, I'm leaning toward the hypothesis that iodine deficiency might be the underlying cause, as discussed by Dr. Davis in this helpful article.

    As for my hypothyroidism, I'm not feeling quite as bad as I was a few weeks ago, but I'm not feeling terribly well. I'm lethargic; I tire easily. I'm having trouble concentrating -- or even remembering what I said five minutes ago. My body temperatures are still low, and I'm cold. I'm still gaining weight. My carpal tunnel is still bothering me. I've not had the depression of a few weeks ago, thankfully. I'm definitely doing a bit better -- but only a bit. I'll have been on the Synthroid for three weeks as of Tuesday, so I'm going to speak to my doctor about increasing my dose -- if not switching to dessicated thyroid.

    So for now, I'm still on a reduced schedule. My primary concern is to keep churning out new episodes of Explore Atlas Shrugged. You should consider anything else to be an unexpected bonus.

    Read more...

    Saturday, November 21, 2009

    Hypothyroidism: Lethargic, Fat, Pained, and Cold

    By Diana Hsieh

    The past few weeks have been a drag for me. I've just not been feeling right. I've been lethargic, even somewhat depressed. Based on those and other symptoms, I suspected thyroid problems. I was right. I've been diagnosed with mild hypothyroidism, plus a two-centimeter thyroid nodule.

    My symptoms seem to have started in a clear way in early September, then accelerated hugely in early November. In short...

    • I've been generally lethargic, with far less energy than usual. I used to have tons of energy, since my change in diet last July. I would run up hills during six-hour hikes for fun. I would do jumping squats while waiting for meat to grill. I needed my daily workouts to burn off steam. That changed this fall. I didn't want to work out or exert myself. In late September, I was very easily worn out by the hiking that Paul and I did with my father. I didn't want to run around outside with Conrad.

    • I've gained weight. Much to my dismay, I've gained about eight pounds in eight weeks, despite eating in a way that should have kept my weight steady. (I feel enormous: it's awful.) Also, I found myself unable to fast: I've needed regular inputs of food to keep myself going or I would crash. The last time I tried fasting, I crashed hard around 23 hours. I was shaky and ill, with a blood sugar of only 54. My attempts to raise it by exercise were totally fruitless. Also, my digestive system hasn't been working right: it protests if I do so much as skip a single meal. (I won't inflict the specifics on you.)

    • I've lost muscle power. At OCON in early July, I was able to leg press 320 pounds. In mid-September, I was down to 210. By late October, I was down to 150. Given the slow-burn-type workouts I was doing this fall, my power should have been increasing, not declining rapidly.

    • I've been cold, cold, cold. Last winter, I was remarkably warm and toasty, thanks to my change in diet. This fall, I was freezing. My temperatures -- tested with a good basal thermometer -- have been in the 96s. Only rarely have I gotten into the 97s, and then only in the bottom half. (I have been in the upper half of the 95s, much to my astonishment.)

    • I suddenly developed severe carpal tunnel problems in early October, even though my desk is set up the same as ever. I've also had mysterious aches in my left elbow and neck for the past two months that never seemed to go away.

    • I've been depressed on occasion without cause. In general, I've felt deeply unmotivated and emotionally flat. I just don't care: I've lost my too-hot passions. I've also had some bizarre bouts of utterly inexplicable and pathetic misery -- like crying because the interior of my car stank like solvent for about two minutes after the mechanic returned it to me. Seriously, that's just dumb.

    • I've had difficulty concentrating. My productivity has declined hugely over the past few weeks, to the point where I'm barely able to do my one Atlas Shrugged podcast per week.
    Strangely, apart from the depression and the carpal tunnel, these symptoms made me feel like I was back to eating loads of carbs and other junk. In fact, I've been eating as paleo-ish as ever. For many weeks, I just assumed that I was being lazy, gluttonous, and weak-willed. Despite all that I know, I found it remarkably easy to blame and flog myself.

    However, as I became more depressed and flat, I realized that something was seriously amiss. Thanks to some excellent hints and prodding from Monica Hughes, I realized that so much of what I was feeling matched the standard symptoms of hypothyroidism. Oh, and I should mention that I've had problems sleeping (very unusual for me), my cholesterol has been rising (despite no change in diet), and I could feel a lump on my neck where my thyroid is. Also, I've got a solid family history of thyroid problems.

    My doctor agreed to do a thyroid blood panel before I saw her on November 10th. (That was good; I hate doing results over the phone.) That bloodwork showed an elevated (and rising) TSH of 3.23, as well as somewhat low free T3 and T4. That, in addition to my symptoms, suggested early hypothyroidism.

    So I'm now on a fairly low dose of Synthroid, i.e. synthetic T4. That medication takes a few weeks to take full effect, so we'll likely need to gradually adjust my dose based on my symptoms and lab values over the next year. (The aim is to get my TSH down to about 1.) I would have preferred desiccated thyroid over T4, as many people report far better results, due to getting the full range of thyroid hormones. However, thanks to the regulatory overlords at the FDA, that's been nearly impossible to obtain in the US for the past few months. If I'm not happy with the Synthroid, then I'll make the effort to obtain desiccated thyroid from overseas.

    On the 17th, I had an ultrasound of my thyroid. The lump I felt on my neck turned out to be a two centimeter nodule. Frustratingly, it's not clear whether -- and in what way -- the hypothyroidism and the nodule are related. I wonder whether the underlying cause might be iodine deficiency, particularly given that I don't consume much iodized salt. (Dr. Davis, the Heart Scan Doc, has written quite a bit on this problem.) However, I'm pretty thoroughly confused by all that I've read on iodine and thyroid. I think I ought to supplement, but I fear doing more damage to my thyroid. (I'm now eating a bit of sea vegetable every day for its iodine content, but I'm not sure that's the right thing to do.)

    I'm scheduled for an aspiration of my thyroid nodule on Monday. That should be an easy procedure. The nodule is not likely composed of evil mutant cancer cells, but it's worth checking. Plus, I figure that I ought to get whatever medical care I can before Obama can ration everything based on collective cost savings.

    For the moment, I'm feeling somewhat better. Granted, I'm still lethargic, fat, pained, and cold. Life still sucks. However, life sucks less than it did a few weeks ago. Right now, I count that as a win.

    My plan is to keep myself relatively quiet through this Thanksgiving week, then try to get back to work in earnest in the first week of December. November feels like a lost month for me, and I hate that. Hopefully, December will be a month of happy frolicking for me.

    Read more...

    Saturday, November 07, 2009

    Vegan Channels the Pope

    By Diana Hsieh

    Here's an unexpected demonstration of the power of philosophy, even amongst those completely oblivious to it. In this video, a rather ditzy vegan girl addresses the charge that vegans and vegetarians are guilty of killing tons of wild animals in the process of planting and harvesting crops. (It's true!)



    As I observed in a comment on Free the Animal, she doesn't know it, but she's actually appealing to the Catholic doctrine of double effect.

    The doctrine (or principle) of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. It is claimed that sometimes it is permissible to cause such a harm as a side effect (or "double effect") of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. This reasoning is summarized with the claim that sometimes it is permissible to bring about as a merely foreseen side effect a harmful event that it would be impermissible to bring about intentionally.
    How does that apply here? According to ditzy-vegan-girl, it's morally okay to do something wrong (like killing animals) as an unintended side effect of pursuing a good end (like eating veggies) but not okay to do that same wrong thing (killing animals) as a direct means to your ends (like eating meat).

    Of course, the doctrine of double effect doesn't actually help her answer the moral charge here. The doctrine is a handy tool of rationalization for people with ethics so disconnected from reality that they simply must violate them to live. It's not a real ethical principle.

    Ditzy-vegan-girl surely hasn't ever heard of the doctrine of double effect, yet she's using it all the same. That's the power of philosophy.

    Read more...

    Health Link-O-Rama

    By Diana Hsieh

  • Three runners die during Detroit marathon. I used to admire marathon runners, thinking them to be at the peak of fitness. No more: such deaths are pretty common -- not because people haven't trained well enough, but apparently because they're doing so much damage to their bodies.

  • Twin study reveals secrets to looking younger. The article is interesting, but the slideshow is fascinating.

  • Calorie Postings Don't Change Habits, Study Finds. I'm sure that won't dissuade our government nannies though.

  • Wonder Sauna Hot Pants were supposed to make you "look better, feel better, wake up your body." In fact, they only made you look completely absurd.

  • Paleolithic diet adopts primal, evolutionary health approach by Robert O'Callahan argues that the standard views on diet in America today reflect belief in original sin and the evil of the body more than they do science.

  • Statinators spill the beans: Dr. Michael Eades reads between the lines of a new study on niacin. The results? Statins might reduce LDL, but they don't do squat about plaque on the carotid arteries.

    Read more...
  • Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Marshmallow Test

    By Diana Hsieh

    Ah yes, the sweet allure of sugar combined with the cuteness of children in the marshmallow test.


    I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the video. The kids are super-cute, but that kind of attraction to sugar is seriously unhealthy, not just physically but mentally too. I know that too well from my own experience!

    Read more...

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    New OList E-mail List: OEvolve

    By Diana Hsieh

    I'm delighted to announce the creation of a new OList.com e-mail list for paleo-ish Objectivists (and lurkers) to share information and resources: OEvolve. You can sign up to the Google Group here, but please be sure to peruse this basic information on the list before doing so:

    OEvolve @ OList.com

    OEvolve is an informal private mailing list for Objectivists and others interested in the proper application of evolutionary principles to diet, fitness, and health. Its basic purpose is to facilitate discussion and information-sharing amongst Objectivists about the practical sciences of cooking, nutrition, fitness, health, and more.

    Any Objectivist committed to eating an evolutionary-based diet may participate in OEvolve. Such diets encompass low-carb, paleo, and traditional diets -- including Cordain's Paleo Diet, Sears' Zone Diet, Eades' Protein Power, Weston A. Price's Traditional Diet, and all the myriad variations thereof. Any Objectivist seriously considering switching to such a diet is also welcome to subscribe and post. Moreover, non-Objectivist evolutionary eaters, as well as Objectivists merely curious about such diets, are welcome to subscribe to the list, but only as lurkers; they cannot post.

    OEvolve is managed by Monica Hughes. Monica received an MSc and PhD in forest pathology and mycology from State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) in 2008. She is the founder of Free Agriculture - Restore Markets (FA/RM). She can be reached at monicabeth10@gmail.com.

    Subscription

    To join the OEvolve mailing list as a poster, you must meet two criteria:
    • You must be an Objectivist, meaning that you agree with and live by the principles of Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism as best you understand them. Newcomers to Objectivism are just as welcome as old-timers. Please do not subscribe if you consider yourself to be a libertarian (or associate with the Libertarian Party), advocate revising Objectivism (like David Kelley's "open system"), or associate with the dishonest pseudo-advocates of Objectivism (most notably David Kelley, Nathaniel Branden, Barbara Branden, and Chris Sciabarra).

    • You must eat some form of evolutionary-based diet -- or be in the process of seriously considering or working on doing so.
    To join the OEvolve mailing list as a lurker, you need only meet either the first or the second criterion. Please indicate that you wish to only lurk when requesting to join the list. If you are confused or doubtful about the subscription criteria, please contact the list manager Monica Hughes.

    Do you wish to join OEvolve? To do so, you must request a subscription via this web form. The OEvolve list is managed through Google Groups, so subscribing requires an account with Google. (It's free and easy to create.) In requesting a subscription, you will be asked to confirm that you meet the criteria for membership.

    After you subscribe, please feel free to post an introduction, including your name, location, and a bit about your interest in evolutionary-based health.

    List Rules

    The OEvolve list has a few basic rules:
    • Please be friendly or at least civil in posts to the list. Subscribers who behave like asses, such as by insulting other list members or attacking Objectivist intellectuals, will be removed from the list.

    • Please respect the purpose of the list. Subscribers who prove disruptive to the basic purpose of the list -- such as by attempting to arguing against Objectivist positions or posting on irrelevant topics -- will be unsubscribed or subject to moderation.
    Interested? Then sign up now!

    Also, just as a reminder, the other four lists in my ever-growing OList.com empire are:
    • OActivists: OActivists is an informal e-mail list for Objectivists committed to fostering positive cultural and political change. Its purpose is to facilitate and encourage effective advocacy of Objectivist ideas in non-Objectivist forums by facilitating communication with other Objectivist activists. Posts to the list alert subscribers to opportunities to speak out, recommend sources of information, discuss effective arguments and principled strategies, reproduce op-eds and letters written by subscribers, announce events, and more.

    • OBloggers: OBloggers is an informal mailing list for Objectivist bloggers. Its basic purpose is to facilitate communication about matters of mutual interest, such as upcoming events, posts of interest, best blogging practices, and the like.

    • OAcademics: OAcademics is a forum for Objectivist academics to discuss teaching, research, coursework, dissertations, job prospects, publication, and all other aspects of life in (or after) academia. The list is basically a means of sharing knowledge and experience as ever more Objectivists enter academia.

    • OGrownups: OGrownups is an informal mailing list for Objectivists interested in raising and educating children well. Its basic purpose is to facilitate discussion about child development, discipline techniques, education methods, parenting resources, and more.

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    CrossFit: Three.. Two.. One.. GO!

    By Greg Perkins

    I started looking into CrossFit after seeing it mentioned by various health/fitness guys I've learned a lot from -- like Richard Nickoley, Mark Sisson, and Art De Vany, who talk about the value of mixing things up, using high intensity, intervals, resistance training and such. I liked what I was finding in the methodology and was intrigued at its potential, so I was eager for an opportunity to try CrossFit in a way that includes the coaching I knew I would need to not hurt my middle-aged self. (Sure, it's free if you do it at home, but who goes out on their own and just starts doing Olympic-style lifts? Not me!) Happily, a couple of months ago Tammy and I noticed that a CrossFit gym was about to open near our house. We checked it out and took the plunge! So far, it's been very cool.

    Before giving reports from the front and breaking out the obligatory pictures of progress, let's start with a little about what CrossFit is. The headquarters site says

    CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.

    Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.
    And in a CrossFit Foundations article, creator Greg Glassman writes, "CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program. We have designed our program to elicit as broad an adaptational response as possible. CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains. They are Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy."

    Of course, I'm not a Navy SEAL, a stick-fighting champion, or a fireman -- but developing serious competence in all of these domains, and therefore a powerful "ready state," would be awfully useful for the sorts of play I like to engage in: mountain biking, summit-scrambling, snowboarding, maybe a spontaneous half-marathon hill run or whatever else Tammy or my friends might want to draw me into. And it would come in handy for those (hopefully vanishingly) rare times when Stuff Happens -- plus as I age, maintaining as much physical capacity as possible would be invaluable for health and autonomy.

    There's a lot of empirical observation and some pretty good epistemology behind various aspects that I can go into later, but today I'll just share the central CrossFit prescription for efficiently achieving that broad, general, and inclusive fitness: constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity. Every element of that is essential. Glassman breaks it down in a brief article on Understanding CrossFit:
    Functional movements are universal motor recruitment patterns; they are performed in a wave of contraction from core to extremity; and they are compound movements -- i.e., they are multi-joint. They are natural, effective, and efficient locomotors of body and external objects. [Author's note: Examples include squats, pullups, situps, jumping, running, throwing, lifts like deadlift and clean & jerk and overhead press. They are elemental movements, used in lots of activities.] But no aspect of functional movements is more important than their capacity to move large loads over long distances, and to do so quickly. Collectively, these three attributes (load, distance, and speed) uniquely qualify functional movements for the production of high power. Intensity is defined exactly as power, and intensity is the independent variable most commonly associated with maximizing favorable adaptation to exercise.

    Recognizing that the breadth and depth of a program’s stimulus will determine the breadth and depth of the adaptation it elicits, our prescription of functionality and intensity is constantly varied. We believe that preparation for random physical challenges -- i.e., unknown and unknowable events -- is at odds with fixed, predictable, and routine regimens. [emphasis and paragraph break mine]
    Plateauing is not easy when the adaptational response never has a fixed target -- plus, the novelty of not knowing what will be coming next keeps us from getting bored. As sick as it might sound, it actually becomes a fun adventure to show up at the gym not knowing what challenge we'll be hit with! One day it's a 5k run or row for time; another day it's finding the maximum weights you can deadlift, press, and back-squat; on another it is a butt-kicking, lung-searing sequence of a dozen varied exercises done for time (here's one we were given a week or two ago, as demonstrated by a bunch of uber-fit trainers at a certification: [wmv][mov]).


    CrossFit turns fitness itself into a sport by making general fitness quantifiable, setting standards, and measuring performance in a very visible way. So people get to see their own development, have fun competing with themselves and their buddies in some sense, get encouragement in a group setting, and so on. This all goes toward motivation and intensity (making it fun to show up, and keeping you engaged in the work when it's soooo hard).

    Turning fitness into a sport also makes the CrossFit Games possible. The Games are a proving ground for demonstrating general fitness, and a way to draw attention to those who might have a more effective training method. Elite athletes train all year and show up to compete -- but what's special about this competition is that they have to train while not knowing exactly what the events will be. They only know they will be tested in some way that is broad and brutal enough to differentiate the fittest person. So the athletes have to focus on developing that well-rounded, inclusive fitness to win. The rest of us get to marvel, and learn.

    Then we throw ourselves into tomorrow's unknown workout. Three.. Two.. One.. GO!

    Some links:
    • "What is CrossFit" is a one-page promotional summary from an affiliate gym's website.
    • The Okinawa Speech is a video of a great talk by CrossFit's founder, Coach Greg Glassman. He presents the the origins of the CrossFit definition of fitness, the development of the training methodology, addresses safety, efficacy and efficiency, and a lot more. Worth the time.
    • "God's Workout" in NY Times Magazine made me laugh (and of course I have seen no dangerous, macho behavior, nor any cultlike attitude -- in fact, I've only seen the opposite on both counts).
    • "The Truth About Crossfit" is a pretty good perspective piece by a fitness writer, fun to read, from a big bodybuilding site/magazine (though it has some goofiness, like defending another of their writers who apparently had some sort of tussle with CrossFit's founder, Glassman).
    • Eight quick perspectives/reviews by people.
    • World HQ for CrossFit itself is a free website with a huge amount of information.
    [image from games.crossfit.com]

    Read more...

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Name Help

    By Diana Hsieh

    In part spurred by some new friends adopting our paleo-ish diet, Monica Hughes and I have concocted a most excellent plan of creating an OList.com mailing list for Objectivists interested evolutionary-based eating, workouts, and the like. Monica will manage the list.

    We've found that lots of people are intrigued by our diet, but they've got a million questions about the principles and practice of it. That's not surprising. Given the prevalence of junk science in nutrition and the prevalence of junk food in the most diets, understanding what to eat -- and why -- can be difficult. So the mailing list will facilitate the sharing of useful information, as well as provide moral support and advice.

    As with OGrownups, anyone will be welcome to subscribe. However, to keep the conversation focused, we're going to limit posting to Objectivist practitioners of an evolutionary diet. Everyone else can lurk. We're going to construe that "evolutionary diet" broadly to include Cordain's Paleo Diet, the Primal Blueprint, the Atkins Diet, Protein Power, The Zone, Weston A. Price, and the like. While I certainly have criticisms of some of these diets, the basic goal is to eat foods appropriate to the human animal, as informed by our evolutionary history.

    However, Monica and I have terribly serious problem with this new list: we can't figure out what to name it! I'd like to use the OWhatever format, if possible. We don't like OPaleo, as "paleo" is too narrow and too much associated with Cordain. We don't like anything with "primal" or "caveman" or "primitive" or "traditional": we don't want to celebrate primitive man. We don't want anything specific to food or diet, as questions of fitness will also be central to the list. Something suggesting our evolutionary approach would be good, and so one option would be "OEvHealth." However, we're not thrilled about that.

    So we thought that we'd ask you -- most excellent NoodleFoodleDoodlers -- what do you suggest?

    Read more...

    Saturday, October 03, 2009

    Foot Coffins

    By Diana Hsieh

    A few weeks ago, the NY Times ran a pretty good story on the barefoot running trend: Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants. Here's the basic story:

    Recent research suggests that for all their high-tech features, modern running shoes may not actually do much to improve a runner’s performance or prevent injuries. Some runners are convinced that they are better off with shoes that are little more than thin gloves for the feet — or with no shoes at all.

    Plenty of medical experts disagree with this notion. The result has been a raging debate in running circles, pitting a quirky band of barefoot runners and researchers against the running-shoe and sports-medicine establishments.
    The establishment view is that -- despite millions of years of barefoot evolution -- the human foot is nonetheless seriously defective:
    "In 95 percent of the population or higher, running barefoot will land you in my office," said Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the New York City Marathon. "A very small number of people are biomechanically perfect," he said, so most need some sort of supportive or corrective footwear.
    And here's the view that I've found fits my own experience:
    "The shoe arguably got in the way of evolution," said Galahad Clark, a seventh-generation shoemaker and chief executive of the shoemaker Terra Plana, based in London. "They're like little foot coffins that stopped the foot from working the way it's supposed to work."
    (Foot coffins! Too perfect!) Last year, I was hobbled by unbearable and untreatable foot pain whenever I attempted even moderate running and hiking -- until I went barefoot. While barefoot is surely not for everyone, I say: foot coffin dogma be damned!

    Read more...

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    The Big Egg

    By Diana Hsieh

    This "big egg" video is either a wonderful spoof or a freak of nature:



    (Via Faye.)

    Update: Four of the six farm eggs that I cracked this morning for breakfast were double-yolkers! (Click for the full-sized image.)

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    Giving Up Before Starting

    By Diana Hsieh

    Over the past year, quite a few friends from Front Range Objectivism have adopted a more paleo diet, often with excellent results. As you might imagine, I'm delighted! This week, yet another FRO member asked some of us about it. I sent links to my two main blog posts about my diet: The New Diet and What I Eat. I also gave the following general advice:

    The key is to change the big things about your diet first. Eliminate all grains, sugars, modern vegetable oils, and soy. Eat full-fat dairy. Eat fatty meats. Eat nuts. Eat eggs. Moderate fruit intake. Then, once you're comfortable with those big steps, you can refine your diet.
    The person e-mailed us back with the following remarks:
    Sugar's out. Does this mean I can never eat another Snickers Bar again? I'd rather shoot myself.

    Eliminate all grains - even whole grains, then? I suppose this means wheat, rice--are beans grains? Are potatoes in? I'd rather fall on a newly sharpened blade than to never eat potatoes. No matter how you cook' em, they taste damn good! Boil 'em, fry 'em, mash 'em, bake 'em, bake 'em again. Damn, they're good. Please don't tell me they're out.
    Amusing, yes -- but I can't help but see problems. Here's what I wrote in reply:
    You've started by telling us the various foods that you refuse to give up. If that's going to be your approach, then you might as well not bother attempting to change your diet.

    The fact is that certain foods are objectively good for you. They are conducive to health, beauty, and strength. Other foods -- namely most of what people eat today, including what they regard as healthy -- are self-destructive to varying degrees. So if you want the good effects of a truly proper diet, you're going to have to enact the requisite causes by actually eating that diet. Indulging your desires for certain foods simply because you've trained your mind and body to crave them will only frustrate your ends.

    It can be somewhat hard to wean yourself off a carb addiction. Your body has to adjust itself to running on proper fuel, primarily fats. That can take few days to a few weeks. Also, you'll find that your tastes change over the course of months. However, if you're like almost everyone I know, you'll soon find that you like your new diet much, much better. You'll relish food in a new way. You'll feel better. You'll look better. You'll think the foods that you used to like are simply gross. And, if you're carb-sensitive, you'll find that any significant deviations from the diet will produce unwelcome effects.

    If you "cheat" from the get-go, you'll likely never experience those benefits. Then you might wrongly suppose that the diet just didn't work for you. (That's like blaming capitalism for the failures of the mixed economy!)

    Of course, if you discover that you hate a paleo diet, then you can always quit. But I think you should try it in earnest. Focus on finding good foods that you love to eat, rather than on whatever you're not eating. Allow yourself to experience what the diet has to offer. Then you can try deviating from it on occasion as a kind of experiment; that's actually very informative.

    I was a major sugar addict for as long as I can remember. I loved candy, bread, and pasta with a passion. Before, I couldn't imagine giving all that up -- yet I have for over a year, happily. The health and energy benefits have been tremendous for me. More than that, I've not sacrificed one iota in terms of my pleasure in food. I enjoy food more now than I used to, precisely because I'm not feeding my carb cravings.

    I never could have gotten to that delightful point if I'd declared that I'd rather poke myself in the eye with a sharp stick rather than give up Jelly Bellies.
    The person in question wrote me back, in part:
    Screw it.

    I'm in 100%. You're right about everything you wrote to me, Diana. Thank you. ...

    I needed the kick in the ass you just gave me. Thank you.
    I love people who can take a much-needed kick in the rear! And I love people willing to give such kicks to me when needed, even though I might grumble a bit at the time.

    Read more...

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Medical Alert: Women and Thigh Fractures

    By Paul Hsieh

    [This is a change in pace from my usual blogging, but Diana and I thought it was important enough to post to NoodleFood.]

    Last week I attended a medical conference which included an update on the radiology of skeletal and orthopedic disease.

    Although most of the lectures were intended for health professionals, there was one lecture which included information that would be of interest to the general public because it involved the common condition known as osteoporosis.

    After women undergo menopause, many of them start losing bone mineral at a significant rate -- enough that they are at increased risk of developing fractures of the hip, spine, and other bones from relatively minor trauma. This condition of abnormal low bone density is known as "osteoporosis". In particular, hip fractures can be devastating to older women, and can often result in permanent disability or premature death.

    In the past, women with osteoporosis (but who had not yet developed a fracture) were often treated with hormone replacement therapy in order to reduce their risk of these fractures. (Hormone replacement therapy was also widely used to alleviate the uncomfortable "hot flashes" associated with menopause). But because recent research has shown that these hormones can also increase the risks of certain cancers of the female reproductive system, this is no longer commonly done.

    Instead, starting 4-5 years ago, many primary care physicians started treating such women with a different set of drugs designed to help protect and restore bone mineral density. One commonly prescribed family of drugs is known as bisphosphonates, and some examples include Fosamax, Boniva, and Actonel. These drugs have proven effective in halting (or even reversing) the mineral loss, and have also reduced the risk of these potentially devastating hip fractures.

    However, in recent years there have been reports that these drugs can also paradoxically increase the risk of a certain type of upper thigh fracture (known as "subtrochanteric proximal femur fractures"). Although physicians and scientists don't fully understand the cause, it appears that women who have been on these drugs for a few years start developing tiny stress fractures in the upper femur bone (below the level of the hip joint), which gradually increase in size. Eventually, a certain percentage of these turn into complete fractures, and often the triggering event might be a relatively minor fall or bump.

    This has only been recognized in the past year or so, as more women reach the point where they've been on these drugs for the (apparent) requisite time of 4-5 years.

    So if you are a post-menopausal woman who has been diagnosed with either "low bone density" or "osteoporosis", and you are currently taking one of these drugs, then you need to be on the lookout for any new pain in the upper thigh region. This could be an early warning sign of a developing stress fracture.

    Here is an example of an early stress fracture in the right femur (thigh) bone:



    Here is an example of a late (completed) fracture:



    (Both images are from "Subtrochanteric Femoral Insufficiency Fracture in Woman on Bisphosphonate Therapy for Glucocorticoid-Induced Osteoporosis", Lisabeth A. Bush, M.D., and Felix S. Chew, M.D., Radiology Case Reports, January 1, 2009.)

    Your physician can then order various radiology tests (x-ray, MRI, or nuclear medicine bone scan) to see if you are developing a stress fracture. These can often affect both sides, even if you only feel the pain on one side. If you have one of these fractures, then your doctor can recommend the appropriate treatment.

    For the time being, the benefits of these drugs are still felt to outweigh the potential drawbacks. Hence, physicians are not currently recommending that women who are taking them should discontinue them. And a lot more effort is being focused on this problem, now that doctors and scientists have become aware of it. The exact guidelines as to who should (or should not) be on these medications will undoubtedly undergo refinement as the research develops. As usual, if you have specific concerns, you should discuss them with their own personal physician.

    Summary:

    If you are taking a bisphosphonate drug such as Fosamax, Actonel, or Boniva, and you start experiencing upper thigh pain, get it checked out immediately. It could be an early stress fracture, which needs to be detected and treated before it becomes a complete fracture. This is especially important for women who are athletically active (e.g., running, tennis, etc.)

    Even if you personally don't take these drugs, it's very likely you will know someone in your family or circle of friends who does.

    (Obligatory disclaimer for any lawyers out there: This should not be construed as personal medical advice. If you have any questions about your specific situation, please consult your personal physician.)

    Additional References:

    "Subtrochanteric Femoral Insufficiency Fracture in Woman on Bisphosphonate Therapy for Glucocorticoid-Induced Osteoporosis"

    "Atraumatic Bilateral Femur Fracture in Long-Term Bisphosphonate Use"

    "Atypical fractures of the femoral diaphysis in postmenopausal women taking alendronate"

    "More on Atypical Fractures of the Femoral Diaphysis"

    Wikipedia entry on bisphosphonates

    Read more...

    Saturday, September 05, 2009

    The Flame Game, Geek Style

    By Greg Perkins

    A note titled "Alright Men" arrived in my inbox from an old friend, cluing me in to a local tradition which was apparently gaining some fame:

    You haven't got a hair on you a$$ unless you've done Flying Pie's double habanero pizza. "Man vs. Food" (on the Travel Channel) is doing it this Friday ... not to be outdone, I did it tonight (4, count 'em, four slices) while my co- challenger (not-to-be-named) managed only 2. So, the question is are you man enough?
    He went on to challenge all comers to meet him at Flying Pie any time during the month and give it a go (August is the only time of year they serve this monstrosity). Another recipient quickly replied:
    What a load of crap. Were you wearing a pink skirt when you did that?

    I bet I wouldn't even break a sweat.

    Unfortunately, I am busy any night that you want to do the competition, so I guess I will have to pass. Although, the record books should show that if I wasn't already scheduled for something I haven't thought of yet, that I would eat 5 with no ice cream.

    Whoohooo! Winner.
    In the end, there was just one fool taker for his challenge, so naturally my friend expanded his campaign of peer pressure:
    OK, ladies, only [one of you] is man enough to take me up on this ... Once [he] and I get a time and place scheduled, I'll let everyone know so if you want to come by, you can see how men eat. And, who knows, maybe some of you will check your ovaries at the door and join us.
    At this point several of us fell prey to his irresistible powers of persuasion (he's a lawyer). If I had to pick out what made mere words so effective, I would put testosterone poisoning at the top of the list, well known for its capacity to dampen volition. The better part of a dozen males signed on, but no females, which indicates a significant causal factor by Mills Methods of Induction. (As many females as males did attend, but only to mock the guys' idiocy.)

    Alright, so Flying Pie will spread diced habanero on pizzas like it's just another flavor of cheese or something, and now we had a shared-strife male-ego-driven test of wills based on it. Being a certified geek, I reflexively broke out some research to see just how ugly this little adventure might turn... and what I might do to better survive it.

    First Question: Just how hot are we talking? It turns out that habanero chilies have a Scoville hotness value in the 200,000-300,000 range. (My prior pepper experience topped out at the hotness of the jalapeno pepper, which lands in the comparatively wimpy range of 2,500-10,000.) The Scoville scale is based on dilution into sugar syrup until the heat can't be detected by a panel of five people, presumably selected by their high levels of testosterone. Bottom line? They are saying the heat of a teaspoon of habanero only stops being noticeable when you mix it into about 400 gallons of sugar syrup. Jesus.

    Obvious Second Question: Can it harm me physically? The Scoville scale is basically a measure of the level of capsaicin in the peppers. Capsaicin is a chemical that binds to and stimulates nerve endings, especially in mucus membranes, creating that burning sensation. But it's only a sensation of burning -- the consensus seems to be that capsaicin does not itself cause any physical damage when you eat it, though exposure at high enough concentrations could cause irritation, which if great enough could bring "nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and burning diarrhea." So I might hurl -- or come to more fully appreciate the lyrics to a certain Johnny Cash tune the next day, as the pizzeria staff was so helpfully suggesting we would -- but whatever hell my nerve endings might go through, I should come through it with at worst psychological scars.

    Third Question: Any chance for a prophylactic... or failing that, an antidote? Sure, everyone has a prescription, and I vaguely remembered a Mythbusters episode that looked them over. Those guys can be pretty objective, so I looked up their results. The upshot? All the various methods, from drinking beer to tequila shots to coating your mouth with Vaseline (ugh) to eating wasabi (wtf!?) and so on are basically crap. They found that your best bet for putting out the fire is to simply drink milk. Others who study such things explain, "Milk contains casein, a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules in much the same way that soap washes away grease." Sweet! I had my secret weapon: just swish and swallow a bunch of milk before, during, and after the ordeal! Maybe this would let me make it through an entire slice and demonstrate my extreme manliness.

    So I called up Flying Pie to ask if they served milk. Then I asked, in my most virile tone, if they had a big, tough mug I could drink it from. Hooked. Up.

    The evening arrived and we assembled around the table, eyes watering from just the smell of the peppers. I was still wondering just how much the milk could help... 300,000 is a big number. Then our official judge kicked it off! I was careful not to chew any more than necessary (why make a bad situation worse by spreading the capsaicin around?) -- so I was biting off and swallowing hunks of the deadly pie with my best horse-pill-eating technique. Hoo boy! The staff said that the "Man vs. Food" guy gave up in something like two bites, and now I appreciated why. Within about ten seconds I learned I should try to wash every bite down with milk, and to maybe do some extra swishing between slices.

    And it was working! Two of us quickly left the others behind, downing slice after slice. He was doing the horse-pill thing, too, but he wasn't using milk. Damn, who is that masked man? Turns out he was none other than The Ringer -- a guy who apparently used to eat whole habaneros right off the plant while gardening. After I'd eaten about 8.5 slices, and just when someone was about to order yet another of the deadly concoctions, the fog of competition cleared long enough for me to see that he would surely go on matching me slice for slice (and staying ahead by one) until my already-full stomach burst.

    So I gave my concession toast, ending the ordeal.

    I could tell my stomach was none too pleased with me for this gastric offense, but I indeed suffered no ill effects. And I was finally in a position to verify that Johnny Cash was on to something... it's a fact: we don't digest all of the capsaicin we ingest.

    Read more...

    Saturday, August 29, 2009

    Bacon, Bacon, and More Bacon

    By Diana Hsieh

    Horror of all horrors, I think that I'm out of bacon at the moment. However, this flow chart tells me exactly what to do:



    (Click for a larger version.)

    Read more...

    Saturday, August 15, 2009

    The Utility of Utensils

    By Diana Hsieh

    For some reason that I can't quite fathom, many people seem to think that you simply cannot eat certain foods without a carbohydrate delivery device such as chips, crackers, tortillas, bread, and the like. Usually, such carbohydrate delivery devices offer little to nothing in the way of taste. They certainly aren't healthy, particularly not if fried in vegetable oil. And they often produce that nasty "ugh, I'm so full" feeling that most people consider to be a normal part of eating.

    In contrast, I find that silverware of various kinds -- and even my fingers on occasion -- is a wonderful method of transporting the yummy, healthy food from plate to mouth without the intervention of needless carbohydrates. For example:

    • Guacamole. I often serve myself a large spoonful or two with a meal, particularly with eggs or steak. It's delicious to eat on its own, just from a spoon or fork. The brand Wholly Guacamole is delicious, and it's made with nothing but good ingredients. Also, I'll eat pico de gallo salsa as a side with steak or eggs.

    • Cheese. I will cut cheese into slices or squares, then eat it as a snack or as part of a meal. Silverware is optional. I recently bought a rich, creamy, sharp, spreadable raw cheddar, made by Fayette Creamery and found at Whole Foods, that I eat with relish -- from a spoon.

    • Hamburger. Paul and I eat hamburgers once or twice per week, pan fried or grilled. Unlike ordinary grocery store beef, the meat is so fantastic that neither bun nor condiment is necessary to conceal only tolerable taste.

    • Nut butters. I haven't eaten nut butters in a while, but I will eat a large spoonful with a glass of milk as a snack.

    • Ham and cheese. For lunch, I love to eat cut up chunks of uncured ham and raw emmenthaler (swiss) cheese. Bread is neither required nor desired.

    • Fajitas. At Mexican restaurants, I usually order fajitas. I eat the food with my fork, skipping the tortillas. It's delicious!
    Somewhat to my surprise, I've found that I much prefer to eat these foods solo than with anything else. I could use some vegetable as a delivery device, but I rarely do that. I like the full blast of unadulterated taste of something yummy -- unless additional foods further accentuate the flavors. Raspberries and good blue cheese together, for example, is divine.

    So for those of you who have switched to a paleo or paleo-ish diet, what do you like to eat solo that you used to eat with some carbohydrate delivery device?

    Update #1: My server is having some strange problems with file permissions that prevent anyone from viewing the individual post page. (I've submitted a ticket, but it might take a few hours to fix.) So if you want to read the comments or post a comment, please use this page.

    Update #2: Nevermind. My file permissions for all my comment scripts have been screwed up too. My web host says that they've turned off access to chmod due to a security problem with the new linux kernel. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon.

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    Saturday, August 08, 2009

    Diana on Steroids

    By Diana Hsieh

    As I mentioned, I had oral surgery last Tuesday, July 28th. For a full week, I felt pretty miserable. After the first day, I wasn't in pain. Yet I was dour, grumpy, and miserable -- as poor Paul can attest! I was also easily tired. I didn't dare drive myself anywhere, and the simple act of walking down the driveway wore me out. I couldn't figure out what the problem was, but I suspected that I was in more pain than I realized, that my body was in a bit of shock, that the medication was affecting me, and/or that I was aggravated by my diet of soft foods.

    Six days after my surgery, that changed for the better. I woke up on Monday (August 3rd) feeling like my old self again. I was happy and chipper. I took pleasure in eating. I was able to drive down to Colorado Springs to pick up the raw milk for our co-op in Castle Rock -- over two hours high stress driving due to the delicate timing and iffy traffic -- without feeling tired afterward.

    Given that radical change, I began to suspect that I was pretty seriously affected by the drugs I had been taking -- particularly the steroids. (I've never had any kind of response to antibiotics before.) The steroid I took was methylprednisolone (a.k.a. medrol) for six days, starting with six doses and tapering down to just one. I took my last dose on Sunday morning. So the timing made sense.

    My periodontist confirmed that such mood changes are fairly common on the steroids. He told me that some people feel much better on them -- namely people who have arthritis or other orthopedic problems. However, people without such problems tend to feel crappy on them, as I did.

    All in all, I'm rather surprised that I reacted so strongly to the steroids. I'm not surprised that they made me tired, but their effects on my mood were downright alarming. I didn't feel like myself that week -- and truly, I wasn't myself! I don't think I've ever taken a mood-altering drug before, and I don't think I want to repeat the experience!

    This experience surely has some profound implications for philosophic questions about personal identity and philosophy of mind. I'll leave that for you to discuss in the comments.

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    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    Vegetarians 0, Meat Eaters 1

    By Diana Hsieh

    Here's a damn funny bit from the BBC sketch show That Mitchell and Webb Look on the morality of vegetarianism:



    For the record, I am not in favor of eating the cats of vegetarians. Also, I'm not sure whether cats are gamey or not.

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    Saturday, July 18, 2009

    One Year Later

    By Diana Hsieh

    I'm amazed to report that I've been on my paleo diet of fatty meats, pastured eggs, raw dairy, plentiful vegetables, raw and roasted nuts, and moderate fruit for over a year. I began my diet somewhat gradually in June 2008, then settled on it in a serious way the second week after OCON -- meaning starting on July 14th, 2008.

    I've stuck to it remarkably well. Sure, I've eaten some off-diet foods -- usually a bit of dessert when at a party. Yet even then, I've rarely indulged in more than a few bites. In fact, I often like to taste off-diet foods. If I enjoy them, then they're a pleasant indulgence. If not, as happens far more often, I've confirmed my commitment to paleo eating. Yet I've never gone off-diet for as much as a whole meal, e.g. by eating a pasta dish or a slice of pizza. If I did, the effects would be rather less than pleasant, I know.

    Somewhat to my surprise, I managed to eat reasonably well for the two weeks Paul and I spent away from home in late June and early July -- first in Maine and then at OCON. OCON was a bit of a problem, as I had no control over the meals served to me by the hotel at the various lunch and dinner events. Happily, except in one instance, I found enough good food to eat. I refrained almost entirely from the constant parade of cloying desserts served. The worst I ate was a half a round of mocha cheesecake. (It was darn yummy but too sweet. I love cheesecake though, so I might work on finding and/or developing a paleo-friendly recipe.) For next year's OCON, I'm going to request special meals from the hotel as needed. It will be meat, veggies, and berries only for me!

    I did not expect myself to stick so well to eating paleo, but I've found that I don't miss the foods I've given up. I enjoy eating far more than ever before. Every meal is a wonderful opportunity to eat something incredibly delicious and satisfying. Plus, I'm no longer entranced by the thought of waffles or bread or pasta; I'd much rather eat bacon and eggs and brussel sprouts. Ordinary desserts are cloying sweet to me, and I often feel seriously unpleasant cravings for MOREMOREMOREMORE after indulging in a bite or two. By forgoing sweets as a matter of standard policy, I'm no longer beholden to the cookies in the pantry, as I used to be. Also, I find that preparing paleo foods has simplified my cooking. I spend less time cooking and shopping than before, and I waste less food too.

    So what are the results? Let me summarize.

    I've lost about 18 pounds, while also gaining muscle from short, intense weight training sessions. That's a huge shift for me. Before, I was gaining three to five pounds per year eating the recommended low-fat, low-calorie, lots-o-grains diet while doing tons of long, boring cardio workouts. That's all changed. I do have a few more pounds of fat to lose. These last few pounds have been stubborn, perhaps due to some hormonal problems I've been working on fixing with my doctor.

    I have more strength and energy than ever before. I was able to lift 335 pounds on the leg press at the gym at OCON -- ten reps, no failure. That's not bad for a girl, I think, particularly given that I do all my weight training at home, without any fancy equipment. Also, I never experience the shaky, desperate need for food that occurs with a crash in blood sugar. I can skip one or two or five meals at will, even while doing heavy lifting, mental and physical. I don't get sleepy in the afternoons. At OCON, I found that I could function much better while sleep deprived than usual. (Normally, I'm careful to give myself the seven hours or so that I need.)

    All my standard measures of health are significantly improved, including my fasting glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol. (My LDL was elevated when last checked, but given my high HDL and low triglycerides, that LDL is likely lower than the reported calculated value. Moreover, my LDL would be almost entirely the good large fluffy kind, not the bad small dense kind. Next time I see my doctor, I'll get a measured value, plus a particle size test.) I'm no longer eating myself into type 2 diabetes and hypertension, as I clearly was. I'm certain that my fatty liver has been reversed.

    I've learned to love all kinds of foods that I hated before: brussels spouts, broccoli, cauliflower, uber-dark chocolate, and more. I really like vegetables, whereas I used to merely tolerate them. Fruits seem intensely sweet to me now.

    Last but definitely not least, my relationship with food is much, much healthier. I love to eat, and I'm perfectly capable of consuming vast quantities of food. (When I do, I don't feel painfully bloated and sluggish but merely full.) However, I'm also capable of not eating for 24 or 36 hours. Most importantly, I never feel anything like the always-unsatisfying compulsion for sweets that used to dominate me whenever sweets were within reach.

    Overall, I'm darn pleased. Hooray me!

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    Saturday, July 04, 2009

    Some Notes on Maine

    By Diana Hsieh

    Paul and I spent four delightful days hiking in Acadia in Maine before traveling down to Boston for OCON yesterday. We stayed at a bed and breakfast in Bar Harbor, and we hiked various sections of Mount Desert Island. It was our second trip to Acadia; we returned because we enjoyed the hiking so very much last time. The trip did not disappoint: we exhausted ourselves with hours of vigorous hiking each day, then restored ourselves with excellent seafood in the evenings. For example, here we are, as happy as clams, on the top of a hill:


    (Click on the picture for a larger version.)

    For three of our four days, we hiked on semi-difficult trails -- meaning lots of streams, mud and muck, rocks of all shapes and sizes, exposed tree roots, and some good climbs. Our hikes lasted from four to six hours each day. After the past few months of dissertation work, it was a genuine luxury to be able to physically exhaust myself in that way.

    I wore my Vibram Five Fingers on all of these major hikes. Vibram Five Fingers are barefoot "shoes": they protect the feet from cuts and abrasions, while allowing the person the kind and range of motion of bare feet. Here is a picture of me in my Vibram Five Fingers in May:


    (Again, click on the picture for a larger version.)

    Shortly after my mother took this picture, I ran a very comfortable mile and a half in them on a rocky desert trail. (When running in them, you don't pound-pound-pound like with normal running shoes, and so they're actually easier on your joints. You must be more agile -- and more sensitive to your terrain -- in them.)

    I bought my Vibrams last fall: I began hiking and running barefoot in them in a desperate attempt to alleviate serious pain in the balls of my feet due to Morton's neuroma and capsulitis. I'd already tried standard medical treatment -- meaning custom orthotics, steroid shots, heat and ice, and rest. Nothing worked: I couldn't run a half mile without suffering two weeks of crippling foot pain. So last fall, I tried going barefoot, thanks to some posts from Richard of Free the Animal. That solved the problem very quickly -- and finally made clear its cause. Like him, I found the process of learning to walk barefoot quite fascinating! (Maybe I'll post more on that someday.)

    I've done quite a bit of running and hiking in my Vibrams, albeit always in dry rather than wet terrain. Acadia was very, very wet. So I was a bit worried about them. However, they passed every test. I had excellent control and perfect grip on slick rocks. My feet didn't get tired, sore, or swollen like they do with hiking boots. I enjoyed the greater control and care required to pick my way through the obstacles on the trail, but they didn't slow me down. Apart from a few spots on my feet rubbed a bit raw -- not surprising given that I hiked over 15 hours in these "shoes" over four days -- they were very comfortable. I expect that I'll use them even more frequently now.

    Also, I fasted while hiking. In ages past, I would have been obliged to routinely refuel myself with carbs to prevent myself from collapsing during these kinds of hikes. Now, because my body runs on fat, I was able to eat a smallish breakfast of eggs and fruit, hike for five hours without any food, entirely skip dinner, eat another smallish breakfast of eggs and fruit, then hike for another few hours before eating a snack of nuts, then eat a hearty dinner.

    One final tidbit from Maine: I bought some local raw cow's milk at the "alternative" grocery store just a block away from our bed and breakfast. It was excellent -- and what a delight to buy it at a store! The grocery also had some raw goat milk yogurt, but I didn't have time to try that, as I would have liked. However, I did try the pasteurized plain sheep milk yogurt, and that was stellar. It had an extra tang to it, and I definitely liked that. I might try to find a source of sheep's milk in Colorado.

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    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    Vegans Versus Carnivores

    By Diana Hsieh

    Heh: I can't possibly summarize this delight from Passive Agressive Notes for you. You'll just have to look. (Via The Hoondat Report)

    (My apologies for the light blogging. I'm insanely busy right now, and my queue is still bare.)

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    Saturday, June 20, 2009

    Blood Pressure

    By Diana Hsieh

    I was at my doctor's office not long ago to address a long-neglected problem. My blood pressure -- which had risen to around 130/90 for some time before my change in diet -- was 94/72. My doctor said that blood pressure in that low range is not a problem unless a person is suffering from symptoms like dizziness. Since I'm suffering no such symptoms: Hooray!

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    Macronutriets

    By Diana Hsieh

    Of late, mostly out of curiosity, I've tracked my eating on FitDay. The numbers are definitely approximate -- not only because the food quantities inputted are mere educated guesses, but also because all foods vary in their composition more than the numbers given suggest. Moreover, some of the foods I eat aren't in the database or labeled. So I'm not sure what the average fat composition of my raw milk is, nor the amount of carbohydrates left after fermenting it into kefir.

    Despite that, I've seen a consistent trend in macronutrients. I eat about 20% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 55% fat. Right now, I'm only eating about 1500 calories per day because I'm in weight-loss mode. (I'd probably eat about 2000 calories otherwise.) Consequently, I'm eating an average of 77 g of carbohydrates, 90 g of protein, and 96 g of fat every day.

    Let's compare my numbers with those of two other approaches to diet I've tried, without success:

     DianaThe ZoneUSDA Food Pyramid
    Carbs20%40%45-65%
    Protein25%30%10-35%
    Fat55%30%20 to 35%


    Nearly a year later, I'm still completely happy with my diet. I've strayed from it on rare occasion, usually for something sweet. However, I've almost always found the pleasure not worth the pain. I've not felt like I've given up anything of genuine value to me. And the benefits have been huge. I've lost 19 pounds of fat so far, meaning that I have just one more to lose to reach my goal of 130 pounds. I'm stronger than ever before, and my energy levels are consistently high. When deciding what to eat for a meal, the question is often of the form "Which of the many delicious things that I love to eat will I enjoy now?"

    Life is good!

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