Saturday, January 31, 2009

Eating on a Budget

By Diana Hsieh

Some of you might remember Ari and Jennifer Armstrong's Food Stamp Challenge in 2007. They ate within a tight budget of less than three dollars per day per person for a month -- and they did so largely by eating real, whole nutrient-dense foods rather than expensive, nutrient-poor processed foods. They ate things that I wouldn't eat, but overall their diet was extremely healthy -- particularly in comparison to the Standard American Diet.

Not long ago, I discovered someone who did the same for his family -- limiting them to the new food stamp allotment of just under six dollars per day per person -- but she eats the same kind of paleo-ish diet of real foods that I do. So see what she bought with a week's grocery budget of $121. It's impressive.

It's remarkably expensive to eat processed foods and restaurant foods, including fast food. I'm not on a strict food budget -- so I enjoy some luxuries like raw milk, raw cheese, and farm eggs -- but it's certainly possible to eat very, very well with strict budget constraints.

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Forget Substitutes: Eat Real Food

By Diana Hsieh

Cooking in Our Cave explains why better eating shouldn't be about substituting foods. Here's the opening:

When people begin a new way of eating, they often look to 'substitute' for foods they used to eat that may have been less than ideal. For example, a person might 'substitute' a bowl of oatmeal for the danish they used to eat in the morning. The 'substitute' is supposed to be an improvement on the usual item consumed.

Here's why I don't like the term 'substitute.' It somehow implies to me that what you're eating is merely standing in for what you WANT to eat. You are will to accept something other than what you really want for whatever reason (typically because the new food is in some way a better fit with your new style of eating) but by calling it a 'substitute' you are implicitly acknowledging that item's second class status in your mind.
I agree wholeheartedly. I don't substitute foods: I choose to eat healthy, delicious real foods rather than highly processed junk. It's simple -- and oh-so-very satisfying.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Raw Milk Cheese

By Diana Hsieh

Not long ago, I discovered that I could buy some raw milk cheeses in my regular grocery store. Yeah! Unfortunately, the FDA prohibits the sale of raw milk cheeses aged for less than sixty days, but at least some raw cheese can be had.

I've tried -- and liked -- Organic Valley's raw sharp cheddar. It's good, but nothing to write home about. Basically, it's not nearly sharp enough for my tastes. I also very much enjoyed the raw cheese I bought from Colorado's own Windsor Dairy. I can't recall which one I bought, but I'd happily go out of my way to buy more from them.

However, just this morning I tried the raw milk blue cheese made by Point Reyes in California. I bought it from my local Safeway yesterday. It was pungent, smooth, creamy perfection. Apparently, I'm not the only one in love with it.

So if you like blue cheese, give it a try! It wasn't particularly expensive, relative to other good-quality cheeses. At $20 per pound, my good-sized hunk of .37 pounds cost $7.40.

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Pantry Cleanout

By Diana Hsieh

Unlike some people, I didn't clean out my pantry when I first adopted my diet of real, whole foods. In part, that's because I eased into that diet gradually over the course of a few weeks from late June to early July. After that, it was simply not a problem worth fixing right away. I wasn't tempted to eat the junk still left in my pantry, and I've had little time to do home projects like that while I've been writing my dissertation.

Last Sunday, I finally did the deed. Mostly, it was a matter of good timing. I was on break from work. I had a bunch of large and sturdy bags because I just bought six 50-pound bags of horse feed. And Paul was going to haul out the trash that night for pickup on Monday.

I was pretty surprised by how much I had to throw out: three and a half full and heavy bags. I threw out many boxes of pasta, bags of stuffing, vegetable shortening, cans of Campbell's soup, boxes of mac and cheese, angel food cake mix, fruit leathers, granola bars, crystal light mix, cream of wheat, grits, corn meal, dry milk, rye flour, wheat gluten, whole wheat flour, onion soup mix, all kinds of rice, rice noodles, splenda, corn syrup, brown sugars, juice, spray canola oil, and more.

I did keep my white sugar. Although I don't use it at all, I might want it for company. I also kept my white flour, in case I need to make a roux. (I wasn't happy with the roux made from spouted flour; it browned too quickly. I should try it again, however, perhaps at a lower temperature.) Plus, I do still need to make brownies for FROG meetings, and that requires adding a bit of flour to the Ghirardelli mix to compensate for our high altitude. (I wonder what kind of oil I should use for those: maybe cold-pressed walnut oil?)

In the clean-out process, I was amazed to read the ingredient list on my Campbell's tomato soups: sugar and flour are high on the list. (Presumably, flour is used as a thickener.) The major ingredients in their Tomato Soup are "Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Wheat Flour." And for Tomato Bisque, they are "Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Diced Tomatoes in Tomato Juice, Sugar, Wheat Flour, Cream, (Milk), Water." UGH! No thanks!

Now I have so much more room in my pantry. Yeah!

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Fat Loss Update

By Diana Hsieh

This morning, I hit one of those "fitting into clothes" milestones in my weight loss. Here's the background:

I've lost just over fifteen pounds since OCON in July 2008 due to my cavewoman diet of meat, veggies, dairy, and some fruit. (Yeah me!) I was 150 pounds in mid-July, and now I'm at 134 pounds. I have four more pounds of fat that I'd like to lose, and then I'm going to shift my focus to gaining muscle. (I found that I had to back off on my uber-intense weightlifting to lose fat; I've kept my existing muscle as I lost weight, but I'd like to put on more muscle. I like being strong; it's darn useful.) I'm 5'8" tall, so 130 pounds is a good target weight.

I'm really thrilled with my weight loss. I've been battling my slowly-growing layer of fat since 2004. For four long years, I exercised daily: I did the standard regimen of 40 to 60 minutes of cardio. I attempted to eat "healthier," mostly meaning less fat, less calories. I was often ravenously hungry; I often felt deprived; I desperately craved sugar. Worst of all, despite some occasional success, my weight continued to creep upwards. I felt like I had no control.

In June of 2008, I decided to try eliminating processed foods from my diet. I liked that. So in mid-July, I began my cavewoman diet in earnest. As already noted, I've shed fifteen pounds in six months -- without much effort and without feeling deprived. I can happily eat this diet for years to come.

I'm really, really happy with how I look now. As one would expect, my clothes have gotten looser, particularly my pants. So this morning, I tried on some jeans that I bought a few years ago, probably when I was between 140 and 145. These jeans never really fit. When I bought them, I had lost a bit of weight, and I was hoping to lose more. Instead, I gained weight again, such that I couldn't possibly fit into these jeans. So they were shelved. Today, I wore them. Best of all, they're not tight at all. If anything, they're a bit loose. Yeah me!

Unfortunately, I don't have anything like the pictures that Greg has of his progress. However, I do have three pictures of just my face from 2008 that show my progress.

First, March 15th. I was 150 pounds, eating a "healthy" version of the standard American diet.



Second, July 4th. I was probably about 149 pounds, but I had been eating more whole, real foods for a few weeks, meaning more fat and less carbs. Even though I'm the same weight as in the March picture, my face doesn't look nearly so puffy.



Third, December 25th. I was 136 pounds. (You can blame Paul for the cruddy picture.)



The contrast is all the more striking side-by-side:



(Click for the full-sized image.)

All in all, I'm not just pleased. I'm thrilled. Go me!

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Hunger and Real Food

By Diana Hsieh

Richard of Free the Animal nails the issue with this post on hunger and weight loss. I'm reproducing the whole thing here, with his permission:

The longer I go down this path of paleo-like eating, the more I am convinced that hunger is the key. I tell people, now: ultimately, this is not a battle of the bulge, fat, or weight. This is a battle over hunger and ultimately, your hunger is going to win in the long run unless you simply have the rare constitution to be miserable all the time -- like many of the calorie restriction folks do.

Fortunately, there is a solution, and that solution is to eat a natural diet of plenty of meats, fish, natural fats (animal, coconut, olive), vegetables, fruits (moderation), and nuts (moderation too). I think that the reason so many Atkins dieters ultimately plateau, stall, fail and put weight back on is that they have the wrong focus: low carb. Now, a natural diet is almost always going to be low carb unless you opt to have starchy tubers play a big role in your diet. But so often I see those who focus on low carbohydrate eat way too much processed junk (just like many vegetarians, now), much of it chock full of anti-food like unfermented soy protein, soy oil, and other heavily processed and refined "vegetable" oils. And, because it's low carb, people eat in unrestricted amounts, they tend to eat a lot of favorite junk (like diet sodas and protein bars), and they are not getting the proper nutrition.

What I and others have found is that over time on this sort of diet (paleo), keeping cheating to a minimum, your hunger alters radically. At this point in my progress, it's difficult to imagine failure and regression. Why? Because I simply have no hunger for crap, anymore. Yea, I might take in a slice of pizza, now and then (can't even remember the last time, however), or a burger, but I quickly realize that I'm satisfied after only a few bites. Moreover, it can have negatives effects that turn you back the other way. During the holidays, I partook of three cookies after an evening meal of real food. Where prior to that I felt wonderfully satisfied, the whatever in the cookies made me feel uncomfortably full (now an unfamiliar feeling) for a couple of hours. Yuk.

And as far as the daily paleo eating goes, I often have to motivate myself to eat, because I simply don't get hungry at "mealtimes," anymore. Some days I'm hungry by 9 am, and some, not until 1 in the afternoon. I might be hungry for dinner at 6, but sometimes not until 9 or 10, and sometimes not at all, which is a good time to take in a fast. When I say not hungry, what I mean is that I have no desire to eat anything at all. Food doesn't even occupy my thoughts in the slightest.

I also think that if you've been eating paleo for at least a few months and you haven't seen noticeable changes in appetite and hunger, then maybe you need to do some fasting, twice per week, 24-30 hours each. It seems counter-intuitive, and I don't know enough to say what sorts of hormonal changes might be taking place, but I think forcing hunger intermittently plays a big role in reseting your whole hunger mechanism to a more natural state.
All of that largely matches my own experience. I see only two points of contrast: (1) My fasts have tended to be around 20 hours. Lately, I've felt like I might be able to go longer, but other plans interfered. (2) I do eat raw dairy in various forms. However, I have to be careful about the amount of milk I drink, as that definitely slows down or even stops weight loss for me.

Certainly, eating whole, real foods has been an integral part of my deep satisfaction with my new way of eating. While I'm no longer eating many foods that I used to eat, that's not a sacrifice: they no longer appeal to me.

I cook dinner more often -- basically every night, rather than just a few times a week. That's because I can now whip up a fantastic meal of meat and veggies in 20 to 30 minutes without any trouble at all. Because my tastes have changed, I also eat a wider variety of vegetables than I used to, including brussel sprouts, celery (braised), broccoli, and cauliflower. Purely on taste, I'll take brussel spouts braised in a cup of cream any day over pasta.

Sure, Paul and I spend a bit more for our raw milk, local farm eggs, and high quality meats. However, we've also saved a huge amount of money by eating out less often. I can quickly cook a meal at home that tastes as good -- or rather, usually much better -- than the food in a high-quality restaurant. Plus, if I cook the food myself, then I know exactly what I'm eating. And I don't have to fight with kindly waiters attempting to serve me bread.

Of course, it's much cheaper to eat at home, so doing that saves money. Ultimately, I'd rather enjoy a quiet, cheap, and delicious meal of my own making than spend the week's grocery money in a single night. So now we save our eating out for special occasions at truly stellar restaurants. Plus, because my cooking has become more simple and regular, I find that I waste far less food due to spoilage. That's another savings.

One note before I sign off: If you're interested in my health and diet blogging, I definitely recommend reading Free the Animal regularly. He's producing clear, helpful posts on a daily basis. His advice on fasting and exercise even helped Monica start to lose weight again. Yeah!

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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Antibiotics and Livestock

By Diana Hsieh

In today's Food Link-O-Rama, I quoted a Scientific American article on new research showing that lettuce and other vegetables contained active antibiotics if grown in manure from livestock treated with routine antibiotics. About the story, I simply said:

At some point, I'll blog about why I avoid meat from animals treated with hormones and antibiotics. Regarding this story, I'll just say that I don't want to be ingesting antibiotics without some specific medical reason for doing so -- not even in small doses.
As I should have expected, someone asked about my views in the comments, and I wrote far more than I intended. So I thought I should post it as its own blog post. Here it is, somewhat edited:

I'm not opposed to taking antibiotics when medically necessary, nor to giving them to animals when medically necessary. By "medically necessary," I mean when you have an infection, before surgery to prevent infection, and the like.

However, that's not what happens with factory farmed livestock. For example, cows are packed very tightly into filthy feed lots and fed an inappropriate diet of corn to fatten them for slaughter. They are given antibiotics in their feed to prevent infection and promote growth. In other words, we're not taking about antibiotics given to livestock when sick, but antibiotics given routinely to them, perhaps for their whole lives. About 40% of antibiotics produced in the US goes to livestock. (For more basic details, see this Consumer's Union article.)

I don't know whether those antibiotics can be found in the milk or meat that most people buy at the grocery store; I suspect not. However, I do know that this misuse of antibiotics promotes the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. If those strains spread to humans, as apparently some have done, they can be extraordinarily dangerous. At the very least, people need to be cured by stronger antibiotics, often with hospital stays and worse side effects. If those stronger antibiotics do not work, then the infected people can die. That's not good.

Notably, the problem is not merely that farm and slaughterhouse workers might spread resistant bacteria to humans. According to this NY Times article, researchers have shown that such resistant strains of bacteria show up in the very meat you buy at the grocery store.

This new research on antibiotics residue on vegetables shows another route by which the resistant bacteria might be generated, namely anywhere the manure of livestock treated with routine antibiotics is used as fertilizer. Perhaps worse, people will ingest still-operative antibiotics by eating ordinary raw vegetables like lettuce.

Speaking generally, it's a bad idea to take antibiotics without a medical reason for doing so, particularly if you don't know what you're taking or in what doses. Even in small quantities, these antibiotics might interact badly with other drugs; a person might be allergic to them; they might reduce the effectiveness of a woman's birth control pill; they might kill the good bacteria in your gut that aid digestion.

For as long as I've known how antibiotics work, I've been been irritated by the fact that people misuse them. They don't take the whole dose; they take them intermittently; they demand them from their doctor when they just have the cold or the flu. That irritates me because it endangers human health and human lives by promoting the evolution of resistant strains of bacteria.

Once I questioned my assumptions about the ordinary methods of food production, it dawned on me that the routine use of antibiotics with livestock is probably a far greater danger than some person stopping his antibiotics after a few days. From what I've read since then, that seems to be the case.

Unlike many people, I cannot regard stricter FDA controls on antibiotic use as the answer to this problem. The FDA is a pernicious agency; it should be abolished, not given wider powers. However, I do think:
  1. that people infected with superbugs due to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock should be able to sue the farms and perhaps even the drug manufacturers, if they can prove causation

  2. that drug companies should have property rights over antibiotics for years longer, provided that they actively take action to maintain the value of the drug, such as by licensing it only for certain medically necessary uses

  3. that people ought to stop supporting the routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock by refraining from buying meat, eggs, and dairy from animals thus fed as much as possible.
Personally, I avoid meat, eggs, and dairy products from factory-farmed animals as much as I can. Such animals are raised without antibiotics or hormones. The animals are raised in far better conditions. (I like animals, so that matters to me.) And the food tastes much, much better than the standard @&#$* found in the grocery store. Although it can be somewhat more expensive, I regard it as well worth the price.

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Food Link-O-Rama

By Diana Hsieh

  • Modern Forager's Best Blogging from 2008: You might want to check out Artificial Sweeteners Linked to Weight Gain and What Sweetener Should You Choose? Sugar? Honey? Agave Nectar?.

  • Dr. Eades recently pointed someone interested in the health effects of salt to The (Political) Science of Salt, a lengthy 1998 article by Gary Taubes. It's well worth reading -- particularly if you think that healthy eating for a normal person requires any kind of salt deprivation.

  • Is Being Healthy A Vain Pursuit?: Scott Kustes of Modern Forager got a rash of comments on this post. I didn't have time to add one, but I do think that the real question is moral, to wit: is it permissible to spend your own time, money, and energy pursuing the joys and pleasures your own life, rather than catering to others? Obviously, by any rational standard, the answer is YES.

  • Worried About Antibiotics In Your Beef? Vegetables May Be No Better: Scientific American reports that "new studies show vegetables like lettuce and potatoes--even organic ones--carry antibiotics." Here's the opening paragraphs of the article:
    For half a century, meat producers have fed antibiotics to farm animals to increase their growth and stave off infections. Now scientists have discovered that those drugs are sprouting up in unexpected places: Vegetables such as corn, potatoes and lettuce absorb antibiotics when grown in soil fertilized with livestock manure, according to tests conducted at the University of Minnesota.

    Today, close to 70 percent of all antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States are routinely fed to cattle, pigs and poultry, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Although this practice sustains a growing demand for meat, it also generates public health fears associated with the expanding presence of antibiotics in the food chain.

    People have long been exposed to antibiotics in meat and milk. Now, the new research shows that they also may be ingesting them from vegetables, perhaps even ones grown on organic farms.

    The Minnesota researchers planted corn, green onion and cabbage in manure-treated soil in 2005 to evaluate the environmental impacts of feeding antibiotics to livestock. Six weeks later, the crops were analyzed and found to absorb chlortetracycline, a drug widely used to treat diseases in livestock. In another study two years later, corn, lettuce and potato were planted in soil treated with liquid hog manure. They, too, accumulated concentrations of an antibiotic, named Sulfamethazine, also commonly used in livestock. As the amount of antibiotics in the soil increased, so too did the levels taken up by the corn, potatoes and other plants.

    "Around 90 percent of these drugs that are administered to animals end up being excreted either as urine or manure," said Holly Dolliver, a member of the Minnesota research team and now a professor of crop and soil sciences at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. "A vast majority of that manure is then used as an important input for 9.2 million hectares of (U.S.) agricultural land." Manure, widely used as a substitute for chemical fertilizer, adds nutrients that help plants grow. It is often used in organic farming.

    The scientists found that although their crops were only propagated in greenhouses for six weeks--far less than a normal growing season--antibiotics were absorbed readily into their leaves. If grown for a full season, drugs most likely would find their way into parts of plants that humans eat, said Dolliver.

    Less than 0.1 percent of antibiotics applied to soil were absorbed into the corn, lettuce and other plants. Though a tiny amount, health implications for people consuming such small, cumulative doses are largely unknown.
    Read the rest here. At some point, I'll blog about why I avoid meat from animals treated with hormones and antibiotics. Regarding this story, I'll just say that I don't want to be ingesting antibiotics without some specific medical reason for doing so -- not even in small doses.

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  • Friday, January 09, 2009

    Eating Penis

    By Diana Hsieh

    Journalist Adam Yamaguchi visits a "penis restaurant" in China and eats a "penis sampler." Seriously.



    I love the reaction of his translator. (Via the Volokh Conspiracy.)

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    Wednesday, January 07, 2009

    Wrong on Every Level

    By Diana Hsieh

    This video of "Sandra Lee Making the Kwanzaa Cake" is wrong on every possible level. Hence, it's hysterical!

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    Saturday, January 03, 2009

    A Question About Egg Whites

    By Diana Hsieh

    Help! I have a slew of leftover egg whites -- frozen, from making yolk-heavy quiches and other rich paleo delights. I have no idea what to do with them. I don't want to make angel food cake or meringues, as that would involve flour and/or sugar. I don't want to make an egg white omelet or scramble, as that's not worth eating.

    Any caveman-friendly suggestions?

    (If nothing seems worthwhile, they won't go to waste: I'll save them for our future dog.)

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    Health Link-O-Rama

    By Diana Hsieh

  • Butter, Margarine and Heart Disease: Stephan compares butter and margarine consumption with rates of heart disease mortality for the last 100 years.

    If I recall correctly, my family switched to margarine for a few years in the late 1980s, then we returned to butter after some news about problems with margarine. After that, I was skeptical that butter is terribly damaging, but I tried to use it in moderation. I certainly wasn't willing to endure the nasty fake taste of any of the supposedly healthier alternatives! However, now I'm lavish with butter, particularly with my vitamin-rich homemade raw milk butter. Life is so much better with lots of butter!

  • Epidemic Influenza and Vitamin D: Wow, could widespread Vitamin D deficiency cause our winter susceptibility to influenza? Free the Animal thinks so -- and for good reason. He links to and quotes from this fascinating report from a physician; it's the backstory of an academic paper. I very strongly recommend it. Also, FTA's earlier post on Vitamin D and pregnancy is well worth reading.

  • Regarding Vitamin D, the ever-useful Heart Scan Doc alerts us to a new $65 Vitamin D home test available from ZRT Laboratory and the Vitamin D Council. He also has a great post on the required doses of Vitamin D. He writes:
    Though needs vary widely, the majority of men require 6000 units per day, women 5000 units per day. Only then do most men and women achieve what I'd define as desirable: 60-70 ng/ml 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood level.

    I base this target level by extrapolating from several simple observations:

    --In epidemiologic studies, a blood level of 52 ng/ml seems to be an eerily consistent value: >52 ng/ml and cancer of the colon, breast, and prostate become far less common; <52 ng/ml and cancers are far more likely. I don't know about you, but I'd like to have a little larger margin of safety than just achieving 52.1 ng/ml.

    --Young people (not older people >40 years old, who have lost most of the capacity to activate vitamin D in the skin) who obtain several days to weeks of tropical sun typically have 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood levels of 80-100 ng/ml without adverse effect.

    More recently, having achieved this target blood level in many people, I can tell you confidently that achieving this blood level of vitamin D achieves:

    --Virtual elimination of "winter blues" and seasonal affective disorder in the great majority
    --Dramatic increases in HDL cholesterol (though full effect can require a year to develop)
    --Reduction in triglycerides
    --Modest reduction in blood pressure
    --Dramatic reduction in c-reactive protein (far greater than achieved with Crestor, JUPITER trial or no)
    --Increased bone density (improved osteoporosis/osteopenia)
    --Halting or reversal of aortic valve disease
    Wow. As soon as I can reasonably manage, I'll have Paul's and my Vitamin D levels tested. I'll report back the results, of course!

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