Archive for the ‘tricks and gimmicks’ Category

Leave it to we Beaver's

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

a tree, post-beaver

The May 4, 2011 edition of the Wall Street Journal had an article that quickly send me to my computer. The title was "Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier." Well, until I read the article and then hunted down background information, I certainly didn't know I could be chewing on logs (or derivatives thereof) in my daily diet

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an organization I generally trust, has a website on food additives. There's a couple of pages on the good, the semi-bad and the ugly (as I would phrase it) and then 25+ pages on specific additives. I'll drop in a link to that fascinating section of the CSPI's web content if you want to learn more and perhaps return to the general topic in a later post.

In the meantime back to the May 4th article and its cousins. I say that since Googling "wood pulp in food" yields links to a considerable number of articles, blogs and other Internet-accessible items on the subject. I just printed out a page from a blog from India, a 2006 Dow Chemical Company's attorney's letter (the first page of 68) requesting an exemption to for considering wood pulp as a food additive and an FDA paper on the subject.


The bottom line is CPSI in their extensive listing of food additives rates carboxymethylcellulose (CMC) in their group "Cut Back: Not toxic, but large amounts may be unsafe or promote bad nutrition."

Yet processed food manufacturers are using more CMC and other cellulose (read this as wood pulp) deriviatives to increase fiber content of white bread (I don't eat white bread), allow hurried/lazy cooks to add pre-shredded cheese (we shred our own) and enhance something called "mouth feel" in ice cream.

To make the powdered form of cellulose, wood is cooked in chemicals to separate the constituent and then, in some cases, processed further with acid to break down the fiber.

If made properly, (ah, there's that word "if" again), cellulose is a). supposed to be harmless in small amounts and b). isn't absorbed by the body, thus adding bulk to foods without adding calories. It also adds fiber to foods that otherwise are low in this component.

The WSJ article quotes Michael Jacobson, the CSPI's executive director, as saying, "Cellulose is cellulose." He then apparently said that no research points to health problems secondary to eating cellulose.

The FDA limits the percentage of cellulose in some foods (e.g., cheese spread and jams) and sets an upper ceiling (usually 1 to 4 %) for how much cellulose can be added to meat products.

Well I know we need fiber in our diet and it appears that this additive isn't bad for you. But I prefer not to eat processed foods and to get my fiber in natural forms.

So I Googled "Food high in fiber" and found a Mayo Clinic website that listed, amoung other foods: raspberries, unpeeled pears and apples, whole-wheat spaghetti, bran flakes, cooked split peas and lentils and artichokes.

It's your choice; Processed foods with added wood pulp or plain old fruits and veggies.

Chew on!


Snacking: fried has to goeth before a small (size)

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Healthy snacks

To snack or not to snack, now that is the question. I read two articles on the subject, one in the Wall Street Journal and the other in the Mayo Clinic's online comments. Then I thought about Wednesday evenings, my own downfall.

The newspaper article was titled "The Battle of the Office Candy Jar" and detailed the travails of people whose bosses and office mates think that the workplace should always be stocked with a dish of candy bars. Then there are the tempters who are forever bringing cookies and birthday cakes in to work or selling candy bars for their kid's baseball teams or school fundraisers.

The WSJ calculated the effects of eating two pieces of candy a day, five days a week, assuming one didn't cut down other foood intake or decide they needed to increase their exercise regime. Wow, it's over seven pounds added a year. It's even worse when the candy is presented in a clear jar, rather than a covered and opaque dish.

I immediately thought, 'It's Wednesday!' That's when I go to a three-hour evening writers' critique group. My cohorts bring in stories to be read aloud and commented on (I have one for tonight on the Festival of Holi that our former graduate students from Mumbai brought us to recently). They also bring in cakes and cookies and I used to bring biscotti. Our leader always has a jar with Tootsie Pops and I invariably eat more than I intend.

The Mayo Clinic piece says snacks aren't always bad and their diet plan includes snacks that can help obviate hunger pangs and keep you from binge eating. But their choice of snacks is quite different: fruits and veggies make much more sense than doughnuts and candy.

Their website: can lead you to a healthy snack site which suggests 100-calorie snacks, e.g, 2 cups of carrots or, one of my favorites, air-popped popcorn.

I'd prefer to avoid snacking whenever possible, but I'm aware I need help in avoiding the tempting items I encounter on wednesdays or at parties. I've switched from bringing biscotti to fetching a sack of almonds. Mayo's cautions that even though nuts contain protein and thus can help you feel full for a longer time, they also contain calories, largely in the form of monosaturated fat (which is certainly a better variety than the polyunsaturated kind).

So I've made a game of it: I eat four almonds. No particular reason that I chose that number, but it works.

I also have a four by six card that says

My home-made snack barrier

Doonesbury adds up the calories

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Don't eat here

I was reading the Sunday comics in our local paper and did a double take at the message in "Doonesbury," always one of my favorite cartoons. Zonker is working at "McFriendly's" and there's an emergency staff meeting. Their boss, termed Mr. Big, is there and talks about the chain falling behind their competition.

What's going on is their appetizer special isn't offering enough calories compared to Applebee's appetizer sampler (@2,590 calories) and Chili's Texas Cheese Fries (@2,100 calories) with the latter offering a full day's worth of calories "packed into an appetizer {bolding taken directly from the cartoon}).

We don't eat fast food (once in a while while on a trip we'll stop at Subway which has nutrition info listed), but I decided to check into these incredible numbers.

Guess what; they're real. A variety of fast food chains (Applebees, Chilis, On the Border) and restaurants (Outback Steakhouse) offer appetizers that boggle my mind. Remember, these are appetizers, and even if one presumes they're shared with one to three others, if you follow them with a meal, you'll be so far over the dietary guidelines you might as well be on a spaceship.

I found a website titled "The 20 Worst Foods in America" and looked at a few items. Applebee's apparently offers (or, to be charitable, offered at sometime in the recent past), an onion appetizer called the "Awesome Blossom." This one had 2,710 calories, 168 grams of fat and 6,360 mg. of sodium (my goal is 1,500 mg of sodium a day or less).

No wonder we're tipping the scales at higher and higher numbers; no wonder two thirds of our population is overweight and/or obese.

Don't eat these things. Best of all, don't eat in these places, at least until they clean up their act.

Yet we're at fault, at least partially. We've allowed ourselves to be gulled by the big corporations' propaganda and find it easier to eat out than to cook from scratch.

Our kids learn from our example, even when they appear to resist what we say, they often do what we do.

It's time and past time to walk (or drive) away.

Thanks, Garry Trudeau. You were right on target.



More Beef or Zorba's diet?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

eat half the steak and ask for more veggies

I read dueling articles in the Wall Street Journal, one appeared yesterday with the title "Beef Industry Carves a Course" and the other today titled "Why to Eat Like a Greek." So I wanted to go through the pros and cons of both.

Apparently the National Cattlemen's Beef Association came up with a new kind of MBA two years ago. This one isn't the traditional MBA, but instead stands for Masters of Beef Advocacy. Roughly 2,000 people have finished the program thus far, but that's only 10% of what the beef producer's group hopes to train.

This is not a 2+ year Master's degree, like some of our graduate students got; it's a six-session, one hour at a time online course on beef safety, beef nutrition, animal care, environmental stewardship, modern beef production and something called the beef checkoff. The last of those is a program started way back in 1985 where $1 a head is assessed on sales of live cattle and the states get half and the Cattleman's Beef Promotion and Research Board gets the other half.

Note the term "promotion." The WSJ article says the MBA program helps train beef-associated folk (chefs, butchers, feedlot operators and ranchers) in promoting and defending red meat.

The per capita consumption of beef and veal has fallen from a peak of  94 pounds in the 1976 to 62 pounds in 2009 and the new USDA guidelines suggest we replace some of the red meat in our diets with fish and other seafood. Many schools have instituted a "Meatless Monday" policy

One thing I hadn't heard about was that PETA (People for Ethical treatment of Animals) has a new program where models wearing only strategically placed lettuce leaves stand on street corners in towns across the country and hand out tofu hot dogs. Now that's a new approach.

I'm a long way from a vegan; we do eat beef and have a quarter cow in our freezer. The cow was raised with a small number of companions, grass-fed and grass-finished, so is lean meat.

In our case we also eat vegetarian meals on occasion and will spend four days with our other set of adult children, our former graduate students from India who are lacto-ovo vegetarians, next week.

Most of the time we eat what amounts to a Mediterranean diet with whole grain cereals, lots of fruits and vegetables, fish and relatively small amounts of animal fat. The other WSJ article mentioned a meta-analysis done by an Athens university on studies involving more than a half million people; they claim  nearly a one third reduction in the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome (high BP, large waist circumference, high blood sugar, low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and high triglycerides).

Okay, what are the cons I said I'd mention? Well to begin with I'm not sure the beef industry has changed much other than trying to increase their PR efforts. And the Mediterranian diet isn't much different from the increase fruits and veggies, eat less red meat. Same old, same old. I agree with the overall premises, but I'm not convinced that olive oil is an essential component.

So neither article changed my diet at all.

Dietary supplements and scams

Friday, February 11th, 2011

and it isn't cheap

When I was at Langley AFB in th early 1970s, we had an opportunity to take a field trip to the Cayce Institute. Edgar Cayce was a supposed psychic who lived from 1877 to 1945. I came away from that trip with a healthy dose of scepticism, not so much about Mr. Cayce himself, whose work I never saw, but of those who inherited his mantle,

That scepticism has served me well over the years and today led to a prolonged web search on the supposed benefits of acia berries as a dietary modality and supplement. It started with a news article I found that claimed a Channel 10 employee had lost 25 pounds in 4 weeks on the "Optimal Acai" program.

I began tracing the story and found a number of websites that were pertinent: WebMD said acai berries are claimed by marketeers to be an "elite superfood with anti-aging and weight loss properties." They did note that the berry, which comes from a palm tree found in Central and South America, has lots of antioxidant capacity, even more than other berries (cranberry, raspberry, blueberry). It contains chemicals that are in the flavinoid and anthocyanin family, the latter being found in red wine for example.

But as to the claimed health benefits of this particular berry, who knows. Thus far there are no studies that show it's better than other similar fruits.

MedlinePlus, the National Library of Medicine's consumer information source, notes the acai berry has antioxidants, but says there is insufficient evidence thus far to show its effectiveness.

So how did the acai berry craze start? In November of 2004 a dermatologist, Dr. Nichoas Perricone, appeared on the Oprah show. Subsequently a post on touted his so-called superfoods, especially acai. The comment that struck me was "harvested in the rain forests of Brazil, acai tastes like a vibrant blend of berries and chocolate."

Well that sounds yummy, but who is Dr. Perricone and what's the data? And why do I connect this back to Edgar Cayce?

Dr. Perricone is a dermatologist who writes on weight loss and anti-aging. He's also an Adjunct Professor of Medicine at Michigan State's medical school. One of his books, The Perricone Promise, tells of neuropeptides and their role in aging and focuses on a particular diet. A three-month supply of a neuropeptide-based serum that his own company sells costs $570.

Subsequently there have been scams with emails sent off linking to supposed news reports on the acai berry diet; one was to a website which had an identical claim as the supposed website I saw today (reporter lost 25 pounds in 4 weeks). This was exposed as bogus in March 2010 and led me to reread the supposed Channel 10 health news article.

Part of the promise beside rapid weight loss is to eliminate bad toxins built up over many years and remove sludge from the walls of the colon. Now I was back at the Cayce Institute with a basic part of their program being so-called "High Colonics," enemas to lose weight.

I won't believe any of this kind of spiel until The NLM and other reputable medical organizations report controlled, double-blind, peer-reviewed, evidence-based studies.

When it gets tough

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

My friend the digital scale

I've struggled to keep my weight where I want it recently. That's right, I'm writing posts on this blog telling others what to do or giving them ideas of what's new in the world of dieting, lifestyle, exercise and the science behind those fields, yet I'll freely admit some days it's been difficult for me also.

We've just finished the extended holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Years and, for some, a few days beyond. That should make the next ten months or so easier.

I weigh 150.4 pounds this morning, less than a pound over my goal of 149-150 and well under my upper limit of 153.

I started this diet in May of 2009 weighing 177 and 153 or under is about what I weighed in eighth grade and under my college wrestling weight of 155. So why aren't I complacent about my diet progress?

I guess the answer is that maintaining a goal weight, for me at least, is never easy, always a challenge. I've got my red 1/3 cup measuring container as a STOP sign on a glass cylinder of microwave popcorn and a 4 by 6 card on the refrigerator door with an acronym for those situations when I'm prone to overeat. I've got a 3 by 5 card that says in bold letters, "DON"T SNACK" leaning against the popcorn container. I even have a card in my automobile that says, "Don't eat/overeat at events."

I have identified my most likely situations for overeating, dinners at friends' homes and staying up later than 11:30 PM to read.

More than anything that simple step has helped. So my advice to myself and to you is twofold: work on those times when you are most prone to slip and be able to climb back on your diet wagon when you fall off. Many years ago I weighed 218 pounds; I firmly intend to never see that territory again.

The most I weighed in 2010 was 157.6 pounds. That was just after returning from a six-day trip to see old friends, all of whom wanted to feed us well, and to help celebrate a milestone (90th) birthday. I got up the morning after we flew back from Texas, weighed myself and went right back on the strict version of my diet plan. I went to the gym the next six days in a row and was down under 153 in two days.

But it took willpower and being able to say to myself, "Well it happened again, but you're not going to continue the upward slide (sic)."

My basic plan when I'm over that self-imposed upper limit (three pounds over my goal) is to go back to basics. Eat more veggies and fruit, less red meat; cut off a portion of each item on your plate and discard it; don't eat anything between meals; don't eat anything after eight PM; exercise every day (in a multitude of ways); let my wife know what's going on; weigh daily.

Maybe someday I'll get to the point where all this is on autopilot, but I doubt it. Maintaining a healthy weight requires thinking and willpower + a little help from your friends/spouse/family.

As they said in that movie many of us remember, "May the Force be with you."

The American Year of the Vegetable

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

Ever since we met our Chinese graduate student, back in 1999, I've enjoyed figuring out what the current Chinese year is. For instance, 2010 has been the year of the Tiger, while 2011, starting February 3rd will be the Year of the Rabbit.

vegetable medley

But an Opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today was titled "2011: The Year of the Vegetable." I read that and my copy of the Harvard Heart Letter, which arrived in this afternoon's mail, and found they were both urging us once again to eat  more veggies (and, in the latter case, more fruits).The newspaper article's theme was slanted toward preventing childhood obesity and its many significant consequences, diabetes and joint problems among them.

As the writer of the piece stressed, it's not the kids fault. We as adults and especially as parents and grandparents need to provide healthy choices and strong roles models. Which is to say, we ourselves are responsible for the epidemic of obesity in our youngsters.

How do I mean that? Well to start with our kids should be given healthy food and see that we also eat those foods. Recently, in two iterations, Lynnette and I hosted young adult children of old friends. Their parents are a doc and a nurse who worked for me in the Air Force. One twenty-two year-old  man came with his college roommate for a six-day stay. His older sister, a senior in medical school, visited here for two days while applying for the local Family Practice residency.

Even more veggies

All three young adults ate everything we suggested, including Brussels sprouts (we microwave or steam them and they're a completely different vegetable than the over-cooked ones I had as a child).

I asked the two whose parents I knew, "How come you are so willing to try different foods?

Both responded, "Our mother, when we were kids, said we had two choices. We could eat what the family was having...or we could starve."

I know their folks and I'm sure they would never have allowed the kids to starve, but  they both got the message. "learn to eat everything."

The author of the Opinion article mentioned that only 26% of adults (this came from a recent Center for Disease Control & Prevention survey) eat three or more veggie servings a day. He added that some of those who claim to match that minimum intake would count a hamburger  topped with a tomato or lettuce as a veggie serving.

That means three quarters of us don't meet that standard. Why? Probably because as kids, we didn't acquire a taste for eating them in the presence of adults who did.

So it's up to us to help our youngsters learn what a healthy diet is. And we better start now, or we're, in a sense, dooming our offspring.

I know those are strong words, but think about what's happening with our children; many of them are eating the wrong things and exercising less than we did as kids. Will their lifespan be shorter?

It's time and past time to set examples.

I'm over 100

Friday, December 17th, 2010

Well I don't mean I'm that old (actually I'm 69), but I looked at my old posts in the process of extracting tidbits to go into the book I'm working on, Eat like the Doc Does, and realized this would be my 103rd post. On the over hand, if my brain and body hold out, especially the former, living past 100 might be okay.

This man is over 100

There's a Chicken Soup book coming out on December 28th with one of my stories included. The book has the subtitle "Shaping the New You," and is centered on diet and exercise and lifestyle topics. My story is titled "Life Changes." I got ten pre-print copies, kept two for myself and sent eight out to friends, writing mentors, relatives and former graduate students.

When I reflect on the changes I've made in my lifestyle and diet over the past year and a half, I come up with a few simple concepts. I eat less overall and lots more veggies and fruit. I exercise more, usually iding a recumbent bike for an hour and five minutes a day and sometimes hiking or snowshoeing. I fall off the diet wagon from time to time, but always get back on (I weigh twenty-five pounds less today than I did in May of 2009). And finally, I usually think before I eat...not always, but usually.

I came up with an acronym for my weak spots; I've mentioned it before, but will reiterate. it's TABLE, meaning my triggers for overeating and mindless eating come when I'm "ticked off," on "autopilot," "bored," at a "low energy/late night state" or at an "event," loosely defined.

I'm by no means perfect, but my progress keeps evolving. This week my wife identified an area where  I could short-circuit one problem area. I got a new Clancy book and instead of reading until eleven, which is my usual pattern, I stayed up until 12:30 devouring not only the book but also five different snacks.

The next day, after our discussing the issue, I read while I was on the bike and again from ten until eleven PM, then quit. My weight, which had ballooned up two plus pounds, was down three pounds today, back in my acceptable range.

I don't expct this to ever be easy, but I don't intend to be one of the 90% who regain their weight after losing it.

Find your own path and join me. It's time and past time.

Two successes, one failure and a lesson

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

My newest reminder card

Travel is tough on my dieting, but, I've learned recently, so are the events I go to. I had weighed 153 when we left for our trip to Texas where friends hosted dinners, fed us well, too well. I returned at 157 pounds, four over what I now consider my upper limit. I know that I re-started my diet at 177 in May of 2009 and so I'm considerably slimmer, but 157 annoyed me.

So I was concerned; we had Thanksgiving dinner, a series of parties, a Thank the Donors event for the capital campaign I've been running and then would come some holiday events. What could I do to not only lose the four pounds at least, (my real goal weight is 149-150), but to also avoid gaining more. I needed a gimmick.

One of the background books I've been reading is on "mindless eating," the kind of frenzy of ingestion I recognized well. I used to get into this pattern frequently, forty years ago in when I weighed 218.

What I needed was another STOP sign. I already had my red 1/3 cup measure sitting on my kitchen island. Now I needed something for events and occasions. And, when I thought about it, one of those is my weekly writers' critique group. Most of us bring something edible to share and sometimes I get hooked on cookies or something else I wouldn't normally eat.

So I took two three by five inch cards and wrote "Don't Snack!" on one of them and "Don't Eat or Overeat" on the other.

my other card

One card leans up against my popcorn holder which itself is surmounted by the red measuring cup. Eating at home hadn't usually been a problem, but it wouldn't hurt to have an extra reminder.

The other I put into the cup holder of my car. I'd look at it just before going into a house where we were joining an ongoing party or before entering, twice this week alone, the local country club, where we were attending a luncheon for symphony donors and, later in the week, the Thank the Donors event.

Oh, and there was one more event, a baby shower I wouldn't normally have attended. In this case it was for the wife of a young relative. We hadn't seen him since his high school graduation and I felt it was important to go to his spouse's shower.

So here's my score card and the lesson I learned. I looked at the card in my Prius just prior to entering the country club for the luncheon. I ate three fourths of my salad and half my entree and said, "No thanks" to the dessert. I did even better at the donor event. I pre-ate a bowel of cereal and a piece of fruit. At the event itself I ate nothing and drank one third of a glass of Merlot.

But the shower, held at a pizza parlor, was another matter entirely. I didn't remember to look at the card hat evening, shared an appetizer with my nephew and his fiancee and had three large slices of pizza, even eating the dry crusts.

Actually the donor event was last night and today I'm down in my safe zone again. I'm going to lunch with friends at our favorite Thai restaurant, but before I leave my car I'll look at the card.

Lesson learned. I'll bring the "Don't Snack" card to my writers' group next week and look at it just before I leave my car.