Archive for December, 2009

Worth reading: The New York Times Magazine 10-11-09

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

A DC-area friend joined us recently for snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. We had a cabin at the nearby YMCA camp and everyone brought reading material for the evenings. Lee brought me the October 11th edition of The New York Times Magazine, titled "The Food Issue: Putting America's Diet on a Diet."

Mark Bittman, A NYT regular columnist wrote on "Faster Slow Food," advocating the concept of focused, individualized, online grocery announcements, allowing consumers to buy the kind of food they wanted, when and where they were ready to shop.  Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food will be publishing Food Rules; An Eater's Manual soon and contributed some of 2,500 answers NYT readers gave him in response to a request for their guidelines for eating.

Douglas McGray contributed an article, "A Fresh-Food Bank," about California's leading the charge to hand out fresh foods, rather than canned foods, to food-bank recipients. Their efforts have been ongoing since a 2005 agreement was established between CA food banks and growers + packers statewide.

There are a variety of viewpoints and issues discussed in this fascinating collection of short, pithy articles about diet, dietary quirks and preferences and nutrition problems, mostly but not exclusively, in the United States. I found this edition to be well worth reading, not the least for a provocative article on long-term calorie-restriction research and its beneficial effects on health and, potentially, on longevity.

The shorter answer to a reader's comment on eating organic

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

I'm heading out for a family event 80 miles away, but wanted to post a brief answer to reader Jayraj's question on eating all or partly organic. First, I'd like to clarify his comment that the age of puberty has dropped from 17 to 12. I'll drop in a link I found on the National Library of Medicine website, ( I think of puberty as a process with a number of stages; NLM says the onset of the initial stages in girls (early breast development and pubic hair) varies from age 8 to 13 and typically precedes onset of menstruation by 2 to2.5 years. ( There has been some change in the timing of puberty, but I'll need to spend some more time researching if there's a consensus on the linkage to hormones and antibiotics in food and milk.

In the meantime, both from my reading and my own personal views, I think buying organic is a good idea, if you can afford it, if the food products are locally produced and if they are available during the season you're stocking your larder for.  I could go to a large food store in town, part of a huge chain, that has many additional organic products, essentially year-round, but lots of them come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. There's a cost, often a hidden cost, to buying these. Some of the transportation costs are likely subsidized and therefore invisible to us. There's also the cost to our planet in emissions that I think clearly contribute to global warming (I do believe in it; I've seen pictures of the glaciers receding and the Arctic ice sheet going away). So it's a balancing act, depending on where you live, what your finances are and what season of the year it is. I don't eat as much organic fruits and vegetables as our Boulder-based friend does; we do buy organic milk and eggs through a local dairy and, as I've said before, have purchased lamb, beef and bison that are organic. In answer to Jayraj, I'd say go as far along the organic pathway as you can logically do.

Here's more on another book I liked

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

David Kessler's new (2009) book is ttitled The end of overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite. Kessler knows his territory, both professionally (he's a former medical school dean and former FDA commissioner) and, from my read, personally. His premise is we've been, absolutely deliberately, conditioned to overeat. he's talking about Americans and the US food industry, but I think his comments are applicable widely, especially as the "American Diet" has made its way to many other countries. He discusses animal research which showed that sugar and fat, in combination, could override heredity. He also talks of how an executive of the food industry said they know and use the fact that combinations of  sugar, fat and salt make foods more pleasurable. They've spent large amounts on making prepared foods, especially quick foods more appealing to our senses.

The result, of course, has been expanding waistlines and increased average weight, significant contributors to a host of health problems. Kessler, in the latter part of his book, outlines a comprehensive approach to what he calls "Food Rehab." I think this is a book well worth reading and will give you a link to Dr. Kessler's website

I'm amazed I ate the whole thing and I'm still lean

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Last evening we had two couples over for dinner; they're all extremely  interesting people and have lived around the world. We planned an over-the-top menu: a piquant Georgian beef stew over rice with cardamom pods, microwaved asparagus spears, a tomato-basil-mozzarella salad, good bread, minimal appetizers (a variety of olives + pistachio nuts), several wines (bubbly to start with and an excellent merlot), and a Russian Apple Charlotte for dessert. The conversation flowed as freely as the wine; we used good china and crystal and our company came early, helped with the final dinner touches and stayed late.

Prior to the dinner, I weighed 151.4 pounds, six tenths under my goal weight. We ate cereal and fruit for breakfast, a yogurt and pear salad for lunch and worked hard at the gym. Today I weighed 151.8, still under my goal, while Lynnette actually lost a little.

The point of this post is although we're in the midst of the holiday seasons  (Thanksgiving through New Years) and I plan to enjoy myself and will undoubtedly eat more than usual, I'm still trying to be smart about it.  I wouldn't be doing this at all if I hadn't lost the twenty-five pounds over the last six months to reach we final goal. I wouldn't be able to do this without some "Won't Power," as I call it. I'm deliberately going into eating events from the low side of my weight goal, exercising hard and eating only one larger meal.

I've said things like this in previous posts, but want to emphasize the point; if you think you're too heavy, avoid holiday splurges, but if you're at target weight, eat and be merry...after planning ahead.

More on Pollan's book: "In Defense of Food"

Friday, December 11th, 2009

I wrote a brief blurb on three excellent books in the diet/lifestyle arena recently, cogitated a bit and decided I needed to spend some more time on each of the triad. Let's start with Pollan's books. I really enjoyed The Omnivore's Dilemma (2006). There he discusses (and he and his family try) four American food chains: food from standard supermarkets, from large-chain supposedly organic stores, from farmers markets and, finally from his attempts to be  a hunter-gatherer. After my wife read the book, we started haunting the farmers markets, bought a bison and a lamb and bought three EarthBoxes.

Our diet changed, although it wasn’t ever “bad.” We cook at home  a lot, use fresh produce whenever possible, eat lots of vegetables and fruits and consume red meat sparingly. After reading Pollan’s latest book, 2008 paperback, In Defense of Food: An Eater 's Manifesto (IDOF),we've gone a lot further. For instance, early in IDOF he comments we should avoid foods that make health claims, because those “food products” aren’t really food.

Pollan’s advice on food products is exceedingly sound: he recommends we avoid those that contain ingredients that are unfamiliar, unpronounceable, more than five in number or contain high-fructose corn syrup. I’ve actually been doing this much of the time for years; I now do it much more frequently.

We live in an age where nutritionists and a huge food industry shape the shopping choices of most Americans. Yet our health statistics don’t reflect the claims made in favor of this or that food product or supplement. It’s time to get back to basics, eat food that isn’t shipped 6,000 miles, ignore the latest diet fads and widen our food choices, including trying plants we’ve ignored previously.

Read IDOF; it’s well worth your time.

Three great books

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

I've been reading a lot in the general field of dieting/lifestyle and, among twenty or so other books, came across three I'd highly recommend. I'll tell you about them in no particular order.

I had read and enjoyed "The Omnivore's Dilemma," Michael Pollan's  previous book in the field. Now I found his newer book, "In Defense of Food", published in 2008 by Penguin. Pollan has three simple rules for what we should eat to aim for health and they make a lot of sense. I'll let you find out how he words the rules, but basically he advocates staying away from processed foods, eating primarily fresh veggies (plus fruits and whole grains) and limiting your overall caloric intake. It's a wonderful read!

Next up is David Kessler, a former med school dean at UCSF and Yale and an ex-FDA commissioner. Dr. Kessler's 2009 book is titled, "The End of Overeating," and is published by Rodale.  This one is more scientific in its verbiage, but its main theme, I thought, was spot on. He believes the food industry has used a variety of combinations of sugar plus fat in their creations and in doing so has hooked us, nearly addicted some of us. They've also thrown in salt and lots of chemicals, but their approach to the complicated preparation of processed food seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to sell more "food," whatever the consequences to the customer. I've read that some of that is finally changing, but we just don't eat "fast food:"

The third author is Dr. Dean Ornish. We own several of his books, cook from them and actually contacted his Preventive Medicine Research Institute recently about one of our long-time favorites, fruited grain.  Dr. Ornish's 2008 book, "The Spectrum," published by Ballantine, is superb. It has a detailed discussion on Ornish's approach to lifestyle and diet, a DVD of guided meditations, and lots of recipes by Oprah's personal chef, Art Smith.

These three books provided, for me, a cross section of current thoughts in the diet/lifetsyle field. They're all different; they're all worth reading

Before and after traveling

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

We've been on the road (both literally and figuratively speaking). Actually the latter came first as we flew to the DC area where our nine-year-old grandson is appearing as Tiny Tim in Dickens' Christmas Carol at Ford's Theatre. We're really proud of Jordi; this is his third professional show in a year. We flew from Denver to Dulles airport and stayed with a good friend who lives near to there. We had dinner at her place the first evening, ate lunch with several old friends the next day, had two restaurant dinners with our kids and ate out with Jordi after his performance at the wonderful cafeteria at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.

I left weighing 151.4 pounds, six tenths under my goal weight. I really stuck to my diet and exercise program in the days preceding the trip as I knew I would likely gain weight during it. We also walked an hour or more each day while we were in the DC area.

I was right about the weight gain; the day after we came home I was up five pounds, clearly above my trigger point of 155. Anytime I get there, three pounds above my goal weight, I go back on the diet for real and head straight to the gym. By the next day I had lost two pounds, but I'll stay on a stricter version of my diet and exercise program until I'm back to the 152 range (give or take a half pound).

Today we drove to Denver for a wonderful Genghis Khan exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. A friend joined us for the traveling exhibit (go see it if you live anywhere near Denver or it comes to your city later)  and my wife and I ate a late lunch in the city at a very nice Thai restaurant. I made that my larger meal of the day.

But let's put this in context. I'm down roughly twenty-five pounds from my June 2009 diet re-start and was under my final goal; most of what I gained on the trip was "water weight," really meaning salt and water weight and I'm back to exercising daily and eating two small meals and one larger one. When I travel for a longer time period, I don't eat anywhere near as much (that was true on two earlier trips this year).

What happened here was I was down to my goal weight, allowed myself latitude for a few days and had a great time with friends and family.  By next weekend I'll be back at goal. Don't let your diet, if you're on one, prevent you from enjoying life. Don't fool yourself either; it's really easy to fall of the diet/lifestyle cliff, gain a few pounds and think, "I can't get back on my program." You can too.