Archive for January, 2010

On the road and eating with our Chinese family

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

We're in a suburb of  Philadelphia, on an eight-day road trip to see close friends, surrogates kids and grandkids, and, eventually,  our biologic kids and grandson. As predicted, at this first stop, with our former Chinese graduate student, Ye, her husband and their twins, my diet hit a snag. Today was the second birthday party for the boys and there was enough food to "feed an army"... or maybe even an empire.

I watched Ye's husband, Donghui, cook late last evening and even got to help a little. When he handed me my own pair of chopsticks and later took one of my minor suggestions, I was very pleased. He was making a dish called "Hundred Pages," which starts with beef stomach. Now in response to the squeamish among you, this was probably my favorite dish served today. But that's not the point.

Donghui started with a little olive oil in a pan, ground two kinds of fresh pepper (neither was our typical black pepper), and made the entire dish from scratch.  Most of the other dishes including "Five-Flavor Beef," were also made from basic ingredients; that one had lots of different spices.

The exception was the birthday cake, but I noticed Ye coming by and scaping the topping off the portions the twins got to eat. The adults, of course, were on their own. Frosting or not, it was your own choice.

There was beef and pork and also fish, but a whole lot of vegetables. It was basically a young crowd, except for a scattering of grandparents and I did see a bowl of chips. On the other hand it was entirely possible to eat most of the dishes and still have a healthy meal. All home cooked (except for the cake which came from Costco) and all delicious.

Even the beef stomach.

Now I think it's time to take a walk or get on Ye and Donghui's elliptical to burn off some of the calories.

So what is this "Glycemic Index' thing?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Several posts ago I mentioned a term without defining it. Then I realized I had learned it in medical school a long time back (1962-1966). When Dr. Dean Ornish talked about it in his book The Spectrum, I had to think long and hard about what glycemic index meant. In doing so I translated it in my mind from what I call "med-speak, i.e., terms we use as docs that mean little or nothing to most people, to regular-person language. And in doing so, I decided to change my diet a bit

I want to return to the term and what it actually means, because it's an important concept, even more so today than it was forty-plus years ago. We're talking here about what is termed "good carbs" and "bad carbs," with carbs, of course, being short for carbohydrates. Bad carbs are so-called simple carbohydrates like sugar, white flour and the ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup (look at labels; it's everywhere); good carbs are complex carbohydrates with examples including the carbs in fruits and veggies and whole grains. Dr. Ornish points out that good carbs are unrefined and therefore high in fiber content.

So back to the glycemic index: it measures how quickly the carbs in whatever you eat turn into sugar in your blood; good carbs, since they come with built-in fiber, are foods that we break down and absorb more slowly, so your blood sugar doesn't go popping up. In a nation with more and more people being obese and many of those developing diabetes, your choice of what carbs you eat may be crucial to your health.

That's true for the rest of us because there's even another concept that comes into play and that one is "glycemic load"; that one takes in account how much total sugar gets into the bloodstream as compared to how rapidly it gets there. I eat carrots which have a high glycemic index, so whatever sugar they contain is absorbed rapidly, but not many grams of carbs per carrot, so I don't get a total sugar rush from them. I also eat Grape-Nuts, which have lots of carbs, so, even though they're not absorbed quite as quickly as my carrots, they give me a whole bunch of sugar for my body to handle.

If I were obese, it would partially because that sugar load and all its cousins got changed into fat. If I change to eating good carbs, I can help break this cycle. There's more science stuff involved, but that's enough for today

How to exercise when you can't really exercise

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

We just spent a long weekend at the YMCA camp at Estes Park; it was a working vacation for me as I was away from the phone and email, but had a major project that would take lots of time. I had hoped to snowshoe each day, but we found out there was no nearby snow to speak of and Lynnette came down with a cold and didn't want to do anything strenuous.

So that was last Friday through Monday and today I had to drive to an appointment in Denver and then had a Symphony Board meeting. In any case I wasn't going to be able to get in my usual two plus hours at the gym.

We all have this kind of time, one where our best intentions are to get some good exercise in, but work or meetings or other scheduled events get in the way. We can either shrug our shoulders and say, "Well, I'll wait for another day," or we can do something else.

Each of our days in the mountains, we took a walk for thirty to sixty minutes a day. Today, between my drive back and forth to Denver and my two-hour board meeting,  I got in twenty minutes on the recumbent bike at our gym. I didn't get as much exercise as usual or as much as I would have liked to, but I at least got some.

In the case of the YMCA trip, I was able to break up time in front of my laptop with some quality time in the outdoors and to spend time in a shared activity with my wife. Today, I really had to squeeze in the gym time, but I felt refreshed afterwards and ready to cope with a board meeting.

Tomorrow I only have two meetings to attend, one between four and five PM and the other in the evening. I'll get up and go to the gym early and get back in my usual pattern.

I'm happy that I found some way to burn a few calories, spend quality time with Lynnette and break up what otherwise have felt like days of straight toil, with no time for fun. Exercise for me has become a tonic; afterwards I always feel energized and uplifted.

Try to find some time in your own day to get away from your desk or your computer or whatever occupies your time. be creative and look for new ideas on how you can take even short periods for exercise. I think you'll feel better and those small amounts of calories burned add up in the long run. If you're trying to lose weight, fifty calories a day translates into five pounds a year.

What kind of calorie-burning do you do?

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

I've mentioned that we exercise regularly. I had a total knee replacement nine years ago and was told I should not: run, play volleyball, do any downhill skiing or play basketball. I could walk, ride an street bike or a recumbent bike, dance or snowshoe. And, of course, walk up and down stairs to a reasonable extent. We had been to a "Try Snowshoeing" event in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and loved the sport. So we got snowshoes from friends who ran a new and used sports-equipment shop and tried a variety of snow conditions with them.

I found breaking a path, especially uphill, in deep snow, was not my favorite way to exercise. But I loved going on trails that had already been trod upon. We rode a lift up to the top of a ski area where friends live and tried a cross-country trail. That was a thrill, especially when we realized, that we got great upper-body exercise by using the ski poles we had also purchased.

Now we've gone on one-day or multi-day trips to one of Colorado's established snowshoe trails . This year we've taken a cabin at the YMCA camp near Estes Park and snowshoed in RMNP on two occasions. This weekend will be the third. We took a friend there for an one-day excursion ten days ago; she's about fifteen years younger than we are and had cross-country skied a fair amount, but this was only her second time on snowshoes.

We found our way to Sprague Lake, and set off on a three-mile, mostly level path with light snow drifting down and a wonderful view of the mountains. As usual, I started with heavy gloves and a number of layers of clothing and had to switch to lighter gloves and unzip my jacket as we got a ways up the first leg of the trail. Lynnette and our friend Mary were perfectly content with the relatively flat trail, but fairly tired by the time we finished. We immediately headed for a favorite restaurant and ate hardily; we had certainly earned our calories.

I'll probably try some steeper slopes with my summer trail guide in the  next few months; snowshoeing is a great exercise and offers a variety of challenges and I think I'm ready for the next one.

Review: The Spectrum by Dean Ornish, M.D.

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

I briefly reviewed three books a while back, then said I want to go through them in more detail. I've done so for two of the three and now I'd like to discuss Dean Ornish's fascinating book, The Spectrum. Dr. Ornish is Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC, San Francisco and heads the nonprofit Preventive Medicine Research Institute. His five previous books have espoused a comprehensive diet and lifestyle approach toward preventing and, in some cases, reversing some of the major diseases especially afflicting those of us who eat the Western diet. He's been doing research since he was a medical student in the 1970s, conducted multiple demonstration projects in the United States since the early 1990s and finally garnering enough data for Medicare to agree to cover his program for reversing heart disease.

I basically knew this, had read some of his earlier books and had used some of the recipes from two of his publications, Eat More, Weigh Less and Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish. One of our all time favorites, as I've previously mentioned, is a recipe called Fruited Grain. We've made this in a variety of ways and, especially when fresh plums are in season, make it frequently.

The Spectrum extends his approach. As the name implies it gives a thorugh spectrum of dietary and lifestyle choices for people who have significant disease and also for those who are healthy. Its DVD of guided meditations was written by Anne Ornish, a yoga and meditation teacher who is Dean Ornish's wife. It also has a hundred recipes, most with optional variants, developed by chef Art Smith, who was the 2007 recipient of the James Beard Humanitarian Award.

Much of this I've said, in briefer form, before. What's most interesting about this book is its blend of plain common sense and ground-breaking collaborative medical research.  I was aware of Dr. Ornish's research on coronary artery disease; I knew nothing of his work, done with UCSF and Sloan-Kettering on prostate cancer. I'll follow his studies and publications with considerable interest and think you should also.

It's time for Exercise

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

We're 68+ years old and exercise some fashion. We started doing this as a couple when we were assigned to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, MS (1991-1993) and I  commanded the Air Force medical center there. I had lost a considerable amount of weight as I got more into senior positions, but here I'd be one of a very small group of unit commanders and really had to set an example.

Lynnette and I decided to meet for "non-lunch." We'd come to the running track that was near my hospital and not far from her Family Support Center, bring a sack lunch and do much more exercising than eating. It worked well for both of us; I got down to two pounds over my high school weight.

Since then we've exercised regularly; Lynnette goes to a Pilates class at our health club twice a week and attends a Strong Women, Strong Bones class twice a week (lifting relatively light weight and taking them slowly through a range of motion (ROM) pattern). She also does daily stretches and goes to the gym two to four times a week with me. I go to the gym at least six days a week and ride a recumbent bike, do a series of stretches and use six weight machines. I've gradually built up my ride so now I burn ~650 Kcal. and ride >20 miles in 65 minutes on days when I'm feeling up to it.

But, we're both sensible. My right total knee replacement (done nine years ago) limits how much weight I should use on several machines; my tendency toward developing tendinitis means I limit ROM on two other machines. If I've done a lot on the bike the day before and my legs are tired, I go slower and add minutes to reach my calorie and mile goals.

We also vary our exercise: we dance, walk stairs, snow shoe (more about this later) and ride street bikes.

I tell people who see me ride and comment I must be in great shape that it took me seven years before I got to this point. I think "couch potatoes" should start by walking, a relatively short distance and most people at my age should see their doc before attempting anything strenuous. I also think there are lots of ways to burn a few extra calories; parking a long ways out from the store and walking back and forth to your car is a simple one. One friend said he hid his TV remote so he had to get up to change channels or turn the set on and off.

I don't think exercising is the way to lose weight, but it's a great adjunct and is clearly important in keeping weight off once you've lost some.

Watch this movie! Food, Inc.

Saturday, January 2nd, 2010

Last night, we followed a friend's suggestion (she knew I'd been reading on diet and lifestyle topics) and watch Robert Kenner's gripping movie, "Food, Inc." A lot of the movie's background came from two books I've read recently: Michael Pollan's, The Omnivore's Dilemma, (I've blogged on one of his other books before), and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. It's an amazing movie and my wife, after watching it, said she wants us to change our shopping habits even more than we have already.

Pollan narrates much of the movie with vignette's from others. He leads us through the changes in our diets made in the last fifty years, largely guided by the food industry, how a few multinational corporations make up an amazingly large proportion of it  and the issues with the "foods" we now eat as a result. One of the spotlighted exceptions is a wonderful farm in Virginia, Polyface Farms, run by Joel Salatin. I remembered reading about this farm in Pollan's book; he'd tried to order from them and was told they wouldn't ship ourside their immediate region. I Googled this farm and found links to organic-food buying clubs in Virginia and elsewhere

The majority of the film talks about and shows us the mega-farm and huge CAFO-dominated American food industry (CAFO means concentrated animal feeding operation) and Pollan describes in considerable detail some of the potential dire consequences of our eating food produced by them. A typical hamburger, Pollan says, for example, has pieces from thousands of cows, some of which could have been ill. He also tells of the interweaving of senior personnel between these huge food producers and the agencies (USDA and FDA especially) that are charged with regulating them. A moving section of the movie shows a woman who recounts how her young son died after eating a burger tainted with E Coli O157H7 She was filmed visiting a Congresswoman to try to influence food-safety regulation.

I'd rate this as a "Don't Miss" movie; it may change your life.