Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dr. Atkins Had It Right: Sugar, Not Fat, Is The Real Problem

Several years ago my wife (then girlfriend) and I went on the Atkins' diet. If you've never heard of this diet it is the low carbohydrate and sugar diet. You basically avoid sugar, and don't worry about fat, and you lose weight and maintain the weight loss by continuing on the diet.

The Atkins' diet is usually met with cynicism by those that have been brainwashed into a "red meat and fat are bad" mentality that has been propogated by our modern diet and exercise culture. They also try to say that limiting carbohydrates, especially good ones, is a bad idea and can lead to health problems. Most of those people do not understand the Atkins' diet.

The Atkins' diet starts out with the "induction" phase. For two weeks you keep your carb intake to 20 grams per day. You can eat as much as you want of foods that contain no carbs: meat, cheese, certain veggies, eggs, etc. This is the part of the diet that most people harp on when bashing the Atkins' diet. However, this is not intended for the long term, and after the initial two weeks you are supposed to add carbs back into your diet, at the rate of 20 grams per day (so week 3 you move up to 40 grams, week 4 60 grams, etc), until you find your "set point" or "carb tolerance" level.

Once you find that, whether it be 40 grams per day or 140 grams per day, you should consume those carbs in the form of fruits and vegetables. This is a little known secret of the Atkins' diet, it does advocate eating fruits and vegetables!

Critics will often scoff: "but eating that much meat, cheese, eggs, etc has to be bad for your cholesterol and heart". However, critics fail to realize what you are cutting out of your diet: greasy, fried foods. No potato chips, no fries, no onion rings or anything breaded and fried. My wife's grandmother went on the Atkins' diet and a couple of months into the diet went to her doctor. Her blood work had improved across the board. He told her whatever she was doing to keep it up. When she told him it was the Atkins' diet he couldn't believe it. But the proof was in her lab work.

Now, as with any other diet, there is a catch. It is extremely difficult to remain on the Atkins' diet. Carbs are everywhere, and the low and no carb substitutes for things like bread and pasta tend to leave a lot to be desired. Also, I have noticed that people that do not make it past the induction phase, the initial 2 week period, often go crazy eating carbs afterward. This usually leads to a net weight increase, despite the weight loss realized through the 2 weeks of induction.

But there is something to be said for Dr. Atkins' theory: limit your processed sugar consumption. As noted in a prior entry in this blog, this includes processed grains. The problem with refined sugar is not that it isn't natural, but that it isn't in a natural concentration. If you have ever studied the sugar production process you understand just how super-concentrated processed sugars are. Humans were not meant to consume sugar in such concentrated amounts. Eating refined sugar is akin to drinking concentrated fruit juice without adding water.

Once sugar hits your blood stream your body goes to work to store all of the excess sugar. It does this by converting it to fat! So you could eat a low or no fat diet, and still be contributing fat to your body by eating too much processed grains and sugars. Limiting sugar intake has an overall better impact on your health than limiting fat. Sugar is the real problem, not fat.

But what about fruits and vegetables? Don't they contain sugar? True almost all fruits, and some vegetables have sugar, but again we are talking about concentration levels. While consuming a lot of fruit and fruit juices can cause you to consume too much sugar, if you make them a balanced part of your diet it shouldn't be a problem. Sugary sweet treats and beverages (soda, etc) are the real killer, and should be avoided in daily consumption.

The key is to limit sugar consumption intelligently. Avoid adding sugar to foods and beverages. Avoid processed foods and low or no fat versions of things that normally have fat in them (mayo, salad dressing, etc). Switch to artificial sweeteners if you really can't go without sugar in tea or coffee. Try to stick to natural sugars like fruits, vegetables, and even honey in moderation.

Cutting back on your sugar intake will make you healthier, and help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Being Too Strict Is A Sure Way To Fail On Your Diet

Human-beings are interesting. They aren't good with extremes. Heat and cold are an example. Get much below 70 degrees and humans are "freezing". Get much about 80 degrees and humans are "burning up". Same goes with our diet. Eat too much junk and we get overweight. Eat too little junk and we feel deprived.

The latter will lead to the former. If you are so strict on your diet that you never allow yourself the occasional guilty pleasure, then you will end up going to the other extreme and over indulging on bad foods. This was my biggest problem with the Atkins Diet. After the induction portion of the diet you were so starved for empty carbs that most people would fail on the diet. You just can't be so strict without eventually swinging back the other direction with a vengeance.

One of the most successful diets I was ever on was the one meal diet. I would eat a bowl of cereal or oatmeal for breakfast. Another for lunch, then at dinner I'd eat anything I wanted including dessert. I wouldn't snack between these meals, and I lost 20 pounds over the course of a month doing that.

Another was the weekend splurge diet. I would eat very healthy and limited portions throughout the week Monday-Friday. Then on Saturday and Sunday I would eat whatever I wanted (within reason). I was very successful on that as well. The problem with those diets though was eventually you'd want to be bad on at lunch or on Wednesday, then you'd have to try to be good at dinner or on the weekend. It just didn't work for longer than 2-3 months.

Obviously, with this blog, I advocate a healthy diet. Lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains. More fish, chicken, turkey and wild game, less farm raised beef. Etc. But I also advocate rewarding yourself occasionally. Taking a night off every couple of weeks and just enjoying foods you don't normally enjoy.

What kind of life would it be not to have cake, cookies, ice-cream, pudding, fried foods, hamburgers, hotdogs, or other foods like that? How can you go without a fast food meal occasionally, or french fries and onion rings? I can't imagine never again having a traditional pepperoni pizza.

All things in moderation, as the saying goes. So I say occasionally eat donuts, or elephant ears. Just don't over do it. Even my doctor said this. He told me: "I am not saying you can't eat what you want on a Friday or Saturday night, but the next day you are back on the healthy diet." Dr. Atkins also argued for treating yourself in his book. He talked about occasionally having that piece of birthday cake.

The key is to not allow the occasional treat to explode into an onslaught of bad eating habits. That is what we are discussing here is habits. Your habit should be the healthy things I listed above. The treat should be the occasional ice-cream cone or batch of chocolate chip cookies.

The key to this is what you keep around and available. If you are in the "habit" of keeping sugary treats around your house then you are going to develop a habit of eating them. The trick is to keep fruits and vegetables around so that the occasional trip to the ice-cream parlor, or the birthday party becomes the occasional treat that it should be.

So let them eat cake I say! Just limit it to once or twice a month.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Salmon And Rice

Being on the Mediterranean diet, I have to eat as much fish as I can. Salmon is one of the best for you from a healthy fat standpoint, but it can also be pretty pricey. Factor in that wild caught is so much better for you than farm raised, and you can start getting into the $11/lb range fairly quickly.

However, I recently found frozen salmon, wild caught, at Walmart. A 1 lb bag is $4.29!! There are four individually wrapped pieces. You simply, put the vacuum sealed piece in a bowl of luke-warm water, a few minutes later it is thawed.

I like to season it with sea salt, fresh cracked pepper, and your favorite seasoning (Lawry's for me!), and then broil it in the toaster oven at 450 for about 9 minutes (until cooked through). I serve it over a bed of brown rice, seasoned with garlic salt (we have a grinder with dried garlic and sea salt) and a splash of olive oil.

You can have a side of your favorite vegetable as well (got to get as many veggies into your diet as possible). Quick, easy and healthy!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

"I Don't Like That!"

If I had a dime for every time I have heard someone utter the title phrase I could retire to Beverly Hills. (Not that I'd want to, but I could.) However, I have found that most adults have within them the power to eat anything, and to even enjoy eating anything, and even eventually to really like anything.

"I don't like that" starts in our youth. As immature children we see deciding what we will and won't eat as power. It boils down to what we can control and what we cannot. The old saying "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink" applies here. Kids realize that short of being force-fed, which would be considered abuse, they cannot be forced to eat something if they decide they don't want to.

In a world where you feel a lack of control, as most children do, what you will and won't eat becomes the one thing you can control. This is actually the root cause of most eating disorders: in a chaotic and uncontrollable world what we eat is the one thing we can control.

Though likes and dislikes begin as a power struggle, those that persist into adulthood become a mental block. We basically convince ourselves that we do not like something, so we assume that we do not like it. The result is that we miss out on enjoying foods simply because we think we do not like them.

Many tastes are acquired. I remember the first time I had honey, I thought "ewww". But it wasn't that it was a bad taste, it was that it was a different taste. Over time I have come to love honey. To crave it actually. Many people miss out on wonderful foods because their initial reaction was to not like something.

Aversions to different tastes are another matter entirely. Sometimes people develop aversions to tastes because of traumatic events. I went an entire year not being able to eat popcorn because popcorn was the last thing I eaten prior to coming down with stomach virus. Just the smell of popcorn triggered the ill feeling I experience with that virus. I eventually got over it, but it taught me that aversions to tastes and smells are very real.

Another example is rare beef. To me nothing tastes better than a rare steak. As I age I prefer my steak rarer and rarer. My parents will not touch beef unless it is cooked into shoe leather. They have an aversion to "pink" in their beef. The reason for this is that they were taught from a young age that if beef wasn't cooked through brown then it was dangerous.

We now know that allowing the center to reach 145 degrees (Fahrenheit) renders the meat safe, regardless of color. In fact, the bacteria is usually on the outside of the meat so a temperature as low as 130 degrees (Fahrenheit) will have meant that the outside of the meat has become hot enough to kill off harmful bacteria. Shoe leather is no longer necessary, but it has been embedded in my parents to the point where they have an aversion to pink meat. (I have seen my father become almost sick and stop eating a hamburger because the meat was pink.)

Aversions too can be conquered over time. Continuing to test if the aversion has past is one way. That is how I got over my aversion to popcorn. Another way is to become educated about food, as opposed to holding fast to what you've always believed. If my parents would understand that pink meat doesn't mean it is raw, they'd enjoy meat much better than the well done, tough as leather meat they insist on now. So like taste acquisition, getting over aversions is something that can be done.

Acquiring tastes can actually be quite enjoyable. A flavor I had difficulty with at first was horseradish. The first time I had something with a decent amount of horseradish in it (I was a child then) I refused to eat another bite. Now horseradish is one of my favorite flavors. I can't imagine eating a sandwich without some form of horseradish dressing it.

Maturity also plays a role in getting over the "I don't like that" syndrome. As mentioned above, control plays a big part in not liking something. We hold on to that control we needed as a child. I have known adults that:

- Will not try anything new.
- Refuse to eat anything they claim to not like.
- Will not eat anything with an ingredient "they don't like", whether they can taste it or not.

My aunt once told me a story about a notoriously picky eater. This person is well into their 50s. She had this person to dinner, and made an Italian dish. Someone at the table complimented the dish and asked what was in it. When she got to spinach on the ingredient list, the picky person, who had been eating heartily right along with everyone else, put their fork down and refused to eat another bite.

You can't tell me that just knowing that there was spinach in the dish made it suddenly taste bad. This person doesn't have a problem with taste, they have a problem with maturity.

So grow up. Be adventurous. Eat things that you think you don't or won't like. Develop those taste buds. Move toward healthy foods you normally wouldn't touch. It will make it not only more enjoyable to eat, but it will make it easier to eat things you should eat. Here is a Bible passage in closing:

1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

To Supplement Or Not To Supplement

When discussing healthy eating and diet sometimes the topic turns to vitamin supplements. There are varying opinions on the effectiveness of supplements, how easily absorbed supplements are, and how much you can really trust supplement manufacturers.

So today's entry will take a look at vitamin supplements and take a look at the truth behind supplements. There will also be some helpful hints related to supplements that might help with some of the problems that are sometimes raised related to supplements.

To start, it needs to be said that ideally you'd get all of the vitamins and nutrients you need on a daily basis from food. If we could all consume a balanced diet then there would be no need for supplements. However, most of us eat too much of the wrong foods, not enough of the right foods, or foods that are depleted of the nutrients we need. Canned vegetables are a good example. While canned vegetables are better than no vegetables, eating fresh or even frozen vegetables will net you more vitamins and nutrients.

So while the quality of our food is often lacking, the quantity is also a problem. I remember seeing an infomercial for a juicer a few years ago. They had the juicer in the middle of a table surrounded by a vast array of vegetables and fruits. The host made the point that the daily recommended intake of those vegetables was represented right there surrounding the juicer. It is nearly impossible for someone to consume that many vegetables. Thus, supplementation is necessary to make up the gap.

Another category of people that really need to be on supplements is vegetarians or people that do not eat red meat. If you read a book about vitamins they will always list those that are most at risk for a deficiency of a given vitamin. For 95% of vitamins people that are listed as being most at risk are "vegetarians or those that do not eat red meat". It is imperative that you take a good daily multivitamin supplement if you fit this category. Despite what many folks claim, humans were meant to consume meat. We have the teeth and the digestive systems for it. While we are not exclusively meat eaters, we are like bears: omnivorous. Which means we need a balance of plant and animal based foods to remain healthy.

Finally, if you are still opposed to supplements it is important to realize that you are probably already taking supplements and just don't know it. If you drink milk, milk is fortified with vitamin D. If you eat cereal or oatmeal (or just about any packaged breakfast food) then you are taking supplements as manufacturers "enrich" those foods with vitamin supplements. Even many commercially sold fruit juices are enhanced with vitamins. Supplementation of these nutrients is one reason we live longer and healthier today.

But what about supplements themselves? What are the best forms to take them in? After all, there are liquids, powders, tablets, and gel-tabs. There are even creams you rub on your skin for absorption by the body. The answer to the question of which is better is: it depends. Everyone is different, maybe your body can't handle the tablets, or you have trouble swallowing them. Maybe the liquids are to hard on your stomach. The creams could irritate your skin. So you have to find what works best for you.

Also, there have been reports of unscrupulous supplement manufacturers. So do a little research and stick to reputable manufacturers. Avoid overseas, mail-order supplement manufacturers. Read what experts recommend in the way of supplement companies. Use that accumulated knowledge to make a smart choice in supplements.

Some supplements can be proven through blood work. If you have high cholesterol, and you start taking 500mg of Niacin a night, if you are taking a good supplement you should see an improvement in your blood cholesterol numbers. Same with vitamin D. If you have low vitamin D and you start taking a supplement, you should see your vitamin D level go up if the supplement is working.

The question of what kinds of supplements you should be taking depends on your circumstances. At a minimum, most people should be taking a good, daily multivitamin. Not all of these are created equal so you need to find one that has plenty of the essential vitamins, and if they include minerals and herbs then their value is even higher. If you are a vegetarian or do not eat red meat, make sure the supplement you choose has a fair amount of iron in it.

Discussing these kinds of things with your doctor is important. Many doctors now prescribe supplements to their patients. My doctor prescribed fish oil and Niacin (a B-vitamin) to help combat my low HDL and high triglyceride cholesterol levels. My wife has been prescribed vitamin D by her doctor. Vitamin supplements are now commonly prescribed and recommended by physicians.

When you take your supplements is important too. Most people take their vitamins in the morning, either before or after breakfast. I disagree with this tactic. The only time I think you should take supplements in the morning, is if you need to take more than one tablet of a particular supplement.

For instance, to help with my omega-3 intake I added an Acai supplement to my regimen. The recommend dosage calls for 2 gel-tabs a day, so I take one before bed with the rest of my supplements, and one with breakfast every morning. This way I am breaking up the dosage over the day as opposed to one giant dose at the end.

Why do I recommend taking supplements before bed? Well the answer has more than one answer. First, absorption is better. Second, side-effects are less noticeable. And finally, it is usually easier to remember to take them at night.

Absorption is better because you are probably going to sleep through the night, and therefore the supplement stays in your system longer. Do this experiment: take your multivitamin with breakfast. When you urinate notice the color and smell of your urine. You are urinating out much of the vitamin supplement you took. Now take the supplement at night, and notice take notice of your urine the next morning. It shouldn't be any different than normal. The reason for this is that most people can't go 3-4 hours without urinating during the day, but go 6-8 hours at night. Those extra hours allow for much better absorption as the nutrients remain in the body much longer.

Side-effects are also less noticeable. For instance, Niacin will cause skin flushing which most people will sleep through unless it is severe. (This side-effect diminishes as your body becomes accustom to Niacin.) Many people suffer upset stomach from supplements, but most people will sleep through that as well if they take the supplements prior to going to bed.

I have also found that it is easier to remember to take supplements before going to bed. Most people eat breakfast these days on the run or at work. If you forget to bring your supplements with you then you obviously can't take them. If you take them prior to going to bed, you usually are at home, and you probably keep your supplements at home. I have found I miss taking my supplements much less often by making it a bedtime ritual.

Most people need to supplement their diets with vitamins. You should discuss what your needs are with your doctor, choose supplements for your specific set of circumstances, and then take them on a schedule that works best for you. The negatives that are sometimes pointed out related to supplements can be minimized, and supplements can be an important part of your health and nutrition.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Healthy Recipe Replacement: Tuna Salad

If you are like me you probably like tuna salad sandwiches. And since I am following the Mediterranean diet I am supposed to have 2-4 servings of fish per week. Tuna seems like a good way to get some fish into my diet.

The problem with tuna salad though is that most of the time it is prepared with mayonnaise which is high in fat and cholesterol. You could go with a low or no fat version of mayo, but then you are getting a lot of additional sugar introduced into your diet.

Then I found the following tuna salad recipe:

From: Balanced Health And Nutrition Blog

Ingredient List

- 2 cans chunk light tuna (no need to bother with albacore tuna – it is more expensive and has a higher mercury content)

- 2 tablespoons relish

- 1/2 tablespoon mayo (I used light, but you are using such a small amount you can also use full fat. )

- 1/2 tablspoon dijon mustard

- 1/2 cup “secret ingredient” plain lowfat yogurt

Drain tuna. Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Measure out 5, 1/4 cup servings in a storage container. Lunch for the work week is served!

I have found that I like to alter this recipe in the following way:

1 tablespoon (or more) of diced onions and 1 tablespoon (or more) of diced green pepper in place of the 2 tablespoons of relish. (Relish has too much sugar in it.)

Play with the amount of yogurt to make the tuna a little less "wet". I have found that 2 to 3 tablespoons will suffice.

Serve this on whole grain bread, or (for you Atkins' fans) make lettuce wraps.

Now, as I said in the first entry on this blog, I am not the type to eat a substitute that doesn't taste right just because it is better for me. But the great thing about this recipe is that I can't tell the difference between it and regular, full mayo tuna salad! It really is good tasting and good for you.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fast Food: How Bad Is It Really?

Let me start this discussion off with an old adage: All things in moderation.

When discussing fast food it is important to remember those words. Fast food, if nothing else, is convenient. Who has never stopped at a fast food place while traveling in order to keep progressing on the trip? Or on a very busy day hasn't stopped and grabbed a fast food meal when hunger got too much to handle? Who hasn't swung through a drive-thru in order to feed hungry kids?

Moderation though is the key. If you are so busy that all you ever eat is fast food then you need to reassess your time and priorities. Fast food occasionally, when you follow a healthy diet the rest of the time, isn't a problem. The problem is that as a nation we have become addicted to fast food mainly because of its convenience. And that includes its relatively low cost.

When I was younger and could eat anything I wanted, I was a regular fast food eater. I look back now and think of it as my fast food tour. One chain in the morning for breakfast, another at noon for lunch, and sometimes a third in the evening for dinner. As I've said before I am a human garbage disposal. I like everything. Fish, pizza, hamburgers, chicken, hotdogs, tacos, etc; you name it, I like it. As such I am all about variety. So it was a blessed curse that in my lifetime they developed a fast food chain for every type of food you can think of.

Let me state up front that I am not a proponent of banning fast food. I don't think it should be taxed. I don't think there should be lawsuits against fast food chains. I don't think the government has a right to tell us what we can and can't eat, or even how often we can eat it. Fast food, like everything else, should be left up to the individual to choose. If someone wants to subsist on fast food exclusively, that is their decision. (Spare me the "others' health has a cost to all of us" argument, I don't care, you can't legislate diet.)

What I would like to see is people become smarter about what they do and do not put into their bodies, and for chains to become even more friendly to the health-conscious than they already are.

On the first point, people need to realize what they are doing to themselves and their bodies by eating fast food. And I am not referring to Morgan Spurlock here. He was the guy that made the movie "Supersize Me", where he ate McDonalds everyday for a month, for all three meals. Anyone with half a brain could have predicted the outcome of that experiment. The fact that he became rich and famous from that stunt of a movie is ludicrous.

For years the media has concentrated on what fast food puts into your body: fat, sugar, processed to the hilt food stuffs, high calories, saturated fat, cholesterol, and many other things. The media has fixated on that aspect of fast food. However, I contend that what is worse is what fast food doesn't put into your body: nutrition.

A fast food diet lacks vegetable and fruit intake. It lacks nutritious variety that is important to a balance diet. Most fast food junkies don't consume enough dairy. Even if they eat cheese on their fast food sandwiches it is usually the ultra-processed, American cheese variety. The only vegetable they consume consistently is lettuce. While not bad for you there are so many more nutritious vegetables to be consumed. Potatoes are another vegetable staple of fast food. But normally they are deep-fried which limits the nutrition of the potato, and adds so much fat that the bad out weighs the good.

Fast food eaters also tend to be quite picky. "Hold the tomatoes." "Hold the pickles." "Extra mayo, please." They make unhealthy choices even when customizing their fast food. The combination of the bad stuff you are taking in, coupled with the lack of nutrition in the fast food diet, is a double whammy to the human body. The body begins to crave the nutrition it is starved for, which means the fast food junkie becomes even more hungry and in turns consumes even more fast food. They are starving themselves at the same time that they are eating themselves to death.

Still, people have the choice to eat fast food or not eat it, and they can choose how often to eat it. Maybe they are picky eaters, like was mentioned earlier, or maybe they are just uninformed. (The lazy and impoverished tend toward the fast food diet as well, but that is another topic for another time on another blog!)

That brings us to the lack of healthy choices that fast food chains provide. I do have to give them some credit, they have made some progress in this area over the course of the last couple of decades. Healthier choices in sides, grilled chicken, better beverages, and even salads are now on most fast food chains' menus. However, the problem is that even their healthy choices aren't always so healthy.

First, they still tend to use too much sodium in their food. Part of this is because it is so over processed, that to salvage any flavor they have to add lots of salt. Fast food places seem bent on making things taste better, and therefore sodium and other preservatives are loaded into the food.

Also, they aren't smart about carbs. Even their healthy sandwiches come on white bread buns. Buns that again are loaded with sodium and preservatives, but worse are made from white flour.

Then there is the fact that the sauces and dressing they use tend to be unhealthy. Either they are full of fat, or they are low/no fat but loaded with sugar. Chains need to be smarter about the types of offerings they provide. Try to find a good Italian dressing at a fast food chain sometime. You'll get offered all sorts of high sugar versions; raspberry vinaigrette for example.

Even their salads need work. Lots of lettuce, a couple of tomatoes and a few carrot shavings just doesn't make a nutritious salad. Admittedly, it is still better for you then french fries, but when coupled with unhealthy dressing choices these salads leave a lot to be desired.

Nothing highlights the problem with fast food chains and the over processing of their food stuffs more than the honey packets at a very well known fast food chicken chain. Next time you are at this unnamed chain (say hello to the Colonel for me), ask for honey. Then read the packet. While it has some honey, it also has high fructose corn syrup and preservatives. What is ridiculous about that is that honey NEVER GOES BAD! There is no need to process honey, yet they do.

What I'd like to see from fast food chains is the following:

- Choice of whole wheat buns
- Real cheese (not just American)
- Less preservatives and sodium
- Salads with a bigger variety of vegetables
- Healthy dressings made with olive oil
- Even more healthy side choices
- More healthy sandwich choices

A model for all fast food places is Subway. Subway gives you so many choices, they make it easy to eat healthy. Including whole grain breads, real cheeses, lean meat, and dressings that are healthy and nutritious. The rest need to look at Subway and pattern some things themselves.

In the end, fast food is like any other food: if kept in the right proportion it can be a part of your diet. But convenience shouldn't be paramount to health, and the fast food chains have some work to do themselves in providing healthier choices.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Evil That is Processed Grain

Dr. Atkins, whether you like his diet or not, taught us something valuable years ago: sugar is just as bad for you, if not worse, than fat. For years in this country people have concentrated on low fat diets with limited success. The reason? While low fat is good, to really lose weight you have to limit your refined sugar intake.

Refined sugar is not good for you. When you flood your body with the stuff your body takes it, converts it to fat, and stores it away because it doesn't know what to do with it. Regular soda, sweets, and almost all processed foods are loaded with sugar. Sometimes it is hidden as "high fructose corn syrup" but the result in your body is the same.

Another source of higher sugar intake, believe it or not, is foods that are normally high in fat, but sold as low or no fat. Look at a jar of low or no fat mayonnaise, or salad dressing. Notice that in place of the fat the manufacturer has loaded the product with sugar. Why? Because with no fat and no sugar, mayonnaise and ranch dressing would be tasteless. You are better off not using anything than using a low or no fat version of something that is normally high in fat.

As mentioned above, high fructose corn syrup is nothing more than a refined sugar. Once it hits your bloodstream your body breaks it into fat, and stores it because it usually can't handle the vast amounts of it that Americans consume. But high fructose corn syrup isn't the only hidden source of sugar in the American diet.

And that leads us to white flour. White flour is the uber-processed version of wheat flour that is most commonly used in American foods and cooking. This flour is stripped during processing of the bran and germ of the wheat seed. And they happen to be the most nutritious parts of the seed. What is left, and used in so much of the food Americans eat, is, for all intents and purposes, pure sugar.

When white flour is ingested by humans the results are no different than when sugar is consumed. The body breaks it down into fat and stores it away. The deluge of white flour in the amounts that it is consumed is too much for the human metabolism to process. In the end white flour is pure sugar to our bodies.

This article details the "ugly" truths about white flour: womensfitness.net: Ugly Truths About White Flour

The scary thing is that white flour is every where in the American diet. Saltine crackers, white bread, pasta. If it is fairly white or pale in color, and contains flour, then it is probably white flour. You have to be diligent to search out whole grain versions of these foods. Whole grain crackers, whole grain breads, whole grain pasta, all are also sold for those looking for a more healthy lifestyle.

One complaint I hear all the time is: "I just don't like whole wheat/grain products." I will write another entry about the myths regarding taste and taste preferences in our culture, but to the above statement in regards to breads and other wheat products I say: hogwash. The problem isn't that whole grains aren't as flavorful as white flour products, it is that in our society we aren't used to the actual flavor of grains!

By time we get our processed foods, the wheat grain has been processed, ground, and bleached into oblivion. Little wheat flavor is left. What we taste in white breads and crackers is primarily salt and sugar. Over time we become accustom to those flavors so the introduction of real wheat flavor throws us for a loop. Whole grain breads are actually much more flavorful than white bread, we just aren't used to actually tasting wheat in our bread.

It reminds me of a discussion I had with a coworker in relation to peanut butter. When I became informed about processed foods, I switched from the overly processed name brand peanut butters of my youth, to natural peanut butter. Pick up a jar of peanut butter some time and read the ingredients. Then pick up a jar of natural peanut butter and read the ingredients. The regular peanut butter has so many things added to it that in the end most people aren't used to the peanut flavor, they are used to the salt and sugar flavor that is added.

This coworker, who was normally pretty health conscience, said to me: "I know it isn't as healthy but sometimes you have to choose taste over healthy." WHAT? Taste?? Once you eat natural peanut butter the processed stuff they try to pass as peanut butter tastes horrible in comparison! But Americans are used to everything being processed and loaded with salt and sugar.

Same goes for our wheat products. Once you are used to the taste of whole grain products, the white flour versions will seem bland in comparison. And not only will you be enjoying whole grain flavor, but you'll also be enjoying the nutritious health benefits that whole grains provide.

Note: This also goes for rice. Always use whole grain rice over white rice. White rice is the processed version of rice just as white flour is the processed version of wheat flour.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

My Story Part II

A couple of weeks before turning age 40, I decided it was time to get another physical. It had been a couple of years and I wanted to make sure my health was still in order. I was still doing a lot of the changes I made before (outlined in my previous post) with the exception that I had allowed processed sugars to creep back into my diet. My 5 year-old daughter is a sweetened cereal fan and that caused me to start eating nightly bowls of Fruity Pebbles. Or breaking into my wife's Frosted Mini-Wheats. Even sweetened cereals are very nutritious, but the explosion of sugar they provide is not tolerated well by everyone.

Those that can't handle it, of course, are those that are diabetic or those that have high triglycerides. People that tend to be overweight also do not do well with that much sugar from one meal. So needless to say, between that a few other bad habits, my weight had crept back up to 175 lbs.

A word on my diet. I have alluded to the fact that I eat a good variety of things. I like just about everything there is to eat. Two exceptions are brussel sprouts and cantaloupe. It isn't that I won't eat them, it is just that I prefer not to eat them. But I am a human garbage disposal. At restaurants if there are items that my wife and daughter can't eat or don't want, I will eat them. I am always finishing meals for them when they become full. All of these factors (liking everything, eating the rest of their food or items they don't want) add up to the fact that I can consume large amounts of calories quickly. That is why I try to avoid sweets. Empty calories for a big, omnivorous eater can pack on pounds.

The upside is that my nutrition is good. I get vitamins and minerals from all sorts of different sources. I consume skim milk at the rate of about a gallon anda half per week. I love spinach, peas, tomatoes, every kind of bean, and all kinds of meat and fish. I love whole wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal. There is, like I said, nothing I won't eat.

The downside is that with that nutrition comes a lot of sugar, fat and cholesterol. So while my nutrition is great, my caloric, fat, sugar and cholesterol intake is not. I love fried foods. I love starchy sugars. I love to take things like baked potatoes and load them with bacon, cheese, and sour cream. I am a flavor addict, so cramming as many flavors into a food item is something I enjoy.

I say all this to point out that nutritious eating and healthy eating are two different animals. I will tackle that topic in later posts, but if I didn't limit my white flour and processed sugar consumption, I could easily explode in weight.

Back to the story: My blood work came back and my triglycerides were elevated, and my HDL count low. Again. Despite many of the changes I'd made before. This new doctor put me on Niacin (a B vitamin that reduces cholesterol) and told me to follow the Mediterranean diet. I was glad he didn't go for drugs like the last doctor had tried. The Mediterranean diet means more fish, chicken and turkey, less beef. Lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and good fats like olive oil. Less sugar and processed flours.

So I have gone back to a stricter diet. I have dropped several pounds (down to about 168 now) in a month's time. Here are the big changes I've made:

-No more sweetened cereal, my nightly snack is now a bowl of Grape Nuts (w/ skim milk) sprinkled with dried cherries, cranberries, and/or blueberries
-No white pasta, back to whole grain pasta always
-More fish and chicken, less beef. (We eat nothing but venison for red meat in our house anyway)
-Pretzels and almonds or other nuts for snacks, instead of tortilla chips
-Even more vegetables and fruits than before
-A glass of V8 and a glass of concord grape juice everyday
-In addition to my daily vitamin, added the prescribed Niacin and a 1000mg fish oil tablet
-Increased my olive oil consumption

The biggest difference between my blood work this time from 2006 when it was last checked is my age. My triglycerides are a hereditary condition. While the changes I instituted in 2005 worked then, I needed more changes since I am older now. We don't live in a vacuum, our conditions are not static. Now that I am 40 I have to be more diligent to maintain my health.

And that is where this blog comes in! I want to not only share my gathered knowledge of healthy eating and nutrition, but learn even more as I research the articles I write, and hopefully receive comments from others that have such knowledge.

Also, feel free to post your own story in the comments. I would love to hear how you came to a desire to live and eat healthy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Story Part I

I graduated from high school standing at just under 6'2" tall, weighing a whopping 105 lbs. I was the proverbial bean poll, and as a result I could eat anything I wanted. And routinely did.

High-fat, high carbs was the order of the day. A typical day of meals would go something like this:

-Coffee for breakfast, occasionally a big southern breakfast (eggs, sausage, bacon, biscuits and gravy) accompanied my breakfast coffee. Also, I would routinely eat 2-8 (yes EIGHT) donuts.
-Lunch usually consisted of high fat, high carb fast-food. I had no preference to the chain, but you could count on a healthy calorie count and fully sweetened (not diet) soda.
-Dinner sometimes was eaten at home prepared by mom, but more often was out and sometimes fell into the same category as lunch.
-Snacks were all day, every day. Chips, popcorn, sweets, and LOTS of soda (not diet). I also drank a lot of kool-aid.

At nearly 6'2" and weight steadily increasing (140 lbs by age 21), I still could eat pretty much anything. My metabolism was still in high gear, but my consumption was over the top even for someone as active as I was. And unhealthy too.

By 26 I started to get out of shape and develop a little bit of a weight problem. My activity level had dropped with age as I wasn't participating in as many pick-up sports. I was up to 180 lbs, and needed a change. I began to work-out and eat more healthy, but I still pretty much ate anything I wanted. I just got smarter about including fruits and vegetables into my diet.

This continued until I was the age of 35. Married with one child, I finally got a physical, and low and behold I had high triglycerides. (I had always had low HDL, but with my metabolism and body weight overall cholesterol was good.)

I instituted several changes:

-Skim milk instead of whole milk
-Diet soda and more water instead of regular soda
-Less beef, more venison, chicken and turkey
-More whole-grain breads and pastas
-More olive oil and other sources of Omega 3s
-Omega 3 rich butter substitute (Olivio, etc) in place of real butter
-Introduced more whole grain cereal as well as fruit into my diet
-Lots of oatmeal

We already were eating lots of vegetables so I didn't need to add more into my diet.

Instituting these changes, and getting more exercise, I was able to raise my HDLs (though they were still low), and lower my triglycerides. I thus avoided the doctor's recommendation to take the drug Tricor, which was my whole motivation. I went from weighing 196 lbs to 165 lbs in the process.

The amount of information I learned about diet and nutrition during that time was incredible. I was amazed at how ignorant I had been related to food and nutrients. And I was even more surprised at how ignorant those around me were in relation to those topics.

Part II soon.............