Archive for August 16th, 2009

I recently did a post talking about the Fat Acceptance movement, and I don’t think I have ever gotten more comments or generated more interest in my whole blogging career.  It was very exciting.   I got to visit some new people, and surfed to some other spots on the web during the process.

It appears that there are a lot of people out there who are very confused by what constitutes eating “healthy” or “right”. (I prefer not to use the term “right” because of all the connotations of judgmentalism that that word implies.)  They are wandering around the internet, trying to find someplace that will tell them how to eat so they will have optimum health.

Jim made a statement that I think deserves to be inserted here.   He said that if you want to eat right, you can’t go wrong in listening to your body.   If you are happy, energetic, have no pain, and stay healthy as a general rule, then you are probably eating the right stuff in the right amounts.   If you are in constant pain, if you suffer from giant mood swings (not associated with diagnosed mental disorders, of course), if you catch every cold and flu virus you come in contact with, if you have no energy — well, then you very possibly are not providing your body with the nutrients it needs to support all its systems, including the immune system.   And if you are feeling great as a general rule, then the size you wear or the number you see on the scale is immaterial.

You can go to any Barnes and Noble and find 20 feet of display shelf space devoted to books that tell you how and what to eat, how to diet, exercise, how to cook the diet food, blah blah blah.  No wonder people are confused.

The problem of figuring out what constitutes “healthy eating” has been exacerbated by the fact that our own governments have been influenced by corporate food lobbyists to present the “food pyramid” in such a way that their industry is perceived well.   The beef industry, the dairy industry, the egg producer’s industry — they all weigh in on the side of their product.   Dupont, Monsanto and Cargill spend a lot of money and time ensuring that their products (pesticides, herbicides, insecticids, genetically modified organisms, artificial flavors and colors, preservatives) are not bad mouthed in any way when food is discussed.

There’s a great “Non sequitur” cartoon out there.   It shows two guys standing next to a cart full of stuff with a sign on it that says “Guaranteed not to contain anything that will kill you right away.”    One guy is saying to the other,  “Now that’s a disclaimer I can live with.”

This leads to my Prime Directive:  Read the list of ingredients. I’m going to step right up and say that if an item listed on the ingredients list is something you don’t recognize the name of right off the bat  (like eggs), and if it has a long chemical name instead (like butylated hydroxytoluene — BHT) it probably isn’t really food.   If the food name includes a term that implies a chemical process (like partially hydrogenated) or is prefaced by the word “artificial”, then it probably isn’t food either.  Just because it has been proved not to kill us outright by eating it or that it provides us with calories does not mean that our bodies can metabolize or use the substance.

If you think I have an attitude, you haven’t been around me for very long.   I have attitude galore.   My son used to be absolutely aghast at my habit of reading ingredient lists aloud in the store.   He has stated categorically that I am probably the model for the following cartoon.  (My apologies to George Booth for using his work without permission)


I’m not that old yet, but I’m afraid I’m well on my way to being that woman.

I am a militantly organic gardener, and the closest I get to putting poisons on my garden is using bacillus thuringensis, rotenone, pyrethrin, and diatomaceous earth.   Not only am I militant about what I put in my garden, I’m pretty militant about what I put in my mouth as well.    I am a relentless reader of lists of ingredients.   If the package has stuff in it I don’t identify as food, it doesn’t go in my cart.   Because of this rule, you will not find many “snack” items in this house.   They are mostly loaded with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and high fructose corn syrup.   I’m damned if I will pay good money for those.   We like Triscuits (original ONLY, I’m afraid) and Rycrisp crackers.    Why?  Because they contain whole grain, vegetable oil, salt, and nothing else.

The second “prime directive” for healthy eating:   DO NOT DRINK SODA OF ANY KIND.   That stuff is laced with all sorts of carcinogenic poisons, and the fact that it can be marketed at all is a complete mystery to me.    If you are thirsty, DRINK WATER.  (Use your tap water, for goodness sake.  Go ahead and filter it if you want, I do. What you are buying from Pepsico and their brethren has been shown to be bottled tap water for the most part.   Why are you paying them for it?  Do you really like paying to dispose of that plastic bottle?)  If you have to have flavoring, ask yourself why?   Okay, so squeeze a little lemon over it.  Or make some herbal tea.   I like Celestial Seasonings “Bengal Spice” tea.  It is very tasty, even tastes “sweet” and it has NO CALORIES and NO POISONS in it.  It has the bonus that it contains cinnamon, which has been shown to help control carbohydrate metabolism and even out your glycemic levels.

Here is my first rule for eating healthy.   Don’t eat stuff that isn’t food. Don’t eat crap and chemicals no matter how damned convenient they are.

Second rule:  Eat fresh whenever possible. Okay, maybe canned apple sauce is cheaper than apples.   But that is because of the kind of apples that get used to make commercial apple sauce.   And after the apples have been processed to death in order to make the applesauce, a lot of the enzymes and micro-nutrients that make them so good for us are gone.   So if you are eating something that is depleted in nutrients, but cheap, then in my book you are wasting your money because even though you are filling your energy tank, your body is deficient in the nutrients it needs to be healthy.  You will wind up spending the money you saved and more on doctors and medicine.

The corollary to the above rule is the following:  If it is white, don’t eat it. Okay, turnips are white, so are the flesh of apples.   But what I am referring to is the fact that most things that are “white” are highly refined.   Sugar, bleached enriched white flour (Why do they have to enrich it?  Ask yourself that question.  The reason they have to enrich it after they bleach it and remove all the fiber is that it no longer contains the nutrients that make it possible for yeast to live and work on the grain, and so you can’t make bread or any other yeast raised item with it.  It won’t keep yeast alive, which is a simple one-celled organism, so you can bet it no longer contains the nutrients and vitamins that are essential to your health as you are a whole lot more complex than yeast.),  pasta that is not whole grain, etc. etc. etc ad nauseum (literally).

If a food item has been refined, the refining process has removed all the nutrients that were previously associated with the source.   Take refined sugar, for example.  Sugar cane and sugar beets have a lot of other stuff in them other than sucrose.   Pure sucrose will give you calories, and none of the minerals and vitamins that were originally in the source of that sucrose, and all of which your body desperately needs for health.  Use honey, molasses, and maple syrup instead of white sugar if you HAVE to have sweet.  Avoid high fructose corn syrup like the plague it is.

I deny that the phrase “empty calories” is a myth.   I actually read a blog post where the author “proved” to herself that all calories were equally good because they contained the energy her body needs.  That is not just bull shit, it is dangerous bull shit.    We were not designed by God or evolution or both (whatever combination you prefer), to eat calories that are not associated with any other nutrient.   If you get all your calories from highly refined foods, I submit that you will suffer from numerous dietary and metabolic disorders because you will not have enough calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin B complex, and other micro nutrients too numerous to mention for your body to survive.

Interestingly enough, all those “symptoms” of starvation that the people on FA blogs list are also symptoms of things like beri beri, kwashiorkor, marasmus, scurvy, pellagra and other diseases of nutritional deficiency.   It’s not that they are starving when they are dieting, it is that they are not getting the proper nutrients for optimum health while they are dieting.

If you are trying to eat healthy, I suggest that you look into the medically and scientifically proved daily caloric requirement for an adult.   Since everyone is different in height, age, and activity level, they no longer just provide a blanket number.   There are numerous places you can calculate how many calories you require to maintain your weight.  There is an easy to use one here.  It tells me that in order to maintain my present weight at my present activity level, I need 2933 calories per day.   I’m trying to lose, so I have cut back my caloric intake to between 1200 and 1500 calories per day.  No wonder I’ve been losing like crazy!   If you want to lose weight, eat less calories than it takes to maintain your present weight and/or increase your activity level.   You don’t have to starve yourself, you don’t have to be draconian.

You also might want to check out the glycemic index of various foods, and start choosing foods that have a low index.  Those foods will not spike your blood sugar with the associated precipitous drop that follows, and you are likely to feel satisfied for longer if you make those choices.   This little suggestion is an imperative if you are diabetic, especially if you are trying to control your disease through diet.

What follows is The Havens’ “Quick and Dirty Model for Appropriate Nutrient Choices.”   We all likely know that our basic energy-providing nutrients are divided into carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.   I’ve already indicated that we need to make sure that the energy providers are also associated with micro-nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.   There are also phytonutrients and anti-oxidants, but I’m not going to get into that now.

My “easy-peasy” method for determining how much of what kind of energy-provider I ingest is based on the premise that we should eat a “balanced” diet.   I have interpreted this to mean that we should balance between the carbs, the proteins, and the fats.    In my “dietary cosmology,” I decided that this means that approximately one third of my calories each day should come from protein, one third from carbs, and one third from fats.   Notice that this is a caloric calculation, not a volumetric calculation.

For example, if I decide I want to eat 1500 calories a day, then 500 of those should come from fat.   That means about a total of 4 tablespoons of fat will be in my diet that day:  butter, olive oil, mayo, the fat in the breading of a deep fat fried item, etc.   I will be eating about 500 calories of carbs:  Maybe a pasta salad made with two ounces of pasta, an apple or some melon or a peach or two, and two or three slices of whole wheat bread.   (I include fruits in my carbohydrate ration.)  I will be eating around 500 calories  of protein:  Maybe a chicken thigh, an egg and a 6 oz. serving of fish.  ( I always ration in a glass of wine or a beer.   I include these in my carb count.)

Don’t forget the double dip you can do if you combine grains and legumes for a complete protein source.  Not only are you getting protein, you are also getting your complex carbs and probably some fiber too.   That means you might get to have an extra chicken leg some other time during the day!   Or another glass of wine. . .

Last rule:  Eat lots of vegetables.   If it is raw and a vegetable (potatoes are NOT veggies, they are carbs), I eat as much of it as I want.  I don’t bother to include veggies in my calorie counting.  Why?  Because they are calorie low and nutrient dense.   Take broccoli, for example.   One cup, or 88 grams, of broccoli has 24 calories.   It contains 3.3 g of complete protein (that means it contains ALL the 16 amino acids scientists have determined the body needs), there are 1356 IU of Vitamin A, it has all the B vitamins except B12, it contains 42 mg of calcium, 22 mg magnesium, .78 mg iron, 58 mg phosphorus, 286 mg of potassium and traces of several other minerals.   This is an example of calories that are NOT EMPTY.   Talk about nutrient dense —  Broccoli is the poster child for that concept.   Not surprisingly, most other vegetables are also nutrient dense, including cucumbers.  I assumed were they mostly water, but they aren’t.  I mean, they have protein in them too.   Not much, but it’s there.

If you want an excellent source for information like I just listed, get the Nutrition Almanac by Lavon J. Dunne.  It is just chock full of great information in an easy to access form.   This book comes to our dining room table on an extremely regular basis.

Okay.  That’s my system.  It is based on many years of literature research and reading and a half century of personal experience.

Let the arguments begin!

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