Sat with Nat

Food Matters

IT takes a human to turn ingredients into food.
It takes a human to turn ingredients into food.

It takes a lot of time to make sure a family is well fed. I try to eat fresh ingredients and unprocessed food. It’s cheaper and it tastes good. The challenge is it takes a lot more energy and time to make that pound of carrots into Lightly Curried Carrot Soup (doesn’t it look yummy in those mason jars?) than it does to buy a tetra pack of pre-made soup. I live with two teenage boys and a high energy life partner who eat about 3,500 calories a day. We basically cook for 8 at any given meal and there are rarely leftovers. Thing is, on weekends where I’m out for a long ride or evening I’m trying to hit the pool all that prep time is a a big pain in the kiester.

This past week I was madly typing up assignments for a distance ed course I’m trying to finish. I had a few hours of overtime at work and some social commitments with friends. No workouts, no time.

My oldest son is now sixteen and asked if he could help me out during my crunch time. My partner has entered a busy time at his paid work, spare time is sparse on the ground. I gladly accepted the offer and he made amazing dinners all week as well as baked goods. It was a wonder to come home to meals and a clean kitchen.
It’s not lost on me that the times when my partner was a grad student he cooked the majority of the meals, now my work schedule is the more contained and flexible so the balance has shifted. Many of my woman identified friends have never had a reprieve from the majority of meal making, I’m fortunate and yet it still irks me to be on the hook for all the groceries and meal planning. It’s very Simone de Beauvoir baking and bringing tea to Jean Paul Satre and his friends. It chaffs my neck that even in a family that thinks about these things the external forces at play re-inforce this gendered division of household labour.

The benefit for my son is a sense of pride in contributing to the family’s well-being while honing important life skills like making meals. For my partner and I, it is a little less running madly about. You can’t workout without nutritional support but that time to make the food eats away at the time available for other kinds of wellness.

I’m very lucky my son has begun to realize he has more available time than the grown -ups do (Thanks to playing Simms3 but that is another story) to help the family function. The food matters a great deal to all of us. The more we can make it the less we spend on it and the more money we have for doing fun things like walking, biking, swimming…and occasionally running.

eating · health · Uncategorized

Talk Review: Forks and Knives–Weapons of Mass Destruction or Instruments of Healing

Fruits and vegetables in the shape of a heart, green on one side, red on the other. Photo credit goes to http://saladexpress.ca/en/blog/fruits-and-vegetables-canadas-food-guide-superstars
Fruits and vegetables in the shape of a heart, green on one side, red on the other. Photo credit goes to http://saladexpress.ca/en/blog/fruits-and-vegetables-canadas-food-guide-superstars

Can the way you eat change your life and transform your health?  If Hans Diehl, author of Dynamic Living: How to Take Charge of Your Health, is right, you bet it can.  Making the connection between what we eat and what’s healthy isn’t exactly a new idea.

Most people who go on diets are seeking “healthier” eating habits.  But beyond the idea that healthy eating habits will lead to weight loss, and weight loss will lead to improved health, few people think about further indicators.  They assume that if they lose a bit of weight and get into the right BMI range, then it’s all good.  Wrong.

Way back when we first started this blog, Sam talked about Fit, Fat, and What’s Wrong with BMI.  We have repeatedly emphasized that weight and fat are not sole determinants of health and physical fitness.  We’re not into super-restrictive diets for weight loss.  They don’t even work.  We’ve talked about that tons, including here and here and here and here.

I attended Hans Diehl’s talk on campus the other day because I’m a member of the Western Ontario Vegan Society, an energetic and enthusiastic student group whose cause I believe in, and I like to support their events.  The abstract said that “Dr. Diehl’s research shows that most people with hypertension, Type-2 diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and heart disease can reverse these diseases and often become drug free within weeks.”

That kind of research interests me. It’s in keeping with the work of Physicians for Responsible Medicine, of which Diehl is a member. He advocates Lifestyle Medicine and has developed an affordable program called the Complete Health Improvement Program (C.H.I.P.).

In keeping with my commitment to writing only about empowering, positive, and optimistic things for the next little while (in honor of spring), his talk left me with a good feeling.

He went over the usual scary stats about our declining health as a population.  I did wonder at some points how much of the increased instances of things like diabetes and heart disease have to do with better diagnostics, but whether we as a population are actually less healthy or are only now discovering how unhealthy we are, the fact is, it’s possible to make relatively simple dietary adjustments and radically alter our health.

Diehl correctly cited BMI as a meaningful measure over populations not individuals.  And the BMI in North America is over 40, which indicates not just obesity, but increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, sleep apnea, cancer (especially prostate, breast, colon, and cervical).  Many of these are chronic diseases that, according to his and others’ research, correlate with lifestyle choices.

Apparently, french fries are the most eaten vegetable in North America and soda pop consumption accounts for 1/3 of all sugar in the American diet (not likely far off in Canada, although I think our fast food drink sizes are a bit smaller).  Without going into all the gory details that many of us know already, the upshot is that as a population we’re undernourished and overfed.  This could  be due to all sorts of things, but he attributes it largely to big food companies who pay scientists to do research into the pleasure centre in the brain that processed foods activate. It’s the brain’s “blisspoint” and the right amounts of sugar, salt, and fat make it come alive to produce pleasure.

I have no expertise from which to critically assess these findings. But I’ve eaten my share of sugar, fat, and salt, and it always made me feel temporarily good. I should stress the temporary nature of that boost.  No doubt many of us are familiar with it.

Anyway, the fact is, though I do not delude myself into thinking that the only reason to eat food is for its nutrients, I find claims about the health benefits of whole foods, mostly plants, to be quite persuasive.

Focusing on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes pretty much guarantees a low fat, low sugar, low salt diet.  Doctors like Dean Ornish, Neal Barnard, and Caldwell Esselstyn have all argued that it is possible to prevent and reverse heart disease.  Bill Clinton adopted a vegan diet after heart disease required quadruple by-pass surgery. I’ve faulted Clinton for just one thing: that he doesn’t draw any attention to the animal ethics side of the vegan debate.

Though Diehl’s talk focused almost exclusively on the dramatic health benefits of a plant-based diet, he mentioned at the end of his presentation that there are plenty of other reasons to take such a change seriously.  In terms of animal welfare, 1,000,000 animals are slaughtered for food every hour in the United States.  And there is growing concern about the environmental impact of industrial livestock agriculture.

But even if we just focus on the health benefits, they are undeniable.  The American Heart Association reports that heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year (compared to one in 31 death each year from breast cancer).

Leaving the Diehl’s talk, I didn’t need to make many changes to my lifestyle or my way of eating to conform with his guidelines. But miraculously, my usually skeptical and reticent spouse is eager to sign up for the C.H.I.P. program when it’s offered in London next fall. That’s fairly strong evidence that the talk had a convincing impact on people who aren’t currently following the recommendations.

Diehl’s message isn’t new. You can get it from lots of other sources. But the views he expresses aren’t exactly mainstream yet, despite the amazing health transformation experienced by lots of people who adopt the basic diet strategy:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • legumes
  • whole grains
  • water

Sounds easy enough.  Enjoy! 🙂

body image · diets · weight loss

Lent isn’t a 40 day diet challenge

Lent diet tshirt“Renounce yourself in order to follow Christ; discipline your body; do not pamper yourself, but love fasting.” — Saint Benedict

I’ve seen many Lent themed diets in my social media newsfeeds. Lent comes in many flavours it seems including Paleo, grain free, sugar detox, vegan, and even pro ana. That’s really sad. I started reading some of the pro-ana forums and some of the young women use Lent as a religious cover for not eating. “My parents are really religious so I’m lucky. They’ll let me skip dinners for Lent.”

Lent as a diet challenge came up at the gym the other night as the women I was working out with discussed what they were giving up for Lent. Someone said to one of the women, “Oh, I didn’t know you were Catholic.”

“I’m not but I’m giving up sugar to lose weight. Seems like a good thing to give up.”

Tracy and I like challenges generally. See My new challenge! and Why I Like “Challenges but I find it frustrating when people run together religious observance with diets. The Lunch Box Diaries puts it this way: “Please don’t tell me you’re “giving up sugar, soda, and carbs” unless you plan on praying about it every day. If you’re doing it to lose weight, it’s called a Pre-Easter Diet.”

What is Lent anyway? “Christians across the globe are entering Lent, the season of preparation before Easter. Starting on Ash Wednesday — which was March 5 this year — the 40-day period sees many Christians partake in a season of moderation, meditation, fasting and repentance. The exercises in discipline are undertaken to allow Christians time to reflect on the life, words and sacrifices of Jesus Christ.” From the IB Times.

In addition, to non-believers using Lent as some sort of 40 day diet challenge, there are also believers using religious themed diets.  The so-called “Daniel Fast” diet is gaining popularity during Lent, when participants will eat only food from seeds, drink only water and practice daily devotions.

What do people give up for Lent? According to the Lent Twitter tracker, the top things are school, chocolate, Twitter (of course), alcohol, swearing, sweets, social networking, and soda.

And who gives things up? According to Christianity Today, “If you do give up something for Lent this year, you will join 17 percent of U.S. adults, according to a new survey by Barna Group. While many practicing Catholics (63 percent) are planning to fast, only 16 percent of practicing Protestants have similar plans. People born in 1945 or earlier are most likely to fast (26 percent), and people born between 1946 and 1964 are least likely (10 percent). About 20 percent of young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 say they will fast.”

From http://fevah.thecomicseries.com/comics/33/, Feminist Environmentalist Vegetarian Activist Humor
From http://fevah.thecomicseries.com/comics/33/, Feminist Environmentalist Vegetarian Activist Humor
diets · eating · weight loss

“Vegan” Is Not a Fad Diet

cake I’m vegan. And that’s my birthday cake (back in September) from my favorite vegan restaurant.  It’s bar none the very best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten.  And it’s vegan. No eggs, no dairy.

You’ve probably heard by now about Beyonce’s 22-Day Vegan Challenge with her hubby, Jay Z.  I heard about it when it was announced, and I’m hearing regular updates about how it’s going for them on what is often described as their “health kick.”  The Daily Mail (I know) reported that one week into her vegan “health kick,” Beyonce is flashing her abs.

Everywhere I turn these days I’m reading about how losing weight is one of the big reasons to become vegan.  It’s starting to drive me to distraction!

See that chocolate cake? It’s not health food.  Vegan is NOT a sure fire way to drop pounds.  Losing weight isn’t even the best reason to eat a vegan diet.  Why? Because french fries and potato chips are vegan. That cake is vegan.  Coconut milk ice cream is vegan. Vegans, no less than anyone else, don’t just eat fresh fruit and vegetables.

Now I think it’s a good thing that you can still find all sorts of indulgences and follow a vegan diet. But what that means is that you need to do a lot more to drop pounds than switch to a plant-based diet.  I myself didn’t lose a single pound when I become vegan.  Nothing. Nada. Rien. 

So why become vegan?  The two primary reasons have nothing to do with your health: 1. animal welfare reasons and (2) environmental reasons.  I won’t go into all the details here, but billions of animals a year suffer unspeakably and unnecessary cruelty in industrial farming.  I’m not talking about cruelty inflicted over and above the regular conditions of their lives. I’m talking about the very conditions they live in day to day.  If you’d like to know more about that, read Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation or Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation or even just go to the Vegan Society website.

Livestock farming is bad for the environment and the atmosphere. It’s a huge contributor to global warming.  There’s that great statistic: a vegan who drives a Hummer makes a smaller carbon footprint than a meat-eater who drives a Prius.  Yes, there are other variables, but there is no question that mass livestock production is hurting the planet.

And yes, there’s lots of evidence that it’s good for your health. But there are still all kinds of not-great-for-your-health choices available on a vegan diet. So there is no automatic free pass or anything like that, and some things, such as lean protein, become a bit more challenging (not impossible with some knowledge).

Back to the 22-Day Challenge that Beyonce and Jay Z are on.  If the reasons for being vegan are compelling (and they are!), then being vegan for 22 days just isn’t quite “getting it.”  I mean, I’m glad that Beyonce and Jay Z are bringing some good press to being vegan. They’re even saying they feel great and it’s not difficult. Lucky for vegan PR that they aren’t having a negative experience — if it was a struggle and they had an adjustment period where they felt bloated or tired what have you?  Animal welfare and the environment would still matter.

But you don’t hear about animal welfare or the planet when you hear about their vegan challenge.  Given the facts, it’s just irresponsible to promote veganism without even mentioning these other reasons for being vegan.

Most ethical vegans extend their vegan choices beyond their diet, making an effort to avoid animal products in other areas of their lives. You’re unlikely to find a leather couch in a vegan home, and if you look on-line you can find all sorts of vegan footwear.

Another misconception that needs clearing up and now’s as good a time as any to do it: being vegan doesn’t mean being gluten free.  Gluten is from wheat; wheat is not an animal product. Therefore, you can be vegan and not be gluten free.  It’s very disappointing to someone like me who loves baking to go to a bakery where all the vegan options are also gluten free. Worse yet if they’re also raw.  There are raw vegans, but most vegans are okay with cooked food. Why? Because there is no animal welfare or environmental reason to go raw.

Here’s a nice article where the author promotes the idea of veganism as a lifestyle change, not a diet.

There are also successful vegan athletes like ultra-triathlete Richard Roll (author of Finding Ultra) and the no-meat athlete, Matt Frazier (author of The No-Meat Athlete). Although both emphasize “plant-strong” over “vegan” (see Sam’s posts about the difference here and here) the point is, you can be a vegan athlete.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming vegan, in addition to the resources above that outline some of the ethical and environmental reasons, I found these books to be really helpful:

The Ultimate Vegan Guide by Erik Marcus

Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World by  Victoria Moran and Adair Moran

Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy, Plant-Based Diet by Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina

And some good vegan cookbooks:

Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitch and Terry Hope Romero

La Dolce Vegan by Sarah Kramer

The Happy Herbivore by Lindsay Nixon

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

eating

Luna Bars: “Nutrition” for Women

Apple-and-Peanut-ButterI had no idea until today that Luna Bars are actually specifically marketed to women. The Luna brand is a sub-brand of Clif. Now I don’t know if the packaging has always said “for women” on it, but today when I was shopping I noticed it because they had a sample station where you could try the White Chocolate Macadamia Nut bar and the S’mores bar.

Let me say up front that I have nothing against Luna bars. In fact, both of my samples were delicious, like eating a candy bar really.  But it’s the idea that they are “for women” that got me curious.

I asked the woman who was in charge of the Luna samples.  She said something about iron and vitamin D, and then as she walked away she mumbled something like, “I don’t actually know why they say ‘for women’ on them.”

So when I got home I went to the website. The Luna Bar website is quite an interesting place to go.  It’s got a whole section about nutrition where it tells you that when you get a snack attack at the office you can reach for hummus and veggies or…I’ll give you one guess.  Yes! A Luna Bar.

The nutrition page also has information about how to find your “power curve.” That’s about keeping fueled so you don’t run out of energy before the end of the day. You can find your “happy place” between lunch and dinner with a S’mores Luna Bar. In other words, the Luna Bar (of any flavour) is, according to the website, a great thing to include in “smart snacking.”

Luna’s four key ingredients that make it a “whole nutrition bar for women” (trademark) are calcium, vitamin D, iron, and folic acid.  Adults need all of these, but the blurbs say that women of childbearing age especially need folic acid to fend of neural tube birth defects and that women under 50 need 18g of iron per day, over 50 they need 8g.

Using the White Chocolate Macademia Nut bar as an example, you’ll get 15% of your daily vitamin D, 30% of your daily iron (for women under 50, let’s assume), 35% of your calcium and 100% of your folate.  You’ll also get 7g of fat, 25g of carbs, 11g of sugar, 9g of protein and a total of 190 calories.

That’s not too bad for an occasional snack, I agree.  It’s a bit better than a Kit Kat Bar. A Kit Kat’s 210 calories will give you 11g of fat, 27g of carbs, only 3g of protein, 6% of your daily calcium requirement, and undisclosed amounts (if any) of iron, vitamin D, and folate. And despite how much I love Kit Kats, I actually thought the Luna Bar was tastier.

In the end, I didn’t buy it because (a) the fact that it’s marketed as “whole nutrition women” seemed a bit….I can’t quite find the word I want…”shady” maybe?  (b) I’m already maxed out of storage space with a box of Clif Bars and a box of Protein Builder bars, and I actually don’t eat them all that often (maybe twice a week at most).

In the spirit of many websites these days, Luna’s website goes far beyond the bar itself in a section called Luna Life.  Why?   Because…

You’re not only what you eat. Here we take a look at what feeds your strength. Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, a foodie, or just plain awesome, we hope you’ll find something here just for you.

And they are indeed doing some good things on that page, all by way of encouraging us to incorporate Luna Bars into our lifestyle.  Do I object to that broad kind of marketing? Not necessarily.  In a capitalist economy the bar that can lodge itself into our brain and become associated with our healthy and active lifestyles is the bar that will do the best.

In targeting women, Luna is attempting to do just that — to become associated with a certain type of lifestyle–active, yogic, accepting of who we are, providing us with positive messages such as “love your legs for what they can do, not just how they look” (though someone who can’t walk might not appreciate that message, non-disabled women with body image issues sure can use the pep talk).

And of course Luna supports causes that appeal to many women — breast cancer research, and a charity called “healthy child, healthy world.”

But let’s get back to the Luna Bar and its place in a well-rounded diet.  Whatever they say about “whole nutrition for women,” the fact remains that a Luna Bar is not the best or the worst thing to reach for if you need something between meals.  It’s got a treat-like quality and, I think, is probably as satisfying as a chocolate bar while slightly more nutritious.

The thing is, you’re probably better of still going for the apple slices with peanut butter that they mention, or the hummus, or a handful of almonds and a few raisins.  For me, I need to be cautious of my motives for purchasing things like this. If I like them too much, then they become regular parts of my diet when they only deserve to be occasional.

But now I’m rambling.

LUNA is all about good food and good nutrition, but let’s face it: You’re not ONLY what you eat. Here we take a closer look at what feeds your strength. Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, a foodie or just plain awesome, we hope you’ll find something here for you. – See more at: http://www.lunabar.com/luna-life#sthash.rVadEv5E.dpuf
LUNA is all about good food and good nutrition, but let’s face it: You’re not ONLY what you eat. Here we take a closer look at what feeds your strength. Whether you’re an athlete, an artist, a foodie or just plain awesome, we hope you’ll find something here for you. – See more at: http://www.lunabar.com/luna-life#sthash.rVadEv5E.dpuf
body image · weight loss

Lower death risk for the overweight, go us!

From the New York Times: “The report on nearly three million people found that those whose B.M.I. ranked them as overweight had less risk of dying than people of normal weight. And while obese people had a greater mortality risk over all, those at the lowest obesity level (B.M.I. of 30 to 34.9) were not more likely to die than normal-weight people. The report, although not the first to suggest this relationship between B.M.I. and mortality, is by far the largest and most carefully done, analyzing nearly 100 studies, experts said.”

This is in keeping with a declaration made by The New York Times in 1912 when they declared Elsie Scheel, “the perfect woman” at 171 lbs.

Read more here: The ‘Perfect Woman’ In 1912, Elsie Scheel, Was 171 Pounds And Loved Beefsteaks

Blogger Kate Harding described Scheel in these terms: “Miss Elsie Scheel’s BMI would have been 26.8, placing her squarely in today’s dreaded “overweight” category. At Banana Republic, to pick a random contemporary store, she would wear a size 8 top, a 12/14 bottom, and probably a 12 dress with the bust taken in.” (Kate Harding is the author of the BMI Project.)

I’ve written a bit about the so-called obesity paradox, Obesity, health, and fitness: some odd connections.

That’s okay. I’m not worried. I’ve been in the overweight category all of my adult life, even at my thinnest. Given my 122 lb base of muscle and bone, I’ll always be overweight. Which is, I’ve argued here, part of the problem with weight and BMI as measures of anything meaningful.

I often wonder about the effect of news like this on the naturally lean. One of thing that interests me is that it seems it just doesn’t matter how big the health benefits of being overweight are, no one would suggest that underweight people try to gain weight. It’s just too tough. Why doesn’t this work the other way?

diets · sports nutrition · traveling · weight loss

Hunger and Nutrition

There’s a lot of talk about hunger in the literature about making food choices. It doesn’t matter whether your focus is sports nutrition, weight loss, or ‘making peace with food’ and ending dieting, most books in these areas talk about hunger. It’s clear that hunger is something we need to recognize and to which we need to respond. We need to listen to our bodies and to eat when we’re hungry.

I struggle a bit with this because I’m often not hungry when I know I need to eat–during long, intense bike rides is the most common example–and at other times I’m famished even when I know there’s no need for extra calories (after long bike rides when I’m often hungry for the rest of the day and into the next one even after I’ve refueled.)

I was interested to read recently that part of my confusion may be connected to our misunderstanding of hunger.

In Hunger. What it is and what you can do about it Richard Feinman writes:

“We grow up thinking that hunger is somehow our body’s way of telling us that we need food but, for most of us that is not usually the case.  Few of us are so fit, or have so little body fat, or are so active that our bodies start calling for energy if we miss lunch.  Conversely, those of us who really like food generally hold to the philosophy that “any fool can eat when they’re hungry;” passing up a really good chocolate mousse just because you are not hungry is like … well, I don’t know what it’s like. “

When I was focusing on sports nutrition last year, I played a bit with the feelings of hunger in an effort to make peace with them. In situations where I know I’ve had enough to eat, and it’s just a feeling that I can choose to act on or not, I tried to live awhile with hunger and see if I could just let the sensation be. It was interesting experiment and it served me well to realize that the world doesn’t end. I needn’t binge at the next meal. Sometimes it’s okay to live with hunger and wait.

These days I use that to my advantage on traveling days. Yes, I pack food but if I run out it’s not the end of the world.

I hope I don’t have to use that trick as I travel home from Atlanta, site of the 2012 Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, today.

the hunger

That’s the 1983 film The Hunger, of course. My first vampire movie starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, and Susan Sarandon.