Monthly Archives: May 2012

Exercise your Palate

If I were a betting person I would take on any overweight person, any sugar addict for sure, that you are eating the same few foods with very little variety. Most people have their fixes of choice, though they might be willing to venture into say new cookie territory, they try very few new foods. Our brains have latched on to the biggest bang for the buck foods and sees no reason to go far afield from those foods with the greatest sugar-fat-starch kick.  While I have been guilty of this, too, I always liked to try lots of different foods, though I always left room for dessert. (Dessert is an eating mindset I still work to get over.)

Now that I generally stay away from the unholy trinity of sugar-starch-artificial sweeteners, I find it is amazing how good some foods taste that I used to not pay  much attention to, especially in the vegetable arena. I try to buy mostly organic which makes a huge difference in root vegetables in particular; conventionally grow celery tends to be bitter since it  is mostly water it holds all that chemical taste from herbicides and pesticides, while organic celery is sweet and wonderful as a place for almond butter, soft cheeses, or in a light saute to serve alongside chicken or fish.  I now buy vegetables I used to ignore, like red swiss chard, and find they are mostly wonderful and very easy to prepare.

My partner  says he eats the green stuff first just to get it over with, but even he has complimented me on some new and interesting veggie dishes I’ve found in the last couple of years. He especially likes when I make ribbon noodles of summer or zucchini squash and top them with meatballs and marinara sauce. There is so much more that is tasty and healthy than sweets that tend to dull the palate as badly as smoking.

In this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal article by Barb Stuckey, she writes:

We also may be altering our brain chemistry by eating more and more sweeter and sweeter foods. New research shows that the excessive consumption of calorically dense foods changes the way that our brain responds to future foods. The effect is akin to a drug addict’s need for more and more heroin to satisfy his craving.     (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304840904577422761220716518.html?google_editors_picks=true)

To make this trying of new things a bit more exciting it’s a good idea to say: I’m going to try something new to eat this week!  This makes the routine business of eating more of an adventure, and nowadays all you have to do is type in your major ingredient into a search engine and come up with dozen tested recipes, or look through those great cookbooks you probably already have in your kitchen.

Also an advantage for you parents of young children:  My daughter’s favorite market has places in the produce section where you can weigh and label your own items;  she learned that her girls, starting about age 4-5, would eat anything they got to pick out weigh and label, thus they learned early to enjoy many vegetables and fruits most kids won’t touch. Now in their pre-teens years, they are far more adventurous eaters than most young people, certainly more than I was at that age.

Breaking out of the sweet rut , exercising our palates to new tastes, will open all kinds of new and healthy foods that will help keep us on our new path.

Yours in the adventure of new and better foods for our hungry bodies,

Nan aka Sugarbaby

Memorial Day Observed

I remember when Memorial Day was simply May 30th not the convenient holiday weekend; indeed, it was meant to be a day to memorialize, not a holiday. While I can appreciate it makes it easier to compact Memorial Day  into a weekend and not disrupt the middle of the week for honoring those who have served and died for this country, at the same time I think this undervalues the meaning of, and reason for, Memorial Day in the first place.

I hate war, wish no one ever had to go to war, but at the same time know that there are times when a person or a country must defend itself. Only two of the wars of the last hundred years have been of that variety, though. Still, my family has had, and has now, many people who have been part of the military, and for them, especially for those who died, I have a need in me to keep Memorial Day first about them, secondly a holiday weekend for heading to the shore.

Convenience is not what life is always best served by and relates to this blog in that the convenience of so much food in nearly every place we will find ourselves on any given day is partly responsible for the struggles more and more people are having with sugars-starch-artificial sweets. A bit of inconvenience presents a halt, a time to think, a bit of consideration before acting. If we are able to have the time to think a little bit before we rush headlong to buy and eat something we will quickly regret, then maybe we will have fewer of those episodes. I found that one of my best strategies has been to shop at specific times, and buy nothing that is not on my list. Never buy food at anything but at the grocery market or farmers market or online market. Never eat in any place that qualifies as a fast-food joint. Making food a bit less convenient makes me think more about what good food really is, and not simply a response to that “old” brain that wants carb foods because for most of human history they were hard to come by, but of course are very easy to come by nowadays.

So, stopping to remember what is important has a great deal of virtue, whether for something as heart heavy as soldiers serving, suffering, and dying, or the daily routines of life.

For those we ought remember,

Nan aka Sugarbaby

Self-Discipline: Myths and Merits

Sugar is a problem. Perhaps the biggest problem is that people may not have any problem limiting sugar for years, but once it does become a visible undeniable problem too much damage has been done. Sugar is doing damage internally all along; cells have problems with not letting go fat from insulin resistance among many other things. The outward and visible problem is gaining weight, the mental problems of bingeing, constant cravings, are not psychological weakness but our bodies’ overly stressed response to too much sugar-starch-artificial sweeteners.

The primary myth about sugar is that just a little won’t hurt since weight is about calories-in, calories-out;  the secondary myth is that people just need to buck up and exercise restraint, that becoming overweight is a sign of not having self-discipline or being self-indulgent.

The reason it’s so hard to be disciplined is that the “old brain” or limbic brain– that which sits beneath our larger neo-cortical mass which does advanced things like thinking–has one goal only when it comes to food, which is to eat any and all carbs and fat in order not to starve the next period of famine (inevitable in prehistory). That “old” brain is not clued in to modernity, HFCS, high calorie density in every food, etc.  As long as we eat a diet high in refined sugars/starch the majority of us will eventually find ourselves plagued by carb cravings. Cravings are that old brain demanding we eat, an insulin driven cycle that’s hard to break free from as long as we eat sugars. Add insulin resistance into the mix, and you will find someone gaining weight, miserable, trying desperately most of the time to be disciplined, but succumbing to binges all too often.

For those who find ourselves in that awful place the best and probably only chance to get free of those cravings, binges, misery is to rid our diets of all refined sugars/starches, and keep any carbohydrates even from fruits and vegetables strictly controlled. That takes discipline. Discipline is ultimately a great friend.

Once we see the path to free ourselves of the addictive properties of sugars-starch-artificial sweets, then for some period of time we will have to exercise self-discipline to establish good eating habits often lost for several years.

For most of my young life I ate three meals a day rarely snacked, then as age, menopause, lack of sleep, a high stress career all began to take their toll, my cravings steadily increased; I ate ever more carbs, mostly the so-called good carbs, but found myself beginning to have binges on ice cream, sweet rolls, and such high cal-carb-fat foods. I became miserable, for how could I be in this position when I had always been very good at accomplishing what I wanted to do with my life. No wonder so many people who get fat are also in some state of depression (which is also a direct product of too much sugar).

I refused to give up or in, and read and tried dozens of different plans until I stumbled across Atkins low carb plan, which helped a lot, but not quite enough, for Atkins unwittingly allowed for the use of sugar substitutes, aka artificial sweeteners. Only a few years later did I learn that these artificial sweets were also creating strong cravings for me. Further, I had walked four miles a day for years, so lack of exercise was not my problem, indeed it was contributing to the problem. How could I be doing everything 90% right and getting 100% bad results?  Gary Taubes book, Good Calories, Bad Calories was a revelation! Finally it all made sense. But after ten years of eating too much carbohydrate, my brain was not happy to give them up, so now was when the need for self-discipline became vitally important.

My spouse once said that I had hit the “perfect storm” of conditions to get overweight. He could see that I was working hard to keep my weight in control, and had a lot of sympathy, for which I’m very grateful, for I know people who don’t have that support. So in a way it became necessary for me to make sure I was sailing in calm waters. Happily the hormone problems are past, back surgery very successful, and so I could implement the right things like being faithful to recording my food intake, keeping my carbs around 20g per day, increasing fats, eating mostly grass-fed and organic, getting enough but not too much exercise, and meditating, which has been a long time practice through writing and walking.  The biggest areas of discipline came around avoiding artificial sweeteners, and not eating between meals. I still catch myself opening the refrigerator and thinking “what’s to eat?” then reminding myself that I don’t eat between meals.

Changing our eating habits as well as the foods we eat can lead us to good health and leaner, fitter bodies, but all of us have to exercise some level of self-discipline. Just eating low carb won’t be enough to lose weight if you are eating too much food and your body doesn’t have to give up the stored fat.  Most of us, especially if not young, will have to do some restricting of how much and when we eat to get success. That said, it can be done, which was the best news I’ve had in years.

Yours in determinations,

Nan aka Sugarbaby

Insulin Resistance or Hyperinsulinemia

There are probably many people who have over the course of some years of being overweight, and having exceedingly strong cravings of carbohydrates, who have become insulin resistant (IR); another term for the condition which Dr. Robert Atkins used is hyperinsulinemia. The short definition is that your body having been flooded with far too much insulin for too long is coming into pre-diabetes territory, a very bad place–but still a place from which you can recover. When the body gets in this place the cells will keep taking up fat, but won’t let it go, so you can be over-eating yet have no energy, feel tired and miserable because your body isn’t giving up its stored energy. Below is what Gary Taubes has written of the condition, and I will add more here as I come across it.

The main message is to get off the carbs, meaning less that 20-30g per day in order to force the body to start burning all that stored. The following comes from my Kindle edition of Good Calories, Bad Calories.

(Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (pp. 139-141). Anchor. Kindle Edition.)

In the early 1950s, clinical investigators began to characterize the physiological mechanisms that would underlie Cleave’s saccharine-disease hypothesis of chronic disease, and that could explain the appearance of diseases of civilization going back over a century—the basis, in effect, of this carbohydrate hypothesis. The research evolved in multiple threads that resulted in some of the most fundamental discoveries in heart-disease and diabetes research. Only in the late 1980s did they begin to come together, when the Stanford diabetologist Gerald Reaven proposed the name Syndrome X to describe the metabolic abnormalities common to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, all, at the very least, exacerbated by the consumption of sugar, flour, and other easily digestible carbohydrates. Syndrome X included elevated levels of the blood fats known as triglycerides; low levels of HDL cholesterol, now known as the good cholesterol; it included hypertension, and three phenomena that are considered precursors of adult-onset diabetes—chronically high levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia), a condition known as insulin resistance (a relative insensitivity of cells to insulin), and the related condition of glucose intolerance (an inability to metabolize glucose properly). Over the years, other abnormalities have been added to this list: the presence of predominantly small, dense LDL particles, and high levels of a protein called fibrinogen that increases the likelihood of blood-clot formation. Elevated uric-acid concentrations in the blood, a precursor of gout, have been linked to Syndrome X, as has a state of chronic inflammation, marked by a high concentration in the blood of a protein known as C-reactive protein. In the last decade, Syndrome X has taken on a variety of names as authorities, institutions, and associations have slowly come to accept its validity. It is often referred to as insulin resistance syndrome. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute belatedly recognized the existence of Syndrome X in 2001, calling it metabolic syndrome. It has even been referred to as insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome X, or MSX, by those investigators attempting to cover all bases.*39 By any name, this metabolic syndrome is as much a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism as is adult-onset diabetes, and is certainly a consequence of the carbohydrate content of the diet, particularly, as Cleave would have predicted, such refined, easily digestible carbohydrates as sugar and white flour. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the evolving science of metabolic syndrome began to have any significant influence outside the field of diabetes, at which point the media finally began to take notice.†40 The potential implications of metabolic syndrome for heart disease and other chronic diseases have only just begun to be appreciated by the research community. As a result, a hypothesis that emerged from research in the 1950s as an alternative explanation for the high rates of heart disease in Western nations has been accepted by medical researchers and public-health authorities a half-century later as a minor modification to Keys’s dietary-fat/cholesterol hypothesis, even though this alternative hypothesis implies that Keys’s hypothesis is wrong. The bulk of the science is no longer controversial, but its potential significance has been minimized by the assumption that saturated fat is still the primary evil in modern diets.

In the early 1950s, clinical investigators began to characterize the physiological mechanisms that would underlie Cleave’s saccharine-disease hypothesis of chronic disease, and that could explain the appearance of diseases of civilization going back over a century—the basis, in effect, of this carbohydrate hypothesis. The research evolved in multiple threads that resulted in some of the most fundamental discoveries in heart-disease and diabetes research. Only in the late 1980s did they begin to come together, when the Stanford diabetologist Gerald Reaven proposed the name Syndrome X to describe the metabolic abnormalities common to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, all, at the very least, exacerbated by the consumption of sugar, flour, and other easily digestible carbohydrates. Syndrome X included elevated levels of the blood fats known as triglycerides; low levels of HDL cholesterol, now known as the good cholesterol; it included hypertension, and three phenomena that are considered precursors of adult-onset diabetes—chronically high levels of insulin (hyperinsulinemia), a condition known as insulin resistance (a relative insensitivity of cells to insulin), and the related condition of glucose intolerance (an inability to metabolize glucose properly). Over the years, other abnormalities have been added to this list: the presence of predominantly small, dense LDL particles, and high levels of a protein called fibrinogen that increases the likelihood of blood-clot formation. Elevated uric-acid concentrations in the blood, a precursor of gout, have been linked to Syndrome X, as has a state of chronic inflammation, marked by a high concentration in the blood of a protein known as C-reactive protein. In the last decade, Syndrome X has taken on a variety of names as authorities, institutions, and associations have slowly come to accept its validity. It is often referred to as insulin resistance syndrome. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute belatedly recognized the existence of Syndrome X in 2001, calling it metabolic syndrome. It has even been referred to as insulin resistance/metabolic syndrome X, or MSX, by those investigators attempting to cover all bases.*39 By any name, this metabolic syndrome is as much a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism as is adult-onset diabetes, and is certainly a consequence of the carbohydrate content of the diet, particularly, as Cleave would have predicted, such refined, easily digestible carbohydrates as sugar and white flour. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that the evolving science of metabolic syndrome began to have any significant influence outside the field of diabetes, at which point the media finally began to take notice.†40 The potential implications of metabolic syndrome for heart disease and other chronic diseases have only just begun to be appreciated by the research community. As a result, a hypothesis that emerged from research in the 1950s as an alternative explanation for the high rates of heart disease in Western nations has been accepted by medical researchers and public-health authorities a half-century later as a minor modification to Keys’s dietary-fat/cholesterol hypothesis, even though this alternative hypothesis implies that Keys’s hypothesis is wrong. The bulk of the science is no longer controversial, but its potential significance has been minimized by the assumption that saturated fat is still the primary evil in modern diets.

Taubes, Gary (2007-09-25). Good Calories, Bad Calories (p. 140). Anchor. Kindle Edition.

Stop with the Sugar Substitutes!

As I was driving down the highway not long ago my eye caught sight of a large cola vending machine. Instantly I thought of the diet soda that was the only soda I ever drank, but I used to drink a lot of it, and for a split second I had thoughts of how much I used to like it, then I immediately realized that old limbic brain I call the Kraken was pushing at the bars of its cage. Then I had on overwhelming sense of relief that I didn’t have to pay attention to that urge, furthermore I didn’t want to because I finally got what the heart of problem is with trying to substitute one bad thing for another bad thing. 

If the goal is to get off the sugar-starch addictive foods/beverages then to replace them with other sweet tasting things is pointless, a true waste of time, for studies and our own experiences have shown that the substitution works only for a short time. When we promise the brain a big calorie input with that highly sweet taste and nothing is forthcoming, the brain will keep bugging us to fulfill that promise by urging us with those constant cravings. Like a gangster who wants his money! Remember, the artificially sweetened substitute, diet soda or diet foods, are usually several hundred times sweeter than the actual soda or food we are trying to avoid. The brain is not to be fooled in the long run. Which means, horror of horrors, the best thing is to give up the sweet food to begin with (or starchy if that’s your main thing, though to the body starch = sugar).

I spent years trying to substitute low and no-calorie foods/drinks that used artificial sweeteners and my weight kept going up. The cravings got far worse, and I felt like I was on a carousel going ever faster that wouldn’t let me off.           

The last couple of years as I got interested in various low carb/primal/paleo blog sites, the one thing that soon became obvious was how so many people immediately tried to find substitutes for their old problem foods. Can’t have flour cookies, then make them with almond meal; can’t use Splenda, use stevia instead. I was one of them. I could over use any substitute.

Undoubtedly there are some people who can judiciously use substitutes, but for the overweight person who is plagued by cravings, who grazes looking for something to satisfy that empty feeling that never seems to get filled—no matter how much food is eaten—then substitutes are probably just as bad as the real thing. The test is whether you can eat three meals a day without snacking and that feels just fine, without cravings that won’t give you any peace.  

I find that I can use a little stevia sweetened food now and then, but it must be after good foods and in a very small amount. Everyone had to find his/her own tolerance. But if I find that cravings begin with any food, it has to go. I can’t let any food threaten my health and take away the freedom from cravings that has taken me over a decade to finally figure out.

Scary is the word that comes to mind, as I consider why we are driven to find substitues, for scary is how it feels to say “I won’t drink sugar OR diet soda or eat artificially sweetened foods.” After all, that was the sacrifice you thought you made. Eat/drink this no-cal thing and it will take me to my goal. But if it doesn’t, what other choice is there? Rational people know when to accept a fact, and sometimes the facts are exactly what we do not want to accept. 

So when I saw that soda machine I knew in my deepest being that there is no such substitute for me. Besides the fact that most of the substitutes are filled with chemicals that are potentially very dangerous. But the good thing about resignation is that it lifts a burden from your shoulders, for you know you are no longer in thrall to sugar, though it’s wise to always respect the power it can quickly regain if you start eating such foods or their artificially sweetened counterparts.

 

Yours in strength and courage,                              

Nan aka Sugarbaby

Sugar Tastes Good–But Makes Us Dumb and Sick

Seems like nearly every day there is a new study being released about yet another problem with sugar at the levels we consume them in the west.  The cravings cause us to eat something that is making both dumber and sicker as a nation. That is a very poor trade-off for the short sweet taste we find so appealing. Here are three recent postings on the subjects:

 

http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-fructose-makes-rats-stupid-brain-20120517,0,2305241.story

http://www.latimes.com/health/la-he-sugar-side-20120414,0,7849134.htmlstory

http://www.medpagetoday.com/LabNotes/LabNotes/32781,

 

Yours in learning,

Nan aka Sugarbaby

Are You Hot or Cold?

Some years back my daughter took my granddaughters to a museum in Rochester, NY, where they stood before some gadget or machine that registers body temperature. She was not surprised to see that one of the girls gave off an almost solid red color that showed she was, as it were, burning hot, had a very active metabolism. Though smaller than her fraternal twin sister, she eats like a veritable horse, and is always on the go. By contrast my daughter and the other granddaughter were much more blue-to-yellow with a few hot spots. I have no doubt I would be very blue-to-yellow.

Metabolism matters. A couple of studies have demonstrated that for a person who is naturally very thin, as is the paternal side of my family, in tests where they over fed them by several thousand calories, the thin people seemed to just throw off most of the excess, and did not gain more than a very few pounds if any; while people who were life-long plump people readily gained weight.

Now, it may be that a very thin person who over-eats, especially of highly refined sugars/starch, long enough can upset their natural metabolisms and begin to put on weight, indeed we all probably know people who were very thin until late middle age when they began to put on weight.

I was thin for over half of my life until I had a serious illness, and from that point onward weight became a struggle. I doubt that anyone can really appreciate the struggles of someone who easily gains weight, has migraine headaches, or any number of problems unless s/he has had some experience of that struggle.

Metabolism, though, is tricky. For even if you have a cold running system one’s metabolism is not an excuse for letting go, giving in, avoiding the work it takes to get in control of health.  Metabolism is a stumbling block, a pain in the backside, a mountain to climb, but it is not an excuse to do nothing. Think of all the things that work well. Do you have great hair, nails, good eyesight-smell-taste, a good mind, etc.? We each are made up of the good and less than good in the sum of our parts. For example, I have great eyesight, but terribly soft teeth (I have enough money in my mouth to buy a high-end car!).

One’s metabolism is simply either in the great, okay, or lousy category. We deal. Circumspection is a great gift. Would you trade your sugar/weight issues for being hard of hearing or blind? I think it unlikely anyone would.

So, here’s to being on the cool side (pun intended),

Nan aka Sugarbaby