Monday, May 30, 2011
I'm still researching. Over the weekend, I reread "Protein Power" to make sure I understood it correctly. I need to make a couple of corrections.
- Insulin and glucagon are an either or, not a one or the other. The dominance of one determines whether fat is stored, or burned. They are both always present. If you want to lose bodyfat, then you need to tip in favor of glucagon.
- Certain foods and food combinations will cause insulin and glucagon to be released. Fat is metabolically inert - neither insulin or glucagon will be released. Carb + fat will cause only a rise in insulin (because fat is inert). Protein is an equal measure of insulin and glucagon. High protein + low carb will cause a small rise in both insulin and glucagon. However, the killer combo is high carb + low protein. A massive surge of insulin is released, and a tiny bit of glucagon. The majority of the American diet is high carb, low protein. Burger and a bun, with fries. Hot dog and a bun, with fries. Deep crust pizza. Spaghetti with marinara.
- Glucagon works its magic burning fat when insulin levels dissipate, so this is why keeping insulin levels moderate is a good idea. Low glycemic is better than high. A sugary chocolate cake will swing insulin levels through the roof, and will take a long, long time to come back to neutral. During which time, any excess calories will get stored as fat. If you eat a piece of broccoli, a small amount of insulin is produced, falls quickly, and allows glucagon to become dominate. When glucagon is dominate, excess calories are used or expelled, not stored. Fat stores are burned to keep blood sugar neutral.
Armed with this clarified information, I decided to do an experiment. We've all heard about the French Paradox, right? Supposedly, the experts are baffled that the French eat fatty cheese, croissants, red wine, and butter laden sauces and don't get fat, or heart disease. On average, they are slimmer and longer lived than their European and American counterparts.
I went back and reread "French Women Don't Get Fat", seeing if I could fit pieces of the puzzle together. Scientifically, I now understand what happens when you eat carbs, proteins, fats, and combinations therein.
When I reread "French Women Don't Get Fat", a few things stuck out.
When the author, Mireille Guiliano, gained weight in America, she overloaded on carbs. Brownies and bagels. When she returned to France, she took her American eating habits and overloaded on the decadent French pastry standards - croissants, pain au chocolat, etc. She says these are supposed to be occasional treats, even in France. A Sunday breakfast treat, not everyday.
In order to reset her bread and pastry overloading, she describes it as 'reprogramming' not 'deprivation'.
She ate leek soup for 2 days as a reset button. She then reassessed a food diary. Cut bread back to one slice per day. Had one cocktail instead of two. Diluted juice with water.
While she was doing it intuitively, I could immediately see she was reducing her high insulin load. The leek soup diet for 2 days would drastically lower excess insulin floating around, allowing it to clear out and reset at a lower level. Bread reduced to one slice per day, the cocktail and the juice all play the same net effect - reduce insulin spikes.
As another experiment, I took one of the author's 'typical French day' menus and calculated the macronutrient ratios. What I found was surprising.
Here is the menu:
Sliver of Cheese (1/2 ounce?)
1/2 cup muesli with blueberries
coffee or tea
Bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich
1 cup raspberries
Grilled Chicken with Rosemary
Peaches with Lemon Thyme
Glass of red wine
Here's how the ratios work out: 35% carbs, 45% fat, 20% protein.
This is almost a "Zone" diet, though a bit skewed towards the fat. The ADA would consider this a dangerous, low carb diet, high fat diet.
The author goes on to state that bread is important to the French diet. However, not too much. Not more than one or two small slices per day. She says the bread starter in American restaurants is a terrible idea. If you eat bread, wait to eat it with your main course. Again, the author doesn't know it, but she seems to be controlling her blood sugar and insulin output. A small piece of bread eaten with a serving of steak, chicken or fish would produce the small insulin/glucagon rise from low carb/high protein combo discussed earlier. A piece of bread eaten alone will spike insulin only instantly. Note that whole grain or not, only insulin is released. Keep munching the bread, and it gets worse. All that spiked insulin is primed to store your main course as bodyfat.
A lot of people seem to be misunderstanding what I am doing in my own diet. My partner and I actually got into a disagreement over the weekend. The ONLY carbs I have cut down is bread and grain, in exactly the manner that Mireille has done. I ordered a burger, but I ate it with only the bottom bun. I ordered coleslaw instead of fries. I did not cut back my fruit and vegetable consumption what-so-ever. I had seared ahi tuna over a huge bed of lettuce for lunch. Tonight I boiled shrimp and ate it with a very leafy salad with pickled veggies. Is that dangerous low carb? I eat more vegetables and fruit in a day than the average American in a week.
Since increasing my protein consumption, I've seen some interesting effects. I've lost bodyfat and seen some composition changes in my body, yes. However, the change I was not expecting is my hair. I wrote a blog a few months ago about how I hated my hair because it was so weak and brittle. I used to run my fingers through my hair and pull out big clumps of hair - very distressing! The partner complained I shed more than the cats because my hair would be everywhere. I had to use a special drain cover to catch my hair that came out while I was washing. Now, there is almost no hair in my fingers and drain. My hair is softer, and it shines! I think I was clearly eating too little protein before.
My weight loss problems seems to be I was trying too hard to follow the guidelines to get a grain or starch with every meal. 6 servings of grain/starch per day is too much. One or two small serving of grain or starch per day seems all that is wise. Most American breads are fortified with vitamins because fruit/vegetable consumption is often inadequate. If you eat your veggies and fruit, fortified grains are optional. A salad with every meal is superior to a slice of bread in terms of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Grains and starches are so calorie dense, they should be eaten in moderation. My diet is more accurately described as, "low grain".
This is the food pyramid that I like. Note that is is actually MORE vegetables than the standard American diet recommendation.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Disclaimer: Today's blog might be a bit controversial. Please note that I am only speaking for myself, and am not necessarily advocating that there is only one right way. We all need to make decisions about our health, using the best information we have available.
(Most people that have read my blogs for a while are already familiar with this part of the story.)
I gained weight in 2000-2002, becoming overweight and obese for the first time in my life. The reason is pretty clear. I was eating oversized restaurant portions for way too many meals. I didn't know how to cook. I was in denial about my weight (I had no idea I was 'obese'). I weighed 160lbs on my 5'0" frame. My attempts at weight loss were half efforts and involved little thought. I just wanted it to happen magically.
When I moved to Seattle in 2003, I lost weight by accident. My diet changed drastically. I stopped eating fast food, and chain restaurants. I did more home cooking with farmer's market vegetables and fruit. I discovered the delights of Pacific salmon. My only dining out experience was eating vietnamese pho noodle soup. By the time I got around to checking my weight, I had lost 15lbs.
At that point, my weight loss stalled. It was time to learn more about nutrition. I joined eDiets, then later Spark. I learned how to portion meals. I expanded my cooking repertoire even further. I lost more weight, and have stabilized at 130lbs.
Well, I've been at 130lbs for a long time. I suppose I've been happy enough with it. Perhaps these last few points are just vanity pounds. My last physical said I was in perfect health. My doctor even called me an 'athlete'.
Vanity pounds or not, I am not happy with it. I am increasingly disgruntled with it. I don't expect to be a runway model, but surely I can do better. My body weight fat percentage is *almost* in the healthy range. I'm at 32%. 27% is the upper range of healthy for my age. I am so close.
Yet so far. In April, I started resuming diligence in my diet. I started tracking my diet in far greater detail. I've been trying to take a scientific approach, so I need lots of data points.
First thing I discovered is the Spark and the US recommended ranges no longer work for me. Not for weight loss. It is not just a simple matter of calorie differential. I don't know if it's because I'm now a 36 year old woman, or some other factor. I started tracking this on April 20. For the entire month of May, my weight and measurements held stable. I was only maintaining my weight and body fat, despite keeping an average calorie differential of -327 per day. My macronutrients were within both the Spark and USDA recommended ranges of 60-50carbs, 20-15fat, 20-15protein.
I used my Bodymedia Fit and heart rate monitor to estimate as accurate as possible my daily calorie burn. I exercised on average 200-400 minutes per week.
If it were a simple matter of calorie in - calorie out, I should have lost 1.5 lbs per week.
I was baffled. I wrote a blog where I concluded that I must be underestimating my calories.
That is still possible, but I was very careful. I would have had to be really, really consistent about overestimating, or I should have seen at least a marginal loss.
My conclusion was, I was missing something. This made logically no sense. There had to be a science to it. I rejected notions of 'set points'. If there was such a thing as 'set point', then there had to be a reason why our bodies hold on to fat, and when to release it. Whatever I was doing was causing my body to maintain my body fat. It had no reason to dip into my fat stores. I was supplying it with all the energy it needed, even though I was maintaining consistent calorie deficits that should have resulted in a decrease.
So I started digging deeper into the world of nutritional science and biochemistry.
I first stumbled onto what I was looking for on a bodybuilding website. Bodybuilders aren't necessarily the best models of nutritional fitness, as they can employ some rather extreme measures. However, they know something, at least intuitively, on how to get a body to drop body fat. They can even drop their bodyfat to levels beyond considered safe or normal. How did they do it?
I discovered the mystery of 'set point'. It is the hormone insulin. Insulin is released by the pancreas to normalize high blood sugar. When insulin is present in the bloodstream, excess blood sugar is disposed of by storing it in fat cells. While insulin is present, fat burn is disabled, and fat storage is enabled.
So if insulin is the hormone that enables fat storage, how does a body get rid of fat? How do you turn insulin off?
I discovered the answer to that in the book "Protein Power" by Drs Michael and Mary Eades. The converse to insulin is glucagon. They both work as opposites to control blood sugar.
High blood sugar causes pancreas to release insulin. Low blood sugar causes pancreas to release glucagon.
I'll spare you the scientific explanation. If you really want to know how it works, then read "Protein Power", as they will do a much better job than me. The important bit is when losing bodyfat, glucagon is good.
So how you stimulate the body to release glucagon is to deprive it of glucose. Carbohydrates turns to glucose quite readily. This seemed to explain my situation perfectly. I was eating enough carbohydrates that my body never needed to turn to my stored fat to meet my energy needs. I was in perfect harmony.
Except this is not what I want. Not yet, anyway.
I could increase my exercise minutes, which would cause an increased need for energy stores. Or I could shift my macronutrient calories and reduce my carbohydrates.
Ok, low carb is scary. It is vehemently opposed by the major health organizations.
As I stated in my disclaimer, we all need to make choices. As stated in Michael Pollan's book, those of us who are overweight are subjected to the Omnivore's Dilemma. We have so much conflicting information, it's overwhelming. We are all putting our lives in potential harms way by following one dietary advice or another.
Is the ADA right? Low carb diets increase your risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease? Is Atkins right? High carbs diets are actually to blame for metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease?
The book "The Paleo Diet" did not do much to sway my opinion. Comparing ourselves to our paleo ancestors is interesting, but I personally didn't have a deep connection with it.
"Protein Power" on the other hand, was something that I personally identified with. There is a lot of biochemistry and med school explanations. The authors are doctors who have successfully reversed metabolic syndrome and obesity in their patients with their low carb diet.
Digging deeper into their website, I found this video from a Stanford professor. He conducted a research study that compared Atkins, The Zone, Ornish Diet, and the Standard American recommendations.
The results are surprising. Atkins actually outperformed all of them. The professor is a 25 year vegetarian, and even he was surprised. All of their test subjects lost weight on all of the diets. However, the Atkins group raised their HDL, lowered LDL, and lowered triglycerides by a larger significant statistical margin than all of the others. Dr. Ornish was apparently very angry with this study.
The other surprising thing from the study is who responded better to which diets. People who were NOT insulin resistant did better on the standard recommended high carb diets. People who WERE insulin resistant did better on the low carb diets.
If you are very overweight or obese, you are in varying states of insulin resistance. If you are not insulin resistant, then you can tolerate higher levels of carbohydrates without a larger insulin response.
Armed with information, I took the scary leap. I decided to cut back carbs. Not eliminate, cut back. I did not cut back to the levels recommended by Atkins or Eades. I merely cut back *half*. I knew how many carbs I was eating on average due to all my data. I cut it in half to about 70g per day. I increased protein to 70-100g per day.
If I was maintaining my bodyfat on 140g carbs per day, and if Dr Eades is right about insulin response to carbs being the important factor, then I concluded I should be able to see a result on 70g carbs. If not, then this whole theory is bunk, and I go back to the drawing board.
I decided to eliminate starches and grain, at least for a little while. I was resistant to it, but it seemed the logical choice. I am not willing to eliminate vegetables or fruit. (Nor is such a thing even suggested by Drs. Eades). My carb intake comes entirely from fruit and vegetables. (Which is recommended.)
If eating higher fat/protein is a long term risk, according to the ADA, then I figured if I cut back to half carbs would do minimal harm. If it had no result, then I could stop. No harm, no foul. (For the record, I am increasingly convinced that the ADA may be wrong, at least on a few points.)
Well, two weeks later, things are humming along again. I have lost measurable bodyfat, and weight, on the same number of calories I was consuming on the 50/30/20 or 60/20/20 ratios. Except my body is definitely shedding body fat.
Now, I'm not going to try to misrepresent. The first two days I switched to fewer carbs than normal, I felt like crap. My energy was low. My brain fogged. I was irritable and grouchy. But I recognized it for what it was. Sugar addiction. Like a kid throwing a tantrum, my brain wanted its glucose candy. I had been through this before, when I first eliminated Snickers candy bars from my diet.
I decided to stick with it. If it didn't improve with a few days, then I was going to reconsider my path.
The next day, I was still low energy and groggy, but to a lesser degree. I figured this a good sign.
The day after that, I felt normal again.
The only carbs I have stopped are cereal and breads. That eliminated 70g of carbs. I never realized how calorie dense grains really are. According to Protein Power, I can phase starches and cereals back slowly once I have achieved desired bodyfat level. Eades says to slowly raise your carbs by 10g per week until you find the level at which you start to gain weight again. Then you know your carb/insulin tolerance.
I am still eating the same amount of fruit and vegetables I was before. I still eat on average more vegetables in a day than the average Americans in a week.
According to my nutritional feedback on Spark, I meet or exceed ALL of my vitamin/mineral requirements.
Another benefit. The higher protein is making me full. Not stuffed, but satisfied, if that makes sense. I have actually had to remind myself to eat my next meal. I don't feel stuffed to capacity, because I'm not. My appetite is much easier to control, on less food.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Cooking with wine is easy. I don't know why this is considered a 'fancy' thing in American cuisine.
Long time ago, I used to think of wine drinking with dinner to be a luxury for the well-to-do. I thought beer was for 'the rest of us'. Then I moved to Washington and discovered the delight that was 2 buck Chuck "Charles Shaw" wine from Trader Joe's. 2-3 bottles cost as much as a six pack of the cheap beer I bought. Each bottle had 4 glasses of wine in it. Drinking wine with dinner wasn't expensive or fancy at all! (But it felt fancy!)
Is 2 buck Chuck as smooth and refined as a $30? No. But after experimenting with many, many types of wines and prices, my favorites for a splurge aren't the really expensive wines. My favorite is a $12 bottle of Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Cab-Sav or Merlot. A lot of wine aficionados turn their nose up at Washington wines as being inferior to California wines, but this is my favorite for the price point. As long as aficionados underestimate Washington wines, then they remain more affordable!
First rule of cooking with wine is, never use wine that you won't drink. If your wine tastes bad, your food will taste bad. "Cooking wine" sold in the grocery stores are basically vinegar. Do not use!
Second rule is, don't use a fine wine, either. It's a waste of money. Good tasting table wines like 2 buck Chuck or similar are just fine.
Yesterday I made a roughly Italian comfort food called brasato al vino, or wine marinated beef. I took a cup of wine (from a $5 bottle), then marinated a 1lb chuck roast over night in it. You can add seasonings like rosemary, oregano, or thyme if, you want. I turned it once in the morning. After work, the meat had a purplish hue from absorbing the wine.
I put it in a dutch oven, seared it on all sides. Added shallots, carrots, and remaining marinade. Cover, and put in a 350 oven for about 2 hours.
I could have made a gravy with the juices that remained, but I was too tired. I just left it au natural.
I recommend serving the meat sliced. It's an easy presentation, and adds a nice touch. I follow the recommendations of the book "French Women Don't Get Fat". Prepare a nice meal, make it look nice, and take the time to enjoy it. You'll appreciate it more.
Serve it with a glass of the same wine you used for the marinade. Instant, easy pairing. Nothing intimidating or complicated about that!
Monday, May 23, 2011
Tonight I was busy with prep work. One of the great things about having an extensive recipe repertoire is you can look at what's on sale, and plan the weekly menu around it. This week's groceries, I bought chicken, chuck roast, ground pork/beef, and flank steak. I've planned an international menu for the week.
Tonight: France - Coq au Vin
Tuesday: Italy - Brasato al vino (wine marinated beef)
Wednesday: China - dim sum with pork/beef wontons, crab and cream cheese rangoons, and shrimp wontons
Thursday: Mexico - flank steak carne asada
Friday: India - Beef vindaloo
I already have everything marinading. The beauty of marinades is it makes cheap cuts of meats a marvelous meal.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
After a week long visiting family and friends, I'm back home again. It was a nice visit, though I don't think I can say it was relaxing. I'm exhausted! I think being home will be the first rest I'll get!
My best friend and I did a number of hikes throughout the week, which was great. It was awesome to be out hiking, and also seeing beautiful mountain scenery Colorado style. We drank probably more beer than we should have, because her boyfriend works at a local brewery. Local microbrews only - no brand names. I got carried away taste testing the different varieties.
I ended up doing a fair amount of cooking while on 'vacation'. I bought my dad a special prime rib roast for his birthday a few months ago, but he wanted me to cook it. So I made prime rib rubbed with rosemary, oregano, mustard powder, and black pepper. Served with roast veggies. I thought it was pretty basic, but my folks thought it was fantastic. I should have served it with shrimp to make it fancy restaurant style!
When visiting with my best friend one night, she was going to take her boyfriend Subway for dinner. I suggested she should cook something for him. We ended up making a lasagna using random ingredients from her fridge. It was kind of like being on a real life episode of "Chopped". What can I make with what is in the fridge? It came out pretty good, considering it was all impromptu ingredients. I probably would not repeat the exact ingredients I used again, (there was chicken and breakfast sausage!) but it actually was surprisingly good.
The fiance arrived in town on Thursday for the weekend. The reason is because we had U2 concert tickets for Saturday night. The concert tickets were actually my Christmas present from him a couple of years ago, but due to Bono's back injury, the concert was delayed until this year. Before the concert, I showed the fiance around Denver a little. We had lunch at a restaurant I had never been to before. We shared an elk sausage, wild boar charcuterie and cheese plate. I don't know why I never went when I lived there. I used to eat at chain restaurants like Chili's and Applebee's when I lived in Denver, which I blame for becoming obese. I missed all the really good restaurants.
The show was amazing - a spectacular blend of rock music and laser/led technology. Mile High Stadium was completely filled - about 76,000 people. (It's Mile High Stadium - as a Coloradan, I will never acknowledge its corporate sponsor!) I've never seen anything like it. There was a circular stage where the band could wander around. There was a giant circular LED screen where cameras would project images of the band, or other video. It was completely moveable, and changed shapes several times. The fiance and I being enginerds spent a great deal of time gawking at the engineering and technology, as well as speculating about how much it cost and how much effort it took to put together and take apart. We counted 32 semi-trailer trucks in the parking lot used to haul all that gear.
What I found really interesting, though, was the crowd. There were a few songs where Bono stopped singing and just let the crowd sing the song for him. Great way to take a break, I suppose! LOL! I was also amused that the modern version of holding a lighter during a ballad is to turn on cell phone and iPhones!
I definitely would not make it as a rock star. The next morning, I was so exhausted I felt like I had a hangover (even though I had just one beer!), and my throat was hoarse from singing along. Maybe I am just getting too old for rock concerts - LOL!
I finished reading "Protein Power" while on the plane back home. I'll have to write a blog on my thoughts on it separately, after I've digested it a bit. It is definitely a very biochemistry science geek type book. I thought some of the theories and evidence was very thought provoking. The thing that really caught my attention was the section where it discusses ancient Egyptians and obesity. The author contends there is evidence from folds in mummified skin that suggest Egyptians may have been obese after converting to an agrarian diet. I've watched tons of History channel, Discovery channel, and National Geographic programming on Egyptians. I'm surprised it wasn't mentioned in documentaries. Or perhaps I wasn't paying close enough attention. At any rate, this struck me as a 'new to me' concept I hadn't heard before, so I am going to research this further.
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