Sharing stuff I've learned, and things I've thought about...

Managing Weight – Part 3

I want to recommend some specific strategies regarding weight loss, but first I’d like to recommend a really good 2012 documentary on the food industry that I believe anyone interested in a healthy diet should see – Hungry for Change

Be prepared to do some filtering of some of the “conspiracy theory” thinking that is included in this film – I don’t share the opinion that businesses in the food industry are either as smart or as intent on making people unhealthy as some of the people who contribute to this film might, but the basic ideas presented are accurate and should help you make more informed and intelligent food choices with regard to processed foods. Like any other “fanatic” (and some of the contributors clearly fall into that category) people can get a bit monomaniacal and narrow in their thinking, so feel free to knock off a few of the rough edges in this film. The important point is that fresh food is way, Way, WAY healthier for you than processed food, and by preparing your own food you can make your own food choices. Even when using packaged foods, the information in this documentary (and elsewhere – there is really nothing new here) is helpful in making choices in packaged foods.

So, the first “rule” I’m going to suggest here is that you try to avoid processed/packaged food as much as possible. In “Food Rules” the book that I recommended in my first post on this subject, Michael Pollan suggests avoiding any food with more than 5 ingredients on the label. While this shouldn’t be a literal rule, the point is to look at the label on any packaged food whether it’s a canned vegetable, a condiment or a frozen entree, and look at how much of it is made up of various non-food ingredients. These non-food ingredients enhance shelf life, improve flavor, enhance texture or “mouth feel” as it’s often described. Keep in mind that these are included as the processing that the actual food goes through causes the food to change in flavor, color, texture and nutritive value. Note too the food ingredients that are included such as sugars and vitamins. Again, these are added to compensate for the damage done to the food to make it a convenient microwaveable food-like product.

Think too about how much is processed out of many of the basic food elements that are used. Compare the nutritional value for instance of a slice of highly-processed Wonder Bread made from highly-refined flour, and a slice of coarse whole-wheat or multi-grain bread. Breakfast cereals too provide a good example. Compare something highly processed (despite the “whole grain” claims) of an unsweetened cereal like Cheerios and Post Shredded Wheat & Bran. If you’ve ever tried the Atkins diet, you’re probably familiar with a food’s glycemic index. This is a measure of how much “work” the body needs to do to digest the food we eat and thus how long it takes for the food intake to result in an upswing in our blood-sugar levels. Highly processed or refined foods (like white rice) have a relatively high glycemic index, causing a sharp spike followed by a trough in blood-sugar level. This blood sugar spike-and-drop causes us to get very hungry a short time after eating, and making it difficult to control our eating.

Try this – measure out 80 grams of Cheerios (about 1 1/2 servings), 5 grams of sugar and 8 ounces of skim milk and have that at 8:00 AM for breakfast, and take note of how you feel at noon. The next day repeat the experiment, but substitute 80 grams of quick oats cooked per the package directions, or 80 grams of Shredded Wheat & Bran for the Cheerios, and again take note of how you feel at noon. I’m not recommending one breakfast over the other, but the point is that you’re going to be much hungrier at noon after eating the highly processed Cheerios than you will after the much less processed oatmeal or shredded wheat, despite the fact that your caloric intake is about the same on both meals. You can repeat this any number of ways – calculate 250 calories worth of white bread toast & jam, and 250 calories worth of fresh fruit, and have both with 8 ounces of skim milk.

Here’s another way to look at food choices. Eat a single-serving bag of any popular snack food like potato or corn chips, and note two things – the calorie content, and how long it takes to consume it. Later or the next day, repeat the experiment but instead consume 100 grams of fresh grapes (or blueberries or strawberries or fresh sliced peaches). You’ll find that you will take just as long or longer to consume the fruit, and you will have consumed somewhere around half the calories.

 

Of peaches, corn and onions

When it comes to peaches, I never bother with those from California. It may be the variety, or it may be that they have to be harvested too early to make the trip cross-country, but they never soften up into that sweet juicy confection that a great peach can be. As a result, I buy southern peaches from Georgia and South Carolina all summer long. I try to buy about 6-8 peaches every two days and put them on the kitchen counter in a dated brown paper bag. This means that on any given day we have a bag of soft, ripe peaches, and a bag of peaches that are getting there.

However, the best peaches in the world come from Michigan. They have a unique but subtle tart quality that you don’t get in southern peaches. Unfortunately they don’t keep well or ship well, so no-one outside of Michigan and the vicinity know about them. They only come in late in the summer, about mid-August, and can only be had for maybe three or four weeks.

Similarly, we get this great bi-color sweet corn from Florida all summer, but when the Michigan sweet corn comes in, I won’t buy anything else. The percentage of perfect ears among the locally grown stuff is much higher and they’re outstanding. I’ve also changed how I cook them. We used to roast the corn on the barbecue grill in the husks, but I’ve found a much better technique. Shuck them, grease your hands and smear them with butter (a typical “pat” of butter will do about four ears of corn – you don’t need much) and put them directly on the grill until black spots appear on some of the kernels. A sprinkle of salt and freshly ground black pepper and you’re good to go. Two ears of this corn and a bowl of fresh collard greens makes a great late-summer meal.

Of course, the best sweet onions in the world are Vidalia Onions from Vidalia County Georgia. They start showing up in the produce departments in about April or May and are often available until the early fall, though some years they’ll disappear much too early in late August. Unfortunately, like Michigan peaches they don’t keep well, so sadly you can only stock up on so many of these beauties. I understand that the key to sweet onions is that they be grown in low-sulfur soil, as it’s sulfur dioxide in the onions and their fumes that interact with our saliva and mucous membranes to create dilute sulfuric acid leading to the tearing and “hot” sensation.

I’ve discovered that some of the onions sold as “sweet” when Vidalia’s aren’t available are anything but. Those big globular onions from Texas and other places are a good example. However, look for large sweet onions that are shaped like Vidalia’s – somewhat flattened. You’ll see these off-and-on throughout the cold months and always seem to come from Mexico or South America – Chile and Peru. They’re not quite as good as Vidalia’s but close enough to keep us happy until the next crop of Vidalia’s show up in late spring.

Downtempo

Loving music as I do, one of my daydreams is to be a radio DJ. However, the time slot that I’d want is the midnight-to-5AM shift.

I fondly recall radio hosts from that time slot going all the way back to Don Zee on WXYZ back in the early 60’s during the time my formative pre- to post-pubescent brain was being infected with the sounds of R&B and Rock & Roll. Liz Copeland on WDET was the last great graveyard-shift radio host in my life.

Another reason for my fondness for this time of day is that some of my favorite music has always been stuff that is perfect for that wonderful place where 99% of the world is asleep, all is quiet and serene, and just a little mysterious…

About a decade or so ago, I discovered that there is an entire musical genre called Downtempo that is perfect 12-5 music, and is probably what I listen to more often than anything else. It’s a fairly broad sub-genre of Electronic music that encompasses (depending on where you look up the definition) several sub-genres including Drum ‘n’ Bass, Trip-Hop, Acid Jazz and others.

If you explore this genre, you will eventually encounter many recognizable sounds as it seems that Downtempo tracks are widely used commercially as incidental music, such as in commercials or as segue music on news and magazine-style programming.

One of my recent finds in this genre is an artist who goes by the moniker Rithma. I couldn’t find any true videos, but this post on YouTube will at least give you a taste of his work, which is heavily jazz-influenced. Again, excuse the commercial…