Does It Really Matter What We Eat?

How much do we really need to eat? What kinds of foods provide the best fuel for our bodies?  How do we know?

A year ago, Andrew did an excellent series about metabolic syndrome.  In part 3, he mentioned a book, which I bought.  Like many books, The Insulin-Resistance Diet has a could this be you? list:

A family history of diabetes, overweight problems, abnormal cholesterol or triglycerides, heart disease, or stroke.  yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes

Frequent cravings for sweet or salty, crunchy snack food. no – well, unless you count and skittles and pralines, and… okay, maybe that’s a yes

This was not a happy beginning to the list, but I continued, and before long said, “Wait! How many ‘yes’ answers do you need before this is something to be concerned about?”  Well, it turns out the answer is three, and when I finished the risk-test, I had a whopping thirteen yesses!  Most depressing.  It could, however, explain why all my clothes seem to have shrunk (and I can’t blame prednisone this time).

What struck me when reading the book were the similarities between this diet and the Zone. The Zone, in turn, has some similarities to Atkins.  The biggest distinction between Insulin Resistance Diet and the others is that there are no restrictions on what can be eaten.  You can eat whatever you want as long as you have protein every time you eat.  With Atkins, by the second day people are climbing the walls with cravings for a piece of fruit or glass of orange juice.

After reading The Insulin-Resistance Diet, I re-read Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution and Barry Sears’ The Zone: A Revolutionary Life Plan to Put Your Body in Total Balance for Permanent Weight Loss.  I own these because I inherited them from my father, who died of a heart attack at age 59.

As I continued looking for more information, I discovered Sears’ follow-up:  The Anti-Inflammation Zone, and a book by neurologist David Perlmutter: Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers.

These books all subscribe to a very different nutritional theory than the USDA and NHS.

NutritionTheoriesGovernment recommendations are that people should consume a significant amount of grains.  Really?  When we fatten up our cows for slaughter (the butcher will be here in a week), we bring them in off pasture and feed them lots of grain.  It should not surprise anyone that a diet rich in grains leads to weight gain — in people as well as cows.

How do we choose which theory to believe?  Lots of grains or no grains?  How do we know the best way to eat?  One thing I did was to look at credentials and motivation.

  • Dr. Atkins was a cardiologist who had spectacular results getting his patients to lose a lot of weight quickly.  Contrary to popular misconception, he only advocated extremely low carbs during the induction phase of his diet.  Long-term, his lifetime eating plan is quite similar to the carbs recommended by both Sears and Perlmutter.
  • Barry Sears is a well-respected researcher who comes from a family in which the men all die of heart attacks in their 50’s; he was searching for the truth to prolong his own life, not dabbling around in the lab looking to support the pet theory of his financier.
  • Dr. Perlmutter is a neurologist who found a common thread between diet and metabolism; he has helped patients with a variety of ailments, and refers to a number of credible studies in explaining the affect of food on our health. Lustig, Phinney & Volek  have similar work that is cited by Dr. Perlmutter.
  • The nutritionist and physician who wrote Insulin-Resistance Diet have helped people lose weight after all other diets failed them.

Those are all much better credentials than a theory based on research done to prove that a vegetarian diet is superior to any other — which (rumor has it) is where the food pyramid came from.  What if the government quit subsidizing wheat, corn, and soy farming, and started subsidizing green beans, lettuce, and spinach? Would that lead to a change in the USDA’s dietary recommendations?

It’s interesting to compare these theories.  What’s the same?  What’s different? What will work?

Zone and IRD both recommend consuming protein and carbohydrates in specific proportions.  7 g protein to 9 g carbohydrate for the Zone, and 7g protein to 15 g carb in IRD.

PCFZone

Atkins takes a slightly different approach, claiming that people whose diet has been drastically out of balance due to overconsumption of starchy foods and under-consumption of protein ought to compensate by first eating plenty of protein and no starchy foods; then, as excess weight comes off, increase healthy carbs to a more appropriate balance between carbs and protein.  Grain Brain, too, starts out recommending very low carbs, then increases after a month

All of these dietary plans reach the same conclusion:  It does matter what we eat.  To be healthy, people need to eat the right foods in the right proportions.

The reason this matters is something that I will elaborate on in a future post. Sears & Perlmutter are both adamant that there is a link between diet and autoimmune diseases.

To be continued…

 

Gluten Free

Last Friday, the USFDA announced more regulations (because there aren’t enough of those already).  Yesterday those regulations were officially published in the Federal Register, which means that food manufacturers have one year to comply with the new food-labeling rules.  The US now has an official definition of the term gluten free.

The final rule defines the term “gluten-free” to mean that the food bearing the claim does not contain an ingredient that is a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat); an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or an ingredient that is derived from a gluten-containing grain and that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food (i.e., 20 milligrams (mg) or more gluten per kilogram (kg) of food); or inherently does not contain gluten; and that any unavoidable presence of gluten in the food is below 20 ppm gluten (i.e., below 20 mg gluten per kg of food).

Since the FDA will have to enforce the regulation, they chose 20ppm as the cut-off, because 1) that’s the level that they claim can be scientifically validated by testing, and 2) medical advisors say that those who must avoid gluten can usually tolerate trace amounts.

Saying that 10mg of gluten per day is safe for most people with celiac, Health Canada cited 20ppm in similar regulations published last year.

It is prohibited to label, package, sell or advertise a food in a manner likely to create an impression that it is a gluten-free food if the food contains any gluten protein or modified gluten protein, including any gluten protein fraction, referred to in the definition “gluten” …

“gluten”

(a) any gluten protein from the grain of any of the following cereals or the grain of a hybridized strain created from at least one of the following cereals:

(i) barley,
(ii) oats,
(iii) rye,
(iv) triticale, or
(v) wheat, kamut or spelt; or

(b) any modified gluten protein, including any gluten protein fraction, that is derived from the grain of any of the cereals referred to in subparagraphs (a)(i) to (v) or the grain of a hybridized strain referred to in paragraph (a).

Tight regulation is helpful to those who can’t tolerate gluten, but listing “oats” as a gluten-containing food is ludicrous. Oats do not contain gluten, and when farmers are not rotating gluten-containing crops with their oat crops, there is zero chance of cross-contact. How sad that shoppers in Canada will not have any way to find certified GF oats, even though there are GF oats on the market.

soapboxThe correct terminology is “cross contact” not “cross contamination.” In the food industry, cross-contamination refers to bacteria. For instance, we don’t want bacteria from meat to get on our other foods so we use separate cutting boards for meat and produce. We don’t want fertilizer made from pig waste (this fertilizer contains bacteria) sprayed on vegetables that people are going to be eating raw because the bacteria can make people sick.  Cross contamination is bad.  Cross contact, on the other hand, is when two different foods come in contact with one another.  It is only a problem for those with food allergies/intolerances. If you fry your eggs in butter, someone who can normally eat eggs but who is allergic to dairy products cannot eat those eggs due to the cross-contact because butter is a dairy product. If you measure flour, then dip that measuring cup into the sugar canister, people who are sensitive to gluten cannot afterward have any sugar from your sugar canister due to the flour (gluten) cross-contact.

There are many good resources for people who need to eat gluten free.  It would make sense to simply eat meat, eggs, fruits, and vegetables to be assured of a healthy diet that contains no gluten.  However, people often begin eating GF by looking for substitutes for their favorite bread, muffins, pizza, granola, etc.

For good recipes and helpful tips:

Simplify Holiday Meals and Go GF

It seems like Thanksgiving was just yesterday, so how can Christmas be next week?  I love hosting the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas meals, but it can take a week for me to recover.  Five years ago I had no idea that an RA diagnosis would affect everything I do.  In combatting this disease, I am always trying to find ways to make holidays fun and not quite so exhausting.

Through a weird quirk of the calendar, I’m hosting both holidays this year.  Searching for a way to survive, my quest was three-fold:

  • simplify the menu
  • simplify the food prep
  • simplify clean-up

Menu

I’m happy to report that everyone enjoyed our simplified Thanksgiving.  Changes to the menu were long overdue.  After all, do we really need both turkey and ham?  Dinner rolls and stuffing?  No.  Nutritionally, we can do better than the standard fare.  Also, I try to accommodate everybody’s dietary restrictions:  one diabetic, two gluten-free, a wide variety of food allergies including dairy, soy, onions, chicken eggs, pork, peanuts, banana, and avocado.  The pared-down menu was still quite a feast:

  • turkey
  • mashed potatoes
  • green salad
  • veggie tray with lots of olives
  • cranberry sauce
  • corn gravy
  • dinner rolls
  • apple, pumpkin, and pecan pie

Prep

With the simplified menu, I next addressed food prep.  This part I’ve been working on for a few years and have gotten good at having everybody help.  One person was assigned to bring a green salad, another was asked to bring a veggie tray, and the person who eats GF was in charge of bringing gluten-free dinner rolls.  The person who requested pecan pie was asked to bring it.  Aside from the $70 for specialty flours for the GF dinner rolls, everyone was happy with the way things worked out.

That left only a few things for me to cook.  The week prior to Thanksgiving, I checked the pantry to ensure that all the ingredients were there (unlike today, when I had to stop in the middle of my pie preparation and send someone to the grocery store for ginger and lard).  On Sunday morning (four days before Thanksgiving) I prepared the cranberry sauce.  We used it in place of syrup on our hotcakes Sunday, then refrigerated the rest for Thanksgiving (it’s much tastier over turkey than gravy).  On Monday I moved the frozen turkey into the ice chest to thaw.  I know the powers that be claim this should take place in the refrigerator, but I don’t have space in my refrigerator and the ice chest works perfectly.  Two days before the holiday, I baked pies:  three pumpkin pies (with gluten-free pie crust) and four apple pies (also GF).  The day before the big day I tried to rest so that I could enjoy my company on the big day.  In the past, I boiled the potatoes and put them through a ricer so they could just be warmed, but in the spirit of simplifying, I now used boxed mashed potatoes.  Part of me feels guilty about this because I usually do everything from scratch, but Safeway’s store-brand mashed potatoes in a box don’t contain dairy or soy, and it works for our family.  Doing a little bit each day spread the work out, and there wasn’t much to be done on the big day.

When the holiday arrived, about 8 a.m. I put the turkey in to roast so it would be done about noon.  Next I put the corn gravy on to cook (it’s the only thing that wasn’t dairy-free, and this year I made a small batch with coconut milk for those who can’t tolerate cream).  While the turkey and corn cooked, I cleaned the kitchen.  A spotless kitchen before the meal made after-dinner cleanup much easier.  When the turkey came out of the oven, I reheated the cranberry sauce and made the mashed potatoes while the turkey carver separated meat from bone.

ThanksgivingDessertTableClean-Up

The thing that saved the largest amount of work was serving the meal buffet style.  We seat nearly twenty people, so need two tables.  In the past, I’ve had two serving dishes for everything so that both tables can be set completely.  That’s a lot of work to set the food out, and double clean-up when the meal is over.  There were significantly fewer serving dishes to deal with this year.  I arranged all the food on the kitchen counters, and people filled their plates in the kitchen, then moved into the dining room to sit at a table to eat.

Not only was serving easier, so was clean-up!  Instead of the 90 minute clean-up we usually face, all the leftovers were put away and the dishwasher was loaded within half an hour.  I cut a whole hour off the clean-up time, and got to spend that time relaxing and visiting with friends and family.

This was our first year with a gluten-free Thanksgiving, and I was concerned that it would be difficult.  Instead, it was easy.  Everyone had plenty to eat, nobody felt deprived, and simplifying the work let us have more time to enjoy one another’s company.