Tag Archives: health

Let’s talk diet

But before we do, something to keep in mind:  Many slightly heavy people are healthy and many thin people are not.  Most people are after diets to loose weight, not a bad thing, as long as we know that thin and healthy are mutually exclusive.  (But being overly heavy and unhealthy may not be).

A few weeks ago a friend emailed me asking to recommend a diet to loose a little weight. My response was that I’m not a diet expert, but I’d suggest general principles, focused on overall health, that may help.

Sifting through the morass of diet information is complex and tedious, made even more so by the complexity of our endocrine system, the way we live our lives, and the differences in genetic makeup.

Two popular, almost polar opposite diets are: 1) raw organic vegetarian whole food, and 2) paleo, primarily meat and saturated fat.  And there are hundreds of diet variations in between.  There are smart, educated people who espouse low fat, while others tell us high fat is where it’s at. There are so many smart people saying different things it’s hard to know which smart people to believe.

No matter who or what you believe, everyone must find what works for them.  There is no one-size-fits-all for diets, but there are several truths that collectively, many smart people agree on:

  • whole foods are preferable to processed foods
  • fresh seasonal food is preferable to packaged
  • drinking sodas, diet or otherwise, is not a good idea
  • eating fat doesn’t make you fat, or unhealthy
  • eating (dietary) cholesterol does not correlate to raising blood cholesterol
  • hydrogenated oils (or trans fats) are toxic
  • foods with a list of unrecognizable ingredients is better left avoided

And other concepts some smart people know:

  • all calories are not created equal — so counting them, in or out, is a futile effort
  • proteins, carbohydrates, and fats burn differently
  • some foods require more calories to digest and assimilate than they contain
  • we have complex systems of enzymes throughout our digestive system which can be thrown off by many factors, including our ability to handle stress
  • good sleep on a consistent basis is an important component of good diet & health

And other general considerations:

  • pointing to single individuals is not an example of how diets work
  • we’re better off focusing on quality of food over quantity
  • too much sugar is harmful
  • carbohydrates turn into sugar in the bloodstream

Gary Taubes, an investigative reporter who has made a career exposing bad science, wrote a provocative article in the New York Times several years ago, followed by a couple of books, on how the low-fat emphasis we’ve been fed may actually be the cause of many problems.  And Dr. Peter Attia addresses here, in part, how our food pyramid may be upside down.

Since most of us buy food that others have raised or prepared, and much of the food business is focused on how food tastes and not how it affects us after it passes our taste buds, finding good, wholesome food, especially while traveling, is a challenge. We can only do our best with the choices at hand.

Bottom line, a diet is one aspect of the weight/health equation.  Our metabolic balance is affected by a few other components, all connected:

  • Sleep — affects how we process nutrition while we’re awake
  • Stress — unavoidable and not a bad thing, but how we handle stress affects our health & digestion process
  • Physical Activity — important for keeping our overall endocrine, muscular, and skeletal systems strong and functioning with vitality

The recommendation to my friend?

  1. Eat whole foods, whether raw or cooked
  2. When eating animals, as much as possible, try to ensure they were raised well
  3. When eating produce, try to make sure it was raised well (organic, non-GMO)
  4. Don’t be afraid of a little fat, whether it’s chicken skin, coconut oil, nuts, olives, or avocado
  5. Limit starches like rice, potatoes and corn
  6. Limit or eliminate refined grains such as cereal, flour baked products, and pasta
  7. Avoid drinking sugar or sugar-free (diet) drinks, they mess with your system’s digestive enzymes
  8. Avoid packaged foods with long ingredient lists
  9. Avoid anything made with sugar, including most sugar substitutes
  10. Avoid most heated vegetable oils (many are genetically modified anyhow)
  11. Start daily semi-vigorous walks in the morning — or something similarly active
  12. Don’t compromise on sleep
  13. Drink a glass of water when waking
  14. Be physically active for 45 minutes before eating breakfast (and don’t skip breakfast)

My friend’s response?  “What you recommend is impossible, but thanks anyway.”

fruit for thought

Fruit is good stuff. Everyone knows that. We should all eat whole fruits because they are alive with ingredients that benefit us, as long as they are clean, inside and out.

Unless you live in a climate like Thailand, Peru, or Costa Rica, eating good quality whole-fruit year-round is not so easy.  In climates where winters dip near zero, available (fresh) fruit must come from somewhere else, which means they are harvested before their time and artificially ripened in transit.

Dragon fruit from Taiwan, just down the road a piece

Dragon fruit from Taiwan, just down the road a piece

When fruit is picked prior to its natural ripeness, the nutrient growth is halted.  Additionally, once fruit is plucked from the limb where it bloomed, nutrients begin a shelf-life decay.  A ripe peach has more nutrients the day it is picked than it does a week or two later.

these asian pears are packed to withstand a little jostling in transit

these asian pears are packed to withstand a little jostling in transit

But really, we might be splitting peach fuzz.  We’ve been selectively cross-pollinating seeds for thousands of years, since we started farming.  It’s something we humans do with just about every type of plant and animal — we alter them, over time, to make them better.  We do that breeding dogs, horses, and chickens.  And we’ve done that with just about every fruit and vegetable known to man.  (Luckily, we have not started doing that to ourselves yet.)

there is no papaya grown around these parts

there is no papaya grown around these parts

Point is, most fruits are selectively larger and hardier now than they were hundreds or thousands of years ago.  Many didn’t even exist then.  Now, most fruit can withstand thousands of miles in transit — giving us a non-stop, wide variety to select from.

no worries about washing this fruit

no worries about washing this fruit

Because fruit has such a high water content, they are as good as the water that helped them grow.  When I lived in Lima, I was told to eat only the watermelon from certain areas, as the fruit from low-lying areas was fed polluted water.  When I travelled frequently to Madagascar, I was told to avoid eating the strawberries because they were bacteria ridden.  Where I am in currently, I’ve heard that some of the fruits may be suspect, as the rivers and streams used for irrigation are a little tough to keep clean when 1.3 billion people are using them. Enough of the inside.

Dear Ole Dad taught me years ago the value of washing fruit well, especially those who’s skin is consumed, like grapes, tomatoes, cucumber, and apples.  We’ve all seen fruit drop on the floor and be picked up again, and used.  Rinsing with tap water removes most of the dirt, but not wax and not all of the oils from the fingers of those who have handled the fruit.  A wash with a natural cleaner is ideal.  I’m amazed by the amount of people I see in stores popping unwashed grapes or strawberries in their mouths.

there are lots of different versions of natural fruit and vegetable wash, but not so easy to find where washing is not deemed important

there are lots of different versions of natural fruit and vegetable wash, but not so easy to find where washing is not deemed important

When we buy fresh cut fruit, we like to think that it was prepared in a sanitary condition.  In Colombia, I watched many street vendors handle delicious looking, fresh-cut mango and pineapple with bare hands, while they changed money in between peeling and cutting.  Just this morning in a relatively nice supermarket, I watched a girl in the produce section preparing peeled grapefruit by handling the meat of the fruit in her bare hands, and in between, doing other projects.  No washing, nor gloves.

gift-wrapped grapefruit

sub-tropical, gift-wrapped grapefruit

I’m a New Yorker, where not much fruit is grown.  For that reason, and many of those above, I’m a frozen fruit fan — especially organic frozen.  Frozen fruit is picked when it is naturally ripe, then washed and flash frozen, all within a very short time period of being harvested.  Fortunately, within a block of where I live in NYC, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Fairway markets all carry a variety of organic whole frozen fruits.

these grapefruit sections had their white skin pulled off by fingernails

these grapefruit sections had their white skin pulled off by fingernails

Unfortunately, where I am now there is zero frozen fruit in any of the markets. Well, almost zero.  I did find frozen blueberries and blackberries in a market catering to foreigners, but they are so freezer-burnt, which you can see through the packaging, that it’s a wonder anyone would buy them.

While frozen fruit may not seem fresh, it’s probably more fresh than whole-fresh, and likely to contain more nutrients.  But who is counting?  Transported fruit is better than no fruit.  But dirty fruit may not be.  Anyway, it’s just fruit for thought.

notes on starting a walking habit

We were born to walk.  Our bodies are constructed that way.  The benefits of carving out time to walk are numerous, such as stimulating our respiratory and circulatory systems, as well as promoting creative thought.  But many of us don’t allot the time.

The hype over the years about the importance of exercising at least three times per week is understated.  Exercise is a form of exaggerated activity which adds stress to our muscles, bones, and our internal systems.  Our bodies operate better with moderate and consistent stress when we stretch our system to ‘slightly uncomfortable’ for short periods seven days a week.

For those not consistently active (performing exaggerated activity), starting a walking habit would be what your doctor might order.  And this habit started, over time, may just fix other things that need fixing.

Consistent exaggerated activity is more important than job, career, family (children) and friends, because without good health, you would be doing all of them a disservice.  If you don’t have an hour a day to dedicate to yourself and your own long-term well being, then your priorities may be in disorder.

Notes on starting a walking habit:

  • Make a date to walk every day, preferably in the morning before breakfast.
  • Commit to at least three months for the habit to stick.
  • Walk rain or shine.
  • Make it an exaggerated activity, not just a casual walk.
  • Make it entertaining, listen to music or language tapes, or books on tape, or the birds.
  • Wear a watch and time yourself.  Try to improve your time/distance ratio a little faster each week.
  • Get to the point where you are swinging your arms, feeling the gluts pulling.
  • Pay attention to posture.  Keep shoulders back and pull stomach in, chest out.
  • Pay attention to your breathe and breath as deep as comfortably possible.
  • Walk for a minimum of 20-40 minutes.
  • Once per week walk for longer, two hours if possible.
  • Control the voice that will inevitably try its hardest to rationalize why you don’t need to walk on certain days.
  • Drink eight ounces of water after your wake up and before your walk.
  • Eat breakfast after the walk.

Morning walks are ideal as a stimulation for the day.   Your exercise will be behind you with less of a possibility that you’ll rationalize your way out.  But caution: early morning walks could get you hooked on sunrises, which may have you heading to bed earlier.

After walking becomes a habit, if you are not completely addicted, you can add variables to keep the habit interesting, like short bursts of running for 10-30 seconds every few minutes, or spurts of walking backwards, or lightly jogging backwards.

No doubt most people are sufficiently active for their own long-term well-being.  But if doubt is lingering somewhere around shoulder height, you could banish that suspicion by starting a walking habit.

to tell or not to tell?

In the book 100 Questions & Answers about Head and Neck Cancer, the authors recommend involving family, mostly from the practical angle, as cancer usually affects the entire family.  More pertinent, of course, to families who live together, or at least interact together on a regular basis.  In my case, family is physically distant so practical support would be minimal or nil.

As a public figure, Michael Douglas did the right thing making full disclosure about his throat cancer.  As he has most of his career behind him, announcing his disease to the world will now allow him to be a mentor, bring light to this disease, and in certain cases, in a slight way, let others with the same affliction feel somewhat better knowing someone going through the same thing.

However, as a non-public figure, the last thing I want to do is announce to everyone I know that I have throat cancer.  Coming full disclosure to the people I work with doesn’t seem particularly prudent.  Those who might consider hiring me for a job may think twice about someone with cancer.

From a practical standpoint, my life partner will provide all the support I could need.  She will be (and does), cook up/blend up whole, nutritious meals.  And, she’ll be giving me most excellent foot reflexology therapy during the process.  From the emotional support standpoint, she is extremely positive and will do anything to keep that positive energy flowing.

Back to the family.  My brothers and sisters and my offsprings are spread all over.  We might see each other once every two years at most.  And, it’s not like this form of cancer is genetic, so there is no risk to them in not telling.  But as it says in the above mentioned book, not telling them could lead to offending them.  But that brings up an entirely different philosophical area, i.e., one doesn’t control other’s feelings, blah, blah.

Regardless, my sibs, parents, kids, are all downright smart individuals.  There may be something they bring to the table that my shortsightedness won’t focus on.  So perhaps what I’ll do is drop them a line, at once in the same email, inviting them to share this blog.