Monday, August 29, 2011

Local Food and Weight Loss, Part 2

I first brought up this subject in Part 1.

Stephen Guyenet at Whole Health Source has an 8-article series on food rewards and obesity. As he points out, and it is important to stress, food reward is not the ONLY cause of obesity. There are a number of lifestyle factors, such as stress, sleep status, and exercise. Plenty of genetic and epigenetic influences (the genes your folks gave you, and what you have done with them). And developmental factors such as your childhood nutrition, and your mother's nutritional status when you were in the womb. But food reward is one which has changed markedly in the last thirty years, over exactly the timeframe that food reward through restaurant food, fast food, and junk food has skyrocketed.

So what's wrong with something tasting good? As humans, we're hardwired to seek out sources of sugar/starch, salt, and fat, and consume them when available. Availability was pretty scarce in the olden times (really olden) when our ancestors hunted animals that were mostly lean, and collected foods that were very rarely sweet. Modern fruits are just bags of sugar compared to wild fruits: compare a sweet apple and a crab apple. Salt was rare unless you lived on the seacoast.

Now, we live in a caveman's dream: sugary, fatty, salty foods available at every turn, three meals and innumerable snacks per day. Very high reward factors here, lots of happy dopamine on offer. Modern foods are also engineered to have highly-rewarding textures and flavors. We like crunchy and melty, especially in combination. Grilled cheese sandwich? M&Ms? This highly-rewarding food doesn't need much chewing; just a few lovely bites and down it goes.

So what's wrong with something tasting good? When it tastes TOO good, it overcomes your body's natural tendency for homeostasis (your fat set-point). Your body has several mechanisms for keeping your weight stable over the decades of your life. Good thing you don't have to take care of this matter yourself: even 10 calories daily more than your body needs would put on the pounds over the years. Even using a gram scale and counting every step would not allow you to control your input to this exactitude.

Leptin is a very important player in this arena, although discovered only recently, and there are many things that researchers don't know yet about how it works. But as a practical matter, numerous studies have shown that you can fatten rats quickly by giving them supermarket food: cookies, crackers, chocolate, etc.

Think of the foods that you just can't leave alone. Oatmeal among them? That's plain oatmeal, no salt, no sugar, no funny flavors? I didn't think so. Make a list of the foods that are very hard for you to resist. Probably chocolate, ice cream, chips and crackers, pizza; maybe soda, maybe particular fast food sandwiches; maybe chips and salsa. Each person's list is a little different, but there are big commonalities: fat, sugar/starch, salt.

In fact, if you are concerned about your weight, make that list now. Try for a list of ten foods or food categories that give you the most trouble. Write it on a 3x5 card and stick it to your frig.

Although these foods are highly addictive to you, you always have an opportunity to say no to them. That's before you get into the argument with yourself: I deserve this, I've been working so hard. Once you start the argument, it's hard not to eat the food because that means saying that you do NOT deserve this, and nobody wants to hear that. Not having them in the house is a good first step. Control the source. Not going to the restaurant that layers sugar on fat on salt on sugar on fat and adds the big flavors.

I have a secret for you. If you can stay away from these foods for a few weeks, they will lose most of their power over you. Try sugar: really stay away, not even a teaspoon, no fruit juice (just flavored sugar), no soda, no sugar in your coffee or tea, no ice cream, cookies, etc. And if you are a really hard case, no artificial sweeteners which can keep that craving alive. Strangely, after a few weeks, you won't crave it. Other foods start to taste sweet to you. Your tastebuds recover from their sugar surfeit. So the pain of giving up these "rewarding" foods is limited to a few tough weeks.

If you want to try this, here are five steps to take (thanks to Stephen Guyenet). I wouldn't rush into Level 5. Start with Level 1. That will be enough challenge to start with. See how it goes. Then maybe Level 2.

Level 1: the low-hanging fruit. Avoid your addictive foods, sugar, candy, pizza, baked goods. Minimize calorie-containing beverages, such as soda, juice, and sweet alcoholic drinks (wine or milk is OK). And don't snack. Snacks are for children.

Level 1 will almost certainly stop your weight gain, and probably turn it around.

Level 2: In addition to Level 1, eliminate packaged processed foods. Minimize restaurant meals, and when you do eat out, choose simple foods (not the layered loaded sugar-fat-salt bombs). Avoid seed oils (corn, canola, soy, sunflower, and safflower). Olive oil is OK. Try to cook most of your foods at home, from simple ingredients.

If this is not enough to start you losing weight and losing cravings, take it to the next level.

Level 3: In addition to Levels 1 and 2, make your cooking even simpler. Don't add fat to your foods. If the food has fat, like meat, that's OK. Don't butter your vegetables. Reduce your grain consumption, especially foods made of flour such as bread. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are recommended instead, but don't use butter or sour cream. If you want fat, such as butter, eat it separately, away from meals (preferably unsalted).

I can see the eyes rolling on this one. "Why would I eat a baked potato if I didn't get to put butter, sour cream and salt on it?" Aha!

If you have successfully settled yourself at each of the above levels for a period of time, and want to go farther, here are the last two.

Level 4: (yes there's more) Eat single foods. The end of cuisine, right? No vegetable medleys. No herbs and spices on the food. Broccoli. Ground beef. Baked potato. There you go. Don't salt your food. Do have some salt separately, 1/2 tsp in a glass of water once a day. Salt is necessary for life. Cook food by gentle methods: no deep frying, no sauteeing in oil, no grilling. Roast at low temperatures, simmer or boil. Don't drink any calorie-containing beverages. Only eat foods that taste good when you are hungry; avoid foods you would snack on if you weren't hungry and they were available.

Level 5: Eat just three foods, simply cooked. One kind of meat or protein food, one kind of starch, one kind of green vegetable. NOTE: Don't do this longer than a couple of weeks. Get bored with them. You'll eat less, and only enough for your body's needs. Eat your three foods at each meal.

So there you go. Some things to try. Traditional diets (of local foods) generally have one staple starch, one or a few staple meats, seasonal vegetables in varying quantities. These simple diets sometimes have a staple condiment that they use to add flavor to their bland food. We'll talk about traditional and local foods in the next segment.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Taking Over the World

No, not the Republicrats. The Cucumbers!

It's a great season for cucumbers in Colorado. I stopped at the store buying vinegar and a bunch of flowering dill, and the clerk said: "Got a lot of cucumbers?" Now, clerks at the store almost NEVER make a comment on what you buy, so this was noteworthy. Yes, I said. I suppose you have lots of customers with cucumbers this year, and he laughed and said Yes.

My single hill of golden zucchini is outdoing itself. But the cucumbers are a force of nature! I planted two hills, each with a cage to climb on. They climbed the cage, took over the neighboring bed, and started running across the lawn.

Cucumber fruits have an amazing ability to hide, in there with the leaves and stems. So some of them have gotten away from me. I planted Double Yield from Seed Savers Exchange. Nice for pickling when smaller, nice for salads even when quite large, with a mild flavor. But I've got some real honkers that have yellow coloring, far past salad or even pickle stage. I've got a recipe for that!

So here goes. Recipes for summer's bounty.

Easy Cucumber Salad

one moderate-sized cucumber per person, 5 or 6 per bowl for a potluck

Peel the cucumbers and cut off the stem end. Cut in half lengthwise and slice. Sprinkle with salt, to taste, 1/4 tsp or more per cuke. Cut up scallions, one per cuke, and add to bowl. If you have dried dill on hand, sprinkle some of that on too, maybe 1/4 tsp per cuke or more. Fresh dill is nice instead, if you have it.

Let sit for a few minutes, then stir in sour cream (the real stuff, not the fatfree imitation). I like Kalona sour cream, but Daisy is good too. For a small bowl, maybe 1/4 cup, for a large bowl maybe 1/2 cup. To your own taste. Stir some in, stir well to coat the cukes, then see if it needs more.

If you have only oldish tough cukes to use, remove the seeds before slicing. Tender young cukes are OK with their seeds.

Lactofermented Cucumbers

For more information on lactofermentation, see the paper I wrote listed on the side panel.

You'll want medium-sized young cukes for this. MUST be organic, preferably fresh from your garden. Have available dill flowers, garlic cloves, small onions, good quality sea salt or RealSalt. Also non-chlorinated water (lucky us, we have wonderful well water).

I do all my pickles in glass canning jars, quart or half-gallon. Easier than using a crock. It also allows you to put up a jar whenever the cucumbers make a few; you're not committed to having pounds and pounds available.

Cut the cucumbers into pieces, or if they're small and very young, you can leave them whole. Put into your jar, interspersing 1 small quartered onion per quart (or 2 per half-gallon) and a few dill flowers. Peel garlic cloves and add to the jar, maybe 2-3 per quart. For "kosher" dills, add one hot dried pepper per quart. Pack in the cuke pieces up to the neck of the jar.

Make your brine: for a quart jar, warm 2 cups non-chlorinated water with 1 tablespoon good sea salt, stir until salt dissolves. Let cool. For a half-gallon, use 4 cups water, 2 tablespoons salt. When brine is cool, pour over cukes. That should just about fill your jar. If you need more, prepare it in the proportion of 3/4 tsp salt per cup water.

Place two-piece lid on the jar, screw on but not too tight (gases have to escape). Place jar on a saucer, then put at the back of your counter away from the light. Let it sit and think to itself for about a week. Open the jar, and with a clean spoon sample the brine. It should have a nice sour taste to it. If it's not quite to your taste, let it go another day and sample again. If it turns funny colors, grows fur, or has a bad smell, toss it out untasted. (I've never had that happen to cucumber pickles.)

When it's done, put jar in your frig. It fills out its flavor in another few weeks of storage. The pickles will keep a good long time in the frig, kept from freezing, maybe until next season, if you can keep the family out of them.

Golden Zucchini Pickle

I just put this up today. Carefully cobbled together from a couple of recipes in the Ball Blue Book of Canning (a must-have). I sampled the small amount that wouldn't fit in my jars, and it was very good. Makes 9-10 half-pint jars. if you're unfamiliar with the process of waterbath canning, be sure to get the Blue Book and refer to it.

4 lbs yellow zucchini (you could use green instead), tender, fresh, small to moderate sized, no baseball-bat garden escapees, Wash, and cut into chunks 1/2 to 1" on a side. If they're very little, you can slice them into rounds. No need to peel.

2 cups peeled onions, cut into small wedges or chunks

The rest of the ingredients:
2 cups sugar
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon good salt (sea salt, or pickling salt)
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon dried powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
dried chili peppers, medium-hot, torn into pieces (I used two small Catarina chiles) to taste (or omit)

Open 10 clean half-pint jars, put rings and jars in your waterbath canner in water to cover. Start it toward the boil. Put 10 new canning lids into a small saucepan, covered with water, and bring to a boil, then keep at a low simmer.

Now you have time to prepare your veggies.

Put the "rest of the ingredients" into a 4-quart pan, and bring to a boil. Put zucchini and onion in, stir occasionally, bring to boil. Cover, let cook for 10-12 minutes, until tender but not mushy.

Fish jars out of the hot water. Fill with veggies, distributing veggies and juice evenly between the jars. It's easier with a canning funnel. You may have a little left over. Each jar should be filled to about 1/2" of the top. Now use tongs or a magnetic tool to remove the lids from the hot water. Be sure the rim is clean, then put lid on, tighten the ring (not TOO tight). Using your dandy canning-jar tool (special rubber-coated tongs especially made for jars), place the jars into the hot water. The water should cover them by an inch or more.

Bring the water back to a full rolling boil, cover. Then set the timer for 10 minutes. If you live in Colorado, make it 12 minutes (higher elevation means lower boiling temperature). Set burner temperature enough to keep it boiling, but not so high the water jumps out of the pan.

When done, use the canning-jar tool and get the jars out of the water. Put on the counter and wait for the -ping- to tell you they are sealed. The lid will be slightly depressed. If an hour or two goes by and a jar hasn't sealed, put it in the frig and use fresh.

Golden Age Cucumber Dish

That's the Golden Age for cucumbers, the big honkers you didn't notice, that have a strong yellow cast to their tough skins. My friend's favorite dish with old cukes.

4 big old yellowing cucumbers, fresh. Peel. Cut in half and scoop out the seeds, then cut into half-moon slices

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

1 pepper, bell pepper, Anaheim, or mild frying pepper, seeded and cut small

butter or olive oil

chicken broth or water

dried or fresh dill

salt and pepper to taste

sour cream

Melt butter or oil in the pan, saute the cucumber and onion pieces for a few minutes. Add a little broth or water, cover, and simmer until tender (won't take long). Add salt and pepper to taste, and dill. Garnish with dollops of sour cream.

You could add bits of leftover meat to this dish. Or you could thicken it with a little cornstarch or wheat flour mixed with water.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Local Food and Weight Loss, Part 1

I haven't posted for a long time, I know. I've been working on educating myself in the economics of what's happening in our country and the world. Although I have a fairly good understanding now, I don't think I can add much to the writings of some really brilliant people on this subject:

and others.

Now to the Local Food issue

On the food front, I've been more-or-less paleo or primal for a while, and carb-cycling. This doesn't work quite as well as it did. I've noticed that any diet you are on for a while seems to stop working as well; you figure out how to game the system, and your body figures out how to extract the most calories out of what you give it.

Vegetarian eating made me sickly and fat, and it was during a spell of low-fat vegetarian eating that I became overtly celiac (gluten intolerant). This was a life-changing event. Since then I don't do so well on any grains on a regular basis. This pushed me out of the Standard American Diet (SAD) and onto a whole new path.

However, replacing wheat-based cookies, breads, cakes, pies, etc. with their gluten-free equivalents is not conducive to weight loss. In fact, you can gain weight JUST as easily on GF goodies.

At times over the last three years, I've been very good at avoiding any processed (and certainly non-local) goodies. Our "real food", daily meals, are probably 80-90% local. But sometimes I've gotten into addictive eating of non-local snacks. Bad me!

I have discovered a fascinating new dietary concept that I want to share with you. Last year I read the book "The End of Overeating" by David Kessler. Look here for more information.

I recommend it highly. It is very well researched, with reports of numerous studies. The theme is the addictive nature of fat, sugar, and salt, and how food processors and restaurants make the most of it. Hyperpalatable food, such as snack cakes, chips, candy, etc., makes lab rats fat faster than any kind of rat chow. This is handy since the obese rat is an important research subject. Unfortunately, we're all lab rats now, with the ready availability of super-tasty, "loaded" foods.

The information I learned from the book about addictive foods was the breakthrough to my losing 45 lbs in 2010. Funny thing about addictive foods; if you can just stay away from them completely for a few weeks, they lose their hold on you. Sugar? Meh (provided you haven't had ANY for a few weeks).

This concept works perfectly with local foods. Very few of us live next to an Oreo factory. And even then, the ingredients of the cookies aren't grown near us. To the extent that you can remove packaged processed foods from your diet, and avoid eating at fast food establishments, you have a definite advantage in losing weight.

In my next post, I'll get into a little more detail. Stephen Guyenet on Whole Health Source has written an 8-section series on "Food Rewards, a dominant factor in obesity", if you can't wait that long. And I'll talk a bit about Seth Roberts and his theories about metabolic set-points.

Then I'll discuss some traditional cultures and their food choices, and how well it works in with both local food choices, and low-reward or simple eating.