C is for Cookie: December 2005

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Eat Chocolate, Love Longer

I was so very excited to read this morning's latest "chocolate is good for you" news. Scientists have discovered that smokers who ate (dark) chocolate had less hardening of the arteries and a lowered risk of blood clots.

The evidence is mounting that dark chocolate has many health benefits and it behooves all of us to get on the dark chocolate bandwagon before those darn scientists find out that chocolate isn't as healthy as they thought. That's right people, step on up, one at a time, no pushing, there's lots of dark chocolate up here for everyone!

While I place a lot of faith in science (are those two words mutually exclusive?) I do wonder about the true results of these studies. For starters, one could question the value of studying how to make smokers more healthy. But it's Christmas so I won't even touch that debate. And what about other factors in the study that might influence blood pressure and platelet activity?

I'm picturing what being a participant in such a study might be like......Fred is a male smoker of average health who's agreed to join a study for Heart magazine. He gets paid $1000 to be monitored by top-notch doctors and to eat free chocolate every day. Yes....I can imagine Fred's blood pressure dropping slightly. I'd like to see what happens when Fred goes back to work where he's completely stressed and underpaid and there's no more chocolate coming his way. What's your blood pressure like now, Fred?

But I digress. I think we need to maintain a healthy skepticism of all that we read and to continue to do what we know is right for us. The study's researchers are quick to point out that chocolate "is not a health food, per se, because of its negative attributes -- that is, fat and sugar. Further, I feel the only appropriate advice to smokers is to quit smoking." Now if we could just get those researchers working on some guaranteed behavioural modification tools that work for everyone. Then we'd all definitely have healthy hearts, minds and bodies.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Don't Funk With My Fibre

Yesterday was a sad day for Health news. Scientists concluded that based on a number of studies, the current link between dietary fibre and colorectal cancer is weak or non-existent. I'll bet this report sent a lot of people running to White Spot for burgers and Triple O sauce.

But not so fast.....What they actually found was that "some studies show a benefit, some no effect, and some even an increased risk." In other words, fibre has nothing to do with colorectal cancer.

This publication first begs the question: "You fools! How could you publish this at a time when we're fighting to get folks to eat more vegetables?!" There are other questions, too. Such as "what type of fibre are we talking about?" I can't believe that vegetable fibre - what we are meant to eat for the most part - could not be protective against diseases. Now, I could see that wheat or rice bran in the diet might not have a protective effect. These are rough outer layers stripped off natural food that's then added to a meal. Our intestinal tracts were not designed to take bits of processed foods and then put them back together again at different meals for optimal health. And what other factors could be involved?

I can't believe that eating fruits and vegetables (uncontaminated by toxins and carcinogens of course) could lead to colorectal cancer. So what is the relationship? It's either the type of fibre that makes a difference in cancer outcomes, something on the fibre (pesticides?) that affects cancer, the foods people eat alongside fibre that cause cancer (sugar?), or something besides food is responsible.

Like stress perhaps? Living in cities? Working in offices? It may well be a complex combination of things that produce cancer in an individual. I often wonder how many of these things could be man-made. Although tumours have been around for thousands of years, widespread incidences of cancer are relatively recent to the last few hundred years.

I'm certainly no expert when it comes to knowing what causes cancer nor should I be postulating. But I do know one thing: I'm going to keep eating my recommended 5 to 10 servings per day of fruits and vegetables until there is unquestionable evidence that to do so is unhealthy.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Intuitive Eating

I was just checking out Lime's Health section and came across a post on a new book about "intuitive eating" It's a new un-diet diet from a university professor who lost weight by simply eating when he was hungry and stopping when he was full. Ironically, this is pretty revolutionary stuff. He also advocates stocking your fridge with ice cream and your cupboards with chips because making these "unhealthy" foods into a taboo just makes you crave them more.

I certainly agree that eating when you are hungry and stopping when you're full is the right way to go. We are living lives that are very far removed from what's natural. Stop and think for a minute. How often do you reach for food when you aren't hungry? Our eating patterns are rarely a response to a bodily need for sustenance. Can you imagine if you felt compelled to go to the bathroom when you didn't actually need to relieve yourself? Deciding to take a nap although you felt wide awake? Or feeling drawn to putting on warm clothes when you weren't feeling cold? It would be ridiculous.

But these days, we have sweet, fatty food within reach at all times, in our fridges, cupboards, at corner stores. Back in the hunter-gatherer days, if we came across a chunk of fatty, calorie-rich food, we'd eat it up instantly. Our instincts would guide us to do so because for it might be weeks before we'd see such instant energy again. Nowadays, with these food so close at hand, and with huge marketing budgets reminding us to buy and eat them, it's no wonder we're eating when we see food, as opposed to when we're hungry.

The key message of intuitive eating is a critical one: eat to satisfy your hunger, don't overeat to feed your emotional issues. Okay Doc, but how do we change? How can we be intuitive about eating when we're distracting daily from our natural intuition? It will take some reprogramming to break old patterns, to start responding to what our body really needs.

I think Prof. Hawks' suggestion to stock your cupboards with "unhealthy" processed foods just fuels these unnatural patterns. We need tools to break the cycle and get us back to a place where we can hear what our body is telling us.

Here are a few ideas:
    - Keep "healthy" natural food in your cupboards and eat when you're hungry. Consume lots fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, lean meats and whole grains and you'll feel lighter and more nourished.
    - Be aware of your cravings for food when you feel no actual hunger. Observe which types of foods you feel compelled to eat. Try to become aware of why you're craving them. Ask yourself "why am I reaching for Ben and Jerry's? Is it because I'm sad, bored, stressed, lonely?" Choose to do something that satisfies that underlying feeling instead of putting food in your mouth.
    - Take one day each week and give in to your cravings. On that day, decide to eat your favourite treats while recognising that they aren't food, simply something pleasurable that you want to do for yourself. Truly enjoy them, without guilt.

This kind of change requires work. But since we only have one body, it seems wise to keep it in the best working order. This work is well worth it.