C is for Cookie: January 2006

Friday, January 27, 2006

Ode to Calorie Restriction - Part 1

So you want to live forever, cowboy? Well, start by cutting back on those calories. Last week, yet another study demonstrated the benefits of a calorie-restricted diet. The results: people who eat between 1600 - 2000 cals per day were found to have more elastic, resilient hearts that, among other things, are better able to relax between beats as do younger people's hearts.

Dr. Roy Walford has been advocating such a diet for the last 20 years. His book "The 120-year Diet" was based on years of research on lab mice and humans to show that those who restrict caloric intake AND maintain nutritional requirements do not fall victim to many typical age-related diseases. Dr. Walford died last year from Lou Gehrig's disease (a neuromuscular disease unrelated to diet or age) but his organization carries the torch of calorie restriction (CR) and offers many educational links.

Harvard has been looking into the connection between disease and the Standard American Diet (SAD). Yep, it's actually referred to as SAD! An article on the causal relationship between calories and obesity, in Harvard Magazine's June 2004 issue noted "Today, Americans eat 200 calories more food energy per day than they did 10 years ago". Looking at around at what's for sale in your typical grocery store confirms this fact. Most processed, packaged foods are quick to eat and "tasty" but terribly high in calories.

The calorie restriction concept is all about removing processed, refined foods from the diet (which happen to be high in calories) and keeping the fruits and especially vegetables (low in cals) and leaner meats (which with less fat, have lower caloric value). I support this formula completely and such a diet is recommended by many experts within allopathic and alternative health circles.

In the spirit of adventure, and with yet another birthday looming, I've decided to do my heart a favour and monitor the number of calories I actually eat in a day. I'm sure it's a lot! Once established, I'll then see how difficult it would be to reduce that amount to between 1600 and 2000 calories. Just to test it out.

I've just finished breakfast: a small bowl of soy milk, ginger granola and a banana. This added up to a whopping 400 calories. This tiny amuse-bouche is only the first of four or five meals I eat each day. I'm still a bit peckish but I don't think I'll reach for my typical after-breakfast cookie. "But it's a healthy cookie" says the inner piggie voice. "And we always have cookie after breakfast!" But just for today, I'm going to have a green drink which has only 20 calories. Because green drinks are almost as good as cookies. Hmm. I bet my will to change breaks down on this cookie issue......

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I'll have a large salad. Hold the poo, thanks.

Washing fruits and vegetables may seem like an inconvenient and extra step in the process between buying groceries and eating dinner, but it could save your life. Thanks to alert reader and serious foodie Keeman for pointing out the risks of not washing your food. A 2002 survey published in the Journal of Food Protection estimated that each year 65 million to 81 million Americans become sick from eating food prepared at home. And little germs that ride in on your groceries have a lot to do with that.

Lately, media attention has turned to fresh fruits and vegetables contaminated with harmful bacteria such as e. coli and salmonella, or the hepatitis A virus. The Centre for Disease Control says that produce is responsible for 12% of outbreaks of food-borne illness. There are many opportunities for food to be contaminated when it goes from farm to plate. For most of us, gone are the days of pulling up carrots and potatoes in the garden and cooking up a chicken from our own barn. Now our food is likely to have passed through at least 10 pairs of hands before it gets into ours. And mass-scale farming and food production often results in hard-to-monitor inconsistencies in ensuring food's safety.

Vegetables such as sprouts and lettuces can be infected with e.coli from food handlers. Fruits such as cantaloupe can be infected by manure or irrigation water, get mixed up with meat improperly stored during transport or tainted by grocers or customers who didn't wash their hands.

We know we need to eat our fruits and veggies, but it makes it a more difficult prospect when there are concerns about food safety. One thing to do is to look for organic produce, which must uphold very high standards for the environment in which they are grown. Another way is to wash all your produce even when bagged or peeled. More tips can be found here.

The CDC recommends washing all produce in "clean, running tap water" even if the rind or peel is not going to be eaten. They say fruit and vegetable sprays are not necessary as "no washing method has been found to remove all microbes". It's a small argument for cooking your food too, as few microbes are able to withstand high temperatures. However, some nutrients and enzymes also may not survive this process.

Finally, don't forget to try and support your local organic farmers. There's nothing quite like going to a market and picking up a vegetable that looks like it was picked this morning and held by one other person than yourself. Now that's fresh!!

Friday, January 13, 2006

New Year, New Regime

I had a wonderful holiday filled with lots of everything: family, friends, food, drink and desserts. It was a great time but I'm glad it's over now, because it was simply too too much. January is a time when I often do a short fast, or at least cut back on things like rich foods or the amount of food I'm eating. It feels like the right thing to do after so much excess. And it resets my routine to a more moderate way of eating which is closer to the way things should be.

With drastic obesity rates still on the rise, it seems that many of us are having a hard time being moderate. A study released this week offers some hope to dieters by showing effective ways of cutting calories from the diet to achieve weight loss.

The researchers put 24 women on regimes that required them to a. reduce the size of meal portions, b. to cut back on rich, calorie-laden foods or c. do both.The study found that of the three strategies, cutting back on portions and eating lower-calories foods resulted in an 800 calorie reduction in their daily intake. This could result in 2 pounds or more of weight loss per week. And eating low-cal foods was actually more effective than trying to eating smaller portions of calorie-dense foods (such as those higher in fats and sugars), in terms of cutting calories from the diet.

Those wishing to lose weight who want to benefit from this information would do well to eat lighter, smaller meals that contain lots of vegetables. Not very earth-shattering news, but it flies in the face of North American habits. We of the large plates and the heavy foods that assault the taste buds with flavour. Go to most places in the world outside our continent and you'll find plates filled with smaller amounts of food. We're programmed to want to eat food that's in front of us, and so most of us clean our plates, no matter what amount is on them. Apparently the study group had an easier time cutting back on the calories when they ate lighter foods: soups, salads, instead of trying to stick to smaller amounts.

My only concern with this plan is that when we cut back on fat, we tend not to feel satiated. And then we eat more than we should. Who's ever had a huge bowl of salad with light dressing and still felt hungry afterwards? Yet you feel stuffed after eating a bag of buttery popcorn at the movies, even though popcorn itself is a very lightweight food. It's the fat that makes the difference.

I really hope we don't see that diet pendulum swing from Atkins-mania back to the days of "low fat" everything. Eating moderate portions of vegetables, lean meats and whole grains, with a bit of good fat thrown in for good measure, is the best path. But then, our society is not generally known for walking the middle ground.

Note: Balancing doggie pic above created by Squirrell Designs UK