Archive for February, 2010

Can I still eat Dairy Products?

Friday, February 26th, 2010

My wife and I both take calcium supplements, in my case two tablets of calcium citrate with vitamin D in the morning and two sometime later in the day. (Lynnette takes two and then three).  Each has 630 milligrams of calcium and 500 IU of vitamin D.  I haven't had a bone density test; hers was slightly on the low side originally and has improved more recently. We're both small-boned and in our late sixties, so the supplements make sense.

How about dairy products? Well Lynnette has no problem with drinking milk and usually has a small glass of it daily + pours some on her cereal.  I'm lactose-intolerant, i.e, lactase deficient, so I use soy milk on my cereal and often eat a bowl of cereal at two of my three meals, especially if I'm on my diet. Today, I weighed 148.4 pounds, so I'm at or even slightly below my goal weight, and can eat a bigger lunch if I want to (we're invited out for a bison dinner, so I may not).

There was an interesting article on lactose-intolerance in The Wall Street Journal recently (Health & Wellness Thursday, February 16, 2010, page D3. Dr. Eric Sibley, a Professor at the Stanford School of Medicine, is quoted as saying while most people lose the ability to produce lactase in large quantities as they grow up, a majority still secrete some lactase.

For those who still can produce lactase, stopping diary ingestion entirely is counter- productive. Our gut bacteria can be trained, apparently, to tolerate more dairy if exposed to it on a regular basis. On the other hand, if you stop consuming all dairy products when you first diagnose yourself as lactose-intolerant, your bowel bacteria get less efficient in their lactose handling.

Some dairy products, cheese and ice cream among them, have been processed and, as a result, tend to contain less lactose. Other foods have lactose added to them (some cookies in particular).

Dr. Sibley said most of us who are lactose-intolerant can drink one or two glasses of milk a day without symptoms. We all need calcium, so it makes sense to have some cheese and milk regularly and perhaps even a little ice cream as a special treat occasionally.

A few people have a true allergy to milk that's not caused by lactose; instead of gas and bloating, they develop abdominal pain and may have bloody stools after drinking milk. Those folk can't safely follow Dr. Sibley's advice for the rest of us. As for me, I may attempt to retrain my gut bacteria to do their best with lactose-containing products; I'll go have a small glass of milk right now.

Wall Street Journal: The teaser vs. actual article

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

I picked up our copy of The Wall Street Journal from the driveway this morning, and was startled to see a front-page teaser "Why Evolution is Making Us Fatter." I immediately turned to the Personal Journal section which had A Health and Wellness theme today and read the article which actually was titled "Obesity? Big Feet? Blame Darwin" with a subtitle "Evolution Helped Humans Have Children and Survive, but It Also Led to Modern-day Maladies, Scientists Say."

Many modern scientists think we're a collection of compromises arising from our predecessors' adaptation to changing environments. The obesity related sections were certainly there, but they were a minority among paragraphs on the evolution of lactose tolerance, skin color, immunity and brain size, among other topics. But I wanted to concentrate on the weight-related arena. The first such mentioned the move from hunter-gatherer status to agriculturalists roughly 10,000 years ago and the subsequent dietary shift to more carbohydrates leading to a decrease in average population height and more obesity. Most populations have adapted over the centuries to the new foods; those that made this change more recently were said to have higher rates of obesity and diabetes type 2.

Then there is the hormone leptin, our body's signal to stop eating. I found British Medical Journal articles dated 1996 on its discovery and chemistry, but the initial promise that it could be used to help the obese lose weight was stymied by the finding that obese humans usually develop leptin resistance. I also found a current website from a clinical nutritionist advertising the "leptin diet," a set of five eating rules that mostly made common sense. The first three: never eat after dinner; eat three meals a day and don't snack; don't eat big meals are all concepts that I'd agree with: the other two: eat a high-protein breakfast and decrease the amount of carbs eaten, I'd modify. I've moved away from eating white bread, white rice and white potatoes in excess, but complex carbohydrates are certainly still on my list of good foods to eat. And I have decreased my overall intake of red meat as a source of protein, so no more breakfast steaks.

Overall leptin seems to play an important role in our bodies. There was a 2009 article on the website which reported that there were several FDA-approved oral drugs that can sensitize the brain to leptin. Investigators at Boston's Children's Hospital were working toward  clinical trials.

I need to see more research before to be convinced that leptin levels markedly decrease when you diet and therefore you burn less of ingested calories and regain weight.  And, for now, I'm not at all interested in the websites which offered "pro-biotic and herbal cleansing" products to overcome leptin resistance.

A new Michael Pollan book: Food Rules

Friday, February 19th, 2010

I've enjoyed Michael Pollan's books, especially The Omnivore's Dilemna and In Defense of Food. Both of those won James Beard Awards, often termed "the Oscars of Food." Now Pollan, who is the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley, has published a slender volume of sixty-four "Food Rules" designed to help us get off the "Western Diet."  He defines that as lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and associates it with high rates of chronic diseases.

That being said (and I fully agree with Pollan), he feels we should be eating more vegetables and fruits and less red meat. The sixty-four dictums include some that are humorous, some that are just plain sensible and many that were new to me.

Here's a few of my favorites: #2 Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food; #7 Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce; #19 If it came from a plant eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't; #25 Eat your colors (My wife Lynnette likes to prepare dinners with a variety of food colors: carrots; beets and greens, for example; Pollan note the varied colors of vegetables show us they contain different antioxidants).

I love #64 Break the rules once in a while. Having lost twenty-eight pounds over the last eight months (using some food rules I came up with myself in 1996), I'm at my goal weight. Last night I wore my fifty-year-old University of Wisconsin athletic sweater to an informal fund-raiser for the local food bank; it fit! I had six small bowls of soup, a salad, a roll and two small dishes of ice cream. When I weighed myself this morning, I had lost two tenths of a pound (I had also eaten sparingly and worked out at the gym preceding the event).

I really enjoyed Pollan's book and will refer  to his rules frequently.

An interesting article

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

The Wall Street Journal had three health-related articles today 2-15-2010). Since I'm lactose-intolerant I read one on that subject first and may blog about it in the future. One had nothing to do with diets, but dealt instead with winter asthma. The third article was titled "Why Some Foods Are Riskier Today." That one really got my full attention. It talked about food-borne illnesses which affect 76 million people a year in America (and that's only the ones that get reported). Most are not severe, but nearly a third of a million lead to hospitalization and 5,000 of those affected die.

Well some of the apparent recent increase in these food-related cases may be due to better detection and reporting; lots are due to three major causes: new "bugs" that can lead to sickness;  consumers desire for raw foods which have not been treated to remove bacteria and food imported from areas of the world whose food-safety regulations aren't as stringent.

Many of us want to have the wide variety of food items year round that we can buy from local sources only in season. This may increase our menu choices, but also can lead to consumption of dangerously tainted vegetables and other foods. Over the past three years my wife and I have become more and more "locovores," people who basically eat things produced in our area. That does limit when we can have mangoes or rambutans or other fruits and vegetables, but it also supports local agriculture and, at the same time, makes our diets safer.

I've also given up on my formerly nearly rare hamburgers and purchased grass-finished (non-feedlot) bison, lamb and beef from local and regional growers. Our dairy products come from a farm about eight miles northwest of us.

I see this as a trend in our area. There are more farmer's markets, more opportunities to purchase locally grown/raised foods, more awareness of the risks of our mass-production food industry.

They may cost a bit more, but frequently the taste is better and clearly the risk is lower. it's worth the small amount more that I pay. An often added benefit is being able to buy heirloom tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables that we don't usually see in the supermarket.  To whatever extent is possible for you, I'd suggest becoming a locovore; it's a habit you'll find healthy and tasty.

Normal-weight Obesity

Friday, February 12th, 2010

I read an interesting article in The Wall Street Journal (Jan 26, 2010) titled "The Scales Can Lie: Hidden Fat." It talks about a Mayo Clinic study which says your weight  can be okay, but you can still have life-threatening obesity. I chuckled a bit over the illustration, which shows three young attractive women, with one supposedly representing a person with a normal body-mass index (BMI) but still obese, and two others with lower percentages of body fat. There was no clearcut difference between them. I think, if they didn't need to sell papers, they could have chosen different models.

The concept itself makes sense to me, although other experts noted this study needs to be repeated to become generally accepted. The authors say as many as 30 million Americans may fit this category and be unaware of their increased risk for heart disease (among other problems). There are apparently scales coming out that can measure your body fat percentage as well as your weight and some health clubs are doing this currently.

I think it's easier than that. I go into the men's locker room at our health club and see lots of guys with well-developed muscles, especially upper body muscles, but considerable rolls around the mid-section. Last June, when I started my own diet again, I was in that group (the ones with belly fat, although I didn't have anywhere near their big muscles).

One day that month I had tried on a pair of really nice suit pants, ones I had purchased (on sale) in 1988, and had to suck in my gut to put them on. That was also the day I looked at a BMI chart and realized I was borderline overweight. My weight hadn't changed more than three pounds in nearly twenty years; its distribution clearly had.

This morning I'm twenty-nine pounds lighter, have a waistline that's at least four inches less and can't "pinch an inch" at my flanks, not even a quarter of an inch. I didn't need to buy a fancy scale or have an expensive body fat measurement done.

I was at my men's book club yesterday and watched everyone eat homemade sweet rolls. Some of the guys were relatively slender, some showed signs of normal weight obesity. I decided to skip the sweet rolls.

And Back Down Again

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

We got home from our East Coast trip last Friday. We made it to three of our four planned stops (the oncoming snowstorm heading toward the DC area truncated the trip). I ate far more than I have been for the past eight months and gained 4.8 pounds.

But I had pre-dieted and left at 149.4, well under my current goal weight. And when I got home I went back on the stricter version of my diet and the weight melted off. I also snowshoed for an hour on Sunday and worked hard at the gym yesterday

We even went to a party last night, a fund-raiser for the Symphony Guild. It was titled "My Curry Valentine," and featured four curries: beef, lamb, chicken and shrimp, three kinds of rice, pappadums (Indian flat bread), a variety of topping for the curries, salad, a variety of wines (or Fat Tire beer, a local favorite) and cookies plus three choices of sorbet for dessert.

I drank a lot of water, took small helpings of each curry, didn't have seconds (that's not quite true; I did have several pappadums), some salad, a few of the toppings, ate one cookie, had one small helping of one of the three sorbets, and one half-glass of Reisling.

Today I weigh 149.6 pounds, only two tenths up from my pre-trip weight and well under what I've been terming my final goal weight. I'm thinking of re-setting that to 149 as I've recently gotten lots of compliments on how I've slimmed down; nobody has said, "You're too thin).

So overall I had a short and temporary hiatus from my diet, but had prepared well for our trip and went back to dieting as soon as we returned. I didn't let the short-term weight gain throw me off my overall plan. Concentration on my long-term goal helped a lot as did the exercise and the past eight months experience with a successful approach to eating sensibly.

After-travel thoughts

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

We're back from our East Coast swing. The dieting issue was at least as problematic as I anticipated. I already wrote one post about visiting our former Chinese grad student and her family. First they took us out to dinner, then we got ready for their twin's second birthday party the next day. There were thirty guests for that mid-day gustatory marathon. After they ate and left, another couple with a seven-year-old and an eleven-year-old came over and dinner was served.

Our next stop was with our Indian kids whose twins are six and a half months old. They cooked less than usual, as their lives have gotten considerably busier, but ordered out more than usual. Since they are vegetarians, we had some respite, but they certainly made sure we were well fed.

Our Baltimore friends (their twins are four and their older son is seven) follow fairly healthy eating patterns at home, and we got up early and served ourselves cereal and fruit for breakfast. But we were taken to a very nice restaurant before we even got to their home and had crab soup and crab cakes. Overall I ate considerably more on this week-long trip than I usually do.

What I didn't get was any real exercise. We're used to a six or seven times/week fairly strenuous gym workout or snowshoeing; here we got to walk a bit, largely in airports, but we sat a lot. I didn't even have much opportunity to walk up and down stairs. I did actively play with the older kids in Baltimore.

I then realized, as our trip was truncated by approaching the DC-area blizzard, that we were going to have overnight company, our niece-to-be, her eleven-year-old daughter and the daughter's best friend,when we got home.

I stepped on the scale this morning and watched to see if I was over my 155 upper limit (I left at 149.6). I found myself moderately pleased that I was under by 0.8 pounds

So today we went back to our diets. Our guests went shopping and I ate half of my lunch. Tonight I'll have cereal and a piece of fruit before the Symphony's concert. I've arranged for a snowshoeing trip tomorrow.

Could I have avoided this 4.6 pound travel bounce? I've done so while I was still trying to lose weight; this time, well below goal weight, I gave myself  leeway, more than  I should have.

Pre-eat and pre-diet

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Okay, we're finally about to go see the kids out east. We'll make four stops in eight days. The first friend has a husband who's a great cook; the second couple both cook, she better than he; the third couple will take us out to dinner and the fourth (a daughter, son-in-law,grandson) also will want to eat out. Before we leave, we have one dinner out planned (It's music night at our favorite Thai restaurant) and a  catered event for our symphony.

Wow! that's a lot of eating coming up in the next few days.

So how do I handle this situation? I start by acknowledging that I'll be eating more than usual in the relatively brief period. I'll go back on my strict diet now and leave here under my goal weight of 151-152. While I'm on the road I'll  be as careful as possible to avoid binges; I'll focus on vegetables and fruit and minimize meats and sweet dishes.

I know I'm likely to come home over my upper limit (three pounds over goal) as I won't get my usual exercise on this trip either.  I can live with that as long as I don't go too far overboard with my eating pattern. When I get home and settled back into place, I'll have return to my more stringent diet until I'm back to goal again, not just until I'm within the three-pound-over-goal range I usually can relax within.

I'll let you know on the far side.