Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting biblical

A day late because I'm briefly home between trips this week. I just finished the book The New Optimum Nutrition Bible by Patrick Holford. I highly recommend it. It's just so damn rational, for one thing. None of that "how to make a fat-free cupcake" shiz that I can't stand. Tofu is pretty much the most processed food that Holford endorses. But don't think that he's just telling you to eat more vegetables. The book is a very comprehensive guide to vitamins, minerals, and other supplements like Omega-3s. Holford's position is that it's pretty much impossible to achieve optimum nutrition without supplements. He includes a quiz that gives you the vitamins and minerals you need, and recommended dosages.

I never was a believer in vitamins, but his evidence is extremely convincing. Most significantly, he talks about an amino acid called homocysteine which is a very accurate predictor of how long you will live. Your homocysteine level can be lowered (which is desirable) by cutting down on caffeine, eating more greens and less meat, and by taking supplements like B vitamins, zinc, and folic acid.

I could go on for some time about all of the good info in this book. Here are a few changes I'm making after reading it:
1) Renewed dedication to a low glycemic load diet which keeps my blood sugar more stable
2) A 2-week regimen of no gluten or dairy (starting Monday!). I have a lot of symptoms of a low-level food allergy, according to the book.
3) Taking a multivitamin plus additional vitamin C, B vitamins, chromium (to stabilize blood sugar), and vitamin E.

I'm hoping that within a month I'll be free of sugar cravings and that the intermittent eczema on my hands clears up. I've already noticed a large drop in cravings and an increase in energy since I started following a low glycemic diet. Like the Katamari video game, a low glycemic diet builds on itself. By this I mean that when your blood sugar is more even, it's easier to resist bad foods. In Katamari, you're rolling a ball around and gradually picking up larger objects. In other words, the bigger you get, the fewer things stand in your way. How's that for a tortured analogy?

In other news, the cafeteria at my government office building put on one heck of an Earth Week celebration. I was dubious, because they put out layer cake as one of the breakfast offerings. Today at lunch, they had a bunch of vendors giving out samples of "green" foods. It was quite a lineup:
--Artist Michael Albert, who creates cool art and tasty natural juices
--Hormone-, antibiotic-, preservative-, and clone-free cheese from Andrew and Everett
--Green tea beverages from Steaz
--Various hummus and tofu-based products
--And the piece de resistance, One Stop Natural's smorgasbord of delicious vegan snacks and dishes. But there weren't just samples; they were giving away full size containers of everything! I snagged some BBQ tofu which has a delicious smoky flavor and some vegan dumplings.

In the elevator, someone commented on how good the food I had looked. I mentioned that they were giveaways from Earth Day. A guy on the elevator said "Oh, EARTH DAY" in the most scornful tone. What's your damage, dude?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Earth Day= Vegan Day?

I saw a story yesterday on a very mainstream news broadcast advocating eating vegan on Earth Day. And I do mean advocating: it was an opinion-style piece rather than news reporting. They mentioned a cafe called Bread and Brew which is Green Restaurant Certified. On Earth Day, Bread and Brew will be serving a totally vegan menu. The piece also gave props to another very popular cafe, Java Green, which is vegetarian all the time. I hope that this "vegan for a day" idea catches on. The amount of animal products spared will be small, but I think it could be a great step in helping people overcome their fear of veganism. I do enjoy it when people think veganism is a weird cult but will sit down to a meal of spaghetti with a chunky veggie sauce and a green salad, unaware that they're eating vegan.

This article in today's Times also talks about veganism. Has anyone read Jeffrey Masson's new book? He's a sometime vegan, but probably more frequently than me.

What is everyone doing for Earth Day? I plan to eat vegan, even though I'll be en route back from vegan-unfriendly Texas on that day. Yup, I'm taking two round-trip flights the week of Earth Day, although I don't usually fly a lot.

I'm exhausted tonight so I'll keep this short. I've been to 3 concerts in 8 days recently, the biggest of which was the men who brought me my blog tag line.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Being mindful

Before I get to the experiment I've been doing with mindful eating, I have an important question to resolve. Namely: Which is cuter, Tai Shan the baby panda or the new litter of clouded leopard cubs? Please vote in the comments, because I cannot decide.

Tai Shan:

Leopards, as yet unnamed:

I've been checking out a few books on mindful eating. I'm working through "Eat, Drink, and be Mindful," and on deck I have "Mindful Eating." I'm reading these on the advice of my nutritionist. See, I'm almost always multi-tasking when I'm eating. I eat breakfast and lunch at my desk most days during the work week. Mr. RV and I often eat dinner in front of the TV. I think these habits are pretty detrimental, since for me (and for most people, I would guess) they often lead to overeating and not feeling satisfied.

Experimenting with mindful eating has been a real eye-opener for me. For at least one meal a day, I've been:
--Focusing on the way the food smells, looks, and tastes instead of having most of my attention on something else
--Eating much more slowly and pausing between bites
--Trying to make the meal last 25 minutes (because your body only registers that it's full after 20 minutes, this technique makes it easier to stop eating if you're full before you finish your meal)
--Paying attention to the level of hunger or fullness that I'm feeling. I imagine my stomach as a gas tank gradually getting fuller when I'm eating.

I think I've been eating less in the week or two that I've been doing this. If I mindfully eat breakfast, I usually don't need a snack before lunch (but if I'm on my computer and scarfing down breakfast, I do). I also really enjoy the pleasure of tasting and eating more than I have in recent memory. I'm happy to have the 25 minutes to clear my mind and not worry about anything further than feeding myself.

It's been hard to find the time for this practice, though. I often work out at lunch, so I'm done with my allotted lunch break before I even eat. And I'm waiting to get busted when I disappear from my desk an hour after arriving to go eat breakfast. But it's worth it to enjoy food so much more. If you're a chronic multi-tasker like me, try this and let me know what you think. One downside is that it's harder to ignore bad food. Yesterday, the oatmeal in our cafeteria was watery and like something from Oliver Twist. I couldn't eat more than a few spoonfuls of it, so I had a Probar instead.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Consider the parsnip

This evening on the news we saw a brief interview with Jamie Oliver, who is cooking for the G-20 summit. No pressure, huh? He was saying that if he had a private moment with Obama, he'd tell him to start taxing sugary foods, since Americans eat about 4x as much sugar as they should. I like that idea, but I highly doubt that I'll see a sugar tax in my lifetime. What they should do first is tax meat instead of subsidizing it.

Two cooking features this week:
1) Parsnip/pear/carrot soup
This was part of the first meal I ever made for the Mr. He recollects fondly that it sounded weird, but was good. I think I tried it on a whim, because I had never cooked with parsnips before. I really didn't even know what they were supposed to look like. Well, the picture is above, and they look like overgrown albino carrots. The flavor in this soup is really delicious and creamy, even though it's vegan and impeccably healthy. I think of parsnips as wild carrots flavor-wise. The flavor is sweet, but with an edge. Parsnips also have more nutrients than carrots and a heap of potassium. Here's the recipe:

1-1/2 cups each of chopped onions, pears, carrots, and parsnips ((peel the last three ingredients first)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon, allspice or nutmeg, and salt
2 teaspoons (packed) brown sugar

Heat the oil over medium heat. Stir in the chopped things and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the spices and brown sugar and saute for another minute. Add 4 cups water and simmer about 15 minutes, or until everything is very tender. Puree the whole mess in a blender.

2) The cake I made for my mom's 60th birthday. This was about 10x more complicated to make than the soup above. It is also not vegan, not by a long shot. But it was freaking great. The cake is an orange cake, with the egg whites whipped separately to keep it light. The filling is a mixture of ricotta cheese with jam, dried fruit, and almonds. The glaze is simply chocolate with a bit of almond extract added. Has anyone ever noticed what a crowd pleaser almond extract is? People love the flavor, even if they can't quite put their finger on it.

That's all for now. Next week I'll probably write about mindful eating, which seems to be a hot topic lately.