Thursday, July 17, 2008

New Study: Low-carb beats low-fat diets!

Whoo-hoo! A new study just came out about how low-carb diets not only helped people lose weight (almost twice as much weight as the low-fat group), but it also improves cholesterol levels (increasing HDL, the "good" cholesterol, thus favorably improving cholesterol/HDL ratio) and triglycerides. Click here for the CNN article.

In addition, this study is published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine (click here for the article). This is a huge journal that has a rigorous peer-review process that helps weed out the high-school-science-fair-poster-presentations (of which the media loves to report on) and the scientifically valid research studies.

While this study is not without its flaws (researchers slowly increased the carb level in the low-carb group from Atkins appropriate 20 gram to 120 grams which is hardly considered low-carb), it does show a dramatic improvement in HDL and triglyceride levels in the low-carb group which the media can't ignore.

Yeah for steak!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Berry Banana Gelato

Gelato is just a creamier, lower fat verison of ice cream. It is extremely simple to make (click on picture above for recipe). It's just like making a milkshake and then adding it to your ice cream maker. No tempering egg mixtures or constantly stirring over a hot stove for half an hour.

If you don't mind the additional carbs, trying making just the Banana Gelato. Simply omit the berries and add 3 more bananas to the recipe. The bananas make the final product nicely thick and very creamy. Then top with the Chocolate "Magic Shell" Ice Cream Topping for a chocolate dipped banana flavor.
Oh, so good!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Kick cardio to the curb!

Being that I'm borderline obsessed with Dr. Mike Eades' blog, I can't help but to troll around his blog archives and related links as I anxiously await the next post. While paroozing his site one day, I found a book he co-authored with Fredrick Hahn titled The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow Motion Exercise That Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes a Week. I got the book at the library the following weekend and began it immediately.

After 6 months of doing low-carb, I knew I needed to implement an exercise routine somehow in my life if I really wanted to change the shape of my body. With a new baby, it was difficult to find the time and ambition to do so. Had I thought of the idea myself, doing 30 minutes of exercise a week, I would have thought it was a waste of time. The mantra: "at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity most days of the week ," echoed in my brain. The idea intrigued me and I was going to give it a shot. At the very least, it was a good step in the right direction.

The premise of the book focuses on 30 minutes of weight training with heavy weights. Cardio is not really part of the plan. Which is fine with me. I'd much prefer weight training than an embarrassingly exhausting cardio kickboxing class. In essence, you are advised to lift a weight that you think might be too heavy and do that for as many reps as you can. The trick is you have to perform this exercise very SLOOOOWLY. Five seconds up, hold one, two, and five seconds down. If you are doing it right, you should only be able to do 3-5 reps until your muscles reach failure, at which point you can't lift anymore. This is part of the reason why this exercise session should only take 30 minutes. You just aren't going to do a whole lot of lifting. It's the quality not the quantity of the exercise that makes this work.

I do not believe that paleo man engaged in daily "moderate-intensity" activities. Early man did not jog for 30 minutes every day. Our bodies have not adapted to that sort of strain and shock to our joints. Our bodies were designed for moderate walking (migrating and hunting/gathering) and short intense bursts of running to catch prey or flee a predator. This is why you see so many joggers and avid exercise enthusiasts with tennis elbow, bad knees, and torn ligaments. These overuse injuries make traditional exercises dangerous if performed every day like elite athletes (you here about athlete injuries all the time).

This book takes the idea of a "less is more" approach. Intense weight training should not be performed every day and this book limits it to once a week (possibly twice a week, at the most). Thus, reducing the chance of injury by allowing the body to fully recuperate from your workout. I can hear you now, "Paleo man didn't lift weights." Your right, he didn't, other than the pushing the occasional boulder off of a cliff (okay, maybe that was just from the Bugs Bunny cartoons but you get my drift). Biologically, weight training is very similar to short intense sprints, they are both anaerobic exercises. Anaerobic activities are extremely effective and provide benefits that cardio can't.

Aerobic cardio exercise is hailed for its ability to strengthen the heart and improve circulation, but look, anaerobic sprints are now being recognized for their heart-health promoting properties as well. So now, what can cardio give you that anaerobic can't?

Here are my results: I've been following this program since the end of January in addition to the continued low-carb lifestyle. I have lost almost 15 lbs (of pure fat since low-carb diet is muscle sparing plus I've gained muscle mass so I definitely lost more than just 15 lbs of flab) and have gone down 4% in body fat. My measurements (the true test) are as follows:
Waist: 2 inches gone
Bust: 1.5 inches gone (oh well)
Hips: 3 inches gone!!!
Arms: 0.5 inches gone
Calf: 0.5 inches gone
That's a total of 7.5 inches lost in 5 1/2 months! No bad.

I am starting to see some muscle definition as the weight comes off. I have developed just as much muscle tone and strength as I've had when I've gone to the gym several times per week. This routine is just as effective. I'm loving the fact that I can put such minimal time in and reap great rewards. I'm less inclined to skip a session, although I can't say I haven't, I'm just less likely to do it now. Since it's only 30 minutes per week, I feel guilty if I don't go. I have to admit that some days I put in an extra 15 minutes that I reserve for some sprints on the elliptical machine as well as some kicks on the punching bag. Since I don't go every day, I actually look forward to my gym time so I will occasionally stay a bit longer than 30 minutes.

I'm thrilled. This routine is fast and it works. But don't be fooled, the work is hard. You will not be chatting it up on your iPhone while you casually use the leg press. You should be breathing hard, sweating, and tired when you are through.

This plan is really a great option for those who hate to exercise, don't have time or are just plan too lazy to make it to the gym. This is a no-brainer. This program is not for gym rats. It's best for those who are looking for a way to implement exercise but have a laundry list of excuses why they won't.

Homemade Mayonnaise

If you love mayonnaise and you've never made your own homemade mayonnaise, you should. The flavor is really unequivocal to any store bought varieties. It is also beneficial if you are looking to reduce the amount of polyunsaturated fats in your diet. Commercial mayonnaise is usually made with soybean oil which is high in polyunsaturated fats.

Another option made widely available as an alternative to soybean is canola oil, a monounsaturated fat. Unfortunately, the act of consuming canola oil may carry health risks (for all its purported health benefits, the FDA has banned the use of canola oil in infant formulas because of the possibility of growth retardation!) in itself so I try to refrain from it as well.

This recipe can be made with olive oil or grapeseed oil, two monounsaturated oils. However, I prefer grapeseed oil (I got mine at Trader Joe's) as it lends a neutral taste. This is just your basic recipe for mayonnaise (I like this one because you don't have any left over egg whites):

1 large egg
1 T. dijon mustard
1 cup grapeseed oil (or any oil you choose)
1 T. white vinegar (or lemon juice)
salt and pepper to taste

In a blender, combine all ingredients except oil. Blend for a few moments. With blender running, SLOWLY add oil in a fine stream until incorporated. Mixture should be smooth, thick and creamy. Keep in fridge for up to 4 days.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Cups

The filling for these cups was borrowed from this recipe. I changed the proportions slightly:
4 oz. cream cheese (softened)
4 oz. peanut butter (room temperature)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 t. stevia powdered extract
1 T. erythritol
1 T. vanilla
Whip cream with vanilla, stevia, and erythritol. Set aside. Combine cream cheese and peanut butter until smooth. Fold whipped cream with cheese/peanut butter mixture. Place in silicone baking cups in between "Magic Shell" layers (see next step).
The chocolate coating is made using my Chocolate "Magic Shell" Ice Cream Topping recipe.
Pour a small amount of the melted "Magic Shell" on bottom of baking cup. Then add a dollop of filling. Pour remaining "Magic Shell" on top to brim. Keep in freezer until firm, about an hour. Makes 9 cups.
These are really great, tasty, rich, filling and very peanut buttery. My husband says they are too peanut buttery...but I don't think there is such a thing! Enjoy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Roughing It

Warning: This post contains graphic detail about bowel movements. Read at your own risk.

Let's talk about poop. I'm fairly regular in this department. However, some days I don't poop at all, some days I poop more than once. Generally, as a rule, I poop once a day around 10am, 5 days a week. For the majority, my poops are what you'd expect to see from a carnivorous animal: dark, well-formed, thick, with some nooks and crannies. They slide out with ease and leave me feeling satisfied when I'm through. On days when I overindulge, feel sick, drink too much coffee, or am a bit nervous, the consistency and frequency change for the worse. They can be runny, cloud the toilet water, sometimes burn and usually require multiple wipes.
I have found that when I eat well (on a low-carb, whole foods diet), I feel well and that's reflected in my bowel movements. Interestingly, my poops have improve in texture, ease of elimination, and frequency as I have cut out grains, even the whole, fiber-intact, grains like 100% whole wheat bread. I am actually consuming LESS fiber now than I was while eating a "healthy" diet according to the food pyramid with lots of whole, minimally processed grains. I was a big proponent of high-fiber. I would seek out high fiber cereals, breads, and crackers. Now, my fiber comes from mainly fruits and veggies and some coconut flour when I'm in the mood to bake.

Back in college, I had a nutrition professor who posed the question to us students: "How much fiber would you really consume if you did not rely on high fiber, man-made products like cereals, breads and crackers?" The answer was surprisingly simple: not much. Looking back on it now, I think he was casually questioning the Recommended Daily Allowance, set forth by the USDA, for fiber which is between 25-35 grams per day. Unless you eat a lot of food, it is quite difficult to reach these numbers unless you eat a man-made, fiber-added, processed "health" food. If you do manage to eat all your fiber from whole, natural foods, you would probably exceed the recommended caloric intake of 2,000 calories a day. This makes following the food pyramid guidelines a bit of a headache.

Dr. Eades, author of Protein Power, posted on the mechanism of which fiber acts upon the intestines (click here to read it). Essentially, the high-fiber foods scrape against the intestinal walls thus inflaming the cells which then excrete mucous to lubricate and protect from further damage. This lubrication is what makes us go. Indeed it does. Unfortunately, I am not clear what kind of "high-fiber" foods were tested (soluble, insoluble, whole grain, fruit or veggies?). It is my experience that whole grain roughage is more irritating than fruits and veggies. When I was eating primarily fibrous man-made grains, I could go multiple times a day. My frequency wasn't so much an issue as was the consistency. Sometimes they were explosive and I barely had enough time to make it to the toilet. Sometimes I had to strain merely to produce a long skinny, Play-doh like substance.

Dr. Oz insists one's poop should make a "S" or "C" shape in the toilet bowl. Frankly, I don't remember my poops EVER making either of these shapes. Maybe once in a blue moon, like a day or so after Thanksgiving dinner. You really gotta have A LOT of poo to get a shape like that. I think only 300 lb. men can produce poos like that on a daily basis.

Everyone is so obsessed with the frequency at which one poos, but what I think is more important is the consistency. Poos made from fruits and vegetables are much more pleasant (if you can ever call poop "pleasant") than the Fiber One cereal poos. And your body will still eliminate via the #2 even if you don't eat fruits and veggies. Unless you have a tendency towards constipation, a diet with little to no fiber in it will still produce bowel movements if you are eating a healthy, whole food diet. During my meat & egg week, I still had regular poops. Albeit, they were a bit less voluminous and a tad on the slick side but still good enough to leave me satisfied.

Sugar-free "Magic Shell" Ice Cream Topping

Monday, July 7, 2008

Low-carb and cancer

It's very interesting to me the role nutrition (as well as other environmental influences: sunshine, pollution, electromagnetic radiation, chemicals, etc.) plays in the prevention/development of cancer. While I agree there is a genetic component, I'm not convinced that you are doomed to get breast cancer, for example, even if your mother, sister and aunt were all cancer victims. The possibility of having a "cancer gene" doesn't mean you're going to get cancer. I don't quite get the idea of genetic testing to find out if you are a carrier of a so-called "cancer gene." It only dictates what could possibility be one outcome if you don't take care of yourself. In the meantime, you are stressed and worried about when you'll get cancer and that's not a life I'd want to live.

I took a course back in college called "Nutrition and Cancer." The class detailed the process of how cancer cells grow, what fuels their development, and how diet can influence its course. What struck me immediately was the role insulin played to feed cancer cells. Cancer cells have insulin receptors so they can consume glucose. Many cancer cells need glucose to grow. By this logic, wouldn't one conclude that you can slow or halt the progression of cancerous cells by limiting insulin production with a low-carbohydrate diet? While there are certainly other factors involved other than insulin, this is my no means a cure for all, but it would seem to me that if most cancer cells live off of glucose, you could surely slow down its growth by reducing the availability of insulin by simply eating less carbohydrates.

Insulin regulation is just one benefit of a low-carb diet. Another possible benefit is a higher proportion of saturated fat intake. Saturated fats are termed as such because each carbon atom is singly bonded with hydrogen. Its carbon skeleton is "saturated" with hydrogen atoms. This makes for a very stable structure that is not prone to going rancid easily. Coconut oil, for example, can be stored at room temperature for well over a year without exhibiting any signs of rancidity. Unsaturated fats (which includes polyunsaturates) contain at least one double bond. This double bond is less stable than a single bond and is more prone to free radical attack and thus oxidation (rancidity).

The National Institute of Health says: "A large intake of polyunsaturated fat may increase the risk for some types of cancer." Polyunsaturated fats include: soybean oil, corn oil, safflower and sunflower oils. Corn and/or soybean oil (a.k.a. "vegetable oil") are the most abundant and widely used oils, especially in processed foods (alas, my beloved mayonnaise). When you eat these polyunsaturated fats (or any fat, for that matter) they are incorporated in your body as is, a polyunsaturated fat. If they are used as a structural membrane (like a cell membrane), the cell membrane will contain those double bonds. Thus making the cell membrane more prone to free radical damage. As the cell continuously repairs itself due to onslaught of damage done by the free radicals, it has a greater chance to make an internal DNA error and, oops, a cancer cell is born. Saturated fats are not as likely to be disturbed by these free radical attacks. It would be my opinion that a high proportion of saturated fat would be protective against many forms of cancer.

There are some studies that suggest a diet high in fat may cause cancer. I wonder what these studies would find if they evaluated for various fat compositions (saturated, unsaturated, and polyunsaturated). The National Institutes of Health already recognizes polyunsaturated fats as carcinogenic, why not examine the role of saturated fats in the prevalence of cancer?

Unfortunately, I'm very pessimistic about any diet therapy to treat or prevent cancer. While I whole-heartedly believe a dietetic therapy to be useful, the billion dollar industries, like health care and pharmaceuticals, will petition in every way against it because there is no money to be made in nutrition therapies. If cancer can be prevented, treated, or even cured, with diet, these industry giants stand to lose out on BILLIONS of dollars that they could profit on costly cancer treatments and expensive drugs both harboring dangerous side effects, general malaise, and emotional stresses on their patients.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Dr. Oz Files

Dr. Oz, Oprah's health guru and now self-proclaimed "diet doctor" as well, has a couple shows on the Discovery Health Channel. He has at least 2 shows (that I'm aware of), guest appearances on Oprah, and his own talk radio show too...he's really pimping himself out. For some reason, I won't pass up an opportunity to watching/listening to him even though I disagree with 75% of what he recommends.

I watched one of his shows, "The Dr. Oz Files: Defeating Obesity." In it, he recruited 5 or so obese subjects and put them on his diet and exercise program (as dictated by his book, I'm sure) for 6 months. Oh, but one caveat, one subject got gastric bypass surgery right before the start of the program. Obviously, she's going to lose a significant amount of weight whether she follows his program or not. Dr. Oz then ambushes her husband, obviously reluctant to even speak to him, and proceeds to berate him on his waist circumference and inability to do numerous sit-ups. Dr. Oz shoved his book in the poor man's arms and told him to starve himself and work-out until exhaustion (o.k. that was my interpretation of what he said). Unfortunately, this man was obviously not ready to change his lifestyle. He had no motivation to do so. You can't make someone lose weight if they haven't already decided it for themselves. That's the first step, Dr. Oz.

What was most appalling about the entire show was the recommendation of a diet pill to one of the subjects to "help her stick with the diet". Why, Dr. Oz, are you promoting a diet that is doomed for failure if people have a hard time staying on the plan? Isn't there something inherently wrong with that? I understand that dieting is not easy but it doesn't have to be miserable either. You don't need to heavily salivate while you're glued to the Food Network. You don't need to make up any excuse not to exercise because your dead dog tired because you are starving yourself. I wonder what his maintenance plan looks like? Probably just adding a mere 150 extra calories a day? (He made a statement on the Oprah show that it's only a matter of ~150 calories that make the difference between maintaining and losing weight.) That's a lick of peanut butter! Sorry, Dr. Oz, it's not that simple. The human body can easily adapt and adjust to a diet minus 150 calories. What do you do then? Cut out another 150 calories until eventually you're just eating lettuce leaves and celery? Will these dieters stay on the Dr. Oz plan for life? I sincerely doubt it. This is exactly why 95% of all dieters fail or regain the lost weight within 5 years. They are just not satiated.

Many of Dr. Oz's dieters hit a plateau mid-way through this process. Dr. Oz tended to blame it on the subjects. "They aren't motivated." "They cheated." "They weren't exercising enough." The finger always pointed at the dieters...not the weaknesses in his program. In actuality, many dieters hit plateaus no matter what program they are on. Dr. Oz wouldn't know this because he's never been obese (and probably never even overweight). Dr. Oz doesn't have a metabolic disorder of producing too much insulin than shuttles every ounce of food consumed directed in the fat cells. His metabolism is normal. If he's gained a couple pounds, it's easy for him to tighten up his dietary bootstraps by omitting some ice cream here and potato chips there and maybe even jogging an extra lap. His metabolism will respond to these minor adjustments. However, for an obese person, it will not. Obesity is a disease. A disease of a defective metabolism that overreacts to carbohydrates by the action of the pancreas overproducing insulin. Once the insulin has stuffed all the sugar (glucose) from the blood into the fat cell (because insulin is lipogenic), your blood is now depleted of sugar, due to the excess insulin, and you my begin to experience hypoglycemia (i.e. you are hungry again, especially for carbs). Thus sustaining the constant hunger and overeating cycle that led to obesity in the first place.

It is solid science that insulin is lipogenic and thus stores fat. It has been known in the past as the "fat hormone". So, why is it that doctors, dietitians, and government officials refuse to acknowledge the therapeutic properties of a carbohydrate-free diet? Not only in weight management, but for a host of other chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, PCOS, hypoglycemia, possibly cancer and obviously obesity. But that's for another post.

Anyway, the participants did not lose all the weight they wanted in the 6 month time period (nor would I expect them to). However, they did not say how close each one was to goal. Of course, they highlighted the woman who received the gastric bypass surgery. "She lost an amazing 70 lbs!" Of course she did!!! Another woman lost 45 pounds. Pretty good, however, she was still overweight but Oz claims she is now "thin". How's the denial workin' for ya, Oz?

The true test is if they lose all their weight and keep it off. I'll bet money they won't follow up with these people a year from now, let alone 5 years.