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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fat Chance

I was first introduced to the work of Dr. Robert Lustig when he was interviewed for a nutrition course I took on Coursera last year. I was already aware of the dietary evils of sugar, thanks to my sister loaning me her copy of Potatoes, Not Prozac many years ago, so Dr. Lustig's pronouncements against this substance came as no great shock, but I thought he made a clear, compelling and evidence-based case. Later, I watched his 90-minute presentation, which has more than 4 million views on YouTube, and I've read several news stories on his anti-sugar crusade.

So what more could I learn by reading his book? Enough to make it worthwhile to check out from the library. The key point -- sugar is a toxin and likely the primary culprit in the obesity epidemic -- has already been disclosed in the news stories and videos. Fat Chance provides scientific background, practical consumer suggestions, and some public policy recommendations.

The practical suggestions, which will be of the most interest to readers of this blog, are in the shortest section of the book and are general recommendations. This is not a diet book. It doesn't have a 14-day plan or recipes (although a separate cookbook provides those). Dr. Lustig's diet advice resembles what you would get from any certified nutritionist or Michael Pollan: avoid processed food, eat whole fruits and vegetables and foods rich in fiber, and exercise regularly.

At last night's dinner meeting, I resolved on some new personal food rules based on my understanding of Dr. Lustig's book and sound advice from other sources. My new plan:

1. Limit my consumption of sugar, or any food with added fructose, to one day a week.
2. Increase fiber by eating legumes daily, avoiding refined grains, and of course, including vegetables in every meal.
3. Eat an apple a day.
4. Limit alcohol to one glass of red wine a day.
5. Eat all food at the table. If I'm not hungry enough to sit down, I'm not hungry enough to eat.
6. Eat only satisfied, not until full.
7. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly.
8. Eat fermented food daily -- yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, sourdough bread, kimchi, etc.
9. Exercise daily. Cardio every day, yoga or stretching every day, and resistance or strength at least three times a week.

This seems reasonable.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Good morning, fitness friends!

The holidays are over and we can now be guided by our good intentions to eat better and exercise more. According to a poll, the most popular New Year's resolution is to "lose weight," with "exercise" and "eat healthier" as separate goals in the top five. So, odds are, you or someone you know is currently recommitting to a diet and exercise plan.

What works? The team behind the Lift App aim to find out by enrolling volunteers in a quantified diet study for the next four weeks. I'm participating and following the DASH diet, which basically seems to be what I was eating most days anyway. I suppose the trick will be to mindfully follow it every day.

I'm also reading Dr. Robert Lustig's book, Fat Chance, to bolster my efforts to avoid sugar. Sugar isn't a banned substance in my diet, but I've learned to treat it as something I should stay away from most days.

We're blessed or cursed, depending on perspective, to live in an age of information overload, so finding resources to help with your food and fitness goals is easy. Whittling away the nonsense can be challenging. I'll continue to share links here and in my Flipboard magazine from sources I trust (although I will occasionally flip something just because it's interesting and provocative).

One of my favorite blogs for healthy recipes is Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks. If you want to stop reading my blog and just read hers, I wouldn't blame you! Of the many delicious recipes and ideas she shares, I'd like to draw your attention to the kale rice bowl, which makes a frequent appearance in various configurations on my weeknight dinner table. It is easy, tasty and versatile, meaning just about anything in it can be substituted for something similar you have on hand. And it would be considered a complete, balanced meal for most diet plans, except perhaps the grain-shunning paleo. Give it a try!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Turkey Soup

Good morning!

Thanksgiving weekend is over, and as we drag into this first Monday in December, many of us may be feeling a need for some corrective or restorative measures if we engaged in Thanksgiving excess. 

After spending most of yesterday in bed sipping mint tea to compensate for three days of pie, I've vowed to avoid rich food indulgences for, oh, let's say the next two weeks. At least.

So it's a good thing my husband made a big pot of turkey and rice soup yesterday. That's the perfect antidote to the Thanksgiving feast. I hope all of you who cooked a turkey saved the carcass for stock. Mine yielded about 7 quarts, half of which went in yesterday's soup and the other half headed for the freezer.

Other good remedies to bring your system back into balance include smoothies you make at home using fruit and vegetables (sweeten with stevia and don't add juice), yogurt, greens, herbal or green tea, and homemade pickles.

What's your favorite post-Thanksgiving restorative?

Matcha Smoothie

1/2 frozen banana
1 cup almond milk
1 tsp matcha powder
1/2 cup yogurt
4 or 5 drops stevia


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Diet showdown thingie

I flipped this on Flipboard, but in case you missed it, this "diet showdown" looks interesting enough to bring to your attention. I've already signed up for whatever-it-is, primarily because I use the Lift app and like it, particularly the lengthy explanations the developers provide for every minor update.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Soup night

Soup is always in season, but on a chilly fall night, the right soup is especially welcome and can be an ideal supper.

After an indulgent meal with great food, wine and friends last night at Trattoria Stella, my aging digestive system needs a recovery day. Fortunately, dinner is already decided thanks to this lovely gift of turnips and greens from a friend's garden:

So, I'll make them into soup, adapting a recipe from Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy to the other ingredients I have on hand. Basically, I'll cook the chopped turnips in a little butter with potatoes, carrots, onion and thyme, then cover the vegetables with water, bring to a boil and simmer until all is tender. I'll whiz the soup to a smooth puree in the blender, return to the pot and add the chopped greens to finish. Delicious recovery!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Nordic Diet course

As some of you know, I've been fascinated with the Scandinavian approach to food ever since visiting the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis and its outstanding FIKA cafe. I wanted more, which back in Traverse City meant I would need to learn to make it myself.

So far, my experiments in Scandinavian cuisine have been guided by chef Trina Hahnemann's book, The Nordic Diet, which describes a healthy approach to eating featuring foods native to the Scandinavian countries and provides 75 recipes.

As of yesterday, I'm ramping up my education and practice in this cuisine by starting a 4-week class on Coursera from the University of Copenhagen, The New Nordic Diet: from Gastronomy to Health. The lectures so far are a little dry, but the course comes with recipes and I'll be trying those. If any of you want to join me in the class, it's free! 

Aside from the deliciousness being achieved by creative chefs reinventing this traditional and long-overlooked cuisine (remember, Noma in Copenhagen is considered the top restaurant in the world), the Nordic diet offers a guideline for those of us in northern latitudes who want to improve our health, but not at the expense of the environment.

Often my dietary plans have conflicted with the contents of the CSA box or the offerings at the farmer's market. For about half of the year, beginning now, root vegetables are the local produce most available, so a low-carb diet isn't a great fit for a northern locavore. I've also often been frustrated by some seasonal cookbooks by chefs who live in places where asparagus and tomatoes apparently appear in the market at the same time.

The Nordic Diet approach helps me merge my locavore goals with my health goals. The primary difficulty is that fish and shellfish are not as available to me as they are to the Scandinavians. Sure, I have fish from Lake Michigan, but concerns about mercury pollution prevent me from making it a significant part of my diet.

I'll be reporting back over the next few weeks with the most helpful things I learn. I hope you like beets!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Saving room for dessert

Because sometimes it's your daughter's birthday.

At the last dinner support group meeting, I served celery root soup and crostini. This is, in my opinion, an ideal light dinner. But I rarely restrain myself from offering abundant food to guests (even when it's light and healthy), so I knew my friends would be wondering why they were only getting a cup of soup and a piece of toast.

We were saving room for dessert.

A few days earlier, my husband came home with a bag of apples, noted it was October, and asked me to make his favorite apple cake, a tradition of the season. This cake is delicious, but I don't even dare to run it through a calorie calculator. The recipe is on my knitting-books-film blog, for those interested.

I don't believe deprivation is sustainable as a strategy for weight loss, fitness, health or much of anything else. Obviously, abstaining totally from some substances is crucial; a recovering alcoholic doesn't allow himself "just one drink," and a kid with a life-threatening peanut allergy doesn't take a bite of a Snickers bar. But for most people, including those trying to get in shape, arbitrarily eliminating an entire food group isn't necessary and could backfire into binge eating.

So saving room for the occasional dessert need not be the first step on a path to obesity. If sugar is a challenge or trigger food for you (it is for me, and many others), enjoy that slice of birthday cake, and then send it away for a few days or a couple of weeks (the deep freeze, maybe).

The apple cake, followed by my daughter's birthday, was a little too much sweetness for my system, so today I begin a 21-day "no sweets" challenge supported by the Lift app to check my tendency to sugar addiction before it gets entrenched again. I'm not swearing off sugar for life, but I want to get it back to an occasional indulgence rather than a biscotti-with-morning-coffee routine that turns into an afternoon "where's the chocolate?" craving.