Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Whole Foods

In my last post I mentioned that Kelly and I had a chance to listen to Dr. Janice Stanger as she explained her view on what we should eat to stay healthy. I thought Janice made a very important point - our bodies have evolved to process the foods that were available as our species developed. Whole foods, not extracts, isolates, or juices. Was sugar a major food group for our ancestors 500,000 years ago when our species was evolving into what we call “modern” humans? Or during the 2,500,000 years since the neanderthals were around?

These are the time frames for our species evolution, giving us some idea of how long we ate pretty much whole foods. During these hundreds of thousands of years our bodies adapted to the diets that were available. Interestingly white sugar, white flour, and white rice - all refined carbs, were not yet available. In fact, the more I study the way our bodies cope with food, the more I understand how readily digested starches can throw our bodies out of kilter. When we eat sugar our bodies produce insulin to allow us to metabolize glucose. The insulin tells our body we don’t need to metabolize fructose, fats, or complex carbs for energy - so the liver converts them to triglycerides which are then stored in our fat cells. Which works great if we just added a bit of honey to our diet. But, if our diet becomes overloaded with sugar we end up with elevated insulin levels and diabetes. Oh, and we get fat. Or, we get fat and then get diabetes. Same end result.

As a species, we did not have a diet high in simple to digest carbs, and our bodies didn’t evolve to cope with high carb loads. In fact, as Dr. Stanger pointed out, whole foods reduce insulin levels. Which is the opposite of what refined carbs do.

Perhaps I should take a moment to talk about what a “Whole Food” is. In reality it is a pretty simple concept - it is the fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and grains the way they grow. Take soy beans. They contain carbs, fiber, protein and fats. And, research has shown that they are protective against breast and prostate cancers. But, remove the carbs, fiber and fats, so as to produce soy protein isolate, and voila - we have a high protein food that is not a whole food. And, where soy beans are protective against cancer, soy protein isolate boosts our bodies production of the hormone insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1). Which, in turn (as the name suggests), makes our bodies grow more. Which is all well and good if we are 13 year old. But if we are older it also makes our cancer cells grow faster. Sad reality - just like animal-based protein (which, being the highest “quality” protein, helps our muscles grow more), excess IGF-1 helps some cancers grow faster. And, IGF-1 has been linked to faster aging in mice. Check out

All of which is slightly frustrating for someone like myself who has moved away from whey protein as my protein source in favor of soy protein isolate. Because I felt that the soy protein would pose less cancer risk than an animal-based protein like whey.

Turns out they both have problems. Which brings me back to whole foods, and eating soy beans - not soy protein isolate.

OK - didn’t get to the rules Dr. Stanger lives by - will tackle that one in my next posting.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Garfield once said "Diet" is "Die with a t".  Hmmm - perhaps this gives us a bit of insight as to why the pudgy little bugger is so, well, fat.

Garfield humor aside, deciding what to eat in this world of fad diets, sports diets, health diets, cave-man diets, and every other conceivable kind of diet is really a tough thing.  We all know red meat is bad.  Well, actually, there is even contention over that.  Along with fats.

My goal in this post is not to discuss the various diets out there, I just wanted to share a diet that makes a lot of sense to Kelly and I.  One that is perhaps simple enough to understand, and one that, we believe, will give you a good shot at being healthy.

Perhaps in future posts I will discuss some of the various diets in an effort to share some of the knowledge that Kelly and I have been pulling together over the years.  But, for now, I think the best thing is to present a well balanced, vegetarian diet that can add years to your life.  And, take inches off your waist if you are on the heavy side.

While in many ways this diet is self evident to a vegetarian or vegan, it took our attending a lecture this weekend by Dr. Janice Stanger to bring it all into perspective.

  • 1/4 of what you eat should be vegetables

  • 1/4 of what you eat should be fruit

  • 1/4 of what you eat should be either potatoes or legumes

  • 1/4 of what you eat should be whole grains

Dr. Stanger went on to say that if you have a meal with these proportions and fill yourself up, you will have consumed roughly 500 calories.

To the above she recommends adding:

  • Spices - to liven the taste and gain phyto-nutrients

  • Nuts - moderate amount due to their fairly high fat content

  • 2 tablespoons per day of either ground flax seeds or whole chia seeds to give you the omega-3 fatty acids you need

  • Vitamin B-12

  • Vitamin D

What this diet does not include is refined carbs - like white flour, white sugar, or white rice.

And, that’s it.  To me this is an extremely healthy, and simple formula to follow in making dietary decisions.  And, interestingly, it is pretty close to what Kelly and I do now.

In my next posting I will discuss some rules that Dr Stanger lives by.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Another Reason to Exercise

By now you have realized that perhaps I am an exercise freak.  Or, perhaps just an old fart that doesn’t want to be limited by his body.  Spent the first part of the day in the attic rerouting wires - and reminding myself how glad I am that I can do things like crawl around in the rafters - and, when needed, lift myself up into the rafters.

But, that is not the reason for this posting.

One of the magazines I read, the Economist, periodically has an article I think is worth sharing, or at least commenting on.  Recently they wrote about the impact of exercise on longevity.

It is recognized that a near-starvation diet can boost life spans dramatically.  Dr. Beth Levine of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center was a member of the team that showed that an increased level of autophagy was the mechanism responsible for this life extension.

Autophagy - if you don’t recognize this one, don’t feel bad - my spell checker didn’t either.  Autophagy refers to the process by which our bodies surplus, worn-out or malformed proteins and other cellular components are broken up and recycled.  And, just in case you thought Autophagy was a long word, check out autophagosomes - the structures that form around the components that are to be recycled.

Dr. Levine used mice to study the impact of exercise on the number of autophagosomes in muscles.  She found that the number of autophagosomes had increased after 30 minutes of exercising, and continued to increase until they had been running for 80 minutes.

OK - well and good - the body responds to exercise by increasing the number of autophagosomes to clean up the detritus from using our muscles.  But, does this actually benefit us?

The good doctor then "engineered" a second strain of mice with a recycle system that did not ramp up when exercising.  She found that the second strain showed less endurance and had less ability to take up sugar from their bloodstreams.

It is recognized that regular exercise (in humans, and mice) helps prevent diabetes.  But, when Dr. Levine’s team fed the second strain of mice a diet designed to induce diabetes, they found that exercise gave no protection at all.  Which supports the importance of autophagosomes.

It is theorized that autophagy is an adaptation to cope with a scarcity of nutrients:  Critters that can recycle parts of themselves for fuel are better able to cope with lean times.  In addition to coping with a lack of food, research has shown over the last couple of decades that autophagy is involved in things as diverse as fighting bacterial infections and slowing the onset of neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.

And, it seems that it also slows the process of ageing.  The theory is that the autophagosomes are most active in removing worn out mitochondria.  Think of mitochondria as your cells primary energy source where glucose and oxygen react to produce energy.  While we need this energy, the process can also produce free radicals - which are linked to aging.  Getting rid of damaged mitochondria would reduce free radical production and might thus slow ageing.

Things like this fascinate me - and, having just written this, I can safely say I mostly understand it.  But a week from now what I will remember is this: Exercise makes you live longer.

OK, enough with the lunch break.  Back to playing attic monkey!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Health Care

Have you noticed that about a third of the presidential candidates discussions are on health care?  Problem is, they are not talking about health care, they are talking about the costly part - the cost of taking care of those of us who are sick.  Hmmm - so, sick care?  Doesn’t sound very good, but hopefully you get my point, and won’t object too much if I use the term "sick care" to contrast with health care.

Health care - that is what I did this afternoon for two and a half hours.  I worked out.  Let’s see - working out - reduces risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetics, joint problems, well, hopefully you get the point, working out is the best thing you can do for your health.  As in health care.

And then there was the food I ate today.  No meat (reduces risk of cancer), minimal refined carbohydrates (reduces risk of obesity and diabetes), lots of veggies, an apple, a pear, 3 bananas, and lots and lots of water.  No sodas, no caffeine, just lots of plain water.

Obviously no smoking, chewing, injecting, or inhaling of stuff we should not be smoking, chewing, injecting or inhaling.  These are all things that result in sick care, or, ultimately shortened lives.

As I follow the media discussions on the cost of caring for the sick, the thing that stands out is that we are not going to be able to sustain the current escalation in costs.  I am already reading that it is a lot easier to get into med school today than even ten years ago - young folk are realizing that a doctors degree may not have the same rewards in a future where medical care is no longer provided no matter the cost.  In fact, now it is getting pretty tough to get into programs like physician assistants and nurse practitioners, because it is likely in the future there will be more demand for the lower cost expertise these programs offer.

Bottom line - I work out for a variety of reasons - because it makes me feel great, it keeps my weight down, it allows me to do what I want to do, it makes me look like I am 10 or 15 years younger, and it keeps me healthy.  Or, to put it another way, it gives me a better chance to survive the coming changes in sick care.

When will we find the national wherewithal to actually focus on health care - rewarding those who go out of their way to stay healthy?  I seriously doubt we ever will - or, hey, maybe that is what health care reform is all about.  In a cost controlled system perhaps staying healthy will be the true reward, as it becomes more and more problematic to be sick.  Sort of like keeping out of trouble is a really, really good idea in countries where prisons are truly not a pleasant place to be.  I suspect hospitals in the future may become a bit less pleasant in a cost-constrained sick-care world.

Get out there - do things, get healthy, find satisfaction, and happiness!

Monday, February 13, 2012


Gads what a fantastic workout today.  Started out with my 30 minutes of cardio on a stationary bicycle.  After warming up I was setting up my gymnasts rings when an older gentleman came up and started talking to me about working out; how often, how long, that sort of thing.  He suggested that he could not possibly do the things he sees me doing, because he is so much older.

Right - you see it coming eh?  Turns out he is the same age as I, within a month anyway.  He figured me for my 40's.

So, we talked some more.  Hence the title for this posting.  He explained to me that he is very busy, retired, has a lot of things to do, and can’t make it to the gym most days.

Hmmm.  Let’s see - just finished getting certified as a personal trainer.  Building up a hammered dulcimer group, teaching the hammered dulcimer, and playing an hour a day.  Just prepped the kitchen and master bath for a major renovation.  Making bread whenever we run out.  Studying physiology to better understand the mechanics of the body for my proposed balance/core/stability classes, and proposing tomorrow to the 24 hour fitness folk that they host my classes...

But, despite all that stuff that I think is really important, the most critical element of my days are my workouts.

The aged gent also explained that his back hurt and he had to be careful of his joints.  Hey, I had back problems 20 and 30 years ago.  Seriously.  And I can do things now that I never could have done then.


Brings to mind a couple of quotes I will be using in my presentation tomorrow on my balance/core/stability program:

"People assume they will get old and die – in fact, people today tend to get old and live – decrepit perhaps, but they live. They can get decrepit, if they like, but it is their choice."

"We are stuck with aging – it is inevitable. But, decay is optional, which means that most of the functional aging is optional as well."

Kelly and I have talked about out goals - right at the top is ageing gracefully.  We both interpret that to mean being in fantastic shape so we can do what we want.  When we want.  And not with a sore back.

Funny, with Kelly having left behind her high-stress management position and devoting a bit more time to exercising - her face looks younger now than it did 5 years ago.  Gads it is wonderful living with someone who is getting younger each year!

I chatted a bit longer with the aged one, and concluded that he really is just too busy to do what I do.  Pity.

We all have our priorities, eh?

So, a 50 year old college math instructor joined me on the exercise rings.  Mark is great - one of the very few "older guys" who work out with me on occasion.  Great upper body strength, and focused on core development.  Perfect.  I have worked out with him a few times in the past - if he sticks with it I really look forward to seeing how his core strength develops.

He joined me for about an hour and a half.  Michael (20 year old soccer player) showed up and we finished up with another hour of rings, basket-ball pushups and funky chin-ups.

Total of 3 hours.  And I feel GREAT!  OK, I will sleep like a log tonight, and tomorrow at 2 pm I will hit it again.  Push-up day.

Priorities.  Doing things and gaining satisfaction, and happiness.  Every time I look in the mirror.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Special Ingredients

A loaf of white bread is primarily bread flour.  Flour doesn’t come white - it is processed to make it that lovely white color.  The end result of the processing is that white bread flour is very easy to metabolize.  The ease with which carbs can be metabolized (turned into glucose in the blood) is referred to as the "glycemic index". The benchmark is glucose - with an index of 100.  White bread has a glycemic index of around 70.

The higher the glycemic index, the higher the insulin spike needed to help metabolize the glucose, and the greater the impact on our metabolism.  Unfortunately, eating high glycemic index foods is one of the primary reasons that people become diabetic.

And being diabetic is really a bad thing.

But, and face it, there is always a but, carbohydrates (carbs - things like sugar, bread, noodles, rice, well, you get the point) provide energy for our bodies.  Which is a really good thing.  I can remember when I spent a week in Europe with my nephew, who, up to that point, ate mainly protein - which resulted in a pretty darned ripped physique.  But, he had to eat protein continuously.  During the trip I introduced him to European breads, which tend to have a lot of whole grains in them, as in whole wheat grains, and whole oats.  They are chewy - and they take time to digest.  But, they are carbs, and they don’t have high glycemic indices.  And, my nephew was amazed at how much more energy he had (a good thing since we were climbing mountains and the like - and because I was tired of buying him cold cuts all the time).

So, let’s get this straight - we need carbs for energy.  I recently took a class to become a certified personal trainer (by the way, I passed!!!!!).  The teacher stated that an athlete needs to consume 45% of their diet as carbs.  Interestingly the trainer was 40 pounds overweight.  OK, there is a problem there.  He used to work out hard - but, well, his business is doing well, and he hasn’t changed his eating habits.  Hence the 40 pounds.  So, we can overdo the carb thing.  And, if you are trying to lose weight, carbs might be a problem for you.

Even if you aren’t trying to lose weight, highly refined carbs (white sugar, white flour, white rice) are likely to be a problem.  As we go through the following, keep in mind that anything that speeds up the digestion of carbs will boost the carbs glycemic index.  So, finely ground flour with things like the fiber, bran and germ removed, are a lot easier to digest than a whole wheat flour.  And, logically, a grain of wheat that has not been ground up, stripped of its non-white components, well, it will be a lot harder to digest.  And provide energy for a lot longer time.  And have a very low glycemic index.

Which brings us to how I make my bread healthy.

Firstly I use only whole wheat flour.  Then I add things.  Or even replace the whole wheat flour with other kinds of flour.

First one to consider - soy flour is 40 to 50% protein.  Which is a great boost when compared with whole wheat flour, which is down around 10 to 12% protein.  Replacing 1/3 of the whole wheat flour with soy flour increases the overall protein content of the bread from around 14% to around 24%.  This is fantastic if you are working out and need the protein.

Also, soy flour is around 35% carbs.  Whole wheat is around 70% carbs.  Big change.  And, amazingly, while the dough smells like green soy beans, after baking you really can’t tell the soy flour is there!  But you do need to add a heaping tablespoon of gluten (protein) to make up for the lack of gluten in soy flour.  But, again, the gluten adds to the overall protein content.

The next thing I add is wheat berries.  I take a third of a cup of wheat - the whole grains - add a third of a cup of water and boil to soften the wheat.  This goes into my bread.

Fortunately, living in Portland the grocery stores carry such things - in Oklahoma I went to a feed store and bought a 10 pound bag - worked great!

Next.  Around here the stores carry steel-cut oats - not crushed oats (which would also work but would have a bit higher glycemic index).  I add 1/3 cup to each batch of bread - I don’t pre-soften these - they do fine when baked.

Likewise, I add steel-cut wheat.  Usually I end up making my own steel cut wheat - since I haven’t seen it in stores.  When we bought our mixer we also got an attachment that would allow us to make our own flour.  Or, if you adjust the setting, it will just cut grains - not grind them.  Perfect.  In goes a third of a cup of cut wheat.

Buckwheat - not wheat at all - actually related to sorrels, knotweeds and rhubarb.  Buckwheat provides essential amino-acids to support muscle recovery and rebuilding.  And, even better, the grains are small enough that I just add in a third of a cup without grinding.  I was curious, so just grabbed a palm full and ate them.  Crunchy, nutty flavor.

Next - flax seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.  But, until they are cut up, the fatty acids are not readily available.  Once again, I use the grain mill attachment, and set it so the flax seeds come out cut into 3 or 4 smaller pieces.  In goes a third of a cup of cut flax seeds.

I have recently discovered chia seeds - an even better source of omega-3 acids than flax seeds.  These very small seeds (think celery seeds - really small) are also much easier to digest - so they don’t need to be cut up.  In fact I now add these to my protein drinks.  In my latest batch of bread I replaced the third cup of cut flax seeds with a third cup of chia seeds.

Honestly, experimenting with the things you can put in bread is a lot of fun.  There are a variety of flours and, lots of other grains: Each bring their own benefits.

But, let’s get back to the bread we are making.

Originally there were 3 cups of whole wheat flour.

I took one cup out and replaced it with soy flour.

Then I added 1/3 cup (uncooked, 2/3 cup cooked) wheat berries.

And 1/3 cup each of steel-cut oats, wheat and chia seeds.

And another 1/3 cup of buckwheat.  Final mix: 2 cups whole wheat flour, and 2 2/3 cups other stuff - all of which will have a very low glycemic index.

One other point to keep in mind.  Adding protein and fiber slows down absorption of metabolism of carbs - even more glycemic index reduction from all of these whole - as in "not ground into flour" - grains.

The bread came out great - surprisingly light - as in it rose well, but stuffed full of nutrition.  And, since I am really into flavor, I added my Scarborough Faire spice mix - yup, you guessed it, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.  With some dried onion thrown in.

The first slice, with some yogurt-based butter substitute - oh my god - it was soooo good!  Truly a meal with fantastic flavor, low glycemic index, and lots of protein.