31 March 2012

CRAP food

CRAP == calorie-rich and processed.

In fact, most food processing consists of taking away fiber and micro-nutrients and putting in more calories. I found this great diagram the other day which shows how much calories in the average US diet come from added fat and sugar:

However, for anybody who's regularly reading ingredient lists of food they buy, there is one other additive that makes it into virtually every item of processed food and also contains a big share of calories which very quickly get turned into sugar by your intestines. That third thing is starch, mostly in the form of refined wheat flour with ever more of that being replaced by corn starch recently. The nutritional value of starch is just as low as it is for sugar, and the sugar-high provided from starch is just as real as that from simple sugars, only that it's spread out a little more.
As you can see in the diagram, added fats make up the largest source of standard American Calories, but the close runner-up is "grains". Now –I thought– most of those grains are consumed as bread, pasta, pizza (dough), cake, pastries, (all made mostly of refined flour) and of course, lot's of starch added to almost any other food to make sauces more creamy or doughs stick together better. In other words: most of those "grains" are in fact just "added starch". Shouldn't that be reflected better in the diagram?
Fortunately the authors of that original post at Grist have provided a link to their source, the US Dep't of Agriculture, who in turn provide spreadsheets with all the detailed numbers. I guessed that about 60 to 90% of the "grain" bubble in the diagram could be labelled as "added starch". Thanks to the good scholarship of my sources, I could easily look it up! Here's a Google Docs Spreadsheet with the bubbles taken apart. While I was at it, I also broke up that weird protein  bubble into animal foods and the poor nuts who don't deserve to live in that same group. Here's a diagram of the results:
You can look at the spreadsheet to see which food is grouped where. (Pedantics can check the formulas.) The actual ratio of "added starch" vs "healthy whole-grain" depends a bit on interpretation, but according to the data I think that about 80% added starch and refined flour made from all consumed grains is a fair guess. (Remember that most white breads, doughs, and pasta are 99% starch.) So this much belongs into the CRAP portion of the diagram, because starch and white flour are almost pure calories with little other nutrients. The remaining 20% of grains (and that includes pop corn, for example) goes to the healthy plant foods group.

Now, take one more look the diagram. See that large chunk of 60% calorie-rich and processed foods? Any doubts what the Americans mainly consume? Holy CRAP!


12 March 2012

Nutritarian diet in a nut shell

First of all, eat greens and beans.
On top of that, eat fruits and roots.
And last not least, eat nuts and seeds.

Divide your daily caloric intake about 60/35/5% in the first, second, and third group. Remember that the greens have very little calories per volume, so you'll need to eat a lot. Conversely, nuts and seeds are very dense in calories (especially fats), so you'll only need to sprinkle a few on your salad or blend them into a dressing.

Remember, unrefined plant foods (including mushrooms in the first group) are the only foods allowed, so there's no sugar, oil, or flour, or anything made of sugar, oil, or flour anywhere near allowed!

10 March 2012

The food pyramid put on its proper base.

As a little kid I did quite well in school. I still remember many things I learned in class while I forgot about other school things which other people remember well. (For instance, I don't recognize old school mates even tho they remember me well.)

One thing I still remember from school is how healthy eating is supposed to be done. Here's the food pyramid as I was taught it in middle school:

Just because I like pretty pictures, here's another one, without the labels:

Because I was so indoctrinated by school I always remembered this when planning my own groceries and meals. Additionally, the idea of having one starchy thing at the base (bread, pasta, or potatoes) was always reinforced by the meals that my family made or that I found in school dining halls, canteens, restaurants, and fast food places everywhere. Even when I went to the far east, the principle was just the same, only using rice at the base. (And of course also noodles, and steamed buns, and the famous bîng 饼.)
But as I grew more conscious about what I eat I found that the really interesting and most important stuff in a meal were really the vegetables. I felt the starches were always kind of the same and boring and what really gives you the most nutrients and also adds most of the flavor and character to a plate are all the other vegetables.
During the last months I grew more and more dissatisfied, upset, and in the later stages even angry with the fact that virtually all meals that one can buy outside have this huge starchy base and just not enough really nutritious (and delicious) veggies. Just think of a sandwich with just one leave of lettuce and slices from half a tomato. Or a pizza which is just a hot open sandwich that's still much more dough than veggies on top. Each time after having such a meal I would first feel full and tired (at work, this meant I needed coffee to not fall asleep!), then be fine for a short while, and then crash into a huge hunger (even greater than before I had eaten!) and sometimes accompanied with symptoms of low blood sugar. Maybe some readers know those shaky legs!?
For a while I avoided the problem by eating at the Asian fast food counter where the serving of veggies is big compared to the base of rice, but over time I also felt that there was still way too much white rice on the plate and also too few veggies. Sometimes I still needed coffee and wouldn't be satiated until the next meal time.
After my recent holidays in Taiwan where I enjoyed lots of great vegan kitchen, I had a big fallout with my Western diet – so bad that I called it my personal food crisis! Currently I am reading Joel Fuhrmans “Eat to Live” and find that my “dream food pyramid” is actually backed by science and medicine:
Something I just learned from the book and appreciated a lot to know is that leaf vegetables (like arugula, spinach, chard, broccoli, and kale) should actually be considered a separate group apart from other veggies because they are so rich in nutrients, especially micro-nutrients and natural fiber.
If you think that this pyramid seems weird and unnatural, then that's because the old one is just rooted so deeply in our culture. Dr. Fuhrman is not the only person that came up with this new food pyramid. Here are two other respectable sources: the University of Michigan and Dr. Dean Ornish (of TED fame) both promote a plant-based diet to promote health and avoid illness.

I'd like to write a lot more about what I learned from the book, and how it's just what I needed in my current crisis – but first I have to make another salad.

Minimal cooking for good health and meal variety -- a different veggie every day

Pumpkin soup, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spread, marinated pumpkin chunks -- there are over hundred different ways to prepare pumpkin, yet there's little prepared pumpkin available at restaurants and grocery stores. Of the top of my head I could name a few restaurants that have pumpkin soup and I've seem pumpkin puree on supermarket shelves, along with awfully sweet, unhealthy pumpkin pie.

So how do I get my healthy dose of pumpkin without spending too much time cooking?

Just make the simplest of pumpkin recipies (next to raw pumpkin): baked pumpkin parts.
I just took the seeds out and removed the fleshy parts, then they went into the oven on the same pan. The seeds  will be crisps after five to ten minutes, much earlier than the pumpkin flesh, so they serve as a delicious appetizer while waiting for the main course. :-)

While eating, I found that the pumpkin flesh that was closer to the pan was much more moist and had more taste. While the upper part was good, too, I found it quite dry in comparison. So my plan for next time is to steam the pumpkin parts instead of frying them. I am already looking forward to trying that!