Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nutrition - How much do you know about it?

Blogger ate my post.  Its true.  I had an entire entry typed up, proof-read, and spell checked and now its gone.  As such, I am writing this post for the second time and am not certain what effect that will have on my writing.  Thankfully, there is NOTHING going on at work today so I have the time to re-do it all.

After changing over to organic foods and reducing the amount of aminal products we consume, I wanted to make certain that we were still getting the nutrients necessary to be healthy.  I was never that concerned about this before but then I didnt want to turn into the candy and bread fed vegetarian or the stereotypical pasty vegan so I started to look for direction online.  Most of the tips and suggestions I found assumed that meat was a primary contributor to daily meals and the few others were focused on a fat-free vegan diet which just sounds boring as hell if not dangerous.  It seemed there were few places to turn to determine what nutrients a person on a plant-based diet should consume - then I found the book Vegan for Life

I cannot speak highly enough about this book.  It is well researched and well referenced.  It doesnt make any claims without substantial scientific (ie. peer-reviewed publications) support and, best of all, it wasnt too preachy about the whole animal thing. Vegan for Life is broken down into sections based on the primary nutrients any body needs to be healthy.  It discusses what nutrients you need, what happens if you dont get enough, and what food sources contain it.  A lot of health food books tend to provide a list of foods for you to eat, but this one suggests how much of each nutrient you should get on a daily basis.  As such, you can incorporate any food into your diet as long as you know the nutients it provides rather than sticking to a limited list.

One potential issue with nutrition-based meal planning is that most produce doesnt come with food labels on it.  Again I turned to the internet for help and found http://www.nutritiondata.self.com/.  This great website is really a dieting tools associated with Self magazine.  While the Self magazine banner is prevalent on the page, I have managed to navigate the page for weeks now without running into an actual ad for subscribing to the magazine (or its affiliates).  The site is super user friendly and intuitive.  I primarily use the recipe creating tool that allows me to put together a recipe for a meal I made using the extensive list of ingredients.  The site then "analyzes" the meal and provides me with a calorie count, a breakdown of the percentage of fats, protein, carbohydrates, and the levels of vitamins and minerals in each meal.  You can also track all the meals you eat for a day to get an overall calorie and nutrition count. 

If all the numbers sound daunting, the website also provides several graphs that indicate the level of each vitamin, mineral, and amino acid so that you have a quick visual reference for what you just ate.  I wish I could copy and paste the fancy color charts and pyramids into this blog entry, but the folks over at NutritionData know their applications are fabulous and have coded them in such a way that they just WONT copy.  :(  Instead, you will have to go over and see it for yourself. 

One of the other great things about the website is that it saves the recipes you spend time entering so that you can just bring them up again next time you make them.  Now, I dont use this website everyday, but I check in with it every now and them to make certain that what we are eating is fulfilling all our nutrient requirements.  If you wanted to use the site for weight maintenance or weight loss the calorie counting tool would be a great benefit.  For example, I am going to be fairly sedentary today (sitting at my desk, driving to and from work, sitting on the couch and watching tv - its an off day from the gym for me) so the daily needs calculator says I need 1880 calories to maintain my weight.  If I were to do an hour at the gym the calorie count is bumped up to just under 2400.  So, if I were to eat my delicious fava bean salad and two small pieces of bread for lunch and pasta with simple tomato sauce and a glass of wine for dinner then I would have consumed roughly 1654 calories, leaving enough room for a cookie or two for dessert.  Seven percent of the calories for the day would have come from alcohol, 40% from carbs, 43% from fats, and 10% from protein.  I also would have consumed my suggested daily intake of Vitamin A, C, E, K, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, and Folate.  As for minerals I would have consumed good amounts of Magnesium, Phosphorus Sodium, Zinc, Copper, Manganese, and Selenium.  All this data shows that I am not getting enough Vitamin D, Vitamin B, or Calcium so I have started taking a supplement to assist in getting the correct amount of those nutrients to stay healthy. 

Do you know what your daily intake levels are?  Are you where you should be on a regular basis?  More importantly, do you know how many more cookies (or martinis) you can have now that you walked that extra mile?  I recommend checking out both Vegan for Life (since its also useful for non-vegans) and NutritionData.self.com so that you can feel healthy on a daily basis!  

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Less Meat and More Dough

While the Michael Pollan, King Corn and Food Inc certainly cemented our decision to eat organic and local whenever possible, they were not the impetus for the change in our food consumption.  However, we have watched other films that have shaped how we eat since then.  When the weather turned cooler, we started spending more time inside in the evenings and began watching other documentaries supplied by netflix such as Food Matters, Forks Over Knives, and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.

These films clearly had an agenda - eat more fresh produce!  While this message is one that mirrored the teaching of Michael Pollan, each film had a slightly different angle.  Forks Over Knives showed that by changing the way you eat to include more plants, you could do away with most if not all medical conditions.  The film makers showed that eating an organic plant-based diet could reduce a person's reliance on medications.  While the organic produce is more expensive up front, the money saved on medical expenses and medications over time make the life change a sound financial decision.  Over the period of the film, a few short weeks, the primary researcher dropped significant weight, reduced his dependence on caffeine and Red Bull (shudder), decreased his bad cholesterol, and increased the overall health of his heart muscles so he was no longer at risk for heart attack.  The story is strengthened by the fact that the primary researcher wasnt gung-ho, excited, or even moderately convinced by the benefits of the plant-based diet at the start of the film (nor was he completely opposed to it either - he was more nonchalant than anything).  Somehow being sold a story/plan by someone who is already a believer doesnt deliver as potent a message.  Either way, by the end of the film J and I were convinced we had done the right thing by adding more fresh produce to our regular diet.

Both FOK and FM talked about the consumption of animal products such as meats, milks, and cheeses and how they contribute to increased risk of cancer and heart disease.  They arent just talking about over consumption of these food products, but the integration of these foods into regular, supposedly healthy diets.  While conducting research on malnourished children, one researcher found that the impoverished kids fed on a plant-based diet supplied by some NGO had significantly lower risk of cancer than children from the same region who were financially well-off enough to include meat in their daily diets.  The China Study, an extensive research study discussed in the films, found multiple connections between a diet of meat products and the development of various cancers throughout many cities in China.  These two movies together (along with other online research) made us come to the conclusion that we should consume less meat. 

J and I were never big on meat consumption, but we would regularly eat sauteed chicken breasts, ground lamb, or beef stew.  We decided to simply eat less of it and to make it local organic meat when we did consume some.  Instead of focusing on removing meat from our diet, we simply started choosing meals that didnt have any in them.  I scan foodgawker.com daily for menu ideas and instead of picking the recipes for burgers and satays, I select the ones based on beans, lentils, or quinoa.  They recipes taste just as good as those that we used to eat that included meat so we dont feel like we are sacrificing.  We will buy wild caught salmon from Green Bean from time to time and will certainly be making a burger or two when Summer grilling picks up again, but most of our meals dont include animal products.

One great and unexpected side effect of not buying meat is that our grocery bill has gone down.  We were spending a lot on organic produce, especially now that we have rediscovered Whole Foods, but the bottom line for a weeks worth of groceries is nearly identical when meat isnt included.

While I feel that the message in FOK and FM isnt overly pushy or unrealistic, the message in Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead may be crossing the line.  This real-life story about a generally ill guy that goes on a 60 day juice cleanse may be taking matters a bit far.  Both he and a trucker buddy he meets along the way, drink only veggie and fruit juice for 60 days and lose not only weight but all their medical conditions along the way.  Although Joe Cross, the principle in the film, does state that one shouldnt begin a long juice fast without consulting a physician, I wonder how many actually will and with detrimental effects.  After all, the amount of weight each person looses is substantial enough to motivate most people to go out and buy a juicer at the very least!  Aside from the health risks associated with only drinking juice for so long, I doubt its a very realistic plan for anyone with a family or job.  Both parties in the film took time off from the daily routine to conduct the juice fast.  They suffered from lack of energy and sleeplessness and didnt engage in strenuous exercise for the entire time.  I feel like there should have been a word of caution at the end of the film stating that the methods used in the film were extreme and that the results were not typical - something you are also likely to see at the end of a xenedrin commercial.  :)

Still, these films promote eating micronutrients over macro nutrients and show that juicing fruits and vegetables is an easy way to get access to vitamins and minerals that may be missing from less nutritious diets.  Together with the increase in fresh organic produce and the reduced consumption in animal products, J and I are well on our way to a healthy lifestyle.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Our Switch to Organic

These last several months J and I have been watching lots (LOTS!) of food-focused documentaries courtesy of Netflix. We started a few months ago with King Corn and Food Inc after being inspired by some Michael Pollan books such as the Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defence of Food (I saw Michael Pollan speak once at Butler when I was in graduate school). The message of the books as well as the films is to be more conscious of the food you eat.

Michael Pollan urges readers to shop the periphery of the grocery stores to avoid the more processed foods (he also says to only eat items your grandmother would recognize as food - blue colored go-gurts apparently dont count in his book) while King Corn draws attention to the omnipresence of corn and corn by-products in the foods that mainstream America consumes. From King Corn, you get the idea that food processing makes simple foods more complicated in an attempt to keep food cheap (the subsidization of corn production is also a major focus of the film and is a government program worthy of extensive reevaluation). Food Inc looks at food production in America on a broader scale and investigates not only mono-cropping, but also egg production, meat processing, and the control large corporations have over "their" farmers.

Time and time again the message was to eat local. If you can visit where your food is grown, there is a better chance it will be healthier for you. Not only will it have travelled less to get to your plate, but you can be more certain of the farmer's practices and see that they are proud of their product. In contrast, most of the chicken farmers interviewed for Food Inc wouldnt let visitors onto the property, cameras or not.

The concept of eating local isnt a new one for us as I had been raised on weekly trips to the local farmer markets to buy fresh produce. This is something J and I have been trying to do here in Indiana, though our farmer markets run only from June to October and curiously supplies bananas which are definitely not a locally grown fruit! In Fishers, the farmers market was small but varied and offered locally scavenged mulberries and produce stands that were often no more than the back of someones pick-up truck (gotta love Indiana!). When we chose to move to Noblesville, we took into account the presence of a local farmers market. It was supposed to be larger and better supplied than the one in Fishers so we were pretty excited. Since we moved in the dead of winter we had to wait several months for the market to start back up again and when it did we were sorely disappointed.

The beautiful market we had been promised was full of tomatoes with grocery store stickers on them, green onions with the tell-tale rubber bands of mass production, and more tie-dye stands than a small town really requires. As a result we ended up subscribing to a local organic produce delivery company called Green B.E.A.N. Delivery. Each week we get a bin full of organic produce delivered to our doorstep. Green Bean tries to source its products locally but when no local goods are available, such as during the Indiana winter, they get organic produce from the closest place possible. In addition to fruits and veggies, they offer local meat products that are often pasture raised, hormone free, and whose farms and ranches are within a days drive.

The switch to eating organic foods was one we have been wanting to make for some time. Now that we can pay our bills without worrying where the money will come from, we have made the choice to spend the extra funds on our food. They say that organic produce is about 30% more expensive than non-organic, but here in Indiana I find that its typically twice as expensive. When was the last time you paid $1.40 for a single bunch of "regular" green onions? Yeah, I didnt think so. Ours run about $2 a bunch. Just about the only thing that is 30% more expensive are bananas - go figure. So, instead of spending our few (precious) extra dollars on movies or wild nights at the local bar(s), we spend it on the thing we love the best, eating.