Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Year of No Sugar: A Review

Most of us know the challenge of avoiding wheat, dairy, grains, potatoes, and high-carb foods in general, and a lot of people find it tough, especially at the beginning. But to avoid all added sugar in food--I hadn't guessed how hard it would be until I started reading A Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub.

Specifically, Schaub and her husband and two young daughters avoided all added fructose and most artificial sweeteners (fruit was OK), making a few exceptions: one dessert with added sugar per month, one personal exception with a bit of sweetener (such as ketchup or diet soda), and for the kids, they could choose for themselves whether to indulge at school, parties, etc.

I can relate to the difficult transition to a non-whatever diet. Back in the 90s, I found out that almost everything contains wheat--not just bread and noodles, but almost anything in a box or a can. Same for sugar--salad dressing, most sausage, bacon, yogurt, cereal, pasta sauce--it's in there. Put on an apron and fire up the stove: if you want a variety of food you can eat, you'll have to cook it yourself.

I can also relate to changing tastes and reactions. Like many of us who curtail our sugar intake, Schaub's diet honed her sensitivity to sweetness. Regular "treats" became cloying. To me, as a long-term low-carber, even the grocery shelves full of flavored coffees smell like the candy aisle. It's mildly sickening, like fruity-smelling perfume. (I quit eating fruit in any significant amount years ago because it gives me a stomach ache.) By the fourth month, a sugary dessert left Schaub with a bad headache. The last wheat-flour cookie I ever ate gave me sinus congestion, acid reflux and a stomach ache; some of the symptoms lasted for days. It was the last wheat I ever deliberately ate.

What surprised me was how much sugar gets shoved at kids. When I grew up in the 70s and 80s, we didn't get snacks at school. It was BYO, buy at the vending machines (in high school), or wait until your next meal. Nobody went into a hypoglycemic coma or wept from feeling unloved. At Halloween, we got candy from trick-or-treating. There was some candy at Easter and Christmas, too, but it wasn't like finding yourself in a candy store every day for a month as it is today during every holiday, meaning nearly year-round. Is it any wonder so many kids are overweight or ill?

Many will relate to Schaub's struggle with moderation now that the experiment is over. (You can read her blog about it here.) She says that having a hard, fast rule was simpler than flying by the seat of one's pants. The phenomenon is called decision fatigue--each decision to resist something or control yourself saps your will power and your energy. Revisiting your decision all the time requires you to stop and think about how much sugar you've had, how much you should have, what should the yardstick should be--I know, I was on and off of wheat for years until I completely gave the stuff up. Perfection is so much easier than moderation.

I couldn't relate to Schaub's displeasure at skipping the snacks and the long lines at a gathering. Maybe it's because I've been on a wheat-free diet for so long, or because I don't care for parties, or I have a repertoire of no-thank-yous, or I'm what psychologists call a low self monitor (i.e., I don't make much effort to follow the crowd--it rarely occurs to me to do so). Still, I'm wondering why Schaub was unhappy that there was little her family could eat at a benefit, since everything likely had sugar in it. The family had just eaten lunch and the chow line was very long. What was the problem with skipping lunch #2? Or in the fact that Schaub no longer enjoyed standard sugary fare that she kept describing as "poison"? Likewise, her worries about giving her kids an eating disorder from the experiment seemed excessive. As for a certain cancer rate dropping and rising 60 years after World War II sugar rationing came and went, wouldn't that be around 2003 to 2007 or so--when the Atkins diet enjoyed a revival?

All the same, the Schaub family conducted a difficult experiment and sounded like they were generally good sports about it. Schaub writes about her family's experiment without preaching or hubris, describing their struggles and successes and why the experiment was important: cancer, obesity, and type 2 diabetes are at epidemic levels and the problem, she says, is too much fructose. It's added to many, many products, but a family can whack most of it out of their diet if they're determined to do so.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

USDA Article Brings Back Memories of my Grandparents

This post from the USDA's blog brings back some memories. The post is about how grandparents can help their grandkids form good eating and exercise habits. It urges grandparents,

Take your grandchildren shopping at a farmer's market and the grocery store. Talk about the choices you are making--choosing the juicier oranges or the fresher vegetables. Help them learn cooking skills, which will benefit them them throughout their lives. Encourage them to be active throughout the day. 
Spend time walking in the neighborhood, planting a vegetable garden, or shooting a few hoops. Dance, run, or play hopscotch and soccer with them when they're full of energy...

Up until I was twelve, my mother and I visited my grandparents every year in Missouri. After a daylong drive from Colorado, an orange sunset would find us on the dirt road in front of Grandma and Grandpa's house. Everybody hugged, then we dug in to a savory spinach salad Grandma made for the occasion. During our week there, Grandma took me shopping and showed me how to select the best produce. I was only 12 at most, didn't get an allowance and had no way to transport groceries, but she thought it was never too early to learn. Likewise, Grandma and Grandpa put me to work weeding their large garden, where I sank to my knees in the mud. Grandma rinsed me off and said it was good that I was active throughout the day.

Southern Missouri is hot and sticky during the summer, but that didn't stop Grandma and Grandpa from playing with me and the kids next door, Sally and Danny. When I say "hot and sticky," I mean that you could take a bath, dry off, and within five minutes you were just as wet as you were before you toweled off. The heat wasn't roasting, as it is in Colorado, where the sunlight burns fair skin in 15 minutes. It was like a kitchen full of steam with all burners going, but no air conditioning or window. And unlike Colorado, it stayed hot at night.

Nevertheless, Grandma put on the phonograph at night and taught me the Charleston. Side, back, side, front, side, front, side, back--twenties Charleston. She tore up the floor like Prohibition had just ended. I don't know how she did it at 75--there were days after dancing benders in my 30s when I wanted a new pair of knees.

Other times, Grandpa hopped on his bike and rode all over the countryside with me and the neighbor kids. How I hope I am that youthful when I'm 85! I don't ride a bike, since I was badly hurt in a bike wreck a few years ago, but I like to picture myself playing a pickup game of something with nieces and nephews or neighbor kids, platinum blond hair in the breeze, before serving a vegetable tray and reading them stories by the USDA.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Totalfat: Encouragement!

Japan, of all places, has given the world a band called Totalfat. I don't know the story behind their name, but one of their songs ("Place to Try") should be encouraging to someone fighting the well-meaning meddling of people trying to get them to eat lessfat. Even if you don't speak Japanese, the song should encourage you to eat morefat.

English translation from
I'm almost at the end
My legs are ready to give, but I can't give up yet
Now is the time to go

Together we will pave, the path towards our dreams
They call me, beckon me closer
It's not crazy
Fight and fight, try and try for you

I will always be there
Don't give up, not yet
The future is waiting for us

There's nothing to fear so let's get moving
This is a place to try

Today is ending and we're heading for tomorrow
Take my hand and never let go
Let's sing loudly
We are the ones for the future

Monday, March 31, 2014

Working Smarter to Avoid Neck Pain

I'm still in the middle of insulating my parents' attic. I've spent so much time at my parents' house that my father thinks I live there. It's a slog, but I'll say one thing for it: it's a grueling workout, and after doing it Tuesday and Saturday, along with yoga on Monday and karate on Friday, I felt wonderful Saturday. It's like the exercise does something renewing, anti-depressing, like I'd spent a day in the sun.

Then came Sunday. My neck hurt, even after six aspirin. It was time to start working smarter on the attic, not just harder. The hardest part of insulating the attic is getting the second layer of insulation going crosswise over the first layer. Another problem is that the attic's trusses are 24" apart, not the usual 16," which is about how wide the insulation is. Lying in bed (where Madonna says she gets her best ideas), I wondered if I could lay down insulation between the joists and then lay down a solid layer on top, going the same way and not having to crawl around the low, tight spots, dragging insulation with me, to fill in a second layer crosswise. That sounded fine, but what about having insulation that didn't fill in between the joists, just 2/3 of the area there, plus a (mostly) solid layer on top? Would the insulation between the joists do any good?

I learned at the university that shape affects heat transfer. Having thrown away the textbook long ago, I looked if I could find an answer online. There were solutions involving heat transfer over fins and ribs (like a radiator), but not through them. Heat transfer equations aren't easy to conjure, so I did an experiment. Using some styrofoam to model the insulation, some ice and frozen meat for cold, and two thermometers, I found out that the extra insulation, even though it wasn't a solid layer, would help. The temperature in the Gladware container with the extra styrofoam got to 66F after an hour, as opposed to 64F in the less insulated container. (Ambient temperature was 71F.)

Just rolling out the insulation won't be a walk in the park, but it'll be easier than what I've been doing. When I need a workout, I'll go to karate and yoga.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Other People's Property

I've often imagined I'd hate being a landlord or owning a vacation home. I know myself well.

I'm in the middle of insulating my parents' attic. It's not like a spacious TV attic full of cherry antiques, it's a big, dark, low, dusty area made of trusses, each with a big wooden W in the middle. Wires run the length of the house. The yoga classes, where we build strength through striking odd poses, have paid off for this project. So has my sinus infection from a few years back. While I was lying in bed last night coughing up a lung from the dust I inhaled while putting down insulation, I remembered someone telling me that congestion is worse at night because the mucus settles in your throat when you lie down. With that in mind, I propped myself up on pillows and returned to normal.

Last Saturday, I ran errands while my nephew hauled the insulation up to the attic and fixed the fan and screens. He hasn't been back. A bunch of contractors came to the house to write up estimates for a sprinkler system; my parents can't water the lawn anymore since they're both in wheelchairs. (Note to self: fix your house up now and get lots of enjoyment out of it. You'll have to do it someday anyway, and you don't have any children to do it for you.)

My parents and I selected a contractor (i.e., went with the low bidder). I offered to landscape part of the yard that's on a slope and would be hard to hook up to the system. I'm thinking Russian sage, yellow achillea, tansy, and low-growing sedum. I can put down a 3-sprinkler hose and ask a neighbor to water the area a few times a week this year; it shouldn't need watered after that except in a drought. The money my father got from selling some collectibles and other assets should more than cover the sprinkler; I can landscape the slope mostly with volunteers from my yard. Unfortunately, my sister, who sold the items, probably won't be back since our father bawled her out for selling something he wanted to keep and demanding she return it NOW, in a blizzard.

My mother discovered there was a lien on the car when she tried to get a replacement title for it. It turns out the lien is just a matter of paperwork--we can get the title and possibly sell it to one of my coworkers whose car, and husband's car, were both stolen. She got her car back, but his was totaled by the thief.

Readers may remember the three and a half hours my mother and I spent setting up a new account at the credit union. I think her old bank, where we haven't yet closed the accounts, knows something is up. Someone from there called the other day, sweetly asking how all of us were, and asking to talk to me. They can forget it. Their bank has charged my parents almost $150 in fees over the past six months, allowed someone to open a credit card in my father's name, and wasn't helpful in getting it resolved. Why do people put up with such high costs and poor service? It's called switching costs: it takes some combination of time, money and effort make certain kinds of changes, like changing software (learning a new system and exporting your data), going to the metric system, speaking Esperanto, or changing banks. Mom and I have already paid most of the switching costs; it's just a matter of closing the old account once we're sure the deposits will all go in the new account.

In addition to this, it's busy season where I work. I hope to have all this work done around the same time at the end of April (I'm in audit, not tax). And then I'd like to go to somebody else's home for a vacation.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Denver's Food Deserts: A Tour

A fellow commentor (Exceptionally Brash) looked up food deserts in her city, and it piqued my curiosity about food deserts in my hometown of Denver. The gray areas are "urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food."

The cartographers of the project evidently didn't think about taking the bus to the grocery store or that people who move to places without public transportation nearby know that they're going to need a car. Nor do they consider that some supermarkets deliver groceries.

See the L-shaped desert in the lower left corner? I see the vertical part of it every day from a bus that runs from early morning until past midnight. The area is mostly retail and industrial, along with a major highway, a river, an animal shelter, and a golf course--perfect places for a grocery store, right? Nevertheless, there are two supermarkets, several convenience stores, a bunch of modest-looking restaurants and a WalMart that sells groceries along the route just outside the "desert." There are a couple more supermarkets along the way if you're willing to go a few blocks east.

The horizontal bit looks like it's Mississippi Avenue. Google shows three supermarkets at the left end of the "desert" that shoppers can get to on the 11 bus. There's a Whole Foods just past the right end.

There's a major bus route through the middle of the little square food desert in the middle of the map. Jump on the 15, and you'll get to King Soopers and Safeway in a few minutes.

My best friend, a health and fitness enthusiast, used to live near the big food desert at the top of the map. I can't remember her ever complaining (and she likes to complain) about getting groceries, except for the long lines. Evidently, a lot of people managed to get there. Much of the food desert is along two interstates surrounded by industrial parks, an event complex, and a dog food factory. Even so, it's a large area with some neighborhoods and a golf course. But when I went to Mapquest and picked a spot in the middle (Colorado & Martin Luther King), and got directions to the nearest supermarket, it was less than three miles' drive, or a five-minute ride on the #2 bus. From the events complex, it was less than 10 minutes' drive to a Target or Walmart. That's not exactly a desert trip you need to pack provisions for.

My best friend and I once went to the desert in the middle left when she was hit with a craving for tamales. On North Federal, you can't turn around without seeing tamales for sale. We even passed a muffler shop that sold tamales. The restaurant we chose (from among many) was across the street from a butcher shop.

From the butcher shop, you can head east on 6th Avenue for a few miles, turn right, and go to a farmers' market (with actual farmers) that sells raw milk, pastured meat and eggs, fruit, vegetables, and so on. On certain Saturdays, you can buy some birds at the nearby chicken swap and have your own fresh eggs.

If we applied the "food desert" standards to driving commutes, Denver would have a "workplace desert." Not many people live within a couple of miles of work--the average driving commute here takes 27 minutes. And of course, it's typical to go to work more often than to the grocery store. Yet this isn't a problem needing a government solution--people old enough to have a job are expected to find a way to get to work. The same standard should apply to people old enough to buy their own groceries.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hollandaise Sauce: It Finally Worked!

A piece of toast, creamed spinach, a poached egg, and what have you got? Egg on spinach. But take a big spoonful of hollandaise and mask that egg and you have oeufs poch├ęs florentine. -Julia Child

After a number of failed attempts over the years to make hollandaise sauce, I finally looked up Julia Child on Youtube and copied her method. Result: instead of bits of cooked egg, the eggs, butter and lemon juice turned into smooth, creamy, delicious hollandaise sauce.

If you want Eggs Florentine or Eggs Benedict, there's an excellent low carb, grain-free bread recipe in The Fat Fast Cookbook by Dana Carpender. Toast a piece of bread (I broil mine for three minutes on each side 4" from the flame), serve with creamed spinach, smoked salmon, ham or bacon (I broil the bacon along with the bread), and you have a breakfast worthy of a gourmet.