Monday, April 29, 2013

My Braces are Off

Hurray! The construction work in my mouth is almost finished. It's been nine months since the bike accident that broke a tooth and knocked two others out of place. Next week, I get a crown and a new retainer, and my insurance is actually going to pay for a little bit of it. My orthodontist gave me a celebratory candied apple, which I gave to the receptionist where I work.

In other news, I'm smarter than a Supreme Court Justice. Judge Stephen Breyer just fractured his shoulder in his third serious bike accident. I packed it in after my first serious accident.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Eating and Sleeping Little

I never gave much thought to food reward, but lunch today reminded me of it. I sat down to burger with bacon and salsa--the salsa's made from a 40-year-old secret family recipe, said the girl I bought it from, cole slaw, and sweet potato fries cooked in lard. Delicious! But I'm halfway through it and I can't eat another bite. I was really hungry, too. Looks like it's leftovers for dinner.

Maybe tubers and cabbage aren't rewarding. But aren't bacon, lard and sweetener (in the dressing) supposed to be?

Before low-carb, I could eat a bag of cookies at one go--and would most Saturdays (getting an early start on my free day). If someone in the office ordered pizza while we were working late, people knew they'd better not get between me and the pizza.

I haven't kept up my plan for getting to bed early, but good news: without the flavored coffee (flavored with chemicals and with solvents), I'm feeling so much better that I've been doing fine staying up until 11:00 or midnight.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Obesity, Diabetes, Heart Disease, Cholesterol: Can you Spot Which One Doesn't Belong?

In my last post, I gave some reasons why Coloradans have a low rate of obesity (assuming they really do, and I think that's true).

Here's more evidence that we're less obese, but more importantly, that obesity and heart disease are associated with diabetes. (Everyone say it with me: association is not causation.) No, but looking at these maps makes you go " there a real connection there?" (Hint: type 2 diabetics tend to be overweight, and high blood sugars are hard on arteries and other tissues.)

US map of diabetes rates

National maps.
Source: Center for Disease Control

Curious about high cholesterol by state?

It doesn't look like the other maps, does it? No light, healthy stripe down the Rocky Mountains or ominous dark cloud from the Mississippi Delta up to Pennsylvania and down to Florida. For the first three maps, culture, race and poverty, and maybe even minerals in the soil look like they might be factors. But what do Hawaii, Alaska and New Mexico have in common? Or Nevada, Michigan, and West Virginia? Please leave a comment if you can think of anything. 

The map looks a little cheesy because I had to make it myself. There are a gazillion maps out there of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, but there were none for high cholesterol by state. (Hmmm, I wonder why!) I even had to search (and search, and search) for data of high cholesterol by state. (Hat tip to Google Gadgets for making this home cartography project possible, and for instructions.) Data are from The Centers for Disease Control, "Prevalence of persons aged >/=20 years ever told by a health care provider that they had high cholesterol, among adults ever screened for blood cholesterol, by state, area and year, Behavior Risk Factor Surveillance System, United States, 1991-2003." (I used the data from 2003.)

Feel free to copy the high cholesterol by state map:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are Coloradans Really Thinner?

And more importantly, would moving to Colorado help you lose weight?

A recent study suggested that some people in the northern US may be lying about having a svelte figure by fudging on their height and weight in phone surveys. The abstract of the study didn't mention the West, but all the obesity maps I've seen show Colorado as having the lowest rate of obesity in the US. I don't know whether that's accurate, but I think we're better than average.

A few months ago, my employer held a firm-wide video conference where we could see members of all or most of the other offices. We have two offices in Colorado; the rest are in downtown areas of medium and large cities in the South and the Midwest. We all work in the same industry; the employees are mostly white, college educated professionals. As far as I know, the only big difference between all of us is our locations. I'm guessing there were a few hundred people in total on screen; we saw different offices at different times.

Compared to Colorado, the other offices looked like they had a lot more heavy-set employees. If nothing else, it shows we really should eighty-six the cookie recipes at Christmas in the company magazine.

Assuming that Coloradans in general really are thinner than people from the South and Midwest, why is that? A few insights from having lived in the Denver area most of my life:

  • A lot of active, healthy people move to Colorado for the lifestyle: skiing, hiking, biking, boating, and so on. My best friend played tennis on Christmas when she lived here. With over 300 sunny days a year and winters that are milder than most people think , physically fit people enjoy themselves here year round.
  • A lot of Californians migrated here for the lower cost of living and brought their culture of health and fitness with them.
  • We don't put sugar in our tea. It gets over 100 degrees in Denver, and it's nothing to drink half a gallon of iced tea. Some recipes online call for half a cup of sugar for half a gallon of tea--sweet merciful heavens, that's 100 grams of carbohydrate! In general, low-carbers aim for no more than 50 grams of carb per day. 
  • Low-carb is easy to find here. All the 7-11s I've been to in Denver (but not San Diego) sell hot wings and pork rinds. Two big steak houses recently opened near my house. The parking lots are the size of those at big-box stores, and they're always full. I paid close attention on my commute tonight and saw several burger joints, a couple of sushi places, a few steak houses, a barbecue place, a breakfast place trumpeting its ham and bacon, and a lot of places with the word "grill" in their names. There were also a few pizza joints, bakeries and an ice cream parlor, but the point is, if you walk into a random restaurant in Denver, you'll probably be able to get a low-carb meal. (That wasn't the case in Chicago, where half the restaurants I saw were pizza and pasta places.) If you're downtown and want a quick bite from a truck or a street vendor, you'll find hot dogs, kebobs and the like everywhere, but cupcakes and ice cream are scarce.
  • Good manners. We don't try to make people eat things they don't want. You're literally more likely to see a drag queen on a commuter bus than to hear someone say, "Just have one bite--it won't hurt you!" Denver is a polite place. It's the suburbs where people get shot.

So would moving to Colorado help you if you've struggled with a weight problem? If you know what to do, but your problem is that you go with the flow, it might help. There are lots of little nudges in the right direction here. The thought of being seen without a bulky sweater on sunny winter days might be an incentive to avoid sweets over the holidays. People won't shove food at you if you don't want it. But Colorado isn't a fat farm: there are obese people here, too, and our grocery stores are full of the same junk as the ones in your home town. If you're looking to move anyway and want to lose weight, Denver is a good place to consider.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Govt. Busybodies to Homeowners: Tear out your Garden!

I wish my neighbors' yard looked like this instead of the weed-choked dump they've let it turn into:

Jennifer and Jason Helvenston, gardening scofflaws. Photo from the Institute of Justice.

The city of Orlando, Florida ordered the Helvenstons to dig up their front yard and replace it with lawn or face a $500 per day fine. From the Institute for Justice (the same nonprofit organization that's defending blogger Steve Cooksey at,

Jennifer and Jason Helvenston of Orlando, Fla., take their role as responsible members of society very seriously, by choosing to commit their lives to sustainability: They built their home with naturally sourced materials, harvest eggs from their backyard chickens and grow vegetables in their front yard. Not only does their garden provide them with their own food, but it has become a community attraction where the couple teaches local youth about homegrown vegetables. The Helvenstons embody life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They have found life in the soil and the food they grow for themselves, liberty in their self-sufficiency and happiness in the contributions their garden makes to their community.
But the Orlando City Council—which aspires to be “the greenest city in America”—claimed that the Helvenstons’ harmless, well-tended front yard garden was in non-compliance with the city code, and threatened to fine the couple $500 a day unless they uprooted it and replaced it with lawn. Since the Helvenstons were originally cited, deadline after deadline to uproot their garden were postponed, and the future of the Helvenstons’ front yard, the source of most of their food, has hung in the balance. Undoubtedly, the city was waiting for media attention to abate before it enforced the law.

 The couple's website says,

The U.S. and Florida constitutions protect our property rights from arbitrary invasions.  Insisting that we grow grass instead of a vegetable plant is irrational and beyond the scope of government power.  The city should not only withdraw its demands that we tear up our garden, but amend its zoning code to allow more people to take our lead. Growing a garden is as old as civilization and deeply rooted in the American experience.  During both World Wars, Americans were encouraged to plant their own “Victory Gardens,” which were an economical way to increase the nation’s food supply.  It makes little sense that something that was once  considered a patriotic duty should now be against the law.  The garden ban is especially ironic because Orlando aspires to be the “Greenest City in America.” 
Orlando's proposal for new, less stringent regulations (which would nevertheless force the Helvenstons to tear out much of their garden), is on hold.

Back in February, the city of West Des Moines, Iowa showed more common sense, with some officials saying, basically, such an ordinance would be a waste of time and could violate property rights.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Crepes: Low Carb, Non Dairy, Gluten Free

I've never understood the appeal of pancakes: they're dry and tasteless. If you put syrup on them, they're sweet and soggy. Being mostly flour and sugar (if you put syrup on them), they really should be considered a dessert.

Crepes are a different animal: they're light and fluffy and moist if you put some butter on them. They're not too eggy-tasting. If you make them with coconut flour and don't drench them in syrup, they shouldn't jack up your blood sugar. In other words, they're real food, not dessert.

The recipe is from Cooking with Coconut Flour by Bruce Fife. It took 15 minutes to make these.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Braces, Coffee, Bedtime, and Cooking Like a Swede

Four More Weeks
My orthodontist wants to wait four more weeks to take my braces off so that I can get a new crown. Meantime, my insurance is actually considering paying for some of this expensive dental work. Hot dog.

Acid reflux, acne, and upset stomach down to flavored coffee
I just tried to expand my food horizons and once again, ended up with problems. It took a few months to figure out it was flavored coffee. It's not the caffeine or the acid, since regular coffee and tea doesn't bother me, or anything I put in it (I take it black). It's not any natural flavors, since nuts, vanilla and cocoa don't bother me. It's the chemicals. According to,

Flavoring oils are combinations of natural and synthetic flavor chemicals which are compounded by professional flavor chemists. Natural oils used in flavored coffees are extracted from a variety of sources, such as vanilla beans, cocoa beans, and various nuts and berries. Cinnamon, clove, and chicory are also used in a variety of coffee flavors. Synthetic flavor agents are chemicals which are manufactured on a commercial basis. For example, a nutty, woody, musty flavor can be produced with 2, 4-Dimethyl-5-acetylthiazole.

The pure flavor compounds described above are highly concentrated and must be diluted in a solvent to allow the blending of multiple oils and easy application to the beans. Common solvents include water, alcohol, propylene glycol, and fractionated vegetable oils. These solvents are generally volatile chemicals that are removed from the beans by drying.  

What a way to start your day!

Getting more sleep
A few weeks ago, I read a (sort of) scientific book, did a lot of thinking and made a plan to get to bed earlier. The big plan: start getting ready for bed at 9:00 to get enough sleep and have the stamina to go out on Friday. It's working. I've gone to bed by around 10:30 every night except for those that I either went out or didn't have to get up early the next morning. (It's a bit after 9:00 now, but I've already packed a lunch.) But because of my sore stomach from the coffee, I haven't gone salsa dancing on Friday.

If you've got the meat, eggs, cream and vegetables, Chef Niklas the recipes.
Image from Barnes & Noble

Chef Niklas Ekstedt wants to preserve Sweden's food culture. "I fear that otherwise, we will drown in a sea of sweet chili sauce, pine nuts, and liquid smoke," he says in his cookbook Scandinavian Classics. "A great way to get inspired is to flip through old cookbooks, perhaps written during the last century, by writers who knew how to cook real food, from real ingredients." There's much in the book about Swedish history, traditional foods, seasons, selecting ingredients, and even the wood stove. There's no talk of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, zucchini pasta or low-fat ingredients. The pork loin recipe, for instance, calls for "1-3/4 lbs pork loin, center cut with a thick rind or fat cap, skin intact." Charts show the different cuts of meat of pigs and cows, and with 52 recipes for preparing fish and sauce, a few dozen meat recipes (including a few for making sausage), and several ways of cooking cabbage, root crops and other vegetables that flourish in the far north, and the simplest hollandaise recipe I've ever seen, this should be a staple for paleo and low carb cooks. It's more accessible than The Odd Bits, whose recipes take a lot of preparation, but it has instructions for cooking odd bits like oxtail, liver and ham hocks. The recipes mostly call for short lists of everyday ingredients. I've only prepared a couple of dishes, and had to substitute an ingredient here and there (like finely shredded steamed cauliflower for rice and butter for cream to make sausage rolls), but they were terrific. Having cooked for over 20 years, I can tell these recipes would turn out well.

1., "Flavored Coffee Bean." Accessed April 2, 2013.