Sunday, December 25, 2016

Quick Chicken Stock; Getting Better than Normal

Merry Christmas! It's the seventh anniversary of the blog. Just as I was seven years ago, I've had some health problems--but I know how to deal with them now.

The past few years put me through the wringer mentally and physically: my parents' problems, being accused of elder abuse (without any basis), an infected tooth, my father dying and my mother moving, and then my own moving and working at five different jobs this year. The stress and illness made my stomach too sensitive for me to want to eat fat--but with my stress level cranked up, I lived on a higher-carb diet and still lost weight. I also had acne and scary palpitations. Last Christmas, fumes from wasabi nuts roasting in the oven made me so ill I spent the day in bed.

This Christmas season, feasting at holiday parties kept me up those nights with an upset stomach. I've adopted a Midwestern niceness that makes it hard to say no to goodies. But the same kindness of the people around me has removed a layer of stress that I've had for years. A few years ago, reading the section on the social connection in The Primal Connection by Mark Sisson gave me an empty feeling. Many of the people I was around weren't "my people." They weren't necessarily bad people, but casual acquaintances I didn't connect with. Here in Indianapolis, I finally feel like I've found my tribe.

It's easy to find pasture-raised meat, dairy and lard here, too. I even found goat cheese from a school a mile from my house. I'm not sure what took me so long--maybe I needed to be not just frugal, but immersed in a frugal community--but I realized how to make stock in a jiffy.

1 chicken carcass, cooked
2 stalks celery sliced 1" thick
1 bay leaf

Put the chicken in a pressure cooker and cover with water. Add a bay leaf and pepper. Bring to pressure and cook for 30 minutes; let pressure fall on its own.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

23 and Me and Saturated Fat

Someone didn't get the memo that all the fuss about saturated fats is based on a bunch of debunked junk science. 23 and Me, the company that provides genetic information from a saliva sample, sent me this message:

People with your genetic result tend to have a similar BMI on diets with greater or less than 22 grams of saturated fat per day, as long as they consume the same number of total calories.
However, diets high in saturated fat have been associated with increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Limit your saturated fat intake. It may not have a large effect on your weight, but it’s important for reducing your risk of heart disease.
Fats are an important part of a healthy diet: they give you energy, help build your cells, and help you absorb certain vitamins. There are three main types of fats, but not all types are equally healthy.
  • Saturated fats: Found primarily in red meat and dairy products, saturated fat has been linked to increased LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol, which are risk factors for heart disease. Researchers are still working to understand the complex relationship between saturated fat and health.
  • Trans fats: Found in processed foods like cookies and frozen pizza, trans fats can increase your risk of heart disease. Experts agree that we should avoid trans fats.
  • Unsaturated fats: Found in nuts, fish, and most vegetable oils, unsaturated fats may improve your cholesterol levels and are commonly thought of as healthy fats.
Saturated fat intake is something many of us should keep an eye on; about 70% of Americans eat more than the recommended daily amount of saturated fat. Try to consume less than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fat, which is 22 grams for a 2000 calorie-per-day diet.
Source: 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

My response:

I just received this email: "Lori, your weight is likely to be similar on diets high or low in saturated fat with the same number of total calories." 
It isn't the same. I'm 20 pounds lighter on a diet high in saturated fat and low in carbohydrates, even though I gave up my intensive exercise regimen when I gave my diet a radical carbectomy back in 2010. I also stopped getting cavities, stopped having acid reflux, stopped getting hungry enough to eat the carpet, and I have felt better overall. At 47, I take no medications and have the energy I should have had in my 20s. My cholesterol level *improved* on my saturated fat fest. 
The junk science of low-fat diets ("associations" based on food recall questionnaires) has been widely debunked over the past few years. Even Harvard admitted that their Nurses Health Study showed no benefit of following a low-fat diet, which was presumably lower in saturated fat than the diet of the control group. 
Further, telling people to limit their saturated fat intake is terrible advice for people like me who are full of genes for diabetes. My ancestry is largely northern European, where the traditional diet is full of red meat and dairy. The fact that I feel much better on a diet with a good deal of beef, pork, butter, eggs and some fibrous vegetables than I do eating nuts and fruits (both of which I love but give me a stomach ache) makes sense in light of this. 
Please reconsider this response to your customers.

It was actually the Women's Health Initiative, or WHI. Harvard said, back in 2006,

The low-fat, high-starch diet that was the focus of dietary advice during the 1990s-as reflected by the USDA food guide pyramid-is dying out. A growing body of evidence has been pointing to its inadequacy for weight loss or prevention of heart disease and several cancers. The final nail in the coffin comes from an eight-year trial that included almost 49,000 women. Although the media have made much of the “disappointing” results from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Dietary Modification Trial, it would be a serious mistake to use these new findings as reason to load up on sausage, butter, and deep-fried fast food.
In other words, keep eating pasta, broccoli and chicken breast because--well, nobody really knows. After 40 years and countless studies on tens of thousands of people, "Researchers are still working to understand the complex relationship between saturated fat and health." Here's a thought: maybe there isn't one. Or maybe for some of us, it's actually beneficial.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fake Cheese a Real Food? Why Not?

Processed foods have a bad rap these days. "Just eat real food," everyone says, and the real food will cure anything from arthritis to migraine headaches. The people who give this advice do tend to be in good health and do tend to eat real food.

Well, except when they're eating dark chocolate, or sugary fruit that's only existed for a few hundred years, or drinking wine. The first and third foods are about as real and unprocessed as a Cadbury egg. But if we can wink at dark chocolate, bananas and wine, why not fake cheese?

Real cheese and cream give me acne. Fake cheese, like Velveeta and American cheese, don't. For me, they're better than real cheese (and Velveeta melts better than real cheese, too).

If you'd like to add fake cheese to your real foods list, here's a wonderful recipe I made (up) tonight. It would have been good with shiratake noodles.

1 pound grass-fed ground beef
1/2 cup spaghetti sauce made with local, vine-ripened tomatoes
garlic powder (real garlic goes bad quickly in Indianapolis)
a few teaspoons of Italian seasoning
8 oz Velveeta cut in 1" chunks (ounces are shown on package) from Walmart

Brown the beef with the spices. Add spaghetti sauce and cheese on low heat. Makes four small or two big servings. Serve with shiratake noodles from a high-end grocery store or a local green vegetable (I had green beans from my front yard).

Note that Velveeta has more carbohydrate in it than actual cheese, and does contain real dairy. Whatever it is about cheese that bothers my skin must get denatured in whatever wonderful process it is that goes into making fake cheese.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Silent Reflux (Cough Cough)

The potato chips, the chocolate, the sweet potato fries--they finally caught up with me. I saw a doctor (!) the other day for a cough I'd had since Memorial Day weekend. We determined it probably wasn't allergies, asthma, or sinus drainage. With a temperature of 97 point something, I didn't have a cold. It was probably silent reflux, since I've had raging reflux before, which I fixed with a low-carb diet.

My diet has been off-track for over a year: stress and anxiety over moving across the country (no permanent job waiting for me, buying a house from 1,000 miles away before selling my other house), complications from a root canal (re-infection requiring industrial strength antibiotics that messed up my stomach and skin). I think the only reason I didn't have silent reflux then was that I wasn't eating enough of anything to affect my stomach. Now that things are getting back to normal, my stress level is down and I'm eating more. And now the carbs are giving me acid reflux, just like before.

A problem I was having on very low carb was scary palpitations. I've had some fluttery feeling eating fairly low carb the past few days, but only when I've exerted myself. The reduced stress might have something to do with it: after having four jobs in six months, I'm starting another one tomorrow that seems like a great fit. (The previous jobs were with my long-term employer from Denver; a job that turned out to be collections, which lasted a day; temping for the Marion County Election Board; and proofing graphic designs at a t-shirt factory, where I felt like a couple of employees I had to work closely with disliked me and didn't care if I knew it.) For nearly a year, my life has had a feeling of being up in the air. It finally feels settled.

Anyway, being a cash patient, and not wanting to go through acid rebound again, I declined prescription-strength acid blockers and got a bottle of Pepcid to take temporarily to let my esophagus heal. I've been stricter about limiting carbs, too. It's only been a few days, but my cough is almost gone. Coffee and nut bars make it come back. Darn! But at least it's easier to diagnose problems now than it was when I first started doing so in 2010.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Is Your Diet Making You a Fussbudget?

^^I wish he'd offer me some bacon.

This is a post that doesn't apply to my readers, just to readers of other blogs. Not blogs that recommend limiting carbs or avoiding things like wheat or dairy, or show you how to cook, or dissect scientific studies, but blogs that tell you the few things you can eat, because everything else will kill you and destroy the planet. (You also need their book, exercise plan, supplements and $500 juicer to avoid dying.)

These plans are complicated, difficult, expensive, subject to change, and of questionable validity and efficacy, but they have their benefits. There's the not dying part--and saving the world, too. You also get to feel superior, special and catered to. In other words, you get to be a fussbudget.

Robert over at Living Stingy observes that being fussy confers status--or at least the feeling of status. Restaurants, for example, have to try to fill your very special order--that is, if they even serve anything you're "allowed" (see video above).

When you're the fussbudget in the group, you get to pick the restaurant. Same if you're picky about a restaurant's ambience, image, or political correctness of their ads. In other words, you get to control the decisions of the whole group.

So what's wrong with status and control? The mere mortals around you might feel lower status and manipulated--or at least inconvenienced for no good reason. They might not stick around. Any new friends will have to be doormats or people just like you, who'll reinforce your annoying habits.

How to stop being annoying? I hate to say anything against self-diagnosed conditions--people have cured themselves where their doctors failed. Have you cured something, though? Are you at least trying a proposed cure for some condition? Or are you avoiding foods that you've heard are bad without knowing how those conclusions were reached or without reading any counter-arguments? Are you on a special diet for your health, or is your special diet a big part of your identity? If it's the latter, you're apt to be overly concerned about it.

If you really do need a special diet, sum it up in a sentence and make it easy for your companions to work with. I'm low-carb and tell people that as long as I can get some eggs or unbreaded meat, I'm good. (I need a real lunch, not just a salad.) If you have a serious condition like diabetes or a severe allergy, suggest a few places where you can eat without problems. If you don't have a serious condition, if certain foods don't make you sick or send you on a bender, stop being a fussbudget. Just sit down and eat because the mere mortals around you are hungry.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Obamacare Alternatives

It isn't the worst problem to have: to be so healthy you don't need medications or regular medical care. Even so, in the US under Obamacare, you are required to have a medical maintenance plan through a health insurance company. Not traditional insurance that protects you against catastrophes like accidents and serious illnesses, but a maintenance plan that covers, among other things, childbirth, drug and alcohol rehab, and prescription medicines, regardless of whether you need or want any of those things. Scofflaws are subject to the smug-sounding "shared responsibility penalty" regardless of whether they cost anybody anything by giving birth, drying out or needing pills.

Lest anyone think uninsured people are all deadbeats, I for one paid all my dental bills from my bike accident a few years ago that weren't covered by my insurance. So far, those bills have been about $8,000 for braces (not covered), a dental implant (not covered), a tooth extraction and a root canal (the last two only partly covered). Long ago, I was charged full freight and paid cash--my life's savings at the time--for an emergency room visit. I have never dodged any bill that was legitimately charged to me.

So I know the value of being insured against catastrophes; I just don't need a maintenance plan, especially at $400 a month through COBRA (continuing my health insurance through my last regular employer) or $385 a month through Obamacare. That kind of money, even earning just 1% in a savings account, would amount to over $50,000 in ten years. That'll buy a house in Indianapolis. (Four hundred a month will also go a long way here towards a higher-quality diet, safer neighborhood and better schools for your kids--in other words, staying out of the ghetto.) Invested in the stock market over 20 years, assuming 10% annual returns, that's $300,000, or a big chunk of a retirement plan. Healthy people need money to retire on.

What to do? A blog called Self Pay Patient has a few suggestions: short-term insurance, joining a health sharing ministry, and alternate insurance products like accident or critical care insurance. I chose short-term insurance. It covers major medical expenses and some prescriptions after a deductible and cost less than $300 for six months' coverage. It's almost exactly the kind of coverage I used to buy as a student at $50 a month before the great state of Colorado dictated that health insurance had to cover a variety of procedures and medications whether consumers wanted the coverage or not--and regardless of the fact that such insurance was already available for those who wanted to buy it. After changes to the law, I couldn't afford health insurance at $300 a month as a laid-off engineer making a living doing odd jobs. Not if I wanted to buy groceries or keep the utilities on.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Regaining Health after Antibiotics and a Lot of Stress

Readers know I've had a stressful 18 months: family problems, a root canal that took three rounds of antibiotics to clear up, a move across the country, and a job change. My job back in Denver saw me going at ramming speed, spending two hours a day commuting, and dealing with a couple of vile coworkers. House cleaning and repairs took up my weekends and evenings for a few months, my realtor wildly overpriced my house, and I stepped on a nail a few days before I moved. I ate a lot of take-out while my house was for sale and figured I'd get back on track when I got to Indiana.

It's taken five months to get back to normal. My stomach and skin were a mess from the antibiotics--I had cystic acne and just thinking about eating a lot of fat turned my stomach. I couldn't stand for long without a backache. I was so exhausted when I got here that it was a few months before I felt like working full-time again.

Probiotics really helped my skin and stomach. I started taking two per day (Nature's Way Optima) but I've cut back to one a week. I'm eating a lot more home cooking and my stomach feels pretty good again. Getting more sleep has helped in general, too. But the yoga classes I was taking here sometimes left me with aches and pains I didn't go there with.

About a month ago, I took a temp job testing voting machines, which required me to stand all day. Surprise--no back ache! Maybe it's from leading a lower-stress life: ten-minute commute, sufficient sleep, pleasant coworkers, and work that goes at a reasonable pace. And over the past few weeks, I've been taking part in neighborhood cleanups and spent time over the past few days mowing my lawn with a manual mower and weeding my yard and the neighbor's yard. (Their house is for sale and I'd rather attract high-quality neighbors, not people who don't want to do any upkeep.) Surprise--no aches or pains and I feel great!

One good thing about Indianapolis is that if you need exercise, you can just clean up a park or walkway. (Be careful where you go.) There is so much to clean up within a few miles of my house, plus keeping my own property neat and repaired, that I don't see a need for exercise classes. (Aside: want to buy a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood on the cheap--I mean really cheap? Got more time and energy than money?  Homestead an abandoned, historical house here in Indy.)

I've started watching only shows and videos that make me feel good. Watch people who are smart (interviews with Judge Judy, Thomas Sowell), funny (Stephen Colbert, Seinfeld, WKRP in Cincinnati), or go-getters (Better Call Saul, Streets of San Francisco) or can teach you something (Wise Owl tutorials, for example) or otherwise lift your spirit (the guitarist is as good as Eddie Van Halen--who says Japanese musicians aren't passionate?), and the depression box becomes a source of inspiration. Facebook? All I ever hear about it is how depressing and annoying it is. Chat rooms? In my experience, they have too much emotional thinking by what I call "not-willings": people who are very limited in what they're willing to do to improve their lives, then complain about their lack of success. All the otherwise well-done shows where people do rotten things to each other? Pass.

Am I eating clean and avoiding processed foods? Not really. But I'm eating a lot less take-out and more grass-fed beef and free-range eggs and cooking with pastured lard. I'm also eating Quest bars, dark chocolate, take-out French fries, potato chips and meaty, cheesy sandwiches on gluten-free bread from the little co-op where I shop. I avoid nuts--they're worse than wheat for me. I inhaled five slices of pizza at work when I didn't eat enough breakfast--and I didn't regret it. I'm not making a habit of it, though: I still remember how sick I ended up on a high-carb diet several years ago. It doesn't take many meals like that for my stomach to start punishing me for my debauchery. Just being pretty good works for me.

So far, I've been working part time, so I've been able to relax and take care of myself. Going forward, I'm starting a full-time job in a week. There's 15-minute commute and a 30-minute lunch, giving me back two hours a day of my life compared to my job in Denver. Once I'm trained, I'll be working afternoons and nights. In other words, I can sleep as late as I want and run errands when stores and offices aren't busy. I've worked the same shift before and loved it. It's a lot less money than my old job, but with the lower cost of living here, my house being completely paid for and not requiring any significant repairs like the old one, it's more than adequate. I was literally coming home and falling on the bed every day in Denver. It was time for a change.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Groceries from a Food Desert in Indianapolis

Of all the research I did before moving to Indianapolis from Denver (looking at crime maps, flood maps, demographics by neighborhood, tax rates, growth policies, local news, and Google street view over time), none of it suggested I'd have to try to shop in a food desert. Not even when I came here on reconnaissance and shopped at the co-op in the area I was planning to move to did I realize I was in the middle of a food desert. That's right--you can have a grocery store in the middle of a food desert. Here are some groceries I bought at Pogue's Run, a co-op in the food desert just above the word "Indianapolis" in the map in the link above.

Purchased in a food desert: free range eggs, coconut milk, fresh produce, beef and raw cheese from grass-fed cows, and bacon and lard from pastured pigs. I couldn't find real lard even back in trendy, crowded, overpriced Denver. The animal products are all from here in Indiana. Would that everyone lived in such a desert.
The co-op carries cage-free chickens, too, but they're cheaper (and plucked better) at the Kroger down the street. Kroger has grass-fed ground beef and a much bigger selection of produce, gluten-free this and that, and cage-free eggs, but they don't carry beef tongue, heart or liver and their butter doesn't compare to Organic Valley, sold at Pogue's Run. Neither store has a big enough selection of Quest bars.

How is it even possible to compare the finer points of fresh, healthy, top-notch foods from two stores, one of which is in a food desert? It's the way food deserts are defined:

  • 20 percent to 40 percent of residents must make 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level
  • In an urban area, residents must have to travel a mile or more to get to groceries 
  • In a rural area they must have to travel more than 10 miles to get groceries(1)

Note that the definition isn't "There aren't any groceries in food deserts." What it amounts to is a low-income neighborhood. There's the distance thing, but even most poor people have cars.(2) There are cars parked up and down streets with crumbling, abandoned houses. Further, the aforementioned stores are on a bus line with only 20 minutes between stops--a lot handier (and a lot safer around the co-op) than a long walk home loaded down with groceries.

What about Ft. Harrison State Park? It's one big food desert on the map. Of course there aren't any grocery stores there, but do we need them there? If there are people squatting in the park, is someone supposed to build a grocery store for them?

All of this makes me think that good quality groceries aren't  nearly as inaccessible as they're made out to be. If they were, "food deserts" would have an obvious definition: a place where you can't get decent food.

1. "Indianapolis Ranks Worst in the Nation for Food Deserts" by Sara Wittmeyer. Indiana Public Media, May 30, 2014.
2. "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts about America's Poor" by Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield. The Heritage Foundation, September 11, 2013.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fishing for Depression Patients

I knew last summer when I saw the headline that there had to be a new depression medication out. How? The news was "All Americans Should be Screened for Depression."(1) That's a good idea because, as you know, depression is a menace, affecting tens of millions and leaving many of its victims tired, overweight, prone to heart disease, impotent, blind, and--wait, I'm thinking of diabetes. It might make sense to screen everyone for diabetes. No, the reason for screening everyone for depression, I figured, was that there was a new drug someone was looking to peddle. Sure enough, the FDA approved a depression drug a few weeks earlier.(2)

Some doctors are already screening patients--like me--for depression during routine office visits. My invoice for being seen for a puncture wound included "brief behavioral assessment," which I didn't remember getting. When I called the office about it, they said they gave everyone that assessment through a questionnaire. I do remember filling out a large amount of paperwork.

Some depression drugs have been shown to be no more effective than a placebo and can have serious side effects. Further, it's one more thing for doctors and patients--many in an overburdened system--have to do. This particular drug may even kill you--there's a warning about suicidal thoughts and increased risk of death for certain patients, and weight gain and a sense of restlessness common among people in a study who took the drug. And all they got was a lousy reduction of symptoms. (3)

The article about recommending depression screening made no mention of the other trade-offs involved in adding another step to routine patient visits: more time filling out paperwork for patients, more prescriptions that may or may not do any good, and less time and money for everything else that doctors and patients already have on their plates.


  1. "All Americans Should be Screened for Depression, Panel Recommends" by Andrew M. Seaman. Huffington Post, July 8, 2015.
  2. "FDA Approved New Drug, Rexulti, for Depression, Schizophrenia" by Robert Preidt. July 13, 2015.
  3. Ibid.