A blog about nothing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

101 THINGS TO DO WITH A STEAMER

I have often considered writing a cookbook entitled "101 Things to Do with a Steamer." But there is really only one: to cook a lot of vegetables, preferably at the same time.

Most vegetables require only 5 minutes to steam. Exceptions include potatoes (10-15 minutes) and perhaps Brussels sprouts. Even veggies that are better sautéed or boiled (like cauliflower, mushrooms, onions) go well thrown into a steamer. And if you use a really big pot, you can steam enough vegetables to feed the whole family, or if it's just you and your significant other, have dinner for the week.

One of my favorite concoctions includes Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, white onion, tomato, and several red potatoes. After steaming the potatoes for 10 minutes, throw in the other vegetables. Include kale or broccoli for the green effect, if you have it.

Then, mix in a can or two of beans of multi colors. Recently I used a mix of fava beans and white beans. Add olives and nutritional yeast for flavor, and top with avocado.

Other vegetables that marry nicely include green beans, eggplant, broccoli, asparagus, and mushroom. Just slice, dice, and throw it all together. In the days that follow, heat the leftovers in a saucepan, but be careful not to overcook. Every extra minute on the stove is one less milligram of nutrition.

And, voila!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

THE FORGOTTEN SEED



Though often called a grain, quinoa is not a member of the true grass family like oats and wheat. Actually, the edible portion of this quaintly spelled little bugger is more closely related to spinach and beet root and best described as a seed. As such it is gluten free and high in protein.

Found in the mountains of Bolivia and elsewhere, this healthy chenopod happens to be quite the nutrient source, high as it is in minerals, amino acids, and B vitamins. Quinoa is also a worthy source of dietary fiber and B vitamins, including folate.

This winter, when you want warm yummy comfort food, make a meal around quinoa. By using just 3 additional ingredients (I've chosen dehydrated shiitake mushrooms, garbanzo beans, and broccoli, but feel free to choose any other legume/green combination) you get a nutritional powerhouse that will feed you and your loved ones for at least a couple days to come.

Grab the biggest pot you can find. On a stove top, add 5 cups water to 2 cups quinoa. Bring to a boil. Then, add 3 oz shiitake slices (make sure to rinse first), reduce heat and let simmer partially covered for 10 minutes. Then, add 3 cups of broccoli, and simmer an additional 5-7 minutes. Finally, mix in 3 cups garbanzo beans and season to taste. I like to add olives and nutritional yeast. For raw/semiraw foodists, quinoa can be soaked in water for a couple hours to soften and increase nutritional value. This is a way around cooking.

Either way, cooked or raw, this quinoa-centric dish serves six. Each serving contains around 400 calories and provides 25% or more of the daily requirement for 14 nutrients. I'd show you a picture but I've already eaten it all! Here's a pie graph, an inferior replacement but something is better than nothing. Enjoy!

Friday, November 29, 2013

THE VITAMIN EVERYONE'S TALKING ABOUT


Okay, that's not exactly true. Choline is not exactly a vitamin, and hardly anyone knows about it. But now that I have your attention...

Choline is an essential nutrient with a variety of important physiological functions. It is involved in cell signaling, nerve impulse transmission, and fat metabolism. Your body is able to synthesize small amounts of choline, but unless you take in enough in food, and few do, you run the risk of deficiency.

Signs and symptoms of not getting enough choline include nonspecific ones such as fatigue, insomnia, and the inability of the kidneys to concentrate urine. More serious consequences of choline deficiency include fatty liver, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is a neurological disease affecting an increasing number of people worldwide, and it is characterized by a deficiency in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine covers a wide array of important functions. It is largely responsible for making your heart beat, and your muscles contract. Because it is involved in bodywide nerve transmission, this includes your brain, and acetylcholine is also involved in memory and cognition, which explains the dementia seen in Alzheimer's. As the name suggests, acetylcholine is derived from choline.

And now to the sources. Meat eaters will be quick to announce that the best sources of choline, far and away, are animal products. Foods like egg yolk, beef liver, and seafood contain large amounts of the essential nutrient. For example, one large egg provides 126 mg choline, which is roughly 25 percent of the daily requirement of roughly 500 mg/day.

But choosing to eat animal foods, and the cholesterol, saturated fat, and harmful residues they contain, seems like a less than perfect way of increasing intake of one, albeit important, nutrient. Better to take a supplement, such as lecithin. Best option, however, since choline works synergistically and interacts with other vitamins and minerals present in whole foods, is to emphasize plant sources.

Plant sources of choline include: Brussels sprouts and Broccoli (each have 60 mg/cup), collard greens, Swiss chard, and cauliflower. Firm tofu and peanuts are additional sources.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

DEAD BUTT SYNDROME

The gluteal muscles (glutes, buttocks) are a group of three muscles (maximus, medius, minimus) that play an integral role not just in propelling you forward but in keeping your pelvis stable, none more so than the gluteus medius.

When the gluteus medius is weakened - whether through prolonged sitting, or through repetitive motion (e.g. running) in the absence of strengthening exercises - what often results is a condition known as dead butt syndrome. Dead-butt syndrome is inflammation of the gluteus medius muscle due to irritation. A weak muscle is unable to properly perform its function, which in this case is to keep the hip level. The result is pelvic instability, identifiable with the hallmark "sagged" gait, called the Trendelenburg sign in the medical community.


Dead butt syndrome and resulting pelvic tilt can cause a cascade of inflammation and irritation of adjacent muscles, which can lead to other injuries such as iliotibial band strain, plantar fasciitis, lower back pain and shin splints, as well as postural problems, head and neck pain, even discomfort in the seated position. Which is ironic, because prolonged sitting is often part of the problem.

What is the remedy? If you're a runner, cross-training, especially time on the bike, can help to strengthen the butt muscles and maintain postural stability. Hiking or climbing hills also works well. If you're not an endurance athlete and have no wish to become one but feel your glutes could use some strengthening, resistance exercises are great.

Body-weight squats
Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly out. Sink into your calves until your thighs are about level with the floor, then return to the standing position, tightening the glutes throughout. Do three sets of ten repetitions. Stronger individuals may wish to hold dumbbells or use resistance bands to increase tension.

The bridge
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the ground, about 12 inches from your buttocks. Thrust the hips into the air, flexing your glutes. Hold for a count of three, and do three sets of ten repetitions.

Lunges
Begin from a standing position, feet shoulder-width apart. Step your right foot about 2 feet in front of you. Bend your right knee, making sure to keep your knee directly over your foot. Sink into the lunge until your left knee touches the floor, then return to standing position. Work up to three sets of ten repetitions.

For runners and non-runners alike, taking the stairs instead of the elevator is an easy way to improve cardiovascular fitness as well as strengthen the glutes.

Friday, October 18, 2013

ACTIVE RECOVERY

For the athlete, recovery from training sessions is essential. I remember being told during my days as a bodybuilder that the muscles grow when you sleep, and training too much (overtraining) can inhibit growth and slow or stall fitness gains. In my twenties I transitioned to endurance sports, and the same concept holds true. For the endurance athlete - and if you like to run, swim, bike, or even walk, that means you - rest is important to the extent that you allow your muscles to recover from a particular exercise. But rest doesn't have to mean inactivity.

Enter active recovery.

Let's say you're a triathlete. You run. You bike. You swim. You do it again. You do it a lot. So much that you begin to notice the signs of overtraining. You have difficulty sleeping. You dread your next workout session. Your resting heart rate goes up. You experience changes in appetite. You become irritable. Your sex drive diminishes. Or you have an upcoming race and begin a taper, reducing training volume and intensity to ensure your muscles are prepared to give their utmost during competition.

Whether you are tapering or suffering from overtraining, your body needs rest. When athletes hear the word they think of spending the day in bed or on the couch, sleeping in, lifting nothing heavier than a slice of pizza or pint of ice cream, or in other ways foregoing the usual workout in favor of inactivity.

But a body at rest stays at rest, and often it is hard to overcome inertia and get active again. Inactivity leads to reduced blood flow, and blood flow is essential to deliver nutrients to tissues and eliminate wastes. Not to mention that spending the hour you'd normally spend running simply lying in bed does little to relieve muscle soreness. What your really need is active recovery.

Active recovery is a form of rest in which you take time away from your workout routine while still maintaining activity. This can mean going for a walk instead of a run, for example.

Endurance athletes may derive particular benefit on off days from resistance training, with or without weights. Push-ups, pull-ups, dips, bodyweight squats, and dumbbell exercises strengthen muscles, tighten the core, and maintain blood flow to the tissues that need them, while you break the monotony of running/riding/cycling all those miles.

A second option is self-massage. Athletes often do not give this form of therapy its due. You go on a 2-hour bike ride, come home and would rather eat a big postworkout meal before you'd lie against the foam roller. But using tools such as a foam roller, the Stick, even a tennis or lacrosse ball against the wall, can deliver oxygen-rich blood to muscles and work out trigger points that keep muscles tight and put stress on joints.

On your next "rest" day, spend a half hour doing 10-15 sets of resistance exercises. Take Cindys, for instance. All you need is a pull-up bar for this trio of bodyweight exercises. Start with 5 pull-ups, drop down and do 10 push-ups, and finish with 15 bodyweight squats. Do as many of these triplets as you can in 10 or 20 minutes.

Follow this routine with 15 minutes of self-massage with the above-mentioned tools. The Stick works best on the lower leg, the foam roller really hits the quads and ITB, and the lacrosse ball against the wall is our favorite for the butt and back muscles.

We guarantee that following this "rest" day, your body will feel more rejuvenated than it ever could merely by spending the day beneath the covers, not that bed-time isn't useful, especially when it's with someone warm and cuddly, but that's active recovery of another sort, and the subject of another post.

HFLC?


LFHC stands for "high fat, low carbohydrate." This is a diet some follow, including proponents of the Paleolithic approach to eating. Recommendations that we were meant to derive energy from fat and not carbohydrates, but NOT omega-6 fats (found in nuts and oils) leaves a paltry few foods to choose from, mainly animal products. Considering the bacterial contamination and pesticide residue found in animal foods, loading up on beef, fish and chicken is not a good idea.
 
Also, fat is a stored energy source but it is also the place where toxins are stored, like the garage of the body, and by eating the fat of animals you are  getting all their stored toxins along with that stored energy. Anyone who says that carbohydrates are not a preferred energy source and this is why the body burns them preferentially (which seems very counterintuitive to me) is implying that we should not eat fruits and many vegetables, which are predominately carbohydrates and also some of the most nutritious foods, or that we should not be eating as the primates do, who have the same digestive systems and following instincts gravitate to fruits and vegetables over meat. Moreover, numerous studies suggest an association b/w high fat diet and cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. (see below)
 
Also, fat in itself is very low in most vitamins and minerals. Fat-laden foods are some of the most non-nutritious foods out there. No whole foods exist that are pure fat. Animal foods (fish, chx, etc) provide a large amount of fat, but also a great deal of protein, more protein than your body needs to replenish muscle and enzymes, so the rest is either burned for fuel/excreted. Is protein therefore also a preferred energy source (over carbs)? Because that is what a meat eater is getting when eating high-fat animal foods. You cannot eat a lot of fat without getting a lot of protein unless you drink oil or consume lbs of butter (both pure fat, and neither a whole food). Therefore, in endorsing a high fat diet you must be prepared to endorse a high protein diet, and the research linking high protein intake with kidney disease and osteoporosis, not to mention cancer, is pretty solid. 
 
Or does a HFLC advocate mean that one should be deriving calories from pure fat found in coconut oil and other processed foods? Is pure fat what should be substituted for the carbs found in fruit and vegetables? This too seems pretty nonsensical.
 
Fat is oxidized in the body, which causes free radicals to form. Too much fat therefore contributes to aging. When it is cooked it can become carcinogenic. Fat has over twice the amount of calories found in carbohydrates, and is therefore much easier to eat to excess. Consider that 2 tbsp. of peanut butter has more calories than 2 whole bananas. Fat is also much easily stored when eaten to excess, since it is ready-made, and because fat sends signals to the stomach to slow emptying, it is not absorbed as fast and therefore not as readily available for energy as simple sugars are.
 
If you want to reduce consumption of sugar, eliminate grains, but emphasize sweet fruits which are almost without exception low glycemic foods. To decrease sugar even further, replace some sweet fruit with good fats such as olives, avocados and maybe some coconut butter. All are fruits themselves and nutritious while also having high fiber, a rarity as far as traditional fat sources are concerned.
 

Monday, October 14, 2013

HYDRATION DURING EXERCISE

Considering the sweat rate for the average athlete - 1 liter per hour of exertion, equivalent to two pounds of body weight - it is crucial to replace fluids both during and after exercise. Losing just one or two percent of body weight (around 2 or 3 lbs) can negatively impact performance, or at least increase perceived exertion, the amount of energy it takes to move at a given pace.

However, since most fluid lost contains salt (sweat), drinking plain water does not replace electrolytes and can even make you hyponatremic. Hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, can make you feel dizzy, disoriented, nauseated, and lethargic, and in extreme cases can be deadly.

Most endurance athletes these days do no drink plain water during exercise. A mixture of sugar, water, and salt is best. Consider adding 1/2 tsp of salt for every 16 ounces of fluid, in addition to 2-4 tbsp of sugar (equivalent to 120-240 calories). The juice of a fresh-squeezed lemon can really improve the taste. This is a homemade Gatorade without the artificial colors and other junk. You'll find that your body will naturally drink more of a mixture containing energy and electrolytes than it would drinking plain water alone.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

GO BREADLESS

Chances are you're familiar with the phenomenon called the open-faced sandwich and have probably enjoyed a few yourself. An open sandwich is usually a slice of fresh bread with different spreads, butter, liver pate, cheese spreads, cold cuts or sausages like bratwurst. But if you enjoy these calorie bombs for lunch you'll likely wind up needing an afternoon nap. In fact, if you enjoy the combination of bread and animal products at any hour of the day the result could be disastrous to your health. Okay, okay, moderation is best in most things, but if you agree with the increasing number of experts who link animal foods with more diseases than smoking, it's best to take tremendous care about what you put in your mouth. Plants are best, and the less processed the better.

And so...sandwich lovers out there, and this includes us, we'd like to propose a variation on the open sandwich which will leave you filled with energy and replete with nutrients. And even better, it's easy to make, involving only 2 ingredients.

Take a sweet pepper of your choice (red, yellow, orange or green) cut in half and deseed. Then slice open an avocado, and fill each half of the pepper with 1/4's worth of this savory fruit. We prefer to use 2 peppers and a whole avocado. Dijon mustard and/or jalapeno peppers make great garnishes and help to replace sodium losses that occur if you've worked out earlier in the day.

This delicious, nutritious delight can be enjoyed either as a lunch or as a snack between meals. At just 310 calories, it provides 20% or more of 14 major vitamins and minerals, in addition to 16 grams of fiber. And the monounsaturated fat present in avocados will keep you satisfied but not satiated till dinner. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"LITE" IT UP


It goes without saying that of all the disciplines running is the most natural, convenient, and enjoyable. The evidence of the senses would seem to support this assertion. Just watch kids run through the park or playground and hear their squeals of delight.

The tendency among new runners is to run as often and as much as possible, and even seasoned veterans can overdo it, courting injury. Better to emphasize quality of miles over quantity. Include the following workouts, which we call LITE training, to ensure you get the most out of your next race.

1. LONG RUN
Once a week, run the distance of your goal race, or if you are training for a marathon, run at least 75% of this distance, or 20 miles. This can be divided into two shorter runs. Long runs strengthen your legs and teach them how to efficiently use glycogen, which helps you avoid the so-called "wall" late in the race.

2. INTERVALS
Also called sprints, repeats, and fartleks, intervals are shorter distances (100 meters up to a mile) that encourage faster turnover and speedier times, helping to develop that kick that you'll need at the end of a race.

3. TEMPO RUN
A tempo run is done at goal race pace. For a 10k (6.2) miles try running at race pace for half the distance (5k, or about 3 miles). If you're training for a half marathon do a tempo run of 6 to 10 miles. Marathon tempo runs can be done at distances of up to 13.1 miles, or simply sign-up for a half marathon a month before your event. Tempo runs give your legs an idea of what will be expected of them come race day.

4. EXTRAS
Extras include two-a-day runs, hills, cross-training (swimming and biking), weight training, stretching, massage, etc. Extras add variety to the training regimen which staves off boredom and keeps things fresh. By including these workouts into your weekly training regimen you can ensure that your next race is your best yet.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

MASH IT UP

Baby food is not just for babies. Anyone who loves mashed potatoes knows this. In fact, pureed foods can be easier to digest, since blenders do the work of your teeth and often do it better, but unfortunately pureed foods often come mixed with oils and fats and laden with salts and flavorings.

For dinner, try this:

3 sweet potatoes
2 tbsp. flaxseed
1 head of cauliflower
1 can black beans
1/2 avocado
1/4 cup nutritional yeast

Wash and dice the sweet potatoes in 1-inch cubes, leaving the skin on. Cut the cauliflower into florets. Bring 6 cups of water to a rapid boil. Add the potatoes and boil uncovered for 7 minutes. Then add the cauliflower and boil for an additional 7-10 minutes, depending on preferred softness. Then strain and add to a food processor or Vitamix with the flaxseeds, avocado, black beans, and nutritional yeast and blend until smooth. Season to taste. Top with fresh tomatoes and onions for added kick.

This variation on mashed potatoes makes four 350-calorie servings. It is loaded with fiber (22 grams per serving) and most major vitamins and minerals. You can use it as a dip with carrots or other raw veggies, load it into a lettuce leaf for a nifty wrap, or eat it directly from the bowl with a big spoon. The avocado and flax provide just the right amount of fat so you won't in the least bit miss the cream, butter, and oil.

Monday, August 5, 2013

QUICK FIX

If you've read our book, THE PARADIGM DIET, you'll know the focus is on plant foods, particularly greens (and other vegetables), beans, seeds, and sweets (fruit). Including all four of these maximally-nutritious foods in one meal is easy and delicious. Start with these ingredients:

4 cups water

1 cup red lentils (bean)

1 cup quinoa (seed)

1 cup zucchini (green)

1 cup tomatoes (sweet)

Add the water, the lentils, and the quinoa to a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook an additional 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. By this time it should be a porridge.

Remove from stove, transfer to bowl and add fresh tomatoes and/or avocado. Season to taste. This serves four and has about 250 calories per serving. You can increase the quantity by doubling the ingredients and storing leftovers in the fridge, where they will keep for several days, though it's so delicious you'll probably eat them for tomorrow's lunch, as we did.

Hairy chest optional.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

THE PRICE OF PROTEIN

Take a stroll around your local supermarket and you will notice something rather interesting. The price of meat is around the same as the price of produce. In some cases, produce costs more! Eggs are $1.80 a dozen, while you can't buy a small box of berries for under $1.99. Chicken breast at $1 per pound for the price of apples?

How can this be?

Surely it is less costly and time consuming to pick a green out of the ground or a sweet off the tree than it is to raise an animal for slaughter then kill it, skin it, gut it, and chop it up. The latter is a multi-step process that involves hordes of (underpaid) workers in multiple locations, not to mention the hardship on the animal who is forced to be confined to a small space its entire life then be shipped over long distances to be shot in the head and sliced in half. How can the flimsy price of animal protein reflect all the food it takes to feed the beasts, who consume pounds of corn and soy per day during their regrettably brief and miserable lives, while producing equal amounts of manure and methane, which has nowhere to go but in our waters and into the air.

But back to the point: How on Earth can meat be so cheap??? Two words: subsidies, and externalized costs.

If you've been keeping up with the news, you'll know that our elected officials are currently debating the Farm Bill, which among other things addresses how much money is given to farmers to grow/raise the food we consume. Why the government and by extension taxpayers should give farmers anything at all aside from the price of their goods doesn't make sense from a market standpoint and is a throwback to a bygone time. If you've ever taken an economics class you know that consumer demand should dictate price and profit should dictate participation. That's what happens in the case of fruits and vegetables, which receive almost no government aid.

The Farm Bill has been much debated, and delayed. It seems the price of protein is a very contentious issue. One side argues that factory farms - those large-scale productions that account for most of the world's meat, eggs, and dairy - are the safest, most efficient, and most cost-effective way to raise large numbers of animals, and the only way to sell eggs, milk, and body parts at a price that virtually every American can afford.

But critics counter that a grocery-store price tag does not reflect the actual cost of producing a pound of protein. While corporations bank the profits, contract farmers foot the bill for waste disposal. Should anything go wrong - and manure lagoons are known to leak and flood - taxpayers are left to clean up the mess. If factory farms were forced to pay for the management of their own animals’ waste – and for cleaning up after big spills – then food prices would rise dramatically. (The result being that consumers would eat a lot less meat. With the laundry list of diseases associated with meat-eating, how's that a bad thing?)

Everyone who pays income tax is forking over money to keep CAFOs (factory farms) in business, in the form of farm subsidies, which has only helped to perpetuate the animal-factory industry. Sadly, this goes for meat-eaters and vegans/vegetarians alike.

In CAFOs Uncovered, the Union of Concerned Scientists detailed U.S. policies that allowed factory farms to dominate meat and dairy production. Subsidies to grow animal feed, for example, saved CAFOs $35 billion in operating costs between 1997 and 2005. According to the Environmental Working Group, the feds wrote checks for $256 billion in farm subsidies for commodities, crop insurance, and disaster programs, and $39 billion in conservation payments between 1995 and 2012. And the big boys (names like Tyson, Perdue, and Smithfield) get the lion's share of government money. Obama himself said agriculture is agribusiness, with politics and profit being inextricably intertwined with animal protein.

And the price is paid by the planet.

A 2006 UN report showed that global emissions from all livestock operations account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the planet, even more than cars, trucks, and planes. It takes three units of fossil-fuel energy to produce one unit of food energy on average among all agricultural products. But for industrial meat, the ratio can grow as high as thirty-six to one. The modern intensive confinement production systems can be stressful for animals. The crowded quarters; the competition for a small amount of breathing room; and the attendant stress, conflict, and aggression can increase the shedding of pathogenic bacteria.

We as a nation have moved to a model of agriculture that produces cheap meat but risks the health of everyone, and while the CAFO model appears to be efficient, that is only because important costs are not reflected in either the cost of the production system or its products, but are instead paid for by the public in other ways. These external costs include declining property values, the public health costs of pollution, the cost of fighting resistant infections, and the cost of cleanup of spills and other environmental disasters, notes David Kirby in his book, "Animal Factory."

All of these costs are picked up by you, though they are not included in the cost of producing or buying the meat, poultry, eggs, and milk that the modern industrial animal agriculture provides. It is externalization, not efficiency, that makes industrial meat so cheap. CAFOs are neither economically nor environmentally sustainable. We can no longer afford to remain blissfully unaware of the cost involved at so many different levels of that ice cream or frozen yogurt, the diner omelet, protein shake, chicken breast sandwich, bacon breakfast, etc. etc. Just because it comes in socially acceptable pretty packages doesn’t mean you should accept it.

As the Pew Commission report notes, industrial animal farms seemed to bless the world with tremendous increases in short-term farm efficiency and affordable food, but the boom has not come without serious unintended consequences and questions about its long-term sustainability. Ill-advised policies created CAFOs, which did not evolve naturally through agricultural progress or from rational planning or market forces but were a product of short-term thinking to feed a rapidly growing population by satisfying the ever-increasing appetite for flesh. Factory farms now produce most of the animal protein in our diets. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of the overuse of antibiotics; air quality problems; the contamination of rivers, streams, and coastal waters with concentrated animal waste are all realities that won't just go away on their own. It will take new policies to replace them with more sustainable, environmentally friendly production methods, but as we are seeing with the debacle that the Farm Bill has become, these changes are not likely to happen anytime soon.

Government protects the prevailing system, the status quo. Misguided federal farm policies have encouraged the growth of massive confined animal feeding operations by shifting billions of dollars in environmental, health, and economic costs to taxpayers and communities. And the forces that be profit considerably by maintaining things as they are. It is up to you as a consumer. Supply will match demand, and until demand for meat and eggs and dairy falls to zero, supply will still exist, at the cost of the taxpayer’s money, environment, health, and the future.

It is said that food - like sex, politics, and religion - is an intensely personal, emotional, and complicated subject. Thus the phrase "there's no accounting for taste." Well, it is intensely personal, emotional, and complicated, for the animal that is killed! And when the production of food comes at so great an expense, it needs to be addressed.

The power lies with you. Each time you visit the market or sit down at the table, you make a vote. Vote plants.

* We'd like to thank author David Kirby, whose book "Animal Factory" provided much of the fodder for this post. Buy it today!

Friday, July 12, 2013

SITTING KILLS


Sitting is the new smoking. That's the gist of an article in this month's Runner's World magazine. All the hours spent parked on one's rear - whether it be on the computer, in the car, on the couch, or at the table - are implicated in an array of diseases, from heart disease and stroke to diabetes, cancer, depression, even early death. And get this: the risks associated with sitting are the same for everyone, regardless of activity level.

And so we ask you, how many hours a week do you spend on your behind? You're likely sitting as you read this, but how much time do you estimate you spend planted on your ass in a given week?

If you are like the average American, you sit an average of 64 hours per week, or 9 hours a day. And this does not include the 7 or 8 hours of nightly sleep (which puts the total at closer to 20 hours per day). And active people (regular exercisers who log the recommended 2.5 hours of weekly exercise) are just as sedentary. In fact, fitness buffs are actually more inactive when not training, either because of increased fatigue after a workout which reduces movement, or from that feeling of complacency that comes after a gym session, which says I just broke my sweat for the day, now give me my (insert postworkout high calorie reward of your choice here) and let me just chill. In fact, on days you exercise you are likely 30 percent less active than on days you don't.

And spending so much time sitting down is really bad for you. Common sense would seem to support this, and an increasing body of scientific literature does as well. Women increase their risk for diabetes with every 2 hours they sit, and men who spend 6 hours sitting down are more likely to die of heart disease or diabetes than men who sit for half as long.

Which is why experts are calling it the "sitting disease" and comparing it to smoking, which is bad for you no matter how many hours you spend running, riding, or lifting weights.

What's so bad about sitting? A lot, it turns out. When you sit for prolonged periods (call it 20 minutes or more), blood pools in your lower extremities, reducing the flow to your brain of important chemicals, including those involved in mood. Sitting also turns off an important gene that prevents blood clotting and inflammation. What's more, the static position - back hunched, hips and knees flexed, head bent - is a postural nightmare that puts excessive stress on many major muscle groups, including your hip flexors, causes muscle imbalances in the glutes, hamstrings, and iliotibial band, and increases laxity in the ligaments of the spine, which can set you up for back pain.


We weren't meant to sit as long as we do, but society seems structured around the fat ass. Don't let that be you. Get up off your butt and move around. Make an effort every 20 minutes to stand up for at least a minute. But don't just stand there! Prolonged standing strains the legs and feet and is of no benefit to your circulation. The trick is to move. Walk around, do some squats or calf raises, do a hand stand. Heck, even lying on the floor beside your desk will help to move blood back to your heart and head and straighten and align your spine. Move as much as you can. Your body will thank you for it by keeping you around.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

GLUTEN OR GMO: THAT'S THE REAL QUESTION

Gluten-free is one of the more recent buzzwords going around the health community and food industry. Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, among them wheat, barley, and rye, and it appears by pseudonyms in a variety of packaged, processed foods. In fact, gluten is pretty ubiquitous and can be found in your favorite items listed as modified starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, emulsifiers, caramel color, mixed tocopherols, the nonspecific "flavoring," non-dairy creamer, stabilizers, vegetable gum, and many others. What's all the fuss? Yes, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, which is characterized by the body's inability to digest this protein, can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition. Celiac disease involves damage to the portion of the digestive tract known as the small intestine, and it can set up sufferers for cancer down the road.

But celiac disease is relatively rare. Only about 1 in 135 Americans have this condition, and yet take a spin around the aisles of your local health food store and the proportion of people reflexively grabbing for foods labeled gluten-free is usually much higher, like maybe 1 in 2. Yes, we think it is a good idea to avoid gluten. Wheat and other grains are just not nutritious enough to warrant their consumption. Take it a step further and avoid packaged foods altogether. By buying whole, unprocessed foods you avoid what is arguably the biggest potential threat to your health: genetically modified foods.

GMOs have undergone DNA modification to alter their genes, usually to confer pesticide resistance so large manufacturers can grow more of them. But the consequences of eating these foods on humans has not been adequately explored, since to date no human studies have been conducted. Or more accurately, the American population is currently being subjected to any potential hazards involved with eating these foods every time we go to the market and purchase them. But studies in animals abound, and the findings are unsettling. The Institute of Responsible Technology reports numerous animal studies which showed associations between eating GMO plants and death, low birth rate, failure to thrive, testicular dysfunction, infertility, immune dysfunction, allergies, and precancer.

The most common GMO? Corn. Corn derivatives are commonly found in packaged goods, including chips, cereals, breads and pastries. Foods containing corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup include many soft drinks, jams, jellies, ice cream and ketchup. And corn is as tricky to detect in food as wheat, since it goes by many names including: dextrose, hydrolized protein, maltose, maltodextrin and modified food starch.

What to do? Read labels carefully is what conventional wisdom advises, since as of yet foods do not need to be labeled GMO-free. And remember that soy is another genetically-modified food featuring prominently in ingredients lists.

But if reading labels is time-consuming and frustrating, take it a step further and buy whole foods. Fruits, vegetables, dried beans, seeds. That way you know exactly what you get. Very few fresh fruits and vegetables are genetically modified. Exceptions include some zucchini, squash, and sweet corn. The only commercialized GM fruit is papaya from Hawaii. But the non-GMO Shopping Guide tells us that even if the fruit or vegetable is non-GMO, if it is packaged, frozen, or canned, there may be GM additives, so buy fresh as often as possible, and then take these delicious products home and cook them yourself.

Be with your food every step of the way, from market to meal (and if you have a green thumb, start with the seed), because the proteins, carbs, and other nutrients your food provides will be with you till the end. As they say, you are what you eat.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

THE TWO PERCENT

The term "One Percent," in its most common definition, refers to the wealthiest Americans. Individuals who control nearly 50 percent of total financial wealth. The term is considered derogatory by most people, which is understandable: ninety-nine people in a hundred are excluded from this elite group. Issues of wealth stratification, social class, the questionable merit of most jobs and the inanity of the monetary system aside, we'd like to briefly discuss another exclusive group, one not based on the size of your bank account but on the scope of your awareness, one you can easily be a part of. Who knows, perhaps you already are.

An article featured in Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine discussed the new trend among CEOs, many of whom have tossed the bacon, eggs, steak, chicken breast, milk, ice cream, and all else animal, and replaced these foods with plant-based fare. And the list is long. Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, real estate tycoon Mort Zuckerman, business magnate Russell Simmons, and former commander-in-chief Bill Clinton are now exercising their chompers on plant ruffage. Other power people who have dropped the steak knife in favor of the salad include Ford executive Bill Ford, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone, venture capitalist Joi Ito, and Whole Foods Market CEO, John Mackey. Oh, and Mike Tyson, Alec Baldwin, and a host of other celebrities.

In short, the One Percent has become...the Two Percent. That's how many vegans there are in the United States, according to a recent Gallup poll. Yes, veganism is an exclusive club. Partly because it is thought of as expensive and time consuming. It is true that specialty items containing highly processed soy derivatives can cost as much as meat if not more. (But this has to do with issues of subsidization, a topic known as the Farm Bill which politicians are debating as you read this.)

As with everything else, veganism is how you go about it, and if you don't have a wallet that's as thick as newly-minted vegan Rupert Murdoch's (net worth 11.2 billion) pinching pennies may be in your favor, as far as your health is concerned. Because unprocessed or minimally processed foods - that is, whole foods in their natural state (fruits and vegetables and beans and seeds especially) - are easy on your budget and top shelf as far as nutrition is concerned. In fact, you can easily purchase food for a week for $100 or less, which is a very doable $15 a day, as I discuss in my book, The Paradigm Diet.

As for the motives America's wealthiest have for becoming vegan, who's to say. Some may do it for the environment, others to combat meat-induced heart disease, while some did it because their sweetheart did it first, as was the case with former head of Viacom, Tom Freston. But one thing is certain: The richest Americans know how to make money, and many do it by spotting trends. With veganism they've found a trend with benefits - longevity, vibrancy, and youthfulness - and it's here to stay.

So join the club. The vegan club. If enough opt in, it won't be so exclusive, and that (like wealth, which would be of greater benefit if more widely distributed) is better for us all.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

AVOCADOS

We've all heard the term "healthy fats," which is used to describe overt lipids whose benefits outweigh the risks associated with their consumption. Saturated fats, found in animal products and in some plant foods (coconut, cocao) don't need to be eaten since your body can produce them from other fats. The same goes for cholesterol, which your liver makes in quantities sufficient to fulfill all the needs of metabolism. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats provide health benefits and would seem to deserve the term "healthy fats," but because research has shown an association between high fat diets and Alzheimer's disease, too much of any fat may make the term "healthy fat" a contradiction.

Besides, even within the mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, which consist mainly of vegetable foods, major differences in their nutritional profiles exist and not all of these foods should be accorded equal preference in the diet.

Take olive oil. A so-called staple of the Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with health benefits. But are Mediterraneans healthier because of or despite their widely publicized love affair with this empty calorie, which is what olive oil really is? Consider: two tablespoons contain 240 calories, all of it from fat (27 g), and most of it in the form of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil even provides a little vitamin E. But divorced as it is from its whole food source (olives), it provides no additional nutrition, and is devoid of fiber.

Now take an avocado. One large California avocado (black skin) provides 275 calories, and 25 grams of fat, most of it of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties, in addition to about 20% of the RDA for vitamin E, making it comparable to the above serving of olive oil. But what olive oil lacks, and avocado has, in sum cases in abundance, are the following essential nutrients:  vitamin A, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, phosphorus, vitamin C, iron, riboflavin, manganese, copper, magnesium, potassium and zinc. One avocado also provides nearly 12 grams of fiber, half the RDA for women. It is truly packed with nutrition. And one beefy avocado dwarfs 2 measly tbsp. of olive oil, so you get more for your mouthful.


To sum up: When choosing dietary fats, opt for whole-food, plant-based varieties, which offer a plentitude of vitamins, minerals, water and fiber in addition to the hefty source of lipids they provide.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

FIGS


It's summertime, and the warm weather brings the opportunity to enjoy exotic fruits not otherwise available. Like the fig. Fat-free, sodium-free, cholesterol-free. Figs can be part of any diet, including diabetic diets, and their high fiber content makes them ideal for weight loss and maintenance. Their unique satiny texture and seeds provides a satisfying feel and crunch. They are among the oldest fruits consumed, and historically have been viewed as aphrodisiacal due to their resemblance to the testicle.

One serving of figs is 40 grams, or about 1/4 cup. This is about 3 Calimyrna figs (green) or 4-5 Mission figs (black). Per serving figs provide about 30 grams of carbohydrates in the form of glucose and fructose, along with 5 grams of fiber - more dietary fiber per serving than most other common fresh fruits. Their mineral content is highest among most common fruits - with potassium, calcium, and iron featured prominently. Enjoy a meal of figs by eating all 12-24 that come in a standard package. You will be amazed by their ease of digestibility and the overall enjoyment you derive from making figs a summer staple. And visit the California Fig Advisory Board for more information.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

IDEAL WEIGHT

Weight is a touchy subject, just like food preference and taste in men (or women). But this does not mean a discussion should be avoided, and because your body weight, not to mention your body fat percentage, is such a strong predictor of your health and longevity, it's a good idea to know how much you should tip the scale. What's your ideal? The Metropolitan Life Insurance company came out with a table (most recently in 1999) indicating weights (for various heights and body frames and specific for each gender) at which mortality was lowest. It would seem from this table that one's ideal body mass index is around 23. Met Life never used the word "ideal" but living a long life, in other words not dying prematurely from heart attack, cancer, stroke, and other major killers, would seem like a good thing, we dare say an ideal thing, for most. (You can calculate your own BMI here.)

Now there have been research studies like this one published in JAMA whose conclusion has come to be called the obesity paradox, which hints that being overweight may give some advantage as far as longevity is concerned, but don't be swayed by this finding, which is "complete rubbish," according to Harvard MD Walter Willet, who is head of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

But like politicians, scientists love to disagree, so let's let the talking heads do what they do best and talk while we avail ourselves of our God-given powers of observation and analysis, which we are born with and despite the efforts of education to take common sense away, still persist into adulthood, at least in most people. So, who to observe?

Athletes are the modern day demigods as far as fitness is concerned. And athletes tend to achieve weights that allow for the best performance in their given sport. Much variance can be found in the "ideal weight." It depends on the sport. Obviously a shot putter, who relies on short bursts of brute strength, will weigh a lot more and have a lot more muscle than a marathon runner, who may look like a walking (or running) skeleton with hardly anything but skin clinging to the bones.


If your goal is to run 26.2 miles, then too much muscle is a liability, as it means more of a load to carry. But life does not call solely for the brute strength of the shot putter nor the sheer stamina of the long distance runner; often it calls for both strength and endurance. Therefore your ideal weight should include enough muscle to add strength while being light enough for you to compete in and excel in the journey that is life.

What sport prepares a person for this journey, and is therefore a metaphor for life? Triathlon is pretty close.
Triathletes move their lithe bodies through the ocean and land in a variety of disciplines calling for upper body strength (swimming), lower body strength (biking) and quickness (running), as well as agility and coordination. The body of a triathlete tends to be larger than a strict runner's, with larger upper bodies and bulkier legs that its disciplines require, and many carry more body fat than other athletes like sprinters for the added energy over the long haul it provides. Imagine moving your body over 70 plus miles in a given event. Soccer players are said to cover 5 or 10. That blows this distance out of the water (or into the water). And we are not even talking about the ironman distance, which is twice 70 miles. Wowzers.

So how much does your average competitive triathlete weigh? We took a look at the top triathletes, male and female, guys like Javier Gomez and Craig Alexander, gals like Anne Haug and Felicity Abram, and we averaged their heights and weights. Here's what we found:

Male triathletes (averaged): 5 feet 11 1/2 inches; 148.5 lbs
Female triathletes (averaged): 5 feet 7 inches; 125 lbs

What's that in BMI? For guys it's 20.4. For women, it's 19.6. Wow, that's low. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, so triathletes of both sexes fall on the low end of normal, which seems to be the high end for fitness. Variations exist for frame, a few pounds up or down, and triathletes like other athletes are human and can gain 10 or so pounds in the off-season, but the conclusion is pretty simple: if you want to be both strong and fast and cover long distances, the fewer the lbs you pack, the better off you are.

Now you may argue that you are not a triathlete, have no intention of being one, and couldn't sacrifice the 10 or 15 or 20 or more weekly hours which these exceptional individuals devote to training. Your life is sedentary, a succession of switched seats (from the bed to the table, to the car and then to the desk, and back), your longest journey being across the parking lot or up a flight of stairs. That may be your version of real for now, but that shouldn't stop you from striving towards your ideal.

Now we know our definition of ideal says little about longevity. Athletes may perform at their highest level then keel over and die at 50, like the dearly-missed James Gandolfini. We'll leave that for the talking heads to discuss. But if you want to live life at the highest level for as long as your days are granted you, then use this simple formula to calculate your ideal weight and make efforts to stick as close to it as possible.

For men: 100 pounds for the first 5 feet of height, add 5 lbs for every inch above that.
For women: 95 pounds for the first 5 feet of height, add 4 lbs for every inch thereafter.

And if you eat a plant-based diet loaded with sweets, greens, beans, and seeds, you won't have to work out like a maniac. Your body will naturally reach its set point weight.

Friday, June 21, 2013

THE WHITES

Everyone knows how important it is to eat your vegetables, and when you think of veggies what generally comes to mind? Spinach, broccoli, peas and carrots.

While it is true that green vegetables are the most nutritious foods, when piling the veggies on your plate it is advisable to choose a wide variety of colors. Foods like red peppers, squashes, eggplant, and their brightly-colored friends each boast different nutrient profiles based on the pigment of their skin.

But what about white vegetables? Sadly, they don't get the press (or intake) they deserve.



U.S. dietary guidance tells us to consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, including dark green, orange, red, and starchy vegetables. However, no such recommendation exists for the whites, a group that includes potatoes, cauliflowers, turnips, onions, parsnips, mushrooms, corn, and kohlrabi.

There is a substantial body of evidence demonstrating how adding one or more of these vegetables can increase shortfall nutrients, notably fiber, potassium, and magnesium, as well as help increase overall vegetable consumption especially among children and teens.

So why do potatoes receive such bad press? After all, they are an excellent source of dietary fiber and potassium, which tend to be underconsumed in the U.S. Despite all these positive attributes, the popular press has aligned potatoes with an unhealthy diet, branding them as contributing factors to obesity. It is true that popular potato foods (fries and chips) often contain more fat than carbohydrate, and because fat is a concentrated energy source, eating a lot of it can, well, make you fat. But fat is not what is in the potatoes but what is added to them.

And then there is the glycemic index, a measure of a food's effect on blood sugar. The glycemic index of white vegetables, especially potatoes, can be high and may be misleading "if not interpreted in the context of the overall contribution that the white vegetable makes to the carbohydrate and nutrient composition of the diet and their functionality in satiety and metabolic control within usual meals." In other words, potatoes may have a lot of sugar, but because they have a lot of fiber, you'll be full before you consume an excessive amount of calories (provided you don't fry them or douse them with oil), and along with that fiber you'll get your money's worth in vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients.

This being said, it's probably not a good idea to simply load a bunch of potatoes on your plate and eat them in isolation. But who does that...unless they happen to be French fries? Eating potatoes in addition to other veggies or protein foods like beans would be the more judicious approach.


There is a growing body of evidence of the association between potassium intake and blood pressure reduction in adults. Lower blood pressure reduces the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease, two of the top three killers in America (cancer being the third). Potassium also protects against age-related bone loss and helps reduce the risk of kidney stones - but you must get it from food, not by taking potassium supplements. And potatoes are very high in potassium, providing twice the potassium found in bananas (which, incidentally, is another white produce item). But when eating potatoes remember to go easy on the salt, since low potassium-to-sodium intake ratios are more strongly related to cardiovascular disease risk than either nutrient alone. In other words, eating salt with potassium cancels out the heart-protective benefits of the latter nutrient.



And in addition to being a low-fat food, potatoes and other white vegetables are particularly rich in vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese and dietary fiber. Potatoes provide 25% of the vegetable phenolics in the American diet. Phenolics are a class of newly-discovered chemicals which include flavonoids (quercetin), phenolic acids, and carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) and are only found in fruits and vegetables. And of the vegetables, potatoes are your best source.

Cooking tips: scrub potatoes, dice them into 1-inch cubes (leaving the skin on, because that's where the fiber is), and steam for 10-15 minutes, depending on how soft you like them cooked. Go easy on the salt and do not add oil or butter. Instead, spritz on some lemon and add a dash of nutritional yeast, olive tapenade if you're feeling feisty.

Eat potatoes and other white vegetables every day.

THE 30-SERVING PLAN

Efforts have been made to standardize the American diet and steer it away from fast foods, high fat animal products, and refined carbohydrate. Thus the USDA recommendations. The current My Plate features 6 food groups. They are fruits, vegetables, protein foods, grains, dairy, and oils (optional).

If in order to meet the definition for food an edible must provide nourishment that outweighs the potential detriments associated with it, then half of these groups don't count. There are risks associated with eating grains (weight gain, inflammation, sensitivities) and dairy (osteoporosis, kidney stones, cancer), while oils provide empty calories you can easily wind up wearing around your waist.

The focus instead should be on fruits, vegetables, and so-called protein foods, which include beans and peas as well as a moderate amount of seeds. The USDA recommends 11 servings of these foods, but diets that avoid dairy, meat, nuts, grains, and oils can easily double the recommended intake and include 20 or more servings, especially when the focus is on fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories and high in water, fiber, and micronutrients.

You may wonder, isn't 3 food groups instead of 5-6 limiting and restrictive? Or, how can you eat the same thing every day? Our answer: the body craves regularity. Watch your pet or your baby, who seem to know instinctively when feeding time comes around. And with over 100 beans, greens, sweets, and seeds to choose from, variation is written in.

This is why we've concocted the 30 Serving a Day Plan. Follow this advice and you will aim for 10 servings of vegetables and vegetable fruits, 8 servings of fruits, 6 servings of starches, 4 glasses of water, and 2 tbsp. of seeds.

10
Vegetables and Vegetable Fruits
1 serving is 1 cup raw/cooked or 2 cups leafy greens
Choose a variety of colors (green, red, yellow, orange, white)
Calories: 600
Provides: 25 g fiber, 25 g protein, 25 g fat, 50% or more of 15 nutrients
 
8
Fruits
1 serving is 1 cup or 1 medium fruit
Calories: 600
Provides: 25 g fiber, 20% or more of 14 nutrients
 
6
Starches
1 serving is 1/2 cup cooked beans, 1 cup potatoes
Calories: 600
Provides: 35 g fiber, 35 g protein 25% or more of 14 nutrients
 
4
8-oz glasses of water
Note: recs are to drink 8 glasses, but emphasizing a lot of high-water content foods cuts the requirement in half
 
2
tbsp. flax or chia seeds
Calories: 150
Provides: Essential fatty acids
 
Total calories: 2000
Fiber: 97.5 g
Protein: 75 g
100% of all nutrients except vitamin D (sunlight), B12 (yeast)
If you exercise and require additional calories, eat more fruit for rapidly-digested energy.

Sample Plan

Breakfast: smoothie of 2 bananas, 2 oranges, 2 cups berries, 2 tbsp. flax or chia seeds (add 2 cups spinach if desired)

Snacks: Apple or orange

Lunch: Large green salad (4 cups) topped with 1.5 cups beans and 1 cup avocado

Dinner: Start with an hors d'oeuvres of diced vegetable fruits (cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers), lightly steam broccoli and have with 1 or 2 cups of potato/sweet potato

Dessert: Fresh fruit

Note: Bananas can double as fruit and starches. Also, avocado and olives double as fruit and vegetable fruits. So you can play with your intake to make it work.

Helpful hints: Make judicious use of condiments including lemon juice, soy sauce, hot sauce, coconut butter, mustard, stevia, cinnamon, cocoa, and nutritional yeast. At 9 g protein per 3-tbsp serving, nutritional yeast is a great way to increase protein consumption - and meet vitamin B12 requirement.

Try to eat this way for a whole weekend. Weekends provide greater freedom to experiment and the leisure to prepare your own food. You may find you enjoy this dietstyle so much you extend it throughout the week.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

FRUIT IS YOUR FRIEND


Fruit is nature's prize. It is sweet, delicious, juicy, convenient and, exotic fruits and berries aside, generally affordable.

Think of it in the grand picture. What is the purpose of fruit, that love child of the tree? Just as peacocks and other animals (including humans) try to increase fitness by appearing as physically appealing as possible, trees also have an interest in perpetuation of their species, and to this end they create the most colorful, juiciest, sweetest bulbs of pleasure they can, encasing in them their seeds, in the hopes that animals (not just squirrels but us too) will be enticed by them, eat them, maybe transport them, possibly discard them in fertile ground, and in months years or decades, a new tree will spring. And the new tree, with its green leaves, converts carbon dioxide to oxygen for us to breathe. And so the cycle of life perpetuates itself.

It's sometimes difficult to remember this if you don't garden or have a tree or at times pick your own fruit. And for some, eating fruit may be considered off limits or, gasp, a health risk. In fact, some experts recommend limiting fruit consumption to just one piece per day. They say that the sugar fructose, due to its effects on the liver and metabolism, should be avoided, limited to 10 or 15 grams per day in some people, which is the equivalent of one or two apples. One or two apples? For the whole day? What about oranges, and melons, bananas, dates, figs, persimmons, berries, grapes, and all the other fruits nature provides? How can nature's perfect food be off limits? It's like creating a ban on water or sunlight.

So we looked at the literature and examined what the recent findings suggested about fructose, fruit sugar.

First a little background. Fructose is so named because it is the main sugar in most fruits, especially apples, pears, berries, and dried fruits. But fructose is also present in some vegetables, as well as natural sweeteners (honey) and artificial sweeteners (the much maligned high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS). And sucrose, or table sugar, which is in virtually every sweet carbohydrate under the sun (grains, processed foods, many vegetables, even beans contain some sucrose), is equal parts glucose and fructose.

A little physiology/biochemistry. When you eat fructose, it gets absorbed not by active transport (like glucose) but by passive diffusion, which requires less energy, making it easier to digest. And because it is farther down the sugar breakdown pathway (also known as glycolysis) it is more rapidly converted to energy (ATP).
So far, so good, yes? Would it surprise you then to hear that experts say that because of these hallmark traits (ease of absorption/conversion to energy), fructose should be avoided. It's like saying avoid the sun because it is the best source of vitamin D. Crazy! But this is what is often said: Too much fructose, because of its ease of digestion, can be converted to fats, causing fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, contributing to diabetes, and obesity, and a host of other health issues. Is this true, or are these claim scare tactics?

First, a bit more background.

Sugar consumption has come under increased scrutiny as the number of overweight and obese Americans has skyrocketed. But the factors that can lead to weight gain are complex and multifactorial. Foods are more available than ever, and the diversity of foods continues to expand. In fact, over 10,000 new grocery items are introduced annually. Food expenditures have increased, and people are buying more food to please tastes rather than nourish cells. Therefore sugar consumption is only 1 part of the complex dietary component of trends in overweight, and even within the realm of sugar consumption, it is not fruit that should be implicated but soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, which account for the largest percentage of total average daily intake of added and total fructose. Thanks, HFCS!

These days Americans are eating more fructose than ever.  The average daily intake is around 50 grams per day, and fructose intake increased in all gender and age groups since 1978.
Fifty grams a day. Now, an apple has 10 grams of fructose. So that would mean people are eating 5 apples a day? When was the last time you had more than one? Of course most people are getting their fruit sugar in coke, gatorade, and other processed drinks. But even the fructose present in soft drinks, divorced from fiber and nutrients as it is, may not be the bad guy some experts believe.

We've borrowed this from an article summarizing recent findings and published in the periodical "Advances in Nutrition":

"Recent research reviews have reported that fructose consumption up to the 90th percentile population consumption level in either healthy weight or obese individuals does not result in increased triglycerides or weight gain. No adverse effect on triglycerides or weight was observed in multiple trials using fructose at up to the 95th percentile population consumption level. Meta-analyses also documented that no increases in blood pressure or propensity toward obesity occurred at up to the 90th percentile population consumption levels of fructose. A recently completed trial in our research laboratory involving 352 overweight or obese individuals who consumed up to the 90th percentile population consumption levels for fructose as part of mixed-nutrient, eucaloric diets did not show any adverse effect on total cholesterol (P = 0.88) or LDL cholesterol (P = 0.85). A significant 14% increase in triglycerides was noted, although it must be emphasized that triglyceride levels remained within the normal range both before and after measurement."

To summarize: No metabolic derangements in fructose intake at or above the 90th percentile, which is 75 to 100 grams of fructose per day, equivalent of about 10 bananas or 10 apples. (Once again, the scientists were not using apples and bananas but rather a liter of sugar water.) And simple physiology/biochemistry bears this out. The vast majority of the fructose that is metabolized in the liver is converted into glucose, glycogen, lactate, and carbon dioxide. Fifty percent fructose is converted in the liver to glucose, 25% to lactate, and 15% to 18% to glycogen. Glycogen is a storage form of sugar. A few percent of ingested fructose is metabolized to carbon dioxide. Only a very small percentage (on the order of 1%–5% depending on the specific conditions used and underlying nutritional and metabolic status of individuals studied) is converted to free fatty acids.


 
Even in settings of extreme carbohydrate overload, only a small percentage of carbohydrates is converted into fats. In one experiment in which individuals were fed over 1,500 extra calories per day in excess carbohydrates, only about 3 grams of fat was generated. Other studies showed that healthy individuals who were fed 1 g/kg of fructose did not experience increased liver fat. Yet another study found similar results in individuals who consumed 30% of energy from fructose over a 4-week time frame.

Had enough science and stats? Let's fast forward to the article's concluding paragraph:

"In conclusion, recent randomized clinical trials have suggested that there are no adverse effects on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol or HDL cholesterol at amounts ranging up to the 90th percentile level of fructose consumption. Taken together, these findings suggest that we must be very cautious when attributing adverse health consequences to the consumption of fructose...particularly at normal population consumption levels. "

Fruit is too tasty and nutritious to be avoided. Indeed it should make up a large portion of the calories you consume. Many can go as high as fifty percent or more. In addition to fructose, fruit (and legumes) contain prebiotics. These non-digestible carbohydrates (insoluble fiber) make their way through the gut and help good bacteria grow, multiply, and flourish. Good bacteria are probiotics.  Prebiotics? Well, prebiotics feed them and keep them healthy, and then they in turn keep you healthy.

And so, the fructose present in fruit, far from posing any threat to your health, is a natural source of rapidly-absorbable, easily-convertible energy delivered in a sweet, juicy, vitamin-rich and colorful casing which combines with the priobiotics, fiber, water and other nutrients to maximize your health and longevity. Pick yourself up some today, and tell a friend!