Movie Review: Fat Head

One of the movies I saw a few years ago that got my attention about food matters was the popular Supersize Me, in which movie maker Morgan Spurlock challenges himself to eat only McDonald’s food for one month. And, to make matters more interesting, he makes it a rule to always say “yes” when they offer to supersize the meal.

If you haven’t yet seen it, give it a watch. It’s available on Netflix. Yes, he gains a lot of weight and his health takes a nosedive. But I won’t spoil all the details of the fun. I will just say that you can guess a lot of what happened and what sorts of conclusions he draws from this exercise.

Last night we watched Fat Head, which was made a few years later and, to my surprise, was a full frontal assault on Supersize Me. You might even consider it a reaction to Supersize Me.

Computer programmer Tom Naughton, who made this self-financed film, not only tears apart several of the core ideas in Supersize Me, he shows you how to go on a fast food diet and actually lose weight (and get healthier). You probably won’t be surprised to learn that a core tenant of this diet is carbohydrate restriction (100 grams or less per day).

But beyond making fun of Supersize Me and showing how some common sense can make you thinner without even considering the quality of the food involved, Tom does a lot more than that in this enlightening and entertaining film. He covers a lot of the history of how modern dietary recommendations and policy came to be, the story of the lipid hypothesis, what cholesterol is and what it actually does in your body (and some of the myths surrounding it), and how low-fat high-carb diets often lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and eventually diabetes.

Impressively, he interviews some of the foremost writers and doctors who are working to educate people about the connection between diet and health and reverse the damage done by the low-fat dogma that brought us wonderful man-made “food” product like margarine and trans-fats. Included in the film are notables like Protein Power authors Mary Eades and Michael Eades, Sally Fallon, Mary Enig, and others. It was good to see some of the same authors I’ve read in the last few years appearing to summarize a lot of what’s wrong with so much of what we’ve traditionally been told.

The Fat Head blog is good reading too.

This is definitely a good movie to show to people who may be looking at your low-carb diet and finding it hard to believe you’re doing something healthy. It never gets too far into the science or medicine and there’s enough humor and entertainment throughout that it’s not nearly as “preachy” as a movie like this could be.

I like this guy. :-)

Paleo Meatballs, Mexican Style

I’ve long been a fan of Everyday Paleo, and when I came across Sarah’s recipe for Mexican Meatballs the other day, I knew we had to try it. And given that we have some excellent local grass fed ground beef as well as our recently acquired ground pork from Foothill Grassfed Meats, there was really no reason not to give it a try.

I won’t reproduce the recipe here. You should definitely visit Everyday Paleo to see the original. But I will supply pictures and ideas we’ve had for future variations.

First, a shot of the meatballs after the first round of cooking and before applying the sauce.

Paleo Meatballs, cooked without sauce

And then after the sauce is on, they’ve cooked a bit longer, and we’re ready to eat.

Palo Meatballs, cooked and with sauce

The recipe was great: very tasty and quick to prepare using ingredients we tend to always have on hand. But we could also see using various chilis to spice up the sauce a little bit. Maybe a jalapeno or serrano peper to add some heat. Or a nice chipotle to add to head at smoky flavor at the same time. I could also see adding some shredded cheese right as the come out of the oven.

My Experience with Poison Oak, Ivy, or Sumac

Last weekend I spend a fair amount of my time working on the final parts of Our Summer Garden–mainly getting that last bits of the dripper system in place and going some general cleanup work. During most of Sunday I had a persistent itch on the back of my neck. I assumed it a was a small bug bite and scratched at it occasionally but didn’t think much more about it. (Bug bites are common in the Sierra Foothills–especially around water and lush vegetation.)

On Monday the itch persisted and seemed to spread a bit, but there was not real visible indication of anything unusual. Still, I used a bit of Gold Bond medicated cream I found in our medicine cabinet and that provided some temporary relief. Again, I didn’t think much of it. Until Tuesday.

On Tuesday, it became clear that something was going on. I had lots of little “bubbles” forming on my neck and shoulders. At that point the “bug bite” theory went out the window and I started reading about Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac. What they all have in common is a chemical know as Uruishol, a highly potent skin irritant.

Unfortunately, some of the early advice I read was pretty bad and I ended up taking a hot shower and scrubbing the area pretty well. That provided some temporary relief, but also may have contributed to spreading the toxin a bit more. And it turned out that my agressive scrubbing of the area turned what might have been a minor skin irritation into something that my body now wants to grow scab tissue over.

If you’re not grossed out yet, the good news is that I did find some relief as the week went on. It ended up being a mix of Triple Antibiotic Ointment (aka Neosporin) for the pain and healing of the areas I scrubbed, as well as Zanfel, an expensive yet effective wash that helps to remove the uruishol from your skin. Folks at our local pharmacy scoff at the price but told me “a lot of people really swear by this stuff.”

Note that Zanfel is about 30% cheaper on Amazon.com if you want to have some on hand. I also found Burt’s Bees Poison Ivy Soap, which appears to be one of the better preventative options if you know you’ve been exposed and can get a good washing before it takes hold.

The bottom line is that, based on what I’ve read, I’m pretty lucky to have never had a reaction to uruishol until recently. But living where we do, I’m definitely going to be more vigilant about exposure and have a few things on hand so I’m prepared to wash the stuff off as best as I can before the reaction really kicks in.

A few other suggestions I’ve heard since complaining about my experience on twitter, on facebook, and in our chat room at work are:

  • sea salt and a bandage to help dry out the reacting area
  • mugwort
  • cortisone cream to help reduce the reaction

Have you had a poison ivy, oak, or sumac experience and found a particularly good treatment?

Simple Amazingly Tasty Pork Chops

After Kathleen’s recent trip to Foothill Grassfed Meats, we made Dijon Pork Chops (which were fantastic). And that got us wanting to have pork a bit more often, so we went out in search of a simple pork chop recipe that we could make without much effort. (And by “went out in search of” I mean “I asked my co-workers”.)

Two Pork Chops

That search led to a simple recipe from Cook’s Illustrated (thanks, Kevin) called Easy Pork Chops. The beauty of this recipe is that you need nothing more than 1/2 inch thick bone-in pork chops (at room temperature), oil, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of sugar (not really necessary, but it’s in the original recipe).

You put a bit of oil on both sides of the pork and add some salt and pepper. Then you place them in a cold non-stick pan. Turn the heat on to medium and cook on the first side for about 4-6 minutes. Then flip them over and cover, cooking another 3-6 minutes (until the inside reads 140 degrees on an instant read thermometer).

That’s it.

For added taste, you can remove the chops and let the juices that remain in the pan cook down a bit and pout them over the pork when you serve it.

They say starting in cold pan is the key to this recipe. I can’t tell you why, but it really works!

What’s really in that Tea?

Last week I happened to glance at the label on a bag of tea I was about to plunge into some nice hot water. I found the expected plant and spice bits on the list, but they were followed by something called soy lecithin. That was a little disturbing since I didn’t know what it was, and I’m generally suspicious of soy additives.

A little searching got me to a blog post titled They’re attacking my tea with soy lecithin dammit! Apparently someone else had the same reaction I did.

The real danger is the toxic Hexane that is used to process soy lecithin into something a company can sell to make money. The “stuff” that is chemically turned into soy lecithin is a by-product of the soy manufacturing process that is often dehydrated and then recolored with chemicals to make it lighter so that it can be added to foods to make them “smoother” and to act as an emulsifier to keep foods like butter or cake mix from separating and to make the cleaning of manufacturing equipment faster (i.e. for the non-stick properties).

Yeah, that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I want in my drink. So I did a bit more searching.

It turns out that Bigelow Tea publishes a list of all their soy lecithin-free teas. Several of my favorites are on that list. Sadly, Celestial Seasonings has a FAQ entry that addresses this differently:

Soy lecithin is a soy-based emulsifier (used to keep ingredients from separating) found in the natural flavors we use in some of our teas. All products that contain soy lecithin are clearly labeled on our packages and the product pages on our website. If you have any questions about soy lecithin, please send us an email at consumerrelations@hain-celestial.com.

So they don’t publish a list of their teas. And the boil the whole thing down to “don’t worry, but contact us if you are concerned.”

I know which teas I’ll be drinking.

Keep an eye on those labels…

Maximize Your Flavor Per Calorie

In the Atlantic today, there’s a story titled Diet Differently: Shed Weight by Maximizing Your Flavor Per Calorie which resonates so well with how we try to eat that I couldn’t help but to point it out today.

The story is about Peter Kaminsky and what happened when he started writing about underground gourmet food:

There was one occupational hazard. When Kaminsky, who is five foot-nine, became the Underground Gourmet, he weighed 172 pounds and wore trousers with 34-inch waistbands. After a few years on the job, he had crossed the 200-pound line and struggled to wiggle into XL T-shorts and 38-inch pants. The wake-up call came when his life insurance renewal was denied. “The choice was clear,” he writes. “Mend my munching or fast-forward to Judgment Day.”

He managed to shed 40+ pounds without sacrificing his enjoyment of food in the slightest. And then we went on to write a book detailing his experience: Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (And Really Well). This is the first I’ve heard of it, but it’s definitely on my reading list now. :-)

Here’s a bit more from the original article. First, a summary of the philosophy:

The guiding principle to eating intelligently (and with full pleasure) according to Kaminsky is by maximizing what he calls Flavor per Calorie, or FPC. FPC simply means consuming the very best food and drink you can get. Beer, which Kaminsky still enjoys, provides a good example of FPC in action. Guzzling a Coors fails to quench that beer-y thirst, so you pop another can. On the other hand, a full-bodied, hoppy, yeasty craft brew invites you to sip and savor its complexity. One bottle leaves you satisfied, and packs no more calories than a bland, industrial brew. The intense flavor of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables satisfies; there’s no need for high-calorie sauces and sweeteners to breathe life into out-of-season produce. A modest portion of grass-fed beef delivers more satisfaction than the dreary meat from industrial feedlots. And — critically — cooking those ingredients well (or living with someone who does) maximizes FPC.

And what’s off limits (no surprise for us here):

Although there are few outright taboos in Culinary Intelligence, Kaminsky does point out areas where those trying to shed pounds go at their peril. If you want to lose weight, Kaminsky has three words of advice: “No white stuff,” meaning white flour, white sugar, white rice, and potatoes. He suggests you avoid desserts and sweetened beverages. All forms of processed food are antithetical to FPC. And he suggests you examine your diet for high value targets to eliminate. In Kaminsky’s case, it was pizza. As a pizza-loving writer working from home in Brooklyn — a pizza paradise — he was in the habit of nipping out at midday and heading to one of the many good parlors in his neighborhood. A little calculation showed that his pizza habit added the equivalent of two extra days’ worth of calories to his weekly diet — he was eating nine days’ worth of food every seven. Daily sojourns to the pizza parlor became a thing of the past, although he occasionally picks up a slice as a special treat.

I’m sure the book will be an excellent read. Food really is supposed to taste good. So I’m thrilled to see someone finally advocating flavor over fad.

An Information Diet

For a while I ignored the hype around Clay Johnson’s book The Information Diet–mainly because I was pretty sure I knew what it was going to tell me. I figured it’d talk about the importance of limiting your information intake (it did) and advice on choosing good information sources (it does). And since I’m a regular read of Zen Habits and generally strive to keep things simple where I can, I assumed that the book would have little new to say to me.

But I recently came across some commentary that got me wondering if I shouldn’t pick it up anyway. I don’t remember exactly what I read (or where), but the gist of it was that there are some interesting parallels between the changes in our food production and consumption and the changes in our information production and consumption. So, given my interest in the former, and the fact that I have more than a passing interest in the later, I recently decided to read the kindle edition of The Information Diet.

It turns out that the changes in food nutrition (calorie consumption) and mind nutrition (information consumption) is a recurring theme throughout the book. If you’re wondering about why the quality of the nightly news (and much of journalism in general) has decreased in the last few decades, this book does an excellent job of explaining that. When you start to think of much of today’s “news” as information “snack food” that’s a far cry from the high quality, well researched, less biased, and in-depth news we used to see a bit more often, you realize that some of the same economic forces are at work.

To give you a taste, I really like this quote that opened the book:

When you’re young, you look at television and think there’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought. Conspiracy is optimistic! You can shoot the bastards! We can have a revolution! But the networks are really in business to give people what they want. It’s the truth.

That quote is attributed to Steve Jobs. Yes, that Steve Jobs.

But without getting into the business, politics, and economics at play, it’s safe to say that having a truly healthy lifestyle involves learning to deal with (and manage) the many things that vie for our attention on a daily basis–things that didn’t even existing a decade ago: twitter, facebook, smart phone apps, you name it. The Information Diet provides a healthy reality check for our daily information consumption habits and impulses. It also provides a good framework for thinking clearly about what is “too much” and how to keep consumption moderated.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by information or the choices we have to make about information (really, who’s not at some point?) this book is a great read. I’ve told more than a few people that the hardest thing I have to do every day is decide what I’m going to ignore that day, otherwise I’d never get anything done. The Information Diet makes that a little bit easier and helps you to not feel guilty about doing so.

More On The Dangers Of Sugar

It’s getting hard to ignore the “bad” news about sugar’s effects on our health. Just a few days ago, CBS (60 Minutes) aired a 14 minute video segment called “Is Sugar Toxic?” which is largely based on the work of Robert Lustig, who I mentioned in Time to Tax Sugar? Yes.

If you’re a fan of more mainstream news coverage, it’s definitely worth watching. The first 12 of the 14 minutes do a good job of summarizing some of the very real dangers that sugar poses to our bodies. And the last little bit gives the sugar industry some time to have their say in the matter. You can probably guess what they had to say.

I’m especially glad to see that they don’t gloss over the metabolic and brain effects that result from sugar consumption and the resulting insulin spikes. That’s information which needs to become as commonplace as the dangers of smoking and alcohol consumption.

See Also

Vitamins Shouldn’t Make You Feel Sick

A few days ago one of my co-workers remarked that he was starting to feel a bit sick because he’d made the “mistake” of taking a multi-vitamin on an empty stomach. And, of course, I couldn’t help but to say something about it. That’s partly because I’ve been there myself.

A few years ago I used to take a name-brand multi-vitamin every morning and often felt like crap for a bit of time afterwards–especially if I hadn’t eaten much of a breakfast (which was common back then).

It was only after suffering thru this routine for quite some time that I eventually came across something that explained it to me. I don’t remember where I was reading about this, but I learned two things:

  1. A lot of cheap vitamins (especially those you see advertised on TV) tend to have weird additives in them (which some people are sensitive to) and a significant percentage of the vitamin content is not bioavailable.
  2. Many of the vitamins, especially those targeted at men, contain zinc. And while zinc is important, taken in this form on an empty (or nearly empty stomach) often results in some digestive upset or a felling of nausea that can last from 5-20 minutes.

Bioavailability refers to how much of the nutrients your body can actually absorb. So you’re paying more than you need to for the amount of benefit you’re actually getting and often not feeling well during part of the process.

That doesn’t sound very “healthy” does it?

So what do we do now?

Aside from eating more nutrient dense foods, we do take daily supplements. But we tend to focus on higher quality (and yes, often higher price) brands–those that keep the additives to a minimum and use natural sources whenever possible. (Many big name vitamins make the bulk of their contents in a chemical syntesis process rather than extracting them from real food.)

We’ve had good success with the NOW Foods brand products (often buying them via Amazon.com) and Standard Process. We use the NOW Vitamin C regularly. Many of the Standard Process supplements are only available thru heath care providers (often times chiropractors, nutritionalists, homeopaths, etc). But the commonly used options like Catalyn can also be fond on-line.

Easy Chicken Soup Recipe

A few days ago we made Chicken with Vinegar (Poulet Au Vinaigre) Recipe and had some leftover chicken bits: skin and bone with lots of meat still on it. So I decided to make some chicken soup loosely based on the homemade chicken soup recipe from AllRecipies.com.

Ingredients

  • leftover chicken bits from the previous recipe
  • 1-2 pounds of whole carrots
  • 1 large onion, cut in thirds
  • half a dozen purple (or whatever color you like) potatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch of fresh asparagus, chopped into half inch pieces
  • 1 cup of peas
  • 1 jar (roughly 2 cups) of homemade chicken stock
  • sea salt, fresh ground pepper, oregano, and ground cloves

Process

Put the chicken in a large soup pot and cover with water, going about an inch above the chicken. Add the carrots, onion, and potatoes. Turn on low heat and allow to simmer for several hours.

Once the meat has cooked, it will pull away from the bone. Remove the bone and skin from the pot. Add the chicken stock, asparagus, and peas and cook for another 45 minutes or so.

Season with with salt and pepper to taste. Mix in some oregano and a couple teaspoons of cloves.

Serve and enjoy.

We were both impressed at how tasty this one was–especially considering how little effort was involved in making it. And, like some of our other favorite recipes, this is a great base to start with and add other ingredients you like.