Monday, April 30, 2007

Shaking Things Up

Do you have a low boredom threshold?

I sure do. I was on the Atkins plan for six of the past eight months, and did well with it but got boooorrrredd. So I switched to South Beach, but mostly maintained with that and besides being booorrrreeedd, I am not ready to be in maintenance so the past two months have been kinda "waisted."

So, yesterday I got out my dogeared copy of Jonny Bowden's fabulous Living the Low Carb Life, browsing for something to relieve my dietary boredom.

I should note here that it's not that I get bored with the food I'm eating. I get bored with whatever STRUCTURE of plan I'm following. I succeed best when I can get somewhat obsessed with whatever I'm doing. When my obsessiveness wanes, so does my attention span. This is not necessarily a good thing but it is a character trait I seem to have had my whole life and I figure I might as well use it to my advantage instead of letting it consign me to a life in the Lane Bryant lane, if you know what I mean.

So, I start reading again, and I'm struck both by what a fabulous book this is--my buddy Jimmy Moore has called this a must-read for low carbers and I have to agree--but also by how many little variations there are on low-carbing.

This time, I started zoning in on the GO-Diet, the Goldberg-O'Mara diet plan, which has recently been reformulated as the Four Corners plan. It's a low-carb plan with its own little twist, has the Jonny Bowden seal of approval, and sounds like it might be something to keep me obsessively entertained for a while. I've ordered the book, and will report on it in a few days when it arrives. (Whatever did I do before Amazon Prime came along!?)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cancer Cautions

Always, and I mean ALWAYS take these kinds of stories with a grain of salt, but it's always interesting to see what people are writing about when you see a screaming headline like The top five cancer-causing foods.

In this case, it's actually quite interesting from a low-carb standpoint.

The "worst foods" list was based on the following "worst-offenders" in terms of links to cancer:

#1 SUGAR. And with it, refined simple carbs such as refined grains. Sugars feed tumors. And man oh man is it addictive.

#2 PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS, aka Trans Fats. I thought this list made an interesting comment about food labels and trans fats. Ever wonder at how quickly companies were able to comply with the "no trans fat" rules? The good old FDA deigns that anything .5 g or less is the same as 0 as far as labeling is concerned. So food manufacturers are simply changing portion sizes to be .5 so they can claim to be "trans fat free."

#3 ACRYLAMIDES, cancer-causing agents produced when starchy foods are grilled or fried.

#4 NITRITE AND NITRATES, carcinogens added to processed meats such as hot dogs or bacon that acts as a preservative and gives food that "fresh" reddish color.

Given those four elements, then, the site lists these as the worst offenders in cancer-causing foods:

1. Hot dogs. The Cancer Prevention Coalition recommends that children not eat more than 12 hots dogs a month....I'm sorry but that's a LOT of hot dogs. Do kids eat that many hot dogs? Anyway, look for hot dogs without sodium nitrate in the list of ingredients.

2. Processed deli meats and bacon. You can also find uncured bacon now; again, look for sodium nitrate and if you see it, walk away.

3. Doughnuts. Trans fat, white flour, sugar, acrylamides. Need I say more?

4. French fries. Sigh. Trans fat, simple carb, acrylamides.

5. Chips/crackers/cookies. Trans fat, white flour, sugar. See the note above about serving size. Apparently, that's how Girl Scout cookies got around the trans fat problem this year.

Interesting stuff!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Plastic Diet

Now here's a story that'll make you want to give up bread. Seems imported grain products (wheat gluten, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, rice bran and rice protein) have been found to be contaminated with the same melamine thought to be poisoning our pets. Melamine--as in cool colored plastic plates from the '50s or these snazzy dishes from Pier 1. Said grain is being used in everything from bread to baby formula, according to the Reuters story.

One of my favorite phrases that stuck after the Katrina debacle here in New Orleans was Gen. Russell Honore's contention that reporters who kept asking the same questions were "stuck on stupid."

So here's another stuck on stupid moment. According to the Reuters report, the tainted pet food wasn't all destroyed--it was sold to pig farms as food for porkers in North and South Carolina, California, New York, Utah and possibly Ohio. That pork chop you're eating might not just be on a plastic plate--it could be a plastic plate. The FDA recommended we not eat melamine-tainted pork, but said the "health risk is minimal."

Easy for them to say. Bet you won't see any pork on the FDA officials' plates, at least not from the affected farms. And why, if the food is poisonous to cats and dogs, would it occur to anyone to put it into the human food chain?

And not only that, but the FDA appears to be protecting the names of companies who have imported the tainted grain products.

Stuck on stupid.

Will Sing For Food

Interesting story in today's LA Times about singing--specifically, how the act of singing can cause our body to release feel-good oxytocins, similar to sex or, I imagine, a big pile of Popeye's Chicken.

Now, there's good news and bad news here. I love music--I mean REALLY love music, but I can't sing. Well, not in tune, at least. Kind of a wavering warble, if truth be told. And if I'm standing next to someone who's singing even more off-key, I unconsciously follow the leader and sing even worse.

But if singing relieves stress and causes us to handle stuff better, then we are less prone to stress eating, yes?

The only time I'm alone--ever, these days, which is why I'm so nuts--is in my car. So I'll become one of those wildly gesticulating, ridiculous looking drivers as I sing my way to work and back.

Shuffling my iPod, here's today's 10 tracks at random.

1. Graham Parker--You Can't Be Too Strong
2. Célédé--Road to Lizdonvarna
3. Aaron Neville--Louisiana 1927
4. The Band--The Weight
5. Dave Dudley--Six Days on the Road
6. Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer--41 Thunderer
7. Jethro Tull--A Small Cigar
8. Bob Dylan--Ain't Talkin'
9. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros--At the Border, Guy
10. 4Him--Be Thou My Vision

Looking at my shuffle list, all I can say is, you gotta admit I'm versatile.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Junkfood Science

With apologies to the fine blog of that name. But if you read a lot of reports from new studies being done in weight loss and nutrition--and how often they contradict each other--you learn to take everything with a grain of salt. No, wait. I think this week salt's really bad for you again. Regina, over at Weight of the Evidence has been doing some deconstruction of conflicting science.

I do no deconstruction here, just a roundup of recent headlines, for whatever they're worth...

• ANOTHER FAT GENE: Scientists at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center have found a "relative" of the anti-aging gene "Klotho" that works to help lower glood glucose levels in the fat cells of mice, making it a "novel target for developing drugs to treat human obesity and dibetes." Sounds like another magic pill in the works. Oh boy.

• A recent report in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests that high levels of symptoms of depression -- such as irritability and sleep problems -- are associated with an increased risk of development of type 2 diabetes. Gee, Einstein. Depressed people can be stress eaters, and stress eaters rarely binge on broccoli (okay, I know, I do have a reader who binged on brussels sprouts, and she is my hero!).

• Duke Medical Center researchers have concluded that obesity increases employers' workers compensation costs. Seems obese employees are more likely to file workers' comp claims. Hmmmm...I haven't taken a sick day in more than three years. Maybe I should throw myself down the stairs and take some time off.

• Researchers at the University of Calgary have found that consuming a single high-fat meal makes a person "more prone to suffer the physical consequences of stress" than those who eat a low-fat meal. They found "shocking" the difference between the stress responses of a group of students eating a McDonald's breakfast as opposed to students who had dry cereal with skim milk, cereal bars and nonfat yogurt. “It’s been well documented that a high-fat diet leads to artherosclerosis and high blood pressure, and that exaggerated and prolonged cardiovascular responses to stress are associated with high blood pressure in the future," said researcher Tavis Campbell. "So when we learn that even a single, high-fat meal can make you more reactive to stress, it’s cause for concern because it suggests a new and damaging way that a high-fat diet affects cardiovascular function.” So, were these students all of exactly equal health and genetic background to begin with? Did the "shocking" results persist beyond 30 minutes past the given meal? How many students participated--400 or 4? Yawn.

• New baby foods are being developed in England that contain supplements of hunger-suppressing leptin, so feeding your baby the new foods will ensure that he doesn't grow up to be a big fat slob. Since such early exposure and prolonged exposure to leptin supplements is untested, however, he might turn out to be a very thin guy with three horns. But he won't be fat.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Blah Blah Blah

I'm fighting the serious blahs these days. My job has become almost unbearable at times, filled with a plethora of chores I abhor (most of which could be completed by a trained monkey), and home is about as bad, with my live-in senior adult having a lumbar fracture and needing more help than usual. I feel as if someone has their hand out to me 24/7, wanting something and wanting it now--and while I'm at it why don't I do x, y and z too. And when am I going to get ABC done?

So life really sucks right now.

No wonder my evil twin Bingy is fighting to get out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Season's Greetings!

I apologize from the get-go--this has nothing to do with health, diet or weight loss, except for a very tenuous tie to exercise at the end. But it's a facet of life in New Orleans that I feel I must share.

You know, most people have four weather seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) and a number of holiday seasons (Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc.).

But we in New Orleans have four weather seasons (early summer, summer, hellacious late summer, and winter), a couple of extra holiday seasons (Mardi Gras, Jazzfest) and are fortunate enough to have a number of critter seasons as well, and we're in the middle of one right now.

No, it's not termite-swarming season. That starts in about a month, during which time all exterior -- and, if you're smart, most interior -- lights must be doused in order to prevent the huge hordes of madly swarming termites looking for new homes to visit yours.

What we're currently enjoying is Buckmoth Caterpillar Season. If you aren't lucky enough to live in a place with lots of oak trees where these critters like to live, let me tell you about them. They're big--about the size of a finger--and are covered with poisonous spikes. Even the slightest touch will cause you, the toucher, to have your affected body part puff up like a blowfish, turn red, and burn for hours. Some years, they are so bad that people walking down the sidewalks carry umbrellas because, yes, they fall out of the trees on your head and, believe me, this is not something you want to experience. My eldest furchild, Irish Terrier Shane, stepped on one last year and I thought she was dying. I know she stepped on it because I grabbed her up to see why she was crying and latched onto the darned thing myself. I also cried. We cried together. It was a bonding moment.

Buckmoth caterpillars do provide a great source of exercise, however, as they are very noisy and colorful when stepped on. There's an audible POP and then orange goop oozes out of their bodies while bright neon green seeps out of their heads. I believe my personal-best buckmoth-stomping record is 10 squishes in 30 seconds.

Think of it as a sub-genre of Buck dancing. With color.

Saving Chocolate

Ironic that since chocolate has proven to be so good for us, now the FDA is about to cave to demands from the Grocery Manufacturers of America trade group that the definition of what qualifies as chocolate be changed.

Currently, in order for chocolate to be, well, chocolate, it must meet certain FDA criteria, namely that it be derived from cocoa beans and use cocoa butter.

According to the folks at the Guittard Chocolate website, the grocers trade group has petitioned the FDA to allow chocolatiers to change the way chocolate is made, substituting cheaper vegetable oils for cocoa butter and using milk substitutes rather than milk--and still call it chocolate.

I rather imagine the result will be that most chocolate will begin to taste like those nasty wax chocolate rabbits that, of course, none of us ate this past Easter. But you know the ones.

It doesn't mean quality chocolatiers like Guittard will begin making shoddy chocolate, only that the standards of the industry will be diminished and the market flooded with cheap, nasty-tasting faux chocolate.

See's Candies and Guittard are asking people to protest to the FDA and tell you how to do so here. The deadline for public comments to the FDA is April 25--next Wednesday.

There are some pretty fine sugar-free chocolates out there, even some (thank you Chocoperfection) not made with evil, nasty maltitol.

Help save chocolate!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Proud to be a Southerner

Because we know our way around a dinner plate--as this map shows.

But this is not going to be a funny blog entry about redeye gravy and chitlins. Because I'm on a soapbox this morning.

The folks over at CalorieLab report that the State of Mississippi is considering funding weight-loss surgery for its obese citizens.

Turns out, as the above graphic from CalorieLab shows, that Mississippi leads the nation in the number of its citizens deemed morbidly obese and they are calculating the cost of obesity to the state's overburdened healthcare system.

Whoa there, Nellie.

I have no doubts that obesity, diabetes and other "co-morbidities" contributes to a state's healthcare costs.

But in my mind, there's a bigger culprit out there that should be addressed. At the risk of sounding like a socialist--because I'm not one--I firmly believe poverty is the biggest factor impacting healthcare costs.

Now, there's some overlap here, because many studies such as this one have shown a link between poverty and obesity. Face it--what are the cheapest foods at your grocery store? Let's see. Noodles. Potatoes. A virtual plethora of ultra-cheap cookies.

But which came first, the poverty or the obesity? Or can you separate the two?

I think you can. I live in the poorest state in the country. I live in a city with the largest percentage of citizens living in poverty in this state--it is a situation that has been exacerbated by Hurricane Katrina, where our poor and disenfranchised people were satellite-beamed around the world for everyone to see. And a lot of them were obese, yes, and a lot of them were not.

But the majority of them were poor, and they do not have health insurance. Right now, with our charity no-insurance-needed healthcare system still in ruins, providing healthcare to folks who can't afford it--fat and thin--is breaking us.

If Mississippi's healthcare costs are onerous, they should look first not at how many fat people are waddling around their state but at how many poor people are eating what they can afford and then burdening the healthcare system.

I don't have any solutions here--I'm sure there are those of you out there with socialized medicine who could tell us the problems fraught with that system.

But let's identify the real problem here and not the easy target. Buying a lot of people weight-loss surgery thinking it will relieve poverty-induced stress on the healthcare system is just nuts.

Okay. Off my soapbox now.

Dying to be Thin

Whenever I think I'm becoming too food-obsessed I only have to read something like this story about a young "normal-sized" woman who decides to try and become a size 0. She actually doesn't lose that much weight but descends quickly into bulemia and a warped body image. Makes me wonder if volunteering for such an assignment didn't mean she had a warped self-image to begin with. Scary stuff, though!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Finding My Way

Thanks, everyone, for the great comments on yesterday's post about my all-or-nothing mentality (crack that whip, Calianna!).

It sounds really stupid, I know, but it really hadn't occurred to me to find my "carb comfort level." I bounce between Atkins Induction, Kimkins (induction on steroids) and Oyster Po-Boys. Never do anything halfway, that's my motto!

Well, and look where that's gotten me. So here's my new motto: find what I can live with comfortably and get on with life. Otherwise, it's going to pass me by while I wait to be perfect.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

All or Nothing

I was reading an article last night in one of those embarrassing girly magazines I pick up now and then but never admit to. It was about perfectionism, and how it gets us into trouble.

Since childhood, my attitude has been "do it best, or don't do it." If I don't think I have a reasonable shot at not just being competitive but excelling, I tend not to try. I never enjoyed organized sports because I learned early on I couldn't be the best player on the team. Once that was established I had no desire--even an aversion--to even trying. I wonder how many things I've passed up in life because I didn't want to risk not just failure but failure to excel?

Now, apply that to food and I think I can see why a ketogenic diet works so well for me when I stay on it, and why it's so darned hard to make myself go back on it once I've strayed.

First, I've strayed, therefore I'm not excelling at it. Strike one.

Second, I know that once I get back on it, there's no wiggle room. The ketogenic diet feeds on the all-or-nothing mentality (no pun intended), at least for me. One little "oops" on a ketogenic diet and I've set myself back at least a week. In putting myself into a known all-or-nothing eating plan, I risk straying, which leads to failure, which is the opposite of perfection. Strike two.

Third, since I try to avoid situations where I see myself as having a low chance of being "the best," I am avoiding a return to a ketogenic diet. Strike three.

Looking at it that way, competitive type-A perfectionist that I am, it's easy to see how my own fear of failure has actually led me to fail quite spectacularly, at least in terms of food and weight.

Obviously, something's gotta give here.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Completely Useless Info

I should state right up front: I have an issue with my scales. Mostly because 1) I can't stay off of them; 2) They have an annoying habit of being accurate; and 3) I don't like what they say.

And I have a feeling that these new Celebrity Weighing Scales would tick me off even more.

Instead of telling my weight, they'd tell me I weighed the same as Paris Hilton--oh, wait. That was just my right leg. Oops--Mr. Ed. I weigh the same as Mr. Ed!

I haven't tried them, really. But it seems that's about how they'd work. And I have to wonder which would be the greater impetus to stick with my eating plan: seeing what I really weigh (eek!) or being told I weigh the same as a talking horse (double eek!).

I need to find the "lying scales."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Visual Encouragement

Check out the new Weight-Loss Simulator from the folks at Prevention Magazine. You have to register on the site, but then can create a 3D model of "you" at your current weight and then at your target weight. I think this is pretty cool--kind of keeps in front of you what you're working toward.

It's brought to you by Prevention's "Sugar Solution," which I haven't checked out yet--probably a low-glycemic type of diet program. But it really doesn't matter whether you follow their program or not--you can still play around with the Weight-Loss Simulator.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Slippery Slope

A friend and I were talking about binge eating recently and we both were stymied as to why despite our knowledge of "good" and "bad" and our otherwise seeming firm grasp on our lives, our brains just shut down sometime and nothing matters but stuffing down vast quantities of inappropriate food. ('fess up--have you ever binged on brussels sprouts?)

I haven't had a good week, and in fact have been having trouble getting back on track after going off the rails on my trip to Chicago. This has been a pattern with me. I'll be really dedicated until...something, a vacation or a trip or a holiday...comes along. I'll convince myself that I'll just let down my guard for a few days, a week. And then it's all over but the gaining.

I'm just not going to let that happen this time. I've worked too hard this past year to get this 65 lbs off (with still a ways to go) to just throw in the towel. I don't know how many fresh starts I have left in me.

Can you tell I'm tired and in the midst of a pity party?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thicker Than Water

This new study coming out of England has made me start pondering the whole question of obesity and genetics.

First off, don't get me wrong. I think blaming your ancestors and their faulty genes for your own weight problem is a cop-out. I do take responsibility for my own weight issues. But I also know "it runs in the family." My fat genes didn't cause me to get fat all on their own, but they did make it a whole lot easier for me to get that way and a whole lot harder for me to get myself out of it. No excuse. Just fact.

So, what's the study? Well, scientists have found "the most clear genetic link yet to obesity in the general population as part of a major study of diseases.. People with two copies of a particular gene variant have a 70% higher risk of being obese than those with no copies." One gene variant increased the predisposition toward obesity by 30%; two variants, by 70%. Note the genetic variants don't CAUSE obesity; they cause people to be PREDISPOSED toward obesity.

Researcher Andrew Hattersley said: "As a nation, we are eating more but doing less exercise, and so the average weight is increasing, but within the population some people seem to put on more weight than others. Our findings suggest a possible answer to someone who might ask 'I eat the same and do as much exercise as my friend next door, so why am I fatter?' There is clearly a component to obesity that is genetic."

Of course finding the genetic link and knowing what causes it and then knowing how to change it are three different issues, so this is an early step. But it's extremely interesting and really underscores how complex the issue of obesity is and the myriad factors that play into it, from genetics to overeating.

Just for fun, here are some of my own "genetic markers"--

My great-great-great-great grandfather, William

Great-great-great grandfather Matt

Great grandmother Sarah

Grandmother Carrie

Uncle Roy

This is a "small" sampling. Need I say more????

AHA Tackles "Bad Fat"

The American Heart Association has taken baby steps in fat acceptance--no, not the movement to get fat people accepted as human beings, but the recognition that fat is an important part of one's diet.

I say "baby steps" because while one hand is acknowledging that fat plays an important role in nutrition, the feds' other hand is still signing out the words for "low fat! low fat!"

But the AHA has rolled out a couple of new aspects to their website, one of which is just weirdness but the other of which is interesting.

Interesting is the new "My Fats Translator." It's one of those online calculators, in this case allowing you to plug in your age, gender, height, weight and activity level and then receiving, in return, a breakdown of not just the total daily calories to maintain your weight and how much fat they recommend for your diet (in the 35% range, of course), but also how they recommend that fat be broken down.

So if you're choosing to lose weight, plug in your "wannabe" information. And what I wannabe is about 150 lbs and I'll just keep it at "sedentary" for right now considering the lowest non-sedentary activity level they offer is 30-60 minutes of exercise per day and while I should do that, I don't.

Doing that, it tells me I should eat 1,860 calories a day, including 52-72g of fat. That fat should consist of a maximum of 14g of saturated fat, 2g of transfat, and 300mg of cholesterol.

I try to avoid trans fat and try to get in a couple of servings of olive oil a day, but I honestly don't pay any attention whatsoever to how many grams of saturated fat I eat, and I don't pay any attention whatsoever to dietary cholesterol.

What do y'all think?

The other, strange new thing on the AHA website, by the way, is the Bad Fat Brothers, named Sat and Trans, of course, who make bad fat jokes in this bizarre animated cartoon. If you don't click on anything, they'll periodically just toss out a bad joke. ("We're the Bad Fat Brothers, and we're real heart-breakers!")

They're right, though. It kinda breaks my heart at how many of my tax dollars went to fund this.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Product Report--New in April

What's new in the food business? Well, here are a few new products hitting the shelf this month. Let's see how many might work on a controlled carb eating program:

• 180 Red with Goji, from Anheuser-Busch. Yet another energy drink, this one is 180 Red with Goji, described by the beer folks as having a "refreshing, slightly sweet cherry taste balanced with subtle tartness." It's the fourth in the company's nonalcoholic 180 line and contains sugar. So no goji for us. (By the way, goji berries are grown in Tibet and have high antioxidant levels as well as energy-stimulating properties.) Scratch this one.

• Boca Meatless Breakfast Wraps, from Boca Foods; The Boca Burger folks are expanding their breakfast line by adding a soy-based, whole-grain wrap. Comes in two flavors: original and Southwestern, both filled with egg whites, cheese and meatless sausage. Low in sugar but still about 21 net carbs per serving.

• Grate-It-Fresh Parmesan Cheese, from Kraft. Now this is a nice idea--a block of fresh Parmesan cheese with its own grater. Kind of the cheesy version of the pepper grinder blends you can buy these days. Twist and grate. But it won't come cheaply--suggested price is $4.99 for the seven-ounce size.

• Flat Earth Fruit and Veggie Crisps, from Frito-Lay, I've seen these in stores already. They tout that each one-ounce serving contains a half-serving of fruit or vegetables. Flavors are: Farmland Cheddar, Garlic & Herb Field, Tangy Tomato Ranch, Wild Berry Patch, Apple Cinnamon Grove, and Peach Mango Paradise. What they don't tout is that these are basically potato chips with some fruits and veggies added, not to mention quite a bit of sugar, at least for the apple flavor.

• Jimmy Dean Breakfast Bowls. What is it with the "bowls," already? This is your standard breakfast in a bowl: sausage and egg; bacon and egg; or pancake and sausage bowls, to be precise. Sausage and bacon bowls sound like a good low-carb option, you think? Nope, both have hash brown potatoes in them so you might as well eat the pancakes.

• Girl Jerky, by Jack Link's. Okay, that's not really the name, but the beef jerky manufacturer is adding "softer textures, bite-sized pieces and sweet and savory flavors" in an attempt to attract the female jerky customer. The company's marketing veep says they are "satisfying new snacks high in protein yet low in carbs, calories and fat." These new Jerky treats come in four flavors--Maple & Brown Sugar Ham Jerky , Prime Rib, Chicken Fajita, and Maple & Brown Sugar Barbecue Pork Tender cuts. They seem to average about 3-6 grams of sugar per serving, much lower than...

• New Magical Cereals from General Mills. I wrote about these a while back--new "lightly sweetened" Disney's Little Einsteins Fruity Stars Cereal, Disney's Princess Fairytale Flakes, and Disney's Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Berry Crunch Cereal, finally making their way onto supermarket shelves. Here are the first six ingredients in Little Einsteins Fruity Stars, touted as a "whole grain" healthy cereal: whole grain corn; sugar; corn meal; corn syrup; corn starch; corn bran. fruity it is!

So much for new product rollouts for April. Sigh.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Fat: What No One Is Telling You

How provocative a title is that?

The answers will allegedly be given tonight on PBS when the documentary "Fat: What No One is Telling You"airs. Check the PBS website for your local air time--mine is 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.--of course I'll have to tape the latter one since I must watch American Idol and Lost. Not that I'm a TV junkie or anything : )

Here's how PBS characterizes the show:

With 66 percent of U.S. adults either overweight or obese, our girth is a serious public health issue. Yet many of us still view being overweight as a character flaw, a lack of self-control, or even a moral crime.

But does fat really equal failure? FAT: What No One Is Telling You explores the myriad psychological, physiological and environmental factors that can make it so tough to shed pounds and keep them off. In this documentary, Executive producer Naomi Boak and producer/director Tom Spain, both Emmy Award honorees, share new scientific knowledge about hunger, eating, and human metabolic operation. This film also explains our psychological responses to food, and shows how external pressures (such as oversized restaurant portions and the unending barrage of food advertisement) make fighting fat so difficult, both on the personal and national levels.

It sounds like a thoughtful, intelligent discussion of a complex issue so many of us are grappling with on a daily basis. I'm usually left disappointed by the shallowness of these shows; we'll see about this one.

At Random: Sugar Free

It's a slow news day, as they say in the newspaper business, so let's indulge in an old-fashioned LexisNexis search. Today's search term: "sugar free." And here are the top results:

--"GROWING DEMAND FOR SUGAR-FREE PRODUCTS DRIVES GROWTH IN EUROPEAN POLYOLS MARKET." Polyols--including the evil maltitol--are being used in record amounts in the candy, pharmaceutical and oral-care products areas. Sure wish they'd find other alternatives.

--"WRIGLEY TO LAUNCH NEW LINE OF SUGAR-FREE GUM, WILL RAISE PRICES 10 PERCENT." The gum line is called "5"--for the five senses--and is designed "to give chewers a brief, but intense, oral sensation." It will launch in the USA in June in three flavors: Rain, Cobalt and Flare. Okay, "brief but intense" means it'll last about 10 seconds before losing flavor, and then you have to pay more to get more. No mention of what fake sweetener they'll use. Ah, who cares. I don't chew gum anyway.

--"GUJARAT FARMERS GROW SUGAR-FREE POTATOES." Well, now. This is interesting. Asian farmers have figured out a way to grow potatoes greatly reduced in sugar. "Farmers in Gujarat have come to the aid of health-conscious and diabetics, who can savour their favourite potato, without fear of adding to the calorie or increasing sugar levels in blood," according to the Hindustan Times.

--"ENVIGA THIRST-QUENCHING, BUBBLES OVERHWELMING." Apparently, some Spokane, Wash., folks decided to taste-test Coke's new Enviga drink and were underwhelmed. Other observations: "flavor washed out, hard to distinguish, finished with a sugar-free aftertaste." Personally, I've only tried the Green Tea flavor but didn't think it was bad at all. It's been hard to find around here, though.

And, besides, I'm holding out for the sugar-free potatoes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Bienvenue and Bon Appetit

A new list of world's top dining cities from Travelocity includes my hometown, New Orleans--one darned hard city to diet in, by the way. Here's what they say:

"Many first time visitors head to New Orleans to experience events such as Mardi Gras or JazzFest, but they return time and time again for its food. NOLA's most famous restaurants include Emeril's, Commander's Palace and Antoine's, but local favorites such as Jacques-Imos and Port of Call deserve a spot on the map of culinary treasures as well. Cajun and Creole dishes throughout the city tempt the taste buds, and no visit to Crescent City is complete without indulging in a beignet dusted with powdered sugar and a cup of café au lait laced with chicory at Café Du Monde."

Ah, Jacques-Imo's and Commander's Palace. My two favorite restaurants--the yin and yang of favorites, if you will. Commander's is elegant and refined and I've never had a bad meal there--and it's surprisingly affordable.

Jacques-Imo's is kinda loud and funky and they have a savory appetizer I dare you to not like. It's one of those things that makes your eyes roll back in your head with delight when you take the first bite. What is it? Shrimp and Alligator Sausage Cheesecake (shown in photo above). Cooked in a nut crust and brimming with sausage and cream and cream cheese--baked slowly in a water bath and then topped with shrimp and a delicious sauce. Best of all? It's LOW CARB. Sigh. For your meal, order the Carpetbagger Steak, a nicely seasoned steak topped with grilled onions and bleu cheese. Can you tell I've eaten a few low-carb meals there? The chef, Jacques Leonardi, also has more recently opened a location in New York City, but I can't vouch for that one.

Port of Call is a hole-in-the-wall joint that looks like a place you should be afraid to go, but it has, bar none, the best burgers in town. Toss away the bun and pile on the grilled mushrooms and you have a feast. Of course you have to avoid the loaded baked potatoes.

Then there's beignets from the Cafe du Monde. Decidedly NOT low carb but they will be staring me in the face this weekend as I head down to the French Quarter for the French Quarter Festival art show. Guess I'd better find the gator on a stick instead.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Dr. Evil or Mr. Right?

Interesting piece on "60 Minutes" tonight--a segment on "Dr. Evil," Rick Berman. Berman is a former senior VP at Steak & Ale restaurant chain and executive VP of Pillsbury restaurant group and an attorney. His current schtick is as a lobbyist for big business and big food.

Over the years, he has tried to issue counter-messages to the media hoo-ha over pesticides in food (they aren't that bad, he says), mercury in fish (same), and he was tied to ethics violations involving former Speaker of the House (and upcoming presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich.

Lovely guy, eh?

But the part of the segment that was particularly interesting concerned his viewpoints on the obesity epidemic. Oops--scratch that. There is no "epidemic," he says, and the fact that there are a lot of fat people doesn't mean we should label fat as a disease. "Of course there are morbidly obese people you see on the street whose backsides obviously belong in a separate zip code," he said. But, he said, he can't believe we're labeling something as a disease "that can be 'cured' by taking a walk and keeping your mouth shut."

Well, shut my mouth.

Ya know, I'm actually a big proponent of taking responsibility for our actions. Nobody caused my weight problem but me, all by myself. But I'm also not willing to nod my head in agreement with someone who issues an inane statement like "take a walk and shut your mouth." Obviously, the man knows nothing about metabolism, genetics, coping issues, or how blasted hard it is to lose weight for some people.

Of course, I do believe he's quite fat-headed. Maybe if he'd just take a walk and shut his mouth, he'd be cured.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Nice Idea, Fishy Results

So here's a good idea. Start a website with a database of healthy restaurants, searchable by zip code. Set parameters on your database to determine what is healthy. Visitors to the site can type in their zip or the zip of the city they're visiting, hit the search button and get healthy dining options.

Sounds great, right?

That's what the folks at Healthy Dining Finder are doing, in conjunction with the National Restaurant Association. The site touts an "expert staff of registered dietitians and master's-level health professional consultants."

Problem is, there's a problem. Well, a couple of them.

Here are the criteria for a restaurant entree to be recommended: 1) must include either lean protein, fruit, or 100% whole grain; 2) must be 750 calories (for entire meal) or less; 3) must contain 25g of fat (of course) or less, with a max. of 8g of saturated fat. There are similar parameters for appetizers. No deep-fried items are included.

Okay, so I plug in my zip code to see what New Orleans dining options they offer. I'm expecting a long list because this city is rife with fantabulous restaurants where it's possible to get a great healthy meal.

My results?

Only 7 restaurants were recommended: Domino's Pizza; Burger King; Chevy's Fresh Mex; Chili's; Arby's; Hooters; and PF Chang.

Uh. Well. I'm speechless.

I suspect they're only listing restaurants that list nutritional info on their websites and would hope they'd expand their listings eventually. There is a link to recommend a restaurant.

In the meantime, though, why tout these restaurants? Why roll out this website "service" before you have enough of a database to make it useful? Have these restaurants paid to be included and, if so, doesn't that weaken the whole premise of the site? And what can I eat at, say, Domino's that fits the criteria? A couple of slices of pizza that contains a piece of mushroom would qualify, technically.

And Hooters. HOOTERS? I live in one of the finest gastronomic cities in the world and I'm going to have my healthy meal at HOOTERS? Visitors to New Orleans are going to be steered away from Antoine's and Commander's Palace and be directed to HOOTERS?

Nice try, but this isn't a resource I'll be using.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Sweet Money

So just how much money is there in the world of artificial sweeteners? Try $1.5 billion a year.

And that's enough for Merisant, the makers of the aspartame-based sweetener Equal, to square off in court next week against McNeil Nutritionals, makers of sucralose-based Splenda.

The folks at Merisant are naturally concerned--fake sugar is big business. And since Splenda came on the scene back in 1999, Equal sales have fallen like a stone. Once in more than 6,000 consumer products and top of the artificial sweetener heap, Equal has tanked. Splenda now makes up 62 percent of the market in the US.

The thing Merisant has hung its legal hat on is McNeil's claim than Splenda is "made from sugar so it tastes like sugar." There is a big battle now over syntax and implied meaning in language, which a dorky editor-type like myself would salivate over even if products I consume weren't involved.

Does "made from sugar" imply that Splenda is actually sugar in some altered form? Merisant says so, and that sucralose is manufactured in a lab, not a cane field. McNeil simply says it says what it says (got that?)--that sucrose is involved early in the manufacturing process but anything resembling sucrose evaporates and is gone early on. Plus, Morisant contends, Splenda doesn't necessarily even begin with cane sugar--McNeil has filed dozens of patents on ways to manufacture sucralose. One of those ways involves sugar, but others are based on things like raffinose, a sugar cousin found in onions and broccoli, or other things completely unrelated to sugar.

As personally interesting as I find this case, I don't buy Merisant's implied contention that McNeil/Splenda has cornered the market because they've fooled consumers into thinking they're eating a more "natural" product than aspartame/Equal.

I think it boils down to taste--Splenda tastes better to me--and safety concerns over aspartame. As long as we had no readily available options, we ate Equal. Once another option became available, we switched. Simple as that.

How safe is Splenda? Well, I'm old enough to remember the cancer scare over saccharin, which kind of turned out to be an unsustainable charge, and the sweetener bogeyman is currently wailing on aspartame. I have no doubts sucralose will have its day in the questionable-health-value spotlight.

Meanwhile, I have switched to Splenda for most of my artificial sweetener needs, though I still prefer plain old aspartame-riddled Diet Coke to the citrus-tasting Splenda version, and I use saccharin-based Sweet & Low in my iced tea.

So whatever they all cause, I'll get it.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

We Are the World

"We are the world;
We'll feed your children;
They'll be obese and die an early death;
So let's start eating..."

Sorry, but this story making the rounds caught my eye. For so long, Japan has been held up to Americans as having a "desirable" diet--based heavily on rice and vegetables with small amounts of meat.

Now, apparently, Japanese teens and households with two working parents are going the fast food route--namely, American fast food like McDonald's, KFC and Taco Bell.

The result is predictable: a fast-rising number of overweight and morbidly obese people of all ages. Morbid obesity, as recently as 10 years ago, was virtually unheard-of in Japan--unless, of course, you were a Sumo wrestler.

The guy quoted in the story above has an interesting take on the whole thing, though. I tend to look at the immediate and not at the trend--that we're a fast food nation, but not why. His take on it is that as the nuclear family has changed with both parents working outside the home and kids on a fast track of activities, then it's a natural result that quick, processed foods are taking a bigger role in the diet.

It's going to take a sea change in the way we look at "fast food" to change this tidal wave.

It Ain't Easy Being Green

Sheesh. I'm gone 10 days and there has been a revolution at the Sav-a-Center (subsidiary of A&P)! I head in there yesterday to buy nice, carb-free stuff to get me back on track and there are no more plastic bags. Yep, at least one corner of New Orleans--never, ever, ever one to be ahead of any trend in the world--has gone back to paper grocery bags. Who do they think they are? San Francisco?

Anyway, if you hear of more murders than usual in New Orleans anytime soon--although, the murder rate's already so high, how would you know--it's the Sav-a-Center checkout clerks, killing their store managers. I've never seen such unhappy employees in any store, which is saying a lot here, where surly service is the norm. They were practically wrestling to get the bags open and filled.

For me, it's all good. Not only is it environmentally sound, but it's more exercise. I can carry a ton of those plastic bags--in fact, had developed quite the system of looping them all up the length of my arm so as to make the fewest trips possible from the car up the stairs into my house. How lazy is that? No more. It took eight trips up the steps carrying paper bags. So I can consider it exercise, right?

We'll see if I still think it's a good thing in August when it's 100 degrees with 100% humidity.


I'm home. Does this photo tell you anything about my trip?

I wish I could report that I was a pillar of dietary and nutritional virtue while I was gone. Well, okay, I wish I could report that and not be lying.

But, fact is, I was a complete and utter cow. (Get it? Cow? Utter/udder?)

Shortly after my last post, I went off to a prearranged dinner with an author, which began with the chef sending out his choice of a fine split pea soup topped with creme fraiche, in what looked like a double shotglass, followed by a fine pasta with gorgonzola and cream, and...well, you get the picture.

So, I was gone 10 days and this morning, I bit the bullet and hit the scales. Eek! I gained 10.2 pounds in 10 days.

So it's back in the pasture for this old cow.