Saturday, November 17, 2007

not an excess, but an absence

Gary Taubes was on Quirks & Quarks today, hawking his new book. It's all about how the conventional diet wisdome of "fat is bad" is not so much rooted in science as it is in politics, and how exercising doesn't really help you lose weight, nothing you know is true, blah blah blah.

I listened, I read the Science article and the New York Times article and then I went and read some criticism, which basically amounted to "but he didn't include this and that study". There were a couple of things that pretty much everyone seemed to agree on though:

- vegetables and fruits are good for you
- refined carbohydrates are bad for you

One thing that Taubes did say at some point was epidemiologically and historically, heart disease rates by country vary more by availability of year-round fresh produce than by fat intake or anything else. And he made the very good point that American culture is still caught up in some Puritanical ideas, such that we can't conceive of any other paradigm than if we're suffering, it must be because we are susceptible to one or more of the deadly sins. In this case, it'd be sloth (lack of exercise) and gluttony (too much food). Taubes says that just ain't so, and the problem might be more along the lines of too much of our food is sugar (snuck in, for the most part, into packaged and processed foods, much of it in the form of high-fructose corn syrup), and we don't eat enough vegetables. But more importantly, the whole "what's a healthy diet" is just a far, far FAR more complex question than we're willing to admit, and there probably isn't a one-size-fits-all answer.

This, combined with a recent study showing that organics really are better, makes me even more convinced that the "traditional foods" route is the way to go. All TF says is, if you couldn't grow it, then make it from the raw ingredients with the equipment you have in your kitchen (or could have, if your kitchen currently consists of a microwave and a sink) don't eat it. Pretty simple, but it rules out white flour, any refined sugar, white rice, artificial sweeteners, etc. It also rules out industrially grown vegetables, grains, and animal products - because I don't see anyone sane applying RoundUp to their back yards or keeping chickens stacked in boxes. So organic veggies, naturally raised animal products, minimal processing on everything. TF also plays pretty nicely with the local eating thing, too.

TF can be high-fat. It doesn't have to be extremely high-fat, you can adjust the balance between meat, grains and vegetables to suit yourself. But most TF authorities like to point out that the fat of meats raised naturally is quite different than industrially-raised animals, with a far better omega 6:3 ratio, and fat actually contains a whole lotta vitamins. Vitamins A & D, for example, in their most useable forms, occur ONLY in animal flesh, primarily in fats.

This is getting rambly and I think I've lost the point, so I'll end here. By all means listen to Gary Taubes - it's interesting, and I think it's immensely valuable for the scientific process for people like him to come and do reality checks every once in a while. I don't agree with everything he says - the whole exercise thing, for one - but it probably needs to be said. I did, however, find it funny, that in the whole discussion of diet and exercise and weight loss, the phrases "will power" and "hard work" were never used. I think Gary Taubes is still trapped in the American paradigm that there IS, somewhere, some magic formula that will let people get to normal weight without any pain, suffering, hardship, or annoyance. And that is just not the case. As he said "exercise makes you hungry". Um, yeah. And then, you just don't eat. It's called "will". Sometimes you have it, sometimes you don't. But like a muscle, it gets better the more you use it.

For the record, I've lost about 5 lbs. Nothing special, I made it to the gym 3 times this week and I'm eating smaller portions.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

is there anything better than soup?

I love soup. Love love love soup. It is easy to make and easy to make delicious, and healthy and comforting to boot. Yesterday I made some bean soup from one of those bean mixes (this one was about $2 from For Good Measure and was a fundraising thingy for something or other - the cool thing was that it came with a wee bottle of tabasco which surprisingly enough was *exactly* the right amount for the soup). I followed the recipe that came with it to a certain point, then I diverged and just started throwing stuff in.

The exact ingredients aren't important. The main thing is, soak beans in salted water overnight. Get a mirepoix together, get it going in some oil, when it starts to colour toss in your beans, a good deal of water and a ham hock. Simmer for a couple hours. Take out the ham hock, remove the meat and cut it up, then put the bone and the meat back in the soup. Then throw in some tomato paste, salt, pepper, tabasco, bay leaves, molasses, whatever. Taste it, play with it until it tastes really good, then throw in whatever veggies are in your fridge and threatening to go nasty, simmer a bit longer, remove the bone, and serve.

Yummers. I also like my blended veggie soups, which I do by sautéing sausage or bacon and onions, adding a pile of veg (roasted is nice, but not essential) and covering and then some with some good home-made chicken or veal stock and whatever herbs are lying around. Simmer that for an hour or so until the veggies are good and mushy then throw it in the blender. My favourite veggie combination for this so far has been roasted veg: tomato, onion, carrots, parsnip, peppers, garlic and beets. Gorgeous colour too! The only tricky thing about those soups is remembering to take out the bay leaves before you blend, although I have to say that nothing bad has happened on the occasions on which I've forgotten.

Soup typically provides leftovers, is easy to clean up after, and is a very convenient way to get a lot of vegetable variety into your toddler or significant other. It freezes well too. Really, what's not to like about soup?