"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up."

Arthur Koestler 

Entries in Plan What You Eat (25)


Week 19: Instant, Pre-Cooked, Convenient, and ... Fattening

There have been many theories about why people are getting fatter. But one thing is clear, as people have eaten more and more industrial food, their waistlines have disappeared in rolls of fat. No doubt there is no one overriding factor, but many factors. This is a big one. 

Yes, I am saying that if you want to be healthy you have to cook. There is no way to sugar-coat it, not that you should coat anything with sugar anyway! But while in our modern society this can be a hard truth to accept, there are ways to reduce the cost in time this requires. In the 60's the average amount of preparation time was about 60 minutes. Today it is less than 30 minutes. Each of us needs to find a way to increase the time we spend in food preparation. The health benefits and the reduction of weight will be a rewarding payoff. 

I mentioned in a previous week the advantages of soup. It keeps relatively well, so it can be prepared in advance. A couple can prepare soup together and have several meals all planned out. Cooking can be fun. Here is the action plan for week 12:

The basic idea is that you make a hearty soup/stew once a week and freeze it into individual servings for lunch. Then, so you don't get tired of one thing, you label these frozen meals with a day of the week. So after your first batch you have lunch for one day of the week for the next 6 weeks. Then you do the same the next week and repeat. After 6 weeks you have a lunch meal for 6 days a week. So you can't complain about a lack of time,..who doesn't have one hour a week? This will "kill two birds with one stone." It will be a much healthier alternative and it will be a lot cheaper than eating at a restaurant for lunch.

Another option, and the one our household usually follows, is to make soup a few times a week and vary the soup so we don't get tired of it. Since my wife is Russian we have a wide variety of soups including Chi, a cabbage-based soup with potatoes, to borsch, made mostly from beets. We usually use lamb, but any meat will do. Lately we have been having fish soup. We try not to use too much meat, as the flavoring is the main thing you want. 

When I make soup it is usually chicken noodle. After having one meal from a rotisserie chicken, I remove all the remaining meat and reserve it for the soup. I cook the bones for a long time, the longer the better. I remove the bones and then let it cool slightly and skim off anything that looks unappetizing.  I add whatever vegetables I want. My mother, when she made this, always used fresh vegetables, but I usually use frozen. I pick mixed vegetables without potato. If I use canned, there is no need to add salt. I have been known to add one can of cream of something soup. (Note that canned soup always has gluten added to it.) Toward the end of the cooking process I add the meat and a package of rice noodles that I have cut into pieces. This makes a thick soup. 

I think it is time for a return to the lunchbox with a thermos of soup. You can fill the lunchbox with raw fresh vegetables. Your Wonder Woman lunch box will be the envy of all your co-workers. They will also envy your commitment and your new trim figure. 

If you are a subscriber to Netflix you homework for this week is the 4-part Michael Pollan documentary on cooking called Cooked. If you are not a subscriber you can watch this YouTube video. Both have a high value educationally and are quite entertaining. 




Next week I will discuss how you can free up 15 minutes in your day for cooking. 


That's a Lot of Nuts

Is that a lot of nuts? That amount would last me a week. Everyone knows that nuts are very caloric, so surely that is the last thing one needs? Are nuts healthy? The Washington Post comments:

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 118,962 men and women who had never had cancer, heart disease or a stroke. Over a span of nearly 30 years, 27,429 of them died. Those who ate a one-ounce serving of nuts — roughly, a small handful — seven or more times a week were 20 percent less likely to have died for any reason than those who never ate nuts. Even those who ate nuts less than once a week had a 7 percent reduction in risk. Consuming nuts at least five times a week corresponded to a 29 percent drop in mortality risk for heart disease, a 24 percent decline for respiratory disease and an 11 percent drop for cancer.

While only 40% of Americans eat nuts everyday, this one addition to your diet could add substantially to your health. Not convinced yet? What do nuts do for your longevity? 


No food is perfect and nuts are no different. They are high in calories, and the kind of fat in the nut is not always the best kind. This is why I avoid walnuts as walnuts are high in polyunsaturated fats that I wish to avoid. I eat almonds, macadamia nuts, and the occasional hazelnut. 

But nuts being good for you does not mean that you can buy one of those round containers of Planter's fried nuts and eat them at one sitting! I would never ... well, lets just say that this is not a good idea! While I am not afraid of salt, I doubt that too much is good for you. Nor is eating that many nuts at once good for you. But surprisingly, while nuts are packed with calories, their use in moderation, or even slightly more than that, seems to actually cause weight loss. 

Replacing one of your current snacks with nuts might be a good idea. Or you could add nuts to your repertory of cooking choices. 

Roasted Brussels Sprouts With Pecans

The dish on the right is quite good as we have eaten similar dishes in the past. Here is another dish that we have not tried. 

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan and Pine Nuts 

If I was going to try this recipe, I would increase the nuts and reduce the cheese. Google is your friend and they don't do evil, or so they claim; there are a huge number of healthy nut recipes available on the internet. I was going to say uncounted recipes, but Google counts the number of entries for you. There are 852,000 entries when you google nuts and brussels sprouts. 

No, spreading Nutella on crackers doesn't count as a recipe. 




So that means that everyone should eat nuts, right? No it doesn't. When I mentioned that I was writing about nuts to the beloved editor of this blog, Pam Dewey, she mentioned that nuts did not work for her and caused digestive issues. Everybody is different. I have a problem with Chia seeds. I won't say what my problem was, but my family preferred that I be somewhere else if I ate Chia seeds, and I had a number of embarrassing public displays of digestive distress until I realized what was causing it. So because of this common issue with nuts and seeds, be careful, and gradually add nuts to your diet and see what happens. You may or may not tolerate them. 

So your action plan for this week is to add nuts to recipes that involve vegetables. Anything that increases your vegetable intake is good. And also add some nuts as a snack. As you may remember from last week, I add nuts to my yogurt, making my own blend of fruit, yogurt, and nuts. 

Try nuts and see if they work for you.


Week 17: One Meal at a Time, Sweet Jesus

There is also this "One Day At A Time"While I am referencing the gospel song "One Day At A Time," each of us must do things one day at a time, and in terms of health, one meal at a time. So let's begin with breakfast, the supposed king of meals. As the old saying goes, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper." As in most of these folk wisdom sayings, I am not convinced this is so.

I think that not eating breakfast is a perfectly acceptable option, although I admit the scientific consensus is against it.

An article in the Washington Post discusses this

At 8:30 in the morning for four weeks, one group of subjects got oatmeal, another got frosted corn flakes, and a third got nothing. And the only group to lose weight was ... the group that skipped breakfast. Other trials, too, have similarly contradicted the federal advice, showing that skipping breakfast led to lower weight or no change at all.

“In overweight individuals, skipping breakfast daily for 4 weeks leads to a reduction in body weight,” the researchers from Columbia University concluded in a paper published last year.

The first study mentioned is not a very good study. From personal experience, a cereal for breakfast is not a good option for me unless I doctor the oatmeal up with protein and fat. I am sure the oatmeal and cereal were both served with "healthy" skim milk.  What this may mean is that the people involved in the study might have had thier blood sugar drop later and cause hunger. (Note that I will discuss the oatmeal breakfast option next.)

This article continues:

This year, as the Dietary Guidelines are being updated, the credibility of its nutritional commandments has been called into question by a series of scientific disputes. Its advisory committee called for dropping the longstanding warning about dietary cholesterol, which had long plagued the egg industry; prominent studies contradicted the government warnings about the dangers of salt; and the government’s longstanding condemnation of foods rich in saturated fats seems simplistic, according to critics, given the ever more intricate understanding of the nutrition in fatty foods.

The studies that led to the recommendation that you eat breakfast are observational studies. The Post explains:

Observational studies in nutrition are generally cheaper and easier to conduct. But they can suffer from weaknesses that can lead scientists astray.

One of the primary troubles in observational studies is what scientists refer to as “confounders” — basically, unaccounted factors that can lead researchers to make mistaken assumptions about causes. For example, suppose breakfast skippers have a personality trait that makes them more likely to gain weight than breakfast eaters. If that’s the case, it may look as if skipping breakfast causes weight gain even though the cause is the personality trait.

That personality trait might consist of skipping breakfast, going to work, and then at 10 going to get some coffee and noticing the donuts in the break room... 

How then will you know if skipping breakfast, or any of the other suggestions I will make, is good for you? Try it and see. If you skip breakfast and find yourself able to go to lunch without a donut or Snickers bar, and still eat a healthy lunch, then skipping breakfast might be for you.

Having cereal for breakfast is somewhat risky for many people. I am one of them. If I have oatmeal for breakfast, at 11 I will be ravenously hungry because the sudden influx of carbohydrates causes my body to overreact, and I over produce insulin and can become ill. I first noticed this at age 20 when my donut and coffee breakfast as a college student caused me to become ill, sweaty, and ravenously hungry at 11 after a morning class. To a degree this is just simply biology, and it is why many do so well on 6 meals a day as their blood sugar is dropping after carbohydrates.

Here is one doctor's recommendation:

Oatmeal is interesting because, while it is a healthy food choice, it actually has a pretty high glycemic index, meaning it could cause a spike in blood sugar. However, how you eat oatmeal could determine how much of a spike it could cause.

For instance, if you add a teaspoon of sugar or some honey to a bowl of oatmeal, the glycemic index will skyrocket and it will trigger an even greater spike in blood sugar levels. If, however, you add a tablespoon of butter and some cinnamon, it has less effect on blood sugar levels.

But even with these issues I have had some success with oatmeal if I eat it with normal milk for the additional, fat and add some soy protein powder to the oatmeal. Yes, I tended to eat lunch earlier than with other breakfasts, but this was not a big issue at the time for me. Will this work for you? Try it and see.

(As an aside, if you are a man over 40 you should seriously consider adding at least one capful of soy powder to your diet every day. This will help your prostate not grow as fast or as large. It will also reduce your PSA test results. I cannot recommend this highly enough.) 

Another breakfast option is the traditional bacon and eggs. But as I pointed out in a previous post, this tradition was more of an advertising and PR victory than an actual tradition. I have also had success with this while I was gradually losing weight. I had one piece of low carb toast, two poached eggs, and beef bacon most mornings. As I mentioned two weeks ago, this bread was low carb but high in gluten, not a good choice for me. 

For variety I often had low carb oatmeal. Guess what? It was high in gluten as well. If you have not yet started removing gluten as an experiment, it is not too late to start now. But back to bacon and eggs. I had this for months as my main breakfast, and my cholesterol dropped 40 points as I lost weight. This is another reason why you should be testing your blood lipids and other factors regularly, as I discussed in a previous week.  Why do I use poached eggs? I like them better and the additional bonus is that there is no fat that is used in their preparation. Why do I use beef bacon? I do not eat pork for religious reasons. How will you know if a traditional bacon and egg breakfast will work for you? Try it and see.

I tried a version of this recently where I ate smoked salmon and poached eggs most mornings. It did not work as salmon is one food that those with a history of gout should not overdo. Yes, I had a flare-up. My point in bringing this up is to remind us all once again, we are all different, what works for you might not work for me, and what works for you at 30 might not work at 60. Try it and see.

Another popular health idea is that one should only eat fruit for breakfast. One would think that this would result in an even greater blood sugar rush than cereal, but it does not. This is due to the way that the body digests fructose. I have talked about this before.  Basically the fructose does not impact blood sugar but is instead transported by the body to the liver and directly transformed into fat--this is one source of triglycerides. High triglycerides levels are very unhealthy.  

Does this mean that one should not eat fruit? Not necessarily. If you eat a low fat diet, then yes the fructose will result in one having more fat in the diet than one realizes, but in the total context of the total diet this does not have to be bad.  I recommend that a women eats one or two servings and a man two or three servings of fruit in a a day. So a fruit breakfast might fit right into your diet. I did this for a number of years, but it had zero effect on my other health practices so it did not work well for me. I would get 21 servings of fruit at the store, not that a banana is two servings, and I would prepare a week's worth of breakfasts at once. I would cut all the fruit up and add some nuts and divide it into 7 portions and freeze them and voila, breakfast for the week was done!  All I had to do was defrost one container in the refrigerator the night before. You might not need to be so, well, anal about your breakfast fruit, but I found this helpful. Will breakfast fruit work for you? Try it and see.

Another option is to have nontraditional breakfast foods, as my mother used to say, "Have lunch for breakfast." My mother often had lintel soup for breakfast.  I have never found this a satisfying idea, but you might like it. 

What I have finally settled on for me for breakfast is yogurt and fruit with some nuts. I take 2/3 to 1 cup of frozen fruit, usually berries, and microwave them for one minute. The purpose of this is not to warm them up so much but to have them release juice. I then take this and add 1/4 cup of nuts and one cup of yogurt and mix them up. I find it very satisfying.

I am sure that each of these brands have normal unsweetened yogurt, buy them instead. One important note is the kind of yogurt you select. Most modern yogurts are so processed and sugar-laden that they are really not healthy anymore. Take a container of plain yogurt at the store and look at the label, then compare it to one of the processed yogurts that most people eat. You will see a dramatic difference in ingredients. I use unsweetened vanilla coconut yogurt; but normal yogurt or Greek yogurt is another viable option. Just get the real stuff, not something supposedly improved by the agribusiness industry. Try it and see.

I am never going to give you meal plans where I tell you what to eat. I don't know you or your metabolism. You do. If you are smart enough to read this blog, you are smart enough to experiment and see what works for you.

Which breakfast should you eat?

Try them and see.

Here is your homework:

If you are eating a low fat diet then the amount of fruit you eat can be higher. 

Don't have time for breakfast? Are you sure?


Week 16: I'm Walking, Yes Indeed 

The first step in improving fitness is to move your body all day long. I talked about this in my previous blog post, "Balloon Ball." This step consists of things like taking the stairs instead of the elevator. 

But this is not enough. Did you really think you could sit on the couch watching reruns of the Simpsons for the umpteenth time? Since I thought that, or at least I acted like I did for many years, you may too. No, you have to walk. (Note that any exercise must be discussed with your doctor.) 

I was reading a book on brain evolution called Brain Rules. While I am losing interest about half the way through the book, the main point of an early chapter still haunts me. Yes, haunts is the right word. I think about Alzheimer's patients wasting away. How  many of us have a fear of this? I know I do. But it turns out that one of the most effective means of delaying Alzheimer's is exercise. Notice I said delay. Cognitive decline is inevitable, but the rate of decline can be strongly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices. Minimizing such decline is important, and the earlier in life you start, the better. I think a lot of the time we blame "old age" on our decline as we age when in fact it is our lifestyle choices that are causing many of the issues we experience. "Too Old, Too Soon" is not a phrase we want to apply to us. 

I talked about bell curves in a previous post. Many topics in life fit the bell curve pattern. In this case along the horizontal axis is the amount of exercise, along the vertical is health benefits. The graphical result is a bell shaped curve. Often the angle of the curve is rather steep. My guess is that this is the case with exercise, that "a little goes a long way." Our ancestors walked for miles and miles every day. I am not sure you need to do that much, as that may put you into the area of overexercise, but we are made to walk, not drive. 

So my action plan for this week is 15 minutes of walking a day. That's it. If you are serious about avoiding Alzheimers, that seems a small enough step. My personal goal is 45 minutes three times a week: once on Sunday in the hiking park here in the mountains with my family; and twice with my exercise buddies during the week. Trying to make your walking a "community" project will increase your enjoyment of it and increase your likelihood to continue in it. 

Yes, walking can be difficult in February in Michigan. Many malls open up early for walkers. See if you can find one in your area if weather is an issue. 

Your homework for this week is an entertaining video about exercise and a video about exercise and Alzheimers:

Action Plan: Walk 15 minutes each day. 

So to quote that great philosopher, Ricky Nelson ... 

I'm Walking, 
Yes Indeed, 
I'm Talking, 
About You and Me
I'm Hoping that You'll Go a-Walkin' with me
Oh, Yeah

For indeed, "whatcha goin' do when the well runs dry?" Exercise will keep your "well" properly maintained. 



Week 15: Ya Can't Beat Somethin' with Nothin'

If you are going to stop eating wheat for a month as I am suggesting, then you have to replace the wheat with something else. First let me suggest what you don't replace it with. While the gluten-free products you see on the grocery shelves have the advantage of functioning, tasting, and often looking like the bread you are replacing, these are not healthy products. If you are going to change then you need to change, and these "fake foods" need to be avoided.

A personal example is the bread I ate for a year before I tested positive for gluten anti-bodies. Since I was doing low carb, I naturally selected a low carb bread. I had at least one slice a day, sometimes as much as three. Let's face it, sandwiches are easy and you can eat them anywhere. Curse you, Earl of Sandwich

Bread is not a naturally low carb food, so how do they make it low carb? Remember that gluten is a protein that is not digestible. Ideally it just goes right through us when we eat it. So can you guess what the main ingredient in low carb bread usually is? That's right, they use gluten. I am not sure how much more gluten was in this product, but it has to be a high multiple of a normal slice of bread. Looking back on it, it is hardly surprising that I evolved an anti-body reaction to wheat. I was overdosing on gluten!

All these "fake " foods have this issue. If you take a product and adjust it for some artificial goal, you get an odd product. To get low fat, they often add sugar. To get low carb, they often add fat. They have to do one or the other if they want a salable product. It has to taste good. This is why in an earlier week I suggested that you eliminate sodas, even if they are diet sodas. It takes about 6 weeks for our tastes to change. I still remember the shock I felt as I ate some brussels sprouts and noticed how sweet they tasted. Vegetables may not become your favorite, but as your taste buds change, your eating habits can also change.

In an earlier week I suggested one cup of cooked vegetables, and an occasional salad as a meal. Now it is time to get even more serious about vegetables. I suggest two cups of vegetables every day as a minimum. Yes, fresh is better, but frozen works just fine. I often will take one of the frozen steamable bags and eat it all myself. That is usually more than two cups. This much has an interesting side effect: the bulk of this much vegetables is quite filling, and I find I eat fewer calories. Yes, you can drizzle the vegetables with butter or olive oil or any sauce that might be left over from the meat, I sometimes do. Note that the definition of drizzle is different from the definition of drench. But just as often I add nothing, and with my changing tastes it tastes just fine.

I also suggest that you eat one cup of raw vegetables each day. Note with lettuce you will need 2 or 3 cups to replace one cup of raw vegetables. We bought a tray of raw vegetables just recently, and we never even opened the ranch dressing dip. We did not need it. The tray was handy, however. We are still using it, adding various raw vegetables as we eat it. Since this Sunday is the Super Bowl, you can make your own healthy munchies without the ranch dipping dressing.

You can buy already made salads. We like the Bistro brand. While it is better to make your own dressing and salads, the salad dressing in these pre-made salads are portion-controlled. The oils they use would not be my first choice, but they do all the measuring for you. For a recipe for salad dressing from a previous week click here.

So even if you have decided not to go along with a gluten-free experiment for a month, your assignment for this week is to eat two cups of cooked vegetables and one cup of raw vegetables each and every day. You didn't think this year-long process would be easy did you?
Still need more convincing? I am still not convinced that gluten is the root of all evil. Wheat after all, is not a root vegetable. But this video is interesting and it is your homework for this week.