Food Fight

Book recommendations
October 16, 2006, 11:04 pm
Filed under: books, food

I like to read about sustainable food policy and the social impact of the food industy–you know, for some light reading. Actually, a lot of it is. Here are some fun books that I have read and recommend for a fun read and lots of useful information. I have some of them, so ask and I’ll be happy to let you borrow them.

Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser: Yes, we all know about this one. So if you haven’t read it yet, you should. The opening chapter is about Colorado Springs as an example of our fast food culture. My dad moved there a few years ago, and it was chilling visiting it for the first time. Everything Schosser says is true.

Don’t Eat This Book, Morgan Spurlock: (Yes, I already bogged about this, and yes, I wrote about Morgan before.) If you liked Super Size Me, you love this book. It is written in Morgan’s straight-forward and funny style, and there is all of the facts from the movie, plus more background info.

Diet for a Dead Planet, Christopher Cook: A bit more intense, but still for the general audience. I like it because it really goes into the business and politics of farming and food production. It attempts to explain the logic behind such incomprehensible policies such as farm subsidies.

Candy Freak, Steve Almond: The author goes on an entertaining journey through the “chocolate underbelly of America” to track down locally made candies, and also explains the rise of the biggies Mars and Hershey’s. What he learns about the candy industry, like shelving fees, applies to the whole food industry and it is surprisingly informative.

A History of the World in 6 Glasses, Tom Standage: A bit of a stretch for this topic, but this quick, light read discusses how beverages (beer, wine, tea, coffee, rum, and Coke) have played a key role in our society since the beginning of civilization (he actually credits beer for the founding of civilization).

On my reading list:


Healthier apple cake
October 15, 2006, 9:31 pm
Filed under: food, recipe, sugar

My mom was never much of a baker, but the one thing that she made fairly often was apple cake. I have carried on the tradition and make it quite a bit myself, mainly because it is insanely easy and delicious. It has always been a huge hit and people always ask for the recipe.

I haven’t made it in a while with my whole attempt to eat healthy and all. I swore myself off of it earlier this year when I polished off an entire 9×13″ pan by myself in three days. Tonight, I figured out how many calories that was: 3350, with well over half coming from sugar! (So I can blame one of the extra pounds I now have on that single pan.)
Now that it is fall, and I am faced with needing to bake something to take into the office, I of course turn to my old standby of apple cake. The orginal recipe comes from one of my parents’ trips to Apple Hill back in the day. I have modified it by reducing the oil and sugar, and by using whole wheat flour. I suppose you could really cut down on the calories by using a sugar substitute, but I am not into those. The result is more of an apple muffin-type taste, but I still think it is pretty good. This new recipe is only 76 calories per 2×2″ square as opposed to the original of 116 calories (35% fewer calories).

Note: I can’t find my 9×13 pan. If you have an extra one floating around, that might be mine from last time I brought something to your house. Or it might not be mine, but I’d still like it. Can I have it? Thanks!

Healthier Apple Cake

1 c. sugar
1/4 c. oil
1/2 c. unsweetened apple sauce
4 egg whites
4 cups diced apples (don’t peel)

Sift together and add:
2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 t. salt
2 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
2 t. baking soda

Pour into greased 9×13″ pan and bake for one hour at 350 degrees.

Chocolate: oh, so good.
October 8, 2006, 12:55 am
Filed under: nutrition

I just made myself some hot cocoa. I looked at the nutritional information on the can of Trader Joe’s Organic Cocoa Powder. It made me happy. Seriously, chocolate is awesome. I love it. In one 3-tablespoon serving:

  • Dietary fiber: 9 grams
  • Protein: 7 grams
  • Total fat: 3 grams

That’s more fiber than in a serving of beans. And it is the same amount of protein.  Sure, there are two grams of saturated fat in cocoa, but Yale says that it is the good kind of saturated fat.

Made with Vitasoy Light soy milk, my hot chocolate is tonight less than 120 calories, and is full of all of those good things like isoflavones and antioxidants:

  • 6 oz. Light soy milk
  • 1 T. cocoa powder
  • 2 t. sugar

The breakdown:
Fat: 2.5 g
Carbs: 18 g
Sugar: 13 g
Fiber: 3 g
Protein: 5 g

Not bad for dessert.

I ate all day…
September 21, 2006, 4:59 pm
Filed under: food, weight loss

…and only had 1165 calories. That’s what happens when I plan out what I am going to eat: I buy healthy food and don’t eat out. Plus I plan lots of healthy snacks and I feel like I have lots to eat. I think the major sources of extra calories for me are:

  • Alcohol
  • Eating at restaurants
  • Snacking late at night

So if I don’t go out as much and go to bed at a decent time, I think I would lose weight easily.

Here’s what I ate yesterday, spread out over 5 meals:

  • Bran flakes with soy milk
  • A pear, an orange, and a nectarine
  • Lots of broccoli
  • An oatmeal chocolate chip cookie
  • Cottage cheese
  • Vegetable barley soup
  • Two eggs
  • Whole wheat toast
  • Whole wheat pita
  • Eggplant humus

That’s a lot of food, right? And it was mostly prepared food. The only thing I cooked, other than microwaving, was the eggs, so it was easy too. The main thing was that I ate only whole grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. It was a vegetarian day, but that is because I had tuna the day before and I am thinking about having some chicken tonight for dinner. I didn’t reach my protein goal of 50 grams, but I got over 35, which isn’t too bad.

Today I haven’t done as well because I have eaten a fair amount of white bread. I am still going to be around 1250 calories though. I really need to focus on eating more vegetables and protein. And then surviving the weekend and then houseguests next week will be a real challenge.

I want to lose weight
September 19, 2006, 6:12 pm
Filed under: health, nutrition, weight loss

I am not overweight, and I know all girls think that they need to lose weight, but still. I want to lose some weight. I joined a gym almost a year ago when I weighed 147lbs. That was after me losing almost 15lbs over more than 6 months. For the next 6 months, I ranged between 143lbs and 148lbs, slowly building lean body mass and improving my overall strength and endurance by going to the gym, and I got my body fat percentage to about 21%.

Then I switch to being mostly vegetarian, spending more time eating and drinking, and started slacking at going to the gym. So as a result, I have gained about 10 pounds since March. I am now at 156lbs. I know that isn’t muscle gain.

My goal is to get back to around 143lbs by Thanksgiving. A big feast seems like a good target. I seem to have pretty good luck accomplishing goals that I blog about, so I figured I should write about this goal.

My plan is to go back to going to the gym four days a week, no excuses. Also, I am going to get back into lifting weights, which I haven’t don’t consistently for months. As for food, I am going to target 1200 calories a day starting tomorrow. I haven’t decided if I am going to introduce meat back into my diet. I might start eating some turkey and fish again. We’ll see. I also plan on periodically updating this blog with my progress, along with sample menus of what I am eating and workouts.

Here goes nothing! Now I am off to the gym!

Christopher Kimball takes on school lunches
September 19, 2006, 10:18 am
Filed under: children, food, nutrition

Christopher Kimball, the Bill Nye of the cooking world and the brain behind Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen, has joined in on the fight to improve school lunches.

From his new site Parents Against Junk Food:

We are devoted to eliminating junk food from our public school system. No sodas. No candy bars. No chips. No processed lunch or foods of minimal nutritional value. Let’s ask our public schools to feed both body and mind properly, to take seriously their role as guardians of our children’s health and welfare. It is time to take the corporate profit out of school lunches and replace it with common sense, good nutrition, and the love and care that our children surely deserve.

So far, Christopher is just providing information about the problems with school lunches and some healthy recipes on the site. It is a start, but I would like to see some more action to go along with the information. Also, the site could use some visual clean-up, but if you stick with it, you’ll find some good stuff, like An Inconvenient Lunch, Christopher’s version of Jamie Oliver’s Manifesto. Christopher has a 5-part plan that involves firing the USDA and implementing nutrition education.

Why high fructose corn syrup is bad
September 11, 2006, 12:03 am
Filed under: chemistry, nutrition, sugar

This post, like my post about trans fat, is more an explanation about what high fructose corn syrup is than why specifically it is bad. We toss around these terms a lot and the negative health effects of them without really understanding what we are talking about. This is my attempt to exaplain what these chemicals are in our food so that we can have a better-informed discussion about nutrition.

It all starts with glucose. It all ends with glucose too. Glucose is a hexagon of sugary sweetness. Our body uses glucose, and only glucose, for energy. Everything else has to be turned into glucose for our bodies to use it. Pretty simple, huh? But we don’t eat much plain glucose.

And then there is fructose. Fructose is a pentagon of really sugary sweetness–different shape sugar means sweeter sugar. We like fructose, and we eat a lot of it in fruits especially (that’s how I remember the name). After we eat it though, our bodies have to convert it to glucose to use it for energy.

Ah, sucrose. Now we are talking sugar. Real sugar, like our of the bag sugarin the cupboard. It is a pair of glucose and fructose, connected. It’s pretty sweet, as we can all attest to from personal experience, in between glucose and fructose. After we eat it, our bodies break up the two rings, and the glucose is ready to go. Then it converts the fructose to glucose and that is ready for energy too.

So what’s corn syrup then? It’s just a bunch of glucose. We take corn starch, which is a big long chain of glucose (not sweet at all), and break up it. Done. And cheap, cheaper than natural sucrose. But remember, glucose still isn’t as sweet at sucrose, which is what we are trying to replace usually in processed food. We need to make this glucose sweeter. Well, if our bodies can turn fructose to glucose, I bet we can figure out how to do the reverse. And we have. Corn syrup manufacturers convert a lot of the glucose into fructose, and there’s the name: high fructose corn syrup.

Now why is it bad? This is a hard question and highly controversial, like the trans fat debate. There is a lot of crap information out there on the Web too, and I don’t even want to link to Wikipedia on this topic. But look at it this way:

Complex carbohydrates are good, right? They are big long chains that take a long time to break down by our bodies, eventually turning into glucose and energy. Like anything, too much of them is bad, but we all know that these are the best of the carbs out there because they are the biggest. Bigger is better.

The next biggest carb that we care about for this issue is sucrose: good old sugar. It has two rings, remember? There are some other two-ring sugars (disacarrides) that we eat, but this is the main one. It isn’t as big as the complex carbohydrates, so it breaks down a lot faster into glucose.

Finally we have glucose and fructose, which is what is in high fructose corn syrup. These are already broken down for us. The glucose is ready to go for energy. The fructose needs to be converted to glucose first, as usual, and then it is also ready to go.

If the complex carbohydrates are the best for our bodies because they require the most breaking down, then doesn’t it follow that the worst for us are the carbohydrates that require no breaking down? It makes sense to me. If given a choice between sucrose and a fructose/glucose slurry, the sucrose is better. Of course, sucrose still isn’t that great. I am just saying that it is better than the corn syrup.

It’s the fructose part of the corn syrup, not the glucose, that causes the real issues as we are finding out. Fructose has to be converted to glucose before our bodies can use it, right? So we flood our bodies with this stuff that we can’t use for energy yet, but need to process, and our bodies are reacting in weird ways, resulting in everything from heart disease to gas (I swear, too much of anything will give you gas). But that is still be researched and debated. Our bodies are used to dealing with small to moderate amounts of fructose since we like to eat fruit (and don’t stop eating fruit because you are worried about fructose!), and so it handles it fairly well. With high fructose corn syrup in everything, we are constantly flooding ourselves with fructose in volumes that our bodies have never experienced until just 30 years ago. It’s too much!

Our bodies weren’t designed to have large quantities of fructose delivered to us on silver platters. Our bodies have enzymes to break down the long carbohydrate chains for a reason. Breaking down these carbs ahead of time confuses our system and throws it off.

Have I convinced you yet? I’ll take that as a yes. So now what? Like trans fat, you are going to find high fructose corn syrup, and sugar for that matter, in just processed foods. Avoid processed foods as much as you can. When buying processed foods, look for food that is sweetened with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Better yet, look for versions of processed food that don’t have added sugar.

For example, I always make sure that I buy unsweetened apple sauce. Also, I now buy plain yogurt and mix in my own jams. My taste-buds have adapted too, and now I really don’t like the unnatural sweetness of corn syrup. I still loves sweets, but now I crave enjoy the more natural sweetness levels of fruit and even dairy.