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Adventures in Low Carb: Bullet-Resistant Coffee

Monday, April 7th, 2014 - by Charlie Martin

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So this is the latest goofy food fad: hot buttered toffee coffee. Basically, here’s the idea: you add unsalted butter, plus a little coconut oil, to coffee and whip it up in a blender, and drink that for breakfast.  Nothing else.  The theory is that this provides a good start for the day, leading to faster fat metabolism, increased mental alertness, weight loss, cures yaws, gives you greater strength, and conceals any foolish political contributions you may have made when young and foolish.

Or something.  It’s officially called Bulletproof Coffee, and according to the recipe you have to make it with special low-toxin coffee beans that the inventor sells for $26 a pound.

Well, maybe. Hot buttered drinks aren’t that unusual; Tibetans drink tea with butter. But the recipe sounds like a pain in the ass — coffee, boiling water, blender, and so on.  But let’s apply a little thought here.  Butter, reasonably enough, is basically 100 percent butterfat, and about 100 kcals a tablespoon. What you’re doing when you run it through a blender with liquid is returning the butterfat to an emulsion — you’re “re-creaming” it. Heavy cream, like whipping cream, is about half butterfat by volume (and 50 kcal per tablespoon).  So it stands to reason that adding heavy cream to coffee would be effectively the same.

So I tried it.  The recipe suggests between 2 and 6 Tsp of butter, so that’s 4 to 12 Tsp of cream — so make it 1/4 to 3/4 cup of cream.  For the last couple of days, I’ve started the day by adding about a quarter cup of cream to a big cup of coffee, adding some Stevia because I’m not thrilled by coffee with cream and no sugar — I usually prefer black — and drinking that first thing.

Okay, I’ve got to say, it’s pretty satisfying; I don’t have any particular hunger until noonish. And from the pure caloric standpoint, it’s got no carbs at all, and only about 200 kcal. As to any other effects, well, it’s only been two days.

When I lived in Europe, I used to go to Paris every so often, and stayed in a little hotel in the 15th arrondissement. Regular French businessman’s hotel, nothing special.  As with most European hotels they served “breakfast”; as with most French hotels, that consisted of a half a baguette, cafe au lait, a big lump of butter, and some jam. (And last night’s baguette at that, so it was a little hard.) You butter a chunk of the bread and dunk it, then eat it and drink the coffee. Now, I would have preferred eggs over easy and bacon, but honestly it was pretty good.

But it occurs to me that this isn’t far away from what we’re talking about: several hundred kcals of butterfat, coffee, and of course some carbs.  Maybe it’s not such a crazy idea.

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Adventures in Low Carb: Corned Beef with Cabbage and Turnip Greens

Friday, April 4th, 2014 - by Charlie Martin

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I really like my slow cooker, and I really like the week after St Patrick’s Day, when corned beef is suddenly cheap. And I like corned beef and cabbage and don’t even miss the potatoes — which are usually overcooked and watery anyway.

So here was a little bit different approach. Cooked a corned beef round in the slow cooker. Took it out and refrigerated it, as well as the broth. (I also cooked a brisket and sliced that hot. Different meal.)

The next day, I took the fat off the top of the broth, poured a good bit into a wok and rewarmed the corned beef (which I’d sliced after it was cold). Then I added a half head of cabbage and about 4 cups of turnip greens, which I’d sliced into roughly similar sized pieces. I simmered them for about ten minutes. There’s the result.

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Adventures in Low Carb: Burgers and Greens

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 - by Charlie Martin

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This time I had some leftover greens. Burgers into the George Foreman with about a tablespoon of chopped onions between them. Cook thoroughly.

Look, I like my meat crunchy. Deal with it.

Rewarmed the greens, burgers on top of the greens, grated quesadilla cheese on top.

I’m beginning to like this veggies thing.

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Adventures in Low Carb

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014 - by Charlie Martin

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Continuing the effort to eat more vegetables, I got up this morning and felt ambitious, so I took out a bag of spinach and baby kale. I sauteed the greens with butter and olive oil and two sliced cloves of garlic, added some chopped onions and four beaten eggs, and about 2 Tablespoons of quesadilla cheese, and scrambled them.

This one worked good, but I think turnip greens and eggs are better.

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‘The Way God Intended It’

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 - by Hannah Sternberg
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I was standing, sleepily, at the counter of a coffeeshop in Union Station, waiting for the barista to remember I’d ordered a drink, when I overheard the woman behind me order hers:

“I’ll have a small latte.”

“What kind of milk?”

“Whole milk.” Pause. Muttered, half to herself: “The way God intended it.”

Maybe I was just cranky — it was my first day heading back to the office after a week out with the flu — but I had to fight the urge to say to her, “Just like God intended that sheep’s wool to be spun, woven, and dyed into your pretty pink plaid coat?”

I had little doubt it was a real wool coat. She looked like someone who would curl her lip at the thought of synthetic fabric touching her skin.

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Getting Healthy In 13 Weeks

Saturday, January 18th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
When you start thinking this would be a rest, something's got to give.

When you start thinking this would be a rest, something’s got to give.

Week 1 — Something’s Got To Give

 

As part of my “taking it easier” with my blog, over at According To Hoyt, I’ve been running ‘blasts from the past’ – i.e. posts a year or more old at least a day a week.  (For instance on Tuesday I posted Jean Pierre Squirrel, from February 2011.)

The interesting thing going through the blog is seeing how many days I curtailed posting or posted briefer or weirder because I was ill.

Now I was aware of having been in indifferent health for the last ten years or so.  It’s nothing really bad or spectacularly interesting, which is part of the issue, because if it were, I could take time off and not feel guilty.  I confess I have found myself at various occasions fantasizing about a stay in the hospital.  Which is stupid, because no one rests in the hospital.  (What I need, of course, is a stay in a remote cottage for a few days. Even if I’m writing.)  And I knew that my health got much worse in the last year.  2013 was the pits, at least since August or so.  But it is not unusual for me to spend every third week “down.” – Usually with an ear infection or a throat thingy or some kind of stomach bug.

My friends have said for years that this is because I don’t listen to my body’s signals to slow down or stop, so it has to bring me to a complete stop by making me too sick to work.

This is part of the reason Charlie Martin and I (in collaboration) are doing a series on taming the work monster.  Part of it is that I have way too much to do, and part of it is that it’s really hard to compartmentalize things when you work from home.  Eventually when we sell the house and move, we’d like to get a place where the office is a distinct area.  It was pretty much all of the attic in our last house, which meant if I came downstairs for dinner (which I did) I didn’t go up again.  But now my office is half of the bedroom (and before someone imagines me cramped in a corner, the bedroom runs the full front of the house.  We just couldn’t figure out what to do with a room that size.  We don’t sleep that much.)  This is convenient in terms of my getting up really early to work, or of my going to bed way after my husband, because I’m right there…  It’s also contributing to a 24/7 work schedule, because I can think “Oh, I should write about that” and roll out of bed, and do so.  There is no “I have to be dressed, as the sons might be roaming the house” and there isn’t (as in the other house) “the attic will be cold.”

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13 Weeks: Diets and Black Swans

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Charlie Martin

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan introduced an old term and then, annoyingly, redefined it. For Sir Karl Popper, the black swan was an observation about logical quantification: if you assert “all swans are white” then the observation of a single black swan falsifies the assertion.

Taleb’s observation is different, although related: he’s observing that really unexpected events are unexpected: we have a model of the world that says “The US mainland is secure from attack” that seems perfectly plausible on 10 September 2001; we believe “Islamist terrorism is on the run” and then a bomb blows up in Boston.

(There’s a more sophisticated way to deal with all of these called Bayesian inference. We’ll leave the details for a science column, but in a few words, a Bayesian starts with an assumed a priori estimate of the probability of an event. After observation, they have a new a postieriori estimate that incorporates new experience.)

But there’s yet a third way to think about these that shows us how mathematics and probability can show us surprising things.

(Yes, this is a diet and exercise column, just a little further down.)

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13 Weeks: New Year, New Season, New Experiments

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 - by Charlie Martin

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Someone once said that a good epic starts in the middle. (Actually it was Horace, it was in his Ars Poetica around 13BC, and he made the distinction between something that started ab ovo, “from the egg”, or in medias res, “in the middle of things”, but then inserting a lengthy side bar with references to Classical Latin in a diet column might seem erudite but really would be sort of pretentious and silly, don’t you think?)

In any case, we’re starting in the middle of this story. Tomorrow, 5 January 2014, I’m starting the fifth (and sixth, more on this later) of my 13 week experiments in changing and improving my health and my life. The first one started in November 2012, more than a year ago, motivated by the most reasonable of things: I don’t want to die. I most especially don’t want to die young, and I felt like both of my parents had.

I have reasons to be concerned. I’ve had problems with my weight since I was six, and at the time I started this I was around 300 lbs, I was well along into type II diabetes, and I had severe sleep apnea that was manifesting in something close to narcolepsy. I live in a two-story house and I was finding that I was pre-planning trips up and down the stairs because they wore me out.

Now, a year later, I’ve made some significant changes. I’m around 265 lbs, my blood sugar is much improved, and I run up and down the stairs with wild abandon and cups of hot coffee. But I’m not done yet. I want to lose more weight, and I’ve got some new challenges in my life, with a new job and a certain feeling that I have more to do.

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How I Lost 40 Pounds in 4 Months

Friday, January 3rd, 2014 - by Paul Cooper

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I am a regular guy.  I have zero resemblance to the guys you see on the countless weight loss commercials currently running on television.  I still have work to do to become more healthy.  But I did something last year that I’ve never been able to do in a lifetime of weight struggles.  I lost a significant amount of weight in a relatively short amount of time.  Moreover, I did it in a healthy way, and I was able to keep it off.

How did I do it?  Well, first let me tell you the basics. On January 1 of 2013 I weighed in at 283 pounds.  I was significantly overweight.  I was unhealthy, ate poorly, was very inactive, and took blood pressure medicine that I desperately needed. By May 1, 2013, I dropped 40 pounds, was eating much better, exercised 5-6 days a week, and was off blood pressure medicine. And most importantly, I felt great doing it.  Well, what did I do?  I could probably list 20 things, but I narrowed it down to five.  And these are five things that I think can help anyone get healthier if they are ready for a change.

5. Make water your friend.

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Have I lost you already?  Is this too boring for you?  Is this too simple?  I don’t care.  Do it!  Drinking a ton of water was a key to my weight loss and I guarantee it’ll be a key to anyone else’s weight loss.  Get yourself a big bottle that you don’t mind making your friend.  Take it to work, drive with it, work out with it, and have it with you always.  And then take sips all day, every day.

What’s the big deal about water?  It has too many benefits for me to list them all, but here are a few: water suppresses your appetite, has zero bad stuff in it (drink filtered), increases metabolism, helps your body retain nutrients, is what your body is made of, helps maintain normal digestion, and energizes muscles.  There are more, but those are enough reasons for any of us to start diving into some H2O.

Water is your new friend.  Save money by drinking water instead of other beverages.  That’ll free up some income to buy healthier foods.  Drink a full glass of water before a meal and it’ll both speed up your metabolism and make you eat less.  Get at least 64 ounces a day.  And if you think that’s a lot, then check out your biggie cup of soda.  I bet it’s at least 32 ounces.  Put down the soda and pick up a big bottle of water.

You’re going to need to be well-hydrated if you are going to do number 4.

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Should You Eat Lots of Nuts?

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013 - by Theodore Dalrymple

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Some years ago a medical paper was published that caused a run on Brazil nuts throughout the western world. For a time they disappeared entirely from supermarket shelves; for Brazil nuts contain a high level of selenium and the medical paper had suggested that the high rate of heart attacks in a certain province of China was caused by the exceptionally low level of selenium in the inhabitants’ diet.

But of course for every panacea there is an equal and opposite health scare. Brazil nuts concentrate radium and give off more radiation than any other food; they also often contain relatively high levels of aflatoxin, produced by a fungus of the Aspergillus genus. Aflatoxins are very carcinogenic, leading to cancer of the liver.

So where Brazil nuts are concerned, the question boils down to whether you would prefer to die of heart attack or cancer.

A paper in a recent edition of the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that, overall, nuts are very good for you. The authors compared the death rates among female nurses and male health nurses according to their self-reported consumption of nuts. They divided nut consumption into true nuts and peanuts, the latter being legumes rather than nuts.

I never cease to be amazed at the organizational feat of such studies: 76,464 women and 42,498 men were followed up between 1980 and 2010 and 1986 and 2010, respectively. After various statistical manipulations which 99 percent of the readership of the NEJM would not understand it was found that the more nuts people ate (including the false nuts known as peanuts), the lower their all-cause mortality. They didn’t just die less of such illnesses as heart attack, stroke and cancer, but of all illnesses whatsoever. At last, then, the panacea!

People who ate nuts more than seven times a week(!), hunter-gatherer style, had a 20 percent less chance of dying in the period of follow up than those who never ate nuts. This is a very big effect, for me almost too big to be believed.

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13 Weeks: Frobbing the Knobs

Sunday, December 1st, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

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Okay, look, the first thing is I owe you folks an apology: with the new day job and holidays and a half-dozen other ordinary-life crises, I’ve just not gotten columns done. I’m sorry.

The most important thing I think I’ve learned in the last year has been just how complicated the whole issue of body weight and glucose regulation can be. Here’s just a selection of diets that have had reports of dramatic weight loss and health effects:

  • Low Carbohydrate Diets
    • High Fat
      • Atkins
      • South Beach
    • Low Fat
      • Stillman’s Quick Weight Loss Diet
  • Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load diets
  • Low Fat, High Carb diets
    • Ornish Eat More, Weigh Less
    • The Okinawa Diet
  • Balanced, Calorie Restricted diets
    • Diabetic “Exchange” Diets
    • Weight Watchers
  • Radical Calorie Restriction
    • Scarsdale Diet
    • Duke Rice Diet
    • Protein-Sparing Fasts
  • Intermittent Fasting
    • Fasting 2 days a week
    • Sixteen hour fasts every day.
  • Eating more often
    • Body For Life
    • “Grazing”
  • Dietary Restrictions
    • Eliminating wheat or grain
    • Paleo
    • Vegetarian
      • Ovo-Lacto
      • “Pescatarian”
      • Macrobiotic
      • “Never Eat Anything With a Face”
    • Vegan
    • “Fruitarian”

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13 Weeks: trans-gressions

Saturday, November 9th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin
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Lard. Maybe it’s better for you than margarine.

This week’s big diet and nutrition news has been the news that the FDA has proposed removing the “generally recognized as safe” label from trans-fats. Now, if you’re like me, the first question you might want to ask is “what’s a trans-fat?”

A fat is composed of long carbon-hydrogen chains called fatty acids. A saturated fat has one hydrogen for every possible bond to a carbon; an unsaturated fat has some places where the possible hydrogen bond is replaced by a double-bond between carbon atoms. The terms trans- and its opposite cis- mean “on opposite sides” and “on the same side” respectively, and a trans-fat includes fatty acids that have those carbon-carbon bonds on opposite sides. The effect is that you can have two fats with the same chemical formula, but different geometric structures, like in these pictures cribbed from Wikipedia.

Eleadic acid, a trans-fatty acid.

Eleadic acid, a trans-fatty acid.

Oleic acid, a cis-fatty acid.

Oleic acid, a cis-fatty acid.

In general, the more hydrogenated, or saturated, a fat is, the higher its melting point. Butter, lard, and beef tallow all have lots of saturated fats, so they’re more waxy and solid at room temperatures; most vegetable oils are much less saturated, and so are liquid at room temperature. But around 1900, the French chemist Paul Sabatier discovered that hydrogen could be combined with carbon dioxide through the use of a nickel catalyst, producing methane or methanol; a German chemist named Wilhelm Normann applied the same process to hydrogenate fatty acids to make fats with higher melting points from vegetable oils. This process is the basis for making both margarine and old-fashioned vegetable shortening like Crisco.

It happens that most — although not all — of the less saturated fats from natural sources are in the cis-configuration, but artificially hydrogenated fats have a much higher concentration of the trans-configuration. So, products like margarine have relatively high amounts of trans-fats compared to natural fats.

Okay, so wake up, the chemistry lesson is over. Those of you who are old enough — most of my readers, I think — still get a little bit of a chill at the phrase “saturated fat”. For most of my lifetime, saturated fats were considered to be unhealthy; advertisements for margarine made a big point about how they were “lower in cholesterol” and therefore more “heart healthy”. In the 80′s, the conventional wisdom, pushed by groups like Ralph Nader’s Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPIRGs), was that fats were bad and saturated fats were really really bad.

So manufacturers reacted by replacing more saturated fats with hydrogenated fats that had lots of trans-fats.

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3 Reasons Why Dating is Especially Hard in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 - by Becky Graebner

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At a recent convening of the “female minds” during a birthday party celebration, I was reminded of the challenges posed by the D.C. dating scene. A fellow friend at this birthday dinner was regaling the group with her predicament: she had to leave the birthday party early for a date.

Normally, this topic is the launching pad for well-wishes, compliments, and giggles. In this case, the poor girl was dreading her impending date. Subsequent conversations with the male in question after agreeing to the date had made her a little wary.  He was cocky and pushy–which made her question if he was interested in anything more than a quick hook-up.  However, she didn’t want to back out of the date 40 minutes before they were supposed to meet up.

We tried to psyche her up. It’s great to meet new people! A night on the town will be fun!

No go. She was all frowns and pessimism as she slid off her stool and collected her coat and purse.

“Why is dating in D.C. so hard?” she asked as she turned for the door.

We all knew from personal experience what she meant, but none of us had an answer…

Washington D.C. is always a nominee for those lists with titles like “worst city for singles” or “worst city for dating.” It’s not surprising, really. Washington, D.C. is not a normal city. Although the representatives of the nation live and work here, The Capital is in a fantasy land of its own, shielded from the real-world by a thick bubble. It makes sense that this removal from reality in the workplace would also translate to the playground. I do know good people who have met, dated, and married people that they met while living in D.C. However, these people seem to be either part of the lucky minority or are D.C.-dating-warriors who persevered after several harrowing attempts.

Here are three reasons why dating in D.C. is particularly difficult:

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13 Weeks: The Hard Boiled Egg Theory

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

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People, including a lot of nutritionists and diet doctors, tend to treat people as if they were more or less homogenous all the way through, like a hard boiled egg: some fat on the outside and a metabolism on the inside. So, when they talk about diets and losing weight, they assume that it’s just all stuff going in versus stuff going out of a sort of blob in the middle. This results in the naive picture of weight regulation where the number of kilocalories you eat (measured by burning the food to ash in a calorimeter) goes in, and it’s either burned up or deposited in the egg white as new fat.

Real organisms aren’t that way, of course. When you eat something, there are long chains of complicated processes going on to transform the chicken meat and carrots and noodles in your chicken soup into amino acids, and fatty acids, and various ions in solutions in the bloodstream; a whole bunch (a whole bunch) of free riders are eating the food too, converting it to other forms that they use to breed their own descendants; some of the result of that turns into nutrients in our blood stream, some of it turns into bacteria, and a whole lot of that eventually turns into something I’m far too delicate to mention.

Once it’s in the bloodstream, there are lots of other complicated processes going on. I talked about them a little bit two weeks ago, but it’s worth remembering that sugars cause the body to release insulin, insulin causes adipocytes (fat cells) to store triglycerides, plump adipocytes release leptin, leptin reduces appetite, which means less food and less sugar, which makes the adipocytes release triglycerides, and so on. There is a complicated feedback going on there, and in a lot of people this feedback results in essentially perfect control of body fat and weight.

We tend to forget this, as talk about the “epidemic of obesity” gets around, but the fact that roughly one-third of adults are obese means that roughly two-thirds of adults are not obese. Most of those not-obese people eat the same general diet, live similar lifestyles, go to the same movies, watch TV and drink sugary sodas, and yet they stay more or less skinny.

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A Year of 13 Weeks

Saturday, October 19th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

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Today is 19 October. Yeah, I know, you can see it at the top of the article, but that’s an important date, because it’s now exactly a year since I determined I had to take some actions about my weight and glucose. (I came out about it in my first 13 Weeks post, “A Fat Nerd Does Diet,” on 28 October last year.)

The results overall have been good. I had several different issues when I started.

  • I weighed 301.5 on the 19th.
  • My A1c was 7.5. Although I struggled with admitting it, that’s real no-kidding diabetes mellitus. For me it appears to be type 2, (T2DM) characterized by lowered sensitivity to insulin. That was on a pretty much maximum dose of metformin, 2500 mg/day; if I were depending on drug treatment alone, I was heading for insulin.
  • I had a long-term problem with gastric reflux (GERD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS); I was on omeprazole every day and had been since a severe esophageal spasm and put me into the ER with chest pain two years before.
  • My total lipids were reasonable on 20mg/day of simvastatin but my high-density lipoproteins (HDL) were low, and my low-density (LDL) were high.
  • I also had a long-term problem with depression, although I hadn’t had a really acute episode in some years.

Now, a year later:

  • I’m down nearly 40 pounds; my recent low was 264.
  • My A1c is been between 5.9 and 6.4. The T2DM appears to be under control. I’m down to 1000 mg/day of metformin, and did a long stretch at 500 mg/day.
  • My lipids are enough better that I’m off statins, at least for this 13 week period.
  • The IBS no longer troubles me — I can’t say it’s completely resolved because, frankly, how would I know? But I haven’t had a painful episode in certainly almost a year. The GERD is also considerably better, and I’m slowly weaning myself off the omeprazole.
  • I think I can say the depression is significantly better. I haven’t had an acute episode this year, but then I hadn’t had a really acute episode in some years. But I had also been chronically dysthymic, which in combination with acute depression is called “double depression.” I really feel like that’s significantly better. I plan to write more about depression in the coming months; there are interesting suggestions that there may be some physiology that connects depression, obesity, and T2DM.

What did I do?

  • I’ve adopted a consistently low-carb, high-fat diet. I’ve played around with variants, and right now I’m around 50g carbs a day, with most of the carbs coming from fruits and yoghurt.
  • I’ve nearly completely eliminated wheat. Occasionally eating wheat seems to result in immediate exacerbation of the GERD and possibly of the IBS.
  • I’ve experimented with high-intensity interval training and high-intensity strength training, although I’ve had trouble making that a consistent practice.
  • I recently tried a broad-spectrum probiotic, which seems to have had very good effects.
  • I’ve largely structured these changes into a series of 13 week long experiments, which appears to be a sufficiently powerful model that a number of other people have adopted it for their own changes.

What have I learned in this year? It’s complicated.

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13 Weeks: A Dull Column

Saturday, October 12th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

Seriously, it’s a little weird to be writing my 13 Weeks column and not have much of anything to complain about.

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I just got back from taking a friend out for her birthday. We ate at Jax’s new seafood restaurant in Glendale (Colorado, “Godless Glendale”, the little enclave inside Denver with slightly more liberal rules for bars and restaurants. And stripper joints but we didn’t go to a stripper joint.) I had a frutte de mare salad, octopus and squid and clams and mussels in a vinaigrette, then an iceberg wedge salad with bacon and blue cheese, and a piece of monkfish sautéd with duck fat on a bed of a little bit of risotto with wild mushrooms and sautéd spinach and some nice chicharrones as a garnish.

Tasted great, and dinner only cost as much as a week’s groceries. But you’ve got to splurge every so often, and as a high-fat low-carb meal it was pretty much exemplary. I seriously do recommend the restaurant, although they seem to have a little bit of organizational trouble due to the weather getting cold enough they had to close their outdoor seating. But it is mid-October in Colorado, you have to figure it would get a little chilly. (In fact the first ski resorts are about to open.)

I took my blood sugar just now, about an hour after dinner, and it’s 91. Morning blood sugar has been good too. My weight has bounced up a little this week, but “bounced up” from 264 means it’s more like my lows from a couple weeks ago.

And I feel good. That last 5 pounds seems to have made as much, or more, difference as the preceding 30. I feel somehow skinny. I’ve had people — like a barber I hadn’t seen in a while — comment on how much weight I’d lost.

My mood is better. People who have depression will tell you, it’s not just a bad mood or feeling sad — it’s more like all that and a mild case of flu, body aches and all, along with a foggy, thick-headed feeling. And, well, I’m not feeling that.

Of course, the question is “why?” And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that one or two or three weeks is too little to judge. But there are some things I’ve been doing.

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13 Weeks: Bugs and More Bugs

Saturday, October 5th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin
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As I wrote last week, I started using probiotics, along with fruit juice, whole fruit, and yogurt, on a vague intuition based on some reports that probiotics might improve my blood sugar, and somewhat better intuition that it might improve some other, er, passing problems.

So I’m just finishing my second jar of the 5-day probiotics (which lasts me about 7 days) and the results are that:

  • I’m down to 264, which is now a couple of standard deviations below where I was stuck for so long (and getting close to 40 pounds off my starting weight);
  • my morning fasting blood sugar has ranged from 95 to 117 with the average about 105, which is also a couple standard deviations down from what it had been.

Several people have also emailed me at ask.charlie.martin@gmail.com or commented on that last piece to tell me their experiences, and they’ve seen similar (or greater) improvements in blood sugar and comparable weight loss.

So, with n equal to about 5, there’s some success to report, and lots more questions to ask.

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Kombucha! Recovering The Lost Art of Fermentation

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson
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The mother SCOBY and its “baby.”

“I once heard a man say that the creation of the refrigerator was one of the worst inventions for our health.”

At first glance that statement seems preposterous, and at face value it is. According to Jordan Rubin, the essence of the man’s lamentation was not the actual refrigerator, rather the loss of fermentation as a preservative and all the health benefits that we once derived from it.

As more people are seeking new and healthy lifestyles, the lost art of fermentation is making a comeback.

There is a new trendy drink that is actually centuries old, it’s called Kombucha. Kombucha starts out as little more than a sweet tea that would make any southerner smile. Then, with the help of a pale colored disk a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” otherwise known as a SCOBY, your sweet tea transforms into a probiotic-laden powerhouse.

Health food stores carry shelves of the stuff in all flavors. One of my favorite coffeehouses actually sells Kombucha on tap and it costs about the same as a Latte.

In this week’s mining of The Maker’s Dietthe author explains that every long-lived culture in the world consumed fermented vegetables, dairy and meat. Fermentation reaches back six thousand years into Chinese culture, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia buried sweet potatoes, and ancient Roman manuscripts describe lacto-fermented sauerkraut.

“Fermentation is especially effective in releasing important nutritional compounds through “pre-digestion” that would otherwise pass through the human digestive system, undigested and unused.”

According to the author, our modern large scale vinegar-based fermentation techniques won’t do the trick. It’s the lactic acid fermentation, driven by the beneficial microorganisms that we need to break down foods into usable compounds and inhibit “putrefying” bacterial growth.

It’s common knowledge that prolonged heat, processing and pasteurization kills all enzymes. What isn’t so well known is that, according to Dr. Howell, author of Enzyme Nutrition we are all born with a finite number of enzymes. That’s why it’s important to consume as many outside enzymes as possible from raw food sources.

My PJ Lifestyle colleague Charlie Martin explored the need for a healthy gut in his popular 13 Weeks post “I Got Bugs“:

“One of the interesting research areas recently has been a number of reports that obesitytype 2 diabetesirritable bowel syndrome, and more serious problems like various kinds of inflammatory bowel disease all seem to associate with differences in the population of the bugs in your gut.”

Charlie’s approach is to use probiotics from Garden of Life Raw Probiotics 5-Day Max Care– and so far he is having great success. This isn’t surprising, Garden of Life was founded by our featured author Jordan Rubin.

We’ve also used probiotics over the last year and the benefits are numerous. So much so, I really don’t want to be without it.

The problem is that probiotics are expensive — especially a good quality brand. My philosophy on dieting and health is that it must be a sustainable change that can last throughout a lifetime. Call me cheap or rebellious, but I just hate being dependent on any product, no matter how good it is.

A healthy gut is vitally important. So over the last couple of months I’ve been experimenting with Kombucha for a more natural intake of “good” bacteria, yeast and probiotics.

Making it at home is ridiculously easy and inexpensive. Here’s how I did it.

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13 Weeks: I Got Bugs!

Saturday, September 28th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

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(Follow my 13 Week experiments in diet and health here at PJ Lifestyle, or at the 13 Weeks Facebook Group. Send any questions to ask.charlie.martin AT gmail.com.)

One of the interesting research areas recently has been a number of reports that obesity, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and more serious problems like various kinds of inflammatory bowel disease all seem to associate with differences in the population of the bugs in your gut.

Long-time readers of this column may notice that list is not unlike what I’ve been troubled with since I started it a year ago.

While I’m not quite ready to look for a skinny donor for a fecal transplant (eewwwww), I’d still been rather frustrated with the continuing weight plateau and difficulty lowering my blood sugar, even after raising the metformin dose.

I was also suffering from what I’d have to say was the worst constipation I’d ever had. (I know, TMI, but this is significant.) Let’s just say that for the first time since I swallowed a big wad of chewing gum when I was 4, I learned to appreciate “Fleet” as a brand name.

So I was walking through one of the local sprouthead stores. (Alfalfa’s, which through a complicated series of maneuvers was taken over by Wild Oats, which was acquired by Whole Foods, which had to spin off some stores, which were then re-acquired by the original owners of Alfalfas and renamed Alfalfa’s. Boulder is the Peyton Place of hipster grocery stores.)

My doc had already talked to me about probiotics for my digestion issues, and on her recommendation I’d gotten Arbonne Essentials Digestion Plus, but hadn’t started with it yet.

So there I was in Alfalfa’s, and I decided to look at the probiotics there.

There are a lot of probiotics there. Hell, there’s a whole refrigerator case full of probiotics. They have more varieties of probiotics than most grocery stores have kinds of yogurt. It’s a little intimidating, plus (damned cataracts) I can’t really read the fine print, so I find something by the heuristic of “if it has more kinds of bugs, it must be better,” and buy it. It’s called Garden of Life Raw Probiotics 5-Day Max Care and it says it has 400 Billion something and 34 live strains. It says something about taking it with juice, so I buy some 400ml mixed orange and mango juice bottles, plus a cranberry juice and an apple juice. It also says take it with yogurt, so I buy some greek yogurt, full-fat (which is harder to find than you might imagine) and live cultures, and I buy some apples.

Yeah, I know, where’s the low glycemic load thing? Bear with me.

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13 Weeks: Flooding the Zone

Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

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I have a confession to make. I’m not proud of it, but I felt like you should know.

I put beans in a pot of chili yesterday.

Here’s my chili recipe, which is the one and only true authentic chili recipe (just like everyone else’s).

Chili Colorado

  • 2 lbs meat (stew beef, ground beef, beef, elk, moose, elk, venison, bear, elk, jackrabbit, or even God help us lamb or mutton. Jackalope is excellent, but be careful, those things are vicious. Save pork, javelina, and your obnoxious neighbor kid for green chili.)
  • 2 chopped onions. Big ones, why mess with a medium onion?
  • How much garlic you got? Throw it in, smashed or chopped. 6-7 cloves at least.
  • 1 Tsp lard

Now, there’s a place where I go slightly astray because I can’t find good lard. Real lard is quite soft; most store lard is somewhat hydrogenated, which makes it more solid and stable, but hydrogenated fats include a lot of trans-fats, which seem to be associated with health problems. I’m not ambitious enough to buy and render pork scraps, and I don’t know of anywhere to get leaf lard, so I use olive oil or canola oil.

Soften the onions and garlic in the lard in a heavy pot or a dutch oven. Add the meat, and let it brown a bit. If you let the onions brown, it adds some interesting flavors but it gets too sweet for my taste. Now add:

  • One package Fernandez Brothers Prepared Chili Powder.

Yes, I could make my own, but why? Fernandez Brothers’, from my home town of Alamosa Colorado, is the Platonic Ideal of all chili powders. They’ll mail order. (719) 589-6043. They’ve got pretty much anything else you need to cook Mexican food too.

  • 1 Tsp (heavy) Mexican Oregano

Stir them up, coating everything with the Red Food Of The Gods. Add:

  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste

and lots of water. Doesn’t hurt to put a bottle of beer in the chili as well. Or in the cook.

Stir until reasonably smooth and well-blended, and then simmer low until everything is nicely combined and the meat is tender — anything from a half hour for ground beef to 3 days for the jackalope. Stir it fairly often if on the stove, as it gets thick and can tend to stick. Or put it in the oven at 225°F for a couple hours.

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Michelle Obama Wants You to Drink Enough

Saturday, September 14th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Water or vodka?  You decide.  Michelle Obama will NEVER know!

Water or vodka? You decide. Michelle Obama will NEVER know!

With her husband stymied on the world stage and pivoting (yet again) to the economy, the first lady is once again passionately concerned with what you eat and drink.

First healthy eating, now healthy drinking. First lady Michelle Obama has teamed up with Hollywood star — and potato-chip promoter — Eva Longoria to push Americans to drink more water.

The pair is set to kick off the water-drinking push at a high school in the aptly named Watertown, Wisc., community on Thursday, The Hill reported. It’s the next step in Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign to fight obesity rates around the nation and especially among America’s youth.

Fear not, dear ladies.  Given that even the best Scotch has some percentage of water, and given that reading the news these days is best done anesthetized, and given Michelle Obama’s indefatigable hectoring, I predict that by the end of the Obama presidency, I’ll be up to Stephen Green‘s levels of alcohol  er… water consumption.
Image courtesy shutterstock.com, © Aivolie

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Ditch The Germicide, Pass The Mud Pie! Your Child’s Immune System Will Thank You

Monday, September 9th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

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“You can always tell a first time mother,” she said, as we sat in the kitchen sipping our coffee. “They’re always jumping up, running after the baby, worried about every little thing she touches. By the time the third one comes along, she’s like, ‘Oh look, the baby’s licking a shoe–isn’t that cute?’”

A quick glance at my toddler revealed the source of my friend’s caffeinated blurt of wisdom–my eight-month old daughter, sitting quietly at my feet was teething on a sandal.

No, I didn’t give it to her; she slipped it off my foot without me noticing. And no I didn’t think it was cute, but I didn’t panic either.

She was right.

You might be tempted to say a mother of several children just gets lazier. I say, she gets wiser or she won’t survive.

It always seemed curious to me that children in small families, living in town with mothers that kept immaculate homes and doted over them– were constantly sick. I noticed these families because, well in some ways, I envied them.

Although I couldn’t stand the thought of raising a large family in a subdivision, raising kids in an old farmhouse was a lot of hard work.

Open windows welcomed the dust in from the fields, and a constant stream of little feet imported dirt and mud from every corner of the yard. It was hard enough to keep the house clean, but keeping it sterile was not an option.

Oh, and their favorite place to play? The barn. Followed closely by the large eight-by-eight foot sandbox under a magnolia tree. The boys built treetop shanties tree houses and played army barefoot in minefields of manure the pasture.

In this week’s reading of Jordan S. Rubin’s The Maker’s Diet I found the reason my kids were seldom sick. To this day, even as adults– it takes a lot to knock them down. I used to think it was because I was such a good mother. Wrong. It was because God is such a good Father.

Rubin explains how science is just now discovering how the Creator designed our environment to keep us healthy. Which, it turn, also explains how we’ve messed up the process.

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13 Weeks: Sweet Release

Saturday, September 7th, 2013 - by Charlie Martin

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Week 1 of my fourth 13 week season: a low glycemic load diet, tracking my weight and blood glucose. You can follow me at my 13 Weeks Facebook page for daily updates, and you can join Fitocracy (free!) and follow my daily exercise, and maybe even start tracking your own.

Diabetes mellitus, especially the type-2 variety that used to be called “adult onset”, is a serious problem that’s been growing along with people’s waistlines. The name comes from “diabetes” (διαβήτης in Greek, and more or less adopted whole into Latin) meaning “to pass through”, and “mellitus” from Latin, meaning “sweetened with honey.” So the name means “pees sweet.” In fact, the test for diabetes was originally to taste the patient’s urine; if it was sweet, that meant diabetes.

This is why doctors are glad they no longer do their own lab work.

Type 1 diabetes is caused when the pancreas stops secreting insulin, for reasons that aren’t completely clear; type 2 happens when the body stops responding to insulin normally. No one is quite clear why that happens either, although an interesting new line of research is suggesting that people with type-2 diabetes have abnormal populations of bacteria in the gut. (I’ll be writing more about this soon, I’ve got a stack of papers full of long Greek-root words to read.)

Whatever the cause, the effect is that your blood sugar goes too high. This has a lot of bad effects, including a greater risk of heart disease and strokes, pain and numbness in the limbs, and not to put too fine a point on it, peripheral body parts becoming gangrenous and falling off, leading to slow creeping painful death.

This explains why, when I was diagnosed as actually being type-2 diabetic (familiarly called T2DM in medical conversations) I took it somewhat seriously, leading me to the first of these 13 Week experiments last year. I’ve experimented with several different diets and exercise plans, and lost a little over 30 pounds — followed by a near plateau of very slow weight loss. I was rather more successful with controlling my blood glucose — a little too successful back in April, in fact.

So, at the end of this most recent experiment, I had an HbA1c test, which measures your average blood glucose level over the lifetime of red blood cells. (I explained that in more detail last January.)

For the previous 13 weeks, I changed the diet, adding more carbs and reducing my metformin dose to 500 mg/d to see if I could avoid the hypoglycemic episodes. I was successful; haven’t had another fainting spell. Last Friday I had another HbA1c, though, and it’s up to 6.4 percent, which still counts as good control of the T2DM, but lower would be better. So, after talking with my doc this week, I’ve made some changes in my meds: back up to 1000 mg/d of metformin, back down to 20 mg/d of Prozac, and I’ve cut out the simvastatin completely because my cholesterol is actually low. All this for this 13 weeks; I’ll have another set of blood tests at the end of this 13 week experiment, in December.

Aside: Just making it one thing after another, my current doc, who I really like, just told me that the effects of the Affordable Care Act, and the required changes in paperwork and all, have taken so much time away from doctoring, which she likes, and put so much of her time into doing clerical work, which she hates, that she’s hanging it up in February. I’m starting to look for a concierge doc in this area.

As well as changing the medications, I’ve changed the diet somewhat. I found it very difficult to maintain the “slow carb” diet. I just didn’t feel as good as I had (mostly) on the low carb diet, but I didn’t want to go back to that and have more hypoglycemic episodes. So this 13 weeks, I’m trying a low glycemic load diet.

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God Gave You Two Brains. Do You Use Both?

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013 - by Rhonda Robinson

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Have I ever mentioned how much I hate to cook? If I haven’t, I’d be really surprised. I say it often. In fact, I’ve said it so often, that at one point, my husband fired me from cooking for the family.

It’s true. Although he did do it nicely. He offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. “You keep the kitchen clean” he said, and then promised, “I’ll do all the cooking.” What fool wouldn’t jump on that? Especially since, at the time, we had four young children and I owned and ran a small business.

Mistakenly, I took his offer as a sign of his love and appreciation. When I excitedly thanked him with a kiss on the cheek, the truth fell out: “I’m just tired of the [expletive] you’ve been feeding us.”

He was right — it was bad. My motto at the time, “If I can’t nuke it, or pick it up in a hit-an-run, we don’t eat it.” When asked, what do you want for dinner? My children would call out names of their favorite restaurants rather than actual food.

His cooking and my cleaning arrangement only lasted until I closed my business to take care of our growing family full time. Once back on my own, and without the means or excuses for eating out all the time, I began complaining again — this time to the neighbor.

She didn’t offer me the same deal.

However, she did make me her pet project. Her new goal in life: Teach me to cook and love it. She only partially succeeded. Much to my family’s delight, she taught me how to cook venison, make homemade pizza and twice baked potatoes. But most of all, she showed me the happy faces of my children around a dinner table.

After expressing my sentiments on cooking to a recent houseguest, she looked at me in total disbelief. In fact, if she wasn’t such a lady, she might have called me a liar.

She may be right, and I just really didn’t notice the change. Preparing food for my family has taken on a completely different meaning now. It has become a life saving medicine for my husband, and a new way for me to see God’s provisional hand in every area of our lives. Taking extra pains to be sure we have meals that are as rich in nutrients as they are in flavor has become a small pleasure.

In this week’s reading of Jordan S. Rubin’s The Maker’s Diet  I realized why what we eat, and eating together, actually brought joy to a drudgery I hated. The author has a scientific explanation:

We all have a “second brain” in our gut that controls more than we think.

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