Posts Tagged ‘diet’

Maximising your veg-based vitamins

Friday, July 22nd, 2016 | Food, Health & Wellbeing

tomatoes

Recently, I wrote about Freakonomics Radio and all the good stuff on there. One was a show entitled “Food + Science = Win” and contained some interesting information on maximising the amount of good stuff you get from vegetables.

Tinned tomatoes are the best tomatoes

Well, almost the best. Tomato paste is even better. But this seems the wrong way round. Usually, fresh is better. Asparagus, for example, should be eaten as close to harvesting as possible. Other vegetables are less time-sensitive. With the case of tomatoes, the process used to tin them is actually beneficial as it helps build up the lycopene. The Guardian go into detail on it.

Iceberg lettuce is bad lettuce

Especially in the US, where the podcast is based, iceberg lettuce has been bred for flavour rather than nutritional value. As a result, it has lost a lot of the latter. Comparing it to basically any other kind of lettuce, such as romaine, the other lettuce has much more nutritional content than the iceberg lettuce does.

Lightly cooking veg is good

So much for raw food being amazing. Raw food can be good of course, but typically lightly cooking vegetables makes them even better because it actually boosts their nutritional content. The best way to do this? A microwave! It may not do wonders for taste, but it is actually the best way to give vegetables the light steaming they need.

Let your garlic sit

Heating garlic can destroy a lot of the good stuff in it. However, there is some evidence that if you crush it, and then let it sit for ten minutes, more of the benefit will be retained. The jury is awaiting more evidence on this one, but there are some studies that indicate there is a benefit. The Huffington Post have summarised the case.

Should we kill whales for food?

Friday, July 15th, 2016 | Thoughts

humpback-whale

Whaling, the practice of hunting and killing whales, is a controversial one. it is banned in many countries but others continue the practice. Notably Japan, Iceland and Norway. During my recent trip to Iceland I came face to face with the issue. Specifically, I want to look at the issue of hunting whales for food.

My initial reaction was to agree with the anti-whaling campaign. Whales are very cool. If you had asked me where they are on the endangered status, I would have probably said somewhere in the middle.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the answer was obviously no. I am a pretty poor vegetarian, regularly eating meat. The animals I allow to be killed so that I can eat them include cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, fish, crabs, well, to be honest, the list just keeps going. Surely one should decide not to allow animals to be killed for food, or decide that it is okay? Why should whales receive special treatment?

Endangered status

One reason could be that we could seriously damage whale stocks. We do this with most fish already of course. However, since commercial whaling was banned in 1986, whale populations have been doing okay. The most common type of whale you find in Iceland, the minke whale, has never been considered endangered and continues to have a strong population.

Thanks to the low levels of hunting, it is now done at a very sustainable level. This would change if all countries started commercial whaling operations again, but for the moment there is no issue with the current level.

Hunting methods

It’s true that whale hunting has traditionally been unpleasant. They are harpooned. Japan now uses exploding harpoons that attempt to instantly kill the whale. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

However, there is also a flip side. All whales are wild, freely roaming the sea until they are hunted. This could be preferable to the way we often factory-farm cows and chickens, kept in pens and cages for the sole purpose of our slaughter?

Intelligence

Some species of whales are very intelligent. This is less true of some of the more actively hunted species. However, it is also worth us taking another look at our current dietary choices. If we are going to say no minke whale, we also need to say no pig, because they too are an intelligent group of mammals.

Other dangers

Hunting is not the only danger that whales face. In fact, other issues are putting them under more threat than hunting. These include:

  • Pollution. There is so much crap in the ocean that whales are eating debris, finding it indigestible, and starving to death with a full stomach. A number of dead whales in Germany were found to have their stomachs full of plastic.
  • Reduced habitat. Some whales can only live in cold water. As sea level temperatures rise, their habitat becomes smaller and smaller. Changes to the acid levels also have an effect.
  • Change in eco-system. The changes in temperature also affect other critical parts of the ecosystem. Food sources may adopt different migration patterns and other predators may encroach into the whales’ territory.
  • Over-fishing. Whales eat fish, so when we take all the fish out of the sea, there is nothing for them to eat.

Conclusion

Should we kill whales for food? Probably not. But then, we should not be killing any other animals for food either. If we are going to continue to do that, then there does not seem to be a good reason why whales should be granted a special exemption. Currently whaling levels are sustainable, which is far less true of much of the fishing industry.

We should protect whales. However, the real threats to them are pollution, climate change and over-fishing. These are the most pressing issues for us to tackle.

Slimming down

Thursday, July 14th, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing

Given my recent slip into bad BMI I’ve been working on losing some weight. So I have been playing around with some tools to help me.

Apple Health

Health is one of the apps that Apple forces on you. I had never actually used it. However, when I opened it, it turned out that it had spent the last year counting every step I make. That is both horribly invasive and rather interesting. I am averaging 7,500 steps per day.

You can record body metrics such as weight and then have them plotted on a graph. This makes sense. Why I would need to regularly record my height and plot that on a graph though is unclear. Perhaps it is aimed at children and the shrinking elderly?

apple-health

MyFitnessPal

I am using this to record my diet. Yep, I have become one of those calorie counting wankers. You put in your weight, target weight and target period to lose said weight, and it gives you the number of calories you need to restrict yourself to per day. This goes up and down as you exercise and eat, giving you a number of calories left for each day: I have 785 spare so far, which I could spend on two chocolate chip muffins…

myfitnesspal

I can also record exercise on it. This will be useful when I exercise without my phone, such as American football training. For running, I use the app below.

MapMyRun

I have used MapMyWalk for years but now I am upping the ante by using the run version. It is actually the exact same app. When you log a work out in one it immediately appears in the other. Also, once you have synced one with MyFitnessPal, they are all synced. They are all Under Armour apps, so you would expect them to work pretty well together and so far they do.

map-my-run

Results

After three months I had managed to drop 8kg. This was working off net 1500 kcals per day, which I hit almost every day. A few days I was a few hundred kcals over the limit, but on others I was up to 1,000 below the limit (due to large amounts of exercise) so I was definitely below the limit on average.

weight-graph

However, I then spent a week on my honeymoon and put 2kg back on.

Conclusion

I have a new found respect for anyone trying to lose weight. It is really difficult. At net 1500 kcals per day, which is the maximum my app allows, you can just about fit three meals in, but no snacks or beer in. After all of this, I was only losing 0.5kg per week. Then just a single week off ruined a month of work.

Of course, it could be that if you are significantly overweight it is easier to shift the first lot of kilos. However, it really is hard work and difficult to find the motivation when it piles back on so easily.

Lifestyle factors in life expectancy

Sunday, May 1st, 2016 | Health & Wellbeing, Science

running

In 2008 the European EPIC study began to publish their results. The study followed over half a million people and follow-ups continue. However, one factor was clear from the moment that the results started coming in: your lifestyle choices have a big impact on your life expectancy. A paper published in PLoS Med placed the figure at 14 years.

In 2014, BMC Medicine published a paper that broke down the factors into life expectancy years.

Factor Men Women
Heavy smoking (10 or more per day) 9.4 years 7.3 years
Smoking (less than 10 per day) 5.3 years 5.0 years
Being underweight (BMI less than 22.5) 3.5 years 2.1 years
Obesity (BMI over 30) 3.1 years 3.2 years
Heavy drinking (more than 4 drinks per day) 3.1 years  
Eating processed/red meat (more than 120g per day)   2.4 years

What should we take from this? Nobody would contest that smoking is bad for you, so that is an easy one.

According to the data, the next biggest factor is maintaining a healthy body weight. This probably makes sense. In order to maintain a healthy body weight you have to eat sensibly and exercise, so it is not surprising that this correlates with a longer life expectancy.

Heavy drinking reduces your life expectancy. Interesting, this does not mean that you should cut out alcohol. Non-drinkers actually have the lowest life expectancy. It’s not much worse than being a heavy drinker, but nor is it an improvement. The longest life expectancy are those that drink moderately.

Finally, diet plays a factor too. The EPIC study, and other studies around the world are clear that processed meat takes years off your life. Red meat probably does too. Whether you can eat white meat and fish is less clear. Most studies seem to suggest they have little to no impact. However, the Loma Linda University study suggests that there could be measurable health benefits in being vegetarian. The NHS has published a summary. It concludes that vegetarians have a longer life expectancy, and there is some support for this in the EPIC study as well.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016 | Books

What to Expect When You’re Expecting is a book by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel. I read the forth edition.

It is packed full of information. Hundreds of pages arranged into several columns per page. Chapters take you through each month of the pregnancy, as well as things like diet and exercise, and what to do in special situations such as twins, complications and even loss.

It covers labour, delivery and the first six weeks after giving birth as well, though with increasing references to “you can read more about this in our next book” style advertising.

The chapter on diet is just intimidating. You get the usual list of foods to avoid. It also suggests a pregnancy diet to ensure mum is getting everything she needs, and the list is long: 3 servings of protein, 4 servings of calcium, 3 servings of vitamin C, 3-4 servings of salad, 1-2 servings of fruit, 6 servings of whole grains, 1 serving of iron-rich food, 4 servings of fat, 8 glasses of water and a vitamin pill.

All of that while monitoring your salt intake and avoiding all the food on the banned list. I spend quite a bit of time planning our diet and I have no idea of much of that we are hitting. This was a guilt trip I did not need.

It is targeted almost exclusively at mums. There are occasional references to the other partner, but these are few and far between. There is a chapter for expectant dads, but it contains almost no useful information. It felt like a short Q&A that gives obvious and patronising suggestions: have you considered helping out around the house? Why yes, yes I have, because it isn’t the 50’s anymore.

It is also tediously American. If this the “bestselling pregnancy manual” as the cover claims, you would think they could put out a UK edition. Everything from the language used, to the medical information and drugs referenced, is a bit off for the UK. You would think given how similar our cultures are they you would not get such a wide gap. However, it often felt like it when reading.

I did appreciate it’s tip to skip the chapter on complicated pregnancies. As the book says, I can read that if we run into a complication.

There is loads of information in this book. From that perspective, I am glad I have read it. However, my guess is that there is probably another book out there that gives you the information in a much better way.

what-to-expect

Fatboy Christopher

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016 | Life

I’m concerned about my weight piling on as I approach 30 so I bought us a set of scales for the bathroom. When they arrived I climbed on – and received a nasty shock. Admittedly I have not been on the scales for quite a long time, but I have put on 9kg since I did.

This takes my BMI from a just healthy 24.9 to an officially overweight 26.1. I never really doubted BMI as a measurement, mostly because I was in the healthy zone. I accepted it doesn’t work at the edges (short people and tall people), but it seemed like an accurate measurement for me. Now, I am thinking about joining the angry club of deniers.

I have recently been looking up the NHS recommendations for diet and exercise. Here is how it compares:

What the NHS recommends What I do
“at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or fast walking every week” At least four and a half hours (270 minutes) per week. I walk to work every day, 25 minutes each way, and walk to lots of other locations in town too, including running up and down the stairs from my apartment on the 4th floor. It’s not concentrated exercise, but it is quite a lot.
or “75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, such as running or a game of singles tennis every week” Two hours of vigorous aerobic exercise per week, on average. I spend 30 minutes doing the Parkrun on Saturday morning and three hours training with Leeds Samurai. I don’t always make both events, and sometimes there is standing around at training, but overall it averages to more than 75 minutes a week.

I consider my diet quite good as well. I eat fruit every day, home-cook most nights, always with a range of vegetables, and sometimes without meat. We limit out intake of junk food and processed meat and I try to take healthier snacks to work, though with limited success. Just one area strikes me as a problem: we have a pudding every night.

I won’t claim my diet is perfect but it has given me pause for thought. If I can apply so many good behaviours to my life, like walking to work, like exercising every week, like eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, like avoiding junk food, which is all hard and takes a lot of self-control on my part, and still put on weight, how hard is it to stay thin? For some people, who put on weight easier than I do, it must be almost impossible.

I’ve heard people advocating that obesity is entirely the fault of the individual and they should just eat less. To me, this seems like a gross over-simplification of a complex problem. Even to practice some of these positive behaviours requires significant lifestyle changes: much of my time is structured around planning my diet and my exercise, and actually doing them, and I’m not even winning. If someone says to you “right, you need to find an extra hour per day to fit in exercise and planning and preparing healthy meals” where would you find that time? How would you motivate yourself to carry through on that, every day, for the rest of your life?

Many of us have found that time of course. But probably not overnight. Chances are we were raised with some of those behaviours also. If you are a regular person, who hasn’t had that benefit, and has a lot to deal with in their lives, it is a difficult problem to solve.

And that’s the story of how I tried to turn my weight gain into a social justice issue.

fat-chris
A recent photo of me

Potatoes Not Prozac

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 | Books

Someone recommended the book Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons saying that it had really helped them. It describes itself as a food programme to help with depression, though what it actually turns out to be about is a guide for people who are “sugar sensitive”.

Sugar sensitivity is something that Dr MesMaisons has made up. Or discovered if you were being generous. There is nothing on Wikipedia about it. There is a stub article about sugar addiction, a topic still under research before we have any real understanding of it. However the book justifies its existence using the following phrase.

“a solution too important to wait for the approval of scientific authorities”

From there it turns to a classic self-help book that is big on claims and small on scientific references. The text is regularly interlaced with quotes from people telling the reader how good the programme is and how it has changed their lives. As long as you follow the programme to the letter of course.

It’s the classic heartwarming story – an underdog doctor without the backing of the scientific community dares to go it alone because she has seen it work for hundreds of people. She has developed a simple programme that offers quick results without pharmaceutical. It’s all our dreams come true. In fact, it’s so simple that 9 of the 256 pages can be devoted to a copy and paste of an internet chat in which people on the programme describe how they felt before and after it.

Helpfully there are also lots of references to the Radiant Recovery programme that MesMaisons runs, including which of the products you might want to buy. But who am I to say that George’s Shake® isn’t as delicious as claimed? Maybe it is. With sugar sensitivity being linked to alcoholism, there are also some references to Alcoholics Anonymous. Another programme that can boast of having no evidence of efficacy.

The programme starts by encouraging you to eat breakfast and have some protein in it. One of the example meals is a sausage. Of co,urse eating processed meat every day will literally take years off your life (the scientific authorities have had time to approve that), but if it improves your quality of life, that is a trade off you might feel is worth making.

There is probably some good stuff in here. Eating sensible meals three times a day in some kind of routine is going to provide your life some structure and normality. The rest remains an unknown though. Perhaps it will eventually be scientifically proven. However, as it is I cannot see the evidence nor it is packaged in a way that I can describe any other way than yet another cultish self-help book.

Potatoes not prozac

Not bad for a McBurger

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Video

What happens if you buy a load of food from McDonald’s, re-package it, and tell a bunch of foodies that it is organic food? Well, two people in The Netherlands did that, and it turns out they all say the food is delicious.

Probably best to turn the sub-titles on if you do not speak Dutch.

Should we eat meat?

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 | Food, Health & Wellbeing

should-we-eat-meat

Last month Michael Mosley made a Horizon documentary on “should I eat meat?”.

The documentary started with a discussion similar to the one we recently held at Leeds Skeptics. The spoiler answer is yes. Meat is incredibly nutritious and often a centrepiece of family life. A non-meat diet can be very healthy (after all life-long vegetarian Lizzie Armitstead won an Olympic gold medal), but you do need to think a bit more about your nutrition. Meat makes it easy to get it.

The program dismissed white meat (chicken, poultry, fish) as not showing any signs of negative health effects, and so concentrated on red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meat (bacon, sausage, ham).

Red meat comes out somewhat negative. It could have some positive health effects, but overall it is a negative. We’re just not sure why. Originally it was thought to be saturated fats, but this does not seem to be the case.

Processed meats come out hugely negative. 35 grams per day could increase your risk of premature death by as much as 30%. While the Harvard study and European EPIC study disagree on red meat, they come together on the danger of processed meat.

So what should we conclude?

Cutting down on your meat is probably helpful. Processed meat should be cut out entirely; red meat should be eaten 1-2 times per week at most. Such a diet will not only extend lives by as much as five years on average but will increase the quality of life of those years as well.

Panic on a Plate

Saturday, August 25th, 2012 | Public Speaking

Having really enjoyed Rob Lyon’s Skeptics talk on his book Panic on a Plate, I decided it would be a great topic to give a talk on at Toastmasters. Turns out it worked quite well, and I was lucky enough to pick up my second Best Speaker ribbon.

Ribbons