Monthly Archives: April 2013

Gluten Free Livin’

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Hey, remember in January when I was good at having a blog and posted all the time? The good ol’ days. I now suck at having a blog, but I’m still keeping up with the experiment.  This month was a little crazy for me (I’m pretty sure I’ve said that every month, though).  I spent the first half of the month getting ready to defend my dissertation, then I defended my dissertation (and passed! I’m a doctor now!), and the last half of the month was spent coming down from the craziness, but also still writing and editing manuscripts and grading 2o95471371o25 assignments.  So that’s part of the reason why I haven’t been writing.
The other main reason why I haven’t been writing is because I absolutely hate discussing this topic with people.  This month I went gluten free (sort of…more on that in a minute).  I don’t have anything against gluten free (GF) foods — it’s more so the craze about the evils of gluten that pisses me off.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with a random stranger, usually on an airplane:
Stranger: What do you do?
Me: I’m a nutritional scientist.
Stranger: Oh, what do you study?
Me: Vascular health.
Stranger: Oh, neat. What do you think about food allergies?
Me: I don’t think about them too much.
Stranger: laughs nervously and looks confused.
Me: Smile sweetly, put in earbuds, turn on iPod, close eyes.
If you don’t get why this is annoying, it’s because vascular disease and food allergies are extremely different topics. I try to be understanding of the fact that most people probably don’t appreciate how huge of a field nutrition is.  In many cases, I’m sure I’m extremely ignorant to what other people do.  You could be in finance, and I’d probably say something stupid like, “so how about this tax season?” And you’d smile sweetly, put in your earbuds, turn on your iPod, and close your eyes because you do absolutely nothing related to taxes and I’m an idiot.

I’m certainly not saying that food allergies/sensitivities aren’t a real thing because they definitely are.  Food allergies seem to be on the rise, and I wish I had a good explanation as to why that is.  I don’t.  But I don’t feel bad about it because no one really does.  I could speculate and say that it’s because we just know more about them and we know how to diagnose them, and that’s why we’re seeing more of them — not because of any actual pathology.  There is definitely a genetic link to it, but this doesn’t explain the huge surge that we’ve seen.  Some say there is a huge, population-wide evolutionary change that is causing us to react to gluten.  That doesn’t make much sense to me, though, because if we think of ‘survival of the fittest,’ why would we evolve to NOT digest a widely available food? It’s typically the other way around…like with humans drinking dairy.  We’re the only species that consumes milk after infancy, and that happened in response to animal husbandry in Europe, which is why many people of Asian or African descent are lactose intolerant.  They’re actually the normal ones.  The rest of us are mutants. Or it could be a huge government conspiracy.  That’s probably it.

But I digress. Now for a brief overview of the types of gluten intolerance.
Celiac Disease – This is an immune reaction to gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, barley or rye.  This reaction causes damage to the small intestine, which can result in malnutrition as many nutrients can’t be absorbed when the small intestine is damaged. People with Celiac’s typically have GI distress whenever they eat gluten (including diarrhea, bloating, cramps, etc).  There can also be less obvious signs/symptoms of Celiac’s, including anemia, depression, skin rashes, etc. You can get tested for Celiac’s, but you may test negative and still have a gluten intolerance/sensitivity because the test for Celiac’s only tests for a very specific protein (alpha-gliadin), and there are 5 other components of gluten that a person can react to.

Wheat Allergy– This is also an immune reaction to wheat, but it’s a little different than Celiac because of the parts of the immune system that are activated.  Once again, you can be tested for a wheat allergy, and the treatment isn’t quite as restrictive because you can still eat barley and rye.

Gluten Sensitivity– For a long time, doctors thought this was totally bogus and that people who tested negative for CD but who claimed to have an issue with gluten were just hypochondriacs.  But more research indicates that there is a very wide spectrum of reactions to gluten that can range from fairly minor (a little bloating, maybe some skin issues) to extremely painful (explosive diarrhea).  If you suspect that you have a gluten intolerance, try eliminating it from your diet.  If your symptoms go away and then reappear when you reintroduce gluten, you probably have a gluten intolerance.

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So what’s my issue with this whole gluten free thing? I’ve clearly just shown that there is a wide array of issues with gluten and that there isn’t necessarily a medical diagnosis for all of them.  My issue is that people who have absolutely no reaction to gluten like to be food snobs and think that foods that are GF are somehow healthier than foods that aren’t.  There is no evidence that suggests that gluten can have any adverse effects on your health if you don’t have a gluten intolerance.  There are a lot of THEORIES by BLOGGERS, but I’ve seen no EVIDENCE from SCIENTISTS.  And that’s where I like to get my information.  But whatever, go ahead and pay extra money for gluten free foods.  If someone is looking for a lucrative business venture, I recommend starting a gluten free bakery or a gluten free potato chip company (chips of course are already gluten free, but label it that way, stick it on a shelf at Whole Foods, and you can make a pretty nice profit off of it).  It’s incredible what people will pay money for.

Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) describes this phenomena as “orthorexia”: an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. I think we have an epidemic of it in this country, which is ironic because we also have an obesity epidemic.  Here is a hilarious example of orthorexia in the grocery store:  The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater. Give it a whirl. You’ll laugh. Because you’ll read this:

“As you read more you begin to understand that grains are fine but before you eat them you must prepare them in the traditional way: by long soaking in the light of a new moon with a mix of mineral water and the strained lacto-fermented tears of a virgin.”

Alright, now that I’ve talked enough smack about people obsessed with healthy eating, let me give you a run down of my GF month.

So it turns out that gluten is in a lot of stuff that you wouldn’t expect it to be in, like soy sauce and salad dressing.  I did a hell of a lot of food label reading this month, and that got old.  To avoid that, I just stopped eating most processed foods, which wasn’t really all that hard because I don’t eat much processed food anyways.  And I always make my own salad dressings. Problem solved.

Bread: I didn’t try any gluten free breads because I don’t eat that much bread anyways, and it seemed like a waste of money to buy it just to say “hey this does (not) suck.”
Pasta: I love pasta, and while I don’t eat it that often, I’m not willing to give it up. I had heard some horror stories about wheat-free pasta, but my experience was just fine.  Quinoa pasta was my favorite.  I seriously couldn’t tell the difference between it and normal pasta.  Quinoa pasta is a good middle ground between regular pasta and whole wheat — it’s higher in fiber than the normal stuff, and doesn’t have the distinct textural difference of whole wheat pasta.  I also tried rice pasta, which is really what most people hate on.   It wasn’t quite the same as normal pasta, but if  the choice is explosive diarrhea or a little different texture, then I’d just suck it up and eat rice pasta.
Other grains: I never realized how many gluten free foods I already eat.  Quinoa, rice, corn – all GF! Seriously, cooking at home was no challenge AT ALL.  I ate a lot of oatmeal this month, which is cool because I love oatmeal.  Oats, in and of themselves, are gluten free, but they’re typically processed on machinery that processes wheat or grown on fields that also grow wheat.  You just need to get steel cut oats if you want them to be GF.
Mexican food: Mexican food (one of my favorite things in life) is easy to make GF.  Just swap out flour for corn tortillas, and you’re golden.  Of course, there could be gluten in some other ingredients… refried beans? cheese? I don’t know. But read the labels on the cans or buy beans that haven’t been processed much, shred cheese from a block, and you should be fine.
Beer: This is where I started to suck.  I love beer, and it is just so full of gluten. I drank normal beer multiple times, but I also tried out some gluten free beers. Not too shabby.  Here’s a helpful list: The Best and Worse Gluten Free Beers I tried the New Planet 3R Raspberry Ale, and as the list says, this doesn’t really taste anything like beer.  It tastes good, and it would be a good segue for someone trying to get into beer by taking baby steps.  I also had the Redbridge Ale, which was really good, actually tastes like beer, and I wouldn’t have guessed it was GF.
Eating Out:  If you actually have Celiac’s and you are extremely sensitive to gluten, this may  prove to be challenging because you may need to eat places where they specify that GF foods aren’t cross contaminated with wheat.  Most places don’t take those kinds of precautions, but I think that those practices will become more common as time passes.  This month was especially hard for me compared to the other months.  I think the reason for that was that I just didn’t really see the point.  I already knew from my experience with Paleo (and life) that I don’t have a gluten sensitivity, so it was hard to adhere to it when I was eating out. It was a challenge with the other diet patterns as well, but with those, I was cutting out entire food groups in order to see if it affected my health, mood, etc.  Since I already knew that I wasn’t going to gain any insight on the whole gluten thing, it was harder for me to want to do it.  So a lot of times I didn’t.  I ate eggs benedict with an english muffin (I could have had them hold the muffin), I ate sandwiches, when I could have eaten a salad, I ate chicken and waffles (which were aswesome, btw. Check out Pasco if you live in Tucson. You won’t regret it) when I could have eaten a quinoa medley. My friend Dezi said he was going to call me out on my blog for being a cheater, but look who got to it first?!

Recipes!
I didn’t try to reinvent the wheel or anything this month and make my own recipes.  Like I said, I was busy. So I’ll just share some recipes that I did try.
Roasted Chickpeas  These were super good, and a nice, healthier substitute for crackers…but a couple words of caution: bake them longer than you think necessary.  If not, you’ll get some that are still soft in the middle, which isn’t bad when you eat them right away.  But wait a couple days, and they will taste weird and gross. You can really do anything with the flavors with these as well.  Use salt, cinnamon, and honey to make sweet and salty chickpeas…use parmesan and rosemary for another twist.  Go crazy.  It’ll be fun.

Polenta Pie  This was my first experience with polenta (which is simply corn meal and water).  I wasn’t thrilled with it, but that could have been my fault. It says in the recipe to “slowly whisk the corn meal into the boiling water.” Mine was more of just pouring the corn meal into the water.  It congealed immediately and I sort of burned it.  So the texture was weird and kind of mealy.  To make up for that, I added A TON of cheese, which made it edible by giving it more flavor and improving the consistency.  So, my first attempt at polenta wasn’t really a success, but I’m not ready to give up on it because I’ve heard good things.

Almond Butter Pancakes  This is another example of my inability to follow a recipe, which resulted in a crappy meal.  This recipe calls for almond flour, and I didn’t have any, so I substituted in coconut flour.  That was dumb. More dumb than the substitution was that I did a 1:1 sub for almond flour.  If you haven’t worked with it, you should know that coconut flour is EXTREMELY absorptive.  Had I done a quick google search of “coconut flour pancakes” I would have realized that I needed about 25% of what I used.  I had to add about 2 cups of almond milk to give it a consistency that even halfway resembled pancake batter.  This was my second experience with coconut flour (I also made “tortillas” while doing Paleo), and I don’t like it.  The consistency is weird and it’s hard to manipulate to make it work well. The end product falls apart, and I don’t like the flavor much.  SO, I bet if you wanted to try these pancakes, I imagine you would have success as long as you follow the directions.

Coconut Pecan Breakfast Cookies  These were probably my favorite thing that I made on the GF diet.  I’m not much of a baker (because you have to measure and be precise, and I hate that in cooking.  See above examples.), but these were easy and delicious. I didn’t have dried blueberries, so I used dried cranberries, and they were a good substitution.

Stats

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data

Vegan

Paleo

WW

GF

Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2138-2527

2132

2370

2250

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

3959-4109

3742

3628

3658

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

Clearly I lost some weight this month and didn’t even notice.  I attribute this in no way to the GF diet.  I don’t want people looking at this and coming to the ridiculous conclusion that gluten makes you fat.  I was pretty stressed out the first half of the month, and my diet was weird.  I wasn’t always eating normal meals — a lot of snacking, and I probably just wasn’t eating as much.  I was also working out more this month, which could explain some of the weight loss. Either way, it looks like I need to pack on a few pounds, because I am damn near being “underweight,” according to the BMI categories (Aside: getting down to a weight this low shows me how freakishly thin models and celebrities are… or maybe how incredible photo editing techniques are. I don’t feel like I look that thin, so that just tells me how skinny famous people actually are. I’d like to see one in real life so I can make a more informed comparison.  If you are someone who sees me on the regular and think I look too thin, please tell me.)  My blood pressure is also looking particularly phenom, but I would attribute that to the fact that I’m no longer writing/preparing for a dissertation/defense.  Life isn’t nearly as stressful as it used to be.  So, in general, no huge surprises, other than the fact that I need to put on weight.
Sorry this has been the longest blog post of all time.  This is what I get for waiting a whole month to update you fine folks.  See you next month as I go on my 30 day Smoothie Challenge!

Track Your Intake → Lose Weight

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I’ll start off by apologizing (again) for my lack of posting.  It still doesn’t look like this will change any time soon.  The good news is that I submitted my dissertation last week!! But I’m not out of the woods yet – two weeks from now, I’ll be defending my dissertation.  Assuming all goes well, I’ll be a DOCTOR! All very exciting, but as you might imagine, all very time consuming and requires a lot of mental preparation and stamina, which is why I haven’t been posting much.  But enough about me and my future.  Let’s talk about me and my present.

My month on Weight Watchers was fantastic.  I honestly cannot give it a better recommendation than I already have in my previous post, and I will recommend it to anyone who asks me my opinion on the best weight loss program.  However, I did run into some obstacles and challenges along the way, which is to be expected.

My Biggest Issue: Trying to do WW without access to the online tools is time-consuming… frustrating… cumbersome… I really wanted this to not be an issue because our society’s dependence on technology is frightening to me.  For example, no one knows how to read a map because everyone is used to Siri telling him/her how to get from Point A to Point B.  And then they get lost when their phone doesn’t have service because they never thought to read the actual street signs and pay attention to their surroundings.  And this is how present day horror stories are made.  I digress.  What I’m getting at is that I wanted to be different from all that and be OK with using equations and calculating the points of the food I ate because I thought it would teach me how to look at a meal and estimate its nutritional value more accurately than what I can do now.  It probably would have done just that if I lived in a world where dissertation writing, traveling, writing, commuting, writing, cooking, writing, sleeping, writing, exercising, and writing didn’t take up all of my time.  But my life doesn’t consist of skipping through meadows and picking flowers or sipping a cup of coffee whilst reading the morning paper and pondering the meaning of life (right now).  Right now my life is chaotic, which is an issue that nearly everyone reports, and I need all the help I can get.  Calculators don’t really count as help.
Because I wasn’t willing to pay for WW, my day would go like this: I would eat breakfast, google the food that I ate, record the points in a journal, and repeat these steps for lunch, with the intention of doing this throughout the day.  Then my day would get away from me, and all of a sudden it would be 10:37 pm and I’m trying to remember what I ate, guessing the serving sizes, googling the points of said food (much of which has not been calculated, so I’d end up using a poor-excuse-for-a-substitute), and calculating my points for the day.  Like most people, I am great at starting the day with good intentions and acting upon them until the day starts to get hectic and whatever is occupying my mind takes precedent over what I’m eating.  This really gets away from the purpose of WW, which is to track your points throughout the day, so that you can make adjustments accordingly.

Issue Number Two: Traveling.  I went to New Orleans for a conference, and I had such a great time, both at the conference and touring the city and surrounding areas.  But what was equally fun to all of that was all of the food in NOLA.  For example, I ate a gator poboy sandwich, gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, red beans and dirty rice, and drank sweet tea, and beer, and bourbon, and hurricanes (whatever those are), amongst other foods and spirits, which I’m surely forgetting.  Needless to say, this wasn’t a “diet” friendly adventure.  I calculated my WW points on only one day while I was there, which came out to a whopping 50 points! (Remember, my goal was 26-33/day).  I gave up after that, for a couple of reasons.  1) I didn’t want to miss out on all that unique food by freaking out about the point total, which I knew I would do if I tracked it. 2) I rarely had my not-so-handy journal with me. 3) Type in “alligator poboy, weight watchers points plus” into google and you won’t find anything useful. This food was hard to track, so I just didn’t.  I was positive that I gained weight after that trip, but as you’ll see below, that was not the case. This is likely attributable to the amount of walking I did – according to my pedometer on my phone: between 15,000 and 20,000 steps/day (10,000 is an arbitrary goal with really no scientific evidence to back it up, but you’ll see it out there.  It’s actually pretty hard to meet if you’re not a super active person).
I don’t think the fact that I went to New Orleans, specifically, makes this situation unique in any way to traveling.  I think we all are more inclined to let loose and not worry about what we’re eating when we travel, because, “Damn it! I’m on vacation!”  However, if you are trying to lose weight, it’s not smart to completely forget about your diet while you travel, because you’re likely to undo a lot of the hard work that you’ve done.  In all honesty, if I had the online tools and the WW phone app, I probably would have tracked my diet more while I was traveling, not so much for trying to curb and control my intake, but really just out of curiosity because I always learn something when I track my diet, and it’s interesting to me.

The Final Issue: Drinking.  That makes me sound like a lush, and I only sort of am, but not to any extreme.  I enjoy imbibing on occasion, but what I like most is just having a beer or a glass of wine with dinner, especially when I’m with friends.  However, I never think of the calories in alcohol when I drink (like most people), but this can be a major downfall if you are trying to control your weight.  Honestly, I was surprised at how many points are allotted for alcohol.  And they’re not unreasonable at all.  Alcoholic beverages are empty calories, and they should be treated as such on a weight loss plan. (**As an aside, it is recommended by the American Heart Association to drink one alcoholic beverage/day, as this amount confers cardiovascular benefit.  And no, you can’t “save” all of them for the weekend and drink all 7 drinks at one time and expect to see any benefit.  In fact, binge drinking is linked to poor cardiovascular health.  Physiology doesn’t care about your weekend plans.**) Here’s a breakdown of the points:

Light Beer (gross) = 3 points
Regular beer=5 points
Beers over 200 kcals/pint (this includes a lot of porters, a lot of the Flying Dog and New Belgium beers… which of course are some of my favorites) = 7 points
Wine (4 oz glass)= 4 points
Hard liquor (1 oz)= 4 points + whatever you mix it with

As you can see, this can add up quickly, which is why people get fat when they drink all the time.  This isn’t rocket science.  And ignorance isn’t bliss unless you think of bliss as a spare tire sittin pretty around your midsection. Check out this site if you want more info about WW points allotted for beer: http://www.justdietnow.com/weight-watchers-points/points-for-beer.html

Let’s move on to the stats:

Goal/Normal Baseline Data Jan-Vegan February-
Paleo
March-WW
Anthros
Weight 121-60 127.5 127.5 128.5 124
BMI 18.5-24.9 20 20 20.1 19.5
PBF 21-32 21.4 21.2 20.6 21.3
WC <35 27.5 27.5 27.5 27.5
HC 38.5 37.5 38 38
W:H Ratio <0.8 0.71 0.73 0.72 0.72
Blood Pressure <120/80 113/77 101/69 105/72 110/70
Diet
Total kcal 2000-2200 1975 1809 1965 1900
Protein (g) 77.5 57 100 75
Protein (%) Oct-35 16 12% 20 16
CHO (%) 49-52 51 39-50 47 54
Fiber (g) at least 25 26 42 32 27
Fat (%) 20-35 29.5 44-54 47 30
Sat Fat (%) <10 7 8 8 7
Sodium (mg) 2300 2587 2138-2527 2132 2370
Potassium (mg) 4700 3479 3959-4109 3742 3628
Fruit/Veg (servings) 5-9 3-7 8-12 6-8 5-7
Cost 192.59 206.38 120.97

There isn’t anything remarkable here, though I think two things are noteworthy.

1) Weight loss:  I had mentioned in my last post that I lost two pounds when I first started WW, and I made a concerted effort to regain that, and I almost did (regained 1.5 pounds) before I left for New Orleans.  But then I didn’t maintain that weight regain, and I lost 4 total this month compared to last month.  I hope this doesn’t piss off people who are actually trying to lose weight.  I really don’t mean to sound so cavalier about the whole thing, but I am an overachiever to my core, and I tend to go all out when I try something new.  I think what this really shows is that if you track your diet (and you’re honest about it), you will change the way you eat for the better, and this will result in weight loss.  As I said in my last post, the number one behavior that is associated with weight loss and weight loss maintenance is self-monitoring. Done.
2) Look at how much money I didn’t spend this month! I even had a little bit of food left over, which wasn’t true of February.  This just goes to show that you can eat healthy without being a nutcase about health foods and breaking the bank. Done. Again.

Once again, a great learning experience and an overall enjoyable “diet” to follow.  The take home message: track your diet if you want to lose weight.  If you’re going to follow Weight Watchers, pay for it and download the mobile app.  Don’t do it my way because you won’t stick with it.  If you are looking for another way to track your diet, but don’t want to follow Weight Watchers, I recommend “Fat Secret” (free for Droid or iPhones).  It’s got the most complete database and is the most user-friendly out of all the apps I’ve seen.  Now get out there and get trackin’, kids!