Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Necessary Evil?

I've been thinking a lot about my iron content lately. The blood work at my checkup in 2009 showed me as borderline iron-deficient, and the one from 2010 put me right in the range of real iron deficiency. I feel cold all the time. When I exercise, I feel tired more quickly than a year ago, and sometimes it just feels difficult to get enough oxygen.

I am disposed towards iron-deficiency anemia because I am both vegetarian and female. Naturally, women lose iron out of their bodies every month, so we have to have proportionally more in our diets.

Supplements are not the same as getting nutrients from nature. An iron supplement will never be as well absorbed by the body as heme iron obtained by eating animal flesh.

Is this the end of vegetarian Melissa? After 16 years, I don't even know whether I can easily digest flesh foods any more. Also, it rather disgusts me to think about it. I don't want to feel as though I've "failed" as a vegetarian, or consider myself a "traitor".

On the other hand, this is my health and well-being I'm talking about! Am I crazy? Why would I not have most nutritious, health-promoting, natural diet I can find? If having some clams or oysters or sardines now and then gives me not only Iron, but also Vitamin B12 and Omega-3 fatty acids, promoting goodness throughout my body, what's holding me back? An outdated identity of myself as a true vegetarian?

I've always maintained that if I were starving, I would kill other animals for food. If my plane crashed in the Andes and I had to turn cannibal until we figured out a way down the mountain, I would. (And then I'd write a book about it.)

But the identity is hard to let go of. It's something that's been with me for over half my life. I can keep trying the vegetarian route: lentils, beans, blackstrap molasses, cooking in cast iron, taking supplements. However, history indicates that these just don't go far enough.

I'm tormented by this. I don't know what to do yet. Part of me doesn't want to make a big deal about it, 'cause I feel like people will understand. "You had to change your diet in order to be healthy? Makes sense." Heck, all the people that actually care about me should be fine. So why am I so emotionally caught up in this?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eat Right, Whoever You Are!

In January, Whole Foods was offering little slips of paper with a code to become a member of and take the "Eat Right America 28-day Challenge". Did I sign up? Yes. Did I get on board with the challenge? No. Have I found individual days of the challenge particularly irritating and against my dietary needs? Yep, otherwise I would hardly have mentioned it.

I just started writing in my little food & exercise journal the following. "Here's what I don't want in my healthy diet: excessive instructed consumption of blended foods like smoothies or--ick--"blended salads." A smoothie can be fine as a quick delivery system on occasion, but 1) I don't have the ingredients, especially bananas, 2) I don't have a high-powered blender, and 3) I get hungry soon after, so I'd like to chew my food. I don't want any dietician warning me about the horrors of olive oil. 120 calories per tablespoon! Egad! Hide the children!" I plan to go on and say that I don't want to be assigned an eating plan that tells me at the same time to:

1) Eat only when I'm hungry.
2) Eat only three meals a day.

Spouting that the digestive system needs to rest, without citing any actual medical info to support this, the chief medical officer of the Eat Right America website states that six meals a day is utterly wrong and horrible for you! Three are the number of meals you should eat in a day, and the number of meals you eat shall be three.

I've been keeping track of when I'm actually hungry--when I feel actual uncomfortable pains gnawing at my belly.

6:45 Wake up, hungry.
7:20 Eat a reasonable breakfast, like coffee w/ soymilk and happy oatmeal, or PB&J
9:30 Hungry
11:00 or so Eat a reasonable lunch, consisting of a filling portion of vegetarian protein, carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables
3:00 Hungry
3:30 Have a snack, such as nuts & fruit, or a salad of lettuce & beans
5:30 Hungry
6:30 Eat dinner, such as kale & hearty
8:30 Hungry. Eat dark chocolate.
10:30 Hungry. Go to bed.

I am literally stomach-growling, belly-gnawing hungry every 3-4 hours. More frequently as the day goes on. Eating a reasonable amount (i.e. doesn't make me feel stuffed) of food at a meal only lasts to hold me for this amount of time. There are magical people out there who don't feel hunger the way I do. They don't lose focus because of the fact that their stomach is growling. They can go all day without feeling the need to eat, until it hits them in the evening. They can eat three meals a day.

I will continue to eat five. And maintain my healthy weight and fitness levels.

Is there any peer-reviewed medical evidence that snacking or mini-meals causes pathological damage to the digestive system? If so, please pass it along for my consideration.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rice in Almond Milk

Here's a link to the Gode Cookery version. It's listed as English, 15th century. I'm trying to find an Italian version as well, which dates from the early 16th century, I think.

I like the way the original receipt reads. "Take a porcyoun of Rys, & pyke hem clene, & sethe hem welle, & late hem kele; then take gode Mylke of Almaundys & do ther-to, & sethe & stere wyl; & do ther-to Sugre an honey, & serue forth." Helps if you know that "sethe" means "boil". The Italian version has units of measurement, and is very heavy on the sugar.

Way back in my college days in the vegetarian co-op, I started making something like this using leftover brown rice, soy milk, and brown sugar. All you do is put some brown rice in a saucepan, add enough non-dairy milk to cover, add sweetener to taste, bring to a boil and simmer. There's two thickening actions going on: boiling off of water from the liquid phase and expansion of the rice in the solid phase. The final pudding can be eaten warm or cold, and I think it's especially good for breakfast.

Hmm...methinks I need to make more examples of medieval cookery.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tea for the win!

I've received regular visits from the hunger fairy today. Seems that every 3 hours she decides to come by and check in. Breakfast was at 8, lunch at 11:30, snack at 2:45. When she stops by again, between 5:30 and 6, she will find me not at home, since I'll be out running. Good thing that the exercise gnome can fend off the hunger fairy, at least for a little while, so I'll have time to put together something vaguely nutritious for dinner before I become ravenous. I'm thinking a salad with artichoke hearts, grated carrot, and sunflower seeds plus some baked mochi on the side. Colorful veggies, protein, and good carbs.

According to some very vague articles I read online today (Livestrong.com, I'm looking in your direction), Bikram yoga is up there next to Zumba in the ability to burn 1000 CALORIES PER HOUR!!! The emphasis is mine, and used in an entirely facetious fashion.

Really, the number of calories burned depends entirely on the individual. Bigger people burn more calories for the same exercise than a tiny person. Unless you are monitored, there's no way to really determine exactly how many calories you burn during exercise. One can only estimate.

My favorite exercise for seriously burning the maximum calories per hour? Rowing. Either for real (if you can) or on a machine. It uses muscles throughout your entire body, from head to toe, and is incredibly aerobic. Try doing fast-paced squats while at the same time lifting a weight from the ground up to your chin for two solid minutes. Now multiply that by 30. Yeah, it's hard core. Now do it while running around like a soccer player. (Naw, I'm just kidding about that.)

Anyway, I think the room was extra hot during yoga last night because the sweat was coming off me in disgusting, salty waterfalls. Strange thing was that I was also completely relaxed most of the time. I'm hoping my leg muscles catch up to this new level of exertion quickly, because I'm getting tired of being this sore all the time. Or I need to find a nice massage therapist cabana boy to work on me every evening.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Better Living Through Chemistry?

There is a story in the December 6, 2010 issue of Chemical & Engineering News entitled "New Fibers for Foods". (I wish I could post a link to the online article, but it is not free.) It addresses the need for fiber in a diet, some historical sources of soluble and insoluble fiber and their health benefits, and then moves on to the way that food researchers and manufacturers are developing artificial starches which cannot be digested, thus mimicking fiber.

Needless to say, I'm against it. Why go to all the trouble making chemically-enhanced ingredients, thus adding a new level of processing to processed food and potentially causing unfortunate interactions with the body (remember the highly-publicized side effects of Olestra?) when people can just eat real food?

Of course, it's the real food portion of the concept that modern humans are apparently against. The article states, "Many people have trouble adjusting to the taste, texture, and color of a whole-grain, high-fiber pasta, for example." Also, "People do not consume enough fruits and vegetables to do it [meet dietary fiber needs] alone, and for that matter, agriculture can't produce enough fruits and vegetables to meet the need."

Addressing the second issue first, fruits and vegetables are not the only sources of dietary fiber out there. It's important to have a balance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, and legumes to both get adequate vitamins & minerals and cover the spectrum of soluble & insoluble fiber. An issue with agricultural production is not that the capacity is so limited, but that it's not well-distributed. Everything I read says that agriculture produces enough calories to feed everyone, but the grain in silos in the United States is not going to help someone starving in Sierra Leone, for instance. Also, there's a lot that could be done if the extensive fields of corn & soybeans across the US used as animal feed were converted to polyculture fields for vegetarian human foods.

As for the issue of the average person not liking whole-grain pasta, well, I think they're just going to have to suck it up. Do what's good for you. Retrain your palate. Don't expect technology to cater to your every whim.

As for me, I'm off to eat some bean-filled chili on top of a baked sweet potato with a side of mandarin orange. Fiberlicious!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sore, Yet Determined

When starting a new strength-training regimen, I'm always more sore on the second day after exercising than on the first day. Right now my hamstrings are making themselves known. Problem is, I'm scheduled to run 5K with speed training after work today, and I'm not sure whether that plan will actually come together.

What I am going to do, though, is get home, put on the rest of my exercise clothes, and walk out the door. (See, I'm wearing a sports bra and workout tank top under my long sleeved shirt, so all I need to do is swap my jeans and shoes for their running equivalents and I'll be nearly ready to go.) Once I actually get going down the road, I'll be better able to judge what my body is capable of doing this afternoon.

I realized about 45 minutes after lunch just how well fiber can contribute to a feeling of fullness. Lunch today was half a sweet potato topped with about a cup of black-eyed peas, plus a mandarin. While it was of reasonable theoretical volume, in my belly it felt like I would never need to eat again. :) Of course, as that was nearly four hours ago, I am, in fact, a little bit hungry right now, but that's just my own personal need to eat every 3-4 hours.

How about you--when you're not sure whether you're up to exercising, how do you approach the dilemma?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Holy Hot Yoga, Batman!

Well, I survived my first Bikram yoga class. 90 minutes in a very hot, humid room going through 26ish different postures. I did have to pause about halfway through, during the first set of tree pose, and just sit down for a little while because I was starting to faint. Other than that, everything went really well and I am excited to go again. At the studio close to work, you can do a one month introductory period with unlimited classes for $30. I already have plans for the weekend, so my next class won't be until Monday, but I'm hoping to try out all the different instructors for the convenient time slots so I can decide what will work best for me.

I'm glad I have something to do in addition to running. There are a few upper-body weight lifting exercises, of the push-up and pull-up variety, that I'm hoping to include in my regular workouts, and then I should have the entire body covered. All the activities are weight-bearing, too, which gives me a boost towards preventing osteoporosis.

One thing I did notice about my body's needs today: salt is my friend. Chinese food for lunch tasted extra tasty. I stay well hydrated all day, as the constant trips to both the bathroom and the water cooler can attest, so I'm not drinking significantly more water today than I do normally. It helps that I have a general rule following any sort of serious exertion, whether it is a hot day at the renaissance faire or a hot yoga class: keep drinking water at a reasonable rate until I have to pee.

Personally, one of the other things that Bikram has going for it is the fact that I don't have to wear a lot of clothes. I can go in a sports bra and shortie shorts. Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to work out in bulky clothes. Of course, now I need to spend a little time and money shopping for some new sports bras, which I needed anyway, since some of mine are well past retirement age.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

ANDI 1000

Had some original kale and hearty for supper last night. I'd like to think that I started eating kale before it was cool. Last night I had it with some cinnamon-raisin mochi squares on the side.

Kale and Hearty (the original recipe)
1/2 lb tofu, cut into slabs or bite-sized pieces
a bunch of kale, ends discarded, leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
olive oil
tamari sauce

Heat a little olive oil (about 1 - 2 teaspoons) in a frying pan over medium heat and swirl around to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the tofu and brown on both sides. Add the kale. At this point, you can cover the frying pan and allow the kale to steam cook; this is especially useful if your kale is not so young and tender. Once everything is cooked, season with a splash of tamari sauce. Serves two. You can put it over brown rice or whole wheat pasta.

In case you've been to Whole Foods lately and seen the ANDI scores liberally sprinkled around the produce and bulk sections, you may have noticed that kale scores 1000. It's tops for packing nutrients with few calories. In fact, basically all the leafy cooked greens score this way, which is good because I'm afraid that my love of kale has been surpassed by my love of mustard greens. Mmmm...mustard greens. You can cook and eat them just the same way--they have a slightly piquant, nutty flavor that I just can't describe. Alas! I'm a vegetarian scientist, not a poet.

Had a good run after work yesterday, though I wasn't flying quite as easily as I did last Friday. I did manage about 4.3 - 4.4 miles, with just a couple of short 50-100 yard sections uphill that were walked. When I was lagging at the 3.2 mile point, I told myself that I could walk a short section just to relax and give my muscles a break, and that gave me exactly what I needed to finish strong the last mile. I'm going to remember this, especially as I get into the longer and longer runs training for my half marathon.

Saw three deer last night! Plus, since they didn't really move from the yard where they were noshing, I saw them all three times I ran past the same place. Even though it was well past dusk and almost full dark, I was able to spot them because of silhouette and recognizing the lighter patches of fur on their faces and undersides. None of them had antlers, so we've got a pack of does running around the neighborhood after dark, exercising their girl power.

I've been disappointed with my dance options here. After taking two tap and a ballet at the closest studio, I finally realized that I'm just not having fun there. The teaching is certainly adequate and gives my body what it needs, but I get no joy from it. The other ballet studio close to work only has adult classes at 9:20 AM--I guess they don't get much business from working women. The other other dance studio barely has any adult classes at all, and not what I'm interested in.

So tonight I'm all set to head over to a local bikram yoga studio and give that a try instead. I'll let you know how that goes.