Where we get fit and spin (wool)

Archive for January, 2014

Don’t you Start With Me!

Head of dark green kale.

A thing of beauty

You go after my kale, and there’s going to be a fight. I eat it almost every day, in my oatmeal, stir fries, soups, etc. After reading this article about the danger of kale on Yahoo Shine, I thought, “it must be an exaggeration or a mistake.” So I read the article it’s referencing, about a woman who loved her green smoothies and ended up with hypothyroidism. Did the kale cause it? Hard to say. While there is no mistake, it does point out that health is not a black and white thing.

First, life is a fatal condition. Unless God intervenes, everyone dies. The question is, how to stay strong, active and healthy as long as possible until death. Many factors interact in that picture. Your genes are 50% of the equation, but that is the 50% you can’t control. The other half is your habits: food, exercise, smoking, sociability, and psychology. Food and exercise are at the forefront now, as we have developed a clearly unhealthy lifestyle. The parts we can control only contribute to our good or bad health, they don’t insure it. Everyone who smokes does not die early of cancer, everyone who eats healthy and exercises does not die of old age in perfect health.

Second, we love excess in this country. If some is good, more is better. That is usually a mistake. By drinking juice, you can consume more vegetables than you ever could by eating them. I’ve never been a fan of juicing, as that eliminates the fiber, which is very good for you, filling you up and balancing the natural sugars in the fruits and veggies. I’ve heard of people consuming vast quantities of fruits and vegetables by juicing. Too much of anything is just too much.

Everything in life is a balance. I will still keep encouraging others to eat their kale, because I think for most people there is absolutely no danger of overconsumption. I will personally cut mine down to 2-3 times a week, adding other veggies into the mix that aren’t goitrogenic. Both articles mention that cooking kale reduces the goitrogenic effect, and that eating brazil nuts, which contain selenium, and eating iodine rich foods, will both mitigate the effects.

Before I go, I want to give you one more article reference that I found very sound, from 90.9, WBUR, an NPR station. It was an article written by Rachel Zimmerman in response to the original kale/hypothyroidism article. In it, she has advice on what to do. It comes down to moderation in all things, including healthy things.

Post script: A friend of mine sent me an article saying the risk of goitrogenic foods is vastly overplayed, and I found a link to an interview with Dr. Jeffrey Garber, chief of endocrinology at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and he said the same thing. So, as long as you are not iodine deficient, go ahead and eat kale to your heart’s content

Should We Let People Do What They Want?

A couple of days ago I was watching “The Five”, an entertainment show about news on the Fox News Channel, right after the A-Rod scandal broke. It appeared to me that some of them at least, were arguing for allowing athletes to enhance themselves chemically if they wanted to. The argument was that it’s already here, lets stop playing games, selectively punishing people for not playing by the rules that no one is playing by.

One thing I love about writing this blog, is that in trying to use facts to express my opinions, I learn a lot. I was going to write a simple article about the negative effects of legalizing a dangerous practice, but I just learned it that steroid use is not hiding in the shadows. I googled “body building and steroids” looking for the hyper muscular look that characterizes body builders, and found a website talking openly about how you need to get started early and make sure you use the legal ones.

Here is a quote from that website:

The ideology of modern day sportsmen to ride on an almost invincible winning streak is also one of the greatest contributors towards the popularity of muscle building steroids.

It will not be wrong to say that there is a drastic difference in the level of competition in the bygone days and today’s times. The modern day athlete wants to develop a distinctive edge and muscle building steroids help him in his quest for success and glory. Furthermore, the audience is no longer interested in snail race, boring baseball games, low scoring matches, and average appearing sportsmen. Everyone wants to enjoy watching aggressive athletes, big hits & high scoring games, and intense competition right from the word go.

Here is another quote:

Steroids Information Online “Steroids cannot be ignored in any sport, they are reality…”

Well, my research is leading me in a different direction than I first thought. I don’t follow sports, so I wasn’t aware how pernicious the drug use was. I do know that the body building world is dominated by steroid use.


You can get pretty ripped naturally.




But there are certain looks that don’t occur naturally.

picture of a body builder on steroids

This doesn’t happen naturally

Any woman can tell you the steroid look is not attractive. It’s like women trying to be as thin as possible. Guys like curves. Women like men that don’t have big ropy veins sticking out everywhere. The cartoon superhero look doesn’t fly in real life. But I digress, the point is, in competitive body building the use of steroids is so overwhelming that a separate competition was started for natural body building.

After coming to the conclusion that the use is so widespread that the argument of any punishment is selective, what then? Should we legalize it and let the chips fall where they may? Should we entice people to play sports with large sums of cash, knowing they are selling the long-term health? You could argue, based on what the NFL is experiencing, that there is no difference for them. Football players end up physical wrecks, with bad knees, backs, shoulders and concussion related problems. Is that any different than dropping over with a heart attack at 50 from the ‘roids?

very large body builder

Do we want this to go to extremes?

Well, let’s try and play this one out to its logical conclusion. If it is legalized, then the use will come out in the open. Young people will want to emulate their sports heroes and parents, hoping for a future in sports for little Johnny will get him on the medical regime as soon as possible. The only saving grace to this potential nightmare is if they start too soon, it will stunt bone growth, so they at least will wait till optimum height is reached. In any case, in one generation, we will get to see the potential results from mass use in young people. Let’s say by some miracle, this doesn’t happen, and they wait till they get to the minor leagues to start. If everyone does it, it will be the guy who uses the most or best who wins. Isn’t that a cute little arms race to start? And what would the ultimate end of that be? And don’t tell me it’ll only be professional athletes who will be doing it, we already know that isn’t true.

The arguments about this mirror the arguments about legalizing drugs. We will get to see how that plays out here in America, as two states have legalized recreational use, along with many others who have legalized it for medicinal reasons. There are those who would legalize it all, on the basis of then it would be controlled and would take it out of the hands of the drug cartels, eliminating the crime that accompanies it. While I agree that in both cases, our attempts to stamp it out by making it illegal seem futile, legalizing wouldn’t decrease the use in the slightest, and I can’t see how it wouldn’t increase it. We are not rational, intellectual creatures, weighing the pros and cons. We are emotionally driven, and there is a lot of drive to do the wrong things.

Many people wouldn’t even say these things are wrong. According to the proponents, many people use steroids without any side effects. I find that hard to believe. If we are so concerned with any hormones or additives to our food, which may or may not be absorbed by the human body, how can we not be concerned with substances which so dramatically and visibly change the human body? While making them illegal isn’t stopping anyone, it is at least having a dampening effect, and maybe that is the most we can hope for. At least until we stop paying athletes more than the scientist that might cure your cancer.

Is McDonalds the Devil Incarnate?

Can you tell I like controversial titles? Anyway, two things have happened to make me want to write about the icon of all that is wrong with the American diet. The first is the story about the teacher who lost weight eating nothing but Mcdonalds, the second was a friend who claimed that McDonalds puts cotton in their burgers. I’m no friend of Micky D’s, but I aim to be ruthlessly fair and honest. I would never recommend eating there, but you can eat there and still eat healthy.

As to the claim that McDonalds puts cotton in their meat, while it is theoretically possible, the odds are against it. On their website they claim:

We don’t use any binding ingredients. Our burger patties are made from 100% pure beef, with no binders or fillers.

Could they be lying? Sure, but then how did the person who is spreading the idea of cotton find out, and no one else did? In this sue happy society, McDonalds is too savvy to risk everything lying about what is in their food. If they did and it was proved, they’d be sued to the ends of the earth.

Lets assume for the moment that what they say is in their food is really what’s in it.

Is it evil? Is McDonalds really what’s wrong with us?

Did you watch Supersize Me? I loved the movie, since it played into my favorite tropes, that we are responsible for our choices, and that they do matter. Do I think that it was a fair presentation? No, it wasn’t meant to be. Remember the ossified french fries? Fry some at home and see if the same thing happens. Morgan Spurlock was trying to show what people are doing to themselves, and made McDonalds his scapegoat. He purposefully overate at every meal, and cut his exercise in half or less.

The Iowa teacher who lost weight eating at McDonalds did the opposite, he counted the calories, and made the healthiest choices available. He did also eat all the “bad stuff”, but kept the calories around 2,000 by balancing those choices. Here is one link to an article on his diet.

Here’s a quote about the details:

His students planned three meals a day for 90 days with a 2,000 calorie daily limit in mind. They did their best to stick to the daily recommended allowances for carbohydrates, protein, fat, and cholesterol.

Cisna was allowed to eat anything on the menu — even Big Macs and French fries — as long as he balanced out more fattening foods with lighter ones at other meals.

His favorite meal plan consisted of two Egg White Delight McMuffins, a maple oatmeal bowl and 1 percent milk for breakfast, followed by a grilled chicken salad, fruit parfait and apples for lunch. For dinner, he enjoyed a grilled chicken wrap meal, complete with fries and a diet soda.

Cisna also added exercise to his routine, walking 45 minutes a day, four to five days a week.

“Not everybody can lift weights. Not everybody can jog, but everybody can walk,” he said.

Of course, I would argue that everyone can lift weights, but that’s another article. He made many choices that fall within all good recommendations: oatmeal, apples, salads, chicken. Most importantly, he counted calories. Since they post theirs, it does make it easy to do the math. They do have quite a number of reasonable choices. However, if you have a big mac, fries and a shake, you’ve used up 1/2-2/3 of your daily calories. And, he’s a big guy. He can lose weight on 2,000 calories. I couldn’t, I would gain weight on that. So it isn’t as simple as it looks, and this is why you need to figure things out for yourself.

That isn’t the point, is it? The point is, McDonalds isn’t making us fat, we are. Twinkies aren’t making us fat, we are. Remember the guy that lost weight on the Twinkie diet? I went out to dinner with several couples, and watched people get the salad bar, appetizers, bread and an entrée, plus drinks. Most of them easily consumed most or all their daily calories in one meal. We weren’t at a fast food joint, and they were eating relatively healthy. Except the appetizers, those were  monstrosities of fat. It was just the quantities that were way out of line, and that counts.

I will say, over and over again, if losing weight is your goal, count calories, since calories count. Having said that, I’m convinced that for good health, what you eat is the most important. Dr. Katz, who wrote the article on the Twinkie diet makes a great point:

As for the changes seen in the lipid panel, these are likely by-products of weight loss per se. An excess of body fat is associated with increased inflammatory responses, and often, increased levels of insulin. Both inflammation and hormonal imbalances in turn affect cholesterol and other blood lipids. When body fat is lost, these effects are reversed — and improvements in blood lipids are likely.
The mistake is to think this means better health. For one thing, health is a composite of far more than BMI and LDL. For another, its relevant time horizon is far more distant than two months.

Severe illness of all kinds is associated with sudden drops in total cholesterol. Drug addiction, chemotherapy, cholera and advanced HIV are all associated with weight loss. Cancer rather predictably leads to declines in both weight and lipids as it advances. These associations are more than sufficient to show that health cannot be summed up by weight and lipids. An overwhelming body of research shows what dietary patterns do produce lasting good health — all emphasize wholesome, mostly plant foods direct from nature. None emphasizes Ho Hos.

Please take the time to read the whole article, all the points he makes are good. We want to see those markers change, but for the right reasons. We want to teach people to eat correctly, so they gain more than just weight control, they gain optimal health. By eating right, you are more likely to maintain a correct body weight, without having to count calories. I could lose weight by eating 1400 calories of straight chocolate a day, but that doesn’t mean I should do that.

I don’t think McDonalds is evil, and they do appear to be making real efforts to offer better choices, but it’s up to us to make those choices. They do offer a lot of really appalling choices, but so do every other restaurant, which is why I suggest not eating out if you want to lose weight. I live in Western New York, in a small town. We have two donut shops. We need two? What are you likely to pick at a donut shop? I don’t think it’s the egg white special. If you want to lose weight, you have to put effort into it. Plan you choices and stick to them.

Common Sense?

view of a variety of pills spilling out of a bottle

This is better than food?

Time for me to ride on of my favorite hobby horses. I just spent some time with a friend who was using and selling supplements. The conversation that occurred spawned this blog. I am not anti supplement. I take several, based on their efficacy and my perceived lack of nutrients. I’m not in favor of “proprietorial blends” of ingredients, mostly involving tiny amounts of natural foods.  Could I be wasting my money on what I do take? Sure, that’s why I don’t buy super expensive ones, and they are all specific ones, to address specific needs. Expensive ones always try to tell you that theirs are superior in purity, quality, nature of ingredients. They may be right. I just don’t have money to spend unless there was a measurable difference in my health. Occasionally I’ve allowed myself to be talked into buying some of them, and haven’t seen any difference. Turmeric, rosemary, onion, and garlic can all be bought in the produce aisle, or even cheaper in bulk from outlets. Rose hips can be grown in your own yard. Why are you popping a 5$ pill with blueberry in it when you could just eat some? Could some forms of Glucosamine Chondroitin be better than others? Possibly, but the cheap form I take works, and it isn’t cheap. No one herb is magical, and if you start to eat right, most of the issues these “magical supplements” are purported to solve will solve themselves.

Eat Right!!!

But this isn’t even the biggest point to be made. My real beef is with people spending a fortune on supplements, and not watching their diets. If they are watching their diets, they don’t need the supplements. When I see an ad for “supergreens” I get irritated. First, greens are everywhere. Spinach, kale, lettuce, celery and other greens are readily available in the supermarket. Just throw them in the blender and tada! You have your own super greens. Don’t want to drink them? Chop them in a salad. People- it’s FOOD. Why are you taking your food in a pill or powder? You want a powder? Dry them and put them in your blender. If you are taking them in a pill or powder, you leave a lot of room for bad things in your diet. If you think you can drink a powder in a shake, then eat a hot dog, you’re kidding yourself.

Clean up your diet, and you will get everything you need:
  • Fat is an acquired taste, you can “unacquire” it.
  • Start with veggies you like, find ways to branch out to other veggies.
  • Don’t batter and deep fry anything.
  • Don’t eat out.
  • Hate veggies? Eat a variety of fruits, or drink a green smoothie- fruit with spinach added. Keep trying new recipes and ways of eating them to find ones you like.
  • Eat whole grains- wheat berries, bulgar wheat, brown rice, quinoa (technically not a grain, but used that way), amaranth, buckwheat, millet
  • Limit red meat to once or twice a week.
  • Have fish at least twice a week.
  • Eat healthy fats- olive oil, walnuts, olives, flax,
  • Eat beans- lots of them

Try all these things, see how you feel. I won’t have any sympathy for “how expensive it is to eat right” if you can afford all those supplements. I know a lot of ads are very persuasive, but the real answer is a lot less expensive, but does require more of a commitment on your part.




Natural and Healthy

Is natural healthy and vice versa?

I’m really bothered by almond milk, and milk substitutes in general. After reading up on almond milk, it bothers me less than it did, but it still seems silly. It is almonds ground with water, then strained. If you love milk and can’t drink it, why switch to a substitute, as there is lactose free milk? As far as lactose free not being natural, it’s no more unnatural than grinding nuts with added ingredients. Commercial almond milk has added calcium, vitamin a and vitamin d added to make it more compatible to cow’s milk, as well as carrageenan and sugar. Almond milk has little protein. One website claimed it was a good source, with 1 g of protein. Then bread is a fantastic source with 4-6 g! I used to drink soy milk, but all the concerns about the phyto estrogens, and the thought that it was every bit of a processed food as milk, I just take lactaid and drink low fat milk.

Are milk substitutes natural? What is natural? How much processing can still be natural? More importantly, should we care, as long as it’s healthy?

I just “processed” milk by making yogurt. I took the whey and “processed” grain with it by soaking it overnight. I did both to make healthier foods. My vegetables are cooked with added ingredients, even my homegrown kale is dried and ground for convenient storage, or blanched and frozen. Unless you are eating raw meat and fresh vegetables from your garden, you are eating processed food. The question is, what is that processing doing, and what role is that food fulfilling? We have to process foods to store them, otherwise they’ll rot.

james-herriot-2-all-things-bright-and-beautifulI’m not an organic fanatic by the same reasoning. I believe our modern interventions make for much healthier animals. I grew up reading James Herriots books, he was a vet around WWII, and he talks about how many animals died because they could do nothing to help them. When they discovered sulfa drugs, and later antibiotics, many animals were saved. Should we throw out the ability to save an animal’s life simply because we’ve gone overboard and given them on a daily basis? There has to be a happy medium between doing nothing and dumping chemicals on everything. I’ve seen pictures of what “fly strike” can do to sheep, and I wouldn’t stand by while the animal suffered that.

There are those who believe that there are “natural” solutions. Vinegar. Is that natural? Does vinegar occur in nature, at a consistent 5% acidity? If we extract the nicotine from the tobacco plant to kill bugs, is that “natural”? So is what we really mean “safer”? I think most people equate natural with safe, but I contend arsenic and cyanide are natural. So are snake venom and poisonous plants. I think we need to really think about things on an individual basis, rather than have blanket rules.

What do you think? What sort of lines do you draw? How hard is it to decide what to worry about?

What’s the Plan?

It’s all calories

Having said that, many people find it easier to cut calories by following some sort of plan. I’m all for that-would you try to get somewhere without a map? Plus, you need to figure out how to best “spend” those calories, to get the most nutrition and pleasure from them. But which plan? And why? There are plenty to choose from, and they are contradictory. There’s paleo, low carb, Atkins, vegan or vegetarian, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, South Beach, Mediterranean and DASH diets, just to name some of the popular ones.

Not all plans are equal

Remember the Donner party? They were following someone’s instructions, and look where that got them. Most popular eating plans will get you to lose weight. My question is, how do they transition you to maintenance, and how nutritionally sound are they?

“Eliminate these foods and you’ll lose weight”

For some reason, people love the idea of cutting out certain foods and they’ll magically lose weight. I just read this article about Tom Arnold’s weight loss, and it was teased with “He immediately cut these two foods”. However, there was a “rest of the story”:

To ensure that he was healthy for his son, he admitted to immediately dropping cake and bread from his diet. He also told the mag that he eliminated the six-egg omelet extravaganza with six turkey sausage links and oatmeal that he had been eating for breakfast as well as the extra-large meat pizza with breadsticks dipped in cheese that he had been consuming for dinner.

He had to also stop eating so much. You don’t have to eliminate bread, but eating too much of it will make you gain weight. You could eat the healthiest foods in the world, but if you eat mass quantities, you’ll still be heavy.

So what’s the plan?

There are guidelines for choosing a plan. Anything that bans basic food groups is suspect in my book. While many of these types of plans are very effective in weight loss, they fail in transition, since people just go back to eating the banned foods and gain the weight back. Unless you are a dietician, once you ban a whole food group, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies.

How healthy are the foods they allow? Some popular plans sell foods, and often they are chemical cocktails. I’m a big fan of weight watchers in general, but their prepackaged foods are a nightmare of chemicals and fake food. Any diet that says potato chips are ok is also a loser.

Could you stay on this diet for the rest of your life? Real diets should just be eating what you can eat all the time, just less. If the diet you are looking at isn’t the way you want to eat for the rest of your life, keep looking.

So, how about you? Are you “on a diet”? Is this the way you want to eat the rest of your life? Can you hardly wait to “get back to normal”? Let me know. Let’s start a conversation.

It’s a New Year

Is losing weight part of your New Year’s Resolution? Was it part of last year’s? Are you trying to turn around years of habit, or possibly an entire lifetime? I’m here to encourage you.


Anything you do will help. Walk 30 minutes a day. Walk 15 minutes if you can’t make 30. Of course I’d like you to do more, but if you are doing nothing now, start doing something. There are many reasons to join a gym, but you don’t have to. Joining a gym gives you motivation, accountability, access to more equipment and exercises, and community, but if you are reluctant, don’t let that stop you from exercising.


Don’t snack. I don’t mean don’t eat, I just mean don’t eat snack food. There are very, very few good snack foods. If you buy something for the sole purpose of a snack, you are in all likelyhood sabatoging your diet. Protein bars, granola bars, etc, are LOADED with sugar or artificial sweeteners. The supermarkets are filled with snack items, and most have too much sugar, salt and fat. If you are hungry, eat real food. Need it to be portable and convenient? Carrots, celery, hard boiled eggs, cheese ( in moderation), fruit, sandwiches, Triscuits, and hummus are all easy choices.  A yogurt sunday, with plain lowfat yogurt, banana, walnuts and cranberries is 242 calories, and will keep you full for hours. I usually make two dishes for lunch, the yogurt sunday and a bean and rice dish. I eat one at 11:00, the other later, and I don’t get hungry, and everything I eat is benefiting my body. I will tell you if you like sardines, you are in luck, they are a great snack and one of the healthiest foods you can eat. Just don’t do it at the office, you won’t be popular.


You don’t go “on” or “off” a diet. You just eat better or worse. Persist in trying to eat better every day. Same with exercise. Try and throw something in every day, everywhere. Throw in an extra trip across the store, run up the stairs for no good reason, or shovel your neighbors walk.


Need motivation? Do you know how many extra pounds you are carrying? Carry them. Find something that weighs that much and try and carry it. Please do this with caution if you are more than 15 lbs overweight, and don’t try it if you are more than 25 lbs overweight, unless you are trained in weight lifting. Just pick up something heavy, and realize you are carrying more than that every day, pounding your knees, making your back ache and causing you distress. Think about how much easier life will be without that extra weight.

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