Sunday, September 1, 2013

Yes, she lives.

You've probably noticed my absence both from this blog and from the lists I'm on since . . . oh, say, April 26th.  I'll fill everybody in on what's been going on with me.

I'm very, very close to my elderly parents (mother 87, father just turned 90).  My mother had just one major problem after another this year and was basically in and out of the hospital starting around Christmas -- pneumonia, complications from COPD, atrial flutter, you name it.  In May, she was back in the hospital with a compression fracture of her L2 vertebra -- easy for her to do due to bad osteoporosis -- and a week later she had a compression fracture of her L3 vertebra as well.

While in the hospital for the second fracture, she had a cardiac event and we thought we'd lost her.  She was on a ventilator for two days, but then started improving.  Still, the fact that she'd basically been bed bound most of this year meant she had lost WAY too much weight and was very weak, so when she was released from the hospital she went to a skilled care facility for physical rehab.  At this point Dad and I were pretty sure she wouldn't be able to go back to their independent living apartment, if she was able to leave skilled care at all -- her heart was in really poor shape, and at her age and condition there was nothing that could be done about it.

On July 27 I lost my mother.  Although Dad and I thought we were prepared for it, it hit me very hard.  I don't cope well with death.  Nevertheless, my dad and I managed the arrangements, and I've been going through Mom's things and helping Dad move into a smaller apartment.  It's been gruesome, and in a particularly badly-timed fit of coincidence, my best friend's father died only a couple weeks after Mom did.

So that's where I've been.  I'm still pretty blue.  Thankfully, my dear, wonderful husband has been unfailingly patient and supportive and has basically carried me through this really bad few months.  I still cry at the drop of a hat -- as Paul and I put it, I keep "tripping over Mom's ghost"; we were very close and memories of her are everywhere -- but it's slowly getting better and I have whole days when I don't unexpectedly burst out crying at some memory or other.

Miraculously I've stayed on plan through this apart from two scheduled off-plan meals (our anniversary and Paul's birthday), so yeah, I'm blue, but I'm keeping the faith!


Friday, April 26, 2013

Low Carb and Your Colon -- More Than You Ever Wanted To Know

Nobody particularly wants to think about their colon.  I've had to think about mine quite a bit lately, though, because of abdominal pain I'd been having.  I had to have a colonoscopy and an endoscopy -- yeah, at the same time, and yeah, please just take the "bookending" jokes as made and ignored, okay?  I spent the time between referral and procedures having nightmares about colon or stomach cancer.

The procedures themselves weren't much fun either.  'Nuff said on that.

Years ago, when I hadn't been on Atkins very long, I had a physician (we parted ways soon after) who informed me that low carbing would give me colon cancer.  Of course, he was so knowledgeable about Atkins, he was operating under the popular misconception that people on Atkins eat nothing but steak, eggs and bacon.

Ten years later -- yes, ten years on Atkins -- I had an endoscopy and a colonoscopy and was informed that my colon is perfectly healthy.  Immaculate, even.  The gastroenterologist was pretty impressed, actually.  My stomach was fine too.  He chalks the pain up to stress and reflux.

The reason I'm imposing this TMI moment on my blog is this:  There is absolutely NO reason that low carbing should endanger your colon health.  Since I began low carbing on March 13, 2003, I've eaten far more vegetables than I ever did in my life.  I eat a lot of vegetables.  I don't eat a lot of fruit, but when I do, it's high fiber fruits like berries.  I also eat shirataki noodles and flaxmeal, both of which are high in various types of healthy fiber.  When I want crackers, I eat GG Scandinavian Crispbreads, which are basically pure bran.  I also drink a lot of water.  Starting Atkins pretty much ended any problem with irregularity that I'd ever had.  On the other hand, my pre-Atkins diet consisted of a lot of highly processed foods, starch, sugar, trans fats, empty calories and very, very little natural fiber -- and basically no vegetables, because I'd been raised with canned vegetables and hated them with a passion.  If I'd kept on as I was, I probably would have been a poster child for a high risk of colon cancer, among all the other health problems I was courting.

I've actually seen very low carbers who advocate totally cutting out fruits and vegetables and so forth.  I'm not one of them.  For a woman who, prior to Atkins, ate nothing green but M&M's and Jello, I've done a 180 -- I love my veg.  I love the crunch, I love the flavor, I love the variety, I love the versatility, I love experimenting with new recipes, and I love the way eating plenty of veg makes me feel.  I'm not qualified, really, to put down anybody else's WOE, but I think there is a line of cutting carbs unreasonably, and in my opinion, reducing even low-carb veggies is probably it.  Popping fiber supplements is no substitute on any front for servings of tasty, well-prepared, vitamin-rich fresh vegetables.  Any low carber drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of veg should never have any problem with irregularity or endangering their colon health.  Even better, eat plenty of cruciferous veggies -- broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts -- and berries, because they're powerful cancer fighters!  (Okay, I still loathe brussels sprouts and refuse to eat them, honesty forces me to admit it.  I also still will not touch canned veggies.)

I feel for new low carbers who protest that they hate vegetables.  I really do sympathize, because I was there ten years ago.  I started out with salads, grudgingly.  I branched out into vegetables I'd never tried before and therefore didn't already hate.  I then started experimenting with eating vegetables prepared in ways I'd never had them (like cauliflower fauxtatoes).  I remember discovering palak paneer (highly spiced Indian creamed spinach with cubes of cheese) and shocking myself by eating a copious quantity and wanting more.  It wasn't long at all before I was scarfing down the veg with the best of them.

So eat your veg, people.  If you don't like some vegetables, then try others.  Try weird ones.  Try jicama and chayote and bok choy and daikon and spaghetti squash.  If you don't like steamed broccoli, try broccoli cheese soup or broccoli slaw.  Embark on a grand veggie adventure and fall in love.

And laugh in the face of any doctor who tells you that low carbing will give you colon cancer. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Ten-year Atkins Anniversary!!!

Yesterday my husband Paul and I celebrated our 10-year Atkins Anniversary.  It's amazing to think we've been low carbing ten years now, but it's true.  It's been a fun journey with a lot of great discoveries, challenges, experimentation and lots and lots of learning.

Way, way, way back in early 2003, Paul and I had pretty much resigned ourselves to being fat.  I'd dieted before, of course; in fact at one time my doctor had put me on a low-fat diet, the most disastrous attempt ever.  I stuck to it, all right (how, I have no idea), but I felt horrible, weak and sick and headachy and dizzy, all the time.  I could eat and eat and stuff myself and never feel satisfied.  I had to basically give up everything I loved to eat, particularly cheese, and the tradeoff apparently was feeling hungry (when I didn't feel nauseous) and horrible 24/7.  Heck, I felt better fat and half dead.  So I'd just basically given up.

A couple who were close friends of ours, Joel and Ginger, had gone on Atkins.  One of the things we shared with Joel and Ginger was a deep and abiding love of food <G> and cooking.  The four of us always joked that no matter where we were or what we were doing, we'd always be the best-fed people in any given demographic -- if we went camping, we'd be the best-fed campers in the campground, for example.  We loved to fix meals for each other, so I figured I'd better do some research and figure out what I could cook for my friends without blowing their way of eating.

Well, I did my research, and as I did, my wonder grew.  Joel and Ginger could eat all the things I loved, including my beloved cheese.  I cooked a couple of low-carb-friendly meals for them and marveled at how easy it was.  Slowly, the thought "snuck up on me" -- I could eat this way.  I could enjoy eating this way.  This could WORK.

So Paul and I talked it over, looked at menus and recipes and products and talked with Joel and Ginger -- I'm an obsessive planner -- and we decided that, yes, we were going to do it.  Our targeted start date was March 15, 2003.

I got a couple cookbooks and stocked up on supplies for low carb cooking.  I was ready to go.  So I figured, hey, it's a couple days early, but let's do a couple of meals as sort of a dress rehearsal.  So on March 13, 2003, I cooked a low carb meal.

Then another.

Then another.

Then I cleaned all the old carby stuff out of my kitchen, because I was already low carbing, two days earlier than planned.

In some ways, 2003 was the golden age of low carbing.  A number of significant studies had come out showing the benefits of low carbing.  The low carb "boom" was on.  Low carb products were everywhere.  There were even a couple of specifically low carb shops here in Indianapolis, one very nearby.  Restaurants rushed to offer low carb options.  Low carb options were everywhere.

And so were pitfalls.  Sugar free candy was suddenly available in every possible form -- even my long-time love, Reese's peanut butter easter eggs.  Low carb breads, bars, baked goods . . . everything under the sun.  Paul and I relied on these products a lot more than we should.  We were still eating a lot of packaged, premade goods of dubious content, although we also cooked "from scratch" a lot more than we had been.

For good or ill, the low carb boom ended.  Suddenly many of the products we'd used and loved were no longer available.  We had to create our own healthy, low carb substitutes for beloved carby foods, but let me tell you, that kind of challenge to a creative cook is like waving the proverbial red flag in front of the bull.  And damn it, we did it -- full throttle, full steam ahead.

And have been doing it ever since.

What tickles me to death is that after ten years, we still have "D'oh!" moments.  It took me a couple years to discover the online low carb community.  I didn't discover flaxmeal for years.  I tasted my first Muffin in a Minute only last year.  I've only been experimenting with coconut flour for a couple months.  Numerous, numerous wonderful naturally low carb ingredients that could've been making my life easier for a long time.  But I don't mind, really.  It's great knowing that there are plenty of wonderful low carb tricks, foods, secrets, discoveries, just waiting out there for me.

It's an ongoing adventure, and I'm looking forward to it!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Tips and Tricks with Flaxmeal

If you're  a low carber, chances are you've at least tried flaxmeal in some context or other.  Flaxmeal is simply ground-up flaxseed -- and yes, flax is the same fibrous plant from which fabric used to be made.

In the health food world, flaxseed is considered a superfood, with claims of benefits ranging from reducing your risk of cancer, stroke, heart disease and diabetes.  These various benefits come from three components of flaxseed:  Omega-3 fatty acids, fiber (both soluble and insoluble) and lignans, which are powerful antioxidants and rich in plant estrogens.  There are conflicting studies over whether flaxseed also helps with menopausal symptoms (my personal, anecdotal, completely unscientific experience of this is a resounding YES).

If you're a low carber, however, flaxseed has an entirely different benefit package -- it's a "grain" that's not a grain.  The carbs in flaxmeal are almost entirely fiber:  Out of 2.02 carbs in one tablespoon of flaxseed, 1.9 of those carbs are fiber.

The flaxmeal "muffin in a minute" recipe is ubiquitous on low carb sites and lists.  Structurally speaking, here's the basics: a teaspoon or so of butter or coconut oil, melted, beaten together with an egg, mix in a quarter cup of flaxmeal and whatever flavorings you like (cinnamon, Splenda, what have you) and half a teaspoon of baking powder, stir together in a microwave-safe mug or bowl and microwave for one minute.  You can make sweet MIMs, savory MIMs, add nuts or dried blueberries or cheese or whatever.  You can make MIMs in a selected bowl or container, split and toast for sandwich buns or bread.  I just posted a Zucchini bread that started out as an MIM recipe.

I use the above MIM recipe, with a little salt, vanilla extract, and Splenda added, for pancakes.  One "batch" makes two palm-sized, lovely pancakes that are very reminiscent of buckwheat pancakes.

I also make a flaxmeal cereal, particularly now in cold weather.  It's very simple:  Mix whatever quantity of flaxmeal with just less than twice the amount of water, some cinnamon, a little salt and Splenda.  Drop a couple hunks of butter in, stir thoroughly (so there aren't any flaxmeal lumps) and microwave for one minute, then stir thoroughly again.  It's very Cream of Wheat.  Important note:  Don't omit the butter, and I personally will never try coconut oil again instead.

All this said, there are two kinds of flaxmeal you can buy:  Regular "brown" flax, and golden (often organic) flax.  You can also choose between whole seeds and pre-ground flaxmeal.

Proponents of flax's health benefits say you should buy whole flaxseed and grind your own as you use it, and that's probably optimal.  However, after trying two different coffee grinders and one Vitamix blender, I still can't get a nice fine consistent grind, and I refuse to spend the megabucks on a dedicated grain mill, so I buy already-ground flaxmeal.  So sue me.  Because of flaxseed's high oil content, you should store your flaxseeds or flaxmeal in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container.

I use both brown and golden flaxmeal, but not interchangeably.  I prefer the brown flaxmeal for my hot flax cereal above; to me the golden flax makes the cereal too -- well, mucus-y -- and the consistency of the brown flax is much better.  On the other hand, for MIMs and pancakes and so forth, I much prefer the golden flax.

Speaking of failed experiments, I've never liked flaxmeal used in any way as a breading, which is too bad because it does stick nicely, but it makes a shell rather than a crust, and not a pleasantly textured one, either.  It can work as a binder in things like meatloaf, but I like other products more.

Friday, March 8, 2013

OMG, zucchini bread!!!

I have fond memories of zucchini bread.  Throughout my childhood, it was the only way I'd eat zucchini.  My grandmother, who lived with us, made it anytime we had too much zucchini around the house, and what Hoosier doesn't have too much zucchini around the house part of the year?  I ate it spread thickly with cream cheese.  I remember an impassioned argument with my mother about why zucchini bread should count as a vegetable -- if you ate enough of it, which I was always willing to do!

Last night, using Muffin-in-a-Minute principles, I ate zucchini bread for the first time since starting Atkins almost ten years ago (March 13, 2003!!!).

Here's what I made:


1T butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
1t vanilla extract
2t pumpkin pie seasoning
1/2t salt
Artificial sweetener equivalent to 1/4c sugar (or to taste)
1/4c flaxseed meal
1 heaping tablespoon coconut flour
About 2/3c shredded zucchini
1t baking powder

Mix thoroughly in a microwave-safe bowl -- I used an oversized teacup-shaped soup bowl.  Microwave until cooked through -- 2 1/2 minutes in my microwave, but microwaves vary.  Remove from bowl and let sit upside down for a few minutes, or the "bottom" will be damp.  At this point you can microwave it again for a few seconds to heat it up, eat it cold, or slice it and pop it into the oven or toaster oven if you like it crusty.  Smear with cream cheese or your spread of choice, and enjoy the flashbacks!

This makes a big muffin/loaf.  The flaxmeal gives it a wonderful nutty flavor, but you could add nuts too if you wished.  You could even sub some nut meal for some of the flaxmeal.  Haven't tried that yet, but I will.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Back to Basics -- Simple Pleasures

Not everything is about elaborate, clever recipes.  It's easy, particularly since I've been low carbing so long -- ten years on March 13, 2013 -- to get more intricate, more imaginative, more experimental.  And that's not a bad thing, because to me the worst thing ever is falling into a food rut and "settling" for something simply because it's low carb and a familiar, known quantity.  I make a conscious effort to do and try new things.

But sometimes it's good to go back to the well and discover, to my surprise, just how good simple things are.  An avocado half with salt.  Tuna salad scooped up with pork rinds.  Jicama sticks and homemade bleu cheese dip.  A plate of cheese to be nibbled with hot tea.  Deviled eggs.  These things aren't something I settle for because they're low carb, or even because they're low carb and easy.  They're things that taste good.

Last night the hubby and I ate at Cracker Barrel.  I love this place because it's one of the few restaurants that still has specifically low-carb sections on both their breakfast and lunch/dinner menus.  Paul had their "grilled roast beef" (a/k/a pot roast), a tossed salad with ranch dressing, and some of their wonderful hammy turnip greens.  I had spicy grilled catfish fillets (delicious, juicy and sweet, 0 carbs) and three, yes, three, servings of turnip greens (2g carbs each) because my catfish came with three sides.  I can't speak for Paul, but my dinner was absolutely perfect, satisfying, delicious and filling and I envied nobody in the world their dinner.

Stop and savor what you're eating.  It doesn't have to be fancy and elaborate.  Choose quality ingredients -- good, fresh, raw ingredients -- prepare your food properly, and it'll be tasty.  But do yourself a favor and appreciate it.  Are you so busy missing bread that you're not paying attention to how tender and juicy the chicken you're eating is?  Are you trying so hard to pretend that your spaghetti squash is pasta that you're missing that delicious nutty/sweet squash flavor?  Are you wishing so hard for french fries that you don't notice the delicious crunch of just-barely-sauteed zucchini?

If you've been away from sugar for a while, you may notice to your surprise how much sweeter ordinary foods (like, say, broccoli) taste.  You'll notice layers of flavors you never noticed before.  Maybe, like me, you'll find yourself liking foods you used to hate.  Or maybe you'll just rediscover a new enjoyment of foods you already like.

Slow down.  Taste.  Savor.  Immerse yourself.

And every now and then, touch base with simple pleasures.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Just how fat are we?

Read an interesting article in the New York times today about the startling correlation (or lack thereof) between "excess weight" and mortality:

when you read it, though, you have to be careful how you take this because, as the article says, it's only a statistical analysis.  "Mortality" includes things like automobile accidents, lightning strikes, shark attacks, tsunamis, and other killer situations that can't be sanely linked with the victim's weight.

That said, it does bring into question what we've been spoon fed as "the truth" about what constitutes "normal" weight and "healthy" weight . . . and they're not necessarily the same thing.  What's a realistic and healthy weight?  Is it really what the AMA has been telling you?  It's certainly not what the media is.  The media is telling women they should all be Size 0.  If you want a real eye opener, settle in in front of the TV and watch some old movies.  Go back to the '40s, '50s, '60s, and look at the women.  Not a one would've fit into a Size 0.  One leg, maybe.

In the late 1990s, the federal government redefined overweight and obesity.  Suddenly, overnight, over 29 million Americans became instantly obese or overweight -- all without gaining an ounce.  Now, isn't that depressing?

Check this out:

The new standard became a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 25 or below as a "healthy" weight.  But the BMI itself is problematic.  It's calculated on a simple weight-versus-height formula.  It doesn't take into account skeletal frame or the amount of muscle on the body.  Nearly all athletes would "score" as overweight or obese by the BMI calculation.

Even if this magic, arbitrary BMI of 25 is, however, 100% correct for every single person on the planet:

"The rationale behind these definitions is based on . . . data that shows increases in mortality with a BMI of 25 and above," said Judy Stern, an obesity researcher at the University of California at San Diego, and the only member of an NIH advisory panel to vote against endorsement of the guidelines. "They have misquoted the data . . . if they are going to do it scientifically, they should do it scientifically. I would not change public health policy on that."

We're back to "mortality."  Which makes me very much want to see the raw data for these statistics, because it's starting to sound like the totally debunked Keys data that supposedly correlated fat consumption with heart disease:  Faulty, biased, made-up pseudo-science.

You also have to look at the group who's performing these studies, as well as the group that's quoting the statistics.  There is a huge pharmaceutical and diet industry lobby out there who have a multi-billion-dollar incentive to (a) keep us fat (or at least believing we are), and (b) keep us desperate to get thinner.  The media is on their side -- doesn't it infuriate you when you hear this gorgeous girl at the next table whining about the five pounds she has to lose so she can fit into that Size 0 just like Supermodel X?  The insurance industry is on their side because if they can quote statistics to say that you're overweight or obese, your illnesses are your fault and your problem and they can legitimately reduce or deny benefits.  Even your doctor may be on their side because if he can prescribe you diet pills, he may get all kinds of incentives from the pharmaceutical company that makes them.  Or he can send you down the street to a buddy who does bariatric surgery, who has even more incentive to tell you how fat you are.

Let me also remind you that this became the height of the low-fat craze, when doctors and, yes, the federal government were telling us we needed to cut way back on eating animal products and cut fat intake down to less than 30 percent of calories and eat a lot more grains (an interesting side note here is that most low-fat nutritionists said that the percentage of calories from fat actually needed to be less than 10 percent of intake, but the federal government didn't publish that because they felt people couldn't stick with such restrictions!).  When America just got fatter under this approach . . . well, obviously it's because we weren't sticking to our low-fat diets, right?  Not because the diet itself was hogwash.  Meanwhile the agricultural industry is having a blast selling lots of grain products (so we can get those 6-12 servings per day!) and high fructose corn syrup, never mind that we're fattening up just like the cows and pigs who got fed the same grains and corn!

Once again . . . the "facts" are only as reliable as the people selling them.

So . . . how fat are we?  What's a "normal" weight?  What's a "healthy" weight?  I strongly suspect there is simply no answer for human beings as a whole, or even sub-groups of human beings.  I strongly suspect it's a very, very individual and subjective thing, and there's nothing the federal government hates more than not being able to pigeonhole us all in groups.  Honestly, I don't believe there's any "magic number" that exists, period, even if you factor in height, age, gender, etc., etc.  For instance, if you have arthritis, particularly in your back, hips or legs, you need to weigh less than if you don't.  If you're just coming off of chemotherapy, even if you qualify as an "ideal" BMI, my bet is your body is unhealthy.  If you have a supermodel figure but can't walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing, is that "success"?

So it's all about the individual.  Your self-image.  Your state of health.  How good or bad you feel on a day-to-day basis, physically and mentally.  Your goals and needs and plans.  The activities that make you happy.  And, just as importantly, a realistic and healthy way of life you can actually live with.  The important thing is that you think about and refine and reexamine all of the above.  Question it.  Talk about it.  Maybe getting down to Number X or Size Y shouldn't be the goal.  Maybe "getting better" should be the goal -- feeling healthier, sleeping better, moving better, liking life better.  Maybe the goal should be a process rather than an endpoint.

Because the numbers game is rigged, folks, and not in your favor.