Saturday, August 27, 2011

Canada's Best Yoghurt, by Far

Dear Liberté:

I know I’m not the only one to tell you this, but you definitely make Canada’s best yoghurt!  It’s creamy and the texture is so luscious that I would never need to try another dessert ever again if I could just live on Liberté.

There’s just one thing that puzzles me:  why is it that you put so much sugar in your yoghurt?

After all, there are lots of us who are eating low carb foods these days.  There is a strong contingent of low carb adherents who include dairy products, especially fermented ones, in their meal plans. 

As you are no doubt aware, low carb generally does not mean low fat. 

I, for one, lost over 25 lb in the past year by avoiding grains and added sugars and everything with a low fat label on it. 

This would make Liberté yoghurt a low carb dieter’s dream food, if it wasn’t for all the sugar.  I mean, 39g of sugar in a 175g portion?  That’s the sugar equivalent of almost 2 whole cans of soda when you include the sneaky but obligatory additional last spoonful of creamy deliciousness after you’ve measured out your serving.  What were you thinking, Liberté?

I know artificial sweeteners are controversial, and I’m not crazy about them myself.  But in my quest for foods without the additional carbs, I prefer a spoonful of Splenda over one of sugar.  But then, I also often find foods are oversweetened.  I’d be more than happy with about a third of the amount of sweetening agent.  I’m sure there are others who are like me.

Of course we could all stick to plain Greek yoghurt, but think of all the additional sales you could be making to those of us who aren’t afraid of creamy rich foods.

So how about it, Liberté?  Do you think I could convince you to dip your toes into the low carb niche market?  I think you’ll find your customers are ready for it.  I know I am.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Eastern wisdom about simple food

I have been reading the book, "The One-Straw Revolution," by Masanobu Fukuoka.   Although I highly recommend this little book, you do need to know it's primarily about natural gardening with some profound philosophy thrown in, rather than a book that's directly about health and nutrition.

When you mindfully grow the produce that you eat, your health and nutrition are bound to improve, so the book is totally relevant to what I have been writing in this blog.

Even more so, after reading Stephan Guyenet's brilliant writings about bland food, as opposed to the hyperpalatability of much that is available to us in the Western world.  "Bland" food sounds really boring, and most of us are conditioned to reject all that is boring in our lives.

Maybe a more appealing way of describing it is "simple" food.  When I read the following paragraph in Fukuoka's book, it really hit home to me:
When you no longer want to eat something tasty, you can taste the real flavor of whatever you are eating. It is easy to lay out the simple foods of a natural diet on the dining table, but those who can truly enjoy such a feast are few.
After you overcome the initial withdrawal from the sugars and starches that make food hyperpalatable, you find yourself appreciating the subtleties in the flavours of the other foods on your plate.  And you start noticing nuances that you never noticed before, even though the dishes are not highly spiced or otherwise enhanced.

But we are surrounded by messages all around us, urging us to look for more variety and more flavours all the time.  We may eat Italian today, Chinese tomorrow, and the day after, we might explore another nation's feast dishes.  No wonder there are relatively few people stepping back from the cornucopia of foods in restaurants and grocery stores and opting for a simpler, more mindful approach to eating.

To a large extent, I believe this minimalist approach is more a state of mind than an actual diet.  What I mean is that when your mind is ready to accept the premise of switching to a simpler way of eating that excludes sugars, it's not hard to follow through with it.

At least, that's how it worked for me.  I've now been eating this way for over a year.  Although I haven't stuck to this eating plan 100% faithfully, it has been close enough for me to know I will never go back to the old "balanced" diet that the "experts" recommend.  Our grocery list has become much simpler than before, and there is possibly more repetition in what we cook.  But the one thing I wouldn't call it is boring.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Magnesium and the intellectual debates on the causes of obesity

An interesting intellectual debate about the underlying cause of obesity is underway on the internet, and that's a good thing!

You see, Stephan Guyenet, who has a PhD in neurobiology, disagrees with Gary Taubes, who is a very smart scientific journalist who happens to have studied applied physics and aerospace engineering.  

Taubes maintains that unbridled sugar consumption in the form of processed foods causes obesity and leads to many of the diseases of modern civilization.  His solution is to cut the carbs.

Guyenet believes it's not so much the carbs themselves as our societal prediliction for hyperpalatable food that is at the root of the problem.  He maintains that getting away from highly rewarding foods is part of  the answer and notes that there are many cultures who subsist on bland starchy diets without any signs of obesity or diseases of modern civilization.

A third expert weighing in on the subject is Dr. Jack Kruse, a neurosurgeon who says both of them are only partially correct because neither of them has been able to point to the true root of the problem, which he says is our magnesium levels.  According to Kruse:
Speaking of bad things lets talk about the disease where intracellular magnesium is totally disordered. Lets talk diabetes. High levels of insulin make cells store excess Mg, but if you become insulin resistant you can no longer store Mg and begin to lose it at high concentrations in your urine. So all diabetics are seriously deficient in Mg. This is why they all have neolithic diseases. It directly affects their energy production, their DNA and RNA is more susceptible to cancer, and they develop sleep apnea quickly because they ruin the coupling of energy and sleep metabolism signaling of their hormone cascade...
... low intracellular magnesium levels [cause] the genesis of insulin resistance peripherally. And we have known it for a long time but have done little in clinical medicine to treat it. This is why so few people know about it. Peripheral leptin and insulin resistance (at muscles and fat cells) occurs first for this to happen but the depletion of Magnesium always predates insulin resistance. So when blood insulin rises, you lose intracellular Mg and this feedback loop makes the peripheral cells even more insulin resistant because we can’t make insulin or let it act properly on target cells.
So according to Kruse, if you're already insulin resistant, your body is not able to maintain its required magnesium levels.  But even those of us who aren't insulin resistant might not be absorbing as much of this crucial mineral as we need, and over time, it is most likely compromising our health.

There are different ways of supplementing with magnesium and I encourage you to read his blog for more information on the available choices.

It's also important not to get too bogged down in the intellectual details.  To a large degree, it doesn't matter much which of the three writers you find more convincing.

Even though Guyenet is more carb-friendly than Taubes, he is careful to point out that carbohydrate restriction is a great way for many people to lose weight successfully.

And while Kruse says that magnesium supplementation is the key, for practical purposes, because it's so relatively easy to do, the biggest hurdle for most people wanting to lose weight is still the one factor all three agree on: you must cut out the sugars and refined starches that are so prevalent in the Standard American Diet. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

The unexpected benefit of Ramadan

With Ramadan starting today, fasting is a good topic to write about.  I'm on holiday at the moment, a time when fasting hasn't been at all practical, much less the difficulties of adherence to my normal eating plan that normally doesn't include sugar or wheat.  More on that not insignificant detail in a follow-up post.

What prompted me to write this post is a conversation I had last week with a very good friend I hadn't seen in a long time.  Being Muslim and of Indo-Pakistani descent, her family usually eats very differently than ours, not only during Ramadan, but also at other times.  That too, is fodder for another post, since starch consumption in the form of white rice, lentils and sugar normally plays a prominent role in Indian diets.

She told me her family doctor warned her that Ramadan fasting would be potentially bad for her health and tried to discourage her from participating in this ancient religious practice.

I told her about a post Dr. William Davis wrote not too long ago, in which he argued the contrary.  In fact, he claims that fasting for a minimum of 15 hours will give the pancreas a break from producing insulin and:

  • Reduce blood pressure
  • Reduce visceral fat
  • Reduce inflammatory measures
  • Reduce liver output of VLDL that cascades into reduced small LDL, improved HDL “architecture,” and improved insulin responsiveness
  • Accelerate weight loss. One pound per day is typical.
This would seem to be complete news to my friend's family physician, though I am pretty certain she was thinking of the adverse effects of low blood sugar during a prolonged fast.  On a low carb diet, hypoglycemia is much less of a factor.

During Ramadan, the day typically starts before daybreak with a high protein breakfast, and I'm told that with some practice, the lengthy daytime hours without food or water are quite manageable.  People who have never seriously considered the possibility of a starch free breakfast, and who spend their days grazing every couple of hours, would find this difficult to imagine.

Since the long days and short nights where we live mean the Ramadan fasting period this year is about 16 hours, kickstarting a new diet was looking pretty favourable to my friend, who has been exercising like crazy in an unsuccessful effort to lose weight.

After a week of visiting a succession of well-meaning and overly generous friends and family, the idea of a break from eating is looking increasingly attractive to me as well.  However, the difference is that I will be sure to keep up my fluid intake.