MonthFebruary 2015

The Hard Stuff

THE HARD STUFF

My high school chemistry teacher, “Vitamin Annie” Johnson, blamed her hunchback condition on poor nutrition while she was young. Though she taught us the fundamentals of chemistry, she taught us a lot about vitamins and minerals (which were not part of the course). Since we were high school kids, most of us did not take her admonitions to heart.

Forty-four years later, as I began my struggles to overcome type 2 diabetes, a physician loaned me a cassette tape on nutrition, entitled “Dead Doctors Don’t Lie”. This humorous and informative presentation suggested I could reverse my diabetic condition by adding chromium and vanadium to my diet. In his lecture, Dr. Joel Wallach blitzed through about 30 other undesirable medical conditions, which required me to re-wind the tape on lots of occasions so I could make notes of what he said. He concluded by suggesting that American foods are deficient in both vitamins and minerals, which causes a host of medical problems.

Dead Doctors Don't lie

Wallach worked as a veterinary pathologist at the St. Louis zoo for many years, and from the autopsies he conducted, he discovered that many of the animals died from mineral deficiency. He soon discovered these minerals affected the life span of homo sapiens. He learned those who lived longest were located in parts of the world where the water content was rich in minerals: the Himalayas, Okinawa, and mountainous parts of Africa and Asia.

As a vet, he understood that adding minerals to the diets of large animals, such as cattle, kept them healthy and gave them longer lives; they also produced better, healthier products for human consumption.

To produce healthy cattle, they were given mineral laden salt licks. This technique and others, are also used by Virginia farmer Joel Salatin; his farming techniques are described in Michael Pollan’s excellent book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin’s produce (vegetables, animal, eggs) is probably as nutrient dense and healthy (and tasty) as you will find anywhere in the USA.

Omnivore's Dilemma

Thus, Wallach did not invent the wheel on nutrition for farm critters – Salatin has practiced “healthy” farming for years.

Mineral supplementation has produced surprising results. For example, obesity in the human population, at least in the US, could be curbed (if not cured) if we have an adequate intake of minerals: we will not be hungry between meals. Wallach believes minerals are the solution to obesity.

So where do we get minerals? From the ground (eating dirt will not taste good, but the dirt contains minerals you are not receiving from Rice Krispy’s). When you eat a baked potato, you will receive potassium. Similarly, you receive calcium from milk, phosphorous from fish, etc.

So, what’s the big deal? I have milk with my cereal, I eat fish and chips on occasion, I have beef once or twice a week.

The problem is this: the soils used to grow fruits and vegetables, and wheat for cattle and corn for swine, coupled with the additives given cod and salmon raised in fish farms, are deficient in nutrients. Our top soils don’t possess the nutrients they had 100 years ago, and farmers continue to tamper with fertilizers (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, pH balancers), which has worked against the soil’s ability to manufacture its proper mineral content.

Soil Mineral Depletion

The potatoes at the super market may look great, but if they are grown in soil which has been stripped of minerals, you will not benefit from eating them. For the average consumer, most fruits and vegetables have little nutritional value.

Tepid soils also affect livestock, because cattle eat wheat and grass (and corn cereal mix). If they eat grasses deficient in minerals, we don’t benefit from the wonderful taste of the steaks we cook. Even if we buy organically grown foods and eat only pasture fed beef, we are not guaranteed the mineral content is sufficient to keep us healthy.

Dr. Wallach’s solution is this: supplement your diets by drinking colloidal liquids, which are rich in minerals. His product line (which are liquids, loaded with minerals gleaned from high altitude rivers and springs) are sold under the “Youngevity” label (http://youngevishop.com). I believe these product lines are pricey, so I personally buy liquid minerals from Swanson’s (http://www.swansonvitamins.com). I have also bought liquid minerals from iHerb (http://www.iherb.com). Both of these online stores offer vitamins and minerals at reduced prices.

Now we segue to the hard stuff: what we ought to know about vitamins and minerals. Let’s begin with minerals.

I will not delve into organic chemistry and biochemistry, but let me simply list the major minerals and the trace minerals:

Major minerals: calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chloride, and magnesium.

Minor minerals (trace minerals): iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine, and selenium.

In theory, you should not have to supplement your diet by taking extra minerals. But if you have read the blog up to this point, you realize that what you buy at the grocery stores will not do the trick.

Without kicking the “minerals” can down the road on this topic, let me close by citing the benefits of calcium. This vital mineral helps us grow healthy skeletons (in early life) and helps us minimize bone loss in later life. It may be useful in reducing hypertension, lowering blood pressure, prevent osteoporosis, and may play a role in blood cholesterol, diabetes and some cancers (see Understanding Nutrition by Whitney). In retrospect, I regret that Fran did not take more calcium during her three pregnancies – it might have helped alleviate or avoid the arthritis she is now experiencing.

The problem with calcium is absorption: we only absorb 30% of the calcium we ingest. To avoid muscle (leg) cramps at night (which is symptomatic of low calcium), I use calcium-magnesium liquids at bedtime (2 tablespoons). This has all but cured these cramps (there is a local grocery chain, Natural Grocers, which sells bottles of this liquid).

The benefits of calcium are many, but there are lots of minerals besides this one. I’m not going to mention any other minerals in this blog, except to say, if you are mineral deficient, you may be flirting with disaster. You will have to conduct your own research to learn more about minerals.

Now let’s reference vitamins. Unlike minerals, food packages contain “nutrition facts” per serving, so when you buy a sack of walnuts or a box of candy (or other packaged food), you can read the food label, and learn what its vitamin content serving.

Like minerals, vitamins come from soils, which have been depleted over the course of time, and from sunlight. You should plan on supplementing your diets with vitamins.

If you are a numbers person, then your government (the FDA) has determined the Recommended Dietary Allowance, as depicted in the Dietary Reference Intakes, and this table is the “baseline” for both vitamins and minerals. The table includes the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, etc.), vitamin C (both of which are water soluble), and the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E and K.

Most nutritionists and nutritional doctors (such as Joel Wallach), as well as many MDs and DOs, will tell you the government’s recommendations are inadequate for your needs. There is so much written material on this subject, I will give you a short cut. Read the first 60 pages of Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig, which is a short, readable summary on vitamins, minerals, and biochemistry.

A second resource on minerals is found in the book, Dead Doctors Don’t Lie by Joel Wallach and Ma Lan. Although the book is more about minerals than vitamins, the authors worked hard to compile appendices, which list more minerals than I knew existed. The authors explain what minerals do or don’t do for your well being (your homeostasis). The appendix even contains remedies for several hundred ailments (most cures can be reached through purchase of over the counter mineral supplements and specific foods).

Unless your personal physician is a whiz kid in biochemistry and nutrition, you will have to educate yourself. The purpose of this blog is to coax you to do so.

I may re-visit this subject in the future, because of its importance.

RECIPE

For the past couple of blogs, I have dodged my promise to give a new recipe each month. My talents are in cooking meats, which doesn’t require much a degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Second, I rely on using rubs and high tech devices (blow torches are used to brown and heat meats, whenever the meat has been cooked sous vide). This doesn’t require a lot of skill.

With that background, you will understand why I refer you to websites and apps, which I think are noteworthy. This month, the app (and website) is called Yummly (http://www.yummly.com). It is free, and has a terrific characteristic – if you want a low carb recipe, type in “low carb”, and you will be given dozens of recipes in that arena. If you want gluten free, then type in “gluten free”, and you’ll have a different list, but it will be just as long as the list generated for low carb recipes.

I even typed in “sous vide” and got lots of recipes. Though I thought it a waste of time and energy to cook scrambled eggs sous vide, I followed the recipe on the website, which was different from Douglas Baldwin’s suggestions in his sous vide cookbook. The eggs turned out surprisingly good: 25 minutes, 3 eggs (which I blended in a stick mixer), a slice of butter, at 165°. Midway I pulled the bag out of the water and stirred the eggs, then put them back in the water (I did not vacuum seal the bag, but used the water immersion technique to remove unwanted air).

Fran thought the eggs were watery, but I didn’t. Her cure was to microwave them; mine needed no alteration. The eggs were not as fluffy as those prepared in a skillet, but the sous vide method blended the butter into the texture of the eggs, and the taste was definitely worth the wait for “lost time”.

This was the first recipe we’ve tried using the Yummly app, but this is a worthy cooking aide for those of us whose talents are limited.

WORKOUTS

Workouts

For most of the 11 years I have had Type 2 Diabetes, I’ve done some sort of exercise on a daily basis. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs, you’ve learned that elevated glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream will either kill you or wreck your physiology, meaning, you’ll be in pain (neuropathy), damage your heart, liver, eyes, etc., and in the course of time, you won’t be able to live a normal life. Many of the maladies stemming from diabetes can be avoided, provided you eat properly and exercise. In short, if you exercise, glucose from your bloodstream is driven into your muscles or fat cells, seemingly without the necessity of taking lots of supplements or drugs (except for those who have Type 1 diabetes, who must have insulin injections).

For those who don’t know me personally, let me give you a bit of background. First and foremost, I am not a “jock”. Though no one told me, I have learned, over time, that I am not coordinated. As a kid I didn’t participate in competitive sports (football, basketball, baseball), which meant, I didn’t have to workout to be part of a team. That changed when I enrolled in advanced ROTC during my college years. For some reason, the Army expected me to be in good shape, and during boot camp, the drill sergeants worked me out every day, with all sorts of calisthenics. This came before breakfast, and I hated it, but then, I didn’t like being in the Army either. Pushups and running “in formation”, in combat boots, was not how I wanted to start the day.

After 2 years serving Uncle Sam, I quickly settled into a job, where I sit at a desk or conference table, and spend lots of time in front of a computer screen. After age 30, I noticed that I was gaining weight. Since I am a vain person, I took steps (most of them stupid steps) to fill myself up with foods that had little substance to them, because I thought this would help me lose weight: I ate rice cakes or peanut butter and bread sandwiches for lunch, and drank lots of coffee, in an effort to curb my appetite. This didn’t work. So I bought a rowing machine, which turned out to be a worthless piece of equipment. I tried doing pushups and jumping rope. That was not helpful. Next, I bought a treadmill, and I used it with limited success. That didn’t work very well, either. The only remedy turned up in the fashion industry — pleated trousers came into vogue, and these hid my pot belly. So I coasted for years, and no one could see my jelly belly.

Then catastrophe came: in 2004 and at age 61, I was told I had contracted Type 2 diabetes. At that time, I did not realize the value exercise might have helped me. But now, the family physician told me to join a health club and visit with a dietician. Since my brother-in-law had contracted Type 2 diabetes a few years before, I didn’t consult with a dietician, but rather, listened to my sister-in-law, whose sage advice on eating habits was accurate but I fought it every step of the way. I was not going to give up pizza and cookies.

Fran (my wife) was the family’s chef, and she began adjusting our meals, and also coaxed me to join a health club. My fitness trainer knew lots about nutrition, and gave me hints on the types of food suitable for athletes who work out. Since I wasn’t an athlete, I was stuck with resistance training, using the dozens of weight machines at the gym, and I put my treadmill back into use. In time, using a revised diet and some medications (first Avandia, then Metformin), my blood glucose readings were brought under control.

I now come to the most important part of my exercise routines, which came as a result of using the treadmill. I built a reading stand for the treadmill. The stand permits me to read lots of books while I walk on the treadmill, I have increased my knowledge base on foods, physiology, minerals, and lots of other things. To date, I still use the reading stand, which holds either an iPad or Kindle Fire, and I am entertained and educated while I walk.

 

Reading Stand

One of the first things I learned about exercise were the benefits of aerobic and anaerobic workouts. Gretchen Becker (The First Year, Type 2 Diabetes) advocated aerobic exercise, so that was my “ticket” to success. Problem was, as I read other materials on “beating” diabetes, those who wrote on the topic seemingly insisted that everyone engage in resistance training (anaerobic exercise).

The easiest addition to my walking regimen was to buy an elliptical machine, which had “arm handles”. So I gave my treadmill to my oldest son, and got a Nautilis elliptical machine from Sears. This was a rear wheel driven device, which required periodic repairs, but the elliptical gave me good workouts. Later on, I traded it in for a front wheel driven elliptical machine made by Octane; during the 4 years we’ve owned it, it has never had one repair. Octane products are front wheel drive machines (less moving parts than the rear wheel driven machines made by Precor, Nautilis, and others). I attribute its mechanical design as the reason no repairs have been required.

As with the treadmill, I built a reading stand for the elliptical.

Octane Elliptical

Not long after I joined the health club, and switched from a treadmill to an elliptical machine, I read that glucose either floats in your bloodstream (not good), or it is pushed into fat cells or muscles. It made sense to me that if I increased the size of my muscles, they could absorb more glucose at a faster rate than if I spent 30 minutes on the elliptical. I knew then that I had to do more resistance training.

During that era Bowflex advertised a lot on TV, and I had seen some units at Dick’s Sporting goods stores in Dallas. However, they were big and ugly (not something to go in a living room or a bedroom). Fran wouldn’t like that. And I knew very little about what a Bowflex would do. So I bought a used copy of a book, the Bowflex Body Plan by Ellington Darden, PhD. The author (a former Mr. America) knew his stuff, and I was quickly convinced that a Bowflex would, over time, give me the resistance training I needed. Just think, 15 minutes a day, 3 days a week, and I would be fixed.

Bowflex

I spent lots of time on the phone with Bowflex sales people, and even found that Amazon sold one model. Being the cost conscience person that I am, I opted for the less expensive Amazon model, and after ordering it, the large boxes arrived. Putting this device together is another story (http://www.jhbpc.com/Estate-Planning-In-Depth/composite.htm), but after 4 fours we got it together and started using it.

FYI, I continue to use the Bowflex, three times a week (as well as dumbbells and a chin up bar, which fastens to a doorframe).

So why all of this background? To let you know that I am not some NFL sized linebacker, with rippling muscles and an overbearing personality, who gets in your face with what you have to do to stay in good health. I’m average in size and am prone to being an introvert. But I have controlled my blood glucose levels, and exercise is a key component to how I am doing it.

What about the medical community’s attitude towards resistance training? The medical profession is finally endorsing both cardio and resistance training, not only for people like me, but for those who want to avoid Alzheimer’s, ADHD, Parkinson’s, cardio issues, and a number of other neurological problems. The most outspoken physician on the topic is Brett Osborn, a 43 year old neurosurgeon, who could have been a stunt man for the Incredible Hulk. His book, Get Serious, may be the most comprehensive treatise on resistance training and physiology I’ve encountered.

But let me backtrack a minute. If you follow new books on health related topics, you will have (or should have) learned about Wheat Belly, a 2014 best seller by Dr. William Davis, an American cardiologist, who documented the benefits of eliminating gluten from our diets. Besides the benefits of losing weight and feeling better, the gluten-free diet can eliminate neurological problems, most of which contribute to a host of mental maladies. Davis’ findings were amplified by David Perlmutter, a Florida neurologist, who eschews gluten as the progenitor of Alzheimer’s, ADHD, migraine headaches, epilepsy, schizophrenia, insomnia, and other ailments. Grain Brain is scary reading, if you are addicted to pizza, cinnamon rolls, and bread products.

So there are some pretty good resources on changing your diet, if you are concerned about Alzheimer’s and ADHD.

But in 2014 there was more to come from the medical community. The ink was barely dry on these two treatises when Dr. Brett Osborn published Get Serious, which not only endorses better diets, but advocates that we engage in heavy duty weight training, as the preferred means of avoiding and eliminating all of the ailments mentioned by Davis and Perlmutter. Osborn believes weight training will protect us from arthritis, type 2 diabetes, strokes, spine disorders, and most cancers.

Most of us, me included, will not take the steps Osborn recommends. But let me give you an eagle eye’s view of some of the materials in his book.

The medical industry is very skilled at keeping people alive once they’ve been afflicted with a stroke, had a heart attack, suffer from dementia, broken some bones, and so forth. That is good, because we need solution for physical problems. But is our goal in life to deal with problems after they happen? Can’t we avoid some of these issues?

Osborn says “yes”, and here’s his approach.

  • First, identify the risk factors for future problems. He suggests a battery of blood tests, but also wants you to understand that you are in control of your homeostasis (your body in its “best condition”).
  • At this point, you may disagree with his conclusion, and argue, “I am what I am; I can’t control my DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)”. To this, he points out that environmental stimuli can “turn a gene on or off”, such as using nutrients to help reduce stress, and build good bone structure through enhanced muscle mass. Osborn believes that “all diseases have an inflammatory component, all of them. And this is where we should focus our efforts primarily, from a preventive standpoint . . . (we need to) limit free radical production and reduce oxidative stress.”
  • So how do we do this? Genes are affected by bad stimuli, such as poor nutrition, tobacco smoke, and a lack of exercise. The collateral damage from bad stimuli will affect your genes, resulting in diseases which could be prevented. But you can rebuild your own genes (remember Dolly the cloned sheep?).
  • Osborn’s starting point begins with understanding the benefits of strength training. When you lift weights, and strain your muscles, your body responds by a tissue repair process, and produces anti-inflammatory cytokines (immune system signaling molecules), which facilitate muscle recovery. These cytokines are “stored”, but are ammunition for whatever inflammation might come your way.
  • When you exercise with weights, your body will release nasty free radicals, and lactic acid will make you sore. But again, your body will generate antioxidants, which neutralize the free radicals. You are adding reserves, which will be used to overcome the free radicals.
  • Exercise also alters the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. These “beneficial effects are thought to be related to an augmented antioxidant status, increased cerebral blood flow, and potentially enhanced neurogenesis.” At the cellular level, exercise “works” the brain.
  • Resistance training increases and releases good hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone. Total body protein stores will also be increased. This improves your capacity to heal, as well as increaseing your immune system reserves.
  • Therefore, start a resistance training program.
  • Now Dr. Osborn recommends a rugged workout, 5 days a week. Squats. Deadlifts. Bench presses. Overhead press. Pull ups. Chin ups. All with weight sets. No dumbbells, bands, medicine balls, or light weight stuff. Nothing but heavy duty equipment.

This exercise routine is more than I can handle, so for the time being, I’ll stick with what I’ve got. But I’m not going to “exercise” anymore. From now on (and for the foreseeable future) I’m going to do daily workouts (and call them “workouts”). Since starting my workout sessions, my BG levels have dropped one half a point, from 6.2 to 5.7 (A1C).

So let me be specific and tell you exactly what I do. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, I stretch with dumbbells, then do pull ups and chin ups. After that warmup, I begin the 15 to 20 minute Bowflex session. I follow Ellington Darden’s suggestions: 12 reps per set, and about 12 – 15 sets of exercises. After Bowflex, I workout on the elliptical for about 12 minutes. On those days, and after the evening meal (which is a light meal), I either walk 2 miles outside (weather permitting) or use the elliptical for 12 minutes.

On Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday, I use the elliptical both before breakfast and after the evening meal, until I burn 227 calories (which is about 2.5 miles), during each session. In other words, I walk about 5 miles on the elliptical.

If your back or feet prohibit your use of a treadmill or elliptical, consider the “elliptical recumbent bike”, made by Octane. This “new” technology may provide the benefits of an elliptical, as well as give some resistance training, all while you are in a sitting position.

I’m not suggesting you adopt my routine, but keep in mind, it has improved my blood glucose numbers.

Here’s the warning: Physicians and trainers will tell you never workout (or exercise) until a physician gives you a green light to proceed. I agree. If you have a cardiac condition, or some other prohibitive situation, don’t get carried away with the benefits touted by Drs. Osborn or Darden. But if you can exercise, I hope you’ll get excited at what workouts will do for you.

What to eat?

After I read the Omnivore’s Dilemma, a very good book on foods, I stumbled onto Marion Nestle’s What to Eat. The book was endorsed by Michael Pollen (the author who penned The Omnivore’s Dilemma), so I checked it out from library, then later got it as a requested Christmas gift. It is a keeper.

What to Eat

Nestle is a nutritionist and investigative reporter, and she gave me a quick but much needed education on food choices. For example, I learned there were no universal standards for grading foods as “organic”, nor was there any nutritional difference between white eggs and brown eggs (and sometimes no difference between range free eggs and ordinary eggs).

Rather than read the college text Understanding Nutrition (which I do recommend), borrow a copy of Nestle’s book, What to Eat from your library.

With that book in mind, let me skip this month’s recipe, and make a suggestion for buying meats.

Let’s start with beef, all of which is graded by the USDA as being either prime, choice or select. From a buyer’s perspective, beef is very, very expensive (prime is expensive, and ultra expensive if you buy Kobe beef). Choice is somewhat expensive (choice), and select is “bargain” priced. Those who grade the beef (after it has been slaughtered) look for lots of “marbling” (fat), so the meat will taste juicy and good.

Kobe Beef

Unless last year, neither Fran nor I had intentionally bought prime beef (nor have we bought or tasted Kobe beef). We made the mistake of buying a discount package from a local Tulsa butcher market (that was a bad, bad mistake; the meat, which had to have been “select”, was tough and tasteless). So last fall, with the encouragement of my college roommate (whom I’ve known over 50 years), we bought a prime rib eye steak, and I cooked it on the Big Green Egg.

The first thing we noticed was the tenderness: we didn’t cut it with a fork, but we weren’t distracted by any “chewy” characteristics. Second, the flavor was much better than the choice rib eyes we were used to. Finally, the charcoal flavor of the BGE made this steak a great meal.

The contrast between prime meat and select meat is qualitative, but I was surprised how much better the ‘prime’ cut was than the ‘choice meats’ I was accustomed to eating.

Besides grading of beef (prime, choice and select), cattle are either pasture fed (“grass fed”) or grain fed (“corn fed”). Since cattle don’t naturally eat corn, the chemists from Iowa State (and other places) developed a cereal-like food from corn, which is routinely given to cattle, to fatten them up for market.

Cracked Corn

Americans have become so accustomed to the taste, they think that “corn fed beef” is the preferred type of meat. Nutritionists have a problem with this, however, for our diets are so loaded with corn products that we all have grown fat and sick, because of added calories and nutrients associated with corn. So, for a healthier diet, splurge and buy some grass fed beef.

The final “beef” component deals not with cattle, but with bison (buffalo) and elk, both of which are grass fed. Both meats have less fat than beef, and if the meats are intentionally “undercooked”, the flavor is superior to prime beef (if either bison or elk are cooked to ‘medium’, the meat will be tough and chewy).

The problem with buying pasture fed, prime beef, or bison or elk, is, of course, the price. As a populace, we simply elect not to spend our food dollars on exotic cuts of beef.

However, this month’s recipe is a suggestion: buy some prime rib eye or sirloin, and cook it. At some point in your life, treat yourself to something really, really good.

LIPIDS: NOT THE NAME OF A MUPPET

Lipids: Not the name of a Muppet

Ten or twelve years ago, when I subscribed to Astronomy magazine and read lots of books on that topic, I became fascinated with the concept of light (which consists of particles and/or waves), and the colors which came from deep space objects (stars, nebulas, etc.). I didn’t understand all I read, but maybe that’s how life plays out: we see things or read about them, but probably don’t understand what’s going on.

I bought a cheap prism to help me understand that “light” has many layers: as light enters the prism, it is refracted, and emerges as a rainbow of colors.

Light dispersion illustration.

I can see the results, but don’t ask me to explain how that happens.

Since this blog is about foods, not astronomy, I ask you to segue the concept that “light” can be divided into layers of colors. Foods can too, so let’s divide them into their “layers” (that is, categories): proteins, carbohydrates, and fats (“lipids”). Now that’s a lot easier to understand than explaining how a prism divides light into an array of colors. So let’s stick with the easy stuff, food.

The type of foods I want to explore are “lipids”, meaning, fats and oils (fats may also be referred to as “fatty acids”).

For purposes of discussion, there are only two types of fats:

Solids (which for purposes of this article are classified as “saturated”) and liquids (“non-saturated”). Examples:

Solid: Butter (saturated)

Butter

Liquid: Olive oil (unsaturated)

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

We have been taught that if we eat lots of saturated fats (“solids”), the fats will somehow retain that characteristic and will clog our circulatory system, which blocks the passage of blood. This, in turn, can cause a heart attack or stroke. Similarly, if we stick with unsaturated fats (“liquids”), our “pipelines” will be uncluttered, and we’ll reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.

This picture needs correcting, because all fats are not created equal. For example, coconut oil is normally solid at room temperature (it is a saturated fat), but coconut oil is actually a healthy fatty acid. It will not clog your pipelines.

But consider corn oil or soybean oil (both of which are liquids, that is, unsaturated): both are rich in what are called Omega 6s, a subset of unsaturated fats, but Omega 6s are NOT good for you if you don’t balance these oils with other fats containing Omega 3s (which are, again, a subset of unsaturated fats). If you have too many Omega 6s in your system, you might develop blood clots, arthritis and heart disease.

So what makes some unsaturated fats not healthy? Perhaps we should first distinguish between whether the fat is “monounsaturated” or “polyunsaturated”.

There are lots of monounsaturated fats used in our diets: olive oil, almond oil, peanut oil, canola oil, all of which are in liquid form at room temperature. Technical point: this type of fat is a chain of carbon with one pair of carbon molecules joined by a double bond. Thus, it is “mono” unsaturated.

But the other type of unsaturated fat, polyunsaturated, remains in liquid form even when refrigerated (examples: Omega 3, 6, 7, 9, flax seed oil, corn oil). Technical point: Polyunsaturated fats have two or more double bonds between carbon atoms in the carbon chain backbone of the fat. Thus, with two or more double bonds, it is “poly” unsaturated.

There is a risk in eating lots of polyunsaturated fats, because they become rancid or oxidized when subjected to heat, oxygen, and/or moisture. If polyunsaturated fats are bombarded with hydrogen (hydrogenation), they become Trans fats.

 So what? you may say. Trans fats have some positive “benefits”: using them increases the shelf life of certain items (packaged cookies, for example), and they are now solid at room temperature (Crisco, margarine). OK, but is this bad for you? Apparently so, because Trans fats compromise your bodily functions, such as

  •  hormone synthesis immune function,
  • insulin metabolism,
  • tissue repair,
  • increase risk of coronary heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, diabetes, and infertility, and
  • promote weight gain.

To avoid foods with Trans fats, read the food label on the package. Avoid foods with trans fats.

There are other potential bad guys in polyunsaturated fats, viz., Omega 6s. What are these? They are part of a class of lipids known as “Essential Fatty Acids”. Your body can’t produce them, so your supply comes from the foods you eat. There are a bunch of Omega EFAs: Omega 3, Omega 6, Omega 7, Omega 9, etc.

Let’s first consider Omega 3s: They contain an essential fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. Omega 3s are in fish like salmon, sardines and tuna — as well as in walnuts, flaxseed and chia seeds, and have powerful anti-inflammatory capabilities. Research has linked them to a variety of health benefits — most specifically, Omega 3s reduce the risk of heart disease. When you hear the words, “Omega 3”, think: anti-inflammatory. According to Brett Osborn, MD (Get Serious), most of the world’s medical ailments (including diabetes, cancer, heart and cardio issues, mental issues) have inflammation at their root. To reduce inflammation, eat foods which are “anti-inflammatory”.

Contrast this with Omega 6s: these fatty acids contain linoleic acid, which is good. Omega 6s are in seeds, nuts and vegetable oils like safflower, corn and sunflower oil. But they also have arachidonic acid, which causes inflammation. Over time, an excess of arachidonic acid can lead to problems such as blood clots, arthritis, and heart disease. Again, referencing Dr. Osborn, when you think of Omega 6s, think “inflammation.” Not good.

So what should you do? Try to keep your ratio of Omega 3s foods equal to those of Omega 6s. This way, the anti-inflammatory benefits of Omega 3s will offset the inflammatory drawbacks of Omega 6s.

Keep in mind that the typical American diet suggests the foods we eat give us 15 times the number of Omega 6s compared to the Omega 3s we consume. To bring the ratio more in line with the Japanese (who have a 4:1 ratio), here’s what you might do:

  •  Cut back on buying packaged foods (which are prone to be high in Omega 6s and Trans fats)
  • Use less oil (coconut oil is all right, as well as flax seed oil)
  • Eat fatty fish (salmon, tuna, etc.)
  • Take Omega 3 supplements

To conclude our discussion of fats, let me mention triglycerides and cholesterol.

Triglycerides are fats which we make when we don’t use all the calories (energy) we consume. This stored energy can be used to create ATP (energy) when we need it. When you have a regular blood check test, it will undoubtedly tell you about the triglycerides in your blood stream. If they are too high, which is in the 150 to 199 mg/dL range, you run the risk of developing heart disease and stroke, as well as becoming obese, or falling into a state known as metabolic syndrome (sort of a mix of cardio problems and pre-diabetes).

Since triglycerides don’t dissolve, you should take steps to lower the level of these fats by losing weight, avoiding sugary and refined foods. Don’t have a 9 p.m. snack before bed (that includes ice cream). And the list of what to do and not to do is much, much longer, and this one is incomplete; so please do your own research on this topic.

Let’s turn to cholesterol. Cholesterol is a sticky, waxy, fat like substance found in some foods (egg yokes), but it is also made by your liver and other cells. You need it, for your brain and hormone production (including all the sex hormones, i.e., androgen, testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and DHEA). Hormones help you deal with stress, and protect against heart disease and cancer. Cholesterol also helps produce bile sales, which help you digest food. Since your brain needs serotonin in order for you to feel good, cholesterol plays an important role for the functioning of the serotonin receptors in your brain. It also helps to repair damaged cells, as well as prevent leaky gut syndrome.

That said, cholesterol is beneficial.

According to Mary Enig (Eat Fat, Lose Fat), cholesterol is a “heavyweight alcohol with a hormone-like structure that behaves like a fat, being insoluble in water and in blood. It has a coating of a compound called a lipoprotein, which makes it water-soluble so it can be carried in the blood. Lipoproteins are described in terms of their density . . . High-density lipoproteins (HDL) carry cholesterol away from the cells to the liver, and low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry cholesterol to the cells.”

Most of us have been told that a high HDL level indicates we are destined “to live long and prosper” (well, maybe not prosper), and that a high LDL level means we might die because our arteries will harden unless we begin taking statin drugs (such as Zocar).

But let’s delve into this, because the numbers may not be what they seem. If you have VAP (Vertical Auto Profile) blood tests, you will be testing cholesterol, lipid and lipoprotein levels. This test, however, segments cholesterol into subclasses. Subtype A is plaque, while subtype B is dense and atherogenic. A standard lipid profile does not differentiate the two. For this reason, it is completely erroneous to assume that elevations in LDL are wholly bad. Your LDL may be composed mainly of subtype A. (quoting from Get Serious, Brett Osborn, MD).

Dr. Osborn explains that subtype A is fluffy and less apt to be integrated into artherosclerotic plaque, while subtype B is dense and atherogenic. Paraphrasing what he said, don’t be too concerned about higher LDL levels, unless the Subtype B levels are high (which might indicate hardening of the arteries).

So now you have it: fats are a source of “immediate” energy (found in short and medium chain fats, i.e., fiber rich foods, butter oil, coconut oil, all of which are absorbed quickly), and long term energy, to be used when you need it (long chain and very long chain fats, such as olive oil, organ meats, egg yolks, butter and fish oils are not absorbed quickly, and are stored). But try to eat the right kinds of fats (those with Omega 3 concentrations, such as salmon and tuna), and avoid foods with long shelf lives (which have more Omega 6s than you need).

I am indebted to all of the authors who have opined on these topics, but especially, Mary Enig, Brett Osborn and Sally Fallon.

 

RECIPE

 With the onset of cooler (and colder) weather, I’ve been combining sous vide meat preparation with outdoor barbecue. I decided to cook pork ribs, which are much too big to fit into my Sous Vide Supreme Demi. To cook large meats (such as brisket and ribs), I bought the Anova Precision Cooker (a less expensive unit than the Sous Vide Supreme Demi).

Let me walk through my experiences, and the lessons learned (Sous vide cooking is an art, not a science, so mistakes will be made).

I started with 3 large slabs of ribs, which I marinated in an expandable Food Saver bag. After I sealed off one end of the bag, I stuffed all three slabs in the bag, then poured two bottles of a mild pork marinade into the bag, and sealed off the open end with my Zip Lock sealer. I kept this in the refrigerator for 30 hours. Note: I am not required to remove the membrane from the ribs, when I cook the ribs sous vide. Some (like my cousin David) have a gift in removing this troublesome membrane; I do not have that gift. So for this Beauchamp, sous vide cooking is the rescue.

We bought a plastic container from the Ikea store in Frisco, Texas, and I clamped the Anova holder unit on one end of this tub. This container (made to hold office files) is a heavy plastic, and holds lots of water. It took many trips from the kitchen to the garage (where the primary cooking would be done), to fill the plastic tub. Next, I inserted the heating unit, and set the temperature to 137° F. It took about 3 hours to bring the temperature to its desired setting of 137°.

Sous Vide side view

The ribs were taken out of the marinade bag, and dried with paper towel. Each rib was put in its own bag, then the bags were sealed off, so that very little air remained in the bags (if there are air pockets in the bags, they will float to the top). I plopped the bags into the water (fortunately, they sank to the bottom; on previous encounters with floating bags, I have added a 5 lb. dumbbell weight, to force the bag to the bottom of the container).

I cooked the ribs for about 30 hours. At 137° the meat was pastured (and safe to eat), though it was a little pink in the middle.

Due to the colder temperature, it took a couple of hours to heat the Big Green Egg to 250° F (I added a soaked piece of pecan to the charcoal, because ribs should have a smoked flavor). I inserted the “indirect” cooking plate into the BGE, then removed the ribs from their “sous vide” bags. We use lots of paper towels in sous vide cooking; the towels are used to dry the meat of most of the moisture. After I got the ribs relatively dry, I added my favorite pork rub Fran had concocted a couple of months ago.

After 30 hours of cooking, the ribs didn’t have the appearance of being done (this is characteristic of all sous vide cooking), so when they are removed from the sous vide unit, many chefs will simply use a Crème Brule blow torch to finish the product. I have done this, too, but for ribs to taste great, they must be smoked. And that’s what I did.

Big Green Egg with ribs

After about three hours in the BGE, the color changed dramatically, and they were removed from the Big Green Egg. They were tasty and moist. I covered them with aluminum foil, and waited until the guests arrived.

My big mistake was keeping the ribs in the oven, which was set on warm. I had forgotten a principle in barbecuing, which is, meat continues to cook after it has been removed from the grill. Thus, the ribs were a bit overcooked when they were served. The taste was still great, but had lost the tenderness, which is the characteristic of good sous vide cooking.

The Anova Precision cooker performed as advertised. Mid-way through the cooking process, I had the good sense to put the Ikea plastic over the tub of water (water does evaporate, and I added a gallon or so during the 30 hour cook).

Sous Vide view from above

I know that sous vide is not for everyone (it is expensive), but since Fran and I are limited in dining choices (not too many restaurants offer gluten free and low carb meals, which is what we are now relegated to). So our “restaurant” meals are at home, and they are superb!

 

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