Leave Well Enough Alone

When it comes to food, sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. I have a friend who tries every new superfood nutrient powder that comes along. Mostly, they buy it and it sits on the counter, but they believe this will make them healthy while eating fast food fried chicken plus some lettuce every other month.

There’s no shortage of these products. I’m confident I could find one that’s gluten-free, low histamine, and pleasant tasting. I’m also confident that it would cost more than the few cents per serving I’ll spend producing Swiss chard, arugula, lettuce, and bok choy in my garden. So why would I be tempted to opt for a powdery substitute?

fresh tomatoes

I’m not saying there’s absolutely no benefit to these products or that they shouldn’t be added to an already healthy, balanced diet. If you are creating a shelf-stable survival kit, they may be a good option. If an elderly relative has trouble chewing, they may be a good option. If you are traveling and uncertain about access to fresh fruits and vegetables, greens powder may be a good option. But for anyone who has access and can tolerate the ingredients in fresh form, a powder is not a superior substitute.

Flour that has been processed until it has virtually no nutrients left, then enriched is not better than flour that is less refined. Orange juice from concentrate that sits for months and then has flavor packets added so it will taste fresh is not healthier than eating an orange or squeezing one for juice.

Academics and food scientists have attempted to create functional ice cream that provides more health benefits than regular ice cream without the drawbacks. Along the way, some interesting things have been discovered. Dairy fat wasn’t shown to be associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes when compared with calories from carbohydrate. But replacing 5% of the dairy fat calories with other animal fat or carbohydrates from refined grains was associated with a 14% and 4% increased risk respectively of type 2 diabetes. Substituting whole grains for 5% of the calories on the other hand resulted in a 7% lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Even in this experimentation, whole foods proved healthier.

Ice cream may even reduce the risk of heart disease for diabetics. A few years ago, a Harvard doctoral student who had studied the relationship of dairy foods to chronic disease for his thesis presented evidence that eating ½ cup of ice cream per day was associated with a lower risk for heart problems. I’d like to believe this finding! I feel like ice cream has healing properties.

Even so, I’m sure homemade or local creamery ice cream without added fillers is better than commercially produced grocery store ice cream. I’m lucky to live less than a mile from a local creamery so a healing bowl of ice cream is never far away. Neither is the temptation to eat way more than half a cup.

When I was growing up, there would have been no reason for this post. The emphasis on processed and convenience food was small. Most of my family’s food came from the farm. I learned to love the smells, textures, and taste of fresh vegetables from the garden.

And my mother wasn’t keen on extra work in the kitchen. As a result, she kept things simple. That example inadvertently helped shape my preferences for healthier foods.

That doesn’t mean I’m a proponent of a raw food diet, but I do support including raw vegetables and fruits in meals every day. Why? They retain all of their nutrients. But also, I don’t think bananas, apples, peaches, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, oranges, arugula, lettuce, tomatoes, or baby bok choy are enhanced by cooking.

I don’t want to miss out on the peppery bitterness of arugula, the sweet juiciness of a fresh blackberry bursting open in my mouth, or the tender crunch a baby bok choy stem adds to my salad. I would miss all of this pleasure if they were ground into a powder.

When healthier and more pleasurable intersect, it’s best to leave well enough alone!

Motivation

It seems obvious that types of motivation will differ across the population. Okay, I get that. You may be motivated by time off. Someone else might be motivated by a larger salary. And a third person might want a minimum salary with large bonus potential. In a similar manner, some will be motivated to change lifestyles so that they have less pain. Others will be motivated by the potential to live longer. Still others will want to do whatever is least disruptive to the time they can spend with family right now.

motivation graphic

These sound like external motivations. They are external motivators, dangling carrots that serve to spark motivation, but the motivations themselves are internal. In other words, when you look at the statements above, the desire to pursue a certain path comes from within.

Watching the NCAA basketball tournament this year, I wondered out loud about player behavior that didn’t appear to help the player excel or the team win. A friend replied that the player wasn’t motivated to hit the weight room and improve. Huh?

I guess in my frame of reference, if you are talented enough and have worked hard enough to be on the court at that level, you’re motivated to do your best at your chosen sport or you choose not to participate in. It’s a bit beyond me to understand showing up halfway, not attempting to achieve the maximum of your ability, or do the best you can. I also don’t understand not caring whether you help your team win.

It’s not that I don’t grasp some people have jobs feel trapped in or that poor leadership within an organization might make you question whether your efforts are worth it. I understand and have had those feelings. But for me, if I’m not willing to improve to the best of my ability within a chosen sport, job, or portion of my life, I need to change paths. If I take it on. I feel like I should fully show up.

It is only now beginning to creep into my consciousness that some, maybe lots of, people do not function this way. Of course, I’ve seen behavior that isn’t like mine. And I’ve sometimes felt confused or frustrated when people I worked with skated by for years. At least it seemed that way. Perhaps they were doing all they were capable of doing.

Because we can’t know anyone else’s internal workings, it’s probably best not to judge whether someone else is doing their best. But it seems that a broad understanding of how others are motivated is important for developing approaches that can help all of us become our best, healthiest selves.

For people like me, you can change the external reward and it will have little to no effect on our behavior. I’ll venture a guess that people with this bent are also similar in that we can tolerate a high personal cost if we believe in our path.

Now I need someone else to weigh in. I’m not sure whether internal desire can be changed by external influences. Perhaps it can or perhaps it just looks that way because we imagine different goals for people than those they would choose. Would they change paths if they had more inspiration, education, or support? If they changed paths, would it truly improve their lives?

Flights of fancy in this direction always bring me back to thoughts of a parking lot security guard at a local restaurant I used to frequent. This man wore a uniform. He took his job seriously. He was clearly doing something he loved. He was content. And you could feel it. He was the right guy with the right job leaning in.

The security guard was well-known in the area. He was in a sweet spot I think we’d all enjoy. I’m just wondering what kind of motivation will get us all there.

What’s Wrong With Sun Time?

Setting the clocks forward has me asking, what’s wrong with sun time? I hate springing forward! I hate it every year from the time it happens until we fall back to standard time.

clock

For weeks, I feel off. My eating schedule no longer works with work day conventions. I’m not sleepy at bedtime. I’m groggy when the alarm goes off in the morning. I realize I can slowly adjust for these changes, but what are any of us gaining?

Farmers and gardeners are well aware that plants and animals respond to the sun, not what time we arbitrarily assign to its position. Cows do not care whether the clock says 5am or 6am when they are milked, but they are definitely aware if you change the interval between milkings. Why would human animals be any different?

We’re not so different. Humans have an internal circadian clock. It’s a sort of Big Ben of the mind located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus. This master clock accounts for approximately 20,000 neurons.

According to a study on the effects of Daylight Savings Time on circadian rhythm, Circadian clocks roughly consist of a set of proteins, capable of generating self-sustained positive and negative transcriptional feedback loops with a free-running period of approximately 24 h. 

This central clock can directly and indirectly influence many functions: sleep/rest and locomotor activities; eating and drinking; core body temperature; endocrine activity; metabolism; autonomic and sympathetic activity, and more.

This study looked at the possible correlation between desynchronization of an organism and its environment and the development of cardiovascular disease. Circadian clocks use daylight to attune the body to the environment. That doesn’t change when the clock changes, but because behaviors change due to the time change, the body’s systems are affected.

Cardiovascular events have been observed to follow temporal patterns across 24 hour periods. Based on observation, it has been estimated that the incidence rate of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) onset is 40% higher in a morning period than throughout the rest of the day. Rupture or dissection of aortic aneurysms also shows a circadian preference for occurrence in mornings.

The fact that greatly different vascular events have similar temporal patterns may be due to underlying mechanisms. Increased blood pressure, heart rate, sympathetic activity, basal vascular tone, and vasoconstrictive hormones exhibit circadian rhythms with phases that correlate with a larger number of cardiovascular events. So, the question is whether the change in pattern required by a shift to Daylight Savings Time increases adverse cardiovascular events?

Additional factors related to adverse events are stress and lack of sleep. Both of these follow a circadian pattern that changes with DST. Let’s say your system is attuned to the external environment and functioning well. You set the clocks forward an hour. It feels like external time has doubled so you scramble to keep up, but your rhythm is no longer in sync with the environment. This feels stressful. And you get less sleep because the change is disruptive. The kids won’t get ready on time and you feel lethargic so you don’t work out.

The authors of the study above reviewed six other studies showing an increased incidence of cardiovascular events following the spring move to DST. The increase ranged from 4 to 29% depending on the study and was more pronounced in women.

It looks like DST has a demonstrable detrimental effect on health, especially in women. We have a policy that increases risk of onset of a heart attack by up to 29%. Does that not give us pause?

In the US, we talk a lot about healthy lifestyles while enacting policies that aren’t healthy at all. Daylight Savings Time doesn’t make us healthier. It doesn’t give us more hours in the day. It doesn’t save energy. And summertime has longer evening daylight without any arbitrary moving of the clock.

Perhaps we should begin with do no harm and leave well enough alone. Seriously, what’s wrong with sun time?

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Kiss My Grits

If you’ve never enjoyed a dish made using ground corn, you can kiss my grits.

Ground corn kernels form grits, polenta, cornmeal, corn flour, and masa harina. Tamales, pupusas, cornbread, hush puppies, corndogs, cheese grits, and tortilla chips all include ground corn. It’s hard to imagine anyone who hasn’t had a good experience consuming at least one of these.

corn

Cornbread was the most common use of ground corn in my mother’s household. My dad crumbled it into a thumbprint indented glass schooner filled with buttermilk and ate it with a spoon. I liked it warm with butter.

My grandmother used cornmeal to bread the fried catfish she served with hush puppies. And she made cornbread stuffing for the holidays.

Corn-based products are plentiful, making corn an easy default grain when you need to eliminate wheat from your diet. Corn tortillas can be used for enchiladas, soft tacos, and even sandwich wraps (although they tend to break). They can be spread with butter and toasted as a bread substitute or base for tostadas.

While others at the table enjoy rolls or bread before a restaurant meal, I order tortilla chips with salsa, cheese dip, or guacamole. I often ask to substitute tortilla chips for the pita chips typically served with spinach dip.

Grits can increase your options for breakfast. My kids loved them with butter and salt when they were growing up. Grits were less expensive than cold cereals and I liked that they didn’t contain sugar.

Once I gave up gluten, I was happy to be able to order grits in breakfast restaurants that didn’t offer gluten-free toast or pancakes. It made a filling meal and kept me full for hours.

Some complain that grits have no taste, but that’s the beauty of them. They can be anything you want them to be. I’ve combined polenta and cherries to serve with pork chops. Polenta and plums make an excellent cake. Polenta can even be used as pizza crust.

I went through a phase where I served cheese grits often. They were easy to prepare for guests or carry to a potluck and always got rave reviews. I’m pretty sure that’s due to the abundance of cheese surrounded by a carrier that enhanced the texture and had flavor that didn’t compete.

No article about ground corn is complete without a mention of shrimp and grits. That dish has inspired entire books.

At this point in my food navigating journey, I minimize the use of corn products. I’m not sure if it’s genetic modification of the food or just my system’s pickiness, but I often end up with pain or itchiness from things that contain corn.

With that said, I don’t necessarily want to discourage its use in those who can tolerate it because corn can be bought in the most rural of rural towns and is always plentiful. It’s also less expensive than nut, potato, arrowroot, tapioca, and other gluten-free flours.

I understand minimizing consumption of corn, but if you try to tell me it isn’t delicious, you can kiss my grits!