Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Food of Champions

'Tis the season. We officially have a "Corgi" pumpkin on our porch, which I would show you, except it looks nothing like this:

This would be Juba, an actual Corgi
I've got to say, unlike the rest of you out there, spending $7.4 billion on Halloween candy, costumes, and decorations, I'm just not that into it. We bought the pumpkin that became a Corgi, and two bags of candy for the three trick-or-treaters who will darken our door (and I'm rounding up on that number), for a total of $10. Multiply that times 117 million households in America, and you only get a total of $1.2 billion. So, clearly, some of you are going nuts.

Besides, the next Market will be Saturday, November 1, when all of you will be trolling for vegetables to relieve your Snickers hangover. May I recommend...

Little-known fact: purple carrots are yellow in the middle
And once we have the spooky, expensive holiday behind us, there are two important things to look forward to in November: kids' sports championships and Thanksgiving. If you can't give thanks for the one (except to say, "Hallelujah! It's over!"), you certainly can for the other.

But suppose you're really into encouraging and nourishing your little champion--what would be the best food and drink to power the tyke through that meet or match, and give your future Olympian an edge over everyone else's lesser spawn? Good news--I've read a book this week and picked up some tips and ah-has.

  1. "The typical athlete, without using any special nutritional techniques, has enough carbohydrates in his body to fuel roughly three hours of endurance exercise at around 70-80% of effort...If you're exercising for less than 75 minutes, you probably don't need any carbohydrate intake at all for optimal performance. Your body already has plenty of fuel for these shorter efforts without any sort of bars or gels or drinks." I knew it! I knew I didn't have to bring snacks for those dumb baseball games and mighty-mite soccer matches! Spread the word, people.
  2. For "stop and start" sports like soccer and basketball, with games that last 1-2.5 hours, then you might consume between 30-60 grams of carbs and see a benefit. Or, you could just swish the energy drink around in your mouth and spit it out again, because "there's a strong line of research that shows that we have sensors in our mouths that detect the presence of carbs, and that even just rinsing your mouth with carbs has an effect on your brain that can increase your performance"(!). So, okay...for the older kids with longer games, hand over the violently-colored Gatorade, but when they take a sip, run up behind them and scare or tickle them, so they spit it out.
  3. You can make your own Gatorade! U.S. Olympic sports nutritionist Nancy Clark gives this recipe: Dissolve 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 tsp salt in 1/4 cup hot water. Add 1/4 cup orange juice, 2 Tbsp lemon juice, and 3-1/2 cups cold water. Boom. Done. Homemade. Throw in a few drops of lurid artificial food coloring if your child won't touch it otherwise.
  4. Yes, many performance-enhancing substances have been banned from competition, but here are the proven, still-legal goodies!
    • Caffeine. More isn't better, but some has demonstrated results.
    • Baking soda. It keeps muscles from becoming acidic and feeling fatigued. The downside? You can't take your dose via chocolate chip cookies or blueberry muffins. You have to combine it straight with a little carb-dense meal and risk GI side effects.
    • Beet juice. Something to do with nitrates, which your body converts to nitrite and then to nitric acid, making your blood vessels dilate and increasing mitochondrial efficiency. Apparently, at the 2012 London Olympics, athletes cleaned out all the beet juice in a ten-mile radius. Good luck getting your young 'un to chug that stuff, though.
  5. Diet-wise, McClusky recommends eating "one gram of protein daily for every pound of body weight to support muscular growth, least eight fist-sized servings of vegetables a day." That's a lot of vegetables. Which explains why my children will probably never summit that Olympic podium.
  6. Increase brain fitness. Studies showed that increasing brain fitness increases physical abilities as well. Mind over matter.
  7. And, finally, sleep more. In a study of basketball players, an increase of two hours of sleep per night resulted in a 13% performance enhancement, as measured by free-throw shooting, 3-point shooting, and sprint drills. 13%!!! Put down the steroids and the human growth hormones, Sonny, and just go back to bed!
There's more in this fascinating book--I'm giving it to my son's swim coach for Christmas--so get yourself a copy, even if you just want to turn yourself into the Ultimate Weekend Warrior.

So much for athletic excellence. If you're like me, heading into the holidays, you're thinking a lot more about eating than working out. And if we're talking Thanksgiving, we're talking turkey.

Have you ordered your turkey yet? Windy N Ranch is taking deposits on their organic, GMO-free heritage turkeys! Heritage turkeys are exactly what they sound like--old-timey breeds that look, taste, and behave like the turkeys Ben Franklin knew, when he joked about making them our National Bird.

If you haven't had them before, the real deal is tasty. Tasty goodness. better run, little turkeys. Run run run run run, little turkeys...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Are Healthy Processed Foods an Oxymoron?

You might have seen the headlines yesterday that profits at McDonald's and Coca-Cola dropped in the last quarter. Could it be that Americans are finally turning away from junk food and soda?
Baby, don't hurt me, don't hurt me no more
The answer to that question seems to be Yes and No. Yes, Americans might finally be heeding all the warnings about our favorite junk foods, but, No, we still need convenient meals and snacks. Just give us the "healthy" stuff. The processed foods with added protein, vitamins, fiber, omega-3s, what-have-you.

We'll put down the Coca-Cola and reach for the Vitamin Water. We'll bypass the french fries for the whole-grain cereal. But are the "healthy" alternatives any healthier?

Recently I read another food-industry-investigation book, this one called Pandora's Lunchbox by Melanie Warner.

If you've run the gamut of food books, from Michael Pollan's oeuvre to Salt Sugar Fat and their ilk, you won't find a whole lot new in this book, although I did find a few interesting nuggets:

  •  Digesting a meal of whole, unprocessed foods raises your metabolic rate almost 50% over a meal of processed.
  • When Kraft started producing processed cheese, WI cheese makers wanted it called "embalmed cheese."
  • If soybean oil weren't bleached, it would be reddish-orange and contain beta carotene.
  • There are 2 ways to fix our omega-6/omega-3 imbalance: eat 6-10 ozs of salmon/day (until all the salmon are overfished and gone) or cut back on processed food.
  • Most of the 5000 food additives allowed are industry self-regulated and untested. (Basically a wait-until-somebody-gets-sick approach.)
Warner also includes a chapter called "Healthy Processed Foods," to look into such novelties as "resistant starch," which is "molecularly rearranged to withstand human digestion"--like fiber! Most natural fibers get broken up or removed during processing, so food manufacturers generally have to add it back in. Yes, resistant starch resists digestion, but can it reproduce the complexities of natural fiber, which comes with its own nutrient benefits that the gut processes in its equally complex ways? Who knows.

Warner notes that, "between 2007 and 2011, among the eight thousand packaged products evaluated, healthier choices made up roughly 40 percent of sales but generated more than 70 percent of sales growth." "Healthy" is good business. And "healthy," as defined by the food industry means reducing sugar and fat and generally replacing them with other cheap ingredients: "zero-calorie sweeteners, starches, gums, or taste-modification molecules." Genuine healthier food items require whole ingredients and less filler--hence the high prices of KIND bars which I remarked on earlier.

Can you find healthy processed foods? Since I don't think even a KIND bar can technically be called a healthy food (it's more like a healthier candy bar), the options are slim. There are roasted nuts in cans, frozen fruits and vegetables, unsweetened yogurt, plain old rolled oats. But, as always, the answer seems to be, if you want real healthy--genuine healthy--the only guarantee is to buy it yourself and cook it yourself.

Our farmers market offers the best of both worlds: whole foods from a farmer or vendor who can tell you exactly where it came from and how it came to be, and processed foods, where the vendor can tell you exactly where it came from and what went into it. No weirdness, no chem lab, no fillers.

So, fine, skip the McDonalds and the Coca-Cola. Our Market offers tuna and beef jerky, all kinds of baked goods, yogurt just waiting to be swirled with artisan jam, Hosui Asian pears, roasted peanuts, crisp apples and multiple varieties of pear--all to be washed down with fresh-pressed ciders or even Washington wine. Do these offerings cost more than the storebought ones? Sometimes--in the short run. The final tally on the processed foods won't be determined for years, but if the rising levels of obesity and metabolic syndrome and food allergies are any indicator, those "foods" have their own hidden price tags.