10 Simple Tips to Handle Holiday Feasts

A Low Carber's Guide to Navigating the Holidays

The weeks leading up to the annual autumn/winter seasonal food fest—which for most of us Americans, at least, begins with Thanksgiving and ends after New Year’s Day—is a mine field of potential dietary disaster. Or it can be without some strategic planning. So make a plan!

  1. In the week or two running up to Thanksgiving, commit yourself with an added measure of focus to following your nutritional regimen. You may even want to pare you carb intake back to a transitional level of 15 effective grams a meal or down to a corrective level of 5 to 7 effective grams or even go Zero Carb for a bit in preparation for the added food that’s sure to come.
  2. Plan, now, to limit your indulgence to the actual day of the feast; try not to let the holiday eating pattern extend from several days before to a week afterward. It’s very easy to get into the mind set of ‘oh well I already blew it’ at lunch, or today, or this week, so I might as well have (fill in the carb-rich blank).
  3. Thanksgiving feastIf you plan to undertake a lot of holiday baking, wait as long as you reasonably can to do it. Goodies that sit around are an open invitation to start the celebration early. Immediately freeze anything that can be frozen, and if possible, save the preparation of foods that can’t be frozen or sealed away out of sight to the last few days, thereby limiting your easy access to them. Try new lower-carb [and paleo] recipes for holiday goodies. You’ll find dozens of recipes for pies, cakes, cookies, and candies in the host of wonderful paleo cookbooks, such as Gather, that have flooded the shelves, . You’ll be able to enjoy them with less risk to your maintenance commitment.
  4. Consider modifying your traditional holiday meals. The meat, fish, or poultry portion of most holiday meals—the turkey at Thanksgiving, the Christmas goose or ham—doesn’t pose a problem. It’s the side dishes and the desserts that can undo you. Many carb-rich dishes can be deliciously replaced by lower-carb options. For instance, substitute butternut squash for yams, cauliflower or celery root puree for mashed potatoes, and fresh cranberry relish sweetened with a bit of stevia or xylitol for cranberry jellies and sugar-based sauces. Shaving a few (or more) carbs off every item in your holiday cornucopia can make the feast much easier on your waistline. Here are some options I pulled from the archives:  Yellow Pepper Consomme, Cauli-Cauli, Mincemeat Pie, Simple Nut Crust, Mulled Wine.
  5. bacon and eggsStart your holiday morning with a high-protein, carb-controlled breakfast—bacon and eggs, cottage cheese with a few berries, some cream cheese, a protein shake with plenty of good fat, or even a cup or two of ‘Bulletproof Coffee’—to keep your blood sugar stable and your hunger at bay. You’ll be less likely to nibble at higher-carb feast foods before dinner is served.
  6. Begin your holiday feast with a clear soup course. Filling your stomach with a cup or two of clear broth soup and waiting a few minutes before digging into the main feast will take the edge off your ravenous holiday hunger. You’ll find that you’ll be satisfied with smaller portions on your plate.
  7. fresh veggieServe plenty of fresh, raw veggies—broccoli, cauliflower, celery and carrot sticks, and green onions—to add color, fiber, variety, and crunch.
  8. Try to match the amount of food you prepare to the number of people you’re feeding, so that you will have few, if any, leftovers, particularly of foods in the higher-carb category. We know that leftovers are a part of the enjoyment of a holiday feast—who doesn’t like a turkey, dressing, and cranberry relish sandwich the next day? Try having one with Cauliflower Bread or on a low-carb tortilla. If you love to enjoy leftovers for a day or two, then make enough for that, but don’t go overboard.
  9. If you choose to keep your traditional menu and recipes, try cutting your normal portions of the dressing, potatoes, yams, rolls, and desserts in half. Enjoy the food and then wait for a full fifteen minutes after finishing these smaller portions before you consider going for seconds. You may be surprised to find that your satiety center has kicked in and you really don’t feel hungry.
  10. early morning runnersParticipate in something fun and physical; many communities have holiday fun walk/runs. Or you could just enjoy a good long walk with the whole family before (or after) dinner. You may find that a good workout before the feast makes you feel less like gorging and more conscious of healthful eating.

BONUS TIP: Consider starting new traditions. Volunteer to serve meals at a community kitchen on Thanksgiving Day and then regularly thereafter. Your heart will be nourished and your sense of the real meaning of thanksgiving and community will deepen your own celebration.

Shirataki Pasta: Low carbs and Great Taste

I am ever on the look out for ways to enjoy the things I love in a lower carb way without giving up on flavor or feel. Thus, my delight when Mike’s sister introduced me to shirataki pasta.Shiritaki_pasta borders

I honestly love pasta, although I have long eschewed it except for rare indulgences, because of the carb content. Nowadays, I don’t eat even small bits of it, having completely divorced myself from wheat, gluten, corn and any significant amount of most all grains about 2 years ago. But when I look back at it, what I realized is that I really loved pasta as a vehicle for sauce more than for the noodles themselves. And this wheat-free, gluten-free, practically-zero-usable-carb (and low calorie) substitute is ideally suited to be that vehicle!

Made from the tuber-like root of the Amorphophallus konjac plant, this pasta stand-in contains mainly fiber (about 40% glucomannan) and almost no usable starch.

Per our friends at Wikipedia:

The food made from the root of this plant is widely known in English by its Japanese name, konnyaku (yam cake), being cooked and consumed primarily in Japan. The two basic types of cake are white and black. Pushing the cake through a grid of sharp blades at the end of a wooden box gives noodles, called shirataki, which are also sold in white and black colors.

In a 2/3 cup serving there is only 1 gram of actual usable carb, so I figure, why not blow it out and have a double serving? From a carb standpoint, no reason, but because the fiber content is so high, it would be wise to take it slow and easy from a gastrointestinal standpoint. Suddenly downing a significant load of soluble fiber, if you aren’t used to it, can overwhelm GI tolerance and lead to bloating and gas.

That aside, the ‘miracle’ pasta (as one maker calls it) is also widely touted for many purported healthful benefits, some of which could indeed operate through reasonable and known mechanisms, contributed chiefly by the glucommanan. These include:

  • lowering blood sugar, by slowing absorption of dietary glucose, as most fibers do
  • lowering cholesterol, again, by slowing down absorption and reabsorption from the gut in a manner akin to Questran and other soluble fibers
  • helping to relieve constipation by holding water in the contents of the gut, similar to such products as psyllium

Glucomannan has also been reputed to assist in weight loss, through, from what I’ve been able to suss out, decreasing appetite by creating a sense of fullness and by supplanting the volume of other caloric foods. That mechanism isn’t as clear to me as a secret for long-term weight loss, though I guess there could be some benefit if you were to eat a lot of it. I’d just be careful about eating too much too fast! Caveat comedentis!

Pasta_Carbonara with borderWanting to give it a cautious try, I picked up a pouch of shirataki spaghetti at our local grocery store (in the bags of pre-washed salad section) and a few nights ago, I threw together some marinara, bacon, onion, garlic, and a couple of diced up hunks of left-over ribeye and made a Pasta Carbonara to put over them.

Mike–not actually a big pasta fan–loved it and so did I. It has a ‘bite’ reminiscent of really good pasta, firm on the teeth, yet tender, and holds up well to tossing with a hearty sauce like the one I made. It comes in spaghetti, flat ‘fettuccini’ noodles, and angel hair pasta noodles and even as ‘rice’. Whatever shape, I can guarantee we’ll be enjoying more of it in 2014. I’m thinking Seafood Alfredo, Linguini con Vongole, Spaghetti Putanesca. Oh, the list could go on!

A Grain of Salt

An article appeared in our local bugle today that caught my eye.

The piece, written the AP’s Michele Kayal centers around Mark Bitterman’s, new book Salted which extols the glories of the natural salts of the Earth and which I just received from my darling husband for Christmas.

The reason it caught my eye is that we are salt junkies of the deepest dye. We love natural salts of every hue, buy them wherever travel, and now have quite a collection of them in our kitchen. We have Truffle Salt, of course, French Fleur de Sel and Gros Sel de Mer with herbs and pepper, pink salt from the Himalayas, and Maldon flakes from England. In the photo above, counter-clockwise from the top left are some Jurassic Salt and Black Salt we picked up at Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style store in the wine country (the pinkish ones) and the Vital Mineral Blend Celtic Sea Salt we use for everyday cooking and seasoning.

Regular table salt, the kind that comes in the round cardboard canister, is NaCl–sodium chloride–of course, and while it may or may not be iodized, lacks most all the trace minerals present in natural sea salt. Those minerals are important to good health, particularly having all the proper forms of iodine (both iodine and iodide) required for optimizing not only thyroid function but all sorts of other glandular tissues that depend on it.

An accidental bit of kitchen chemistry I experienced a while back proves the point that there’s stuff in mineral blend sea salt that isn’t in plain salt. I was blanching some chopped red cabbage, which is one of Mike’s favorites, in a large pot of water. Once at the boil, I added a tablespoon of mineral sea salt to the water, then dropped the cabbage and let it briefly boil. I’ve done this countless times with Kosher salt or table salt, but using mineral blend sea salt something strange happened. The burgundy color of the cabbage and water was transformed to a shockingly bright blue. I mean bright blue with not even the merest hint of red in it. The cabbage tasted the same as it usually did, but the color was strikingly different. Repeat the experiment yourself if you like and report back. Maybe different salts will yield different hues, who knows?

I plan to do try the technique again when I need blue food (of which there are few naturally occurring ones) for some event — say July 4th or a Superbowl party, if the Denver Broncos or Cowboys or some team I like with a vivid blue in their team color scheme ever makes it back to the big dance. Obviously not this year for the Broncs or the Boys, but maybe a red, white, and blue theme for the Pats. That’s looking more likely.

You could stand to lose a few pounds

And so could I, but the title isn’t meant to be a reflection on my current state of obesity or yours.

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times online that caught my eye centered on the idea that we gain weight because we sit too much and that we can reverse that to some degree at least if we stand more.

Reading the article brought to mind another piece I had read recently, about how former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had gotten excoriated in the press for a note he jotted on a GITMO report about the detainees there being asked to stand for up to four hours a day. His hand-written comment in the margin of the report was “Only 4 hours?”

The note was seen by many in the press and elsewhere as proof of his approval of the use of cruel and unusual punishments for GITMO detainees. Whatever Mr. Rumsfeld’s feelings might have been on the subject of treatment of detainees (about which I am making absolutely no value judgement here pro or con) the ‘standing’ comment probably wasn’t proof of callousness or cruelty, because apparently it is Mr. Rumsfeld’s habit to stand all day long as he works. According to the article I read, he long ago had a special standing-height desk fashioned for himself and he works, standing at it, all day long. Thus, for a man who chooses to stand for 8 hours a day, the seemingly heartless ‘Only 4 hours?’ comment maybe wasn’t intended to be. Whatever else one may say about Rummy, for a man who will turn 78 this year, he’s in pretty darned good shape. He stands ramrod straight and is reasonably trim of frame and flat of ab, so maybe there’s something to this standing business.

For quite some time now, this very idea–standing more–has been something that Mike and I have discussed at length in our ongoing search for what changed in our lives (and the lives of our peers) during the quiet slide from 40 to 60. What happened that could account for the difficulty so many of us clearly experience in holding the line against weight gain (let alone losing weight) as we age, even in the face of a eating about the same amount of food and doing about the same amount of exercise as we did in our younger years.

One of the things that has changed, for us at least, is what we do for a living and the lifestyle differences that shift engendered.

Thirty years ago we first went into clinical practice and for the next nearly twenty years after that, our days were spent working 10 to 12 hours a day, 5 to 7 days a week, seeing patients in the clinic. A day in our lives as clinic doctors looked something like this: walk to exam room door, pick up chart, go into exam room, sit on a backless stool for about 5 or 10 minutes coning down on the patient’s chief reason for being there, stand to wash hands and examine the patient, sit again (or often continue to stand) beside the patient to discuss findings and recommend testing to be done, walk out of room, track down nurse to carry out the orders, walk to the x-ray suite to check developed films or to the lab to check results, all done standing, walk to the next exam room, repeat the process 50 or more times a day. We were in and out of rooms, up and down and up and down all day long, with a whole lot of it spent ‘up’ and not much spent sitting. Most of those years, we spent almost zero time ‘working out’ or doing any formal kind of ‘exercise’.

Contrast that with our lives of the last ten or so years, spent mainly as writers and researchers of the medical literature.

When we’re home, in our normal routine, our lives as full-time writers and researchers look something like this: sit down at the computer and work for three or four hours in the morning. Take a break every hour or so to walk to the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, then right back to the computer.

I go to the kitchen about 1 o’clock or so to fix lunch or we might hop in the car to go grab a burger someplace, where we sit to eat it. Mike usually works at the computer until time to eat.

Then it’s back to the computer to sit for two or three more hours, with maybe a break to get another cup of coffee, and right back at it, sitting.

Our level of formal ‘working out’ on average hasn’t really changed much over the years. If anything it’s increased. Some days we’ll do a Slow Burn weight work out, which takes just a few minutes. In summer or when we are in SB, Mike will take a break in the late afternoon to go walk a few holes on the golf course and he plays 18 a couple of times a week. I occasionally will take a walk on the beach or on trails, but not regularly. Sometimes I will do pilates. Or maybe I will just go to the kitchen to fix dinner, which is at least standing.

Most days, we’ll both go back to the computer after dinner to sit, working, for another hour or two. Sometimes we’ll work late into the night, depending on whether there’s a big writing project going or not.

Then we get up the next day and do that again.

While we haven’t really changed the amount of time we spend doing ‘actual exercise’ what’s really changed when you compare the last ten years to the twenty before them is the standing. As a clinical doctor, you do a lot of standing. Or at least we did. And it takes a lot more muscle work to stand than to sit.

If you’ve followed our writing in books and blogs, you’re probably saying, Hey wait a minute! You’ve said many times before that exercise is not a good way to lose weight. And that is absolutely true.

In our most recent book, The 6-Week Cure for the Middle Aged Middle, we wrote an entire chapter debunking the whole idea of ‘eat less and exercise more’ as an effective strategy for weight loss. And we stand behind that chapter.

What we also discuss in The Cure is the difference in EAT (exercise activity thermogenesis) and NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis.) EAT is the energy cost in calories of exercise taken for exercise’s sake–i.e., running, rowing, the hour spent doing aerobics or pilates or yoga. NEAT is the energy spent doing every other sort of activity in the remainder of the 24 hour day–i.e., the fidgeting, wiggling, walking, standing, stooping, and squatting we do in the activities of daily living and the moving we do in our sleep. It’s easy to see that 30 minutes or an hour spent ‘doing exercise’ even if it’s pretty rigorous, is far outweighed by the amount of time in a day we don’t spend doing it. So as far as energy expenditure in the course of a day or a month or a lifetime, NEAT is the main source of guzzling calories, not EAT.

Let me illustrate. The average 150 pound person expends 720 calories in an eight hour day just lying quietly in bed. If sitting at a desk to work, he or she expends 912 or an additional 192 calories during that same 8 hour period. Standing to work, the caloric expenditure rises to 1176 or an additional 264 calories. So all other things being equal (and I realize that’s a pretty big assumption) just spending most of one’s work day standing instead of sitting costs the body an additional 1874 calories per week or the rough equivalent of a one-half pound of potential weight gain a week.

But the body isn’t merely a ‘black box’ into which calories go and out of which calories flow. A change in one area (expenditure) causes changes in other areas (intake) that can easily correct course and keep the body in balance. It’s not just eat more exercise less. Clearly it isn’t that simple, because if it were, taking a brisk 3 mph walk every day (which would burn 300 calories) would offset the difference occasioned by sitting all day to work. But it doesn’t, at least not completely.

As I wrote about in The Cure, when my weight began an inexorable creep upward as I passed 50, in spite of my knowing what to do and for the most part doing it, I undertook a program of daily walking of about 3.5 miles per day, six days a week for a solid 10 months, and didn’t lose a pound or an inch. There’s more than simply calories in and calories out as we normally think of those things in what drives us to store fat. If it were that elementary, we’d all be thin!

The kind of calories coming in matter. Hormonal balance matters. Stress matters. And maybe, just maybe, standing more matters.

At any rate, I intend to do the Rummy and give it a try. I’ll let you know how it works out.

*Rumsfeld photo – Wikipedia

Classic Truffles: The Perfect Valentine’s Treat

Nothing says love on Valentine’s Day quite like sweets, particularly chocolate, which can make it a mine-field for the low-carb devotee. But here’s a solution that may surprise you: truffles!

My all-time favorite recipe for classic Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles comes from Alice Medrich’s wonderful book A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts(Warner Books 2001).

Click on the image of her book at left to find out more.

I sometimes make batches of these delicacies to take as a hostess gift to dinner parties instead of wine, since just about everybody loves a luscious chocolate truffle.

And besides, good cocoa is a health food (see here) filled with active flavinoid compounds, such as epicatechin, which according to some researchers may be protective against the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

But what about the sugar content?

I confess that I’ve always felt a little twinge of guilt, in light of my own dietary dictums, being the bearer of temptation by bringing truffles, assuming them to be too carby for anybody’s good. So one day last fall, I got out the recipe and ran it through my food processor nutritional calculator to see exactly what kind of damage I might actually be doing to my friends.

I was astonished when I discovered that these classic truffles, made exactly according to Ms. Medich’s recipe without any carb pimping on my part, had a mere 3 grams of carbohydrate each. Not nothing, but not much for something so decadent and satisfying. So I set about last December to make boxes of a couple of dozen Handmade Classic Truffles as Christmas gifts for many of our friends and family.

I intend to make another batch for Valentine’s Day, for there can be no greater calling than plying your love with good chocolate. If you’d like to join me, here’s my favorite recipe from Ms. Medrich’s most wonderful book. If you’re a chocolate lover, as I confess that I most definitely am, it’s one you may want to add to your cookbook library.

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffles
from Alice Medich, A Year in Chocolate
[with photos and commentary by me]
Makes about 30 bite-sized truffles

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsaltd butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/4 cup boiling water
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder

Equipment: Instant-read thermometer

To make the truffles, place the chocolate and butter in a 4- to 6-cup heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water over low heat. Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth.

Remove the bowl and set aside. Leave the skillet on low heat.

Place the egg yolk in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the boiling water . Place the bowl in the skillet and stir constantly until the yolk mixture thickens slightly to the consistency of light cream and registers between 160 and 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. [I have discovered that on a chilly day, it helps speed this process along to put a square of aluminum foil over the bowl while stirring.]

Remove from the skillet and scrape the yolk mixture immediately over the melted chocolate.

Stir gently, without whisking or beating, just until the egg is completely incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Pour through a fine strainer into a clean bowl. [I confess I skip this step for the sake of ease.] Cover and chill until firm, 2 hours or more.

To form the truffles, remove the truffle mixture from the refrigerator and allow it to soften about 30 minutes if the mixture is very hard. Pour cocoa into a pie plate.

Dip a melon baller or small spoon into a glass of hot water, wipe off the excess water, and scrape across the surface of the chilled truffle mixture to form a rough 1-inch ball. Pinch the truffle into shape with your fingers if necessary; it should not be perfectly round. [They’re supposed to look something like the gnarly savory ‘real’ truffles that pigs root up under French oak trees.] Deposit the truffles into the cocoa [a few at a time.] Repeat with the remaining truffle mixture. Gently shake the pie plate to coat truffles with cocoa. [I usually roll them around a little bit with my fingertips to get them well covered and then pinch them gently into a rounder shape. Sometimes after they sit a bit, I give them an extra roll in the cocoa just for good measure.]

Store truffles, tightly covered and refrigerated, up to 2 weeks, or freeze up to 3 months.

Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Women’s Brains and Food Cravings

As a follow-up to Mike’s wonderful post today about the Elephant and the Rider and the Warring Selves, here’s a little more food for thought on the subject.

An article appeared yesterday in the London Free Press about a new study (abstract free, full text not) purporting to show that female brains don’t as easily turn off the appetite signal when confronted with a favorite food (read: can’t as easily forget that there is a box of donuts in the breakroom) than those of their brethren.

Researchers, studying the mysteries of voluntary hunger suppression, were surprised when PET scans of fasted subjects–23 men and 23 women–presented with their favorite foods, showed marked gender differences. The ‘feeling’ or ’emotional’ parts of the brains of all participants lit up like a Christmas tree on sight of the favored food. The subjects had been taught ‘cognitive inhibition’ suppression techniques to consciously quiet hunger that they were asked to employ during the test.

When men employed the techniques, they reported that their hunger did abate and the PET scan showed dimming of the activity in those previously-lit-up parts of the brain.

Not so with the ladies.

“There is something going on in the female…The signal is so much different…Even though the women said[my italics] they were less hungry when trying to inhibit their response to the food, their brains were still firing away in the regions that control the drive to eat,” Wang said.

But what does it all mean? Who knows (and the authors didn’t speculate). But I can…

Is it that the female brain is less capable of focusing on the ‘congnitive inhibition’ or are women’s brains, once focused, more complex machines with greater RAM and therefore less easily distracted? Does the difference spring from the theory of the polychronic female brain, versus the monochronic male one? The difference that, some would say, allows a mother to juggle many things at once: cook dinner, talk to her mother on the phone, help Joannie with her homework, keep an eye on 2-year-old Billy and the new puppy, change the baby’s diaper, and do a load of laundry almost simultaneously?

Maybe that polychronicity allowed the female subjects to keep the image of the warm donut in the backs of their minds, even while willing themselves with another part of the brain to backburner it…for now…and report less hunger. While the male brain, able perhaps to focus on only one thing at a time could either think about the donut or not. Maybe the male brain operates on a binary system that means if they choose to think about something else…poof!…thoughts of the donut vanish. Whereas the female brain may operate more like an iMac, capable of having dozens of windows up on the screen, with one application overlaying the other, all of them there and quickly accessible, but running silently behind the one in the forefront.

All pure speculation, of course, and just a few of a score of other plausible explanations for the difference. The study doesn’t address any of the whys, but it provides such intriguing fodder for future studies, they will surely follow in due course.

Thus, although I completely agree with my husband about Dr. Glasser’s theory in general, it may prove to be the case that we of the fairer sex are wired to have more trouble than our brothers at sublimating the desire for the warm donuts through simple distraction. That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to do so, just that it may be another of those inequalities/differences in the sexes that makes it a slightly tougher row to hoe…or in this case, donut to ignore…for us.

Heatlhy Strong Kids

About once a week I get a letter from someone asking if there is a good book on how to feed kids to keep them strong and healthy or to help them lose weight and get fit. There aren’t many and we even know of some good ones that couldn’t find a publishing home. With 1 in 3 kids overweight in this country, you’d think that a book about any program that addressed childhood obesity successfully would be a cinch to sell well. And yet, historically, they don’t sell strongly and thus the publishers’ lack of interest. Maybe it’s because the book’s buyer is the parent, but the actual target is the kid.

But just in time for the holidays and all those New Year’s Resolutions that follow them, there’s a good one to recommend that both encompasses modestly lower carb healthy eating habits for kids and an effective regimen of strength building:

Fred’s book is spot on about how to make kids stronger and fitter and though it’s not really a diet book, per se, it offers good information about how to feed kids right and offers a number of tasty, kid-friendly recipes. We highly recommend it. You can check it out here.

A caveat: We know from experience that weight loss in kids is tough. The job is made tougher still, because oftentimes, it’s not the kid who’s doing the eating who is concerned about weight, it’s the parent(s) who bring the child in demanding that he or she be ‘cured’. And I can tell you, without hesitation, that unless the child wants to make the change, it’s not going to happen. No matter the degree of sturm and drang the parents might bring to bear, a mandated ‘weight loss intervention’ will be an exercise in futility.

For that very reason, in our practice, we were always very careful in determining whether to accept teen, pre-teen, or adolescent patients for weight loss. We interviewed parent and child extensively and unless we could satisfy ourselves that it was actually the kid who wanted to make the change, we knew we would be wasting our time, their time, and somebody’s money to put an unwilling, uncommitted child on a dietary program. (The same is actually also true for adults.)

And kids have to be handled somewhat differently, to boot.

Just as rats aren’t merely furry little humans, kids aren’t merely cute little adults and nutritionally they can’t be treated as such. For instance, because they’re actively growing–building bones, muscles, hearts, and brains– kids need more grams of good quality protein per pound of lean body weight than adults do. Because they’re building brains, the need more essential fatty acids. Their fluid requirements may differ; they are more sensitive to intake of toxic contaminants in food. And while they obviously shouldn’t stuff themselves with empty calories, they should likewise not be put into a severe calorie, fat, or protein deficit. Ultra low fat diets, vegan regimens, or crash dieting, while not especially beneficial for adults can be particularly damaging to growing children.

For these reasons and a host of others, in our years in clinical practice we counseled the concerned parents of the overweight kids (who were honestly among both our most challenging and most rewarding patients) to make the issue more about what the child eats not how much. And to do it with a light and loving hand. We asked them to bear in mind that even if a child is overweight for a given height, that height is an increasing variable in childhood and our goal might be to simply keep their child from gaining any more weight and let the expected natural increase in height catch up.

For those of you who may be concerned about your child’s weight or fitness (and I know there are many of you judging by the letters) let me share with you the Cliff Notes version of the basic principles we taught the parents who brought their overweight kids to us. Following them can increase the likelihood of successfully helping an overweight child become leaner and fitter without making weight loss or diet the hot button issue it can sometimes become in the home.

Dr. Eades’ 7 Cardinal Rules for Parents for Feeding Kids Right

1. Clear out all the junk food. Make the chip or the sweet a treat, something rare and special, a dietary privilege not a daily right. If it’s not a whole ‘real’ food, not meat, fish, chicken, dairy, fruit or vegetable, then it’s probably junk. If it’s prepackaged, it’s probably junk. If its first ingredient is sugar, corn syrup, or white flour, it’s most assuredly junk. (Remember: Sweetened fruit juices and sweetened whole grain cereal products are no different from sodas…they’re junk, too.)

2. Stock the right kinds of foods in your home and make them what your whole family eats. Keep available meat, poultry, fish, eggs, protein powders for shakes; organic yogurt, milk and cheese; fresh whole fruits and low-starch vegetables; deli meats and nuts for snacking. The linear thinking of kids will demand that if good food is nutritious, then everybody in the household ought to be eating it. And if everybody isn’t, why should they? You can’t expect your overweight teen or child to eat differently than you or other family members do. Actions speak louder that words! Support them by example.

Tip: If you can’t get your child to eat low-starch vegetables, add baby food vegetables (green beans, squash, green peas, carrots, tomato puree) to hamburger meat for burgers, meat loaf, or chili. They’ll never notice. For other ideas, check out the kid friendly recipes in the Kid Stuff chapter in our Low Carb CookwoRx Cookook.)

3. Remember: a potato is NOT a vegetable. It’s a starchy tuber. Pasta, rice, and corn aren’t vegetables either! No matter what the school lunch program says. That’s not to say that a growing child, even an overweight one, can never have potato, bread, pasta, or grain products (although they’d get along just fine physiologically without them if they ate plenty of meat, fish, poultry, game, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, and fresh fruits and vegetables.) It just means that you ought to treat starches like sugars and let kids eat them sparingly.

4. Let your child eat all of the right kinds of foods he or she wants. Kids are growing; kids are hungry. If you feed the hunger with good, nutritious food, it’s not going to make them fat or fatter! One of the most important things you can do for your child is to create a healthy respect for and relationship with food. Humans ought to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full.

5. Don’t make the family table a battleground. Serve quality, wholesome food, let your child eat it, eat it yourself, don’t criticize. Show how to eat by example and your child will follow that example. Granted not all the time. They will be exposed to every kind of awful, sugary, health-robbing kind of food stuff. They will sometimes eat it (just as you do) and so be it. But if you live by example at home, don’t preach, but rather quietly demonstrate by your choices, they’ll get the message.

6. Let your child indulge with vigor occasionally. Life without unbridled joy is not worth living. Show your child how to celebrate, how to feast, how to live. And let them understand that feasting isn’t day to day living; it’s infrequent; it’s a celebration. Remember pleasure is a nutrient, too.

7. Make clean, fresh water the go-to beverage in your household. While it’s fine in our opinion (though others may disagree) for kids to drink organic milk and the occasional glass or box of juice, water is a better choice to wash down the burger. It’s a sad truth in this country that soft drinks, filled with high fructose corn syrup, are the beverage of choice in adolescents, pre-teens, and teenagers and in amounts that are making them among the fattest kids on the planet.

Feed them right and help to make them strong. Show them the value of their strength and fitness. A strong healthy kid is likely to grow into a strong healthy adult. There’s simply no better way to do build strength than through a kid friendly Slow Burn work out. (Fortunately, it’s great for parents, too.)

Popcorn Snacker Alert: Pop Goes the Diacetyl

A recent article in the LA Times (registration required, but free) gives us yet another good reason to eschew microwave popcorn: the flavor agent, diacetyl, widely used to give microwave popcorn its buttery flavor has been tied to the development of an irreversible lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans that’s been cropping up with alarming regularity in the workers at popcorn factories.

The article hastened to add that at this point consumers are not thought to be at risk. Right. I don’t know about you, but based on the track record of the food toxin watchdogs in this country, I wouldn’t be betting my lungs on their timely notification/admission that the stuff DOES put consumers at risk, if such were to prove the case.

Anyway, the whole diacetyl mess is just one more example of the law of unintended consequences. Had ‘they’ not gotten their britches in an unjustified and unnecessary twist over the use of real butter in the first place, there would never have been a need for using diacetyl to impart an artificial ‘real butter’ flavor to popcorn (and other products) and none of these workers victimized by inhaling the chemical would have succumbed to this awful disease. So sad and so preventable.

Now, off my soapbox and back to popcorn…

While popcorn may seem like an odd topic for a carb conscious person, such as I, to be riffing on, it’s actually not too bad a carb bargain. A 1-cup serving popped in oil has 55 calories, 28 of them from fat, 1 gram of protein, 6.3 grams of total carb, 1.1 grams of fiber, and therefore, an ECC of only 5.2 grams. Not a bad snack. The problem, of course, is that it is an antigenic grain that many people do not tolerate, but that’s another blog. For those interested, see our discussion of wheat and corn and various autoimmune and inflammatory disorders in The Protein Power LifePlan (Warner 2000).

Over the years in our practice, we had many patients who enjoyed a little popcorn snack. One gentleman comes to mind, in particular, who ate a measured cup of popcorn every evening during his successful weight loss endeavor under our watch. Fortunately, it was airpopped, not microwaved, that he craved.

Suffice it to say that until ‘they’ can prove to me there’s not a health risk from eating the aritifically flavored microwaved form, my feeling is that those people who just must have a bit of popcorn would be better served to do it the old fashioned way. For those who grew up in the age of microwave popped corn, here’s how to do it:

Put a heavy bottomed pan on the stove, add a a bit of good high-temp stable oil, such as coconut oil, turn the heat to medium to heat the oil. Then cover the bottom of the vessel with (untainted) popping corn, put a lid on it, turn the heat to medium high, and wait for the pop…pop…popping to start.

Meanwhile, melt some real honest-to-Pete (preferably organic) butter in the microwave (the only proper use for this kitchen appliance in making popcorn, for sure!) and have it ready.

When the popping starts, shake the pot vigorously intermittantly to prevent kernels on the bottom from burning, because nothing smells worse than burned popcorn and, besides, it ruins the flavor of the whole batch. One bad apple may not spoil the whole bunch, girl (apologies to Wacko Jacko) but one burned popcorn kernel sure does.

Conversely, nothing sets a mouth to watering quite like the smell of freshly popped corn. It’s an aroma so enticing that at our clinic we forbade the staff from popping popcorn on the premises during business hours, since it sent the poor patients in the exam and waiting rooms into a Pavlovian dither.

When the corn is fully popped, crack open the lid, pour on the real melted butter, sprinkle on a touch of salt and enjoy your cup. If you made a lot more than a cup, be sure you invited friends over to help consume it. Beware! If you’re like me, left alone with a big bowl of hot buttered popcorn, your measured 1 cup will become 4 cups before you can blink and a reasonable 5 grams will become 20.

Caveat Popcorn-eator!

Booze and Berries Ice Cream

Day before yesterday’s paper had a lengthy piece, containing recipes by chef and food stylist, Rori Trovato, on the front page of the Life section entitled:

Turning Up the Temperature on Summer Ice Cream,

which focused on the current trend favored by chefs (and others) of creating adult desserts that blend ice cream and booze. The article (available sadly only to subscribers of the Santa Barbara NewsPress and to my best perusal, not yet picked up elsewhere) includes four ice cream recipes with such tempting names as: Lime and Tequila Ice Cream with Salt-Rimmed Sugar Cones; Dark Chocolate Kahlua Ice Cream; Creamy Vanilla with Champagne-Soaked Peaches; Bananas Foster [Ice Cream] with Bourbon. Mmmmmmm.

I found it particularly amusing to contemplate the idea of creating tipsy ice cream treats, since I’d laughingly said to Mike a while back that my faithful readers were going to think I didn’t have anything to say about anything except ice cream and alcohol. And here, in a single treat they both were. My observation , I must hasten to add, preceded Mike’s mother’s recently saying, “It sure seems like you guys drink a lot.” Which we don’t, especially, but enjoy when we do.

Anyway, if I have been stuck in one gear (or two, I guess) this summer, blame it on the heat that seems to beset everybody everywhere this year and keeps my mind on things that keep me cool. To wit: ice cream and alcohol.

Which explains the menu for a little casual backyard dinner we’re hosting tonight: Chilled Watermelon and Berry Gazpacho, Dry-Rubbed Baby Back Ribs (cooked outside, of course, since we don’t want to heat up the kitchen,) Tomato, Cucumber, and Green Onion Salad, and Home-churned Low-Carb Vanilla Ice Cream with Chambord Soaked Berries for dessert.

The soaked berries are nothing special. Just stem and quarter a couple of pints of fresh organic strawberries and mix them with an equal portion of organic blueberries, douse the whole bunch with about 1/3 cup of raspberry liquer (Chambord or Framboise) give them a good stir, cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Give them a stir occasionally in the interim.

(It’s important that the strawberries, especially, be organic, since the non-organic type is heavily heavily sprayed with toxic pesticides that don’t wash away completely, see previous blog.)

I’ve got the vanilla ice cream custard base chilliing in the fridge right now and in a bit I’ll churn it to within a few minutes of completion, then add about a cup of the soaked berry mixture and finish the churn, just to incorporate them evenly. Then I’ll scoop the ice cream out into a freezer container and let it ‘cure’ in the freezer for an hour or so to set. To get it to a good dipping consistency for serving, I’ll move it from the freezer to the fridge when we sit down to our soup.

For serving, I think I’ll drizzle a bit more of the soaked berry mixture on top. Or maybe settle a scoop of ice cream on top of the soaked berries in a bowl and put a sprig of fresh mint on top. It should make a cool and refreshing finish to our meal.

And with that, I vow not to write another blog about either ice cream or booze until at least Labor Day.