Thursday, May 31, 2007

Maximizers Versus Satisfiers

When it comes to making choices, some of us are "maximizers," who want the "very best" (e.g., the "most," the "best value," the "best taste," the "most fun," etc.). And, some of us are "satisfiers," who want what is "good enough" to satisfy our needs.

When it comes to the science behind nutrition, I'm definitely a "maximizer." I want the very best science, the most researched ingredients, the doses proven to promote health most effectively, and so on. I can be relentless in fussing over details of a formula or evaluating a supplier. I'm fussy about a lot of things in life, like color and flow -- whether in a room or in a brochure.

When it comes to taste, I'm much more of a "satisfier." Good enough is, well, good enough. It's sometimes a joke among family and friends that I prefer things "tepid" versus really hot or really cold, that I never use a recipe and just make do with what's at hand and create something that, while not impressive for company, is good and nutritious and satisfying.

Steve, on the other hand, is a fine chef and can tell whether a sauce needs "more acid" or how ingredients combine to make a certain, unusual taste.

Tess and I have been through all the tasting rounds for Constant Health and we were okay with the flavor a couple of cycles back. Jack, who is health-conscious, felt the formula was already better than some of the commercial products he has tried, good enough to take for nutritional benefits, but still not something he could rave about.

Steve, on the other hand, wrote a page of notes about when the sweet taste hit the front of the tongue, when notes of "bitter" or "sour" occurred and where. Steve's an engineer. In software tests, they are rigorous about testing, not only for function (the science) but also for usability (how users like the interface and the overall feel of the software). It's good to have an engineer involved in what seems like such a qualitative challenge but actually has scientific distinctions to master -- getting just the right taste!

We tinkered with the formula's flavoring and have new tasting samples. Tess jokes about being the one responsible for "baggies of finely ground powder."

Jack, the closest we have to a fussy teenager in taste preferences, said today, "I would actually drink this. Whatever you did, stick with it."

Maybe we're "there" and can move into final production. We'll get a few more reviews though. Fingers crossed!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Constant Health: It's a Matter of Taste

The birthing of a new product, Constant Health has been big work behind the scenes. Constant Health's inspiration was my dad's illness last summer. Enhancing immune system, intestinal, and detox function in an easy-to-use comprehensive product was the aim. Making it affordable was also of primary concern.

Researching the ingredients started last fall. I collaborated with Dr. Rodier, several naturopaths, and a Ph.D. biochemist. Next, we worked on the branding, which will be under Cell Nutritionals. Then came the work with finding the right manufacturer, one who could meet our quality standards and also help us keep costs down and production runs small in the beginning. The final work is all around taste and flavoring, and that's what we're in the middle of testing right now.

Last week, the second round of samples for the Constant Health formula came in and we held a taste-testing party. Not quite as elegant as a wine tasting party, with the dirty glasses and spoons and puffs of protein powder mix landing on the conference room tables, the experiment yielded some clear-cut preferences.

We had already cut the sweeteners in half from the first round but the distinct taste of lo han was still not making any points. We are aiming for a low-glycemic index formula and liked the lo han better than stevia, but it most of our tasters rejected the unusual taste of lo han.

The natural chocolate version was everyone's favorite. I had to insist on and personally source pure food-quality cocoa and reject chocolate flavoring agents typically used in nutritional supplement products.

However, some people don't like or can't have chocolate, so we're also working on improving the all natural flavor, which is harder, because natural vanilla flavoring doesn't do much for our 40+ ingredient formula, with its assortment of tastes.

I'm wondering if we should go ahead and use the artificial vanilla flavoring or leave the all natural flavor just that -- all natural. After all, many people like to blend their protein powders with fresh fruits, which add flavor and natural sweetness.

On to round three. We received the lo han-free samples on Saturday and have to set up the next party. I think we need some fussier taste-testers (any volunteers in Salt Lake with nothing better to do this week?).

Once we have final flavorings determined we can move into production -- finally.

So, it's all a matter of taste at this point!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sleep Associated with Lower Heart Disease

Most of the studies on Mediterranean people and health have focused on the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fresh produce, olive oil, and red wine and low in red meat.

A new study suggests that taking regular naps is part of the healthy effect of living Mediterranean style. The University of Athens Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health studied 23,681 healthy people -- no history of heart disease, stroke, or cancer -- over the course of 6 years.

People who napped at least three times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time were 37% less likely to die of heart disease than those who didn't take regular siestas. The findings were stronger among working men, which suggests yet again the link between health and stress reduction techniques -- whether mindfulness, yoga, or napping!

The famous Nurses' Health Study included 71,617 women between the ages of 40 and 65 showed a similar sleep-heart health connection. Women who slept only 5 hours a night had 45% greater likelihood of heart problems. Too much sleep could be a problem too, so what's up, if naps are good and too little or too much sleep is bad?

According to the Dana Foundation's "Brain Work" newsletter:

"Research has shown that too little sleep interferes with the brain's orchestration of the stress response, throwing levels of stress hormones into imbalance and setting the stage for many stress-related illnesses."

Back to napping. I've always been a napper, even as a kid. My mom took naps. My dad took naps. I always say I was meant to be a Mediterranean soul (love the climate, the foods, and all those naps!).

As an adult, with a busy life, I find that my immune system is typically stronger when I take at least one good nap over the weekend. I know, it's anecdotal, but the correlation is pretty high in my mind. Times in my life where I continued to sprint on weekends and cut short my sleep in general were times when I was sick more often.

My husband, Steve, has a productivity ticker somewhere inside, and napping always seemed like a waste of time to him. He's started to relax a bit and enjoy a nap more often though, which is good news given the Greek study's findings and especially given his family history of heart disease.

Don't worry, he's on Heart Plus, fish oil, extra fiber, etc., so I'm not counting on the naps do the heavy-lifting. Still, it's nice to have company, besides the cats, for those weekend naps!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fasting? Only if the cabbage soup counts as liquid!

Steve was in Silicon Valley for two weeks, with brief weekend visits. He left for Japan this morning. I'm on my own and can cook or not as I please.

So, I decided to fast today...after a little indulging at a wedding last weekend and too many meals out last week. It was only 10 am and I wasn't able to keep a rigorous fast going.

I drank a fresh carrot/beet/orange/watermelon juice concoction this morning (it was what our friend, Jack, who is staying with us, made).

Around noon, we went for a good workout at the Field House (a real deal since they allow you to buy 10-punch passes for a few dollars a day as a resident).

I came home hungry. What a surprise, I know. I squeezed a fresh grapefruit into a large glass of water. I was still hungry. Again, big surprise.

I decided to make a healthy, brothy veggie soup, thinking that if I blended it, it would be sort of like fasting, right?

As with anything I cook, my concept evolved based on what was in the fridge and some in-the-moment inspirations.

I decided to saute a couple of yellow onions and a half dozen green onions (yep, lots of onions). I threw in tablespoons of pungent chopped garlic and fresh ginger root. I had some gorgeous bok choy and red cabbage, which I chopped up next. I added three cartons of organic chicken broth. Then I squeezed the last lemon I had over the pot, drizzled a little honey and sesame seed oil, seasoned the soup with liberal sprinkles of cayenne pepper a few shakes of salt, and stirred slowly.

As the mixture cooked, I remembered that I had some whole dried shitaake mushrooms from the Asian foods store, so I added a dozen of these large, crinkled brown mushrooms.

My goal was retaining nutrition, so I turned the flame off early, while everything was still nice and crunchy. I ladled several cups into my blender and pressed "liquify." The shitaake mushrooms didn't exactly liquefy and retained their unique texture somehow.

The puree wasn't pretty but it tasted good. And, surprisingly, I actually felt full with one bowl of soup after a full workout. Not bad.

Meanwhile, I was invited to a friend's (Elisabeth Lentz's) neighbor's house for a period of sitting meditation and thought it would be a good way to end my afternoon. I knocked on Bonnie's and Mark's door at 4:45 pm. They regularly open their beautiful home in Silver Springs for mindfulness meditation. Elisabeth (a realtor) and Robb (a pilot) joined in, so the five of us sat together until 5:30. Nice. Quieter mind. Alas, I had a growling stomach too.

Committed to veggies and clear liquids, I had another bowl of soup, this time, unblended and much more attractive with the red and green cabbage pieces decorating the broth.

Jack decided to sample the soup. He gasped a little at first. The cayenne and fresh ginger made the soup pretty peppery. Not a big cabbage fan, he liked the soup, a testimonial indeed!

Steve would undoubtedly have wanted something more on the menu if he had been here, but he's starting to be more and more interested in vegetarian cooking. On a tangent, he has decided to learn more about Indian cooking after several trips to India.

So, here I sit, blogging and realizing I am, yes, a bit hungry again. The challenges of a sort-of fast, on a workout day, no less.

The good news is that I don't have that edgy hunger that comes sometimes only hours after a meal full of refined sugars and carbs.

Meanwhile, I am thinking of Steve as I get ready to sign off. I hope he is able to rest on his trans-Pacific flight (it's two days of travel each way when you included air, train, and car travel.

I'll have to tell my husband about my incredibly peppery, sesame-ginger-garlic cabbage soup. He'll laugh and tell me that he's sure it was "stew," since he thinks I put "too much stuff" in my soups. And, he'll ask whether I kept notes so I can make it again. I'm sure I can make it again, Steve, if you're reading this in Japan before we talk!

Friday, May 18, 2007

The China Study Weighs In on Cancer & Calories Too

My friend, Dr. Hugo Rodier, recommended that I read The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health last year. I've finally gotten to it, and it's well worth reading.

Authors T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, a father and son research team, report on the most "comprehensive study of diet, lifestyle, and disease ever done with humans in the history of biomedical research."

The China Study was arranged through Cornell University; where Dr. Campbell holds a professor emeritus position in Nutritional Biochemistry; Oxford University, and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine, with the Chinese Government contributing 600 person years to the effort.

The study was funded for 27 years, with most of the funding coming from the NIH, the American Cancer Society, and the American Institute for Cancer Research, not exactly new age evangelists.

The findings are quite remarkable, with, for example: 8,000 statistically significant associations between various dietary factors and disease.

And, the authors make a strong case, counter to popular Western thinking, that high protein diets can be dangerous to health. They found over and over that low-protein diets warded off cancer and the highest-protein diets were correlated to the most cancer! They authors write:

"What we found was shocking Low-protein diets inhibited the initiation of cancer by aflatoxin, regardless of how much of this carcinogen was administered to these animals. After cancer initiation was completed, low-protein diets also dramatically blocked subsequent cancer growth. In other words, the cancer-producing effects of this highly-carcinogenic chemical were rendered insignificant by a low-protein diet. In fact, dietary protein proved to be so powerful in its effect that we could turn on and turn off cancer growth simply by changing the level consumed."

Did you take time to re-read that last sentence? I sure did. The next line seems directly from Dr. Rodier's anti-dairy pitch:

"We found that not all proteins had this effect. What protein consistently and strongly promoted cancer? Casein, which makes up 87% of cow's milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process."

Plant proteins are far safer than animal proteins, and dairy proteins are stinkers if this 27-year study with millions of dollars of investment and peer reviews is to be believed. With the new protein powder we're developing, I was always biased toward rice protein but this study makes me doubly glad I didn't formulate with whey protein!

The book cites a New York Times article, which called the Campbells' study the "Grand Prix of Epidemiology," and that moniker does not seem like hyperbole when you become familiar with the now famous China Study.

I would recommend buying a copy of the book but here's a link to the 1990 NYT article: Huge Study of Diets Indicts Fats and Meat for quick reference.

Meanwhile, since it's beach season again, I thought the section on calorie consumption was particularly interesting. The study showed that per kilogram of body weight, even the least active Chinese ate 30% more calories than average Americans.

The research conclusions indicated that when we consume more fat and protein, we retain more calories than we need, with fewer calories being converted into body heat. High fat, high protein diets cause our bodies to become more efficient, while low fat, low protein diets help our bodies burn calories -- with more abandon, or "less efficiently," you might say.

Hmmm. As someone who reached middle age with an "it won't happen to me" attitude about extra inches around the middle (and then "it happened"), I'm interested in being more conscientious in my (our) own diets and evangelizing Dr. Rodier's simple diet rules -- way more veggies and nuts and legumes, much less meat, ditch the dairy, and go raw and organic as often as possible!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Looking Well and Wellness for a Lifetime

Okay. I've heard a lot of private comments along the lines of "you're not fat." I appreciate the desire to make me feel better, but I wasn't feeling bad (well, not in a big way, at least).

It's actually not that I look fat or have had to ditch my wardrobe for the next size up. Instead, it's been this steady progression of losing lean muscle mass and adding fat in its place that I was aware of vaguely, but not as explicitly as after the wellness center assessments.

It's kind of like all the folks with high cholesterol who look so fit, but can be walking heart attacks. Looks can be deceiving.

For me, right now, it's all about prevention and not so much about looking better (or different) -- although more buff abs would be a fabulous bonus!

So, I hope to stay on track with my program. And, I'll let you know how it goes!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Pinch Test at the Gym

There's a science called "anthropometry." Don't get scared just yet, it's related to the old pinch test at the gym, where your trainer is assessing your total body fat.

Yep. A few years of being too sedentary in my mid-40s, and I decided to sign up for a new kind of gym. It's called the Integrated Wellness Center, a far cry from the Gold's Gym bodybuilder brand, and it includes on onsite chiropractor who works with the fitness trainer and a massage therapist to design a program for increasing fitness.

I had my cholesterol and blood glucose levels checked. I scored in the "healthy" range. Yeah for diet, genes, and maybe the Heart Plus and Fish Oil I take regularly!

I had my resting metabolism checked. I scored "below normal." No wonder it seems like it's harder to take off those pounds I put on over the last six months or so. Lots of reasons to have a low resting metabolism, but my hunch is it's all about "driving a desk" for a living. Working in a small office, I don't get much exercise. "Walking the halls" doesn't help either as there's not far to go, hence the need for a good gym.

Anyway, I was tested for range of motion and symmetry (some I passed and others I failed!). And, I was tested for body fat. Sigh. Some things you just don't want to know.

Scientists like to use fancy techniques like underwater weighing, total body electrical conductivity, total body potassium, and other things I don't understand to get accurate body fat readings.

However, gyms and clinics screen using so-called anthropometric-based measurements such as:

  • Skinfold-thickness
  • Circumference measurements
  • Height- and weight-based indexes such as weight-for-height, body mass index (BMI), etc.
The Body Mass Index (BMI), although popular (even the Internet news sites now have BMI calculators in their health sections), was not given much credence by my trainer. I rather liked it, as my BMI score was "normal." Regan explained that the BMI charts lumped too many people together (same height, different muscle structures, different fat ratios).

I wanted to believe that Regan was simply trying to motivate me to come to the gym but enough studies support her assessment that I had to, for the first time in my life, grapple with the label of being clinically "fat." :-(

I was always a skinny kid and a slender adult, until I hit my mid-40s, that is. And, I've always had a self identity as an "athlete" and relatively "fit," and certainly able to get back in shape quickly if need be. Could it be that I was now "fat?"

Sure, my activity did slow down over the past 6 years. Steve is a fabulous cook and being together has added many meals I would have skipped otherwise. Also, I socialize more these days, so there are more gatherings with great foods, making it tempting to sample everything.

Of course, my friends or family would not consider me "fat" but the stinking "anthropometry" tests caught my attention. I can be a good size (what other people care about) -- but still not in shape and carrying too much fat compared to muscle weight (something I care about).

Alas, it's time to concentrate on building muscle mass again and passing on some of the food that comes my way.

I'm happy to say that I'm enjoying the Wellness Center. There's a different vibe at this place, only blocks from my office, with windows looking out on Gallivan Square trees and regular photo shoots. The place isn't always jam-packed and pulsing with the young and the vain. Instead, there is a steady stream of older professionals who are interested in feeling better and living longer!

I hope more centers crop up around the country to integrate wellness with fitness, all under one roof! Drop me a line about wellness centers in your area!