Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trying to Tackle Sugar And Refined Flour AGAIN

If you've followed this blog for awhile you'll know this is something I really struggle with--trying to cut down the amount of sugar and refined grains in my diet. I know what a health disaster these substances are, I know I feel much better when I don't eat them, and yet my addiction persists. I've never gotten to the point where I'd be willing to give up sugar and refined grains cold-turkey--perhaps that's what it'll ultimately take--but I do have a plan.

I know this isn't going to sound like much at first blush--well, heck, you'll probably think I'm being a complete wimp about this--but baby steps, you know. The plan is to limit my consumption this year to just thirty pounds of sugar and seventy-five pounds of grains (at least half of which must be whole grains). I suppose you're laughing at my "just thirty pounds". I know it's still a lot! But consider this--the average per capita consumption of sugar in the US is 97 pounds per year (I'm using the word "sugar" here as shorthand for all types of caloric sweeteners: honey, molasses, brown rice syrup, cane sugar, etc.). Grain consumption per capita in the US is over 137 pounds per year. So if I achieve what I'm setting out to do, my consumption will be substantially below average. Still too much--I recognize that--but it feels like a reachable goal and better than my earlier efforts which only lasted a few weeks. This will keep me accountable all year.

The nice thing about this approach is I can divvy up my allotment of sugar and refined flour into twelve separate parcels and only allow myself access to one parcel per month. Each parcel would contain 2.5 pounds of sugar and 3.125 pounds of refined flour. I won't put the additional 3.125 pounds of whole grain flour into the parcel since I'll probably want to vary the types of whole grains a bit--but I'll keep a tally. If I run out of sugar on the 10th of a month, too bad. I'll have to wait to the 1st of the next month to get a new allotment. If I run out of refined flour, too bad. If I run out of everything, too bad. I'll just have to do without.

I actually feel this won't be too hard of a challenge, but I'll post my results even if I fail. This is the one big, bad thing left in my otherwise healthy diet and I'm really motivated to succeed.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Are You Working on Your Beta-Carotene "Tan"?

A study out this month in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior suggests that the golden skin tones attributed to diets rich in carotenoids appear more attractive to us than the "glow" of suntanned skin. It makes such good evolutionary sense--we will be more attracted to a mate who shows visible signs of good health. And a carotenoid "tan" is typically an assurance of robust health, as carotenes are potent antioxidants and promote healthy immune and reproductive functions. (See Eating Vegetables Gives Skin a More Healthy Glow Than the Sun, Study Says.)

We've known for some time that carotenoids have been linked to attractiveness and mating choices in birds, but this is the first study that looked at the link between carotenoids and perceived attractiveness in humans. In birds, males get the vivid coloration of their beaks from carotenoids in their diet, and it's been shown that female birds have a strong preference for the males with the brightest beaks. (See article: Bright beaks provide honest look at male immune system, Science says.) Now we have an indication that the same selectivity might be at work in humans too.

So how do you achieve a carotenoid glow? By eating a wide variety of yellow, orange, and red vegetables and fruits; dark leafy greens; and certain animal products. Some good sources of the various carotenoids (alpha- and beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein, for example) are winter squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, mangoes, swiss chard, spinach, kale, collards, tomatoes, pink grapefruit, shellfish, salmon, butter, and egg yolks. Carotene-rich foods are best assimilated when eaten with a bit of fat, and light cooking often makes the carotenes more available than when consumed either raw or overcooked.

This study came to my attention at the perfect moment. All autumn long I was troubled by the fact that my skin seemed to be taking on a rather sickly yellow cast. This I confirmed at Thanksgiving when I took some photos of my son and me and it was obvious that compared to my rosy-cheeked kid, I was definitely looking a bit yellow. Then last week I had an RN say to me, "You must spend a lot of time outdoors." Well, that was a hoot because this time of year I'm soundly hibernating--but she meant that I looked tan. So the plot thickened. How could I look tan in January at 40 degrees latitude, when I've been in hibernation for four months? Fortunately, she didn't tell me that I looked yellow, sickly, or jaundiced. She perceived my coloration as a healthy glow. It puzzled me at the time, but now that I've come across this study, it all makes sense. I eat a lot of carotene-rich foods, especially over the winter months. In the past month alone, I've easily eaten five or six pounds combined of butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots. Add in all the other carotene-rich foods I've eaten and it's no wonder I'm turning yellow! I'm still not convinced I wear the beta-carotene tan very well, but even if I can't pull it off, I'm sure I'm reaping the health benefits. How about you--have you been working on your "tan"?