Sunday, February 22, 2009

Eggs or Egg Beaters

I certainly have regard for our governments' caution flags related to general health metrics, recommended levels of nutrients, and clinical studies from which they base their recommendations. Mind you, I said "regard", not high regard. I believe these guidelines and recommendations are truly based on scientific research, but I also believe there are political influences on that research, and therefore we may be swayed in one direction or another to benefit, say, The American Dairy Association or The National Cattlemen's Beef Association. It is for these reasons that I heed the information provided to us as Americans, but also do my own due diligence with a critical eye.

One of those areas I'm mindful of, but still cautious of, is dietary cholesterol levels. Should I eat eggs or Egg Beaters?...and if I choose eggs, how many per week?...and what happens if I eat too many eggs?... The issue with eggs is the saturated fat (and hence, cholesterol) contained in the yolk. Here's a little breakdown on our friend, the egg: Of the 5.5 grams of fat in the average large egg, 2-3.5 grams (depending on the source) are saturated and found in the yolk of the egg. Saturated is the kind of fat we're supposed to limit in our diets to less than 10% of our calories per our "American Authorities". Additionally, of the 210 mg of cholesterol in the average large egg, all of it resides, again, in the yolk.. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day, and if you have heart disease, no more than 200 mg per day. Dietary cholesterol, or that which we get from food, is considered a non-essential nutrient because our bodies (mainly our liver) manufactures all we need on its own. If you're interested, you can read more about what the AHA has to say about cholesterol at their website.

So, for those who consume cholesterol containing foods throughout their day (meat, poultry, fish and dairy) and who regularly have 2 eggs for breakfast (=420 mg of dietary cholesterol), you're exceeding the recommended limit before lunch...that is if you personally subscribe to the recommended limit. Now, enter the egg substitute.

I think Egg Beaters was the first, or one of the the first, "brands" on the market, although now there are several. Each grocery chain probably has their own generic version as well. The egg substitute concept made loving the taste of eggs without the yolk possible for many Americans. By taking just the white of the egg and adding coloring (of course, because if it's yellow it will taste like an egg), flavoring (to simulate the palatable, umami-like fat "feel" we get from the yolk) and, of course, preservatives. For most of us, the scrambled egg substitute takes hauntingly like whole eggs when served up scrambled.

The questions that arise from making this change to better our health by, once again, eliminating an alleged disease-causing natural food from our diets are:

  1. Are we truly concerned that it is the saturated fat in the yolk of that egg that contributes to heart disease. Unlike other saturated fats (butter, animal fat), that yolk isn't solid at room temperature...heck, it's not solid at refrigerator temperature.
  2. Are we at all concerned that whoever created the chicken that laid the egg we want to eat may have intended for us to ingest the nutrients from that yolk? I've only commented on the bad so far, but there's a lot of good in the yolk of that egg, specifically a decent source of phosphorus, selenium, folate, B12, vitamin D and Riboflavin, among others.
  3. Why were our grandparents, who had less of an incidence of heart disease, able to eat whole eggs daily for breakfast and not suffer the same incidence of heart disease that our generation(s) do?
  4. And finally, why do other countries who consume whole eggs daily, not have the same fear of the yolk as we do, and don't have the same incidence of heart disease as we do?

All of these are questions you need to wrestle with on your own, and determine what you feel is accurate, health-oriented and honest research/data. Personally, I hate wasting the yolks by cracking the egg and separating it just to use the white. But I hate using a man-made egg substitute even more. And really, I'm not so sure about the whole yolk/cholesterol thing. We're running our own little test case on this, as my husband, with a history of heart disease on both sides of his family, has returned to consuming whole eggs in addition to the other sources of saturated fat in his diet. Prior to this change, his cholesterol levels were perfect, certainly after a huge correction in his diet and activity level (See "Congratulations Hubby"). So, in about three months when he has his annual physical, we'll see what the results are.

In the meantime, use what we are given by the government as guidelines, throw a few egg whites in from time to time for balance, search for quality sources of eggs when eating the entire egg (organic, free-range/cage-free, antibiotic free, etc., etc., etc.). You have to feel good about the reason you make your choice, not because a label says "our chickens are raised in Ritz-Carlton-like facilities with rolling green pastures on which they run and are fed only the most natural foods". The choices you make for the food you eat and the food you feed your family are 100% within your control.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Packaging Human Motivation

Whenever someone figures this one out, license it because it's worth a bundle!

Human motivation is not objective. It is about as predictable and controllable as the weather! Individual personalities, preferences, ground-in lifestyle habits (both conscious & unconscious), hormonal fluctuations (men, too)...all affect our daily, and at times, hourly motivation to accomplish our goals. Think about it: you start with a planned day at work - a list of accomplishable goals for the day. Invariably, one or two items get pushed off to tomorrow because they either weren't important enough to complete today or because you just didn't feel like tackling that task today...not necessarily because you didn't have time to complete it/them. It's funny how yesterday when you planned today's list, that task was more important then than now. And why? Perhaps yesterday you were motivated to have that task off your list and today you changed your mind. There was a different motivation when you came to that item today. I do it all the time: my schedule indicates several things to address or do today, and those I don't get to, I "slide" to the next day with the touch of a finger...Apple makes it so easy to procrastinate!

Now, I know that there are a thousand - OK, well maybe just hundreds - of terms to describe the phenomenon I just illustrated, but I like human motivation, or the occasional lack thereof. A friend of our family's who happens to be an accomplished orthopaedic surgeon and entrepreneur tipped me off to the problems associated with human motivation as he worked diligently to perfect a home exercise program for patients with post-op total knee replacements - not that the program wasn't perfect, but patient compliance with the program was always the variable and that which could not be predicted. Patients are being instructed on the importance of this type of program from medical professionals. They are being told that the degree of their recovery, specifically how much they can bend and straighten their knee, pain and stiffness levels and overall daily functionality, is dependent on their compliance with the program. But, everyday patients rationalize within their own little brains why they just didn't have the 10 minutes to complete their exercise this morning and/or this evening. And now they wonder why they don't have the outcome that their physician predicted and that they expected...and they probably blame their doctor. Human motivation. Personal responsibility? Connecting intention with execution. We can't predict outcomes if the subject is non-compliant. It was this specific orthopaedist who stated "If you figure out how to package human motivation, it's worth a million".

I also remember several years ago after attending a seminar on Fat Cells and Disease - I approached a friend with all of the facts I'd acquired. I told her how excited I was to communicate these facts to potential clients, friends and family, because once they knew the health-related consequences of how metabolically destructive fat cells are (in excess), they'd surely WANT to change their behavior patterns, exercise and eat right. Her response, though crushing, was an eye opener. "Knowledge does not equate to behavior change. How many nurses do you know that smoke?". She was right, but I just couldn't fathom why. And I still can't. Although, our occasional trip to Hooters for wings and beer still thrills me, and I indulge, even though I know the potential effects of the deep fried wings on the health of my arteries. I also still harbor ill-will toward people who've wronged me in the past, even though I know that type of stress is dangerous. I still don't get enough sleep, even though I know it's critical to my health. And I still occasionally avoid hard workouts, even though I know they are what will take me to next level. Why? Lack of motivation to progress or to do the things I know are right? Naaah - why would I lack motivation for those things? Why would anyone? Rather, perhaps, I lack motivation to do those things because I can.

This all remains a mystery and a highly studied topic in the realm of behavior modification. The only conclusion I can make is that we lack motivation in certain areas because we can. If the US was not democratic, but rather socialistic or totalitarian, we may be more "motivated" to do certain things, as there would be mandates and government control, not just oversight. Health has begun to be patrolled in some less democratic countries such as Japan, as the government began measuring waistlines and enforcing mandatory nutritional counseling to manage their rising obesity problem (partially created by our "western" fast food infiltration of their society). I bring this up with caution, and will be brief in ending. With the state of health in the US where people are allowed to make poor lifestyle choices related to nutrition and physical activity, and where taxpayers who make good choices in those areas end up paying higher taxes due to rising insurance, medical and pharmaceutical costs (among other things) as a result of the poor health of those who chose poorly (long sentence! whew!...and drum roll...I can't believe I'm going to say this:)...would it be so bad to have more government involvement in "motivating people" to make the right choices? Human motivation to be we have a right to choose not to be healthy?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Appreciate Your Failures

In my 20's, I certainly did not like to fail, nor did I find any appreciation of the concept of failing. Today, however, I have a growing admiration for failure. If you haven't failed, you haven't tried. If you do fail, at least you know what doesn't work. The more you fail, the more you know about what doesn't work. And the more failures you have (subsequent to the number of attempts you make, of course), the more successes you will ultimately accrue!

The same holds true with both fitness and nutrition/cooking. With fitness, driving your intensity up to the point of failure every once in a while stimulates your metabolic systems to a level they aren't used to reaching, thereby creating change and growth. Maxing out to failure on, say dead lifts, may not be enjoyable on that last, lightheaded repetition, but that max weight and subsequent failure have primed you to do better the next time you do them. (Can you tell that's what I did today? Failure #1 (with a PR attached to it!)) The ability to approach your workout without fear, anxiety or apprehension as to it's difficulty level is the key to "super-fitness". It's something a lot of people struggle with. There's an ongoing joke at the gym I train at: "how many times do you have to pee before you start a hard workout?" The standard answer for a select group of brilliant and incredibly strong women is "a lot"! But we do it (both pee a lot and train hard) - and they're stronger and better for it. No fear of failure, once you get started.

With cooking...ah, the fear of failure again..."that's why I don't cook - I don't know how". No, rather, we're simply afraid of failing. What happens if it doesn't work out or if it's terrible? 1-800-PIZZA HUT! But really, every time you fail in the kitchen, you learn something that no cookbook can teach you: what not to do! If you fail at the same thing enough, you'll eventually get it - or, you'll look up the process and correct what you're doing wrong. The best education is hands on/immersion. Sometimes, especially in the kitchen, having no fear of failure can create the most profound growth. Just today, I was dreaming up a healthy peanut butter and jelly flavored pudding dessert. I thought a puree of peanut butter, seedless black grapes, yogurt and cottage cheese, sweetened with a bit of honey or agave would be fantabulous! After assembling and pureeing the choice ingredients, the flavor was certainly there - but it was too runny and I wasn't sure if it would set up. I knew flour and cornstarch weren't the answer (from past failures), but Google told me to try a bit of plain gelatin dissolved in boiling water. And I had gelatin! I also had those little 8 oz shaker cups I use to make mini-protein powder mixes in the morning. So I nuked the water to boiling, added the gelatin, put the lid on it and started to shake it up. Are there any science-geniuses out there that have been thinking..."DON'T PUT THE LID ON IT!" since I typed the words "put the lid on it"? Yep, it exploded sticky boiling gelatin water all over me, the cat, the cabinets, the stainless steel front of the dishwasher, the TV and the floor (Failure #2). Heck, it's probably on the ceiling as well, but I won't know until it dries and turns yellow with age. My point to this is that one serious failure that took me 20 minutes to clean up and left me with runny PBJ pudding (still), taught me a lesson I'll never forget. Sure, I was upset with the mess, but later was laughing at my own stupidity.

I guess the point is that our fears truly hold back our full potential with just about everything in life. I am solely speaking from within the realm of health, but the concept applies to our careers, our relationships, our faiths, and so on. We need to figure out a way to humble ourselves and look for ways to fail, and after the failure, embrace the emotion of accomplishment versus embarrassment. I know there are several books written on this topic. But from a health perspective - drive yourself to failure every once in a while. The surge of energy and pride in the volume of effort you put into that failure should be reward enough!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Back at it! Topic: Scrutiny

OK, I'm back at it, and going to try to commit to this every morning, if nothing else, to purge my swelling brain!

It's every day that a newscaster illuminates us with the brilliance from some single study (backed by "who knows") that exercise abates hot flashes for women in menopause, eliminating or reducing fast food for kids helps battle childhood obesity, eating more fruits and vegetables may prevent many types of cancer, reducing calories to "within your normal limits" can yield weight loss, increasing exercise intensity can improve your fitness levels or better yet, improve insulin sensitivity and lessen (or dare I say it... CURE) Type 2 Diabetes), or that the phytonutrients and/or antioxidants in various types of fresh/whole foods can yield specific benefits to our bodies (beta carotene for eye health, lycopene for prostate health), etc., etc., etc.,

My comments: "No kidding!", "Duh", "And your point is...", "Don't we already know that?", "Didn't we learn that in kindergarten?"

Come on people. Why are fascinated that the most obvious things-the things we already KNOW we know-are good for us. And why do we swoon over "a university study" that tells us what we already know? Pull your shoulders back because you already know it, AND DO IT!

Better yet, why don't we crinkle our foreheads and cock our heads to the right in suspicion when we hear about a pharmaceutical industry-funded study that reveals a "magic bean" (a.k.a. a pill) can do one or any of the same things I mentioned above? Or that a supplement (funded by the company producing or selling the supplement, of course) containing an extract of, or derived from a natural food we could ingest, such as Vitamin C or Cinnamon, can cure...whatever...and we buy into it.

I think I started last year with "back to basics". That's what's going to improve our health and create overall wellness.
  • Eat whole, natural foods.
  • Eat only enough to satisfy your energy needs for the day.
  • Eat a variety of foods to obtain the myriad of micronutrients offered to us by nature.
  • Move. Be physically active. Sweat.
  • Be an example for the young people in this country. Be healthy.

In a nutshell, be a critical thinker when listening to news related to health and nutrition, question everything then go find the answer (this would be called exercising your brain!), be smart when researching the answer (don't believe everything you read), be an example and eat healthily most of the time, and exercise.

It's not hard. We all know it. To quote Nike's cliche: Just do it!