October 31, 2011

Two degrees of pumpkin pancakes

You know the whole "six degrees of separation" thing with actor Kevin Bacon (i.e., think of any actor or actress and you can link back to a Kevin Bacon movie within six jumps)? Well, the yummy pumpkin pancakes I made yesterday morning were two degrees removed from one of my most-favorite food bloggers/cookbook authors, Heidi Swanson. The "middle degree" was a site previously unknown to me, Honey & Jam. As with Heidi's 101 Cookbooks, Honey & Jam is one of those sites where the food photography is so gorgeous that you have to stop yourself from licking your computer screen and drooling on your keyboard.

I've been in a pumpkin state of mind lately (gee, maybe 'cuz it's fall?), and this recipe happily turned out to be one I will make again and again. I modified it slightly from the original Honey & Jam recipe, which was based on a buttermilk pancake recipe from 101 Cookbooks. Here's how I made it:

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes
Makes 12 good-sized pancakes

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons natural granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice

1 1/4 cups organic buttermilk
1 cup pumpkin puree (NOT canned pumpkin pie filling)
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
butter or coconut oil for pan
  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, spice and salt in a large bowl. 
  2. Combine buttermilk, pumpkin, eggs, and slightly cooled melted butter. 
  3. Add wet ingredients to dry, and stir until they are just combined. If the batter's a bit lumpy, that's OK.
  4. Heat your skillet, pan, or griddle to medium-hot and brush it with a bit of butter or coconut oil. Test for the right temperature. If a drop of water dropped onto the pan starts to dance, you are in the ballpark. 
  5. Pour about 1/3 of a cup of batter into the skillet. Wait until the pancake bottom is deep golden in color, then flip with a spatula and cook the other side until golden and cooked through. Repeat with the remaining batter. 
  6. Serve with toppings of choice (We used Trader Joe's pumpkin butter and some almond butter).
The pancakes were really fluffy, and tall. And they tasted great! This recipe essentially substitutes pumpkin puree for part of the buttermilk in the original-original recipe, so if you are living gluten free and have a favorite pancake recipe, you may be able to pumpkin-ize it by making a similar substitution.

P.S. I also made a super yummy pork recipe this weekend (in the midst of studying for midterms). I will share it sometime this week.

October 25, 2011

The Road to RDville: Hypochondriac? Me?

Hello. I've been a bit absent, as I've been getting ready for midterms. I did take a break with half of the students in my program (literally, 11 out of 22) yesterday to enjoy a nice lunch at Serafina as part of Seattle Restaurant Week. I failed to take photos (too busy talking and eating), but I had a butternut squash salad followed by a lamb sausage over white beans and braised kale, finished with a wee chocolate-espresso panna cotta and a teeny biscotti. And lots of water.

Speaking of water, one topic of discussion at my end of the table was how people could potentially improve their health a lot if they did these three things:
  1. Drink enough water.
  2. Eat nutritious food.
  3. Exercise regularly.
Really, it's a crying (and sometimes dying) shame that so many people treat their bodies like crap, filling it with junky food and not moving it enough, figuring that if (I should say when) they get sick that doctors will "fix" them. That's a lousy way to treat your car. It's a horrible way to treat your body. First, your body is waaaaay more important. Second, you'll own your body longer than you own any car. Third, some illnesses are much better prevented then "fixed," because once you have them, you can't really fix them, you can only try to prevent them from causing even worse problems. Take type 2 diabetes, for example.

This week, we've been studying diabetes in my Nutrition & Metabolism class. Now, I write about diabetes a lot for a general audience. I thought I knew diabetes pretty well. I know realize that prior to Sunday (when I started reading the assigned research papers), I knew about 10 percent more than what I needed to know to write effective, useful articles for Joe and Jane Smith. Today, I know about 1000 percent more, and that's only the tip of the iceberg, since I'm no endocrinologist.

Honestly, I sort of used to think that type 2 diabetes wasn't as bad as some diseases, because "at least you can control it." Holy heck, people....you do not want to get diabetes. If you know you are at risk (i.e., you are a woman who's had gestational diabetes or you have parents, siblings or children who have type 2 diabetes), I beseech you to start making any healthy changes you need to make in your lifestyle right now! If you already have type 2 diabetes, I beg you do what you need to do to keep your blood sugar levels in line. Seriously...I beg you. Don't make me come to your house.

High blood sugar is so very, very bad for your body, in all kinds of horrible ways. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. It rarely has symptoms, and they are often subtle (increased thirst and urination, etc.) so you can have high blood sugar for a long time before you suspect something might be wrong with you. If you have not had your blood sugar tested, or haven't in a long time, please do so. And if you're afraid of what you might find out, don't stick your head in the sand. It's better to know, and deal with it, then not know...and possibly die.

Thus ends my public service message. What about the hypochondriac reference in the post title? Well, I do have a family history of type 2 diabetes. The last few days, I've been fretting about the state of my pancreatic beta cells (the cells that make insulin). It's possible that beta cell function is sub-par in people at high risk of type 2 diabetes, even if they haven't exhibited problems with blood sugar. So, much as a pregnant woman will talk to the child still in her womb, I find myself wanting to talk to my pancreas: "Hello, little beta cells. Are you doing OK in there? You're not going to crap out on me, are you.?

I swear I'm not crazy. Or truly hypochondriac. My appreciation for my current good health has deepened, however, as has my resolve to stay as healthy as possible, for as long as possible. I can't wait until I get to take Nutrition and Chronic Disease next term. Truly...time can't pass fast enough.

October 21, 2011

Danger! Danger!

I've found a new (to me) food site: Food 52. It "had me at hello" even on my tiny iPhone screen on a packed-like-a-sardine-can bus home from school. So imagine its terrible power on a normal-sized screen. Exactly.

I actually learned about this bit of online dangerousness from a Kurt Timmermeister tweet.* I also realized I hadn't checked my Twitter feed since classes started. How this lapse didn't cause me to fall off the edge of the Earth, I have no idea.

You know what's worse? Food 52 has a cookbook coming out in a few days. Co-written by Amanda Hesser, whom I adore (from afar...I've never met her). In fact, her Essential New York Times Cookbook is at the tippy top of my Christmas list. I guess I better make room on that list for Food 52. Yes, I know, I know. I have enough cookbooks. Leave me alone, already!

* The tweet was actually about a Food 52 book party with Amanda Hesser at Kurtwood Farms. I can't go, naturally. No time! No time!

October 19, 2011

The big picture

I try to not be judgmental about other people eating patterns, largely because there was a time when my eating patterns were less than ideal (you know, the whole "Pot, meet Kettle" thing). But that doesn't mean I don't notice people's eating patterns. I mean, they're right out there for people to see (except for any food eaten on the sly, I suppose). And I can't help but take note when there is a sizable gap between current eating patterns and a generally accepted healthy eating pattern. (By "generally healthy" I mean appropriate calorie intake, a good amount of vegetables and fruit and a minimum of refined white flour products, fast food and other highly processed foods.)

There's a family I know who has a strict rule that their young children are allowed only one juice box per day. That's a pretty good rule, since whole fruit (which these children do eat) is much healthier than juice, and because juice is lacking the fiber from the whole fruit, the natural fruit sugars are absorbed into the bloodstream quite rapidly.

Now here's the problem: These children are not drowning in juice, but they are consuming a lot of refined sugary food. White bread. Pastries. Dessert. The sugary half of frosted shredded wheat cereal. And while these kids are perfectly willing to eat healthier foods when they are offered, if bread or sugary foods are at hand, then it's those foods that get eaten first (and by eaten, I mean inhaled). Then there's no more room in their small tummies for the healthy stuff.

So I can see this dietary "big picture," and it drives me nuts, because I know the parents are trying to do the right thing, but they are so fixated on isolated details (like juice) that they don't see that the sum total of the sugar their kids are eating is not healthy.

I see this a lot with other people. Here are some examples of common fixations coupled with less-than-healthy big pictures:
  • Fixation on eating low-fat + consumption of lots of highly processed, low-nutrient convenience foods, like low-fat frozen entrees and sugary nonfat yogurt.
  • Fixation on not eating meat + consumption of almost any non-meat food, healthy or not (like tons of white bread, pasta and cheese).
  • Fixation on not eating grains (paleo diet) + consumption of anything "meat" (including lots of processed meats).
  • Fixation on eating a low-calorie diet + consumption of a limited range of foods that are low calorie but also low in nutrients.
If your diet is healthy in the big picture, you don't have to sweat the small stuff so much. You can have an occasional splurge meal or sweet treat. But if you get tunnel vision about isolated elements of your diet, you may end up spinning your wheels and getting no healthier for your efforts. Just some food for thought!

October 18, 2011

Keeping the weight off

Maintaining a weight loss isn't easy. In fact, it's harder then losing weight in the first place. Don't believe me? Think about how many people you know who have gone on a diet and lost weight. Then think about how many of those people gained weight back...sometimes more than they lost to begin with. Exactly.

Of course, weight maintenance isn't impossible. How hard it is will vary from person to person, based on what's going on with their own personal biochemistry (in other words, what their levels are of the hormones and othe chemicals that affect hunger, satisfaction after eating, metabolic rate, etc.). For many people, I think a big part of the problem is they are not prepared for the challenge of weight maintenance. They don't have a plan.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off for the rest of your life, then you have to actively work on maintaining that lost weight for the rest of your life. You can't just lose weight, say "OK, all done" and expect the weight to not creep or even gallop back onto your body.

I've been on both sides (losing and regaining vs. losing and maintaining), so I know how frustrating it is. That's the main reason I signed up for the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) as soon as I'd maintained my weight loss long enough to qualify. I support any group that is doing any meaningful work to help people maintain a healthy weight for life. So I read with interest last week an article with information from the latest analysis run by the NWCR. How did my personal characteristics match up with those of the "typical" registry member? Let's see...most members:
  • Track their food intake. (I do this off and on. Lately, packing my own food with me and having to carry it around with me all day along with books and my laptop has been a pretty effective means of portion control.)
  • Count calorie or fat grams or use a commercial weight-loss program to track food intake. (Again, I use software like Fitday or Sparkpeople off and on, when I'm interested in specifics or really need to quantify my intake for some reason.)
  • Follow a low-calorie, low-fat diet. They take in about 1,800 calories a day and less than 30% of calories from fat. (I eat less than this...but then again the "average" listed here would include men, who can eat more calories. I don't watch my fat intake, because I skew sharply toward healthy fats like nuts, olive oil and avocados and eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruit.)
  • Eat breakfast regularly. (Yes, I do this...except one day a week when I'm doing intermittent fasting.)
  • Limit the amount they eat out. They dine out an average of three times a week and eat fast food less than once a week. (I go beyond this. I ate a not-prepared-at-home meal once last week, and that is my typical frequency.)
  • Eat similar foods regularly and don't splurge much on holidays and special occasions. (Yes and yes. I get a fair amount of variety, but a lot of repetition, too. I am careful about what I consider to be a "special occasion" and work hard to resist turning one day of holiday eating...i.e., Christmas Day...into a three-day eating extravaganza. This gets tricky when I'm visiting family for an extended holiday weekend and there is an extreme shortage of vegetables and an extreme surplus of sugary refined carbohydrates.)
  • Walk about an hour a day or burn the same calories with other activities. (You better believe it. I was exercising at least two hours a day before school started. Now, I get about one hour of walking every day, and I fit in about two weight lifting sessions and one yoga DVD each week.)
  • Watch fewer than 10 hours of TV a week. (TV? What's TV? I watch about 90 minutes a week...less during the summer.)
  • Weigh themselves at least once a week. (I weigh myself daily, with few exceptions. I can generally tell the difference between water weight and real weight, and monitoring myself in this simple way means I can avoid tracking my food intake. If the scale reveals a disturbing trend, then I know to start tracking calories for a while.)
So, will doing these things mean that you'll keep of the weight? None of these items cause weight loss or weight maintenance, but they are certainly associated with it. All this list means is that successful weight loss maintainers tend to have these characteristics. If you're struggling with your weight, look at the list and see if it gives you some ideas for changes you can make. I can't remember who said it, but if you say you don't have time to exercise, but you can say who won on "Dancing With the Stars"...there's a problem.

October 17, 2011

The Road to RDville: Things I'm thankful for

Thanksgiving is more than a month away, but anytime is a good time to give thanks, IMO. With two-and-a-half weeks of grad school under my belt, I feel like I'm just starting to get into a groove (I probably just jinxed myself by typing that, but whatever). So here's what I"m thankful for, class by class:
  • Biostatistics: I'm thankful that I only have to take one term of biostatistics, that the data software I have to use for that class is feeling easier to use (it was kicking my butt last week, which is the main reason I skipped some blog posts), and that when I do my thesis, I won't have to run my own data. Whoo-hoo!
  • Epidemiology: I'm thankful that this class is already helping me identify flaws in published scientific research, and that I came into this class already understanding concepts like "just because two things are associated with each other, doesn't mean one of those things causes the other." I really like this class, even though we're getting into some math-type stuff that makes my eyes cross after a while.
  • Health Services: I'm thankful that I'm taking this class! I love this class...and I never would have registered for it if it hadn't been a required class for all MPH students. Last week's lecture on access to health care was so informative, especially with the attempted health care reform going on now. It's also illuminated what I sort of knew already: Our medical system is way too focused on treatment at the expense of prevention!
  • Nutrition & Metabolism: I'm grateful that I took biochemistry just last year (as opposed to several years ago), so that this class is not Greek to me! I have learned so, so much about the many (many!) factors that contribute to our metabolic rate and our body weight. Oh, and a little tip to anyone who's waiting with bated breath for a pharmaceutical treatment for obesity that works without nasty side effects? It's never going to happen (not that the drug companies aren't trying, they are...hard!).
  • Dietetics Seminar: I'm grateful that the RD exam will apparently be easier than I thought. In fact, what I'll be learning in grad school is so above and beyond what's on the test that I'll spend my test prep time studying remedial things like food safety and how many number 10 cans fit into a hotel pan. Nope, not kidding.
  • Research Design: I'm grateful that I now have a much clearer idea about what the thesis process looks like.
Let's see, what else? I'm grateful that my fellow nutrition students are fun, smart people. I'm grateful that I have access to a bajillion scientific papers for free through my university's online subscriptions. I'm grateful that I get to spend so much time on a pretty college campus this fall...there is just something about old brick buildings, turning leaves and crisp air that cannot be beat.

October 12, 2011

Mega portion distortion

I know I ended yesterday's post with the suggestion to avoid food buffets, but the truth is that when I visit Las Vegas (once a year or so), I do find myself in the buffet line. But I do it with two big caveats:
  1. I have reached a point were I am immune to the mental pitfalls of thinking "Look at all of this food...I need to try a little of everything!" or "This buffet was kind of spendy...I need to eat my money's worth!"
  2. I've learned that buffets offer my best chances of getting a huge green salad, a plate of grilled or sauteed veggies with a side of protein, a few nibbles of some good cheese, and a dessert portion that isn't the size of a dinner plate.
So imagine my horror when Jeff was describing a monstrosity of a corned beef and pastrami sandwich ("The Woody Allen") he witnessed a few weeks back at the Carnegie Deli at the Mirage. (Sorry, but that is just wrong. I mean, the Carnegie Deli should be at New York, New York...am I right?) At first I thought he meant the price ($20) was monstrous, but then he held his hand up about a foot above the table top. It was this high...and had two pounds of meat!"

That lead to discussions (with lots of gesticulating and fist pounding) of appropriate portion sizes (that sandwich is too much food for even TWO people!) and food waste. He saw a LOT of food go uneaten, just during one lunch in that one restaurant. Can you imagine how much food gets collectively thrown away on the Las Vegas Strip between all the buffets and the monster restaurant portions?

I like corned beef, and I like pastrami (although it's been at least a few years since I've eaten either), but the very thought of serving a sandwich of that size grosses me out on many levels, nutritional and otherwise. Just to torture myself further, I went looking for a photo of the hideous specimen. Check it out for yourself (just don't say I didn't warn you).

October 11, 2011

Variety: Not always the spice of life (or health)

One of the topics we’ve been covering in my Nutrition & Metabolism class is age-related changes to metabolic rate, body composition and energy needs. As part of that, we’ve looked at some of the research regarding our ability to regulate a healthy energy balance as we get older. In other words, how well do we eat the amount of food we need to match the amount of energy our body needs so we don’t unintentionally gain or lose weight?

Not very well at all, it seems. With older adults, unintended weight loss is more likely to be an issue than weight gain, and there are many reasons for that. One reason is variety. Older adults tend to have less variety in their diets, and when we have less variety, we tend to eat less. There are many related reasons for this that are still being explored (including declining sense of taste and smell), but what was interesting was the comparison information about what happens when children, adolescents and adults have a lot of variety in their diets.

If you have a “varied diet,” but that variety comes from high-calorie foods (like desserts, snack foods, high-fat entrees, etc.), odds are you’re going to eat too much and gain weight. Why? Because of “sensory specific satiety.” That term refers to our tendency to experience less pleasure with each subsequent bite we take of a food. You know how the first bite always tastes the best, and the second bite is still really good, but not as good (and so on, and so on)? Well, if you are eating lots of different things, it's easier to overeat because when sensory specific satiety kicks in for one food, you have another food and another flavor with which to start the process over. And then another and another. It’s the “I’m stuffed but I can make room for dessert” phenomenon.

“But isn’t a varied diet good?” you ask. Well…it is if you’re getting that variety from vegetables! People who get a lot of variety in their diets by eating lots of vegetables are less likely to be overweight.

The takeaway? Eat your veggies (allow the photo above to inspire you). And, if you’re struggling to lose weight or avoid gaining weight, you might look at what’s on your plate. If you tend to have multiple side dishes, perhaps with condiments adding another round of flavors, you might consider scaling back a bit and see if that helps you control your overall food intake. Oh, and stay away from buffets.

October 10, 2011

The Road to RDville: Will my brain burst?

Wow. I've had eight days of classes and I've learned...a lot. I've been shoveling some heavy duty info into my brain on both the nutrition and the public health fronts, and my head has yet to explode, so I take that as a good sign. Here's an overview of what my classes have been covering:

  • Biostatistics. Research study design (experimental vs. observational), methods for choosing study sample populations, exploring data numerically and graphically.
  • Epidemiology. History of epidemiology, occurrence of disease (incidence and prevalence) and the different types of research study designs (going into way more depth than we are in biostatistics).
  • Health Services. Evolutions in the health care system and the health insurance system, the history of public health (including its sometimes complementary, sometimes adversarial relationship with the medical community) and the ever changing definition of public health.
  • Nutrition & Metabolism. Assessing energy needs and body composition, the effects of aging and disease on energy needs and body composition, the role of our cells' mitochondria in aging (including the effects of free radicals, exercise, caloric restriction and other factors on mitochondrial function).
  • Assorted weekly seminars. Program information, developing goals for this academic term and for the first year of the dietetic program, and why it is very, very, VERY important to not falsify data when we do our thesis research. Bad! Bad! (You would think this would be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it happens.)

Lots of good stuff. I've read more research papers in the last week and a half than I've read...well, in the previous month, I guess, since I like reading research papers. It's a lot of work, but I love what I'm learning. And I'm very thankful right now that I am staying organized and on top of my to-do's, because if the rest of the term flies by like this first week-plus has, it's going to be over like that [snap]!

I have an interesting post planned for tomorrow that I didn't have time to write last week. I am vowing to write it today! I swear!

October 5, 2011

Nutritional disconnect

A brief and tardy post today. I tweeted about this article yesterday, but had trouble sharing it to my Facebook page so I'm going to mention it here. If you follow food issues and nutrition, you know that what we should be eating (fruits and vegetables and foods that not processed within an inch of their lives). And the government agrees (according to MyPlate and MyPyramid before that). Or do they? 

Because the food stuffs that get big government support from federal subsidies are "commodity crops" like corn and soy that are the backbones of most ultra-processed foods (think fast food and junk food), as well as food for industrial meat animals that spend most of their lives in squalid feedlot conditions. 

The Washington Post article "U.S. touts fruit and vegetables while subsidizing animals that become meat" does a nice job with this issue. I'm going to leave it at that, and encourage you to read the article yourself!

October 4, 2011

Play with your (virtual) food

Have you heard about Smash Your Food? I heard about this website last week but didn't have a chance to play with it until today. It's gross and cool, which means kids will love it (in fact, I think it's designed for kids...but grown-ups like it, too!).

You guess how much sugar, salt and fat is in a slice of pizza, or a burger, or a donut (etc), then watch as it is smashed to smithereens and it oozes all over (that's the gross part), all while you find out how close you were in your guesses (the cool part).

The main site (Food n' Me) also has other fun, kid-friendly games like "What Food Am I?" Check it out!

(Note, you need Flash to experience the site, so don't try it on your smart phones.)

October 3, 2011

The Road to RDville: Great beginnings

Happy Monday! It's the start of my second week of grad school...are you excited? That's OK, because I am. I thought it might be a good idea to talk a little bit about what in the heck it is I'm actually doing, both for interested current readers and for anyone who stumbles upon this blog looking for information on becoming a Registered Dietitian.

OK, here goes. I'm enrolled in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Nutrition Sciences at the University of Washington. It is not technically it's own department (yet), so for now it falls within the Department of Epidemiology within the larger School of Public Health. My program is on its way to becoming its own department, in part because nutrition science is taking on an increasingly important role within the School of Public Health. Not surprising, considering that many diseases of public health concern, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease, are affected by what we eat. And then there are issues of food safety, which concern both nutrition and public health.

There are 22 students in my class, which is the largest class to date. They come from all over the United States, as well as Iran, India, China and Korea. Some of my fellow students are pursuing a Master of Nutrition Science (MS). They fall under the umbrella of the university's Graduate School. Students such as myself who are pursuing a Master of Public Health Nutrition (MPH) fall firmly under the School of Public Health, and so have additional public health course requirements. In addition to the core nutrition curriculum that all nutrition grad students take, I'm taking additional coursework in epidemiology, health services and environmental studies.

But wait, there's more! I'm also enrolled in the Graduate Coordinated Program in Dietetics (GCPD). You can be in the Nutrition Science Program without being in the GCPD, but you can't be in the GCPD without being in the Nutrition Science Program. Got that? The GCPD offers the coursework and supervised practice experience that's required to be eligible to sit for the Registered Dietitian exam. To become an RD, you have to pass the exam (and get your degree). There are some schools who offer GCPD's (not sure how many). Other schools split up the coursework and the supervised practice. In those cases, students who successfully complete the dietetic coursework get a DPD certificate, and then they have to go find a dietetic internship (DI) either through a national matching program, or on their own, I suppose. There is a serious shortage of dietetic internships in this country, so I'm glad I'm in a GCPD!

Getting into the Nutrition Sciences Program is competitive, but the UW's GCPD is even more so: There are only 12 spots per year, because that is all UW is accredited for by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association until about a week ago). So I feel extra super lucky, yes I do! (Not that I didn't work my butt off to get here, but no matter how good of a candidate you are, you never know who else is applying and how great they might be.)

Yes, it's all a little confusing, and honestly, bits of it didn't become clear to me until orientation last week! But there are fantastic people coordinating the MPH and GCPD students in my program, streamlining what could have been duplicate requirements (for example, all MPH students have to do a field practicum, but those of us in the GCPD will have a public health component that satisfied that requirement).

Let's see, what else? There are amazing, amazing things happening here. There's the Center for Public Health Nutrition (UWCPHN) and the Center for Obesity Research (UW-COR), which just got another big grant renewed to study food environment, diet quality and disparities and the role they play in obesity. Exciting stuff!

I've had three days of class and I can't believe how much I've learned, about everything from research study design to how the health insurance system works to how tiny little parts of our cells (mitochondria) affect how we age. OK, this is the last time I'm going to say it....exciting!

As a final bit of housekeeping, I'm planning to continue posting M-F, but we'll see how that shakes out. If I miss a single day, I won't announce it, but if I need to take a break for a few days for some reason, I'll give a heads up. I know I enjoy a bit of predictability in the blogs I visit, so I intend to extend the same courtesy to you.