My Insolite Breakfast

This month my goal has been to know myself better and I’ve really managed to.
You’ll find some of the tests I did to this purpose in my blog article The numbers in My Food.  

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Photo Emilia Dragne

Time now to start rethinking my meals and the first in line is my breakfast.
I don’t know what other people eat for breakfast, I’d be terrible bored to eat each morning the same meal. I do love the “all-inclusive” breakfasts of my seaside holidays.
This puts another pressure maybe on my lifestyle or… maybe not, with what I’ve recently learned.

 

Q. Do I need a rich breakfast each morning?

Yes I do. I need a daily breakfast for the simple reason that I’m very hungry in the morning. Maybe, this is because my dinner is just a snack and I fast for 12 hours at least. Also, it has to be a rich one as I need more energy than for the rest of the day to exercise, do my house chores, write my blog, do some shopping and other activities. I’m a “morning” person.
If you have a different lifestyle, breakfast might not be so important for you, it’s up to you to decide. Maybe a sandwich and a cup of coffee or a yogurt or milk with some oats and dry fruits, orr just a piece of fruit and a biscuit would suit you perfect.

Q. What shall I eat for breakfast?
Carbs and fats? Protein, fats and carbs? Should I include lots of fibers? Do I need sugar for more energy?

My tests have showed me that if I start my breakfast, after fasting 12 hours, with  a lot of carbs, mostly high glycemic load, my blood  sugar spikes! No matter what and how much else I eat after that at breakfast, in less than 2 hours I’ll  have to snack again.

I need a breakfast that will increase normally my blood sugar, with a difference of less than 40 related to the baseline. In two hours, glucose in my blood should be back to the baseline.
It’s not possible to exclude high glycemic load foods but you can eat smaller quantities and combine them as much as possible with low glycemic or no carbs foods.  It should include fibers and some fats which lower the glycemic response.
It’s not possible to estimate accurately the glycemic load of such a breakfast. I’ll have to test further my glycemic response to some of my most frequent breakfast combinations.

What else? I know for sure, from previous years’ diets,  that more than 4 starch food portions a day do fatten me, also too much fat (more than 35% from total daily calories).

Also, my breakfast should have a low energy density (less than 1.5 kcal per gram) but if it’s around 2,  I’ll accept it for the next moths. No higher than 2 (which is a medium energy density,)  though.

All these mean I’ll have to limit fats and sugars.
Bit tricky, don’t you think?

Q. How much shall I eat for breakfast? 

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If I eat more that 500 kcal, most from carbs, I tend to have a fluctuating blood sugar for hours. I’m not sure how healthy this is, fact is such a breakfast will make me tired  for the rest of the day.
Less than 400 kcal, is not ok either as I’ll need a snack after 2-3 hours to keep me going.
I don’t want to snack in the morning, I have things to do and I don’t think it’s healthy to keep my blood sugar dancing up and down all the day long. Maybe it’s just my opinion, but as I don’t seem to get rid of more pounds with the 3 meals + 2 snacks a day, for the next months, I’ll stick to 3 meals a day.
Of course, if I get hungry I’ll eat a light snack, a piece of not so sweet fruit or a veggie, with  some cheese or other protein,  or a handful of seeds and nuts, something that won’t raise much my blood sugar.

My Ideal Breakfast

I confess I’ve started a new lifestyle  5-6  years ago with what I think has been a healthy breakfast, while following the South Beach Diet.

Pity they’ve killed that version of the SB Diet,  for commercial reasons. It was closest to a healthy Mediterranean Diet combined with a low glycemic load diet and it still suits me somehow, at least I haven’t put on lately.
Their recommendation for breakfast is simple: 1 protein portion, to start with, either of animal or vegetable origin,  half a veggie portion (around 100 g) and 1 carb portion, whole grains or low to medium glycemic load.

I’m trying to improve this breakfast, knowing what I know now on nutrition data.

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Photo Emilia Dragne

All questions answered, my ideal insolite breakfast pattern should be like this:
– between 400 – 500 kcal and less than 2 kcal/ g energy density
– a protein portion like 1-2 eggs, 25 g of soft cheese or 50 g of Bulgarian cheese, a piece of lean ham or 2 tbsp of hummus
– half a portion of veggies (100 g), like a salad, a tomato, a pickle, 2 tbsp of zacusca
– one portion of carbs like a slice of bread, half a cup bulgur or rice, a few biscuits or a handful of pasta. Carbs should not exceed much 50 g (not so sure about this, just trying to limit the daily carbs, it seems too much carbs add to my weight).
I won’t limit to whole grain as I already combine carbs with veggies.
– I’ve given up, long time ago, almost all added sugar, be it artificially or not. However, I still eat from time to time a tbsp of jam or honey, but not daily.
– a cup of tomato juice, kefir, yogurt, tea or mineral water, depending on calories and what else is included in my breakfast
– coffee, can’t do without, one of my little pleasures.

All of these should be eaten over 20 minutes – half an hour.
Bit of advice, do take time to eat your meals. Swallowing your food like a wolf won’t do,
it’ might raise too quickly your blood sugar.
If still hungry, wait 15 minutes before eating anything else. Give your brain time to decide if you still need more. This really works!

Here are some of my most frequent breakfasts

Food Quantity (g) Calories (kcal) Carbs g Fats g Proteins g Energy Density
Bulgarian Cheese 50 149 1 13 7 2.98
Spaghetti al dento 100 213 43 1 8 2.13
1 hard boiled egg 50 75 1 5 6 1.51
Tomato juice, 1 cup 250 41 10     0.16
Coffee, 1 cup   4 1      
TOTAL 450 483 56 19 21 1.07
1 hard boiled egg 50 75 1 5 6 1.51
Spinach cooked with 1 tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, 4 tbsp 100 156 5 14 4 1.56
Bread, wholegrain, 1 slice 25 75 13 1 4 2.98
Kefir 3.5 % fat 200 101 10 5 5 0.51
Coffee, 1 cup   4 1      
TOTAL 375 411 29 24 19 1.10
1 hard boiled egg 50 75 1 5 6 1.51
Oat bran, 2 tbsp 28 111 19 2 5 3.97
Yogurt 3.5 % 140 87 7 5 5 0.62
Chia Seeds, 1 tbsp 9 43 4 3 1 4.82
Avocado, 1/4 50 81 8 5 1 1.62
Honey with lemon juice 1 tbsp 12 32 8     2.67
Coffee, 1 cup   4 1      
TOTAL 289 434 46 20 18 1.50
Canned fish in tomato juice 50 121 8 5 12 2.43
Little Broom Salad with lemon juice, no oil 193 76 16 0 3 0.39
Bread, wholegrain, 1 slice 25 75 13 1 4 2.98
Honey with lemon juice 1 tbsp 12 32 8     2.67
Yogurt 3.5 % 140 87 7 5 5 0.62
Coffee, 1 cup   4 1      
TOTAL 420 395 52 11 23 0.94
Hummus, 2 tbsp 100 234 20 14 7 2.34
Bread, wholegrain, 1 slice 25 75 13 1 4 2.98
Coffee, 1 cup   4 1      
Little Broom Salad with lemon juice, no oil 193 76 16 0 3 0.39
Yogurt 3.5 % 140 87 7 5 5 0.62
TOTAL 458 476 56 20 18 1.04
Bulgarian Cheese 50 149 1 13 7 2.98
Olive oil, 1 tbsp 14 122   14   8.68
1 tomato 120 23 5   1 0.19
Bread, wholegrain, 1 slice 25 75 13 1 4 2.98
Coffee, 1 cup   4 1      
Almonds, a handful 20 113 4 9 4 5.65
TOTAL 229 485 24 37 16 2.12

Keep in mind that this is my ideal breakfast. Don’t follow me, I urge you not to.
If you find some useful ideas here, help yourself, make them your own. Make my karma happy.
However, build your own personal breakfast pattern based on your body response to food and your preferences and lifestyle.

 

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Cauliflower, cottage cheese, leek, eggs baked for half an hour. Photo Emilia Dragnne.

Citric Acid, Safe or Not?

Citric acid is a weak, water-soluble  acid found in citrus fruits and some vegetables. It gives them a sour taste. It is highly concentrated in lemons, where it can comprise as much as 8 percent of the dry weight.

The interesting thing is that citric acid is produced in our bodies in huge amounts (something like 1.5- 2 kilograms daily, in fact) but is also quickly metabolized.
In the year 1953 Sir Hans Krebs received the  Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering the important role of the Citric acid in a series of chemical reactions used by all aerobic organisms to generate energy. You can read more in Wikipedia,  about the citric acid cycle, also known as The Krebs Cycle.

At one point in our recent history some smart guy read about The Krebs Cycle. The world “krebs” translates to English word “cancer” … and that’s what created the misunderstanding that citric acid causes cancer. But in fact, it does not.

There’s no special relationship between citric acid and ascorbic acid, just two different chemicals.

It seems the citric acid we eat isn’t used by the body at all. There’s no need to eat it. But citric acid is widely used in the food industry as a flavor enhances and preservative, because of its low price and its ease of production.
The use of the citric acid is approved in the EU, E Number: E330
The United States Food and Drug Administration considers also citric acid to be safe when used as a food additive.
The acid was first artificially produced from citrus fruits but this technique was inefficient and only produced small quantities. Today citric acid is manufactured through the use of Aspergillus Niger, a mold that feeds on cheap corn syrup glucose
Increased acidity prevents bacterial and fungal growth, therefore prolonging the life of the food or drink. It also helps preserve flavor and maintains pH at a suitable level to prevent food degradation, especially canned food.
Certain companies use it to give their food products, such as sweets and soft drinks, an “authentic” fruity flavor.

Why do they add citric acid when canning tomatoes?
Tomatoes were once considered an acid food that could be safely canned without any additive. However, because of the potential for botulism when some newer, less acidic tomato varieties are canned, certain precautions must now be taken.

The citric acid is also commonly found in various cosmetic products. It is added to adjust the pH level of creams, lotions and gels to coincide with our natural skin pH level.
In detergents, shampoos and soap, the citric acid is added so that foam is more easily produced. It also increases the efficiency of these products as it helps dissolve stains more quickly.
The citric acid is favored over other additives because it is environmentally friendly, biodegradable and is relatively harmless.

While citric acid is generally safe, side effects do occur if an excess of the acid is used or consumed. The entire digestive system can be irritated, causing heartburn and damage to the mucous membrane of the stomach.
Symptoms of citric acid in excess can include stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.
Also the eyes, the respiratory organs and the skin can suffer with scratchy sensations from over-consumption of citric acid.
People with sensitive skin should avoid using creams containing citric acid as it may cause irritation or a rash to form.

Some doctors say that citric acid can damage teeth. The effects of citric acid on teeth have been known since at least the 1970’s when the Journal of the American Dental Association presented a report indicating that the habitual use and abuse of foods containing the acid was linked to serious erosion of tooth enamel. Other scientific research have confirmed this research. It seems it’s especially harmful to babies and children.
Many baby foods commercially available have small amounts of citric acid added to them as a preservative. A solution to cutting down on the amount of citric acid your baby ingests is by making your own baby food.

Except for some people which are allergic or have an intolerance to it, researchers are telling us that in small amounts, Citric Acid is harmless.
But…. If you read the labels on vegetable cans, soft drinks, jam, fruit yogurt, cookies or some processed meat product there’s a big chance you’ll find citric acid among ingredients.
Is this citric acid in “small amounts”? Is there any study on the effect of these “small amounts” of artificially citric acid on a long term, besides maybe the teeth damage?
My best advice is that, until we learn more about citric acid, you should try to limit consumption of products containing artificially produced citric acid, whenever possible, but without becoming obsessed.

How about a fresh lemonade, made with fresh lemon juice, bit of sugar, honey and a bit of ginger and mint? Don’t wait for the summer, it’s perfect now to prevent season colds. Best remedy if you already have the nasty cold.

The dose of energy and refreshment
Photo by Photo Mix from Pexels                                                                https://www.pexels.com/photo/aroma-beverage-blur-citrus-96974/

The Numbers in My Food

I confess, I’m a Math fan. I “crunch” numbers, I’m always in search of models and indicators.
I won’t trust any theory until I see some validated data and results. Show me the numbers.
But when it comes to the food on my table and its relations to my body, I feel sometimes dizzy. There are too many parameters and incredible complicated chemistry processes, mind blowing. Not even scientists know everything, still researching.

And yet, a few indicators are quite enough in real life to help you build your weekly menu. Maybe it won’t be “the one”, the perfect healthy menu for you but in time, you can adjust it. Just keep an open mind to the latest discoveries.

Calories

We need energy to move, breathe, think  and so on and we take this energy from our food. If we eat more than we need, we’ll eventually get fat.
Why some people can eat more than others without problems, who knows?
Maybe the bacteria in their guts or their genes or some mysterious process in their body help them.
Energy in our food is measured in calories (actually it’s Kilocalories, kCal but we say just calories). This nice calorie calculator  will tell you how many calories you need to maintain your actual weight or to get rid of some of your weight.
Very useful only … it’s not working, not just like that.

I’m using the calorie indicator, the one for maintaining my actual weight. I’ve tried to be as honest as possible, not to influence “in my favor” this indicator.
From my experience, my body will adjust in a few months to any lower calorie number and I could still put on. Unfortunately, my body won’ t adjust to higher calories intake, that’s for sure.
Keep in mind that it’s genetics, exercising, the quality of your life,  the quality of the calories you eat and a lot  more variables that matters too.

It will be hell in the beginning to adjust your menu to the calorie indicator. It’s so boring to measure portion size and count calories in your portions. Plus, you’ll be shocked  to see how little you should be eating.
A piece of meat the size of your palm, a handful of pasta and a bowl of salad and that’s all folks for your dinner, sorry, no dessert.
I’m telling you just this because I’ve been there, I’ve seen that:
Don’t lose control over how much you are eating, no matter what. If you have weight problems, it’s a “MUST”.

I survived somehow with MyFitnessPal application.
Using their food journal, you’ll easily keep track of what you’re eating, calories will be automatically calculated and they have a large food database. Don’t rush and don’t despair, in time, you’ll learn your portions.

If you’re cooking at home, you’ll need a scale and maybe you’ll need to review your favorite recipes and calculate the calories. I found this site very useful to do this http://nutritiondata.self.com/diets 
Also, it will help you greatly to choose one of the healthy diets and adjust it in time based on your results and preferences. A good start is the DASH diet.

Nutrients

If you eat a variety of foods, covering all food groups, lots of colors, foods less processed, organic as much as possible, nice Mediterranean recipes, you can be sure you’ll get  the nutrients your body needs. No need to bother too much, at least in the beginning,  with the nutrient numbers.

Budget

And then, there is your budget. Even if you cook at home, prices of the good food nowadays seem to be high. Or not?
Sometimes, it’s a matter of what recipes you choose and  how much you need to buy for your healthy recipes. If you cook at home, it helps a lot to plan your weekly menus, you’ll reduce costs and wastes.
Buying from a farm market or buying in bulk, might make a difference.
Keep in mind that you don’t need “fancy” foods to get rid of excess pounds.
I like a lot this site, Budget Bytes. Most of the recipes are affordable (they include prices), healthy and tasty, just cut the sugars in non-dessert recipes and some of the salt.
By the way, I’ve noticed this. In many recipes posted on the net there is way too much salt, too many spices, a lot of sugar in any dish, be it dessert or not.
Better keep it simple, it’s cheaper and healthier. And tastier, if you ask me,  too much salt and sugar cut the flavors.

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Photo by Dana Tentis from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/cooked-meat-with-vegetables-725991/

The Glycemic Index

There’s one tricky and,  in a way, infuriating indicator, The Glycemic Index, explained best here:

The glycemic index (or GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar (glucose) levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested, absorbed and metabolised and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar (glucose) levels. Low GI carbohydrates – the ones that produce smaller fluctuations in your blood glucose and insulin levels – is one of the secrets to long-term health, reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It is also one of the keys to maintaining weight loss.

Keep this in mind: A sharp increase in glucose in the blood triggers the pancreas to release a lot more of the hormone insulin to remove any excess glucose. This could start reactions in the body that leave you feeling lethargic, hungry and craving more sugar.

Just for the record, HG is over 50 and LG is less than 35.
Actually, it’s the Glycemic Load that should be considered. Citing from wikipedia:

Glycemic load accounts for how much carbohydrate is in the food and how much each gram of carbohydrate in the food raises blood glucose levels. Glycemic load is based on the glycemic index (GI), and is calculated by multiplying the grams of available carbohydrate in the food times the food’s GI and then dividing by 100.

A glycemic load of over 20 is considered high, one under 10 is low.

The Sydney University database includes the GI and GL for a diversity of carbo rich foods.

Glycemic Load is not a precise indicator, it actually tells us how the organisms of some  participants in a very limited test reacted to some foods rich in carbohydrates. It depends on  the way the recipes are cooked, on the provenience of the ingredients, on what else one ate the day before, the week before and a lot of other parameters. There are many voices that say this GL is not worth the trouble.
And yet it works for a lot of people, including me!
There are high chances that a food considered generally as high glycemic will be indeed high glycemic for you too but not always. However some foods, considered medium or low Glycemic Load, might spike your sugar blood. If you get hungry too quickly after eating a rich but healthy meal, than analyse a bit its content. Try eating separately the components (in sufficient quantities to get the same number of calories and carbs, if possible).  Chances are that you’ll find an “alien” food. It doesn’t mean that you should stop eating it, just eat less of it,  not daily, not so often and don’t start a meal with it.

The way you prepare potential high glycemic index foods like potatoes, rice and pasta may lower significantly their glycemic index.
It’s an interesting chemical process called starch retrogradation.
Starch granules heated in excess water undergo an order‐disorder phase transition called gelatinization.  On cooling, the starch chains (amylose and amylopectin) in the gelatinized paste associate, leading to the formation of a more ordered structure. The resulting resistant starch has similar physiologic effects as dietary fibre.
Translating this in a cooking method, boil your potatoes, in skin, in lots of water, on low heat. Peel them when ready under cold water, refrigerate them overnight. You can then safely eat them in a potato salad with vinegar, reheat them or fry them and eat them as a side dish or whatever.
One study found that cooling potatoes overnight after cooking tripled their resistant starch content.
As to pasta, cooking them “al dente” lowers their GI and I personally like pasta freshly cooked. Of course they would be even healthier the next day, reheated or not.
As for the white rice, I prefer to combine it with veggies and tomato sauce and eat it cold, the next day. It’s my Umami Pilaf, a super healthy recipe.

I did a simple test, with the aid of a glucometer.  I ate, quickly, in less than 10 minutes, a combination of a banana and a handful of biscuits. I measured also my blood sugar with a glucometer every half an hour for 3 hours. I do like science and numbers, told you so.
I obtained a nice graph, with a beautiful blood sugar spike and a “low valley”, typical for high glycemic index. Not to mention that, less than 2 hours after my meal, I was hungry again, though my breakfast had been 340 kcal and I had not exercise.

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A rich breakfast, eggs, tuna fish, tomatoes, banana, biscuits and a coffee. Not my usual breakfast, by far, just trying to prove something. The order in which you eat all these, does matter, see chart.  (Photo Emilia Dragne)

 

Then I took a few more tests, eating first proteins and carbs last, then first starches and then protein and veggies, eating them combined, eating HG food differently cooked  a.s.o. My glucometer is for sure a bit decalibrated, but it’s accurate enough to get the general idea.  I took care to fast 12 hours before a test.

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Here are my conclusions, so far. These might work for anyone too.

  • Don’t eat too fast, this will speed things up, whatever you eat.
  • Don’t start your breakfast or any other meal with a starches, fat  & sugar combination, let’s say a doughnut, with or without coffee. This is one of the worst ideas for your menu. Start with some combination of  proteins and veggies, like a Frittata or cheese, almonds and tomatoes.
  • Generally, avoid high  glycemic foods or combine them with low glycemic foods or eat smaller portions.
  • Cooking methods do matter. One of my best healthy meal so far is the potato salad:  potatoes  boiled in skin, refrigerated overnight, cut in slices with onion slices, hard boiled eggs, sardines or marinated fish, pickled red peppers, vinegar, olive oil, olives. Yummi and no spikes, no low valleys. So filling, so nutrient rich!
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You might like this nice new potato salad from Cooking Light. New potatoes have much lower GI than the old ones, especially if you eat them skin and all and in a salad. http://www.cookinglight.com/recipes/savory-potato-salad

 

The Satiety Index and the Energy Density of Foods

Some foods are more satiating than others,  check this out.
However this Satiety Index is less helpful as you don’t have the numbers but for a limited list of foods. And fact, it’s not at all easy to know beforehand, what combination of foods will  be more satiate than others.

There are two other more useful options when choosing foods that will fill you well..
Take notice that foods with low glycemic load do help you control hunger.
Try for a snack a bit of cheese with tomatoes, or a piece of low sugar fruit or a tablespoon of hummus with a celery stick.

Than there’s the energy density of the foods, defined as the number of calories (kCal) per gram of food. Very easy to calculate and a nice tool to control your calorie intake.
Research has shown that diets with a low energy density (less than 1.5) can help you feel fuller for longer without providing too many calories.

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Photo Storyblocks via http://www.pexels.com

The Insulin Index

The Insulin Index of a food represents how much it elevates the concentration of insulin in the blood during the two-hour period after the food is ingested. It is similar to Glycemic Index only it represents a comparison of food portions with equal overall caloric content (250 kcal), while GI represents a comparison of portions with equal digestible carbohydrate content (typically 50 g).
Fact is, all foods stimulate the insulin secretion, including meats, eggs, yogurt, fish a.s.o., with some of them triggering maybe a disproportionate response. To my best knowledge, there’s no practical way to measure  your Insulin Index, how you actually respond to every food or combination from the Insulin Index point of view.

However, there are some other useful  tips to help you stay in control:

  • Balance meals with some carbs, lean protein and plenty of salad or vegetables. Imagine your food on a plate,  filled half with vegetables, a quarter with protein (lean meats, fish, cheeses, eggs, legumes) and a quarter with starches and make healthy choices.
  • Choose higher fibre, less processed breads and cereals, such as dense grainy bread and traditional porridge oats.
  • Snack, if you have to,  on fruit and non-starchy vegetables.
  • A portion of meat or fish should be the size of your palm.
  • Eat slowly, give your brain enough time to decide if you’re still hungry.  After you eat your portions, rest for 10 – 15 minutes before eating more.
  • Don’t eat too much and too quickly at one meal or other.

 

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Pixabay
Source: pixabay.com

 

All these said, don’t forget to exercise, enjoy your food and find time to relax.

 

 

Umami

How many basic tastes do we have? Sweet, salty, sour and bitter, one will answer quickly.
No so fast. There is one more, umami.
There was quite a debate starting with year 1908 when the Japanese Kikunae Ikeda  proposed it. The name umami comes from Japanese and means pleasant savory taste.
Only in 1985 the scientific world accepted this taste as the taste of glutamate and nucleotides.
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Photo Emilia Dragne
 To identify umami think of a bowl of hot pasta with a delicious tomato sauce and parmesan cheese, a freshly grilled steak or fish, a mushroom dish, a stir-fried seafood or a dish of chicken with sofrito sauce. These flavors result from centuries of culinary tradition, including careful attention to ingredients and preparation.

The quality of the ingredients is essential and don’t expect a dish made with frozen vegetables or vegetables grown in a greenhouse to have the same umami as a dish made with fresh vegetables straight from the garden.

But still, if cooked properly, your dish will have umami, a savory taste.

Umami depends on the concentration of glutamates and nucleotides and on salt. Eat food together with lots of bread or add too much salt, and, voila, less umami.
I think sugar also diminishes umami. Green tea is more pleasant to the tongue if you don’t add sugar.
Umami is good news for people who have to reduce as much as possible salt.
Soup with a proper concentration of the ingredients and less salt is delicious. Otherwise is like salted water.
Umami isn’t lost in old age like other basic tastes or smell. This means old people can enjoy better the food if properly cooked, have a proper nutrition and be healthier.
Umami is present naturally in meat and vegetables. It can be found mostly in fish, seafood, cured meat, mushrooms, tomatoes, celery, green tea, cheese (especially parmesan), soy sauce
Babies meet with this taste from the very beginning in mother’s milk. Breast milk has the same concentration of umami goodies as a good concentrated soup of fish or bones, meat and vegetables.

Glutamate, one of the umami ingredients, is an amino acid, found in all protein-containing foods.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is the sodium salt of glutamate. When MSG is added to foods, it provides a similar flavoring function as the glutamate that occurs naturally in food. MSG is comprised of nothing more than water, sodium and glutamate.
In the early 1900s, MSG was extracted from natural protein-rich foods such as seaweed. Today, MSG is made from starch, corn sugar or molasses from sugar cane or sugar beets. MSG is produced by a natural fermentation process that has been used for centuries to make such common foods as beer, vinegar and yogurt.
Scientific knowledge says MSG might be OK for your health. However, any Chinese will tell you not to use it for baked recipes as it will give you the headache of your life.
And some people complain anyway of headaches after eating food with MSG.
There is also this rumor, that MSG triggers obesity. Nothing is proved on this to date but…Researches have changed their minds so often that I wouldn’t be surprised if one day they’ll decide we have too much MSG in  foods. Food industry is using MSG on a large scale to improve food taste and I guess some people already have quite a lot of MSG in their daily menu.
A bit of MSG now and then won’t hurt. However I’ll try to avoid it as much as possible.
When in doubt, better don’t eat it.
For the moment, I’ll stick to good old traditional umami.

Here is a delicious recipe, My Umami Pilaf

The Jazz in Our Body. White, Brown and Beige Fat.

Fat comes in many different shades, each with unique properties and health implications.
Very simply put, visceral white fat stores energy  and  is bad for your health as is involved in insulin resistance and chronic inflammation. It also seems to be quite responsive to exercise, which is good news. Subcutaneous white fat seems to be neutral but is also “stubborn” and “resists” any exercise. Brown Fat is the good one, it burns energy rather than storing it. Another good fat is the Beige Fat, a mixture of white and brown fat.
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Photo by Victor Freitas from Pexels
White Fat, Brown Fat, Beige Fat… This is beginning to sound like jazz.
Many of us would like to hear a simple pop song “An apple a day keeps some of the fat away” or maybe some hard rock “Eat what you want 5 days and almost nothing for 2 days and you’ll kill that fat”.
But when it comes to the chemistry in our body, things get much more complicated.I smile bitterly when I read that “weight gain is caused by a fundamental energy imbalance, when energy intake from food chronically exceeds energy expended by physical activity and metabolic processes”.
A therapy for weight loss must, of course, involve less food intake and more exercise. But by far is not enough. Anyone who’s been through a diet knows this too well.
Humans have evolved incredible complex biological mechanisms to acquire and defend their energy stores.
A lot of hormones are involved in fact in human metabolism and I don’t know how many other chemicals. Not to mention the genome and the mechanisms that activate/ deactivate genes.
Besides some “wheels” in this mechanism can malfunction, as a result of some environment changes, because of age or I don’t know what else.For years now, scientists have been studying the brown fat.
Babies have it, to keep them warm. This explains why babies survived after hours spent in freezing cold.
Initially, researchers thought adults had no brown fat at all. But, surprise, adults have some of it too and it’s playing an important role in heat production and energy metabolism.
Another surprise, brown fat provides a natural defense against obesity: people with greater quantities of brown fat have a lower body weights.

Following a severe diet makes things worse.
In normal weight people, brown fat burns energy while white fat tends to store energy. But in obese people following a calorie restricted diet, brown fat can become largely inactive which means both types of fat become organs of energy storage making weight loss extremely difficult.
It’s like you’re driving a car, and the harder you press on the accelerator, the harder an invisible foot presses on the brake.
While this phenomenon is known, scientists at Sydney’s Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the University of NSW have found a scientific explanation. They used mice in their research but the mechanism discovered is probably similar in humans.
They have shown that the neurotransmitter Neuropeptide Y (NPY), known for stimulating appetite, also plays a major role in controlling whether the body burns or conserves energy.
“High levels of NPY signal to the body that it is in ‘starvation mode’ and should try to replenish and conserve as much energy as possible. As a result, the body reduces processes that are not absolutely necessary for survival.”
Brown fat, one of the primary tissues where the body generates heat and therefore uses up energy,  is deactivated as a result.

Scientist now try to find how to increase and activate the brown fat in obese people.

Some years ago, researches at the Harvard University made an exciting discovery on mice models, confirmed lately on human. It seems that exercise has more benefits that burning calories. A hormone, named Irisin, is produced. Irisin is an “eco” traveler in our body and increases the good brown cells and decreases the “garbage sources”, the white fat cells.
Irisin is not the only “by-product” of exercise, hundreds of proteins result which make us healthier.

Another candidate for increasing brown fat is Ursolic Acid, found in apples (especially in skin), prunes, some Mediterranean herbs like basil, rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme and several berries like bilberries and cranberries.
Of course mass-media launched immediately a new top song “Eat apples” but it’s not that easy. Research results are confirmed for the moment in mice only and, we are not mice.
Nevertheless, an apple a day is one of the best ideas for your health.

 

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Photo by Elizabeth Tran from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-apples-635705/

Other researches discovered that a 27 degrees temperature in your home can decrease brown fat under a reference baseline. By simply lowering your home temperature for a month to 19 degrees Celsius,  brown fat increases over that baseline.
Maybe, but this is not for me, I hate cold too  much. Besides, I have my doubts regarding this research. For one, based on previous experiences, I’m sure I would eat much, much more if living in cold. Then, I usually get rid of some pounds in Spring and Summer, when temperature raise way above 19 degrees Celsius.
However, it could be a good idea to lower somehow the temperature in my home to a pleasant 24 degrees Celsius.

Let’s wrap it all. Best advice so far, until sure methods are identified to increase the brown fat:

– don’t follow fad diets, which restrict drastically calories.
– a salad a day and a couple of fruits, apples or prunes included,  won’t probably increase your brown fat but might keep the doctor away.
– keep a pleasant  temperature in your home or office, something around 24 degrees Celsius, or even lower if you can stand it. Take a walk outside even in bad weather.
– make daily walking and other physical exercise a part of your life. Even if you won’t see immediate results, on the long term, your health and weight will improve for sure.So, whatever song is on top, put your shoes on and start moving!

Everybody wants to be a cat!

The Nutrition Puzzle

I’ve stumbled recently on some research studies and I’m more puzzled than ever. Human Nutrition seems like a billion pieces puzzle and I wonder if ever we humans will be able to put all the pieces in order. 

This doesn’t mean that I’ll abandon my own fight with obesity. On the contrary, it’s my deep belief that even a small particle of dust can contribute. And for sure it will help me and some of my friends to cope better with weight problems,  metabolic problems whatever else.

One of these studies, Carbohydrate-last meal pattern lowers postprandial glucose and insulin excursions in type 2 diabetes draws a puzzling conclusion: ” The carbohydrate-last meal pattern may be an effective behavioral strategy to improve postprandial glycemia.”
Yes, I know, the research was very limited and the participants were diabetics but some of the nutrition advice for diabetics seem to work for people with obesity too.
Of course I won’t be able to duplicate this research but what I want to know is if my postprandial glycemia is affected by the order  in which I eat my foods at breakfast, or the speed with which I eat. I’ll try to experiment a bit the next weeks, nothing to lose, only to gain.

Another mind puzzling article is this one, A microscopic solution – The best gut bugs to lose weight.  
I cite from this study: Scientists have identified a microscopic universe of tiny microbes in our gut that seems to have a great deal to do with our weight….
Scientists can predict with 90-per-cent accuracy if a person is overweight just by looking at their gut microbes. Often the ratio of certain phyla of bacteria, say Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes, is high, but not always…But the real challenge is determining exactly what microbes are causing the trouble and how to fix it.

Very little I can do about this, but what I’m going to do is going back to traditions.
I’m sure I’ll feel better after eating some traditional probiotics but I doubt it will help me get rid of excess pounds. But who knows in the long term? It’s worth trying.

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Photo Emilia Dragne

First, yogurt and kefir.
Unfortunately, the yogurt and kefir available in supermarkets are “dead”.
I doubt that an item that will be as good as fresh two weeks from now has any microbe in it. It’s just plain white sour stuff, even if it’s quite tasty.
I can easily make my own yogurt or kefir, I need the “seeds” and these I can find on Internet. Some organic milk would be nice to have. I can hardly wait for my Summer apricots and yogurt treat.

Then there is sauerkraut. You can find simple recipes for home made sauerkraut on Internet but I guess everyone has a favorite Bulgarian or Russian or some other traditional shop nearby.
I myself have an incredible easy and  tasty recipe for a home-made pickled cabbage and veggies salad.
Mix in a large bowl a large shredded cabbage with salt. Calculate 1 tbsp of salt per Kg of cabbage.
Massage the salt into the mixture for 5 mins, wait 5 mins, then repeat. You should end up with a much-reduced volume of cabbage sitting in its own brine.
Add 2 grated carrots, optionally a grated celeriac, 3-4 sweet red and green peppers cut julienne, celery sticks cut in large pieces, 2-3 grated apples and mix well.
Stuff very well this mixture in large mason jars. Add a root of horseradish on top of every jar, cut in slices. In a couple of days, it should ferment and be ready for a nice salad with olive oil and grounded black pepper.
Make sure you put what’s left in a cool place or even in the fridge, otherwise  it will spoil.

And, yeah, here there are my favorite salt pickles. I can’t eat but a small pickle now and then, they do have a lot of salt but they’re so good in winter, so full of vitamins.
It’s easy to make them but you need a cool cellar or other similar cool place. Just arrange, in a large jar,  a multitude of  veggies and fruits, like green tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, celery, leaves, apples, small green peppers, cauliflower, a few slices of red beetroot, a handful of grapes, small green apples, very small squashes. Put on top celery leaves and horseradish slices. Add a hot brine, made with 1 tbsp of salt per 4 cups of water (1 l of water). Cover well and let ferment over a month in a cool place.

This is not a recipe for a warm climate, you need a cool autumn followed by a very cold winter.

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Photo Emilia Dragne

An interesting recipe of probiotics is that of salt pickled cucumbers.
You can try this even in summer or in a warmer climate.
This should be eaten freshly fermented, so don’t make a large quantity.
Put in a jar cucumbers and pour over a hot liquid made of water and 1 tbsp of salt per 4 cups of water. Add a root of horseradish on top, cut in slices and some dill or celery leaves. Close the jar and forget 3-4 days about it. When the cucumbers change the color and “prickle” a bit, they’re ready for a nice salad with olive oil.
Try this recipe also with apple and carrot slices.

And then, there is borsh, not the Ukrainean or  Russion traditional soup, but the nice golden liquid obtained in Romania by fermenting wheat bran with a tiny quantity of  yeast in warm water.  It’s an incredible healthy refreshing drink and adds an excellent taste to soups. I only have this not so simple recipe  and my challenge is to simplify it.

Keep in touch, follow my projects as we will all learn more on the nutrition puzzle.

 

via Daily Prompt: Puzzled

As Dear … as Salt

A king once asked his daughter how dear he was to her.
“As dear, as dear — as salt!” she said.

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Sparkling Salt from the Praid Salt Mine, Romania. Photo Emilia Dragne

The king thought that this was very little, and he was very unhappy with his child’s answer.
Soon thereafter he sponsored a great feast. The daughter saw to it that every dish was brought to the table unsalted, and thus nothing tasted good to the king.
Finally the daughter explained everything to him. He then recognized how important salt was…
(From an old German fairy tale)

 

 

The question I’m trying to answer is “How much salt is safe for me?”
First, the obvious. I’m citing from Wikipedia:

“Too much or too little salt in the diet can lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, or electrolyte disturbance, which can cause neurological problems, or even death.
Drinking too much water, with insufficient salt intake, puts a person at risk of water intoxication.
Death can occur by ingestion of large amounts of salt in a short time (about 1 g per kg of body weight). Deaths have resulted from attempted use of salt solutions as emetics.”

Salt is essential for life and salt consumption is an instinct that drives a human or animal to seek and ingest salt-containing foods. The hunger for salt is also influenced by taste, traditions in cooking and preserving methods and the widespread availability of salt in industrial food. To the point that it is difficult now to distinguish salt need from salt preference.

At some point in history, high salt consumption has been recognized as detrimental to health.
Research studies of salt effect on health fall in two categories. Many of them associate high intake of salt to high blood pressure and increased rates of cardiovascular disease. But a lot others have found flaws in their statistics and consider that there’s no reason for healthy individuals to cut down their salt intake. Especially that some studies used mice models.

There is however enough serious evidence that too much salt is bad for your heart and brain. and you simply shouldn’t ignore it.
If you will just give up junk food and limit processed meat, which every doctor, nutritionist, health organization in the world recommends, you will be reducing quite a lot the salt in your diet. But I guess whatever the science says, most people will eat as much salt as desired unless maybe at some point in life a doctor will say “stop this or you’ll die”.

In terms of safety, the lower and higher limits of salt consumption have not been clearly identified either.
There is an ongoing controversy, all parties shooting so many arguments and really, is difficult for me, at least, to trust any figures anymore.
When science is in doubt, I turn to my own experience and keep fingers crossed.
A very low-salt diet (less than 1500 mg) is almost impossible in a modern diet.
It’s not feasible. Even a diet with less than 2000 mg of salt daily is quite difficult to follow.

Too much salt in your food can cause edema (swelling due to fluid retention). This is easy to notice. If eating too much salty food in a day causes your ankles or joints to swell, then you have but one solution. Hide the salt shaker, add less salt to your food, limit consumption of processed meat and pickles. Generally, start reducing salt to the point you won’t notice edema symptoms.

When it comes to hypertension, reducing salt is a must.
In clinical trials, a reduction in salt intake is associated with reduced blood pressure, more so in persons with hypertension than in those with normal blood pressure.
Reduced salt intake is associated with greater blood-pressure responses to anti hypertensive drug therapy,including drug therapy in patients with resistant hypertension.

Whether you’re healthy or have medical problems, there are studies that say that it’s also important to increase potassium in your diet to counteract salt effects.
You might like to read more about this here, Health Risks and Disease Related to Salt and Sodium.
This is not at all difficult if you include beans, potatoes, nuts, oranges, mushrooms, tomatoes and bananas in your menu.
In my case, a diet with  salt reduction (between 1600 – 2000 mg daily), increase of potassium rich food (around 3500 mg a day) and exercising a lot more resulted no doubt in less health problems.

However, in summer and when exercising a lot, I take care to drink mineral water  and eat a bit more salty.
Don’t wait to become thirsty to drink water but, especially  when it’s very hot outside. Drinking too much water and eating less salt it’s a recipe for feeling dizzy.
A bowl of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onion, parsley salad with olive oil, bit of lemon juice or vinegar, a few olives, bits of white cheese and black pepper  is the best summer salad recipe.
No need to add more salt, it will be crispier and enough salty from the delicious olives and cheese.

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