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Alex's swim journal

Eating healthy in WI...

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by , July 28th, 2013 at 07:27 PM (897 Views)
My oldest son, Andrew, follows the comedian Jim Gaffigan's feed. Apparently, just this afternoon he tweeted "Eating healthy in Wisconsin is like going to rehab in Amsterdam."

Pretty funny! And, oh, how true on a summer weekend... it's festival season, beer and brats freely flowing at any given parish on any given weekend; Milwaukee's summer fest is fading into history, but state and county fair dates are approaching quickly. Just this weekend we had "Taste of Kenosha" competing with the usual farmer's market down at the Harbor... this is, I think, where all of the restaurants in town come out and set up a stand with their version of festival/fair food. Why have a nice combo plate at the Mexican restaurant when you could go down to the harbor and have a plate of greasy tacos on your way to the funnel cakes and cream puffs?! Yeah, I can see where Gaffigan wouldn't be mistaking the Dairy State for an organic, whole foods commune.

I enjoyed the smells--and nothing but the smells--as I strolled with my wife and Andrew through the Harbor Market yesterday. I dipped into all the produce stalls and picked out some nice locally grown kale and zucchini, tasted green beans right from the garden, ate a totally vegan cranberry-walnut roll made with unbleached and unbromated flour. I admit that the smells of the brats and sausages, tacos and egg rolls were awesome... but I really had no desire for them beyond their smells. I couldn't wait to get home and make my own vegan versions. What has happened to me?!

Two weeks ago I finally took the plunge, kicked the packaged, processed foods to the curb, and decided I would do everything in my power to avoid anything from animal sources... yes, that means dairy too... in the Dairy State! No more cheesy Chicago-style pizzas, not even a yogurt. I'd been mulling this over for a few days and once I started it was surprisingly easy... much easier than I thought it would be. The kids had pizza last night for an impromptu "Dr. Who" viewing party... I had vegan tacos...
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...and didn't miss the pizza at all. I keep thinking about all the good things I'm putting into my body, instead of the highly processed, overly sweetened or salted, high-fat stuff I was filling my pie-hole with before all this. And my body loves it. I'm not a slave to the refined sugar highs and lows; I'm not wondering about the digestive (or cardiovascular) payback from beef and cheese enchiladas. In future blog entries I'll write about some of my inspirations for this new lifestyle (I can't just call it a "dietary" change any more). But for now, some background would probably help...

BRIEF HISTORY OF MY DIET (2003-2013)

If you're looking for the unabridged version you'll have to wait for the book (it should be a full chapter in my sequel to Augustine's "Confessions" and Dante's Divine Comedy, which might also be a pre-prequel to Star Wars). The brief account is this...
--Prehistory: I've always eaten my fruits and veggies, actually liked a lot of them as a kid, so I never really stopped eating them. But I have my weaknesses too... how often did that extra cookie crowd out a piece of fruit?! More than I'd like to admit. And I have, like most, been a slave to convenience... it's easier to throw a pot-pie into the microwave than chop veggies... didn't I see a pea or two and some carrots in the picture on the package? I knew what a balanced diet was, however, and tried (when convenient) to pack in the plants. But those conveniently processed foods could provide a balanced diet too... so I thought. I didn't read the labels too carefully. Plus, as long as I "intended" to have a balanced diet and got my cardio it was ok, in my mind, to have extra chocolate too. This was my starting point.
--Circa 2003: As a runner I thought I was immune to things such as high cholesterol and the issues that came with it; as long as I ran enough to burn everything off and control the weight I was good, right? Well, not so much so. As I entered my early thirties, working on the cardio and maintaining the weight, I was surprised that my cholesterol still came back borderline high... HDL high (good), but LDL high as well, blood pressure creeping up... as Dante might text, WTH? I started reading labels... and found to my horror that some of my favorites were high in trans fats. Actually, my horror was at finding out what a trans fat is in the first place... we do this to our arteries on purpose?! Thus began the era of trans-fat elimination.
--After paying much more attention to the fat-with-a-shelf-life, avoiding the trans fats like the plague, my cholesterol went down to the high normal range. It stayed there for almost a decade, my HDLs were high and LDLs normal, which meant that my ratio was good... no worries; I could still have that bowl of ice cream every night, or maybe a midnight plate of waffles... high sugar, "low" fat, right? I was burning enough calories... I was bullet proof. What's more, while I was still running I naturally gravitated toward the higher calorie refined stuff and away from the heavy red meats and dairy products because they were to heavy in my stomach, left me feeling weighed-down. But I was riding the high fructose corn-syrup roller-coaster without realizing it.
--Circa 2010: As we began the second decade of the new century I began looking back on my diet; I had given up sodas on all but "special" occasions about the year 2000 to help with weight control (I never did take to the diet sodas). Why was I still feeling those chemical imbalances then? The headaches late in the day, the difficulty rolling out of bed? High fructose emerged as a likely candidate and I started reading labels again, not just looking for the trans-fats, but looking for and finding high fructose EVERYWHERE in my favorite packaged foods, cereals, even in the "healthy" whole wheat bread and bagels. Augustine's ghost perched over my shoulder in the grocery store and whispered "WTF?" (no... I really don't know what he whispered... it was in Latin... like the freaking ingredients lists!). "That's it!" I thought to myself, "bread... I'm sick of you; you're outta here!" I went paleo... ok, except for the midnight waffles... "ice cream? That's a healthy dairy product" I rationalized, "with antioxidants from cocoa if it's chocolate!"
--2011: My running self begins its slow metamorphosis into a swimming self. As my swimming endurance gets better, my workouts longer, muscles I never used (or used differently) while running were in serious need of help. "Protein-man to the rescue" was the battle-cry... if I was going to build new muscles and repair damaged old ones I needed more meat and dairy to help out. I used skim milk to help me hydrate (didn't realize how much added sugar was in the skim... why would I have to read the skim milk label?!); I ate lots of yogurt (and more ice cream); cheese was now good (no trans fat, right?); and meat, lots more meat. In my running days I rarely ate red meat more than once a week; a hamburger, maybe once a month. As a swimmer I pretty much doubled that amount of red meat... and added lots of fish (mostly tuna; thank you, mayo... not!). It's "paleo" right? Paleo with a side of frozen waffles and maple-flavored high fructose corn syrup, topped with chocolate chips... maybe some microwave popcorn... our ancestors on the savannah had the miracle of pizza to help them escape leopards and run down antelope, didn't they?
--June 2013: It'd been a couple of years since I last had my numbers checked... but what did I have to worry about? I strode into the doctor's office with confidence. I'm a swimmer now with excellent cardio, plus I know so much more about eating healthy now than I did back in 2003. I knew, for example, that I probably shouldn't have the midnight waffle or the extra cup of ice cream... OK, bad example. I knew to avoid trans fats... check. I knew to avoid refined flours and sugars... ok, I did that most of the day. I knew to eat lots of whole foods, veggies and fruits, which I did... most days. Alright, the diet could use some work... I knew that, but hey, the extra exercise could make up for the occasional (i.e., daily) dietary lapses... right? right? Wrong. Cholesterol came back 241, way too high... LDL was only borderline high and HDL was super high, which makes for a good ratio, but it was still a wake-up call. Saturated fats... I started seeing them everywhere... mostly in the dairy (cheese) and, of course, in the meat.
--July 2013: I needed to take charge of the situation... I looked at all the foods we had in the house... there were a lot of good healthy choices there, but there were a lot of labels to scrutinze... why are there so many labels? And this milk, this packaged meat, where do these things come from? I began to look for answers... next time I'll write about what I found.

[Training note: an easy weekend after a hard week. Swam 2000 at the Y yesterday to recover from Thurs-Fri workouts: 100 fr, 100 pull, 100 bk, 100 pull, 100 fr, 400 IM ez (did single-arm fly), 100 pull, 400 IM ez (single-arm fly drill again), 100 pull, 200 fr, 100 pull, 200 fr... 2000 scy/38 minutes. The swim area of the lake was closed yesterday, I believe b/c of the threat of thunder storms. Today it was open again... it was a chilly mid-summer swim though with air temps in the 60s even at 1PM. It's been a cooler-than-average few days now, so the water temps are dipping as well... that part is nice... getting out of the water into a cool breeze, not so much. It's just about perfect for running though... here's my son Anthony (black shorts, grey shirt smiling for dad!) at the start of the Parkside Cross Country summer classic race yesterday at 5:30 PM...
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... he had a good race, was happy with his time; and they haven't even had two-a-days yet!]

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  1. StewartACarroll's Avatar
    I watched "Food Inc." and "The flight of the bumble bees" on Netflix not so ago and it's amazing how messed up the human food system is. I am curious how hard it's going to be to follow a healthy vegan diet. I want to eat healthier but it's so hard, and I don't just mean from a will power standpoint. I look forward to hearing how you find the new diet.
  2. ekw's Avatar
    Let me know if you would like any cookbook recommendations. I was vegan at home for quite a while.
  3. jaadams1's Avatar
    Eating healthy suggestions? Does that mean not supersizing my combo meal?
  4. mcnair's Avatar
    Dude, no supersizing! If you guys have Netflix... James, might I suggest "Supersize Me"?... pretty scary stuff. My favorite recent documentary is "Forks over Knives"... really makes the case for the plant-based diet.

    It is tough to get all the nutrients if you don't know where they are coming from... which is what happens when we eat the processed foods or let the fast food chains prepare our foods for us... even the so-called "healthy-choice" frozen meals. "Forks over Knives" goes into that, if you're interested, Stewart. The trick for me was just to decide that I was going to invest a little time in making batches of whole-food, plant based meals that I could mix and match... bulgur, dried fruits and nuts, for example, or couscous and lentils with pine nuts... and lots of greens. Now, for lunch I grab a tupperware and fill it with kale, bulgur and or couscous (again, just mixing and matching). Lots of fruit. Lots of vegan versions of other foods that I might prepare and eat. It takes a little time to research the ingredients and chop the veggies yourself, but it's worth it.

    So, ekw, what cookbooks did you find most useful?
  5. ekw's Avatar
    The three I used the most were the Veganomicon, the Vegan Yum Yum Cookbook, and Vegan Brunch. There's also Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World, but just because something is vegan doesn't necessarily mean it's healthy. Tasty cupcakes, though!

    Veganomicon is huge and if you were going to get just one cookbook that would be my choice. VYY is based on a blog and I use(d) it a lot, especially because the recipes mostly made 2-3 servings, which is a much more manageable amount of food for a single person to end up with. Vegan Brunch has some great waffle recipes plus a pancake recipe that's perfect, in my opinion. I'm guessing those probably won't interest you because of the flour. However, there are a lot of tofu scrambles, etc. in there. One I have that looks good but I haven't actually cooked from (since for someone who owns a lot of cookbooks, I don't actually like to cook much) is Viva Vegan, which is Latin American inspired.

    Of course, with all the blogs out there, you really don't need many cookbooks. Pinterest is a great place to collect recipes - I can tell you some boards to follow on there if you are interested.

    (Why does someone who doesn't really like to cook own so many cookbooks? My mother. She keeps telling all my relatives I love to cook. I like the idea of cooking but I find it a pain to cook for just myself because I end up with so many leftovers. I'm not a natural cook so I really do have to follow a recipe. Result: Pasta.)
  6. ekw's Avatar
    Oh, one more - Appetite for Reduction. I haven't used this one as much because I got it as I was really tapering off my diligence at cooking attempts, but the Everyday Chickpea-Quinoa Salad is really good.
  7. mcnair's Avatar
    Thanks, ekw, that's awesome... yeah, just because something is vegan doesn't mean it is that good for you. I like the idea of 2-3 servings in VYY; my wife likes to eat my creations, but the boys... not so much so. I have been looking up recipes on the internet too and find that I can only really manage to juggle a dozen or so recipes in my brain at a time... which is more than enough things to cycle in and out of over the course of a few weeks.