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January 15

Unhealthy Food is Cheap

Studies of economically depressed neighborhoods show that healthy foods are difficult to find in these neighborhoods. Even in neighborhoods which have healthier foods available, the less healthy varieties are cheaper. Mass produced, processed foods cost less. Less healthy oils are cheaper and last longer. Crops grown with pesticides are cheaper than organically grown crops. And when people start avoiding unhealthy foods, opting for healthier kinds, the less healthy ones go on sale.

This presents a real problem in that, anyone on a tight budget, and/or comparison shoppers looking for bargains, are compelled to buy less healthy foods. I find myself a member of both of these categories -- a tight budget, which Eunice proudly makes feasible by poring over supermarket advertisements looking for the best bargains. As a result, we wind up buying lots of fried chicken, canned foods that are on sale, and high fructose laden sodas, for example. This last item, the sodas, are particularly a problem for me. I must admit I am probably one of the world's biggest drinkers -- not of liquor, but of water based liquids. I have found this to be necessary since I was a child. If I do not drink quite a bit while eating, a tend to choke on my food. Apparently, there is something wrong with my esophagus, particularly the lower portion of it near the pyloric valve. That area seems narrow, and food often gets stuck there. I have had food stuck there for hours on several occasions, which is extremely uncomfortable, and results in the expulsion of a great deal of mucous. I find foods with hard parts such as tendons the most difficult to swallow, primarily meats such as beef or pork, which I suppose has a good effect since it helps me to avoid these meats. I suppose that surgery could be used to fix the problem as a last result, but I suspect I would end up less healthy than before as a result of a surgery, so as long as I know how to get food down, I will continue with my current feeding program. Clearly, I am not uncernourished. In fact, I am afraid that the large amounts of sugar-laden sodas I find myself drinking are fattening me up. And of course, Eunice is constantly finding sodas that are on sale, which she feels compelled to buy and feed me.

Thus, although my diet for the most part seems healthy, there is a fly in the ointment -- the sugar-laden drink problem, definitely a no-no according to Gary Taubes Carbohydrate Hypothesis as well as my brother Craig's knowledge of the topic. Eunice does not drink these sodas very often; she buys them, then gives them to me. There are some other differences between my diet and that of Eunice. I eat cereal with nonfat milk for breakfast; she generally does not eat breakfast. I like to eat cheese sometimes; Eunice does not like to eat cheese except for occasional Pepper Jack cheese or Mozarella cheese sticks. I eat more mollusks such as clams, oysters, mussels, squid, and octopus, since Eunice finds all of these to be chewy. (Once chewed, they are pretty easy to swallow, however.) And of course, I drink more sodas and fruit drinks. Eunice, on the other hand, eats more of those dreaded, tendon filled meats, as well as certain Chinese delicacies such as chicken feet, kidney, dried, salted plums, and so forth. These particular items are ones which do not taste very good to me and thus lack appeal, although I am very accepting of most "exotic" foods, and love to eat most authentic Chinese food, plus Japanese sushi and sashimi.

Recently, I have begun drinking more diet drinks. Although in the past, I found the flavor of diet drinks rather unpalatable, some of the newer ones taste better to me. Perhaps this will help me lose a little weight and help keep me from turning into the human version of the Pillsbury Doughboy. On the other hand, the substances used in diet drinks may present their own problems. The ultimate solution to the obesity problem with its related health issues, is to make healthy food widely available, and just as cheap as the less healthy foods, if not cheaper, along with education so that people know what is really good for them.

January 14

Controlling Diabetes Naturally: Eunice's Program

Several years ago, while Eunice was in Taiwan, where healthcare is practically free, as opposed to the ironic arm and leg Americans have to pay for health care,* Eunice was feeling consistently queasy, and not physically fit, with frequent infections. Thus, she went to a local hospital to have a check-up. It turned out that she had Type II Diabetes. (Eunice says that God told her to go to the hospital to be checked, by the way.) The doctor asked her about her diet, which in the months prior to her diagnosis, included lots of candy and carbohydrates. Thus, he told her that a change in her diet should be sufficient to control the diabetes, as long as she had the discipline to avoid excessive sugars and carbohydrates. Fortunately, Eunice is a disciplined and determined person. Besides, she certainly was not looking forward to the prospect of injecting insulin into her blood, going on dialysis, and having a shortened life expectancy due to diabetes.

Since that time, Eunice has jettisoned her candy and carbohydrate diet to a large extent, and has had no real trouble with diabetes, aside from an occasional day when she feels a little queasy due to eating too much of the wrong foods. Yes, the diet works! There is no need for expensive and intrusive diabetes treatments in a case such as that of Eunice, that is, Type II Diabetes. Type I Diabetes is more serious, and probably does require medical intervention. However, Type II Diabetes is much more common, and has far less genetic basis, apparently, than Type I Diabetes.

What does Eunice's post-diabetes diet consist of? The following are common components of Eunice's diet, as well as mine:

1. Fruits, especially ones that are not too sweet, such as avocados, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cumcumbers, squash, and a great many varieties of more prototypical fruits, -- some of these fruits are fairly sweet, but they are generally healthy, natural foods, naturally enriched with various nutrients, and forms of sugars which are not particularly problematic;

2. Seafoods, including a wide variety of fish, and shellfish such as shrimp, crab, lobster, clams, and mussels;

3. Chicken and turkey;

4. Meats, such as pork, lamb and beef, either lean cuts or cuts from which she cuts most of the fats prior to cooking;

5. Non-starchy vegetables such as celery, carrots, spinich, chard, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower;

6. Lots of herbs, mostly grown in our garden;

7. Tofu, and occasionally beans;

8. Modest amounts of bread, rice, potatos, and occasional sweets;

9. Modest amounts of vegetable oils, mostly used in cooking;

10. Water or tea, and occasional diet sodas, which are the only items she drinks.

We attempt to grow as much of the fruit and vegetables as we can, with reasonable success. Also, we catch as much of our seafood as we can, while staying within the limits of sportfishing regulations and reasonable sustainability practices, in our nearly weekly fishing sessions and occasional vacations, again, with reasonable success. We do eat some processed foods, but in relatively limited amounts. However, processed foods can be difficult to avoid.

As a result of our conversations with my brother Craig just prior to Christmas, he sent us a book called "Good Calories, Bad Calories" by science journalist Gary Taubes as a Christmas present (I guess). Thanks, Craig! Both our conversations with Craig and my perusal of the book he sent me confirm that we have been doing much correctly nutritionally speaking. The book basically is written as a history of nutrition research, so there is a great deal of research to work through, much of it quite flawed, leading oftentimes to poor dietary recommendations. In the end, the book concludes that it is carbohydrates and sugars which are responsible for the major health problems seen in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, not cholesterol or fats per se. Also, many processed foods make these problems worse. One example is high fructose corn syrup, which has been injected into a great many food in large quantities since it was invented a few decades ago. High fructose corn syrup is cheap to manufacture, sweet, and circumvents our natural satiation mechanism. Thus, people tend to overeat when they eat or drink this substance. Furthermore, it is a form of sugar which tends to be transformed into fats, rather than used for energy, I gather. Processed carbohydrates also are worse than natural ones. This is because, as I understand it, they are more easily digestible, so that, for example, if a person eats 2,000 calories worth of white bread which is made from processed ingredients, the person will get 2,000 usable calories. If the person does not do 2,000 calories worth of exercise following the ingestion of these carbohydrates, the excess is converted into fats. On the other hand, naturally carbohydrate-bearing foods, such as rice and other unprocessed grains, or potatos, are not as easily digestible, so that 2,000 calories worth of these translates into fewer than 2,000 usable calories, say 1,000 calories rather than 2,000. Thus, less fat will be formed from these foods. Furthermore, natural, whole foods have more types of good nutrients, many of which might not be well-understood yet. Thus, natural foods, with their various nutrients, are preferable to processed foods or nutrients in pill form, for that matter. Finally, oils can be good for you, depending on the type of oil. My brother Craig recommends any sort of vergetable oil which is high in Oleic Acid, including Olive Oil, Canola Oil, and High Oleic Safflower Oil, plus fish which are high in Omega 3 Fatty Acids such as Salmon, Trout, Cod, and other coldwater fish, although fish in general are good nutritionally, as long as they are not too polluted.

* Last week, for example, I needed to get more of my Xalatan eyedrops for glaucoma treatment. Every time I get them, they seem to be more expensive than the previous time. Last week, they cost $68.30 for 2 1/2 milliliters of Xalatan. The pharmacist at Sav-On more or less cringed when she told me the price. But I went ahead and paid it without complaint. (I do my complaining here, for the most part.) Yesterday morning, I went to my Opthalmologist, Dr. Allavie, for my 6 month check-up and asked him if he had any free samples of Xalatan, since he has given me a couple of free samples before. He informed me that indeed he did. In fact, he said that he had something of an oversupply of Xalatan, since the company that makes it has been dumping them. The problem for the company is that Xalatan is due to become generic another year or so from now, so that the price will go down, and it will no longer be so profitable. Dr. Allavie gave me two free samples this time. All-in-all, this is good news for my pocketbook, but is also illustrative of what is wrong with our medical system -- that it is profit driven and private, rather than health-driven and public. I am hopeful that the Obama administration will take significant steps toward making our medical system more health-driven and public. Meanwhile, I am pleased with Dr. Allavie's attitude; he is clearly sympathetic to the financial plight of his patients. The fault does not lie with doctors such as Dr. Allavie, who did not create the system in which they are compelled to operate. The fault lies with those who created this system.