Being Your Own Health Advocate: Food

I can see a series of posts taking form on this subject, since I don’t want any of them to be overly long. I’m going to keep coming back to the subject because my passion is growing…

It’s fuel.

I don’t cook for fun. I cook because people have to eat. It’s more about fuel for life than what it used to be – for me anyway.

I didn’t used to think about food very much at all in my younger years. If it tasted good, I ate it. I knew about the rudiments of nutrition and ate what I thought was good for me, along with other things that I knew probably weren’t. My philosophy was that happiness was like a medicine, and if a food made me happy, it was probably canceling out any poor nutritional qualities. I had the benefit of growing up on a farm where my family grew/raised a lot of unprocessed food too. I was seldom sick and never had a problem with weight control.

For a few years in the early 2000’s I worked for the FNP, Food and Nutrition Program, of the University Extension Service of the University of Florida. I started taking the Food Pyramid, dictated by the government food police (kidding) into elementary schools and teaching it to youngsters. I taught Nutrition and Food Preparation to young mothers in a Head Start program. I started becoming aware of the problems Americans were having with food. Obesity at young ages, hyperactivity and ADHD were prevalent in so many schoolrooms.  Even when presented with a decent school lunch, children were turning up their noses and throwing away the most nutritious foods. Often families in trouble with Social Services were being court ordered to learn how to prepare meals to feed their children properly.

By default, people were eating the Standard American Diet, acronym SAD, and it was sad. When I started having health problems that I could relate to diet and lifestyle, I started getting a bit more serious about what I fed myself.  The overweight husband also developed problems with blood pressure and needed medicines which were hard to regulate. Friends and family members started getting diagnoses of GERD and cancer and diabetes. Time started wearing out our natural defenses. I began to hear more about food as therapy. I also began hearing about how many times nutritional advice was influenced by factors other than benefits to health – like, who decides what the Food Pyramid looks like and funny how it keeps changing…

I guess what I think now can be illustrated with the example of a machine, say a really nice new car.  If I take it in on schedule to be serviced I’m doing good. But, the thing that I do most often, and that will make the most difference, is to put fuel in it. Different cars have different fuel requirements that are important to follow. If I put in a grade of gasoline other than what is recommended for clean burning, I’m going to see problems after a while. Waste products build up in the engine.  The car gets sick.

Friends, readers, we are that complex, finely designed machine. Our computer, our emissions systems, our energy production equipment, our whole body is affected by every little thing we put in our mouth.

We are designed to take a lot of nutritional abuse – there are buffering systems, safeguards of all kinds in place – but sooner or later those back-up systems will have taken all the abuse that they can. If we don’t want to be sick or prematurely dead, we must study what’s happening in our “machine” with the fuels we use.

This was the beginning of my journey into food research and the resulting health trends. I don’t have to spend hours at it. I don’t have to spend a lot of money to do it. I don’t have to wait until I’m sick with a serious problem. I don’t have to ask my doctor for every new pill I see advertised in the media.  I eat every day, and that is where the changes should, and can, start.

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I’m not necessarily recommending any of these older books – some of the best and newest information is free on the internet, or at the library.

I started by saying that I don’t cook for fun, when I actually do have fun doing it sometimes. But fun is not the main point anymore. Getting the best fuel possible has become the point, just sayin’…

 

 

Today

wp-1475351906555.jpgToday I got back on my bike, avoiding falling down, and traveled 10.5 miles through 5 different trailer parks. I ride with heightened awareness, of course, because that’s what an accident/mishap should do for you if you survive it. I did this for my physical health and my mental health, which brings me to the topic I’m interested in today.

Some things appear on the radar in a way that warrants more attention – like maybe they appear from a couple different directions within a short time period. I always pay attention when this happens because I’m a person who prays for God’s direction, any way he cares to give it. I think if I ask for help, I’d better be looking out for it, duh?

Here it was, the first thing, an appointment with my doctor that was made so long ago I couldn’t remember why it was made. But I went. It was part of my “welcome to Medicare” physical. Several months ago I had the first part where you answer a lot of questions, get lectured on how you should be keeping healthy, and have $700 worth of tests ordered (that figure is low and doesn’t count the bone density test and mammogram…). The last part is when your doctor goes over the results of the tests with you and gives recommendations. My doctor was so booked up that I didn’t get the second part until 6 months after the first part.

So far in my aging process, I’ve been able to avoid medications except for a few supplements that I take sporadically. But I have been concerned about my blood pressure gradually creeping up and my cholesterol numbers as well. I am doing some lifestyle alterations to deal with the blood pressure but the cholesterol is a bit more complicated of an issue. There is a group of medications called “statins” that I am pretty convinced are not good for people and that I do not want to take. Is my supposedly bad LDL cholesterol sticking to the insides of my coronary arteries? Not necessarily, and I am going to find out for sure in a week.

Do you get check ups? Do you know your cholesterol numbers? If you have high LDL levels, you might be interested in the test called Coronary Calcium Scan. It is an x-ray that shows whether there are calcium deposits or plaque building up in the arteries of your heart. In some people high LDL cholesterol leads to plaque, which leads to blockage and a heart attack eventually. In other people the LDL’s just slip on through and don’t stick to the insides of the arteries – because it’s complicated and involves a lot of other factors (that you don’t want to hear now). It is very helpful to know which kind of person you are for obvious reasons. Insurance doesn’t always cover this test, but for some reason a couple labs in my area are running sales – $50.  There is almost nothing available in health care that only costs $50, so I am springing for it out of pocket. As I said, that’s the first thing.

The second thing that popped on the radar was brain health. The husband and I were watching PBS last night and they were fundraising. But their fundraising is less tortuous than some. Here is the question that struck me as we watched this special. We expect to be told to have a baseline EKG (heart health). We expect to be told to have a colonoscopy after the age of 50 (gut health), we expect to be looked over for skin cancer, and we expect mammograms and bone density. So what is missing from this picture, something important to every one of the aforementioned systems? Your brain! We don’t hear much about checking our brain and attending to its health – and the good news is, there are ways to do it and ways to help your brain be healthy.

I am truly excited to know this. Today I got some exercise so my brain would have a healthier body in which to live. I’ll share a little more next post – I have an aversion to writing anything over 700 words. Just sayin’…

Don’t Say Diet, Please

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Yes, I caved. There are times when advertising actually works.

I should give deliberate thought and action to taking care of my body. Even though I figure God will leave me here as long as he sees fit, I have a choice about some things. Do I want to be old AND miserable, with conditions I could have avoided? Not really. But staying healthy is not as effortless as it seemed to be back a couple of decades ago.

Knowing I was about to have a couple of weeks with only myself to feed (well, except for my daughter’s cats, dog and horses) I decided it would be a good time to try out a new eating plan. I prefer to say eating plan, rather than diet. It sounds more necessary. So I picked an eating plan that sounded a lot like the way I already eat (ensuring success, or nearly so). Appropriately it was called “Beyond Diet”. When my skinny friends on Facebook recommend a plan, I listen. But mostly, it didn’t cost very much and it promised two weeks of not thinking of what to have for dinner.  I’m in.

I went to the store to get food for week 1.  I guess that part went pretty well, and I actually like hanging out in Publix as long as I have a jacket with me. They had almost everything on the rather extensive list, except halibut and unsalted pumpkin seeds.  The food only cost $150 and I was thankful because it would have cost a lot more if I’d gotten everything organic like the list said.

My first big problem was getting it all in the refrigerator at my daughter’s house. Her fridg is full, but there is almost no food in it. She watches a lot of cooking shows and contests so she has weird stuff like coddled cream and Da Nuong and siracha sauce and different colored olives. No food. The bottom shelf has her veterinary vaccines and the cooler where she keeps specimens of stuff I don’t want to think about in connection with eating. I had to get rid of a few things to make room, sorry Jules.

The second big problem, as I forged ahead into day 1, was that I was getting behind in the schedule almost immediately. I had just finished cleaning up after breakfast and it was time for the snack, and then time for lunch.  No kidding, there is something to eat every two hours all day. It’s kind of like being tied up in the kitchen and for a while I considered looking for a plan called “Beyond Eating” so I could get something else done.  Good thing I know how to modify.

And the third thing, not really a problem but different for me, is that there is some kind of meat for protein almost every time I eat. Buffalo, turkey, chicken sausage, halibut – I almost never get these things. Did you know that meat is never sold in actual serving size quantities?  I’m supposed to prepare 4 ounces of ground turkey but it’s only sold in 10 ounce packages. Who decides that 10 ounces is better than 8, or 12 and why? But I can modify.

This morning, day 2, I did great for breakfast but then I went outside and lost track of time until afternoon snack – oops. And I’ve been invited out for dinner but my “free day”, so called, isn’t until day 7.  I can modify, good thing, huh?

Check in again in two weeks to see if I’ve experienced remarkable “Beyond Diet” results.  Just sayin’, as usual…

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Yeah, it’s the makings of turkey chili. It was pretty good.

On Riding a Bike

When do I really get serious about taking care of my body?  I’m asking the question because I really don’t know.  So many years have gone by when other things came first on my list.  There was only so much time and other things were urgent.  And didn’t I get enough activity in the course of daily living? I wasn’t a couch potato.  I lifted, pushed and pulled, walked and ran and stood up most of the time.  I had a young body and it took care of itself (because it had to).

Time has changed a few things.  Specifically, my blood pressure is higher and I think it’s having effects on other systems, like my vision.  I don’t want to start medication and deal with all those side effects, and of course, there’s the problem of my hating to swallow pills which I avoid by never remembering to take them. But I can exercise. Walking would have been my first choice but after feeling a few twinges of pain in my right knee, I’ve switched to riding my cheapo bike.

Because I am on the way to being more serious about exercise (I’m not totally there yet…) I give the bike ride a priority place in my “somewhat retired” daily schedule.  Morning, right after the gate to the nearby mobile home park opens for the day, I strap on my fanny pack, turn on the health app on my phone and get going.  It’s a fairly safe place to bike a large loop and not surprisingly, I am one of the fastest things moving on the road.

Biking in the mobile home park reinforces my desire to take care of myself seriously.  There are lots of people there who are trying to be active.  Many of them have been “not serious” longer than I have judging by the fact that their exercise consists of riding to get coffee and donuts at the clubhouse in their golf carts. The other bikers I see are usually stationary, talking to their neighbors.  Lots of people are walking but it’s the kind of walking where you can hold hands with your walking partner and take long looks at scenery.  And today I saw an elderly woman, probably the most serious exerciser I’ve seen there in a long time, who could barely stand upright and had a decided list to the right.  But she was moving as best she could.  Every time I think, “get serious now or this is the next version of you”.

I’ve had people (the husband) say “well, you’re not getting much exercise riding a bike here in Florida where it’s flat”.  But they are wrong.  First of all, it’s not flat.  I know there must be some kind of incline when I ride east.  I imagine there might be one riding north as well (because north is “up” on the map). And then there is wind resistance.  Pushing air is exercise and don’t let anyone tell you differently.  It’s true that wheels make moving easier but they don’t move by themselves – as evidenced by the husband’s bike which has not moved an inch in months.  I push hard and go fast and I feel the burn.

Which brings me to the part where I challenge myself, to keep it interesting.  My health app SHealth, Shea for short, is my co-conspirator in getting serious about my health.  In fact, she nags me to the point of irritation.  I’m always being asked if I want to record my sleep, or add a meal.  And she gets downright bossy when it comes to exercise.

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Yeah, just be more active yourself!

Shea gets on the job when I’m biking and talks me through the whole painful process, starting with a little five second countdown.  At each mile she announces my progress and tells me how long I have to keep going to reach my goal, which is five miles, at my present speed.  Behind the scenes she is mapping where I’ve gone and the places where I’ve gone the fastest.  And in a world where I will take any little bit of encouragement I can get, I love hearing her sweet voice at the start of the last half mile “Almost there – you can do it.”

Today I broke a speed record with my fastest ever average of 10.6 mph.  I found out that several of my gears actually work and I really booked it (going west, remember the incline) which brought it up, along with the fact that I didn’t have to wait 5 minutes to cross the highway before getting to the gate. If I get much faster I’ll have to leave the park where the limit is 15 mph.

I sweat when I bike so don’t tell me it’s not a workout, and do encourage me to keep it up.  It only takes half an hour and I’m breathing hard the whole time.  It’s better than a pill for my blood pressure – certainly doesn’t have as long a list of adverse effects – and it does make me feel a little more serious about taking care of myself.  (But it doesn’t mean I’m not looking for a used golf cart. Those things are handy.)

 

How to Get Over Your Winter Cold

and by that I mean, your upper respiratory infection, your virus, your bacteria gone wild in your body with all the gruesomeness that goes with it. I know I’m leaving out a lot of details.  Be grateful.

The husband and I got our winter colds together, more or less, this year which actually makes things convenient in a way.  We get quarantined together and only for half as long.  And exciting because it is so rare, we share the same interests, which are mainly, tissues, Airborne, and cough meds.

I hold certain over the counter cold medicines in high esteem. King of the bunch is the red mixture of acetaminophen, dextromethorphan HBr, and doxylamine succinate known as NyQuil.  It has to be red flavored.  I always keep this on hand as well as a good supply of DayQuil for days when sleeping is not a good idea.  In spite of all my admiration of meds I’m really kind of a natural remedy girl, and my most desired natural remedy is sleep.  Sleep always helps me feel better, and NyQuil always helps me sleep.  That is the connection.

We ran out.

The husband was at the big box pharmacy yesterday and decided to help out by seeing if I needed anything.  Should he get some cough medicine, he wanted to know.  Yes, yes, good idea.  Get some more NyQuil. Make sure it is Nyquil.  We have DayQuil.  We have everything except NyQuil and I like the red kind.  Did I say all this?  I’m not going to swear that I did because it would only cause disagreement, but I think I did.  And he certainly knew what  we had before.

We are now well supplied with cold and flu remedies.  We have NyQuil (green), two kinds of Robitussin, plus all the non-sleep cough medicine I had before and a new box of DayQuil.  At the rate of one bottle per cold season we are set for the next six years.  And the husband will get to drink all three big bottles of NyQuil because that green flavor (licorice?) won’t go down my throat.  The red kind is bad enough.

Live and learn.  We are both getting better, sleeping better, drinking lots of water and thanking God for bodies that heal, eventually.  Hoping everyone else is getting through the cold/flu season too and just a hint… your might want to do your own shopping for cough syrup if you’re as fussy as I am.  Just sayin’.

Ok, it's my own fault.  I should have gone myself. This is only part of the stash...
Ok, it’s my own fault. I should have gone myself. This is only part of the stash…

Changing My Mind

Changing My Mind

My mind needs to change.

I have been of the mind that serious health problems belong to other people but not to me. I have always worked activity into my life effortlessly – I love to move. I have grandparents who lived into their 90’s and parents who are still living independently. I have weighed the same, within a few pounds more or less, all my grown up life. I don’t worry about what I eat, am seldom ill, am probably a type A multi-tasker, go years between doctors appointments. To all appearances I am a healthy person.

My human nature doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on the diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and cancer in my family history.

Last week I decided to fill out a health survey. One of the questions was to compare blood triglyceride values from past years to the present. I didn’t like what I saw. I went on to look at cholesterol levels, HDL, and LDL. Again there was an alarming trend. I have also noticed a rise in my blood pressure from my usual quite low reading to a higher “normal”. I don’t know how much of this, if any, is normal for me as I age. I’d like to think these changes could go away.

I think I’ll start by admitting that the better eating habits we’ve been adopting aren’t just for the husband, they’re for me too. No more hiding stuff to eat after he’s gone (did I say that, really?) No more reminding him not to eat what I’m eating. And now I’ll not just be walking the husband, I’ll be walking the self for exercise.

The thing I’m really worried about is butter. I’m a little worried about Half and Half in my coffee but I’ve already decided that cutting down a bit on the caffeine would be better for me so that tablespoon of cream is not too bad. But butter, hmm… I love butter.

I read that overuse of NSAIDs can affect blood pressure and that’s another thing I’ve done in the last few years. Ibuprofen has been my friend and how I miss it when I lay off for a few days! But I’ve already decided to get used to hurting a little bit more and maybe taking things a little easy to avoid some of those hurts.

My goal is to see those numbers in my lipid panel improve.  And I’m pretty sure it starts in my head, with a change of mind.  If anyone out there has done something that really worked well, please share it with me.

The Salad Is the Meal

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At least that’s what it says on the new magnet we have on the front of the fridge. 20131003_130417

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been finding jars of unidentifiable, thick brown liquid in my refrigerator.  It’s the husband’s soup that he makes in our Vita Mix (the machine that pulverizes wooden blocks for demo).  I haven’t tasted any of it because I’m pretty sure the man has no idea of complementing flavors.  I’ve heard what he puts in there. He is on a roll.

Today we jumped in the truck and went to the Red Barn Flea Market to buy vegetables for the week.  He isn’t normally motivated to shop with me but there is a new angle to it now that makes him eager to choose what he’s going to eat.  He also helps prepare it for the fridge, and fixes a lot of his own meals. We spent $37 and filled two large bags with “stuff” to eat.  Ready for this? We bought beets, radishes and cilantro, yellow summer squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, avocados, celery, tomatoes, cabbage, green and red peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe and grapes.  The lady threw in two pears as a bonus.

We owe this new surge of enthusiasm to a doctor who lectured on public radio and inspired him (to put it mildly) to order a whole set of DVDs and educational material.  I have not wanted to ask what it cost – after all, it’s in the name of good health and I’m sure it will be worth it, whatever the price.

My husband is of a scientific bent and is quite impressed and interested in any research done on health topics.  The doctor who talks on the DVDs gives all kinds of evidence of the miraculous things found in vegetables.  He talks about body chemistry in great detail and his findings are that we have been wreaking havoc on our bodies with food that is bad for us.   One of the DVDs was of case studies of people whom the medical community had pretty much given up on, but who were helped back to great sounding health by eating a different way. There were lots of before and after pictures.  With good nutrition their bodies were able to reverse the course of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart  damage, fibromyalgia, ovarian cancer,  multiple sclerosis, numerous allergies, and psoriasis. And of course, they all lost weight as a side effect.

Truth is, he will get no argument from me about this.  I am totally in favor of anything that means less cooking for me, and this is a very simple way to eat.  He carved up the cantaloupe, I cooked the beets for a cold salad we had tonight, and with the nutritious beet tops I made a soup for tomorrow.  With all that other stuff we are set for the week.  I made a list so we won’t forget to eat anything.

We have been moving toward this type of diet for a while now but this will be the fine tuning that keeps his interest up.  He even wants to get other people interested in a group effort so he has someone with whom to share recipes and stories.  And there is also the online community which his paid subscription includes.

As for now, I am his group.  And I’m just sayin’ I can’t wait to feel better.