Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What happened when I nuked my spinach?

Tonight out of shear boredom I nuked a large bowl of spinach leaves.

Initially I was going to make a hearty salad to accompany my dinner. But I had the same meal last night and felt like a change. Plus the spinach was a touch too woody for my liking.

What happened when I nuked my spinach?

60 seconds later I reduced a large bowl of spinach into a very small pile. I added some lemon juice, salt and extra virgin olive oil. 5 bites and 60 seconds later it was in my stomach and I was still quite hungry.

The same bowl of raw spinach last night took me 10 minutes to eat and helped to tip me over into "I'm a little too full to do anything productive" land.

Why did this happen?

Clearly the nuking started digesting the leaves, extracting the water, breaking down some of the structure, freeing up some nutrients to be better absorbed and destroying others.

What's the point?

There is both value and detriment to cooking or processing food.

The value is that cooking and processing allow us to make food more dense and easier to consume. This can be critically valuable to people who struggle for whatever reason to get enough calories or nutrients. You might know a few of these folks.

This is why the processing and cooking of grains are credited for rapid expansion of the human population. It's one reason why we feed frail people liquid diets. And it's why cooked or processed foods can be important for highly active thin or growing folk.

The detriment is that it makes food more dense and easier to consume. This can be harmful to people who are sedentary and live near an over abundance of food. You might know many of these folks.

This is why cutting out soda, juices, smoothies, breads, baked goods, white rice, etc. tends to lead to weight loss. It's yet another reason why increasing our intake of fresh raw fruits and veggies is a good idea.

The more important reminder: food is context dependent.

There is rarely an absolute right or wrong when it comes to food.

Understanding our choices and the context we live in, however, can enable us to see what is right for us and those around us.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Inspiration from TED

I find myself a little short on time and inspiration for blogging these days, and so will try to experiment with some shorter posts.

I'm also going to cheat a little and borrow some inspiration, often from TED.

STEP 1 - Watch this awesome 15 min TED talk by Dan Ariely:
The first half is entertaining but somewhat less relevant...still, stick it out.

STEP 2. Pause for thought:

The cognitive problems Dan Ariely discusses apply completely to our choices about food and the habits that lead to obesity. As he says, we are "predictably irrational" creatures.

Although there is the prevailing idea that we actually "choose" what we eat, in reality the vast majority of food decisions are not a conscious rational choice.

The "food environment", that is the physical and experiential setting in which food is available to be eaten, is par none the strongest determinant of what we eat. If there is lots of food around, we will eat lots. If there is none, we will eat none. Give us a bigger box of cereal with a bigger bowl and spoon and we will eat more cereal, no matter how hungry we are. If the normal behavior is to finish our plate (or eat meat), we will be much more likely to do that.

Of course, the food and restaurant industry discovered this reality decades ago and has been exploiting it ever since.

Yes, highly motivated individuals can be taught strategies to overcome the influence of the food environment. This is why doctors and nutritionists write diet books and open clinics. This is something we are obligated to do! But, this strategy has and never will work for the majority of people.

To affect change in the majority, we must learn how to change the food environment and the social norms that operate in them. That is our great task.