What’s for Dinner? by Kathleen Warthen
What’s for dinner? No other question, asked eight or so hours ahead of the meal, can set my teeth on edge like that one. Putting food on the table has always been stressful, even for those who can afford plenty. It’s hard to balance nutrition with time constraints and your family’s demand for variety. At the same time, more evidence comes out every day that the American diet is a recipe for cancer, autoimmune disease and other ills, and that the incidence of those diseases are climbing. Perhaps at no time in human history has it been harder to figure out what to fix for dinner than it is right now. The nutrition aisle in the bookstore is bewildering. Competing theories run the gamut from the China Study, which argues veganism is the answer to longevity, to the Paleo movement, which insists eating the way we evolved is healthiest. It’s enough to make us envy Fido, happily downing the same bowl of kibble every night.
The glut of information is hard enough to reconcile when you have the time and leisure to read all the books. But when you’re a busy lawyer, you might need the Cliff’s Notes version.
I’m here to read them for you, and yes, you can borrow my outline.
I have to read them anyway. My kids and I have a genetic condition called Celiac Disease, which makes us unable to tolerate gluten. Because we are extra lucky, two of my kids are so sensitive to tiny amounts of contamination that we can eat almost nothing processed or cooked in a facility that isn’t dedicated gluten free. The upshot is that I cook virtually everything we eat, from scratch. Like a caveman. And, of course, I read a lot of cookbooks and nutrition tomes. I hope that through the Living Above the Bar initiative, I can share some of what I’ve learned, and save you some time.
9/7/3: Are You in the Zone?
Sometimes, you just want to be told what, or how, to eat. Dr. Barry Sears is happy to do that for you, through his dozen books on the Zone Diet and his website, www.zonediet.com. He’s also happy to feed you himself, through his Zone protein bars and supplements. It’s quite an empire. Here’s the quick and dirty summary of what you’ll learn from his books, the latest of which is bravely titled The Mediterranean Zone: Unleash the Power of the World's Healthiest Diet for Superior Weight Loss, Health, and Longevity (http://www.amazon.com/Mediterranean-Zone-Healthiest-Superior-Longevity/dp/0804179174/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1416962765&sr=8-1&keywords=barry+sears&pebp=1416962772706)
- 9/7/3: There is an ideal ratio of macronutrients which will balance your hormones, in particular those that regulate hunger, in order to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce inflammation in the body. Every nine grams of carbohydrates you eat should be balanced with seven grams of protein and three grams of fat.
- Blocks: Sears refers to each measure of, for instance, seven grams of protein, as a “block.” Likewise, nine grams of carbs and three grams of fat constitute one block of each. In general, a healthy woman should have 3 blocks of each nutrient, at every meal, and a healthy man should eat 4 blocks. The rest is just multiplication.
- Calorie restriction: Eat fewer blocks than you want to. Sears believes in calorie restriction, which has proven to extend the life span . . . at, least, in smaller mammals. If you want to lose weight, eat fewer blocks, but make sure to reduce or add blocks in a 1:1:1 ratio so that your meals, and your metabolism, stay balanced.
- Fish Oil: Take at least 2.5 grams of high-Omega 3 fish oil every day. The stuff in the grocery store is not sufficiently purified (of toxins like mercury) to be taken in the high doses Sears recommends. Conveniently, his store will sell you some here: http://www.zonediet.com/shop/omega-3-fish-oil/dr-sears-omegarx-fish-oil-120-capsules/.
How in the world can you keep up with all those numbers? There’s an app for that! The app I use is called MyFitnessPal and coordinates with MyFitnessPal.com. You can enter in each food you eat – or plan to eat – and the app will place your calories, by macronutrient, into a pie chart for you. You can enter your nutritional goals in a table according to the number of grams, or you can set your goal as 40% carbs to 30% protein to 30% fat (because fat has many more calories than protein per gram, the ratios are different when you analyze your intake in terms of calories).
The fish oil remedy is the easiest lifestyle “tweak” Sears has to offer, and indeed, it takes just a few seconds a day. It is also perhaps the most soundly based in science, as numerous studies have indicated the oil can reduce inflammation, help ward off heart disease, and even, at high levels, reduce pain. The neurological implications are exciting as well; after all, our brains are composed largely of an Omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. He promises more energy and better attention span; what lawyer couldn’t use some of that? The downside to the oil is the expense, and a fishy taste. In my experience the aftertaste is less of a problem if you take the pills just before bed.
When someone has built a huge empire out of telling people what to eat, I approach his theories skeptically. In this case, I think Sears’s basic premises aresound; his method keeps carbs under control, which nearly all nutritional experts today agree is a priority. However, he focuses on low-fat sources of protein, which is more controversial (especially in the Paleo community, where the cookbooks are full of gently home-rendered lard). Later reviews on these pages will go into more detail, but the gist is that America got fatter when “low fat” diets became the rage, because they substituted fat with carbohydrates, which, it turns out, were the bad guys all along.
Sears is such a true believer that his claims can occasionally beggar belief in the rest of us. He believes that consuming the allotted, or even fewer, blocks per meal will not leave you hungry, if you have perfectly balanced your nutrients. He actually writes in The Omega Rx Zone, “I can assure you that you won’t be hungry on this plan. In fact, you may actually need to remind yourself to eat every five hours, because you won’t be hungry.” I can tell you that I have tried that, and I still wanted to stuff my piehole, even if my taste for sugar has waned; but I was only allowing myself about two blocks per meal. Maybe, just maybe, dieting is supposed to be uncomfortable, and the magic pain-free diet does not exist.
Another caveat: The Zone brand foods defy everything (else) I have ever read about nutrition. They are highly processed, shelf-stable food-type products that do not even perfectly meet the magic ratio. Michael Pollan would have a cow. (Not really. He’s not Paleo).
I discovered this diet via my rheumatologist, who recommended The Anti-Inflammation Zone: Reversing the Silent Epidemic That's Destroying Our Health, http://www.amazon.com/Anti-Inflammation-Zone-Reversing-Epidemic-Destroying/dp/0060834145/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1416965980&sr=8-3&keywords=barry+sears. In this 2005 offering, Sears lays out much of the basic science surrounding inflammation’s role in disease, and the role a restricted-carbohydrate diet and supplements can play in healing. I recommend this book especially to people who suffer from autoimmune diseases.
You will also see a fat block described as 1.5 grams of fat; my understanding is this varies whether Sears is accounting for all the fat in the meal or just the primary source of fat. I think it is safest to use the number 3, especially in light of more recent research that challenges the low-fat advice of yesteryear (the first Zone book came out in 1995).