Tag Archives: vegan

The New Dietary Guidelines and Running versus Joggling

It seems almost everyone I know is talking about the new dietary guidelines. In large part, this is because they significantly depart from the old recommendations, such as eating a low-fat diet to reduce heart disease risk. This is no longer recommended, since science has found that the type of fat is more important than total fat. They still recommend reducing saturated fat, and reducing meat and animal food consumption to help achieve this. They also recommend reducing animal food consumption for environmental reasons.

Ultimately, what do the new recommendations mean for vegans? Ginny Messina RD has written an excellent post on the new dietary recommendations, The 2015 Dietary Guidelines, What Will They Mean for Vegans?, and I suggest you read it. Her most important point, which I am in full agreement with:

It doesn’t really impact my own advocacy for animals, though. I know very well that findings on nutrition and health are always changing. I know that nutrition research is far more conflicting than concurring. And I don’t see much point to building advocacy around facts that may change tomorrow.

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On the subject of joggling, Alex Hutchinson has written an interesting article titled Brain Plasticity in Endurance vs Skill Sports in Runner’s World. Actually, the article doesn’t mention anything about joggling or juggling, but the study he cites implies some extra benefits for joggling over running. I’ve always wanted to know if skill sports were better for brain plasticity than endurance sports, and it seems this article tentatively suggests they are. Of course, any aerobic exercise is good for the brain, but it appears that dancing, or figure skating(or any exercise that involves more complex “gross motor skills”) may provide some extra benefits over running. The same could probably be said about joggling, though I must admit that I am very biased. I also suspect that trail running may be slightly more beneficial for brain plasticity than road running.

So when it comes to exercise, go beyond just trying to improve your endurance or speed, try challenging your coordination and balance in novel ways. The more you learn, the easier it is to learn new tasks, and the better it is for your brain.

Update: Alex Hutchinson wrote an even more interesting follow-up article to the article posted above a few weeks later titled Fighting Cognitive Decline with Dodgeball and Juggling. In this follow-up, he actually does mention juggling as an example of an exercise that involves “gross motor skills” that may provide additional brain benefits over endurance exercise, but not joggling. He wrote this follow-up after he got an email from Nicholas Berryman(a physiologist at the Quebec National Institute of Sport) in response to the first article, who cited 3 scientific papers.

While the cognitive benefits of cardio, and strength training to a lesser extent are already established, and their mechanisms largely understood(increased blood-flow to the brain and increased nerve growth factors when it comes to cardio) according to Hutchinson:

What Berryman pointed out is preliminary evidence for a third mechanism, triggered by gross motor training – things like balance and coordination training, or even learning skills like juggling.

While this is all very fascinating, it is already known that learning just about any skill causes changes in the brain. Learning certain skills, like learning a new language, or learning to play an instrument, is associated with preventing or slowing cognitive decline in many studies. This leads to the question: Does juggling benefit the brain in ways that cardio alone can’t? Besides this, does learning gross motor skills that involve improvements in coordination and balance(juggling, or rock-climbing), benefit the brain more than learning to play an instrument, or learning to play chess?

As Hutchinson points out, the preliminary evidence for additional benefits of gross motor skills is encouraging. However, in the mean time, we shouldn’t have to wait for definitive answers before taking dance or juggling lessons, or going on a rock climbing adventure, if only for the fun of it.

Metacognition in Scrub Jays

Scrub Jay in Flight

Scrub Jay in Flight by Lyle Troxell

A common faulty justification for eating and exploiting animals is that humans are so much “smarter” than all other animal species. “Animals are dumb so it’s okay to eat them!” so many meat-eaters proclaim. This of course is absurd; even if it was true, this still doesn’t justify harming animals. Carry this reasoning far enough, and it justifies making meals of humans who are mentally challenged. Besides this, it seldom makes sense to do interspecies intelligence comparisons(it’s difficult enough comparing humans when it comes to intelligence). Each species evolved as intelligent as it needed to be, based on the unique environment it evolved in. Some species are “smarter” or more “talented” at some things than others.

Increasingly, it appears that certain cognitive traits that were once thought to only occur in humans also occur in other species. Metacognition, or “thinking about thinking”, is something humans do on a regular basis. This ability helps us solve problems, philosophize, and plan for the future, among other things.

Recent research reported in Scientific American suggests that a small species of bird called the Scrub Jay may be capable of metacognition. As Watanabe, one of the researchers put it, “some birds study for a test like humans do.” I suggest reading the entire article to understand the experiment they used to arrive at this conclusion.

If this is true, this is yet more evidence that the human mind isn’t so different from other animals after all.

Excellent cannibalism talk by Diana Fleischman

If you are interested in cannibalism, or biology in general, you should listen to this Cannibalism Talk by evolutionary psychologist Diana Fleischman. I didn’t realize just how many sub-types of cannibalism there were before I listened to this. She doesn’t just cover human cannibalism, she also discusses cannibalism in many other species, and explains why this behavior evolved. Some species will even eat their own offspring! After all, as she often says, the flesh of your own species is the best possible multi-vitamin.

Some of what she says made me feel nauseous, while other parts were funny. For those of you who don’t already know, Fleishman isn’t just a scientist, she’s a vegan. I think this gives her some deep insights into cannibalism that non-vegan biologists may have trouble understanding. I highly recommend listening to this talk and reading some of the well-researched articles on her Sentientist blog. All of them are gems. Her blog is one of the best science-based vegan blogs out there.

The secret to Sardinian Longevity

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Lake Omodeo, Sardinia. Source – Wikipedia

Sardinia is a beautiful, mountainous island in the Mediterranean sea that is an autonomous region of Italy. One of the most interesting things about the people of this island is the very high level of centenarians or people who live to 100 and beyond among them. More interesting still, unlike other longevity hot-spots around the world(like Okinawa, Japan), the sex ratio is very low, almost 1:1. This is remarkable because centenarians are overwhelmingly female in other countries. The number of centenarians per capita in Sardinia is an astonishing 20 times higher than in the U.S. What is their secret?

Why there are so many centenarians in Sardinia, and why the sex ratio is so low in particular is the focus of ongoing research. It’s obviously due to a mixture of genes, diet, culture, and climate. Genes unique to Sardinian men are thought to protect them from heart disease. Their diet is also quintessentially Mediterranean, including a special type of red wine that is so dark Italians of the mainland call it vino nero or “black wine”. Usually the darker the wine, the more antioxidants. They also eat a special type of cheese that I will explain in detail below. According to International Business Times in Sardinia’s Secret To Longevity: Genetics, Diet and Lifestyle:

The secret to Sardinians’ long life is the subject of study of a project called AKeA – an acronym for “A kent’ annos,” a traditional toast in the Sardinian culture that means “May you live to be 100 years.”

The leading researcher, Luca Deiana from the University of Sassari in northwest Sardinia, found that genetics play a key role, observing that it is generally in the central-eastern mountainous region that longevity is most common.

The ruggedness of the geography has repelled invaders for centuries, and there has been little intermarriage with outsiders since then, thereby preserving some of the beneficial genetic traits.

For example, Deiana, along with his team of 25 Italian doctors and biologists, identified a gene in the Y chromosome that can greatly reduce heart attack and stroke in men.

This gene, passed down from fathers to sons, can explain the ratio of male-female centenarians in the region, which is about 1-1, while the ratio is generally 1-4 all around the world.

Diet is also considered to be crucial — as the Sardinian diet is rich in healthy nutrients from fresh locally grown vegetables, prepared simply with olive oil and served with lemon, garlic and other spices.

It is not surprising that they eat little meat and eat a lot of vegetables. This is generally associated with longevity around the world. It is also interesting to note that the highest rate of centenarians in Sardinia is in a region that had long remained pagan even after the rest of Sardinia converted to Christianity. This is in the hilly eastern-central region of the island, in the province of Nuoro. They eventually converted to Christianity by the early middle ages. It seems that whatever helped hill-country Sardinia remain a pagan paradise for so long is also helping them maintain a very healthy lifestyle.

Another interesting thing about the Sardinian diet, and I bolded something that may make some of you feel sick for emphasis, in On the Table in Sardinia: Red Wine, Bread and Cheese:

Diet Stresses Less Fish, and Special Cheese

Surprisingly, though, he doesn’t place too much emphasis on the importance of fish. He says that in the so-called Blue Zones — the areas of the world he’s studied where people live the longest — fish consumption doesn’t seem to be overemphasized.

“The longest-lived diets don’t include a lot of fish,” Buettner said. “If you’re gonna … include protein in your diet, I suggest this cheese that the Sardinians eat.”

The cheese, called pecorino sardo, is made from the milk of grass-fed sheep, resulting in a product that is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Sardinia is also known for having another kind of cheese — one that actually is infested with live maggots.

That cheese may contain bacteria that are good for the gut.

“We don’t know,” Buettner acknowledged. “We just know the longest-lived men in the world eat this. And they eat it as a manifestation of toughness.”

Maggot cheese! How long before this unique Sardinian delicacy becomes the next big thing at health food stores?

Weirdest joggling experiences of 2012

One of the best things about joggling is all the weird things that happen to you while you joggle, largely due to all the bizarre things people say to you as you pass by. It really is an exercise journey into the Bizarro World.

While most people who say anything say “that’s so cool!” or “that’s amazing!”, there’s a good number of jokers and weirdos out there who can’t resist making sarcastic comments. I’ve even received a few threats(“who the %$#^ you think you are!!”, “get the $%^& outa here!” type of threats) from some gang-banger types, but that was back when I would foolishly joggle through these run-down, crime-ridden areas.
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Anyhow, among the more amusing remarks from last year were from this old guy saying “you can only juggle 3? just 3? come on!”. I did manage to respond that I was working on 4, and asked if that was good enough, to which I think he said “great”(I was going too fast to say much of anything).

I’ve also received a bunch of “I wish I could do that”, as well as a few “I wish I was you!”. I often just respond, “thank you!” or “you can do it too, it just takes practice”.

By far the most bizarre was a few months ago when I had to slow down at this busy intersection, and this young woman I had never seen before comes up to me and tells me “I love you, I really really do”. I didn’t say anything because this was so totally unexpected, and I was trying to catch my breath and darted off as soon as I was able to cross the street. And she started shouting at me again, “I really do!”. Of course I don’t believe she does and this may be her own weird way of expressing admiration.

A few people around here really seem to get it. If I am going slow enough or taking a break, some people will praise me(I’ll tell them I don’t deserve the praise) and start a conversation about how juggling is good for the brain so juggling while running is such a great exercise. I will usually try to encourage them to do it too, but they will say it is impossible for them. Some claim it is impossible for them to juggle even while standing still. But it is just a matter of practice I will say, before parting ways.

Oh how could I forget the man who asked me as I joggled by – “can you chew gum while doing that?”.

Calcium blocks lead absorption

Everyone knows about calcium. I don’t think it is really necessary to list why it is so important for human health, but I’ll say it anyway – it is needed to build strong bones, as well as for proper functioning of the heart and muscles. Lack of calcium can even lead to heart failure in the elderly. It also has many other functions, but these are its most important duties. While you can get calcium from milk, leafy green vegetables like kale and collard greens are even better sources.

What isn’t as well known is that calcium can block the absorption of lead, which is very toxic even in small doses. This is yet another reason you should make sure you are getting enough calcium. This is especially important in communities where children are exposed to lead, since it can permanently damage the brain.

According to the Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet- Human Nutrition and Food Management:

An adequate calcium intake can protect against lead poisoning. It has been observed in animals and humans that both the absorption and retention of lead decreases as calcium intake increases. Many children at risk for exposure to excess lead are also those who live at the poverty level, and may consume a diet with insufficient calcium. Therefore, increasing consumption of low-cost calcium rich foods can reduce the severity of the effects of lead exposure.

Why lead exposure in young children is especially problematic:

Epidemiologic studies of children show that those exposed to lead, even low levels of lead, may have a lower IQ, learning disabilities, behavioral abnormalities and kidney damage. Cognitive and growth defects also may occur in infants whose mothers are exposed to lead during pregnancy. Lead intoxication is a widespread problem. One of every nine children under six years of age has blood lead levels high enough to be at risk. In 1970, an estimated 3 million children aged less than 6 years had blood lead levels associated with adverse health events. Children in older, inner-city neighborhoods are more likely to be affected, but children in suburban and rural areas are at risk too.

There are a lot of ways to ensure you are getting enough calcium, but make food your primary source. While you can get calcium from dairy, vegans or people with lactose intolerance require another source. Luckily, the bioavailability of calcium in kale is even higher than the calcium in milk. It must be noted that while spinach has a lot of calcium, spinach also has a lot of oxalic acid which can block calcium absorption. Therefore, do not rely on spinach or other high oxalic acid foods for calcium(kale is a low oxalic acid vegetable). Oxalic acid also contributes to kidney stones.

Increasingly, many foods and beverages are fortified with calcium, like orange juice and rice milk for example. Also make sure you get enough vitamin D to absorb the calcium. If you have very young children, do all you can to make their environment lead free, besides making sure they get enough calcium. Don’t forget that lead tastes sweet.

Lead poisoning in children

Vegan lunch – Spicy red lentils with rice and kale.

IMG_0540This is how I usually eat. There are few dishes I love as much as rice with lentils. I just threw whatever I had into a pot without any precise measuring since I kind of know by sight how much of each ingredient to use. It required about 20 minutes cooking time.

The ingredients in this are:

Red lentils(at 13g per 1/4 cup, an excellent source of protein – I used about 1/2 cup)

White Basmati rice

Chopped kale

A splash of olive oil

Curry powder

Red cayenne pepper powder

Garlic powder

And I used water instead of vegetable broth. I would have used vegetable broth if I had some.

It came out alright, though a little on the mushy side. It was kind of Indian or Middle Easternish. I joggled for an hour this morning and this vegan, gluten-free meal was a great way to refuel. If anyone has any good ideas for improving this, let me know.

This dish is kind of part of my heritage – my ancestors lived close to where this was and is commonly eaten.

Winter is officially here

Now that winter is officially here with all its challenges and positives, I keep thinking of the how different it was when I joggled during the summer and its own unique challenges.

I joggled many times around this lake during the summer. This photo was taken in the Rockefeller Preserve, Pocantico Hills, NY.

In a strange kind of way, I miss it, especially as the weather gets colder. It’s like I have forgotten the profuse sweating, the heat-induced muscle fatigue causing me to slow down or drop the balls, the countless insects biting me or flying into my face, and the sunscreen I had to rub over much of my body to prevent sunburn. Okay, maybe I haven’t forgotten, but I still achieved bliss on a good run. I remember joggling in the summer wishing it was the heaven that is winter.

And now sometimes I wish it was summer, or spring. How ironic. The middle of the winter means heavy clothing, shorter days, a running nose, the risk of frost-bite, kids throwing snow balls, and sometimes stiffer muscles. If there is snow or ice, winter joggling can be especially problematic – be not afraid of new challenges. And the local kids should know they can’t win in a snow ball fight with a joggler!

“When you long for a life without difficulties, remind yourself that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure” – Uknown

Although I have to adapt to the weather, all the rules for joggling are the same. For beginners, this is very important: Maintaining the proper rhythm and posture is everything. It is like music, making beautiful music, becoming one with the rhythm and one with the balls. You may hear the music, you may not. If a melody develops, literally run with it. Hum along if you want.

With all this emphasis on rhythm, and music perhaps it would be better for jogglers to forget about running and to think of themselves as dancers. Running simply takes you from point A to point B. But juggling adds a new magical dimension to the running; going from point A to point B^3.

It really doesn’t matter what kind of dancer-joggler you think of yourself as. If you prefer the grace of a ballerina, go with that. Or if you prefer hip-hop dance, go ahead. You don’t even necessarily have to do the 3 ball cascade pattern, although that is most efficient and easiest for beginners. Above all, be creative. You may surprise yourself and learn all sorts of new things about yourself through joggling. If it really does make us smarter, that isn’t such a surprise.

In the new year, whatever your fitness goals are, it helps to be as creative as possible, to think outside-the-box, to make it as fun as possible and to not care what anyone else thinks.

And for the record, I’ve decided to stop eating eggs, which makes me vegan yet again.

My visit to Whole Foods

Many health-conscious people simply can’t live without Whole Foods. Or rather, make that rich, health-conscious people. Even though I seldom ever shop there, it can be fun to look around, especially since much of the store is a wild carnival of vegan products. And gluten-free products. So it’s a great place to shop if you’re a vegan and/or have celiac disease. Or rather, I should say, rich vegans, and rich people with celiac disease.

The selection they have is simply amazing. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as sprouted almond butter until last night. Look at that price!

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And it’s not even organic, sprouted, raw, whole, gourmet almond butter. Don’t forget Fair Trade! It looks yummy alright, but I prefer my peanut butter and only the occasional unsprouted, poor man’s almond butter. To be honest, I’m not sure if the sprouting process does anything to improve the almond’s overall nutritional status, but it probably improves profit margins. I say this as someone who used to sprout nuts and seeds on a regular basis. I think they are best fresh and unprocessed, so homemade is best.

It seems sIMG_0530ome people may mistakenly believe if something is sold at Whole Foods, it’s gotta be healthy. Or healthier than what is sold at plebeian supermarkets. I don’t buy into this. It seems a large part of Whole Foods appeal is you can buy “healthy”, more expensive junk food there.

Calories are calories, organic or non-organic.

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Look at this section devoted to that healthiest of healthy ingredients – sugar. Of course, as we all know, if sugar is organic, or vegan, or fair-trade, it’s healthier than regular sugar. Or at least some people might want you to believe this. I can’t say I am one of them. As a vegetarian though, I can understand the point of vegan sugar, since bone-char is added to regular sugar as an anti-caking agent by some sugar manufacturers.
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When it comes to organics, I am ambivalent, though I believe we should minimize pesticide use as much as possible(both organic pesticides and conventional pesticides). I eat mostly conventional produce and food, I simply try to avoid the foods with the highest pesticide(like strawberries or peaches) content or I wash them thoroughly. It’s also best to eat locally grown when possible, organic or not.

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The part of Whole Foods that has some of the truly healthiest and most reasonably priced items is the bulk grains/seeds/nuts section.

IMG_0533Although I see better prices elsewhere, this isn’t too crazy.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

“Live organic vegan euphoria” – I’ve thought I’ve heard everything.

I can’t eat this though, due to a nasty chocolate allergy, and the price.
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It is interesting how this tiny health food store manages to stay in business just a few blocks away from Whole Foods.  
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Just about everything you need to eat healthy can be found at your local grocery, supermarket, or farmer’s market. You don’t have to eat expensive foods to be optimally healthy. If you know how to identify edible wild plants, you can even get vegetables for free if you have a large park or wilderness area near you.

You get most of your protein from nuts?!

Rumors have been swirling around about this for quite some time. I thought it was time to tell the truth. I do, in fact, on many days get most of my protein from nuts. Or a delicious combination of nuts and legumes. The Wild Juggler is in fact a vegetarian.

joggleriver

So how is this possible? Is he, yet again, violating the laws of physics? Truth be told, nuts are a great source of protein.
1/4 cup of almonds contains about 6 grams of protein.

While it also has a lot of fat, it is mostly the healthy, unsaturated kind of fat. Almonds and many other nuts are also good sources of fiber, minerals, and protective phyto-chemicals, similar to the ones in tea and some vegetables. I love my nuts raw and unprocessed. I don’t eat nuts that have added oils, salt, sugar or anything. Read labels. I often snack on nuts after a long joggle.

If you’re afraid that eating nuts will cause weight gain, do not worry. I eat tons of nuts almost every day; if you’ve been pecan at my photos, you know I’m not exactly obese. Still not convinced?

According to Fitwatch.com, eating nuts regularly can help you lose weight by speeding up your metabolism – Why Eating Nuts Can Help You Lose Weight

Fiber, always your friend, helps prevent the fat from getting absorbed. I think nuts are a great way to replace meat and dairy in your diet. People who eat a lot of nuts are generally slimmer, on average than those who eat the least. Nut butters make a great snack and are good for making sandwiches. Peanut butter is one of my favorites, though technically, peanuts are a legume.

I totally love nuts. When people call me a “nut”, I take it as a compliment. So go nuts with nuts, and try to violate the laws of physics with your fitness routine!