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Go on and use MSG

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Daniel Holzman has some tips in Taste on using monosodium glutamate (MSG):

In 1968, a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine erroneously linked MSG—short for monosodium glutamate—to headaches and musculature pain. The article spawned a 50-year xenophobic attack on the safety of MSG and catalyzed a public health scare coined “Chinese restaurant syndrome.” Years after its scientific exoneration, the court of public opinion is still deliberating the ingredient’s place in a home kitchen—and there’s still little information on how to actually, properly, cook with MSG. This needed to change.

For years and years as a professional cook, and as a passionate home cook too, I have been a big proponent of cooking with MSG; it enhances and intensifies flavors and helps activate your taste buds so you can better taste your food. It’s that simple. If it’s added haphazardly, however, it can intensify mistakes and overwhelm the palate. Add a few too many pinches of allspice to your autumn root vegetable roast, and MSG could turn your mildly unpleasant misstep into a pumpkin-spice Hindenburg. This is why knowing how, and how much, MSG to use in various cooking techniques is imperative.

But first, buying MSG can be really confusing. There are numerous brands available, and brands call the stuff many different things: Badia brand’s offering is labeled simply “MSG,” while Accent brand’s product is labeled “Flavor Enhancer With 60% Less Sodium Than Salt.” A quick glance at the ingredients panel reveals that both products are exactly the same: pure monosodium glutamate.

My favorite brand is a Japanese one, Ajinomoto, the company that discovered MSG in 1908. I honestly like Ajinomoto for no other reason than that the packaging is extremely cool, making it a slightly easier sell to my more obstinate friends with preconceived anti-MSG prejudices. But most of the other brands work well too. Just make sure to read the label to know what you are getting.

When placed on the tongue by itself, MSG tastes like a mild salt without any unique quality. This is because MSG doesn’t have any distinct flavor, so it doesn’t change the taste of food; rather, it adds a round and rich mouthfeel designated “umami,” or the fifth taste.

Because it doesn’t hold a specific flavor, save saltiness, the easiest way to incorporate the seasoning (and make sure you’re using the proper amount) is to create a blend: make a 10:1 mix of Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt to MSG, or roughly one tablespoon of MSG for every 2/3 cup of salt, and then season as you regularly would throughout your cooking process. Adding more MSG than the 10-to-1 ratio will overwhelm your taste buds, and your food will develop a distracting and lingering mouthfeel.

Different cooking methods require different applications of the MSG-salt blend, but it works extraordinarily well with meat and fish in the form of marinades and dry rubs. Seasoning in advance gives the salt time to penetrate the cell structure and migrate throughout the meat. (You can learn more about marinating meat in my previous article.)

For salads, pure MSG is best added directly to the dressing, giving it a chance to dissolve and distribute evenly throughout. For dry and fried foods like  . . .

Continue reading.

And he offers two recipes:

Pork, Tomatillo, and Charred Green Chile Stew

Ceviche With a Secret

See also this earlier post on MSG.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2019 at 12:05 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

MSG Without Fear

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Update: And See also “How MSG Got A Bad Rap: Flawed Science And Xenophobia.”

From a Cook’s Illustrated newsletter:

Umami is perhaps more subtle than the other four tastes (sour, sweet, bitter, and salty), but when it is present, it’s typically unmistakable. There are other molecules that can contribute umami to foods, but the most important compound is glutamic acid, a naturally occuring amino acid. Glutamic acid is concentrated in animal proteins, which is why it adds a “meaty” flavor to dishes even when no meat is present. But its power is more fundamental than that; much like salt, it can simply add depth and intensity to a dish, enhancing the presence of other flavors.

Glutamic acid isn’t found only in meat; it’s ubiquitous in nature and shows up in a wide variety of other common foodstuffs. And here at Cook’s Illustrated, we use a wide variety of ingredients—particularly those that are dried and/or fermented to concentrate their glutamate content—to boost umami in dishes. We often use them in tandem with multiple glutamate-rich or umami-enhancing ingredients since each brings its own unique character to a dish.

We use anchovies or anchovy paste as a potent glutamate source, even in dishes without other seafood in the mix (used sparingly, anchovies add meaty rather than fishy flavor). Our Best Beef Stew uses anchovies (along with tomato paste) to give its sauce an intense meatiness that beef broth alone cannot provide. In our Pasta e Ceci (Pasta with Chickpeas), anchovies (along with tomato paste, Parmesan cheese, and pancetta) lend depth to a dish that is made mostly of vegetables. Anchovies also appear in seafood dishes such as Shrimp Fra Diavolo.

Tomatoes, too, are a great source of glutamates, especially when concentrated in the form of tomato paste. We use this product (in tandem with canned tomatoes, soy sauce, and dried shiitake mushrooms) to bring meatiness to our Best Vegetarian Chili. And tomato paste forms the base of our “Meatless” Meat Sauce.

Dried mushrooms are another great source of glutamates, particularly porcini and shiitakes (they also contain significant amounts of nucleotides, another class of umami-enhancing compounds). Our Turkey Meatballs recipe (whether Italian-, Moroccan-, or Asian-Style) contains powdered dried shiitakes (as well as anchovies and Parmesan cheese).

Fish sauce is made by fermenting anchovies and salt. It of course shows up in Thai dishes such as Pad Thai and Thai Grilled-Beef Salad . But we also use it in less traditional ways , such as in the rub for our Grilled Steak with Spicy Chipotle Rub, where it amps up the flavor of the steak.

Soy sauce is another fermented food (made from soybeans) that is a major source of glutamates. It’s in loads of Asian dishes, but it makes an appearance in our Best Vegetarian Chili and adds intense meatiness to the glaze for our Glazed All-Beef Meatloaf.

We could go on and on about the umami-enhancing ingredients we turn to in the test kitchen (we haven’t yet mentioned Worcestershire sauce, miso paste, or olives, all fermented products themselves), but we’d rather you start cooking with them instead!


Cook’s Illustrated senior editor Andrew Janjigian is back, and this week he’s here to tell us about one of his go-to seasoning tools: MSG.

I love MSG (aka monosodium glutamate). I put it in everything when I am cooking at home. OK, maybe not everything everything, but in anything I want to have a more intense, savory, mouthwatering flavor. MSG is the umami-enhancing ingredient par excellence and is, in one form or another, the secret behind any savvy cook’s (and Cook’s Illustrated ’s) favorite depth- and meatiness-increasing ingredients: soy sauce, fish sauce, anchovies, aged cheeses such as Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, tomato paste, and miso paste (to name just a few). All these foods are rich in glutamate, one of the most abundant naturally occurring amino acids.

The flavor-enhancing properties of MSG were first discovered in 1908 by Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda, who wanted to know why the dashi soup stock his wife made was so delicious. He attributed its excellence to the addition of kombu, a type of kelp. From kombu, he isolated a crude crystalline powder that turned out to be glutamic acid. He coined the term umami to describe the savory/meaty flavor of glutamic acid, a flavor now considered one of the five basic tastes (alongside salty, bitter, sweet, and sour). He then invented and patented a process for producing purified MSG and made himself rich by selling it as a condiment named Aji-no-moto. (It’s Japanese for “essence of flavor” and is also the name of the company that Ikeda founded.)

Asian cultures have embraced MSG as the essence of flavor ever since Ikeda’s discovery, but here in the United States we’ve traditionally had an aversion to the ingredient. But MSG is simply the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which means it’s just glutamates in a purified, powdered form. When dissolved in water, the sodium ion separates from the glutamate ion, and you have glutamic acid again. There’s nothing “chemical” about MSG, except inasmuch as all foods are made up of chemicals (water and table salt are chemicals, too). Nor is there anything “artificial” about it; its simply glutamic acid that has been extracted from any number of naturally occurring sources and then purified.

Our irrational fear of MSG started in 1968, when biomedical researcher Dr. Robert Ho Man Kwok (a Chinese immigrant to the United States) wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine , describing a cluster of symptoms he’d experienced after eating at Chinese restaurants, a “numbness at the back of the neck, gradually radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitation.” While he did not link the illness to MSG directly, he suggested it as one possibility, along with the food’s high sodium content and the use of Chinese cooking wine. Others wrote in with similar stories, and not long afterward, hysteria linking MSG to so-called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome had taken hold in the American consciousness. This, despite little more than anecdotal evidence suggesting the connection, and the fact that MSG had been widely used as a food additive in the United States for years before the syndrome was described.

Since then, numerous double-blind studies have failed to find a link between MSG and any adverse symptoms, including headaches (or “general weakness and palpitation,” for that matter). And the use of MSG in many commercially produced foods has continued unabated, albeit under the radar of many consumers. Instead of adding powdered MSG to their products, manufacturers use other forms of glutamic acid that aren’t recognized as such by the average consumer: “hydrolyzed vegetable protein,” “autolyzed yeast,” “hydrolyzed yeast,” yeast extract,” “soy extracts,” or “protein isolate.” The fact is, many of the packaged foods we love contain glutamic acid and are all the more delicious because of it. (In other words, if you get a headache after eating KFC or Nacho Cheese Doritos, dont blame it on the MSG.)

So now that you, too, are ready to embrace MSG as the essence of flavor, where to begin? First, you can find Aji-no-moto at most Asian grocery stores or online or pick up a bottle of Accent Seasoning in the supermarket spice aisle. Next, taste a pinch of it straight from the container or dissolved in a little water, and you’ll see how it tastes reminiscent of the sea. Then Id recommend adding it to things like scrambled eggs, sautéed greens, or broths and soups. (Much as you would with other flavor-enhancing staples such as salt, sugar, or acid, you want to start small, no more than 1/8 teaspoon at a time, and taste as you go. A little bit of MSG goes a long way; too much won t give you a headache, but it might make your dishes taste like miso soup when they are not meant to.) Try adding MSG to tomato-based pasta sauces for meaty depth even in the absence of meat. Or dissolve a pinch or two of it in the vinegar or egg yolk to make salad dressing or mayonnaise really sing. Once you get a hang of how MSG can lend a subtle flavor boost to so many foods, you might find yourself—like I do at home—keeping a jar of the stuff right next to your salt for ready access.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2018 at 7:43 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes

MSG reconsidered

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I realize that I have a variety of ways to add umami to what I cook: soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, mushrooms, anchovies… But, it occurred to me on reading this article, I select these foods because they’re high in glutamate. Why not just add MSG directly? God knows it was popular when I was in high school, for example. John Mahoney discusses the flavor enhancer at Buzzfeed:

In the last three years, perhaps the boldest thing Chef David Chang has done with food is let it rot. In his tiny Momofuku research and development lab in New York’s East Village, Chang and his head of R&D Dan Felder have obsessed over the many delicious things that happen when molds and fungi are treated like gourmet ingredients rather than evidence that you need to clean out your fridge.

Without fermentation, we would live in a sad world without beer, cheese, miso, kimchi, and hundreds of other delicious things humans have enjoyed for centuries. But in the carefully labeled containers stacked around the cramped confines of their lab, Chang and Felder have been fermenting new things. They’ve turned mashed pistachios, lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes into miso-like pastes Chang calls “hozon” (Korean for “preserved”). They’ve created variations on Japanese tamari — a by-product of miso production that’s similar to soy sauce — with fermented spelt and rye they call “bonji” (“essence”). They’ve even replicated the Japanese staple katsuobushi (a log of dried, smoked, and fermented bonito that’s shaved into bonito flakes) using fermented pork tenderloin instead of fish.

The flavor Chang and Felder are chasing in creating these new fermented products is umami — the savory “fifth taste” detectable by the human tongue along with salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. When bacteria and fungi break down the glucose in foods that are fermenting, they release waste products. And the waste valued in Momofuku’s lab above all others is glutamic acid, the amino acid that creates the taste of umami on our tongues.

Also on the shelf in Chang’s lab, underneath the jars containing foods in various states of controlled spoilage, is a giant tin of monosodium glutamate, more commonly known as MSG — perhaps the most infamously misunderstood and maligned three letters in the history of food. It just so happens that inside that tin of MSG is the exact molecule Chang and his chefs have worked so hard for the last three years to tease out of pots of fermenting beans and nuts. It’s pure glutamic acid, crystallized with a single sodium ion to stabilize it; five pounds of uncut, un-stepped-on umami, made from fermented corn in a factory in Iowa.

We’ve only known for sure that our tongue has specific taste buds for glutamic acid for 13 years. So for chefs like Chang, the Fat Duck’s Heston Blumenthal, Umami Burger’s Adam Fleischman, and many others around the world, umami’s flavors have become one of cooking’s most exciting new frontiers. The new flavors they’re creating use advanced methods to expand on what millions around the world (but especially in east Asia) have known for centuries — that foods rich in glutamic acid are delicious, and we want to eat them.

For these chefs, the path to understanding umami inevitably leads them to MSG, which is chemically identical to the glutamic acid they’re creating from scratch. And yet Chang wouldn’t think of using MSG in his restaurants today. He told me he doesn’t even use it at home, despite being a professed lover of MSG-laced Japanese Kewpie mayo. After decades of research debunking its reputation as a health hazard, and uninterrupted FDA approval since 1959, MSG remains a food pariah — part of a story that spans a century of history, race, culture, and science and says more about how we eat today than any other. . .

Continue reading.

Update: I now use Aji-no-moto (MSG) regularly in my cooking. Note this report at the connection between MSGphobia and xenophobia is interesting.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2013 at 10:33 am

Posted in Food, Science

How to Lower Your Sodium Intake

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I actually found it pretty easy to cut my sodium intake to an average of 1200mg/day (which is what I think enabled me to discontinue taking the medication for high blood pressure). Using Cronometer helped a lot in tracking it, particularly the Cronometer feature that displays a sorted list of the foods you consumed for any particular nutrient when you hover the mouse over that nutrient’s progress bar. That was what enabled me to discover how much sodium was being contributed by hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, and the like. And after 4-5 days of food tasting flat, the tastes returned as my tongue recalibrated itself.

I do spark up the food. Acid brightens the taste, so I will add lemon juice or a blended lemon or citric acid (white crystalline powder that works well in a salt shaker) or some sort of vinegar (balsamic, brown-rice, sherry, red wine, or apple cider). I use herbs and spices — straight, homemade mix, or store-bought mix (e.g., Ms. Dash — though with those check ingredients to be sure that it has no salt and no sugar). Also, potassium chloride is sold under various brand names  as a good salt substitute (and source of potassium). That is best used in cooking rather than on (say) tomatoes, and you should use it lightly. MSG, which I buy as Aji-no-moto, is a good way to boost umami (and it is harmless).

Dr. Michael Greger blogs:

Reduction of salt consumption by just 15 percent could save the lives of millions. If we cut our salt intake by half a teaspoon a day, which is achievable simply by avoiding salty foods and not adding salt to our food, we might prevent 22 percent of stroke deaths and 16 percent of fatal heart attacks—potentially helping more than if we were able to successfully treat people with blood pressure pills. As I discuss in my video Salt of the Earth: Sodium and Plant-Based Diets, an intervention in our kitchens may be more powerful than interventions in our pharmacies. One little dietary tweak could help more than billions of dollars worth of drugs.

What would that mean in the United States? Tens of thousands of lives saved every year. On a public-health scale, this simple step “could be as beneficial as interventions aimed at smoking cessation, weight reduction, and the use of drug therapy for people with hypertension or hypercholesterolemia,” that is, giving people medications to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. And, that’s not even getting people down to the target.

A study I profile in my video shows 3.8 grams per day as the recommended upper limit of salt intake for African-Americans, those with hypertension, and adults over 40. For all other adults the maximum is 5.8 daily grams, an upper limit that is exceeded by most Americans over the age of 3. Processed foods have so much added salt that even if we avoid the saltiest foods and don’t add our own salt, salt levels would go down yet still exceed the recommended upper limit. Even that change, however, might save up to nearly a hundred thousand American lives every year.

“Given that approximately 75% of dietary salt comes from processed foods, the individual approach is probably impractical.” So what is our best course of action? We need to get food companies to stop killing so many people. The good news is “several U.S. manufacturers are reducing the salt content of certain foods,” but the bad news is that “other manufacturers are increasing the salt levels in their products. For example, the addition of salt to poultry, meats, and fish appears to be occurring on a massive scale.”

The number-one source of sodium for kids and teens is pizza and, for adults over 51, bread. Between the ages of 20 and 50, however, the greatest contribution of sodium to the diet is not canned soups, pretzels, or potato chips, but chicken, due to all the salt and other additives that are injected into the meat.

This is one of the reasons that, in general, animal foods contain higher amounts of sodium than plant foods. Given the sources of sodium, complying with recommendations for salt reduction would in part “require large deviations from current eating behaviors.” More specifically, we’re talking about a sharp increase in vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains, and lower intakes of meats and refined grain products. Indeed, “[a]s might be expected, reducing the allowed amount of sodium led to a precipitous drop” in meat consumption for men and women of all ages. It’s no wonder why there’s so much industry pressure to confuse people about sodium.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend getting under 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day, while the American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 mg/day. How do vegetarians do compared with nonvegetarians? Well, nonvegetarians get nearly 3,500 mg/day, the equivalent of about a teaspoon and a half of table salt. Vegetarians did better, but, at around 3,000 mg/day, came in at double the American Heart Association limit.

In Europe, it looks like vegetarians do even better, slipping under the U.S. Dietary Guidelines’ 2,300 mg cut-off, but it appears the only dietary group that nails the American Heart Association recommendation are vegans—that is, those eating the most plant-based of diets. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 November 2019 at 8:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Why do people get hungry an hour after eating Chinese food?

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Joe Schwarcz PhD writes for McGill University Office for Science and Society:

As far as I know, this is all anecdotal and nobody has ever done a study to determine if this is actually true. To start with, not all Chinese meals are alike. “American” Chinese food with its bevy of egg rolls, chow mein, and spare ribs is very different from what is consumed in China. Even in China there are large geographic differences with a wide range of meat consumption and rice being popular in some regions and noodles in others. The lack of satiety accusation is usually aimed at American Chinese food with monosodium glutamate (MSG) often targeted as a culprit. There is no evidence whatsoever that MSG interferes with satiety, indeed if anything, it may have the opposite effect. Proteins, which break down during metabolism to amino acids, have been shown to decrease ghrelin, the appetite stimulating hormone, and boost leptin, the hormone that curbs appetite. Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a common amino acid, and could conceivably play a role in increasing leptin levels. In general, high protein foods, Greek yogurt being an example, have been shown to have a high satiety value.

Chinese meals tend to be rather low in protein. They are also low in fiber, which seems to decrease hunger. Fiber is the indigestible component of grains, vegetables and fruits and fills the stomach before it is eliminated, and a full stomach decreases the release of ghrelin. Pectin in apples and beta-glucan in oat bran are forms of soluble fiber that have been shown to increase the time before hunger appears. There is also the suggestion that western diets often contain potatoes which have a very high satiety value, and by comparison, Chinese meals, which do not feature potatoes therefore leave you feeling hungry.

The “satiety value (SI)” of various foods has actually been investigated by researchers at the University of Sydney in Australia. Volunteers consumed a variety of foods, each containing about 240 calories, and then every fifteen minutes reported their feelings of hunger. White bread was chosen as a standard and assigned a Satiety Index of 100, with other foods being evaluated on whether they provoked less or more hunger than the standard. In general, foods that rank high, meaning they satisfy hunger for a longer time, are foods with high protein, water or fiber content. Boiled potatoes turn out to have the highest SI, followed by oatmeal, oranges and apples. As a class, fruits have the highest SI and bakery products such as croissants and doughnuts have the lowest. Eggs, steak, brown pasta, popcorn and baked beans are also satisfying. Interestingly, fat content correlates negatively with satiety. It should be pointed out that the satiety index is just a measure of the onset of hunger and does not relate to the nutritional quality of the foods.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2019 at 6:34 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Science

How the poor became blessed

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One intriguing thing about Christianity is how Jesus totally focused on the common people: not those in power (judges, priests, representatives of Rome) and not the wealthy (merchants, bankers), but on the common people. And this came from his Judaism, which had always been conscious of the poor and one’s obligation to them (perhaps as a result of the years in Egypt).

At any rate, how did care for the common person evolve as a Christian meme?

Pieter van der Horst, a scholar specialising in New Testament studies, Early Christian literature, and the Jewish and Hellenistic context of Early Christianity, professor emeritus in the faculty of theology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands and author of many books, including Studies in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, writes in Aeon:

In Greco-Roman culture, the well-to-do weren’t expected to support and help the poor. The Greek and Latin verbs for ‘doing good, being beneficent’ never have ‘the poor’ as their object, nor do they mean ‘almsgiving’. The Greek word philanthrôpia doesn’t have the sense of our modern philanthropy. One is philanthrôpos towards one’s own people, family, and guests – not towards the poor. And eleêmosynê (from which ‘alms’ is derived), in the sense of showing pity or mercy for someone else, never has the poor as its primary object. Ancient Greek moralists didn’t admonish people to concern themselves about the fate of the poor. And while generosity was praised as a virtue, the poor were never singled out as its object; it was always directed to humans in general, provided that they deserved it.

When Greeks did speak about the joy of giving to others, it has nothing to do with altruism, but only with the desired effects of giving: namely honour, prestige, fame, status. Honour is the driving motive behind Greek beneficence, and for that reason the Greek word philotimia (literally, ‘the love of honour’) could develop the meaning of ‘generosity, beneficence’, not directed towards the poor but to fellow humans in general, especially those from whom one could reasonably expect a gift in return. These were the ‘worthy ones’ because they acknowledged and respected the principle of reciprocity (quid pro quo), one of the pillars of ancient social life, which was simply stated by the poet Hesiod around 700 BCE: ‘Give to him who gives, but do not give to him who does not give (in return).’ Even though some ancient moralists occasionally said that in the best form of beneficence one does not expect anything in return from the beneficiary, the pervasive view was that a donor should be reimbursed one way or another, preferably with a gift greater than the donor himself had given.

Religion was not much help to the poor: they simply weren’t the favourites of the gods. There was a Zeus Xenios (for strangers) and a Zeus Hiketêsios (for supplicants), but there was no Zeus Ptôchios (for the poor), nor any other god with an epithet indicating concern for the needy. It was rather the rich who were seen as the favourites of the divine world, their wealth being the visible proof of that favour. The poor could not pray for help from the gods because they were poor, for their poverty was a disadvantage in their contact with the gods. This was the implication of the common belief that the poor were morally inferior to the rich. They were often regarded as more readily inclined to do evil; for that reason, their poverty was commonly seen as their own fault. No wonder that they were not seen as people deserving help, and that no organised charity developed in Ancient Greece or Rome. In such societies, giving alms to the poor could not be seen as a virtue, as care for them was often regarded as a mere waste of resources.

The distributions of corn to the population by city states or emperors in times of need cannot pass for organised charity because the corn was given to all citizens in equal measure (not only to the poor). The poor didn’t get more than the rich, and even the poorest class of society was never singled out for especially favourable treatment. All this applies to the Ancient Romans no less than to the Greeks. When a Roman is generous towards others, it is not because they are poor but because he expects to get something in return, and because it confers honour and status upon him. Beneficia are for fellow citizens, not for the poor.

Since the beneficiary was usually expected to give something in return, the benefaction could become a burden. ‘There are some who even hate their benefactors,’ said Menander the playwright. But the idea of reciprocity was deeply ingrained in ancient society, and giving remained one of the chief ways of acquiring status within the social or political group. Neither Ancient Greek nor Roman shrank from admitting that striving after honour was the decisive motive for generosity. The Roman philosopher and orator Cicero wrote that ‘most people are generous in their gifts not so much by natural inclination as by the lure of honour’. And Pliny the Younger pithily agreed: ‘Honour must be the consequence’ of generosity.

While care for the poor, let alone organised charity, was a non-item in Greco-Roman antiquity, it is a central concern in the Jewish Bible. Caring for the poor is seen as a major duty and virtue not only in the Torah of Moses, but also in the Prophets and other biblical writings. Most significantly, God is seen as the protector of the poor and the rescuer of the needy. They are his favourites and the objects of his mercy, regarded as humble before God and therefore often as pious and righteous.

That is not to say that we will find a positive evaluation of poverty here – the poor are ‘righteous’ only insofar as they are the innocent victims of injustice, and poverty does not automatically translate into piety, but it does seem to make one closer to God. In a courtroom, an Ancient Greek could invoke his opponent’s poverty in order to cast a dubious light on his character – this strategy was not available to a biblical Israelite.

The Torah urges Israel to be generous towards the poor in their midst. The prophets warn repeatedly against oppressing the poor and the needy. A ‘day acceptable to the Lord’ is the day on which the people share their bread with the hungry, bring the poor into their house, and clothe the naked. In the book of Job, the protagonist’s efforts to help the poor are emphasised as laudable. The poor were to be allowed to harvest the borders or corners of the fields and vineyards, and the sabbatical year was instituted in order that the poor might eat. The biblical adage ‘Open your hand to the poor’ encapsulates the Jewish Bible’s approach to charity.

In spite of the fact that there is much concern for the poor in the Bible, there still is no organised charity. Of course, some of the Torah’s commandments are in a sense collective measures, but it is still left to the individual whether or not to carry them out, since there is no central organisation to oversee its implementation.

The post-biblical Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides, a Jewish wisdom poem of 230 hexameters written in Greek, exemplify this private (as opposed to communal or organised) concern for the poor. In the opening section, the author wrote: ‘Do not oppress a poor man unjustly, do not judge him by his appearance,’ a sentiment repeated further on: ‘Give a labourer his pay, do not oppress a poor man.’ Then it says: ‘Give to a beggar at once and do not tell him to come tomorrow. Fill your hand and give alms to the needy.’ And again some lines further on: ‘When you have wealth, stretch out your hand to the poor. From what God has given you provide for those in need.’

When in the first 30 lines of his poem the author turns five times to the importance of taking care of the poor, it is evident how much value he attaches to this part of his message. The utterly un-Greek motif of love for the poor is one of his main concerns. But again, as in the biblical texts, it is all about private charity.

It is only in the early rabbinic period, especially the 2nd century CE, that we have concrete indications for institutional charity organised by the local synagogues. There were two such institutions: the quppah and the tamhuy. The quppah was the money chest to support the local poor, who received a weekly allotment; the tamhuy was the soup kitchen that was open on a daily basis to any poor person in need of a meal, including non-Jews.

The administrators of the synagogues appointed charity wardens who collected money every Friday, and others for the daily food collection and distribution. These officers were even allowed to exert some pressure on the members of the community in order to make sure that there would be enough to meet all needs. In order to prevent voluntary impoverishment, however, nobody was allowed to donate more than one-fifth of his property. It is significant that in the saying of Simon the Just, doing deeds of loving kindness is one of the three pillars upon which the world is standing, a remarkably un-Greek idea. Elsewhere, deeds of loving kindness are said to be equal to all the commandments of the Torah. Often, the motive for doing such deeds was the expectation of being rewarded by God, especially in the hereafter.

In rabbinic literature, it is stated repeatedly that the best way of giving to the poor is by doing it in such a way that nobody sees it happen or sees how much is being given. A gift to the poor must be made privately, with no one else present. A person who gives alms in secret is greater than Moses, says Rabbi Eleazar in the Talmud (he added that the gentiles give alms only for reasons of self-aggrandisement).

Whether every Jew lived up to this ideal is questionable in light of what the Gospel of Matthew has Jesus say in the Sermon on the Mount:

So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their award. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Whatever one thinks about the authenticity of this saying, its critical note must reflect some form of reality; there must have been concrete practices that made these remarks relevant. And, in a sense, one could say that the many honorary donor inscriptions found in ancient synagogues prove that the Jews were not immune from the honorific ‘epigraphic habit’, although they are of a later date and do not concern alms but gifts to the community at large. But the sentiment expressed by Jesus above reflects the same mood as the one we find in rabbinic literature. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 March 2019 at 7:04 pm

A Medical Theory for Donald Trump’s Bizarre Behavior

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Dr. Steven Beutler, who has spent over 30 years practicing medicine, specializing in infectious diseases, writes in the New Republic:

Al Franken recently raised a provocative question about Donald Trump: Is he mentally ill? On HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher last week, the Minnesota senator claimed that some of his Republican colleagues have “great concern about the president’s temperament,” adding that “there’s a range in what they’ll say, and some will say that he’s not right mentally. And some are harsher.” Two days later, he toldCNN’s Jake Tapper, “We all have this suspicion that—you know, that he’s not—he lies a lot…And, you know, that is not the norm for a president of the United States, or, actually, for a human being.”

Franken is not alone in his suspicions. Last year, Jeb Bush said of his Republican primary opponent, “I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, but the guy needs therapy.” Senator Bernie Sanders recently called Trump “delusional in many respects, a pathological liar.” And Congressman Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, is introducing legislation that would require the White House to have a psychiatrist on staff. “I’m looking at it from the perspective of, if there are questions about the mental health of the president of the United States, what may be the best way to get the president treatment?” he told the Huffington Post.

Meanwhile, a debate is raging among mental health professionals about Trump’s mental state, and whether it’s unethical of them to speculate publicly about someone whom they haven’t examined (doing so violates psychiatrists’ code of ethics, the relevant section of which is called “the Goldwater rule” because of its association with a magazine survey of psychiatrists about Barry Goldwater, the Republican presidential nominee, in 1964). One online petition with nearly 24,000 signatures calls for Trump’s removal because he “manifests a serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President.” Another with 36,000 signatures declares that “Trump appears unable to control his compulsion and displays characteristics of all nine criteria to officially diagnose an individual with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.”

Physicians like me have also taken notice of Trump’s bizarrevolatile behavior. Given our experience, we can’t help but wonder if there’s a medical diagnosis to be made. After all, many medical conditions exhibit their first symptoms in the form of psychiatric issues and personality changes. One condition in particular is notable for doing so: Neurosyphilis.

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, is sometimes referred to as “The Great Imposter” because of its ability to mimic many other conditions. It is commonly broken down into three stages. Primary syphilis is the most widely recognized form of the disease. It is characterized by the development of an ulcer, usually genital, a few weeks to a few months after sexual contact with an infected person. If the ulcer is not noticed, or not treated, it heals on its own, and the disease enters a dormant phase. But during this time, the bacteria—a spirochete called Treponema pallidum—spreads throughout the body without causing any symptoms.

A secondary stage of the disease is seen in some patients weeks or months later. These patients may develop a variety of systemic symptoms, such as rash, fever, and swollen glands. If not treated, the infection enters a prolonged latent phase, which can last decades. During this time, it is asymptomatic and it is not contagious. In some cases, this is followed by a tertiary stage, which is the most serious and may involve any organ in the body. It is seen 10 to 30 years after the initial infection, and is best known for causing neurologic and neuropsychiatric disease: Neurosyphilis.

The symptoms of neurosyphilis are protean, varying widely from one individual to another. Commonly recognized symptoms include irritability, loss of ability to concentrate, delusional thinking, and grandiosity. Memory, insight, and judgment can become impaired. Insomnia may occur. Visual problems may develop, including the inability of pupils to react to the light. This, along other ocular pathology, can result in photophobia, dimming of vision, and squinting. All of these things have been observed in Trump. Dementia, headaches, gait disturbances. and patchy hair loss can also be seen in later stages of syphilis.

Does Trump suffer from this condition? I cannot, of course, establish this diagnosis from a distance. There’s a great deal of information I don’t have access to, which could be critical in reaching the correct conclusion. In Trump’s case, there are many diagnostic possibilities, and we have very little background information because the slim medical summary he released was vague, unverifiable, and possibly outdated.

On the other hand, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 November 2018 at 7:59 am

The Chinese threat that an aircraft carrier can’t stop

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UPDATE below.

If you like techno-science-fiction, you surely must read Daniel Suarez’s novel Kill Decision, which pretty much lays out the issues underlying David Ignatius’s report in the Washington Post:

Will the Pentagon, with its 30-year planning cycle for building ships, still be launching aircraft carriers in 2048 — even though they’re highly vulnerable to attack today?

That’s an example of the military-modernization questions that kept nagging participants at last weekend’s gathering of the Aspen Strategy Group, which annually brings together top-level current and former national security officials, along with a few journalists, to discuss defense and foreign policy. This year’s focus was on “Maintaining America’s Edge” in the dawning era of high-tech combat, and the big takeaway was this: The future of warfare is now, and China is poised to dominate it.

Speakers at the conference described a new generation of combat systems, powered by artificial intelligence, cyberweapons and robots that can operate on land, sea and air. But America is still largely wedded to legacy weapons of the past — superbly engineered (but super-expensive) aircraft carriers, bombers, fighter jets and submarines.

“We have a small number of exquisite, expensive, manned, hard-to-replace systems that would have been familiar to Dwight D. Eisenhower. They are being overtaken by advanced technology,” argued Christian Brose, staff director of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Instead, he said, the Pentagon needs a large number of inexpensive, unmanned, expendable, autonomous systems that can survive in the new electronic battlespace and overwhelm any potential adversary.

“It is not that we lack money. It is that we are playing a losing game,” Brose contended in a paper presented to the group. “Our competitors are now using advanced technologies to erode our military edge. This situation is becoming increasingly dire.”

Future needs are being drowned out by past practices, because of what Brose’s boss, Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), has called the “military-industrial-congressional complex.” Brose calculates that in the Pentagon’s initial request for $74 billion in new defense spending in fiscal 2019, only 0.006 percent was targeted for science and technology. The National Science Foundation estimates that in fiscal 2015, only 18 percent of the Pentagon’s research and development budget went to basic, applied and advanced research. Major systems claimed 81 percent.

Even when the Pentagon tries to push innovation, it often stumbles. When Ashton B. Carter was defense secretary under President Barack Obama, he created the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUx, with offices in Silicon Valley, Boston and Austin. That operation thrived initially, negotiating 60 defense contracts with start-ups. The program has slowed under the Trump administration, despite support from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, because it lacks funds and bureaucratic support, warned Christopher Kirchhoff, a former DIUx partner. If Mattis can appoint a strong new DIUx leader soon, maybe he can revive this innovation hub.

The biggest technological challenge discussed here was artificial intelligence. In a few years, these systems have taught themselves to play complex games such as chess and Go better than humans, and to recognize voices and objects better, too. And soon, they will be driving the weapons of combat.

China appears determined to seize this AI “high ground” of future conflict. For the past two years, Chinese companies have won an AI competition for detecting objects. The Chinese are happy for the United States to keep building carriers and bombers, so long as they deploy the more advanced technologies that can disable these systems.

Richard Danzig, a former Navy secretary, published a brilliant paper discussed at the conference warning that as AI systems dominate warfare, they will “introduce important new risks of loss of control.” Humans must be “maximally thoughtful and creative” during design (and plan for failure), because these AI-driven weapons will have accidents and unintended consequences. Wise policymakers must avoid a “Dr. Strangelove” world of unsafe killer robots and doomsday machines.

America’s vulnerability to information warfare was a special topic of concern. One participant recalled a conversation several years ago with a Russian general who taunted him: “You have a cybercommand but no information operations. Don’t you know that information operations are how you take countries down?” . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: From Rob May’s InsideAI newsletter:

— Commentary —

This week’s commentary is brought to you by Evanna Hu, CEO of Omelas. (Disclosure, I’m an investor)  After I wrote last week about China’s AI policy and the frameworks for evaluating it, Evanna responded with her point of view.  As an expert in both AI and international affairs, she has a good perspective so I asked her if she would be willing to share.

At the Future of War Conference in Washington, DC this past April, Undersecretary of Defense of Research and Engineering Michael Griffin bluntly acknowledged that China is already winning the AI war. The databacks up the claim, with China filing 8,000 patents relating to AI while the US filed less than 1,000 AI-relevant patents in the same time period. In 2013, the two countries were comparable. Furthermore, unlike adversarial actors, such as China and Russia, and allies, including France, the UK, and the UAE, the US still does not have a comprehensive national AI strategy. Though the Pentagon has established a Joint AI Center and has allocated more money towards the adoption of AI in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2019, the Center and DoD AI strategy are still in early stages.

Simultaneously, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a government taskforce that earlier this year blocked the entrance of two Chinese conglomerates, Huawai and ZTE, into the US market, has newly-approved expanded powers. Under the new measures passed by Congress a week ago, the government will regulate funding from foreign origins- but specifically targeting China- in US companies, ranging from corporations all the way down to seed-stage tech startups. This means that theoretically CFIUS can stop startup X who is working on cutting-edge AI technology from receiving funding from Tencent, Alibaba, or any of the $2.4 billion Chinese firms poured into Silicon Valley from January to May of this year. On the flip side, if a company does decide to receive foreign funding above a certain percentage, they will not be able to receive grants or contracts from the US government, including DARPA, SBIR, In-Q-Tel, etc. These measures not only narrow the scope of funding but it also radically reduces addressable markets for US’s emerging technology markets.

If we see the new CFIU measures as the “stick” in the “carrot-and-stick” methodology, it is critical that the “carrot” be developed to help domestic AI companies thrive. While there are already conversations around the best approach at the Pentagon and the White House, the conversation is neither synchronized nor entrepreneur/company-centric. Domestic AI companies want two things: a) increase revenue from sales; and b) access to funding. Whatever form the carrot will be, it needs to address these two main concerns. It is the only way that the US can regain its competitive edge in AI and maintain its number one position in emerging technology.

Evanna Hu is the CEO of Omelas, which uses ML/AI to quantify and assess the online security threat environment. She is also an International Security Fellow at New America, a Washington, DC think tank.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 August 2018 at 9:11 am

Savory foods may promote healthy eating through effects on the brain

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I more or less deliberately retrained my taste to prefer savory to sweet, so that breakfast, for example, is never pancakes or waffles or boxed cereals but is eggs and bacon and sautéed vegetables (with a dash of Aji-no-moto). The Eldest pointed out this interesting article by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center that appeared in Science Daily:

Researchers have found that consuming a broth rich in umami — or savory taste — can cause subtle changes in the brain that promote healthy eating behaviors and food choices, especially in women at risk of obesity.

Umami is a Japanese word to express a delicious, savory meal, and it represents one of the five basic tastes, together with sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. A key component of umami taste is glutamate, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid that can be found in nearly all foods, and especially in foods high in protein such as dairy products, fish, and meat.

Previous experimental studies have shown that intake of a broth or soup supplemented with monosodium glutamate (MSG), a sodium salt of glutamate, prior to a meal can decrease appetite and food intake, especially in women with a propensity to overeat and gain weight. In a study published March 30 in Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers evaluated changes in the brains of healthy young women after they consumed chicken broth with or without MSG added.

The investigators used three laboratory tools to detect changes: a computer test that measured inhibitory control (a key mental process that is necessary for self-regulation of eating), a buffet meal during which participants ate freely while wearing special glasses that tracked eye movements, and a functional brain scan that measured brain activity while participants made food choices.

Following intake of the umami-rich broth, participants performed the inhibitory control test better, had more focused gazes during the meal, and had more engagement of a brain area that is linked to successful self-regulation during food choice. Also, after consuming the umami-rich broth, those at higher risk of obesity consumed less saturated fat during the meal.

“Previous research in humans studied the effects of umami broths on appetite, which is typically assessed with subjective measures. Here, we extended these findings replicating the beneficial effects of umami on healthy eating in women at higher risk of obesity, and we used new laboratory measures that are sensitive and objective,” said senior author Miguel Alonso-Alonso, MD, PhD, an Assistant Professor at the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine in BIDMC’s Department of Surgery, BIDMC. He also noted that much research has examined the effects of sugar and sweetness on the brain, but the study of savory taste has been limited.

The results may open new ways to facilitate healthy eating and reduce food intake in the general population. “Many cultures around the world advocate drinking a broth before a meal. Our study suggests the possibility that people at high risk of obesity could benefit from an umami-rich broth before a meal to facilitate healthy eating and healthy food choice,” said Alonso-Alonso. “However,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 July 2018 at 8:54 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Nice 2-point dinner: Cauliflower rice with chicken breast

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I follow exactly this guy’s method of cooking chicken breasts, though I pound the breast to uniform thickness with this kitchen tool. And when I season the chicken breast, I use salt, pepper, and Aji-no-moto (for reasons described in this post—I was interested to note that the Aji-no-moto I bought from Amazon was (a) made in the US (b) from corn).


2 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, pounder to uniform thickness
1/2-1 white onion, or 1 bunch scallions, chopped
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bag cauliflower rice/snow, 14-16 oz
10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved


Dry chicken thoroughly with paper towels and season both sides with salt, pepper, and Aji-no-moto. Set on a plate or platter for half an hour or so.

Heat a seasoned 11 7/8″ Matfer Bourgeet carbon steel frying pan and then add 1.5 tablespoons olive oil and the chicken breasts. (Here, “seasoned” means baked on oil. I use Larbee to season my cast-iron and carbon-steel cookware as described here.)

Cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes, checking to see how browning is proceeding. Once the breasts have browned, turn them over and cook 2-3 more minutes until second side is browned.

Remove breasts to a platter and cover with foil. They will finish cooking there.

Add the chopped onion to the pan, and sauté until soft and translucent. I find with this pan a large spoon-shaped spatula works best to avoid flipping food over the edge.

Add the garlic and cook for 30-60 seconds, then add the cauliflower.

Cook, stirring often, and season with salt, pepper, and Aji-no-moto. After a few minutes, add the cherry tomatoes and continue cooking, stirring often. Taste when you think it’s getting done: cauliflower will have softened somewhat, but you don’t want it mushy.

Transfer chicken to cutting board, cut into bite-size chunks and add to the cauliflower along with any juices from the platter. Stir until chicken is heated, then turn off the flame/heat.

3 servings, 2 WW points each (from the olive oil).

Written by LeisureGuy

22 June 2018 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

An Alarming Tip About a Neo-Nazi Marine, Then an Uncertain Response

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A.C. Thompson and Ali Winston report in ProPublica:

It was Oct. 29, 2017, when Ed Beck decided he had to contact the military police.

For weeks, Beck had been tracking the online life of a 21-year-old lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. He said he had concluded the young man, a North Carolina native named Vasillios Pistolis, was deeply involved in neo-Nazi and white supremacist activities.

Beck said he had compiled an exhaustive dossier on the young Marine, tracing the evolution of Pistolis’ racist worldview over recent years and linking him to violent altercations at the bloody white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. The most recent piece of evidence, Beck said, was a fresh video that appeared to show Pistolis standing alongside a leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, a fascist group, during a confrontation with an interracial couple at a restaurant in a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee.

Beck was well-positioned both to be offended by Pistolis’ alleged conduct and to report it: Beck had served in the Marines from 2002 through 2006, including a tour in Iraq. In fact, he’d been assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Unit, the same unit in which Pistolis was serving.

Beck said he contacted the authorities at the unit’s headquarters, Camp Lejeune, a large Marine installation on the North Carolina coast, and spoke briefly with an investigator for the post’s military police.

“I told them what I had seen him do, the evidence I had,” recalled Beck.

Beck said he offered to share his dossier with Marine detectives, but they didn’t take him up on the offer.

After the phone conversation, he said, “I never heard a thing.”

Beck’s phone bill, which he provided to ProPublica and Frontline, shows that he spoke multiple times with personnel at Camp Lejeune on Oct. 29. The records indicate that he received a brief six-minute call from military police at 9:24 that night.

More than six months later, Pistolis is still serving in the Marines.

At this juncture, it’s unclear precisely what steps if any the Marines took after Beck alerted them to Pistolis. What is certain is that in May, after ProPublica and Frontline featured Pistolis in a joint report about his violent involvement in the white power movement, the Marines said they were investigating Pistolis.

Contacted last week about Beck’s claim of having alerted the military authorities about Pistolis last fall, officials offered varying accounts.

One military official indicated that police at Camp Lejeune and detectives with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the unit that handles felony-level offenses in the Navy and Marines, had been diligently investigating Pistolis since receiving the information about him from Beck. Another person with knowledge of the matter, an officer with the Marine Corps, indicated that Pistolis had been questioned by NCIS, but that detectives found no connection to any organized groups or evidence that he posed a threat.

In the end, NCIS acknowledged that Pistolis is today the subject of a criminal probe, but added little detail.

“We do not discuss ongoing investigations,” said Adam Stump, an NCIS spokesman. “Regarding the service member you have asked about, the investigation is still ongoing. We cannot discuss further.”

A spokesman for Pistolis’ unit, Samir Glenn-Roundtree, said, “Marines accused of activity counter to our standards and core values are entitled to a thorough and impartial review. We have no further information to provide as the investigation is still ongoing.”

ProPublica and Frontline’s reporting on Pistolis made clear the Marine has spent years in the white power movement, including a stint as a cell leader for the Atomwaffen Division, an armed white supremacist group that espouses political terrorism and the overthrow of the U.S. government. In confidential chats, Pistolis, who received expert rifleman certification during his basic training in 2016 and currently works as a water support technician, claimed to have assaulted four people at last summer’s rally in Charlottesville.

“Today cracked 3 skulls open with virtually no damage to myself,” Pistolis wrote on Aug. 12, 2017.

The young man’s double life came as a shock to Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat, who shortly after the ProPublica and Frontline report asked the Pentagon to explain what it was doing to keep neo-Nazis out of the armed forces. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2018 at 2:35 pm

Stovetop Popcorn With Brewer’s Yeast, Dulse, and Urfa Biber

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This sounds good, but no popcorn on a low-carb diet. Still, I pass it along. Matt Rodbard and Daniel Holzman write in Taste:

Popcorn: It’s what’s for dinner. Well, it’s what’s for those moments between lunch and dinner when you are hanging out on the sofa bingeing through the latest season of Broadchurch. Popcorn is the great in-between meal. It’s cheap, filling, kinda healthy (though let’s be honest, not really), and fun to make on your own. Popcorn is also infinitely customizable, which ensures it never gets stale. Speaking of stale, we’ve got no beef with those bags of SkinnyPop, but fresh-from-the-stovetop always tastes better to us.

So what holds people back from making popcorn DIY style? An annoyingly high ratio of unpopped to popped kernels is second only to burning the batch. You can hear the smoke alarm now. Both of these issues give home cooks pause. And lastly, getting the seasoning part right can be tricky. You’re looking for a middle ground here—a seasoning blend that is interesting, packed with saltiness, but not too weird and out there.

The key to achieving this balance is found at the health food store or the baking section of your local Whole Foods: brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast. Brewer’s yeast is an inactive yeast that is a byproduct of beer making, while nutritional yeast is grown specifically from vegetable sugar as a seasoning product. In addition to being chock-full of vitamins, brewer’s yeast is high in glutamic acid—a free glutamate that, when mixed with salt (sodium), like in your popcorn, creates monosodium glutamate, or MSG, which has been kindly rebranded as umami, the mythic fifth “taste.” Short translation: delicious popcorn.

But we’re not stopping with just a sprinkling of brewer’s yeast. Dulse is a dried red seaweed harvested off the coast of Japan and in the chilly waters of the north Atlantic. Dulse is a natural salt substitute with a subtle whisper of the ocean. It also happens to be packed with more of those free glutamates.

You could stop there, but we like our popcorn on the slightly spicy side, just enough to tickle the tongue and keep you going back for more. You didn’t know you needed Urfa biber—a dried Turkish chile pepper with a raisin-like sweetness, a subtle spice, and the gentle acidity of a lightly roasted Ethiopian coffee—until you started cooking with it. You can rub it on lamb shoulder or shake it into a batch of chocolate brownies. It’s spectacular in popcorn, adding more flavor (Urfiness) without making your popcorn overly spicy. . .

Continue reading for the actual recipe.


Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2018 at 12:44 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

My current diet

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I’ve tinkered with my diet over the years, trying this and that, and below you find my approach as of 28 March 2021 (updates on health risks from a low-carb/ketogenic diet in the section “Brief history of how I got here”). This post changes as I learn more and modify/fine-tune my diet direction. In the brief history below, which tells how I got here, I summarize some major changes.  —  On 5 Dec 2020, I posted about my experience in drifting away from the diet, which can happen. I wrote about the effects of falling away from the diet and described how quickly things improved once I resumed a good diet. Getting back on track was easy, since I had already learned what to do, which is documented in this post.

I should note at the outset that there is not a one-size-fits-all diet. To take an obvious example, I include peanuts in my diet, but some people would find that fatal. Also, I am a type 2 diabetic, so I keep a close eye on carbs (though IMO everyone should avoid refined sugar and sugar-heavy “foods” (cake, candy, orange juice, and the like—here’s why). This post also includes the reasons for my choices to help you evaluate whether the diet would work for you and where you might want to make modifications.

It takes a few weeks to get the hang of a new approach to food when you change your diet, so I would recommend you stick with this approach for two months and then take stock, evaluating it in the light of your own experience. Changing your diet is difficult because it requires revising patterns of eating that you have learned so well you use them unconsciously. Just as you don’t have to think much to get around your own town or neighborhood, the diet you already know is easy because it’s based on established dishes and established routines.

And just as moving to a new city requires a lot of work and attention at first just to find your way around, moving to a new way of eating requires thought and attention to figure out a new repertoire of “standard” dishes and meals. But over time, both become easy once again as new patterns are figured out, learned, and become familiar, and easy routines again emerge.

You gain the new knowledge and regain the old comfort more readily if you have the mindset and attitude of a new permanent resident rather than a visitor, because as a permanent resident you’re more motivated to explore and discover what all it has to offer beyond the obvious tourist attractions (or obvious recipes) See this post: “Finding pleasure in the learning of new skills.”

Table of contents

Here are the sections of this post, in order of appearance:

• The basic foundations of good health
• Brief history of how I got here
• Reading list
• It’s all about food choices
• And the food choices are about something else
• In addition to good food choices, try intermittent fasting
• Exercise’s role in weight loss and fitness
• My own exercise choice—for fitness, not weight loss
• Refined sugar and other quickly digested carbohydrates are bad
• Resistant starch helps with carbs
• How excess body fat works to destroy you
• More on carbs
• Protein intake remains normal
• A whole-food plant-based diet is great for those with diabetes or insulin resistance
• A whole-food plan-based diet is optimal for competitive athletes
• A LCHF diet or a plant-focused diet is NOT a weight-loss diet per se
• Temporary diets = bad diets
• Foods that cause weight loss (and other fairy tales)
• How to be happy with your diet
• Prepare your meals from scratch—it quickly becomes enjoyable
• Useful tools and methods for meal preparation—and some recipes
• Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen
• Glorious one-pot meals
• Stir-fries
• Indian dishes
• Breakfast
• Changes in food choices as a result of WW Freestyle
• Food cravings and your gut microbiome
• Omega-3 and Omega-6
• Plateaus
• If you do eat chicken, some tips on preparing and using chicken breasts
• Umami
• Cooking oils
• Supplement on supplements
• Updates

The basic foundations of good health

Your overall health depends heavily on six things:

  1. your genetic make-up,
  2. the nutrition you get from your diet,
  3. adequate cardio exercise,
  4. adequate sleep and rest,
  5. regular and positive social interaction (and in person, not on-line — increasingly a problem for those born after 1995); and
  6. a positive and optimistic outlook (see this study and also the book Learned Optimism, by Martin Seligman).

Your genetic make-up was fixed at conception, but the way those genes are expressed is affected by your environment, including your diet. In the Introduction of How Not to Die, Dr. Michael Greger writes:

For most of our leading killers, nongenetic factors like diet can account for at least 80 to 90 precent of cases. As I noted before, this is based on the fact that the rates of cardiovascular disease and major cancers differ fivefold to a hundred fold around the world. Migration studies show that this is not just genetics. When people move from low-to high-risk areas, their disease risk nearly always shoots up to match the new setting. As well, dramatic changes in disease rates within a single generation hight the primacy of external factors. Colon cancer mortality in Japan in the 1950s was less than one-fifth that of the United States (including Americans of Japanese ancestry). But now colon cancer rates in Japan are as bad as they are in the United states, a rise that has be attributed in part to the fivefold increase in meat consumption.

He goes on to discuss how identical twins (with the same genetic profile) who are raised separately with different diets have different health outcomes. Worker bees and the queen bee have the same genetics: the difference in lifespan and fertility is due solely to the queen’s diet of royal jelly.

Later, in the chapter “How Not to Die from Brain Diseases,” in his discussion of Alzheimer’s disease, he writes of the gene that predisposes one to have Alzheimer’s, a gene that, if found in both parents, increases by ninefold the odds that their offspring will fall prey to Alzheimer’s. Dr. Greger writes:

The highest frequency of the ApoE4 variant occurs in Nigerians,102 who surprisingly also have some of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s.103 Wait a second. The population with the highest rate of the “Alzheimer’s gene” has one of the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease? This contradiction may be explained by Nigerians’ extremely low blood-cholesterol levels, thanks to a diet low in animal fat104 and consisting mainly of grains and vegetables.105 So, it seems, diet can trump genetics.

. . . Too often, doctors and patients have a fatalistic approach to chronic degenerative diseases, and Alzheimer’s is no exception.107 “It’s all in your genes,” they say, “and what will happen will happen.” Research shows that although you might have been dealt some poor genetic cards, you maybe able to reshuffle the deck with diet.

The numbers in the text specify footnotes that identify the studies whose findings support the statements. The same is true of the passage below.

In How Not to Diet, Dr. Greger writes:

To date, about one hundred genetic markers have been linked to obesity, but when you put all of them together, they account for less than 3 percent of the difference in body mass index between people.52 The “fat gene” you may have heard about (called FTO, short for “FaT mass and Obesity associated”) is the gene most strongly linked to obesity,53 but it explains less than 1 percent of the difference between people (a mere 0.34 percent).54

FTO codes for a brain protein that appears to affect your appetite.55 Are you one of the billion people on Earth who carry a full complement of FTO susceptibility genes?56 It doesn’t really matter, because this only appears to result in a difference in intake of a few hundred extra calories a year,57 while what it took to lead to the obesity epidemic is more like a few hundred calories a day.58 FTO is the gene so far known to have the most effect on excessive weight gain,59 but the chances of accurately predicting obesity risk based on FTO status are only slightly better than flipping a coin.60

When it comes to obesity, the power of your genes is nothing compared to the power of your fork. Even the small influence the FTO gene does have appears to be weaker among those who are physically active61 and may be abolished completely in those eating healthier diets. FTO appears to affect only those eat diet higher in saturated fat (predominantly found in dairy, meat, and junk food). Those eating more healthfully appear to be at no greater risk of weight gain even if they inherited the “fat gene” from both their parents.62

In this post I include a brief discussion of cardio exercise (and provide some links), but the focus of the post is your diet, as the title implies.

TL;DR – Here’s the core of the argument that follows, but without a lot of detail—e.g., guidance for the novice cook is found below, but it’s not part of the core argument.

Brief history of how I got here

I’ve been nutritionally conscious since college days, when I first read Adelle Davis‘s book Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit. Generally speaking, things went well until the low-fat boom hit me in the late 1980s and I ballooned because I got the idea that I could eat as much as I wanted so long as I ate fat-free foods. That led to my eating a lot of refined carbs, and that led to insulin resistance (in part of because of my genetic make-up) and ultimately type 2 diabetes.

That got my attention in a big way, and I started some serious diet modification. Ultimately I discovered the low-carb high-fat approach and that very quickly brought my blood glucose levels under control (note this study), but I didn’t lose weight until I joined WW Freestyle (online, so I didn’t have to attend meetings). That uses a point system as a means of portion control (discussed below). It’s a good system in that it doesn’t require the detail required when you track calories: over 200 foods have zero points (for a normal-sized portion). One result is that you are nudged toward eating those zero-point foods, which include not only many vegetables and fruits but also seafood and skinless chicken breast and eggs, and you find yourself avoiding or eating less red meat (beef, pork, lamb) because it is so point-heavy. (BTW, it’s been established that a low-carb diet can indeed bring blood-glucose levels under control even if you don’t lose weight—that is, it wasn’t unique to me. Blood glucose levels are controlled simply because you’re not eating any carbs to speak of, but there are health costs, discussed below.)

The combination of a low-carb diet with WW Freestyle seemed mostly okay and I lost enough weight so that I was “only” 20 lbs from my target weight (where I stuck), but I wrote an answer on Quora praising the low-carb diet and got a comment from a physician who pointed out that while my blood glucose was under control (because I was basically not eating carbs), I was doing long-term harm to my body.

That gave me pause, and I started doing for reading. As I read more about plant-focused diets that focused on whole foods (in preference to refined and processed foods), I reconsidered my approach and began to modify it. (I was particularly concerned about the effects of eating meat.) Note this video:

Even more to the point, if you’re inclined to type 2 diabetes, eating animal fat can bring it, first cause insulin resistance and then taking you into type 2 diabetes. This short video explains the mechanism that does it. As a result, a low-carb high-fat diet, which virtually always is high in animal fat, is extremely detrimental.

A low-carb/ketogenic diet can reduce the symptoms (high blood glucose readings) while making the problem (carbohydrate intolerance) worse. Watch the brief video below — and persist beyond the awkward metaphors in the middle. The goal is to be able to eat a normal level of carbohydrates without requiring medication (which I did achieve, with a whole-food plant-only diet).

Lee Crosby, R.D., has an excellent presentation on the science behind the ketogenic diet and why it has long-term health risks, given at the sixth annual International Conference on Nutrition in Medicine in Washington, D.C., in August 2018. It’s worth watching.

I still was cautious about carbs and still followed the WW Freestyle point system, but I also switched from a ketogenic/low-card diet to a diet of whole foods using plants (roots, stalks, leaves, buds (e.g., broccoli, capers), flowers (squash blossoms, banana flowers), fruit, and seeds), though including some fungi. I cut out meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Basically, I followed a diet, that a vegan could follow, though “vegan” signifies only that the diet does not include foods derived from animals and does not preclude processed foods (and many vegans do eat a diet high in processed foods and low in whole foods). For example, a diet of soda pop, white-bread sandwiches with jam-and-brown-sugar filling, is certainly vegan, but it not a diet using whole foods. (See also this terrible diet, which fails to satisfy the basic criteria for a good diet.)

The diet I adopted is typically called a “whole-food plant-based diet.” Despite my diet of plant-based foods, I am not a “vegan” as the word is now used—for example, I am wearing leather house shoes.

The whole-food plant-based diet—eliminating meat (including fish), dairy, and eggs, and also eliminating refined foods including processed foods—strikes some as extreme, but in fact it eliminates only one food group (dairy) of the five commonly recognized food groups: carbohydrates, protein, dairy, fruits+vegetables, and fats+sugars.

I find my version of the WFPB diet differs a lot from what I read in most vegan recipes and cookbooks because I avoid some foods that most vegans eat. I don’t eat the following, part because of my type 2 diabetes. (I found that the foods in the first four bullet points would spike my blood glucose after I ate them—note this post: “How different foods affect blood sugar levels – Compared to teaspoons of sugar.”)

I eat:

  • No potatoes, corn, or rice in any form (no french fries, hash browns, chips, rice cakes, etc.) Those spike my blood glucose.
  • No refined sugar—granulated, cane sugar, brown sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey—and no foods that contain refined sugar. These are not whole foods. Were I to want to use sugar in cooking, I would use date sugar—dried dates ground into powder. I don’t use artificial sweeteners because they are toxic to the gut microbiome. I do use erythritol occasionally, but my sweet tooth is mostly satisfied through eating whole fresh fruit and berries (usually frozen berries that I’ve thawed—and particularly blackberries). Note this personal essay on quitting sugar.
  • No foods made from flour, such as bread, toast, bagels, pasta, muffins, and so on. These are not whole foods. I occasionally eat a sandwich or a wrap for lunch out, but that’s rare.
  • No fruit juices. They are not whole foods. As I wrote above, I do eat fruit, including fruit low in net carbs (e.g., berries)—but natural sugar in fruit does not affect the body as refined sugars do. I do like blending whole cranberries with water (or, even better, hibiscus tea that I have made and that has come to room temperature, hibiscus tea having more antioxidant benefit than green tea or even white tea), mint, and erythritol to make a refreshing and juice-like drink, but it uses the whole cranberry. I used lemon juice in cooking, but most often I now blend the lemon rather than use just the juice. (Method shown in this post.) This method includes both pulp and juice to get the most nutrients possible. With a thin-skinned Meyer lemon, I think I might blend the entire lemon after cutting off and discarding the ends: skin and all. Even then, though I would cut it into slabs to make blending easier.]
  • Very few processed foods—I buy vegetables and beans and grains to prepare and cook them myself. (See this post for good tips on cooking dried beans.) Thus I don’t eat manufactured “product foods” marketed to vegans (imitation meats and imitation cheeses of various sorts, for example). In general, product foods (branded, manufactured from refined foods using industrial processes and containing a variety of additives and preservatives, packaged, and advertised) tend to have too much sodium, refined sugar (typically high-fructose corn syrup because it’s cheap), bad oils (cottonseed and/or soybean oil because they’re cheap), and little or no dietary fiber. For example, I avoid bottled salad dressings; making my own is easy and quick. I do use extra-virgin olive oil, sparingly, and that is a processed food. I prefer tempeh to tofu because tofu is more processed, but I do eat tofu from time to time.
  • No added salt or foods that contain added salt (one reason I avoid processed foods, which seem inevitably to be high in sodium). I use low-sodium canned tomatoes, canned beans, tomato paste, vegetable broth, soy sauce, and so on. I stopped buying hot sauces (they all seem to be very high in sodium) and make my own. Update: When I measured my salt intake using Cronometer, I was getting 1100mg sodium per day, which seems to be a bit low. Too little sodium can have adverse effects, just as too much can.

Unlike my previous low-carb diet, my WFPB diet includes beans and grain, but I eat only intact whole grains (including bran, endosperm, and germ, unaltered by cutting or polishing or mashing or grinding). I eat oat groats, hulled barley, wheat berries, whole rye, kamut (my favorite), spelt, farro, and other grain, as well as the pseudo-grains quinoa, amaranth, chia seed, buckwheat groats.

Intact whole grain is more slowly digested than if the grain’s been cut or crushed or ground into flour, and the whole grain kernel that includes the bran also provides dietary fiber. (See also this post on why intact whole grains are better than whole grains and read the chapter on Whole Grains in Part 2 of How Not to Die.) I also chill beans and grains after they’re cooked and before I eat them, which makes the starch resistant so it is not so quickly digested. And I’m sure that avoiding foods that contain refined sugar and/or are made from flour also helps control my blood glucose levels.

Perhaps because of those food choices, despite my increased intake of net carbs my blood glucose remains under good control. My pre-lunch blood glucose today was 5.7 mmol/L, not bad at all. (Normal range pre-meal is 4.0 to 5.9 mmol/L.) And my fasting blood glucose this morning was 5.4 mmol/L (which corresponds to 98 mg/dL); Mayo Clinic notes “A fasting blood sugar level less than 100 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L) is normal.” And after three months on this new diet my doctor told me to discontinue my medications for high blood pressure, for cholesterol control, and for blood glucose control because I no longer needed them—medications I had been taking daily for almost twenty years.

Thus my low-carb days are no more, but as I note above I still do not eat refined carbs (which includes processed foods). And since I eat whole foods, I am now get ample amounts of the important carb dietary fiber, the carb mostly removed from refined carbs.  Nowadays 97% of Americans do not get even the recommended daily minimum of dietary fiber. The percentage of men age 18-50 who consume the recommended minimum of dietary fiber is 0%. Zero. Nada.

My progression was gradual. I immediately cut out meat, dairy, eggs, and refined/processed foods (except occasional EVOO and tofu, for example). I spent some time just working out new “standard” meals. It took me a while to get to eating 3 servings of fruit a day, but then I found if I had a selection of fruit on hand, it was easy. Then, after getting that all in order, so that (for example) I could improvise a dish easily and without having to think much about it. That took a few months of experience and practice, but now it’s pretty much automatic.

Then I took another step: restricting my eating to a 4-hour window, as discussed below under “In addition to good food choices, try intermittent fasting.” The point is that I didn’t do everything at once. I took it step by step. But by 7 months after I started, everything had become easy and routine.

That’s where I’m at today, and in the following I’ll offer specific with food suggestions and recipes and cooking methods, and I’ll include quite a few links.

Reading list

These are the books that shaped my current diet.

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease, by Gary Taubes.  Taubes actually tested his view of the causes of obesity and how to shed weight. His ideas failed to pass the test, but his book did influence me for quite a while and it did help in pointing out that calories are not a measure of food quality: if you eat 100 calories, it makes a big difference whether the 100 calories is from refined sugar or beans or olive oil since the effects on your body and the nutritional value of the foods differ greatly among those.

But Taubes’s conjecture that a low-fat/keto approach is best did not hold up when tested. See this video:

How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Michael Greger M.D. This book is basically a curated compendium of nutritional research. It’s both readable and informative, and the footnotes identify the studies whose findings support the statements in the book. It describes many little ways that greatly improve your diet and health.

The How Not to Die Cookbook: 100+ Recipes to Help Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Michael Greger M.D. I held off on buying these because I find many cookbooks are not very good for practical cooking—their recipes are complicated, fussy, and time-consuming. These recipes are practical and straightforward. The first second has recipes for some basics (spice mix, umami sauce (without salt), vegetable broth, etc.) that are used in later recipes, and those are quite straightforward and easy to make. I highly recommend you get the hardbound edition, as did I, because it lies open when flat. It’s quite a handsome book, with lots of good photos. It’s worth the money.

How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss, by Michael Greger M.D. This book is based on more recent research findings than his earlier books and provides an excellent approach not merely to losing weight (specifically, excess fat) but also to gain health. Well worth reading and applying. is not a book but a very useful tool to support your diet. Cronometer is a free site that provides a nutritional analysis of the foods you enter, including details of the micronutrients you’ve eaten. Enter your daily food intake from time to time and see how you’re doing on important micronutrients. (I in fact use it daily.) It is also available at no cost as a smartphone app, so I have it on my iPhone as well, though it’s easier to use on my latop’s browser, so that’s where I use it most.

Cronometer shows a progress bar for each nutrient. If you hover the mouse over the progress bar, a popup shows a sorted list of the sources of that nutrient. Also, if you highlight (click on) one of the foods you entered, you can see the nutritional analysis just for that food. Holding down the shift key as you click on foods lets you highlight a group of foods and get an analysis of the group. And you can drag and drop the foods you’ve entered to reorder them.

If some nutrient is deficient, search “foods high in” that nutrient and add one or two of those to your diet. This is better than using a supplement, since nutrients are usually better absorbed from food than from a supplement, and indeed some supplements don’t work at all. For example, I found I was short of selenium, so I added 1 brazil nut a day to my diet, and that provides 165% of the RDA for selenium.

I also was light on calcium. I now drink oat milk (rather than almond milk, since growing almonds takes too much water), and that is fortified with calcium (and B12, for that matter), and that helps. I also take a calcium supplement. Panthothenic acid (B5) was a little light until I added mushrooms to my daily diet (because they are a good source and I like them). Other micronutrients (iron, zinc, etc.) were not a problem for me, but it’s worth checking.

Note that the important micronutrient iodine is not included in the analysis, probably because the iodine content of foods varies greatly depending on the iodine content of the local soil. I haven’t used iodized salt for decades, but I do take powdered kelp in capsules (and eat seaweed salad from time to time), and that provides sufficient iodine. Iodine is something you do not want to overdo. If you use iodized salt, though, you’re covered. I don’t use iodized salt or much of any salt because I keep my salt intake low. In fact, since I avoid processed foods (generally high in salt) and cheese (also high in salt) and salt-heavy foods (pickles, sauerkraut), buy salt-free canned foods (tomatoes, beans, vegetable broth, etc.), don’t salt use salt in cooking (I make all my meals from scratch), and don’t salt food at the table, I end up getting very little salt — and a certain amount of salt is an essential food. (See this article for the effects of a diet too low in salt.) The key is moderate use.

In the modern diet, people get a lot of sodium from processed food products, from salting their meat, from salami and other cured meats, from chickens injected with salt water, and from cheese (which is quite high in sodium). Those are all foods that are detrimental to health. Maybe we’ve been blaming sodium when we should be blaming the foods that bring in a lot of the sodium we get. Dr. John McDougall makes the case that salt has been a scapegoat since our kidneys easily rid the body of excess salt, and because when people cut back on salt they get better because they have cut back on the real problem, the foods that happen to be high in salt.

Be that as it may, I did discontinue using salt during cooking and I don’t add salt at the table. For 3-4 days I did find that my food tasted flat, but my taste quickly adjusted and now my food tastes fine. I do use some flavor enhancers in place of salt—for example, lemon juice or a vinegar (balsamic, sherry, red-wine, etc.) or citric acid (a white crystalline powder that you can put in the salt shaker for use at the table), since acid brightens the taste. And I make and have on hand Dr. Greger’s Savory Spice Blend. I put the ingredients into a small food processor I and process them to powder the dried herbs. You can also buy salt-free spice-herb blends at the supermarket, but check the label: some such blends do have salt (and even sugar). Still — as noted above — it’s important not to let your salt consumption drop too low, and so I do have certain foods to which I add a little salt.

If you’re interested in losing weight, Cronometer can help with that. Go to “Settings > Profile” and enter your personal information including activity level, and then go to “Settings > Targets” and enter your target weight and choose the rate at which you wish to lose weight — e.g., 1 lb (or 0.5kg) per week. The program will then compute a calorie budget and display that on the “Diary” page where you enter your foods.

Calories, of course, provide zero information about food quality — 100 calories of refined sugar, which has no nutritional value at all, and 100 calories of cooked lentils, bursting with nutritional value, are identical insofar as calories are concerned. So Cronometer also displays the specific nutrients you are consuming, with a progress bar for each nutrient.

It’s all about food choices

Weight loss is almost totally driven by food choices (which foods and how much). Exercise is essential for endurance fitness (stamina), gained through cardio (sustained, aerobic) exercise like brisk walking (3 mph/5 kph or faster, 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week), running, bicycling, swimming, and the like. Cardio exercise is required for good health. You can also exercise for strength and muscle endurance (gained through weight and resistance training and mat exercises). At one time, flexibility was thought to be important but that’s changed. Strength is good, but cardiovascular fitness is essential for your health.

In terms of weight loss specifically, exercise is neither necessary nor sufficient to lose weight. In contrast, good food choices are both necessary and sufficient to lose weight. This is borne out from studies discussed in a recent article in the Guardian: people in 1976 were slim, and they ate substantially more calories than do the obese population of today—but they ate different foods.

It’s worth noting that the simple-minded idea “eat less, move more” does not really address the problem. (It’s like thinking you’ve cured poverty by chanting “spend less than you earn” or you’ve cured clinical depression by saying “snap out of it — look on the bright side.”) In fact, “eat less” amounts only to simple(-minded) control of w the amount you eat, and that is not nearly so successful as changing which foods you eat, as this brief video explains:

And from this heartbreaking (and infuriating) article by Michael Hobbes:

Since 1980, the obesity rate has doubled in 73 countries and increased in 113 others. And in all that time, no nation has reduced its obesity rate. Not one.

The problem is that in America, like everywhere else, our institutions of public health have become so obsessed with body weight that they have overlooked what is really killing us: our food supply. [It’s worth noting that many large and powerful businesses make a lot of money by supplying us with high-profit foods. – LG] Diet is the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for more than five times the fatalities of gun violence and car accidents combined. But it’s not how much we’re eating—Americans actually  consume fewer calories now than we did in 2003. It’s what we’re eating.

For more than a decade now, researchers have found that the quality of our food affects disease risk independently of its effect on weight. Fructose, for example, appears to damage insulin sensitivity and liver function more than other sweeteners with the same number of calories. People who eat nuts four times a week have 12 percent lower diabetes incidence and a 13 percent lower mortality rate regardless of their weight. All of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety get thrown off by eating foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber and injected with additives. And which now, shockingly, make up 60 percent of the calories we eat.

Bee Wilson’s article in the Guardian, “The Toxic Truth about Modern Food,” is worth reading in full. From that article:

. . . What we eat now is a greater cause of disease and death in the world than either tobacco or alcohol. In 2015 around 7 million people died from tobacco smoke, and 2.75 million from causes related to alcohol, but 12m deaths could be attributed to “dietary risks” such as diets low in vegetables, nuts and seafood or diets high in processed meats and sugary drinks. This is paradoxical and sad, because good food – good in every sense, from flavour to nutrition – used to be the test by which we judged the quality of life. A good life without good food should be a logical impossibility.

Where humans used to live in fear of plague or tuberculosis, now the leading cause of mortality worldwide is diet. Most of our problems with eating come down to the fact that we have not yet adapted to the new realities of plenty, either biologically or psychologically. Many of the old ways of thinking about diet no longer apply, but it isn’t clear yet what it would mean to adapt our appetites and routines to the new rhythms of life. We take our cues about what to eat from the world around us, which becomes a problem when our food supply starts to send us crazy signals about what is normal. “Everything in moderation” doesn’t quite cut it in a world where the “everything” for sale in the average supermarket has become so sugary and so immoderate. . .

Talking about what has gone wrong with modern eating is delicate, because food is a touchy subject. No one likes to feel judged about their food choices, which is one of the reasons why so many healthy eating initiatives fail. The rise of obesity and diet-related disease around the world has happened hand in hand with the marketing of fast food and sugary sodas, of processed meats and branded snack foods. As things stand, our culture is far too critical of the individuals who eat junk foods and not critical enough of the corporations who profit from selling them. A survey of more than 300 international policymakers found that 90% of them still believed that personal motivation – AKA willpower – was a very strong cause of obesity. This is absurd.

It makes no sense to presume that there has been a sudden collapse in willpower across all ages and ethnic groups since the 1960s. What has changed most since the 60s is not our collective willpower but the marketing and availability of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods. Some of these changes are happening so rapidly it’s almost impossible to keep track. Sales of fast food grew by 30% worldwide from 2011 to 2016 and sales of packaged food grew by 25%. Somewhere in the world, a new branch of Domino’s Pizza opened every seven hours in 2016. . .

Also read “The Death of the Calorie,” an article whose blurb reads:

For more than a century we’ve counted on calories to tell us what will make us fat. Peter Wilson says it’s time to bury the world’s most misleading measure.

Watch the documentary What the Health sometime, but make allowance for the fact that it’s pushing a particular idea and has some overstatements. For example, I don’t agree with Dr. Barnard that refined sugar is so blameless regarding diabetes because the amount of sugar in the food supply corresponds to the rate of diabetes and the link seems strong—but he makes a good case in the interview below (and he points out that high-glycemic index carbs are bad, and refined sugar is the poster child of high-glycemic carbs). Also, the statements in What the Health about the WHO classification of carcinogens are technically accurate but  also are misleading (see this FAQ from the WHO). So watch with a grain of salt. Here’s an interview with Dr. Barnard that has good information:

Looking at foods purely in terms of calories misses an essential point. Suppose you got in your car and the fuel gauge was close to “Empty,” so you want to fill the gas tank, which takes 11 gallons. Would you use whatever liquid is handiest (and cheapest)? Or would you look not just at quantity but also at the nature of the liquid? Using only volume to select fuel makes no more sense than using only calories to select food. Getting adequate calories is not guarantee of health, and cutting calories combined with poor food choices (eating processed foods, for example) can lead to feeling hungry and not to losing weight (because the hunger drives you to eat more).

I strongly recommend you prepare your meals from scratch (and below I list suggestions—tips, tools, techniques, tactics, strategy, recipes, and attitude—to make that something you will enjoy). The quotations above helps explain why it’s good for your physical health to prepare your meals from scratch. It’s also good for your mental health because with experience you feel competent and self-reliant, with the locus of control within yourself—plus it does give you control over what you eat.

And the food choices are about something else

If you stick with this video to the end, it has some big payoffs in seeing certain dots connect.

However, two cautions: First, you can find single studies to support many odd findings. Having multiple, different studies by different researchers that come to the same conclusion provides more assurance that the findings are reliable. Second, when a study is cited but the date of the study is not mentioned, some caution is appropriate: the findings of early studies are sometimes contradicted by later studies.

And let me point out a very informative PDF, “Managing Overweight and Obesity in Adults: Systematic Evidence Review from the Obesity Expert Panel,” published in Nov 2013. This study indicates that LCHF diets may not be quite the panacea that is commonly claimed. It may well be more important to avoid refined sugar and refined flour and meat, dairy, and eggs and make your meals from scratch, to avoid product foods (branded, packaged, refined, with lots of additives) and instead eat whole foods (vegetables, beans, grain, fruit, nuts, and seeds) that you prepare yourself. As I mentioned above, I am no longer so concerned with minimizing net carbs but now focus more on which carbs I eat and how I prepare them.

One important idea that should be noted is that, because overeating and obesity are strongly correlated, most presume that there is a causal connection—namely, that overeating causes obesity. There is increasing evidence that the causal connection is in the other direction: obesity causes overeating. See this NY Times column by David S. Ludwig, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Mark I. Friedman,  vice president of research at the Nutrition Science Initiative. See also David Ludwig’s book Always Hungry?: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently. (Seeing causality in the wrong direction happens more than you might think: it was once thought that forests grew because the climate in the forest region was wetter; we now understand that the climate is wetter in that region because of the forest. The Amazon rainforest, for example, puts more water into the atmosphere (through the leaves of the forest) than flows in the Amazon River.)

In reference to the “always hungry?” title: I was surprised to find myself eating noticeably less when I went on the whole-food plant-based diet. It didn’t happen right away, but about 5-6 weeks after switching over, I became aware that I just got full sooner and wasn’t hungry. The food I once cooked as breakfast was too much. I ate half for breakfast, the other half for lunch. And dinner became smaller. See this post.

In addition to good food choices, try intermittent fasting

I also highly recommend that you consider intermittent fasting (IF) for reasons discussed in this article from Harvard Medical School: “Intermittent Fasting: A Surprising Update.” from that article:

IF as a weight loss approach has been around in various forms for ages, but was highly popularized in 2012 by BBC broadcast journalist Dr. Michael Mosley’s TV documentary Eat Fast, Live Longer and book The Fast Diet, followed by journalist Kate Harrison’s book The 5:2 Diet based on her own experience, and subsequently by Dr. Jason Fung’s 2016 bestseller The Obesity Code. IF generated a steady positive buzz as anecdotes of its effectiveness proliferated.

As a lifestyle-leaning research doctor, I needed to understand the science. The Obesity Code seemed the most evidence-based summary resource, and I loved it. Fung successfully combines plenty of research, his clinical experience, and sensible nutrition advice, and also addresses the socioeconomic forces conspiring to make us fat. He is very clear that we should eat more fruits and veggies, fiber, healthy protein, and fats, and avoid sugar, refined grains, processed foods, and for God’s sake, stop snacking. Check, check, check, I agree. The only part that was still questionable in my mind was the intermittent fasting part.

Intermittent fasting can help weight loss

IF makes intuitive sense. The food we eat is broken down by enzymes in our gut and eventually ends up as molecules in our bloodstream. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars and refined grains (think white flours and rice), are quickly broken down into sugar, which our cells use for energy. If our cells don’t use it all, we store it in our fat cells as, well, fat. But sugar can only enter our cells with insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas. Insulin brings sugar into the fat cells and keeps it there.

Between meals, as long as we don’t snack, our insulin levels will go down and our fat cells can then release their stored sugar, to be used as energy. We lose weight if we let our insulin levels go down. The entire idea of IF is to allow the insulin levels to go down far enough and for long enough that we burn off our fat. . . .

  1. Avoid refined sugars and refined grains. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats (a sensible, plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet). [NOTE: When I say I eat “whole grains,” I mean I am eating the intact (cooked) kernel of grain, not cut and not crushed and not ground (e.g., I eat oat groats, hulled barley, wheat berries in preference to steel-cut or rolled oats, pearled or pot barley, cracked wheat or wheat flour). In addition to the foods listed as part of the Mediterranean diet, I eat nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices because of their nutritional value. – LG]
  2. Let your body burn fat between meals. Don’t snack. Be active throughout your day. Build muscle tone.
  3. Consider a simple form of intermittent fasting. Limit the hours of the day when you eat, and for best effect, make it earlier in the day (between 7 am to 3 pm, or even 10 am to 6 pm, but definitely not in the evening before bed).
  4. Avoid snacking or eating at nighttime, all the time.

There’s a lot more in the article, including specific advice on how to do intermittent fasting. Do read the whole thing. I realized that I knew much of this from childhood since to a degree “intermittent fasting” is just a term for “no eating between meals.”

Also, take a look at this very recent study: “Clinical study finds eating within 10-hour window may help stave off diabetes, heart disease.” The summary:

Researchers have found that a 10-hour time-restricted eating intervention, when combined with traditional medications, resulted in weight loss, reduced abdominal fat, lower blood pressure and cholesterol for participants. The pilot study could lead to a new treatment option for metabolic syndrome patients who are at risk for developing life-altering and costly medical conditions such as diabetes.

The study “Effects of Intermittent Fasting on Health, Aging, and Disease” (PDF) is also well worth reading. From that study:

Studies in animals and humans have shown that many of the health benefits of intermittent fasting are not simply the result of reduced free-radical production or weight loss.2-5 Instead, intermittent fasting elicits evolutionarily conserved, adaptive cellular responses that are integrated between and within organs in a manner that improves glucose regulation, increases stress resistance, and sup- presses inflammation. During fasting, cells activate pathways that enhance intrin- sic defenses against oxidative and metabolic stress and those that remove or repair damaged molecules (Fig. 1).5 During the feeding period, cells engage in tissue- specific processes of growth and plasticity. However, most people consume three meals a day plus snacks, so intermittent fasting does not occur.2,6

Preclinical studies consistently show the robust disease-modifying efficacy of intermittent fasting in animal models on a wide range of chronic disorders, in- cluding obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and neurodegenerative brain diseases.3,7-10 Periodic flipping of the metabolic switch not only provides the ketones that are necessary to fuel cells during the fasting period but also elicits highly orchestrated systemic and cellular responses that carry over into the fed state to bolster mental and physical performance, as well as disease resistance.11,12

What I do: I limit my eating to a 4-hour window between 10:00am and 2:00pm: a breakfast at 10:00 (nowadays that’s usually a smoothie like this), a small lunch at 12:00, a piece of fruit at 1:00, and a final meal just before 2:00. See this post for why I think it works without my getting hungry (or hypoglycemic) and why I like it so much. I quickly noted that, when I stifled an impulse to eat outside the 4-hour window, the impulse was from habit rather than hunger. My fasting blood glucose the second day on this plan was 5.4 mmol/L (97.2 mg/dL), which is “normal.”

Exercise’s role in weight loss and fitness

Exercise is not necessary for weight loss because even someone who is quite sedentary (me, for example, when I lost most of my weight) can easily lose weight by making good food choices (which foods and how much), and exercise is not sufficient for weight loss because even someone who exercises daily can consume enough high-caloric and unhealthful foods so that they will not lose weight—for example—so even if you exercise you must pay attention to what you eat and make good food choices. Thus good food choices are both necessary and sufficient for weight loss.

In How Not to Die, Dr. Greger observes:

Surveys suggest that most people believe controlling diet and getting enough exercise are equally important for weight control.9 It’s a lot easier to eat, however, than to move. To walk off the calories found in a single pat of butter or margarine, you’d have to add about an extra half-mile to your evening stroll. For every additional sardine [sic] on your Caesar salad, that’s another quarter-mile job. If you eat two chicken legs you’ll need to get up on your own two legs and run three miles just to make up for it—and that’s stewed chicken, skin removed.10

The numbers in the text identify footnotes that specify the studies whose findings support the statements. (And Caesar salads are made with anchovies, not sardines.)

Here’s an example of how exercise without good food choices is insufficient. Consider a person who runs two miles every morning and then celebrates by having a medium glazed doughnut. Running two miles ≈ 200 calories; one medium glazed doughnut ≈ 255 calories. The daily run is a good cardio exercise and does contribute to fitness, but the person (assuming the rest of his/her diet is enough to maintain weight—that is, the rest of the diet represents good food choices) will slowly but surely put on weight from the surplus 55 calories per day. And in fact many who take up exercise do eat more (and make bad food choices) because they are hungrier and/or feel that since they’re exercising they can eat anything and as much as they want.

My own exercise choice—for fitness, not weight loss

I did find that as I neared my target weight, I encountered a lengthy plateau. (More on plateaus below.) I began doing a 20-minute daily walk, and weight loss immediately resumed, so exercise can indeed be helpful as you get closer to your weight goal. Cardio exercise is, as noted above, essential for cardiovascular health—diet alone is insufficient for that—and as my diet produced results and I lost weight, I was moved to improve my overall health—thus my beginning cardio/aerobic exercise. Moreover, exercise fights chronic inflammation—see this article. And, as Dr. Greger points out in How Not to Die:

In a 2010 study published in the Archives of Neurology, researchers took a group of people with mild cognitive impairment—those who are starting to forget things, for example, or regularly repeating themselves—and had them engage in aerobic exercise for forty-five to sixty minutes a day, four days a week, for six months. The control group was instructed to simply stretch for the same time periods.

Memory tests were performed before and after the study. Researchers found that in the control (stretching) group, cognitive function continued to decline. But the exercising group not only didn’t get worse, they got better. The exercisers got more test answers correct after six months, indicating their memory had improved.

Subsequent studies using MRI scans found that aerobic exercise can actually reverse age-related shrinkage in the memory centers of the brain. No such effect was found in the stretching and toning control groups or a nonaerobic strength-training group. Aerobic exercise can help improve cerebral blood flow, improve memory performance, and help preserve brain tissue.

Dr. Kenneth Cooper, who spent his career studying cardio exercise and its effects, developed a point system to measure the cardio effects of different exercises. He recommends a minimum of 35 points per week for men, 27 points per week for women, exercising at least 4 days a week and at most 6. (He specifically recommends taking at least one day off each week.) In his books, he describes how such exercise benefits your body through the training effect: your heart and diaphragm (being muscles) become stronger and do their work more easily, your capillary network that carries blood to and from your muscles becomes denser, your blood volume increases, your lungs gain capacity to process oxygen.

His point system tells you for each type of exercise the number of points earned for various times and distances, as shown in this table (PDF). The table starts with Walking/Running, but scroll down through the document to see the points for cycling, for swimming, and other cardio exercises, including some sports.

I use a smartphone app, Pedometer++, to track steps (and there are other pedometer apps), and within a few weeks I was doing 8000-10,000 steps a day, with my morning walk (about 7200 of those steps) taking around 66 minutes. In addition to tracking steps, Pedometer++ computes distances, keeps track of the number of consecutive days you achieved your goal, displays total steps and distance since you installed the app, doles out awards, and so on. See also for planning a measured route in your neighborhood.

I found that using Nordic walking poles was quite helpful in two ways: first, they make the walk more interesting and enjoyable; and second, they exercise the arms and shoulders, thus burning 20% more calories than regular walking with no discernible increase in effort—indeed, they seem to make the walk easier by distributing the effort among more muscles. The reason my walk grew to an hour is because using Nordic walking poles made the walk so enjoyable. I was pulled to walking an hour rather than pushing myself to do it. (It’s interesting that the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, in its guidelines for starting an exercise program, also stresses that your exercise program should be something you enjoy. They write, “Your goal is to establish an exercise routine you enjoy. Make sure your first activity sessions are fun and not tiring.”)

Nordic walking poles are not the same as trekking poles. Trekking poles are for back-country and trail hiking over uneven terrain, whereas Nordic walking poles are for exercise walks in town and parks. The differences (in design, purpose, and technique), once you see example poles in action, are clear.

Current research finds that doing your walk in the woods, a park, or other natural surroundings is ideal in benefiting your mental health as well as your physical health, as can regular visits to the cinema, theater, or museums, which has been shown to dramatically reduce the chances of becoming depressed in older age. See also this article.

Even a plain walk, without Nordic walking poles, can be highly beneficial. I mentioned above Kenneth Cooper’s guidelines. I recently looked at how my Nordic walking fits with Cooper’s point system for cardio exercise. (I highly recommend Cooper’s books on aerobic exercise. Secondhand copies are readily available from

It should be noted that if you are walking a good distance each day, abruptly discontinuing your exercise routine can be risky to your health.

In addition to cardiovascular health, exercise is required to avoid frailty in old age.  A study recently published in the British Journal of Medical Practice concluded “A combination of muscle strength training and protein supplementation was the most effective intervention to delay or reverse frailty and the easiest to implement in primary care.” This was quite a robust study, so the importance of strength training is not to be ignored.

However, the level of strength training need not be extreme: we’re talking at-home exercises, not hitting the gym. Dr. Miriam Nelson’s book Strong Women Stay Young provides a excellent series of simple home exercises that have been proven to reverse frailty and weakness and balance problems associated with aging. The only equipment required is a set of dumbbells. Dumbbells can sometimes be found at garage sales, and they’re also not terribly expensive to buy new. The maximum weight required is pretty low, so a set of adjustable dumbbells (running around $300) would be overkill.

Refined sugar and other quickly digested carbohydrates are bad

Refined sugar (cane sugar, beet sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)) and carbohydrates like white potatoes (hash browns, french fries, potato chips, roasted, etc.), rice (brown or white: they both have a high glycemic index), corn (cornbread, corn chips, popcorn), foods made with flour (e.g., bread, bagels, pasta, muffins, pancakes, boxed cereals), juice (which is terrible), high-sugar dried fruit (raisins, mangoes, et al.)—all those disrupt the metabolism.

The book Anticancer: A New Way of Life has this interesting passage:

When [Loren Cordain, PhD] was told that certain population groups whose way of life is very different from ours had no experience of acne (which is caused by an inflammation of the epidermis, among other mechanisms), he wanted to find out how this could occur… Cordain accompanied a team of dermatologists to examine the skin of 1,200 adolescents cut off from the rest of the world in the Kitavan Islands of New Guinea, and 130 Ache Indians living in isolation in Paraguay. In these two groups they found no trace whatsoever of acne. In their article in Archives of Dermatology, the researchers attributed their amazing discovery to the adolescents’ nutrition. The diets of these contemporary sheltered groups resemble those of our distant ancestors: no refined sugar or white flour, thus no peaks of insulin or IGF in the blood.

In Australia, researchers convinced Western adolescents to try a diet restricting sugar and white flour for three months. In a few weeks, their insulin and IGF levels diminished. So did their acne.

The simple fact is that not all calories are the same: 100 calories from refined sugar or white bread affect the body in a very different way than 100 calories from, say, cooked lentils or fresh avocado. That’s why those who focus only on calories—”just consume fewer calories than you burn”—miss a vital point: the nature of the foods that carry the calories is extremely important, and you cannot (without consequences) ignore the nature of the foods and look only at the calories they contain. Watch this brief video for why knowing the caloric content of a food doesn’t provide enough information for an informed choice:

A recent study found that ultraprocessed foods drive weight gain more than other foods containing the same number of calories. From an NPR report by Maria Godoy:

Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, agrees that the findings are striking. He says what was so impressive was that the NIH researchers documented this weight gain even though each meal offered on the two different diets contained the same total amount of calories, fats, protein, sugar, salt, carbohydrates and fiber. Study participants were allowed to eat as much or as little as they wanted but ended up eating way more of the ultra-processed meals, even though they didn’t rate those meals as being tastier than the unprocessed meals.

“These are landmark findings that the processing of the foods makes a huge difference in how much a person eats,” says Mozaffarian. That’s important, because the majority of foods now sold in the U.S. — and increasingly, around the globe — are ultra-processed.

And ultra-processed foods include more than just the obvious suspects, like chips, candy, packaged desserts and ready-to-eat meals. The category also includes foods that some consumers might find surprising, including Honey Nut Cheerios and other breakfast cereals, packaged white bread, jarred sauces, yogurt with added fruit, and frozen sausages and other reconstituted meat products. Popkin says ultra-processed foods usually contain a long list of ingredients, many of them made in labs. So, for example, instead of seeing “apples” listed on a food label, you might get additives that re-create the scent of that fruit. These are foods designed to be convenient and low cost and require little preparation. [And to be addictive and ultimately unsatiating, so that you’ll buy more, which is the corporation’s goal: you’re just a means to achieve that goal, so manipulating your desires is just good business. – LG][And also: see this – LG]

That passage explains why I emphasize preparing your own meals from scratch, and since that is something you should do, I explain below how to make it actually enjoyable so that you are drawn to doing it because it’s a pleasure. From the food manufacturer’s point of view, the fact that such processed foods are not satiating, so that you consume more and more, is a benefit, since if people eat more, then company profits increase. A food manufacturer is motivated to make food appealing (ease of preparation, appearance, initial taste (the seductive combination of salt+sweet+fat), and so on), and if the food is also not satiating and leaves people wanting more, that’s all to the (manufacturer’s) good—though not so good for the increasingly obese consumer.

Sugar, BTW, is not so simple as you might think, and different sugars have different effects. This article has a good explanation—and note the dangers of fructose. And, interestingly, the quantity of refined sugar in the food supply is strongly linked to the rate of diabetes in the population: see this report. My grandmother commonly used the term “sugar diabetes” instead of just “diabetes,” and in terms of type 2 diabetes, she was onto something. But notice how different sugars are in this table from a video by Dr. Greger:

Sugar comparison

Date sugar consist of ground-up dried dates, so it is a natural sugar and not a refined sugar. That’s important because refined sugar, unlike natural sugar in fruit, is bad. See “The Startling Link Between Sugar and Alzheimer’s” and watch this video:

Simply put, the sugar industry paid scientists to lie, and lie they did. (The article at the link implies that accepting industry money to lie was understood at the time to be perfectly okay, but the article itself is lying at that point.)

One good reason to avoid added sugar: If you don’t eat foods with added sugar, you don’t get cavities:

A longer video by Robert H. Lustig, MD, UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology, “Sweet Revenge,” has more details on how refined sugar undermines health (and adds pounds). Or watch an earlier talk, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth,” also by Dr. Lustig. And see the NY Times Magazine article “Is Sugar Toxic?” by Gary Taubes, which discusses (among other things) Dr. Lustig’s research. And recent research shows that “sugar consumption actually lowers people’s alertness within 60 minutes after consumption, and it increases feelings of fatigue within 30 minutes after eating.”

Watch this brief video as well:

Unfortunately, sugar substitutes, especially artificial sweeteners, have their own dangers. In addition, artificial sweeteners destroy your gut microbiome. There is, however, one exception: erythritol seems to be a good sweetener (see this article).

The best approach is to stop wanting foods that have been sweetened with refined sugar. Focus on developing a taste for the savory, rather than the sweet. (You can rather easily reset food preferences, including learning to like a food you currently find distasteful. See “How to Stop Hating Your Least Favorite Food.”)

Try this: after tasting the foods on your plate, construct your “last bite.” That is a bite-size portion of the food(s) in the meal that you want to be the last taste you have of the meal. Cut out and move aside that bite and save it for the end. That bite will be the final taste of the meal.

If you consistently make that last bite savory, you’ll develop your taste to prefer to end a meal with something savory—i.e., not with dessert. It will seem natural to enjoy the savory ending, and you won’t want to spoil the last-bite taste. For example, the last bite may be (depending on the meal), a bite of turkey with a little dressing; or a particularly tasty pairing of vegetables; or a small piece of bacon with a bit of egg; or a bite of steak from the best part of the steak; and so on.

And if you do want a dessert, eat a piece of fresh or frozen (no sugar added) fruit. I buy frozen mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries), and for a dessert I thaw 1/2 cup of the berries. (Berries are particularly valuable nutritionally because of their high antioxidant content.) Don’t drink fruit juices, which are refined to be nothing more than . Eat whole fruit instead. Natural sugar in fruit does not impact your body the way refined sugar does. Watch this brief video:

What helps in this effort is that your gut microbiome drives food cravings, and if you don’t eat refined sugar and don’t eat refined foods but instead eat whole foods, your gut microbiome’s population will quickly change and cravings will dwindle.

Resistant starch helps with carbs

Resistant starch (e.g., cooked dried beans) does not digest quickly in the stomach and a good portion passes on, largely undigested, to the small intestine, where it serves as a prebiotic like dietary fiber—i.e., food for the gut microbiome. Thus resistant starches do not have the immediate effect of raising blood glucose levels (triggering an insulin rush and, over time, insulin resistance) that happens when you’ve eaten a quickly digested starch (e.g., white bread, bagels, muffins, pastry, desserts, white potatoes, rice, corn, and fruit juice).

However, if you cook a starch (intact whole grains, for example, or even potatoes or rice) and chill it before you eat it, the starch reconfigures itself and becomes resistant. See this article for details. Once you’ve chilled rice, for example, you can use it for stir-fry (which in any case works better with left-over rice than with freshly cooked rice). And pasta salads that use chilled cooked pasta will be less quickly digested that freshly cooked pasta. Resistant starch has some benefits similar to dietary fiber. Watch this 5-minute video. And note how resistant starch helps protect against colorectal cancer, the third most common cause of cancer death in the world.

This post describes in detail resistant starch and how to get the benefits—for example, eating raspberries in a meal with starch produces the safe effect as a resistant starch. And see also this definitive guide to resistant starch.

When I learned about resistant starch, I realized that I’d been using the idea without knowing it. Each week I was cooking a batch of oat groats (intact whole-grain oats)—bring 3 cups of water to the boil, add 1 cup oat groats, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 60-75 minutes, until the oats are thick). I refrigerated this, and for breakfast, heated 1/2 cup in my breakfast mix of sautéed vegetables (recipe given below). Add 1/4 teaspoon cloves to give a big antioxidant boost, and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts to give a good taste and some omega-3. Cooking the oat groats and then refrigerating them makes their starch resistant. I do the same with hulled barley, wheat berries (kamut, usually), whole rye, and beans.

So one new dietary direction I took was to no longer seek to minimize my intake of net carbs. Instead, I switched to high-fiber carbs (beans, intact whole grains, quinoa, amaranth), and I chill those after cooking to make the starch resistant. (That has the added benefit that when I go to prepare a meal, most of the components are already cooked and ready to go.)

This has worked well. My fasting blood glucose level was 5.4 mmol/L and 5.5 mmol/L on two successive days recently, and 5.5 is the highest “normal” fasting BG level (5.6 being “pre-diabetic). Being within the normal range is quite good, and I did that while eating a daily average of 127g net carbs (total carbs minus dietary fiber—and the amount of dietary fiber I eat averages 55g/day). I get these figures from, which can display daily averages of nutrients for any date range you specify. (My average daily sodium intake is 1100mg, comfortably below the 1200mg/day maximum recommended for men my age.)

How excess body fat works to destroy you

Excess body fat (adipose tissue) is bad for reasons other than appearance and stamina. Fat, particularly excess fat, acts as a gland, secreting enzymes that affect your body, and those effects include (among other things—search “excess fat body damage” for more) chronic inflammation, which in itself is destructive and may even be linked to depression: see this article on the depression epidemic, which discusses the possibility that depression is caused by inflammation in the brain—and note that the increase in obesity in the US has been accompanied by an increase in the number suffering from depression. Search “depression and inflammation” and you’ll find many hits. 

Diet, it has been found, can also directly affect mood and depression. From the link: “There’s fresh evidence that eating a healthy diet, one that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and limits highly processed foods, can help reduce symptoms of depression.”

And from an article in the Atlantic:

When people eat a plant-heavy diet, the fiber from the plant matter ferments in the gut and creates short-chain fatty acids, which, in turn, regulate the immune system and influence gene expression in the brain and elsewhere. People who eat fiber have more diverse gut bacteria, and these bacteria make various chemicals that influence our mood.

Inflammation worsens many diseases, in fact. For example, read this Scientific American article: “For Alzheimer’s Sufferers, Brain Inflammation Ignites a Neuron-Killing “Forest Fire.” And Harvard Magazine has a recent article on the illnesses that come from chronic inflammation.

Evidence has been mounting that these common chronic conditions—including Alzheimer’s, cancer, arthritis, asthma, gout, psoriasis, anemia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and depression among them—are indeed triggered by low-grade, long-term inflammation. But it took that large-scale human clinical trial to dispel any lingering doubt: the immune system’s inflammatory response is killing people by degrees.

Getting rid of excess body fat is an important health priority: New evidence that fat cells are not just dormant storage depots for calories (and click the link at the beginning of that article for the original research report). See also: Biochemistry of adipose tissue: an endocrine organ. Moreover, fat desensitizes the brain to a hormone that diminishes appetite. And intramuscular fat increases insulin resistance.

Bottom line: just read the report “Health Risks of Being Overweight” from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

More on carbs

Once I changed my diet to a plant-focused diet, my intake of carbs (from beans and intact whole grains) did increase significantly, but since I refrigerate those after they are cooked, the starch becomes resistant. Here’s a typical day’s macronutrient intake.Averages BG readings

I have tracked carefully my blood glucose levels, and the trend is good (see at the right). Intact whole grains and beans are a good source of protein and also a good source of fiber. I believe that what has contributed to this drop in my average blood-glucose levels are weight loss (less intramuscular fat) and a diet with a good amount of dietary fiber from food (rather than supplements). I find it’s pretty easy to lose weight if you never feel hungry, and is quite helpful: you can set your weight-loss/weight-gain goal in terms of pounds per week, and Cronometer will provide a calorie budget and track how you do against that budget. (It’s still up to you to choose good-quality foods rather than junk foods, of course—and junk foods leave you feeling hungry, as discussed above.)

Harvard Medical School, in this post, notes that some foods cause inflammation—for example, refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries; French fries and other fried foods; soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages (soda pop is particularly hard on your health); red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage, bacon); and margarine, shortening, and lard. And they list some foods that reduce inflammation: cooked tomatoes; extra-virgin olive oil; green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, kale, collards, chard, cabbage, and other greens (dandelion, mustard, turnip, etc.); nuts like almonds and walnuts; fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, and sardines; and fruits such as strawberries, blueberries, cherries, and oranges (not orange juice: the fruit itself). With my current diet, I am eating none of the foods that cause inflammation and a lot of foods that reduce it.

When I was on a low-carb high-fat diet, I did eat more fat than I do now. Genetics certainly plays a role, but after I had been on a low-carb high-fat diet for 5 years, including a good amount of animal fat, my blood panel showed these results:

Cholesterol 3.81 mmol/L (should be in the range 2.00-5.19)
HDL Cholesterol 1.78 mmol/L (should be >0.99)
Chol/HDL (Risk Ratio) 2.14 (should be <4.9)
Non HDL Cholesterol 2.03 mmol/L (The optimal non HDL-cholesterol level for intermediate and high risk individuals is ≤ 2.60 mmol/L. See Canadian Journal of Cardiology 2013 vol 29 pgs 151 to 167.)

The key to healthy consumption of fats is to know the essential fatty acids that you must consume in your diet (because your body cannot make them)—omega-6 and omega-3—and the proper ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (small: if you get much more omega-6 than omega-3, that’s bad). Seed oils, for example, in general have way too high a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. See this post from UC Davis Integrative Medicine for a clear explanation. One nice thing Cronometer offers is a display of the ratio of your omega-6 to omega-3 intake. For the past 3 weeks my average of that raio is 1.838—not 1.0, but damn close. The typical American diet has the ratio at 15 to 16.7. See: The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Protein intake remains normal

Do not increase your protein intake. The reason for keeping protein at the normal level is that higher levels of protein intake can be hard on the kidneys (see High-protein diets: potential effects on the kidney in renal health and disease and Dietary protein intake and renal function and on the heart (see High-protein diets are linked to heightened risk for heart disease, even for vegetarians). Unless you’re building new muscle at a good clip (for example, an adolescent or a weight trainer), protein intake should be kept at normal levels—use this calculator to see your macronutrient requirements in general, including protein.

Two common misconceptions about protein. The first misconception is that you should be concerned about getting enough of the “essential” proteins—proteins that you must consume in your diet because your body cannot make them—if you eat a plant-based diet. That’s incorrect. The 9 essential proteins (or 8: there’s a big debate about whether histidine should be included or not) are available in ample amounts just from eating a variety of plant foods: if you get enough calories, you get enough of all the proteins. So don’t worry about the essential proteins or about complementary proteins or about incomplete proteins or the like: your diet will have all the essential proteins you need if you’re eating a good variety of whole (not refined or processed) plant foods. Watch this:

This is an important point. For years I would not consider changing to a plant-focused diet because I thought it would be difficult to get enough protein. This is simply not true: plant foods have plenty of protein, and if you eat a variety (including intact whole grains and beans, along with nuts and seeds, you get all the proteins you need. This article has valuable information on various protein options. (I do like tempeh, too; I often use it in a meal instead of cooked beans. I like to make my own: it’s easy, and you can do your own combinations—black or pinto peans with cumin and crushed red pepper or minced jalapeño; peanuts (raw peanuts, boiled) and kamut; and so on. And because of its mouthfeel, good tempeh works well in chili.

Watch this 5-minute video:

Dr. Greger’s other videos on protein are also worth watching, and this one in particular looks at the protein content of a plant-focused diet:

Over the past 3 weeks I average 66g/day of protein and 55g/day of dietary fiber, and during that time I’ve been restricting my caloric intake to lose some weight, my average intake being 1284 calories/day.

The other thing that worried me was B12, but it turns out that 1 tablespoon of Bragg’s nutritional yeast (which is fortified with B12, just as milk is fortified with Vitamin D) has more than enough B12 to meet the daily requirement. Because only so much B12 can be absorbed, I add 1 teaspoon to each meal, so I eat 3 teaspoons (equals 1 tablespoon)  per day. Moreover, soy/almond/oat milks are also fortified with B12 (and with calcium). Because we older folks don’t absorb B12 so easily, each day I also chew one tablet of a B12 supplement, cyanocobalamin (for reasons explained in this article). Chewing the tablet instead of swallowing it whole greatly increases absorption of B12, as explained in this brief video.

The second misconception is that protein from animal sources is somehow “better” than protein from plant sources. It’s not. Animal protein is inferior to plant protein because animal protein carries significant health risks. From a post at UC Davis Integrative medicine:

To begin with, many argue that protein sources from an animal-based diet are superior in quality because they promote growth more rapidly than plant-derived protein.  However, there is a negative side to this growth because animal protein increases ALL cellular growth.

Studies have confirmed this, showing a clear link between animal-derived protein and cancer cell growth via increase of IGF-1 levels.

To make matters worse, animal protein also increases expression of TOR, the enzyme responsible for aging.

I recommend reading the entire post, and also the post on essential fatty acids. And do watch the documentary (now on Netflix) Forks over Knives, which discusses in vivid detail the drawbacks of consuming animal protein. And a recent post by Dr. Greger further clarifies the risks associated with animal protein. This brief video by Dr. Greger is also worth watching:

And see also:

Plant protein is superior to animal protein because plant protein does not carry the risks that accompany animal sources of protein (meat, dairy, and eggs).

A whole-food plant-based diet is great for those with diabetes or insulin resistance

My Type 2 diabetes motivated me switch to a low-carb, high-fat diet. That diet did help control my blood glucose levels, and I have maintained an HbA1C of 5.8% or less for years now, and in recent years my HbA1C has run 5.3%.-5.5%, which lies totally within the “normal” range.

However, I became uneasy about the foods I was eating, and I reconsidered my diet. And in fact, as a doctor pointed out to me on Quora, my blood glucose was under control not because I was addressing the cause of the disease but because I was simply not eating any carbohydrates to speak off, so of course my blood glucose levels were low. But the underlying causes were not being addressed. I was finessing the problem, not solving it.

Now I have moved beyond a low-carb, high-fat diet to a diet focused on plants, without animal-based foods (meat, fish, fowl, eggs, dairy). The documentary Forks over Knives mentioned above also gives reasons why a plant-focused diet helps diabetics. (The movie is currently available on Netflix.) And watch this brief video:

This article in NPR reports how type 2 diabetes is being reversed by a diet and exercise regimen run by two nurses in Tennessee—note: “reversed,” not “cured.” I believe that once a person has type 2 diabetes, s/he must remain vigilant about which carbs they eat and how much, keep their weight down, and exercise. Otherwise, the diabetes will surge back. If I eat a meal with refined carbs (e.g. spaghetti), my fasting blood glucose the next day will be very high.

And, BTW, the remission in diabetes from eating a whole-food plant-based diet is not due to weight loss (which usually happens on such a diet), but due to the diet itself. Watch this brief video:

And this brief video will also be of interest to diabetics:

If you yourself have type 2 diabetes—it is unfortunately not rare—I highly recommend The Other Diabetes, by Elizabeth Hiser.

A whole-food plan-based diet is optimal for competitive athletes

I urge you to watch “The Game Changers” on Netflix or YouTube and other sites. Here are the recipes from the movie. Here’s the trailer:

After the movie was released a few critical articles were published, but the rebuttal to the criticisms seems convincing to me. Certainly the movie is worth watching.

Note that a low-card high-fat diet is not good for competitive athletes. The effect of following such a diet is a reduction in endurance, as careful studies have shown.

Dr. Greger gave a talk on food as medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. It’s well worth watching — and note the links provided with the talk (see this post).

A LCHF diet or a plant-focused diet is NOT a weight-loss diet per se

Weight-loss diets require calorie restriction, aka portion control. When I went on a low-carb high-fat diet, my blood-glucose immediately improved (because I simply was not eating carbs), but I didn’t lose much weight at all. Just to be clear: I do not recommend a low-carb high-fat diet, which is the diet I was eating. It is essentially the keto diet, but without worrying about whether you are in ketosis or not.

A low-carb diet may help with some diseases, but in general it is not a good idea. I highly recommend you watch these brief videos on the drawbacks and failures of the keto/low-carb diet. And here’s a succinct statement from a physician’s personal observations:

To get portion control without a total focus on calories (which, as noted above, do not provide good guidance as to which foods to eat), I went with the online WW Freestyle program. Once I was on that program, the pounds dropped away easily. I did it online (no meetings) and I had to do very little counting because an enormous number of foods are zero points for a normal serving.  (Obviously one should not be a glutton even with zero-point foods.) And the transition from weight loss to weight maintenance is easy: you change the setting on your WW page from “lose” to “maintain,” and points allowances are adjusted accordingly—there is no change at all in the foods you eat. This is important: see the basic criteria for a good diet.

When I started using WW Freestyle, I was still eating meat, but the points system (and the zero-point foods in particular) nudged me away from red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and toward seafood (fish and prawns mostly) and skinless chicken breast because those are zero points. I also greatly increased my intake of vegetables and fruit (also zero points for the most part). The change in my food choices took place unconsciously over some weeks as a by-product of my focus on minimizing points.

Now I’ve cut out animal-derived foods altogether and base my diet only plants (roots, stalks, leaves, buds, flowers, fruit, and seeds) and fungi. Most of those are zero WW points, but there are obvious exceptions: avocados, for example, are high in points, so I generally eat 1/4 of an avocado as a serving, and nuts and seeds are similarly high in points.

I did find that tracking points had the advantage that the point system nudged me toward more healthful foods. But I now use, which automatically computes calories and has the significant advantage that, unlike the WW system, it tracks and displays information on nutrients. I find that it works much better for me, to the extent that I have discontinued WW (which also saves money: Cronometer is free, WW is not—though I did choose to pay the $35/year fee for Cronometer’s “Gold” level, which includes some additional features). Still, WW gave me the initial push toward making vegetables and fruits a bigger part of my diet, so I started Cronometer with some good inclinations toward which foods to eat.

The important point is that my food choices were the result of looking beyond calories and considering in addition the quality of the food. Eating whole foods from plant sources now seems to me to be the best foundation for my diet.

Nuts and seeds do require careful measuring since they are so high in calories. (They’re also high in protein and omega-3 fats, so I do eat them.) For example, a snack of 4 pecan halves, 3/4 ounce, is 150 calories. That’s substantial, since on my weight-loss calorie budge Cronometer allows 1170 calories per day: the pecans would be more than 10% of my day’s calories. Of course I get most of my daily food as nutritious low-calorie vegetables, and most the fruit I choose is also relatively low-calorie—not avocados, for sure, but berries or a mandarin orange or an apple. (BTW, the nutritious part of nuts is the pellicle, so get almonds with the pellicle intact rather than blanched almonds and peanuts with the reddish-brown pellicle still on them rather than removed.)

Temporary diets = bad diets

Some people go on odd diets—the celery and water diet, for example—to lose weight fast. They cannot stay on these diets permanently (since such diets are invariably nutritionally incomplete), so they know from the outset that the diet is temporary. However, the appeal is that they will have to eat it for only a short while (fast weight loss being the goal), and then once they reach their target weight, they can return (with relief) to their regular diet. And so, of course, they regain the weight they lost, since it was their regular diet that resulted in that weight in the first place. What they need is a comfortable and satisfying and nutritionally complete way of eating that can be their permanent diet. That’s what I describe. Your diet should satisfy the basic criteria for a good diet.

Foods that cause weight loss (and other fairy tales)

I fairly frequently read on Quora questions from people who believe that adding some special food(s) to their regular diet will result in weight loss. Typical of these “magic” foods are cinnamon, honey, ginger, garlic, turmeric, green tea, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, guava leaves, and hot water, alone or in some combination. Obviously, adding more foods to your regular diet will not cause you to lose weight. The quick fix (without fundamental change) is always appealing because it is easy. (Stephen Covey talks about this in another context in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleread this (very incomplete) outline (PDF) to get an idea of the book, which is definitely worth purchasing, reading, and applying. It has you create a weekly plan that includes scheduling specific tasks toward achieving goals that are important to you but are not urgent. One of these planners will help.)

How to be happy with your diet

Look at the variety of whole plant-based foods and the meals you can make with them. If you focus your attention on what you can/should eat and not dwell on what you can’t (or shouldn’t) eat, you’ll feel much more satisfied with your lot. If you constantly obsess about foods you should avoid, you’ll make yourself unhappy and undermine your will to eat well. I mention this because it seems that people have a tendency to focus on what they lack and not on what they have. (“We look before and after, And pine for what is not; Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” – from To a Skylark.)

This beginner’s guide to a whole-food plant-based diet has good tips and useful links.

Prepare your meals from scratch—it quickly becomes enjoyable

If you don’t prepare your own meals already, I highly recommend that you start. For one thing, processed foods make you fat and if you’re going to eat foods that are not processed, you’re going to have to prepare them: they do not come ready-to-eat (except fruit and nuts, both excellent foods).

Preparing your own meals gives you complete control of what you eat, and it’s satisfying (in part because it is one of the few situations in which you do exercise complete control), and it imparts a useful skill (and exercising a skill you’ve acquired is another source of pleasure). And if you improvise your recipes (as I typically do), it makes you pay focused attention to what you’re doing—an exercise in mindfulness meditation: becoming absorbed in the experience of an activity. You become mindful both in the prep and cooking (e.g., deciding what foods to include and then preparing them) and in the eating (e.g., figuring out what worked and what didn’t and how to make it better next time).

For a good discussion of this, see Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, a fascinating book for those who like being happy. Flow is exactly the state of being totally absorbed in what you’re doing to the extent that you lose track of time and of self. The thing you’re doing must not be too easy (or you get bored and distracted) or too hard (or you become anxious)—a task that requires about 85% of what you can do is about right. Also important is immediate feedback, as when drawing (you move the pencil, and the line immediately appear) or chopping food (you move the knife, the food separates). The whole book is worth reading.

Do not become impatient with yourself, a problem that particularly afflicts adults learning new skills and ideas. Adults have a clear vision of where they want to be, and they can also see clearly when they fall short, and some become frustrated and step outside their mindful experience of the moment to start berating themselves, summoning despair and a desire to quit. That, as you can easily see when you observe it in others, is counter-productive. Please read Mindset, by Carol Dweck, a Stanford research psychologist, for a new way to view and experience the process of learning. Specifically, in the early stages of learning focus on your progress and not on the results you obtain and view your efforts as practice. In the early stages of learning something new, progress is quite good although the results may not be what you want. Later, as the results become more satisfying, switch your attention to that, since progress will become somewhat slower.

As I note in this post, you can adjust your attitude so that the discomfort you experience in the initial stages of learning a new skill becomes a source of pleasure and delight, the discomfort being seen as a sign that you’re onto something that will pay off—like a prospector working a new claim and seeing color (cf. the prospector story in the Joel and Ethan Coen movie The Ballad of Buster Scruggs).

If you commit to the diet described in this post, then you should approach it in the right spirit: a spirit of exploration, enjoyment, and creativity. My mantra is “If you must do something, then make it enjoyable.” To make it enjoyable, look for enjoyment. You can actually find pleasure in, or derive pleasure from, each step along the way:

  • making up recipes that use the foods (vegetables, grains, beans, fruit, nuts, herbs, spices) you like
  • shopping for groceries (selecting produce, changing your menu ideas based on what looks especially good, etc.)
  • preparing the food (mindful of—paying attention to—what you’re doing and why)
  • cooking the food (in the same way)
  • eating the food (in the same way)
  • cleaning up afterward (easily done if you clean as you cook, so at the end you might have just a bowl and spoon to wash—and there is pleasure in leaving the kitchen just as you found it: clean and shipshape)

When you do it right—with the right mindset, the right attitude, the right spirit—you will feel pleasure, a sign that your spirit is being nourished. This spiritual nourishment is lost for those who subsist on foods they’ve not themselves prepared. Obviously, they can derive spiritual nourishment in other ways to get their minimum daily requirement—spiritual nourishment, it seems, is as essential as vitamins. Dystopias are universally depicted as low in, if not devoid of, spiritual nourishment, generally in addition to other privations—but spiritual starvation alone is enough to make a dystopia. Indeed, most of us know of persons, both fictional and real, who have material wealth but are spiritually starved—and I am not speaking of religion, but of a psychological need, a need that can be satisfied for some through religion and for others through other means.

Recognize that you lose something of value if you do not prepare your own meals. The process of meal preparation is, in a sense, an important aspect of your overall diet because it, like the food, provides a kind of nourishment. That does not mean that you must prepare your own meals, just that you be clear-eyed about what you lose if you don’t.

Don’t do things by rote, but use your head. Think about what you’re doing and why, and you will often see a better way of doing it. For example, many are strapped for time—some even going so far as to say that prevents them from cooking. But follow Tom Gilb’s injunction in his excellent Principles of Software Engineering Management: “Early!”

“Early!” might, for example, involve preparing your mise en place for the coming week on the weekend—Sunday morning, perhaps. You just did grocery shopping Friday night or Saturday, so you have on hand the vegetables that looked especially good. So get that ready for the week: chop what needs to be chopped, dice what needs to be diced, cook what you can cook (beans and grains, for example), and in general get everything ready for assembly or for the pot or pan. Don’t overlook that you can buy some frozen foods that are already chopped and ready to be cooked: frozen chopped kale, chopped collards, chopped turnip greens, chopped spinach, chopped broccoli, and so on. Frozen chopped onions work in stews and soups, though they don’t sauté so well as fresh chopped onion. (Try a comparison of fresh vs. frozen to see which you prefer.)

One caution, though: chopping food well in advance may lose some of the anti-inflammatory properties. Ideally, it would be better to become more efficient so that you can chop vegetables just before cooking. Watch this brief video (and see another reason to avoid eating meat and poultry):

I store my food in glass containers rather than plastic, and I particularly like Glasslock storage containers, which you can buy at Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon, hardware stores, and direct from the maker (at the link). Label the container with the food and the date it was cooked, using masking tape and an extra-fine Sharpie (“fine” is too thick). (If you don’t label the containers, you’ll find yourself constantly picking up each container and peering inside and trying to remember how long it’s been there.)

Put each vegetable—once cleaned and chopped and sliced, so that it’s ready to use—into a storage container and refrigerate. Cook what can be cooked ahead of time—for example, beans, grain or quinoa, leafy greens, and vegetables like beets (roast or steam) and carrots (roast) and butternut squash (roast) and zucchini (sauté) or summer squash (sauté) and store those in the fridge as well.

Update: I’m finding now that I prefer to dice (small dice) beets and carrots and daikon radish (high in potassium) and squash (summer squash and winter squash like delicata, acorn, and carnival squash) and refrigerate them raw, then use a handful of each to sauté with other refrigerated chopped vegetables: scallions, garlic, ginger, green beans, and so on. I also mix chopped foods in the container — for example, “Garlic” container has minced garlic and also minced ginger; “Tomato” container has sliced cherry tomatoes and also cut up dried tomatoes (dry pack, not oil pack); “Jalapeños” container has finely chopped jalapeños and also cut-up ancho chiles. See this post for details and an example meal.

And the video in this post has good tips on cutting up vegetables./update

So on a given weekend you might chop, say, carrots, scallions, onion, celery, green bell pepper, red bell pepper, and red cabbage, and while you’re doing that cook a pot of black beans (see this post for good tips) and also a pot of kamut and drain those when they’re done. Everything goes into storage containers and into the refrigerator. (I did find, especially after I switched to a plant-focused diet, that I needed to increase my collection of storage containers. I also learned not to prepare too much: as noted, it’s a filling diet and initially I prepared more food than I could eat.)

By refrigerating the cooked grain and beans, the starch becomes resistant and digests more slowly, thus extending the period of satiation. (See this fascinating 5-minute video: resistant starch serves somewhat the same role as dietary fiber.)

Nowadays when I think about preparing a meal, I start by thinking of the beans (1/2 cup) and grain (1/4-1/3 cup) and then think of what vegetables to include and whether the dish will be hot (a stew of sorts (with low-sodium vegetable broth), a stir-fry (with a little extra-virgin olive oil), or a salad (with fresh arugula and/or shredded red cabbage).

if a whole-food plant-based meal was a play, it would be an ensemble production, with a variety of characters of equal interest, rather than one lead with the rest of the cast supporting actors. At first as I made my plant-based meals I kept casting about for the lead. Now I let the parts join to make a harmonious whole.

For a stir-fry, heat a little olive oil in a cast-iron or carbon-steel skillet, and stir-fry the combination of the chopped vegetables you have in the fridge. That takes about 10 minutes, plus you can add any sauce you happen to want that night (and do consider making your own sauces rather than buying prepared: you’ll use better ingredients than do profit-focused corporations (for example, make your own mayo and ketchup). Stir-fry sauces are easy to make in the skillet.

The cooked vegetables in the fridge might include diced steamed beets, roasted butternut squash, steamed broccoli, chopped squash or zucchini sautéed with onion, cooked kale or chard—basically, the vegetables that looked good at the store. I generally use 1/2 cup each of two different vegetables.

A salad idea: grind a tablespoon or two of flaxseed and put it into a bowl with 1/2 cup cooked beans, 1/3 cup cooked grain, a few vegetables (chopped scallions, chopped bell pepper, coarsely grated carrot), perhaps 1/2 cup cooked broccoli, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, and 1 cup shredded red cabbage or arugula. — Later I broadened this to include enough things that I made a salad checklist that I printed and taped to the fridge next to my prep station.

Toss that with a salad dressing you make. That’s a fine summer dinner. If you include 1 tablespoon of horseradish in the dressing, that counts as one serving of a cruciferous vegetable.

Because you’re picking the vegetables that look best, you’ll get variation in your diet, so it won’t get boring. One interesting idea is to make sure you eat vegetables of a variety of colors—see this post (which includes a link to a checklist). And since you’re picking those that appeal to you, the dish ends up tasting good. In fact, that’s the point of a couple of recipes I’ve blogged: The Cook-Together-Things-You-Like-And-It’ll-Taste-Good Recipe and Another example of cooking together veggies you like, to make a dish you like.

(You can browse the recipes on this blog to see what looks of interest and to get ideas. That will also show how my diet has changed over time.)

Just now I stumbled across a video that describes this “Prep Early, Cook Later” approach. This describes an approach just like what I was describing.

Another make-ahead idea is to make and have on hand snack foods like hummus—and fresh fruit also makes a good snack.

Naturally, you must always experiment, because you want to extend your food horizons to gain the benefit of more choices of things you like. This means trying new things routinely. On each trip to the supermarket, get one (1) fruit or one (1) vegetable that you have never eaten. Use the internet to find recipes and learn about it, and then prepare and eat it. Your taste for foods is not static; it develops and grows as you broaden the range of things you try.

I do understand that some people cannot cook. In fact, all people cannot cook, not until they learn how. And at first, like any new skill, it feels awkward and difficult. I already recommended Carol Dweck’s book Mindset to help you through this awkward period. And as I said above: at the outset, focus on progress, not on results. Think “This meal was sort of a flop, but it’s a lot better than last night.”

A side benefit of looking for progress in your meal preparation is that you start paying attention to the taste and mouthfeel of what you’re eating—i.e., you’re eating mindfully. You also shopped for groceries mindfully (buying the best look and most appealing), you prepared the food mindfully (nothing like handling a razor-sharp knife to focus your attention), and your cooking was mindful (picking what to eat, thinking about what goes together, and cooking it to the right degree of doneness). So make your eating mindful as well.

You’ll be surprised at how quickly you learn and enjoy cooking. Try this experiment: When you first start to teach yourself how to cook, get a composition book from the drugstore. At the top of a page, write the date and then record your feelings and thoughts about your cooking efforts. Then at least once each month thereafter—enter it as a repeating reminder in your calendar—repeat the exercise. Look back at what you’ve done and what you need to do, record you feelings and what you’ve learned, judge your progress. In effect, write an in-process self-evaluation.

This exercise helps you step back and look at your overall experience, and often it’s when you record what you’ve done that you realize you can do it differently and better. That’s the self-teaching part. Later on, you will find this journal, devoted solely to food and cooking, interesting to read, particularly as you note patterns and record your developing knowledge of what works well and what to avoid.

Excluding junk food and processed food will help your food budget, as will preparing your own meals rather than buying prepared food, but how much should you expect to spend on food? In the US, the USDA publishes each month a set of “typical” food budgets. As an example, here’s what it shows for December 2018:

Screen Shot 2018-12-22 at 5.45.51 AM

The site Plant-based on a Budget has many good tips on how to eat a healthful diet at low cost. The site includes links to meal plans for 1, 2, and 4 persons, and the total cost is well below the USDA guidelines. For example, if you follow their free Week 1 meal plan for 2 you will spend less than $50. (They also have free meal plans for 1 person and for 4 persons.) The plans do require that you do your own meal preparation, but the tips given above should make that feasible, and efficiency improves with practice (i.e., don’t just try and give up, but persist for a couple of months: see this post).

I buy both both organic vegetables (for the “dirty dozen“) and conventional vegetables (from the “clean fifteen“).  I avoid organic extra-virgin olive oil because it is contaminated with high levels of the pesticide rotenone. (“Organic” does not mean “no pesticides,”a surprise to me.) Organically grown leafy greens (kale, spinach, et al.) are prone to bacterial contamination (look at the list of FDA recalls) and so I buy conventionally grown greens and rinse well, using a salad spinner. I fill the spinner with water, rinse the greens in that water, then dump the water and spin the greens dry. If you are particularly wary of pesticides, add salt to the water and rinse the fruit or vegetables with salt water, then rinse with tap water. Commercial vegetable and fruit rinses are a waste of money. Watch this video:

An inexpensive way to store food is to use canning jars. I use 1-pint/500ml jars, but a family of 4 might want to use 1-qt/1-liter jars. A box of a dozen jars cost $9 from a local hardware store. Also buy a canning funnel, which fits exactly the mouth of the jar and makes transferring bulk foods from the store’s plastic bags into your jars much easier, minimizing the risk of a spill.

With those on hand I have a good supply of storage containers, so I now routinely buy food from the bulk bins. The nice thing about the jars (beyond being cheap) is that they are transparent (so you can see what they hold) and they are glass (not plastic). I have a small label maker, so I do label the jars even though you can see the content. (Grains are much alike.) Foods are much cheaper from the bulk bins than when sold in boxes.

Useful tools and methods for meal preparation—and some recipes 

Preparing vegetables usually involves slicing and chopping. That works best—and is most enjoyable—if you have a good, sharp chef’s knife. These four knives are modestly priced but quite good. (Full disclosure: for myself I splurged on a Bulat chef’s knife and paring knife, and I like them a lot. Plus I have a weakness for knives, and I did get some others.)

Mercer Millennia 8″ Chef’s Knife – less than $20
Winco KFP-80 8″ Chef’s Knife – less than $20
Victorinox Fibrox Pro 8″ Chef’s Knife – less than $40
Mercer Renaissance 8″ Chef’s Knife – less than $40

Watch this excellent (and free) 4-lesson series: Complete Knife Skills Cooking Class. You will eventually have to sharpen the knife, but if you get a good steel you can touch up the edge for quite a while. (The knife’s fine cutting edge curls over a bit in use, and the steel straightens it back to sharpness.) Also, this review of chef’s knives is helpful and interesting.

A good cutting board/prep surface helps a lot, and end-grain hardwood works best in providing a good surface and treating kindly the knife’s edge. Some plastic boards are easy on the knife’s edge, but they lack heft and I found they did not make the experience enjoyable.  I have had a variety of cutting boards, and I found that a board roughly 20″ x 14″ x 1.25″ is a comfortable size: a large enough cutting surface to give me room to work, and not so heavy that it’s hard to put away. I got the Ironwood Gourmet 28217 14″x20″ acacia end-grain prep station and I like it a lot. (There are better ones, of course, but this one does the job.) It’s stable (with plastic feet) and it’s large enough that I can prep a few different vegetables without clearing the board. (It has a few negative reviews about a glue problem, but those are from some years back, and it seems as though the manufacturer paid attention: no problem at all with my board).

I also have tried a variety of board treatments to preserve the wood, and I like John Boos Butcher Block Board Cream best. (John Boos makes a great variety of cutting boards, but again I recommend an end-grain board around the size mentioned.)

Another tool that is frequently quite useful is an immersion blender. The one at the link is good, but there are many others. It turns out that (for me, at any rate) an immersion blender is much handier than a regular blender. It does not take so much room and can be stored in a drawer; it’s much easier to clean; it obviates the need to transfer liquids (often hot) from pot to blender—for example, if you’re making a broccoli soup and want it smooth, you just blend in the pot. With the beaker that comes with it, you can easily make your own mayonnaise.

Also, I’ve discovered that Dr. Greger’s idea for blended lemon is tastier and easier than squeezing a lemon for its juice, and blended lemon also has more nutrients than the juice alone. Here’s the method in photos. Pour the result into a jar (I wash and save a variety of small food jars for things like this), refrigerate, and you have instant blended lemon when you need it without the need to cut a lemon, squeeze it, and clean the lemon squeezer.

For a thin-skinned Meyer lemon, I will just cut off the ends and blend the entire lemon, peel and all—indeed, even with regular lemons, I often dice the whole lemon, peel included, to use in cooking. And note Mark Bittman “preserved” lemon: Wash 1 lemon, cut off the ends and discard, then slice into slabs and across the slabs to dice the lemon. Put it in a small bowl, add 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1.5 teaspoon sugar (or, better, erythritol), stir, and let sit 20 minutes. Use that in cooking a stew or fish or the like.

The immersion blender also works extremely well to make Healthy (i.e., sodium-free) Hot Sauce (which is excellent). I cook the peppers and use the immersion blender right in the pot in which they were cooked. And you can make this very healthful drink, using the beaker:

One additional appliance that turns out to be quite handy is this KitchenAid KFC3516HT 3.5 Cup Food Chopper, available in a variety of colors. (I actually have an earlier model, but the one at the link looks improved.) It’s small, but I find it extremely useful—for example, in processing up a batch of smooth hummus (the processor is just the right size for that recipe) or in making a batch of an excellent parmesan-like topping (with no sodium) from almonds, brazil nuts, nutritional yeast, and Savory Spice Blend (itself very tasty).

Once the food is prepped (sliced, chopped, minced, whatever), this little rimmed food scoop makes it easy to move food from the prep board to bowl or pot. I find I use it constantly.

Important tip: Complete chopping and weighing and measuring ingredients before you begin cooking, so that everything to be used is ready for the pan or pot. I use various prep bowls to hold the ingredients. (Ingredients added at the same time can go into the same prep bowl.) If everything’s ready, cooking then consists of simply dumping the contents from the prep bowls into the pot in the proper sequence and at the proper time. Rinse each bowl as you empty it, and put it into a rack to dry. Cleaning as you go means that when you finish cooking, the kitchen is clean. (Bowls and measuring utensils that were used with oil will require a little detergent, but for other ingredients a rinse is sufficient.)

By doing all prep work ahead of time, you avoid being rushed and frantic when you start cooking. (It took me way too long to learn this.) “Measuring” includes weighing (particularly calorie-dense things like meat, cheese, nuts, and seeds), so a digital kitchen scale (about US$10) is a good investment. I have this one and I like it a lot: the flat surface makes cleaning a snap.

When you cook, you spend a certain amount time waiting—a few minutes for greens to wilt in a hot pan, or onions to soften as you sweat them over low heat. Rather than simply stand and stare at the pan, I use the time to clean up around my work area—wiping off counter tops, rinsing and drying my knife and returning it to the rack, cleaning off the prep board and putting it away. This keeps the kitchen close to clean during the entire cooking process, and any small remnants of disorder are easily put right when I’m done. Or I do things that don’t take a lot of time, like dumping ice cubes from the tray into the storage bin and refilling the trays. Time passes much more quickly if you’re engaged in doing something than if you’re just waiting.

You will want a good skillet, and fortunately the best (in many ways) is a carbon-steel skillet, and those are not expensive. See this post for details, why you would want one, and which brand is rated best (Matfer Bourgeat). I have two: 8 5/8″  and 11 7/8″. The video at the link shows how to season carbon steel and lets you see how nonstick they are once they’re seasoned. Getting that degree of nonstickness requires seasoning and some patience since seasoning improves with use over time.

I also recommend that you get (and use regularly) a cast-iron skillet, an excellent cooking tool if you get a good one. Based on my experience with several brands, I would say your best bet is Field cast-iron (No. 10 if you get just one) or the Stargazer 12″ skillet. (If you have the appropriate tools you can grind smooth the cooking surface of a Lodge skillet. Lodge does not polish their sand-cast iron, so the cooking surface is somewhat bumpy and rough. The Field and the Stargazer have a totally smooth cooking surface.) You also can often find a good cast-iron skillet at a yard sale or in a thrift store. (Inspect it carefully for cracks and flaws; you may have to clean it— best way is to put it through the cleaning cycle of a self-cleaning oven—and then reseason it.) Generally speaking, a larger diameter works better for cooking things: more cooking surface.

For most cooked dishes, a 1-cup serving works well: enough for a meal. I have found a 1/2-cup ladle (the 62172 Vollrath, with a gray handle) to be extremely useful: dish up two scoops, and you have your dinner or lunch. Highly recommended. (Two 1/2-cup scoops works better than one 1-cup scoop in terms of spillage and effort.)

See also “How to make cooking easier.”

Dr. Michael Greger’s Daily Dozen

Michael Greger MD has a list of foods that he recommends you eat daily. He discusses these foods in detail, including the reasons for his recommendations and recipe ideas, in part 2 of his book How Not to Die, which I highly recommend. I find his list useful for menu planning as a general guide. Here is his list of foods to eat daily:

1. Beans: 3 servings a day—for example, 1/4 cup hummus or bean dip; or 1/2 cup cooked beans, split peas, lentils, edamame, tofu, or tempeh; or 1 cup fresh peas or sprouted lentils. As I noted above, I cook dried beans, drain, and refrigerate them to have on hand. I include a serving of beans with every meal; when I plan a meal, I start with beans and grain. Update: Now that I cook beans like this, I don’t drain them because the pot liquor is thick and tasty. /update

2. Berries: 1/2 cup fresh or frozen or 1/4 cup dried. I generally buy frozen mixed berries and thaw them; they are an excellent low-calorie dessert. To up the antioxidant benefits even more, I can sprinkle some cinnamon on them.

3. Other fruit: 3 servings a day. I like apples, persimmons, navel oranges, mandarin oranges, apricots, peaches, plums (large and small), nectarines, and others. Note that the natural sugar in fruit does not impact your body the way refined sugar does—see this post. For some reason this was initially challenging for me, but I discovered that if I simply bought a good variety of fruit—4 yellow peaches (more nutritious than white), 3 yellow nectarines (ditto), 4 large plums, 6 small plums, a dozen small mandarin oranges, say—then it became easy. I’d pick one and eat it, 3 or 4 times a day.

I did discover that with fruit on hand, fruit flies soon arrive, but a simple fruit fly trap is extremely effective. Take a small jar (I washed out a jar that had held horseradish and stripped the label), put a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in it, add a drop or two of dishwashing liquid (not much: the apple cider smell is what draws them in), cover with plastic wrap held with a rubber band, and poke some holes in the cover. Place that near the fruit, and soon the tribe of fruit flies have sunk to the bottom of the vinegar.

Fresh fruit and vegetables offer a special benefit: they are terrific probiotics (and also prebiotics because of their dietary fiber). You could take commercial probiotic capsules, but those are not so good as fresh fruit and vegetables. Read James Hamblin’s article about some new research:

For all of human history, the gut microbiome has gone without ingesting bacterial pills. Fermented foods have been part of many cuisines around the world, but our ancestors didn’t live on kombucha. There had to be another source.

And, it turns out, there is: fresh produce.

In a study from July in Frontiers in Microbiology, researchers found that the average apple contains around 100 million bacteria. Most are inside, not on the skin.

4. Cruciferous vegetables: 1 serving. 1/2 cup cooked broccoli (I keep a container of cooked broccoli florets in the fridge for use in stir-fries, salads, and as a snack), cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, collards, etc. Horseradish is a cruciferous vegetable and 1 tablespoon is a serving, so I generally use 1 tablespoon horseradish in my salad dressing (recipe below). When I cook my breakfast, I use 2 tablespoons of horseradish. Buy horseradish from the refrigerated section, not off the shelf. This one is easy to check off because of the horseradish, but I still have cabbage (often red cabbage shredded as a salad), collard greens, kale, steam broccoli, and roasted brussels sprouts.

5. Greens: 2 servings: 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked. Kale, red kale, collards, Swiss chard, red chard, mustard, dandelion, chicory, and so on. I generally sauté in a little olive oil  or low-sodium vegetable broth, perhaps with chopped scallions or leeks or shallots or onion, cover, and simmer. (If I use olive oil, I’ll add some water or lemon pulp.) Sometimes I include a diced lemon (cut off ends and discard those, but don’t peel the lemon: dice what’s left). Romaine, leaf lettuce, arugula (aka rocket), and radicchio I eat raw in salads.

6. Other vegetables: 2 servings (1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked). Eggplant, carrots, squash (winter squash or summer squash), zucchini, etc. Mushrooms, though not a plant, are counted as a vegetable and are an excellent source of pantothenic acid (B5). I eat 4-5 ounces of mushrooms a day. I use garlic frequently, and note that you should allow it to rest 15 minutes after mincing it (see this post). Take a look at this squash -and-eggplant recipe. I like it a lot, and it makes enough for several meals.

7. Flaxseeds: 1 tablespoon. These must be ground since the whole seed passes through undigested (which seeds evolved to do). Grind just before using since they oxidize quickly. Good source of omega-3. I usually use 2 tablespoons and mix with my breakfast, along with 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes and 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric.

8. Nuts and seeds: 1/4 cup, but high calorie, so be careful. 4 pecan halves (0.7 oz.) is 150 calories, and other nuts are similarly high. Pepitas are excellent added to salads (I usually use only 2 tablespoons). Peanuts are good but make sure to buy those with the pellicle (reddish-brown skin) since the pellicle has most of the nutritional benefit of nuts., so those are the ones to get. Similarly, buy almonds with the skin rather than blanched almonds. (Dr. Greger discusses this in How Not to Die. Brazil nuts are quite a good source of selenium, and I normally eat one each day. Again, I prefer unprocessed nuts and seeds to processed (for example, I prefer nuts to nut butters).

9. Spices and herbs: 1 or more servings, including at least 1/4 teaspoon turmeric a day—I generally take 1/2 teaspoon per day. In his book, Dr. Greger notes:

The food category that averages the most antioxidants is herbs and spices. Let’s say you prepare a nice healthy bowl of whole-wheat pasta with marinara sauce. Together, they may achieve a score of about 80 units of antioxidant power (approximately 20 units from the pasta and 60 from the sauce). Add in a handful of steamed broccoli florets, and you may end up with a delicious 150-unit meal. Not bad. Now sprinkle on a single teaspoonful of dried oregano or marjoram, oregano’s sweeter and milder twin. That alone could double your meal’s antioxidant power, up to more than 300 units.

How about a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast? By adding just a half-teaspoon of cinnamon, you could bring the antioxidant power of your meal from 20 units to 120 units. And if you can stand the punch, adding even a pinch of cloves could bring your unassuming breakfast up to an antioxidant score of 160 units.

Plant-based meals tend to be rich in antioxidants on their own, but taking a moment to spice up your life may make your meal even healthier. Antioxidant-rich diets appear to protect against stroke by preventing the circulation of oxidized fats in the bloodstream that can damage the sensitive walls of small blood vessels in the brain. They can also help decrease artery stiffness, prevent blood clots from forming, and lower blood pressure and inflammation. Free radicals can disfigure proteins in our bodies to the extent they become unrecognizable by our immune systems. The inflammatory response this triggers can be prevented by saturating our bodies with sufficient antioxidants. Whereas all whole plant foods may have anti-inflammatory effects, some plants are better than others. High-antioxidant fruits and vegetables, such as berries and greens, have been found to douse systemic inflammation significantly better than the same number of servings of more common low-antioxidant fruits and veggies, such as bananas and lettuce.

(In the book, he includes footnotes that identify the studies that support his recommendations.)

I now routinely include in my salad dressing 1-3 teaspoon of marjoram and 1-3 dried mint, and I put ground cloves (just a little) not only on my oatmeal but also on my bowl of berries I have each evening. And I use herbs and spices more often in cooking.

10. Whole grains: 3 servings. As I noted, I eat intact grain (see this post on the benefits of intact grain), which I cook and refrigerate, then use in a salad, in cooked dishes (stews and stir-fries), and so on. I regularly cook kamut (a type of wheat), hulled barley, oat groats, whole rye, spelt, farro, and others, and also pseudo-grains like quinoa, buckwheat groats, and amaranth. If you have them already cooked and in the refrigerator, they’re easy to include in each meal and I do eat grain at each meal—as I noted above, when I think about a meal I start with beans and grain.

11. Beverages: 5 12-ounce servings of water, tea, or coffee. I have my hot tea in the morning and during the afternoon and evening I drink iced white tea, my main source being (Teacakes are very nice, and this inspection tray is extremely useful if get teacakes.) White tea is particularly healthful, and the longer you steep it, the better. (Since I drink it iced, I let it steep until the pot has cooled.) Watch this 2-minute video:

12. Exercise: Dr. Greger suggests 90 minutes of moderate exercise or 40 minutes of vigorous exercise, but it’s not an all-or-nothing thing: any exercise is better than no exercise. Just find an exercise that is enjoyable and you’re on your way.

I certainly don’t get every serving every day, but I get most of the recommended foods in the recommended amounts. Let me again recommend using from time to time just to check on whether your intake of micronutrients is adequate.

After a while, you internalize the checklist and can improvise meals that work well in the context of the Daily Dozen. Here’s a very easy dish I made which has four servings and was totally improvised after some experience in following this diet.

The way I structure the meals to get all dozen (and pushing more foods into breakfast, leaving later meals lighter, which turns out to be important—see the Greger videos on chronobiology) is described in this post (scroll down for the meal outlines).

Glorious one-pot meals

One very easy way to prepare meals is the technique Elizabeth Yarnell developed under the name “Glorious One-Pot Meals” with the food put in layers in a cast-iron dutch oven. She recommends using an enamelled cast-iron dutch oven, but plain cast iron also works. If you do use plain cast iron, I highly recommend Larbee or Crisbee cast-iron conditioner (see FAQ page and instructions). Larbee is made of leaf lard and beeswax, so Jews and Muslims will want Crisbee, made of palm and vegetable oils and beeswax. (The beeswax makes both products off-limits to orthodox vegans.) I recommend the puck over the stick, and unscented (which smells faintly of beeswax) over the scented versions. I also use these conditioners for my carbon-steel and cast-iron pans. They work extremely well.

A 2-qt dutch over is an ample size for 2 meals for active adults (e.g., triathletes) or 4 meals for more sedentary adults like my wife and I. The food is cooked for just 45 minutes in a hot oven (450ºF/232ºC), then removed from the oven and allowed to rest for 15 minutes. The food is thus steamed inside the closed pot. This means that if you use a meat, it is not browned, but it is tender. Very fatty meats don’t work well in this method of cooking. The best thing about the meals, beyond nutrition and taste, is that they make improvisation easy. Check out these links for:

GOPM: Explanation and template
First Glorious One-Pot Meal in quite a while
Lamb sausage one-pot meal
Time for more Glorious One-Pot Meals  

Those offer general guidance and advice, and you can see various recipes here: GOPM | Later On. Once you’ve made a couple, you’ll get the idea and then you can freely improvise. In this method of cooking you don’t need prep bowls since you add to the pot each ingredient in its layer as you prep it. The pot itself acts as one big prep bowl, then you cook the meal in it.


Another good way to improvise is to make a stir-fry. This video walks through an excellent explanation for the novice cook and describes several good practices.

Assuming that you use 1 Tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil, this entire dish totals 4 WW points since everything but the oil is zero points. If you use the dish for two meals, it’s 2 points per meal.

Indian dishes

I quickly discovered that an amazing number of restaurants don’t seem to recognize that vegetarians/vegans might be customers. It’s not unusual for an extensive restaurant menu to have one (1) vegan entree and zero (0) vegan appetizers. But Indian restaurants? They’re wonderful!—at least, the good ones are—and Indian restaurants offer a lengthy list of vegetarian options at every course, from appetizers on. Another video from the guy above:

Start trying it, be patient with yourself, and with experience it becomes easy. You can substitute extra-virgin olive oil for ghee. If you like this guy’s work, watch the videos in his series “Live Like a Vegan King on $50 a Week.” Note, however, that these vegan meal plans come in at about half that cost.


I routinely enjoy a pint of hot tea shortly after I get up, using this mug, which cools the tea immediately to drinking temperature and then keeps it there for hours.  My standard breakfast has evolved over time and does not resemble the standard American breakfast, which draws on a severely limited palette. In fact, breakfast can consist of any foods you want. This section describes my breakfast as it is today; in time it will surely change.

I have for quite a while cooked my breakfast in my 2-qt All Clad Stainless sauté pan because it has vertical sides (food doesn’t slide out) and a lid. Once the breakfast I made was vegetables topped with a couple of eggs, and now it’s grain and beans with vegetables (in planning a meal, my starting point now is grain and beans).

In the egg days, the foods I cooked I ate for breakfast; nowadays, the foods I cook lasts for two meals: I eat half for breakfast and half for lunch. (“Cook once, eat twice” is a well-loved maxim.) I’ve found (to my surprise) that my whole-food plant-based diet is very satiating. That surprised me because I had thought satiation came from the fat and protein in the meal since fat and protein generally take longer to digest than carbs. Based on my own experience, I now realize that dietary fiber, which is not digested at all, is even more satiating, though the meals also includes plenty of protein. This recipe has about 30g dietary fiber, more than double what most Americans eat (though still not the minimum daily recommended amount—but dinner will of course provide more dietary fiber).

Perhaps the major reason for not feeling hungry between meals is that my meals now always include 1/2 cup beans. Watch this 5-minute video, particularly starting right after the 3-minute mark:

The breakfast I describe below is still the overall pattern I follow, but now I cook a large amount of vegetables (similar to those listed below, but without the grain and now usually with my homemade tempeh rather than beans. I describe in detail the dish I now prepare — one cooking for multiple meals. I call it a “melange” because it is not exactly a stir-fry, not exactly a stew — it doesn’t fit the usual categories.

Before I came up the melange, I approached breakfast like by cooking the following, usually in a 2-quart sauté pan:

1 large jalapeño, chopped small, including ribs and seeds (capsaicin helps diabetics)
1 bunch scallions (or spring onions when I can get them), chopped (including leaves)
4-5 ounces mushrooms, cut thickly (mushrooms turn out to be high in B5)
3/4 cup sliced mini San Marzano tomatoes
1/4 or 1/3 cup cooked grain, depending on my mood and how hungry I am
1/2 cup cooked beans
2 tablespoons horseradish (from the refrigerated section)
1 tablespoon dried mint (spearmint, specifically: adds a very nice taste plus lots of antioxidants)
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper (helps with the turmeric)

The above is the core: that’s what I always do. (The horseradish, BTW, more than takes care of my daily serving of a cruciferous vegetable.) I then add 1 or 2 other vegetables. Today:

1/2 cup raw or cooked beets, diced
1/2 cup cooked chopped collards

But it might also be any of:

1/2 cup cooked kale or other greens (tong ho, for example)
1/2 cup raw asparagus, cut into short lengths
3/4 cup oyster mushrooms instead of plain (source of an excellent antioxidant)
1/2 cup diced raw carrots or roasted carrots
1/2 cup diced butternut squash, either raw or roasted after sprinkling with cloves, cinnamon, allspice, and lots of black pepper
1/2 bell pepper (red, yellow orange), chopped
1/2 cup chopped zucchini or summer squash (e.g., yellow crookneck), often sautéed in advance with some onion and stored in the fridge (see this recipe)
1 cup chopped baby bok choy or baby Shanghai bok choy or baby kale or other greens

I add vegetable broth (about 1/2 cup) or water and sauté the food in that for a while, stirring it, then cover and let it cook. (While it cooks and between stirrings, I wipe off and put away the chopping board and rinse, dry, and put away the knife and the rimmed food scoop.)

When it’s done, I stir in:

2 tablespoons flaxseed, ground (I used this grinder)
2 tablespoons Red Star Savory Nutritional Yeast Flakes
1 teaspoon amla powder (extremely good antioxidant)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric (or I cook fresh turmeric with the vegetables)
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

The breakfast includes more than my RDA of various micronutrients: iron, folate, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, and B12.

I once used 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil instead of the vegetable broth, but I’ve decided to cut back on the extra-virgin olive oil from my diet. I still get plenty of fats (I just had a snack of walnuts), but refined oils? I’m avoiding processed/refined foods because I’m going for a whole-food plant-based diet, and olive oil is definitely a refined food. Olives are good, but I limit them because they cured in salt so they’re high in sodium.

For a snack later in the day, I might have 1/4 cup pepitas or 1/4 cup hummus  or an orange or apple or other fruit in season.

Another recipe that makes a good breakfast (or lunch or dinner), particularly in the summertime: Mexican Magic Beans, Corn, & Peppers.

Quite recently, I’ve started exploring smoothies, especially since it’s easy to cover quite of few items in the Daily Dozen checklist with a good smoothie. Here’s one example that was especially tasty — and filling.

Changes in food choices as a result of WW Freestyle

After being on WW Freestyle for a few months, I noticed that our food choices changed. (I do all the cooking in our family.) Red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) became rare, with my animal proteins being almost entirely eggs, fish, shellfish, and boneless skinless chicken breasts, and we found ourselves eating a lot more vegetables (because they are zero points). We also found ourselves eating much less cheese and butter. The change was healthful and surprisingly easy since we were not pushed to it (by stern admonitions) but rather drawn to it (by making our own choices on how to minimize the WW points of our food intake). The change was beneficial, in the light of this study.

Economists will see another example of how just a slight increase in the cost of something (in this case, cost = WW points) results in one seeking lower-cost alternatives (i.e., alternatives that have fewer WW points). Example: 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil is 4 points, 1 tablespoon of butter is 5 points. That small difference is enough that I switched almost completely to olive oil instead of butter. That sort of gentle nudge on all our food choices gradually shifted our diet in a more healthful direction.

As noted above, I have switched to a whole-food plant-based diet (no meat, dairy, or eggs), so meat is no longer an issue. And I have found that works better for me than WW.

Food cravings and your gut microbiome

Food cravings, as mentioned above, can be driven by the makeup of your gut microbiome. See “How Gut Bacteria Tell Their Hosts What to Eat.” Another article: “How the Bacteria in Our Gut Affect Our Cravings for Food.” If you eat lots sugar and starches such as bread, potatoes, corn, and the like, your gut microbiome tilts strongly toward microbes that thrive on such foods. The result is that you then find yourself craving such foods when the microbes’ supply runs low—see Why you’re still hungry: 6 obstacles to healthy eatingBy cutting out such foods, your gut microbiome will change in favor of other microbes (and that change occurs rapidly), and carb cravings will dwindle. Read this article on the care and feeding of your gut microbiome. From that article:

Your microbiome can also lay the groundwork for weight gain or loss. “People who eat lots of saturated fat tend to have more bacteria called Firmicutes, among others, which are more efficient at absorbing calories from food,” Dr. Rakel explains. (Not the kind of efficiency most of us are hoping for.) “When they switch to a Mediterranean diet, with lots of colourful produce, whole grains, beans, and little meat, their level of Firmicutes goes down and their microbiome shifts toward one that is less efficient at storing energy, making it easier to stay lean.” Indeed, a 2017 International Journal of Obesity study found that the presence of a diverse array of gut bacteria protected against weight gain.

This article also discusses how your gut microbiome can drive weight gain—and why modern gut microbiomes are more apt to do that. Intact whole grains help a lot:

The health of your gut microbiome to a surprising extent determines your own overall health, and a plant-based diet nourishes a good gut microbiome. (See also “How to Increase Gut Bacterial Richness.”) And since your overall health includes your mental health, it’s worth noting that the make-up of your gut microbiome affects your level of happiness or depression — and in fact your brain function in general, such as the relationship of your gut microbiome and fear. And watch this brief video:

Indeed, the gut microbiome plays a role in autism, in heart disease, and in other processes that seem unrelated to the gut. Search on “gut microbiome and X,” where X is the condition of interest, and see what current research says.

See also “The ‘psychobiome’: the gut bacteria that may alter how you think, feel, and act,” an article in Science, the publication of the AAAS.

Dietary fiber is an important food source for gut microbes, so pay attention to it. And fresh fruit and vegetables don’t just provide fiber, they also are excellent probiotics. And probiotics and prebiotics team up in your gut. (And see also “Dietary Fiber Protects Against Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome.”) My whole-food plant-based diet provides a lot of fiber just in the course of normal meals—I average 55g-60g per day of dietary fiber without even trying. For example, the ground flaxseed I include in my breakfast is high in fiber. Flaxseed has benefits beyond fiber, of course. See also this post.

Meat, fish, dairy, and eggs have no dietary fiber at all, since dietary fiber comes strictly from plant foods, and refined foods generally have little or no fiber, since “refining” usually refers to removing dietary fiber. The percentage of American men age 18-50 who consume at least the minimum recommended daily amount of dietary fiber is zero. 0%. Less than 1/2 of 1% (which rounds to 0%). I would guess that the low intake of dietary fiber is linked to the epidemic of obesity (and type 2 diabetes).

You can also take chia seed, another good source of both omega-3 and fiber. Chia seed does not require grinding, so just stir 2 tablespoons chia seed into a glass of water. Chia seed is also quite good mixed with yogurt: 2 tbsp chia seed, 3/4 c yogurt, and 1/2 cup frozen berries makes an excellent breakfast, snack, or dessert. Mix well, let it sit for a while for the chia seed to soften, and enjoy. To avoid the dairy product, use coconut milk, and that tilts it toward a dessert.

Dietary fiber is not just for weight loss: it has been considered vital to our health. (See Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why.) The recommended fiber intake is 38g per day for men, 25g per day for women between 18 and 50 years old, and 21g per day for women 51 and older. Most people get much less fiber—in the US, typically 15g per day or less. Indeed, 97% of people in the US do not achieve the recommended amount of fiber intake. Fiber-rich foods are in general inexpensive. See also this recent article in Lancet, which affirms the importance of fiber in your diet; from that article:

Observational data suggest a 15–30% decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular related mortality, and incidence of coronary heart disease, stroke incidence and mortality, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal cancer when comparing the highest dietary fibre consumers with the lowest consumers Clinical trials show significantly lower bodyweight, systolic blood pressure, and total cholesterol when comparing higher with lower intakes of dietary fibre. Risk reduction associated with a range of critical outcomes was greatest when daily intake of dietary fibre was between 25 g and 29 g. Dose-response curves suggested that higher intakes of dietary fibre could confer even greater benefit to protect against cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, and colorectal and breast cancer. Similar findings for whole grain intake were observed.

See also Dietary Fiber Linked to Lower Risk of Heart Disease and Cancer. And here’s why: a plant-based diet (lots of dietary fiber) changes the make-up of your gut microbiome so that colon cancer (and, presumably, heart disease) are less likely. Watch this brief video:

If you must regularly take antibiotics, which annihilates the gut microbiome, you might try Floristor, a yeast-based probiotic unaffected by antibiotics.

One excellent source of probiotics is found in eating fresh fruit. Note this post (which also supports various recommendations made above and points out that the mercury hazard from seafood has not fallen and is likely to worsen).

Omega-3 and Omega-6

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are essential (the body cannot make them). Omega-9 fatty acids are also important, but the body can make those. This article provides essential information on the omega-3 and omega-6 families, and this article discusses fats in general and explains the reasons for the focus on omega-3 in particular. This article discusses how much of which types you should take.

See also this NIH study, which notes:

Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of approximately 1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is 15/1-16.7/1. Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns were established. Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects

On my diet now, my average ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 1.792 (using Cronometer’s display of averages: “Trends” > “Nutrition Report.” You can specify whatever date range you want. I used the last 3 weeks.

Omega-3 fatty acids come in three forms: ALA, EPA, and DHA. ALA comes from plants, and flaxseed is an excellent source; EPA and DHA typically come from animal sources (notably cold-water fish such as sardines, salmon, mackerel, herring, and others—and unfortunately seafood now is suspect due to pollution by PCBs, dioxin, and endocrine disruptors from plastics) but can also be made by the body from ALA. You don’t need much EPA and DHA—the article states the the recommended amounts to get are “2.22 grams of ALA; and 0.65 grams of DHA/EPA combined.” This post from UC Davis Integrative Medicine has some very good information on omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, including best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. This article has specific warnings about using fish-oil supplements and about eating too much fish.

I highly recommend watching this informative set of brief videos on omega-3 (ALA, DHA, and EPA). They are solidly based on research findings and they provide good information for deciding what to do.

I do take an omega-3 supplement, but I buy a vegan version, in which the omega-3 comes from algae. It has been found that it is important for a person on a plant-based diet to take a supplement for omega-3. Although it has been shown that omega-3 supplements don’t help with heart disease, this is not about heart disease but about brain health. For that, the supplements are important. (But what about the Inuit? Isn’t there immunity to heart disease even though they eat a high-fat diet because of the omega-3 they eat? Well, no. Inuit immunity to heart disease is a total myth.)

I should add that herring, mackerel, and sardines are very high in purines, which can trigger the formation of uric acid crystals in the joints, a (very) painful condition known as gout. I suggest you pace the eating of such fish to avoid creating the condition. A while back, before starting my whole-food plant-based diet, I was eating a can of sardines or herring or mackerel daily and sometimes twice a day, since they seemed healthful and also 0 WW points—and then I had a gout attack, which certainly got my attention. I never eat them now, of course, and my gout is in remission. (I also started drinking more water, and each day I drank one glass of water with the juice of a lemon, which I read is helpful is dissipating the uric acid crystals.) More info on gout at this site, and this information on how diet can affect gout is also good to know.


Plateaus are important in weight loss. They are a time when the body makes changes: shrinking the skin, rearranging things internally, etc. Those who get bariatric surgery achieve rapid and significant weight loss without plateaus, but if substantial weight is lost cosmetic surgery may be required to remove the floppy skin that results. My daughter knows a woman who did have bariatric surgery and then had to have cosmetic surgery to remove excess skin on thighs, tummy, and arms.

Knowing that plateaus serve a purpose makes them easier to endure. In general, each plateau seems to last twice as long as the previous one. When I was losing weight, I hit my first plateau at Day 47, when for 11 days my weight didn’t change before resuming a steady loss. I expected my next plateau will last around 22 days, and it did. Plateaus are our friends. Just stick with your Cronometer calorie budget and weight-loss will resume.

If you do eat chicken, some tips on preparing and using chicken breasts

I don’t eat chicken (for reasons explained in How Not to Die), but if you do, an excellent way to cook chicken breasts so they are moist and tender rather than dry and tough is included in this recipe: Ratatouille with chicken. (You can browse recipes on my blog to get ideas: Recipes | Later On) Because bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts cost a little less than boneless skinless chicken breasts, I occasionally get those. Those I don’t poach, but I do cook them slowly (at a low temperature) to allow time for the thicker part to cook through without overcooking the thinner part: see recipe.

Even easier than (and as tasty as) the Ratatouille with Chicken recipe is this recipe: you simply cut up a variety of spring vegetables (see what looks good at the market) and sauté them in a little olive oil, then add chicken breast (or shrimp or cod or haddock) cut into chunks, along with a little liquid (stock, wine, sherry, lemon juice, or water), bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 20-25 minutes—tasty, healthful, easy, and quick.


An important recent finding: savory foods (high in umami) may promote healthy eating through changes in the brain. I regularly use a pinch of Aji-no-moto (MSG) in my cooking, MSG being an easy way to boost umami. (MSG’s supposed harmful effects have been totally debunked (and see also this article on the relationship of xenophobia and MSGphobia).) The suggestion at the link, to begin a meal by drinking an umami-rich broth, is definitely worth trying. I often have a cup of mugi miso, also a probiotic, as a snack. you can also (or instead) simply use umami-rich ingredients in your recipes (more listed here). And Dr. Greger has a recipe for a salt-free umami booster.

Cooking oils

I suggest you avoid seed oils (oils like grapeseed, corn, peanut, soybean, cottonseed, safflower—they tend to have bad (high) omega-6 to omega-3 ratios). Canola (rapeseed) oil is an exception: it has very good omega-6 to omega-3 ratios: 2:1 for expeller pressed,. Soybean oil and cottonseed oil are mostly found in processed foods (e.g., store-bought mayonnaise and salad dressings) because those oils are cheap—so read ingredients labels. (It’s easy to make your own mayo. It takes about 5 minutes including cleanup if you have an immersion blender.

Use avocado oil for high-temperature sautéing (it has a smoke point of 271ºC / 520ºF, higher than any other cooking oil), and use extra-virgin olive oil for low-temperature cooking (as in roasting foods or sweating onions) and in salad dressings and to drizzle over steamed vegetables, hummus, and the like. More info here: Healthiest Cooking Oil Comparison Chart with Smoke Points and Omega 3 Fatty Acid Ratios. For an excellent discussion of avocado oil and its health benefits, read this article. And I’ve previously linked to this excellent post from UC Davis Integrative Medicine on the essential fatty acids.

Regarding olive oil, I highly recommend this fascinating and informative book: Extra-virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil. After reading that book, I became much more careful about the olive oil I bought. I now almost always buy California olive oils bottled by the grower. If you find an amazingly inexpensive imported olive oil, it almost certainly is not pure extra-virgin olive oil but is adulterated with some cheap oil. Note this very useful list: Which Olive Oil to Buy. And note this very recent article in Olive Oil Times on how the counterfeits spread: greed is powerful. I certainly was making a point of buying high-quality California EVOO, though after reading “Which Olive Oil to Buy,” I have purchased one of the other oils recommended, a Sicilian olive oil, and it seems excellent.

Supplement on supplements

Someone asked what supplements I take. I formerly took quite a few but then I started entering what I ate in a good food log that provided an analysis of micronutrients (like I found that my regular diet satisfied almost all my essential requirements, so I discontinued most supplements. I also learned that, lacking FDA regulation, the ingredients in supplements are not always to be trusted. I do continue to take some supplements, and I thought that full disclosure required me to list them:

Daily: Calcium Citrate + Magnesium tablet, CoQ10 100mg, Vitamin D 1000IU, potassium+iodine (225 mcg—don’t take more than that: too much iodine is as bad as too little), two 1000mg capsules of omega-3 supplements (Kirkland concentrated formulation), Turmeric (which needs good amount of black pepper to be absorbed—pepperine helps absorption—so I’m generous with black pepper in my cooking, and I also use fresh tumeric in cooking (I mince rather than grate it): turmeric is a powerful anti-oxidant — but note that for about 5% of people taking a turmeric supplement can cause liver problems).

Because I’m not eating meat, dairy, or eggs, I take a B12 supplement. I used to use this spray, but I switched from methylcobalamin to cyanocobalamin after watching this brief video. To ensure good absorption, I follow the advice in the video to (a) take B12 separately and (b) to chew the B12 tablets rather than swallow them whole. (Saliva contains substances that bind with B12 and help it survive the digestive system.) Also, some nutritional yeast flakes (Bragg’s and Red Star are good) and soy/almond/oat milks are fortified with B12. Elderly people don’t always absorb it well, and there’s no danger of an overdose (B12 is water-soluble), and that’s I take a B12 tablet in addition to those foods.

I use Cronometer as I describe above, and I noticed that my zinc intake was consistently borderline, so I now take a zinc citrate supplement 4 days a week (Sun-Tue-Thur-Sat).

I also took prescribed medications, but three months after moving to a whole-food plant-based diet, my doctor told me to discontinue enalapril (for high blood pressure), simvastatin (for cholesterol), and metformin (for blood glucose control) because I no longer needed them. I’m sure that shedding the last vestiges of excess fat helped, but that also is due to my WFPB diet. I have continued to check my fasting blood glucose levels just to be sure that dropping the metformin caused no problems, and they are fine (but I do avoid some foods: foods containing refined sugar, potatoes, foods made of flour). If I eat potatoes, for example, my fasting blood glucose goes up noticeably the next morning.

My latest HbA1c, done after 5 months of no metformin, was 5.4%. This is well within the normal range (i.e., not “pre-diabetic”). Update: for the past year my HbA1c has been 5.2% or 5.3%.

After reading this article, when I was doing 396 minutes a week (22.8 miles) of brisk Nordic walking, I added to my supplements:  200IU Vitamin E. I take one Vitamin E capsule 4 days a week (Sun-Tue-Thur-Sat), so effectively just over 100IU per day, which seems plenty to me.

i recently read that, contrary to common belief, dark-green leafy vegetables, touted as a good source of Vitamin A, do not in fact deliver much vitamin A to the body. For that reason, I now take a Vitamin A supplement. The recommended amount is 21,000 IU per week, so I take one 10,000 IU capsule on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (on the assumption that I will not absorb all of it). It does seem to help.

UPDATE: Julia Belluz wrote an interesting account of her experience of using a metabolic chamber to measure her metabolism. Long, but worth reading.

UPDATE: This method of chopping onions is useful knowledge. I don’t use this technique exactly, but I do avoid parallel cuts. What I do is cut off both top and bottom and then cut the onion in half vertically (top to bottom) I peel each half, and the dice the onion by placing a half on the flat side, then slicing it along the latitudes (parallel to the equator — cutting across the onion (not lengthwise as shown in the video)) for the entire half of the onion, using my left hand over the onion to hold it together. Once the half-onion has been sliced completely in latitudes (across the grain), I then cut it in longitudes (from pole to pole, slanting the cut so that I cut (more or less) to the center), as shown in this video:

Here’s another view of a similar technique:

Written by LeisureGuy

15 April 2018 at 9:18 am

Sen. Al Franken: “Why I am a Democrat”

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Full disclosure: My own father was killed in a preventable oilfield accident (one reason I support OSHA) and I was raised with the help of Social Security survivor benefits.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 July 2017 at 4:00 pm

More on Sapiens

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I am still reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, which continues to be fascinating. I looked through some Amazon reviews, and one comment  struck me. He (Steven Mason) writes “Using this twisted logic, a modern doctor today is less knowledgeable and capable, and has a smaller, less capable brain, than a paleolithic witchdoctor who happens to know how to hunt for food, start a fire, make clothes and weapons, navigate by the stars, etc. This is complete and utter nonsense and reveals an appallingly narrow and simplistic definition of intelligence and capabilities.”

It seems obvious to me that a less intelligent person can have more “knowledge” (in the sense of what Richard Dawkins defined (in chapter 11 of “The Selfish Gene”) as memes: units of cultural knowledge). With a greater number of memes, or more evolved memes, the less intelligent person can use those memes (that knowledge) to outperform a more intelligent person who lacks those memes.

Consider: A grade-school student can easily do long division, a task that taxed the abilities of even educated citizens of Classical Rome, not because students today are so much more intelligent than people in Classical Rome, but because students today have better memes in that application area.

A college student today can solve problems, using his collection of calculus memes, that would have been extremely difficult if not impossible for Newton—not because the student is so much more intelligent than Newton, but because the student has more evolved memes in the problem area. It seems at least possible that intelligence can decline even as memes thrive and evolve.

And just as genes are “selfish” in that they inevitably evolve in directions that help the genes and not necessarily the animal, so too memes will evolve in directions that help the meme’s survival even if there is a substantial cost to the meme’s human hosts (cf. the Agricultural Revolution: great for the meme, not such an unalloyed good for the human hosts).

Indeed, I would say that human consciousness is the result of an accumulation of memes, and it arose not from the breakdown of a bicameral mind (pace Julian Jaynes), but in the creation of a bicameral mind, with the part of the mind that deals with memes split off from the unconscious to become the conscious self, which seems to be constructed from memes. Note, for example, how one’s sense of identity, of who one is, is generally given in terms of memes.


Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2015 at 10:14 am

Posted in Books, Memes

Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing, by Lewis Carroll

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Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing contains excellent pointers for an activity that seems to have died out. It came to mind because in writing a letter to my sister, I mentioned that I would enclose something, and (thanks to the years I followed Carroll’s advice), I immediately stopped writing, got the envelope (another rule: before starting the letter, address and stamp the envelope), and put the promised enclose into the envelope before I resumed writing.

At the link is the full text of the book in a variety of formats, thanks to the Gutenberg Project. (The book’s copyright long since expired, so no funny business here.)

The opening line is pretty good:

Some American writer has said “the snakes in this district may be divided into one species—the venomous.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2015 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

UN condemns Vatican for protecting and assisting pedophiles

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Nick Cumming-Bruce reports in the NY Times:

A United Nations panel sharply criticized the Vatican on Wednesday for putting the reputation and interests of the Holy See above the interests of children who had been sexually abused by priests, effectively allowing priests to continue abuse and escape prosecution.

In a series of hard-hitting observations, the Committee on the Rights of the Child said that “the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and to protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”

The panel expressed particular concern that “in dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse, the Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the church and the protection of the perpetrators above children’s best interests.”

The criticism came in the concluding observations of a U.N. panel that examined the Vatican’s compliance with the Convention of the Rights of the Child in a hearing last month attended by senior Vatican officials, including Msgr. Charles J. Scicluna, who was the Vatican’s chief prosecutor of sexual abuse until 2012.

The panel noted the Holy See’s commitment to upholding the “inviolable” dignity of children but pointed out that it had moved priests well-known as child abusers to different parishes in an attempt to hide their crimes, allowing them and to remain in contact with children and to continue their abuse. In doing so, the Vatican “still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children,” it said.

At last month’s hearing, the first time the Vatican had faced public examination by an international body, Monsignor Scicluna said “the Holy See gets it” that certain things “need to be done differently” but argued that legal action to prosecute and punish abusers was the responsibility of civil authorities.

The panel challenged that position and criticized the Vatican’s lack of transparency in dealing with the issues. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: McClatchy reports that the Vatican is being asked to turn over offenders.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2014 at 10:24 am

Posted in Law, Religion

Superb sacrifices in chess

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I would have guess Bobby Fischer and Robert Byrne’s game in 1956, but others were new to me, and the first is quite wonderful. Take a look.

And while we’re on chess, take a look at this:

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2013 at 8:51 am

Posted in Games

Tagged with

I’d say lunch was in the 1-2 range

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A 25¢ package of ramen, noodles cooked as instructed for two minutes, but with:

grated fresh ginger
2 fresh shiitake mushroms, sliced
4 scallions, chopped (including all the green)
2 Tbsp Garlic Red Pepper Miso
2 Tbsp dried cute wakame flakes
2 tsp Blis fish sauce (the good stuff)
1 small glug homemade pepper sauce

Then, after the two minutes, when the powder goes in, I also added

1 raw egg, beaten with fork

I actually go some firm tofu for this sort of thing, but forgot I had it. However, I can put that in my own homemade miso soup—with rice noodles, come to think of it.

I would say that’s fairly low. Maybe a 3 because of the noodles—no idea what’s in them. But the powder has a heavy dose of monosodium glutamate, I’m betting.

The unadorned dish is interesting: lots of umami (my guess: MSG), some salt, so mouth-filling. Lots of hot water: tummy warm. A good wad of noodles: calories. It’s a simulacrum of an actual meal, but does fall short. Still, if you have 25¢ to spend and want a full meal, this is probably your best bet.

UPDATE: And to turn the dial lower, my afternoon snack will be part of:

1 head cauliflower, cut into pieces and steamed at some length

Mash above with fresh extra-virgin olive oil, juice of a Meyer lemon, and, I think, some cumin. And also a good glug of homemade hot sauce: When the cat’s away, the mouse will play!

UPDATE TO THAT: I added a good dash of 9-year-old sherry vinegar (probably aged in bourbon barrels—it’s made by Blis) and used my immersion blender to purée it. Did a pretty good job except for thicker leaves and central stalk, but that’s tender enough to chew. (You do eat that, don’t you? Not just throw it out?)

I forgot the cumin, but added salt. Pretty good all round. Taste/effort very high.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 October 2013 at 2:27 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

The NSA Black Hole: 5 Basic Things We Still Don’t Know About the Agency’s Snooping

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Justin Elliott and Theodoric Meyer report at ProPublica:

Last week saw revelations that the FBI and the National Security Agency have been collecting Americans’ phone records en masse and that the agencies have access to data from nine tech companies.

But secrecy around the programs has meant even basic questions are still unanswered.  Here’s what we still don’t know:

Has the NSA been collecting all Americans’ phone records, and for how long?

It’s not entirely clear.

The Guardian published a court order that directed a Verizon subsidiary to turn over phone metadata — the time and duration of calls, as well as phone numbers and location data — to the NSA “on an ongoing daily basis” for a three-month period. Citing unnamed sources, the Wall Street Journal reported the program also covers AT&T and Sprint and that it covers the majority of Americans. And Director of National Intelligence James Clapper himself acknowledged that the “collection” is “broad in scope.”

How long has the dragnet has existed? At least seven years, and maybe going back to 2001.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and vice chair Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said last week that the NSA has been collecting the records going back to 2006. That’s the same year that USA Today revealed a similar-sounding mass collection of metadata, which the paper said had been taking place since 2001. The relationship between the program we got a glimpse of in the Verizon order and the one revealed by USA Today in 2006 is still not clear: USA Today described a program not authorized by warrants. The program detailed last week does have court approval.

What surveillance powers does the government believe it has under the Patriot Act?

That’s classified.

The Verizon court order relies on Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That provision allows the FBI to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for a secret order requiring companies, like Verizon, to produce records – “any tangible things” – as part of a “foreign intelligence” or terrorism investigation. As with any law, exactly what the wording means is a matter for courts to decide. But the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s interpretation of Section 215 is secret.

As Harvard Law Professor Noah Feldman recently wrote, the details of that interpretation matter a lot: “Read narrowly, this language might require that information requested be shown to be important or necessary to the investigation. Read widely, it would include essentially anything even slightly relevant — which is to say, everything.”

In the case of the Verizon order — signed by a judge who sits on the secret court and requiring the company to hand over “all call detail records” — it appears that the court is allowing a broad interpretation of the Patriot Act. But we still don’t know the specifics.

Has the NSA’s massive collection of metadata thwarted any terrorist attacks?

It depends which senator you ask. And evidence that would help settle the matter is, yes, classified.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., told CNN on Sunday, “It’s unclear to me that we’ve developed any intelligence through the metadata program that’s led to the disruption of plots that we could [not] have developed through other data and other intelligence.”

He said he could not elaborate on his case “without further declassification.”

Sen. Feinstein told ABC that the collection of phone records described in the Verizon order had been “used” in the case of would-be New York subway bomber Najibullah Zazi. Later in the interview, Feinstein said she couldn’t disclose more because the information is classified. (It’s worth noting that there’s also evidence that old-fashioned police work helped solve the Zazi case — and that other reports suggest the Prism program, not the phone records, helped solve the case.)

How much information, and from whom, is the government sweeping up through Prism? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2013 at 1:34 pm

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