Standing Desks

The research is pretty overwhelming - huge gains in worker productivity happen by simply standing instead of sitting at a desk. There are many tools now to help you be able to both stand and sit at the same desk, including some tools for what you stand on. (warning: I have not used the Wurf board myself; time and research will decide if it is a good idea; check out the short video the web page has; I think I'd give this one a try.) 

My office is currently in constant flux and so I use cardboard boxes to get 'standing height' on my computer, and I've known people to use unopened reams of paper and books shelves behind their desk to accomplish the same thing. I can work much longer at the computer when I'm standing vs when I'm sitting - no contest. You have to find a proper height for looking at the screen and hand height for the keyboard.  And I know a lawyer who bought a standing desk with a treadmill built in because he was trying to beat the early afternoon drowsiness.  He was initially the laughing stock of the office. Now, they fight to use his desk when he is out of the office. (The better treadmill desks restrict the speed to the slow side of things - the purpose is NOT exercise, it is adding movement to gain the boost of chemicals the muscle movement produces. And the treadmill desk can also just be used as a standing desk when that is preferred.)

And, by the way, productivity studies also show a 60% increase in creativity just by adding walking breaks at work.

Feeling Full...

Satiety is the technical term. Not hard to see other words that are related - satisfaction, saturation; satiety is the point when we feel full from eating.  Our challenge in this Western culture is that our sensitivity to that feeling has been blunted. (If you eat all they give you at a typical restaurant, you'll typically pass the healthy stopping point for satiety.)

This article gives a helpful look at 'feeling full'. They call it the 'hunger scale', rated from 0 = empty (those of us in the Western world rarely ever get here!) all the way up to 10 = Stuffed.  (So, how was your Thanksgiving dinner?).  The scale by itself is interesting and can be helpful, but the article continues with some thoughts on how to use the scale to train our ability to know when we are at a healthy state of 'satiety'. 

As an aside, if you check out the "Blue Zones" study, you learn that, in the countries/locations where people live measurably longer lives, they generally eat until they are 80% full (think 7 or 8 on the hunger scale). 

The article on feeling full gives three simple steps to see if your "fullness meter" needs re-tuning: 1. Rate your hunger before you start to eat; 2. Rate your hunger half way through the meal; 3. Rate your hunger at the end of the meal.  Just paying attention to your feeling of fullness will heighten your awareness and sensitivity. If weight is an issue for you, it may help you to tune in to the 80% full feeling more accurately.  Of course, what you are eating makes a difference in your ability to stop at 80% - check out some info on addictive food.

Food banks giving healthier food - produce

So, we are worried about our diet and eating healthier foods.  Think about those who have to rely on handouts. They do get food but often it is very unhealthy. Here is an interesting article about Doctors "prescribing" fresh produce. They only way they can do it is with a partnership with the local food bank... and the local food bank needs help from others.

Or you can find a farmer who wants to farm in the inner city, no, really!  You can read about a 1.3 acres working farm in the middle of Indianapolis that helps people who live in a food desert. This farmer turned over half of his 36 acre farm over to his non-profit and raised 420,000 lbs of food for the people who are food insecure.  While I worked for Wheat Ridge Ministries (who has given grants to congregations to start community gardens) I visited various churches who provided produce for the local food bank.  One, St John Lutheran in Napa, CA is serious about the project and at 15,000 lbs per year is the #1 provider of fresh produce for the local food banks. 

See what is happening in your area and perhaps your church could help... Lots of churches are realizing how much grass they cut each week and turning some of it into gardens for local food needs.

Can you afford organic?

I came across a helpful article on affording organic food.  Before I comment on the article a quick (I hope) word about 'why organic' in general.  I've seen articles that show that organic is "no more nutritious than non-organic vegetables". Research is mixed. Some say 'Yes'. Some say 'No'. I hope the "yes" wins out, but even if it didn't we'd buy organic anyway. We buy it mainly for another reason: pesticides in the urine. There was also a study done on suburban Chicago school-age kids (close in suburbs like River Forest) and the results were similar (sorry, I can't find that reference today.).

Back to the article - Well written and short; they give nine practical ways to cut costs and still buy organic. When they talk about becoming a member of a local farm they mean: CSA - Community Supported Agriculture; even in very urban locations you can find farmers who will sell to you this way and many of those are organic as well, plus I like to know where our stuff comes from.

Dr David Katz - total added sugar.

I appreciate the work of Dr David Katz. He has a recent article that has much to say about sugar. The second point he makes is about 'total added sugar'. We've been posting recently about food labels a couple different times. This section from Katz highlights the efforts by the food companies to make the product look healthier than it is. Sugar can come in many forms with many names and by separating them into the various names, it is possible to make the product look like it has less sweetener in it than it really does. Katz argues for simplifying things and forcing the label to have a line: "total added sugar". Makes good sense.

The other stuff he says in the article is helpful also, as is his NuVal food scoring system and the work he does with Lifestyle Medicine. I commend his work to you for keeping up on what is healthy - or not. (Other helpful approaches to medical care are called Integrative Medicine andFunctional Medicine.)

Addictive food

Here is a very interesting article about addictive foods.  It tells about a number of things. First, it recounts the story from back in 1999 when an executive from Pillsbury, James Behnke, gathered the top execs from the eleven companies who ruled the processed food market and were battling each other for what they called "stomach share". The agenda was the growing childhood obesity problem. James was a scientist by training and "...In the months leading up to the C.E.O. meeting, he was engaged in conversation with a group of food-science experts who were painting an increasingly grim picture of the public’s ability to cope with the industry’s formulations — from the body’s fragile controls on overeating to the hidden power of some processed foods to make people feel hungrier still. It was time, he and a handful of others felt, to warn the C.E.O.’s that their companies may have gone too far in creating and marketing products that posed the greatest health concerns..."  He led the executives through 114 slides that detailed the growing crisis. His hope was to get some movement as a group in a healthier direction.

Reports are that Steve Sanger, head of General Mills (who was taking over large sections of the grocery store shelves and "stomach share" spoke up and responded along these lines: "...he reminded the group that consumers were “fickle.” (Sanger declined to be interviewed.) Sometimes they worried about sugar, other times fat. General Mills, he said, acted responsibly to both the public and shareholders by offering products to satisfy dieters and other concerned shoppers, from low sugar to added whole grains. But most often, he said, people bought what they liked, and they liked what tasted good. “Don’t talk to me about nutrition,” he reportedly said, taking on the voice of the typical consumer. “Talk to me about taste, and if this stuff tastes better, don’t run around trying to sell stuff that doesn’t taste good...General Mills would not pull back. He would push his people onward, and he urged his peers to do the same.” That essentially ended the meeting.

The author goes on to say: "...So why are the diabetes and obesity and hypertension numbers still spiraling out of control? It’s not just a matter of poor willpower on the part of the consumer and a give-the-people-what-they-want attitude on the part of the food manufacturers. What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive..."

The article continues with a description of the rise of Dr Pepper, what is called the "bliss point", Oscar Mayers bologna crisis, and Frito-Lay's search for a designer sodium. It also shares results from a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine that describes the problem with potato chips, and of course, what discussion about junk food/addictive food would be complete without a story about Coca-Cola.

The individual consumer is hardly able to compete with the cash and resolve to make money displayed by the few companies that rule the processed food aisles... which is most of the store!

Did you fall for these?

Speaking of food labels, as a general rule it is best to pay very little attention to what the front of the box says. It is mostly hype and designed to change our minds/get us to buy the product.  They can easily say things that are 'not-a-lie' but, when you look at all the information, not really accurate or helpful in making an informed decision. Here is a good article about just that trick used to sell cereal.

Calorie Density by Food Group

I recently posted on Calorie Density by Food Label. It introduced the concept of Calorie Density and gave some examples of how to use it.  The challenge is that this method is quite tedious and unmanageable when used in real life - who is really going to check each item every time? 

Some clever people have taken the info and adjusted it for food groups.  They have applied it to broad categories to give you helpful directions. When food is not very calorie dense you can be far less careful about consumption level. When it is very calorie dense you have to be extremely careful about how much you consume.

When you look at the picture for this post you see the categories and some other info. Far left is calorie light, and portion control is not much of an issue - just get a balance of lots of different fruits and veggies to get the best balance of nutrients (which are mostly on the right side, by the way!). Left side is calorie dense - much easier to overeat.  Nuts/Seeds and Oils do have some nutritional value so the point is not to totally avoid the far left side, but just eat in appropriate portions. And if you mix veggies (a salad) with oils (a dressing) and pour the dressing on liberally, you've moved the salad way over to the left side of the picture.

Here are three pictures that give some different looks at calorie density:

Calorie Density Basic Groups. (described above).

Calorie Density Breakouts. This looks at some experiments they did.  When people ate food that was less than one calorie per gram, they lost weight no matter how much they ate (ate till they were full). When they ate till they were full from food that was between one and two calories per gram they lost weight if they were generally active (30-60 minute per day), with less likely to lose if not active and more likely to lose if more active.  If they ate till they were full from food that was between two and three calories per gram, everyone gained weight except for elite athletes.  If they are till they were full from food that was over three calories per gram, everyone gained weight, even elite athletes.

Calorie Density Target Average. Aim for about 1.2 Calories per gram on average and you'll be in good shape. In simple terms that means eat mostly from the green categories on the left and sprinkle in nutrient rich food from the far right. You would do best to go light on meatand avoid refined/junk food altogether or atmost very occasionally.

Calorie Density by label

This is the first in a series of posts on food and the choices we make about what we do or don't eat. At the end of the posts (likely about ten of them) I'll post one that will summarize them all, and link back to them by simple design?

Calorie Density - I first came across this in a video from Fox2News in Detroit when they did a two part series on the subject under the heading "The Doctor Is In.". (This link has been acting up a bit recently - hope it works for you!). Dr Tom Rifai explained how to use the concept of calorie density to make better decisions in the store. The concept goes back to Volumetrics, a concept started by Dr Barbara Rolls.

A little longer look can be found on YouTube done by Jeff Novick. The concept is pretty simple. Look at the food label (the part that has lots of facts that few people know how to really use) and find two numbers: Serving weight (often in grams) and Calories per serving (and note the serving size - an important piece of info by itself!). 

When you look at the picture for this post - a bag of carrots, you see those numbers on the label: 85 grams per serving and 35 Calories per serving. Roughly 1/3 as many calories as grams so about .33 calories per gram.

If you would look at a pint of Ben and Jerry's icecream the numbers come out at 114 grams per serving and about 370 Calories per serving. In this case there are roughly three times as many calories compared to grams, or said another way: about three calories per gram.  So LOTS more calories packed into each gram of Ben and Jerry's; that means it is more calorie dense.  The more calorie dense a food is the easier it is to over-eat it. (there will be a post coming on 'feeling full' - an important factor in staying healthy).

This is a simple way, using the food labels that are already there, to determine if something is healthy or not so much. In my next post we'll take this info and apply it to larger food groups to see if that can make using the info a bit easier, especially as it relates to where the important nutrients are - you guessed it: NOT on the calorie dense side. It is important for us to 'feel full' (research shows that we all tend to eat a certain amount/weight of food, regardless of what kind of food is in there) so if we are eating calorie dense foods, we have to eat more of them to get that full feeling, and end up with lots more calories than we want/need.

Pruning brain circuits...

You may have heard of the Native American legend about the two wolves and a grandfather teaching his grandson. There is an inner battle between two wolves, one good and one evil. "Which one will win?" asks the grandson. The grandfather's reply: "The one I feed".

That story captures the neuroscience concept of "Wiring based on experience". What the brain does a lot of, it gets good at.  Those neural pathways literally grow stronger - I like to think of it as a rut. Use implies strength. 

For years the focus of brain studies has been on how we learn new things and what that does to our brain.  There is a recent article in Fast Company that explains what researchers are finding out about the opposite: What happens when pathways are not used? It turns out it is just as important that we get rid of unused neural pathways to make room for the new, and that process is called 'synaptic pruning'.

We are now talking about a group of cells in our brain called "glial cells". There are lots of them and they serve as a kind of scaffolding for the brain and are involved in house keeping as well, helping clean up all the chemical leftovers from the various neural transmitter chemicals we use to communicate across the synapse between neurons. But it turns out they do much more.  One thing they are finding is that some of these glial cells are involved in getting rid of unused connections.  Neural pathways that are used less get marked with a protein called C1q (among others) and when that protein is present, the pruning glial cells do their thing. (And one reason sleep is so important is that much of this pruning happens during sleep.) How long do they have to remain unused? Stay tuned as scientists are still working out how our neurons and glial cells actually work out this pruning process.

So, "practice makes perfect" matches up with what we know about the brain. But these new findings have implications as well.  Are there habits we don't like? If we use the pathways for those habits they stay strong. We have to drastically reduce the "traffic" on those pathways if we hope to get the C1q protein working and the pruning glial cells active.

It is interesting to think about the spiritual concept of Sanctification as it plays out in the physical world, and particularly in our brain. The Bible talks about 'putting on' and 'putting off'. And of encouraging one another and fanning into flame/being timid/self control. And it is interesting to think about Christ making all things new.