Saturday, 31 May 2008


I love nuts, especially almonds, and it is great that they are so good for me, but of course they are very easy to eat in excess! I keep a pack of almonds in the refrigerator and when I have my mid morning snack (green tea and 7 almonds) I count them out and put the pack back so I am not tempted to have any more. Then of course they have been known to disappear in a few seconds! What a shame, they are so yummy I should be able to eat them more slowly and appreciate them more. Today I was working at the computer, green tea and a few almonds by my side, when I had an idea. I ate an almond and set an Outlook reminder for five minutes. Five minutes later, I ate another almond and set the reminder on snooze for five minutes more. And so on. As I was working, the time went pretty fast, and I was always surprised when the next reminder popped up! Nutty? You bet – but a slim healthy happy nutty.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Life, the CRONoverse and everything

Recent discussions on the CRS mailing list have reinforced what I was writing earlier. There is a sense in which there are no answers. Sometimes the only thing everyone is agreed upon is that there is no answer and sometimes there are very definite answers – several of them – and conflicting. The alcohol question, for example. Some say no, it’s empty calories and potentially addictive; some say yes in moderation, with study evidence to back it up. And then there is the protein question – two ends of the spectrum, two dedicated people, two opinions.

The only thing we in the middle can do is study and read everything, and try to understand as well as we can and then make our own decisions. This sounds daunting, after all it’s not about what colour to paint the front door, it’s about our lives. But of course we have already made the biggest decision we can – we are no longer putting junk food in our bodies, we concentrate on moderate amounts of fresh wholesome foods, try to ensure we get all our essential nutrients, and endeavour to keep fit. That in itself has huge value, and we are giving our bodies far more consideration than most other people. We can all see the benefits -- less visceral fat, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol. So at the moment we are all right, in a kind of global way.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Gulliver's Travels

When I was a child I read Gulliver’s Travels many times, and while the best known parts and the ones most frequently filmed are the voyages to the land of little people and giants, my favourite, (because I was a horrid little swot) was always the third part, the voyage to Laputa, especially the satires on scientific endeavour.

CRON is for me like a voyage of discovery, in which I have visited strange places, encountered some remarkable people and heard many theories. And I still have a long way to go. How often have I seen people new to CRON write in and ask for a handy guide as to what to eat, or even a diet sheet? There is no such thing. Even those who have been practising CRON for many years disagree about how it should be done. In fact as far as I can see the only two things all CRers agree upon are that you have to restrict calories and get all your nutrition. If you fail in either of these you are not doing CRON. As to whether the proportion of protein should be high or moderate, whether for or against supplements, for or against artificial sweeteners, for or against exercise and if so how much and what kind, tofu or not tofu, the CR Way vs. the MR Way, - debates rage and will probably continue to do so for some time. The whole field is in a state of flux, and meanwhile, the beginner finds some very convincing material on nutrition published in books or on the internet and follows it only to find out that either the writer is not regarded as an authority by the CRON community or the research is last year’s (or even decade’s) and has been superseded by new material. Even when research is current not everyone agrees on what weight to give it and if the experts can’t agree what chance is there for the rest of us. Now that the society archives are much easier to search, however, time can be well spent trawling through them to find recent entries on subjects of interest, but the threads must be followed through since what one posting says authoritatively can be shot down in flames by the next one. I read the mailing list every day and try to understand as much of it as I can. This does lead to the interesting situation when someone I know mentions a press article which gives a half-baked potted version of some nutritional information only to have me reply – ‘well, of course that is very simplified and not entirely accurate because what the original research actually said was...’ etc etc. That’s when their eyes glaze over and they edge towards the door. In the 18 months since I began I have learned a great deal, (by layperson’s standards only, of course!) and am still groping towards finding my own way. The teaspoon is poised, but which end will I choose to break my egg? And it has to be an individual thing. It’s not one size fits all, far from it. We are all built differently. My Lilliputian CRON will not be the same as another’s Brobdingnagian CRON, even though ultimately we all aim to be a high functioning struldbrug.

Friday, 16 May 2008


I have been remiss about providing more detailed values for foods and my only excuse is that since I retired from the day job I have been even busier than ever. Go figure.

Now just to recap – This is all about me. I have been trying to establish how to get my DRIs from 1200 calories a day. Regular readers will know that since the DRI tables are not adjusted for weight, mini-me’s DRIs are in many cases the same value as those for the average man twice my size, who is wallowing in the sybaritic luxury of consuming 2500 calories a day. The secret for those of us on fewer calories is not just to use those foods with good values of individual nutrients, but concentrate on the ‘star foods’ which do multiple duty for those nutrients which can be a problem. I never worry about vitamin A or C for example – with my intake of fresh veg I always get lots, and the only minerals I have to worry about are potassium selenium calcium and zinc – the rest I always get plenty of without any effort. What I am looking for are foods which give more, and preferably much more than 10% of my DRIs in 10% of my calories. If I concentrate on these it leaves me some leeway to include other foods which are less starry but still good. My first nomination is the humble mushroom. According to Cron-o-meter 545.5 grams of mushrooms contain 120 calories. The same quantity provides 16g of protein, impressive amounts of B vitamins, (only B12 is less than 10% of my DRI, it’s actually 9%) and 25% vitamin D. It provides 34% of my iron, 37% of my potassium, 92% of my selenium and 26% of my zinc. Now I am not going to sit down and eat 545.5g of mushrooms, but with those figures I know that they ought to be a staple in my diet and as it so happens I adore them!

My next nomination is asparagus. 120 calories worth of this yummy vegetable provides 13g protein, massive amounts of most B vitamins (but no B12) 45% of my Vitamin E, 12% calcium, 26% potassium, 25% selenium and 29% zinc. So bring on those juicy green stems! In fact most green vegetables can be counted as superstars, Swiss chard if you can get it (I see it rarely), kale, Brussels sprouts, pak choi, Chinese leaves, (is this the same thing as Napa cabbage in the US?), courgettes (zucchini in the US) broccoli, lettuce and even the humble cabbage. Spinach is great for potassium Vitamin E, zinc and most of the B vitamins, but I believe its calcium content is poorly absorbed. Celery is good for calcium potassium zinc and many B vits. And let’s not forget the cauliflower. Try inputting 480 g into cron-o-meter and comparing with 32.44g brown rice,(both 120 calories) then flip back and forth on the entries to compare nutrients. You’ll see why I use grated steamed cauli as an alternative to rice!

Another great star is tomatoes. 38% of my potassium, 10% zinc, 24% vitamin E and lots of B vits except 12, and of course all that lycopene. Red and green peppers are great for potassium zinc and vitamin E. And then there are pumpkin and butternut squash, for Vitamin E, potassium, and lots of B vits. Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines provide masses of B12 bang for your buck, as well as iron selenium and protein. Oysters too but I loathe the wretched things! Low fat dairy products also provide a lot of vitamin B12, with zinc, selenium protein and of course calcium. The only truly fat-free dairy products we can get in the UK as far as I am aware are quark, yogurt, and cottage cheese, but cottage cheese is not a calcium star - 8% only of my DRI for 120 calories.

No fruits are true superstars, but the best for vitamin E that I have found so far are Kiwi 19, peaches, 15, apricots and nectarines 14, raspberries and blackcurrants 13. For potassium, the figures are melon 20, kiwi 13, apricots strawberries peaches nectarines 12. And notice which ones are on both those lists. Apricots are not available fresh for much of the year, so I use organic dried ones and soak them overnight to add bulk.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

More blueberries, but hold the Kreem-o-wip

It has been said that England and America are two nations divided by a common language. This is certainly true when we talk about food. Not only do the same things have different names on either side of the pond e.g. aubergine (UK) = eggplant (US), but the same words are used for different things: ‘biscuit’ means something quite different in the US and UK. Unless someone has an interest in the food of all nations, however, I find that on both sides of the pond we are deeply ignorant of each other’s language of food. A friend of mine once spent ages scouring her local supermarkets for zucchini which an American pen-pal had told her were a healthy food. When she told me she had asked everywhere but couldn’t find any I had to tell her we call them courgettes. But why did neither of them know this? Why did the shop not know? Since we all correspond and talk on the subject I think we should try and find out. I mean, I don’t eat butter but I know how much there is in a stick, even though it isn’t sold in sticks in the UK.

Then of course there are some foods which are common on one side of the water but rare or unobtainable on the other. Quite a few varieties of greens on the food databases I have never seen on sale here, and the cheese buyer for the Kensington Wholefood store has just responded to my enquiry after fat-free mozzarella to say it isn’t available in the UK. (One US item I know I can now get here – the Oreo cookie has just been introduced to the UK. Gee – thanks.) I would like to make clam chowder but so far a complete lack of canned clams is proving a bit of a poser. If anyone spots some on sale, drop me a line. I am pleased to report however that blueberries, which used to be a rare luxury item are now readily available if wildly variable in price from week to week depending on country of origin. The odd thing is I believe they are grown in this country but I have never seen English ones on sale.

The worst problems recipe-wise come with branded products. This, I have to say is much less of a problem with CRON recipes as they tend to use a high proportion of fresh foods, but many American cookbooks use a lot of branded stuff as ingredients, much more so than English ones. I saw a review on the English Amazon site of a low calorie cookbook sold and bought in perfect good faith, which the buyer said she had found unusable as it was American and made extensive use of products unheard of over here and with no equivalent. You know the sort of thing I mean – ‘take one box of Mrs Bagel’s reduced fat blueberry waffle mix, a cup of Kreem-O-wip, a package of instant Choco-pud, one teaspoon Acme buttered popcorn flavouring’ - etc etc – I think the buyer of the book had a lucky escape - that sounds disgusting! (Actually I made up that example, but it’s not so far from the reality)

I am not sure what the answer to this is. CRON should be international. I know there is a feeling that the American terminology ought to be the standard one, and I can see why, but maybe the Wiki ought to have a table of ingredients with alternative names and suggestions as to what one might use if unable to get the item specified. At any rate, since we are an international organisation we should be sharing information with each other much better than we are. What do other people think?

Friday, 9 May 2008

The Sixth Boy

It was hot in London today, and as I walked along High Holborn I remembered that I was approaching a shop selling good ice cream. Temptation reared its ugly head. I was hot and the ice cream was cold. It seemed like karma. Somehow I could picture the ice cream cone in my hand – I could feel the waffled texture on my fingers - I could sense the anticipation of the first taste – then I could taste it (it was chocolate flavour by the way) but somehow at the back of my mind there was a little nag of guilt. I knew I shouldn’t be doing it, I knew it wasn’t healthy. Not only that, but it was sweeter and gooier than anything I usually eat, in fact it wasn’t really as great as it should have been. Eventually it began to cloy and with nowhere to dispose of the blessed thing I had to go on eating it to the bitter/sweet end. Even the cone which I didn’t like at all. And then all I was left with was a sense that I had let myself down in a moment of weakness. It reminded me of the old fashioned Fry’s Five Boys advert. There is a series of five pictures of a boy going from stages of unhappiness, to expectation of a treat, to being pacified with chocolate to joy at the realisation it was Fry’s. I was the sixth boy, the stage that was negative, the realisation that I shouldn’t have given in to a whim and that all I had was regret and a lot of calories fat and sugar in my body that shouldn’t have been there. Now I didn’t actually buy or eat any ice cream! All those feelings were explored in my mind as I walked along. By the time I had reached that last stage in my mind, I didn’t want the ice cream. I think that most people eating just whatever they fancy actually never get to the sixth stage, or if they do, they get there after they have eaten the thing that tempts them. We have all heard people say ‘I shouldn’t really have eaten that – I’m on a diet/allergic/it upsets me etc etc’. The trick, of course, is to get to the negative stage of regret before and not after eating. And it is a trick. I have no idea if I can pull it off again, but I know I am going to try. I went home and ate some delicious cooling fresh fruit.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Spice Girl

I have always loved spicy foods. I remember when I was about 5, someone gave me something spicy to eat as a joke thinking I would spit it out and was astonished when I thought it was yummy. I recall sampling some salsa made with scotch bonnet chillies at a food show, and a grinning man said 'too late' as I spooned it into my mouth. 'Mmmm' I said. 'It's quite tangy. Do you want to try some?' He went pale and backed away.
My special favourite is ginger. I have tried a number of ginger tisanes, but lately have been experimenting with making my own by steeping fresh root ginger. The real revelation was when I bought a microplane grater. Not the cheapest of kitchen tools but well worth it - it easily reduces the ginger to a soft pulp. I add hot water and some sweetener and that's it. Ginger heaven.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Other Woman

The other woman is 5ft 4 inches tall as compared with my 4 ft 10.5 inches. She weighs about 135 pounds as opposed to my 90, and eats 2000 calories a day compared to my 1200. I don’t know her name but I call her Mrs Average and she has haunted me all my adult life. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t want to be her, but I am well aware that the world is designed for her requirements and dimensions and I just have to try and fit in as best I can. She is of course the reference person for whom the DRI tables have been calculated. I wrote to the Food and Nutrition Information Center who produce the tables, and asked what the requirements were for little me. I am pretty much the same size as their reference 9-13 year old, but apart from telling me I couldn’t use those values for obvious developmental reasons, the only advice they could give me was to consult a nutritionist. Oh, thanks a bunch. It’s not impossible to get all Mrs Average’s DRIs in 1200 calories just from food, but should I be trying to? Are her DRIs really the same as mine? I don’t know, but I shall keep on banging away at this question until I have an answer.

On a more positive front, this retirement and being 60 years old stuff is pretty damn good. The only niggle at the back of my mind is that I might wake up one morning and find it was all a lovely dream, and I have to get up and go to work. Ugh! But this is a hell of an incentive to keep healthy and live long. If you are in your 20s and 30s retirement is about the last thing you think about, but this is just the time to start a pension scheme, put away whatever you can afford, and take care of your health, so that all those years later you can take full advantage of what life has to offer.