Posted by: hagengreen | May 23, 2010

Would you put Regular in a Ferrari?

The original intention of this blog was to share my thoughts with you in a way that causes you to think about something differently or add insight to your life. In reflection over the last couple months (a la dreaded arm!), my writing has “deteriorated” into a play-by-play account of my life. While I still plan on sharing interesting occurrences from my waking moments, I hereby attempt to shift back into our regularly scheduled programming.

I was eating my oatmeal breakfast when it clicked. I’ve been eating roughly the same breakfast for about 10 years, and asked myself why I’m not sick of it yet. Then I reflected more generally on my food intake, choices I’ve made, my schedule of eating, and general dietary decisions over time. I realized I’ve never fully articulated my philosophy on food which has developed through a combination of education and dedication to cardiovascular health. In this post, I’ll tell you why I eat the way I do, how it came to be, my opinions on tangential matters, and finally I’ll challenge you to make your own Ferrari even faster.

I immediately start the day out by making breakfast. It’s a standard routine taking about 6 minutes. I’m typically not hungry when I first wake up; you may notice the same for yourself. I’ve learned my body plays a funny trick. Over hours of sleeping, the body goes into a light hibernation or fasting mode because it hasn’t eaten for a while. A sleep study last year shows insomniacs eat more because of imbalances in hormones that regulate appetite. Only once you wake do those hormones start to do their magic – but not always. I’ve learned to ignore what my body tells me about hunger in the morning. By eating a healthy and high-fiber breakfast, I establish the rhythm my body will use throughout the day. It sets my energy level, eating schedule, but most importantly my mental health. I truly understand the idiom “get off on the right foot” when it comes to kicking off the day.

My oatmeal starts out with 100% whole oats from Quaker Oats mixed with water. I buy by the 10lb box at Costco and typically go through one box every two months. (I don’t understand the steel-cut oats thing. What’s wrong with whole oats? I smell a marketing gimmick…) I always slice up a more-ripe-than-not banana and mash it in. Oatmeal without a banana is like going to work without a shirt – it’s just not right. With oatmeal + banana as my base, I’ll then get creative and change my ingredients slightly over time. Right now I’m adding one slice of Seattle-local Old Mill Bread Co’s Honey Whole Wheat bread which helps thicken the oatmeal, a tablespoon of organic self-ground peanut butter for a dash of nutty flavor and protein, and about a 1/4 cup of raisins for iron and great taste – all mixed in. If I run out of an ingredient, I’ll add cinnamon, use almond milk instead of water, honey, or even shredded cocoanut. The best part about oatmeal is it’s so flexible and forgiving. I have yet to have a bad bowl. If you’re going to try oatmeal on your own, do not buy the flavored packets like this one. We’ll talk about ingredients later.

This mega-oat breakfast lasts me until the psychological noon hour when hunger pangs begin to distract my train of thought at work. I used to make my own sandwiches at home and bring them into work, but the cost, time investment, and soggy bread didn’t add up. I stick to a strictly vegetarian lunch and require that I have full control over the ingredients that go into my meal. So sandwich and salad bars are in, pasta station (with who-knows-what’s in the sauce) and Chinese food are out. I try to get a variety of colors and flavors in my lunch. For example, my salads and sandwiches are always built up from a base organic spinach and include things like artichokes, mushrooms, and bell peppers. Dinner is a similar affair.

Throughout the day, between meals, I’ll snack when I have an itch of hunger to hold me over to the next meal. I’m armed with a bag of roasted almonds in my desk drawer and an organic apple in the fridge. I also bring a sports bar to hold me through a later lunch when I run or lift weights at lunch. I try to keep the sports bars to Clif or Odwalla bars. Something with mostly organic and whole ingredients and minimal amounts of processed sugar. Oranges, pears, and Rainer cherries (can’t wait, they’re coming!) are also key in my snack arsenal.

I don’t just eat raw foods, of course. I also get things like frozen burritos, frozen pizzas, and yogurts. While I don’t consume these products regularly, they also aren’t as bad as they sound. When I shop for any prepared food, I judge solely based on its ingredients. The Amy’s Burrito I buy is 100% vegan, with no MSG or preservatives and organic beans and rice. Here’s the detailed breakdown:

organic pinto beans, organic whole wheat & wheat flour, filtered water, organic brown rice, organic tomato puree, expeller pressed high oleic safflower and/or sunflower oil, organic onions, organic bell peppers, organic sweet rice flower, sea salt, spices, organic wheat gluten, organic garlic

The pizza is a similar story. For yogurt, it’s a bit trickier. My yogurt is usually Brown Cow or Stoneyfield brand which comes from cows that aren’t fed growth hormones and eat grass (not just grain or corn). Plus there’s no high fructose corn syrup, Splenda, or other processed sweeteners. Just milk, active cultures, and fruit-on-the-bottom are all that I want going into my yogurt.

Ingredients are the most powerful data a consumer can base their decisions on. The FDA’s Nutrition Facts label is not only failing each one of us, but also negatively influencing our decisions. What do you look at on the Nutrition Facts label when you decide whether or not you buy and consume something? If the answer is the Total Fat content, you may be doing a disservice to yourself. Fat has a bad name to it – it’s not bodily fat but rather dietary fat. This page helps debunk what the Fat number means. I believe the biggest hurdle people need to get over is that all fat is bad.

When you’re at the market and walking the aisles, you’ll notice there are multiple choices of products grouped together. Yes, there are choices, and plenty of them. Which eggs do you choose and why? How about cereal? The list goes on. Ask yourself why you picked that one and not the one next to it. Was it the branding, lower price, or you’ve had it before and like the taste? Or did you get it because it was grown or raised in a sustainable way that’s kind to the land, animals, and the environment? Whatever your motivation, remember that your voice is heard at the checkout stand. Your dollar speaks louder than words. In the end, the winner gets sales and support. It’s simple economics. I argue we ought to support the brand that’s bringing about greater good for everyone.

I’m currently a vegetarian + fish, but it wasn’t always this way for me. My parents raised me on a turkey + chicken + fish diet – no red meat, no lamb, no pork. I stuck to it because I was either brainwashed as a kid or just knew better – I’m not sure which. But I’m thankful that my parents, in particular my mom, gave me the opportunity for such an upbringing. My mom was a fan of the non-fat diet. It was all the fad in the late 90’s. Much of it was home cooking which was great, but also included fat-free cheese and yogurt, for example. After college, and thanks to Jaime’s influence, I’ve learned to toss the fat-free fad and just focus on wholesome ingredients. Variety is king.  My most recent and by far dramatic diet change happened just over 1 1/2 years ago. I decided to try kicking turkey and chicken out of my diet altogether, but stick with fish. I wasn’t sure if it would work for me, so I gave it a week. I felt remarkable; “clean” is the most appropriate word that described the difference in my well being. From that point on, I never went back to chicken or turkey, nor did I have an inclination to do so.

Going to vegetarian for 95% or more of my regular food intake was easy. I realize not many people have that level of success. I attribute three reasons for my quick adaption. First, I embraced it and did it for myself, so I was deeply committed. Second, despite my need for turkey and chicken as a source for protein, my body didn’t crave it when I let off. It just worked for me somehow. I may be edging up against an astrological-style belief, but I read about Eat Right For Your Blood Type. Its premise is that your blood type, in part, helps steer your natural eating tendencies. Here are the high-level recommendations:

Type A: stick to fruits & veggies

Type B: balanced diet including meat, but avoid chicken

Type AB: most vegetarian, with occasional meat

Type O: high protein diet including red meat, but avoid dairy & nuts

I’m a Type A, so perhaps I’m a natural candidate for the diet I’ve come upon. The third reason is I already was eating a rich veggie, fruit, and nut diet so the transition wasn’t so dramatic because I didn’t need to introduce a whole new set of foods when I dropped meat. One expected change in my diet after cutting meat was a large increase in soy intake. Soy milk and tofu were my best friends. If you haven’t had the Very Vanilla Soy Milk drink, I must say you’re missing one of the best non-dairy milk drinks out there. More to the point, I was eating a large amount of soy to get the right amount of protein. After reading and hearing from folks about the potential dangers of soy, I’ve managed to wean my soy cravings down to about a third of what they were. The key was cutting soy milk. My new favorite is almond or rice milk. I prefer almond milk because it’s thicker and has a slightly more punctual flavor. I plan on reading The Whole Soy Story sometime soon.

At the time I cut chicken and turkey I also happened to be ramping up my 8-month Ironman training. Most of my friends thought I was crazy to cut meat. While I was more confident, I knew I’d be lacking some of the nutrition I’d have been ingesting. I took this as an opportunity to revisit my supplements. I had only been taking fish oil, but realized I should probably be better off taking a multi, calcium, and vitamin D3. While I can’t say I felt any different after taking those new pills, I hope my body is getting everything it needs.

So how does an ideal person consume food? We all are food consumers whether you like it or not. Our ancestors are the epitome of eating right – that’s why we’re all here! Apparently something’s worked right for the last few million years. And we set to change it all in the name of efficiency? European counterparts respect alcohol. Americans want it super sized and cheap. My dad would ask if you’d put low-octane fuel in your Ferrari. The answer is clearly no way; I’d find not only the highest-octane premium fuel, but I’d also look for the right additives that keep the engine clean and running at its peak. Our bodies are clearly much more valuable and technologically advanced than a Ferrari. But our bodies are obviously much more flexible than a Ferrari, so while it seems to work ok, we cause bits of damage over time. The “damage” ultimately culminates into cases of obesity, lethargy, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer. It’s time we stop putting regular grade in our bodies and demand the best we can find: that means a variety of all-natural, non-processed, colors of the rainbow, fresh, and organic food.

Before I let you go, I have a challenge for you: take a look at your own diet and implement a change that you’ll stick to for the next week. Try it out and see how you feel. Describe the change in how you feel to your friend or significant other. I think it’s healthy to occasionally revisit what we put into our bodies – we are only given one chance, so give it the highest quality fuel we can find!



  1. […] Since changing my diet to be pescatarian, I’ve took a hard look at everything I put into my body. Instead at looking at the FDA’s Nutrition Facts (which can be very misleading in our decision making), I look at ingredients. While the big food manufacturers can lie to your face, it’s at least easy to know what not to eat. If there’s anything in the ingredients that I couldn’t grow or make myself or that my ancestors ate hundreds of years ago, I’m going to really think hard about putting that thing they call food into my mouth. Yes, fast food is essentially a no go. I’m pretty sure you can make a decent bomb out of some of the ingredients that end up in fast food. I digress. I’m not here to complain about fast food, just not this time. […]

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