Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pump and Lift, Episode 19: Carbs and Veggies

Above: How to eat a la Gwen Stefani. 

I'm not the kind of person who can afford to get sanctimonious when it comes to diet advice. In fact, I don't even recommend the exact diet that I'm on right now, because I'm also on doctor's orders to watch my risk of arthritis and gout due to hyperuricemia. No red meat, no peanut butter, not even a little bit of whole wheat bread or oatmeal. I wouldn't wish that kind of diet on anyone at all.

What I can recommend, though, is a battle plan that addresses carbohydrates and vegetables.

Let me put it to you this way: I'm not a fan of the low-carb diet. I can't think without carbs. In fact, I can't even start a decent day without a single carbohydrate. Back in college, it was bagels and brown rice; in my working years, I switched to cereal and granola bars. Now, more than ever, carbohydrates have become very important in keeping myself from spacing out in class.

It all boils down to a single concept: Carbohydrate front-loading.

Let's say that you've got a stressful morning ahead of you. You could truly use the energy to forge ahead with the rest of your day, and you can't do that with just sugar and caffeine.

So what do you do? You front-load by eating two to three servings of carbs for breakfast. 

Yes, it sounds crazy, but consider: According to the American Cancer Society, the average 4-inch supermarket bagel constitutes three full servings of carbohydrates. You don't even have to eat it dry to make the most of all that energy - I get around it by spreading only 1 tbsp. of cream cheese and 1 tsp. of strawberry jam, which is half of what a normal serving should be. Then, to make sure that I'm still full, I would follow up that bagel with, say, a handful of papaya cubes (1 cup), or any other high-fiber fruit.

This leads us to our next topic: High fiber fruits and vegetables are your friends. 

I'm not usually a big fan of papaya, but I'm the kind of person who likes to eat mindlessly... and papaya always fits the bill, since my parents already have it on the table every morning. If I'm already carbed out during my regular meals, I will stop and eat whatever form of protein I have on my plate with some salad leaves. That doesn't mean I love my vegetables - there are just some things that I won't eat for no discernible reason - but the vegetables that I do eat, like steamed fresh spinach leaves (lemon juice and no sauce) and grilled eggplant, are always a deliberate choice for me at every meal.

Of course, this leads to the inevitable discussion of salads, and whether or not vegetables are your friends when they're slathered in olive oil. I'm on the fence vis-a-vis olive oil - it's a good fat, but still a fat - but I can say for sure that Mediterranean restaurants no longer have the monopoly on salads; in fact, most ethnic restaurants that I've tried in this country will always have a form of salad at one point or another.  In most Filipino restaurants - or at least the ones here in the Philippines - you can always get mangoes and tomatoes with rock salt and the occasional hard-boiled duck egg. If you're eating Korean food, your bulgogi comes with lettuce leaves to wrap around your meat with a dab of hot sauce and a little rice. And then there's the cuisine of Thailand and Vietnam: summer rolls, banh mi, and even pho come with tons of fresh vegetable accompaniments, so there's barely a single excuse to "pig out" and stay unhealthy.

It's easy for me to talk about vegetables now, seeing as I've naturally switched to eating by season - along with corn soup with moringa leaves (seriously, people: canned corn + chicken broth + leaves from your neighbor's malunggay plant = gold) and fuss-free detoxification through steamed greens. But like I've said, you have to take the risk of trying a new vegetable or fruit once in a while, just to see if it works for you.

(NOTE: I do have another upcoming entry that might end up contradicting all the diet-related Zen meditations that I've expounded on here. It won't be part of Pump and Lift, but it will deal with other body issues related to food and nutrition... and depending on the craziness that comes with the rest of my schedule, that rant essay should be up by Saturday at the latest.) 

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