Monday, March 31, 2014

A Crash Course on College-Level Nutrition in Humans - Introduction (Nutrient Groupings)

Tools of the Trade!
Of late, I have come more and more to think of the human body as a machine. In many ways I'm something of an optimizationalist - while I don't always take the most utilitarian path to a goal, I tend to get the most utility out of whatever I can.

Ironically, this has never extended so far as my body (unless you count the brain, which I am fond of hacking as often as humanly possible and in every way I can).

The primary ways to optimize the performance of the human body is, as everyone knows, diet and exercise, and since I happen to be somewhere between apprentice and journeyman in the former, I thought it might be helpful if I sat down with you all and put together a few short primers on the human body's nutritional requirements.

Now, a few disclaimers are in order - first of all I'm not a medical professional in any regard. I have a 2-year diploma in Hospitality and Tourism Management in which Nutrition was a component. Secondly, there are no one-size-fits-all answers in nutrition. Due to factors of genetics, current body condition, desired body condition, allergies and sensitivities, metabolic rates, and probably some other things I haven't even thought of yet, there is no ideal diet.

With that in mind, let's begin by separating the subject of nutrition into a few general fields.

The way we measure food energy is in the Calorie. Now, there's a difference between the dietary Calories listed on your food's packaging (or in an ingredient directory) and the actual calories used in chemistry to determine the chemical energy of a substance, but the long and short of it is that big-C calories are what you're tracking, and that your body is going to need a number of them. Going under your daily calorie balance is a way to lose weight, though you will eventually kill yourself this way. Calories are the fuel your organs need to function. Keep that in mind. Depending on various factors, the number you need will vary. Calculators exist for this function. Using the math, I've worked out that to maintain my current body weight at my current activity level I need about 2200 calories per day - this is actually a bit of a high number but based on experience it's rather accurate. Also in my experience, going more than 20% below your maintenance caloric intake leads to immediate and readily-felt energy problems.

The first group of actual nutrients worth discussing is what people commonly refer to as protein - protein is actually absorbed into the body as amino acids, some of which the body can produce naturally from other materials and some of which you must obtain from a dietary or supplementary source. Amino acids can be found in anything that was once alive - animal or plant - and their general composition and balance is just as important as the gross protein intake, which should be at about .5 grams per pound of body weight (I know, I hate that formula too), assuming you are reasonably fit and active. The more active you are (which is to say, the harder you train), the more you will need, and it's best to get them from a variety of sources. The next article will go into proteins in detail.

After that, one supposes, come your carbohydrates, of which there are simple and complex varieties. The main use of carbohydrates is bumping up the caloric intake of a given meal. Accordingly, the main carbohydrate source in any meal or snack is going to be the "starchy" component - the bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, or what have you, though I throw a gigantic asterisk after this because all foods contain them to one degree or another.

What follows of course are the Vitamins and Minerals that are ultimately trace elements in your diet, typically measured in mg doses or smaller, which your body uses for various functions.

Expect to see the next article, protein, very soon, and remember  - potatoes are dietary grains!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Value of the Safety Valve

My life feels like it does this on a daily basis.
Whether it's a biproduct of some hitherto-undiagnosed anxiety disorder or simply a facet of my usually-manic nature, I'm never quite sure I have a handle on things, and the instant it appears I do not I have a tendency to panic. And while I can stave off the worst effects of that sort of panic by either focusing on the immediate task at hand or forcing a prayer, nothing that gives my mind a few extra seconds of clarity actually stops the physical symptoms of the panic. To see me wide-eyed and flush is to see me working 99 shifts of 100, and it's not necessarily because I'm bad at my job.

It's actually a compounding issue of mine: I hate changes of plan and I can't read people. Accordingly, being told we're running out of X often sounds more accusatory than advisory and no amount of reminding myself that there's laws of thermodynamics that define the maximum speed at which I can cook something seems to stave off the feeling that the person asking for the chicken strips or ~90gram beef patties feels like I'm not doing my job well enough.

Fortunately the typical reaction after the fact is to laugh at the panic and congratulate myself for a job well done, but even then, it takes the more enjoyable parts of my job (those rare facets where I'm actually transforming food into edible food) and attaches to them a cost - I'm free to work my favourite positions of the kitchen whenever possible, but I'm going to shred my heart and stress my brain in doing so.

And, ultimately, that's perfectly fine. Something we have to remember is that, unless you believe in perfect predestination, nothing is under control. The universe is a messy and chaotic place and the unpredictability of quantum mechanics is enough that even the most brilliant of human minds could not perfectly plan out fifteen minutes, let alone a whole day. Moreover, business is a balancing act in which you must carefully ensure you have just barely enough staff to get the job done without having so many persons on board that people can stand around during a rush and waste time.

The trick, in my view, to managing the stress from your Really Fun Job, is to play at least as hard as you work. And it doesn't matter whether you're heaping on hours in the book room, logging some screen time, or whatever it is you do - just make sure you keep the house in order too.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Gentleman has a Freezer - Return of Food Posts

I seem to have a thing for larger appliances - first there was the 55 gallon fish tank, and now there is the deep freeze.

Okay, granted, the deep freeze is not mine. But it's there, and it's big, and there's more than enough room for the four of us to share equitably.

As you know, I like to make as much as I can get away with from scratch - lord knows given time, space, and energy, I'd probably even cultivate at least a few of the vegetables. This is time consuming though, and I'll be the first to admit that I, like many people, am the first to shrug off eating entirely some days, if eating is much more complicated than "set it and forget it."

The solution to this for most people is to load up on pizza pockets and kraft dinner. For me, though, I like a little more control, and so I have endeavored to freezer cook for a time.

It'll be a few days before I can start in earnest, but I hope to share a few recipes with you, once I get them nailed down. For comparison's sake, I'll work out the actual per-serving costs too, and compare them to the local prices for commercial equivalents, should they exist.