Happy New Year! Now that everyone is earnestly making resolutions for the year ahead, we asked authors Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason, and Linda Nagata to chat about fitness and writing. We’re focusing here on diet. (And we won’t mention this topic again for at least a year, promise!)
Q: Do you follow a diet?
Kevin: My wife (the author Rebecca Moesta) and I have been on a low-carb diet for years, but just over the summer the Mayo Clinic strongly encouraged her to modify that to the Paleo Diet, which is an even stricter low-carb diet. Basically meats and vegetables, avoid processed food, no breads, pasta, rice, flour, dairy.
Lisa: I’ve been seeing a lot about the Paleo Diet, Kevin.
Since my parents died fairly young after decades of the typical American diet of red meat, butter, refined grains, and sugar, my husband, the artist Tom Robinson, and I have committed to an extremely low-fat, low-sugar, high fiber, mostly vegetarian diet.
That amounts to lots of vegetables, some fruit, some nuts, fat-free plain yogurt, olive oil, fat-free evaporated milk and fat-free egg whites for cooking, a sprinkle of low-fat cheese for garnish, whole wheat, and brown rice. Some seafood for me (but not for Tom; he’s totally vegetarian).
We eat a lot of vegetarian meat substitutes, which I suppose amounts to “processed food” and is concocted of soy, corn, whole wheat proteins, and some fat-free milk. Morningstar Farms products are delicious, sugar-free, low fat, zero cholesterol, and high fiber. I also like a butter substitute called Smart Balance Lite, which is made of flaxseed and canola oils and has 30% of the calories of regular oils. For me, keeping the fat as low as possible is important.
Linda: A few years ago my husband and I spent two months trying out a very low-fat diet, and I’ll admit I dropped seven or eight pounds that I didn’t need—but it wasn’t something that either of us were dedicated enough to stick to. So while we don’t follow any specific diet regimen, we do try to eat generally healthy, with whole grains and vegetables and lower-fat meats. Neither of us likes to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, so we tend to do what’s easy and convenient, but we avoid high-fat, high-sugar processed foods, and desserts are usually limited to special occasions.
Lisa: Linda, I’m curious—and forgive me if this sounds rude—but is it true Hawaiians eat a lot of Spam?
Linda: Yes, Spam is quite popular in Hawaii and I really like it—but rarely eat it because of the fat and salt. The most common way to eat Spam is in a “Spam musubi.” There are variations, but the basic idea is a block of sticky rice with a slice of fried Spam on it, and a strip of nori—seaweed—to hold it together.
Q: How has the diet worked out for you?
Kevin: I’ve always had to keep an eye on my cholesterol levels, and after three months on the diet I had a full blood chemistry panel and got the best test results in my entire adult life. Rebecca also had blood work done and *hers* was the best blood chemistry she’s ever had in her life. We know other people who are following the regimen with amazing and obvious results, so we can see that it works. We’ll stick with it.
Lisa: That’s great, Kevin. And great for Rebecca!
We’ve followed our vegetarian diet for over twenty years. Tom recently had a complete physical; his cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure were textbook. At six feet tall, he weighs in at about 158 pounds.
As for me, I’m comfortable eating this way. I feel good. I never have nasty digestive problems. I’m trimmer than I was in college. Though I admit when I want to trim a bit these days, I cut the grains. At present, I stand at five foot five and a half, 110 pounds.
It certainly doesn’t follow that just because you don’t eat meat, you’re healthier. Vegetarians who gulp down sugary granola, smoothies, yogurt with fruit jam, whole-fat cheeses, and sugar-fatty whole-grain muffins need to rethink their regimen.
Linda: My not-trying-too-hard diet works all right. Cholesterol hasn’t been a problem (thanks Mom and Dad!). I’m healthy so far and I’m not gaining weight—but I’m not losing it either. The amount of calories it takes to sustain a middle-aged woman is incredibly small! So I’m starting to make changes: more vegetables, more protein, fewer carbs.
Q: Do you eat breakfast? What do you have?
Kevin: I eat breakfast every morning before I work out. Usually eggs, breakfast meat, fresh fruit, some munchie vegetables (bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes). Sometimes I make a really good Paleo hot cereal made from blended nuts, bananas, coconut milk, cinnamon, topped with fruit. (Since we’re not allowed the grains, we can’t eat oatmeal or other hot cereals, but this one hits the spot.)
Lisa: Breakfast is, of course, the meal that literally breaks the fast of your sleep time. Your blood sugar is very low. I can’t think of anything worse than the typical American breakfast of coffee with milk and sugar, orange juice, and some sugary cereal. What a sugar shock to your system! No wonder people are starving by mid-morning.
Actually, I can think of something worse. The late, great Charles Brown, the founder of Locus Magazine, once told me he loved Coke for breakfast as a kid. That’s worse.
That said, no, I don’t usually eat breakfast. I just don’t like eating early in the day. Half a cup of black coffee and I’m good to go.
When I do need to eat something, I’ll whip up a nice little bowl of microwaved fat-free egg whites. Yummy. I actually like scrambled egg whites (proof that human beings can adapt to anything). I especially like how the pure protein makes me feel fueled without any sugar rush. Protein takes longer to digest in small intestine, which staves off hunger.
Linda: Low-sugar cereal with low-fat milk for me. Easy and convenient, right? Of course this means I’m hungry within a few hours, but by then I’m willing to put a little more time into preparation, so lunch is a more significant meal.
Q: What about dairy?
Kevin: On the Paleo we’re not supposed to have dairy, but I don’t want to be a diet-nazi about it. I put half and half in my coffee and sometimes we like cheese or yogurt. If your diet is so strict that it’s more like medicine than food, then you won’t stick to it. (Sorry, Lisa, but if I had to eat those nasty meat substitutes you talked about above…yechhhh.)
Lisa: Hah! Egg whites do take some getting used to, but Morningstar Farms products are quite delicious. Spicy black bean burgers, sausage links, sausage patties, and bacon are our favorites. Good fiber and low cholesterol, Kevin.
Added March 23, 2014, Lisa: I feel the same way about the raising and slaughtering of animals for food, and about the taste and texture of meat, as Kevin feels about our nutritious and delicious meat substitutes: Yechhhh. I’ve since heard from several people—post cardiac arrest—who have been forced to change their diets. Once they start eating meat substitutes, Morningstar Farms especially, they prefer the substitutes to meat.
Dairy, as Kevin mentioned, is forbidden in the Paleo Diet and in vegan diets, as well. Many people have dairy allergies. Dairy is sugary. Even my fat-free plain yogurt has 6 grams of sugar per cup. That’s a lot of sugar.
When I was a child, I hated milk and cheese. Hated. Since the conventional wisdom was “Drink your milk to build strong bones,” milk-drinking (or lack thereof) was a constant source of rancor between my mother and me. Which is probably why I have problems dealing with authority figures to this day.
It turns out that children with milk allergies get lots of earaches. I got earaches all the time.
I do eat a bit of yogurt for the calcium and a sprinkle of Parmesan on my pasta. Added March 23, 2014: But not lately. I've cut all dairy. Added October 23. 2016: The Paleo Diet has been totally discredited, as I thought it would.
Linda: We don’t do a lot of dairy, in part because my husband can’t digest milk—so that eliminates the temptation of all kinds of cream sauces, ice cream, etc. We do eat hard cheeses though, and I use low-fat milk on cereal and will drink a glass at night if I’m having a hard time sleeping. It really does help.
Q: What about diet while you’re traveling?
Kevin: Because I travel a lot, sometimes it’s hard to keep to a strict diet when somebody else is cooking. Traditional low-carb diets are fairly easy to stick to even in restaurants; you order extra vegetables instead of the potato/rice/pasta accompaniment, skip the sandwiches and pizza and chips. For breakfast, I usually go to a Starbucks to get my coffee, a Greek yogurt and a banana. I try to behave, but I’m not super strict about it.
Lisa: Oh I agree, keeping to a diet can be difficult on the road. In places like New York and Los Angeles, where hotels and restaurants are savvy to vegetarians and our preferences, I usually have no problem finding something to eat. In other places, like Grand Forks (where I was guest of the Science Fiction Research Association), Philadelphia (where I was a guest of the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society), and even Chicago (where I was a guest of the Library Information Technology Association and the American Library Association) I’ve faced more challenges. This is when I’ll eat turkey (I dislike chicken so that’s not an option) or whole eggs. Decent seafood may be difficult to find, and I always have to ask the cook not use butter. Sometimes a bag of peanuts and a can of V8 will have to do.
Speaking of nuts, everyone is allowed to eat them—Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, and omnivore. The only caveat is nuts do contain a lot of fat—but it’s monounsaturated, which is good fat—a bit of fiber, and beneficial minerals. A decades-long study of Seventh Day Adventists, who eat nuts several times a week, found that nut consumption correlates well with very low rates of heart disease. Proof there is some justice in the world.
Kevin: And note that fat isn’t a bad thing (contrary to the dietary misinformation we were given growing up that we should eat lots of white bread, pasta, and Minute Rice, which were all “good” for you because they were low fat). It’s the empty carbs and junk food that has made Americans fat.
Added February 16, 2014, Lisa: Kevin is correct that any kind of refined grain, including white wheat, and white rice are empty carbs that rank high on the glycemic index (they throw your blood sugar off), lack fiber, nutrition, and taste.
I strenuously disagree with Kevin’s opinion about fat. Consuming a high-fat diet—any kind of fat—will make you fat. If you want to trim, cut the fat. Period.
Then there are several kinds of fat that have a very different impact on your body. Trans fats—hydrogenated oils that food manufacturers invented to prolong the shelf life of their products—have definitively been linked to cardiac and other problems. Trans fats are so bad that most manufacturers now avoid them completely.
Saturated fat, the kind in meat and dairy, has also definitively been linked to cardiac and other problems. Most reputable physicians recommend reducing or eliminating your intake of saturated fats. Dr. Dean Ornish has successfully reversed serious cardiac disease by directing his patients to avoid saturated fat (and high fat intake generally.)
That leaves polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil, canola oil, flax oil, olives, nuts, and avocados. These beneficial fats may mitigate and even reverse heart disease. Those are the kinds of fats you should consume but, again, very moderately.
Linda: Traveling is hard. I’m sure I consume far more calories when we’re on the road, but then I tend to be more physically active too. My husband actually handles himself better than I do. He’ll order salads for dinner, while I eat whatever looks interesting.
Q: Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Kevin: I am a big fan of microbrew beer, in particular hoppy IPAs. Beer is high in carbs, and strict diets tell me I should avoid it. That is my exception. I can give up the ice cream and cookies and potatoes and bread, but I allow myself a beer when I want one. Oh, and a lot of high-and-mighty diets insist you should cut out coffee and in fact all caffeine…but that’s just plain crazy talk.
Lisa: Moderate coffee-drinking is associated with all kinds of health benefits, including lower heart disease, less depression, even less diabetes. And let’s face it—who could live without that cuppa?
The guilty pleasure for me would be wine. Strict health enthusiasts avoid all alcohol, of course, and too much alcohol can certainly cause a lot of damage. But wine with food is one of my pleasures in life. Wine is made from grapes, grapes are good, therefore wine is good (or at least not so bad). How’s that for a syllogism?
Linda: Coffee, wine, and dark chocolate—those make up a basic food group, right?
Q: Do you follow the latest research about diet and nutrition?
Kevin: I subscribe to Mens’ Health and Mens’ Fitness, and I have friends who are “nutritionally aware” (but they seem to come up with a trendy new good or bad food every week). I think the key is not to go overboard and get fanatical about it (trust me, your friends will hate you if you become a proselytizer). LIVE your life, but if you’re healthy and if you feel good, you’ll be able to do more things and enjoy it more.
Lisa: I follow the research, too. I’m always curious to discover what new insights come up. My mother was a professional nutritionist. She always had nutrition magazines around, which fascinated me.
Real Age is a great site. So is Web MD. You always have to remember, though, there’s lots of misinformation, disinformation, and information funded by vested interests.
Fads on the fringe never work. Remember liquid protein? That vile stuff literally caused people to have cardiac arrest. Or how about honey, oil, and vinegar (the HOV diet). Proponents wanted people to drink the stuff three times a day before meals, claiming they’d lose weight. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people lost their lunch.
Linda: It’s probably easy to deduce by now that I don’t follow nutrition news too closely. I’ve heard so much advice over the years, and so much of it completely contradictory, that my primary dictum is simply “moderation in everything.” So far, so good.
So there you have it, my friends. People take different approaches to diet (sometimes very different approaches) depending on their needs and what works for them. Find the diet that suits you best and stick with it.
We thank Kevin J. Anderson, Lisa Mason, and Linda Nagata for a lively and provocative discussion. Be sure to visit them at their websites and buy their books.
Kevin J. Anderson has published 125 books, more than fifty of which have been national or international bestsellers. He has written numerous novels in the Star Wars, X-Files, and Dune universes, as well as a unique steampunk fantasy novel, Clockwork Angels, based on the concept album by legendary rock group Rush. His original works include the Saga of Seven Suns series, the Terra Incognita fantasy trilogy, and his humorous horror series featuring Dan Shamble, Zombie PI. He has edited numerous anthologies, including the Five by Five and Blood Liteseries. Anderson and his wife Rebecca Moesta are the publishers of WordFire Press. Wordfirepress.com.
Lisa Mason is the author of ten novels including Summer of Love, A Time Travel (A Philip K. Dick Award Finalist and San Francisco Chronicle Recommended Book) and The Gilded Age, A Time Travel (A New York Times Notable Book and New York Public Library Recommended Book), as well as dozens of stories published in magazines and anthologies worldwide. Her latest release, Strange Ladies: 7 Stories was called “a must-read collection” by the San Francisco Review of Books. Visit her at Lisa Mason’s Official Website.Linda Nagata is the author of multiple novels and short stories including The Bohr Maker, winner of the Locus Award for best first novel, and the novella “Goddesses,” the first online publication to receive a Nebula award. Her story “Nahiku West” was a finalist for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Though best known for science fiction, she writes fantasy too, exemplified by her “scoundrel lit” series Stories of the Puzzle Lands. Her newest science fiction novel is The Red: First Light, a near-future military thriller published under her own imprint, Mythic Island Press LLC. Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and lately a publisher and book designer. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui. Find her online at: MythicIsland.com, twitter.com/LindaNagata, and facebook.com/Linda.Nagata.author
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|Time Travels to San Francisco, Boxed Set|
|The Garden of Abracadabra, Volume 1 of the Abracadabra Series|
|The Garden of Abracadabra Books 1, 2, and 3|
|Strange Ladies: 7 Stories|
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|Castles in the Sky Interview||Festivale Interview|
|The Next Thing|
|Jewelry by Tom Robinson||Art by Tom Robinson|
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All content copyright 2000-2017 by Lisa Mason. All artwork copyright 2000-2017 by Tom Robinson.
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