A few years ago a friend of mine had a hunch and said I was going to visit New Zealand (NZ). I responded, "Are you sure? I don't know anyone from there." That was until I met Prudence, who had moved to the Boston area from NZ.
That prediction came true this past March when I spent an entire month in NZ traveling the north and south islands. When Prudence showed our itinerary to a relative from NZ, he said, "I've never been to half of these places!"
We're talking about: Waitomo Glowworm Caves - thousands of sparkling glowworms above you, Aranui Caves - magnificent limestone formations, Craggy Range Winery - beautiful setting, delicious wines, Abel Tazman National Park, Mount Cook (picture), Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki (picture), Bungee jumping, Queenstown, and much more.
I put my YMCA membership on hold, attended a surprise going away party here at the office (thank you) and was off on the trip of a lifetime. But I had a few big challenges: No formal exercise; no swimming, cardio, or resistance training. I'd been consistent for the past 25 years, and what about my Zone Diet? NZ is known for pikelets (pancakes), sausage rolls, savory muffins, Brekky towers (bacon, egg, onion, potatoes, Hollandaise sauce), grilled Haloumi (cheese) with green eggs, fish and chips, whitebait fritters, green lipped muscles, free-range eggs, venison, beef and lamb, cheese and wine, and pavlova (a meringue-type dessert that's topped with cream and fresh fruit) to name a few classics.
The trip would be a good test of the advice I'd given in these newsletters: Could I still walk the talk? Is the Zone as simple and easy as I've been writing about? We all are unique nutritional types. I know of some who consume pasta, pizza, pretzels, hot chocolate, and whole eggs and have good blood work. They are the lucky ones. The majority of us are not that fortunate. Could I maintain my blood work within healthy ranges, specifically the test that could measure my future state of wellness, the AA/EPA ratio? My last test result was about 4.0, not bad considering that the average for an American is closer to 20. What would the result be after 30 days of delicious NZ foods and restaurant meals?
NZ has stunning scenery, friendly people (Kiwis), delicious food and world-class wines. Unfortunately, the country has some of the highest rates of depression and one of the highest rates of death from heart disease among developed nations. Why? Dr. Sears believes it's their diet. Would I be successful controlling my AA/EPA ratio while on vacation?Despite being an island nation surrounded by a variety of fish and other seafood, these foods have not been an important part in their diet until recently. Meat, poultry and dairy have been the preference for most meals. Fresh produce and fruits abound, including the age-old crop favorite, kumara (sweet potato).
Kiwis take their food seriously, using locally grown, organic, free-range, farm-to-table ingredients — no Egg McMuffins for us . We ordered handcrafted breakfasts like the Brekky Tower, Eggs Florentine (poached eggs, potato cake, spinach, mushrooms, avocado with Hollandaise), Eggs Benny with Bacon, veggie and egg stack, and whole-egg omelets. Dave! Too much arachidonic acid in those egg yolks? Unfortunately, they don't have Eggbeaters. It was the trip of a lifetime. OK, on occasion I did have fruit and cheese that included some interesting items like feijoas that have a distinctive aromatic flavor.
Being on the road almost daily (we traveled 2,000 miles), lunch was often at small cafes and occasional vineyards offering cheeseboards with locally dried sausages, savory chutneys and alluring display cases with such items as Roast Vegetable Frittata, (Toasted Chicken Schnitzel with Bacon, Cheese and Sweet Chili, and Sweet Corn Fritters with Bacon, Avocado and Relish.
Prudence surprised me one afternoon when we arrived at a beautiful rural setting with craft breweries matched with delicious local foods. The most memorable item was not the beer but Scotty's local organic venison and stout burger topped with bacon, sautéed onions, a fried egg and beetroot relish (Kiwi substitute for ketchup). Sadly, the organic juice lady had no customers.
Another treat was stopping at the Mussel Pot Restaurant in Havlock, the greenshelled mussel capital of the world. For early dinner we ordered the mussel platter consisting of smoked, marinated, steamed, grilled, and battered mussels with a cup of chowder. To offset the rich breakfasts, I tried to order seafood when possible, items such as paua (albalone) and whitebait patties, orange roughy, barramundi, tarakihi, prawns, fish and chips, famous Bluff oysters, in addition to marinated roast chicken, and lamb dishes like cumin-spiced lamb.
So after 35 days was I able to maintain my AA/EPA ratio, and how many pounds did I gain? Was it true that exercise doesn't make you thinner and could actually encourage weight gain? It's what you put in your mouth. I was able to test the assumption by doing no formal exercise, however, we took short hikes through the rain forest and sightseeing adventures and did my best to follow the Zone guidelines, with the exception of those delicious egg dishes.
The results are in. I look and feel good, I maintained my weight, and got a tan; but what about my silent inflammation that is below the perception of pain and accelerates chronic disease? My AA/EPA ratio on 4/14 was 6.0. In just over a month my ratio went up by 2 points! My arachidonic acid (AA) went up from 5.7 to 7.48 (too many egg yolks) and my EPA (fish oil) went down from 1.43 to 1.25 because I didn't supplement daily. My AA wasn't too bad since Dr. Sears suggests a range from 7 to 9 but my EPA was very low at 1.25 (over 4 is good). Dr. Sears' recommendation: Get back on my breakfast routine of a vegetable eggbeater omelet, a Zone shake or protein powder with oatmeal and increase my OmegaRx supplementation.
When it comes to diet, what did I learn? If it takes only 4-6 weeks to increase your AA/EPA ratio and risk factors for chronic disease, but fortunately it takes only 4-6 weeks to improve (lower) one's ratio. I'm back on track. No more egg yolks, and I've increased my OmegaRx supplementation. Fortunately, dreaming and looking at pictures of delicious NZ food won't raise my ratio. I'm back to my one pig-out meal a month instead of my once-a-day porky-pig meal every day for a month.