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Joanna Brady Schmida's - "Keys Cuisine"
Sunday, May 16, 2010
There's Something to This 'Anti-Jet-Lag Diet'

Last week, I was having lunch with some locals about to leave on a cruise to Europe aboard one of those big luxurious cruise ships we in Key West are always grousing about.

After cruising the Caribbean all winter, these vessels "reposition" themselves. That is, they head to Europe for Mediterranean cruises throughout the summer. Since it doesn't make sense to head over there empty, they re-provision the ships and take passengers along with them at very reduced fares. For people with the time, it's a great way to go.

And getting there is half the fun. The great thing about going to Europe by sea rather than flying is that by setting your watch one hour ahead every night as you cross each time zone, you have virtually no "lag" when you arrive in Europe. Flying, on the other hand, can be a misery because you arrive the next day feeling like a zombie. And with traveling being so fraught with difficulties since 9/11, flying is bad enough even without feeling lagged-out as you arrive in a foreign country.

Jet lag is a feeling of irritability, insomnia and general disorientation that occurs when the body's inner clock is out of synch with time cues it receives from the environment. These cues can be meal times, sunrise and sunset, or daily cycles of rest and activity. Left to its own devices, the adult body normally needs one day to adjust to each time zone crossed. And the bad news is, the older you are, the harder it is to adjust to time changes.

This zombie-like state we call jet lag after a six or seven-hour trip east to the U.K. or continental Europe becomes a real problem if you have to attend a business meeting at your destination or plan any other activity when you have to be energized and alert.

We found this out some years ago when we went on ski trips to Europe because we'd want to hit the slopes the next day. Then we learned about the Argonne anti-jet-lag diet from a frequent flyer friend, we tried it and found it really worked. We were a perfect test lab as some of our fellow skiers were on the diet, the rest were not. And there was a big difference in energy between the two groups. Yes, we were still a little tired, but not enough to forego a day on the slopes. The others were too exhausted to ski.

Changing how you feel with jet lag by what you eat grew out of studies of circadian rhythms by Dr. Charles F. Ehret, a biologist at Argonne National Laboratory. If you'd like to give the plan a try before your next overseas trip, go to the Argonne National Laboratory's Anti-Jet-Lag Diet website. It explains it in detail and for a small fee they'll even give you a personalized guide.

Proper use of the Anti-Jet-Lag Diet can definitely help travelers make the change in one day. In a nutshell, the formula for people in our time zone who are heading for Europe is simple: You start it four days ahead.

Feast one day, fast one day, feast the next day and fast on the day of your flight, breaking the fast with breakfast at your destination.

This is the trick that helps reset your hunger cycle, which then helps all your other body functions transition more easily to the new time zone. (If you're flying west or heading to the Far East, the process is slightly different, just as it is for coming home from Europe. Consult the Argonne website for more information on that. Vegetarians will also want to consult the website for help in meal planning.)

The kind of food you eat during those four days prior to your European trip also matters if you want the plan to work. Let's say your travel day is Thursday. You will eat heartily on the Monday before your trip. On Tuesday, you'll fast. Wednesday you can again eat heartily. Then you'll skip breakfast on Thursday, your getaway day, have a very light lunch, then hop on the plane -- and here's the tough part: On the plane over, you will drink none of the champagne or wine offered and eat none of the food. Just put on an eye-mask, pop a sleeping pill if you need it and sleep until you arrive at your destination.

Results will vary but it does seem to work for most people. It's called a diet but it's really a change in the way you're eating over four days. What you eat sends your body signals about waking up and going to sleep. On this plan, the day you arrive at your destination, your body's clock has been reset by assuming the same meal and activity schedule as people in the new time zone.

On feast days, you eat three full meals. Take second helpings if you like. Breakfast and lunch should be high in protein. You could have ham or steak and eggs for breakfast, followed later by meat and perhaps beans or fish for lunch. Protein helps the body produce chemicals it normally does when it's time to wake up and get going. These high-protein meals don't need to be exclusively protein but they should emphasize it. High-protein foods that provide all the amino acids your body needs include meat, fish, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs.

Supper is high in carbohydrates, which fuel the body's energy needs and stimulate the body to produce biochemicals it naturally does during the resting phase of your daily cycle, signaling that it's time to bring on sleep.

Unprocessed foods that are high in carbohydrates include cereal grains such as wheat, rice, corn and oats, potatoes, many fruits and vegetables. Processed foods that are high in carbohydrates are pasta, bread and other baked goods, sweets and dried fruits. Spaghetti or another pasta is good, with no meat additions as meat contains too much protein. High-carbohydrate meals need not be exclusively carbohydrate but they should emphasize it.

On fast days you may eat three small meals, low in carbohydrates and calories, to help deplete the liver's store of carbohydrates. Acceptable meals on fast days would contain 700 calories or less and might consist of skimpy salads, thin soups and half-slices of bread.

Whether feasting or fasting, you may have coffee, or any other drink containing caffeine, only between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

On flight day, you will board the plane and begin the first phase of speeding up your body's internal clock to European time. Drink two or three cups of coffee between 9 and 10 p.m., turn off the overhead light and go to sleep.

About 1:30 a.m. our time (7:30 a.m. European time), you take the final steps that reset your body's clock to Europe time: You begin a third feast day but this one is based on the new time, which is now going to be your normal breakfast time. You wake up -- the coffee you drank before going to sleep helps you do this -- and you eat a high-protein breakfast without coffee; it might be last night's supper, which you saved for breakfast. Most airlines will gladly agree to this request. The large, high-protein meal helps your body wake up and synchronize itself with the Europeans, who are eating breakfast at about the same time.

Once you finish breakfast, stay active to keep your body working on European time. The other passengers may be asleep, but you are walking the aisles, talking to the flight attendants or working on your laptop.

That afternoon, in Europe, eat a high-protein lunch. A steak, burger or chicken would be good choices. That evening, eat a high-carbohydrate supper like crepes but with no high-protein meat filling. Then you go to bed early.

The next morning, you should wake up with little or no jet lag.

We've never bothered with the diet on the way home, because once you're home, you can rest as much as you want and it doesn't seem to matter, but it is based on the same feast-fast-feast-fast procedure.

You'll need no recipes for fasting days. Broth, half pieces of toast, juice and fruit are easy. And feasting days are easy enough to plan too, since the meat offerings during the day can be as simple as making ham and eggs for breakfast and grilling a steak or hamburger for lunch. What I include here are a few high-carb meal suggestions for your meatless evening meal on those feasting days. Bon voyage!

Pasta Primavera

12 ounces linguini or eggless fettucini pasta (or you can use penne)

2 cups small broccoli florets

1 large carrot, diced

2 medium zucchini, quartered crosswise and cut in thin sticks

1 large red bell pepper, quartered and cut crosswise in thin strips

Sauce:

2 tbsp all-purpose flour

1 cup chicken broth

1 cup low fat milk

1/4 tsp each salt and pepper or to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling lightly salted for 2 minutes less than directed on the package.

Add broccoli and carrot and cook, stirring once or twice, for 2 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and cook 2 to 3 minutes longer until vegetables and pasta are tender. Drain.

Meanwhile make the sauce. Put flour in a medium saucepan, then slowly whisk in broth and milk until blended. Stir in salt and pepper. Bring to boil over medium-high heat, whisking often. Reduce heat to low and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened. Correct the seasonings. Stir in cheese. Pour over drained vegetables and pasta. Toss to mix and coat.

Rice Pilaf

1/2 stick butter

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

salt and pepper to taste

2 ounces sliced pimiento

1/2 cup pine nuts or sunflower seeds

1 cup white rice

2-1/2 cups chicken broth.

Melt butter, add onion, garlic and seasoning, and sauté. Add rice and stir over medium heat. Stir in the nuts and pimiento. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 25 minutes, covered. Fork to toss and serve.

Crepes

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp butter, melted

leftover vegetables or cottage cheese and jam for filling

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and the eggs. Gradually add in the milk and water, stirring to combine. Add the salt and butter; beat until smooth.

Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium-high heat. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/4 cup for each crepe. Tilt the pan with a circular motion so that the batter coats the surface evenly.

Cook the crepe for about 2 minutes, until the bottom is light brown. Loosen with a spatula, turn and cook the other side. Serve hot, either plain or with left-over vegetable fillings, cottage cheese and/or sweet jam.

Medical caution: You should consult your physician before using the Anti-Jet-Lag Diet or any other diet.

Joanna Schmida is author of a new novel, "The Woman at the Light." Visit her at www.JoannaBradySchmida.com