Food Is Not Your Enemy


How the “Umami” Taste Affects Appetite
July 28, 2015, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Beans, Dairy, Eggs, Meat, Mushrooms, Restaurants, Vegetables, weight loss | Tags: ,

Growing up, you may remember learning about the four tastes that our tongues can detect: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But it’s now generally recognized that there is a fifth taste, a taste that’s prevalent in such foods as mushrooms, parmesan cheese, miso, tomatoes, and meat—“umami.” And this umami taste, a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found, can actually have an effect on our appetite.

Umami was first recognized in 1908 by a Tokyo researcher, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, who postulated that there exists in many foods a savory, meaty taste that does not really fit into the categorizations of sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. He found that ground zero of this flavor is a compound called glutamate, or glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in the umami-rich foods. His work went mainstream only in the 1980s, and is now lovingly paid homage to by chefs worldwide as well as by the wildly popular burger chain known as Umami Burger (the burgers contain such toppings as truffle cheese, shiitake mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes).

Interestingly, two University of Sussex researchers found that when given umami-rich soup, their study participants initially felt an increase in their appetite as they ate, but eventually experienced greater satiety after the meal compared to the control group. This increased satiety, of course, can lead to eating less later in the day. Helpful if you’re looking to lose weight!

Given that umami flavors are generally delicious, why not seek them out then? Other foods that are considered umami-rich are seaweed, green tea, eggs, shellfish, soybeans, asparagus, and carrots.



The Real Cause of Heart Disease

For years, dietary cholesterol was thought to raise our risk of cardiovascular disease. We were told to limit such high-cholesterol foods as red meat, butter, eggs, and shrimp because there was an assumption that the cholesterol in these foods would increase our blood serum cholesterol levels—and high LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. But in a report released in February 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) of the United States government stated, “Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol, consistent with the AHA/ACC (American Heart Association / American College of Cardiology) report. Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

Yes, this means what you think it means—you can eat omelets without worry! Shrimp cocktail? Yes, please! It turns out that only 15% of circulating cholesterol in the blood comes from what we eat, according to Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who was interviewed by CNN.com after the government’s report was published.

The newer theory about what leads to increased risk of heart disease, according to a report from Harvard Medical School, is chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a necessary immune response to infection or trauma, and is a good thing when it occurs in connection to problems like sprained ankles or if we eat a contaminated food and become sick. But stress, lack of exercise, and eating unhealthy foods on a regular basis–foods that contain chemicals, additives, damaging fats, and refined sugar, for instance–can lead to chronic low-level inflammation in our bodies, which results in slowly damaged organs, poor functioning of our organ systems, rapid aging, and heart disease. Inflamed arteries cause cholesterol in the blood to “stick” and gunk up the works, and this can eventually lead to a heart attack.

The key culprits in the American diet that lead to inflammation? Sugar, refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta, and low-quality fats that are too high in omega-6 fatty acids, like soybean, corn, and “vegetable” oil. Choose whole grains rather than white stuff; and get your fats from olive oil, seeds, nuts, fish, and avocados (which are all high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids) rather than from the omega-6 oils that are used often for commercial deep frying and in processed foods.

You’ll be doing your heart a huge favor.



Relax to Lose Weight
June 2, 2015, 9:29 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , , , ,

New Yorkers work hard. We love to be busy and talk about how busy we are, and then we grouse about how stressed out we feel. If advice is offered to some of us type As about how to scale back and find a little time for ourselves, we will explain why we simply can’t do that, that it’s not possible to change anything, and that we just have to continue on and somehow survive on five hours of sleep and takeout Pad Thai.

And then we wonder why we can’t drop the 20 pounds we’ve put on in the past two years.

The fact is, stress makes us fat. And actively releasing that stress and relaxing can help us lose weight, in a way that all the steamed broccoli and skinless chicken breast in the world can’t.

Stress activates a biological response that makes us feel hungry (which is why so many of us stress eat). Carbs and sugar are particularly appealing when we’re stressed. And stress leads to increased storage of belly fat.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to counteract these forces conspiring to make us fat is to practice deep breathing. If you take a deep breath, you stimulate your vagus nerve, a nerve connected to your fat cells, stem cells and all the organs and tissues in your body. Stimulating this nerve turns on the production of hormones that calm your nervous system, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, kick start your metabolism, and regulate your appetite, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in the field of functional medicine. The simple act of taking deep breaths essentially leads to an increased level of fat burning.

So make some time on a regular basis to meditate, do yoga, or simply sit and breathe, without distraction. Even five minutes a day can make a difference. And who doesn’t have time for that?



The Paleo Diet: Myths and Realities

The Paleo diet is based on the notion that we should eat the way our ancestors in the Paleolithic age did, before we started down the road of agriculture and industry, and before we were faced with an epidemic of such chronic illnesses as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Also known as the “Caveman diet,” Paleo followers are meant to avoid anything allegedly not eaten by hunter-gatherers—so no grains, no beans, no dairy, no sugar, no processed foods.

There are certainly good aspects of this diet—avoiding sugary drinks and chips and muffins and ice cream will lead to weight loss and overall better health outcomes. For this reason, when clients or friends ask me about the Paleo diet, I tend to shrug my shoulders and tell them it’s certainly not the worst diet in the world. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a bit of a gimmick.

Why the insistence on avoiding healthy foods, like whole grains and beans and legumes? This is where the diet devolves into a bit of fantastical thinking, according to evolutionary biologist Marlene Zuk of the University of California, Riverside, who penned the book Paleofantasy. The Paleolithic age was long—ranging from 2.5 million to 10,000 years ago, and there was no one particular unchanging diet eaten during those many years, all over the world. The human diet is always evolving, our bodies are always adapting, and the species of plants and animals we eat have drastically changed since that period in our history as well. Cavemen were not eating chickens or cows as we know them today. So what exactly are we trying to recapture with these strict Paleo rules?

Any diet that looks to seriously restrict entire food groups can be tough to follow over time, and sometimes leads to overeating of the “approved” foods on the list—I don’t think it’s a great idea to be gorging on steak, for instance. But hey, I’ll take this diet any day over those diets I remember from my youth, when the moms in my neighborhood were doing the “7 hot dogs, 7 bananas a day” diet, or eating these little chocolate chewy candies called “Aids” that were meant to suppress their appetite. At least cavemen, even somewhat fictionalized cavemen, ate better than that.



How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that most people will develop at some point in their lives. It is dangerous as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are among the leading killers of Americans.

The good news is that elevated blood pressure—a reading of 140/90 or higher is considered high, according to the National Institutes of Health—is something we can reverse, often through diet and lifestyle changes. Here’s how:

-Control salt intake. Even if you generally eat a healthy diet, your sodium consumption may be higher than you realize—especially if you regularly eat food prepared outside the home. Ninety percent of the salt in our diets comes from prepared and processed foods and restaurant foods, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. What this means is that you shouldn’t stress about sprinkling salt on your homemade roast chicken at the dinner table. What you should stress about is, for instance, that burrito at Chipotle or that can of soup you’re slurping. My husband, a very healthy eater, found out recently his blood pressure was borderline high. We then looked up the amount of salt in the vegetarian burrito bowl he ordered twice a week for lunch from Chipotle, and it contained more than a day’s worth of sodium. On top of that, there were the tortilla chips he’d get on the side. Yes, Chipotle sources sustainable and clean ingredients, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t loaded with salt. Other foods that are surprisingly salty are bread, cheese, and cold cuts.

-Eat a diet rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, beans, and leafy greens. Calcium-rich foods include dairy and leafy greens. And magnesium-rich foods include nuts and seeds, cacao and dark chocolate, and, yes, leafy greens.

-Exercise. One of the most important things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure. 30 minutes of moderate activity a day will do it.

-Watch alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol can raise blood pressure—this means not having more than one drink a day for women, or more than two drinks a day for men.

-Manage stress. Stress can raise our blood pressure, and cause many other health problems as well. Experiment with different ways to bring your stress levels down, either by deep breathing, meditating, going out for a walk, or talking to someone about what you’re feeling. You may find some inspiration here.

-Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Of course, if you eat a nutrient-rich diet of mostly home-cooked food, exercise regularly, limit booze, and keep control of stress, maintaining a healthy weight may simply come as a matter of course.



Are You Addicted to Food?
March 3, 2015, 11:24 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: , ,

Why is it that no matter how much we want to eat healthier, we can’t resist those treats passed around at work? You reach for a cookie offered by your co-worker, knowing that you don’t really want to eat it, that you really want to lose weight and that this cookie will make you then want another, and maybe another. But you feel like you can’t help yourself. It’s just so dang delicious for those 30 seconds it takes to scarf down…

The guilt sets in afterwards. But that, as you well know, won’t necessarily stop you from doing it again tomorrow.

Maybe cookies are not your undoing. Maybe it’s pizza. Maybe fries. Or ice cream. Or burgers. Whatever your trigger food, though, it’s likely that it contains sugar, fat, or both.

Sugar and fat and the high-calorie foods they tend to appear in have been shown to be physically addictive, in studies involving both rats and humans. Our brain lights up from consuming sugar and fat in much the same way it would if we were to use drugs. “It looks like the habitual consumption of calorie-dense food can elicit changes in brain responses that mirror drug addiction,” Kyle Burger, a researcher at the Oregon Research Institute’s Eating Disorders and Obesity Prevention Lab, told Nutrition Action Healthletter in 2012.

Due to the effects they have on the brain, the more we eat sugar, fat, and junk food, the more we’ll want them. So there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling so drawn to these foods—most of us feel this way, at some point or another. You’re not weak for experiencing these cravings.

So what to do about it? Your best strategy is to eat more whole foods found in nature that don’t contain added sugar and are not fried or otherwise swimming in unhealthy fat. Your palette will adjust—when your body and brain become more accustomed to eating fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, beans, and whole grains, then fast-food fried chicken and Oreos won’t be such a temptation. Try it—it really works.

Your waistline will thank you.



Four Steps to a Healthier Year
January 30, 2015, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

There’s no need to avoid all grains. You don’t have to shun beans. Juicing as a lifestyle? Not advisable. Paleo? Meh. Atkins? Why, so you have an excuse to eat a pack of bacon every day?

The diet industry in our country loves to push us to extremes. We’re told at every turn to cut out entire food groups, imbibe crazy quantities of this or that, and to then just sit back and watch the pounds melt off. They might indeed come off, but the chance of those pounds staying off are slim to none if you don’t make real, permanent, and sustainable changes. Ask yourself—can I comfortably eat this way for the next 20 years? If the answer is “no,” then you’ll likely need a different approach.

Begin by getting back to the basics of healthy eating and living. You can’t go wrong if you …

Eat whole foods. This means eating food that’s as close to its natural state as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw meat that you prepare yourself (as opposed to pre-cooked breaded chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs). Nuts. Beans. Whole grains. Not Cheetos.

Cook. It’s so easy to eat out, order in, do drive-thru. But food prepared outside the home tends to be high calorie, and restaurants just serve us way too much food. Cooking at home means you know exactly what’s in your food, and we tend to serve ourselves much more reasonable portions than restaurants do.

Ask yourself if you’re hungry. Most of us, at least some of the time, eat when we’re not hungry. We eat because we’re bored, or stressed, or lonely, or because the food is there, right in front of us, tempting us. Always ask yourself if you’re hungry before eating. You’ll be surprised by how often the answer is no.

Exercise. Schedule it in. Treat it like taking a shower—you don’t try to talk yourself out of showering every day, do you? Likely not. You just do it. It’s not negotiable. To be healthy, you need to move. Walk, run, dance, play basketball, ice skate, do yoga, whatever. Just do something that you enjoy–on a regular basis.

There’s nothing faddish about this advice. Which is why I think it’s the best way to go.




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