Food Is Not Your Enemy


The Healthiest Eaters May Lack This Vitamin
November 29, 2016, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Dairy, Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , , ,

I am not a big fan of taking vitamins. I don’t take any myself, and generally don’t recommend that my clients take them. I believe that eating a nutrient-dense diet of whole natural foods will provide you with everything you need.

But there are two important exceptions to this for me. If your doctor recommends you take a vitamin supplement because you’re deficient in some way, then of course you should do so. And if you’re a vegan, or a vegetarian who eats very little dairy and/or eggs, then vitamin B12 supplements are a MUST.

Vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells, nerve cells, and DNA, and is an energy metabolizer. It plays a big role in keeping the brain healthy. A lack of B12 in the diet can lead to weakness, fatigue, anemia, numbness or tingling in the limbs, and cognitive difficulties.

The problem for vegans and some vegetarians is that B12 is only found in animal-based foods–meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy. Plants do not make B12. So if you are a vegan or vegetarian who barely eats animal products, a B12 supplement is non-negotiable, or you will become malnourished and develop serious health issues.

Other people who might be at risk for B12 deficiency are those who have had weight-loss surgery, take heartburn drugs such as Nexium or Prevacid or H2 blockers like Pepcid (stomach acid is needed to absorb B12, and these drugs reduce acid), or suffer from such conditions as Celiac or Crohn’s disease. Some people over 50 may have an issue as well, as our bodies naturally produce less stomach acid as we age.

A daily multivitamin usually is sufficient for meeting our B12 needs, or you can take a B-complex pill or drops, or B12 alone. More severe deficiencies could mean a need for weekly B12 shots.

If you have any concerns about your B12 levels, ask your doctor to test you. Chronic low energy is the first warning sign that something might be amiss.



The Foods I Eat

As a holistic nutrition counselor, I’m often asked, by my clients as well as my friends and acquaintances, what I myself eat every day. Do I do Paleo? Do I start my day with oatmeal or Greek yogurt? Do I mostly eat fish and broccoli for dinner?

So I thought that I would put together a list of typical meals I might have during the week. Here goes …

Breakfast: A smoothie. The recipe template I use is here.

Lunch: I rely a lot on leftovers from dinner the previous night. If there are no leftovers, I will often make two fried eggs and have them on one piece of buttered dark German rye bread, with perhaps half an avocado on the side. Or I’ll do a can of sardines (I know—not a popular choice with most people!) with some buttered whole grain toast, or a turkey sandwich. I always also have fruit with my lunch, and maybe also some nuts, hummus with whole grain crackers, and/or a little cheese. This is often my biggest meal of the day.

Snacks: I choose not to snack, with rare exceptions. Once I start eating snacks, I find it hard to stop! I prefer to just eat a nice large lunch that keeps me full for 6-7 hours until dinnertime.

Dinner: I’m a big fan of variety when it comes to dinner, so I rotate between probably 40-45 different recipes. Some typical dinners might include a quarter of a roast chicken with half my plate full of leafy greens or other vegetables, turkey and bean chili with a side salad, whole wheat pasta made with any number of different sauces or vegetables, homemade soup with salad or whole grain baguette on the side, salmon with vegetables, shrimp and vegetable stir-fry (using brown rice), homemade tacos on soft corn tortillas, BLTs on whole wheat toast with side salad or vegetables, and pork ribs or pork shoulder made in the slow cooker, with vegetables and maybe also a whole grain like black rice or potato on the side.

Dessert: 85% dark chocolate, 1 or 2 rows broken off the bar. I have this a few times a week. Once a week I might have a more decadent dessert, often out at a restaurant. That can be anything from ice cream to crème brulee to pie.



Should You Get Your Vitamin D Levels Checked?
August 31, 2015, 11:00 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, Mushrooms | Tags:

Whenever one of my clients tells me that they recently saw their doctor for a general checkup, they also tell me that their blood work indicated they were low in Vitamin D. I’ve just come to expect this.

Vitamin D occurs naturally in very few foods: wild salmon, herring, organ meats, egg yolks, mushrooms, and lard are about it. Milk has D added, as do some types of OJ and cereal. But it’s tough to get enough D just from food. The most effective way to get our Vitamin D is actually from the sun: It’s beneficial to expose your legs and arms for five to 10 minutes in mid-day summer sun, two or three times a week. And fortunately, our bodies can make enough vitamin D in the summer to last us all year, which comes in handy in sun-scarce winter when our bodies make virtually none.

There have been a plethora of reports stating that a lack of D can lead to such health problems as depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased risk for some cancers and autoimmune diseases. The problem is that the medical community is not clear on exactly how much Vitamin D we need, or what constitutes “low” Vitamin D. For this reason, in the Annals of Internal Medicine the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended against even getting our D routinely tested, unless you have bone-health problems or a condition that can affect fat absorption, such as celiac disease.

According to a report from Harvard Medical School, even if you test low for Vitamin D, there’s little evidence that taking a D supplement will do you any good. And too much D can actually cause calcium to accumulate in your blood, which can damage your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.

Speaking with your own doctor about the D issue and how it affects your body would be a good course of action, as well as getting outside in this glorious summer sun. (And if you happen to like liver, go for it …)



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.



“Unhealthy” Foods That Are Actually Healthy

Nutritional science changes—often. One day we’re told a food is good for us, the next day we’re told it’s bad. The opposite is true as well—sometimes a food that we’re told to avoid turns out to be quite good for us. Here are four such foods we need to remove from the nutritional “doghouse” based on the latest scientific findings …

Butter. If you grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s like I did, then you likely kept margarine in your fridge rather than butter. Everyone knew that butter was bad for you, and that margarine was better for heart health. Unfortunately, it turns out we were dead wrong.

Margarine is made up of trans fats, and we now know that trans fats are way worse for our hearts than saturated fats. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, your risk for developing heart disease increases by 30 percent if you regularly consume trans fats as opposed to butter (or even lard).

And butter—especially butter from grass-fed cows and raw milk butter—contains many important nutrients, such as vitamin D, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin K, lecithin, and trace minerals. So throw out those tubs of margarine and spreads made from overly processed vegetable oils and use butter!

Eggs. Stop tossing out your yolks. The most recent research finds that the cholesterol in egg yolks raises our levels of good cholesterol, not bad cholesterol. And egg yolks are extremely nourishing—they are one of the few foods that contain a good amount of vitamin D, as well as vitamin A, the beneficial long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA, choline, and many micronutrients. Some people pass on the yolks thinking that eating just the whites will help them lose weight. But an egg only has about 70 calories.

Beef (from pasture-raised cows). While we shouldn’t necessarily gorge ourselves on lots of red meat every day, there is a place for beef in an omnivore’s diet, especially if that meat comes from pastured animals as opposed to those raised on factory farms. There is a ton of protein in beef, and many other nutrients such as vitamin B12, iron, zinc, and magnesium. But grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and conjugated linoleic acid than grain-fed beef (a.k.a. “regular” beef in your supermarket). Grass-fed cattle are generally pastured on smaller farms where they’re not pumped full of steroids and antibiotics, which is better for our health as well.

Dark chocolate. Studies have shown that dark chocolate containing a high percentage of cocoa (70 percent or more) has many health benefits. Thanks to the flavonoids and antioxidants found in cocoa, chocolate not only has the potential to lower blood pressure, but it also can reduce diabetes risk and improve cardiovascular health. This doesn’t mean that you should feel free to down a king-size bar, however. Even high-quality dark chocolate is full of calories. Savor just a few squares.



Sugar, Not Fat, Causes Heart Attacks
February 11, 2014, 12:48 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Eggs, food politics, Food/Health Blogs, Sweets | Tags: , , , , ,
I totally love the work done by Dr. Mark Hyman. He’s a firm believer in fixing the causes of our health problems, not just the symptoms. The latest newsletter from him said the following:

“It’s over. The debate is settled.

It’s sugar, not fat, that causes heart attacks.

Fifty years of doctors’ advice and government eating guidelines have been wrong. We’ve been told to swap eggs for Cheerios. But that recommendation is dead wrong. In fact, it’s very likely that this bad advice has killed millions of Americans.

A rigorously done new study shows that those with the highest sugar intake had a four-fold increase in their risk of heart attacks compared to those with the lowest intakes. That’s 400%!”

Eye-opening, right? But depressing that we’ve been led down a bad path by some specious government recommendations.

When in doubt, choose the whole, natural foods that humans have been eating for generations (like eggs). And question the “wisdom” that we’d be better off eating a food made in a factory.