Food Is Not Your Enemy


Instead of Counting Calories…
February 1, 2017, 10:37 pm
Filed under: Beans, Dairy, Fruits, Grains, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, nuts, Sweets, Vegetables, Water, weight loss | Tags: ,

Counting calories is a pretty reliable way to help you lose weight, no question. But most of us hate doing it. It’s unpleasant and tedious. And because it’s no fun doing math problems every time you put food in your mouth, most of us stop doing it eventually. And then the weight comes back.

So why does the weight inevitably come back once you stop counting, despite your best intentions? The short answer: because you never learned how to eat.

Rather than focusing on meaningful changes to your diet, and moving toward healthier foods and habits, it’s likely that all you paid attention to were the numbers. And hey, if you ate a tiny dinner, there was caloric room in your day for a sleeve of Oreos! That kind of thinking doesn’t bode well for your long-term health or weight goals.

Instead, I’d recommend getting back to basics and focusing on these key principles for eating well and losing weight:

-Avoid or reduce foods that act as appetite stimulants. That would be foods with added sugar and anything made with white flour.

-Eat fiber-rich foods. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans are deeply nutritious foods that help fill you for very few calories.

-Minimize fried stuff. Deep-fried foods such as French fries, donuts, and fried chicken and fish are among the worst foods you can eat. They just contain a ton of calories from all that oil.

-Choose snacks that are not marketed as “snacks.” Rather than chips, crackers, pretzels, and bars choose fruit, nuts, vegetables with hummus, or any other whole food. Why not even a cup of soup, or a chicken leg?

-Cook. Restaurant food is high-calorie food, and we’re often served overly large portions of it as well. You will lose weight if you start cooking more at home, no matter what you cook (unless you’re frying chicken regularly).

-Watch what you drink. Water should be your default beverage. Unsweetened tea and seltzer work too. Banish sodas, sweetened teas, sports drinks, and other garbage liquids from your diet.



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.



The 5 Worst Foods to Eat

There are a lot of mixed messages out there about which foods we should eat, and which foods we should avoid. Depending on whether you’re following the Paleo diet or the macrobiotic diet, the Bulletproof diet or a vegan diet, bananas, avocados, whole grains, and red meat are either the healthiest foods ever, or the worst foods in the world. There’s a book or a study to back up virtually any claim about nutrition.

But there are at least a handful of foods that any nutrition researcher (unless they’re on Coca-Cola’s payroll) would agree are just flat-out bad for our health. And the losers are …

Soda and other sweetened beverages. Empty calories. Higher risk of diabetes. Increased sugar cravings. Obesity. Need I go on? There is nothing redeeming about soda, sweetened teas, fruit drinks, or Vitamin Water. These drinks have a lot of calories, a ton of sugar, and are one of the main drivers of our nation’s obesity epidemic.

Bagels. One bagel equals about five servings of bread. They are essentially white flour bombs, high in calories and low in nutritive value. Inflammation, a powerful force behind so many chronic illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease, is largely caused by the consumption of added sugars and white flour.

Cured meats. Hot dogs, salami, bologna, bacon, and other cured meats significantly raise our risk of colon cancer. And in a study, men who ate processed meats five times a week were found to be nearly twice as likely to develop diabetes as men who ate them just twice a month.

Anything deep-fried. All fats and oils have about 120 calories per tablespoon. That’s nothing to worry about if you’re sautéing some vegetables in olive oil, or drizzling some oil on your salad. But foods that are battered and then tossed into a deep fryer soak up a TON of oil, and end up loaded with hundreds if not thousands of calories. The high amount of omega-6 fats in the types of oils used for deep frying also contribute to inflammation in the body.

Donuts. A triple whammy of white flour, sugar, and deep frying leads to a deeply unhealthy food. The worst breakfast you could possibly choose.



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.



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.



Should You Go Gluten-Free to Lose Weight?

Gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, seems to be our current food devil—the thing that’s allegedly causing all our weight and health problems. Avoid bread! Avoid pasta! Avoid beer! You’ve probably heard or read all of these exhortations somewhere.

For some people, gluten is indeed a very real problem. Sufferers of celiac disease will see serious damage to their small intestines if they consume any food containing gluten. And many other people who may not have full-blown celiac disease are truly gluten-intolerant—if they eat gluten regularly they may find themselves with chronic digestive problems, joint pain, brain fog, debilitating fatigue, or thyroid issues. Cutting gluten out of the diet for these people can be life-changing. I’ve seen it happen with many of my clients.

But if you’re healthy and not experiencing any of the symptoms of gluten intolerance, there is really no reason to cut gluten from your diet. I would argue that some people who cut gluten lose weight not because of the absence of gluten, but because they are avoiding junky food made primarily of white flour. If you stop eating calorie bombs like bagels, donuts, muffins, and the Olive Garden’s never-ending pasta bowls, then you’ll likely lose weight. It’s not the removal of gluten that made the difference, it was the reduction of calories and poor-quality foods that led to your weight loss.

So if you want to lose weight, it’s really better to think of white flour as the problem. Whole wheat and other whole grains containing gluten (especially if they are high-quality organic grains) can be a very healthy part of our diets, and shunning them in favor of white rice, for instance, won’t necessarily help you reach your weight and health goals.