Food Is Not Your Enemy


Strengthen Your Immune System, Naturally
June 29, 2020, 8:47 am
Filed under: Exercise, Fruits, Grains, Healthy Lifestyle, Vegetables, Water | Tags: ,

We’re living in scary times, and many of us are feeling like we’ve lost control of our lives, not to mention our ability to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. It feels like every few hours we’re given a new directive about how to avoid exposure to COVID-19 and stay healthy. There is some timeless advice, however, that we all can keep in mind that will help boost our immunity at a time when we need our systems to be firing full tilt.

Here are some tips on how to build your immunity:

Get regular exercise. Couch potato behavior promotes atrophy as well as impaired circulation, both of which result in a compromised immune system. Go out for a walk or run if you can, do yoga at home, or try some of the many free online workouts out there.

Control your stress. There is no question that stress suppresses the immune system. Meditate, journal, vent to a friend or family member about what’s on your mind, get lost in a movie or book.

Sleep. People who sleep fewer than seven hours per night have triple the risk of getting sick (any sickness) compared to those who average eight hours or more.

Eat whole grains. The outer covering of whole grains–the part that is removed to make white rice, white flour, etc.–contains many vitamins and minerals, including selenium, that help support immunity.

Enjoy leafy greens and other vegetables. Vegetables provide the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are key to overall good health–a plant-centric diet will boost your immune system and protect you against all kinds of disease. Vitamins C, B6, and E in particular will help your body fight off infection.

Take a D supplement. Some promising research, according to a recent report in The New York Times, has found that vitamin D can help our bodies fight off respiratory illnesses. In the study, the vitamin D dose was equivalent to about 3,330 IU daily. However, I’d advise that you double check with your doctor before taking a high vitamin dose like this.

Stay hydrated. According to the Cleveland Clinic, water helps your body produce lymph, which carries white blood cells and other immune system cells. And avoid overloading on coffee and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.



How to Reduce Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, & Blood Sugar Without Meds
March 17, 2020, 1:12 pm
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Drugs, Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , ,

Is it possible to improve your numbers without medication?

Yes, it is!

If your doctor expresses concern about your cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar levels, most will encourage you to try making food and lifestyle adjustments before writing you a prescription. And if they don’t do this, tell them you’d like to try before taking pills. Medications have side effects—cholesterol medication can damage your liver, for instance—so the fewer prescriptions in your life, the better. (Of course if your numbers veer into dangerous territory and you’re not able to improve them without medication, by all means take your doctor’s advice and fill that prescription.)

Here are some ways that you can try to reduce your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, naturally…

Cholesterol. The keys here are lowering your intake of saturated fats and refined carbs, upping your consumption of fiber-rich food, and adding more healthy fats into your diet. Weight loss and exercise tend to help too. Specific things to try: cook with olive oil, get the white grains out of your life and eat whole grains instead, and choose fish more often than red meat.

Blood pressure. We hear a lot about reducing sodium to bring blood pressure down, which is important. But also important is eating a diet rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium; exercising; managing stress; and keeping an eye on your weight. Specific things to try: cook at home more as restaurant food contains a lot of salt; regularly eat bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens; and try to get 30 minutes of moderate activity every day.

Blood sugar. Prediabetes and diabetes can be reversed in many people. If your A1c level, a long-term measure of blood sugar, is high, the most important things to do are to switch up your carbs and lose some weight. Specific things to try: get away from sugary foods (don’t worry about fruit, I’m talking about cookies, ice cream, soda and the like) and white flour, and instead choose healthy carbs like whole wheat bread and pasta, quinoa, brown rice, and nourishing, fiber-rich starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots. Of course you’ll want to pair these better carbs with lean protein, lots of green veggies, and healthy fats throughout the day too. Plus, again, exercise.

And if your numbers look good, let’s keep them that way! Doing all of the above now will prevent your doctor from raising an eyebrow at your blood work in the future.



Meatless Meats, Milkless Milks
December 11, 2019, 2:10 pm
Filed under: Dairy, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat | Tags: , , , , ,

Non-dairy “milks” and vegetarian “meats” have been around for a long time. But it feels like we’ve hit a tipping point with the popularity and press coverage of the new breed of non-meat burgers that “bleed” and plant milks that beautifully froth atop a cappuccino. Are these foods finally so indistinguishable from real meat and milk that we should all consider using them instead?

The answer depends on what your goals are.

If you are vegetarian, vegan, or don’t eat red meat for health or environmental reasons and miss the taste and texture of hamburgers, then the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger will do the job of giving you the experience you crave. But like many “substitute” foods, their nutritional value is questionable. These burgers are super processed, and most of the nutrients in them are added in after the fact (especially in the Impossible Burger) because they are not actually found in the food ingredients themselves. If you want a more nutritious non-meat burger, conventional veggie burgers made with a combination of whole grains, vegetables, legumes, and mushrooms are a much better bet.

If you include red meat in your diet, regular beef (especially grass-fed) has more natural nutrients in it and is honestly closer to a whole food than the Impossible or Beyond Burgers. I would personally prefer real beef if I’m hankering for a burger for this reason. Of course burgers are not the healthiest food in the world due to the calorie and saturated fat content, so keep them to a once-in-a-while meal.

As for non-dairy milks, same deal. Some of these, like the newest craze, Oatly oat milk, really approximate the experience of milk, but are very processed and have lots of additives. The richness of Oatly, for instance, comes from canola (rapeseed) oil. If you can’t or don’t want to do regular dairy milk, the taste experience and mouth feel is great. But personally, I’m not sure I’m so comfortable with drinking canola oil in my coffee and tea. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, so I question whether this is really better for me, health-wise, compared to the more natural whole milk I might otherwise choose. Plus, the full-fat Oatly I picked up has more calories per cup than whole milk. Other milks, of course, are lower in calories, like almond milk. They too are very processed products though.

So ultimately, you’ll need to make the choice based on what’s most important to you!



A Healthier BBQ
September 11, 2019, 8:55 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, Vegetables, weight loss | Tags: ,

Everyone enjoys a good cookout, myself included. What many of us don’t enjoy, though, is that “OMG I’m going to burst” feeling that too often follows a day of mindlessly grazing on hot dogs and potato salad and washing it all down with Coke. Or that nagging sense that we just consumed enough salt and grease to keep our hearts on high alert for the next 48 hours.

Whether you’re hosting or a guest, here are some tips on how to have a healthier barbecue …

-Beware the mayo salads. Mayonnaise has about 100 calories per tablespoon. And there are a lot of tablespoons in potato salad, macaroni salad, tuna salad, etc. Take a small dab on your plate if you enjoy this stuff, but really, just a dab.

-Embrace the shrimp. Fish and seafood are delicious on the grill, and have fewer calories and less saturated fat than other meats.

-Choose a drink other than soda. Soda and other sweetened soft drinks are literally the only things I ask my clients to consider cutting from their diets entirely. Regular soda and sweet iced tea have a ton of sugar and calories, and the artificial sweeteners in diet soda can lead to sugar cravings later.

-Avoid the black stuff. The charred areas on grilled meat contain mutagens called HCAs, which can change our DNA. And when that happens, our risk of getting cancer goes up. Fish has fewer HCAs when grilled, and vegetables have virtually none. Scrape away any excess charring when you can.

-Load up on vegetables and green salads. Fill at least half your plate with the veggie sides—they will help fill you up and crowd out some of the less healthy stuff you might otherwise have eaten.

-Watch quantity. Pay attention to how much you’re eating overall. Ask yourself if you’re really hungry for that second burger, or that third piece of chicken. And avoid standing by the bowl of potato chips and mindlessly dipping your hand in again and again as you catch up with Aunt Angela.

-Be a little decadent. Let’s be honest: When all is said and done, even if you follow some of the above tips, barbecue day is likely not going to be the healthiest day of your week, and that’s okay. If you opted for a cheeseburger on a potato bun, enjoy every bite, and think about choosing lighter fare the rest of the week. We all like to have a more decadent meal sometimes. The last thing you want to do is beat yourself up about it.



No-Recipe Recipes
June 17, 2019, 10:23 am
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Recipes | Tags: , ,

I used to be a frightened cook. I only began cooking in earnest in my late 30s when I began my nutritional counseling practice (thanks to my husband, an excellent cook, I was able to avoid touching a piece of raw chicken up until that point). Then when I did begin cooking, I clung to my preferred recipes like a drowning woman holding her rescue buoy—do not take this recipe from me! I may have cooked this 15 times, but I will still look at it 15 times as I cook, to make sure everything is right!

Only in the past year or so have I gained the confidence to let go a bit, to trust that, a decade into my cooking habit, I have some feel for how to do things in the kitchen. Which is why I’ve been enjoying The New York Times’no-recipe recipes” lately—recipes that are not really recipes, but sort of are. There are no ingredient lists or set steps, but instead an informal narrative essentially telling you to throw in a little of this, a little of that, bake until done. Improvise along the way. I like it.

I realized upon browsing through the Times that I had a couple of these no-recipe recipes too, and I want to share them with you. Very simple stuff, quick to prepare, and totally delicious …

Roasted Chicken With Herbs

Slice up some onions, and lay them out in a roasting pan. Put a piece of bone-in chicken on top of each slice, salt and pepper the chicken, and drizzle some olive oil and lemon, if desired, on top. Finish by sprinkling whatever dried herbs you like on the chicken—I happen to love the combination of rubbed sage, thyme, and rosemary, but you can go in any number of directions here. Roast at 375 degrees until the skin is nice and brown. For the legs or thighs I tend to prefer, this takes about an hour and 15 minutes. No need to baste, no fuss. Just delicious, succulent chicken with lovely crispy skin.

Roasted Veggies

Yes, there’s a theme here. I love roasting my food. Roasted vegetables in particular have become my new weeknight go-to side dish. Cover a sheet pan or two with some parchment paper, and spread out a nice mess of cut-up vegetables on there—virtually anything works. I like to do a diced winter vegetable medley of carrots, winter squash and rutabaga; or halved Brussels sprouts, or broccoli, or cauliflower, or big slices of cabbage. But whatever you like. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, add salt and any other seasoning you like, then use your hands to mix everything around and get the oil nice and evenly distributed. Roast at 400 degrees until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown a bit on the edges. That’s about 30 minutes for all the vegetables I mentioned above. (Stir them /flip them around at the halfway mark.) Beats steamed vegetables any day.



Do We Even Need to Work Out?
March 12, 2019, 1:00 pm
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , ,

There is no question that moving our bodies is a good thing. For those of you who were hoping I was going to advocate a couch potato lifestyle—sorry! But what is worth taking a closer look at is how we go about moving, and if it is so critical that we all sweat at a gym on a regular basis.

The longest-lived peoples in the world, according to Dan Buettner, the author of the Blue Zones books, often do not “work out.” These healthy populations, who live in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California; tend to get their exercise in other, gentler ways. They walk. They hike. They garden. They head down to the pier to buy fresh fish. They bring their dogs outside to run around.

The key is that they are not sitting for eight hours a day, five days a week, with their only movement being an hour at the gym here and there. Movement is part of their days, every day.

This does not mean that you should abandon your CrossFit or spin class or weight lifting regimen if you enjoy it and it makes you feel good. There are certainly plenty of cardiovascular and mental health benefits to more intense workouts, not to mention they can help you with your weight-loss or weight-maintenance efforts. The point here is that there are other ways to approach exercise—if you hate the gym, don’t feel that you have to go! Head outside. Walk or bike every day. Take the stairs. Get a dog. As long as you’re moving, you are doing your body good.



Negativity Will Get You Nowhere
December 10, 2018, 1:29 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, Sweets, weight loss | Tags: , ,

Have you ever worked with a nutritionist or trainer or done a diet program where you’ve been scolded or shamed if you didn’t follow the plan exactly? Or worse, do you scold or shame yourself if you don’t follow the plan exactly?

Many health/fitness practitioners who sincerely want to help you may think that acting like a drill sergeant or judgmental mother is the best way to motivate you to reach your goals. And you may think that speaking harshly to yourself, telling yourself that you are an utter failure of a person if you eat a pint of ice cream, will help you stay on course. But I find that motivation via negativity, judgment, and fear don’t work in the long run.

Realize that you are human, and that it can feel very difficult at times to change old habits. When sugar, for instance, literally affects the brain in a similar way that heroin does, it helps to be forgiving when you can’t resist the cookies or the chocolate. You are not alone in having trouble kicking your sugar (or carb, or fried food, or salty snacks) addiction. It takes some time and practice. I’ve found it’s much better to focus on all the times you don’t go for the sugar in situations where, in the past, you absolutely would have. Celebrate your progress, your many small victories, instead of homing in on the times you didn’t make the best choice. Better choices will come the longer you stick with your new healthy habits. And remember that negativity never leads anywhere good.



My Favorite Advice From the Twitterverse

Every day I make a point of trying to learn something new. Our knowledge of nutrition and health is constantly changing, shifting, and growing, and it’s important for me to keep up on what’s happening in my field. In addition to reading scientific journals and studies that cover nutrition, one of the ways I like to do this is to follow on Twitter some very wise people who are passionate about improving our health and well-being. Below are some of the best tweets I’ve come across lately, tweets that contain some excellent food for thought …

Michelle May M.D.‏ @EatWhatYouLove Jul 12

Feeling overly hungry doesn’t mean you need more food than usual; it just means you need to eat soon.

My comment on this: This is so smart. So many of us think that if we’re super hungry, we need to order more food or put more food on our plate, when in fact, a normal portion will do just fine. This is an issue of timing, not quantity.

Frank Lipman MD‏ @DrFrankLipman Jul 4

For many headache sufferers, a diet lacking in magnesium may be part of the problem. So I recommend magnesium-rich leafy greens as well as cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cauliflower.

My comment on this: I have seen this work with my clients! On several occasions more greens led to fewer or no headaches.

Frank Lipman MD‏ @DrFrankLipman Jun 7

Crucial to develop healthy habits…..because once a habit is developed, they work effortlessly for you, partly because the brain loves habits. When actions become habitual, they are automatic.

My comment on this: Building healthier habits over an extended period is a big part of what I do. This is why I don’t meet with my clients just once or twice, but 6-12 times over 3-6 months. We need that much time to overwrite our old unhealthy habits with new healthier habits.

Blue Zones‏Verified account @BlueZones Apr 27

The five pillars of every longevity diet in the world are: whole grains, tubers, greens, nuts, and beans. If you’re an American and eating a cup of beans a day, you’re probably adding 4 years to your life expectancy.

My comment on this: Blue Zones is all about tracking what leads to a healthy and long life. Beware of fad diets that try to tell you that whole grains, root vegetables, and beans are on the “no” list. Evidence from around the world proves they should be at the top of your “yes” list.

Dalai Lama‏Verified account @DalaiLama May 4

Scientists warn that constant fear and anger are bad for our health, while being compassionate and warm-hearted contributes to our physical and mental well-being. Therefore, just as we observe physical hygiene to stay well, we need to cultivate a kind of emotional hygiene too.

My comment on this: This speaks for itself!



4 Unexpected Things That Affect Your Weight
July 19, 2018, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

Do you feel stuck? Do you believe that you eat well and exercise consistently, but you still aren’t losing weight? The answer to this dilemma may have nothing to do with food or working out.

It’s important to look at four other factors that might be getting in your way:

Lack of sleep. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to weight gain. If you’re regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep, expect to feel hungrier than you otherwise would, and know that you will likely find yourself taking in more calories than if you’d had a good night’s sleep.

Stress. 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.

Boredom. Many of us don’t realize how often we eat mindlessly, when we’re not even hungry. Boredom can be a big driver of this, where we end up using food as an activity, a way to fill time. Notice if you automatically hit the fridge when you can’t think of anything else to do with yourself.

A pleasure deficit. Are you having enough fun? If all you do is work and attend to various obligations, and it’s rare that you do anything that brings you joy, you may end up eating for pleasure. That hot fudge sundae that feels like the highlight of your week? It would be helpful to find something else that feels like a highlight of your week that doesn’t involve 1,200 calories.



Not Just What You Eat, But When You Eat Matters

When I was attending the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I heard two anecdotes, one from Dr. Mark Hyman and the other from Ayurvedic practitioner Dr. John Douillard, about how much it can matter when you eat.

Dr. Hyman explained how the last thing you want to do is eat most of your food before bed, as that food tends to get stored as fat as we sleep. He called eating like this the “sumo wrestler diet,” as sumo wrestlers in Japan, when they want to put on weight, will make a point of eating right before bed.

Dr. Douillard, on the other hand, explained how he helped a very obese man lose a lot of weight by recommending that he eat only one meal a day—a Thanksgiving-sized meal—at noon. The man was stunned to find that this odd-sounding directive actually worked, and the pounds fell off. According to Ayurvedic tradition, our digestive system is functioning optimally in the middle of the day, and that is when we should be eating the bulk of our calories as a result. While I think the one-meal-a-day approach is a bit extreme for most of us, I do like the idea of a big hearty lunch.

While everyone is different, most of my clients who are looking to lose weight find it helpful to frontload their calories earlier in the day—a good solid breakfast, a big lunch, and then a more modest dinner. Many also find it helpful to stick to regular meal times, and avoid grazing all day. Some newer studies have found that it’s better for our metabolism to wait about 4-6 hours between eating times, and to give ourselves a good 12 hours between dinner and breakfast. If we’re constantly snacking, then our bodies don’t have an opportunity to start burning our fat stores.

So don’t assume that as long as you stick to a certain number of calories a day then you’ll lose weight. For best results, watch the clock.