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.

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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 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.



Recipes for Great Breakfast Smoothies
October 27, 2014, 11:17 am
Filed under: Dairy, Fruits, Healthy Lifestyle, nuts, Recipes | Tags: ,

I used to be a cold cereal eater. I grew up on Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, and Cocoa Puffs. In college, my best friend and I ate this stuff called Just Right every single day without fail. As an adult, I drifted from one cold cereal to another, never questioning the idea that cereal should be my breakfast—if Rice Krispies left me hungry in one hour, for instance, then I’d just get a bagel with cream cheese as a second breakfast. After I became a holistic nutrition counselor, I finally did start to ask if cold cereal was the best breakfast for me, and began to move toward healthier fare, like oatmeal with flaxseeds, walnuts, and raisins.

But one day I started to notice that, as healthy as oatmeal is, I was getting hungry 90 minutes or so after eating it, and sometimes my blood sugar even dipped very low at that time, to the point where I felt a little shaky. Oatmeal is wonderful for some people, I realized, but it wasn’t the perfect breakfast for me.

What has turned out to be the perfect breakfast for me (and my husband) is a homemade smoothie. I feel very satisfied after drinking it, and stay full up until lunch. There’s something about the combination of ingredients that I throw in the blender that just really works for me.

So what’s in my morning smoothie? I vary it a bit every day. Here is the template I use to make a 16 oz. serving:

Toss into your blender…

One ripe banana

Then pick another fruit…

½ cup of blueberries, strawberries, mixed berries, mango, or melon all work nicely

Then choose a nut butter…

2 tablespoons of almond butter or coconut butter are my favorites

Sprinkle in seeds…

1 tablespoon of chia, hemp, or flax seeds

Select a liquid…

About 1/2 cup of unsweetened nut milk (I like almond milk) plus ½ cup of water, or 1 cup of plain kefir (if I use kefir, I tend to skip the nut butter)

And lastly…

Add a few ice cubes if you’d like

Blend it all until smooth and you’ve got yourself a super healthy, stick-to-your-ribs breakfast in five minutes!



Is Raw Food Better Food?

Foods in their raw form can be very healthy for us. Raw foods still contain all of their naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, as well as live enzymes and beneficial bacteria. Going raw also necessarily means you can’t eat such unhealthy fare as fried foods and most commercially prepared processed junk food.

If you commit to a raw diet your daily options will include raw fruits and veggies, raw nuts and seeds, sprouted beans, cold-pressed oils, and—if you’re okay with eating animal products—raw meat, raw fish, and raw milk products (i.e. unpasteurized milk and the foods made from it).

There are downsides, however, to eating lots of raw food. While cooking food kills off some of the nutrients, it also renders the food more digestible. Some people prone to digestive problems can actually feel quite terrible from raw fruits and veggies. Certain green vegetables in particular are really best eaten cooked. Spinach, beet greens, and chard are high in oxalic acid, a compound that blocks calcium and iron absorption, but which is largely neutralized if these greens are cooked. Cabbage, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts contain chemicals that block the production of thyroid hormone, but are also safer when cooked.

Raw milk and its derivatives are all the rage in certain nutritionally conscious communities—and it is true that unpasteurized milk (meaning milk straight from the cow that is not heat-treated) is theoretically better for us, as more vitamins and minerals and enzymes remain in the milk in its raw state (Sally Fallon Morell, author of “Nourishing Traditions,” has written extensively about this subject, and heads a foundation dedicated to spreading the word about the benefits of raw milk products, among other traditional foods). But there is a real risk of contracting Salmonella, Listeria, or Campylobacter from raw milk if it is not processed in a completely safe and clean way. It’s a similar story with raw meats and fish—there is always a risk of the food being contaminated with bacteria or parasites. Its helps to either freeze the meat or fish for several days before preparing it for a raw dish, or curing it with salt or citrus first.

So is a raw diet for you? Only you can answer that question. Experiment with these foods and see how you feel. Do your research. And ask yourself if you can live without roast chicken, hamburgers, and Mom’s apple pie!