Food Is Not Your Enemy

The Fat Balancing Act
April 30, 2018, 2:15 pm
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, nuts, Oils | Tags: , ,

There was a time when Americans feared eating practically any fat. Low-fat diets were all the rage in the 1980s and 90s—who remembers Snackwells, those non-fat cookies everyone thought they could eat to help them lose weight, even though they were loaded with sugar and calories?

Today we know better—fats are a critical macronutrient we need for both good physical and mental health, and some trendy diets are even pushing people to eat a high-fat diet to lose weight.

We hear a lot about how important omega-3 fats are, how they are an anti-inflammatory and can lower risk of depression. But what’s lesser known is that when it comes to our omega intake, there’s a careful balancing act between omega-3s and omega-6 fats of which we need to be aware.

Omega-3s are found primarily in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as nuts and seeds. Omega-6s are present in vegetable oils such as corn oil and soybean oil (and the processed foods often cooked in them), and factory-farmed corn-fed beef. Ideally, we should be consuming omega-3 and omega-6 fats in a 1:1 ratio, according to Psychology Today. The problem is that most Americans end up consuming about 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. And this imbalance can lead to inflammation in the body, which contributes to everything from heart disease to diabetes to depression.

What to do? Eat fish a few times a week if you enjoy it, seek out a handful of nuts or seeds for a snack, and switch from corn-fed to grass-fed beef. Use olive oil as your default oil at home rather than corn or another vegetable oil, and limit your intake of processed foods cooked in those oils (chips, fries and the like).

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.

How Your Eating Habits Can Affect Risk of Depression
February 24, 2016, 10:50 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Drugs, Healthy Lifestyle, Oils, Sweets | Tags: , , , ,

Do you struggle with depression, or know someone who does? If so, you’re not alone. More than 100 million Americans cope with some level of depression—that’s one in three people. Why is this problem so widespread, and is there anything you can do about it, other than taking prescription pills?

There are many factors that can lead to depression, and those factors are going to differ for everyone. But one factor that is usually completely overlooked by the medical establishment is diet. On the whole, Americans eat so poorly that we are literally starved of the nutrients we need to keep our brains healthy. Here are some easy changes you can make to your diet to help ward off depression…

Eat your fats. Your healthy fats, that is—specifically foods high in omega-3s. Omega-3 fats are critical for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system, and 99 percent of Americans do not eat enough of these fats. The best sources of omega-3s are fish, nuts, and seeds. It is worth noting that in Iceland, a country whose people eat a ton of fish, depression rates are extremely low (and this is a country where it is dark much of the year).

Reduce sugar intake. There are a million reasons to avoid foods with added sugar, and one of them happens to be that sugar can contribute to depression.

Eat lots of whole, real foods. The American diet of convenience tends to leave us shortchanged when it comes to nutrients. And a deficiency of such nutrients as folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin D can lead to increased risk of depression. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits every day, in addition to lean proteins like eggs and chicken, whole grains, and legumes.

Heal your gut with food. More and more research is showing that there is a strong connection between the brain and what’s going on in the gut. Eat the kinds of foods that will help the right gut bacteria proliferate in your intestines: green vegetables as well as fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut.

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 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.

“Healthy” Foods That Aren’t
February 27, 2013, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Dairy, Grains, Meat, Oils, weight loss | Tags: , , , ,

It can be tough to answer the question “What should I eat today?” There is so much conflicting information out there about what’s healthy and what isn’t. One year eggs are healthy. Then they’re not. Then they are again. Butter is awful and margarine is fabulous–no, wait, margarine is actually awful, and butter is good! Granola is healthy hippie food. Wait, what? Where’d you hear that?

The food industry preys on our uncertainty by smacking more and more “health claims” in large font on food packages. If you believe what you read, Teddy Grahams are a great choice as they are a “good source of calcium” and offer “whole grains.” Of course, if you read the ingredients the first ingredient is white flour and these little bears also contain partially hydrogenated oil (a.k.a. trans fats, which are a disaster for heart health), high fructose corn syrup, and artificial flavors. The calcium was added so that Nabisco could make the claim that they contain calcium. Thanks for that.

Following is a sampling of some other foods that you may think are healthy–either because the front of the package says so, or because we’ve just heard over the years that they’re healthy–but that are actually not that great for us …

Cooking sprays. How is it possible that every brand of oil that comes in a spray can has no fat? All oil, no matter what kind, has 120 calories per tablespoon. But if you check the labels, you can see for yourself: zero calories, zero fat. Turns out this is a serving-size issue, as pointed out by nutrition professor/author Marion Nestle. One serving is generally a fraction-of-a-second-long spray of the product. And since the amount of oil that comes out in a quarter of a second provides a quarter gram of fat, and the FDA doesn’t require food companies to list anything below half a gram on the Nutrition Facts label, we’re led to believe these oils contain no fat. But they do, just like any other oil. Plus, they tend to contain a bunch of chemicals. You’re better off using olive oil (excellent for heart health) or a pat of organic butter (contains vitamins A and D).

Granola. Oats are the basis of granola, so what’s the problem? Sugar and calories, that’s what. Many granolas have 140-200 calories per quarter cup serving, and some have as much as 18 grams of sugar per serving, which is the equivalent of 4 1/2 teaspoons of sugar. Eat more than a quarter cup (which is easy to do), and you could easily be looking at a 400- or 500-calorie snack, all the while thinking you’re eating “health food.” Instead, enjoy your oats in the form of homemade oatmeal (plain oatmeal that you sweeten yourself, not the pre-flavored instant packs).

Flavored yogurt. Sugar is again the issue here. While plain yogurt is quite healthy for us, vanilla, strawberry, coffee, and all those other pre-flavored yogurts can have as much sugar as ice cream, if not more–a serving of Stonyfield low-fat vanilla yogurt, for instance, has 21 grams of sugar, while a serving of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream has 19 grams. A better yogurt option: Choose plain yogurt and add your own honey or pure maple syrup or fruit–you’ll never use as much sweetener as the pre-flavored ones use.

Chicken (in chain restaurants). KFC sells a chicken pot pie that has an ingredient list 518 words in length. Cheesecake Factory’s chicken dishes routinely exceed 1,500 calories. And McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets contain TBHQ, a form of butane (lighter fluid). Not exactly healthy stuff. At fast food and chain restaurants, a healthy meat like chicken is more often than not transformed into a monstrously unhealthy thing. What seems like a lower-fat, lower-cholesterol food becomes little more than a carrier for salt, fat, and chemical additives. Buy an uncooked organic or free-range, humanely raised chicken and prepare it at home instead.

How to Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

You’ve probably heard something in the past couple of years about “inflammation.” About how this mysterious force can somehow lead to such health problems as cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, dementia, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, digestive problems such as IBS, and other ills. So what is it exactly, and how can we avoid it?

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, and rapid aging.

In addition to exercising regularly and better controlling our response to stress, the best way to prevent chronic inflammation is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. In broad strokes, here are the main tenets to follow:

Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. Make these foods the largest percentage of your food intake each day. The more colorful, the better. And lots of berries!

Replace refined white flour with whole grains.

Eat beans instead of meat at least some of the time.

Eat healthier fats. Olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados are all excellent.

Drink tea. Green, black, and white tea are all good. Snapple doesn’t count.

Use herbs and spices. There is no reason that healthy foods need to be bland. Such common flavor enhancers as garlic, ginger, turmeric, and cinnamon are great for cooling inflammation.

Realize that chronic digestive problems might indicate a food sensitivity. If you regularly eat foods that your body cannot tolerate, your body will be inflamed.

And as always, if you need help in making these types of recommendations a part of your day-to-day reality (because having information does not always translate into change in our lives), you can always contact me to set up a free consultation, and we will discuss how I can support you in transforming your health and your life.

A White, Fatty Food That’s Actually Healthy
September 9, 2011, 4:42 pm
Filed under: Fruits, Oils, Recipes | Tags: , , , ,

Americans generally fear any food that is calorie-dense. This makes sense when you’re staring at the Aussie Cheese Fries at an Outback Steakhouse (2,140 calories). But not when faced with a coconut.

While coconuts cannot be classified as a low-calorie food–a tablespoon of pureed coconut flesh has 100 calories–they are among the healthiest foods you can eat. Among the benefits of coconut flesh, cream, and oil:

  • They strengthen the immune system
  • The type of saturated fat found in coconut products supports the thyroid gland, nervous system, skin, and provides a quick shot of energy
  • They increase metabolism
  • They support the formation of healthy HDL cholesterol
  • They’re rich in antioxidants, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, and many trace minerals
  • They improve digestion
  • They are anti-aging
  • They contain lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid that has antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties
  • They stabilize blood sugar
  • They are incredibly filling–you can go several hours without being hungry after consuming coconut

Now does it seem worth the 100 calories per tablespoon? I look at it this way: We need a certain amount of calories each day, and those calories need to come from somewhere–I’d rather they come from a food that will deeply nourish and satisfy me than from junk food that will leave me sleepy, irritable, and wanting to eat more and more. I’ve regularly been adding two tablespoons of this stuff called Coconut Manna, which is pureed coconut, to my fruit smoothies, and I can attest that not only are these smoothies delicious, but they’re very filling (they make a great breakfast–recipe below).

So yes, there is in fact a food that is white and fatty but good for you! Give coconut a try and see what you think.

Tropical Fruit Smoothie

1 banana

1/2 cup frozen mango chunks

2 tbsp. pureed coconut

1/2-1 cup orange juice

Put all ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth.

Don’t Fear the Fat
November 12, 2010, 9:59 am
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Meat, Oils | Tags: , , ,

Not all oils and fats are created equal. Heavily processed, hydrogenated, trans-fats and oils that are used in prepared, packaged foods can be extremely damaging to the body. However, fats and oils from whole foods and other high-quality sources can steady our metabolism, keep hormone levels even, nourish our skin, hair, and nails and provide lubrication to keep the body functioning properly. Our bodies also need fat for insulation and to protect and hold our organs in place.

A healthy percentage of high-quality fat in a meal satisfies and leaves feelings of energy, satiety, and warmth. When there are excess fats and oils in the diet, however, especially heavily processed fats, symptoms can include weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure, liver strain, and an overall feeling of mental, physical, and emotional heaviness. Signs of insufficient high-quality fats are brittle hair and nails, dry skin, hunger after meals, and feeling cold.

There are many sources of healthy fats and oils. For sautéing and baking, try butter (organic is best), ghee (clarified butter), or coconut oil because they do not break down when used at high temperatures. When sautéing foods at moderate temperatures, try organic extra virgin olive oil. Oils like flaxseed, sesame, toasted sesame, walnut, and pumpkin seed are best used unheated in sauces or dressings on top of salads, veggies, or grains. Other healthy fats are found in whole nuts and seeds and in their butters like almond butter or tahini. Whole foods such as avocados, olives, and coconuts are great sources of healthy fat, along with wild salmon and other small, non-predatory fish like sardines, sole, cod, black cod, and herring. Experiment with these healthy fat sources and see which work best for you and leave you satisfied.

When selecting oils, buy the highest-quality organic products you can afford, since cooking oils are the backbone of so many dishes. Good words to look for on the label are organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, and unrefined. Products to avoid are ones called “refined” and “solvent extracted.” And definitely pass by anything containing trans-fats, which are called “partially hydrogenated oil” on ingredient labels. Trans-fats will raise your risk of heart disease way more (about 30% more, according to the Harvard School of Public Health) than lard and other animal fats. Speaking of which, you should feel okay about including some animal fat in your diet, especially if it’s coming from organic and/or pasture-raised meat that isn’t shot up with hormones or antibiotics.

So don’t fear the fat. Total fear of fat led to the production of a spate of bogus, low-fat and no-fat junk foods over the past couple of decades, foods that were high in sugar and calories and ended up actually causing weight gain rather than preventing it. As far as healthy foods go, no-fat cookies are no match for a nice fatty, filling, and nutrient-dense avocado.

Chicken Wings Are Not Salad: How to Choose a Healthy Lunch From the Salad Bar
July 27, 2010, 2:14 pm
Filed under: Oils, Restaurants, Vegetables | Tags: ,

I’m going to eat healthy today, you think. I’m going to the salad bar place on the corner to get my lunch. No more junk.

New York is filled with salad bars, some better than others. But what they all seem to have in common, whether they occupy the local bodega or the center of your company’s cafeteria, is that they’re often stocked full of foods that are decidedly non-salad in nature.

I’ll never forget when corner-store salad bars first hit the city in a big way. An overweight friend of mine had suggested we grab a healthy dinner and try the new salad bar near her apartment. After oohing and aahing over all the choices on display, what she ended up with in her plastic container was fried chicken and potato salad. Healthy dinner? Not so much.

To ensure that when you walk away from your favorite salad bar you actually have a healthy meal in your hands, follow these “do’s and don’ts” when selecting your ingredients …


Do choose the darker greens. Unlike iceberg lettuce, which offers little in the way of nutrition, mesclun, romaine, and spinach are nutritional powerhouses, loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Do pile on the veggies. Top your salad with a ton of veggies–broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, artichoke hearts, avocado, red onions, mushrooms, and shredded carrots are all great choices.

Do include a protein. No matter how big your salad, if it has nothing more than lettuce and veggies in it you’ll be hungry soon after eating it. To make your healthy salad also a filling, satisfying meal, throw in any combination of salmon, shrimp, grilled chicken, beans, tofu, nuts, or seeds.

Do use the right dressings. The best way to go is olive oil and vinegar or olive oil and lemon juice. After that, vinaigrettes are okay.


Don’t select “salads” made with mayonnaise. Mayo is very calorie-dense, and the stuff coated in it is often starchy or refined foods (potatoes, white macaroni, etc.) that your waistline and blood sugar levels can do without.

Don’t load up on creamy dressings. Like mayo, creamy dressings like ranch, bleu cheese, and thousand island are very caloric. What looks like a healthy salad can suddenly become a calorie bomb if it’s coated in even just a few tablespoons of these dressings.

Don’t eat the crispy toppings. Crispy Asian noodles, croutons, and other fried bits of white flour will do nothing for you nutritionally and just add a lot of calories.

Don’t take chicken that’s fried or coated in a sloppy sauce. Barbecue and fried wings aren’t really why you headed to the salad bar, right? You wanted to eat healthy. If this is the stuff you meant to eat you would’ve gone to Popeye’s.