Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~Hippocrates

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The New Year and Resolutions: Change the Paradigm


The most common greeting this time of year is “Have a happy and healthy new year.” Is this just a knee jerk reaction to the overindulgence of the holidays or a well intentioned attempt to just pay attention to our health since we are a year older and a year closer to death?

However well-intentioned our resolutions are, they are often short-lived. Life is busy, stuff happens, you lose motivation when you lose only 2 pounds a week, etc. This doesn’t mean that there is no way to achieve a healthy weight. It just means you are either going about it the wrong way or that you have unrealistic expectations. Here are some tips to help you achieve your health goals in 2013.

1. REPEAT AFTER ME: There is no magic diet that will sustain weight loss

Even bariatric surgery doesn’t work if you don’t comply with a rigid protocol. While there are many who do well on this program, it is by their choice – not because they had a “magic” operation. Diets are temporary. Lifestyle is permanent. Change your lifestyle – change  your health.

2. Health is more than eating right. While diet is an important part of good health, so is exercise, not smoking, and getting enough sleep. Studies show that sleep deprivation messes with your hunger and satiety hormones, making you crave bad foods and disconnecting the “I’m full now, stop eating” button. Exercise improves all bodily functions regulating appetite, metabolism and sending oxygen to all you cells. It also reduces stress – another trigger for poor eating (think “comfort food”). Muscles built by exercising utilize more calories than fat. Yes, if you sit on the couch after a workout, your body will burn more calories than if you stand around while unfit.

3. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Your mother was right. Your body has been at rest for 8 or more hours since last being fueled. Your metabolism has slowed down. A healthy breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism for the whole day! That’s right! Skip breakfast and your body never revs up, keeping metabolism slow all day, to protect energy (and fat). A healthy breakfast includes a protein, a carb and some fat. Protein and fat keeps you satisfied longer so you aren’t hungry for lunch prematurely. Carbs are needed for brain and muscle  function. (Did you know that your brain lives on glucose, broken down from carbs?) Just make your carbs healthy ones – whole grains like whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, cream of wheat, bran flakes, etc. Look at the labels to be sure the grains are whole. “Multigrain” does not mean whole. The ingredients must say “whole” to derive all the nutritious benefits of a whole grain: protein, fiber and the slow release of carbs, keeping your blood glucose from spiking.

4. Drink, drink, drink. Dehydration is more common as we age because our thirst mechanism starts to fail. Don’t rely on thirst to be sure you get enough fluid. Even a small amount of dehydration affects your ability to perform well at any task, may lower your blood pressure to unhealthy levels and make you constipated. Also important is that the need for fluids often masquerades as hunger. You reach for food when in fact you need fluid. The amount of fluid needed varies from person to person but a good rule of thumb is 8 glasses per day. All liquids count (even coffee and tea) and many foods contain fluid. Fruit contains a lot of fluid (think oranges, watermelon, etc.). BUT BEWARE. Not all drinks are created equal. Those flavored mocha latte whatevers have a high calorie and fat count. Be smart about how you get your calories. Reserve them for foods that also carry nutrients with them – not empty calories like junk foods.

5. Eat slowly. People who eat slowly consume fewer calories because they give the body a chance to register fullness. Scarfing down your food before the signal comes means you are already too stuffed.

6. When you eat out, order a takeout container when you order your meal. Putting aside half the meal before you even dig in will cause you to stop before the plate is empty.

7. Use smaller plates. Psychologically, a full plate is more appealing. Loading a large plate with a reasonable portion may make you feel less satisfied. Go ahead, fill that bread and butter plate with healthy food and you can clean it without guilt.

8. Eat more meals. Eat three modest meals each day, with a small, nutritious snack between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. You will be less likely to overeat at any meal because you won’t be as hungry. Skipping a meal has the double negative impact of making you ravenous and slowing your metabolism. Don’t skip meals to manage weight. Studies have shown time and time again, that those who eat small, frequent meals and eat breakfast, weigh less than their peers who starve and binge.

9. Read labels and record what you eat. I can’t emphasize this enough. Awareness of what you are putting into your mouth is the secret of those who lose weight successfully. We think twice before downing a handful of nuts when we know how many calories and grams of fat are in them. If we choose to eat them, and record them, we have a better handle on what we can consume the rest of the day.

10. Follow the 80/20 rule. If you are careful about what you eat 80% of the time, you can safely indulge the other 20% of the time.

Have a happy and healthy new year!

 

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What About Genetically Modified Foods? (GMO’s)


There is much debate lately about genetically modified food. The discussion is about whether or not to label such foods. Big food companies don’t want labeling. Why not? Because it is BIG business. Most corn and soy products are genetically modified. The issue in producing these foods is that foods are modified with genes from other species to increase shelf life, resistance to insects, increase size and improve appearance. 

Allergies are on the rise, and GMO’s are suspect. If you eat corn (to which you have no allergy) that is modified with a gene from another organism that you are allergic to, you will appear to be allergic to corn. Whatever your position on the use of GMO’s foods is, be informed. A new documentary called Genetic Roulette is available free online from September 15 through September 22. Here is the link. Watch it and decide whether you want to eat these foods, but more importantly, decide if the pubic has a right to know so they can make their own decisions.

http://www.GeneticRouletteMovie.com

Living with Vegans


Please forgive my hiatus. Between a new job and studying for my national registration, my brain could not focus on anything else. Yes, I passed the exam; thanks for wondering. Now that I am on vacation, I can get back to business. (Now that’s an oxymoron!)

Today’s topic of conversation is veganism. Two of my sons’ friends are vegans. It started with a personal challenge, then they kept on doing it. It has been three and a half years for one; 4 years for the other. At the beginning, they ate all kinds of “imitation” foods like fake bacon and fake hot dogs. I questioned them about the spirit of going vegan, and the contradiction of eating foods that would be unhealthy if they were real. Further, they were eating a lot of processed foods, with ingredient lists 3 inches long. Since then, they have grown and become more educated about eating a healthy vegan diet.

Many people approach the decision to go vegetarian or vegan without enough information. While it is a healthy lifestyle choice, one must adhere to some nutrition guidelines to ensure healthy intake of essential nutrients. Giving up animal products entirely (strict vegan) presents a few challenges that can be overcome with attention to the diet.

The staples of the vegan diet should include: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, soy and seeds. The less processing, the better, to provide the best nutritional quality.

Plant based diets contain sufficient protein, iron, calcium, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D, iodine, and zinc. A crucial ingredient missing from the diet however, is Vitamin B-12, which is necessary for proper nerve and brain function. Lack of it, over an extended period of time can cause irreversible damage to the nervous system. Some soy and rice drinks are fortified with B-12, as well as breakfast cereals and nutritional yeast.

Animal products provide the most efficiently absorbed form of iron. When eliminated from the diet, extra care must be taken to ensure enough of this vital element. Iron is plentiful in fortified cereals, legumes and soy, dark leafy green vegetables, whole grains, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, molasses and potatoes with skins. Iron is absorbed from cast iron cookware. To boost the absorption of iron, consume foods with vitamin C along with iron-rich foods. Vitamin C is plentiful in citrus fruit, peppers, tomatoes, dark greens (like kale and collard greens) cabbage and broccoli. Note however, that iron and calcium compete for the same absorption receptors, so they should not be eaten together. Caffeine also interferes with iron absorption, therefore should be avoided at mealtimes.

Consume protein rich tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, soy (milk and other products), whole grains, legumes and vegetables daily.

Calcium can be a challenge if meals are not carefully thought out. Dark green leafy vegetables, beans, some tofu, almonds, seaweed, fortified soy milk, beans, figs, and unrefined molasses supply calcium. Vitamin D is required for calcium absorption. You can get it by exposing your skin to sun 10-15 minutes per day or by consuming fortified soy or rice milk or a supplement.

Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids include ALA, EPA and DHA. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found mainly in the oil of flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, rapeseed (canola oil), and soybeans. ALA reduces blood clotting, and is good for the heart. The body converts some of the ALA into two other essential omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA. These two are also found to a small degree in seaweeds, and there are vegan DHA supplements available made from micro-algae. Low levels of DHA have been associated with depression. A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds or a teaspoon of flax oil per day will meet the needs of most people.

You need iodine for normal cell metabolism, and it is easy to get enough if you used iodized salt. Fancy salts such as sea salt, are not iodized. If you use them, you need to get your iodine elsewhere. It is found in seaweed and some vitamins.

Zinc is important for would healing. Rich sources include eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, sprouts, legumes, whole grains, tofu, tempeh, miso, millet and quinoa.

Being a vegan or vegetarian can be a healthy lifestyle choice. It will require more attention to your diet however, to ensure adequate nutrient intake.

Labeling: Truth or Dare?


So many claims are on the labels of foods these days. Do you really know what they mean and if it is worth paying more? Or if the claims are true or meaningful? Marketing people are very smart when it comes to pushing our buttons. I see this evidence in the glut of gluten free foods. Many people believe it is simply healthier to go gluten free, because it is the latest “thing.” I hate to break it to you folks, but it’s a marketing ploy to sell designer food. As a matter of fact, gluten contains a lot of nutritious stuff and you WANT it in your diet – unless of course you have Celiac disease (only 1% of the population does) or a gluten sensitivity. Cutting any nutrient out of your diet to be chic is plain stupid.

So what about all the buzz words like organic, sustainable, free-range, etc.? Are these things regulated in any way or can anyone slap it on a label? Here is a little primer on these terms as it applies to meat products. I will follow in a later post with information on other products.

The term organic has the most teeth. Organic meats have to be antibiotic-free and the animal must be fed a pesticide-free vegetarian diet . They must have free access to a pasture. The feed cannot be genetically modified. The Department of Agriculture has strict guidelines that must be followed in order to label meats organic.

If an animal is truly free-range, it may be healthier. It will usually be fed better food, and because it roams freely, it develops more muscle fiber with more omega 3 fats (good for you).  The USDA does not have standards for this definition however, merely requires that the chicken has access to outdoor space. There is no language on beef or other meats at all.

Since grass-fed is also not defined or legislated, a farmer can call his animals grass-fed if it ate grass once. If the producer is honest, he might actually allow his animals to feed on grass all the time – but how do you know where your steak came from anyway? Grass-fed animals have less saturated fat and higher levels of omega 3 fatty acids, making it healthier. It is not desirable to everyone (taste-wise) since it is the marbled, high fat content most Americans want. These guys are lean machines, and a little tougher.

There is no legal definition for sustainable. It means in theory, that the animal (usually used to describe fish however) was raised with concern for its welfare, the producer used natural resources wisely and was provided a fair wage.

So, if you think these are worth paying more for without getting all the facts, I have a bridge I’d like to sell  you.

 

 

Delicious Marinade With Benefits


We now know that grilling meats, poultry and fish at high temperatures (which defines grilling) can cause carcinogenic compounds (heterocyclic amines, or HCAs) to form on the food. The recommendation is to grill less often, but there is an additional way to reduce exposure.

Adding thyme and rosemary to a marinade seems to inhibit the formation of these harmful substances. Soak the meat for an hour or more then grill at moderate temperatures, not high. The antioxidants (cancer-fighting compounds) in the spices can cut the HCAs by up to 87%, according to research by Kansas State University.

So, enjoy your grilled food, but consider a tasty marinade to protect yourself from carcinogens.

Safe Weight Loss


Frankly, I was alarmed when someone recently said that she was losing a lot of weight in a very short period of time. I don’t know the details – perhaps she is under medical supervision and I hope it is not using a clinically unproven fad diet. But it prompted me to address the issue again, in general.

The Mayo Clinic and other reputable sources, cite a safe weight loss rate of 1-2 lbs per week. Rapid loss not only puts your health at risk, it is unlikely to result in sustained loss. Why? There are 2 factors going against you – one biological and one psychological. The first is the body’s natural desire to keep the weight on. When extreme dieting begins, weight will come off at first, but then the metabolism slows down to preserve that weight. Secondly, we are creatures of habit. The only way to sustain weight loss is to develop new habits. Therefore, if a diet is temporary, so will the weight loss be temporary. The way to keep it off is to change your diet habits forever.

I have written past entries about safe weight loss and maintenance. For more information see:

-Why diets fail
-How to keep your weight off after losing it
-Weight loss is not magic, and
-Diatta – from the Greek for “manner of living”

Follow up on Healthy Dining Out


Because it is hard to know what is in each menu dish (and the waiter/waitress often doesn’t know either), here is a quick and dirty way to know which foods to select and which to avoid, to reduce the fat in your meal.

AVOID:

  • Battered, breaded
  • Pot pies
  • Crispy
  • Tempura
  • Parmesan
  • Alfredo
  • Cheese sauce
  • Buttered, buttery
  • Hollandaise
  • Au gratin
  • Casserole
  • Prime meats
  • Hash (browns, corned beef, etc.)
  • Braised
  • Fried, deep-fried
  • Creamed

Instead, look for these words, which indicate the meal is prepared with less fat:

  • Poached
  • Broiled
  • Sautéed (without breading)
  • Flame broiled, grilled
  • Steamed
  • In own juices
  • Loin and flank meat cuts
  • Roasted
  • Baked
  • Teriaki (high in sodium)
  • Marinara or tomato sauce
  • Picante, pico de gallo, salsa

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