We're Not Beyond Food Yet

Have you ever heard of Soylent?

How about Ambronite? 

Soylent and its competitor Ambronite are meal replacement beverages. Soylent is the most recognized product by far. Soylent shot to fame in 2014 after its founder/creator, software engineer Rob Rhinehart of Silicon Valley, decided to try to take "Diet Hacking" to the lab. He found that with his busy work schedule eating was an inconvenience and he wanted to formulate the "Perfect Meal" that could replace eating as we know it. This meal would contain "ultimate" nutrition and could be consumed in place of every meal.

Soylent became a crowd-funding darling, raising over $3 million, allowing Rhinehart to take his concept to the lab and into production. Since that campaign, Soylent has acquired over $20 million in its initial round of venture capital financing. Much has been written about Soylent over the past year and a bulk of the press has been negative, talking about the poor quality of it's ingredients and the ridiculousness of never eating real food again. And yet, Soylent is so popular that it cannot keep up with production. There was a 4 month backorder waiting period for new orders.

So what is the deal here? And why am I writing about this now?

I'm writing about this now because according to the LA Times, more pairs of tech savvy entrepreneurs are now hitting the lab in an attempt to hack our diets by creating a complete meal in a beaker. Which raises the question: are we ready for the end of food? Is this progress or a misguided movement? Meaning: this topic is as relevant as ever.

What is Soylent?

Let's take a step back and first get a little background on Soylent and how this company has come to be valued at $150 million this year, selling over 1 million of it's daily powder pouches and already becoming profitable.

Soylent is the brainchild of CEO Rob Rhinehart, a Silicon Valley software engineer. He was working very long hours and having serious money concerns as he and his small team of friends/business partners were attempting to get a startup off the ground. Trying to save money wherever he could, Rhinehart looked at his lifestyle and noticed that eating was one area that he could improve upon. Even while consisting on classic budget foods, such as ramen, his food costs were still substantial. He researched nutritional biochemistry and determined what he felt that current science had come to agree were the 35 essential nutrients for human survival. He then purchased these individual components on the internet and poured the powders and pills into a blender.  

So how do I feel about this?

The idea of formulating the perfectly nutritious meal has been envisioned before. Science fiction has embraced the idea many times, even going so far as to imagine meals in pill form.

Ever since we've started identifying key nutrients in foods and their role in our bodies, someone looking to make a lot of money has set forth on a giant lab experiment that involves taking individual components of foods (certain vitamins, minerals and macronutrients) and trying to combine them into a meal of "Ultimate Nutrition" that is somehow still palatable. These "Ultimate" meals are usually formulated as powders or liquids.

My main problem with this idea exists in one MAJOR flaw that these ambitious entrepreneurs have overlooked: 

We do not yet fully understand the complexities of our food and dietary habits.

We just don't.

Yes, food science and nutrition research has come a long way over the last several decades. We know a lot more than we used to.

We have names for many more micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and understand a number of the chemical pathways that they are involved in. We also understand that certain diseases are caused by specific nutrient deficiencies and can treat accordingly. Nutritionists are able to do many wonderful things to help people improve their overall wellbeing and address specific health concerns. It's great.

We still don't know enough to ditch whole foods in favor of a synthetic lab concoction.

Better Together

We have identified some of the major components of specific foods, i.e. oranges have a lot of vitamin C. But oranges are much more than vitamin C. They have a number of additional micronutrients, as well as a general make up that is more complicated than we understand. It has been suggested that micronutrients in our food might actually work in tandem to be more biologically significant to us when consumed together as that food than those individual micronutrients act individually. In other words, the sum is much more than its parts. 

Rhinehart, the mind behind Soylent, has been quoted in The New Yorker as saying, "You need amino acids and lipids, not milk itself. You need carbohydrates, not bread." He has falsely assumed that fruits and vegetables are not vital as themselves, but are merely inefficient vehicles of certain vitamins. He's wrong on this point. Whole foods are revealing themselves to be much more important than the few components that we've managed to identify. More research is definitely needed to help us understand what truly makes up the food we eat. We haven't fully learned exactly what our food is made of, nor understand the complexities of how our bodies respond to the delivery system (i.e. the whole food). For example, in the last decade we have discovered hundreds of components in our plant foods that we didn't know about previously. These newly discovered phytochemicals are so important as to now be household names, such as lycopene. Think how much more we are still missing.  

Soylent, and many other similar products, derive their vitamins in a lab, avoiding whole foods altogether. Synthetic ingredients are often less bioavailable and sometimes even dangerous. Some examples: Soylent uses D2 (ergocalciferol) as its vitamin D source instead of D3 (cholecalciferol). Cholecalciferol is the superior form of vitamin D; when consumed, D3 is more effective at raising our blood vitamin D levels [1]. Soylent also uses the synthetic version of vitamin E. Synthetic vitamin E is dl-alpha tocopherol while the naturally derived form is d-alpha tocopherol. Note that the "dl" forms of any vitamin are synthetic. According to the National Institute of Health, the synthetic version of vitamin E is only half as active as the same amount of the natural form. But even more concerning is the fact that the synthetic form of vitamin E has now been linked to an INCREASED risk of cancer [2]. Supplementation of isolated vitamin A, also included in Soylent's ingredients as the synthetic Vitamin A Palmitate, has been associated with in an increase risk of all-cause mortality [3]. It would seem that our bodies have evolved to obtain complex nutrition in the form of whole foods.

With regard to the importance of food synergy and reinforcing the idea that we have more to learn: Studies have shown that consuming broccoli and tomatoes together has a better effect on tumor growth than eating broccoli or tomatoes alone, AND (and here is the extra kicker) better than consuming isolated cancer-fighting chemicals that we've already identified in those foods. There is more to tomatoes and broccoli than we know.

One Size Does Not Fit All

The idea behind "Ultimate" meals are that their given parameters apply to everyone (or at least nearly everyone). In reality, we all have varying dietary needs. Over simplifying and attempting to create one meal that is appropriate for everyone is a fool's errand. 

There is not one perfect ratio of protein : fat : carbs that is best for all of us. We have different caloric needs. We each need more or less of various micronutrients based on our lifestyle and biology. Not to mention various allergies, sensitivities and tastes. The whole notion that it is possible to create one meal that is right for everyone is just wrong. 

How We Eat

The ritual of eating a meal has been shown to be important as well. When we smell food our bodies start to prepare for incoming nourishment. Our mouth salivates, our gall bladder releases bile etc. Truly tasting our food, the act of chewing: these things have been shown to be linked to physiological responses in our bodies that help us digest and absorb our food. If we remove these steps by simply consuming all-in-one liquid food-stuffs, we will remove important cues. We may not even absorb all of that supposedly "perfect" nutrition.

There's also the importance of getting your body into parasympathetic mode before eating so that we can properly digest our food. (Parasympathetic mode refers to our parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the colloquially named Rest & Digest mode, the opposite of Fight or Flight.) Most "Ultimate"-style meals are designed to be easily consumed on the go and as a solution to traditional time consuming eating. While we all sometimes need quick meals, perhaps encouraging eating full meals on the go is not great for our bodies. We shouldn't be running around while eating. Taking the time to stop and prepare your body for food is important.  

Food as Culture

There's also the greater role of food in our lives.

Preparing meals as a family. Connecting with the Earth and where our food comes from. Cultural recipes and traditions around food. All of these are deeply important to our identity and daily lives. The whole notion of removing these key elements can have detrimental effects on our overall wellbeing. 

Granted, many people do have strained schedules, and for them Soylent may offer up a reasonable option. After all, if you were going to choose a fast food drive-through, Soylent is probably a better choice. A better choice, yes. Still not a particularly great choice. If you are honestly looking for a way to eat healthy when money and time is short, there are real options.  These options require looking at ways to hack our schedule. Not our diet. I promise you there are brilliant ways to incorporate meal planning that result in lots of good food being made without a lot of time or money. But yes, I can see Soylent being a decent option in a pinch.

Intention is Everything

Which brings me to this point.

I believe that when it comes to these meal-substitutes, how we use them in our lives is everything. 

According to a Time article, Ambronite's creators hope that their product replaces things like protein bars, which are full of sugar and crappy ingredients, not regular meals. This is precisely the intention that I can get behind. 

The stance of Soylent's creator Rob Rhinehart, who believes that eating is inefficient and is seeking to replace the traditional act of consuming food with lab concoctions, is not.

Sometimes we really do need something to grab and go and attempting to formulate a better one is great. Rhinehart's approach is that his little bottle is in fact sufficient to replace, and is superior to, all of the things that I have mentioned before. The complexities of our food, the manner in which we eat, the culture and community formed around eating: All of these he thinks are better replaced by a single bottle. That is the arrogance that I believe many other writers are responding to so strongly.

Marketing and intention do matter. 

I would like to borrow the concept of "Upgrading" from my previous article, Superfood Confusion.

We should view these products as processed food upgrades.

If you were going to consume a processed food full of sugar and crappy ingredients, you would be better off consuming Soylent with its lower sugar and modest amount of nutritional content. It is not, however, a health food. Its ingredient list proves this point. Maltodextrin is an artificial sugar. Soy protein isolate is very controversial with its health risks being currently debated and researched. There's a lot of concern over contamination and additives during the chemical process that isolates the soy protein, as well as the high estrogen content in soy. As I mentioned before, all of it's vitamins are synthetic versions that are generally not the most bioavailable and have the potential to be dangerous.

If you want to upgrade Soylent: choose Ambronite.

Or any other food based "complete meal." They will have a lot more nutrition and a lot less crappy chemicals. While these meals will still be processed, they are at least starting with real food. For comparison, here are Ambronite's ingredients: organic oats, organic coconut, organic lucuma, organic chlorella, wild bilberry, wild sea-buckthorn, organic brown rice protein, organic stinging nettle, organic rice bran, nutritional yeast, organic spinach, organic spirulina, organic almond, organic flaxseed, organic apple, mineral salt, organic brazil nut, organic blackcurrant.

Still, Ambronite is a packaged powder and should not be a substitute for all food. It does not address the one-size-fits-all issue, how we eat, or food as culture. It does, however, offer up a rather good alternative to quick, processed options for when we would need something to fit that bill.

It is worth mentioning, though, that Ambronite is significantly more expensive than Soylent. Ambronite costs about $6 more per meal (albeit, Ambronite's meals are 500 kcal while Soylent's are 400 kcal.) And so while I would offer up Ambronite as the clearly better option for those who can afford it, the sheer price-point of Soylent has its merit.

Which now brings me to:

Global Impact

It should be mentioned that the idea of developing a "complete meal" powder has been floated as a way to improve global health by getting better nutrition to the malnourished all over the world. This is commendable. A non-perishable, cheap food source with some degree of nutritional value would be lifesaving for many people in the world. Soylent (or others) has the possibility of being a really wonderful thing for the world's malnourished. While it should not be thought of as a health food for those of us with access to quality whole foods, it could certainly help address world hunger. Personally, I think that should be its main pitch. 

 

photo: source

1.  Logan VF, Gray AR, Peddie MC, et al: Long-term vitamin D3 supplementation is more effective than vitamin D2 in maintaining serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D status over the winter months. Br J Nutr 2013, 109:1082-1088.

2.Klein EA, Thompson Jr. IM, Tangen CM, Crowley JJ, Lucia MS, Goodman PJ, et al. Vitamin E and the risk of prostate cancer: the Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial (SELECT). JAMA 2011;306:1549-1556.

3.Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Gluud LL, et al: Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2008:CD007176.  

1 Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Natural Energy

Energy is important.

It's how our bodies function. There is an entire industry of products and techniques designed to help people obtain more energy. Apparently, a lot of us are either struggling with low energy or feel as though we want more energy to get through our day.

In biochem speak our body's energy source is ATP. Harken back to your biology class days and see if you can remember hearing the term 'cellular respiration.' Cellular respiration is the process (or rather series of processes) that allows our bodies to produce ATP. I'm not going to throw a bunch of charts your way, there are plenty of text books that can do that, but I am going to briefly explain the difference between helping your body create more energy and tricking your body into believing it's not tired.

Basically, I'm going to talk about the difference between Caffeine and B-Vitamins. 

Coffee versus Vitamins

I like coffee a lot and I consume it regularly. I've even chatted up its benefits multiple times before, such as here and here.

I absolutely believe that coffee can be a part of a healthy diet. Not surprisingly, though, that statement comes with several caveats and the need to understand exactly what coffee (or any other source of caffeine) is doing to your body.

So, let's back up and quickly revisit the science stuff.

The main piece of information that I want to impart to you is this:

Caffeine does not actually provide your body with energy. It prevents your brain from receiving signals that it is tired.

In our brains, caffeine passes into the central nervous system and actually blocks the uptake of adenosine. Adenosine is a chemical messenger (known as a neurotransmitter). Primarily, Adenosine sends the message that we are tired or sleepy. By preventing this transmission, our brains are tricked into thinking that we are not tired. Which means that we are not actually helping our body make more ATP, we are simply "turning off" (if you will) our sensation of drowsiness. That's not to say that caffeine doesn't do other good things. It also affects our dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrin, and acetylcholine all of which are also important neurotransmitters, often associated with our mood. That is why caffeine has been shown to relieve depression and improve alertness and muscle activity, even in the well rested. Still, this should make it clear that caffeine should not be used simply as a substitution for quality sleep. Caffeine can certainly be abused and you are not doing your body any favors by attempting to fool it into not feeling tired when you truly need rest. In moderation, however, caffeine can have real benefits. 

It is important to mention that not all caffeine sources are created equal. For example, caffeine pills can be extremely dangerous. High doses consumed quickly can cause heart palpitations or worse. Soda and energy drinks are absolute junk full of chemicals that are extremely unhealthy. Plus, some energy drinks have astronomical amounts of caffeine. Potentially dangerous levels. Coffee, tea, and raw cacao (along with other natural food sources) are certainly the best options. Be aware that different types of coffee and tea vary widely in their caffeine amount. For example, cold brewed coffee contains more caffeine than traditional brewing. Even different mega coffee chains swing wildly in their drip coffee's amount of caffeine. Also, if you're going the coffee route, try to buy organic and socially conscious brands. Coffee is one of those foods that can be harvested in really poor ways, from spraying tons of pesticides, destroying rainforest, paying terrible wages and processing with chemical flavorings. Brands that don't do these things will tell you.

Since it is not realistic to track all the milligrams of caffeine you are consuming each day (although having a rough idea by understanding how may cups of coffee you drink, for example, is a great idea), understanding it in the context of your body is a great approach. 

For me, this means making a conscious choice to not consume coffee every day. I switch it up with green tea on days that I am well rested. It means feeling in my body if I am consuming caffeine to feel good or consuming caffeine to not feel bad. Those are two different things. If we become addicted to caffeine and truly 'need' it everyday, it means we feel poorly without it (often regardless of our sleep).  I don't want to feel that way. If I consume a moderate amount of caffeine I want to then feel really great. I also try to keep an eye on times when I am using caffeine to get through a busy work week and recognize that I can consume more coffee for a few days, but then I need to make time for some quality self-care that includes adequate sleep. It's not always easy, but it is important for our overall wellbeing to not use caffeine as a permanent crutch. 

And that is the Caffeine Side of Things.

If caffeine doesn't actually help our bodies make more ATP, our cells main energy source, what does?

In the process of cellular respiration, there are 3 different cycles that happen: Glycolysis, Citric Acid Cycle (aka. Krebs Cycle, aka. TCA Cycle...I know...it's silly) and the Electron Transfer Chain. You can nerd out on those cycles if you wish, but instead of delving deep into biology on this post, let's just say that at the end we get 36 ATP and within those cycles a number of co-factors play their part. Many of these co-factors are co-enzymes that are made from B-Vitamins. FAD and FADH are coenzymes that are made from B2, also called Riboflavin. NAD and NADH are coenzymes made from B3, also called Niacin. Those coenzymes are absolutely key to the whole process and you will see them pop up all over charts that explain cellular respiration. Other B vitamins play big roles too that contribute to the formation of ATP. B1 is essential to carbohydrate metabolism. B6 is necessary for amino acid (protein) and fatty acid (fat) metabolism. In addition to B vitamins, CoQ10 is another vitamin that is essential in cellular respiration. 

All of this is to say, that there is another approach for optimizing your energy that actually gets to the heart of the issue. In this case, the release of our bodies' energy source: ATP.

What do we do with this knowledge?

We consume food sources of the nutrients that play key roles in the release of ATP.

Food Sources 

Here's a few examples of food sources with high amounts of B vitamins. (CoQ10 is listed too). I put the name that you are most likely to see used on packages first, with the less common name in parenthesis. Some are generally referred to by their number, others their name.

B1 (Thiamin): Beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, seaweed, brewers yeast, egg yolk, bran wheat, fish, meat, asparagus

B2 (Riboflavin): Dairy, eggs, meat, legumes, leafy greens, mushrooms, almonds

Niacin (B3): Fish, meats, grains, seeds, legumes, mushrooms

B5 (Pantothenic Acid): Organ meats, dark meat turkey and chicken, brewers yeast , nuts and seeds, corn, avocado, sweet potato 

B6 (Pyridoxine): Meats, whole grains, legumes, nuts, avocado, blackstrap molasses 

Biotin (B7): Liver, eggs, soybeans, brewers yeast, fish

Folate (B9): Beans and legumes, liver, beets, cauliflower, green vegetables

B12 (Cobalamin): Liver, meats , seafood, dairy, eggs, seaweed

CoQ10 (Ubiquinone): Meat, poultry, fish, soy beans, nuts, fruit, vegetables, eggs and dairy products.

The take away should certainly be that eating a varied whole-foods diet is best.

Meats, fish, eggs, dairy, beans and legumes, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, other vegetables and even some fruits are all important sources of B vitamins. 

Another option is supplementing with a B-Complex vitamin. I especially recommend this for clients who are attempting to eliminate caffeine from their diets. It will really help with the transition period. A B-Complex is usually a better alternative to supplementing just one B vitamin as all of these vitamins work in tandem. And as always, make sure to buy quality supplements. Vitamins are not well regulated so many cheap varieties at convenience stores have been found to not actually contain the vitamins they claim, and even if they do, they often use less bioavailable forms of vitamins and lots of additives that are actually detrimental to our bodies. Go for professional grade lines and vitamins made from whole foods. For help with supplementation see a nutritionist. To work with me, check out my Work With Me page.

 

 

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Summer Heat

School's out. The temperature is rising. It's even official: Sunday was the first day of Summer.

Time to take a look at what summer has to offer us. Below is a list of some of the foods that you can expect to find at your local farmer's market. They are also foods that should be fresh and well priced in grocery stores. In other words: they're great foods to buy now!

Apricots

Eat raw, cooked or dried. Great as a sweet treat when dried or cooked with dishes.

 

Artichokes

Eat raw or cooked. Eat the fleshy part of the leaves and the base, known as the "heart."

 

Avocados 

Eat Raw. Great on salads, sandwiches, and as a dip (guacamole!).

Berries

Eat raw. Can be cooked into pies, cobblers, jams. Awesome topping to salads, cereals or just on their own.

Carrots

Eat raw or cooked. Great steamed or sautéed.

 

Cherries 

Great raw. Can be cooked into pies, cobblers, jams. Most have pits.

Corn

Eat cooked. Can be used in many different ways. Right off the cob is great.

 

Cucumber

Eat raw. Great in salads and wraps or with some hummus.

 

Eggplant

Eat cooked. Great sautéed, grilled or roasted.

 

Figs

Eat raw, dried or cooked. Great cooked with meat. Super sweet, especially when dried.

Grapes

Eat raw (or dried as raisins!) Many varieties with different colors, some with or without seeds.

grapefruit.jpg

Grapefruit

Eat raw. Be careful about any medications that may have an interaction.

 

Green beans

Eat cooked. Great steamed or sautéed.

 

Melons

Eat raw. Great on their own or as a fruit medley.

 

Peaches

Eat raw. Can be cooked into pies, cobblers, jams. Awesome topping to salads, cereals or just on their own.

 

Plums

Eat raw. Can be cooked into pies, cobblers, jams. Awesome topping to salads, cereals or just on their own.

 

Sugar Snap Peas

Eat cooked. Great steamed or sautéed.

Summer Squash

Eat cooked. Many different varieties. Great sautéed or roasted.

Tomatos

Eat raw, cooked, juiced, as sauce etc. Try heirloom varieties!

Zucchini

Eat cooked. Great sautéed or roasted.

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Fall Flavors

It's officially October which means that I am willing to surrender to the passing of summer and the onset of fall. The fall equinox was September 22, but in Los Angeles September weather is still fully beach-appropriate. In October, the evenings let go of the summer heat and release cool, light breezes. Thus, I am now ready to embrace the gems of fall: earth tones, light sweaters and scarves, and the fruits (and vegetables!) of fall.

Fall happens to be my favorite season, the color pallet matching my own interior design choices and the crispness in the air my ideal weather. Going along with this season are some truly wonderful foods. Below is a list of Fall Seasonal Foods to be found at your local farmer's market.

(These are for California. The list will be similar, but with some changes if you live on the East Coast.)

Fall Seasonal Foods
Fall Foods

Apples

Eat raw or cooked. Great in pies, cider, on salads and as apple sauce.

Artichokes

Eat raw or cooked. Eat the fleshy part of the leaves and the base, known as the "heart."

Arugula

Eat raw or cooked. Typically in salads, but can be sautéed and added to hot dishes.

Asian Pears

Eat raw or cooked. Great on salads, by themselves and in tarts.

Bell Peppers

Eat raw or cooked. Great on salads, with hummus or in stir fries.

 

Fall-2

Broccoli

Eat cooked. (Raw okay, but it is a goitrogen raw.) Great steamed or sautéed.

Cauliflower

Eat cooked. (Raw okay, but it is a goitrogen raw.) Great sautéed or roasted.

Chard

Eat cooked. Eat leaves and steams. Best sautéed.

Eggplants

Eat cooked. Great sautéed, grilled or roasted.

Fennel

Eat raw or cooked. The fronds can be used as an herb dried or fresh. The bulb and stalk can be eaten raw, sautéed or roasted. 

fall-3

Figs 

Eat raw, dried or cooked. Great cooked with meat. Super sweet, especially when dried.

Grapes

Eat raw (or dried as raisins!) Many varieties with different colors, some with or without seeds.

Green Beans

Eat cooked. Great steamed, sautéed, roasted or baked into dishes.

Kale

Eat cooked. (Raw okay, but often hard to digest. You can "massage" kale for a raw kale salad.) Remove stems. Great steamed and sautéed.

Pears

Eat raw or cooked. Great by themselves, on salads, in desserts, or sautéed with butter/ghee.

Fall-4

 

Pomegranates

Eat raw. Add the seeds to salads, fruit bowls or as a breakfast topping.

Pumpkins

Eat cooked. Great sautéed, roasted, baked into breads and pies, or in smoothies.

Tomatoes

Eat raw or cooked. Great on salads, sandwiches, in a stir-fry or roasted. 

Turnips

Eat raw or cooked. Raw has a stronger flavor. Leaves and bulbs are edible. Leaves best sautéed, bulbs best sautéed or roasted.

Winter Squash

Eat cooked. Many different varieties. Great sautéed or roasted.

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Spend a Little, Get a Lot

Sometimes I do guest blogging. Below is an article that I wrote titled Spend a Little, Get a Lot! It has tips for families on how to eat healthy while on a budget. It also has a bunch of tips that apply for eating healthy in general, regardless of budget.

As a holistic nutritionist who espouses the benefits of eating quality whole foods, I often hear concerns about the cost of eating healthy. The argument is that organic, local whole foods just cost too darn much.

Well, I’m here to tell you that luckily, that is not entirely true.

Yes, grassfed organic beef does cost more than its cornfed, CAFO-raised (confined-animal-feeding-operation) antibiotic pumped counterpart. Despite this, I still promote eating the former over the latter, because to be perfectly honest (and at risk of repeating something you’ve heard over and over again) the former is a much healthier choice. At the same time, I completely recognize that many people (myself included, by the way) are on a budget and cannot afford to triple their food costs.

How do we reconcile this?

Here are my tricks of the trade for keeping food costs manageable while still maintaining a diet full of high quality food:

Portion Size

Sometimes it really does take a change of habit. In America, we have become very used to large portion sizes. Especially in foods like meat. If you want to eat high quality meat, then one of the ways to keep costs in check is to downsize your meat portion. This may seem challenging, but most countries in the world do not consume the rather comically large portions of meat that are often served in America. All it takes is a little getting used to and soon your palm-sized steak will look appropriate.

And this doesn’t mean that you will go hungry. If you downsize your meat a bit, you get to:

Up The Veggies And Fiber

Vegetables are quite affordable in comparison to meats. Buying vegetables and fruits in season will also greatly reduce their costs and frozen can always be a cost-saving way to go as well. Two of the cheapest, yet healthiest foods, are dried beans and whole grains. Bags of these are super cheap. Filling up on fibrous goodness will keep you satiated and your digestive tract running smoothly, all while on a budget. Along these same lines:

Click Here to read the rest of Spend a Little, Get a Lot!

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

The Bitter Truth

In my previous post I discussed the wine, chocolate, coffee debate as it is commonly discussed in popular literature. (Mainly, antioxidants and polyphenols.) I realized that what I didn't do was discuss one of the other ways to approach some of these foods. Wine doesn't really fit this topic, but chocolate and coffee certainly do.

So let's revisit.

coffee from urth cafe

I, like many Americans, love coffee.  I don't simply mean I like the caffeine, I mean I LOVE the taste of coffee.  So much so, that I drink my coffee black.  Of course, when I'm at a cafe, I also love a good latte (such as the one pictured above from Urth Caffe in Los Angeles before I lapped that baby up).  

It's interesting that Americans love coffee so much because, as it turns out, coffee is really the only bitter taste in most American diets.  

The Five Tastes are Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter and Umami.  (Umami means savory.)  The most lacking taste in most American diets is Bitter. With the exception of coffee, most Americans don't consume any bitter foods.  Why is this bad?  Because bitter foods do many wonderful things.

Here are some of the great things that Bitters do:

  • Stimulate digestion + Aid in digestion
  • Balance/regulate blood sugar
  • Have a "cooling" and "drying" effect  (Herbalists out there will understand that one)
  • Tonic for infections

While I am a proponent of herbal medicine and absolutely believe in the bottom two, most Americans are probably more interested in the top two. The number of people in America (and increasingly all around the world) with digestive issues and blood sugar problems is huge. Put simply, bitters get our digestive juices flowing and help to break down food. They also modulate blood sugar spikes- both up and down.  

What many people don't realize is that after eating a sugar-heavy meal, your pancreas will work really hard to send lots of insulin into the blood stream in order to get that sugar into your cells. Since there is so much insulin floating around concerned with getting the sugar out of the blood and into your cells, it will actually overshoot and pull too much sugar out of your blood causing reactive hypoglycemia. Your blood sugar will actually fall too low and you will have a sugar craving. Which, of course, is actually the last thing that your body really needs. That cycle can keep repeating itself and if you indulge sugar craving after sugar craving you are heading down a path towards Type II Diabetes. Overtime, your body will not be able to keep up and that is when you get insulin resistance and become hyperglycemic, and a diabetic. Not what you want.

What is something that can help?  Well first: try not to eat a load of simple sugars, but if you do...Bitters!

The taste of bitter will squash a sugar craving immediately.

Suddenly the concept of dessert coffee makes sense, huh?  It actually aids in your digestion and can overcome blood sugar disruption.  Of course there are a lot of other bitter tasting foods out there besides coffee.

True chocolate is actually bitter.  Vermouth is a classic bitter.  (See how much fun this is?!  We are talking about coffee, chocolate and alcohol again!)

Of course, one of the best bitter foods to add to your diet are bitter greens. Most greens are bitter and most American diets are thoroughly lacking in greens. There are also many herbs that have a bitter taste such as dandelion, wormwood and goldenseal. Incorporating bitters into your diet can help stop blood sugar swings and help your body properly digest your food. It's a pretty good deal. And just to be clear, you don't want to only treat bitters as a post sugar-indulgence tonic. Try incorporating them into your everyday meals and habits; your body will thank you for it.  Plus, if you'd like to see an herbalist, I'm sure he/she knows many types of various bitters to treat certain ailments.

Comment

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Wine, Chocolate and Coffee

I'll be the first person to stand up and say that I love wine, chocolate and coffee. As Maria would say, these are a few of my favorite things.

These also happen to be a few of pop culture's favorite foods/beverages to discuss. 

Why? Because most of us love them. Unfortunately, they were categorized as vices for a while. Now, new studies seem to pop up every week that debate this old mentality and promote the health benefits of these popular foods.

Here's the real deal with wine, chocolate and coffee:

Wine, chocolate and coffee

Wine

Wine has been hailed as a great source of resveratrol, a known antioxidant. The idea is that resveratrol, as an antioxidant, is heart healthy. Resveratrol may increase HDL (the "good" cholesterol) and reduce artery damage. The thought is that red wine is the most beneficial form since it contains the most resveratrol. Unfortunately, all of these studies that concluded that resveratrol is beneficial have been done on mice, not humans. While mice studies are a good stepping stone, they in and of themselves, do not prove results in humans. Even more unfortunate are some new human studies suggesting that red wine consumption may have no effect on heart health.

Now, to be fair, it is incredibly hard to do controlled human studies. Therefore, proving causality when all of your subjects have varied genetics and are living different lifestyles is difficult as best. Yet, the fact remains that there is no proof that consuming alcohol of any sort, if you are not already consuming alcohol, is beneficial. Alcohol consumption in large amounts is still known to be bad for our health. Brain and liver damage being the common ones.

For those of us who already consume alcohol in moderation, however, I would suggest selecting wine (preferably red wine) as your drink of choice. It stands as the lesser of the evils, if you will. Red wine may offer some health-positive aspects that counter the health-negative aspects of alcohol.  Either way, moderation is still key. Drinking large amounts of wine (more than 2 glasses a day) is not a healthy habit. And in the same vein as my superfood post, do not suddenly start drinking wine if you weren't already drinking alcohol because you think it is a health drink. Drink wine only if you want to drink an alcoholic drink.

Personally, I think that drinking wine in moderation can be a part of a healthy diet. It is a part of mine. There are a lot of studies out there that say that wine drinkers have lower cases of various diseases than non-drinkers. Also, many of the Blue Zones (areas where people reach 100 at 10x the normal rate) are avid wine drinkers. But again, these studies may not be looking at the right component- perhaps many wine drinkers have some other common habit that is responsible for these results rather than the wine itself. Hard to say without a truly controlled group. 

Overall, if you like wine: drink it moderately and don't stress about it. Stress is probably the most important thing anyway. If a glass or two of wine is enjoyable for you, it probably is beneficial for you. If you don't drink alcohol, stick to water. 

Chocolate

Ah, chocolate. So delicious. So bitter.

I say bitter because real chocolate, aka. cacao, is bitter tasting. When people tote the health benefits of chocolate, they are referring to cacao, not some sugar-laden milk "chocolate" concoction. These health benefits include containing antioxidants and polyphenols. But again, in order to contain these anti-inflammatory properties, you must actually be dealing with real chocolate.

Think dark chocolate, or even more accurately: raw cacao. Some dark chocolates do contain a high percentage of cacao and a low amount of sugar. Others, however, claim to be dark chocolate, but are basically slightly more bitter versions of milk chocolate. 

Look for AT LEAST 55% cacao. Ideally, even more than that if you want any sort of healthy aspect. Raw cacao is the best. This powder (or nibs) is the real deal. Raw cacao is also a good sources of magnesium. Personally, I think it is delicious and regularly add it to such things as smoothies, chia seed bowls and raw desserts. It is not the same as chocolate powder, which is usually full of sugar and additives. But, raw cacao is still not a magic elixir. It is also a stimulant. Therefore, I don't consume it late in the day. Also, be mindful of consuming additional caffeine with raw cacao or even very dark chocolate. You may get an extra kick you weren't anticipating. If you are avoiding caffeine for a health reason, raw cacao and dark chocolate are not for you.

Raw cacao can be an acquired taste. If, however, you ditch the processed sugars from your diet, you will probably find raw cacao to be awesome.

So yes, again much like my superfood post, if you are into chocolate eat (very) dark chocolate. I think it is a great choice. But don't start consuming entire bars of chocolate a day as a health food. Unless you are buying 85% or higher dark chocolate bars, there will still be a fair amount of sugar, so dark chocolate should still be treated like a dessert. Raw cacao powder/nibs can be treated more like a healthy supplement, but bear in mind that it still contains calories. While I am NOT about calorie counting, it still behooves us to recognize that if we add a whole bunch of special ingredients to a smoothie for example, that smoothie could end up being the size of multiple meals. Just be mindful of portion sizes. It's very common for us to want to add lots of powders and seeds and whatnot, thinking only about the vitamin content and ignoring the fact that we just made a smoothie for two people.

Coffee

This may be the one that gets the most headlines. After all, in America, coffee is certainly the most common breakfast beverage of choice. Heck, many people drink coffee throughout the entire day. Because it is such a staple in our daily routines, the idea that coffee could go from vice to healthy habit gets a lot of attention.

Here's the thing about coffee:

First of all, a frappuccino or caramel macchiato etc. is NOT coffee. Those are slightly coffee flavored desserts that contain some caffeine. They are flat out unhealthy. I'm not saying that you can never enjoy a Delicious Mildly Coffee-Flavored Sugar-Milkshake Thingy (I should probably trade mark that term), but you should never consume it and think, "I just had a cup of coffee."

No, no you didn't. You had a large sugary dessert. 

If you recognize this and consume your DMCFSMT as a rare treat and adjust your food choices accordingly, then you will be fine. But if you drink a DMCFSMT daily you are getting a crap ton of sugar and additives that could lead to health problems down the road.

So we need to deal with real coffee. Ideally, black or just with some cream or milk (or coconut oil). A tiny bit of sugar is okay, but be mindful. And for goodness sake: use a real sugar if you need to sweeten it, not artificial sweeteners. 

Secondly, coffee contains caffeine. Even decaf contains a little bit of caffeine.

Is caffeine an evil? No, but you can certainly overdo it and some people really should not be consuming any caffeine. If your adrenals are burnt out from chronic stress, lack of sleep, overwork etc. caffeine is not your friend. Your body needs to heal and regulate itself and continual stimulation by caffeine can cause hormone imbalances. Of course, the overworked, overtired crowd is usually the one that drinks obscene amounts of caffeine throughout the day, so you can see how that is bad news. 

So the first thing is to recognize if coffee is right for YOU. Not for everyone, for YOU. Remember, there is not one magic, "right" diet for everyone. 

If you feel as though you can handle some caffeine in your life, then drinking moderate amounts of coffee could be a part of a healthy diet. Coffee can increase metabolism, does contain a number of nutrients, and may offer some protection against Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's, although the causal relationship has not been proven.

The biggest deal is to be mindful of how you take your coffee. Both in preparation in the home and before it even gets to the shelf.

There is a big difference in quality of coffee beans sold in stores. Often many beans are rancid or use massive amounts of pesticides. Try to buy organic, pesticide-free coffee. Buy good smelling coffee beans that don't have additives. Additive flavorings can cover up the smell of rancidity. 

Yes, organic, high-quality coffee costs more. But if coffee is a daily habit for you, it has a pretty big impact on your life. It's worth investing a few extra dollars into a bag to get coffee that actually contains the flavonoid antioxidants coffee should have while not containing the chemical residues it shouldn't. Also, if you make your coffee at home, it is significantly cheaper than buying it out; plus when you make it at home you have control of the quality and preparation. (There's also a whole topic here on labor treatment and fair-wage for coffee growers that's too big to go into right now since this is just about nutritional value, but for the record: coffee is an excellent food to purchase Fair Trade.)

In summation, I think that for many people coffee can be a part of their healthy diet. I think it should be consumed only in moderation since coffee is still quite acidic and constant stimulation is not good for our bodily systems. We also need to be extremely mindful of when we are drinking coffee and whether or not caffeine is good for us at all. We all metabolize caffeine differently; for some it can stay in our system for over 10 hours. Perhaps your 2:00pm coffee is affecting your sleep. Just something to consider. And if you are a stress-case, caffeine is not good for you right now. At least back down to green tea. Your body will recover in time.

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Superfood Confusion

The health industry sure does love the term "Superfood" doesn't it?

The Superfood phenomenon has brought us such nutrition heroes as chia seeds, kale and goji berries. While all three of those foods are wonderful and incorporating new nutrient dense foods into your diet is an excellent thing, the whole Superfood Nation that we've created has both its pros and its cons.

Superfoods

I'm writing this article to help clear up a few things.

I want to assist you in deciphering between the helpful messages and marketing ploys, understand how to apply new nutritional knowledge to your life and point out common pitfalls.

Remember that food companies are in business to make money. 

Therefore, it will never take long for a food company to seize a marketing opportunity. As soon as a food gets labeled a "Superfood" that food can start popping up everywhere. Chefs start creating recipes featuring that food and processed food companies may try to incorporate some amount of that food into their ingredient list and then feature its inclusion prominently on the box. 

While learning how to cook with an unfamiliar food is a wonderful (and necessary) thing if someone wants to prepare a new food, one must bear in mind that "Superfoods" do not turn any dish into a magic elixir. Chia seeds are wonderful omega-3, protein-packed, fibrous little gems, and using them in a brownie batch means that your brownies may have a bit of extra nutritional value. If you are going to eat a brownie, eating a nutritionally superior brownie is a good decision, but you are still eating a brownie. A BROWNIE.  

Act accordingly.

Meaning: still treat that brownie like a dessert.

People get themselves into trouble by utilizing "Superfood" ingredients as a way to turn all of the accompanying ingredients into "Superfoods By Proxy." It doesn't work like that. The large amount of sugar in your brownies is still a large amount of sugar. Now, with that said, I think that finding ways to improve the nutritional quality of our desserts is an excellent thing. If we are able to up the protein, fiber and vitamin/mineral content of our desserts, then when we eat them, hopefully, we will be satisfied with smaller portions, our blood sugar won't spike as high and we may get some nutrition. 

Note the use of the words "AS HIGH" and "SOME" nutrition.

My point is that your souped-up brownie is still a calorie-dense, sugary, mostly nutritionally-devoid food. If you have an occasion where you want a brownie (because, yes, I'm not here to suck the fun out of life) then eating a better brownie is great. But if you were not going to indulge in a sugary treat and instead thought "but it has chia seeds so now it's a health food!" you have missed the mark. 

Adding "Superfoods" to desserts and nutritionally-devoid foodstuffs does not turn them into health foods. It just makes them SLIGHTLY better than their typical counterparts.

That is probably the most common pitfall that we make when dealing with "Superfoods" or any healthier swap situation. The confusion that a food's health value is a matter of a simple grading process where less healthy ingredients are voided by combining them with a healthy ingredient. Not so. 

The good news is that all that is required is a tweaking of how you are viewing food. 

The trick is to remember that "Superfoods" or any healthier option is simply an UPGRADE of the same thing.

Using natural sugars instead of white sugar is an excellent upgrade. AND we are still talking about sugar. Maple syrup, raw honey, dried fruit all fall under the category of natural sugars that are vastly superior to white sugar, but they have not ceased to be sugar. Snacking on dried fruit is better than snacking on cake, but both are still in the dessert category.

Let me repeat that: Dried fruit is akin to a sweetener or dessert.

If you want to sweeten your granola or eat a dessert, then adding some raisins or eating some dried figs is a great choice. But, you have still added sugar to your breakfast and eaten dessert. As long as you recognize this, and therefore adjust your future choices accordingly, then you are all good. If instead, you think you have only added "nutritional value" to your breakfast and consumed a health-food snack, you are bound to end up consuming too much sugar (and too many calories) over time, leading to blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, and other health concerns.

Viewing foods properly is key. Speaking of which...

Working out and coconut water/ sports drinks

OKAY. Listen up folks because this is another classic case of misperception.

First of all, sports drinks are sugar water. There are also some electrolytes, but mainly it's sugar water. That is the original point of them! If you are running a marathon or playing professional soccer then your body is burning fuel at a very high rate; during this INTENSE activity your body may become depleted and need additional glucose to perform at its highest level. In that situation sugar water is useful because it is easily absorbed by the body and able to be utilized as energy right away. If you are in the middle of a soccer game this is ideal. 

Unfortunately, a lot of sports drinks have a bunch of added chemicals and crap that give them crazy bright colors or make them taste fruity (you know, in a completely not-real-fruit kind of way). Therefore, coconut water has come out as a great alternative to classic sports drinks because it is lacking in these additives and BONUS has decent mineral content. If you are a professional athlete, I recommend coconut water during/after events if needed.

Most of us, however, are not exercising at that high a level.

If you are working out for an hour or less you do NOT need to consume extra calories in order to get your body through it.

And that is what you are doing by consuming either coconut water or sports drinks. Your body has a system for burning fuel. It can get you through a basic 45-60 minute workout. And your electrolytes should be fine as well. Possible exceptions involve extreme sweating situations, such as with hot yoga or working out in heat. Adding a small pinch of sea salt to your water can be a good option if you find yourself excessively sweating. 

Drink water

And before you think the sports drink companies have a solution to this issue, let me stop you. EVEN WORSE are "diet" sports drinks with less calories. That is some serious ridiculousness right there. Those "diet" sports drinks are just a marketing ploy attempting to sell sports drinks to people who work out moderately.

Hmm...people who work out moderately...sound like a LARGE demographic?

Yep, the companies thought so too. Once, they caught on that people working out to lose weight or maintain health realized that sports drinks weren't increasing their calorie burn enough to counter the calories they were now drinking, the sports drink companies decided to hit the market with "diet" versions. They contain crappy chemicals and artificial sweeteners. There is absolutely no point to them. If you are performing strenuous physical activity, you will benefit more from the regular versions (although I'd still recommend coconut water over them). If you aren't trying to maintain your peak performance during major prolonged activity, then you don't need any special drink. The best "diet" sports drink is WATER. If you want "extra energy" to get through a typical workout designed for general health or weight loss, try a B-complex vitamin. That will actually assist your body in making ATP, your cells' energy source. 

How should we incorporate "Superfoods" into our lives?

By remembering that they are just upgrades.

Eating a varied, whole foods diet is key to great health, so incorporating kale, chia seeds and goji berries into your diet is great. If you make trail mix with dried fruit or chocolate for some sweetness and want to upgrade to goji berries, great! But, don't go out and buy goji berry juice when you weren't already drinking juice because you think it is a health drink. (And you know how I feel about juice.)

Coconut water is a great upgrade to traditional sports drinks when necessary. It is also an upgrade to most fruit juice. It is NOT an upgrade to water. 

Kale is freaking wonderful! But putting some kale into chocolate chip cookies (it has happened) doesn't make them stop being cookies. Sneaking vegetables into foods that you were going to eat anyway is cool, but don't let it be an excuse to eat food you wouldn't have normally eaten. 

Allow the term "Superfood" to encourage you to try cooking with spices, such as turmeric, that you may not have previously used. Try new vegetables, new fruits, different grains. But don't throw all of your knowledge about appropriate portion size, or what a dessert is, out the window because you are using a "Superfood." 

Many of my raw desserts contain raw cacao, which is often considered a superfood. I agree. Raw cacao is great. But I still consume my raw brownie as a sweet treat. I shouldn't start eating raw brownies by the pound because they contain raw cacao. 

Understand? Excellent.

 

photo credit: source
Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Common Diet Mistakes Part 2

This is the second part of my article about making some changes to our diets and lifestyles for the better. The first part was about simple swaps. This part is the all-important LIFESTYLE section that I think often gets left out of "easy diet tips for everybody" type articles.

If you haven't previously read part one of this post, click here.

Shop at Farmers Markets

The reality is that every one of us is an individual.

There is not one magic diet that is right for absolutely everyone. We all have different genetics, different routines, and different goals. 

Granted, there are things that are universally BAD for everyone and that is mainly what is the idea behind the first part of this article.

For example, trans fats are bad. Plain and simple. Avoid them and swap them out for something better. That is an easy diet hack.

But, when it comes to optimizing each individual's health and level of nutrition, the same things are not going to apply to all people. One of the main reasons that this is so is GENETICS. Can't change that, we have the genetic makeup that we have. Another huge reason is LIFESTYLE.

Part of the lifestyle component simply is about the nature of your interests. For example, if you enjoy competing in triathlons, then clearly your nutritional requirements are going to be different from someone who is not a competitive athlete. Being a triathlete is great, but certainly not a requirement of good health.

Yet, athletes and non-athletes alike do require adequate sleep. What is an adequate amount of sleep? Well, that depends slightly on the individual. Not everyone requires the same amount of sleep. Still, I guarantee you that if you are waking up tired everyday, dragging throughout the day, and requiring massive amounts of caffeine, something is amiss. Whatever you're currently doing is not working. It could be a sleep time issue. It could be a sleep quality issue. It could be a hormonal imbalance such as hypothyroidism. There could be a food component contributing to fluctuations in blood sugar or causing unpleasant immune reactions. Either way, the situation needs attention.

And that is my point.

We need to pay attention to what is going on in our lives and not always look for the quick fix. Take the given situation above, that tired person may be able to have a quick fix: if she is is able to rule out sleep and diet, goes to the doctor and her thyroid tests come back showing hypothyroidism, then perhaps thyroid medication is the answer. A seemingly quick fix. But if the reality is that this person has a very stressful job that has her eating convenience meals on the run and working into the wee hours of the morning, only to have to wake up at the crack of dawn, then the fix is less simple.

This person needs to prioritize her health and focus on how to shift her lifestyle, or else she will burn out and probably end up with some serious chronic illnesses. 

There are a lot of people who fall under this category of needing to make lifestyle changes in order to improve their health. These are not as easy as simple swaps, but they can be very powerful.

Below, I'm going to mention a few lifestyle components that I think are key to health and wellness. I will hopefully be presenting this information in way that inspires and motivates change. I want you all to feel as though you are in control of your own lives and despite how you may currently feel, you are capable of prioritizing your health and making lifestyle adjustments.

COOKING

The great Michael Pollan has tackled this one recently and I think he is right. We need to prepare our own food. Pollan argues that taking back control of the cooking process, meaning cooking our own food, is the most powerful thing we can do to improve our health and improve our food system. 

If you currently do not cook for yourself then that needs to be addressed. Why are you outsourcing the processing of your food?

Sometimes, the issue is simply that we do not feel as though we know how to cook. I guarantee you cooking is quite simple. It can get super fancy, no doubt, but unless you want to make intricate designs with your food or compete on Top Chef, then basic cooking is quite easy. 

Learn how to cook.

This can mean taking a class, asking a friend or family member who cooks to teach you, reading a book or articles on the internet, or watching a cooking show. I don't care how you like to learn, just that you gain the confidence you need to purchase whole foods and bring them back to your kitchen and transform them into a meal you will eat.

If it helps, know this: cooking is really just about paying attention.

As long as you are watching what you are doing, the classic "oven-on-fire" scenario is very unlikely. A delicious meal can require only basic steps such as chopping vegetables, boiling water or using a skillet. Demystify cooking and you will find yourself moving throughout your kitchen with confidence.

The second reason that people may not cook is that they simply don't like to cook. I'm sorry, but that is not a good enough reason to abandon cooking. Instead, find a way to make it more fun. Play music while you cook or have a TV show on in the background. (Just not a show that you are seriously trying to pay attention to. Something you can kind of listen to while you cook.) Maybe share cooking with your partner or with your children. Make it a family affair. Whatever makes it more enjoyable. And honestly, a lot of people who say they don't enjoy cooking really mean that they don't think they are a great cook or don't love the food they make. See the part above about learning to cook.

The third reason is timing. Not having time to cook. Which is an issue on its own so let's discuss this in its own section:

MEAL PLANNING

Prepare your meals

The second part of cooking for yourself is meal planning. If you feel as though you simply don't have time to cook, the issue is timing.

The solution is planning.

If your schedule is crazy, you may not have time to cook fresh meals each day. Instead, find a day in your schedule when you can make time to make large batches of food to have for the week. For example, make a big batch of oatmeal, my breakfast bake, or coconut muffins and then you have breakfast for the week. Roast a large pan of vegetables and then you can simply reheat some at a time. If you make a dinner, double or triple the amount you make so that you can have left overs for lunches. You can make a whole pan of chicken at a time and just reheat throughout the week. Make big pots of rice or quinoa and beans. Often it requires just as much time to make a meal as it does to make a double batch of that same meal. Make the double batch and save yourself the time tomorrow.

Set aside some time one day (or even less time on two days) a week and get yourself prepped for your busy days.

Snacks can be treated the same way. Chop up a large amount of easy to snack on veggies so that you can grab some each morning and take them with you. Create cute baggies of fruit and cheese that are ready to go. Make a homemade trail mix with raw nuts and seeds. 

These things don't actually take very much time, they just seem overwhelming when you are currently trying to be three places at once. Instead, make meal preparation part of your weekly agenda and then you will find yourself set for the week. When your diet improves, thanks to having healthy food ready to go, your overall health and wellbeing will improve. Your energy levels should be better and you might even feel more even-keeled, all which will help you tackle your busy life. 

FOOD SHOPPING

How you purchase your food is important.

One of the best things you can do for the food system and for your pocketbook, is shop local. Go to farmers markets. They are awesome. If you have the time, you can make an entire outing of it. Take the kids, the dog, go with a friend. It is a good time. Sometimes at the end of the day, farmers will even offer up deals on the produce they haven't sold. Also, the food quality is so much better. You want good quality food. It is more bang for your buck. The food is fresher because it was grown locally instead of shipped a great distance. Talk to your farmer and find out about their practices. Usually farmers markets are full of organic (or organic practicing without the certification) farms. 

If time is an issue, then you have a few things that can help. For those with the financial means, there are companies now that will home deliver fresh produce to your door. For the majority of people for whom that is not an option, get to know your store. Food shopping can be a very quick thing if you know your store and what you need. I fly through my local health food store because I know that place like the back of my hand. I have a list of what I need and I'm in and out in a flash. Unless I have spare time, in which case I linger and explore because I like food. But that's just me.

And yes, health food stores are your friend. You don't have to buy all their expensive products, but they tend to have the best produce (outside of farmers markets). You need access to good food if you are going to buy good food. Unfortunately, there are food deserts in this country, and that is a whole other conversation. But for most people, good food can be found if you take the effort to look. Farmers markets are becoming prolific and even mainstream stores are improving their produce selections. Shop the perimeters where the whole foods live and learn what days the produce is put out fresh. Usually, the best day is Wednesday.

And this has to be said: prioritize food in your budget. This country is known for spending the smallest percentage of their income on food. That would be an accomplishment if that meant we were eating super high quality food for that price, but we're not. Cultures with much lower rates of obesity and chronic diseases, such as France, spend a higher percentage of their budget on food. They value their food. 

And FYI: one of the easiest ways to reduce your cost is to eat less meat. I'm not even talking about being a vegetarian, just substituting a few animal protein meals a week with beans/legumes is a huge money saver. Dried beans and legumes are CHEAP.

SLEEP HYGIENE

Sleep is a big deal. I know that society can sometimes glorify the ability to function on little sleep, but that is not something we should be striving for. Sleep is vital to our health. We will die if we go too long without sleep. Sleep is essential to our immune system, hormone regulation and muscle/tissue repair; do not discredit it. And for the record: caffeine does not literally provide us with energy. It binds to receptors in our brains, thus preventing adenosine from binding to those receptors. When bound to its receptor, adenosine tells the body to slow down nerve cell activity, causing drowsiness. Therefore, the way to think of caffeine is that it blocks you from feeling drowsy; it does not provide your body with more ATP (your cell's energy source). I'm telling you this so that you understand why consuming infinite amounts of caffeine is not a good thing. I'm not against moderate caffeine consumption, as there are some benefits with coffee and tea, but high intakes of caffeine can be very disruptive to your neurotransmitters and should not be seen as a legitimate substitute for sleep.

If you are not getting adequate sleep, there are multiple things to consider. The first, of course, is how much time are you devoting to sleep. If you are only allowing a few hours each night for sleep, this is not enough. I realize that sometimes life circumstances mandate this, but you really will not be able to keep this up long term. I couldn't even begin to address how to do this for everyone because the situations that can lead to lack of sleep time are as varied as there are people on the planet. So I will just say this: I urge you to not accept getting no where near your required sleep as the way it must be. I don't know if this means having to ask for help, dialing back on responsibility, or a massive schedule overhaul, but the first step is identifying this as a need that deserves to be addressed. I'm sure it can feel insurmountable to some, but I think there are a lot of people who have simply accepted their situation as a normal byproduct of a busy life. It shouldn't have to be.

Then there is the issue of quality of sleep. If you are putting in the time, but either having trouble falling asleep, waking up in the middle of the night, tossing and turning etc. then there may be some things that can help. This is the sleep hygiene part. Sleep hygiene is getting more attention these days so you may have heard a bunch of these before, but they do bear repeating:

  • Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed.
  • Dim the lights with the sunset. You do not need your home to be lit up like an amusement park all evening. Dim the lights on your electronics with the sunset as well if you can. 
  • Expose yourself to darkness. If you have a yard or a safe space to step outside at night in the dark, this can be very helpful.
  • Make a routine at night before bedtime so that your body gets accustomed to it.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up at similar hours throughout the week.
  • Try teas, tinctures or other herbs that help the body relax for sleep.
  • If your mind has trouble turning off, keep a journal at your bedside to write down any pressing ideas and remove them from your thoughts.
  • Try nightly meditation. Even while you are in bed. You can purchase guided meditation CDs or find them on youtube to play at bedtime.
  • Try healing modalities such as massage, acupuncture or Reiki.

BODY IMAGE

I felt that I had to at least mention this topic since we are talking about lifestyle. The relationship that you have with your body (and thus with your food and eating habits) is so important to your overall wellbeing. It is a little bit tangential to the previous topics, but still very relevant in my view. It is extremely hard to have a healthy relationship with your food if you have a poor relationship with yourself. Many people care about improving their diet and lifestyle because they want to change themselves in some way. But there is a vast difference between wanting to be healthier in order to feel better, and hating your body. Self-love is vital to overall wellbeing and it is also a key component to any lifestyle change. If you are not kind to yourself, it will be very hard to value yourself enough to make lifestyle shifts. It also won't make you happy. If you do not love yourself, then any external changes won't be enough. If you struggle with body image, as so many of us do, I encourage you to work on that first. If you feel as though the problem requires professional attention, I encourage you to seek the care you need.

If this topic is of interest to you, I wrote an article that talks about body image and our relationship to food for Elephant Journal that you can find HERE

 

Photo credit: theselfsufficientliving.com
Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Common Diet Mistakes Part 1

There are umpteen articles written about everyday eating habits that people regularly make that are sabotaging their health (or weight-loss efforts, or any other precise wellness goal).

Sometimes these articles include incredibly helpful information about easy swaps (or the new "it" term: diet HACKS. We seem to really love the work "hack" these days) that we can make to better ourselves without a lot of effort.

Lack of effort seems to be key.

While this makes perfect sense, with our busy schedules and complex lives, it sure does place our food and eating habits way down on the priority totem pole.

I'm all for easy and manageable, but I'm also for recognizing that a big part of how we got here was by turning what and how we eat into an afterthought or annoyance.

Food is a necessity of life. It is one of the things that connects all human beings. We have to eat. Therefore, I think it behooves us to concern ourselves with the quality of our food: how it is grown, prepared and the impact that it has on our health.

With that in mind, I'm writing this article in multiple parts. First, I will provide some easy steps/swaps that do make a difference without requiring much lifestyle change. Then I will talk about some actual lifestyle modifications that will really shape your relationship to your food.


PART 1: 5 Easy Diet Modifications

Healthy snacks, food swaps

USE APPROPRIATE FATS

Perhaps one of the easiest changes to make is to swap out any crappy oils and fats that you are currently using and simply use healthy, high quality ones that are meant for what you are doing. This means ditching trans fats and using only high heat oils when you are cooking at high temperatures. If you need a lovely list of oils/fats and their temperature range click here. Essentially there are oils you cook with and oils you toss with. These are what I recommend:

  • For heat: coconut oil, avocado oil, ghee or butter
  • For low/no heat: olive oil, walnut oil, almond oil, sesame oil, truffle oil

Pitch all of your ambiguous "vegetable oils" as they are surely trans fats. Say NO to stupid butter replacements, they are often full of rancid oils and trans fats. You are much better off buying real butter. Grass-fed, ideally.

Fat is important to do right. Most fat bypasses the liver and goes directly into our lymph after we digest it, meaning that toxins in fat are potentially more dangerous than water-soluble toxins. Buy organic as much as possible. 

In addition to cooking properly with fat:

DON'T BE AFRAID OF FAT

Quit buying low-fat versions of things. Buy the full-fat version. If something is meant to contain fat and a company is trying to reduce the fat content, it will replace it with sugar. It then becomes a double whammy because now you are consuming twice the sugar without the fat present to slow down the absorption rate. Hello blood sugar spike! Your poor body's insulin will be in overdrive.

Yes, the full-fat versions will contain more calories. Adjust your portion sizes accordingly. But you should feel more satiated and your blood sugar won't spike. Plus, I mean, come on- it will taste better too.

In case this needs repeating: the fat-fearful age of the 1980's and 90's needs to go away now! We know that was a big mistake. It skyrocketed obesity in this country. Go back to eating food in it's original form, not some bastardized low-fat version. Eat real food.

DRINK WATER

Seriously people. Cool it with the sugary sodas, juices and "coffee" that is really a milk shake. A soda is not a thirst quenching beverage- it is a dessert. Let's be clear: soda is terrible for us and offers absolutely no nutritional value other than containing calories. Diet soda is worse. While it may be low in calories, the effect of the chemical cocktail on our bodies is worse than regular soda. If you occasionally want to consume a regular soda as a treat, fine. But recognize that it is a dessert item, not a beverage akin to water.

Juices are pretty terrible too. Unless you are drinking freshly squeezed juice (ideally of a vegetable variety) then you are essentially just drinking sugar. Yes, freshly pressed green juices have a lot of nutritional value, but store-bought apple juice does not. The vitamins degrade over time and store juices are pasteurized. In other words: the vitamin content is low while the sugar content is high. Lose the store-bought juice; instead, drink water and eat a piece of fruit.

Oh, and moderate amounts of coffee and tea are great, but a frappuccino and chai latte from Starbucks are, once again, dessert items. If you drink coffee and tea daily, ditch the sugar, or at least reduce it. If you don't like coffee without a massive amount of sugar and flavorings, you don't like coffee. Choose an alternate beverage. And if you don't like coffee, but "need" the caffeine, then there are a few options: fix your schedule and get more sleep (sorry, I realize that falls under the lifestyle section), try tea (there are lots of flavored teas that are flavored with fruit and spices, not sugar) try a B-complex in the morning (but not 5 Hour Energy- that thing is full of crap. Buy an actual B-complex vitamin), don't have a sugary breakfast- that will prevent the spike and crash.

GIVE UP THE NOTION OF A HEALTHY BAGGED SNACK

I'm really sorry to break it to you, but none of the snacks in the processed snack aisle are good for you. None of them. I don't care what claims a box or bag are making, but the chips, pretzels, popcorn, crackers etc. are NOT health food. The only possible exception are kale chips and other raw food snacks that are very expensive and only in health food stores. If you have the funds, then sure: buy containers of raw kale chips. But any classic processed-grain-based snack is not healthy for you. Act accordingly. 

Since we are not yet into the lifestyle section where I can talk about snack preparation at home, let's focus on what you can just buy that is a healthy snack:

Crunchy

  • Vegetables and hummus
  • Pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Edamame
  • WHOLE FOOD fruit and nut bars. (No crazy additives, just whole food ingredients.)
  • Kale chips or other raw food snacks (generally pricey)
  • Dark chocolate (in moderation and I'm talking 55+% cacao)

Creamy

  • Fruit and nut butters (I guess this can be crunchy or creamy)
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese (REAL cheese only. No weird ingredients.)
  • Applesauce (No sugar added)

I doubt many of those were particularly new, but tough poo. If you are looking for snacks without the prep, then you already know the deal: fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds are the main thing. Snacking can be a great opportunity to up your veggie and fruit intake, or to eat a bunch of crap. Either make the swap or consider limiting your snacking.

WHOLE GRAIN OVER WHITE

I'm guessing you've already heard about this, but plenty of people still buy the white stuff so here I go:

BUY WHOLE GRAINS INSTEAD OF THE WHITE STUFF.

In general, Americans eat too many grains, so if you can back off of the grains and swap them out for vegetables, even better. But, in the very least, if you are buying breads and pastas etc. buy the whole grain version. Even better, buy non-wheat whole grains to add variety to your diet and up your overall nutrition. Try millet, quinoa, buckwheat (it's not a wheat), farrow, barley, oats, rye, spelt, brown rice, red rice, black rice, wild rice, amaranth, teff....I could go on. Swap out your same-old white rice or pasta for something else and reap the fiber and vitamin rewards.

continuing on with grains:

SWAP OUT YOUR BREAKFAST CEREAL

Breakfast cereals, even ones without marshmallows, are highly processed. But let's use the good, better, best model. Below is a spectrum of breakfast cereals on a list from least desirable to best.  These are just examples to give you an idea. Insert your current breakfast cereal choice as best you can. Then, no matter where you are starting from, swap your current choice for something at least one rung down.

  • Pure Sugar Cereal. (There are marshmallows, the theme is that it tastes like a chocolate candy, or everything is frosted.)
  • Highly processed cereal, but less added sugar (maybe it boasts being "whole grain" or having a lot of fiber but ultimately still super processed)
  • Quick Oatmeal (less processed than traditional cereals, but the quick version is still somewhat processed in order to cook so quickly.)
  • Slow cooking oats (Old fashioned or Steel Cut)
  • Chia seed "cereal" with choice of milk and other goodies (such as fruit, nuts/seeds, cinnamon etc.)

The last option is a great unprocessed breakfast that still has the classic "cereal" presentation. Of course, if you are also willing to think outside the bowl and work with eggs, smoothies, yogurt, my grain-free pancakes, fruit, vegetable scrambles, etc. EVEN BETTER.

I hope those swaps seem doable and helpful.

Although, to be fair, I think that lifestyle is very important. If you are always eating on the run, choosing a better option at the store is a good hack, but meal planning and prep are key too. Those are coming up in Part 2.

Is a Gluten Allergy Just a Fad?

Having a gluten allergy or sensitivity has become trendy.

So much so that is has become fodder for comedians.

via glutenfreesociety.org

via glutenfreesociety.org

Firstly, let me point out that clearly there are a lot of people who are utilizing "avoiding gluten" as a way to try to lose weight without having any specific gluten-related diagnosis. (Or some other benefit, but losing weight is certainly the most common reason for someone to just randomly try going gluten-free.) I don't have a particular problem with this. Experimenting with avoiding gluten is not harmful, if a bit inconvenient, and may actually be helpful. It can be helpful in one of two ways for those who have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon: 

  1. It causes said bandwagoner to dial back their refined carbohydrate consumption since most processed grains contain gluten. Removing processed junk is always a good thing and can definitely result in weight loss if those foods are not simply replaced with gluten-free versions of the same vein.
  2. Said bandwagoner turns out to actually have an underlying sensitivity to gluten that has caused symptoms for a long time (e.g. gas, bloating, skin irritations, inflammation etc.) but because the symptoms were a constant occurrence, he/she never made the connection between food and the symptoms. By removing gluten, these symptoms that he/she had become accustomed to disappear.

Those two reasons are why I don't have a problem with people experimenting with a gluten-free diet on their own. They may actually get some benefit. If they don't see any improvements after a month, then gluten is probably not an issue and not worth avoiding. Of course, there are also some pitfalls with eating gluten-free:

  1. Simply substituting gluten-free processed crap for gluten-containing processed crap. This does not benefit your health in any way. In fact, some gluten free products have higher glycemic indexes than their gluten-containing counterparts.
  2. Thinking that anything that is gluten-free is magically healthy. NOPE. Sorry, but a gluten-free cupcake is still a cupcake. This is similar to #1, but extra dangerous because it can go beyond substituting to causing over-eating. Similar to the SnackWells problem of the 80's and 90's where people ate boxes of fat-free cookies, slapping a label on desserts does not turn them into vegetables. (Vegetables ARE gluten-free, however. Eat them.)

Some people like to argue that going gluten-free can cause nutrient deficiencies.  This is NOT TRUE. Gluten is not a requirement to health. What is true, however, is that grains are often people's main source of B-vitamins and fiber. This doesn't have to be the case, but since Americans (and other western nations) eat A LOT of grains, they tend to be the most prolific source. Be sure to eat a varied whole foods diet focused on vegetables and you will be fine. 

What about people who DO need to eat gluten-free?

Okay, here's the thing. I have noticed recently that some people who truly are allergic to gluten (e.g. Celiac disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis/other autoimmune disorders) or have established sensitivities to gluten are now being accused of having a fake gluten problem. This is not fair. First of all, many people have an allergy to gluten in the true ALLERGY sense: meaning an IgE reaction. That is the definition of an allergy. Other people have different immunoglobulin reactions that are not IgE and those fall under the category of SENSITIVITIES because only IgE reactions are labeled as allergies. 

Both of these situations are real and neither of these categories of people should be consuming gluten.

Let me reiterate.

There is such a thing as a gluten-allergy AND there is such a thing as a gluten-sensitivity. Neither are fake or a fad. People can lie about it, sure, but the diagnosis does exist.

The good news is that since gluten-free became a mainstream idea, people who should absolutely not eat gluten have many more options available to them, better labeling, and restaurants now understand what gluten is. That is great. 

The fact that people roll their eyes at people avoiding gluten is not great. 

Here is my opinion about what you should do if someone says they are gluten-free.

Say OKAY with a smile.

Then you have a couple of options.

  • If you are planning a dinner party, inquire "Is there any way that I can accommodate you?" Most people who are gluten-free take it upon themselves to make sure they are taken care of without being a burden. Most likely they will offer to bring a gluten-free dish or have a snack before coming so that they can eat less at the party without going hungry.
  • If you are at a restaurant, inquire "Will you be able to find options here to accommodate you?" Honestly, most restaurants these days are prepared for gluten-free customers. Most likely, your dinning partner will be fine. You can always ask the waiter.
  • If it just randomly came up in conversation, either just say okay with a smile or ask nicely about what caused the shift, how's it going or if he/she has noticed any improvements.

Easy-peasy.

No need to be all judgmental, roll your eyes and immediately start fabricating reasons in your mind about all of the supposed "fake" reasons this person has made the choice to go gluten-free. 

Yes, I realize that some people are just trying to be trendy or trying a new diet for kicks.

Gluten-Joke.jpg

Oh well.

Seriously.

Unless you just spent all day in the kitchen making this person a beautiful gluten-containing meal only for he/she to stride in declaring that from this day on he/she is avoiding gluten for no seemingly particular reason, then it doesn't really matter what this person will or will not eat. (And if someone does do that to you, and if that person doesn't immediately spy your hard work and declare that this new diet begins TOMORROW, then that person is an asshole. Throw your beautiful pie in his/her face.)

I realize that if the impetus is on you to cook for a gluten-free individual and you have no idea how to do this, it can be scary and frustrating. Gluten-free cooking, I promise, isn't that hard. But, that is a whole other topic. This post is concerned mainly with those who are not all that affected by their friend's, colleague's, random acquaintance's diet choices.

When it doesn't really affect us all that much how someone else eats, don't be rude. 

The last and final caveat

This post is really about good people who either have a true gluten issue or want to experiment with gluten-free eating. I'm not talking about people who aggressively inundate you with details of their eating habits when you never asked. You might want to stop hanging out with those people. They sound insufferable.

And even more importantly, this post was not referring to people who seem to have a truly unhealthy relationship with their food. Othorexia nervosa is an eating disorder associated with extreme obsessiveness with eating healthy. If the latest manifestation of someone's fixation on healthy eating has come to include gluten-free eating, the previous rules do not apply. Instead, you really ought to entertain the possibility that this person might need some help. Be kind. Always be kind and point this person in the direction of someone with the skills to intervene.

4 Comments /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Political Food Cartoons

Eat-Drink-Vote.jpg

I've been reading Marion Nestle's Illustrated Guide to Food Politics, Eat Drink Vote. I highly recommend reading it. It contains selections of cartoons from the vaults of The Cartoonist Group. Essentially, Marion narrates and then includes a bunch of really well drawn political food cartoons that discuss the same topic.  It's a fun, fast read and remarkably powerful. That's the impact of effective cartoons. Her book inspired me to do a post in a similar vein. Here are a few political food cartoons with my brief narration.

(None of the cartoons are mine. I lack those skills.)

Crops Grown for Ethanol Instead of Food

A large contributor to the increase in food prices is that the US government mandated increases in the percentage of ethanol to be mixed with gasoline. Unfortunately, it is debatable whether or not ethanol even adds to our energy supply at all, with my sources firmly stating that it does not. What is not contentious is the result. By 2012 more than 40% of corn grown in the US was used to produce ethanol instead of being used for human consumption. This drives up food prices. Not only here in the US, but global food prices as well, which is a huge contributing factor to the unrest that is occurring in many unstable countries. There is no debating that fact. My personal belief is that increasing the ethanol content in gasoline was a poor decision. In 2012, the UN actually urged the US to stop the ethanol mandate. Different US industries fall on different sides of the argument due to their respective interests. To learn more and formulate your own opinion, research 'Food Versus Fuel' for the latest on the debate.

Marketing of Food Products

Food products are marketed constantly. CONSTANTLY. Ad campaigns are everywhere, from TV, radio, billboards, toys-with-food campaigns, placement in grocery stores that's a thing, btw. Companies actually pay for prime shelf location company sponsorships of health initiatives/charities/sporting events (however ironically), and even populating our schools. (Yikes!) Children have become a high priority for marketers for a multitude of profit-based reasons and the results are pretty staggering. Childhood obesity is a now an epidemic. Parents are losing the (newly created) battle of what their kids should eat. Due to exposure of branded food products (even being sold and marketed IN their schools) children are requesting certain food products and feeling educated in what they should eat. Unfortunately, this "education" has nothing to do with health and everything to do with profits— straight from the animated tiger's mouth to your child's ear. For the record: children should eat food. YOUR FOOD. Kids menus should not exist unless they are simply smaller portions of adult meals. Children should not eat ONLY mac-and-cheese as a dinner. If they want some mac-and-cheese, it should be a small side dish served with their vegetables and protein. Children will learn to eat "adult food" if you actually feed it to them.

Should we create laws that restrict marketing to children? Should we instead simply focus on educating adults and families about what healthy eating really means? Should we bother doing anything at all or is obesity (and other chronic diseases related to diet) a personal problem?

Seeing as how in the US we have rising costs of health care that are affecting everyone's wallet, I would argue that even if you fall on the side of "obesity is a personal responsibility," society is still paying the price.

The link to the article mentioned in the caption is Here

Food-in-Schools.jpg

Government Intervention

Government involvement in the food system has a LOT of avenues. There are government subsidies, conservation and insurance support programs that directly pay commodity crop producers (to the tune of $20 Billion (with a B) a year in the 2008 Farm Bill) general food consumption recommendations such as the current MyPlate format (an update of the Food Pyramid that first debuted in 1992 and was very oddly redrawn in 2005), and laws that can either benefit or hurt particular food industry profits (with well-paid industry lobbyists always attempting to influence all of the above) just to name a few.

There's even laws that are meant to improve public health by outright banning certain things. While preventing companies from putting rat poison in foods meant for human consumption is legitimate, there is a difference between keeping people from unknowingly harming themselves and allowing people to make educated poor choices. Personally, I think that New York Mayor Bloomberg made a mockery of himself by trying to ban large soda. Making large-sized sodas ILLEGAL was dumb, but the need to educate people about the dangers of consuming that much soda is very necessary.

There's also SNAP, which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the updated version of food stamps since it now uses electronic cards instead of stamps. Two things are true about food assistance in the US: 1. Despite the abundance of food in America, hunger IS an issue. Due to inconsistent access to food in this country, 15% of Americans are food insecure. Approximately 47 million people are eligible for some amount of food assistance today.  2. SNAP costs a lot of money. About $75 Billion (with a B) in 2012. The latest Farm Bill (which covers SNAP) just passed with rather deep cuts to the SNAP budget. My personal belief is that a country as wealthy as the US should not have starving citizens, especially hungry children. 22% of American children live in homes below the poverty line. Hunger is a contributing factor to poor school performance and behavior problems. At the same time, do we need to develop a better way of dealing with food security in this country? You bet.

Statistics via
  • USDA Web site
  • USDA/ERS Economic Research Report No. ERR-141 September 2012
  • Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, July 2012
to check out more of Jesse Spencer's great work go to SpringerCreative.com

to check out more of Jesse Spencer's great work go to SpringerCreative.com

visit Hellertoon.com for more of Joe Heller's great work.

visit Hellertoon.com for more of Joe Heller's great work.

government-involvement.jpg
Permission Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News

Permission Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News

GMOs, Antibiotics and Hormones

What the heck is in our food?!

These days that is a legitimate question because there are a lot of new things happening. GMOs, which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms (or the term that I prefer: Transgenic), have become common place in our food system without any long term testing. And they aren't being labeled. To read more about GMOs, read my previous post about them HERE.

There's also a lot of hormones, pesticides, herbicides and other additives being pumped, sprayed and mixed in our food. Despite industry money that funds research that (surprise!) says that their company's products are safe, more and more independent research points to connections between these chemicals and cancer, endocrine disruption and even obesity.

Pesticides, Herbicides and Cancer

Roundup Herbicide Health Issues 

Pancreatic Cancer linked to Herbicides

Old-Fashioned-Food.jpg

I could keep this post going for a while with many different topics because political cartoonists have a done a wonderful job tackling a lot of food and health topics. For now, I will leave you with those.

Comment

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

What's the Low-FODMAP diet?

Get ready for some science! FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols.  They are certain short chain carbohydrates that can sometimes be poorly absorbed in our small intestine, causing gas and bloating.  If you are experiencing a lot of gas and bloating, or other IBS-like symptoms, this is one particular elimination diet to try: a Low FODMAP diet.  

via drjockers.com

via drjockers.com

It is possible to have a sensitivity to FODMAPS, or to a few particular FODMAP foods.  If this applies to you, following a Low-FODMAP diet could remedy the uncomfortable gas and bloating you may be experiencing.  Essentially, a Low-FODMAP diet involves eliminating all foods that contain high amounts of FODMAPS.  There are five main sugar-alcohols that qualify as High FODMAPS: fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans and polyols.  If you are experiencing regular gas and bloating and want to experiment with a low-FODMAP diet this is what you will do.

  1. For a period of 2-4 weeks, eliminate all HIGH FODMAP foods, and focus on mainly eating LOW FODMAP foods.
  2. During the 2-4 weeks, keep track of your symptoms. Actually, write them down. It will help.
  3. If at the end of this 2-4 week period (I recommend 4 weeks if you can manage) your symptoms have improved, then some particular FODMAP foods are probably to blame. To discover which foods these are, you will need to slowly reintroduce High FODMAP foods one at a time.  

*You really will be best off working with a nutrition professional during this process.  To work with me, you can contact me.*

Reintroducing foods can be a precise process because each food will be reintroduced over several days and there should be break days before moving onto the next food.  This ensures that you properly determine which foods are trigger foods.  There may be a bunch or only a few.  This is why I strongly recommend working with a professional if you are having digestive upset and are interested in trying out any type of elimination diet.  

Also, remember that I am not an M.D. This blog is not diagnosing you with any disease or claiming a treatment plan.

If you have not experienced any symptom relief (or only very minor symptom relief) from removing High FODMAP foods from your diet for multiple weeks, then there is probably a different food sensitivity or something else going on.  Be sure to work with a Healthcare provider.  Ideally, a Nutritionist or someone with extensive nutrition training.

2 Comments

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

How to Cook with Oils/Fats

This is wonderful info about heating and storage of oils/fats extrapolated from a chart that was made by one of my professors:  Rebecca Snow, MS, CNS, RH (AHG)

via marthamontenegro.com

via marthamontenegro.com

OILS/ FATS with COOKING TEMPERATURE & COMMENTS

Almond Oil

Low-heat cooking, no heat

Refrigerate. Use within 3 months of opening.

Black Current Oil

Nutritional supplement, no heat

Refrigerate

Borage Oil

Nutritional supplement, no heat

Contains very toxic long-chain fatty acids

Not recommended

Butter

High heat

Salted butter is much harder to digest than unsalted

Unsalted goes rancid more easily

Refrigerate or use crock.

Canola Oil

Medium heat

Not recommended unless certified as organic.

Coconut Oil

High heat

Does not need refrigeration but keep cool

Corn Oil

Medium heat

Often pesticide contaminated

Highly processed

Not recommended

Evening Primrose Oil

Nutritional supplement, no heat    

Refrigerate.

Fish Oils

Nutritional supplement, no heat

Refrigerate

Use within 2 months of opening.

Flaxseed Oil

Nutritional supplement, no heat

Refrigerate

Use within 3 months of opening

Ghee (clarified butter)

High heat

Does not need refrigeration but keep cool

Hemp Oil

Nutritional supplement, no heat

Almost always contaminated

Not recommended unless certified organic

Margarine

If partially-hydrogenated or trans fats, DO NOT INGEST 

If combination of soy and other oils, follow directions for those oils

Olive Oil

Medium heat

Does not need refrigeration but keep cool

Palm Kernel Oil

High heat

Does not need refrigeration but keep cool 

Peanut Oil

High heat

Almost always contaminated

Not recommended unless certified organic.

Safflower Oil

Medium to high heat

Does not need refrigeration but keep cool

Buy “high oleic” variety

Sesame Oil

Low heat cooking

Refrigeration recommended

Sunflower Oil

Low heat cooking

Refrigeration recommended

Buy “high oleic” variety

Wheat Germ Oil

Nutritional supplement, no heat    

Refrigerate

Additional Information

  • Low heat defined as under 200° F, Medium heat defined as 200-350° F, and High heat above 350° F.
  • When an oil smokes it is a sign that you are applying too much heat. Often the label will recommend a smoke point temperature.
  • Ideally all oils should be refrigerated to extend shelf life.  If not stored in fridge, keep oils away from light and heat.  Do not buy oils in clear glass or plastic bottles (light destroys oils). No and low heat oils must be refrigerated.
  • Oils that are used at low heat keep 6 months.  Oils used at medium heat keep for approximately 1 year.
  • As much as possible, buy only fats and oils that are certified as organic. Buy only cold-pressed oils. 
  • All fats and oils, including fish oils, should taste and smell “fresh”.  If they do not, dispose of them.  Rancid fats and oils are extremely toxic and severely interfere with normal fatty acid metabolism.

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

A Serving Size is in Your Hand

Here is an awesome graphic that I give to clients who say that they struggle with portion sizes.  I think this can be a helpful tool.  It is not, of course, a hard-and-fast rule to live by.  With that said, I think it can be of some use, therefore I figure it's worth sharing.

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Spring is coming! Rare Spring Seasonal Vegetables

We've officially "sprung forward."  The days are now starting to feel legitimately longer and maybe, just maybe, warmer weather is around the corner.  With that in mind, I thought I would introduce you all to some lovely, if unfamiliar, vegetables that you may see pop up at your springtime farmer's market.

Artichokes

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Description: Originating from southern Europe and the Mediterranean, artichokes are now also grown in the USA.  Artichokes are large thistles and are high in fiber, folic acid and vitamin C.

Taste: Mild vegetable flavor.  Kind of like a brussel sprout or asparagus, but less strong.

How to eat: They can be eaten cold or hot.  The edible portions of the buds consist primarily of the fleshy lower portions of the individual leaves and the base, known as the "heart."  Leaves are often removed one at a time, and the fleshy base eaten, with hollandaise, vinegar, butter, mayonnaise, aioli, lemon juice, or other sauces. The fibrous upper part of each leaf is usually discarded. They can also be sautéed and grilled.

Kohlrabi

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Description:  Known as a “German Turnip,” kohlrabi is part of the cabbage family.  Originally European, kohlrabi is now grown throughout the USA.  They contain wonderful phytochemicals that are highly regarded for their antioxidant properties. They are a good source of Fiber, Copper, Potassium, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Manganese, Thiamin, Folate, Magnesium and Phosphorus.

Taste: Mild and slightly sweet.  Think broccoli stems and cabbage flavor, but lighter and sweeter.

How to eat:  Remove the thick outer layers to reveal the tender, crisp center.  You can eat kohlrabi raw or cooked.  The greens can be cooked like kale. 

 Ramps

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Description: Known also as wild leeks, ramps are wild onions that grow in North America.  They are high in vitamin A, vitamin C, selenium and chromium.

Taste: Strong garlic-onion flavor.

How to eat: The entire plant is edible.  Usually sautéed, roasted or grilled. Raw for the daring.

Rhubarb

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Description: Its history dates back to ancient China, and is now also grown in Europe and the USA.  Rhubarb is grown for its red stalks (similar looking to celery stalks). Contains vitamin C, potassium, fiber and some calcium.

Taste: Strong tart taste.  Often cooked with sugar for use in desserts.  

How to eat: Only eat the stalks, not the leaves. Rhubarb stalks can be eaten raw or cooked. They are most commonly known for being combined with strawberries in pies or tarts.  To be creative, use them in drinks such as a rhubarb margarita or rhubarb bellini.  They can also be roasted and used in sauces, chutney, or salsa.

Stinging Nettles

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Description:  Plants with tiny little hair-like stingers on the leaves and stems that make touching them unpleasant. Never fear, cooking removes the sting and leaves only the delicious leaves behind.  (Wear gloves if handling raw.)  They are rich in vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, potassium, flavonoids, iron, and protein. (Yes, protein! They are up to 25% protein!)

Taste: Green and earthy flavor.  When cooked, they are more flavorful than their cousin, basil.

How to eat: Cooked. Usually boiled or blanched.  Can also be consumed as a dried herb.

Turnips

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Description: A root vegetable.  The root is high in vitamin C and fiber.  The leaves are high in vitamin A, folate, vitamin C, vitamin K and calcium.  Like rutabagas, turnips contains bitter cyanoglucosides that release small amounts of cyanide.  Some people who are sensitive to cyanoglucosides may find turnips and other cyanoglucoside-containing foods intolerably bitter.

Taste: Turnips have a pungent, bitter flavor similar to cabbage or radishes when raw, but become mild when cooked.

How to eat: Both the root and the leaves are edible. Typically, turnip roots are peeled and can be eaten raw or cooked.  If the flavor is too strong raw, then cook the root.  They are commonly roasted, steamed, boiled and sautéed. The leaves are commonly sautéed or steamed.

Comment

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

The State of Agricultural Research

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I'm a big proponent of supporting local farms and knowing your farmer.  Therefore, I was a bit ashamed that I didn't know what really went on at the University of Maryland Farm that is right down the street from the house I grew up in. Luckily, they hold an annual open house that I managed to attend last year.  I took a tractor ride tour of the land.

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And felt inside of a cow's stomach. I had seen the whole "cow with a hole in the side of it" thing before on documentaries, but actually putting my hand inside was brand new. I'm still not sure that I think cutting a hole in the side of a cow is particularly ok, but the cow I met was very sweet and didn't seem in any pain. They swear that she was not drugged and that she is, in fact, not suffering.

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Some interesting facts that I learned that I really wanted to share with you all deal with the state of agricultural research in this country.  The sad truth is that it is extremely rare to get independent research conducted today.  Students at the University of Maryland, and other agricultural universities, don't receive enough government or university funding for research. Which means that they must go out and get grants elsewhere.  And where do you think they get this money from?  Industry.  

Now think about that.  If the research being conducted is being paid for by the very companies who have a stake in a particular outcome, how unbiased and trustworthy are the results?  

Independent testing is important.  The government is often overly entangled in things in this country, but research is an area where it actually should be, and it is  becoming less and less involved.  Fair and unbiased research is in the good of the country.  

In case you were wondering, yes, the UMD farm plants all GMO corn.  Even BT corn.  Anyone surprised?

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Winter Madness: What's in Season

In the western world, we often have access to fruits and vegetables in winter months despite the fact that many of those foods are not in season.  In order for that to happen, the food usually has to be shipped a great distance.  One excellent way to eat summer fruits and vegetables in winter is to buy them frozen.  That is definitely a cost efficient way to eat whole foods that beats the hell out of most canned options that are pumped full of sodium and other additives.  Still, fresh fruits and vegetables are certainly great so what is a gal to do?  

Well, for one, she could start by realizing that eating seasonally is a wonderful thing. Winter may not be full of strawberries and cherries, but there are wonderful foods that are in season in winter.  As a bonus, these winter foods actually contain nutrients that are good for our bodies in these colder months.

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Here is a list of some great fruits and vegetables that are ripe for the picking in winter:

  • Arugula
  • Artichoke
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Celery Root
  • Clementines
  • Cranberries
  • Fennel
  • Grapefruit
  • Kale
  • Kiwis
  • Kohlrabi
  • Kumquats
  • Leeks
  • Lemons
  • Mandarins
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Pears
  • Persimmons
  • Pomegranate
  • Radishes
  • Rutabaga
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Tangarines
  • Turnips
  • Winter Squash

Here is a great graphic from BecomeGorgeous.com that mentions some of the nutrient profiles of winter foods.

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Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Make Your Own Ghee

Ghee, or clarified butter, is butter that has had the milk solids and water removed.  As a result, ghee is more easily tolerated by a lot of people's digestive system (for example people with dairy intolerances) and can also be used at high heat.  It is extremely important not to use oils at heats above their smoke point, or else you will be oxidizing the oil and thus creating toxic fumes and free radicals.  Not good.  Therefore, I always get excited when I find out about oils that can withstand fairly high heat, such as coconut oil and avocado oil. Ghee is a great alternative and can withstand even higher heat.  Ghee is great for sautéing, but if you are baking, stick with butter (or an alternative such as coconut oil).

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As an interesting factoid: traditional Indian medicine considers ghee to be the most satvic (health promoting) fat available.

If you are sautéing, which I assume most of you are on a fairly regular basis, then embrace the ghee!

(Side note: vegans obviously will not embrace the ghee, and my suggestion is for all of you who eschew animal products: make friends with coconut oil if you haven't already.  It's also a great choice for sautéing, along with many other things.)

You can purchase ghee at health food stores, and maybe even some well stocked conventional grocery stores, which is perfectly legit. I've previously bought the brand pictured above and it will definitely work. If, however, you want the most fantastic ghee, make it at home. It's quite simple.

via http://blog.asmartmouth.com

via http://blog.asmartmouth.com

  1. Purchase some high quality unsalted butter.  (Think organic and grass-fed.) 1 pound of butter will make 1 1/2 cups of ghee.
  2. Set up a glass container with cheese cloth secured across the opening
  3. Heat butter in a pot on the stove at low-medium heat.
  4. After 5-10 minutes you will notice the milk solids start to form on the bottom and sides of the pot if you move the butter around a bit.  When the milk solids just start to turn brown, pour off the ghee through a couple cheese cloths into a glass container.  Voila!

The ghee will solidify as it cools.  Presto!

Comment /Source

Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Yes, I Think We Should Soak Our Whole Grains

Most of us are familiar with the idea of soaking beans before we cook them.  For tips on how I cook beans, see my previous post Don't Fear the Bean.  Grains, however, are a different story. There is some disagreement about whether or not soaking grains is necessary and many of us have never even heard about the need to soak whole grains before cooking.

via staceymakescents.com

via staceymakescents.com

Should we soak our whole grains?

I think we should.  I'm not overly meticulous about it, sometimes I forget and don't have time, but in general I think it is a good idea.  Here's why:

Whole grains have phytic acid.  For you chemistry nerds: phytic acid is a saturated cyclic acid and stores approximately 80% of the phosphorous in grains.  Unfortunately, when phosphorous is bound to the phytic acid our bodies cannot absorb it.  Phytic acid also binds to other minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, preventing our bodies from absorbing these critical minerals.  In short, too much phytic acid consumption can result in mineral malnutrition.

This is not good.

Minerals are critical to our health.  Some common symptoms of mineral deficiency are:

  • Slow wound healing
  • Muscle cramps and/or twitches, restless legs
  • White spots on nails, brittle nails, nails mis-shaped
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Skin and hair troubles
  • Irritability, lethargy

On top of that, too much phytic acid can cause digestive upset.  Therefore, if you are suffering from digestive upset such as gas or bloating, and/or having symptoms of mineral deficiency, I suggest soaking your whole grains.

How to soak whole grains

It's actually quite easy.  Take your chosen whole grain (rice, millet, quinoa, wheat etc.) and place the amount that you want to cook into a pot or bowl.  Cover with warm water and add 1-2 tablespoons of acid (such as vinegar, lemon juice, whey, kefir or buttermilk.)  Then let the bowl/pot sit covered for ideally 12-24 hours.  

If you plan ahead, this is super easy.  Either set it up to soak overnight or during the day.  If you forget or don't know what you want to prepare tonight until you get home, I suggest still soaking for as much time as you can.  I tend to find that we can still get some benefit from minimal soaking times, so do what you can.  Don't stress yourself out if you forget!  The point is to make soaking grains a habit that is easy to do, not an added hassle.  Hopefully, setting up your grains (and beans if you are cooking them as well) to soak can just become part of your nightly/morning routine.  

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.