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.

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.

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.

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

artichoke.jpg

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

kohlrabi.jpg

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

ramps.jpg

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

rhubarb.jpg

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.

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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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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.

Pain Relief from Diabetic Neuropathy

Diabetes is far too common in the USA.  One of the unfortunate complications of diabetes is that neuropathy can develop.  Of course, the first (and most important!) step is to get your blood sugar under control. For tips, see my previous post about blood sugar regulation.  Unfortunately, if you have neuropathy from diabetes, it can remain even after you've managed your blood sugar.  The pain can be very debilitating so here are some things that may help relieve some of the pain.

*First, to be clear: I am not a M.D.  Please consult your doctor before undergoing any health treatments or taking new supplements. This post, and all information on this site, is for educational and informational purposes only.*

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Supplements can definitely be helpful because we are talking about utilizing vitamins for therapeutic purposes, which requires higher doses than a typical healthy intake.  Work with a healthcare provider to determine the appropriate supplements and dosages for you.  Until then, you can certainly focus on eating foods high in these nutrients. 

The following are your friends:

GLA (Gamma-linolenic acid)

  • Borage oil, Evening Primrose oil, Black Currant oil

ALA (Alpha-lipoic acid)

  • Flax seeds (and oil), Chia seeds, Hemp seeds

Vitamin C

  • Citrus fruits, Non-Citrus fruits, Melons, Green Leafy vegetables, Cruciferous vegetables

Vitamin E

  • Almonds, Sunflower seeds, Green Leafy vegetables, Avocados

Vitamin B6

  • Fish, Poultry, Meats, Nuts, Chick Peas, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach

Biotin

  • Eggs, Peanuts, Almonds, Swiss Chard, Carrots

Capsaicin

  • Cayenne pepper
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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.

What's the Deal with "Raw" Almonds?

You may or may not be familiar with the new laws regarding the required pasteurization of "raw" almonds in the U.S.  For those of you who have not read about all of the shenanigans surrounding almonds, let me bring you up to speed.

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In 2001 and 2004 there were cases of salmonella contamination in almonds.  In response to this, in 2007 The Almond Board of California, which oversees nearly all of the almonds that are grown in the U.S., decided to implement a mandate that would require all almonds be pasteurized for safety purposes.  The interesting point, of course, it why on earth would almonds contain salmonella?  It has nothing to do with the almonds themselves, rather it is caused by runoff from nearby CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations, which are the ridiculously inhumane and unsanitary mass confined animal feedlots that are referred to by Big Ag as "farms.")  

Instead of regulating the CAFOs and the issue of runoff, the Almond Board of California has demanded pasteurization of ALL almonds under their jurisdiction, which is essentially all almonds grown in the U.S.  Why would they do this?  Well, there is the safety concern side, but that would be best dealt with by actually going to the source of the problem.  Almonds are not the problem; the same thing has happened to other innocent foods such as spinach and melons.  The problem is the CAFOs and they will continue to contaminate their neighbors until they are forced to deal with their sanitation problems.  Therefore, there has been a lot of speculation that the true motivation for the mandate is for the larger almond growers to squeeze the little farmers by making them shell out the money to have their almonds pasteurized, which is a costly step.  Was it really a political power play on behalf of the powers that control the Almond Board?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Either way, the mandate doesn't really get to the heart of the issue and has created a system that now deceives the public.

What do I mean by deceiving the public?  The new law also dictates that these now pasteurized almonds can still be labeled as raw.  Say whaaat?  Yep.  It's a lie folks.  Pasteurized almonds, whether they are treated using the less undesirable method of steam heating, or are gassed with PPO (propoylene oxide, a known carcinogen), these almonds are not raw.  Truly raw almonds are a living food.  You can sprout them.  Pasteurized almonds are dead.  So why are companies allowed to lie to us and pretend that their almonds are raw when they aren't?

You can still buy truly raw almonds in the U.S. if you buy them directly from the grower at a farmer's market or online. There are a number of small companies that sell unpasteurized raw almonds: a few examples are One Lucky DuckRenegade Health and Bremner Farms.

A great resource with the latest on the pasteurization laws and the difference between raw and pasteurized nuts can be found here at www.livingnutz.com

If you want to know which brands use steam and which use PPO check out this Guide to how almonds are pasteurized.  Keep in mind that all certified organic almonds must use the steam method, so buying organic is a great way to avoid PPO.

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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.

Label Overload

So many labels, what do they all mean?  

There are way more labels out there in food-world than I could possibly hope to go over, but I can at least hit some of the big ones.  The big thing to understand is the basic concept of what labels actually mean, and what they don't.

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Before you get completely overwhelmed by the vast array of tiny designs that can appear on foods, first understand this: descriptive words that are not an actual label are part of a marketing campaign. They are not well mediated or well substantiated.  For example: "made with whole grains" or "supports your child's immunity" don't really mean much.  There may be some whole grains in the product, or it may contain some amount of vitamin C, but the implication they are trying to give probably doesn't align with reality.  Bear in mind, they haven't actually tested whether or not eating their crappy processed food improves health.  They know that a particular nutrient is associated with health, so they pumped some of that one nutrient into an otherwise completely terrible "food" and are now using it to make a health claim.  DO NOT BE FOOLED BY MARKETING PLOYS.

An actual label, on the other hand, must be obtained through a certification process. Whichever certifying board is responsible for each label will have their own rules that must be met.  When a food or product has been validated, it will be able to display that label on its packaging (or as a sticker), thus informing you, the consumer, that the certifying body guarantees that the product meets their standards. 

And one more point before we get into some specific labels, the following are words that are not verified and therefore can pretty much be claimed by anything that isn't an obvious lie: Natural and Sustainable. Sorry folks, neither one of those words is truly regulated.  With that said, lots of products that claim to use sustainable practices actually do, so do your own research with those.  As for natural, companies seem to love that word a little too much for my comfort.  Get to know your companies!

Also, animal related terms to know:

Cage free: There really isn't third party regulation.  The implication is that the birds are not in cages, but usually they are kept in extremely overcrowded, dark warehouses.

Free Roaming/Free Range: Defined for poultry meat only.  The USDA regulates that they must have access to the outdoors.  Of course, whether or not they actually go outdoors, and how much time or space they have is unregulated.  For laying hens (eggs) the term free range is not regulated.

Pastured: No legal definition or verification.  The implication is the animals were raised on pasture, but  the claim is unverified.

Grass Fed: There are multiple definitions. Note that the USDA grassfed logo allows cattle to be confined on feedlots with cut grass shipped in on trucks.  The American Grassfed Association logo verifies that the animals were raised on pasture, without confinement, antibiotics or added hormones.

Humane: It implies the use of humane practices, but it is completely unregulated.

 

Now, onto some Common Labels:

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Referring to Non-Genetically Modified Organisms (common ones being corn, soy, canola, beet sugar). Products must be deemed compliant with the Non-GMO Project Standard.  They require testing of all ingredients that are being grown commercially in GMO form. They have an Action Threshold of 0.9%, which is the same as laws in the European Union.

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Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye that some people have an allergy or sensitivity to.  The Gluten-Free Certification Organization is an independent service that conducts field inspections to verify that products are truly gluten-free. 

 

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The Fair Trade certification is designed and audited to ensure equitable trade practices at every level of the supply chain. To earn a license from Fair Trade USA in order to use the Fair Trade Certified™ label on their products, companies must buy from certified farms and organizations, pay Fair Trade prices and premiums and submit to supply chain audits.

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This is the major one so here's the story:

According to the USDA: Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods. These methods integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.

Crop Farms:

(They must have 3 years with no application of prohibited materials before being declared Organic)

  • Implementation of an Organic System Plan, with proactive fertility systems; conservation measures; environmentally sound manure, weed, disease, and pest management practices; and soil building crop rotation system
  • Use of natural inputs and/or approved synthetic substances on the National List
  • No use of prohibited substances while certified
  • No use of genetically engineered organisms (GMOs)
  • No sewage sludge or irradiation
  • Use of organic seeds, when commercially available
  • Use of organic seedlings for annual crops
  • Restrictions on use of raw manure and compost
  • Maintenance of buffer zones, depending on risk of contamination
  • No residues of prohibited substances exceeding 5% of the EPA tolerance

For livestock operations:

  • Implementation of an Organic Livestock Plan
  • Mandatory outdoor access, when seasonally appropriate
  • Access to pasture for ruminants
  • No antibiotics, growth hormones, slaughter byproducts, or GMOs
  • 100% organic feed and approved feed supplements
  • Sound animal husbandry and preventative health care
  • Organic management from last third of gestation or 2nd day after hatching
  • No rotating animals between organic and non-organic management

Single Ingredients

On foods like fruits and vegetables, look for a small sticker version of the USDA Organic label or check the signage in your produce section for this seal. The word "organic" and the seal may also appear on packages of meat, cartons of milk or eggs, cheese, and other single-ingredient foods.

Multi-Ingredient Foods

Foods such as beverages, snacks, and other processed foods use the following classification system to indicate their use of organic ingredients.

100% Organic: Foods bearing this label are made with 100% organic ingredients and may display the USDA Organic seal. 

Organic: These products contain at least 95–99% organic ingredients (by weight). The remaining ingredients are not available organically but have been approved by the National Organic Program. These products may display the USDA Organic seal.

Made With Organic Ingredients: Food packaging that reads “Made With Organic Ingredients” must contain 70–94% organic ingredients. These products will not bear the USDA Organic seal; instead, they may list up to three ingredients on the front of the packaging.

Other: Products with less than 70% organic ingredients may only list organic ingredients on the information panel of the packaging. These products will not bear the USDA Organic seal.

 

Of course, here is the ultimate tip for avoiding getting overwhelmed by packaging: buy very few things that actually have packaging.  I get that some whole foods come in packaging: bread, eggs, spices, grains etc. But generally those packages are mostly transparent and therefore not quite as overwhelming as, say, a cereal box. Boxed, processed foods are a marketing division's dream.  The entire point of processed foods is to purchase large quantities of cheap commodity ingredients, process them in various ways, and then charge a huge markup for "added value."  How do they inform you of just how much "value" they've added? By plastering claims and cute cartoons all over the packaging.  These are marketing devices.  The claims they make are typically unsubstantiated and loosely regulated.  For the real story, read the ingredients list. Those are really the only words that matter.  But again, if you are buying, say, a squash, there isn't any packaging to be found.  Between a box and a squash: go with the squash.   

Yes, to further complicate things, if you are rockin' and simply want to decide between various good things: do you buy organic or local or fair trade? I say ideally buy as much organically grown food as possible.  Hopefully, it will be labeled, but if you know your farmer and he isn't certified but adheres to organic practices, buy it.  Aim for local and in season as much as possible.  (I love buying local, it's the easiest way to know your farmer. But if that farmer sprays lots of pesticides and plants gmo crops- no way! That means he's selling contaminated food AND contaminating my water supply!) For imports from countries with poor working conditions, buy fair trade.  But to be fair, as long as you are deciding between organic versus local produce instead of Lucky Charms versus Fruit Loops, you deserve a massive shout out because you are awesome and I'll call it a WIN either way!

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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.