Convenience Foods: Weight Loss & Effortless Eating

One of my biggest problems continues to be weekends. When I am locked into my weekday work routine, it’s easier to stay on plan. Obviously, we have less variation in that work-a-day schedule so unless you have an office where people bring in treats or have catered conferences and luncheons, you only have what you have brought to eat into the office. Feeling hungry or want to snack? There are none because you didn’t bring any! Or, they are healthy snacks like nuts, string cheese or something else nutritious or low calorie.

Weekends, unscripted and constantly changing, are horrendous for me simply because there are too many opportunities for “unscheduled or improvised eating.”  If it’s a ‘Stay-At-Home’ weekend, it’s a little easier to stay closer to the target, but again the opportunities are still there to wander into the kitchen or to have seconds of lunch or dinner.  It’s not much different than the office: not a lot of snacky foods and the ones that are there are healthy or low cal, but too much of any food, healthy or not, isn’t good for you.  I try to keep easy to eat food like string cheese or nuts or beef sticks out of the house simply because they require no cooking or preparation.  When you feel the urge to eat our of boredom, the thought of getting out a pan to scramble some eggs or to put a chicken in the oven is too much of a hassle, not to mention the clean-up later! “I’m not that hungry!” But something ready to eat? Unwrap it, eat it and throw away the trash? Too much temptation there!

The same thing happens when you’re out running errands or shopping or just hanging out with friends: too much convenient ready to eat food! It’s easy to stop for lunch or a snack or even get a high calorie coffee drink and before you know it, you’ve consumed too much sugar, too much starch, too much fat or just too much! We tend not to pay attention to what we ate or even remember that we ate it because it was nearly effortless. We don’t have to deal with preparing it or cleaning up afterwards so our only real consideration is the cost in cash and calories, and we all know how easy it is to give in temptation or to make an excuse.  If we are out with friends, then it’s a ‘special occasion,’ or if we are running from one errand to another, we rationalize it because ‘I don’t have time to eat healthy.’ And let’s not forget the Impulse Buy: see it and throw it in your basket before you have time to think about it! Of course, once you get it home, well, ….I bought it so I might as well eat it….Really?

I remember one of Dr. Nowzaradan’s patients complaining that she wished “they’d close up all the bakeries” because they were her downfall. I can empathize because I am someone who looks at bread the way kids look at candy on Halloween. I can walk right past the chocolate, the chips and the soda without even noticing, but bread? That’s most often where I will linger, and the excuses start creeping into my thoughts: the dogs love bread too, so if I get this bag of rolls, I can give half of them to the dogs….. And they love warm cornbread too, so I can split this pan with them….. Yeeaahhhh, riiigghhhttt [insert eye roll here].  While the dogs may end up with part of whatever bread makes it into my home, the fact that I had half of it (or more) still isn’t a good thing!

Again, the problem goes back to how easy is it to eat? Bread is one of those foods that is right there ready to go! You can buy the kind you need to heat up or ready-to-bake and depending on how much ‘work’ that is for you, it’s still far less than making bread from scratch.  Even cornbread mixes, which usually only require you add two ingredients, are much easier than doing it all yourself.

While many health and weight loss gurus decry processed foods for their potentially unhealthy shelf-stable ingredients, in my opinion their biggest problem continues to be they are just too effortless! When we feel the urge to snack, we usually don’t choose these easy convenient foods because they are so wonderfully delicious– we choose them because we just have to open the package! They are as close to instant gratification as we can get with food!  While fast food, bakery and deli foods may have less of those unhealthy processed shelf-stable ingredients, they are just as problematic as the convenient packaged foods because all we have to do is hit the drive-thru or pop them into our basket. They are still as effortless as we can get.

Which is why the only “convenient  and effortless” foods at my house belong to the pets! It’s a ‘hassle’ to prepare food to eat.  It requires actual ‘work’ as in cooking or making a salad dressing.  Just last night I was grumbling to myself about having to cook: the only effortless food I regularly bring home is rotisserie chicken and I had finished the last of it the night before. Now, I had to get out the skillet and put the pork steaks on the stove…grumble grumble. Obviously, pork steaks aren’t a ‘snack food’ or ‘convenient,’ but that doesn’t mean we are doomed to go through the Food Preparation Production each night to keep from bingeing on hot dogs or refrigerator pasta.  When I do cook ‘real food,’ I usually cook the entire package, which means tonight all I have to do is reheat the leftovers.

Having leftovers is almost a forgotten practice. When people think of leftovers today, it’s usually leftover pizza, leftover fried chicken or maybe leftover Chinese.  Most of them are processed foods, as in there are three pieces of last night’s pizza or chicken in fridge. The hassle involved with cooking ‘real food’ each night is one of the reasons convenient effortless food has become so popular, but I also think it’s one of the reasons we’ve become so unhealthy in general.  Like me, we get home from work or errands and when we think about ‘what’s for dinner?’, you have the same response I did last night: “Crap! I have to cook!” So we get in the habit of keeping easy effortless food close at hand: we head home via Jack in the Box or we call in a To-Go order at the Chinese place, or we have something at home that goes right from the fridge/ freezer into the microwave! It’s easy to eat, takes little to no work and before we know it, we’ve eaten dinner so fast that by the time our stomach has noticed it’s full of food, we’ve moved on to dessert! How many of us have finished a pint of ice cream because we’re ‘hungry’ only to feel stuffed and bloated afterwards? (Raising my hand here!)

This is one of the other benefits of eating less convenient, not so effortless foods: it also takes time to eat them! Even the rotisserie chicken that makes a weekly appearance at my house has to be cut up and eaten off the bones rather than being boneless nuggets. Most convenient foods are highly processed so they are easy to eat (I think of them as ‘pre-digested’ since a lot of the work with chewing and metabolizing is already done in the processing.) How easy is it to eat a slice of pizza compared to cutting up a pork steak? Compare tossing french fries into your mouth with eating a salad full of raw veggies? Neither of them is a major production but those few extra minutes means your stomach has a little more time to notice it’s full of food before you start stuffing it with more!

Sticking with the less than convenient foods is a simple way of keeping your hand out of the cookie jar or bag of chips: when you have to make them yourself, it makes you ask yourself  “am I really that hungry?” Starting with real whole foods not only means you’re staying away from unstable fats and chemical preservatives, it also means that when you sit down to eat, you aren’t eating out of boredom or habit.  Another bonus I have noticed when something processed and effortless makes it into my kitchen is that the more you eat real whole foods, the more you taste the chemicals in those convenient foods.  They might be effortless to eat but they tend to taste like the plastic they were wrapped in too!

 

Yay, Whole Foods!: Supplements, Nutrition & Weight Loss

I’m a huge fan of whole foods and I don’t mean the supermarket chain.  (I’m not knocking them; I’ve shopped there before but there isn’t one in my town.) I’m talking about the real as-close-to-right-out-of-the-ground whole foods. Apparently, they are one of the hot trends right now in the food and nutrition arena. One of the other hot trends is biohacking.  Biohacking is a loose term for finding ways to get what you want from your body (or from something else organic) by using some kind of quick trick or other means.  One of the most well known biohackers is Dave Asprey, ‘inventor’ of Bulletproof coffee.  Essentially, Bulletproof coffee is a high energy drink you make yourself that keeps you full and can keep you in ketosis if that’s your thing.  (Ketosis can also be called another biohack by some people.) While I found a lot of descriptions and examples of biohacking, I didn’t really find anything that defines it.  The best example for me is what I used to do when I couldn’t get to sleep at night: I used a placebo of sorts. I’d take a couple of plain ibuprophen.  (Not the PM version because it didn’t exist then!) Generally, within twenty minutes of taking the generic Advil, even if I wasn’t in pain, I’d start to get sleepy and be out before I knew it.  It worked every time.

One of the drawbacks to biohacking is that sometimes people try it with nutrition, which usually comes out to taking handfuls of supplements, smoothies or protein shakes.  I have heard Dave Asprey on podcasts talking about taking about 20 or more supplements and while I don’t want to malign supplements or those that use them (I take a few myself!), I do want to point out that just because you take 2000 mg of Calcium every day, that doesn’t mean you have all your Calcium needs covered.  One important issue that gets marginalized– with both supplements and whole foods– is the subject of bioavailability.   Bioavailability is pretty much just what it sounds like: the nutrients in the supplement or food either is or isn’t available to be absorbed by your body.  This is important because if you’re eating bushels of spinach thinking you’re getting your iron RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance), then you’re sadly mistaken. While the nutritional information label on that bag of spinach may say it’s loaded with iron, it’s not in a form your body can absorb!

Example: being a bit of a geek-groupie, I watch The Big Bang Theory and in one episode Penny was out shopping with Sheldon, who in typical Sheldon fashion, criticized her choices of vitamins and supplements.  He told her (paraphrasing here) that he could help her get her vitamins and minerals because what she had in her hands was “a recipe for expensive pee.” We think we’re getting enough vitamins and minerals and all that good nutritional stuff because we’re popping those supplements daily, but the fact of the matter is while we may be swallowing the pills, they may not be staying in our bodies!  Some nutrients need ‘helpers’ to be absorbed and others may just be plain unavailable! This is what Sheldon meant when he told Penny she was making ‘expensive pee.’ We can take all the supplements and protein shakes in the world and if the nutrients aren’t available, they just pass right through our bodies and do nothing for us but drain our wallets.

Supplement manufacturers usually take a big hit on this topic because while a protein powder label may say it had 25 mg of protein per scoop, what’s actually available to be absorbed is maybe half of that.  We need to check labels for the amount that’s bioavailable.  The protein is there: we just can’t use it. The same is true for supplements: just because it’s there on the label doesn’t mean we actually get the benefit.  Unfortunately people tend to think that whole foods have ‘solved’ this problem which isn’t the case, although they do have a slight advantage. Many whole foods- like spinach- have lots of nutrients, minerals and vitamins, but plants have defenses too, and a lot of their defenses rely on keeping their nutrition unavailable to those who eat them.  For example, while spinach, broccoli and other dark leafy greens have calcium, they also have oxalic acid which binds to the calcium so we can’t absorb it. So while we may eat  five cups of broccoli, we may only end up getting less than half the calcium we think we got.

The advantage to choosing to rely more on whole foods than supplements comes from tradition, in my opinion.  We tend to prepare a lot of foods in ways to make them more bioavailable.  Take creamed spinach: that oxalic acid doesn’t care if it binds to the calcium in the spinach or the calcium in the cream, so we’re getting more calcium in that creamed spinach than if we ate plain spinach.  There’s a similar benefit to eating the traditional beans & rice that come in many cultures: legumes and rice both contain incomplete proteins so if we ate them alone, we wouldn’t get any protein benefit, but by eating them together, we get the proteins.

Whole foods also have a slight advantage because of the ‘whole package’ deal.  For some foods, like white potatoes, there are a lot of vitamins in the skins but once those foods get processed (say into potato flakes), the skins are discarded and we don’t get those vitamins.  We’ve heard a lot of similar stories about other fruits and veggies: eat the whole fruit/ veg rather than just part of it (apple sauce or veggie juice). This also why people advocate eating the whole egg instead of just the whites where the protein is concentrated: the yolk has beneficial nutrition such as vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.

There are a lot of diets that rely on nutrition bars and protein shakes to promote weight loss, but again bioavailability bites you in the butt! There might be 100% of all your RDA on those labels but how much remains in your body? How many times does someone you know who relies on those bars and shakes complain of being tired or not feeling great? Yes, they’re losing weight but is feeling cruddy a great trade off? Are they hungry a lot? I know I was when I was on those diets- tired and feeling really blah. Not the benefit I wanted with my weight loss!

I am not saying you should throw out your bottles of vitamins and supplements. I’ve got quite a collection of those myself but I don’t depend on those bottles to make sure I get all my vitamins and minerals. Remember the word ‘Supplement’ means to ‘add to’ something else. I try to get most of my vitamins, minerals and nutrition from whole natural foods and then use vitamins and supplements to make up any differences that might be lacking.  I’m sure my diet has some holes in it. No one’s is perfect, I’m sure! The point is that I feel better eating mostly whole foods and- not to brag- but a lot of people have been asking me what I use on my skin because it looks so much better.  Umm, nothing? No lotion, no cream- just soap and water! Unless broccoli, eggs, fish and butter lettuce count!

 

 

Ignorance Hurts! Weight Loss & New Ideas

One of the most painful stereotypes regarding the obese is that they are gluttons, followed hard by the second most painful stereotype: they are lazy.  Neither statement is true in most cases.  Most people who go on diets adhere closely to the program; they eat their diet food, measure their portions, say no to the cheats and treats.  They lose some weight, maybe even hit their goal, but then we all know what happens next: rebound weight gain!  They feel like failures and society for the most part believes they must have screwed up somewhere or just gone off their diet.

The truth is that, like most people, I tried very hard to lose weight.  I played sports; I tried to eat the healthy food.  My mom was always pushing one diet or another at me, and most of them were pretty awful and I never lost much weight.  Some of her plans included a fast-metabolism program, where I eliminate certain foods from my diet, drink smoothies according to the book’s recipe list, and then the following week, I make more changes to my diet to include/ eliminate more foods, and then make even more changes the next week!  This was guaranteed to jump-start my metabolism so I would burn off weight in no time at all!  Another one of her guaranteed fixes included drinking a smoothie made with an expensive powder (like $30 a pound!) and this powder would ‘bind’ to the sugar/ carbs/ whatever to keep it from being absorbed, so I would lose a lot of weight fast!  One of these diets included the questionably ‘healthy’ meal of buttered egg noodles on a regular basis.  Even as a teenager, I really didn’t think buttered noodles counted as ‘diet food’ and it didn’t take long before I stopped listening to my mom’s fad diet schemes.

However weird and wacky some of these diet plans might have been, my mom had the right idea: we need to keep learning and stay open to new ideas.  What we all thought was the ‘right answer’ when I was growing up (low fat-high carb and eat less-move more) is more than likely NOT the right answer!  We know that carbs turn into glucose in the body and that chronically high glucose leads to insulin resistance which keeps the body from metabolizing stored body fat.  Essentially, the more carbs you eat and the more often you eat them, the less body fat you burn off.  All that advice we were given about eating every two-three hours isn’t ‘jump-starting’ our metabolism but it is keeping us overweight.  The carb roller coaster is why we feel tired two hours after lunch and why that afternoon granola bar makes us feel energized.

When you open yourself up to new ideas, there’s always the danger of getting taken for a ride.  This is why if you are going to keep learning new things, you need to do your homework! I confess I am one of those who poo-poo’d the Paleo diet as one more weird freaky fad diet to be avoided, and I did it without learning anything about it.  I simply lumped into another one of those ‘flash in the pan & sell as many books as possible’ marketing schemes.  Bad, bad, bad! I should know better and I’m going to blame a cynical outlook on weight loss for my poor judgment! Before I made a snap judgment, I should have taken a look at what the Paleo/ Caveman Diet proponents were actually saying.

I’m not going to tell you that Paleo is 100% effective for everyone, because I honestly have no idea if it is.  I can tell you that after years of reading about other weird fad diets and trying a few of them that this one made the most sense to me.  The number one reason for me is that it’s a pretty basic plan: eat real whole food.  I don’t have to go looking for some expensive powder or a long list of strange smoothie ingredients, and I don’t have to drink all my food for weeks at time while doing XYZ exercises.  I simply avoid the processed foods.  Essentially, if it comes packaged in a box or a bag and has chemical gobbledygook ingredients, I should probably leave it on the shelf.

Proponents of Paleo have suggested that one of the reasons it took a long time for this way of eating (most don’t like the word ‘diet’) is that other than cookbooks and how-to books, there’s not a lot of marketing to go along with Paleo.  This is one of the failings of the Weight Loss Industry– because it is an industry!  People make money selling others like me the Hope of Losing Weight, usually in some package or some program that we have to pay for.  There are whole aisles at the grocery store full of packaged diet food, mostly full of chemicals, preservatives and other things that may not be good for us. We can lose weight eating those processed foods, usually only until we stop eating them.  This was my major question when I was losing weight on Nutrisystem: what happens when I stop eating their boxed food?  Easy! I gain weight again, because the focus is mainly on eating their food, not how I should be eating (supposedly that comes later, but I never got to that part!)

This is why Paleo works for me: it’s real whole simple food and I don’t have to buy the “Paleo” brand of food, although now there are brands like Primal Kitchen that fit the criteria, but it’s up to you if you want to buy them- you don’t need them to eat Paleo. If I want to buy some simple salad dressing instead of making it myself, I can buy it and not have to worry about it being full of canola oil, but if I want to make a simple vinaigrette, I can still do it.  The bottom line for Paleo is to keep your food as real, whole and unprocessed as possible.  Like I said, simple!

The point I’m trying to make is that if one thing doesn’t work for you, keep an open mind and keep learning about other methods that might work.  You need to give it an honest attempt (one week probably isn’t long enough) but if it’s not sustainable, you should probably cross it off your list.  A temporary fix is always and only temporary, just like all fad diets- once you stop eating their food or following their program, you’ll gain the weight back.  Paleo is no different in this way: if I were to go back to eating the processed foods I ate growing up, I would gain back the weight. What makes it work for me is that I’m still eating real food and it’s real food I like eating, like salad and spare ribs.  I feel better when I eat it instead of feeling hungry and tired after eating the fettucine alfredo.  I like what I eat, I don’t have to buy weird expensive ingredients or take handfuls of pills.  If I had done my homework about Paleo when I first heard about it, I’d probably have lost weight years before I did and no doubt saved myself some grief.  By choosing to stay ignorant and cynical, I only hurt myself.  Shame on me for being narrow-minded!

[Since learning about it, I’ve read some other great books that follow the same kind of idea: Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson; The Paleo Solution and Wired to Eat by Robb Wolf; Always Hungry? by David Ludwig, and Melissa Hartwig of Whole 30 has just come out with two new books.  All of these advocate eating unprocessed nutrient dense foods and keeping the processed ingredients to a minimum.  However you choose to eat, choose nutrition over convenience when possible and always go for unprocessed.]

A Variety of Hobgoblins: Consistency Doesn’t Have to Be Boring!

One of the quotes I used to hear a lot is the “consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”  by Ralph Waldo Emerson (the complete quote actually says “a foolish consistency”).  I think most people use it to mean getting stuck in a rut is easier than thinking of solutions all day.  Why use your brain all day long when you can follow the same little track?  In other words, consistency is for boring stupid people.  Remember, “variety is the spice of life!”

You can see the problem when it comes to weight loss: we are constantly being told by others to be consistent when it comes to our healthy eating habits, and we are constantly (consistently??) being told by others that we need variety in our lives to keep us from getting bored with the ‘healthy stuff.’  Some of the complaints I hear a lot is that ‘healthy food doesn’t taste so great’ and ‘I get bored fast eating healthy.’  I’m not going to lie: I can eat the same thing over and over again and rarely get bored with it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the ‘healthy stuff’ or not.  I used to eat the same Jack in the Box meal night after night, and that’s just one example.  It has nothing to do with how yummy or not-yummy something is; for me, it’s usually how hungry or not-hungry I am and whether I ‘want to eat’ or not. So, for me, while I understand what they mean, it’s never been much of a problem for me.

The exception was processed foods vs whole foods.  The more processed a food is, the more chemicals and ‘flavor boosters’ it has in it.  These foods are designed to keep you eating more of them by being ‘highly palatable.’  That’s a nice way of saying they are addictive (‘betcha can’t eat just one!’) So when you taste something that’s processed, it never tastes like something made from a whole food.  I recently saw a salsa taste test on America’s Test Kitchen where the tester tried to fool the host: along with the sample of jarred processed salsas for her to taste was a homemade sample made right there in the test kitchen. It tasted different, obviously (she used the word ‘fresh’ to describe it).  What she wasn’t tasting were all the chemicals and preservatives used in the jarred salsa to keep it from spoiling or to ‘boost the flavor.’  For me, when I stopped eating processed foods and started eating more whole foods, the blandness was the most noticeable change.  Although I knew why it tasted blander and was kind of expecting it, it was still an adjustment. However, eating more whole and nutrient dense foods was more important to me than just taste, so I stuck with it.  I was boringly consistent!

And it paid off! In that first year, I lost almost 100 lbs by not starving myself, not exercising myself to death (hardly exercised at all, really!) and by not eating ‘weird diet food.’ I simply stopped eating high carb processed foods for more low carb whole foods (veggies).  In that first year, I stopped two diabetes medications and in the second year I stopped my hypertension medication too!  Still not killing myself with exercise or starving or eating weird diet food! Being healthy and losing weight has more to do with giving your body the right nutrition rather than counting calories or macros or killing yourself with kettlebells.  Eating real nutrient dense food instead of something that comes in a box or a can or a powder will do more for your weight loss than doing seven workouts a week!

When it came to eating healthy food, I was boringly consistent (that hobgoblin is now my pet!) and I used it to my advantage. I ate a lot of the same kinds of foods over and over again: things like spinach, salad greens, shredded cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts (not so much cauliflower) and a lot of different unprocessed meats like roasted chicken, beef, lamb, and pork.  On weekends, it’s a lot of bacon or sausage and eggs for breakfast.  So while it may look pretty boring, I do spice it up with what I like! I used to make my own simple salad dressing: balsamic or apple cider vinegar, olive or avocado oil and Trader Joes 21 Seasoning Salute or any other spice blend that I like.  (Now, honestly I use mainly Primal Kitchen brand salad dressings because they are made with avocado oil.)  I also make my own spice blend for my meats. I sprinkle on a mix of garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, curry powder and sometimes a little red pepper flakes.  Trader Joes just came out with a garlic salt blend that works pretty good too!  As for the salads, I add in things like avocados, onions (green, red or white), peppers of all colors, sprouts, radishes, carrot shreds, heirloom tomatoes and anything else that looks good in the produce department!

Another thing happened while I was being boringly consistent with healthy eating choices: when I tasted the processed foods I used to enjoy so much, they just tasted weird to me.  When I started eating whole foods, I noticed the absence of all those chemicals in the natural foods, but when I ate the processed foods again, I could really taste them!  And it wasn’t just ‘fake cherry flavor’ that I was tasting: I was tasting all the chemicals and additives they put in during processing.  It’s as if all those ‘flavor boosters’ are there to hide the chemical taste in the food.  It doesn’t taste good to me anymore, which makes it easier to give up.  Remember when you were a kid and the first time you tasted coffee or beer and you probably made a face or spit it out? “Why do grownups drink that yuck?!” Because grownups get used to the taste! Just like we get used to the taste of the sugary sweet jarred pasta sauce and the fake mapley taste in the fake maple syrup (personally, I used the real stuff when I made pancakes- another acquired taste!)

While my menus may look like the same boring thing night after night (“I had salad and rotisserie chicken again last night”), there is quite a lot of variety in there!  Think about it: long before people began processing food in factories, all their foods were ‘whole foods’ and we developed as many different ways of cooking it as there are people on the planet! If you are tired of Mexican, how about Chinese? Tired of Chinese? Then how about Moroccan? That plain piece of beef can be Italian, Indonesian, or Southwestern! Whole foods don’t have to be boring, unless you want them to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Science Experiments in the Kitchen: Better Living with Chemicals?

I’m usually in two minds about cooking.  I did most of the cooking when I was growing up.  My parents divorced when I was about 8 and once I was tall enough to reach the stove-top, cooking was my job!  I didn’t exactly hate it, mainly because I didn’t know anything else, but once I was an adult and living on my own, I cooked as little as possible! (I stopped dating one guy because he made it clear he expected me to be the ‘traditional housewife’- been there-DONE with that!)

The whole Not-Cooking mindset meant I ate mostly fast food and prepared/ processed foods, and in those days, there were not a lot of healthy options.  Fast food was burgers, fries, burritos, tacos, etc. and prepared processed foods meant a lot of quick carbs, and whenever possible, I ate as much bread as I could get down my throat.  ‘Eating healthy’ usually meant eating something low fat and low sodium with as many of those ‘healthy whole grains’ as I could get.  In short, it was a recipe for disaster.

Going back to cooking was probably one of the hardest things for me.  To be honest, I still don’t like it much and I really don’t have the patience for measuring out this and mixing up that and then letting it simmer for however many minutes. Sometimes when I happen to watch a cooking show, and they have something that needs to be heated or marinated or brined for hours, that is far too many steps for me. The same goes for something with a long list of ingredients: too much freaking trouble!

For me, food is simple.  I like something exotic or complex as much as the next person; I just don’t like it enough to make it myself! One of the podcasts I listen to is 2 Keto Dudes, and both hosts are true keto gourmands. Their recipes are pretty complex, but what I find more than a little off-putting for me is that they sometimes use ingredients that sound like part of a science experiment to me.  I really don’t want to add sodium citrate to my grated cheese so I can make a ‘melty creamy cheese sauce’ for a Philly type cheesesteak sandwich on some ‘keto friendly’ bread made with something else that sounds like it belongs in a lab.  While I do try keeping my carbs low (about 50 g daily), my goal isn’t to be keto or ‘zero carb.’  My goal is to eat healthy real food.  Recently, I heard an interview with Mark Sisson on the Primal Potential podcast, and I think he hit the nail on the head when he said (paraphrasing here) “most Americans want to eat as much as they can for the fewest calories they can.”  Basically, the attitude is ‘how much can I eat without gaining weight?’

I think this is what’s happened with a lot of the ‘keto craze’: how can I give the food I used to eat a keto makeover so I can still have donuts, waffles and bread? When you listen to the hosts of 2 Keto Dudes, their attitude toward bread, donuts, waffles, etc is that they are horrible foods that can make you sick if you eat them every day.  Whether that’s true or not isn’t the point here.  Their attitude towards the keto version of these foods is that they’re wonderful and not ‘carbage’ (their word) and they taste delicious.  Again, the truth of this statement isn’t the point, especially since I’ve never tasted them so I can’t voice an opinion.  The point I am trying to make is that much of our current health problems with processed foods came from scientists and food manufacturers trying to find ways of making food taste better, be ready faster, and more convenient and presentable to the public.  Reading the reviews for several Paleo friendly versions of foods, I find there are a lot of complaints about ‘texture’ and a ‘strange after taste’ and other ‘aesthetics.’  The Paleo cookie doesn’t taste like a ‘real’ cookie so “save your money!” This is why we have frozen pizza with ‘rising crust’ and deep dish in ‘its own pan’ and it ‘tastes as good as delivery!’  We keep trying to find cheaper, easier shortcuts to get fast flavorful food that tastes as good as the ‘old fashioned’ foods we want.  Why spend most of the day making lasagna at home when we can buy it in a box and have it done in an hour?  So what if it’s full of chemicals and preservatives? It tastes home-made!

For a lot of Paleo, keto and other ‘specialty diet’ followers, including vegetarians and vegans (not all but a lot), their attitude is simply ‘processed food is killing us’ and for the most part, I agree.  One of the reasons I chose Paleo is because it’s real food and it’s real simple.  That is pretty much my criteria when it comes to food and most things I use: the fewer chemicals in it, the better.  This is why I think it’s strange that some keto eaters, Paleo people, vegans and vegetarians will opt for some kind of chemical additive to make non-meat look or taste like meat, make non-wheat/ grain bread look or taste like ‘normal’ bread or make their cheese sauce creamy without adding flour as a binder.  They would rather add something like sodium citrate, guar gum or xanthan gum to make a cheese sauce that tastes like a ‘normal’ cheese sauce.  Reminder here: that cheese sauce wasn’t good for you to start with, so why do you want to eat something like it? These are usually the same people who will tell you that fake sugar sweeteners are as bad for you or worse than plain old sugar and honey, but they don’t see the difference when it comes to switching out flour for ground psyllium husks in bread or tortillas or other low carb swaps to make their favorite non-keto/ Paleo foods.

For me, a big part of eating healthier is eating real food with as few chemicals as possible.  I’m all for a swap when it doesn’t stretch my boundaries too far, so like all things, it’s about limits.  Breading chicken with crushed pork rinds instead of crackers is okay and I’ll even go as far as having a Paleo cookie made with almond flour.  In fact, I recently bought some ‘Paleo cookies’ and the deciding factor wasn’t the reviews about texture but rather the ingredient list: Almond Flour, Raw Unfiltered Honey, Maple Syrup, Pecans, Coconut Oil, Sea Salt, Cinnamon, Vanilla Extract. For me, the flour started as whole almonds that I can toss in a mixer and grind myself.  The same with the pork rind crumbs: I can throw them in a baggie and mash them up myself.  But xanthan gum? Psyllium husks? That’s up there with some of the long unpronounceable additives I find on the Doritos bag and those are big red stop signs to me.  If I have to start shopping in the science department for my dinner, I think I’ll go without.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Started: Where Do I Begin?

A friend of mine recently decided to lose weight and eat healthier, and like most of us, she’s a little lost.  She knows what her goal is: being a healthier weight and healthier in general, but as to how to get there? It’s all a little vague. Most of us begin in the same situation.  The goal is usually pretty clear, but the path to take is like finding our way through a maze. Which route do we take and how do we know if we are making progress?

I think she has made a good start: she knows where she wants to go and she has an idea of how she wants to get there.  Although she wants to lose weight, her goal is to be healthier overall, so she began by making some realistic changes.  Instead of changing several habits all at once, she began by trying to eat more fruits and vegetables.  She said growing up, her family didn’t eat a lot of those, so she is making an effort to eat more of them.  She also joined My Fitness Pal and is logging her meals and exercise.  Although she’s just started changing her eating habits, she’s been exercising regularly for about a year now (I met her at the gym) so that habit is already firmly established!

As far as “choosing a diet plan,” she hasn’t really opted for a ‘packaged plan,’ which I think is a good thing.  Too often, I hear people trying to fit their lives and eating habits around the Rules for a diet. This is how people end up malnourished or becoming ill after following Rules carved in stone by someone they’ve never met.  (My all-time favorite is the college student who ‘went vegan’ and ended up almost dying in the emergency room because of B12 deficiency.) I don’t have anything against vegans (my cardio trainers are both vegan) but when we opt for following a way of eating, we need to make sure that it fits our nutritional needs and our own preferences.  I really love grapefruit and cabbage, but I’m sure not opting for the Grapefruit Diet or the Cabbage Soup Diet!

When people ask me if I have a diet, I usually tell them that I do a ‘version of Paleo/ Primal,’ because my ‘rules’ are going to be different from anyone else who also does Paleo/ Primal.  There are even disagreements over how to define Paleo and Primal, so following the rules is a little bit like choosing a religion!  This is why I’ve opted to make my own rules and follow my own version.  What I do may not work for my friend or for anyone else, so while it’s great to ask for advice, if it doesn’t work for you, then what’s the point?

As I mentioned above, my cardio trainers are both vegan and they are big fans of promoting veganism.  It really works for them: they are both healthy and fit 70 year olds (not a typo- they’re both in their 70s!)  Personally, I like eating animal products and I know I wouldn’t be very happy ‘eating vegan’ or even vegetarian!  At the same time, there are a few of my fitness and gym friends who eat keto, which is usually heavy on fat, mainly from animal products.  As much as I love things like butter, bacon, meat and dairy, the few times I’ve tried eating keto, it has not been very satisfying, even discounting carb withdrawal.  I hear repeatedly how healthy vegan/ vegetariansim/ keto are and I don’t doubt they work for a lot of people.  My sister was a happy vegetarian for several years before she opted to change her eating habit again.  None of those really made me feel good, so they’re off my list of eating plans!

My own version of Paleo means mainly whole natural foods as unprocessed as possible.  It also includes dairy (most hardcare Paleo followers insist that Paleo + dairy = Primal). It does not include starchy vegetables, grains/ grain products, cane sugar and some legumes.  Essentially, I started with a basic Paleo framework and adapted it to suit my metabolism and preferences. In fact, when I started, my diet did not include dairy for many months.  Eventually, I opted to include it again although I do think I need to limit it more than I do now.  The point is that the way I eat now makes me feel my best and I am getting the results that I want.

That is how we find the answers to those earlier questions: which route do we take to our goal and how do we know if we are making progress?  If you are feeling your best with your current eating plan and you are getting the results that you want, then that is the route to YOUR goal.  Most of us go into dieting with the general goal of ‘losing weight.’  Weight loss isn’t always healthy!  In fact, when I started losing weight, because I was so extremely obese, I lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time.  When I saw my doctor, her first reaction wasn’t “finally!”; it was “are you feeling alright? are you having health problems?” Rapid weight loss is an indicator of cancer, hormonal imbalance and intestinal/ digestive problems.  It also leads to malnutrition, i.e. the vegan college student with B12 deficiency.  What most of us really want is ‘fat loss,’ not just ‘weight loss,’ and while the distinction is lost on most people, it is an important distinction.  Losing weight can mean losing water weight (and becoming dehydrated) or it can mean losing lean body mass, i.e. losing muscle, among other things.  When the number goes down on the scale, most of us are really happy about it and keep doing what we are doing to keep the number going down.  But if we are doing something unhealthy, then we are only becoming thinner instead of healthier.  My friend made the observation that while most of her family was obese, all the people she knew who were diabetic were thin.  Just as being clinically obese doesn’t equal ‘unhealthy,’ being thin does not equal being ‘healthy.’

Getting the results you want, whether losing fat, building muscle or being fitter, is one way of knowing you are on the right path, but we must also not discount the ‘how am feeling’ part of the answer.  If you are getting the results that you want, like fat loss, but you hate the way you are feeling or eating, then that is NOT the right path for you!  If you hate the way you feel or you hate the way that you are eating, you are not going to sustain it for long. I tried both vegetarianism and keto a few times, and frankly, I hated both ways of eating.  I felt horrible, had terrible cravings and did not enjoy what I was eating. Although I’ve since learned that the cravings and the ‘keto flu will go away, I didn’t like what I was eating and overall, I didn’t like the way that felt. There are days when I eat more to a keto or veggie plan than other days, but those are the exception rather than the rule.  When I opted to include dairy again in my diet, one of the things I watched for was simply “how does it make me feel?”  If it made me feel awful or kept me from making my goals, then I would have kicked it back out again, but the truth is I like cream, butter and cheese and it doesn’t keep me from my goals.

We’ve all done diets where we strictly limit our foods, either the types or the amounts and yes, most of us have lost weight on those diets, but once we stop the limiting, we gain back fat and usually a bit more.  This is why it’s so important that we must enjoy the way that we are eating in order to be successful, otherwise any fat loss is going to be temporary!  Also, what is the point of looking great if we feel miserable?  Remember the last time you lost weight and showed up at a function like a holiday party where everyone commented on how great you look? That felt awesome…. until we reached the buffet table! There was all that food that either wasn’t on our diet or was simply too much! Instead of thinking, yum! what looks good to eat?, we were crying inside because it was all foods we were denying ourselves! I know from experience that situation is no fun at all! I know I don’t want to spend the rest of my life ‘looking great and feeling miserable!’  Even though there are a lot of foods that aren’t on my list, there are a lot of foods that are, and the last time I was at a buffet, there were still a lot of yummy foods that I could and did eat!  It was easy to choose those foods over the foods not on my list because I knew I felt better eating them and I knew I was going to keep making progress!

My friend is still in the early stages of her getting-healthier journey, but as I said, I think she is off to a great start. She is building good habits on a reasonable time line and she is asking herself the right questions. She mentioned it to me because even though she was enjoying her lunchtime salad with leafy greens and chicken, she was still getting hungry before dinner, so she was asking me about options for fixing that.  We discussed adding in some healthy fats (avocado, olives or more cheese) or more fibrous veggies (broccoli, cabbage or kale).  Obviously, what works for me won’t always work for her, but the important points are that you have to eat what you like eating and still get the results you want, because unless you do both, it doesn’t matter what you eat or how much weight you lose.

Flavor Boosters Boost Your Waistline, Not Your Health!

One of the things I’ve been noticing a lot is people complaining about eating healthy because “the food doesn’t taste that good!”  If it’s someone I can respond to, I usually let them know there’s a reason whole foods taste different: it’s because processed foods have been processed full of ‘flavor enhancers,’ among other things.  This is when they ‘boost’ the flavor by filling it full of chemicals, designed to overpower your taste buds and make you want more of it.  This is the manufacturer making sure you crave their product and want to eat/ buy as much of it as possible!

A lot of these ‘flavor boosters’ show up on the ingredients as ‘natural flavors.’  That does not mean that these ‘flavors’ come from food: it just means they are not ‘man-made’ and come from “Nature” whether that can mean it’s something derived from wood by-products, coal tar manufacturing by-products or something else.  It does NOT mean it comes from FOOD!  Seriously, the artificial sweetener saccharin was originally a by-product of coal-tar manufacturing.  Incidentally, that is NOT the reason it’s banned in Canada: the Sugar Industry lobbied long and hard to ban saccharin because of the competition in both the US and Canada.  In the US, they managed to get it labeled as a carcinogen after feeding it to lab rats at mega-high dosages (like it’s all they fed the rats for weeks on end and wow! some of them developed cancer!) If humans ate that much saccharin, they would probably throw up long before they got cancer, the same way we would throw up after eating the same amounts of sugar, if we didn’t fall into a diabetic coma first!

In all honesty, the food manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping you buying their products, so they make the products as enjoyable and addictive as possible.  The more you buy them, the more you want them and the more money in their pockets.  By contrast, the more unhealthy you get!  Processed foods like chips, snack cakes, fast foods and other things that come with an ingredient list, have been tested to determine what flavors light up our brains’ pleasure centers the most.  Taste testers rate the different combinations and additives according to how much they want to keep eating it, the mouth feel, the smell, and everything else that makes food taste “so delicious!”

By comparison, whole unprocessed foods are going to taste different, because they don’t have all the chemicals processed into them.  They haven’t been processed (I think of it as ‘pre-digested’ personally!) so they are going to have a different mouth-feel.  This is the term food manufacturers use to describe literally the way food feels when you put it in your mouth, as in chips should be crunchy but not too crunchy; mashed potatoes should be soft but still have some texture; burgers should be a little chewy; hot dogs should have a little snap to them, etc.  Products are actually tested to see what ‘mouth-feel’ rates highest.  Most of us do this on our own when we make foods from scratch: I like my ground beef to have a little spring in it and not be completely charred; when I used to make mashed potatoes from scratch, I left a few lumps in them because I like to taste and feel the actual potato!  We know how we like our foods to feel as we chew on them!

Whole foods, by comparison, don’t have the chemical additives to boost the flavor and keep us eating more.  So when you’re eating the ground beef burger you made from grass fed beef (hopefully), it only has the flavors and spices you put on it, such as salt, pepper and maybe some onion or garlic powder.  The same goes for the broccoli you steamed yourself, the spinach you sauteed yourself or whatever else you’ve made from whole foods.  It’s not going to have the ‘natural flavors’ or the MSG (monosodium glutamate) unless you put it on the food.  If you’ve been eating mainly processed foods most of your life, like most of us have, whole foods will taste a little bland at first, but our taste buds change depending on what we eat. When we stop eating processed foods in favor of the whole natural foods, we get used to the way they taste, especially once we learn how to prepare them in a way we really enjoy (for me, this includes not walking away from the stove and turning the beef into a charcoal briquet as I usually do!) I like my stronger tasting meats like beef and lamb with a curry powder I mix myself, but milder meats like chicken I usually just roast.  I’ve learned to prepare my vegetables with olive oil dressings or just a little salt and ghee.  It might sound kind of boring compared to garlic mashed potatoes or Kansas City spare ribs from the freezer section or a restaurant, but I know what’s in the food I’m eating, and it’s not ‘flavor boosters’ and chemicals, and that is important to me!

Another way that processed foods boost your waistline is that the chemical ingredients can really mess with your intestinal bacteria (your microbiome).  We in the Western industrialized world eat mainly processed foods.  No surprise there!  But there is a direct correlation between the rise in consumption of processed foods and the rise in metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, depression, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis.  There are people who say it’s because we’re living longer and we’re exposed to chemicals in our environment.  Both of those are true, but what is also true is that we are exposed to chemicals in our food, and these are chemical compounds that we as a species have never eaten before and were probably not meant to eat (such as a coal-tar by product like saccharin!)  These additives and preservatives are designed to boost taste and mouth feel, not our health.  They keep us fat and unhealthy rather than promoting good nutrition and healthy bodies.  When did the whole point of eating become satisfying our taste buds rather than fueling our bodies?

These chemicals were never part of the human diet before industrialization, the same way polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), what Dr. David Perlmutter calls “factory fats,” were never part of the human diet.  Because they are ‘derived’ from a plant product or ‘Nature’ they are allowed to be called ‘natural,’ but they are not naturally occurring in nature the way an olive, an egg, a fish or a cow are naturally occurring.  These are foods humans and other animals have eaten for millenia and are pretty much recognized in all societies as something to eat. Monosodium glutamate, cottonseed oil and disodium phosphate, not so much! (Incidentally, cottonseed oil has to be processed to make it edible.  That’s really something I don’t want to eat!)  Most of these PUFAs are also high in omega-6 fatty acids which are pro-inflammatory and unstable.  They are not fully metabolized by the body either and those unstable fats become a part of every cell in our bodies!

Besides the fact that most processed foods are full of pro-inflammatory “factory fats” that really mess with our absorption of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, they are also full of highly processed carbohydrates that spike our blood sugar.  This is why I usually refer to processed foods as ‘pre-digested.’  The foods have been broken down into the simplest compounds possible for fast easy digestion in our system, so the corn chips we ate 20 minutes ago are already metabolized while the cabbage we ate an hour ago is just getting there. Processed foods have almost no fiber, fewer vitamins (unless it’s been fortified and had them added back in) but are full of quick carbs, artificial flavors, preservatives and unstable factory fats.  When these products hit our microbiome in our small intestine, the beneficial bacteria that break down our food so we can absorb it usually take a hit in that the fiber that some of them eat isn’t there, while some of the chemical ingredients are toxic to them. Remember the last time you tried a new food and it sent you running to bathroom and/ or kept you there for the next couple of days?  That’s your microbiome telling you that food didn’t agree with them! More and more health professionals are realizing that an unhealthy microbiome leads to more than just digestion problems: they are making stronger connections to a lot of the diseases mentioned above like Alzheimers, ADHD, MS, arthritis, diabetes and others.  Many of what we used to think of as ‘brain-only hormones’ like serotonin, dopamine and tryptophan are linked to our microbiome: the same microbiome we are attacking daily with processed foods full of chemical flavor boosters!

Realistically, no one is going to eat something that tastes bad, but we forget that our tastes change over time. As a child, most of us made a face the first time we tasted beer or coffee or blue cheese, but as adults, we’ve learned to like those things.  We refer to them as ‘acquired tastes.’  Maybe it’s time we ditch the kiddie junk food in favor of a healthier subtle but sophisticated palate of whole foods?

Down and Dirty: How Clean Living Can Make You Sick

I recently finished Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be at the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure it by Josh Axe. (Yeah, that’s a long title!) While audio books aren’t my preferred format, I think this book is worth the effort. Dr. Axe makes a few interesting correlations between the relatively sudden rise in autoimmune diseases and other disorders, our sanitized society and our microbiome.  While he defines the terms ‘leaky gut,’ ‘microbiome’ and ‘microbiota’ in his book, I will give you the short version: our digestive tract is full of bacteria, both good and bad.  This symbiotic relationship is necessary to our own individual survival: we need this bacteria in our digestive tract to break down the food we eat.  Once it has been broken down by the bacteria, our body is able to absorb the nutrients through the lining in our intestines.  The integrity of our intestinal lining is dependent on the health of these bacteria (microbiota).  The microbiome is the environment these bacteria inhabit: essentially our digestive tract.  Leaky gut (Increased Intestinal Permeability) is what happens to our digestive tract when we don’t take good care of our microbiome: the integrity of the intestinal lining becomes compromised, allowing not only foods we’ve eaten to enter our bloodstream and body but also some of the toxins that should have been expelled.  Sometimes it’s not that the food particles which enter are bad for us: they are not as broken down as they should be, and that causes problems.  When foods we’ve eaten before without problems begin giving us problems, it’s usually because our microbiome has been compromised.

This is the reason that so many people have problems like Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Celiac Disease, among others.  The helpful bacteria in the gut has been compromised either by highly processed foods, toxins we’ve ingested (sometimes in the form of medication) and our squeaky clean sanitized society.  Not only are we failing to feed and care for our microbiota the way we should, we are actively attacking it with antibiotics, toxic foods, preservatives, chemicals and hand sanitizers.  While being clean is a good thing and no one is saying don’t wash your hands, there is such a thing as being toxically clean. Not everything needs to be disinfected and that disinfectant you just used to kill the benign bacteria on your counter or desk could be making you sick instead of keeping you healthy. Most of the bacteria in our environment is not harmful and some of it is actually beneficial and necessary to our survival. Being ‘clean and sanitary’ the way we think of it now is killing us through digestive disorders, autoimmune disease, malnutrition and possibly cancer.

The cure for this? Eat dirt. Really. If you were to swab your skin and look at it under a microscope, you would see thousands of bacteria.  Dr. Axe reports that we are probably more bacteria than human since we have them inside us and on us all the time.  We are walking bacteria colonies! The naturally occurring bacteria in our environment helps us to break down the foods that come from that environment.  When humans foraged for food, the bacterias on the foods like roots and berries became part of our microbiome.  Since most of them lived on the foods and broke them down to metabolize them, they continued to do the same thing in our intestines.  Therefore, when that farmer plucked an apple in his orchard and ate it after wiping it on his shirt, the bacteria on the apple skin became part of his microbiome and helped him digest the apple he just ate.  The bacteria take up residence and multiply in our intestines, so it becomes easier to digest the local foods.  When we kill those bacteria before they can get to our intestines, we are killing our ability to digest some of these foods.  This is why we sometimes get a little sick when we eat something we’ve never eaten before: the bacteria needed to digest it isn’t in our microbiome.

Humans- and other animals- have developed this way and it’s not a optional condition.  Without these bacteria, we will die, probably a horrible painful death.  We would be ravaged by disease and illness and be unable to derive any nutrients from anything we ate.  Our microbiome not only feeds us, it protects us from illness: our gut is our immune system’s first line of defense.  If our gut is sick, odds are we are sick too!

Some of you know that I work in the same building as my sister, who’s known the attorneys I now work with for many years. In fact, I heard about many of these people for years before I ever met them, and one of the secretaries was forced to retire because of her Crohn’s disease.  When I first met this poor woman at a social gathering a few years ago, I could not believe how thin and frail she looked.  When I came to work here, a little over a year ago, one of the things that really shocked me was how much hand sanitizer they had in the office.  Seriously, they have Costco size bottles every fifty feet and in every room in the building- NOT KIDDING! After reading Dr. Axe’s book, I think I may have an idea about what contributed to this poor woman’s Crohn’s disease. While I have hand sanitizer in my purse and on my desk (little 99 cent bottles), I don’t often use it.  I also have disinfectant wipes that I rarely use.  If I think I need them, I do (mainly to clean off sticky stuff), but there are a lot of people in this building who consistently smell like hand sanitizer.

I don’t want to give the impression that I’m an unsanitary dirty slob (I come from a family of farmers so a little dirt is a way of life), and years ago, I listened to a report about ‘Super Viruses’ and how we were making them ourselves by overuse of antibiotics and anti-bacterial everything.  Every time we take an antibiotic or use an antibacterial, we do not kill all the bugs: some are resistant, survive and then when they reproduce, all the new bugs have their parents’ resistance to antibiotics/ antibacterials.  This is how we end up with killer bacteria like MRSA (methilicillin-resistant staph aureus)  and VRSA (vancomycin-resistant staph aureus) just to name a couple.  These killer bacteria are resistant to most of the drugs used to treat the ‘normal’ staph infections, and if not treated correctly, they will kill you.  (No kidding: I’ve the MRSA and it’s not fun.) The doctor quoted in the report advised not taking an antibiotic every time we think we get a cold or flu, and when we wash our hands, regular soap and warm/ hot water is enough. This advice stuck with me and my sister and so while I do keep the antibacterial stuff around for times when I think it’s needed, most of the time I just use the soap and water.  I’ve never been a fan of gulping medications of any kind (the only reason I went to the doctor for the MRSA was because it was MRSA.) I get a cold, I’m miserable for about a week and I get over it.  Maybe I’m just old fashioned, but I figure if we consistently hide from dirt and germs, when we do run across them, we have no resistance to them.  As a kid, I played in the sandbox, ran around barefoot and, according to my mom, was a big fan of making mud pies when I was a baby.  I’ve also had pets all my life and they sit on my lap, lick my face and hands, and sleep right next me. (If what Dr. Axe says is true, my pets and I have a lot of the same microbiota!)

Dr. Axe’s philosophy regarding bacteria and germs is fairly similar to my own: micro-exposure.  Basically, my philosophy has been to treat my immune system like a car and keep the battery charged and fuel lines in good shape by using it.  If your car just sits idle in the garage, your battery loses its charge and if it sits too long, the oil and gas start to lacquer.  The tires and fuel lines start to crack and lose flexibility.  In other words, your car falls apart and your immune system isn’t much different.  If your immune system gets triggered periodically by a cut, a cold or some mildly unpleasant stomach bug, it swings into action, takes care of it and then goes back to ‘stand-by.’  If your immune system doesn’t get triggered regularly, then it can overreact and start attacking everything, including your own body.  Or, if it’s constantly triggered because you eat foods you are sensitive to, then it can also start ignoring the triggers, the way you hit the snooze button on your alarm clock when you’re half asleep.  Later, when you wake up after oversleeping, you’re in real trouble! Getting small exposures to bacteria on a regular basis keeps everything functioning normally.  Your immune system knows what’s a real threat and what isn’t and you can pick up additional healthy bugs!

By contrast, not being exposed to different bacteria does not keep you any healthier, and in fact, can make you sick.  Dr. Axe mentions a comparison study done of Amish children and ‘mainstream’ children regarding allergies, food sensitivities and asthma. The Amish children, most living in rural areas surrounded by animals, pollen and dirt, were much healthier with fewer allergies, sensitivities and breathing problems, while the ‘mainstream’ children had higher rates of all these problems.  Dr. Axe’s theory is that being constantly exposed to a myriad of different bacteria kept the Amish children immune to these problems. Again, microexposures to bacteria were keeping their immune system and digestive tracts in good working order.

Obviously, we need to use a little common sense when it comes to bacteria.  Trying to kill off every bacterium and germ we come across is a bad idea, as well as being pretty unfeasible! But we still need to be sensible about things: if you’re in a public restroom, maybe using the hand sanitizer after washing isn’t a bad idea, and if you have a cut on your hand, you might want to use gloves when you’re out in the yard cleaning up the doggie doo.  Using the hand sanitizer after finishing lunch at your own house or your own desk might be a bit overkill, literally. Washing up is a good idea, but warm water instead of soap with triclosan or another antibacterial agent probably isn’t necessary every time.

Besides not killing our microbiota, Dr. Axe gives some advice on the ‘care and feeding of our microbiome.’  They are living organisms and they need an hospitable environment to live and reproduce (our intestines) as well as plenty of food (our food is their food).  Most of those unhealthy bugs also like the junk food we like, and when we eat more of it than we do the healthy foods, the bad bugs crowd out the good bugs. This is a problem for us, because the bad bacteria (ideally about 15% of our microbiome) can cause many of the digestive disorders mentioned above. When the bad bacteria take over our intestines, we lose the ability to digest certain foods, and these are usually the foods with higher nutrients, so even though we are eating the healthy vegetables, fruits and proteins, our intestines and our bodies never get the nutrients because the bugs in our guts that break those down for us aren’t there to break them down.  It’s like having a flashlight with dead batteries: no good batteries, no light and the flashlight is useless to you.  If you have no good bugs in your digestive tract, all that healthy food is useless to you.  Even just feeding the bad bugs more often than feeding the good bugs can cause a population shift favoring the bacteria that cause us problems.

So don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.  Don’t be afraid to hug your dog or cat, even if they’re a little grungy from the yard.  Eat more local organic veggies.  One of the sayings in my family is “God made dirt so dirt don’t hurt.”  I really believe a little dirt isn’t a bad thing any more than getting a little sweaty is a bad thing: they both keep us healthy!

 

 

 

You Can’t Choose For Them But You Can Choose to Respect Their Choice

This is a topic that is close to my heart, because it stabs right through! I was watching a rerun on My 600 Life: it was a follow-up episode and the patient was doing fairly well, having lost about 200 lbs. The problem now was her 23 yr old daughter’s weight, which was around 300 lbs.  The patient (Charity) was desperate to keep her daughter (Charlie) “from going through what I went through” and was essentially hounding her to lose weight.  I have been that daughter.  For more years than I care to think about, I have listened endlessly to all kinds of threats, inducements, plain old bribes, suggestions subtle and not at all subtle about my weight.  I know the mother’s behavior stems from her love and desire to protect her daughter, but the girl is now an adult and the best way to show that love is to respect her daughter’s decisions, even if she thinks they are the wrong decisions.  It’s okay to disagree with her and be respectful about it, but constant criticism is only going to drive a wedge between them.  Think about it: let’s substitute ‘boyfriend/ girlfriend’ for ‘weight.’  How many of you have listened to a parent complain about the person you are dating/ involved with? How much fun was it seeing your parent when you had to listen to them talk badly about someone you love? How long was it before you limited your exposure to your parent and/ or tuned them out as soon as they started complaining about your boyfriend/ girlfriend?: “You wouldn’t have to do XYZ if Bobby had more ambition.” “If Jolene dressed a little better she’d probably get a better job.”

I am sure Charity thinks she is doing what moms are supposed to do and look out for their children. She no doubt thinks she’s ‘guiding’ Charlie, but Charlie has already told her that when she criticizes her weight or her eating habits, it hurts her feelings (frankly, that’s more than I could ever tell my mom!)  So, Charity does the ‘next best thing’: when they show up at Dr. Nowzaradan’s office, Charity tells him to tell Charlie she needs to lose weight! (One of those not-at-all-subtle suggestions!) What Charity does not realize is that she is not helping her daughter any more than the constant criticism and humiliation at the hands of others helped Charity to lose weight herself! As someone who has been in Charlie’s shoes, I can tell you that all Charity is doing is making Charlie feel more inadequate and more like a failure or disappointment.  There is the ‘constant qualifier’ to her self-esteem and worth as a person: ‘you’d be such a pretty girl if only you weighed less“; “you could do XYZ if you didn’t weigh so much“; etc.  In other words: “you’re just not good enough because you’re too fat.”  I am sure that this is not what Charity believes just as I am sure this is not the message she wants to send to her daughter, but this is the message she is sending her daughter when she criticizes her weight and her eating habits: you are screwing up!

People eat for a variety of reasons and two of the biggest are emotional solace and simple control.  We hear a lot about people ‘eating their emotions’ because they are either feeling something they don’t know how to deal with or they don’t want to deal with, so they distract themselves by eating something that makes them feel good, or they want to celebrate by making the good feelings last longer, so they eat something to reinforce those positive feelings.  The end result is usually obesity: ‘I can’t handle my emotions.’

Control is another reason: pretty much the ultimate control over your own body is what you eat.  Remember how little kids will refuse to eat?  They are exercising control over their situation in the only way they can.  This can end up as an eating disorder, usually anorexia.  Sadly, this is how my grandmother died: as her health deteriorated and there were fewer things she could on her own, she chose to eat less and less.  Despite being hospitalized and having the doctor (and others) flat out tell her that she would die if she didn’t eat, she refused to eat.  The flip side of self-starvation is obviously obesity: ‘I am in control of what I eat and I am choosing to eat!‘ The irony is that the more you choose to eat or not eat, the less control you have over your situation.  As my grandmother grew weaker, there were fewer and fewer things she could do, until she finally ended up in a hospital where she died.  The same is true for the super morbidly obese: the more they eat, the bigger they become, the less mobile they are, the less they can do until finally they are bedridden and dependent on someone else bringing them the food they still demand because their ability to eat as much as they want is still under their control as they learn to manipulate their enablers.

In a situation like Charlie’s, the more disapproval she senses from her mother, the more likely she is to eat her emotions: she feels bad that her mom is unhappy with her, and her mom makes her feel bad about herself, so she eats to feel better, and then feels guilty that she ate or that she ate the ‘wrong thing,’ so she eats something else to feel better.  I think for Charity growing up, she ate for control (I know I did): her childhood was chaotic and scary and eating was something she had control over, so she ate as much as she could to make herself feel safe and secure (it was kind of the same for me).  When everything is chaos and disorder, you control what you can, even if it’s just a bag of potato chips.  The point is that having used food for solace and control in her own life, Charity should realize that her nagging behavior is not supporting Charlie.  Unfortunately, like most of us, Charity is too close to the issue to be objective.

It’s hard to say what I would do in a similar situation: I’ve been morbidly obese like Charity (technically I still am) and I grew up being hounded over my weight like Charlie.  Obviously since my weight remained a problem, one thing I am absolutely sure of is that hounding someone is guaranteed not to succeed.  Constant nagging only alienates those involved and in most cases adds to the stress which triggers the ‘offending behavior,’ whether it’s smoking or eating (my mom hounded one of her boyfriends about smoking with the same results!) There’s that old expression: “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” You also can’t push him down the road you think he should be on.  All you can do is try to lead him, and leading by example works a whole lot better than bullying or humiliation.

When it comes to other family members, whatever they choose to eat is their own choice.  There are few things more personal than what you choose to put in your body.  My sister was vegetarian for many years and while it’s not my choice, it was hers and I respected that when we went out to eat.  My dad eats the Standard American Diet, and when he was recovering from an illness recently, I bought groceries for him.  It would have been easy for me to buy him what I think he should be eating (my mom would have) but I bought things he likes, although I did buy the healthiest versions of them that I could.  I could have filled his bags with organic produce and meats and left out the breads and processed foods he likes, but that’s what I choose to eat for myself. Having been the recipient of “healthy” groceries chosen by my mom, based on whatever “doc of the day” said was healthy, instead of being grateful, I was more hurt and annoyed than anything else.  I confess, when I shopped for him, I leaned a little more heavily on the fruits and vegetables he likes rather than the stuff in cans or boxes, but they were all things he enjoys.  His grocery bags looked way different than mine do and that’s the point: we all choose different things for ourselves.  You may not like what someone else chooses to eat: you might think it’s bad for them; that they are eating all wrong; that they need to ‘fix’ whatever in their diet, but the fact remains that it’s their life, their body, their food and their choice. We need to respect one another’s choices as we expect them to respect ours.

Do you know what has helped me the most in my weight loss? Other people respecting my food choices.  My mom disagreed with my choice to eat Paleo (at least until the “doc of the day” gave it his thumbs up) and just like before, I tuned it out. The rest of my family was kind of interested in it, or at least they faked it for my sake, and they encouraged me to make better choices by respecting my different way of eating.  Now if I eat something that ‘isn’t Paleo,’ they tease me about it but won’t tell me that not to eat it.  Being supportive doesn’t mean being critical; it means respecting someone else’s decision.  If Charity really wants to be supportive with Charlie, she can do it by inviting her to share her healthy meals, setting a good example and letting Charlie decide for herself.  After all, what is more encouraging that being around someone who is happy, healthy and is holding the door open for you to join her?

 

 

 

 

Buying Trouble? Supplements, Probiotics, and Protein Powders

These are topics that make the rounds periodically: “what supplements should I be taking? What do I look for in a probiotic? Are whey protein shakes better or should I get a plant based one?” The problem with these questions is that almost anyone you ask can’t answer them for you. The operative phrase in that sentence is “for you.” I’m not trying to be clever here because, unless that person is your doctor or nutritionist, you are the only one who knows what works best for you.  Products like supplements, protein powders and probiotics/ prebiotics are extremely personalized: they depend on what your body and what you are eating.  There are some health professionals who will say things like “everyone should be taking vitamin D/ B/ multivitamin, etc.” (I heard one say it again today!) While I think most people would benefit from those, especially if they are eating the Standard American Diet, the fact is there are some people who don’t need them or should not be taking them.   In general, I think most people would be okay taking a multivitamin but I also think taking supplements “because everyone needs them” can be harmful, especially if they are electrolytes or a fat soluble vitamin.  [Again, I am not a doctor; this is just my regular person opinion.]

Electrolytes are vitamins and minerals that conduct electricity in the body: they are necessary to make our muscles contract, our nerves function and pretty much every other biochemical reaction in our bodies work smoothly.  Examples of electrolytes are potassium, magnesium, sodium chloride, calcium and phosphates.  I learned about electrolytes when I was in middle school because I used to get really really nasty leg cramps at night and it was usually because I was low on one of the above.  Most sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade are designed to replace the electrolytes we lose through sweating.  The problems can come when our electrolytes get seriously out of whack, usually because- like me- we don’t eat/ drink the right things or because we are loading up on ‘healthy supplements.’ Just a small reminder: your heart is a muscle! and it is as liable as any other muscle in your body to be affected by an electrolyte imbalance!  Too much potassium or magnesium or vitamin D can cause the serious problems.  (Example: whenever I eat a lot of potassium rich foods like spinach or sweet potatoes, I get really nasty leg cramps.) I remember seeing one “True Stories of the ER” episode where the patient was a kid who’d drunk an entire bottle of antacid (a magnesium, sodium bicarbonate mix) and the doctors had to give an antagonist lest he have a heart attack.  [FYI: when prisoners are executed by lethal injection, it’s usually potassium chloride, which stops the heart.]

Vitamins are generally either fat soluble vitamin, which means it is stored in your body fat or water soluble.  Most of the vitamins we take, like B or C, are water soluble and anything our body doesn’t use is flushed out fairly quickly. (This is why your urine is bright yellow after you take B.) That makes it almost impossible to overdose on water soluble vitamins, but fat soluble vitamins build up in your body and you can overdose on those.  Fat soluble vitamins are D, A, K, and E.  This is by no means a comprehensive list of vitamins and minerals that can be stored or can cause problems if you take too many. Before you go out and load up on any supplements, please look at what you are already taking. If you have a nutritionist, meet with him/ her and ask their opinion.  If you want to talk to your doctor, have bloodwork done and ask him/ her if there are any vitamins or supplements they would recommend, and when you do that, please make sure their list of what you are already taking is current! I review this list with my doctor at least twice a year so she knows what I’m taking.  Just another FYI: if your doc gives you a new prescription (or even if refill a current one), PLEASE READ THE INFORMATIONAL PAMPHLET THAT COMES WITH IT. I know most pharmacies will put a sticker on them, but even with supplements, you need to read the pamphlet to 1) make sure you don’t have a drug interaction (which can be serious), and; 2) to make sure you aren’t wasting your time & money!  A close friend of mine was told by her doctor that her D3 levels were very low, so she should take vitamin D twice a day, which she did every morning on an empty stomach. After 3 months, she went back for a follow up and her levels had barely changed; she didn’t understand it until she read the instructions on the bottle: ‘take with food.’  It wasn’t being absorbed.

As for the other “biggies” like probiotics, prebiotics, and protein powders, it’s all about you: what are you eating? Most people want a protein powder because either they: a) don’t think they are getting enough protein; b) think protein is a ‘free food’ so they want a lot of it to lose weight; c) are trying to build muscle.  Protein will help you build muscle if you are actually working out and doing strength training.  If your goal is building muscle, hopefully you are working with a trainer who can advise you, because your diet, body type and strength training experience are a lot more important to your success (and not hurting yourself) than whether you are drinking a pea-based protein shake or a whey-based protein shake.  (If you need some guidance getting a trainer, check out Metabolic Radio.)

If you are looking at protein shakes because you think it’s a ‘free food,’ sorry but it’s not.  All foods have calories and if you eat/ drink too much of anything, it’s still too much.  Many people think that fat and carbs are stored as body fat but ‘protein builds muscle.’  It’s true: it builds muscle, but since protein can’t be stored as ‘protein,’ if you eat/ drink too much of it, surprise! your body turns it into glucose (a carb) through gluconeogenesis and it’s stored as fat or glycogen.  End result: too much protein can make you fat just like carbs and fat. It can also make you sick; people who consistently get more than 35% of their calories from protein can suffer from protein toxicity, so protein is definitely NOT a free food.

Most people get protein powders because they think they are not getting enough protein.  While they can be good supplements to a healthy diet, you should focus on the ‘healthy diet’ part first.  If most of what you eat comes from a bag, box or a restaurant, focus on more whole foods. Even though they’re ‘healthy,’ protein powders are still processed, which means there can be some nutrients and other necessary factors that aren’t included in them. Most whole foods are nutritious not because they are high in protein, fiber or vitamin/ mineral XYZ, but because they usually have more than just the one thing in them.  Spinach for example is high in vitamins K, A , B2, B1, B6, C, E, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, copper, calcium, potassium and is a good source of dietary fiber, phosphorus, choline, and yes, protein! All of these things are in a serving of spinach, so you not only get a good dose of protein, you get the fiber, mineral and boatload of vitamins that come with it. This is why even the highest quality protein powders can’t beat eating whole foods. If you are eating a whole food diet and still think you aren’t getting enough protein, then yes, a quality protein shake can be a shortcut to give you more of what you want without eating a truckload of food.  If you are transitioning to a whole food/ healthier diet, then a protein shake can be great boost, but please bear in mind that ‘shortcuts’ also cut corners: while you may be getting more protein, you aren’t really doing yourself any favors missing out on the rest of the healthy nutrition that goes with the whole foods.

What’s often missing from protein powders (and meal replacement shakes/ bars) are the co-factors that help you metabolize the nutrients that are in them.  This is called bio-availability.  Example: calcium cannot be absorbed by your body without vitamin D and magnesium.  These bind to the calcium and ‘escort’ it into your cells, so if you are taking a calcium supplement without the D & magnesium either in the supplement or in your diet, your body is not absorbing the calcium and you aren’t getting much benefit from what you are taking.  This is why some powders/ shakes/ bars will say they have 20 grams of protein (or whatever) but it’s either in a form your body can’t absorb or because there aren’t the necessary co-factors that allow your body to use it. This is what happened with my friend and the vitamin D and is the biggest reason whole foods are better than just supplements.

Beyond the quality of the product, the choice of plant v whey/ animal protein pretty much depends on you: is vegetarian/ plant based important to you?  Do you have digestive problems with milk (whey is a milk product)? There are other options out there: egg, bone broth, collagens, hemp, etc.  Obviously you want to aim for quality, so check them out.  Read some reviews and see if any are endorsed by an organization you trust.  Organic and non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) are important to me.  But again, it’s all about you and your preferences. Since almost all of them are expensive, try getting a sample packet if you can. I like Ancient Nutrition Bone Broth Protein.  It’s chicken bone broth based, organic, non-GMO and ‘gut friendly.’  They also have a variety of flavors: so far I like the chocolate and banana creme the best.  As far as what you mix it with, again that’s up to you.  I’m not a big fan of coconut, so I opt for Almond Breeze Unsweetened Original or Vanilla (hey, I’m from California- home of Blue Diamond Almonds!) I usually drink it for breakfast especially since I’ve been skipping lunch lately.

As for probiotics and prebiotics, most of what I learned comes from Josh Axe’s book Eat Dirt. (A review is forthcoming!) Definitions first: probiotics are the bacteria themselves and prebiotics are food for the little bugs.  If you didn’t already know, our intestinal tracts are home to millions of bacteria which we need to survive.  These bacteria break down the foods we eat (they eat them too) which allows our intestines to absorb the nutrients.  Problems happen when we don’t feed our little ‘pets’ the right foods, or we feed the bad bacteria that’s also there instead of the good guys.  What happens when we starve the good guys or overfeed the bad guys is that the bad guys out-number the good guys and we literally feel it in our guts: foods are not being digested or we have serious digestive issues.  This is why we have problems like irritable bowel, constipation/ diarrhea, gas/ bloating, etc.- all the fun stuff! This can also happen when we take antibiotics: we kill whatever bug is making us sick but we also kill the bugs in our bowels which we need.  Because so many people have digestive issues, probiotics/ prebiotics are getting a lot of attention: it’s an ‘easy fix’ for most digestive problems, or at least it looks like one! The biggest issues with probiotics are: 1) the bugs in your pill are dead; 2) the bugs are alive but don’t make it to the bowel; 3) they’re the ‘wrong’ bugs; or 4) you don’t need them!

I know most people don’t like talking poop, but it’s a fact of life.  As a life-long pet-parent, I’m always checking on my pets: is everything going in okay and is it all coming out okay? Like pets, people’s digestion is usually the first indicator that something is wrong, and as they say, if it ain’t broke, don’t ‘fix’ it! If you are not having digestive issues, ie you are eating healthy foods and everything is going down, staying down and coming out without any problems on a fairly regular (and frequent) basis (pun intended!), then don’t try fixing anything.  You don’t need it.  But if you are eating healthy and having issues, then probiotics and prebiotics may be options for you, but you need to eat living bugs and they need to make it to your bowels where they can take up residence.  Most of the time, the bugs that come in those little capsules are dead by the time you pick the box off the shelf or, if they are alive, the ‘protective’ capsule dissolves in the stomach and so do the bugs, so they don’t help you.  The other issue has to do with the type of bugs that are in the capsules: different bugs eat different things, so if you are having an issue with fiber for example, the bugs that you buy at the corner happy & healthy pharmacy may not be the ones that you need.  The best advice I’ve heard is to get a probiotic with as many different organisms as possible and look for something ‘enteric coated’ so it will survive your stomach acid.  Also important- once you get the good guys re-established in your bowels, you need to feed the little guys! Give them plenty of healthy whole foods to keep them thriving! Eat healthy whole foods with as little processing as possible and eat a variety of them.  When nutritionists say ‘eat the rainbow of fruits and veggies,’ they are not wrong- all the different whole foods feed all the different good bugs in your bowels.  The bad bugs have a tendency to like the junk food and so do we. This is why we as a nation have so many digestive trouble: our highly processed diet is feeding the wrong bacteria in our guts so they are overpowering & crowding out the good guys who keep everything running smoothly. Bottom line: if the good bugs are not thriving and happy, neither are you!

The most important thing to remember about supplements is that they are supplements, which means they are ‘in addition to’ what you are already eating/ drinking.  Gulping them down by the handful is not going to solve the underlying diet issues. Eat better, move more, get plenty of quality sleep and manage your stress: then ask yourself how you are feeling.  If you are still having issues, then start looking at some health professionals or some supplements- then you can start ‘adding on.’ Until then, don’t buy trouble because “everyone” says so!