Thursday, September 30, 2010

is a calorie just a calorie?

A number of folks have asked me about the guy who lost weight eating the junk food diet.  Is it true?!?  Can you really eat junk food and still lose weight?

Here's my understanding of what happened.  Mark Haub, a Nutrition Professor, wanted to prove a point about how we make choices in food.  He went on a month-long diet to lose weight by eating junk food.  Taking a multi-vitamin, a protein shake, one serving of vegetables a day, and restricting his calories, he did lose weight.

But, and this is a very important, he did it to prove a point.  He wanted people to think about the choices they make.  He also wanted to highlight food costs and how that sometimes drives choices.  Yes, you can lose weight eating garbage; however it is a very unhealthy, unsustainable way to do it.  People got so excited about the headline that they failed to read the article(s).  Within 36 hours of starting his diet Mr. Haub began to not feel well.  Now that this 30 day phase is done he plans to continue his experiment by gaining weight through eating healthy foods.

While eating excessive calories, even healthy ones, can cause you to gain weight, eating junk food is not a good idea as a weight loss plan.  This way of eating is nutritionally deficient (even with protein shakes and vitamins); if we deprive our bodies for an extended period of time we will eventually begin to have accumulated health problems.  Is a calorie just a calorie?  I truly do not believe that is true.  Perhaps on a superficial level it is true but on a deeper level we need to remember that our bodies require whole foods and balanced nutrition to be healthy.

What's more important, at least to me, and I'm sure other nutrition professionals, is the response the publicity about this experiment created.  So many people were very excited.  They wanted to eat the junk food.  They failed to read that he ate 600-800 less calories per day than his body needed.  They also failed to read that he did this as an experiment to see how people would respond.  People went straight to the idea of junk food as a way to get what they wanted.

When I work with people to help them lose weight we almost always begin by avoiding the body weight scale.  We work instead on changing what they are eating.  On learning how to make healthy substitutions and how to recognize what, how, when and why they are eating.  As they begin to eat foods that provide more nutrition to their bodies people frequently find they begin to feel better.  Many folks find they may even be losing some weight without even trying.  This could be a factor of breaking the addictive cravings for sugar and fat.  It is frequently also learning to recognize the signals your body sends.

This experiment certainly provided a good conversational base and is definitely "food for thought."

photo:  Larry D. Moore | Wikimedia Commons

Friday, September 17, 2010

the egg saga continues

If you have access to the internet it's pretty much a given at this point that you know about the enormous egg recall.  You may even have heard that the salmonella contamination actually went back as far as 2008.

Obviously this issue raised a lot of questions about sanitary practices, animal health management, and even about FDA/USDA oversight or lack thereof.  I'm sure a lot more people are either not eating eggs or considering raising their own chickens.  And I talked with a number of people who wondered how price the cost of eggs was going to go once the full recall was in effect.  Especially if you are buying free range, organic eggs you are already paying a premium.  One person even jokingly asked me if I thought there would be a bailout of the egg producer since, "We've already bailed out everyone else who made huge mistakes and [hurt] the consumer in search of profits."

I confess I wondered what was going to happen with all those recalled eggs.  Hundreds of millions of eggs were recalled.  That's a lot of money.  Well, it turns out those eggs are not going to be destroyed or flushed down the drain or disposed of.  Stephen Jannise of Distribution Software Advice has written an article that explains how all those eggs are going to remain in the food chain.  They're going to be sent to "breakage plants" where they will be pasteurized to "clean up" the pathogenic bacteria and then it will be turned into egg product such as egg beaters or the "scrambled" eggs that appear in many buffet breakfasts.  Stephen does an excellent job explaining the recall (there's also a good graphic showing the egg distribution) and I encourage you to read the article.

The FDA is now considering requiring that all eggs be pasteurized before they are sold.  I'm not a big fan of this.  First of all, when pasteurizing an egg, even though it's not cooked, the proteins begin to bind together.  Secondly, although there are no studies that I can find I know that pasteurization can have a negative effect on dairy.  Furthermore, I agree with the tone of the article linked to above.  The FDA, instead of looking at the enormous supply chain, overcrowding, unsanitary, inhumane conditions, and the lack of oversight wants to over-regulate it and require pasteurization.  I see that as a problem.

More importantly I'm not convinced that there won't be a problem with the pasteurization process, meaning some contamination might still make it through. I wonder how much of this liquid egg product will wind up in the food chain for use in baked goods and other commercial applications.  

At this point I believe the safest thing is to only get fresh eggs from sources you trust, not to eat liquid egg products, and to avoid scrambled eggs from commercial establishments.

photo:  Stephen Depolo

Sunday, September 12, 2010

reorganizing the pantry

Summer is all but over and Fall is just around the corner.  At this time of year I like to start cleaning out my clothes closet for the change in seasons.  I also go through my pantry so that I can re-organize it.

There are two reasons that I do this.  The first is that things just get messy.  With various different people putting things away the organization slowly dwindles down to nil; finding what you're looking for becomes a challenge.  Especially in my pantry where there is a side "wing" making some things harder to see.

The other reason is that I like to make note of my ingredients, see if I need to replenish anything, and make sure that I am using what I have on hand.  Beans and other dry goods are best if used within a year, I find that beyond that they start to get "old" and may not cook well.

I also like to take this time to check my stock of dehydrated ingredients, tomatoes, peppers, other vegetables, and fruit, so that I can take advantage of the summer bounty if I need more.  My herb garden isn't producing in huge quantities yet, but in past years I've also dehydrated herbs to use during the year. This is a great way to  know we are getting organic, pesticide-free foods that we can use during the upcoming year.

If your pantry is looking a little disorganized, consider taking some time (it doesn't usually take very long) to re-arrange the contents so that you can find things easily.  This would also be a perfect time to start pruning your pantry of non-food ingredients such as HFCS, BHT and TBHQ.  Knowing what you have on hand will help you reduce overbuying such as when you buy 3 jars of olives because you can't find the 2 jars that are already there.  It will also help you better plan meals for the upcoming busy Fall season.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

raw milk befits

My friend Cindi asked: "I just found a farm down the street from me with raw milk and raw milk products. what does that mean? Is that better for you?"

The short answer is YES, raw milk is great. The proviso is that you need to be sure that your dairy is following good sanitation procedures and that they are testing for pathogens on a regular basis.

Health benefits:
  • One study from 2006 in England and shows that raw milk consumption substantially reduced allergies and asthma in children
  • When you pasteurize milk the heat process destroys a lot of enzymes and good bacteria in the milk. These are beneficial to our health and the only way we can get them is through raw dairy
  • Homogenizing milk forces the fat globules into small particles and prevents the cream from rising to the top. (Honestly in huge dairy business they skim the vast majority of the cream anyway to sell separately at a high price.) This process heat the milk for a second time and many folks feel it changes the flavor and the nutritional value
  • Because unheated milk has all the enzymes and bacteria (important for lactase to break down the milk sugar), many people who think they are lactose intolerant can actually drink raw milk without a problem

  • Raw milk is noticeably higher in Vitamin C than pasteurized milk. A recent study in 2009 found that all of the DHA (dehydroascorbic acid) and 20% of the ascorbic acid disappeared due to processing
  • When milk is heated there is also a reduction in calcium bioavailability
  • Raw milk contains a lot of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid - an essential fatty acid which can help fight cancer)
  • More than half of the Vitamin D in raw milk is destroyed in processing which is why commercial milk is fortified

I'm going to be honest and tell you that there is a lot of controversy surrounding raw milk.  Lots of pressure comes from commercial dairy operations to force the FDA to shut down raw dairy farmers.  There are folks who are huge fans of raw milk and just as many who are opponents.  I actually find this interesting because there are some large commercial operations (such as Organic Valley) that are now selling raw cheese in the grocery stores.  Raw cheese has to come from raw milk.  So how are the small producers in the wrong?  But I digress...

As I stated above, you need to be sure that you can trust your farmer, that they are running a clean operation.  If you're comfortable with what they offer then raw milk can be a very healthy addition to your diet.

If you want more information check out:

A Campaign for Real (Raw) Milk
Real Raw Milk Facts

photo courtesy of Nicholas Bullosa

Thursday, September 9, 2010

gluten-free in an rv

Increasing numbers of people have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances these days.  There are a lot of theories as to why this is, but the bottom line is that it can make it very difficult for folks to eat outside their home.  Maintaining a healthy pantry is critical for these folks, as is an awareness of what to look for when eating on the road.

Now that summer is over and the kids are back in school, it's time to get back to the regular routine while daydreaming of summer vacations.  My friend Tina recently shared the story of her family and their ability to take a long-awaited cross-country family vacation.  It's wonderful that they were able to achieve this dream, and a definite testament to how much advance preparation they had to do to be able to make this trip a reality.

Traveling gluten-free and dairy-free definitely changes what you do and how you do it.  Our family has dreamed of a cross-country trip for years.  Those dreams were challenged by the fact that my husband is very sensitive to gluten and dairy... even a crumb or drop can leave him with asthma and GI problems for weeks.  We decided that the best way to travel would be to take our kitchen with us and do most of our own cooking. With the help of a friend who lent us their RV we were able to do finally make our dream come true and take this trip.  

Starting from CT, going across the northern states, down California, then returning via the southern states and up the eastern coast it was a wonderful adventure.  We were so happy our dream could become a reality and we had a great time. However we definitely had to consider how we would feed my gluten and dairy-free husband along the way.

Carefully considering our menus we pre-stocked the kitchen with gluten and dairy-free staples we knew we could have a hard time finding on our travels across the country.  Not every area of the country offers a wide range of dietary choices and not every store has things like:

rice/potato pastas
gluten-free pretzels
gluten-free bread crumbs
gluten-free bread
dairy-free buttery spread
gluten-free chicken broths
gluten-free, dairy-free cold cuts
gluten-dairy free brownie mix
gluten-dairy free cake mix (we had some birthdays to celebrate along the way)
corned beef without anything added in (in the midwest a lot of stores only sold corned beef with everything already added in and we couldn't trust it)

Our dinner meals were usually a meat (chicken, steak, pork, burger), sometimes breaded with veggies or a stir-fry with brown rice.

One family favorite is a breakfast that we usually have in the winter before spending the day snowmobiling out in the cold.  It's tasty, filling, and an easy on-the-road breakfast. 

The Berge's Hash and Eggs

Can of corned beef (plain, no potatoes added)
4 potatoes (or as many as you feel is adequate for the # of people you have), diced
3-4 T. olive oil
1 onion, diced
ground pepper, to taste
onion powder (optional)
eggs (1 or 2 per person)

Put the onion in a frying pan with a 1 T. oil until softened. 
Add the potatoes, more oil if needed, and cook until potatoes start getting soft. 
Add the corned beef and brown it all (no need to add salt since the corned beef has it already) 
Season with pepper and more onion powder if needed 

When the hash is browned remove from the pan and set aside
Cook the eggs (we like sunny side up)
Place eggs on top of the hash and serve

It's so delicious and for lunch you can get by with just a piece of fruit and some nuts or other light meal... works great when you're travelling around for the day.

My husband's diet influenced us in other ways as well. We ate "out" at a restaurant only twice during the five weeks we were on the road.  Before being seated we would ask our server lots of questions about whether they could accomodate us; if they said they could, we would try it.  However there was always that feeling of playing "Russian Roulette" with his GI system since you're never really "sure" that the chef and wait person "get it." 

While we were on the road  we would seek out health food stores and would be in heaven if we found a gluten-free bakery or somewhere with treats (we were on vacation after all!). We were surprised to find  that out west people do not know what italian ices are. There's a market to be tapped there, for sure!

We talked a lot about how it would be great if there were some quick, healthy drive-thru type places where gluten and dairy free people could find food. Unfortunately it doesn't exist, even the salads are usually tainted with croutons and/or cheese. It was eye opening how much harder it is to travel when you don't fit into the majority.

Travelling with food allergies can be a great experience if you plan ahead on how to find or make foods that work. Yes, it would be nice to be able to eat out a little more often while on vacation (food is half the fun of vacation!) but we were able to manage. The good news is that the States seem to be getting more aware of food allergies and it is definitely easier to find gluten-free and dairy-free foods than it was 10 years ago.

photo courtesy of:  Bill Ward's Brickpile

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

is chocolate healthy?

I recently received a question from a high school Senior doing a paper for an Anatomy class.  It was a simple question about whether or not chocolate is good for us, but one which made me realize that although we always hear that dark chocolate is good for us we don't really understand why.  So I thought I'd share:

Dark chocolate is high in flavonoids such as epicatechin. These flavonoids act as antioxidants; in other words they help the body fight free radicals which can cause cellular damage.

One study about the benefits of dark chocolate published in Nutrition Reviews in 2006 stated " ...favorable physiological effects includ[ing] antioxidant activity, vasodilation and blood pressure reduction, inhibition of platelet activity, and decreased inflammation."  In other words it's good for lowering blood pressure and decreasing inflammation.  It's also good for lowering LDL, or bad, cholesterol.

Additionally there are some other nutritional benefits.  Dark chocolate offers a respectable amount of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese.  

So what makes it dark?  The absence of milk solids.  Dark chocolate ranges from 35% upward, the higher the number the more cacao there is.  While the darker the chocolate the more it tastes tangy (I'll be honest here, some folks say bitter), the higher amount of cacao it contains, and the better it is for you.  Milk chocolate or white chocolate do not have a beneficial effect on the body and should be avoided.

How much are we talking here?  One ounce per day (about 30 grams) was enough to provide a benefit.  Not a lot, but then I find that the darker chocolate is actually more satisfying, so a small amount is enough.

photo courtesy of Clarita | MorgueFile

Thursday, September 2, 2010

pavlov's chickens

I'm always amused when I see the cartons of eggs in the grocery store proclaiming in bold print "vegetarian fed."  Chickens are not vegetarians.  As a matter of fact they do better if they get to scratch, run around in the sunshine, and eat bugs and worms.  It's part of their natural diet.  And the healthier the chicken, the healthier the egg that it produces.

You can always tell a healthy egg because it's a much better color, it's firmer and holds together better, and, most importantly, it tastes better.  If you don't believe me I encourage you to find a friend who has chickens or pay a visit to your local farmer's market and buy some.

The chickens that you see on the left there are Josephine and Daphne, they belong to my friend Peggy who has joined the growing trend of backyard chicken keepers.  More and more folks are deciding, especially in light of the very scary egg recall that they would like to raise their own chickens.  This way they know what the chickens are eating, how healthy they are, and they'll feel better about eating eggs.  As people join the trend more communities are passing legislation to allow keeping chickens as pets (usually limiting the number, sex - no roosters, and henhouse location).  There's even a website devoted to urban chicken farming.

Peggy shared the following humorous story with me about her chickens, proving that in addition to making you breakfast they can also help reduce waste.

"Embracing a more alternative lifestyle we recycle, garden, compost, and now raise chickens. After being city dwellers most of our lives, raising chickens is new to us, but so far so good. 

For health reasons, we spent many months on a strict diet that did not include grains and our oatmeal had gotten buggy. We thought, 'Chickens love bugs and grain. Why not give it to the chickens?' We tried it out by giving them just a small amount. They gobbled it down as fast as they could. This was also about the time our first hen started laying. As a matter of fact, I had started giving them some of the oatmeal when I collected that one precious egg. 

Now when they see me come out to the hen house, they come running from all points of the yard and patiently follow close by. They chatter at me, as if to say, “You can pour us some Oatmeal now. Right here would be good. We sure like Oatmeal.” One hen even tolerates me petting her, if there is a remote chance she will get some of that tasty treat. 

It's interesting that all the books we have read say that we can expect about 4 eggs per week per hen.   Since they have figured out that they get oatmeal when I collect the eggs, we now get one egg per hen every single day. So we're calling them, Pavlov’s Chickens. As with most pets, we think we are successful in training them, but who is actually being trained, since laying eggs comes naturally for a chicken?  And what are we going to do when we run out of buggy oatmeal?"

If you think you'd like to raise chickens there are a couple of good books to get you started.       

And then, of course, you'll need a couple of good cookbooks to go along with the all the eggs.