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Podcasts Worth a Listen

Several of my colleagues have been putting together podcasts to help consumers understand topics revolving around diet, food, and lifestyles. Podcasts are a great media choice to deliver information in a light, personal, and informal way.

As podcasts become more and more popular, I’m finally finding ways to fit them into my week. They are a great way to get information when you don’t have time to read about a topic, or you like to occasionally multi-task. You can listen while sitting in traffic during your morning commute, listen in while cooking dinner or folding laundry, or when sitting in a waiting room.

Since I recently did a “Best Kept Diet Secret” interview with Melissa Joy Dobbins, I thought this was a great time to share a short list of diet/food/nutrition podcast suggestions for you to get hooked on.

Listen in to gain some tips to improve your diet and lifestyle –

  • Sound Bites, Inc. with Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, CDE (love her motto: “Food shouldn’t make you feel bad!”)

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  • Susan Mitchell, PhD, RDN, LDN, FAND, is the host Breaking Down Nutrition, and she also provides medical professionals with Breaking Down Nutrition: Your Digest for What Works, What Doesn’t for medical professionals via their association.

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  • Donna P. Feldman MS RDN does a podcast with her co-host Kathy Isacks RD CDE called Walk Talk Nutrition.

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Which podcasts do you enjoy tuning in to?

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Healthy Weight Control = Eat, Be Happy with Small Changes

I don’t really like to present things in a negative light, but sometimes there are habits or perspectives that you should shift. Life can be complicated, and it’s easy to make a lot for why “now’s not a good time” to lose weight, or exercise more, or change behaviors. Any month of the year is a good month to begin making healthy choices in your life. Small changes will result in improved health. Losing even small amounts of weight can bring blood pressure down, lower blood cholesterol, and reduce the burden on your heart and your joints. Not to mention lowering your risk for diabetes.

So as summer continues to unfold, keep these Do’s and Don’ts in mind.

DON’TS

  • freedigitalphotos.net

    freedigitalphotos.net

    Don’t set unrealistic goals. If you haven’t exercised in fifteen years, don’t say “Okay, next week I’m going to walk 10 miles and lift weights for 30 minutes every day, and go to a boot camp class” Your body won’t handle it, nor like it. The negative body messages (excessive soreness, heavy breathing) will get you down. Slowly ease back into exercise you enjoy.

  • Don’t quit eating. If you go on a crash diet, you will lower your metabolic rate. This will cause you to burn fewer calories. Your goal is to burn more calories.
  • Don’t say: “I’m going on a diet” Realize that you can both enjoy your favorite foods, but also try some new ones. You simply have to change some habits related to your eating.
  • Don’t give yourself a time limit. Saying “I will lose 30 pounds by Christmas” will only make you anxious and pressured to lead a miserable life for the next 4 months.
  • Don’t underestimate exercise. Yes you have to eat less, but exercise counts to. Both an aerobic workout (one that increases your heart rate) and weight bearing exercise is important to long term weight loss and management.
  • Don’t underestimate the need for support. Having a good friend to meet you for your walks is priceless. This can keep you both committed.
  • Don’t sabotage yourself or put yourself down. While it may take a while once you start changing your dietary habits and exercising, doing nothing gets you nowhere. Set reasonable goals and don’t get upset. Slow progress is still progress.

DO’S

  • Do set realistic goals. Work on small goals, 2-3 at a time. Say “I will eat 2 pieces of fruit every day” and “I will take a 20 minute walk, and stretch afterward, 3-4 days a week.” Gradually working on goals leads to success and confidence. Keep a list, and check things off.
  • Do eat! You have to eat to lose weight. Digestion burns calories, so shoot for 3 small meals with 2-3 healthy snacks in between. Choose well, and eat often.
  • Do start enjoying your food. Take your time when you eat, enjoy every bite. Splurge on small portions of your favorites without guilt.
  • Do be patient. Weight loss takes time. If you begin making better choices in your diet, and exercise regularly, you will absolutely see results. Life happens in between. Your daughter may get married, you may go on vacation, and a holiday may come up. These are times to enjoy, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be in control. Enjoy special times then resume your best habits the next day.

    courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

    courtesy freedigitalphotos.net

  • Do start exercising more. If you haven’t exercised in a while, start with walking. Set short-term goals. Begin with a walk around the block or just a 20-minute walk at a comfortable pace. Then add five minutes a week to your routine. Over time, increase your speed. After a month, add 15 minutes of hand weights 3-4 times a week. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so start building muscle.
  • Do consider a personal trainer or nutrition coach to help you reach your goals. A little support can go a long way.
  • Do stay positive. Think about what you are doing, not just the long-term results. Focus on the healthy dietary changes you are making and the exercise you have added to your lifestyle.

 

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Food Fears: Admitting Uncertainty is Hard

I’ve been writing about fad diets for years. Being “fad-free” has built the framework of my brand. While I’m the first to say that nutrition science has provided as many questions as answers, I’m more certain that promising “cures” or “quick weight loss” is a red flag that should cue you: Buyer beware.

glutenLiebook_coverAlan Levinovitz sent me a copy of his newest book, The Gluten Lie, for review. It’s a fascinating read about how diet fads come to fruition through the eyes of a Philosophy and Religion Scholar. The author provides a review of popular fad diets, debunking popular books such as Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, and takes some jabs at ex-Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy and Joseph Mercola for all of their fad-diet advice (the popularity of which sadly gave McCarthy a diet-guru platform. She’s now launched into an anti-vaccine crusade).

As Levinovitz highlights anecdotal diet therapies over the past century, he presents the idea that nutrition misinformation still looks like science, not religion, and this especially makes diet myths like those presented by Mercola easier to swallow. He notes how the language we use surrounding food choices bristle with moral and religious vocabulary. Words such as “good”, “bad” or “natural” attach morals to food. Current terms that make me cringe include “clean”, “whole” or “real” food – suggesting any other “type” of food is “bad” or “unhealthy”. The term “processed” is being used to elicit negative emotions, as you argue about whether an orange squeezed into juice at home is “better” than oranges squeezed into juice by “industry” (a.k.a. Big Food). You like to make things easy by simply making blanket statements that “Processed food is evil” and create your own definitions for such.

Alan reviews many aspects of fad diets, and how they come to be. In addition to examining the current gluten-free-craze, he examines fat, sugar, salt, and the idea of “detox”. He discusses the idea that the “fat free” craze of the 90s was misguided, which I agree, it was. (But I’m still on the fence about the role saturated fat plays in not just heart health, but brain health and cancer risk as well. For now, I’ll stick with recommending a moderate intake.)

Opinions Misinterpreted as Facts

The book introduces readers to the idea that many times, expert “opinions” are misinterpreted as facts. Topics often launch from a simple letter to the editor of a medical journal that create a country-wide falsehood that “x caused y”.

Levinovitz presents how this was the case with “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” and MSG, and I can attest it was also the more recent case with high fructose corn syrup. I remember writing a paper about the MSG controversy while in college in the early 1980s. Symptoms of headache and general malaise, were blamed on the MSG ingredient in foods. I’d almost forgotten about “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” until Levinovitz brings it up in the book. “No MSG” was once a banner proclamation, as we see today on food labels for “No high fructose corn syrup”. The “High Fructose Corn Syrup” scare was born after a letter to the editor was published about how obesity rates rose as high fructose corn syrup came onto the market. No proven cause, nor research, just observation of possible correlation written as a letter, but the letter took hold in the medical community and eventually made a huge impact on how the consumer perceived HFCS (disclosure: since I’m often called out as being a “paid shill”, I’ll disclose here. Having never bought into this HFCS scare, and because my practice is built on the idea of balance and moderation, I have worked with the Corn Refiner’s Association).

Can One Ingredient be the Cause of All Health Problems?

Levinovitz makes a strong argument that many registered dietitians share – it’s very difficult to blame one nutrient or ingredient on a host of ailments. Obesity in particular, is a very complex physiological and psychological issue, so the notion that if we simply took gluten or sugar out of the diet, it would stamp out obesity for all, is wishful thinking.

As humans, we like the path of least resistance, just as most mammals do. We want some things to be easy, since life is often so challenging. Yet we want to eat what we want. So rather than consider the effort in preparing a home cooked meal with fresh vegetables and homemade whipped potatoes, you decide to just eliminate the whole bread group and pasta from your diet, and avoid anything “packaged” (or some other food rule), and continue to eat everything else in sight – Then proclaim how much better you feel (as to not admit you may have been wrong, or that you really can’t sustain such food rules for more than 5 months).

The placebo-effect is real. We all experience it at one time or another. Sometimes it may even be a healthy defense mechanism, but other times – we’re just fooling ourselves.

In addition to writing and nutrition coaching, part of my work also includes serving as a nutrition communication consultant to the food industry. I spend much of my time dispelling myths that, as The Gluten Lie author points out, are the result of emotional outrage and anger from the unwavering faith people place in their own dietary diagnoses. I’ve learned that there is only so much fact you can put out there, because as Levinovitz points out:

“For true believers, the myth will always be more sacred than the evidence”

There is a strong notion that many physical problems may be brought on psychologically, and this is something that makes people feel vulnerable.

“When it comes to food sensitivities, people are incredibly unwilling to question self-diagnoses”

Doctors and dietitians certainly aren’t immune to the power of suggestion, as is witnessed by the plethora of books on the shelves promising miracle dietary cures authored by health professionals. Of course there are just as many, if not more, written by non-medical professionals too. However, while Levinovitz understands that some people do have food intolerances, and that gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease do indeed exist, he echoes the notion of many medical experts who agree that it’s not a healthier diet for those who do not need it. He writes:

“If we are serious about the quest for good health, physical and mental, we cannot be slaves to fear and to our desire for easy answers.”

That’s diet and nutrition misinformation in a nutshell. I guess I’ll just keep on writing about moderation, and how the science of food and nutrition fits into that, and not worry about who may believe me, or not.

 

 

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Easy Picnic Potatoes

Wine and cheese anyone?It’s picnic season, and if you’re like me, you’re always looking for something new to bring to your next pot-luck. If you’re getting tired of cole slaw, potato or pasta salad, then try these easy potatoes. They’ll be a sure-fire hit at your next outdoor gathering.

Grilled Potato Bites

All you need is enough potatoes for your crowd. You can use either a white baking potato or a sweet potato – or both! Count one medium-large potato as two servings, and plan accordingly for the number of people you need to serve. The steps below are based on using 4 potatoes, or 8 servings. Sweetskins2

Tip: You can also use these as appetizers. If so, cut each half in half after grilled, then place on a pretty platter, with topping added.

Step 1: Wash potatoes. Arrange potatoes on a baking sheet and put into a pre-heated 400 degree F oven. Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Step 2: Allow potatoes to cool, then cut each in half. Scoop out about half of the potato flesh of each potato. (If using sweets and white potatoes, scoop separately and remove pulp to two separate bowls.)

Step 3: Prepare filling. Add 2 spoonfuls of Plain Greek Yogurt to the potato pulp, and gently combine. Add freshly ground black pepper – about 8 turns, or to taste. Add 1/8 teaspoon salt (optional). Add 1/4 cup of your favorite shredded or grated cheese (pepper jack, bleu, or cheddar work). Mix together well.

Step 4: Refill potato skins. Fill each potato skin with a spoonful of the filling, distributing filling evenly between the potatoes. Sprinkle with paprika. (NOTE: you can complete steps 1-4 the day before the picnic. Place filled potatoes onto baking sheet or platter, cover potato halves with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Go on to Step 5 on the day of party). 

Step 5: Prepare potatoes for grill. Preheat grill to medium heat. Place potato skins directly onto hot grill, and cook until skins are slightly crunchy on the bottom, and potato is heated through.

Step 6: Add healthy toppings. Serve the potato skins with a variety of toppings – or if you’re bringing these to a picnic to grab and eat, top them before you go.

Topping options: Black beans, freshly chopped chives, sour cream or plain Greek yogurt, chopped plum tomatoes, shredded cheese.

Tip: You can even make these into a meal! Offer a “loaded potato bar” and include heartier toppings such as seasoned ground lean beef, BBQ pulled chicken or pork, thinly sliced pork tenderloin, or grilled shrimp

Tip: For more pizazz, you can marble the white and sweet potato pulp together in Step 3. Bake 2 sweet potatoes and 2 white potatoes. Scoop out pulp into separate bowls and mix each filling separately. Then add the sweet potato mixture to the white potato mixture, gently cutting it through for a marbleized (not completely mixed) effect. Add this filling to each of the white and sweet potato shells.

 

 

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Dear TV Doctors: Please Stop Making Up Diets

courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

image courtesy of vectorolie & freedigitalphotos.net

There is a wide body of dietary research that gets reviewed when coming up with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years. The guidelines are based on actual scientific research, and the committee charged with the development of updated recommendations go through serious review of the literature and have thorough discussions steeped in science.

But who pays any attention to this? Not too many people I guess, including some medical doctors who enjoy coming up with the next gimmicky diet plan. Enter: Pegan. I was hoping it was a quick fad news story that would go away, but it hasn’t.

On the surface it’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. Just the fact that it’s a combination of the Paleo diet craze and a Vegan diet – creates absurdity, since the paleo diet is all about living like a caveman and eating a lot of meat (while a Vegan diet eliminates all animal products – food and otherwise). The premise is to eat as those in the Paleolithic era did (2.5 million years ago), as hunter-gatherers.

The Paleo diet focuses on animal protein. It also emphasizes eating a variety of vegetables (this is always a good thing, and of course a Vegan diet shares this aspect of Paleo). Paleo is all about food products such as “clarified grass fed butter”, coconut products, and some healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts and seeds. A Paleo diet shuns wheat, favoring almond meal and coconut flour. Other than your clarified butter, you have to say goodbye to dairy foods too if you want to “go Paleo”. It’s essentially a gluten-free diet, that eliminates grains, including corn, oats, rice, rye, wheat and quinoa. The craziest thing about the Paleo diet is that eliminates beans, peanuts, and legumes – all nutrition powerhouses!

So how in the world can a Paleo diet mesh with a Vegan diet which is heavy in beans, legumes, soy, grains and vegetables? Who thinks up this stuff?

The pegan diet focuses primarily on fruits and vegetables — specifically, filling 75 percent of your diet with plants, and rounding out the other 25 percent with animal protein and high-quality fats”

myplateWhat? The principles of the so-called Pegan Diet are essentially the same as both the USDA’s My Plate and the well-researched, and evidence-based DASH Diet, with one exception – Pegan eliminates dairy and legumes. If you are dairy-intolerant, fine, limit dairy. But do we need another fad diet term? (It doesn’t help that celebrity doctors such as Dr. Mark Hyman support these crazy diet ideas, usually for their own gain.)

Why do we need “high profile physicians” making up new diet names when we have a perfectly healthy, and evidence-based diet already on the books? I guess new words such as “Pegan” make better talk-show soundbites than “scientific research shows DASH Diet is beneficial in lowering blood pressure, managing diabetes, and weight control”.

Makes me wonder how invested they really are in your health.

So before you announce to all of your friends this summer,

“I am going on the Pegan Diet!”

…let me let you in on a secret: It’s actually MyPlate, without the dairy, that you are going to be following, so it’s not really that cool. veganMyPlate

I guess I’m not that cool either, and we’ll both have to come to terms with that (JK – Science is totally cool).

For more information about the DASH Diet, see the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and of course, our books. 

 

PS – the term ‘grass-fed’ is a misnomer. Farmers will explain that a more accurate term is ‘grass-finished’ as all cows eat grass. Learn more by reading my grass-finished beef farm tour blog. 

 

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Why Portions Matter Most – Sodium, Fat, Calories

When I help people understand the principles of the DASH Diet, I emphasize eating more vegetables, fruit and lowfat dairy. But I also must mention that saturated fat, sodium and calories are important too. Sometimes folks will ask about reading food labels, and how to choose a food based on its label. This is always tricky, especially if you don’t have a food label in hand, or are asking about a specific food or food group.

Since the Nutrition Facts label can be a little overwhelming, I generally tell people to just look at 4 line items when considering heart health:

  • Serving Size
  • Calories
  • Saturated Fat
  • Sodium

Serving Size Math

It is important to glance at the serving size on the label. This serving size is the amount of that food or beverage in which all of the following information (calories, grams and milligrams of everything) is based. If you eat double the serving size, then double up all of the other information as well (see the bread labels below – one bread labels 2 slices as one serving; the other labels 1 slice as one serving).

Calories

We can argue as long as the day is long about what a calorie is, or if a “calorie is a calorie”, but as you age, you do need to be paying attention to calories. Yes, it is difficult to eat 300 calories of broccoli, and quite easy to eat a 300 calorie banana muffin, so while calories differ in terms of the foods they are delivered by, the total calories still matter. In general, you don’t need to “count” calories in the whole fruits or vegetables you eat. Eat more of them – as much as you want. But other food groups – especially the meat group and the bread and grain group – you do need to be more aware of daily portion sizes.

Saturated Fat

The Nutrition Facts label will have several lines on it about fat: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat. A recently published meta-analysis determined that saturated fat may not have the strong correlation to heart disease risk as previously believed. This is still under fierce debate and it’s still prudent to limit your saturated fat intake which will primarily keep LDL (low density lipoproteins, or ‘bad’ cholesterol) levels low, as well as including a variety of fats in your diet. Portions and balance are also important.

Sodium

Finally, sodium is found in a multitude of foods. The DASH recommendation for sodium is 1500-2300 milligrams daily. It’s quite a challenge to keep your sodium intake this low, and rather than “count” milligrams of sodium everyday, I encourage you to gradually reduce your intake by becoming aware of the sodium in packaged foods that you use. Read the labels – again, checking the serving size first, and then the sodium content. Surprisingly bread products contribute a large amount of sodium to the diet. I am a fan of carbohydrates, so I won’t bash bread, but you do need to be aware of the fact that the more servings you eat daily, the higher your sodium intake may be. Compare different brands of your favorite breads, and try to choose lower sodium ones more often. See the food labels below. One is a standard Italian sandwich bread, the other a standard wheat sandwich bread. You will note that at a glance you may only look at the sodium content, and think “oh, this bread is higher in sodium” But upon further analysis, you’ll see that one brand shows one serving to be two slices, while the other shows one serving to be only one slice.

This loaf shows 1 serving = 2 slices. Therefore each slice contains 115 mg sodium, and 65 calories.

This loaf shows 1 serving = 2 slices. Therefore each slice contains 115 mg sodium, and 65 calories.

This bread shows 1 serving = 1 slice, therefore each slice contributes 80 calories and 170 mg sodium. More calories and more sodium.

This bread shows 1 serving = 1 slice, therefore each slice contributes 80 calories and 170 mg sodium. More calories and more sodium.

A note on sugars

If you have diabetes, you may also be interested in looking at the carbohydrates, or the sugars line, but in general, I feel this isn’t the best way to gauge diet quality when reading labels. Whether you have diabetes or are overweight and at risk – calories (and thereby portions) are most important. People with diabetes should consumer a ‘low sugar’ diet, but do not have to avoid all foods with a “grams of sugar” in them. So by checking the portion sizes on a package, you’ll be controlling calories (and sugar).

My recommendation in terms of limiting sweets is not to over-analyze every 4 grams of sugar on a food label, but to limit your portions of obviously sweet foods and beverage. You know what a “sweet” is right? Foods such as candy, cake, pie, cookies, muffins, sweet rolls, soda, fruit juices and drinks – are all sweet foods. They all contain a good bit of sugar. So rather than get hung up on how much sugar is in catsup or salad dressing, or your favorite cracked wheat bread – just limit the obvious sweets (both portion and frequency). For example, a 12-ounce serving of soda provides 38 grams of sugar, so this puts the 1-2 grams of sugar in a slice of bread or the 1-4 grams of sugar in a tablespoon of salad dressing, in perspective. Of course a 12-ounce diet soda has 0 grams of sugar.

Variety and Portions

Choosing a variety of foods to eat each week, and eating smaller portions of higher calorie foods (huge sandwich buns, huge bakery muffins, chips, candy, baked goods, large orders of fried food, etc) is the easiest way to ensure a balanced diet that provides the calories and nutrients your body needs. Rather than getting hung up on questions such as “butter or margarine?”, just use small amounts, of a variety of fats (olive oil, or other vegetable oil, butter, spread margarine). Instead of worrying about whether bananas cause belly fat (they don’t by the way!), choose a variety of fruit. Mix it up – have a banana with breakfast one day, sliced melon another, and add blueberries to your oatmeal on another day. Limit portions of packaged foods, and add more fruits and veggies into your diet in any portion, and you will be on the road to a healthier you! No guilt, no deprivation.

 

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If You Could Only Choose 5 Foods, What Would They Be?

If you were to be deserted and had access to only 4-5 foods or beverages, what would your choices be?

Me? Cheese, nuts, bread, and berries. And of course, water!!

  • I love cheese, and a hard cheese would keep a while (but maybe not on an island:)). Cheese contributes both protein and calcium, and requires no cooking!
  • Nuts are high in protein, and fiber. They are an excellent high-energy snack – a little goes a long way.
  • I love good, crusty bread. So if I could have a variety of whole grain breads, and a good crusty French Baguette available, I’d be set.
  • Berries are loaded with vitamin C, potassium, and other phytochemicals (healthy substances found in deep-colored fruits and veggies). They also require no peeling, coring, or seeding, and have little to no waste.
  • Finally, you can’t live without water. I guess it might be nice to have rum and juice on an island too but nothing beats water as a thirst-quencher. It’s best to include at least 4 glasses of plain water every day in addition to the other calorie-free liquids you may consume (plain coffee, tea, diet soda, flavored waters).

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Share your 5 foods or beverages choices if you were deserted in the Comment section!

 

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Understanding Diabetes and Diet: Start now

Diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes has exploded over the past few years. The growing diagnosis in children is particularly of concern. Despite the multitude of sound resources available online, newly diagnosed people with diabetes, or parents of children diagnosed with the problem, are still confused, and asking themselves “what can I eat?!”. This confusion is possibly caused by a number of things – perhaps physicians aren’t referring newly diagnosed patients to meet with a dietitian or diabetes educator, or perhaps folks are simply confused by the plethora of nutrition misinformation that they read about or are confused by diet advice they may get at the local gym.

Fad diets have no place in a healthy diabetes lifestyle. I’d like to clear up some of this confusion, by busting some common myths about eating for diabetes (no matter your age):

  • Eating well with diabetes simply means consuming a healthy, balanced diet, void of junk food. Occasional treats can easily be worked into the diet, but overall, you want to make the healthiest choices possible each day.
  • You don’t have to choose “special” food, nor “diabetic” food. You also don’t always need to choose “sugar-free” (a diet soda, or other sugar-free AND calorie-free food or beverage, is fine, but a sugar-free cookie or pie is unnecessary -portions are what matter most)
  • It’s important to balance out your meals – that is, eat about the same amount of food/calories, at about the same time daily. Using a traditional “three meals a day” plan is a great idea
  • For Type 2 diabetes, even a small amount of weight loss usually has a big impact on blood sugar control. Exercise is important too
  • Since every person is different, each person requires different meal planning strategies for success. Meet with a Certified Diabetes Educator (look for CDE after a dietitian or nurse’s name)

There is a lot to learn with a new diagnosis of diabetes, and it’s important to take the diagnosis very seriously. You don’t have to make changes overnight, it’s a process to adopt a healthier lifestyle; but, look at the diagnosis as a motivator to eat the best diet possible, and live the healthiest lifestyle that you can!

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes, be sure to take charge right away. Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietitian, and read up on the numerous resources available online. Beware of terms such as “quick fix” or “cure”.

The goal in managing diabetes, is eating well, getting regular exercise, so that you can keep your blood sugars within normal range throughout the day and week.

There is no cure for diabetes, but eating a sensible diet will control the disease and keep you healthy.

Here are several excellent resources to use if you have diabetes:

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The Crossroads of Food and the Environment

When I decided to become a dietitian, I was interested in the link between what I ate, and my personal health. Having suffered some gastrointestinal disease in adolescence and early adulthood, it was clear to me that my body was connected to the type of food I ate. I decided to major in food and nutrition.

My studies focused on biochemistry, human physiology, food (culinary, food production and food science classes), nutrient databases, and human nutrient requirements across the lifespan (i.e., infant nutrition through geriatric nutrition), both in both wellness and disease.

Flash forward 30 years and it seems that nutrition is now becoming an environmental science. I read Diet for a Small Planet in 1983, and I respect the Earth, the best that I can, but I didn’t go into this field to become an advocate for the planet, I went into the profession to help people understand how their bodies work, help them learn how their diets relate to their bodies and health, and to help them find ways to improve both. A nutrition counseling session should be about what we know, and what we don’t know, and should offer realistic advice about how best you can make changes that work for you. 

Where’s Peggy Post When You Need Her?

If someone invites you to a party, or a wedding, do you feel that they are obligated to plan their event around your food intolerances or practices? In my opinion, this is just bad manners. If you have a particular food intolerance, or way of eating, then it’s your responsibility to feed yourself before attending large social events where it’s unlikely your needs will, or can, be catered to.

A friend recently told me that she received a wedding invitation in which the meal choices were “Meat”, “Vegetarian” or “Gluten-Free”. This sort of sums up our times doesn’t it?

It’s Complicated

Eating behaviors can be complicated, and what people choose to eat often is impacted by cultural or religious influences, as well as their food budgets and their geographic locations. I believe in moderation, and allowing folks to choose what they eat for personal enjoyment, as well as health.

Articles such as this one lead me to believe that environmental studies are being superimposed onto the science of nutrition (and the business of agriculture) with potentially detrimental side effects to both the science of medicine, and American lifestyles. The aforementioned article makes statements such as “For example, it has been shown that 12% colorectal cancers would be preventable by avoiding the consumption of processed meat alone. ” Shown by whom? This statement strongly suggest “cause” by stating that a cancer is “preventable” by eating or avoiding certain foods. There is no proof in the literature of a causal relationship in humans. There is also no guarantee whatsoever that if you avoid meat, you’ll avoid cancer. Shame on them.

The United States has one of the safest and most abundant food supplies on the planet. Could you reduce your risk of cancer or heart disease? Possibly. Will adding more vegetables to your diet help? Probably (antioxidants). Yet many factors are involved in what people choose to eat, or have access to.

Most dietitians work with individuals and attempt to encourage them to improve their diet and exercise more. The reason moderation can work, is it includes small portions of a wide variety of foods. Human nutrition research can only prove so much, since it’s unethical to either deprive a group of people of healthy food, or overdose them on unhealthy food. I am all for conservation and respecting the earth’s resources, but eating is a personal choice. Individuals who have the means or interest to pursue their own specialized way of eating can do so, but I think that in terms of overall public health, it’s best that we advocate for basic nutrition education (traditional food groups which supply essential nutrients) within communities (in schools and via federal nutrition programs). These programs should be led by registered dietitians or qualified school food service personnel, and should utilize supermarket dietitians (since the grocery store is where people get their food).

Nutrition is Not a Science of “Eat What I Eat”

It is not my place to tell people what to eat, nor to judge their choices. It’s also not my place to expect my host or hostess to cater to my personal eating behaviors or likes and dislikes. Within social media, I often see Vegans being harshly judgmental toward meat-eaters or cheese-lovers (Some, not all. Many vegan dietitians are well aware that all of their clients may not choose to be vegan). Would some people benefit from eating smaller portions of meat? Yes. Would the planet benefit? Possibly. But on the other hand, replacing beef or pork farms with vegetables is easier said than done. The land where cattle graze is not always fit for growing plants.

Personal world views and environmental politics need to be set aside when considering the welfare of impoverished communities, the obese population, or the malnourished. While some may feel a plate of organic vegetables, legumes, and grains may be ideal, another person may feel the plate should be “wheat-free”, and yet another “Paleo-follower” may want to serve up a large portion of grass-finished beef.

The most hungry or malnourished children in our country would be healthier with a simple bowl of cereal and milk every morning, and a plate with 3 ounces of roast chicken or beef, a potato and vegetables for dinner. Or whatever other reasonably nutritious food they could find.

Food elitism isn’t the path to improved public health.

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Is It Chipotle’s Role to Educate You on GMOs?

chickenSo Chipotle’s been in the news again. This time, they have taken a stance on GMO, ensuring that none of their foods contain any GMO ingredients. Do you care? I sense that their recent GMO news doesn’t endear them to many folks in Ag, and it definitely was hit with negative feedback from science and nutrition experts.

I personally boycotted the restaurant once they came up with their propaganda piece that degraded American farmers (if you haven’t viewed the comedic satire piece on it, do so here – “pure manipulation”). Their previous campaign tried to suggest that “factory farms” (a misnomer in itself) are cruel, and that Chipotle only purchases meats that have been “raised with care”. I’ve visited a few cattle farms (Dairy, Beef) and have yet to see any animal raised without utmost care.

Integrity: The Word of the Year

Is it a fast food chain’s role to decide whether your “food has integrity” or not? Gee, my immigrant grandmother would be offended if she was told the soybean-olive oil blend she used daily in cooking didn’t have “integrity” (no wait, she wouldn’t care really, she’d just give you the brushed hand).

So now in addition to defining terms such as “sustainability” and “natural” and “healthy”, you now have to know what food with “integrity” is. While Chipotle has a brilliant marketing team, their idea of food rules doesn’t sit well with me. Even though the biotechnology world almost unanimously declare GMOs as safe, Chipotle knows that the consumer has been persuaded to question GMOs, despite the scientific evidence supporting their use, safety, as well as limitations. So for the restaurant, this campaign may result in increased sales, or customer loyalty, however I don’t feel the word “integrity” belongs in the same context here since they are increasing sales by deceiving the public.

GMO Education

Worse than exploiting the term “integrity” is the food chain’s self-proclaimed role as a genetic and biotech educator. Chipotle claims there is “inconclusive” evidence on the safety of GMOs, while scientists around the world actually have evidence that they are safe, and the use of any new breakthroughs is closely regulated. The Chipotle website’s infographic is somewhat misleading, and skips some important facts.

For instance, did you know that corn oil or high fructose corn syrup have no GMO in them? While some may be manufactured with GMO corn, the processing eliminates any trace of GMO DNA (DNA is only present in the protein, there is no DNA in sugars or cooking oils because they don’t contain any protein after processing).

There are a lot of other great resources for GMO news, the Genetic Literacy Project for one. I don’t think there is any way possible for humans to live on the earth without affecting some change to the environment. I do believe that we can take steps for balanced, conservative use of our resources (food, farming, power, energy), when possible. The current drought crisis in California should be a good example of how biotechnology and the development of GMO crops that are drought resistant, may be quite beneficial to the world. The earth is evolving, and maybe we should evolve with it, using technology responsibly, as opposed to baracading its advancement.

What We Do Know

We do know that an average Chipotle Burrito contains 800-1200 calories and a load of sodium. We do know that excess calories will cause weight gain over time, and that an excessive sodium intake is not a good choice for older folks, those with kidney or heart disease. So on that front, this food chain may not be the best choice (or, enjoy it if you like by splitting the meal with a friend).

As always, I’ll conclude that moderation and balance are more important than demonizing one food or ingredient. Just when I think the madness will stop, it chugs on. Sort out the facts, and look to well-reasoned scientists to help you learn about the science behind biotech and GMOs. There’s lots to learn, but don’t get your GMO education from a restaurant chain.

 

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