You’ve been on a mission. You’re trying to drop a few pounds, and it’s not happening.
Weight loss is hard, at any age, but it gets even more difficult as you age. Your metabolism is the process in which your body turns what you eat into energy. Metabolic rates naturally decline, and women often experience more struggles (due to both menopause and naturally less muscle mass). This is why you may find that even though you aren’t eating more, you are gaining weight as you age. You can help boost metabolism with regular exercise, including weight training (which can add muscle, but you can’t really do much about your genetic predisposition or the aging process. Weight loss is going to take a calorie reduction.
Aging more gracefully isn’t just about your weight however. Even if you put a few pounds on as an older adult, you can still have some control over your health. Eating well and moving your body as much as possible just makes you feel, and function, better. It takes some effort, and a little guidance, but you can do it!
Eating well and getting regular exercise helps your body:
- STAY BALANCED. Balancing your intake of carbohydrates with protein and fat at each meal, helps keep you full and satisfied. Keeping hunger at bay will help with weight maintenance. Exercise also help with physical balance and strength, so you may prevent injuries from falls or accidents.
- LOWER YOUR DISEASE RISK. High blood pressure and diabetes risk can be lowered with weight loss and healthy eating. Even if you do end up with a diagnosis, if your diet is decent now, it will make eating healthier easier down the road since these diseases can be managed with proper diet and exercise.
- BOOST YOUR MOOD AND ENERGY LEVEL. Exercise is a mood booster because it elevates serotonin levels – feel good chemicals in the brain.
- GET THE VITAMINS AND MINERALS YOU NEED. When you eat a balanced diet (that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, eggs, lean meats, nuts, dairy foods) you are sure to get the vitamins and minerals you need.
- SUPPORT GUT HEALTH. Some research has shown that exercise may be beneficial to your gut microbiome.
Key Vitamins and Minerals
I don’t really like the phrase “food is medicine”. Medicine infers a substance used to treat disease. Food can’t really treat disease (unless the disease is a vitamin deficiency for instance). But good food can help your body function at its best, help you maintain a healthy weight, support a healthy immune system, maintain muscle, and keep blood sugar levels steady. Here are just a few examples of important vitamins and minerals, and what they do for your body.
- Vitamin A (found in orange vegetables, dairy and meats) is a fat-soluble vitamin involved in healthy vision, and your immune and reproductive systems. Sweet potatoes, beef liver, spinach and carrots are excellent sources.
- Vitamin C (found in many fruits, especially citrus, kiwifruit, and also bell peppers and white potatoes) is a water-soluble vitamin, an an antioxidant, and is important for wound healing. Antioxidants help take care of “free radicals” in our body – compounds that form in the body and can cause harm to cells.
- Potassium is a mineral found in most fruits and vegetables, and dairy milk. It’s especially high in dried apricots, prunes (dried plums), raisins, potatoes, bananas, lentils, and kidney beans. It’s present in all body tissues and is required for normal cell function. It’s important for both heart and kidney health.
- Magnesium is a mineral important for muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure regulation. Legumes, beans, nuts and green leafy vegetables are good sources, as well as fortified cereal, to include in your diet daily.
- Iron is a mineral found in red meat, poultry, eggs, fish, shellfish, legumes, leafy greens and fortified cereals. It helps support your red blood cells which carry oxygen in the body.
- Calcium is a mineral, and important for healthy bones and teeth. It’s also helps muscles contract and relax (including your heart). It’s important for immune function, nerve function, blood clotting, and blood pressure regulation. Its found in milk and milk products (cow’s milk), fortified tofu, spinach, mustard greens, and legumes. Milk is one of the easiest ways to get the calcium you need daily, and it also provides potassium (2 servings of milk are part of the DASH Diet regime).
Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily. Add some grains. Include lean protein and 2-3 servings of dairy. And watch out for the extra calories, especially the ones that seem to have a “health halos” on the surface (think “healthy” packaged snacks). Even if it’s a healthy choice (like hummus, nuts, or a fiber bar), the calories may be more than you need. If you are over 40 and trying to lose weight, stick with three meals a day, with one or two 100-150 calorie snacks. Stick with the science and common sense — choose a sound diet.
A friend of mine recently asked for the recipe for these easy egg cups. They are super easy, and so versatile. You can make a batch of 6 or 12 – whatever you need – and keep them in the refrigerator so you can heat them up for a quick no-prep morning protein.
Eggs are a great source of protein, vitamins and minerals. The yolk contains cholesterol, but also the important nutrient choline. Eggs can definitely be part of a heart-healthy diet.
The add-ins to these egg muffin cups are endless! Whatever vegetable you have on hand – chopped peppers, leftover asparagus or zucchini, chopped spinach, onions, mushrooms, or any leftover cooked vegetable from last night’s dinner. The more vegetables the better for your DASH Diet eating plan. Add a sprinkling of shredded cheese, and you’re set.
The DASH Diet is the best eating plan to follow if you have high blood pressure, or have a family history of high blood pressure (also called hypertension). While adopting an entire eating plan can be daunting – especially if your current diet consists of subs, pizza, and potato chips – adding just a few new foods each week can bring you quick results.
If you have high blood pressure you should be aware of the sodium in your diet. Potassium* is also important, as potassium offsets the effects of sodium by helping your body excrete more sodium. Try adding these 9 foods to your diet over the next two weeks, and you’ll see a reduction in your blood pressure, and maybe even a drop in weight. Even a small weight loss of 4-8 pounds can reduce blood pressure.
Bananas are loaded with potassium (about 420 milligrams), easy to eat, and versatile. You can add them to a glass of milk and make a smoothie, slice them onto yogurt, or just eat one for a snack. Make grain foods better for you – top your cereal or a slice of whole grain toast or waffle with a sliced banana and a drizzle of maple syrup. Make a banana into a well rounded snack by smearing it with 2 teaspoons of natural nut-butter.
The lowly potato is sometimes dissed, but both white and sweet potatoes are high in potassium (over 600 milligrams in white potatoes!). They are also a good source of vitamins C, and a medium (4-inch) potato provide about 2-3 grams of fiber.
- Milk and yogurt
Milk is a powerhouse of nutrients including protein, calcium, and potassium. With about 350 milligrams of potassium per 8 ounces, adding a glass of cow’s milk to your meal is an easy way to lower your blood pressure. An 8-ounce glass of milk also makes a simply fantastic post-workout snack. Add a banana or a cup of berries and milk to your blender or smoothie-maker and you have an even better post-workout snack! Yogurt also makes a great snack. Use plain yogurt as a base to top with flavor – fresh/canned/frozen fruit, a small drizzle of honey or maple syrup, granola – create your own combos.
- Raisins and Dried Cherries
Raisins are high in potassium but try adding more dried cherries to your diet too for an extra boost of antioxidants which help support heart health, and may even help reduce inflammation. You can add them to your oatmeal, or tossed salads, or throw some into your slow cooker with chicken or a lean pork loin roast.
- Tuna or Salmon
These fish contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids which lower your risk for heart disease. They also may help lower inflammation.
Good old fashioned oats are still good for you. This timeless breakfast offers a satisfying dose of fiber as well as 150 milligrams of potassium and 4 grams of fiber per 1/2 cup dry. Skip the ‘instant’ varieties (high in sodium and sometimes sugar) and use Old Fashioned or Quick (both offering almost identical nutrition).
*Note:Speak to your doctor and dietitian if you have kidney disease, as you may need to limit your potassium intake.
I have been having a rough time sitting down to focus on my writing lately. I’ve been writing a regular nutrition column of some sort since 1995 when I penned my first column for the local Meadville Tribune in August (Fad Free RD), after visiting the County Fair. It was an article about “Fair Food”, and I concluded that most of it isn’t healthy, and that you should share it with someone so you can consume smaller portions (I would never deny your Funnel Cake). I also concluded that the turtle soup and fruit cups were the best choices.
Ah, 1995, when eating wasn’t that complicated.
Why am I having a hard time getting energized about writing sensible advice about eating and food? Because there is so much nonsense in the media now about nutrition, eating, and food, that it’s drowning out all of the common sense.
Here are just a few frustrations:
- Anybody, and everybody, is a self-proclaimed nutrition expert. For instance, anyone who has lost weight using a “Keto” or “Paleo” diet, are now weight loss experts (I use quotation marks because these really aren’t real diets. The Ketogenic diet is a therapeutic diet to treat epileptic seizures. It works and is appropriate for some people with seizure disorders. Paleolithic diet is just made up. No clinical trial proved it’s healthy or realistic for the greater population).
- Sadly, food manufacturers have followed the crazy in labeling their products and also in product development. Today’s shopper seems to value a food product labeled “Gluten Free, GMO Free, No artificial flavors or colors” over what nutrition value the overall food actually provides.
- Moo-ve Over. Many consumers any are abandoning cow’s milk and replacing it with non dairy alternatives, or nothing at all. Moms are raising children who have high calcium, Vitamin D, and protein needs to build bones and teeth, on low protein alternative or no milk at all. It’s interesting to me that some will choose a product like Almond Milk, with some brands adding calcium to it (and some not), but will shun other foods because they have “additives” or shout that “cow’s milk has Vitamin D added!” My advice: Drink cow’s milk (but not raw milk, and not if you are truly lactose intolerant).
- Detox. Please make this word go away. There are so many products that falsely advertise this notion we need to detoxify on a regular basis. (Did your grandmother detox? Mine lived to 83, and no she did not. Neither did my parents who each lived to 90). Many of these false claims are marketed using superficial results, with key words such as “younger looking” or “flat belly in 3 days”. Some may claim to “increase your energy level” and, hey, what over 35 year old doesn’t want more energy? But I wish it would stop. Because it’s bullshit.
- GMO safety and “where your food really comes from”. The answers to these questions can be answered by farmers and scientists. It’s not a secret, what you think of as a “factory farm” is really just a farm with acreage. It’s about real people who own land, work hard every day, and provide us with the food and resources to make food. And as noted here, “GM crops are the most extensively tested crops ever added to our food supply”.
- The Beauty Business should not sell nutrition. I have seen more and more anti-aging cream companies also sell a little “detox lemonade” on the side. This won’t work for the long term. Sure if you drink a 100 calorie beverage for lunch, you’ll lose weight. If you lose weight, your belly will flatten. But – call me in 2-5 years and let me know if you’ve maintained that weight loss, and what you are going to eat for the rest of your life. Please, just stick to moisturizer and skin firming creams, and skip the side nutrition hustle.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s really getting discouraging to see so many consumers so fixated on the quick fix over choosing changing some negative eating behaviors and adopting healthier lifestyle for life. It’s also discouraging that the public chooses to accept all of this misinformation and believe everybody but me and my registered dietitian colleagues (or other health care providers, including physicians).
The panel that reviews these best diets every year are health professionals who are qualified to evaluate both the data and the overall compositions of the diets, as well as whether they are realistic to adhere to. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow (who while she makes an occasional delicious and healthy recipe, she also peddles a bunch of quacky crap!) or the ladies on the View, are not qualified to provide nutrition advice.
The best diets? DASH, Mediterranean, Flexitarian/Vegetarian. That’s about it (and the other top 20 diets rated by US News and World Report are all sound, just not ‘best’).
Same As It Ever Was
I will continue to stand by balance, moderation and variety when it comes to eating. I’ll continue to encourage you to eat cake (but only a 2 inch square) as a treat. I won’t tell you that sugar is toxic, nor that you have to avoid gluten in order to lose weight. But I will tell you that you need to incorporate more vegetables and grains into your diet (for fiber, vitamins, and for both gut and heart health). I won’t tell you not to eat meat if you want to, and I also won’t tell you to eat more meat if you want to be a vegetarian. I will always tell you that regular exercise is very important to your health and quality of life. I won’t misguide you with information that either simply isn’t true, or has no evidence behind it.
The calendar may not officially say “summer” but that summertime vibe is definitely here. Somehow summertime seems to be less scheduled than other months of the year. This lack of structure can unknowingly impact your eating plan. You may find yourself on vacation, taking a long weekend, running out the door to a baseball or soccer game every night, or just sitting on the porch more often. So what happens to dinner? It likely is eaten on the run, or worse, at the concessions stand.
A little bit of planning ahead can make the most of the nights that you have to run out the door. Side dishes are usually the most time-intensive part of the meal to pull together. Choose a night of the week (or perhaps a Sunday evening) when you do have time to mix up 2 batches of side dishes to have ready when the time-crunched nights hit.
The bonus here is that you’ll be adding more plants to your diet. You can pair any of these with grilled chicken, fish, or steak, or even eat some of these as a main dish. To keep the meal plant-based, focus your plate on the whole grain-vegetable side dish, with smaller portions of meat.
Here are a few simple ideas for do-ahead dishes:
- Potato salad. Potatoes are rich in potassium. Boil up some small red potatoes (they cook more quickly, saving time) and try adding Greek yogurt instead of mayo for a richer, more nutrient-dense salad. Cook 2 pounds of red potatoes, cool slightly then add ¼ cup mayonnaise, ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, 2-3 tablespoons of fresh, chopped dill (or 2 teaspoons dried), chopped chives, shredded carrots, a pinch of salt, and ground pepper.
- Grilled veggies. These are simple enough to do anytime, but if you grill a big batch some ahead, they will be ready in the fridge and will only need to be reheated or added to a salad. Green beans, asparagus, eggplant and zucchini slices (about ¼ inch thick) are all quick to grill. Lightly toss the cleaned vegetable with some olive oil and your favorite fresh or dried herbs (I love Herbs de Provence). Place onto hot grill for about 5 minutes, turning half way through cooking. You can also use a grill pan for this – spray it with cooking oil, and place tossed veggies onto it.
- Pasta or Grain salad. This is such a great thing to have ready in the refrigerator since the healthy options are endless. A grain salad mixed with a vinaigrette (oil with vinegar, lemon or lime juice, and herbs or spices) keeps for about 5 days in the refrigerator too. You can chop and add those grilled vegetables to it, or a rinsed can of beans (garbanzo, black beans, cannelloni beans), chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, fresh peas, or chopped bell peppers. Add the veggies to pasta (any type – try whole wheat or tricolor), rice, or orzo.
- Use More Whole Grains: Try adding whole grains like farro, or barley to salads in place of pasta. Farro is an ancient Italian grain that cooks in 20 minutes (similar to method for lentils). Or try quinoa or freekeh, both high protein. Freekeh is an ancient grain made from green (young) wheat, and is quick to prepare. Lentils are also nutrient-rich and easy to cook. Add 1 cup lentils to 4 cups boiling water, cover, reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. You can freeze cooked lentils in zippered freezer bags for later use.
- Make use of frozen vegetables. While summer is a great time for farmer’s markets, when you are in a time crunch, items such as frozen bell peppers and onions, or cubed butternut squash, can be real time savers. Sauté butternut squash with a chopped onion in olive oil, and then mix it into a cooked grain like barley or farro. Add a few dried cranberries, and toss.
Spend a little bit of time making a big batch of a healthy side dish you love, and you’ll have more time to enjoy a meal when you are too busy to cook.
Even if you have nowhere to go, it’s nice having something ready in the refrigerator so you can take a night off from cooking. Dine al fresco, and enjoy your summer evenings.
I attended a food and nutrition conference earlier this year including a session sponsored by California Walnuts, but the following thoughts and opinions are my own based on recent research.
Could eating walnuts increase the good bacteria in your gut? According to a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois, it may be worth adding more walnuts to your diet. The study was partly funded by the California Walnuts Commission, but as with any research, the funding does not determine the outcome. It’s the data that we want to evaluate. Even though this was a small study, preliminary research is showing a healthy connection with walnuts to a healthy gut.
All high fiber foods have a positive impact on the gut microbiome. This study found that consuming walnuts correlated to a higher relative abundance of three bacteria: Faecalibacterium, Roseburia, and Clostridium.
Faecalibacterium is of particular interest because it has been shown to reduce inflammation in animals, and animals with high amounts of this bacteria are also more insulin sensitive.
Also to note is the effect walnuts had on lowering LDL, or low density lipoproteins (your “bad cholesterol”). High LDL is related to heart disease risk. The higher the number the higher the risk. This is all good news for those with high blood pressure, since insulin resistance is a risk for diabetes, and increases heart disease risk. We absolutely know that walnuts are high in heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Enjoy More Walnuts
Adding a handful of walnuts to your diet each day is pretty easy (or as often as you can) and will not only add fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein to your diet, but may also help reduce inflammation thereby reducing your disease risk. Even though diet may not be the sole treatment for diseases like hypertension (high blood pressure) or diabetes, a healthy diet reduces your overall risk, and helps you live better (and likely longer). It may also help you require less medication.
Nuts are to be included in the blood-pressure-lowering DASH Diet, so try these easy ways to add walnuts to your meals:
- Add chopped walnuts with fruit to your oatmeal
- Add chopped walnuts to your tossed salads
- Keep a small bag of walnuts in your bag or in the car for snacktime
- Add a walnuts to a sheet pan of cubed vegetables, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 30 minutes
- Treats should be eaten in small portions, occasionally, but you can add chopped walnuts to homemade chocolate chip cookies, or top each brownie square with a beautiful walnut half.
- Add walnuts to basil instead of pine nuts for a pesto recipe
- My co-author Cindy Kleckner’s Penne with Zucchini Yogurt Sauce and Walnuts is easy to make, and delicious!
May is High Blood Pressure Month. If you have hypertension (high blood pressure), I encourage you to adopt the DASH Diet lifestyle. DASH Diet has been shown to lower blood pressure, and is also linked to better brain health, good diabetes control, less depression, and weight control.
While you may need medication to treat your hypertension, you may be able to take less medication if you adopt the diet. Even those who are only at risk for high blood pressure definitely should be following DASH Diet as a preventive measure.
How do you know if you are at increased risk for high blood pressure?
- You have a family history of heart disease (your parents or siblings had a heart attack, stroke, or coronary artery disease)
- You have a family history of high blood pressure or diabetes
- You are overweight or obese
- You are sedentary
- You eat a poor diet (high salt, high fat, high sugar, low fiber)
- You are African American
- You have high cholesterol
- You have a high stress lifestyle
- You are a heavy drinker
- You are a smoker
Stay or Get Active
In addition to following the basic guidelines of the DASH Diet, you also want to add regular exercise and stress reduction to your lifestyle. Making the effort to schedule in some movement every day is important. Look for support to keep you on track – use an exercise tracker bracelet/watch, enroll in a set of classes and pay ahead, or enlist a friend to exercise with. While all forms of exercise count, you can consider including a yoga practice with a weekly yoga class to help you combat stress. Having a variety of different activities scheduled into your week will help you enjoy exercise more, and not get bored with any one activity.
Change Up Your Daily Diet
The foods you eat play a powerful role in monitoring your blood pressure. DASH Diet is not just about low salt or less sodium. If you’re still not convinced you should adopt the DASH Diet, consider this challenge: Try the simple changes below for two weeks, and check your blood pressure during that 2-week period using a home monitor.
DASH Diet Challenge: Add 2 more servings of fruit, 2 more vegetables, and one more 8-ounce glasses of milk to your day
- Choose whatever fruit you enjoy, and add two more servings of it daily.
- Ideas: Make a smoothie with a cup of strawberries and 8 ounces of 1% milk, plus 3 ice cubes
- Slice a banana into oatmeal or top your cereal with berries for breakfast
- Add an apple or orange as a snack in the afternoon.
- Drink a glass of milk as a snack to hold you over to the next meal, or have an 8-ounce glass of chocolate milk after exercise.
- Enjoy a yogurt parfait – top plain yogurt with 1/2 cup of fresh berries, and a drizzle of honey or maple syrup. You can also add 2 TB of granola to it.
- Add 2 more vegetables daily.
- Think of vegetables that can easily be added to dinner meal: A baked potato, a sweet potato, a cup of green beans, sauteed spinach, a cup of cooked broccoli
- Put raw carrots or bell pepper strips into your lunch box to enjoy with lunch or as a snack
- Add shredded cabbage and slivers of mango or apple to your wrap sandwich
- Create lunches that are vegetable-focused. Potatoes are a fantastic source of potassium and vitamin C! Get away from sandwiches, and instead top potatoes or salads with things you’d add to a sandwich. Baked potatoes can be topped with anything – chopped chicken, sliced leftover beef, beans, or a little cheese and broccoli.
- Salads can also be topped with fish, leftover chicken/pork/beef, extra vegetables, cottage cheese, tuna, or beans (drain and rinse canned beans for an easy high fiber, potassium and vitamin-rich protein).
- Use the oven to easily cook veggies. Cut just about any vegetable into cubes, place on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil, and bake for 20-30 minutes in a 400 degree oven. You can make one big batch of these, and then just heat them up all week for dinner, or top salads or pasta with them.
I would love to hear about your results. Adopt these simple changes, and track your blood pressure, then let me know about your results in the comment section below!
Truth: I love food, wine, craft cocktails and beer. For my birthday in 2011, my husband and I attended Cleveland’s Fabulous Food Show. I remember my two highlights: A fun food demo by Bobbie Flay, and a beer garden feature, which included a guided food and beer pairing. I was experienced in learning about pairing food with wine, but this was the first time I had ever experienced a food-beer pairing event. As with wine, food can change your palate for different styles of beer as well.
One of the beers we sampled was Hoegaarden, a white ale that mimics a “heffie” (or Hefeweizen, which is a German style of beer). We also sampled a lager and a stout. While wheat beers are not my favorite, I was intrigued that trying it with different foods, changed my perception. These beers were paired with simple foods – smoked sausage, cheese, and dark chocolate.
As someone who loves food expos and tastings, and summer beer festivals, (and is the the kind of person that excitedly reviews the menu of the restaurants I want to visit before I travel), I was excited to meet fellow foodie and beer lover Lori Rice last year when we both attended a farm tour. Lori is a photographer, writer, and has a degree in nutrition and exercise scientist. It’s always fun meeting a girl who enjoys craft beer, and Lori had just authored the book Food on Tap: Cooking with Craft Beer. She sent me a copy to review.
Enter – going even beyond pairing foods with beer, but also cooking and baking with beer. Mind. Blown.
There’s More to Beer than Drinking
If you think of “craft beer drinkers” and picture a snobby hipster sipping expensive beer from a chalice, this book may open you up to broader thoughts about beer, and craft beer consumers. If you’re a cook, you most likely have used wine in your cooking, but this book inspires you to incorporate more beer into your cooking.
Like anything food and beverage, it’s not about “this beer is better than that one”, it’s about your own palate, and what you like. As Lori points out in her Introduction, anyone who enjoys craft beer most likely enjoys new food experiences too. I love IPAs (India Pale Ale). The more hoppy and “citrusy” the better. Other folks love wheat beers (low on my list), and some like lagers or stouts.
Food on Tap isn’t just a cookbook; it includes a brief but thorough education about the different styles of beer. Chapter 2 offers up some beer basics, and you’ll learn how different types of beers work in different recipes (for instance, my citrusy IPA can work great in a vinaigrette dressing for a salad). The book is neatly divided into chapter, like most cookbooks, that include: Brunch, Starters, Mains, Sides, Dessert. Lori also encourages experimentation in her book.
I like to think that mistakes are just new recipes waiting to happen. ~ Lori Rice
Sure you may have baked a Guinness chocolate cake or added beer to a rich beef stew, but how about trying a sour beer to make Lori’s Sour Soaked Strawberry Muffins? Or her California Common Fig and Walnut Flatbread that incorporates a simple California common beer (or blonde ale) into it?
I’m pretty excited to try several of the recipes in this book. Since we always have IPA in the house, I definitely plan on making her salad and vegetable dressings with it (the Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Spinach Salad is definitely a winner). The brunch chapter really has me excited too because I love to host brunch. Our local microbrewery, Voodoo Brewery, offers up a “Met-mosa” which I’ve served at home for brunches, using their Gran Met mixed with orange juice. How about using some Gran Met for the Giant Witbier Egg Biscuit (a wheat style beer is incorporated into the biscuit) from Chapter 3? And, when you have zucchini coming out of your ears this summer, you will die for her Pilsner Battered Fried Summer Squash Slices with Creamy Ranch Beer Dip.
I always find the photos in a cookbook to be a huge inspiration for trying the recipe, and Lori is an amazing photographer, making this a lovely book to look at. This book also makes a great conversation starter when displayed on your coffee table.
Every beer and food lover I know will be thrilled to be able to open their favorite beer, pour out 3 ounces for cooking, and sip the rest. Grab a copy here, and enjoy some new experiences in the kitchen! Enjoy.
Remember, if you drink, drink in moderation (the recommended amount is one drink per day for women, one to two per day for men).
There are many nutrition myths that circulate around the Internet, and myths about meat are included in them. Some people have concerns that may be health-related, or that relate to animal welfare and the environment. Can meat be part of a healthy diet? Are there unintended nutrition consequences to not eating meat? How are livestock animals actually treated? And what about the impact agriculture has on the environment.
Everyone is entitled to make their own choice, but I wanted to share some quick facts and figures that may help you with your choice.
There are health benefits to consuming meat:
- Meat (beef, pork, poultry) is a good source of protein and B vitamins (B12 and B6 and niacin), riboflavin, iron and zinc.
- 60% of beef cuts today are considered “Lean” by definition due to improved agricultural practices.
- According to the American Heart Association, as long as sodium, saturated fat, and calories are controlled, meat can be part of a healthy diet. The DASH Diet allows small portions of meat to be incorporated into your eating plan.
- In some cases, there may be risks for eliminating meat. B12 deficiency are common in vegetarian diets, so vegetarian diets, especially vegan diets, need to be planned accordingly.
Animal Welfare Myths
There are many myths about the treatment of livestock. You may hear people talk about animal mistreatment, or the idea that pigs shouldn’t be in stalls or barns, chickens should all be ‘cage-free’ , or that cows are only meant to eat grass. Unfortunately it’s true that some operations may not be perfect, but animal cruelty seems to be the rare exception, not the rule. And there are guidelines in place to ensure animals are treated humanely, as well as consequences if they aren’t followed.
- Under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (enacted in 1958 and revised in 1978), all livestock must be treated humanely. All animals must have water at all times, be fed properly (most farms employ a Veterinarian who prescribes feed which delivers precise nutrition), and animals must be handled humanely in a way that does not cause stress.
- The US Meat packing industry is highly monitored. No other sector of animal agriculture has the level of oversight that the packing industry has. USDA inspectors are required by law to be in a meat packing facility any time it’s running. If a plant fails an audit, suspensions and fees apply, and contracts may be lost.
To address how the environment may impact stress levels in pigs, the American Veterinary Medical Association found that all pig production systems had no significant difference in the stress levels of sows (pregnant pigs), no matter their environment (barns, stalls, indoors or outdoors). While no one system is perfect, and all may have some disadvantages, stalls seem to work well for sows.
Used properly, sow stalls can “minimize aggression and injury, reduce competition, allow individual feeding and assist in control of body condition.”
While no one system is perfect, and all may have some disadvantages, stalls seem to work well for sows. The most critical part of animal care is the farmer. It’s the farmer’s day to day care for the animals, and not the pigs physical environment seem to matter most. Farmers understand their animals, and their behavior, even though their are advantages and disadvantages to all systems. Also, not only is it humane to treat animals properly, but optimal animal handling results in higher quality meat.
Temple Grandin, PhD is an animal welfare expert and a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. In addition to creating physical structures to manage cows that reduces their stress levels and improves animal and farmer safety (both for medical check ups and to slaughter), she also has written standards for the industry.
“There a certain percentage of people who shouldn’t be handling animals,” she says. “…They shouldn’t be there. But there’s an even bigger percentage that know what the right thing to do is, when they see it. They just need to be taught.” ~Temple Grandin
She has done research about humane handling of animals and has written extensively on the topic, and she even created a video to show the public what happens at a meat processing plant (note – very informational, with some graphic images). I happen to side with Grandin – some people choose not to eat meat, and I support that, but I choose to include meat in my diet.
Environmental Impact of Ag
There are lots of myths about how much water it takes to produce meat. If you do an Internet search, you’ll find numbers from 4 gallons per pound, to 400 to 1600 gallons per pound. There seem to be a lot of variables in the way this is measured. There are also a lot of sensationalized facts about methane emissions that can be put into context.
- According to the North American Meat Institute, it takes 441 gallons of water to make a pound of beef. All food production requires water.
- Beef producers have improved significantly, and one way farmers conserve water is by feeding cows grain. Interestingly, many people believe that cows should only eat grass, but all cows do eat grass, however some are finished with grain (cows are ruminants and can handle a change in diet as long as the pH of their rumen stays in check). Animals fed grain grow to market size over 200 days faster than grass fed ones, which conserves water.
- Greenhouse gas from livestock is only part of the environmental impact of emissions. US Environmental Protection Agency data show that all of agriculture contributes 8.6% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, with animal agriculture contributing 3.8%. To put this into more perspective, transportation accounts for 27 percent.
- Lean meat, in controlled portions, and consumed within the recommended limits for sodium, saturate fat, and calories, can be part of a healthy diet
- Eliminating meat may have unintended nutrition consequences. Simply declaring “I’m not eating meat” is not a healthy vegetarian diet plan.
- US Animal Agriculture has come a long way over the years and today is able to produce leaner cuts of beef and pork while raising animals in a humane way. US Farmers have a vested interest in protecting the environment in which they live, and as a whole, continue to produce food using less resources than ever before. Like any industry, they are continually looking for ways to improve and do the right thing.
Is your food authentic?
No High Fructose Corn Syrup.
GMO-free. Non GMO.
No artificial colors or preservatives.
Are you using “free-from” claims as the ultimate guide to what you put into your grocery cart? Are you more concerned about what’s not in your food rather than what is in it?
What really get me is that food labels sometimes market “free from” ingredients that were never in that product in the first place.
I had the honor to speak on a panel (sponsored by the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance) this month at the SXSW festival and conference in Austin, TX. The panel focused on how food is delivered from farm to fork, and how food manufacturers are the middle men who add claims to food labels that may or may not be helpful, and may not even have anything to do with that food.
I’ve written about food labels and health before, and I continue to believe that many front of package claims can be confusing, or are used solely as a marketing technique. Food companies think this is what you, the consumer, wants (and in this case, they are highlighting ingredients that they think you don’t want). But what are these claims actually doing for you, and are they helping you actually improve your diet and health? Are the helping improve the nutrition status of the population as a whole? Let’s think about it.
A food with this label means it contains no gluten. This can be really useful for those with Celiac Disease, gluten sensitivity, or those following a Low FODMAP diet. It makes great sense when a loaf of bread or a box of pasta is labeled “gluten free”, but it makes less sense when almonds, bottled water, meat, or vegetables include this label.
If you do not have Celiac disease or any sensitivity to gluten, avoiding gluten isn’t improving your diet or health. Rather than look for gluten-free labels, try cutting back on your portions of bread, and add more vegetables to your diet.
Adopting a vegan lifestyle requires that you remove all animal products from your life. This includes food products derived from (or processed with) animal products, as well as clothing, personal items, or household products derived from animals.
It takes some effort, planning, and focus to be Vegan, and most vegans do their due diligence in making the decision. This label may help support vegan choices since it ensures that no part of the animal was used in processing. For the average non-Vegan consumer, the Vegan label is not a simple ticket to health (there are Vegan cookies, chips, and snacks on the market too, that aren’t healthy to overeat).
I still find the Vegan label on foods like peanuts humorous.
No High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a caloric sweetener made from corn. It is a sugar, joining table sugar (sucrose), honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, or cane sugar. Teaspoon for teaspoon they all contribute about the same amount of calories.
Since one of the goals of healthier eating includes reducing your total sugar intake, it doesn’t matter whether you cut out HFCS or cane sugar – your goal is to reduce all sugars. Therefore, I’m not impressed for instance, by a protein bar that provides 15 grams of protein along with 18 grams of sugar, even if it “Contains No High Fructose Corn Syrup”.
Nor am I impressed with an expensive bottle of soda that uses “Pure Cane Sugar” as opposed to HFCS or GMO sugar beets (To note – there is no genetic material from the GMO beets or corn left in the final sugar products). Which brings me to the next absence claim.
We are talking about food and health here. Not the environment, not pesticides, not types of farming. Some people who are “anti GMO” tend to focus on the herbicide glyphosate or the use of pesticides in farming. Both of these topics deserve a quite separate conversation.
We absolutely know that vegetables are good for you. We also know that hardly anyone actually consumes enough vegetables – it’s something you have to work on every single day. When you think about GMOs, it’s important to understand two things: 1) There currently are only nine GMO food products on the US market, 2) Genetic modification of plants is generally used to solve a problem (bacterial disease of the plant, pest issues, or other issue that was interfering with growth or making it impossible for the plant to survive or produce).
Packaged food that includes either a “GMO Free” or “Non GMO Project Verified” label, are not guaranteeing you anything other than there is no genetically modified crop (or ingredient made from that crop, such as soybean oil) in that food.
Is a bag of potato chips with the Non GMO Project label better than another brand of potato chips without the seal? Nope. Is a wheat cracker better for you now that the brand added “Non GMO” to it’s label? Nope. This label is especially confusing when it’s used on products that never had any genetically modified ingredients in them in the first place.
No Artificial Colors. No Preservatives
The FDA regulates colors, additives, and preservatives. Removing these from foods make those foods no better, no more nutritious, but in some cases may make them less appealing. Additives and preservatives can serve an important role in food processing and food safety. These ingredients help ensure the availability of flavorful, nutritious, safe, convenient, appealing, and affordable foods year-round.
Lots of people experience lactose intolerance at one time or another. Some are more prone to this, and even those who aren’t will experience some lactose intolerance at one time or another. Lactase is the enzyme that helps metabolizes lactose (the sugar in milk). Lactase is predominantly found in our small intestine, and it is susceptible to being disrupted, especially during any period of diarrhea. But in healthy people, the intestine will regenerate the enzyme once the diarrhea resolves.
Choosing foods labeled dairy free only benefit vegans or people who are intolerant to dairy. Otherwise, dairy adds a lot of nutritional quality to your diet. In addition, the DASH Diet plan includes three servings a day because the clinical research showed that those who added dairy (in addition to lots of fruits and vegetables) lowered blood pressure more.
On another note, I sometimes hear people worry about “GMO milk” (perhaps because some dairy brands are choosing to label their milk and milk products as “non GMO”, inferring that other brands are GMO). There is no GMO cow’s milk. Even if an animal eats a genetically modified plant, the milk or meat from that animal will not have that genetic material from the plants or grains it ate in it. GMO corn is digested and metabolized the same way as non GMO corn. No content from the feed ends up in the consumable.
My final word: Choose a variety of food from each food group. Cook more vegetable dishes. Limit packaged snacks. Use common sense, and don’t judge food based on absence claims.