Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On the move .....

Apologies for the lack of blogging recently - the last week has been filled with exciting changes; we are on the move back to the magical mountains of Jackson Hole, WY. Hence, I'm surrounded by packing boxes and a level of chaos duplicated by sick dependents ... so I am taking a hiatus from my blog for a couple of weeks while I re-settle us at higher altitudes!

When I am once again able to focus on the talking points of the nutrition world, I will resume my blog. Watch this space....

Sunday, April 11, 2010

It’s not just about appearances …

I was reading an interview with renowned British Chef Jamie Oliver (I’m a huge fan of both his recipe books and his never-ending desire to make the nutritional world a better place … on both sides of the Atlantic), and feel so strongly about a subject he touched on that I decided it should be the subject of this blog:

Answering a question about the effect of processed and fast-foods on our health he says:

“Well, I think it’s pretty simple really: forty years ago we ate mostly fresh, local food, and we knew where that food was coming from. But then fast and heavily processed foods crept in and totally changed our palettes and food businesses. And ultimately, this food is killing us. Obesity and weight gain are the most obvious symptoms, but the problem I have in telling this story is that there are also loads of skinny people suffering because the garbage they are eating is affecting them in a different, but equally dramatic way….”

This is something I feel like nutrition professionals battle in today's world. With the help of glossy magazines, diet commercials and ‘coat-hanger’ models on the fashion runways, the world that we live in continually reinforces the fact that ‘skinny is good’.

Some people work very hard at eating very little. Others are blessed with metabolisms that mean they can eat a lot, and not show any outward consequences. Both of these scenarios can exist in both a healthy and unhealthy realm. It’s the latter that worries me. As Jamie says, people who are over-weight are all too familiar with the well-publicized health-risks associated with their diet. I’m not saying that their situation is easy – it’s extremely tough, but it’s out there, spoken about.

Individuals who look fabulous, but live on processed, nutritionally-devoid foods fit into this category. And they worry me. While society outwardly applauds them, their bodies are suffering in silence. Depending on what studies you read, 10-20% of people who incur Type 2 diabetes are NOT overweight. There are similar statistics for heart disease. As Jamie states "Heart disease and other diet-related illnesses are some of the biggest killers in the US, way bigger killers than homicide though you’d never know that from the news." It’s not good enough just to ‘look good’ on the outside.

Being mindful of what we eat is the first step to keeping us healthy. This does not mean living on salads forever more. This means knowing that whether or not it shows on the outside, eating food which has a recognizable source, embracing different colors and flavors, and trying to make ‘fresh’ choices wherever possible really can help keep you healthy … and happy (but that’s a subject for a whole other blog!).

For those of you who are parents, if this isn’t enough to convince you, think of the example you set for your children. As I’ve discussed in an earlier blog, your own eating behaviors are the most powerful form of nutritional teachings you have. No matter what you say or instruct, it is more likely than not that your children will grow to eat like you do. And that’s fine, if you all have a super-human metabolism and a physiology made of steel. But it’s very possible that even if you are able to carry off eating badly for a few years, at least one of your children will not be so lucky. That’s the lucky-dip world of genetics for you. So think about them when you decide to go to that fast-food drive-through for the umpteenth time in a week….

Embrace food and the role that it plays in our life. It nourishes our bodies and delights our minds. It brings us together on big holidays and special celebrations, and sharing home-made meals is the ultimate form of hospitality. Sure, we live in a fast-paced world, where time for perfunctory activities such as eating it tight. But if we don’t eat well, it’s hard to live well.

And isn’t that the aim of the game?

I, for one, would like to set my body up for success in those sunset years.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Convenience ...

We have all been bombarded with the knowledge that most 'convenience foods' are less healthy than their slow-cooking counterparts, and that traditional 'fast food' outlets are to be put in the 'treat' category, but something I saw at my favorite grocery store yesterday threw me into a state of disbelief.

Apparently, our society is so desperate for immediate gratification that we are unable to wait the required 9-11 minutes to cook pasta. Yes, that's right, boiling water is now in the 'slow food' category. What I found myself staring at was packages of frozen, pre-cooked pasta, which required the recipient to microwave for a couple of minutes before eating. And I know what you are thinking but no, there was no sauce, no butter, no cheese. It was simply plain, pre-cooked, frozen pasta.

And the couple in front of me were picking up two packets of it.

I wondered whether they were going to trade in their fresh oranges to the already-peeled frozen option that they would see when they took 2 steps to their right?!

Be wary of the ever-increasing number of 'healthy gimmicks' which line our grocery aisles. While time is of the essence, so we should be more dedicated to nurturing ourselves; not all fast food is bad for us (my frozen pasta being a perfect example of a buck to the trend), but nor should eating and cooking be viewed as a mere necessity. Apparently we like eating, so lets start thinking about what we're eating, and where to spend our food dollars. Overpriced, frozen, cooked pasta doesn't jump out at me as being a huge $$ or time-saver?

And I'm sure Hippocrates didn't envisage microwaved pasta when he stated the famous quote: 'Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food'.... soon, pouring milk on cereal will be considered 'cooking'. With the advent of convenient 'cereal bars' which claim to contain your morning's 'bowlful' of calcium, maybe it already is!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Mountain Air and Easter Eggs.

We have driven up to Jackson Hole for a dose of good friends, clear mountain air, and even a few turns on the white stuff! The 11 hour drive from Vegas was a little brutal, complete with dog and toddler, but I did what every food-loving mother and wife does: stock the car with Gogi berries, nuts, fruit, deliciously decadent KIND snack bars and some healthy alternatives to coffee, to keep our eyes open. Hilariously, we only made it through two tanks of gas before my husband decided that a bag full of Twizzlers and a huge packet of Pringles were the order of the day. As I turned from the driver's seat to see both my boys grinning widely at the taste-sensation of these 'fake' foods, the Gogi berries unopened at their feet, I had to smile. Good intentions and all that...!!

Which brings me to my next point. Easter. Eggs. Chocolate. A dieter's nightmare, and a mother's quandary! This year, I decided it was time to pick up a family tradition we had when I was a child; my mother would fill beautifully decorated cardboard eggs, with tiny surprises. The eggs, popular in Europe and a great substitute for their chocolate counterparts, are part of my childhood, and memories of Easter morning yielding lip gloss or earrings are as 'normal' for me as chocolate eggs are for others! Much to my delight, I managed to find some of these cardboard eggs in Williams Sonoma and have duly filled them with fun surprises for the boys (think a bike-riding spiderman for one and a plethora of tiny treats for the other!).

It's not that I'm anti-chocolate. In fact, I love it more than I admit to. It's just that I know there will, without doubt, be a huge amount of it this Easter, and this is my way of reducing my own personal chocolate mountain. I must add that my son has rather a similar view of chocolate to his mother - pure love - and due to the terrible two's being even more terrible after too much, unlimited supply is definitely not advisable! In addition, my husband is one of those annoying humans who can have one bite of chocolate, and then not want anymore for 4 months. Seriously. So we all really know why he's not getting a chocolate egg. It's not really about him, it's more about me saving myself from the impending battle with my conscience for the next 4 months if I have an uneaten egg sitting in my kitchen. After all, I couldn't throw away HIS egg?!!

For those of you who are looking forward to a chocolate-filled Easter. Enjoy it! It's only once a year, and there are some great quality chocolates out there (I have written about the health benefits of this delicious food in a former blog)! For others who might be filled with dread at having such an attack on the willpower, and for whom cardboard eggs just aren't going to cut it, remember that chocolate is very good at being frozen! When the day/celebration is over, simply crush down all your left over eggs and put them in an airtight bag in the freezer. When the time comes to make that chocolate cake or delicious desert, melt your egg-leftovers as you would regular chocolate bars and bingo - no waste, no absurd levels of over-indulgence, no impossible-to-resist challenges to the New Years Resolutions ... and no need for cardboard eggs!

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

‘It’s not in here …. ‘

Yesterday I was unexpectedly house-bound with a sick toddler in tow. Needless to say, it was a day that I had a zillion things planned … one of which was to do a grocery shop while he was at school that morning. I had, as per normal, let my refrigerator and pantry sink to an embarrassingly bare level, with the goal being that on Tuesday morning I would be able to fast-track my week’s shopping because I wouldn’t have a pair of little legs or a pluthora of questions following my every move! All the best plans, and all that …. !

Within a matter of moments of calling my best friend here in Vegas, she had arrived at my door with all that an ailing toddler could want in the name of the ‘B.R.A.T’ diet (Banana, Rice, Applesauce and Toast), so as far as I could think at that point in time, we were all set to let this stomach gripe ride it’s journey.

Hilariously, the stomach gripe and toddler were the easy part. My biggest enemy was myself … aka, the wandering, slightly bored, less-than-stimulated mind, who had hoped to be doing a million things OTHER than sitting at home doing puzzles and cleaning floors! By about 11.30am after a pretty unexciting breakfast earlier in the day, I started wondering about what I would have for lunch. My son’s was sorted. BRAT or nothing. I, on the other hand, looked feverishly between fridge and cupboard until I really had to say out loud ‘no, there is nothing more exciting there. Deal with it’. This rather amusing moment (especially in hindsight!) reminded me of a great girlfriend here who, although much more adept at staying at home with her children, told me that she had recently written a note and put it on the refrigerator door. It reads something like ‘It’s Not In Here’. I love it. Suddenly I felt the need to do the same – but possibly staple it across both my pantry and refrigerator door so that neither could be opened again!!

The inter-connectedness between emotion and food has been the topic of thousands upon thousands of studies, and there are millions of people out there who are more qualified to write about it than me, but there it was, experienced first hand by Yours Truly, plain for all to see. I wasn’t hungry. I was frustrated and bored.

Thankfully, I don’t keep any deliciously decadent or nutritionally ‘naughty’ snacks in my house. I obviously know myself better than I think, and although these cupboard-scanning moments are less frequent than they could be, when the urge arrives, my senses are professionally honed into finding any ‘treat’ that might be hiding in my home!

Looking back, what I missed the most were a stock of apples (yes, plain old apples), which are my go-to when I have an attack of the ‘munchies’. I love apples. Sweet, crunchy and juicy. And apparently, I rely on them a hell of a lot more than I had thought! It just goes to show that the advice I so often give my clients ‘to surround yourself with good, easy, fresh foods so that you can make good choices when you feel like a snack’ really does help … and while no food should ever be consumed for any other reason than hunger, if emotion does push you towards the pantry, try and steer yourself to the fruit bowl! Hopefully it will yield more than mine did; a couple of slightly-passed-their-sell-by-date-lemons. 100% Useless.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lettuce-‘less’ salads …

Today marks the first day of spring, and as the weather warms (in Vegas, at least!), so our natural inclination is to move towards cooler foods. Suddenly soups and pastas are replaced by salads and sandwiches, and so here I wanted to challenge the traditional concept of the ‘salad’.

Last night my girlfriend had my son and me over for dinner. She made to-die-for enchiladas, and I brought the salad. As I was throwing it together at home, I decided that if I left out the lettuce, the three children (spanning the ages of 2-5) might even like it ….. So I raided my fridge and freezer and filled my salad bowl with all things colorful and delicious … but no leaves. When I arrived at my friend’s house, she exclaimed with glee ‘oh, wow, this hasn’t got any lettuce in it … it’s what my husband and I LOVE, and we named it the ‘lettuce-less salad’!

I have to say, there are some days when you rather feel like you are wading through the ‘good-for-you’ green leaves in order to have a taste of all the goodies at the bottom of the bowl … and on those days, I say ‘go lettuce-less’! Not only was the salad a nutritional powerhouse, but the kids love it too. Bonus!

And it was SO easy…. I scraped the kernels of corn off a freshly cooked corn cob, sliced some deliciously sweet cherry tomatoes in half, and finely sliced celery, carrots and apple before throwing them all in a bowl. Finally, I added some edemame which had been ‘cooking as I cut’! Easy! (and if I had had some sweet spring radishes, they would have made the salad 110%!).

The kids ate it un-dressed, and before I served it to my sweet friend and her husband, I tossed some home-made Italian vinaigrette through it to give it a bit of a kick. If you are curious: 4 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar, a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of agave syrup, salt and pepper to taste, and a good, hard shake! Delicious.

So don’t be put off by the bag of unwashed leaves looking at you from the refrigerator … and while I’m a huge fan of all-things-green-and-leafy, there are times when we should change up even the best things in life, especially if it pleases every mouth in the house! And if you’re looking for a one-bowl-wonder to have on a summer’s evening, just add some garbanzo beans, or kidney beans … and/or feta cheese … and you’re done. Simple, fresh, nutritious and … well, yes, delicious! Yum.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Supplements .... expensive nonsense or nurturing nutrients?

I’m often asked about the validity of taking nutritional supplements … are they an unnecessary strain on a tight budget which end up being excreted anyway, or do they really serve their purpose and improve health and wellbeing?

The answer is not simple, and, to my mind, is individual-specific. If your diet is lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, then your body probably is too. Or if you need more of a specific nutrient than the ‘average’ person, it’s often tough to meet these requirements through food alone, and this is where supplements play a part in staying healthy.

Case in point, recent tests have shown that I have a mutation to a gene which is associated with folic acid metabolism … my doctor has prescribed me a supplement which includes 3mg of the active form of this vitamin (among others). In order to get this from my food, I would have to eat 11 ½ cups of cooked spinach. DAILY. And this assumes that it’s being cooked appropriately to maintain the maximum amount of nutrients. Now, while I am definitely a ‘food first’ practitioner, this would be extreme, even for me! Bring on the little purple pill. Sorry, liver.

As proven here, there is no ‘one-formula-fits-all’ approach with regards to supplements. What is enough for one person, is quite possibly too much for another. That said, one of the most common supplements taken in today’s age is a calcium supplement, so I thought I’d write a quick spiel on how best to approach this supplement if you are one of the many individuals who has a need for more than his or her diet can provide (think: dairy-intolerance, familial osteoporosis, leg-cramps at night, facial (including eye) twitches, brittle nails … among others).

There is a general debate about whether Calcium Citrate or Calcium Carbonate are the best forms of supplement and this is worthy of another blog. In a nutshell, the main thing to look at is the amount of ‘elemental Calcium’ in the supplement. This is not the total content, and varies with supplement brand and content. If you are taking Calcium Citrate, it can be taken at any time during the day. If you are taking Calcium Carbonate, it is better absorbed when taken after food or an acidic drink at the very least (such as orange juice). Vitamin D is very important to calcium absorption so they are best taken together, and taking no more than 500mg of Calcium at any one time is key to maximizing your absorption of this mineral.

In addition, it’s worthy to note that sugar is thought to increase Calcium excretion (so think twice before pairing that ‘milk and cookies’ combo!), and absorption is impaired by foods which contain oxalates: nuts, berries, leafy greens (kale, collard greens, spinach etc), parsley, amaranth, beets and chocolate/cocoa so try and take your supplement a couple of hours before or 3 hours after eating these foods.

I am consciously not recommending a particular ‘level’ of Calcium supplementation because again, it depends on the individual’s needs and diet … if you need more personal advice, please feel free to contact me directly.

In general, I recommend a varied, colorful, fresh and ‘clean’ diet, with lots of fiber and water. However, as in the case of your truly(!), there are individuals who are unable to meet their unique needs through diet alone, and need supplementation to maintain optimal health. In these cases, make sure you are educated about your needs and as a general rule of thumb, do not supplement with single nutrients alone …. they are symbiotic by nature, as shown by the lack of ‘vitamin C trees’ growing out there …bring on the oranges and lemons …