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Vegan-in-Chief

August 21, 2013

cq5dam.web.620.398I recently read a great article in “AARP Magazine” about former President Bill Clinton. I knew he had heart disease, and I had read somewhere else that he had become vegan to deal with his health issues, but I had no idea he had also become a passionate advocate of healthy eating.

This is really pretty amazing for the man who, as our 42nd president, went running … and on his way back to the White House, stopped at McDonald’s.

In the article, Clinton didn’t act the slightest bit chagrined by the change in his diet. He didn’t confide, “You know, I’d rather have a Big Mac, but Hill says I gotta do this.” He served the reporter a vegan smorgasbord and smacked his servings down with enthusiasm. He says he relishes his new diet. And why shouldn’t he? The recipe for the quinoa salad at the luncheon was included in the magazine and sounded delicious – I tried it and found it absolutely yummy.

What brought Clinton to change his lifestyle was his family – “I wanted to live to be a grandfather,” he told the reporter. He has lost 30 pounds and says he feels better and more energetic – and he looks good, too, not his former puffy self.

What brings a person to change his or her diet can be as small as wanting to fit into a favorite pair of jeans or as big as wanting to live. Is there one compelling reason for you to give up sodas or Big Macs or any other foods that you know may be harming your health?

“Big Brother”

July 19, 2013

I’m honored to be a guest blogger on Delightfully Fit today! Check out this former novelist/currentelle-big-brother-de-mdn nutritionist’s take on Lionel Shriver‘s new novel, “Big Brother” — about a woman who tries to help her older brother lose 200 pounds. Wander on over to Delightfully Fit — it’s a great site!

Water Recipe

July 10, 2013

WaterRaspberry-187x250Yes, you read that right. I started playing around with recipes for water, after a client told me she was getting tired of plain old H2O. It’s hard to get the recommended 8 glasses daily if you’d rather have something with flavor.

So here’s my suggestion for this summer day. Take a quart of cold, pure filtered water. Put it in a pretty glass or ceramic pitcher so it looks attractive and appealing. To it, add the freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 lime, a few lime slices and 1/4 cup of mashed raspberries. Stir it up and let it marinate in the fridge for a few hours. When you serve it (it turns a lovely pink), try wineglasses for a special touch. Make sure each glass gets a few of the mashed berries. It’s refreshing, slightly tart and sweet at the same time, and provides antioxidants along with a boost of flavor.

There’s no reason not to enjoy yourself while you’re eating and drinking healthfully!

Less “Red” in Red, White and Blue?

July 3, 2013

I know, I know … Tomorrow is Fourth of July, and it’s almost un-American not to eat red meat, right?

However, a few studies released recently give some compelling reasons why you might choose to grill more veggie kebobs than burgers or dogs this year.

tony-little-body-by-bison-burger-and-hot-dog-20pk-combo-d-20110515025615127~135440Red meat is famous for clogging arteries, and you probably already know that consumption has links to heart disease. But now a new study suggests that consumption of red meat is also associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

A second study, just released on Monday, found that people who frequently eat red and processed meats before a colon cancer diagnosis have worse outcomes – namely, they are more likely to die of the disease.

If July 4th is one of the only days of the summer you indulge in a burger or dog – maybe Memorial Day and Labor Day are the others – go ahead.

But if these foods are on your “gotta have” list – you find you’re eating them regularly and you can’t imagine giving them up – consider trying healthier ways to consume them. Maybe you don’t really need to engage in overkill and add half a rasher bacon to your sandwich. Or maybe you could try a healthier type of meat. For example, burgers and dogs made with grass-fed beef appear to have less saturated fat, cholesterol and calories than ordinary beef. The same seems to be true of wild meats like bison, which is even leaner than chicken or turkey.

Yes, these meats are more expensive that the buck-a-pound stuff. But as the old L’Oreal commercial used to go: “I’m worth it.”

Your health is worth it – happy Fourth!

 

Ice Cream Dreams

June 19, 2013

lens10809031_1272884624icecreamI attended a talk by a behavior analyst the other evening, trying to learn more about what makes people tick when it comes to food. So many of my clients despair of not having enough “willpower” to change unhealthy eating habits or to start incorporating physical activity into their weight-loss plans, and I sometimes wish I had a degree in psychology as well as in nutrition.

The behavior analyst admitted her own conflicted relationship with food, stemming from behaviors she learned – or didn’t learn – as a child. For example, as a kid, her dessert intake was strictly monitored and limited by her parents, and when she went off to college and could choose her own foods, she began bingeing on sweets.

I found this a really compelling story. What habits learned in childhood trip up our well-intentioned efforts as adults to follow a healthy diet? What emotions are stirred up when we think of a particular food?

For example, I’ve talked here about my own guilty pleasure – ice cream. My memories of this treat when I was little are very happy – they’re all about hopping in the car with my family and driving hither and yon to find just the kind of ice cream we wanted that night. For cones, it was Pittsburgh’s iconic Isaly’s, home of the skyscraper cone – I still remember everyone’s favorite flavor; mine was butter pecan. For sundaes, our place was Bishop’s, and the memory of butterscotch melting vanilla soft serve still lingers.

Sure, the ice cream was great. But when I really stop and think about it, what I’m remembering was the social, family time of these jaunts. Everybody in the car was happy; I was on summer vacation; it was the evening, and my dad wasn’t working late at his second job. These were purely joyful moments. Then again, I have similar great memories of playing card games with my family.

So, hypothetically, what if when I start craving ice cream, I could pull together a family game instead? What if I could do something else that would engender similar happy feelings?

You see what I’m getting at. When you start craving a certain food, could you stop and look at what your emotions are at that moment? Are you really hungry, or are you lonely, sad or bored? If you’re lonely, could you call a friend or sibling instead? If you’re sad, could you take a brisk walk and get your dopamine levels up? If you’re bored, could you occupy yourself with a favorite activity, like reading or gardening, or maybe even planning a future trip? Could you remember a technique that worked for you in the past to pull you out of your funk?

Your memories are powerful things. Use them to your advantage.

Don’t Be a Statistic

June 12, 2013

Thanks to Marion Nestle, nutrition expert and author of the popular “Food Politics” blog, for posting the shocking data released this week by the NYC Department of Health about diabetes deaths in that city. According to these statistics, 1 person dies of diabetes-related complications every 90 minutes in New York City.

Every 90 minutes! In the time it takes to watch a movie, another person is going to succumb to this disease.

The key to curbing diabetes is prevention. That means dietary and lifestyle changes now, before you get the diagnosis.

Your M.D. probably won’t tell you that. Here’s an alarming, true story: A community organizer friend of mine here in Pittsburgh has pre-diabetes. That means her fasting blood sugar levels have inched into the danger zone, but she doesn’t yet require medication or insulin. When she asked for my advice, we talked about her diet and I suggested she try chromium supplementation, which some studies show can improve the body’s response to insulin. When she asked for her doctor’s advice, he said, “Look, you could take a pill and then you could eat whatever you want and have a very nice life.”

Huh?

Happily, my friend tried chromium and has been able to keep her blood sugar levels stable without medication. If I could just get her to incorporate dietary and lifestyle measures, she could bring her numbers down significantly.

But even after a diagnosis, you still don’t have to be a victim to this disease. A client of mine with Type 2 diabetes is completely off medication and controlling her condition through natural measures. And she’s loving her diet, not feeling deprived.

Sounds better to me that ending up a statistic.

Faux Fuel

June 5, 2013

090113203901-largeThe Food and Drug Administration is doing something right for a change – the agency announced that it has decided to investigate the growing, alarming trend toward adding caffeine to all sorts of common foods.

The FDA announced this just as Wrigley, the chewing gum giant, was rolling out its newest product – a gum with added caffeine, the equivalent of 1/2 cup of coffee per stick. The agency has never set a safe level of caffeine for children, and products like gum appeal to kids – hence, the alarms and whistles. (Never mind the enormous amount of caffeinated sodas that children drink every day.)

Are products like gum, and waffles and syrup with added caffeine dangerous? We don’t know, and that’s the whole point. We do know that excessive caffeine gets you wired, hence the name of one of these new products, “Wired Waffles.” And that’s the point. The manufacturers have found that people like truck drivers and students – a curious combo, to be sure – will pay for more and more products that keep them awake and “faux-energized.”

And so will a lot of other folks, too. Statistic Brain estimates there are 100 million daily coffee drinkers in the United States, each consuming an average 3.1 cups a day. My clients often admit to reaching for coffee in the mid-afternoon when their energy levels start to slump and they need a push to make it through the workday. It’s the same reason some people turn to sugary, vending machine snacks.

You don’t need sugar or caffeine, though, to help you power through your job. They really just give you a temporary rush. In general, eating small amounts of protein and fiber throughout the day is what will keep your energy levels humming. When I hit a 4 p.m. gotta-have-something moment, for example, I have a glass of water and maybe a stalk of celery with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter to tide me over until dinner. Or an ounce of nuts mixed with raisins or dried cranberries, or a small dish of plain yogurt with some berries.

Try one of those, and see if you still need that cup o’ joe – or Coke or stick of gum – to get you through.

Olives and Veggies and Fish, Oh My!

May 29, 2013

imagesI love the Mediterranean diet. What I especially love about it is that it’s not a “diet” at all, but a way of life. And as I understand it, the word “diet” comes from the Greek for “a manner of living” or a “way of life.”

On this non-diet, you get to eat fresh fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, fish and seafood, olives and olive oil and whole grains. You eat eggs, chicken and dairy in moderation, but red meat and sweets hardly at all.

If that sounds like a hardship to you, I invite you to consider the advantages. This is a generous, satisfying eating regimen that is also incredibly healthy. We’ve known for a while that it benefits the heart, and a new study confirms that. But the Mediterranean diet also helps keep your aging brain nimble, according to another study released this month, and can help prevent cancer and type 2 diabetes, too, with its combination of healthy fats, lean protein and fiber-filled carbs.

If you’d like some ideas for setting off on this delicious “way of life,” here’s an article I just published on the Houston’s Chronicle’s website, giving you some lunch or light dinner ideas that mesh with the Mediterranean diet. Mangi, mangi!

Stressed and Feeling It

May 22, 2013

acid-reflux-remedies.Digestive Disease Week 2013 just took place in Orlando – it’s a yearly confab in which researchers convene to present the latest findings into digestive illnesses in this country, which are epidemic. If you don’t believe me about the epidemic part, just take a trip to the local drugstore and scan the aisles – you’ll find a wealth (for the manufacturers, that is) of acid reducers, constipation remedies, diarrhea stoppers and more, just waiting to assist people who experience acute and chronic problems in their GI tracts.

I myself have suffered from acid reflux or GERD (and “suffered” is the appropriate word), along with 60 million other Americans. I can tell you for certain that stress was at the root of my symptoms. Once my stress was mitigated, the symptoms eased and then gradually disappeared. Admittedly, my diet doesn’t include any of the usual suspects that trigger GERD, like fatty fried foods. But I don’t steer clear of other foods that I love, like dark chocolate and jalapenos (not together, of course), which can also result in reflux symptoms.

So what did I do? For one, I slowed down and took a lot of deep breaths. I enrolled in a laughter yoga class, which is an amazing stress-buster and is also great for the cardiovascular system. I took papaya enzymes after meals to help me digest. I avoided any foods I thought might be triggering my symptoms. I also started eating smaller amounts. My stomach just couldn’t handle bigger meals during the crisis, but it’s fine with smaller portions. Inadvertently, I lost some weight, although I wasn’t trying to.

Coincidentally, a recent study presented at the DDW found that losing weight helps alleviate acid reflux. Patients in the study found their reflux symptoms abating once they lost weight, and then returning when they regained weight. The program included moderate exercise, like walking, which manages both stress and acid reflux.

Your physician may have prescribed medication for your reflux symptoms, or you may be self-medicating at the drugstore. But in holistic health, we like to look at what the root of the problem is, not just how to relieve symptoms. Are you stressed at work or at home? Have you been gaining weight recently? What’s going on in your life that may be aggravating your reflux symptoms? Is there a step you can take today – like stopping and taking three deep belly breaths, or cutting back on your food portions – that might help control your symptoms naturally?

You might be saying, “What if that doesn’t work?” My question to you is, what if it does?

Snore Much?

May 15, 2013

080407160748-largeThere’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep, right? Eight hours of zzz’s helps you face the day energized and ready to work, study or tend to chores. It helps you tackle the stress of daily life head-on. Plus, studies show that getting a good night’s sleep helps boost immunity and improve brain function, according to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine.

Now a new study shows that we are in the middle of an “epidemic” of sleep apnea, in which you have frequent pauses in breathing during sleep. When these pauses occur, your sleep becomes shallow and sleep quality is poor. It’s the deep sleep you need to maintain optimum health, and that’s in short supply when you suffer from apnea. You may be drowsy the next day – maybe even dangerously so, while driving or on the job. Not to mention that your sleeping partner may be roused by your snoring, having his or her rest disrupted, too.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, where the study was conducted, link sleep apnea with another epidemic in this country – obesity. The number of those experiencing sleep apnea – much like the numbers of obese individuals – has steadily risen, and 80 to 90 percent of the increase can be attributed to obesity. Men are more at risk than women, and risk increases with age.

There are many sleep disorder medical clinics out there – I noticed a new one on my way to the office yesterday. People spend valuable time and long hours in sleep studies, trying to figure out why their rest is disrupted and they feel so exhausted all the time. One big reason may actually be in plain sight – an increase in your waistline.

So when your doctor or nutritionist advises you to lose weight, here’s another reason to follow her guidance – you may sleep more soundly, feeling more refreshed and alert, and boost your body’s natural ability to fight off chronic disease.

Here’s to sleeping like a baby!