Wednesday, December 26, 2012

the Search for the Miracle Diet book

January is the time of year when the mighty masses, from lithe yoga instructors to heavy-set sallow-faced pre- and post- heart surgery patients make a beeline for the diet section of the bookstore. Fresh from college or retirement party, they gingerly pick at the vast selection of diet titles, or go straight for the latest fad-diet best-seller. Some leave empty-handed in frustration. 

Am I a vegan or a Paleo? Do I want to get healthy or skinny? Will healthy food make me thin? Will diet smoothies make me healthy? Will my kids eat this stuff??

Can we go home now?

Of course you can. It's a new year; time to ask the real experts, and get some coaching. If your doctor says you’re pretty healthy, come join a wellness workshop or combine a cooking class with a nutrition app to help you get started (again). If your doctor says you have metabolic syndrome, or “pre-diabetes” go immediately to a dietitian! This is no time to see what Her Royal Princess did, or trust the word of some website called “lose 100 pounds in 15 days”. Her Royal Princess doesn’t have a 4 to midnight schedule waiting tables, isn’t raising three rambunctious boys, dealing with family medical issues, or flying to sales conferences every week. And the site that claims you can lose 100 pounds in 15 days isn’t the Mayo Clinic. They ain’t objective.

Speaking of objective, nutrition science has been making huge advances lately in our knowledge base, but meanwhile everyone with a program or wellness product is cherry-picking “news” that makes them look like they have the secret to your weight loss and health. The true secret is, when it comes to your body, don't rely on something that sounds way too damn simple to be true. Your beautiful body is one complex organism. Your adult intestines are about 26 feet long!

Talk to someone who can put themselves in your shoes, or join a group of people IN your shoes, because what you put on your lunch plate has everything to do with where you are in life and where you’re trying to go. After that, you’ll know which book to buy. Do you need to eat on the go? Perhaps you should avoid the slow-cooker health plan in favor of an app that helps you find nourishing restaurants in any city. While the 25 healthiest foods may be the same for nearly everyone, your method of getting them is yours only.

Hey, Happy New Year!  May your wishes become your path to success in 2013.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Food and Politics: Time for a divorce!

Here's the beef: I want to be able to walk into any food establishment without having to "declare" my stance on gay marriage. Don't you?

As a nutritional wellness advocate and food lover, it disturbs me when people label food as "elitist" or "patriotic". Before the Dan Cathy Chick-fil-A vs. Muppet food fight over the rights of gays to marry, there was a small media firestorm over what (then) candidate Barack Obama put on his hamburger. Spicy mustard, what what? How "un-American", his opponents cried. (Ketchup, apparently, was a Republican domain.)

This is ridiculous! The only labels you should ever apply to food fall into these categories:
  1. Health factors
  2. Taste
  3. Freshness
  4. Real or Fake.
Some say you are what you eat, and in a nutritional sense there's some truth to that. But to claim that certain foods make you more or less American, religious, liberal, conservative, elitist or populist is just a bunch of bologna (unhealthy and lacking in taste). Good, healthy whole food and spices are for everyone, and artificial over-salted over-sugared food that clogs your arteries and fogs up your mind are for nobody. Well OK, there are times and places... the Thanksgiving pecan pie, the annual bar-b-que festival... when a little brain fog and indigestion is felicitous.

There's a lot of danger in applying political labels to food. That danger lies in more than our solidarity as a nation: the option of eating lunch with our co-worker without having to worry about the political or religious ramifications of our sandwich condiments. The real danger of politicizing food this way is when it takes away from the message of nutritional health, and causes people to gravitate to different camps. One camp full of "elitist" food like organic strawberries, soymilk, and all sorts of ethnically seasoned delicious fresh food while another "average Joe" group stays in the fast-food and potato-chip camp.

Here, from Chick-fil-A's website, are the ingredients in their signature Chicken Sandwich. You want to label food? Here's a label for you:

Chicken (100% natural whole breast filet, seasoning [salt, monosodium glutamate, sugar, spices, paprika], seasoned coater [enriched bleached flour {bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid}, sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, nonfat milk, leavening {baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate, monocalcium phosphate}, spice, soybean oil, color {paprika}], milk wash [water, whole powdered egg and nonfat milk solids], peanut oil [fully refined peanut oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness and dimethylpolysiloxane an anti-foaming agent added]), bun (enriched flour [wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate {Vitamin B1}, riboflavin {Vitamin B2}, folic acid], water, high fructose corn syrup, yeast, contains 2% or less of each of the following: liquid yeast, soybean oil, nonfat milk, salt, wheat gluten, soy flour, dough conditioners [may contain one or more of the following: mono- and diglycerides, calcium and sodium stearoyl lactylates, calcium peroxide], soy flour, amylase, yeast nutrients [monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium sulfate], calcium propionate added to retard spoilage, soy lecithin, cornstarch, butter oil [soybean oil, palm kernel oil, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavor, TBHQ and citric acid added as preservatives, and artificial color]), pickle (cucumbers, water, vinegar, salt, lactic acid, calcium chloride, alum, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate [preservatives], natural flavors, polysorbate 80, yellow 5, blue 1).

I defy you to find sodium aluminum phosphate, TBHQ, calcium peroxide, or "yeast nutrients" in your home pantry. But that's a whole nuther blog.

Raise a glass to choosing to feed yourself, your children, and your lovers fresh healthy REAL food, and not having to label yourself in the process.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Chinese women count calories? No way.

A common morning greeting in China is "Ni mai cai qu?" meaning, are you going to buy vegetables? The Chinese character cai means vegetable; it also means dish of food.*  The phrase stems from a typical thousand-year tradition of going to the vegetable and fruit market first thing in the morning.

For those same thousands of years, Chinese women, on average, stayed slim by American standards, but they didn't carry calorie counters or apps and they didn't start meals with the words "I shouldn't be eating this". I used to sit down to meals a lot with a Chinese grad student I shared my house with last year. "You eat less than me" Linfen would say, though clearly my waist was not as slender as hers.

It is true, she'd come to breakfast ravenous, and sit down with her son to steaming bowls of noodles, egg and greens. For lunch and dinner, mother and child got a bowl of rice, and they ate each bite with fresh cooked greens or bok choy, daikon radish, eggplant, meat, and fish. Tantalizing aromas rose from each dish. Neither showed much interest in sweet desserts.

Their "secret"? An entire food philosophy based on nourishment, balance, flavor, and knowing when they were hungry. And finally, not being expected to count calories or eat a certain portion. "You don't eat soup?" Linfen asked me one day about 2 months in. Yes, we do... I make soup sometimes, I replied. "Whenever there is a group meal there is always soup in the center of the table," she tells me. She tries to explain about yin and yang and the importance of warming foods.

(I cooked snow peas, yellow squash, and corn in a bean-paste with a TBSP of canola oil and then 1 TBSP each water + sweet hoisin sauce.)

I try often to re-create the aromas and Asian-style nourishment my friend brought to our kitchen. I'm not counting calories, I'm eyeballing nutrition. I'm balancing. I never knew Zen would make its way into our evening meal. But I'm glad it has.


Here's a good recipe from Yummly. Notice the balance of flavors 
in the little chart. You can leave out the cornstarch... 
it's not supposed to be a thick sauce.

* from whythechinesedontcountcalories

Monday, June 25, 2012

5 Mistaken Beliefs, Part 2

In the previous post, the Bountiful Bite exposed the first three of 5 mistaken beliefs about eating better and losing weight.  I nabbed the headlines from’s 5 Mistaken Business Leader’s Beliefs, and magically applied them to your own business of shedding unwanted body fat or slimming down and getting in better shape. 

 These last two "Mistaken Beliefs" are ingrained beliefs we all struggle with. We get duped by force of habit. Why shouldn’t you

1.      4.  Believe That Because Everybody has always Done it This Way, It is the Best Way of Doing Things?

­Forbes gave a business example. Do you know why newspapers were always printed on large tabloid paper? Because in 1712 England, newspapers were taxed by the number of pages. But it wasn’t until about 2005 that American newspapers started cutting down their paper size.  For 300 years newspaper printers did what had always been done, even though it was costly and cumbersome.

Why do we order a big bacon, egg, and muffin breakfast at the hotel? Why do we have ice-cream every night in the summer? Sure, it tastes good, but we know it makes us fat. Yet, your neighbors eat this way, the server at the restaurant encourages it, your grandma always served it, and colonial farmers ate bacon with a big breakfast. Never mind that the colonials burned thousands of calories farming, building houses, and keeping warm, the server gets a bigger tip the more food he sells you, and grandma has heart disease.
Sometimes the standard way is not the best way.

2.      5.   Believe the Customer?

Forbes: “these people are already your customer; sure they are going to be satisfied with you.” They suggested business marketers talk to people who aren’t already customers.

You may be your own worst customer! I know I’m guilty of this. I love to drink coffee, and when I hear something beneficial about caffeine, I feel vindicated. When I hear something negative about caffeine, I tend to dismiss it as “pseudo-science” or consider myself immune to the negative effects. It took numerous messages to convince me to ever ask for decaf.

So, be a little a skeptical about your own dietary mythology. We’d all like to continue consuming what we’re used to, ignoring warnings about pesticide build-up in our bodies. We’d like to believe that the diet that lets us eat our favorite food (or junk calories) every day is the one that really works and makes us healthy. But we are the gasoline customer and the car. And when we fuel our engines with sodas, toxins and non-nourishing food, they’re going to sputter and break down.  It’s helpful to reach beyond the “customer” within you.

Friday, June 22, 2012

5 Mistaken Beliefs that can Ruin Your Diet Plans

I came across an article recently called “The Five Mistaken Beliefs Business Leaders have about Innovation”.  Pretty smart stuff, and guess what, the five headlines apply to dieting. Actually, I hate the word “dieting”.  I prefer to call it “eating better”,  and maybe losing weight.

Besides, I’ve spent a good ten years learning to eat better,  but haven’t tried any of the trendy “diets”.  So my approach to changing what we eat is different from someone trying to sell you a particular fast or fashionable diet.  I have 5 mistaken beliefs for you about eating better. I admit, I stole the headlines from’s 5 Mistaken Business Leader’s Beliefs. 

  1.  Believe the Numbers
  2. Believe Success has been Attained
  3. Believe You Know the Competition
  4. Believe That Because Everybody has always Done it This Way, It is the Best Way of Doing Things
  5. Believe the Customer


Magically, we will now apply these 5 beliefs and their flaws to your own business of  slimming down and improving you and your family's eating habits. Why is it a mistake to...

  1. Believe the Numbers?
According to Forbes, a lot of executives make the mistake of insisting on “seeing the numbers” too much too soon. This totally applies to your weight loss plan. 

If you check the scale every day the first month, you are likely to be thrilled when you drop the first 7 pounds or so and then worried when you plateau. It surely has something to do with water-weight and metabolic adjustment (or a weekend bout of beer pong?).  Whatever the cause, too much concentration on your scale will fill you with longing and guilt, elation and worry, and the urge to fast, or cop out with a chocolate cake binge. So, go easy on the numbers on your scale… check in once a week and try attaching value to the progress you see in two months, not two days.

2.      Believe Success has been Attained?

Lets' say your weight loss plan is going very well and you’re getting used to the feeling of success.  Forbes: “When an organization becomes very good at something, top of its industry, it starts to focus on the thing that made its success, crowding out other options…”

Then along comes a new baby in the family, and your before work trips to the gym are now just wishful thinking.  Along comes holiday season and with it, tables full of fried food, cookies, and your favorite pies. So celebrate your successes, but have a “plan B” in place for dealing with the times when your rigid wellness plan won’t work. Maybe an 8 oz. glass of skim milk will help you pass up on holiday second-helpings. A little flexibiltiy goes a long way when building a "diet" you can live with.

3.      Believe You Know the Competition?

What if you’re a parent and you’ve worked hard to get your preschooler interested in eating broccoli, carrots, nectarines, and brown rice. She’s a model eater, and regularly shuns sugary drinks, repeating your claims that they are “slow you down drinks”.  Bravo Mom or Dad!
In the fall, off she goes to kindergarten, and comes home asking, no – begging, for brand name candy, chips, and sugary pseudo-juices the other kids saw on TV. And their moms gave in and served them at lunch. Your child says the kids make fun of her “green food” when you put cucmber slices in her lunch. You don’t know how fierce the competition for your child’s palate can be. Prepare for the onslaught!

Next Post:

The hidden everybody does it this way syndrome.
You might be your own worst customer!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Cupcake?

Future headline:
"Sixth Grader Suspended for Possession of Cupcakes 
with Intent to Sell"

I just read in Bloomberg Business Week that a growing number of USA school districts are banning bake sales on school grounds, or restricting the distribution of home-made cookies and sugary treats in similar ways. Schools in Maryland, California, Massachusetts, Colorado, Mississippi, New York City, and Texas are making bold or brash moves to show they are warriors in the battle against the rising tide of childhood obesity. But by banning bake sales, are they building levees to ward off the threats of obesity, or just making the flood-water look more appealing?

Or, is something else, something maybe more sinister and effective, poised to remove cupcakes from their sugary throne?

Personally, I think banning all bake sales during school hours will hurt more than it helps. These bake sales raise needed funds for extra-curricular school groups such as bands and athletic clubs. Plus, to decree that bake sales are leading the scourge of school-age obesity is to ignore the bigger picture: the world of everyday food in school.

Move over, Mrs. PTA Mom’s banana bread, while M&M Mars and Frito-Lay** have their day in school peddling unhealthy calories. It’s easy in most schools for a child to buy potato and other chips, candy bars, toaster tarts, salty hot dogs, and manufactured cookies.  This year, a Robert Wood Johnson study found that

“Federal law bans only a small subset of competitive foods, such as sodas and certain types of candy, from being sold in cafeterias during mealtime. But those products are available to kids in other venues at school, even during lunch.”

These items are likely to contain less fiber, more artery-clogging fats and mood-affective high-fructose corn syrup than their home-baked counterparts. Pile a severe lack of nutrition education on top of this kind of junk food availability, and you can see an environment conducive to eating too much of the wrong things… bake sale or not.

There’s a sensible way to do this!  With an emphasis on nutrition education and leading by example, it’s possible to limit rather than ban school bake sales. I agree, daily cupcake handouts would be counterproductive in this battle. Moderation is obviously the key, and schools can easily find ways to limit the frequency of bake sales. It’s also possible to distribute recipes for healthier baked goodies, and allow or insist on the sale of some non-food items during the bake sale. It’s even possible to use these events as an opportunity to send kids home with healthy eating coloring books or handouts, or handfuls of donated local produce. (Think outside the little white box wrapped in string!)

Please don’t demonize the cupcake! There’s a time and place for it in a healthy child’s diet.

**Frito-Lay does offer a page about sensible snacking that discusses portion size and salt. But doesn't discuss nutrients, vitamins, protein, building strong bones, or fiber.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mom, Where does Dinner come from?

I was walking on a wooded path this morning and it occurred to me, when is the last time you, or I for that matter, made anything we use on a daily basis?  I mean made, as in, created or manufactured from the raw material? I didn’t make my coffee mug; I didn’t make my bath towels. I didn’t make my hot water heater, or my i-phone. I brewed the coffee, but I didn’t make the coffee maker, and I certainly didn’t pick the beans. I think they were picked in Guatemala or Dominica, and roasted in a U.S. factory. How the beans were shipped there is beyond me. By Ship? Cargo plane?  And who made those cute vacuum sealed cans?

Back in the 1700’s people like us made a lot of what we used. They wove linens, they sewed their clothes, they churned their own butter. they fed and groomed their transportation (horses), tooled their leather saddles, picked their own pumpkins, kneaded and baked their own bread. If one family didn’t, it wasn’t hard to find the person in town who did. So, people were much, much closer to the origin of the things they used every day. 

Today we suffer from a total disconnect from the origin of the stuff of our lives. And that emphatic detachment is mirrored in the way we eat. For the past 40 years we’ve been getting more and more isolated from our food sources. It’s hard to believe that most of our grandparents had at some point walked past the very chickens that laid their breakfast eggs. Never before were families disconnected from the sources of their food in anywhere near the way we are today. It’s like the Wizard of Oz makes all our ready-to-eat food behind a giant black curtain that 99 percent of us will never, ever see.

And we accept it, because that’s how we get everything, from our laptops and cars to our shirts and shampoo. They all magically appear in the store, neatly packaged and ready to consume. Quick, tell me the top 5 ingredients in your shampoo! You don’t know, right? But you trust that it will clean your hair, make it smell nice, not cause it to fall out, and not leave a sticky residue. Well, we have that same kind of blind trust about the factory farms and food processors that make our dinner. 

But then what happens? Along come ground beef recalls, the bagged spinach scare, eggs with salmonella, the GMO controversy, and the “pink slime” revelation*.  Along comes two whole generations of people who are more likely to be obese, to suffer from diabetes, from strokes, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome than in all their ancestor’s generations. Now everyone has a finger to point and a fad diet to promote, and yet as a nation we’re not getting thinner or healthier. Why why why?

I hate to say it’s simple, because the solution won’t be simple. But the root of the simple cause is, the vast majority of us don’t have any idea any more where our daily food comes from, where it’s grown… or created in a lab, how it was raised, what hormones or pesticides it was given, what it originally looked and smelled like, how it was shipped, or what was added to or subtracted from it. There’s the disconnect. And from a nutritional point of view, that is a disaster.

Rule of thumb for eaters: If it doesn’t rot, it’s not real food. And it won’t work right, nutritionally, in your body. And a diet of unreal food may, over time, push you onto the wrong side of those public health statistics. Even walnuts will rot. So eat stuff that spoils (before it does!) and make something from scratch. Please… Reconnect. Find your inner sword forger.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bountiful Bite: Sugarcoating Obesity

The recent firestorm over Strong 4 Life's anti-obesity ads blew the lid off a smoldering brew of outlooks on how to discuss childhood obesity. On the one side are doctors and educators who feel it's time to "stop sugarcoating it" and startle parents and local governments into action to help obese children, and on the opposing side are some parents and others who council or care for children, who think the extra attention of shock ads will only make obese children more vulnerable to teasing and disfavor.

They do have a legitimate concern. Schoolyard bullying happens, and now social media has allowed the verbal attacks to multiply.  Adults spewing a bitter lack of understanding or kindness have raised their anonymous voices online.

 I've been trolling through reader comments lately on food blogs that touch on legislation or the politics of obesity. There's a lot of venomous ranting out there, including comments like "4 words - don't eat so much." Aside from being hateful, which it is, that's also a comment coming from ignorance. If it were that easy to lose weight even lazy people would probably succeed. I mean, show me someone who likes being morbidly obese and I'll show you pigs flying.

Obese people experience hunger in a different way than "fit" people, often more frequently and with more discomfort. Researchers are studying various hormones and body chemistry and finding some meaningful correlations between weight, hormones, "peptides" and diets. Dieters who cut calories to below 1,000 per day or those who cut out carbs risk struggling with fatigue, dizziness, gallstones, gout, ketosis and even migraine headaches*.  In short, just trying to eat less is both difficult for obese people and not an effective way of trying to keep weight off.

No doubt, obesity is a preventable condition for most people. We live in the climate of what's been dubbed "SAD" eating, the Standard American Diet. It consist of exactly the high-calorie, saturated-fat heavy, low nutrient foods that lead to storing body fat, craving food, and gaining weight. The trouble is, once we have trained our young bodies to be overweight, they learn to try to maintain that weight.

So we need to shut down the angry, accusatory ranting about "fat people" being lazy. This is a dangerous lying stereotype which doesn't help get at the truth or solve a problem.

I feel that Strong4Life, in running these ads and billboards, has yanked the lid off an epidemic of obesity that's boiling over anyway. We have to face it, and we should make sure that as we do, we take the "victims" of obesity and turn them into "fighters" and winners. We need to change the rhetoric the way we did with breast cancer victims. There was a time when it was all hush-hush, don't shame the woman by revealing her surgery. Today we treat breast-cancer patients like the fighters they are. We need to approach obesity the same way.