January 2016: Iron-deficiency Anemia? Deal with it fast before it rusts!

“Do not wait to strike while the iron is hot – but make it hot while striking” –William Yeats

I was recently diagnosed with having iron-deficiency anemia, which came as a surprise to me given that I eat well-balanced, healthy foods and exercise regularly. I also did not have the classic symptoms associated with being anemic, such as weakness, dizziness, and fatigue. However, I know this deficiency is something that can be resolved easily, even if it will take time. So I did some research to find better ways to improve iron uptake and, more importantly, one's capacity to absorb iron, through food as well as supplements.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines iron deficiency anemia as an iron deficiency with a low hemoglobin value, typically less than 120 g/L. It is characterized by red blood cells being small because of a lack of hemoglobin (a protein molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the body's tissues and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues back to the lungs). An iron deficiency is not the only cause of anemia, so multiple measures of iron status should be taken to determine if anemia is truly the result of an iron deficiency. Although several dozen types of anemia exist (including anemia caused by low vitamin B12 levels), in this article “anemia” refers specifically to iron deficiency anemia.

Iron deficiency anemia is one of the most common mineral deficiencies in North America and in other parts of the world, but for different reasons. In America, it often results from “under-nutrition”—that is, eating unhealthy, refined, and highly processed foods with little nutritional value but with a high caloric content—while in several parts of the developing world, it often results from malnutrition and poverty. The relationship between food and nutrition gets even more complicated when combined with poor or limited food choices caused by the lack of access to and the affordability of iron-rich foods.

How do you know if you have sufficient iron in your body? Did you know that iron deficiency anemia can make you tired, weak, and irritable; lower your immunity; lead to hair loss; and compromise mental sharpness? It’s time to understand the benefits of iron, the best ways to get it from your diet, and, most importantly, how best to absorb the iron you consume.

Benefits of Iron

  1. Iron is crucial to delivering oxygen to every cell in the body. It is stored in the liver, bone marrow, spleen, and muscles, and it serves as an essential component of various metabolic processes that occur in the body.

  2. Iron in the diet may help reduce fatigue after exercise. Iron carries oxygen to the body’s cells through the blood; thus, iron plays an important role in energy production and muscle function. Inadequate levels of iron in the body may hinder muscle endurance, increase fatigue and cause the muscles to tire more quickly.

  3. Iron in the diet is especially beneficial for the health of T-cells and the ability of white cells to consume bacteria. It has pro-oxidation properties that the immune system needs to fight off harmful bacteria, which can help prevent infection and increase ones immune responses.

  4. Iron is required for DNA synthesis.

  5. Some evidence also shows that adequate levels of iron in the red blood cells may help prevent certain types of cancer and peptic ulcers.

Sources of Iron

Dietary iron comes in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is derived from hemoglobin. It is found in animal foods that originally contained hemoglobin, such as red meats, fish, and poultry. Non-heme iron is from plant sources.

Your body absorbs the most iron from heme sources, so if you are vegetarian or vegan, you may think it is hard to get an adequate amount of iron from food. But you can get an adequate amount of iron by eating the right plant foods and, more importantly, using ways to absorb iron efficiently from plant sources (see below). In fact, no conclusive evidence shows that vegetarians or vegans are more or less likely to be iron-deficient or anemic.

Some of the best plant sources for iron are

  1. Legumes: lentils, soybeans, tofu, tempeh, lima beans

  2. Grains: quinoa, fortified cereals, brown rice, oatmeal

  3. Nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds, pinenuts, pistachios, sunflower seeds, cashews, un-hulled sesame seeds

  4. Vegetables: tomatoes, Swiss chard, collard greens

  5. Other: black-strap molasses, prune juice

Best Ways to Absorb Iron from Foods or through Supplements

  1. Eating iron-rich foods with foods that contain vitamin C may increase the absorption of iron by as much as five times. The iron in beans, grains, and seeds is better absorbed when combined with the vitamin C found in fruits and vegetables. Some common dishes already combine iron with vitamin C: beans and rice with salsa, falafel with tomatoes and cucumber, and hummus with lemon juice. Even better, some iron sources, like leafy greens, broccoli, and tomato sauce, already contain vitamin C.

  2. Coffee (even decaf), cocoa, and some green and black teas contain polyphenols, which include tannic acid, which inhibits iron absorption. It is best to avoid these foods an hour before or two hours after your meal. However, a study found that in the presence of a large dose of tannic acid from food, 100 mg of vitamin C increased iron absorption from 2 to 8%.

  3. Cooking food in a cast-iron skillet increases the iron in your meal, especially when you cook foods that contain vitamin C in it.

  4. Spinach contains oxalates that may block absorption, especially if spinach is eaten raw. Blanch or lightly saute spinach to decrease the negative effect of oxalates on iron absorption. Not all research agrees on this, but rather than eat only spinach, why not try some of the other iron-containing plant foods?

  5. Phytates, found in legumes and grains, can inhibit the absorption of plant iron. But soaking them for 4-6 hours (or overnight) may help minimize the negative effect of phytates on iron absorption. Some studies found that adding 50 mg of vitamin C to foods containing legumes and grains counteracted the phytate effect and adding 150 mg of vitamin C increased iron absorption to almost 30%.

  6. Calcium supplements can inhibit iron absorption if taken with meals.

  7. Regarding an iron supplementation, you should follow the above advice and take the supplement 20-30 minutes before a meal and preferably with some orange juice.

REFERENCES

  1. Iron-rich foods. WebMd.com, 2014.
  2.  Iron. VeganHealth.org
  3. Benefits of Iron in the Diet. Livestrong.com, 2015
  4. What every vegetarian needs to know about Iron. Nomeatathlete.com

November 2015: Dessert Season is upon us!

Tofu-Dark Chocolate Pudding: 10 minute dessert for 5-6 people

INGREDIENTS

1 cup (6-7 oz) semi sweet or preferably bitter sweet chocolate chips

1 (14 oz) Silken Tofu

2 tbsp almond or soy milk (only if using Firm Tofu)

1 tsp. Pure vanilla extract

¼ tsp. ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp nutmeg (optional)

2 tbsp honey or maple syrup (optional: add only if you like dessert to be really sweet vs more like bitter-sweet chocolate)

Pecans and raspberries as toppings (optional)

METHOD

    1. Melt chocolate chips in a double boiler (or just put it in a small container held over another larger pot with simmering water and stir continuously till melted).

    2. Add this into a food processor or blender and then add in the rest of the ingredients.

    3. Puree together until smooth. Pour into 4 separate small bowls or one medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours to allow it to firm up and to let the flavors meld together.

    4. Top with raspberries and pecans, or fruits and nuts of your choice. Enjoy!

    NOTES:

    1. After draining any excess liquid from the tofu, place it on a few paper towels or a clean dishcloth and press gently for 1-2 mins, to drain any left-over moisture. 

    2. Use a mix of semi-sweet and bitter sweet chocolate chips for a richer, more chocolatey taste. Adjust the honey/maple syrup accordingly. Use 2 tbsp if you add in bitter-sweet or unsweetened chocolate but you don't really need any if you are using only semi-sweet chocolate chips.

    NUTRITION FACTS Per Serving: Calories = 212; Fat = 11g (6g Sat Fat); Sodium = 60 mg; Potassium = 50 mg; Carbohydrates = 30 g; Sugars = 20 g; Protein = 7g

    October 2015 Newsletter: Never too late to go against the grain!

    What are the key differences between “refined” grains and “whole” grains? Is a box of Cheerios or Lucky Charms that has “whole grain” stamped on the box a “whole grain” cereal? Is instant oatmeal a whole grain? Is a commercial loaf of bread that says “whole grain” on the label truly whole grain?

    If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, think again.

    Most grain contains inedible chaff (fed to animals), bran (the oil-rich outer layer), germ (the grain seed's nutrient-rich embryo), and the endosperm (the starchy center). Under the FDA's definition of whole grain, a grain is still “whole,” even it has been milled and separated into its three edible constituents (bran, germ, and endosperm), as long as those constituents are later mixed back in in proportions similar to the intact grain.

    This fluid definition enables the food industry to make “whole grain” products that taste — and act — nothing like whole grain. Thus, a serving of less-processed steel-cut oats with raisins may be more healthful than a serving of highly processed, oat-based Lucky Charms or Quaker Oat Squares. Unfortunately, FDA-required labeling does not explain this distinction to consumers who eat the boxed cereal believing it will provide them with three daily servings of whole grains.

    What constitutes a “daily serving” of whole grains? The amount you need varies based on your age, sex, and physical activity level. In general, adults need between 5- and 8-ounce equivalents of grains each day, and at least half (if not all) of these are recommended to come from whole grains. As a gauge, a 1-ounce equivalent equals 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked pasta or rice.  

    Grains are classified as whole, enriched, fortified, and milled (refined), which are defined as follows:

    • Whole grains are cereal grains that contain the germ, endosperm, and bran (as opposed to “refined” grain, which retains only the endosperm). These unrefined grains haven't had their bran and germ removed by milling. When buying grains and grain products, check the ingredient list the ensure the word "whole" precedes the grain, such as "whole wheat flour." Ideally, the whole grain will be the first ingredient in the list, indicating that the product contains more whole grain than any other ingredient.

    • Enriched grains have had some of the nutrients lost during processing added back in. The B vitamins are often re-introduced to “enrich” the grains, but the lost natural fiber cannot be added back in. Enriched grains are common in the average American diet.

    • Fortified grains have had nutrients that don't occur naturally in the grains added to them. Most refined grains are enriched, and many enriched grains are also fortified with other vitamins and minerals, such as folic acid and iron. Some countries require certain refined grains to be enriched. Whole grains may or may not be fortified.

    • Milled grains (refined grains) are stripped of their bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extended shelf life. Milling also removes most nutrients, including fiber. Whole grains are better sources of fiber than refined grains and contain several important trace minerals, such as selenium, potassium, and magnesium.

    In the US, many people eat mostly refined grains or refined grain products, such as white bread, white pasta, and white rice. Many commercial products, like breakfast cereals, crackers, desserts, and pastries, are also made with refined grains.

    Naturally, there are plenty of healthier choices to explore if you are interested and open-minded to trying new, heartier, and healthier grains and pseudo grains.

    Clockwise from left background: spelt, wild rice, kasha, quinoa, & amaranth

    Clockwise from left background: spelt, wild rice, kasha, quinoa, & amaranth

    10 ways to incorporate more grains into your diet

    1. Experiment with small amounts of a new grain each week. Add a new grain as a side dish to your main dish. For example, quinoa (a pseudo grain) is wholesome and filling. High in protein and gluten free, it tastes delicious combined with cherry tomatoes, avocado, salad greens, and herbs (basil or oregano works well). Even mixed with just some herbs, olive oil, salt, and pepper, quinoa tastes great!

    2. Substitute white rice with barley, bulgur, spelt, or farro. Hearty and filling, a little of these grains goes a long way to keeping you satiated for a long time. (½ cup of them uncooked serves 2 to 3 people.) However, these four grains contain gluten.

    3. Substitute kasha (buckwheat), a gluten-free grain, for white rice. Much more nutritious then white rice, kasha is hearty enough to stand up to spicy Indian food. Kasha also works well in grain salads. Cook and combine it with arugula, sauteed mushrooms, roasted red pepper, and roasted pine-nuts for a tasty nutrient-dense salad. Chopped up and lightly sauteed tofu, seitan, or tempeh is a great protein addition to such salads.

    4. Add barley and wild rice to casseroles and soups, such as mixed vegetable soup, mushroom soup, or chicken soup.

    5. Substitute whole wheat couscous for refined couscous in salads.

    6. Add whole grains, such as cooked brown rice or whole-grain bread crumbs, to minced tofu, tempeh, meat, or poultry for extra body.

    7. Use rolled oats or crushed whole-wheat bran cereal in recipes instead of dry bread crumbs.

    8. If you make pureed lentil soups, add cooked barley, spelt, or quinoa at the end to give it a more chunky taste and look and more added nutrition.

    9. Add whole grains to your baked goods. Instead of using the full amount of all-purpose flour in a recipe, use half of the required amount mixed with an equal amount of whole wheat flour. For example, when a bread recipe calls for 2 cups all-purpose flour, use 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat. You can also use white wheat flour instead of “brown” whole wheat. Another option is to replace one-third of the flour with whole-grain oats.

    10. Expose your kids to whole grains at an early age. Try whole-wheat pitas as crusts for make-your-own individual pizzas. Use white whole wheat flour in baked goods, and incorporate whole grains such as quinoa into foods that have other flavors, such as black bean soup. Serve burgers on whole-grain buns or or a bed of whole grains. Serve brown rice instead of white rice with sauteed veggies.

    References

    1. Whole grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet. Mayoclinic.com. 

    2. Tips for reaping the benefits of whole grains. WebMd.com. 

    3. Whole grains, half truths, and lots of confusion. Mother Nature Network.

     

    September 2015 Newsletter: Vegetarian Sources of Protein - Seek & You Shall Find!

    A vegan diet takes being vegetarian to a whole new level. It excludes all animal products, including fish, eggs, and milk, even dairy foods like yogurt and cheese. It’s basically eating only things that come from plants – fruit, vegetables, seeds, pulses, nuts, beans, and grains. But if you think a vegan diet leads to an imbalance in macro-nutrients, especially protein, think again. Some athletes who have adopted a vegan diet actually perform better than ever because they know how to eat a “balanced” diet.

    A “balanced plate” concept applies to all diets and requires people to consume food from each of the four food groups – proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and fiber – during any typical meal. The balanced plate concept also applies for vegans.

    Foods from the protein food group are vital for the growth and repair of muscles and for brain development. The US CDC says the minimum requirement of protein for sedentary teenage boys and adult men is 52-56 grams per day while the minimum requirement for sedentary teenage girls and women is 46 grams per day and at least 25 grams more if pregnant or breastfeeding. However, physically active people need an additional 20-50 grams of protein per day, based on their level of activity.

    Since vegans do not eat animal products, they must find other sources of protein-rich foods to meet these daily requirements, such as beans, nuts, seeds, and lentils.

    Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, but some of the essential amino acids that people need cannot be produced by the body so they must be obtained from food. The protein in meat and fish are classed as complete proteins because they contain sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids. However, the proteins found in beans, nuts, and seeds lack the full range of necessary amino acids.

    This isn't an issue for vegans as long as they consume several different protein foods that contain different profiles of amino acids to provide the body with what it needs. Aside from being great sources of protein, seeds, pulses, nuts, beans, and grains offer plenty of other nutritional benefits from the many vitamins and minerals they contain.

    Check out the nutritional benefits in some of these vegetable proteins:

    Beans & Lentils

    Beans are a great source of protein and fiber and are naturally low in fat. For example, butter beans (or lima beans) and red kidney beans contain 7.5 to 8 grams of protein in just half a cup. By varying the types of beans and lentils you eat, you can easily get at least half of your recommended daily protein requirement. Lima beans are also a good source of manganese, which makes and activates some enzymes that are critical for the normal functioning of several organs, while kidney beans are a significant source of phosphorus, which combines with calcium to form strong bones.

    Nuts

    Nuts are a staple in the diet of many vegans. Just a handful of nuts packs a powerful punch of proteins, minerals, and vitamins, which all work together to affect your heart, your brain, and your waistline. Just 1 ounce a day can diminish inflammation and provide fiber, immune-boosting minerals, and 5-10 grams of protein. Most nuts are also a great source of potassium, which is necessary for lowering the risk of high blood pressure. Nuts get a bad reputation because of their high fat content, but if eaten in moderation, they are good fats (unsaturated fat) and can help lower blood cholesterol. The daily recommended serving is 1-1.5 oz or 2 tbsp of nuts, which equals about 22-50 nuts, depending on the type and size.

    Seeds

    Seeds such as sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flax, and chia are great sources of protein, fats, fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients. For example, just 2 tablespoons of chia and sesame seeds provide fiber, calcium, manganese, and magnesium as well as 5 grams and 6 grams of protein, respectively. Seeds are versatile ingredients that can be used in stir-fries, smoothies, soups, and salads.

    One of my favorite vegan dishes that can be made in several different ways is this chickpea-lentil stew. I often make a large batch that can be eaten over a few days with quinoa, farro, spelt, millet, brown rice, or barley. I sometimes even add tofu to increase the protein content exponentially. You can get the recipe from my website. Click here.

    References

    1. Diet and Nutrition Data. FastStats. CDC

    2. Detailed Nutrition Information for various Fruits & Vegetables.

    3. Emilio Ros. Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. National Institutes of Health. July 2010.

    4. Chris Gunnars. Eleven Proven Benefits of Chia Seeds. Authority Nutrition: An Evidenced-based Approach.

    5. Christi Wheeler. What are the health benefits of eating nuts and seeds? January 2015.

    August 2015 Newsletter: Are you full of beans?

    Poor man's meat is now rich man's meat

    I am not sure who first referred to beans as the “poor man's meat,” but that idea has certainly evolved over the years. Beans, a member of the legume family, are one of the most nutritious, abundant, and environmentally friendly ways to grow and eat vegetarian, protein- and fiber-rich foods.

    You will find some easy recipes below, but first, let's look at some facts about beans and legumes:

    1. Beans and legumes are not mutually exclusive. A legume is simply a plant with a fruit that grows in the form of a pod, though not all plants with pods are legumes. Classic legumes include green peas, green beans, lentils, or peanuts. Typically, the pods are not eaten, but some plants like green beans are an exception. A bean is a seed of a certain variety of plant species, but these days we refer to the whole plant as a “bean.” Classic beans include green beans, lima beans, soybeans, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, or black-eyed peas. Think of legumes as “automobiles,” and beans as “trucks.” All trucks (beans) are automobiles (legumes), but not all automobiles are trucks. In other words, all beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans.

    2. Like grains and pseudo-grains (such as quinoa, amaranth, and kasha), legumes contain phytic acid. Phytic acid binds to nutrients in food and may prevent nutrient absorption in the body. However, this effect on the body depends on how much legumes you eat, how you cook them, and how balanced your diet is. In many countries where grains and legumes are staple food, people follow traditional cooking methods that help reduce phytic acid content. Soaking dry beans is a good first step; it helps reduce some of the phytic acid but doesn’t completely eliminate it. Sprouting legumes is the most effective method for reducing their phytic acid content by 25 to 75 percent. Fermentation is another.

    3. In addition to containing phytic acid, legumes are FODMAPS, meaning that they contain a type of carbohydrate called galaco-ligosaccharides, which could cause unpleasant digestive problems for some people, especially people who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or similar digestive problems. This isn’t necessarily a reason to avoid eating legumes (not any more than you would avoid eating other FODMAPS foods like onions or mushrooms if you aren’t sensitive to them), but it’s certainly a concern for someone with pre-existing digestive troubles.

    4. Anyone trying to cut back on carbohydrates should consider the relatively high carbohydrate content of many beans and legumes. They are a good vegetarian protein and a good source of micronutrients, but half a cup of black beans, for example, has almost triple the amount of carbohydrates (24 g) than proteins (9 g). While there isn’t anything wrong with including “safe starches” (i.e., complex carbohydrates) in your diet, eating beans alone as a staple source of protein will quickly add on the carbohydrate calories and deliver many more carbohydrates than your body may need. In the long term, a high level of bean consumption can contribute to weight gain and metabolic imbalances like insulin resistance. Just eat beans in moderation, and you will be fine!

    Here are some quick and easy ways to add beans and legumes to your diet. Enjoy them cold or warm! Servings are for 2-3 people.

    1. Black bean spread:

      1. Take 1 can of low-salt black beans, rinsed and drained. Place in a food processor or mini chopper. Add 1 large crushed clove garlic, 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice, ½ cup cilantro leaves, 1 tsp cummin seed powder, ¼ tsp paprika (optional), and 1 tbsp olive oil. Blend to as smooth a paste as you want.

      2. Spread 2-3 tbsp of the paste on a wrap, and top with mixed greens, chopped cherry tomatoes, and half an avocado. If you enjoy dairy, crumbled feta or goat cheese tastes great in the wrap, too.

    2. Summer bean salad: a great accompaniment to a meal or as a complete meal in itself:

      1. In a large bowl, mix 1 can black/pinto beans, 1 cup corn (thawed or fresh corn off the cob), 1 small red/green/yellow pepper diced, 1 jalapeno with seeds removed and finely diced, ½ cup pumpkin or sunflower seeds dry roasted and unsalted, and 2-3 tbsp grated parmesan or crumbled feta (optional).

      2. Add 2 chopped green scallions and ½ cup fresh parsely or cilantro before serving.

      3. Works well in a wrap or on a bed of hearty whole grains like barley, spelt, farro, or millet or with a vegetarian protein (grilled tofu, seitan) or non-vegetarian protein (shellfish, grilled chicken).

    3. Winter bean chili (pinto or kidney beans work great!): hearty and filling:

      1. In a heavy pot, mix 1 can black beans/kidney beans/navy beans (unsalted or rinse well if salted), 1 14-oz can diced/crushed tomatoes, half a white onion diced, 1 small green or red pepper diced, 3-5 garlic cloves crushed, 1 tsp paprika (preferably smoked), 2 tsp oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.

      2. Bring to a boil; then simmer for 20-30 minutes. Variation: If time permits, sautee the onions and garlic first with 1 tbsp olive oil on med-high flame for 4-5 minutes. Then add the pepper, and stir for 1-2 minutes. Finally, add rest of ingredients, bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

      3. Eat by itself or with a wholesome grain like millet or barley [add link to website page on grains]. Top with scallion and avocado for a boost of flavor and nutrition.

    4. Chickpeas with spinach/kale:

      1. Ingredients: 1 can chickpeas (unsalted or rinse well if salted), 6-8 oz baby spinach or baby kale chopped, 3-4 cloves garlic diced, 2 tbsp roasted red pepper chopped fine (optional), ½ fresh tomato chopped (optional), 2 tbsp lemon juice (optional)and salt and pepper to taste.

      2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a wok or medium to large pan on medium heat. Add the garlic, and stir for 1-2 minutes until slightly browned. Add spinach/kale, and stir until just wilted. Removed from flame, and add chickpeas with salt and pepper to taste. (I also use garam masala in this one.)

      3. For nutrition and more flavors, add roasted red pepper and/or diced fresh tomato when you add the chickpeas. Top with 2 tbsp lemon juice for that extra punch.

      4. Goes well with quinoa or with a whole wheat wrap/roti.

    5. French lentil soup: these lentils have a unique flavor and cook quite fast:

      1. Ingredients: 1 cup dry lentils, 1 bay leaf, 2-3 cloves garlic crushed, ½ cup onion chopped, 1 cup diced/crushed tomatoes from a can, 2 tsp dry thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.

      2. Place lentils, bay leaf, and 2 cups water (or veggie stock – put link to my stock recipe) in a pot, and bring to a boil. While water is coming to a boil, chop up the onion and tomatoes (if using fresh tomato), and crush the garlic. Add to lentils when they come to a boil. Let the mixture simmer for 10-12 minutes. (Add some chopped kale or spinach at this point to bulk up fiber and overall nutrition.) Add thyme, and simmer for another 3-5 mins. Taste for doneness. Can be eaten cold or warm.

    Check out some lentil and bean recipes on my website: http://healthwithgita.com/recipes-beansandlentils

    References

    1. Legumes & Beans, Whats the difference? Daily Health Lesson, June 2011.

    2. Legumes. Wikipedia

    3. Phytic Acid 101: Everything you need to know. Authority Nutrition

    4. Low FODMAP Diet. Shepherd Works.

     

    July 2015 Newsletter: Foodie tips for Healthier Kids

    Nothing is more important than children’s health, and you can’t underestimate how important nutrition is to their health. Making sure kids eat well and have a positive relationship with food won’t just keep them healthy when they’re young, but it will instill the right habits for later in life.

    Do breakfast right

    Breakfast is an important meal for people of any age, but it’s even more vital for children because they need to get energy so they can concentrate at school and make it to lunchtime. The early years are the time to set good eating habits for your children so they see breakfast as a way of life rather than a chore. If you struggle to find time in the morning to prepare a full meal, a piece of fruit and a slice of 100% whole wheat toast with butter is better than sending kids off with nothing. You can top that toast with a simple, healthy topping: some sliced banana, a thin layer of peanut butter and honey, mashed avocado, or cheese. You can also boil a few eggs the night before for a great high-protein morning boost for kids.

    If your kids aren't hungry first thing in the morning, pack a breakfast that they can eat later on the way to school or between classes. Fresh fruit, an energy bar (check the label to make sure each serving has at least 5-7 grams of protein, 2 or more grams of fiber, and less than 10 grams of sugar), a handful of nuts and dried fruits, or half a peanut butter and banana sandwich is nutritious, easy to prepare, and easy for kids to carry.

    Oatmeal makes a great weekend breakfast when you have more time on your hands to really enjoy and embrace this meal with the whole family around the table. Encourage kids to add their own toppings to the oatmeal; suggest a generous pinch of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon of maple syrup, unsalted nuts, unsweetened dried fruits, or even fresh berries.

    Get kids involved with some simple cooking

    You don't need to teach your children how to create gastronomic masterpieces, but you can show them basic, fun recipes that will arm them for life, such as veggie and hummus spreads, home-made pizza, or whole wheat pancakes.

    Whole wheat pancakes

    Whole wheat pancakes

    Learning to cook will not only make your children familiar with ingredients and basic kitchen equipment, but also help them understand serving sizes. Teaching them how to cook when they are young could also encourage them to do their own home-cooking and engage in healthy eating as adults.

    Here are some simple, easy, filling, healthy snack/meal ideas to get kids interested in simple cooking:

    1. A tangy, minty yogurt dip (combine 6 oz plain greek yogurt, with 2 tbsp lemon juice, 4-5 leaves of finely chopped fresh mint, and a pinch of sugar) or home-made hummus or black bean spread (in a food processor combine 1 can of chickpeas or black beans rinsed and drained, with 3 tbsp lemon juice, ½ cup water or veggie stock, 2 tbsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste; add 1 tbsp tahini paste if you have it for a more authentic flavor; grind to a paste; add more water if too thick; if desired, for some extra heat, add half a de-seeded jalapeno to the black beans before grinding). These spreads can be enjoyed with healthy whole wheat crackers or bread or even with your children's favorite veggies.

    Black bean spread

    Black bean spread

    2. Black or pinto beans heated in a pot with a pinch of salt, pepper, cumin powder, and paprika. These can be placed in a whole wheat wrap (check the nutrition label to make sure the wrap has more than 2 grams of fiber per serving). Kids can add some chopped baby kale/spinach, frozen corn, or other chopped frozen veggie, such as broccoli or carrots, to the beans when heating them. Older teenagers can even learn to make basic salsa (1 cup chopped tomatoes, 1/4 cup red onion, salt & pepper to taste, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 tbsp lemon juice, and a handful of chopped cilantro) and guacamole (one avocado mashed, pinch of salt, and 1-2 tbsp lime juice).

    Take kids food shopping

    Next time you’re food shopping and you’re not in a hurry, spend some time in the grocery store teaching your children about the items going into your cart so they can better understand where foods come from and how they can be used in cooking. The fruit and vegetable aisle is a good place to start because we now have access so many different types and varieties.

    And when you buy packaged foods, show kids how to read the nutrition label and ingredient list so they become increasingly aware of what is in their food and what to avoid in packaged foods, such as artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, sweeteners like aspartame, preservatives like sodium benzoate or sodium nitrite which is found in cured meats, and something called “natural” flavors.

    Get them active

    This tip for helping kids lead healthy lifestyles isn’t food related, but it's absolutely essential for good health. The CDC recommends at least 1 hour of moderate to intense exercise that combines aerobic and muscle- and bone-strengthening exercises every day for people under 18 years of age. In fact, studies have shown that continuously sitting for even an hour or two at a time without getting up for a 2-5 minute stroll or stretch is not the best thing for your health.

    I can’t emphasize enough the importance of establishing the good habits of a balanced diet and an active lifestyle early in life. Both are vital to good health and well-being, in the present as well as the future.

    References

    1. Estimated calorie requirements. Zelman, 2008. 

    2. Truth about food additives. Zelman et al. 2008. 

    3. Synthetic ingredients in natural flavors and natural flavors in artificial flavors. Andrews. Environmental Working Group. 

    4. Youth physical activity guidelines toolkit, Introduction. CDC.

    5. Even with exercise, long periods spent sedentary are deemed a health risk. Bernstein. July 12, 2011

    June 2015 Newsletter: Can you keep it balanced on a vegan diet?

    The simple answer is: Like any other diet, it depends on what you eat. Someone living purely on chips or fries or other refined starchy foods, for example, is technically following a vegan diet, but that in no way is healthy.

    Compelling research shows that a vegan diet does have potential benefits. Some of the evidence is anecdotal, some more scientifically rigorous, but it is all profoundly persuasive. (1, 2, 3) A recent study indicated that the average vegan diet is higher in vitamin C and fiber and lower in saturated fat than a diet containing meat, particularly red meat. Adopting a vegan diet has been shown to mitigate the impact of type 2 diabetes and may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Veganism has also been shown to more effectively combat obesity than other prescribed diets and to lower risk factors associated with cardiac disease. (3)

    Sounds great, right? Yes, but the catch phrase is having a “healthy and nutritious” vegan diet. In terms of micro-nutrients, a vegan diet is more susceptible to being nutritionally poor if the plant foods consumed are not varied and balanced. A vegan diet is not very high in calcium, vitamin D, iron, vitamin B12, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids.

    Therefore, if you choose to follow a vegan diet, you need to get enough nutrient-rich vegan food sources and to balance those with specific supplements. For example, something like tahini (sesame seed paste used to make hummus and other bean spreads) is a good source of calcium, zinc, and iron, which are micro-nutrients hard to get in a vegan diet. (2)

    In other words, going vegan does not necessarily mean you are going to be healthier, unless you educate yourself about the basic nutritional content of plant-based foods and how to supplement your diet, if necessary, with essential vitamins and minerals.

    Many people see the word “vegan” on a label and assume the food is super healthy. Wrong. Even if the item is vegan, reading the ingredient list and the nutrition information is still important to see how much and what types of fat, sugar, salt, preservatives, and artificial ingredients it contains.

    Coconut oil is hugely popular in vegan baking and its health benefits are praised across the internet. However, no regulated claims have been passed for coconut oil, indicating that no significant evidence supports the alleged benefits. In fact, coconut oil is very high in plant-based saturated fat. This doesn't mean that you shouldn’t use it or that it can’t be healthy in small amounts, but too much of coconut oil in a diet could be detrimental to your health.

    Of course, this doesn't mean that vegan products can’t be healthier. Vegan desserts, for example, can be a lot healthier than conventional baked goods because bakers have to devise inventive ways of substituting the butter and cream. Chocolate “mousse” can be made by mixing ripe avocados with cocoa powder and maple syrup. It's still a bit indulgent, but substituting avocado for butter, egg, and cream makes the dessert vegan while incorporating relatively healthier plant-based fats that also contain several other micro nutrients.

    Veganism has gained in popularity, and as I say, although it isn't necessarily a healthier diet in and of itself, I think it's great if we know how to eat a “healthy” vegan diet. I am not a practicing vegan, but I think that meat has become far too available and is far too prominent in our diet, and rearing animals for meat products is not the best use of our environment.

    If you decide to follow a vegan diet, apply all the same principles that you would to any healthy, balanced diet: Eat plenty of different fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes, while limiting sugary and fatty foods, to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients that a vegan diet could lack.

    References

    1. Nutritional update for physicians: Plant-based diets. 2013.

    2. Plant-based diets are not nutritionally deficient. 2013.

    3. The evidence for a vegan diet. 2012.

     

    May 2015 Newsletter: Being comfortable with comfort foods

    Some days my go-to comfort foods tug at me. I know many of them are not the best thing in the world for me, but I won’t deny or begrudge myself of a treat now and then.

    “Comfort food” can be interpreted in many ways: treats for special occasions, such as birthdays or anniversaries; food to fuel you when you’re not feeling well; breakfast to help banish a hangover; a reward after an achievement. Clearly, comfort food plays a significant part in our lives, whether we realize it or not.

    I believe that no food, especially comfort foods, should be totally banned or excluded, because this approach only fuels cravings. The key to a balanced diet is being aware and conscious of what, when, and why we eat what we do, along with some awareness of how much and how frequently we eat. Keeping a food diary or using a Food App, like MyFitness Pal, for a few days can be a useful way to keep track of what we’re eating and drinking, which will help stop us from falling into a trap of eating mindlessly.

    One of my favorite comfort foods is khichdi which is traditionally lentils and white rice cooked with assorted vegetables and spices. This dish varies dramatically across many regions in India. I add all my favorite spices (cloves, bay leaf, cumin seeds, and cardamom with coriander, chili, and turmeric) with a mix of seasonal veggies. I often use brown rice instead of white rice, or better still, I use quinoa to give the dish a protein and fiber boost. (White rice is simple carbohydrates stripped of fiber, protein, and micro-nutrients; so it's not an ideal choice for me.) I can even add cashews or a handful of other nuts to my khichdi. Aside from being a great meal that provides sustained energy, the healthy take on this comfort food tastes absolutely delicious and reminds me of my home in India.  

    Everyone has different tastes, but whatever they are, comfort food can play its part. Here are my top tips for enjoying comfort foods and still living a healthy life:

    1. Don’t fight cravings. Indulge in your favorite comfort foods, but be mindful of how often you’re eating them. If you crave a sweet dish or a deep fried one, try to eat it as a small part of a larger and healthier meal, rather than as a between-meal snack, to reduce the risk of overeating it.

    2. Don't eat mindlessly. Because we have easy access to processed foods, it’s easy to graze on them at any time of day. This is when it’s useful to keep fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grain crackers, and nut butters at hand. You can smear a tablespoon of a nut butter on celery, an apple, or a banana; have a fistful of your favorite nuts with 8-10 raisins or cranberries; or smear nut butter and fruit spread (the no sugar added variety) on a few crackers.

    3. Don’t eat while watching television or when on the move. Being distracted sometimes means you eat more. Savor and focus on the flavor and texture of what you eat; consider what’s in it and where it’s coming from.

    4. Keep trying new and different foods from each of the food groups because no single food can provide all the nutrients our bodies need. It's easy to become stuck in a rut and habitually eat the same foods week after week, so don't be afraid to break the routine.

    5. Don’t feel guilty. There’s a place for your favorite comfort food, and it’s okay to treat yourself every so often, whether it’s a delicious veggie or meat burger or a slice of cake. Enjoy that food for what it is, savor the moment, and continue to embrace a balanced diet enjoying nutritious foods every day.

    Reference

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khichdi


     

    April 2015 Newsletter: Gullible for going Gluten-Free?

    Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. It’s a healthy, natural protein, but people with celiac disease, gluten intolerance, or a rare skin condition called dermatitis herpetiformis can have nasty reactions if they eat gluten. So unless you suffer from one of these conditions, I believe you experience no real benefits from choosing gluten-free products.

    Celiac disease is a digestive autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the lining of the small intestine when gluten-containing foods are eaten. The intestinal damage prohibits the body from absorbing nutrients, especially fat, calcium, iron, and folate. Gluten-intolerant or -sensitive people experience negative reactions to gluten but do not have celiac disease. What often causes confusion is a wheat allergy, which is a body's aversion to wheat, not gluten, so people with wheat allergies may have an adverse reaction to certain gluten-free products.

    Because of their many different causes, conditions, and symptoms, diagnosis of gluten-related ailments is extremely difficult, and a lot of misinformation about gluten gets promoted.

    When I worked in the prepared foods department at Whole Foods and customers approached seeking gluten-free foods, they often asked if these are better or healthier than foods with gluten. I informed them that going gluten free is not necessary for a healthier lifestyle.

    Although foods containing gluten (typically, cakes, biscuits, pastries, pancakes, and muffins) are often associated with weight gain and other dietary diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease, these ailments are more related to the overall calorie content, especially through added sugars and unhealthy fats in these products, than to their gluten content.

    Thus, whether or not an item contains gluten does not determine how “healthy” it is. Unless you are allergic or intolerant to gluten or wheat, I believe that removing gluten from your diet has no direct effect on your health. A gluten-free cake or biscuit, with no change in its ingredients other than the removal of gluten, will be no healthier than its gluten-containing counterparts. And sometimes, gluten-free products can have higher fat, sugar, and salt contents to improve their flavor or texture. Also, by excluding entire groups of foods like whole grains just to avoid gluten, people can risk lowering their intake of certain essential micro nutrients (that is, vitamins and minerals) (1).

    There is no end in sight to the expanding US and global gluten-free markets (2). My concern is that the fad aspect of gluten-free diets will overshadow the 1 in 100 people who have celiac disease – a serious disease that requires gluten avoidance for life. While the sudden popularity of gluten-free products benefits those with genuine dietary requirements and their availability is certainly worth celebrating, one can remain healthy without going gluten-free (3).

    References

    1. The Truth about Gluten. WebMd. 2011. http://www.webmd.com/diet/truth-about-gluten

    2. Statista, The Statistics Portal. http://www.statista.com/topics/2067/gluten-free-foods-market/

    3. The Big Bet on Gluten Free. Stephanie From. New York Times. February 7, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/18/business/food-industry-wagers-big-on-gluten-free.html?_r=0

    March 2015 Newsletter: Red Light for Red Meat? Not a Bad Idea!

    The idea of having less meat is spreading around the world as we find mounting evidence about the negative impact of eating too much meat, especially red meat, on one's health, on the environment, on animal welfare, and on one's budget.

    The health implications are complicated and controversial. There is some evidence that eating too much red meat, such as beef and lamb, can increase the risk of death from certain types of cancer and heart disease, but it is difficult to isolate the independent effects of red meat consumption on the likelihood of getting cancer or heart disease (1, 2, 3).

    Nevertheless, I think there is some rationale for reducing red meat consumption, an idea I and many others support. If you eat meat more than 5 times a week, I encourage taking a break from meat and having at least 3 meat-free days a week (4, 5) for these three reasons below.

    First, aside from the potential health implications of eating too much red meat, meat is more expensive than fresh fruits, whole grains, and vegetables, so going meat-free a little more often would reduce the strain on your wallet and budget. Also, by saving a little money, you can afford the best quality when you do buy meat.

    Second, with the money you save by eating meat only occasionally, the most “eco-friendly” meat is more affordable. A growing number of studies are showing that beef and sheep have a greater adverse environmental impact than pigs and chickens, so it's best for the planet to avoid, as much as possible, the “unsustainable” meats. (6, 7, 8).

    Red meat is still the largest proportion of meat consumed in the U.S. (58%), and the total meat intake average per person is 4.5 oz (128 g)/day (9). Also, the reported type and quantities of meat consumed varied by education, race, age, and gender (10). If you want to be an environmentally friendly carnivore, you may want to get no more than 3 oz (85 g) of your protein from meat sources (when and if you eat it) and the rest of your protein from beans, nuts, seeds, specific vegetables and fruits, dairy, etc. On average, women ages 19-70 need about 40-46 grams of protein/day and men 50-56 grams of protein/day (11).

    Third, if you strongly believe in animal welfare, eating meat of any kind is really not a viable option given that all animals raised for human consumption endure stress and pain at some point in their lives and those raised in intensive confinement facilities in industrial production suffer even more.

    Although I am a strong proponent of vegetarianism, I am not suggesting that it's the right choice for everyone or that you should give up your traditional Sunday brunch of eggs with bacon or sausage. Meat can be eaten as part of a balanced diet, but do consider how much meat, especially red and processed meat, you have in your diet and at each serving. If you want to cut back on your meat consumption and are interested in changing your diet to incorporate more plant-based dishes, check out my recipes at http://healthwithgita.com/recipes-and-cooking/ and feel free to reach out to me for healthy cooking classes and/or health and nutrition counseling at http://healthwithgita.com/contact/.

    And I close with some of my favorite quotes from Michael Pollan: “ Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” and “Don't eat anything incapable of rotting” (Taken from: In Defense of Food: an Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan, 2008).

    References:

    1. Red meat and cancer: the biological evidence, Kobayashi, 2014. http://blogs.plos.org/publichealth/2014/11/17/red-meat-biological-evidence/

    2. Red meat and breast cancer: still no solid evidence, Peel. 2014 http://scienceblog.cancerresearchuk.org/2014/06/11/red-meat-and-breast-cancer-still-no-solid-evidence/

    3. Red meat and colorectal cancer: a critical summary of prospective epidemiologic studies. Alexander and Cushing. 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20663065

    4. Meatless Monday: Why meatless? http://www.meatlessmonday.com/about-us/why-meatless/

    5. Meatless meals: the benefits of eating less meat: Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/meatless-meals/art-20048193?pg=1

    6. Can eating meat be eco-friendly? Mosley, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-28858289

    7. Is meat sustainable? World Watch Institute Magazine, 2004. http://www.worldwatch.org/node/549

    8. Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprints more than cars, say experts, BBC World News. 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jul/21/giving-up-beef-reduce-carbon-footprint-more-than-cars

    9. Trends in meat consumption in the United States, Public Health Nutrition, 2011http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3045642/

    10. Meat consumption patterns by race and gender, Counting Animals, 2012. http://www.countinganimals.com/meat-consumption-patterns-by-race-and-gender/

    11. Nutrition for everyone: Protein Basics, CDC. http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/protein.html

     

    February 2015 Newsletter: Crash & Burn!

    Crash-dieting in the new year – forget it!

    The attraction of the post-holiday crash diet is nothing new. Endless rounds of pies, potatoes, eggnog, wine, and bubbly leave us feeling bloated and stuffed. So we resolve to lose 10 pounds as part of our New Year resolution.

    Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), we are not all programmed to be gym-robots living off freshly squeezed juices or super-food smoothies. As February rolls around, the gym regulars stick to their workout routine, while many of us return to our old routine of bad eating habits (chips, crackers, coke, takeout food all the time), not really understanding why we didn't meet our resolution. We feel as though we’ve failed, but we’ve really just been unrealistic.

    Recent research (see below) shows that crash-dieting can be very damaging to our bodies (and probably to our minds) and that the biggest outcome associated with crash diets is, in fact, weight gain. We can fully embrace the soup or liquid food diet, and most likely, we will lose weight initially, but at the end of the diet, as we return to eating normally our bodies will put the weight back on.

    Why? Because our bodies are designed to conserve energy. If we starve ourselves with dieting, our bodies do everything they can to hang on to the energy they're given. Thus, once we end the crash diet, we regain not only the fat lost, but also add on extra fat to protect ourselves from similar bouts of food restriction. This results in a cycle of weight loss/weight gain often referred to as yo-yo dieting.

    And how long can you sustain that soup diet? Say you managed to keep it going for two weeks, and each day you reached a daily calorie deficit of 700 calories; over the course of two weeks, this would add up to 9,800 calories. However, the likelihood of you eating soup for the rest of your life is slim to none.

    But by making small, achievable changes you will avoid messing with your metabolism and be more likely to maintain those changes in the long term. If you drank one less sweetened soda a day and managed to do this for 1 year, you would save yourself about 50,700 calories. Or if you walked up the escalator once a day every day for 1 year rather than stand, you would burn about 10,000 additional calories. Small changes like this can make a real difference – you will hardly notice the difference but accumulatively your body benefits hugely.

    My final suggestion is to stop fixating on the newest food fad or super-food or one particular vitamin or mineral. Focusing on the cutting edge benefits of coconut oil or a new super-berry to solve all your weight problems will waste time; time that could be spent learning how to prepare fresh, beautiful, healthy dishes that are good for you and for those around you. 

    The best thing you can do is swap your New Year crash diet with a New Year resolution to take the stress out of eating – enjoy good food and exercise – and remember, small changes can make a huge difference over time! For easy ways to eat healthier and lead a more balanced lifestyle, email me here and lets talk!

    References:

    Why is gradual weight loss better than a crash diet? Livestrong.com

    How crash diets harm your health. National Health Survey, UK. 

    Why is losing wieght too fast bad? 

    January 2015 Newsletter: The "New" You.....

    Humans are creatures of habit, and some habits are hard to control or kill. But why not change some habits by doing the same things in new ways? Like trying new ways of exercising, new foods that enrich you, or new cooking methods that challenge you. Changing habits takes effort, consistency, and most importantly, the “intention” to try different ways of doing things, but making these changes can enhance our health and well-being and lead to new, positive habits.

    As a health and wellness coach who tries to look above and beyond the food, exercise, health, and fitness hypes and fads, I think some habits transcend time and place and go beyond fads. They are easy to follow no matter where you live, what you do, and how you want to live your life.

    Here are seven “new” habits for healthy living that require a little work and strong intentions:

    1. Drink the nectar of life: Experts recommend drinking six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day, particularly during the first half of the day so you don't wake up in the middle of the night too often. The amount needed actually varies from person to person, depending on activity level and climate.

    If you’re not a fan of plain water, add a twist of lime, lemon or orange rind, or increase your intake of foods that are 85 to 95 percent water, such as celery, tomatoes, oranges, and melons.

    2. Chew on this: Take smaller bites, chew carefully, and make sure you spend at least 15 to 20 minutes eating and enjoying your food. Because the brain needs between 20 and 30 minutes to realize you’re full, eating slowly will help you consume less and enjoy the food's flavors and aromas more. I have noticed that when I chew food longer, I tend to eat less than I otherwise would.

    3. Remember, portion control is in your hands: All it takes is one hand to make sure you're eating the correct portions. When planning or creating any meal, portion out a palm-size amount of meat, tofu, or other protein; at least two handfuls of vegetables; no more than one handful of fruit; and a thumb-sized portion of fats.

    This is known as the 1Palm-Protein; 2Hands-Veggie; 1Hand-Fruit; Thumb-size-Fat Method. The actual amounts of food you need varies from person to person depending on activity levels, genetics, age, gender, etc., but this method is a good ballpark estimate.

    4. Don't box yourself in: Challenge yourself by staying away from any food that is packed in a box or package. (Obviously, exceptions to this are frozen veggies and fruits, unsweetened milk or yogurt, and “whole” foods with single ingredient labels that come in a package, like oats, applesauce, flax-seed powder, seeds, nuts, whole grains, etc.) You get the point – educate yourself and use some common sense..

    Substitutes Jan 2015.jpg

    5. Practice the art of substitution: When you crave sweet things, instead of snacking on cookies or doughnuts, eat 1 to 2 tablespoons raw honey with unsweetened yogurt or a handful of berries or an apple or applesauce

    6. Indulge in mindful eating: For me, eating mindfully means slowing down, expressing gratitude for the food we eat, being satisfied with the food, and paying attention to why we eat. If you get into the habit of mindful eating it will help steer you away from unhealthy relationships with food. Mindful eating is highly individual and it does not have to be stressful. Some people think that if you ever eat a speck of white sugar or a grain of refined wheat, you’re not eating mindfully. I personally think that mindful eating is best attained by striving toward an ideal of eating lots of veggies, vegetarian protein-rich foods, occasionally eating lean no-vegetarian protein-rich foods, and minimally processed foods, and then eating off-limit items on occasion when you’re being mindful. It’s all about progress over perfection.

    7. Listen to your body: Don't underestimate the art of listening to your body and focusing on feeling your best. Each of us has different needs and desires, whether related to food, physical activity, relationships, or work. Unfulfilled, these needs can cause stress, which we sometimes try to alleviate with food. You can eat as healthy as you want, but if you're unhappy with yourself or your current state of being, stressed with work and life, and not aware of and living in the here and now, nothing you eat can change that. Self-care and self-awareness is a huge step toward finding more balance in your life. It takes some effort, but if you have the intention, you're on the right path.

    And if you need some guidance in your journey to better health and wellness, I am here to help you get there.  I would love to hear from you so feel free to send me a message here.

    December 2014 Newsletter: Bitter Truth about Sweeteners

    Who doesn’t love sweet things? The sweet flavor releases serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. We love to sweeten foods with sugar and feel pious when we use brown or raw sugar instead of white sugar.

    But sugar is sugar, whether white, brown or raw. One teaspoon of any sugar has around 16 calories, and all sugars have pretty much the same composition, with some raw forms having trace amounts of minerals and vitamins but nothing significant. However, when it comes to sugar substitutes, not all are created equal.

    A sugar substitute is loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose), and artificial sweeteners are just one type of sugar substitute. This chart here – insert link: (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936?pg=1) lists some popular sugar substitutes and how they're commonly categorized.

    Studies have cited potential side effects and health risks from sweeteners such as white table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame (brand names: Equal Next, Equal Original, Equal Spoonful, NutraSweet), saccharin (brand names: Equal Saccharin, Sweet’N Low, Sweet Thing), and acesulphame potassium (brand names: Equal Original and Equal Spoonful).

    Sweetenes.jpg

    However, no conclusive evidence has been found to show how safe or harmful sugar substitutes (especially artificial sweeteners) are. Most studies have limitations such as small sample size, high doses, statistically non-significant or borderline significant results, and effects shown in animals but not in humans.

    Still, the bottom line is that sugar substitutes should not play a major role in a healthful diet. Even if all of these sweeteners were given the green light for safety tomorrow, they would still fall short when it comes to nutritional value. Like sugar, sugar substitutes and many of the foods that contain them contribute little or nothing in terms of nutrients, and they take the place of more nutritious foods in our diets.

    Limit yourself to a couple of servings a day, and even though some evidence suggests that certain artificial sweeteners can be helpful in losing weight, most experts agree that sugar substitutes in general are neither the cause of nor the cure for obesity.

    Be a savvy, smart consumer and consider these points when deciding about sweeteners:

    1. Read labels and do your research. Sugar substitutes are now found in hundreds of products and they often make dubious health claims. A woman did some research and  filed a class-action lawsuit for $6.1 million against Truvia, a plant-based sweetener, which makes claims of being “naturally” derived from the Stevia plant, when there is no conclusive evidence to support this claim.

    2. Vary your choices, or use products containing more than one sweetener. Because some sweeteners enhance each others sweetness, blends often use less of each, reducing your exposure to any single sweetener.

    3. Get informed and look beyond the hype when choosing sugar substitutes. While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they aren't a magic bullet and should be used only in moderation.

    4. Remember: A product marketed as sugar-free isn't free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight because these foods have other ingredients that contain calories. And processed foods, which often contain sugar substitutes, generally don't offer the same health benefits as whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.

    You can use a few unprocessed sugar substitutes to sweeten drinks, food, and baked goods. Because these substitutes are all approximately 1.5 times sweeter than regular sugar, you can use less of them. Here are two you can find in most supermarkets or natural food stores:

    Raw Honey

    Everyone seems to love honey, one of the oldest natural sweeteners in the world. Each honey has a different flavor depending on the plant source. Some can be very dark; others intensely flavored. When possible, choose raw honey, because it's unrefined and contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. If you have seasonal allergies, locally grown raw honey can help alleviate some of the allergy symptoms.

    Maple Syrup

    Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap from maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavor to foods and drinks. Read the label. Look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup. And as with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best.

    Honey and maple syrup are slightly “less bad” than regular sugar but definitely not something you should eat vast amounts of every day. In fact, even though “natural” sweeteners are healthier than sugar substitutes, the bottom-line is that even these alternatives are sugars and are best when eaten in small quantities.

    Do you want to better manage your sweet cravings? Do you want to make tasty but healthy desserts?  Then let’s talk! Feel free to schedule a free healthy eating & living consultation with me today, or pass this offer on to someone you care about!

    References:

    1. Sugar Substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits
    2. Sugar Substitutes: Are they safe?

    3. Sugar vs Sugar in the Raw
    4. Is Pure Maple Syrup Healthy?

    5. Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Artificial Sweeteners
    6. Truvia Maker settles Hawaii-based suit for $1.6 million

    November 2014 Newsletter: Deconstructing Food Cravings

    The body is an amazing source of intelligence. It's always there for you, pumping blood, never skipping a heartbeat, and digesting whatever food you put in it. Why would this reliable, sentient being have food cravings? Perhaps your diet is too restrictive or devoid of essential nutrients. Perhaps you are living a lifestyle that is too boring or stressful. Your body tries to correct such imbalances by sending a message: a craving.

    Cravings are not a problem but don't ignore them since they may be contributing to weight gain, poor health, or mood swings, so it's important to understand why you crave what you crave. Learning to decipher and respond to your body’s cravings may bring you a deeper and lasting level of health and balance.

    Craving something sweet could suggest that you have blood sugar fluctuations. When your blood sugar drops, your body may be trying to get you to give it more fuel to keep your blood sugar levels stable. So it's important to choose the right type of food to bring your body back into balance. Giving in to cookies, cakes, candies, or refined sweets will only make the problem worse and cause a blood sugar roller coaster that leads to more cravings.

    More generally, sweet cravings could mean that you need more protein or other nutrients. If you specifically crave chocolate, it could mean a magnesium deficiency. A sweet craving could also suggest you need more exercise, more water or maybe even more love in your life. If you are prone to bouts of depression, eating sugar foods releases endorphins that calm and relax us, and offer a natural "high.” The key to stopping the sugar craving is to understand and deliver what your body really needs.

    Find alternatives to these craveables!

    Similarly, if you are craving salty foods like chips or popcorn, it could be related to multiple factors. You could be having stress hormone (adrenal gland) fluctuations. The adrenal glands help your body cope with stress, and in our fast-paced, hectic lives, they tend to become worn out from excessive stress-hormone production. And if you specifically have a cheese craving, you may be deficient in essential fatty acids (healthy fats), while if you have a meat craving, you could be iron-deficient.

    The next time you have a craving, treat it as a loving message from your body instead of a weakness. Try these food and lifestyle changing tips to respond to your body:

    General Food Tips to Managing Cravings

    1) Have a glass of water (preferably with a twist of lemon), and wait 10 minutes. You will be surprised by how fast your craving subsides. And if it doesn't, there are always healthier choices to satisfy your craving.

    2) Combine foods. If you are craving something sweet, combine a banana with chocolate sauce, or eat it with 1 or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter. If you are craving chocolate, combine a handful of chocolate chips with 10 to 15 unsalted almonds or peanuts, or mix it into a healthy smoothie or your breakfast cereal, or eat a small amount (a piece of two) of dark chocolate. And eat other foods high in magnesium, such as nuts, seeds, fish, and leafy greens, because you would need to eat a lot of chocolate to meet your daily magnesium requirements!

    3) Eat healthier alternatives. You could just eat a healthier version of what you crave:

    a) If you crave something sweet, try eating sweet fruits like a small apple, 4 to 6 strawberries, or 2 to 3 small oranges or 1 large orange. If the sweet craving doesn't go after 10 to 15 minutes and you still want something sweet, rest assured you will be less likely to eat the whole bag of M&Ms or bar of chocolate, because of the nutritional sugar you got from the healthy complex carbohydrates in the fruit.

    b) If you crave salty/savory snacks, try half a cucumber sprinkled with a little salt, pepper, and lemon juice; a piece of a dill pickle; or 10 to 15 walnuts or almonds. If you crave cheese, eat a handful of walnuts, mix in 2 tbsp ground flax meal in your morning yogurt, cereal, or smoothie, or eat ¼ of an avocado with some healthy crackers, which may cut down cheese cravings altogether.

    c) If you crave meat, eat more iron-rich beans and legumes or un-sulphured prunes, figs, and other dried fruits. If the craving persists, eat lean, organic red meat like lean beef or bison. Whether you eat meat or not, eat vitamin C-rich foods that help with iron absorption regularly with your meals, like lemon, lime, red peppers, tomatoes, or berries.

    General Lifestyle Tips to Managing Cravings

    1) Give in a little. Eat a bit of what you’re craving, maybe a small cookie, a bite-sized candy bar, or just one square from that chocolate bar. Enjoying a little of what you love can help you steer clear of feeling denied and could help prevent binge-eating on foods you crave. Try eating only half to one-third of the portion size you really want, then put the rest away and distract yourself for 15 minutes. See how you feel after that time has passed. Chances are, you'll be as equally satisfied as if you had eaten the whole thing.

    2) Try and go cold turkey. Some people find that going cold turkey helps diminish their cravings after a few days; others find they may still crave sugar but over time are able to train their taste buds to be satisfied with less and less sugary foods.

    3) Get up and go! When a sugar craving hits, walk away. Take a walk around the block, do some long overdue home improvement stuff, chat with a friend, or do something to take your mind off the food you’re craving. Another option is to sip something warm, like a cup of herbal tea or just warm water with a slice of lemon. Drinking a hot beverage takes time, is filling, and stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps manage digestion and can decrease cravings, especially for sugary foods.

    4) Choose quality over quantity. If you need a sugar splurge choose a decadently rich sweet. Choose a perfect dark chocolate truffle instead of a king-sized milk chocolate candy bar, then savor every bite – slowly.

    5) Eat regularly. Waiting too long between meals may set you up to choose sugary, fatty foods that cut your hunger pangs when you are starving. Instead, try eating every three to five hours to help keep blood sugar stable. Your best bets? Choose protein, fiber-rich foods like whole grains and produce like apples, oranges, carrots, cucumber, or celery. You could also break-up your meals. Have a toast in the morning with peanut butter & jelly perhaps, and a cup of yogurt with fruit a few hours later. You could break up your lunch the same way to avoid a mid-afternoon slump.

    Next time you have a craving, stop for a few minutes and pose these questions to yourself: What is out of balance in my life? Is there something I need to express, or is something being repressed? What happened in just before I had this craving? Did I sleep badly? Was I stressed and overworked at home or in the office? Did I argue with someone?

    When you eat the food you are craving, enjoy it, taste it, savor it, and notice its effect. Then you will become more aware and free to decide if you really want it next time.

    And there is always additional support available at your fingertips. If you need some help managing your cravings or just need some guidance on healthier eating and living, click here for a free health consultation.

    References

    Wendy Fries, 13 Ways to Fight Sugar Cravings. WebMD.com

    Laura Leicht, 2014. 7 Ways to Stop Unhealthy Food Cravings. CNNHealth.com

    Michelle Cook, 2014. What Your Cravings Mean. Care-2.com.

    Brandy Williams, 2013. What does Craving Salty Foods Mean? Livestrong.com.

    Harvard Mental Health Newsletter, Feb 2012. Why stress causes people to overeat. Harvard University. 

    Mark Cheren et al, 2009. Physical Cravings and Addiction: a Scientific Review.

    Nicole Avena et al, 2008. Evidence of Sugar Addiction. National Center for Biotech Information, National Institutes of Health. 

    October 2014 Newsletter: Lets all Root for Root Vegetables!

    There is a world of routes out there to explore. Move beyond the beaten path of green salads and vegetables and explore different “roots”!

    Roots keep plants anchored to the ground; they support and nourish the plant. Some studies suggest that root vegetables transfer these properties to us when we eat them, making us feel physically and mentally grounded and increasing our stability and stamina. Roots are full of fiber and a rich source of complex carbohydrates, providing the body with a necessary sugars. Unlike refined sweet foods, which upset blood sugar levels, roots regulate those levels. They absorb and supply plants with vital nutrients; roots likewise increase the absorption of vital nutrients in our digestive tracts.

    Root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, and turnips are deliciously diverse in color, texture, flavor, and nutrients such as carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Long roots – carrots, parsnips, daikon, and burdock – may help purify blood and improve its circulation in the body. Round roots – turnips, radishes, beets, and rutabagas – are known to nourish the stomach, spleen, and pancreas.

    Which root vegetables do you eat most?

    If you’re like most of the world, it’s carrots and potatoes. Here are a few others you may want to explore:

    • Beets contain an abundance of fiber, antioxidants, and essential nutrients like folate, potassium, and manganese.

    • Burdock is considered a powerful blood purifier. This long, thin veggie is a staple in Asian and can be found in health food stores.

    • Celeriac, also known as celery root, is rich in fiber and has plenty of antioxidants.

    • Jicama is crunchy and refreshing and contains a generous amount of vitamin C. It’s a favorite in its native Mexico and South America. Jicama can be added raw to green salads, works well in a vegetable stir fry or simply by itself as a snack, or can be shredded and tossed with lemon juice and roasted sesame seeds.

    • Onions are rich in antioxidants and other phytonutrients, with the ability to strengthen the immune system. They can be eaten raw or cooked, in salads and soups, or as the foundation of many stews and sauce bases.

    • Parsnips, which look like giant white carrots, boast a sweet, earthy taste. They also have plenty of fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, niacin, thiamine, magnesium, and potassium.

    • Radishes are an excellent source of vitamin C. They are also rich in calcium and folic acid.

    • Sweet potatoes contain tons of beta-carotene and are rich in vitamin C and fiber.

    Excited to add more roots to your diet? Check out these easy recipes for some root vegetables on my website.

    Get Even Healthier!

    Are you curious about how to choose root vegetables and other nutritious foods? Would you like help being as healthy as you can? Let’s talk! Schedule an initial complimentary consultation with me today – or pass this offer on to someone you care about!

    September 2014 Newsletter: Sweet Story of Success

    My partner and I have been together for 15 years. We're healthy and exercise regularly. However, he wanted to lose some of his excess belly fat that bothered him. He ramped up his exercise routine, began to eat fewer refined carbohydrates (like white flour and white pasta), consumed more lean meat, vegetable proteins, and dark leafy vegetables. Eventually, he lost nearly 15 pounds but plateaued and couldn't lose any more.

    Something wasn't right, something more had to change.

    When I met him, one of the first things I noticed in his fridge was a 2-liter bottle of sugar-filled soda, sometimes two or three bottles. During the day, he would often gulp down a full bottle of soda. And there were those ultra-sweetened cereals he ate as well as Pop-Tarts, which were his go-to work snack.

    All this was new and a bit alarming for me. I grew up in India, where I had minimal exposure to processed or packaged foods. There are unhealthy Indian foods, savory and sweet, but my parents (fortunately) knew better and limited their availability in our home, so I never cultivated a habit for such things.

    One day, I checked out the sugar content on the 2-liter soda bottle and cereal box. (I always had an in-built curiosity about food labels and contents of packaged foods.) I was shocked to learn that my partner was typically consuming about 200 g of sugar (around 800 calories) daily, just from the soda! Intuitively, I didn't think “excessive” consumption of added sugars could be good for anyone.

    Because sugar provides empty calories with no nourishment for the body, it has no “recommended” intake value. Even though an occasional sugar treat is okay according to most health professionals, the American Heart Association (AHA) has a maximum intake allowance for sugar. According to AHA, women should have no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar (25 g) per day or 100 calories of sugar. Men can go up to 9 teaspoons (38 g) per day, which is about 150 calories. Even this sounds excessive to me! Understandably, this varies by age, sex, and activity level. [1]

    No matter what your gender, a single 12-ounce can of Coke goes over the maximum daily allowance for sugar. Clearly, my partner's consumption of sugar was questionable.

    Even though the jury is still out on a specific causal link between added sugars and health risk markers [2], mounting evidence suggests these sugars (not just fructose [3]) may be related to increased risk of weight gain, and relatedly, the development of a complete metabolic syndrome (frequently, lifestyle-related diseases). [4]

    I cautiously suggested that he try cutting back on his sugar consumption. He acknowledged that he had too much sugar in his diet but didn't see it as a health concern. About a year later, out of the blue, he told me that he was giving up his sugary drinks and supremely sweet snacks. I was puzzled but happy.

    What motivated this move to go “cold turkey” on sugar after years of consuming at least 2 liters of soft drinks per day? A combination of my “advice” and his own realization that to lose more weight he needed to cut the added sugars, which are just empty, nutrition-less calories.

    Interestingly, after cutting back on sugary drinks and food, he had more energy, he didn't feel constantly hungry, and he lost 30 lbs in about a year. This is not to say that everyone will have the same results from dropping sugary drinks from their diet, but it emphasizes the importance of being open to a change in diet to see what works best for you.

    Ultimately, working toward any lifestyle change for better health takes time, commitment, and emotional support from loved ones, despite normal setbacks along the way. Having the intention to change certain habits and working towards those, like my partner did, definitely helps, too!

    References

    1. Hitti, Miranda. August 2009. “Heart Group: Limit Added Sugars in Diet.” http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20090824/heart-group-limit-added-sugars-diet

    2. Rizkalla, S.W. 2010. “Health Implications of Fructose Consumption: A Review of Recent Data. Nutrition and Metabolism.” 7; 82. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2991323/

    3. Parker-Pope, Tara. September 20, 2010. “In Worries about Sweeteners, Think of All Sugars.” New York Times. [http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/20/in-worries-about-sweeteners-think-of-all-sugars/]

    4. Nseir et al. 2010. June 7. “Soft Drinks Consumption and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.” June 7: 16 (21). http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2880768/

    Bray et al. 2004. “Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages May Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity.” American Society of Clinical Nutrition. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/79/4/537.full

    August 2014 Newsletter: Sizzling Summer Rejuvenation!

    Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life - Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Relax and Exercise

    Summer is the time for serious play, vacation, and deep relaxation. It's the time to rebuild our reserves for the rest of the busy year. And with summer now in full swing, it’s time to enjoy the restorative powers of reconnecting to your body through movement and relaxation.

    The body loves to move, even though we may feel dread and boredom when we hear the word “exercise.” Think what type of movement you would consider fun as opposed to tortuous. Perhaps you loathe the idea of a gym but miss taking dance classes. Maybe you secretly want to try yoga or rollerblading. You could walk with a neighbor in the mornings or go for a swim. It’s really up to you to choose which style of movement excites you. Your heart will thank you, your limbs will be more fluid, your back aches or morning stiffness will dissipate, and you’ll sleep better at night.

    Who doesn't like to relax? What better time to do that than summer when the outdoors beckon! Take a nap in a hammock or on a patch of green and enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass. Go hear some live music or meditate in a park. Read under a favorite tree.

    And there is something magical, restorative, and rejuvenating about water in the summertime. We naturally crave to be near it, by it, or in it. Linger lazily by a pond or lake nearby, visit a park with a water-body, or go to the beach for a weekend and enjoy the lapping waves and expansive views.

    Whether you are relaxing, exercising, or both, notice that being outside in nature has a profound way of quieting the mind and reconnecting with yourself.

    Food Focus: Water and Hydrating fruits

    Most of us are aware of the importance of hydration, particularly in summer. Getting our daily dose of water, be it through liquids or food, helps our organs perform their functions, keeps our skin clear and hydrated, and allows physical action in our bodies to flow smoothly. In summer, when we tend to sweat and spend prolonged time in the sun, hydration is critical. Dehydration can lead to poor digestion, sluggish thinking, skin breakouts, headaches, bad breath, and general fatigue.

    To start your day right, hydrate yourself with a large glass of water when you wake up. Drinking water first thing in the morning cleanses your system for the day ahead. But what about its quality? Some people like bottled water, while others prefer filtered. The key is to like the taste of the water you are drinking, and the water should agree with your body. If the taste of plain water is unappealing, experiment to see how you can make it tasty. Try adding a few mint leaves, a wedge of lemon, a sprig of parsley, slices of cucumber, a twist of lime, or a squeeze of orange to make water more tempting.

    Also, drinking unsweetened tea or freshly squeezed juice and eating water-filled raw fruits and vegetables such as watermelon, strawberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, and green pepper, contribute to the hydration process. So, splash in the waves, swim in the sun, drink plenty of water, eat or juice hydrating foods, and enjoy the summer fun!

    Recipe of the month: Watermelon Salad

    Prep time: 7-10 minutes
    Yield: 2-3 servings

    Ingredients:
    1/2 medium size watermelon, cut, peeled and chopped into bite-size pieces
    1 cup blueberries
    1/2 cup washed and coarsely chopped mint leaves
    2-3 oz Feta cheese (optional)

    Directions: Mix all the ingredients together gently. Preferably chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours before eating. Enjoy

    It’s such a pleasure to help those closest to us become happier and healthier. Please forward this newsletter to friends, family members or colleagues who might be interested and inspired by it. And if you (or your friends) are interested in finding out more about fun and easy ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet and lifestyle, feel free to contact me at: http://healthwithgita.com/contact/

     

    July 2014 Newsletter: Summertime for Something New!

    "The man who does things makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all - doing nothing."  Benjamin Franklin

    Summer is in full swing! Do you notice in summertime how everything seems promising? The plants are in bloom, the lush green grass is soothing and inviting, and the sun feels glorious on your skin. The longer days give you boundless energy, making you feel that anything is possible. Why not harness this energy, ride the wave of summer, and try something new? 

    We live at an intense pace (physical, emotional, and mental), and we often get stuck in a routine, for the sake of efficiency or ease or out of fear of unfamiliar territory. The lack of variety in doing the same things over and over can stagnate not only our minds, but also our bodies and hearts.

    What is something you have never done before or that you have wanted to do for a long time? Choose your own adventure: organize a hike, take a dance class, visit new towns and restaurants, or set a goal for a new personal fitness challenge. Maybe it’s time to discover a new raw vegetable dish or cooling salad!

    These foods have a cooling effect on the body. Their lightness and their high water, fiber, and vitamin content work together to act as our internal air conditioning during these warm months. During summer, we also need fewer high-density, high-energy foods because we get so much energy from being outside in the fresh air and sunshine.

    There is no better season than summer to have fun creating your own fresh, tasty, creative salad combinations. By simply tossing together several of your favorite raw veggies, naked or with a light dressing, you have a perfect meal for a hot summer day.

    • Try your favorite leafy lettuce with various sliced, diced, or grated veggies. The possible combinations are endless (carrots, celery, cucumber, daikon, radish, etc.).
    • Mix in fresh herbs for a wonderful option, packed full of flavor.
    • Experiment with adding diverse forms of protein to your salads, such as nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, tempeh, avocado, fish, or poultry.
    • Pick up a light and healthy dressing at your local health food store, or mix up something easy, like lemon juice, black pepper, and olive oil.

    I have an easy, refreshingly cooling, and nutritious salad recipe for you to start with: mint-sesame seed-cucumber salad.

    June 2014 Newsletter: Snack Attack!

    "The world belongs to those with the most energy". Alexis de Tocqueville

    There’s no denying that everyone, at one time or another, has had a snack attack. Some think snacking between meals can lead to weight gain. Others believe that eating many small meals and snacks throughout the day is healthy for maintaining energy levels and optimal weight. I think there is no right way to snack. What works for me may not work for you and vice-versa.

    If you do snack during the day, or the night, it is a good idea to try and understand why you are snacking. Perhaps because your daily diet is missing nutrition or because you are eating too little at meals or maybe because you want to relieve stress, anxiety, or boredom. Whatever your reasons, acknowledge them and start thinking about how to snack in healthier ways that can still be satisfying.

    Although snacking is no substitute for emotional and psychological balance and for living a full life, it can be a great energy booster, so it is also a good idea to figure out what snacks work best for your body. Many convenient, packaged snack foods are highly processed and full of chemicals, additives, damaging fats, and refined sugars. So when a snack attack hits you, keep foods at hand that are satiating but also nutritious.

    Here are some healthy snack ideas:

    • Snack on things like fresh fruit – things that don’t come in a plastic wrapper or a box.

    • Make your own signature dried fruit (unsweetened raisins, cranberries, dates, or figs) and unsalted nut mix.

    • Make hummus or bean dip with chickpeas or just about any bean (try this easy black bean dip recipe and enjoy with one slice of whole wheat bread or a handful of chopped, raw veggies like celery, cucumber, or brocolli. (The dip can be kept in the fridge for 4-5 days.)

    You can also try “upgrading” your snacks:

    • If you are craving something crunchy, upgrade from potato chips to raw carrots, apples, or whole grain crackers.

    • If you are craving something sweet, instead of flavored sweetened yogurt, upgrade to plain yogurt with fresh fruits like banana or mango, or a 1-2 oz piece of 70%+ dark chocolate.

    • If you are craving a chilled sweet drink, instead of sweetened soda, upgrade to iced green tea or carbonated water with a twist of lemon and honey.

    Upgraded snacks can be high in nutrition and flavor to give you a greater sense of satiety and satisfaction; you won’t feel physically or psychologically deprived, and you’ll have plenty of energy to sustain your activities for hours. Snacking is enjoyable, and you can find a wide variety of healthful goodies for whatever you’re craving, be it sweet, crunchy, salty, creamy, or spicy. So dive in, be creative, and enjoy your snack attack.

    And with summer around the corner, what better way to fulfil your desire for sweet stuff than to eat raw fruit! Fruit in the form of juice is good only in small amounts; too much fruit juice rapidly raises blood sugar levels, leading to an energy crash soon after. So it's better to eat freshly made juice than juice out of a can or carton. Frozen, whole, puréed, or juiced fruit can make great summertime cool-down treats.

    Recipe of the Month: Fruit Nut Smoothie

    Prep Time: 5 minutes
    Yield: 2 servings

    Ingredients
    1/2 banana (I don't like my smoothie too sweet)
    1 cup soy, coconut, or almond milk
    1 cup berries (I used 1/2 cup each of strawberries and blueberries)
    1 cup diced mango when in season (or melon)
    1/c cup unsalted almonds or cashews
    1 Tsp cinnamon and a pinch of ground nutmeg

    Directions
    Mix all the ingredients in a blender with 2-4 ice cubes for 1-2 minutes.
    Add other ingredients for a super nutrition boost such as flaxseed powder (flaxmeal) and raw honey. 

    May 2014 Newsletter: The Skinny on Fat

    Fat, fat, fat! Would all of our weight loss problems be solved if we removed fat from our diets? Unfortunately, it's not that simple. We actually need fats -- can't live without them, in fact.

    However, heavily processed, hydrogenated “trans” fats used in some prepared, packaged, or fried foods can be extremely damaging to the body. They can compromise the cardiovascular and immune systems and contribute to behavior problems. They can also lead to weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure, and liver strain. Genetics, age, sex, and lifestyle also weigh into the weight-gain formula.

    But high-quality fats are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-soluble vitamins, steady our metabolism, keep hormone levels even, and are a great source of energizing fuel. Many people are scared of fats, but our bodies need fat for insulation, vitamin and mineral absorption, and organs protection.

    As with eveything in life, moderation is important. Even healthy fats need to be eaten sparingly. Also, one needs to be aware of portion size. At 9 calories per gram, fat is calorie-dense. (Carbs and protein have only 4 calories per gram, while alcohol has 7 calories per gram.) Given the calorie density of healthy fats, one can easily overeat them without getting a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and fiber in one's diet.

    Where can you find healthy fats?

    • Avocados, olives, coconuts, wild salmon, and omega-3 rich organic eggs.

    • Whole nuts and seeds and their butters, like almond butter or tahini (sesame seed butter).

    • The highest quality organic oils. When shopping, look for these words: organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, and unrefined. Avoid oils defined as expeller-pressed, refined, and solvent extracted.

    What fats are best for cooking?

    • At high temperatures (stir frying and baking), try butter, clarified butter, or coconut oil.

    • When sautéing foods, try organic extra virgin olive oil.

    • In unheated sauces or dressings, use oils made from flaxseed, sesame, toasted sesame, walnut, and pumpkin seed.

    Here's a delicious, easy recipe that is a great source of healthy fat:

    Avocado Dip
    Prep time: 3 minutes
    Makes 1 cup – Serves 2

    Ingredients:

    • 1 large avocado, peeled and pitted

    • 2/3 cup organic plain yogurt, goat yogurt, coconut yogurt, or almond yogurt

    • 1 small tomato, diced

    • a squirt of lemon or lime juice

    • a dash or two of cayenne pepper

    • sea salt and black pepper

    Directions:

    • Mash avocado with a fork until very smooth.

    • Add yogurt (dairy or non-dairy), tomato, and cayenne. Blend thoroughly. This may be done in a food processor, in a blender, or with a fork.

    • Add sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste.

    • Serve chilled with mixed raw vegetables or place in  a healthy high-fiber, high-protein, whole grain/whole wheat wrap with some raw vegetables for a hearty meal.