Eating well is huge contributor to feeling well. Sure exercise and movement are important, but I’m here to tell you that stress, sleep and nutrition are heavy hitters too.
But it can be difficult to wade through the hype on food. There are choices to make at every mealtime. And with all the fad diets, advertising and general misinformation about nutrition, those decisions can be tough.
We are lucky enough to have a certified nutritional therapist among the clients of our studio, Paula White Bordenet of All Well Nutrition. I asked her our burning nutrition questions. We love Paula’s thoughts on healthy eating; that one-size doesn’t fit all, but eating well can be easy and accessible even if you’re busy.
Why should we care about GMO?
This is a big question that could be a research paper in its own right. The quick answer is yes! Genetically modified organisms, also called genetically engineered (GE) or genetically modified (GM), are altered not to increase their nutritional value, but rather in an attempt to increase the resistance to herbicides and/or to generate a pesticide within the crop. This allows for farmers to use weed killer on our food without destroying it. For other plants it makes them toxic to consume, and creates new proteins within the plant that are difficult for us to consume.
A prime example of the effects of genetically modified food is wheat. The new proteins created by genetic engineering have created all kinds of health issues for humans. We see a correlation with spikes in diabetes, autoimmune diseases and heart disease among other things. It also affects energy levels making people feel sluggish; it causes skin problems such as eczema; as well as neurological issues (Autism, ADHD). When people who have a sensitivity or allergy to wheat remove it from their diet they show a marked improvement in symptoms.
The genetic engineering also incorporates resistance to antibiotics often used by human and veterinary medicine. As a result, some scientists believe that eating GMO foods could create antibiotic resistance in our gut bacteria. The link between a healthy balance of gut bacteria and mental health issues (depression, anxiety, ADHD, Autism, etc.), diabetes, autoimmune diseases and other health conditions is gaining more and more attention in the scientific world. By eating GMO foods you are introducing allergens, carcinogens, nutritional problems and antibiotic resistance to this delicate bacterial environment that then affects so many systems throughout the body.
The most common GMOs in the USA are corn (92%), soybeans (94%), and cotton (94%).
For a more in depth discussion of the problems with GMOs please see http://responsibletechnology.org/gmo-education/faqs/
A big hurdle to clean eating for most of us is time. It takes time to source whole foods and prepare them, as opposed to eating a meal of prepackaged, processed foods. Do you have any hints that make eating well easier to fit into a busy schedule?
It makes it that much easier to support a healthy eating lifestyle if you can spend some time on the weekend, or a week night when you have extra time to plan out meals for the week. Batch cooking is a doable way for many families to incorporate a whole food diet into their lives. You plan, shop and cook several meals in one afternoon which you can then freeze or refrigerate depending on when you will be eating them. Doing a grocery run once a week for some perishable items along with your meats and fish, and another shop later for more perishable fruits and veg. Coming home and unpacking that afternoon and prepping your fruit and veg and make the difference between actually eating it and throwing it in the garbage a few days later. Yes, nutritionally it’s best to wash and dice kale right before eating it, but are you more likely to eat it in a salad or sauté if it’s already been washed and sliced? It makes it that much easier to get a nutritious dinner on the table when you come home from your active day to cook dinner and there are fewer steps to take.
Here are a few tips that I suggest:
- Wash lettuce leaves in a small salad spinner put it in the refrigerator (you can even cut it up now!)
- Dice onions, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini and other vegetables that you will need for the next couple of days
- Cook oatmeal overnight in a small crockpot for breakfast. Leftovers can be eaten for the next few days. Top with fresh berries, sautéed diced apple, walnuts, almonds, etc. in the morning.
- Bob’s Red Mill and Purely Elizabeth make portable gluten-free oatmeal and grains to which you simply add boiling water.
- Making double the recipe for many dishes and freezing them for another night. This is great for homemade spaghetti sauce, meatloaf, stews and soups.
- Make lunches the night before instead of waiting for the morning rush. Leftovers from dinner make great lunches.
When you slip out of your meal prep routine and life gets crazy busy, then a few healthy grab and go ideas to keep you in line with your healthy eating goals include:
- Defrosting a meal you already prepared that is waiting for you in the refrigerator or freezer
- Chipotle has organic, grass-fed and pasture raised ingredients. Add a dollop of guacamole and you’re set.
- PCC Deli has something for everyone based on your food sensitives/allergies or preferences.
- Grab a baked chicken on your way home (Whole Foods and PCC offer organic varieties), buy pre-cut veggies to sauté or steam and a healthy grain as a side dish is you wish.
- We keep Amy’s frozen gluten-free burritos in our freezer for easy go to meal along with a quick salad or sautéed/steamed veggies
Planning out the meals for the week ahead of time makes it that much easier to support a healthy eating lifestyle. Then when you come home from your active day to cook dinner there are fewer steps before you to get a nutritious dinner on the table.
When reading food labels, how can we tell how many grams of sugar is excessive?
The American Heart Association has recently recommended that children under two years of age eat no added sugars. Natural sugars in fruits, vegetables and lactose (a dairy sugar) are not included in the “added” sugar count. For children ages 2-18 years less than six teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar a day are recommended. For women the same recommendation was made of no more than 25 grams of added sugars a day, but for men the limit is 37.5 grams (9 teaspoons).*
The Food & Drug Administration has also issues new labeling requirements that all manufacturers must have in place by July, 2018 although smaller manufactures have another year to comply. Among other things, this will require them to list the “added sugars” on the food label. The hope is that Americans will decrease their consumption of added sugar to be no more than 10% of their diet. One of the labeling requirements on sodas will change the serving size from 8 oz to 12 oz, which is the size of a typical can of soda. This will make the nutritional content more straight forward for someone who is taking a quick glance at the label.
Unlike natural sugars, added sugars are devoid of any nutritional value. They contain no vitamins, minerals or fiber. The types of sugar considered “added sugar” are stressful to the body, and the organs and systems involved in processing it utilize valuable resources. Additionally, excess sugar consumed in our diet is stored as fat in the body. Added sugars are a contributing factor to the growing epidemic of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and autoimmune diseases, so limiting them in your diet and replacing them with alternatives that the body does need such as fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins and fats.
What’s your favorite easy weekday dinner?
This time of year calls for comfort food. We turn to more of the seasonal vegetables and incorporate them into our diet. Brats (chicken, beef or pork), sautéed brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes fit the bill. I grab a packet of shaved Brussel sprouts from Trader Joes if I haven’t already washed and prepped fresh organic brussel sprouts earlier in the week), fry up some Applegate Farms bacon (the bacon makes all the difference with the taste and is the only way my kids will eat them), and cook the brussel sprouts in the bacon fat in the same pan. We love the Uli’s brats, and some baked or sautéed sweet potato. I use a lot of ghee and coconut oil for sautéing because these two fats do well at high temperature and they are healthy sources of fat.
What are good substitutes for refined sugar, for those of us looking for cut back?
Honey and maple syrup are nutritious alternatives in small doses. They are fermented and contain vitamins and nutrients. Coconut nectar is another healthier alternative that can be used in baking or even drizzled on pancakes. However, the best substitutes for refined sugar are whole foods. When you cut back on refined sugars and processed snacks such as cookies, muffins and candy your taste buds notice the natural sugars in fruits and vegetables. I remember a client telling me how sweet a carrot tasted to her after she’d removed refined sugars for a couple of weeks. Another client told me that she could no longer eat an entire apple in one sitting as it was now too sweet for her.
A big source of refined sugar for many Americans is juice and soda. Water is a great substitute! Other substitutes which include some flavor are herbal teas, kombucha and sparkling water which have no sugar. You can also add sliced cucumber or berries to water to give it a slight flavor.
Another popular source of sugar is energy bars. Have you ever read the nutrition label on your favorite bar? Some of them have up to 49 grams of sugar for one bar. Some alternatives are organic dried apples with cinnamon, plantain chips with bean dip or hummus, mixed nuts or some of the healthier organic meat jerkies out there. Epic makes some nutrient dense meat bars that are organic and from grass-fed and pastured animals. Even a banana known to be higher in natural sugars is a better alternative to refined snacks. Having a piece of dark chocolate is satisfying and is loaded with antioxidants. It’s portion control that makes the difference.
The key for a lot of people in decreasing their sugar cravings is increasing their consumption of healthy fats. For many years we heard we needed to cut fats out of our diet. Leading snack manufacturers made up for that by making low-fat or non-fat snacks which compensated by adding in more sugar. As we now know, this lead to lots of health problems such as the rise in heart disease and diabetes.
Coconut products such as coconut flakes, unsweetened coconut yogurt with fresh fruit or honey and coconut milk are healthy snacks. Nuts are full of vitamins and nutrients and another healthy source of fats.
If you can change your frame of mind, remember your health goals, really chew your food and enjoy the moment then most alternatives are satisfying. Much of our habit of turning to sweet treats is just that – a habit. Many times our reasons for turning to sweet treats are emotionally based. Taking time to slow down and be aware of what we are eating and why we are eating it can make a difference.
As we head into the holiday season life can get frantic and stressful. If you can be conscious of your goals for wanting to eat healthy and track what triggers you to grab the sugary snack you might notice a pattern. Replacing habits with new actions takes effort.
- Sometimes the reason we eat sugar is to fill up a space that is empty. Could the real reason you want that sugary snack be that you are missing a sense of connection with others? Instead of eating junk food, pick up the phone and call someone. Make plans for more social time.
- Maybe you are actually thirsty and didn’t realize it? Try having a hot drink or cold drink of water first to see it that quenches your appetite.
- Are you feeling anxious? Try writing down what is bothering you.
- Is TV a trigger for you? Replace another activity for watching TV. Read a book, get on your treadmill, go outside (walk, ride a bike, garden), go to the gym, or take a Pilates class. 🙂
- And, if you do chose to go off track and eat the sugary snack at least make sure you enjoy the moment.