Monday, July 20, 2009

Nina Planck's "Real Food"

I recently came across a book called "Real Food: What to Eat and Why" by Nina Planck. As a fan of Michael Pollan, I noticed his positive comment of her book on the cover, and decided I'd take a look at what she had to say. Her main thing is that industrial food is the real culprit killing Americans. She explains that “real” food is “old” food --meaning foods we’ve been eating for a long time. She believes ancient foods like beef and butter have been falsely accused of wrong doings while industrial foods like corn syrup and soybean oil have created a triple epidemic of obesity, diabetics and heart disease.

Now, if you’ve done any no carbs or low carbs diets, you’ve probably heard all this before. However, Nina is not a no carb kind of girl. In fact her theory is that real meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes are all good for you as long as it’s not industrialized.

I’m pretty sure she raises eyebrows when she claims that all fats are also good for you, including the ones that most of us have been taught to believe are evil: Saturated and Monounsaturated. She claims that these fats are not responsible for the health problems that many associate with them (high cholesterol, heart disease). She has a long chapter on fats that’s actually worth a read and will at least get you thinking if not anything more.

As you can imagine Ms. Planck is not a big fan of the vegetarian and vegan diet (she was both at one point).
Here’s what she says are the vegetarian myths:

Myth: Our primate cousins are vegetarians
Truth: All Primate eat some animal fat and protein. We eat more to feed out big brains.

Myth: We are natural herbivores
Truth: We are omnivores with bodies designed to eat plant and animal foods

Myth: Historically we ate less meat.
Truth: Historically we were even more carnivorous than today.

Myth: Other cultures are vegan
Truth: There are no traditional vegan societies. Even vegetarian cultures use butter and eggs.

Myth: We don’t need animal protein.
Truth: Omnivores need complete protein every day. A small amount will do.

Myth: Plant Protein is as good as animal protein.
Truth: Plan protein, even when combined to provide all animal acids, is inferior to the protein in meat, fish dairy, and eggs.

Myth: Soybeans contain complete protein
Truth: Soybeans contain all the animal acids but not enough of one (methionine).

Of course if you’re a hardcore vegetarian or vegan, I’m pretty sure these are not the most convincing arguments you’ve ever heard. I’m not a vegetarian but as a person who has cut out about 80% of my meat intake, I’m more concerned about my vitamin B12 than protein.

Nina Planck’s book does not propose a specific regimen one most follow but the book is simply about what she thinks is real food and why. While I understand and appreciate that, I am afraid of the wrong person reading this book and deciding that they’re going to have a stick of butter for dinner. As a naturalist in progress I can understand how everything may be good for you if eaten in it’s natural state and with moderation for certain foods.

Overall, I thought the book was interesting, enlightening, funny and personal as she shared her life story with food. It’s an easy read and if you have the time, pick up the book. However, I would say to take the information with a grain of salt. It’s important to be as informed as possible but don’t be so willing to take every word from just one person. If you like what she is saying, keep up with the research so you can back up your beliefs. Remember, the goal is to become the expert yourself.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Food Support Groups

I recently decided that I wanted to do some research on weight loss support groups. I looked at two of the most popular ones, Overeaters Anonymous (OA) and Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA). First off, I must tell you that I went to one FAA meeting years ago, with a professor who had lost a lot of weight doing it. However, besides that one experience, I can’t speak as a person who’s actually attended regular meetings. This post is based upon some reviews I read (which I’ll talk about later) and the principles on which these programs are based on. This post is meant to encourage discussion on this topic and if lucky, those who’ve participated in any of these or similar programs can comment.

I would like to join a weight loss support group myself, hence why I was doing research. I recently lost 20 pounds and I want to continue with my progress. However, these days things have been hard and I thought perhaps a support group would help me.

Both OA and FAA are 12-step programs that follow the examples of Alcoholic Anonymous. They both use the same 12 steps as AA, substituting food for alcoholic and they both encourage you to obtain a sponsor to help you with your “addiction.” However, there are some difference between OA and FAA. For one OA meets only once a week and does not require a specific diet, but does recommend a menu and strongly advices against sugar and flour. The newcomer platform reads as is:

“Unlike other organizations, OA is not just about weight loss, gain or maintenance; or obesity or diets. It addresses physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. It is not a religious organization and does not promote any particular diet. If you want to stop your compulsive eating, welcome to Overeaters Anonymous.”

From what I understand FAA is a bit stricter. They require you to attend meetings three times a week and to keep constant communication with your sponsor. Once a menu for the day has been determined you must stick to it and any changes must be discussed with your sponsor first. Again, it’s not required to eat a specific way with FAA, but from what I can tell (from posts online), their menu is strongly encouraged and more members follow their diet.

I read many good reviews about both programs, people expressed that they liked having the support. Many specialist have recognized that overeating is often an emotional thing and it seems like both FAA and OA are great environments to explore the reasoning as to why you overeat. However, a couple of complaints I came across are worth noting.

I remember when I went to that one FAA meeting and everyone stood up and said “Hi my name is---and I am a food addict,” and I immediately felt uncomfortable. At that time, I thought it was because I was in fact a food addict, for why else would I feel so out of place? And in a manner of speaking, we are all in some ways food addicts as we continue to eat junky food and Americans become more and more overweight. While I understand that there are in fact many overeaters out there, where’s the thin line between someone who has made really bad decisions and a person who continuously binges?

Some posters commented that both FAA and OA made them feel ashamed for liking food and wanting to eat and if you are not in fact an overeater, that feeling might not be useful. Being big or overweight does not mean a person is eating a box of doughnuts everyday. As one woman expressed, she feels like fat acceptance is very important for progression. I must admit that I agree with that. I believe, before anyone can really lose weight and keep it off, or just be healthy in general they must love and respect their body as is at the moment. No matter what you’re doing to lose weight, you’re not just going to wake up the next morning with your dream body. In the mean while all you can do is respect what you have. Which, I’m sure programs like FAA and OA firmly believe the same thing, but yet people still feel ashamed.

Another complaint was that some felt like the experience was too whiney. People complaining about their lives when others just want to lose weight. This is of course a matter of opinion. The upside is that OA and FAA offers a place that one can be emotional and for many that is a step that needs to be taken before progression can take place. So, in the end perhaps if your only goal is to lose weight, than this might not be for you.

Anyway, I must say that depending where you go, every experience is different. Not all meetings are run the same. It’s very important for people to remember that their main focus is to help one become “sober” from overeating, not necessarily diet to lose weight. Therefore, many types of people attend meetings, from super thin to average to overweight people join meetings. From what I gathered many bulimics attend the meetings as well. Some find the diversity of people to be helpful as overeating comes in all sizes, shapes and forms. While, others that are dealing with being heavy find it irritating to hear a size 2 woman complain about all the food they’ve been eating. Depending on which meeting you go to, some might focus more on dieting, while others focus on bulimia or fat acceptance. I guess one might not like the inconsistency that exists among the different meetings and a good point could be made that all groups should run the same. However, it could also be comforting for another to know that it’s a matter of attending different groups before finding a meeting that is perfect for the individual.

Like most things in life, there are ups and downs to FAA and OA. It seems like whether or not this would be a good idea for you, has to do with your personality. Also, it’s really important to identify if you really are an overeater. Just because you like your daily glass of wine doesn’t necessarily make you an ideal candidate for AA and the same for FAA and OA. While many of us struggle with food, it’s important to understand why. For a lot of people it’s not about how much they eat but what they are eating. If you feel like your eating is out of control and you don’t understand why, then I think OA and FAA might be a good option. If you’re not certain if OA or FAA would be good for you, then it’s worth checking it out, as both are free to attend.

For me, I simply want a place that is full with encouraging people that will help me continue on my path. While I understand certain foods should not be eaten often I’m also adamant about not making food my enemy. I’ll keep you posted on what I decided as I am still doing research on different support groups.

Please feel free to tell us what you think about this subject and/or if you see any incorrect statements that I made about OA and FAA. (Keep in mind that the opinions were based off comments I found on different sites and blogs).

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Did you Know:

-Yellow and red onions, red grapes, and broccoli are rich in quercetin, an anticancer agent that University of California lab studies have shown can suppress malignant cells before they form tumors.

-Eighteen pecan halves can furnish an entire day's supply of vitamin F.

-The flavonoids in red grapes are more than a thousand times more powerful than vitamin E in inhibiting oxidation of human LDL cholesterol.

-Eating two to four servings a week of tomato sauce can lower a man's risk of prostate cancer because of the large amount of the antioxidant lycopene in tomato products.

-The mineral boron (found in apples, grapes, grape juice, and raisins) may retard bone loss in women after menopause. Also, boron helps women in ERT (estrogen replacement therapy) keep the estrogen in their blood longer.

- Facts from Earl Mindell's "New Vitamin Bible"

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A taste of Michael Pollan

Check out this New York Times article by Michael Pollan. It'll give you a taste of the issues he covers in his book Omnivore's Dilemma and 'In Defence of Food.'

Soy or not?

Okay, so as a reference on vitamins and nutrients I use and highly recommend Early Mindell’s “New Vitamin Bible.” The paper back version is cheap to get and it contains all sorts of useful information about nutrients and vitamins. For the most part it keeps an objective view on subjects like supplements, natural sources of vitamins, meat, vegetarians and so on and it lists the many pros and cons of certain foods. It’s a reference book that one can depend on to just give facts, as it is not a book that pushes a specific diet.. However, I have a small bone to pick when it comes to the topic of Soy in the book.
On his section named ‘The Soy Phenomenon,’ Mindell starts off by saying:

“The biggest wonder about this wonder food is why more of us aren’t eating it!” (The book last revised in 2004). Mindell goes on to praise this crop, but first let me comment.

Even in 2004 and even more so now, Soy has played a big role in our agriculture and can be seen in hundreds of foods and products.

The Classic Corn Belt Rotation:
In his book Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan explains the Corn Belt Rotation. In this section he’s talking about corn and soy bean : “The two crops take turns in these fields year after year, in what has been the class Corn Belt rotation since the 1970’s. (Since that time soybeans have become the second leg supporting the industrial food system: it too is fed to livestock and now finds it’s way in into two-thirds of all processed foods.)

So truth is, we’re eating lots of soy whether or not we know it. Now, soy has been acclaimed to be the miracle crop that can prevent cancer, acne, strengthen hair, improve eye sight, help you lose weight, make you look younger , you name it, soy can do it. So we've been told for years.

But really, how many times do we have to hear that something can miraculously solve our problems before we understand no one thing, can actually be the answer to all?
I say this, because many new vegetarians think that they are just going to rely on soy to get their meat nutrients and protein. Although, there are many debates about whether or not soy is actually a complete protein (meaning it contains the eight essential amino acids), few vegetarians know that protein is the least of their problems. More essential are some of the vitamin B’s-- specifically vitamin B12.

In Mindell’s ‘Vitamin bible’ he admits: “Soybeans-with exception of tempeh, a fermented whole soybean-- are a poor source of vitamin B12.”
For those who don’t know why vitamin B12 is important, it forms and regenerate blood cells, thereby preventing anemia -- among other things.
B12 is mostly found in meats and dairy products -- but if one is okay with taking supplements,
Mindell recommends it.

There might be another natural source of B12 out there, I don’t know. But point is, don’t simply assume soy is all you need to live a healthy vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
Soy is also linked with some digestive problems. The soy that was eating for hundreds of years in Asia were fermented. However, most of the soy we get here in the United State are not fermented and too much of it can be a danger to our bodies.

The main point I’m making is that soy is not some miracle crop. While I believe there are some benefits, there are also some major problems if people consume too much of it (which is the truth for most things). Now, I have no problems eating or drinking soy in moderation. But, I also don’t want to be fooled by men in suits tying to make soy take over the world.

There are many contradictions about soy and you will find so much information about it online and elsewhere. Some saying it’ll prevent cancer while others claim it causes cancer.
In trying to find a medium in everything, I occasionally have some soy and alternate between soy milk and cow’s milk. Again, I'm not saying soy is bad for you but don't believe all the hype.

Check this New York Times article (2000) on soy:

Others articles on Soy:


Queen T

Did you Know?

Eighty percent of American women are deficient in calcium!

-Earl Mindell''s "New Vitamin Bible"

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Did you Know?

"Enriched wheat flour is white flour. The bran and the germ portion of the whole wheat, which are rich in vitamins and minerals, have been refined out. To compensate for refining out approcimately 20 nutrients, they add back four. Use only whole weat flour, it must have the word whole on the label."

-Dr. Joel Fuhrman, from the book 'Eat for Health'

Did You Know?

Milk with synthetic vitamin D (which means almost all store-brought milk) can rob the body of manesium!

-From Earl Mnindell's 'Vitamin Bible'

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Good News for Those with a Slow Metabolism!

According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of ‘’Eat to Live,” a slow metabolism is not as negative as we were lead to believe. He says :

“inheriting a slow metabolic rate with a tendency to gain weight is not a flaw or defect but rather a genetic gift that can be taken advantage of. How is this possible? A slower metabolism is associated with longer life span in all species of animal. It can be speculated that if one lived sixty thousand or just a few hundred years ago, a slower metabolic rate might have increased our survival opportunity, since getting sufficient calories was difficult. For example, the majority of pilgrims that arrived on our shores on the Mayflower died that first winter. They could not make or find enough food to eat, so only those with the genetic gift of a slow metabolic rate survived.”

He goes on to say :

“As you can see, it is not always bad to have a slow metabolic rate. It can be good. Sure, it is bad in today’s environment of relentless eating and when consuming a high-calorie, low nutrient diet…However, if correct food choices are made to maintain a normal weight, the individual with a slower metabolism may age more slowly. “

Yay! Finally good news for those of us who have a slow metabolism. That means no more blaming our bodies for our inability to lose weight. While it’s true that genetics play a small part on how we store fat and gain weight --it is a small factor and not the defining reason for obesity. In his book ‘Eat to Live,’ Dr. Fuhrman steers away from blaming all medical problems on solely genetics. As he points out, you can’t change your genes but you can change the daily habits that causes one to face many health problems.

For some who hide behind overweight parents and diabetic uncles as their excuse for not changing, this may be bad news. However, for me, this is great news. Coming from a diabetic family myself, it’s good to know that I don’t have to inherit their maladies. I remember when I was young my sister told me: ‘Face it, it’s only a matter of time before we become diabetics ourselves.’ Although, I wasn’t sure what I should do at the time to avoid that reality, I also resented that statement. The idea that I had no control over what happened to my body was infuriating.

However, my interpretation of Dr. Fuhrman’s statement means that whatever genetics was passed on to me, like a slow metabolism, could be used for the good.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Only From Experience:

Most diets fail, we hear it over and over again--yet new ones seem to pop up every month.

First of all whatever you eat on a daily basis is your diet. What has failed are plans that people can't stick to for a variety of reasons: it's not practical, it's not healthy, it's not right for certain people and sometimes it's because the plan is just down right wrong, the list goes on and on. It's hard knowing what to do, how to lose weight, stay healthy and so on.

However, here's what I've learned when it comes to picking a health plan.

1)It's important that the plan is flexible - flexible does not mean that the plan allows you to eat a whole cake every other day. However, it does mean, if you do have a slice of cake, you won't suddenly be 10 pounds heavier. If any of you ever tried Atkins, you know what I'm talking about. The plan is so anti-carbs, that if you consume a few pieces of bread you'll be paying for it in the worst way. (In my opinion--that's not the only problem with Atkins)

2)Find something that doesn't require too much thinking (counting, weighting). I know many people have had lots of success on Weight Watchers, which has a score system but from what I understand their scoring is pretty simple. But if the system that you're following has you thinking about food like 90% of each day--there's a problem.

3)Research is key. The information can get confusing with all the contradiction going around. However, the more you know the closer you’ll be to finding the right answers. Don’t just read about diets, read about nutrition in general: foods that are related to certain cancers, organics, natural foods and so on. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to form your own conclusions and because you formed them yourself, you’ll be more adamant about doing what’s right. For example: My own knowledge about food has turned me into a naturalist (in progress), so I have a rule, that if I can’t pronounce or understand why an ingredient is present, then I’m not eating it. Because I’m passionate about my reasoning, it’s really easy for me to turn away from foods that has tempted me my whole life. My reason by the way, is that there are too many ingredients that don’t need to be in our food, but are, and they are doing all sorts of things to our health. (This will be a great discussion one day).

4) As tempting as it may be to try and lose 10 pounds in 3 days drinking only lime juice, be practical. Pick a plan that you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life. Try to stay away from plans that you know you'll only do for a few months or until you "lose the weight." If you keep thinking this way, even if you do lose weight, you know you'll gain it all back and then some.
These are my tips for today on how to pick a good 'diet' for yourself. Please feel free to add on.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Definition of Eating Healthy

Who would have thought that one of the most difficult questions facing us is 'what's healthy and what's not?' Acclaimed author Michael Pollan, in his book 'Omnivore's Dilemma,' poses the question "What's for Dinner?"

He says: 'Figuring out what to eat--has come to require a remarkable amount of expert help. How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionist to determine the dinner menu?'

Up to recently I actually thought I had finally discovered the secret to great nutrition. I mean, how can a lifetime of trying half the diets out there (including the one's that are not diets, but a "life change," but really are diets), reading health magazines, buying organic produce (at least when I can afford it) -- how can that not make me an expert of some kind? Sure, I'm not a doctor or nutritionist. But with all the back and forth among the "experts" --eat lots of meat and animal products, vegan diets are best, carbs are the devil, carbs are rich in nutrients, raw food diets are best, eating raw can make you sick, corn and soy are evil, corn and soy are miracle crops, processed food is the real problem, fats are the real problem....I can go on all day. But even I, somewhat knowledgeable on this topic, find myself confused by all this contradiction.

Now, this blog is not meant to tell you which side you should be on. I personally believe that everyone has a point and that the key is to find a medium. Once upon a time we were healthy and we didn't think about all this stuff, and yet we made the right decisions. This blog is about finding that medium that can lead each individual to their own definition of healthy.

We will take a look at the different diets and "health plans" out there, we'll present the latest information on nutrition, we'll look at studies and we (the people) will decide what is healthy. Through open and healthy debate we will come closer to the truth that was naturally ours to begin with. We will be the experts and everyone is welcomed to share their thoughts.