From Our Kitchen: “Is It A Dessert Night?”

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Ahhh, summer is here! It’s Memorial Day weekend and right on cue, Mother Nature turned up the thermostat and rolled back the clouds.  And it’s Friday, so as some of you might know, this means, right on cue, we will be serving up dessert tonight in the Norwood household!

One of the easiest ways we started to slash sugar was by cutting out dessert during most days of the week. Early on while the kids were toddlers, B and I instituted a weekend-only dessert policy. (Funny fact about memories: My oldest “remembers” it as her good idea. I can live with letting her take the credit.) We felt it was important to restore dessert to its former role as an infrequent treat.

While helping us all eat better, it also cut out whining, begging and bargaining at dinnertime during the week. Bonus: I also learned to introduce new meals on weekends. With a “no dinner, no dessert” rule, the kids are more likely to try and eat new foods. One of my more brilliant parenting strategies, if I say so myself…

My kids love ice cream. What kid doesn’t? That’s their dessert of choice. We usually stick with the real deal: full fat, with the fewest ingredients possible, and a small portion.

But Brian and I are fond of fresh fruit with fresh whipped cream. You can make it however you like, but it takes only 10 seconds in a high powered blender (I use a Vitamix)!

Pour about a cup of whipping cream into the Vitamix, add about 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, and a teaspoon of maple syrup, if desired. Turn on LOW and quickly increase the speed to about 7. Watch carefully, and you will SEE when it stops sloshing around as a liquid at the same time you HEAR the change in the noise the blender is making. After only about 10 seconds, it’s done! Stop then, or you’ll have butter. Spoon it onto your fruit (red, white and blue in this case, of course) and indulge!

Have a wonderful long weekend, remember our fallen service members, and enjoy time with friends and family. God Bless America!

New “Nutrition Facts” Label, New You?

I read this New York Times article yesterday (March 20, 2016) about the newly approved Nutrition Facts Label, which will be required on most products by July 2018. Here’s the gist (and a picture, below) from the article:

  • the new labels will show updated serving sizes, to reflect more accurately the portions Americans are actually eating,
  • the calories will be listed in big print, and
  • there will be an “added sugars” line listed under carbohydrates.

new nutrition facts label 2016Hmmm…how do I feel about this? Well, I agree we eat bigger portions, and too many calories. We definitely eat way too much sugar. And I believe looking for added sugars is a big step in the right direction. But I think there’s a better, easier way to eat less and avoid sugar. Avoid most foods with labels whenever possible! Eat real, whole foods and eat more simply. I know it’s not always that simple for many people. But changing the Nutrition Facts label does nothing to make it easier, in my opinion.

I can see why they are increasing the serving sizes on labels, but I’m just not sure it will help anything. Americans eat bigger portions than the serving sizes currently reflect, so as it stands on the current Nutrition Facts label, we have to do math to figure out calories and all the other nutrients for the amount we eat. But are we going to eat less if the only thing that’s changed is we don’t have to do the math? (Actually, isn’t it possible if we don’t have to spend time on the math, we might spend the time we saved eating more?) Yes, we can see how much we are eating at a glance, but even without the math, the numbers are meaningless or easy to avoid for most people, aren’t they? I mean, who wants to worry about the math and the numbers anyway??? Sometimes I eat a handful of pita chips (one of my weaknesses) and I never even look at the label. Gasp. And I call myself a dietitian. If the numbers won’t stop me, who will they stop?

I actually found myself sympathizing with the soda industry camp when they said the rule to add the “added sugar” line lacks scientific evidence. Now, hear me out…there is plenty of evidence that sugar sweetened beverages are associated with obesity. I’m not saying you should drink soda by any means. (And BTW, who doesn’t know soda has a ton of sugar in it??? How is this label going to make a difference when people already know that and drink it anyway?) The main problem I see is that replacing products containing “added sugars” with products containing other forms of carbohydrate could be just as unhealthy as the foods containing added sugars. That is, the soda industry representatives are right in that the science does not support the idea that an excess of other sugars (or any carbohydrates for that matter) are any better for you than soda. For example, choosing a product full of “natural sugars” like 100% fruit juice and drinking too much of it is not a healthy choice. Choosing a highly refined white flour product, like bread or pasta, that has “no added sugars” is definitely not a healthy choice. And what about honey, maple syrup, and agave? The science doesn’t support choosing them more frequently than any other form of sugar. Focusing on “added sugars” completely misses the mark and doesn’t tell the complete story: that excess carbohydrates of any kind are likely to be bad for your health.

Well, the Nutrition Facts label is merely a tool, not an education in nutrition. If you have a drill, you won’t necessarily know how to hang a picture. If you have a better Nutrition Facts label, you won’t necessarily know how to eat well for better health. So, I hope to help your understanding of nutrition more than a Nutrition Facts label alone ever could. Yes, there are times when you can’t or don’t want to eat whole, easy real foods. I get that. But I also get–and I’m sure you do, too–that changing the Nutrition Facts label is not enough to change the health of Americans.

The good news is we have all the information we need on the Nutrition Facts label as it stands. When I do buy products with labels, I skip over the calories on the label. Because if you are choosing the right foods (real, whole foods and fewer refined carbohydrates and sugar), you will automatically lower your calorie intake and feel satiated, without counting calories. I do linger at total carbohydrates, and fiber and sugars for a minute to assess the quantity and quality of carbohydrates, but I would argue the ingredient list is the most useful part of the whole label.

  • If a product has many ingredients (say more than about five, according to Mark Bittman in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating), I avoid it.
  • If it has products that I feel are harmful, I avoid it. For example, any sources of trans fat.
  • If a product has ingredients I feel are unnecessary like food coloring or preservatives (especially if I can’t pronounce them) or if there’s an alternate fresh version that eliminates those ingredients, I avoid the product and choose the fresh version. For example, I never buy bottled lemon or lime juice; it takes only a minute to squeeze a lemon or lime with my handy citrus squeezer gadget, and it tastes better.
  • If a product has any of the 50+ names sugar goes by, I generally avoid it or when necessary only eat it once a month (or even less frequently). For example, my kids love baked beans, so if I don’t have time to make them from scratch, I buy one can and add a can of drained and rinsed pinto beans to them to make it go further. But again, it’s very seldom that we have baked beans. Ketchup and mayo are the condiment exceptions, I could try making my own, but until then, we don’t use enough ketchup or mayo to worry too much about the sugar they contain.

So, the bottom line is this: I wouldn’t wait with bated breath until July 2018; you can start now choosing whole, real foods and using the ingredient list to make better choices in the grocery store.

From Our Kitchen: Chicken Parmesan

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Thanks to my day of rest on Mother’s day, I’m starting the week off way behind on my meal planning. Anyone else have that problem? A day of rest means double time the rest of the week. Whether it’s meal planning, work, laundry, errands…I’m sure I’m not the only one. Oh well, the break was nice while it lasted!

But who am I kidding??? I often let Monday slide by before I get my act together. Especially if it’s yet another rainy dreary day. Then I rally as only a good procrastinator can. Yet, despite the sophisticated flavors I try to serve up daily, even on weekdays, my meal planning is hardly elaborate or time consuming. You might be surprised to learn you don’t even need an app for it! But make no mistake, I believe planning ahead–any way you feel comfortable–is the key to serving easy, delicious real food. And your method of planning doesn’t have to take too much of your time, if you have a variety of go-to meal options up your sleeve. (Note the new, ever-expanding recipe index tab at the top of the blog!)

So, for me, meal planning is low-tech and old school. (I may know what you’re thinking. Just stop–I do at least keep all my recipes in Evernote, which I highly recommend. It comes in handy to check a recipe for ingredients while grocery shopping, particularly if you’re winging it, which I don’t recommend…) In fact, my meal planning generally consists of a dry-erase board on the fridge with usually no more than four meals planned at a time and scrawled in a hurry. Why four? I try to plan for slow cooker meals or leftovers at least twice a week, on our busiest weeknights. And I leave one meal open for one of these options: letting my mood decide, eating out, or–my personal favorite–letting B cook when time allows and the mood strikes.

However, tonight we have gymnastics, B works late as usual, and I didn’t plan on a slow cooker meal or leftovers…so whatever we are going to have has got to be easy! Naturally, I thought of this simply delicious baked chicken parmesan. I hope it can come to your rescue, too.

Chicken Parmesan

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 4 to 6 chicken breasts
  • about 1 cup of blanched almond flour
  • olive oil, spray
  • 1 jar of Rao’s marinara sauce (this is amazing sauce, from Italy, with an all natural short ingredient list, but you could use another favorite of your own that doesn’t contain sugar)
  • about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, freshly grated

 

Directions

  1. Slice each chicken breast in half lengthwise, to form two thinner breast pieces. (You can pound it with a meat tenderizer, but I skip this for simplicity.) Or you can buy your chicken already sliced thin.
  2. Dredge each chicken breast in almond flour. Place in a baking pan. Spray lightly with olive oil (I use a Misto spray bottle) or use a pastry brush and dab olive oil onto chicken breasts.
  3. Top with about 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce. Bake for about 20 minutes.
  4. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan cheese (the real, aged, good stuff from Italy). Bake 10 minutes more or until chicken is done. We like to
  5.  


Serve with a roasted green vegetable like broccoli and a simple side salad.

 

From Our Kitchen: Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls

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Cinco de Mayo is on Thursday! I highly recommend this easy recipe for your weeknight celebration. Then you can spend your meal-prep time making B’s homemade guacamole. He is well-known for his guacamole recipe–please comment if you’ve been lucky enough to have had him make you some! Everybody else, Thursday is your chance…or you can try making it at home, but I guarantee it won’t be quite the same.

A few comments about this recipe:

  • This recipe is higher carb than we usually eat at a typical meal, but beans and brown rice are whole foods with better quality carbohydrates and fiber along with important nutrients, so we eat them sometimes. Plus this recipe makes a lot more than one meal for our family of 5 (at least 2 dinners and several lunch portions), so when also served on top of a cup or two of lettuce, the smaller portion keeps the carbohydrates in check.
  • You can skip the cheese and/or sour cream if you avoid dairy, but if you like them, use the full fat version. Whole-fat dairy tastes good and is less processed. A recent study suggests whole-fat dairy is associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, a carbohydrate metabolism problem linked with obesity, diabetes and heart disease.1 Other recent research suggests people who use whole-fat dairy products are less likely to be obese.2
  • I don’t, however, recommend skipping the guacamole! Making it is easy if you have a food processor or blender, but buy it if you have to (or used sliced avocado to keep it simple). Guacamole is authentic to Mexican cuisine, but even plain avocado provides a smooth texture, is delicious and serves up some satisfying “good” monounsaturated fat.

Slow Cooker Chicken Burrito Bowls

  • Servings: 8 to 10
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

4 split chicken breasts, or about 2 pounds chicken breastsIMG_4857
1 (26.46 oz) box of chopped tomatoes (I like Pomi because they taste great/are Italian, and there is one ingredient: tomatoes!) 
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed (I prefer organic beans)IMG_4859
1 cup brown rice
Optional: shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, shredded cheese, sour cream, guacamole, salsa

 

 

 

 

Directions

  1. Place chicken breasts into large (6 quart) slow cooker. (Split chicken breasts provide more flavor and liquid than boneless; you may need to add a small amount of chicken broth if you use boneless.) Pour tomatoes, spices and beans over chicken. Cook on low 3 to 4 hours.
  2.  Add brown rice, stir and cook another 3 hours on low, or until chicken and rice is done. (If you won’t be home until mealtime, cook rice separately and then add to chicken mixture before serving.)
  3. Remove chicken from slow cooker and remove meat; discard bones. Return meat to slow cooker and stir.

Serve meat mixture in a bowl over shredded lettuce and add desired optional toppings, including B’s homemade guacamole. These burrito bowls are great as leftovers, and freeze well.

From Our Kitchen: “The Best” Chicken Salad

IMG_0280Everybody loves a good chicken salad. Well, maybe not everyone. But if you like chicken salad, and maybe even if you don’t, this recipe is significantly better than most recipes. Fine, I don’t have a study to prove that. But everybody asks me for the recipe, and most tell me it’s “the best” chicken salad they’ve ever had… and (bonus) that their kids eat it!

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m partial to it;  I had been playing with my chicken salad recipe ever since B and I had our first weekend getaway at a B&B near Charlottesville, VA, six months after we were married in 2004. The owners sent us on a leisurely hike into the fall leaves with a gourmet picnic lunch that included a yummy chicken salad. We still talk about it; it has been one of the most memorable foods we’ve had together.

It’s cool how an ideal setting and a bit of nostalgia make you love certain foods even more, isn’t it?  Even after countless gourmet meals in countless ideal settings in more than 30 different countries during more than 12 years–chicken salad still makes the cut! And it only took about 6 years and several variations before I quit because my chicken salad recipe finally converged with the memory of the one we enjoyed so much.

Well, we definitely don’t eat it on a croissant like we did that fall day, but we love it just the same in a bowl or alongside our favorite tossed salad, or a simple wedge salad with homemade blue cheese dressing for a change.

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Chicken salad is so easy, especially with leftover cooked chicken. And coincidentally enough, my homemade seasoning salt can be sprinkled (don’t measure it) on a whole chicken and cooked 6 to 8 hours in a slow cooker on low with nothing else added. Actually, I usually cram two small (about 5 pounds each) chickens in my 6-quart slow cooker for plenty of leftover chicken; sometimes I freeze it for later.

A few comments about this recipe:

  • I don’t worry too much about the mayonnaise. The type of fat in traditional store-bought mayonnaise (Hellman’s Real mayo, for example) is probably not the healthiest (more on that in another post ASAP). But because it’s only a small amount and we use it so infrequently (mainly just in chicken and tuna salad), I’m okay with it. That said, I do think we will try making our own mayonnaise again, because along with the very highly processed oil (soybean usually), it also has preservatives, and even sugar, surprisingly. B tried making homemade mayo a while ago, but I was sort of grossed out with the raw egg process. And frankly, even as a stay-at-home mom, I don’t always have time to make everything from scratch! (Well, you know–bon bons maybe, mayo no.) But again, we are a work in progress so I’ll try again making it, as well as continue searching for alternate store-bought mayo made with better oils. Of course, I expect it to taste good. I’ll share when I find a worthy replacement.
  • Lately, for a healthy whole food fat, I often substitute mashed avocado in place of mayo if we’ll eat the chicken salad immediately or when I make it in small batches (so it doesn’t turn black.) Love the taste and velvety texture avocado provides…and green happens to be my favorite color.
  • The apples and cranberries do provide sugar (natural sugar from the apples and even a little added sugar from the cranberries). But because they are fruits with fiber and real foods, and because we find other ways to cut back on sugar, I add them anyway because they make the chicken salad taste great and satisfying with a slight sweetness. You definitely won’t miss the bread. But you will have to try it to prove me right OR wrong.

Best Chicken Salad

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • 4 cups cubed, cooked chicken meat
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon homemade seasoning salt
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 green onions, chopped (you can use fresh or dried chives if you don’t have green onions)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (optional)
  • 1 apple, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted (optional)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise or 1 large avocado, mashed
  • ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together chicken, paprika and seasoning salt.
  2. Stir in dried cranberries, apples, celery, onions, and nuts if desired.
  3. Add mayonnaise or avocado and mix well. (Serve immediately if using avocado because it turns brown.) Season with black pepper to taste.
  4. Chill.


Serve this in a bowl or as lettuce wraps.

 

 

From Our Kitchen: Chicken Satay with Ginger Peanut Sauce

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Happy Monday! This is what we ate Saturday night in our house. If you’re looking for an easy and delicious real food meal that even the kids will like, this is it. We have been making this chicken for years and it is an easy grilled meal (easy for me to prep + easy for B to grill=win/win!). It is perfect for weeknights and even impresses guests.

A few comments about this meal:

  • You can add some brown rice if you like, but frankly my kids don’t love brown rice, so we prefer to enjoy it without rice for a lower carb meal. Sometimes we have it with cauliflower rice (more on that coming soon).
  • As you can see, we eat peanut butter. Sometimes even Jif, so we have some room for improvement. This tells you a few things. We aren’t perfect (surprise). And we are not strictly following a Paleo diet, although when searching for recipes it’s a great place to start.
  • Actually, we aren’t strictly following any particular diet. But our number one aim is to decrease sugar and carbohydrates in our diet, particularly refined carbohydrates. But of course, we have other nutrition concerns, too. It’s hard to know where to “draw the line” when choosing foods. Total amount and types of carbs; amount and type of fat;less processed/fewer ingredients; organic; local, etc. Sometimes it seems obvious. Sometimes it’s not. Almost always it’s overwhelming. (You’ll see how I handle these priorities if you stick with me…)
  • In full disclosure, dinner is our best meal, so don’t think the kids aren’t eating plenty of carbs. They are growing and are at a healthy weight. But if they were overweight, I would think twice about that. They just eat their high carb foods mostly at breakfast, and some at lunch. But at dinnertime, they eat what we eat and usually like it. I have to admit, that really surprised me at first! But it is so encouraging to know they are learning how to eat and enjoy real foods for their best chance at health. And put simply–they are worth it. And so are you.

Please leave a comment if you will try it!

Chicken Satay with Ginger Peanut Sauce

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (I keep some peeled and on hand in the freezer; it grates easier this way, too.)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter (Try soy nut butter or sunflower seed butter if you can’t have peanuts.)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic chili sauce (more to taste for spice)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
Chicken
  • 1 pound chicken breasts, cut in pieces
  • ¼ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

      1. For the sauce: In a small saucepan, warm oil over med-high heat. Add garlic and ginger, cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Add ½ c water, followed by peanut butter, soy sauce, pepper, and garlic chili sauce.  Whisk until smooth. When simmering, remove pan from heat. Just before serving, reheat the sauce over medium heat and add lime juice, whisking thoroughly.
      2. For the chicken: Cut chicken into bite-size pieces; place in a large bowl. Combine chicken with the chili powder, curry powder, pepper, and salt.  Thread the chicken on skewers or grill without if pieces are large enough.  Grill over direct high heat until just opaque and cooked through, turning once halfway through grilling time. Serve warm with peanut dipping sauce.

From Our Kitchen: A Simple Salad

IMG_0059We eat a fresh, tossed salad almost every night as part of our dinner. While in Italy, we stopped using bottled salad dressings and embraced dressing a salad the typical Italian way: plenty of olive oil, a tiny bit of vinegar—and this makes all the difference—enough salt to  make it taste good.

When I cook with minimally processed foods, I don’t feel bad about adding salt to my real foods. Chances are I’m not adding nearly the sodium that is in the processed foods of a typical American diet. Further, with regard to blood pressure, decreasing dietary salt doesn’t help everyone control their blood pressure.1 There appears to be more to it, and some recent research has linked sugar and insulin resistance (a metabolic problem in which carbohydrate isn’t used properly by the body) to blood pressure.2,3 In most cases, if we are cutting back on processed foods and sugar, somewhat liberalizing the use of the salt shaker to make real food taste good is not likely to have a negative effect on blood pressure and may actually improve it, especially with weight loss.

My Dressing “Recipe” (for a family-size salad):

  • About 3 splashes (about 2 to 3 tablespoons) of olive oil (Of course I’m partial to oil from Italy, which is more difficult to find than you’d think due to blending; when I run out of my stash, I’ll buy it from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 capful (about 1 teaspoon) of apple cider vinegar
  • About 6 to 8 turns of the sea salt shaker
  • About 3 to 4 turns of the black pepper shaker

Other Salad Tips:

  • We just started to receive local, fresh, home-delivered salad greens from theneighborhoodharvest.com. We get a mesclun mix and two other rotating types of salad greens, along with a tray of rotating micro greens (not sprouts, but not full grown plants either). They are grown in a greenhouse hydroponically and are pesticide-free and ready for use, so I just grab it by the handful and it’s so convenient. Use any greens you like. Switch it up for variety. I used to think the kids wouldn’t eat fancy greens, but they do and they love getting the different greens from the cooler on our porch each week and helping me prepare the salad each night.
  • I always add grape or cherry tomatoes, and cucumber slices. Sometimes, we get fancy and add other vegetables: radishes, mushrooms, chopped bell peppers, carrot shavings, etc.
  • I usually add cheese, most often an ounce of feta cheese, but every now and then I switch it up and use blue cheese or parmesan (the good stuff from Italy, of course.)
  • I always add a handful of freshly-toasted pecan or walnut pieces. Surprisingly, since my kids weren’t big nut fans, they now whine if I don’t remember to add the nuts. It really adds some crunch and flavor to the salad. Try toasting unsalted sunflower seeds if you can’t have the nuts.
  • Not too often, but sometimes I will add blood orange segments, strawberries, or dried cranberries for a change. Maybe once a month, I will add about a teaspoon of honey; acacia from–you guessed it, Italy–is my favorite. The kids love the sweetness, but it’s a treat.
  • If I have salad for lunch, I will often add either leftover roasted chicken or tuna packed in olive oil (then I omit adding oil) to my salad. (Italian tuna changed me forever; I love the Rio Mare brand. But Trader Joe’s has a decent oil-packed tuna.)
  • I don’t think it will change the nutrition per se, but there’s something about mixing it all together in a large bowl (my special olive wood bowl, in this case) too, that adds to the enjoyment of our salads. The dressing is distributed evenly, the colors are so vibrant and sparkling in the olive oil, it’s so simple and satisfying that I made it myself. It might just be me, but it honestly makes me happy just looking at it. And then again when I eat it. But I don’t think you have to have lived in Italy to enjoy this salad as much as I do. Get out a nice bowl and try it this week…and let me know what you think! Can you live without bottled salad dressing? Why or why not?

 

Obesity and My Musings on What We Know For Sure

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know for sure that does.  –Mark Twain”

This is such a popular quote, you may have heard it. I love how it succinctly summarizes my beefs with nutrition. I mean, how would you feel if your mommy brain (or daddy brain, Google says that’s a real thing) realized one day, after spending 7 years of your life on higher education, that everything you learned “for sure” is fundamentally wrong? And, oh by the way, you are still paying for that higher education? (The only bright side is consolidation at an extremely low rate…but I digress.)

Well, I can tell you how I felt. Somewhat stupid. In trouble even. But only at first, because I realized for a moment I fell into the very nutrition trap non-experts can get sucked into—taking everything at face value and not digging deeper. Well, if I believe it’s not the destination, but the wandering journey that’s important, I can at least find some peace (i.e., forgiveness for my moments of professional weakness) and resolve to make things better for myself and anyone who will listen. The fact is, my education (both in school and in life since) has given me all the skills I need to analyze nutrition science and its many influences, i.e., politics, economics, society, etc. And in so doing, I like to think I’m able to provide information you don’t often find on the Internet. (And so, to B, I say: really, it’s priceless, this “negative dowry” I brought to our marriage. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it this time.)

So, in this first “overview” post, let’s consider this morsel: why do we get fat? I thought we knew the answer 20 years ago when I started my career: we get fat because we eat too much, or exercise too little, or both. Calories in exceed calories out, so we store them as fat. End of story, right?

Well, as sure as we were, it appears that is not true. After decades of being urged by the USDA to eat more carbohydrates (mainly grains, breads and starches) and fewer fats (particularly saturated fat from meats, eggs and dairy products) and proteins (meats and eggs, for example),1,2 the obesity epidemic has steadily increased,3 and diabetes along with it.4 Researchers have learned diet affects many systems in the body (see Figure 15), so that they now realize we have grossly oversimplified weight gain. In fact, we have been looking at it all wrong.

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We don’t eat too much to get fat.  Getting fat makes us eat too much.6

What exactly does that mean? Obesity is considered a disease condition, which occurs in some people who have the genetic metabolic misfortune that causes their body’s hormones (namely insulin, and others) to drive them to overeat the wrong type of foods, thereby causing weight gain.5,6

Another way to say it is this: a calorie is not a calorie. That is, if you are prone to obesity your body handles carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates and sugar) differently than protein and fat.7,8 This may not sound like that big of a deal, especially if you are thin as you read this, but the implications are indeed huge (pun intended):

  1. Being overweight or obese is considered a medical condition—not simply gluttony and a lack of willpower. Some people have genes that make them more susceptible to obesity. That, coupled with the poor quality of food (rich in refined carbohydrates) that has become our culture, creates a serious medical problem. When we consider studies in which thin people try like crazy to gain weight and can’t no matter how much they eat or how little they exercise, the theory of gluttony falls apart.9 In short, some people have thin genes and stay thin no matter what they eat, some people have obesity genes and can keep weight off by choosing better foods, and a small percentage of people have obesity genes that are expressed regardless of what they eat. But I am ashamed to say in the past I have judged patients who have not been successful with the “simple” advice I have given them. If you’re honest, you have probably done the same, sizing up strangers at the grocery store or out at a restaurant when they choose unhealthy foods. Still worse, if you’re like most people, you have probably felt ashamed of yourself for not being able to get to or stay at a healthy weight. I’d love for us all, individually and as a society, to leave the shame out of it and instead focus on figuring out what to do next.
  2. If you are overweight or obese, you can change how you eat and still feel satisfied. Most people who are overweight have tried many diets. Most of these leave you feeling hungry and deprived. You do have a choice to make—to change how you eat—but you don’t have to starve yourself when you are choosing the healthiest foods for your body. Real, whole foods as part of a diet that is lower in carbohydrates (especially refined ones) and processed foods will leave you feeling satisfied, improve your health, and help you lose inches and/or weight…but I’ll elaborate much more on that soon and over time!
  3. You do not need to count calories to eat for better health and lose weight. I have always hated calories. Calorie counting is a lot of work, takes the fun out of eating, and usually towards the end of the day, leaves you feeling short-changed. If you’re eating the healthiest foods for your body, they will satisfy you and you will be able to stop eating when you feel full.  When some people eat too many carbohydrates and highly refined carbohydrates, it can cause a cyclical hormonal response that causes frequent hunger and subsequent overeating.6 Side note: have you ever wondered why we even use calories to measure the energy food provides? Burning foods in a laboratory to obtain their caloric value makes no sense when that’s not what happens when we eat them. Let’s forget about calories and commit to choosing better quality foods and see what happens
  4. You don’t even need to exercise to lose weight. Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to exercise for many health benefits, such as heart health, stress relief and mood, improved sleep, and maintaining muscular and bone strength, especially as we age. And exercise also helps people with diabetes or impaired glucose metabolism use carbohydrates better, which indirectly may make weight loss more achievable. But studies show when we exercise in an attempt to lose weight, we compensate with an increase in appetite and intake of food.10 We also may unknowingly compensate by decreasing activity later in the day after we’ve exercised.11 So, the effects are balanced pretty evenly by the body. Think of all the people who run marathons but are not extremely thin. The take home point is this: weight control in overweight people is more about changing how you eat than changing how much you exercise.
  5. Even if you’re not overweight, this information still applies to you. I hear many people tell me they never had a problem with obesity, until suddenly they did in middle age. So, you never know if you might have to deal with obesity yourself and it’s easier to prevent weight gain than it is to lose weight. At the very least, it is possible you know people who are overweight or obese and knowing this information can modify your perceptions—and society itself over time—to become more accepting and helpful to those plagued with obesity and all that goes along with it. But even if you could guarantee obesity would never be a problem for you, there are many other diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer that may possibly be prevented by eating a healthier lower carbohydrate, low sugar diet. Diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cancer have been shown to be related to obesity.12,13,14  Alzheimer’s has even been dubbed “type 3 diabetes.”15,16 The research linking obesity to refined carbohydrates and sugar is mounting.17,18,19 And inflammation may be part of the process by which certain diseases are precipitated by dietary factors.20,21 It is altogether possible these other diseases are related to refined carbohydrates and sugar intake even in the absence of obesity. Although there is research about decreasing risk of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle approaches including decreased refined carbohydrates,22 much more research is needed in other areas. But to this self-diagnosed “control freak,” it’s fascinating to think that through our nutrition we might have this much natural control over many aspects of our health.

Are you with me so far? I’m cruising through topics because this is a “big picture” of where we are headed, together I hope. I will conclude with this for now: sometimes, as in the case of obesity, we think we know something for sure. But if we let bias get in the way and are not diligent in considering the old and new evidence fully, we get into trouble and may even have to retract our words…I hate it when that happens! There is always going to be a tremendous amount of misinformation about nutrition and your health circulating the Internet. I can’t change that. But I can sift through it carefully and share fascinating topics, elaborating on what I’ve started to explain here, and how it’s made my family change the way we eat on a daily basis. Although if you’re looking for perfection, you won’t find it here. But we are redefining our taste buds and keeping things healthy, simple and tasty. And yes, I’m working on recipes!

For the record, misinformation isn’t just the case with science; although Mark Twain is usually referenced as the author to the quote above, there is actually no record he said it. But even film makers (The Big Short) have credited him for it. Even though I expect movies to take creative liberties, I was nonetheless disillusioned to find out the quote was erroneous. Checking the facts—scientific or otherwise—is labor-intensive, but because I believe we are better off for it, I am happy to do it for you whenever I can. Thanks for waiting for my posts and reading! Please ask questions or share your comments if I have piqued your interest…or even made you feel uncomfortable.

References