Monday, April 27, 2009

Selling Obesity at Schools?

This morning’s New York Times had an article on “Selling Obesity at Schools.” With the obesity rates of children and adolescents tripling over the last four decades, legislators may be waking up.

The government is subsidizing crops such as corn and soy which comprise much of the food supply, and foods children eat in the cafeterias and buy in vending machines. What might happen if fruits and vegetables were subsidized?

School meals in both private and public schools are typically high calorie foods low in protein and healthy fats and high in refined carbohydrates. Vending machines and snack bars sell cookies, candy bars, and chips. Few sell healthy snacks like nuts, cheese or fresh fruit. Most of the snacks contain high fructose corn syrup (see entry on HFCS, Leptin and Weight 4/3/09) which increase carbohydrate cravings and hunger levels.

Education at home is very helpful, but if schools do not provide healthy choices, children are receiving unhealthy meals 5 meals a week. Organic, healthy food does cost more but what is the cost to our younger generation? Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure 20-30 years prematurely.

Change for healthy options starts with planning at home - providing a bag lunch – so a school lunch is not the only option. Bring your children with healthy snacks after school so the fast food drive through is not enticing. Challenge the schools to start providing healthy meals to children – otherwise the upcoming generation will be in trouble – with a burden to their health and our medical system.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Label Reading 101

The following excerpt is from my upcoming book and gives you a quick guide to reading labels.

If something is designed to make our lives easier, why do we feel more confused? This is how many people feel after looking at food labels. Plain and simple – food labels are not user friendly. You almost need an interpreter to figure out what information is being conveyed and how to apply it to your life. It is similar to someone who has never attempted a crossword puzzle– where do you begin?

Many things on the label are optional. For starters, we are not scientists and need only to look at key pertinent information. Percentages, numbers on the bottom are comparisons to an average male adult of a certain weight, which may or may not apply. A good starting point is to read the list of ingredients on the label or side of the box. Questions to ask are:

How many ingredients does the food have? If there are more than 5 or 6 ingredients, consider re-evaluating your food choice, since the more ingredients the more processed the food will be.

Are any of the ingredients other names or components for sugar or starches– such as sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, molasses, monosaccharides, polysaccharides, maple syrup, maple sugar, date sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, high fructose corn syrup? If the product contains any of these names it is very likely it is a high sugar product.
Does the product contain MSG, or other ingredients that may contain components of MSG such as aspartame, broth, glutamate, hydrolyzed, autolyzed yeast, monosodium glutamate, HVP, yeast extract, malted barley, rice or brown syrup? MSG is a flavor enhancer for foods but also can increase appetite and allergic reactions in some individuals.

How many preservatives or stabilizers does the product contain? Sometimes one or two are okay for a week or two of extended shelf life, but many preservatives ensures the “food” would be there next year if you came across it in your cabinet.

Is there anything you do not recognize or can’t pronounce? (one clue it may not be a healthy food choice).

If a product contains less than 5 or 6 ingredients and does not have extras sugars or other preservatives you can now check the label. Look for serving size as many manufacturers make it small, (serving sizes are one of the hidden keys on a label) to make their product look healthier than it actually is. Look for “total carbohydrates” which will tell you how much carbohydrate/starch/sugar the product contains. 15 grams is equal to about a serving or a slice of bread. A product containing 45 grams of total carbohydrates is similar to consuming 3 slices of bread.

Trans fat is one major consideration. Unfortunately many manufacturers make the serving size so small it falls under the “do not need to report” guideline. If the serving size has less then .5 grams of trans fat a manufacturer can state “contains no trans fat” on the label. Do not rely on what the front of the package states. If you ate several servings of a food with “no trans fat” on the label of a packaged/processed food it could add up to well over 2-3 grams of trans fat per day, which is the most dangerous type of fat.

Researchers at Harvard, including Dr. Walter Willet, warn against consuming greater than 2 grams of trans fat per day since it can increase your risk of heart disease by 37 percent, well above any risk of consuming saturated fat. How much trans fat does processed foods contain? Check it out before purchasing. Examples:

· a medium size order of French fries has approximately 8 grams of trans fat
· a small bag of potato chips has 5 grams
· a donut has approximately 5 grams
· a regular sized candy bar has 3 grams

If you eat even small amounts of processed foods, eating 2 or more grams of trans fat easily adds up.

How much sodium does the product contain? The average consumer eats about 6000 mg. per day. The American Heart Association and many health organizations including the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine recommend keeping your sodium intake below 2300 milligrams per day. If you consume several products which contain more than 500 mg. per serving of sodium, it quickly adds up.

Summing up label reading

Start by looking at the list of ingredients. If the list passes the litmus test, then read on to see if the product is moderate in carbohydrate, sodium, and trans fat. If it has some protein, some monounsaturated fat (healthy fat) and fiber listed on the label, all the better for a balanced meal.
Otherwise, stick with fresh unprocessed foods which do not have labels and limit your exposure to foods in a package. The more ingredients a food contains, the longer it may take your body to process the food. Furthermore, if there are items you cannot pronounce or recognize on the label it might be wise to leave it on the shelf. Your body will thank you!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Eating Non-GMO?

Last night I heard a lecture on: Is Our Food Safe: The Real Story About Genetically Engineered Food. Jeffrey Smith, one of the word’s experts on non-GMO eating, gave a very informative but disturbing lecture on the health risks of GMO foods.

What does it mean to eat non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods? The Center for Food Safety calls genetically modifying foods a “laboratory process of artificially inserting genes into the DNA of food crops or animals...GMO’s can be engineered with genes from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.”

Why avoid GMO foods? Simply put, changing the DNA of a food crop will ultimately change the way the food acts in our bodies. This could wipe out the food’s health properties, almost replacing nature.

If a food product is labeled “certified organic” you can be assured there are no GMO products in it. Otherwise, it is necessary to check the labels for ingredients listed. What types of foods contain GMO components? The “Big Four” ingredients in processed foods are:

Corn – corn flour, meal, starch, gluten and syrup, and sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, and glucose
Soy – soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, isoflavone, vegetable oil, and vegetable protein
Canola – canola oil
Sugar – anything not listed as 100% cane sugar

The complete guide to eating non-GMO food can be food on the Center for Food Safety's website.

They have a handy shopping guide that shows which food manufacturers use only non-GMO products in addition to food products that contain GMO products. The process of eating clean now has to include non-GMO foods. It may require some effort but the health rewards are well worth it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Grass-Fed Meat?

While attending a conference in Switzerland, I was surprised at the appearance of cows. Cows in Switzerland are pretty – a beautiful burgundy color, lean and frequently seen grazing on grass. This story may sound strange, but after looking at overweight cows in America, I was surprised at what I observed. In addition, the meat and dairy products tasted very different, and I found myself able to eat more than I regularly eat in America without gaining any weight. Since I was sitting at a conference, I knew this change had nothing to do with my activity level!

This observation sparked my interest in the difference in what animals are fed, and how that affects us. When animals are fed grass and allowed to graze out in pasture, they will be leaner, happier and produce products that are higher in omega 3 fatty acids. When they are fed corn or grains, they will produce products that are higher in omega 6 fatty acids.

Omega 3 fats are important since they have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body which assists with lowering a host of medical issues (to be discussed on a future blog). Omega 6 fatty acids have a pro-inflammatory effect in the body which can create more health issues.

Grass-fed meat tastes different but is far healthier than corn-fed meat, though more expensive. In addition, grass-fed meat also contains higher levels of CLA’s (conjugated linoleic acids) which have been linked to lowering inflammation, diabetes, cancer, and increasing immunity.

Most of the beef in this country is from corn/grain-fed animals. Corn/grain-fed beef comes from an animal fed a combination of grass and grains along with vitamin and mineral supplements. Grass-fed or grass finished meat comes from animals that eat only a diet of grass and remain on a pasture their entire lives. Most grass-fed beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand where grass is in greater abundance and grows year round. However, more grass-fed meat is becoming available in the U.S. due to demand and the health benefits it provides.

Grass –fed meat is not synonymous with organic meat. Certified organic meat is free of pesticides, hormones or antibiotic residues and assures you that the cattle were raised in a more humane manner.

When shopping for grass-fed meat you may encounter difficulties. Sometimes the taste seems “off” and varies from company to company. I found a wonderful tasting grass-fed meat at Bob’s Market in Santa Monica called Estancia Beef. Try different companies until you find one that suits your preference. So go ahead and enjoy a piece of grass-fed meat for dinner, and you’ll be eating for your health.

Friday, April 3, 2009

HFCS, Leptin and Weight: Avoiding the Slippery Slope

Recent media ads informing you HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is safe might lead you to believe consuming a soft drink made with HFCS poses no health risks. When you look at the current research, nothing could be further from the truth.

To understand the truth, we need to look a little at the chemistry of different sugars and hormone interactions. HFCS was developed in the 70’s from cornstarch that is made from genetically modified corn. This process results in a product that is less expensive than sugar, and is used by the major food companies to sweeten their products – anything from sodas to jams, ketchup, juices, and processed packaged foods.

Table sugar is composed of 2 sugars – glucose and fructose. All the cells of our body can readily metabolize glucose, but fructose is only metabolized via the liver. Large amounts of fructose going to the liver causes fatty liver leading to high cholesterol and triglycerides.

Since HFCS contains more fructose than sugar, the fructose is more readily available since it is not bound up with glucose, as is the case with natural sugar. Therefore it has a straight shot to the liver.

Now enter the hormone leptin. Leptin is one of the main hormones regulating appetite. I like to state that leptin lowers your appetite. Several recent studies revealed a diet high in HFCS increased the level of triglycerides, which blocked the brain’s response to leptin.

Therefore, if your body becomes insensitive to leptin, and in fact, develops a leptin resistance, the brain will continue to signal your body it needs more food and continue to store fat.

Judith Altarejos, Ph.D. a researcher at Scripps states “obesity results when the brain becomes ‘deaf’ to the leptin signals.” If your brain is continuing to tell you to eat, you will have a hard time losing weight.

Turning this situation around is not as hard as you might think. Consuming protein at each meal and snack, along with healthy sources of carbohydrate like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and healthy fats will do wonders for turning on the leptin switch. Keeping refined processed sources of carbohydrate out of your diet is essential and necessary to keeping or restoring balance to the body.

So look for HFCS on labels and stay clear of the slippery slope. Your body and arteries will thank you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What about those Snacks?

In this morning's LA Times Family Circus cartoon Billy asked his Mom "how much of a snack do I get to eat before it becomes a meal?" This question comes up frequently with clients. Is snacking okay? How many calories constitutes a snack before it becomes a meal? Is it okay to snack, or am I supposed to wait till the next meal?

Snacking is an important part of eating. If you go more than 5 to 6 hours between meals it is essential to have a snack to prevent a drop in your blood sugar or overeating at the next meal. The size of snacks depends on your activity level, weight, and age. In general, snacks fall in the 200-350 calorie range while meals are over 500 calories.

Examples of healthy snacks are:
  1. 1 ounce of raw or unsalted dry roasted nuts (about 15-20) with a medium piece of fruit

  2. 1-2 slices of cheese with and medium piece of fruit

  3. 1-2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter with fruit or celery

  4. 1/4 cup of guacamole with cut up vegetables

  5. 1/2 cup of plain yogurt or cottage cheese with nuts or nut mix (below)

My upcoming nutrition book with recipes has a healthy delicious nut mix that is a flavorable topper for plain yogurt or cottage cheese, and works well by itself for a snack.

Healthy Nut Mix

Serves: 10 ¼ cup servings

¼ cup raw steel cut oats
½ cup of raw pumpkin seeds
¼ cup of raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup of unsweetened dried coconut
½ cup of coarsely chopped raw cashews
¼ cup of sliced raw almonds
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon of honey


Mix all ingredients together and spread on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees till golden brown, about 20 minutes, stirring once through the cooking process. Remove from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet. Store in airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for a month.

So thank you Billy for posing the question for our blog today and no need to feel guilty about snacking. It is important to health, vitality throughout the day, and reasonable eating!