Why I Try To Be “Over 30” Every Day

Dee is an inspiration to me.  She has cerebral palsy and is confined to a motorized wheelchair. She has only minimal use of each hand, just enough to move her chair and use a phone if it’s placed into her hand. She’s not only cognitively intact, she’s pretty smart.

I’m lucky. I worked for 33 years with people with special needs, people like Dee.  It’s emotionally difficult work sometimes, but I always got more than I could ever give them. One powerful lesson they taught me was how lucky I was to be physically able-bodied.

She told me once she was fed up hearing what a nuisance people thought it was to take the stairs, walk the dog, or park farther away from your destination to get in a few extra steps. “They sit down all day long but they have a choice. I don’t. If I could walk I’d never want to sit down.”

When we think of chores, she thinks of abilities. Big wake-up call here.

Everyone Needs To Be Over 30

I speak not of years, but of minutes. Thirty minutes of physical activity for at least five days of the week is what’s recommended by the US Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. How much do we get? The feds survey this info regularly and the latest data show 1 in 4 of us get NO leisure physical activity at all. None. That’s self-reported data, and it may be higher, as people do tend to enhance the amount of physical activity they do.

Flipping the Script on Activity

Many of us cringe when we’re told to be more active. So how about baby steps? How about focusing on being less INACTIVE?

If it’s too overwhelming to go to a gym (I speak not of “joining” because that doesn’t ensure “going”) or if you have little leisure time, then it makes sense to build some activity into your day, a little bit here and there, whenever you can.

Enter the “Exercise Snack”

A food snack is something less than a meal. An exercise snack is something less than a workout. It can take many forms and be done pretty much anywhere. It doesn’t have a minimum time, it just requires moving – anyway you can, and anywhere you can. You don’t need to develop a twitch, just think of doing what some of my physically disabled patients would LOVE to do:

Deliver it.  Why email a memo to someone close by, when you can walk down the hall to speak with them? Follow-up with a memo for the record.

Think glass,  not bottle.  Have one glass of water at a time, rather than brining a bottle to your desk. When you want more, you’ll get up and get it.

DIY: Make a photocopy yourself, get the staples from the supply closet, give the home floor an extra quick vacuuming. It’ll get done your way and it’s another exercise snack.

TV? A 30-minute sitcom only has about 22-23 minutes of actual programming. That’s about 7 minutes of time – in 2 or 3-minute intervals – for exercise snacking.  Get the playing cards, charge your phone, lay out your clothes for the next day, or even fold a few clothes.

Tidy up!  Not a deep clean, just clear the coffee table, run the dishwasher, or hang that coat that’s been there since you got home.

Remember, these are exercise snacks, not workouts, so you’re done after a couple of minutes, but do them several times a day and you’re on your way top getting that 30 minutes. Better still, you’re preventing your metabolism from slowing down. Remember – it’s not about being more active – just less INACTIVE.

It’s an easier goal to achieve and these exercise snacks might lead to bigger things, like “exer-meals”. And if you need motivation, remember: Dee would happily trade places with you.

As for motivation, check this video out of a 4-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, taking her first steps by herself.  You’ll cheer her on as loudly as I did.  Then get up off your chair or the sofa — just because you can!

Could Losing Weight Make You Richer?

Well, yes and no. It won’t automatically add to your bank account, but according to this study you’ll probably spend less on health care. Reducing weight reduces health risks – and what they cost you.

The authors studied data between years 2001-2015 from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), an annual survey that uses a nationally representative sample of adult civilians. They looked at the additional cost of being obese, compared to a non-obese person with the same condition.

They combined the costs for obesity-related illness from all “third-party payers”, including Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance plans, and patient “out-of-pocket” spending, other than for over-the-counter medicines. The results are worrisome – and costly.

Price Per Pound

Out of the 334,000 adults surveyed, 30%, or 99,000, had a body mass index (BMI) over 30, indicating obesity. This is no surprise, as other national surveys have shown similar percentages. This percentage would double if they had included people who were merely overweight, with BMI values between 25-29.9.

After adjusting for inflation to 2015 dollars, here’s the change in the percentage of medical costs associated with obesity:

• 2001: 6.13% of medical expenditures
• 2015: 7.91% of medical expenditures

That might not seem like a huge change, but it amounts to a 29% increase, compared to someone with the same condition who is not obese. Some states, such as Ohio and Wisconsin, fared even worse, with increases over 40%.
The cost of obesity isn’t just born by third-party payers. Consumers often have plans with high deductibles. If your visits require a co-pay, the more visits you need, the more money out-of-pocket costs you have. Consumers now average nearly 5% of their own medical costs to treat obesity, with consumers in many states far exceeding this percentage. The study also noted that 13% of prescription drug costs are to treat obesity

Weighing Down Your Earnings?

The authors quoted several studies that suggest associated a higher BMI with lower wages, but for women only, not men. Weight-related discrimination in the workplace has also been documented. Indeed, there is less chance of being hired because of weight. Then there are the issues of obesity-related health problems causing more missed days due to illness, more physician visits, more medication costs.

When you add it all up, shedding a few pounds starts to make financial sense, not just healthy sense. Who wouldn’t rather put that money to better use if they could – and you can.

Going Positive – a 5% solution

This study showed national averages but you’re not a population, you’re you. Everyone is different. You can’t change national numbers but you can impact your own. Losing 100 pounds is not necessary to be healthier and reduce obesity-related risks. This review of weight research studies documented that even losing 5% of your body weight will produce health benefits. Weigh 200 pounds? That means if you release 10 pounds you’re healthier. Hold that for a year and I’m your biggest cheerleader.

Take It Easy To Save More

I wouldn’t care if you made one small positive change to your diet or lifestyle each month. Just do what you can commit to and know it’s moving you in the right direction, health-wise, and money-wise. In fact, if you’re making changes you notice quickly, you’re probably making too drastic a change. OK to slow down, take a year to lose 12 pounds – a pound a month. If that gets you to the 5% solution, you’re already saving money on health care costs.

BTW — This is a pic of a huge California peach on a “smiling” dessert plate.  It WAS dessert, amazingly delicious all on its own.  

Direct & “Indirect” Food Additives: Issues Or Non-Issues?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released a policy statement on food additives — the direct food additives like nitrates, and indirect ones, like plastic containers that come into contact with food. Their bottom line is that the FDA’s regulatory process doesn’t properly vet food additives and cannot assure us that all of these 10,000 “chemicals” [emphasis mine] are 100% safe.

I like the AAP – really I do – but in this case I wonder if they’re presenting a balanced view of the total body of science on food additives. For example, the statement references studies where additives are “linked” to conditions like impaired thyroid function and immune responses to vaccines, even increased risk for obesity. Yet, many of the referenced studies also admit that such “link” may not be one of cause-and-effect. Moreover, numerous studies not referenced validate the safety of these additives. Getting approval of a new food additive just isn’t easy – nor should it be.

Is ANYTHING 100% Safe?

Not likely, and that includes prescribed medications, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use them when necessary. It would be easy to get suspicious of everything we eat: Are healthy foods like beans 100% safe for everyone?

It’s more useful to me and my patients to put this issue perspective, and to that end I think the AAP statement could have done that better. We DO have the most advanced food delivery system in the world and our FDA is a guide post for similar organizations in other countries.

The AAP’s issue with nitrates is one I don’t get, for example. Nitrates and “processed meats” are buzz words, true. But a food label saying “no nitrates added” doesn’t mean the meat has no nitrates. Celery powder is often a substitute, because celery is a source of natural nitrate, along with green beans, carrots, spinach and collards. Of course, celery powder is also a “food additive.”

If someone is eating processed meat frequently, I’d be more concerned with what it’s replacing in the diet, rather than nitrates per se. Let’s balance the diet and the nitrates become a non-issue.

The Big Picture

As a pediatric nutritionist for over 30 years, I’d love it if we lived in a world without a need for anything “additive”. But we don’t, and in some cases that’s a good thing. After all, food additives have provided some of the best public health interventions. I’m glad I don’t have to see children with neural tube defects anymore, now that folic acid – a food additive – is added to enriched grains. My own mother remembers her grandmother having a goiter and to this day she will only use iodized salt. No fancy sea salt, not even Kosher salt, for her. “You never had to see anyone with a goiter,” she says.

The AAP calls for the FDA to re-examine the regulatory process for approval of food additives, including those additives on the “GRAS” (generally regarded as safe) list. They also note that low-income children are at increased risk, as higher consumers of packaged foods.

Food Additives & Food Budgets

As for affordability, I like that the AAP recommends practitioners “develop a list of low-cost sources of fruits and vegetables.” I’ve worked my entire career with low income patients and helping patients stretch their food dollars goes hand-in-hand with good medical nutrition therapy. Nothing is nutritious until people eat it.

I don’t have the luxury of telling parents that their family’s health is at risk until the feds beef up their regulatory process. I also think there’s a lot that you can do at ANY income level to reduce exposure to additives. The AAP does give some recommendations in the interim, but frankly, they’re the same ones I’ve been giving to my patients on for years, just for general health:

• Make fresh fruits and veggies a big priority in the home eating environment. (Uh, it helps if parents eat them, too, and in front of the kids).

• When microwaving food, put it onto a plate or in a glass container instead of plastic. It just saves worrying about whether the container is microwave-safe to begin with. Also, no plastic wrap when microwaving. Too hot and the stuff melts. Ick.

• Forget the dishwasher for plastic containers. Just wash them by hand. Done.
Finally, if you’re doing these things anyway, then you’re also already minimizing your exposure to food additives. Then the feds can take all the time they want. You’re doing your job and that’s plenty safe.

 

 

 

Lean Red Meat in a Mediterranean Diet? Oh, Yes You Can!

This post is a collaboration with Beef. It’s What’s for Dinner., on behalf of the Beef Checkoff, as part of my role as a member of the Beef Expert Bureau.

In my previous EdibleRx column, I discussed the PREDIMED study, a 2013 landmark multi-center trial that showed how following a Mediterranean diet could reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease, but that was recently retracted due to flawed methodology. The re-analyzed and republished data showed good, but less dramatic results, than when first published.

Among the hallmarks of a traditional Med diet, one that the typical Greek farmer ate, are the inclusion of olive oil as the preferred fat in cooking, lots of fish, fruits, vegetables, and minimal red meat. Oh, and the glass of red wine.
Red meat? That Mediterranean farmer didn’t eat much because not much was available. Cows were expensive and sheep worked better on the arid land, plus they gave wool and milk to make feta. All based on pragmatism, not fashion. Red meat (usually lamb) was a celebratory dish. My Greek grandfather loved roasting the lamb heads at Easter (knock it, but farmers waste nothing).

Better Med With Red

A new study asks the question: What would happen to cardiovascular risk factors if you ate a Med diet but compensated/replaced some (up to 18 oz/week) of the poultry with lean red meat, keeping consumption of fish, extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), nuts, and the rest of the Med diet the same?

This study, in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, has some credibility.  It’s small, but well done, and it’s a “cross-over” design, so that every participant followed both the Med diet limited in red meat and the Med diet that included red meat (i.e. Med-Red) for 5 weeks each, with about a month in between each phase.
Following both Mediterranean-style diets produced lower total cholesterol levels, but here’s the difference:

• The Med-Red diet lowered total cholesterol significantly more than the Med diet limited in red meat.

• The Med-Red diet lowered LDL-cholesterol, but the Med diet limited in red meat did not.

Blood pressure improved in both groups, regardless of red meat intake. HDL-cholesterol, glucose levels, and insulin were similar and unchanged for both groups.

Revised Results = New Questions

• Is the advice to reduce red meat intake in a Med diet misguided?

• What about lean forms of deli meat (beef and pork)?

From this study, the answer would be “yes” to the first question, but the second cannot yet be answered because it hasn’t yet been tested. It’s possible that processed, lean deli meats (beef and pork) may be able to be included with similar results to the Med-Red diet. “To be continued…”

Interestingly, when I looked at the revised PREDIMED data, specifically the questionnaire that scored the adherence to the Med and control diets, at the 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year follow-up marks, there were no differences in consumption of red or processed meats between the Med diet groups and the control groups, even though the Med diet groups had a lower risk of stroke. Maybe it’s not the red meat that makes the difference here.

Limitations? ALL studies have them. This study was smaller and didn’t last as long as the PREDIMED study, which had a 5-year follow-up.

The study was funded partially by the Beef Checkoff and the Pork Checkoff, but before you make pre-judgements, it was also funded by the National Institute of Health’s Ingestive Behavior Research Center at Purdue University and NIH’s Institute of Health’s Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, all reputable organizations. Regardless, the funding organizations had “no role in the design or conduct of the study; collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data; or writing of the manuscript.” The study was fully peer-reviewed.

Cut-To-The-Chase Recommendations

• Stop worrying about “red meat” and focus more on leanness and freshness (i.e. unprocessed).

• Beef in particular has a lot to offer nutritionally, especially nutrients like zinc and iron, but also conjugated linoleic acid, B-vitamins, and more.

• Keep meat lean, keep portions real (4 or 5 ounces are enough, downing a 12-oz. portion doesn’t prove masculinity and your body can’t use all that protein at one meal anyway. Good news is that this study showed you can enjoy up to 18 ounces of lean red meat per week as part of this eating pattern and still see a positive impact on heart health)

• Make sure you have it with plenty of veggies and some whole grains, dressed with a drizzle of EVOO.

If you want a great lean beef recipe I made, check out my recipe for an easy, lean, tasty pot roast here, or for many more check out Beef-It’s What’s for Dinner and this infographic on the Med Diet. The site is loaded with great, heart-healthy recipes.

Is the Med Diet a Dead Diet? No – Despite Retractions

But the Mediterranean diet did get a kick in the keester. The New England Journal of Medicine just published a retraction of the 2013 PREDIMED study because of flaws discovered in the randomization methodology. Basically, it found that about a fifth of the 7447 trial subjects weren’t randomized properly, which could have allowed bias to creep into the data.

PREDIMED was a study on the Mediterranean diet and its impact on cardiovascular disease, specifically heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular-related death. The study was intended to go on for 7 years but was stopped after about 4 years because the results were so dramatic that it was considered unethical to prevent the participants on the control diet from benefitting from the Med diet.

Subjects were supposed to have been randomly assigned to one of three groups:

• Instruction on the Med diet and provided free extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO);

• Instruction on the Med diet and provided free nuts (about 30 grams daily of a mix of almonds, hazelnuts, and walnuts);

• General advice on a low-fat diet. After 3 years, this group would also have additional dietary instruction.

Where did things go awry?

For about a fifth of the 7447 participants, randomization didn’t happen. They point out several ways the randomization failed for these participants, and these failures didn’t seem intentional or malicious. Probably due to site technicians who were poorly trained, poorly supervised, or sites that just weren’t run efficiently.

The authors completely re-analyzed the results of the study and published them here.

Did the corrected analysis change the results?

Yes. The results are still good, but not as dramatic. The Med Diet with either nuts or EVOO showed benefits only for reducing the risk of stroke, but not heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

We shouldn’t dismiss the Med diet though.  Although the PREDIMED study had flaws, other Med diet studies have shown positive results.

What holds true about the Med diet

• It’s simple and sustainable.

• It uses easily obtainable foods.

• It doesn’t require major dietary changes, yet still has at least some cardiovascular benefits.

As a clinician who has spent years helping people change their eating behaviors, a diet with these attributes hits the tri-fecta.

Where the Med diet could improve

A 14-item questionnaire was used in the PREDIMED study to determine a “MedDiet Score” of adherence to the diet. Some of the questions are a bit odd, if not troubling:

• Why are homemade pastries OK but “commercial bakery” items discouraged?

• Why are “red and processed meats” grouped together? More to the point, why is lean red meat in the same category as fatty, salty sausage?

• There is absolutely no mention at all of dairy foods, milk, yogurt, or cheese, either low-fat or regular? Yogurt and cheese are nutrient-rich and present in a Med Diet, even if not adequately so.

Solution: A “MediterDASHean Diet”

It combines the best of the Med Diet with the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Both emphasize lots of fruits, vegetables, legumes, but DASH makes up for what’s missing from the Med Diet and the diets of most people: dairy nutrition.

The Med Diet, for all it’s advantages, is low in calcium. Even the 2015 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which praises the Med Diet, acknowledges the likely lack of adequate calcium in the Med Diet.

A calcium supplement alone cannot replace the nutrition-rich package in dairy foods.  With a MediterDASHean Diet, you just do the Med diet but include at least 2 servings of dairy foods daily – full-fat, low-fat, or non-fat, whatever your calorie needs allow. Personally, I get three servings and happily so.

The Med diet discourages “red and processed meat” but it’s not clear why. It’s even less clear with a new dynamite study that looks at what happens when a Med Diet swaps out lean poultry for lean beef and pork. It’s my next post, so watch this space!

Photo credits: Penne: Petar Milošević – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59899700  Caprese salad: Jessica Rossi, https://www.flickr.com/photos/jesswebb/3797226962

Can You Be Fit But Fat? New Study Has Some Answers

And can you reduce your risk of a heart attack? That’s what a new study asked, and the results were recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Sports Medicine (abstract 366, specifically).

It’s the question everyone wants answered, given that nearly 2 out of 3 people in the US are overweight or obese. (The photos on this post are of military personnel. Even they struggle with weight and fitness!) The idea being, do we have to be focused on weight if we’re willing to do our aerobic thing, or strength training, or just leading an active lifestyle, with things like regular biking, tennis, and recreational sports and activities?

New Findings

This research, known as Tromsø Study, was carried out over 34 years, from 1979 through 2013. When you look at heart attack risk, long-term data studies are preferred, but by their nature, it takes a oong time to learn the results. That’s what makes this study more significant. Participants were grouped based on the activity levels they reported:

Low activity – walking, gardening, etc. less than 4 hours per week.
Moderate activity: walking or gardening at least 4 hours per week.
High activity: running, biking or similar things that get the heart rate up, at least 4 hours per week.
Vigorous activity: engaging in competitive sports regularly.

Being active at any weight helps

This is the good news. Highly active people at any weight cut their risk of heart attack by about 12% versus those in the low-activity group.

Those engaging in regular “vigorous activity” cut their risk by 37% overall. Among those who were overweight or obese, the more active they were, the lower their risk of a heart attack.

Being overweight or obese mattered more

Even after adjusting for age, gender, smoking, and activity level, the overweight and obese people had much higher risk for a heart attack than normal weight people. Even active obese people were more than twice as likely as inactive normal weight participants to have a heart attack.

HOLD ON! – This Study Wasn’t Perfect

No study is, and the researchers call out this study’s weaknesses and limitations:

• Heart attack was the only health issue studied. Being active DOES benefit other chronic conditions like hypertension and type 2 diabetes, to name only two, but these weren’t addressed by this study.

• Activity levels were self-reported. Sorry – but people are known to report higher levels of activity than they really engage in.

• Body composition wasn’t studied. The researchers used the body mass index (BMI) to classify people as normal weight, overweight, or obese. It’s possible to be overweight but not overfat, especially if you engage in lots of strength training and are thus very muscular, although this is not as common as you might think. Flipping this around – you can be normal weight and still have too much body fat.

Cut-to-the-Chase Advice

1. Do what you can do. Being active at any weight is better than being inactive. Check with your doctor to see what activities are right for you. Running and high-impact stuff just isn’t right for everyone.  I don’t like “perfect”.  I like “better.”  My colleague Liz Ward’s mantra is, “Better is the new perfect.”  Way to go, Liz!

2. Consistency is everything. Aim to be active every day in some capacity – even if you’re normal weight.

3. Forget trying to be a “perfect” weight. Pick a weight you can maintain. Work on holding it there for a few months, then re-evaluate. Maybe that’s where you’ll stay, maybe you’ll take it down a bit. If you do go for less weight, take it five pounds at a time.

4. For activity: DO WHAT YOU LOVE. Then love that you can do it. I’ve worked for many years with people who have physical disabilities. They’d give anything to have the option to take the stairs or just go for a walk. Embrace the gift of your abilities.

Latest Cheese Chatter: It’s Better For You Than You Thought!

Who doesn’t love cheese? Whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, a baked brie with fresh figs and whole grain crackers (drizzled with a little honey, perhaps?), something grated over pasta, or just some cubed cheddar to have with fruit for an afternoon snack, cheese is not only a big favorite, it’s almost a comfort food.
Cheese is often criticized by those who promote healthy eating, and it’s true that about half the fat in cheese is saturated fat. But do we need to forego one of our favorite foods in order to be healthier? More to the point, does all dairy fat BEHAVE the same way in the body? The emerging science would suggest not, with cheese coming out ahead of butter.

Isn’t butter the same type of fat as cheese?

Pretty much, but a recent meta-analysis (a study that combines the results of multiple research studies) showed that cheese lowered LDL-cholesterol (the bad kind), compared to baseline levels, and butter raised it.
That might seem odd, given that cheese and butter both have fat from the same source – milkfat – and thus has the same proportion of saturated and unsaturated fat.

This is where butter and cheese part ways. Cheese seemed to lower LDL-cholesterol, compared to baseline levels, butter raised it. Cheese also lowered HDL-cholesterol but the LDL figure is usually given more weight, with respect to cardiovascular risk.

A more recent study, a single randomized control trial involving 92 men and women, showed that cheese fared better than butter only on these cholesterol metrics, not on other metabolic factors such as blood pressure or fasting glucose levels, and the LDL-effects were more pronounced in subjects with higher baseline LDL levels.What gives?

The reasons for the differences produced by cheese vs. butter are not totally clear. Top theories are:

• The dairy calcium may be binding with fat in the small intestine, reducing fat absorption and thus cholesterol synthesis.

• Cheese’s fermentation may play a role in impairing cholesterol synthesis and reabsorption in the large intestine. A 2011 study postulated that bacteria in the large intestine may bind to bile acids that, in turn, prevent some cholesterol from being absorbed.

• Some of the fat in cheese (and milk, for that matter) is trapped within the casein matrix, perhaps making some of that fat less available to fuel cholesterol synthesis.

Keeping grounded, without grinding

None of these study results is a license to go out and scarf an 8-oz wheel of brie (much as I’d love to). The 2017 study above also looked at how high monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) stacked up against the butter and cheese diets.

Result: The MUFA and PUFA diets produced lower levels of LDL-cholesterol then either butter or cheese. In other words, cheese fares better than butter, but diets higher in MUFA and PUFA fats seemed to lower LDL cholesterol even more.

Cut-To-The-Chase Tip: Keep eating cheese. It’s loaded with great protein, calcium, and other nutrients and it’s delicious. Keep it to an ounce or two, and pair it with good company, like fruit, vegetables, and whole-grains. For cooking, favor olive or canola oil instead of butter. Healthy eating is NEVER about deprivation, obsession, or perfection. It’s about balance.

5 Foods Even Nutritionists Can’t Believe Are Popular

Ever wonder what nutritionists talk about when they get together? Inevitably, talk turns to food, but not what you might expect.

We may be familiar with the latest research and science, but we’re people, too, and we can yak it up with the best of them. I asked several top-notch registered dietitian/nutritionists (RDNs) to react to the statement: “I can’t believe that food ever became popular”. Here’s what they said:

Kale’in Me!

Number one response. “How the heck did that heinous weed become everyone’s darling?” asked Amy Myrdal Miller, of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting. Yes, Amy knows kale is nutritious. She hates it anyway.

Keri Gans doesn’t mind kale, but adds, “I never understood why kale became so popular mainly because, for myself, and many others I know, it’s rather bitter tasting. And with other nutritious leafy greens available – hello spinach – it just makes me wonder.”

‘flower Power

As much as Myrdal Miller hates kale, “I’m delighted so many chefs and consumers have embraced and totally fallen in love with cauliflower, my favorite vegetable.”

Indeed, chefs have become some of this cruciferous superfood’s biggest fans. “Who ever thought cauliflower would rise to the status of being nestled into a pizza crust?” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, author of Read it Before You Eat It – Taking You from Label to Table. “Cauliflower pizza is on fire on Instagram and in foodies’ kitchens everywhere, especially since Paleo and Keto diets have also risen in popularity.” She noted though, that although a cauliflower pizza crusts add nutritional value, “they’re not necessarily lower in calories. I add egg, cheese, herbs and nuts to create my crust.”

Toby Amidor, author of best-selling The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook, agreed, noting that she loved how loaded it is with nutrients like vitamin C and K, numerous B-vitamins, and fiber, and has anti-cancer properties. “However, I’m not always a fan of its flavor especially when served raw like in a salad. I was surprised when it gained popularity as a meat replacer (such as in cauliflower “steak”) and grain replacer (such as riced cauliflower or cauliflower risotto).” That baffled me also. Great as cauliflower is, it’s low in protein, so swapping out some lean beef for cauliflower requires some other protein source for the meal. I love roasting the colored varieties – they’re gorgeous, edible art.

Kombucha: #Thisbrewmaynotbebestforyou

According to Leslie Bonci, owner of ActiveEatingAdvice.com trying to make this fermented, probiotic drink at home, “could be a food safety concern. “Why not eat fermented vegetables like kimchi to get more fiber, and yogurt or kefir for protein?”

Taking a pinto for a spin

Robyn Flipse, of TheEverydayRD.com, said, “The humble bean gets my top vote as the nutrient-rich food most deserving its new-found popularity!” While not fond of their “less appetizing nomenclature, ‘pulses’” or the confusing “legumes”, she’s glad more consumers and chefs are taking their “pulse” at mealtimes now.

Flipse loves that beans are now known as much for being “culinary chameleons that can be blended into almost any recipe, available all year round with a long shelf life in cans or bags and easy to prepare” as for their traditional budget-friendly advantages. Abundant research has clearly documented, “how much nutritional value they add to any dietary pattern or simple meal.”

Chia Whiz, It’s Popular

How did chia seeds go from holiday joke gift to being a treasured ingredient in smoothies and oatmeal?  Bonci is a huge fan of chia (and of rhyming). One of her Bonci-bites: “We-a love chia! We feed the need with this seed! Fiber and omega-3, make chia good for me!”  She’s right – chia is a nutrient powerhouse and, like many seeds, it’s versatile.  Chia makes far better as a food than a “pet”!

Next post: What food’s popularity absolutely blows my mind (in a good way)?  What other food SHOULD be popular but isn’t (yet)?

 

Eat The “Dirty Dozen” Fruits & Veggies & Be Healthier For It

It’s that time of year again – spring – when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes it’s “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residue. It’s also when I’m reminded that fear sells and facts are more boring (but more essential!).

Many fruits and veggies on this list are popular favorites:

1. Strawberries                                 7. Cherries
2. Spinach                                          8. Pears
3. Nectarines                                     9. Tomatoes
4. Apples                                           10. Celery
5. Grapes                                           11. Potatoes
6. Peaches                                         12. Sweet Bell Peppers

This list always gets a ton of media attention (probably why the EWG keeps issuing it) but it fails miserably at giving context, and that’s unconscionable for an issue that’s so important.

As a practicing clinician of some 33 years, what concerns me most about this list is that it can put already confused consumers off of eating produce. It’s exactly what shouldn’t happen, but research suggests it’s exactly what DOES happen. This study – not industry-funded, please note – found that:

“Messages naming specific FV with pesticides shifted participants toward

‘less likely’ to purchase any type of FV regardless whether organically or conventionally grown.”

Exactly what no responsible health professional wants.  The amount of solid, scientific evidence indicating the health benefits of eating more fruits and vegetables is overwhelming and indisputable.  That research – all of it – was carried out with conventionally grown produce.

Pesticide Residues: Perspective & Context

The issue of pesticide residues has been scrutinized by the feds for ages. The EPA is extremely conservative in setting allowed levels of pesticides. Indeed, many countries follow our lead on this.
Strawberries were ranked #1 on the Dirty Dozen list. Yet, EPA has found that a typical 3½-oz portion of strawberries had maximum residues that were about 1/100th of allowed levels.

Cutting to the chase: You’d have to eat about 22 pounds of strawberries daily – for life – to reach the EPA threshold levels.

Another perspective: Take two Olympic-sized swimming pools, both bone-dry. You throw a drop of water into pool A and 100 drops of water into pool B. You can accurately say:

• Pool B actually has 100 times more water than pool A.

Now, in context:

• You won’t drown in either pool.
• You won’t even get wet in either pool.

Organic ≠ Pesticide-Free

Reality bites: pesticides are allowed on organic crops.  If you like eating organic and can afford it, go for it, but know it’s still not pesticide-free — and that’s OK.  Some other facts about organic that most people don’t know:

• There are several HUNDRED “natural” pesticides that USDA approves for organic farming.

• Even some synthetic pesticides are allowed on organic crops. Check the feds’ complete list here.

• Pesticide residues on organic crops aren’t monitored as thoroughly as they are on conventionally grown crops. The National Organic Standards Board has 15 people. Only one is a scientist.

ALL produce deserves cheers, not fears. So read the Dirty Dozen list if you like. When you know the facts, you won’t worry. You’ll do what I do: yawn — and grab an apple.

MORE: Want to know if corn is a vegetable? Do Beans count as veggies, too?  Want about canned/dried/frozen fruit?  I have you covered.  Get the answers here.

YOU’LL BE “CRUCIFER-IED” FOR EATING THESE FOODS!

“I can’t stand cabbage but I only have to eat it once a year, on St. Patrick’s Day.”

Cabbage gets a bad rap because it’s so often boiled with corned beef. While corned beef needs to be boiled for a long time, cabbage just loses flavor the longer past al dente it cooks. If your only other exposure to cabbage is that poorly made deli-style coleslaw the above sentiment is justified, as it would be for most veggies eaten that way.

If St. Patrick’s Day is the only time you ever eat cabbage (save perhaps for the mayonnaise-laden coleslaw at the deli or maybe some super-salty sauerkraut on a hot dog) then it might be worth another look at this incredible food.

Not a cabbage fan?

No big.  Mother Nature provides many ways “up the mountain”. Cabbage is just one in a family of “cruciferous” vegetables, which research has shown to have cancer-fighting compounds called “glucosinolates”. These are the sulphur compounds that give the veggies much of their distinct taste and “aroma” but these veggies are loaded with other antioxidants, as well as vitamins and minerals. There are lots of delicious options to cabbage:

• Broccoli                                   • Collard greens
• Brussels sprouts                    • Mustard greens
• Bok choy                                 • Radishes
• Cauliflower                             • Turnips/turnip greens
• Chinese & napa cabbages    • Watercress

How tastes change

Never in my wildest days did I ever think Brussels sprouts (also a “cruciferous” veggie) would be an “in” food. Ditto kale. Indeed, kale got so “in” it’s now almost out (but the nutrition stays). Of course, like cabbage, if you’ve always associated Brussels sprouts with boiled-to-death soggy spheres, you’ll hate them. Tossed with olive oil and roasted however, maybe with some walnuts or pine nuts at the end, makes them a whole other ball game. Even better for kids, sliced or “shaved” disguises them completely and turns them into a great stir-fry with onions and any other veggie.

All those great healthy compounds in cruciferous veggies are also a source of flavor. They just need some herbs and spices to complement them. Stir-fries have done wonders to awaken people to the flavor of cruciferous veggies.  Here’s my recipe for my fool-proof “Quick, Colorful, Cruciferous Stir-Fry Medley”.  Delicious, fast, and super-healthy.

Roasting cruciferous veggies, like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli makes them almost irresistible, and they take added herbs and spices like garlic, oregano, and cardamom very nicely. Of course, there’s always my go-to addition, grated parmesan or pecorino. Even just a teaspoon amps up the umami quotient.

Kids love finger food, and roasted veggies make great finger food.  Get them eating these veggies with their fingers, then deal with etiquette issues later.

Bonus: What’s St. Patrick’s Day without soda bread?  Get “My Mistake Brown Irish Soda Bread” recipe that I tweaked from Cook’s Illustrated’s version.