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.

“MY MISTAKE” BROWN IRISH SODA BREAD TURNED OUT DELICIOUSLY!

I love Cook’s Illustrated and their recipe for “Brown Irish Soda Bread” looked great.  Their primary focus is on taste, not nutrition, but this recipe caught my eye. It’s loaded with whole wheat flour but has added bran and wheat germ. By mistake, I ended up adding a about ¾ cup of wheat germ instead of the called-for ¼ cup and less wheat bran, as it was all I had. I deliberately reduced the salt from the original one teaspoon, figuring there would be enough sodium in the baking soda and baking powder (and I don’t like too-salty bread).

Bonus: it’s just dry ingredients and buttermilk – no eggs or added fat. I mixed the dry ingredients the night before to save time in the morning.

My Mistake

I kept wondering why I had to add more buttermilk to get it to the needed consistency.  By the time I figured out my mistake, there was no going back, so I went with it and hoped for the best. And I got a delicious soda bread, not too salty-tasting, either. Just right.

No wedges for this bread, it holds up to slicing. Tastes hearty but not too heavy, and it goes well with most cheeses – I paired it with a firm goat cheese from our local farmer’s market, but a good cheddar or Stilton would also be fine (and probably more authentic!).  Cheese brings complementary flavor to this bread, but also more protein and calcium than butter.  With fresh fruit it made a nice whole-grain breakfast.

“My Mistake” Brown Irish Soda Bread

• 2 cups whole wheat flour                    • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 cup all-purpose flour                        • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
• ¾ cup wheat bran                                • ¾ teaspoon salt
• ¾ cup wheat germ                               • 2¼ cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375⁰. Grease an 8-inch round cake pan. Whisk together all the dry ingredients into a medium bowl. Gradually add the buttermilk and mix until it’s one mass. Transfer it to a smooth counter and form it into a round that fits into your cake pan. The surface will be “craggy” but no worries. With a serrated knife, cut a “cross” on the tip, about half an inch deep.

Into the oven for about 40-45 minutes. It’s supposed to reach 185⁰ internally, but mine never quite made it. If the surface is browned, it’s probably done (mine was). Invert it onto a wire rack and then invert again so it’s “right-side-up.” Cool it for a good hour before slicing. It’s awesome.

I TRIED “POT” & GOT A LEAN, HEART-HEALTHY BEEF DINNER!

No cannabis involved.  I’m talking about making my first pot roast and it turned out great.

I’ve written earlier about my “grill-phobia” and how I conquered it. Pot roast was my next cooking obstacle to overcome.

February is Heart Month

It’s also cold, we’re tired of winter, and we’re getting grumpy. We really want comfort food. And we want the kind of comfort food that doesn’t require too much prep work, either. But we need heart-healthy, too.

I mentioned this dilemma to my 90-year-old mother and she suggested a pot roast. I always loved the one she made but figured it was beyond my culinary skills.

Pot roast checked all my boxes though – it’s good comfort food, for sure. Thanks to some great info from the Beef Checkoff folks, at www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com, I learned it was lean (go for a boneless shoulder roast). As for the fuss-factor, the prep time was only about 30 minutes, then the oven does the rest. “Value added”: it lasts for more than one meal, tastes even better the next day, and has lots of veggies, so even more heart-healthy.

I decided on a recipe from the New York Times that we’d clipped out several years ago but never made. It was “adapted from Gavin Kayser” but I adapted it further, based on what I liked and what I had on hand. Here’s how I tweaked it:

• I cut some fat. Instead of 3 tablespoons of canola oil to brown the meat and 3 tablespoons of butter to sear the veggies, I used one scant tablespoon of olive oil for the meat and a dash more for the veggies. I grew up in an olive oil home and I see no reason to change.
• Instead of 8 cremini mushrooms, I used a  10-oz package. Mushrooms add lots of umami and leftover raw mushrooms might go to waste anyway.
• I  only had a cup of red wine instead of the called-for 1½ cups, so I didn’t open another bottle.  And it was merlot, not cabernet. It worked.
• 4 cups of beef broth would have overflowed the pot, so I made do with about 2 cups instead, unsalted.  I’d salt to taste later.

One more little tweak: I added ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon. Mom said, “When you cook with tomatoes, add a little cinnamon. It really adds flavor.” Done.

Recipe: Dr. Keith’s Pot Roast

A 3-pound boneless beef shoulder roast (that I got on sale!) works well.  It’s lean, stands up to long, moist cooking, and doesn’t need baby-sitting. Here’s the procedure, and don’t be afraid to change it. It’s forgiving:

Chop your veggies:

  • 2 red onions, cut into quarters
  • 4 carrots and 3 celery stalks, and 2 medium parsnips, each cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 rutabaga (yellow turnip), about a pound, peeled and cut into about 12 chunks. Not too small or they’ll break up.
  • 10-oz. cremini (a.k.a. baby portabella) mushrooms, halved
  • 1 head of garlic: cut the top off to expose the cloves but keep the head intact

Get your seasonings and flavorings together:

  • ¾ cup (a 6-oz can) of tomato paste
  • 2 bay leaves, 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 cup of red wine – use what’s open
  • 2-3 cups of unsalted beef broth

HINT: Do the above prep the night before.  I did — it made the actual cooking faster & a blast!

  • Sprinkle the roast with 1½ teaspoons of salt and a good amount of pepper.
  • Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large oven-safe pot (I used a 6-quart Dutch oven) to medium-high heat, and add the meat. 3 or 4 minutes on each side sears it. Remove the meat and set it aside.
  • Add another modest dash of olive oil and lower the heat to medium. Add the vegies, including the garlic, and stir it around to coat it and then occasionally, for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Add the tomato paste and mix it in well. Stir occasionally for about 5 minutes.
  • Add bay leaves, rosemary, wine, and broth and stir occasionally, until it seems like there’s a thick gravy, about 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 340 degrees.
  • Add the meat back, including any meat juices on the plate. (Hint: I removed about half the veggies before adding the meat, then added the veggies on top, so the meat was really surrounded by veggies top and bottom.)
  • Cover the pot and cook for about 2½ hours. Then let the roast sit for at least 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and rosemary and squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and back into the pot.

The tomato paste (super-nutritious) and broth worked their magic here for a tasty, rich sauce. Salt to taste, but not until you’re ready to serve it — there’s so much flavor you won’t need to add much.  Since the oven was on, I roasted a bunch of veggies to go with it.  Meal’s complete!

Would I make this again?  Big “yes”, in a healthy heartbeat.

Find even more recipes for pot roast and other lean beef dishes at: https://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/recipes

IF YOU FORGOT TO BUY CHOCOLATE, YOU MAY NEED TO EAT MORE!

If your significant other likes chocolate, you probably give it on Valentine’s day, but some science says eating it every day might help your brain function better. Chocolate and its components have been studied a fair amount in recent years, from its effects on blood flow through arteries to performance on cognitive tests.

What exactly does chocolate do to our brains?

This scientific review looked at studies on chocolate’s effects on our mood and found “very reliable effects of chocolate and chocolate components” on lessening mental fatigue and negative moods. Even better: the best effects came from eating “whole chocolate” rather than in pill form or in a supplement-type drink.
The review also looked at studies that showed acute effects of chocolate on brain function. Performance on cognitive tests that measured factors like working memory, attention, and reaction time were improved after giving test subjects single doses of “cocoa flavanols” – the antioxidants in chocolate. Not all studies showed such benefits, and to be fair, most studies used a fairly high dose of cocoa flavanols.

There is also a host of population studies that show “associations” between chocolate consumption and better health, less heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, etc., but these are non-specific and just serve to generate clinical trials.

How does chocolate do all that?

The exact mechanism is still unclear. What we DO know is that eating flavanol-rich chocolate and cocoa improves things like blood flow, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity. Cocoa flavanols also have been shown to stimulate areas of the brain that deal with working memory, so they appear to be biologically active, and positively so.
It’s also possible that the caffeine and theobromines in chocolate are involved. Although caffeine can increase blood pressure, but theobromine seems to overcome this effect, helping reduce blood pressure.

Cocoa flavanols have long been known to improve blood flow. Better blood flow to the brain may be responsible for the cognitive effects. Improved circulation may also contribute to improved insulin sensitivity, among other benefits. Still, there’s a lot more we need to know before saying anything conclusive, but it’s good to know chocolate has some good things going for it besides taste.

What chocolate has the most antioxidants?

Definitely it’s plain, unsweetened cocoa powder, and not the type that the label says was “processed with alkali” or “Dutched”. That process pretty much destroys the antioxidants. Cocoa powder has almost no fat in it, either, so it’s also pretty low in calories. I use it in my homemade hot chocolate (I use about double what’s called for in most recipes!). Aside from it’s use in baked goods, you can add it to smoothies and try adding a tablespoon of add cocoa powder to chili (intensifies the flavor and I highly recommend it!).

As for solid chocolate, the darker the chocolate, the higher the antioxidant level – usually. Not all 70% chocolate will have the same amount of flavonoids, but again, the darker the better.

The presence of milk seems to reduce the absorption of the antioxidants. This study found that having a glass of milk when eating dark chocolate reduced the antioxidant absorption by 46%. Eating milk chocolate alone? The plasma antioxidants were reduced by a full 69%.

Cut-to-the-chase advice on chocolate

If you like chocolate, have it! Yes, it has calories, about 160-170 in an ounce, but with a cup of coffee or tea it makes a better snack or dessert than most. All those antioxidants make getting your cocoa on a good thing. Having milk with it cuts your absorption of the antioxidants, but it’s so loaded you’ll still get a good dose.

Me? Oh, I’m in.

BEST DIETS: THESE 2 TIED FOR GOLD

It’s January, and that means US News has issued its “Best Diets” rankings. Out of the 40 diets ranked, both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean Diet tied for first place – again.

Why? They have the most research behind them and they’re both great for your health. The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) was created to reduce high blood pressure and the Med diet is intended for heart health – two very common health conditions.

Both diets emphasize plenty of fruits and vegetables. The main difference is that DASH also emphasizes at least 2 to 3 servings of low-fat dairy foods daily. The Med diet is strong on heart-healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and fish, like salmon, because of its high omega-3 fat content. The Med diet can be a bit low on calcium, due to the modest intake of dairy foods.

“Flexibility” Gets a Bronze!

The Flexitarian Diet approaches vegetarianism but not obsessively so. I like this approach. It takes the best from the vegetarian diets but the only thing it banishes is the absoluteness. You don’t have to choose a camp here. For many people, veg is fine – but not all the time. This diet , and so supports this thinking, and so do I. Plus, it’s actually very healthful.
What I love about the DASH, Mediterranean, and Flexitarian diets is that they’re basically eating styles. You can lose weight on them, but they can be a way of eating for the whole family, even the kids. This is ideal for families where one person is trying to lose weight, but doesn’t want to make, or eat, different food from the rest of the family. These diets are all about healthy (and tasty) eating. They also take no special work, don’t require exotic food, and have enough options for everyone.

>>>Cut-to-the-Chase Eating Style: A “MediterDASHean Diet”<<<
Here’s my short-order combo of the DASH and Med diets:
• All fruits and veggies – and 5 portions of them (at least!) daily.
• Low-fat dairy foods of the DASH diet Aim for 3 servings but at least 2 (that’s still an improvement for most).
• Extra-virgin olive oil, fatty fish, nuts, and sure, a glass of wine (if you drink).
Basically a Med diet with more low-fat dairy foods. More inclusive, flexible, less limiting – IOMO.
Up next: The Worst Diets (NOTE: this could get ugly)

JANUARY 1 IS FOR EVOLUTIONS, NOT RESOLUTIONS!

New Year’s resolutions are well-intended, but most resolutions fade away after a few weeks.

Every year, our number one resolution is always to lose weight, and it’s probably why gyms can offer such great deals in January, knowing that most people will never use the full membership.

Stop “resolving” and start “evolving”.

Resolution implies bold, massive change. Evolution is all about baby steps. What gives them impact is consistency. Be consistent with any effort and it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you go – you’ll get there. Indeed, “evolution” is more focused on the journey – a good thing – because that’s where we’ll spend most of our lifetime!

Many of our daily routines and poor habits didn’t just happen — they evolved gradually – through baby steps – to become part of our lifestyle. That’s what makes them hard to break.

Slow – but steady – wins every race. If our resolutions are too extreme, we don’t keep them. Then we feel like we failed, but the resolution failed us, because it was too giant a step when baby steps would have been better, and more productive. Bodies aren’t technology. Accept that our bodies, behaviors, and attitudes will change more slowly than our phones.

Ultimate Success Starts With Good Prep Work

A gradual build towards better eating styles, more satisfying life and happier habits starts with good prep work. Below are some little changes that appear at the outset to have nothing to do with weight or even eating habits, but they definitely impact the choices you make during the day.

Here’s a start:

Make only the changes you KNOW you can make.  Success is guaranteed if you break everything down into steps you are sure you can manage. Even small successes are so motivating and can happen often.
Get more sleep. Do you get up every morning wishing you had just 30 more minutes of sleep? Get it. Make a deal with yourself for just one night (baby steps!) to get to bed early, so you can get at least 7 hours of sleep. See how good you feel. Then do it again and again.
No screens for an hour before bedtime. This 2017 study suggests light exposure from various electronic devices – in the evening – “may have detrimental effects on human health and performance,” and was associated with greater sleepiness during the day. Go old-school and read a book before bed instead.
MOVE MORE. Even thin people need to be active, so everyone plays here, regardless of weight. Benefits: it’s a proven mood-lifter, and you often make better food choices when you’re active daily. Start walking even five or 10 minutes each day, or as often as possible.
Re-connect with non-food pleasures. Make this a priority. Food is such instant gratification that other pleasures get pushed to the side.  Let’s remind ourselves that pleasure isn’t always about food.  Some ideas to consider:

  • Take that class you’ve wanted – yes, even the tap-dance class, or the weaving one, or the ceramics lesson. (Notice how these are NOT screen-friendly?)
  • Join a film, book, or hobby club. You’ll be more accountable to the other members – and you’ll find they value your voice, a reward in itself.
  • Take a day-trip on a bus or train. You’ll be back at the end of the day tired but happy.
  • Do something touristy – even take a “tour”.

These are just suggestions, but think out of the box and go for your own.

Evolution happens over a year, not overnight. Commit to a new baby step every month. Next January 1, we’ll be twelve steps ahead of where we are now (and we’ll deserve that New Year’s toast!)

COULD “REVERSE RECESS” IMPROVE BOTH TEST SCORES & DIETS?

I’ve said forever that kids who eat breakfast do better in school. A growing pile of research also suggests that “reverse recess”, that is, having some physical activity before – not after – lunch, may also contribute to better test scores.  This reverse recess also seems to help0 kids want to eat more of what they need.

The latest study  included 1350 students in Texas elementary schools and looked at the differences in intake and test scores when schools scheduled recess before or after lunch.

Simple changes, big results

I love research like this. It’s simple and shows real results.

When students (third, fourth, and fifth grade students) had recess before lunch, they scored higher on the “3Rs” – reading, writing, and arithmetic. Not all grades scored higher on all measures, but the results were enough to impress school principals enough to consider changing the school’s recess schedule for next year.

There were nutritional implications here, too. In the schools with recess before lunch, students ate more of all lunch components: the entrée, fruit, milk, and even the veggies. Two things may be happening here to produce the results:

• The kids were hungrier after being active, so they had a better appetite for their lunch
• Having just actively “let off steam”, they were a bit more calm and more ready to eat, and with play time done for a while, they could devote more time to eating and socializing.

Another thing I love about his study is that it looked at “plate waste”. This is messy research, because it requires the investigators to look at how much food was actually eaten. It’s a dirty job, but I’m glad they did it, because the results are more informative than some other studies that look only at how much food is chosen, not necessarily eaten. That’s significant, because it’s not nutritious until they eat it.

More than nutrition: BEHAVIOR benefits, too?

A 2014 study done in an Oregon community however, found that the students having recess before lunch drank significantly more milk and were 20% more likely to drink the entire 8-oz. carton of milk than were the students having recess after lunch.

Even better: the teachers reported that having recess before lunch resulted in better classroom behavior and greater readiness to concentrate on academics after the lunch period.

What I love about these studies is that they really didn’t change the curriculum or even the offerings of the school lunch program. Only the scheduling changed, so that kids were given more activity right before they sat down to lunch. Easy fixes for nearly all schools, and most certainly worth a try, especially because virtually none of the schools offering recess before lunch noted any misgivings or negatives.

Finally, remember that kids like to eat stuff that tastes good, but we adults can stand to learn a thing or two about what we assume kids will eat. The kids in the 2014 Oregon school study ate the most fruit when pineapple and cottage cheese was served. Wake-up call here!

Eat Well During Holidays Without Crossing Over to the “Dark Side”

Healthy holiday eating and enjoyment are not mutually exclusive, IF you know the right tricks. Having a healthy eating style doesn’t have an “on-off” switch and. It’s not about choosing between living in a healthy food monastery, or crossing over to the dark side, where all enjoyment happens.

Being healthy is being on a food journey, not on a diet. On a journey, there’s room for everything.  Extreme, overly restrictive eating styles aren’t sustainable and most people wouldn’t want to sustain them either. I wouldn’t. But I think of holidays as just another opportunity to hone a better eating style. Keep in mind, my own eating style has evolved over the years. Give yourself permission to evolve a little, too.

Think about the reasons why our usual eating styles get “disrupted”:

• “…the kids were off from school this week”.
• “…it was the (fill in the holiday)”
• “…we had a party at the house this weekend.”
• “…we had family in from out of town.”
• “…we were doing a lot of socializing.”

Making holidays work FOR you, not AGAINST you

File all these reasons under “stuff happens” but they happen all year long, so make life’s little disruptions amount to nothing more than a minor nuisance. They may even open a new dimension to your eating style or give you different “routines” for each situation.

Here are some positive ways to help yourself during “disruptions”:

• MOVE MORE! Just make it a part of the fun. Activity is a total ace in the hole. The more you move, the more calories you burn, for sure, but the more fun you can have, too. Moving kicks in your brain’s “feel-good” chemicals called “endorphins” that lift your mood. Walk through decorated neighborhoods, go ice skating, and make sure you dance at all the holiday parties! Feel the fun, not the burn!
• Workday “me” time: take 30 minutes of your lunch hour and walk briskly. THEN have a modest lunch and you’ll deserve a little indulgence. Or bank it for tomorrow’s indulgence!
• Splurge on some delicious, healthful foods you like but usually deny yourself: smoked salmon and pre-seeded pomegranates, (where all the work is done for you) are two of my faves. Keep grapes and clementines on the counter for a tasty impulse-bite. Gift yourself the convenience of salad-in-a-bag to make sure you and your family have an easy way to get plenty of low-calorie, nutritious foods (throw in some of those pomegranate seeds!). It’s also an easy way to get kids started in the kitchen with simple prep. Try some high-end balsamic vinegar and you’ll need less oil.
• Expect the unexpected. If a disruption is likely to happen, keep the rest of your day’s eating smart. Leave 200 or so calories for something unexpected. That way it doesn’t set you back.

Halloween’s Over, Holidays Are Coming: Need to Curb Sugar Cravings?

Sugar seems to have become the new trans fat: the thing everyone feels entitled to bash.  Not just added sugar, but even sugar naturally present in food is suspect.  See my previous column on “Paleo-inspired baby food”, made without any grains, dairy, even fruit, to avoid babies having a “sugar crash”.  Seriously?

Surprisingly, we’re eating LESS sugar now, with intake going from 109 grams/day in 2000 to 92 grams/day in 2016, according to USDA data. Still, people still get too much sugar and many say they crave it.

Cook County, that includes Chicago, recently defeated a referendum that would have levied a “soda tax”.  Get my take on this issue here.

What is a sugar craving?

A craving is an intense desire for any food that that goes above and beyond biological need.  It’s not the same as hunger, which is more physiologically based (think hunger “pangs” and stomach growling).  And a craving doesn’t necessarily indicate a dietary deficiency of something.

You were born liking sugar

Mother Nature didn’t set you up, we all evolved to prefer the taste of sweet things.  Infants only days old will suckle more strongly on liquids that are sweeter.  Indeed, breast milk actually has more natural sugar (lactose) than cow’s milk – if it didn’t, infants may not be as motivated to suckle, putting their very survival at risk.  Since sugar also helps stimulate fat synthesis in the body, eating more of it than you need when it’s available would help you out during periods of food scarcity.  Throughout nature, most naturally sweet foods, such as fruit and honey, are also safe to eat, so sweetness of a food may have also been our clue about its safety.

Do you want sugar when you’re stressed?

Anything stressful: family matters, time crunches at work or home, relationship issues, can all increase sugar cravings.  Indeed, holidays bring up all of the above, along with the pressure to be “happy” when indeed, you just aren’t feeling it.  Add in a lack of sleep because of all the increased demands on time and you have a perfect storm for stress-eating whatever your comfort food is.

When you’re stressed, your body screams for relief, and sweets are a quick fix.  Not the best one, just the quickest.  Sugar also stimulates the brain to make serotonin, which helps calm you down, at least temporarily.  And, like just about every other thing today, sweets are around everywhere, even more so during the holidays.  All those baked goods that aren’t around at any other time of year make us feel entitled to “get while the getting is good”.

Beating sugar cravings

Sugar isn’t angel food, but it’s not devil’s food either, so no need to avoid sugar, just make things manageable.  Here are easy action steps that keep sugar in the sweet spot – where it makes you happy AND still healthy:

  1. GO PRO EVERY MORNING: A nice protein load early in the day cuts those hunger pangs that can trigger sugar cravings later, but most people don’t get much protein in the morning.  Cereal and milk are a great start, but go further.  Have at least a 5-oz. cup of fat-free Greek yogurt or a hard-cooked egg (or two), some string cheese, or a piece of last night’s beef or chicken.
  2. SPEND SUGAR CALORIES WISELY: Sugary soft drinks are wasted calories, but low-fat chocolate milk or sweetened Greek yogurt (tip: a teaspoon of honey tastes like more) give you of something rich with flavor that fills some real dietary gaps at the same time.  That’s making sugar work harder for you.
  3. SUGAR SUBSTITUTES? Calm down about the prevailing culture. The science on their safety is solid as a rock.    Evidence shows they can actually be useful tools.  More about this in a FUTURE column, so watch this space.  For now, resist the mob mentality about these and use them as tools to help cut dietary sugar.
  4. PUSH YOUR SWEET BUTTON WITHOUT SETTING OFF ALARMS: When eating out with people, instead of dessert, order a cappuccino.  It’ll only be about 100 calories, even with whole milk and some sugar, and you’ll keep occupied while everyone else has dessert.  If they offer you a bite or two, take it.  You’ll visit your happy place but leave happy, too.
  5. SEE IF YOUR TASTE BUDS NEED A RE-SET: Is a fruit salad sweet enough without having to add sugar?  If not, your taste buds may have become “dumbed down” from eating too many sweets.  A few weeks where the sweetest thing in your diet is fresh fruit and flavored yogurt re-sensitizes exhausted taste buds so you can eat the occasional sweet but enjoy it even more.

MEAT AND TYPE 2 DIABETES? CALM DOWN — LET’S BOIL IT DOWN

Just when people are at feeling (justifiably) entitled to feel OK about eating meat again, out comes a study that “associates” consumption of meat with type 2 diabetes.  It was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and was part of the Singapore Chinese Health Study.  Here’s the gist:

Over 63,000 Chinese adults, ages 45-74 years

There were two interviews during follow-up of just under 11 years to determine type 2 diabetes

Dietary pattern determined only once – at the start, by a food-frequency questionnaire

The variables: intake of poultry, red meat, seafood and incidence of type 2 diabetes upon follow-up.

They divided the subjects into four groups based on intake of shellfish, poultry, and red meat.  Then they compared the groups with the lowest intake of meat/poultry/shellfish with groups that had the highest intakes.

Here’s where things get interesting, but first:

Iron 101

There are two ways iron exists in food.  Iron is either part of hemoglobin (called “heme iron”), as in the case of animals, or it’s bound to other compounds (called “non-heme iron”), as with plants.  Compounds like phytates in plants bind to iron to make it less absorbable.  Eating plant iron with an acid, like having spinach with a vinaigrette dressing, will help liberate some of the iron, but in general, heme iron is more available to the body.

How much iron do we need each day?  Adults need 12 mg/day and women of child-bearing age need 18 mg/day, because they lose iron each month they menstruate.

The study data are “noisy”

This means the study has limitations that prevent drawing strong conclusions. To be fair, he study’s authors were pretty responsible in pointing out some of the limitations of their study. Most notably:

  • Dietary pattern was taken at the beginning and never again. So, what you had for dinner on a  Tuesday night 11 years ago predicts your health now?  You might be able to get statistics from this data, but drawing any realistic conclusions is making a Grand Canyon leap.  People’s diets change over 11 years!
  • Activity patterns were also assessed only once, at the beginning of the study.
  • Those who ate the most red meat ate averaged only about 53 grams daily – less than two ounces! And they still ate more seafood than meat.
  • Those who ate the most seafood also averaged about 33 grams of red meat daily — a little over an ounce! So differences between the HIGHEST and LOWEST consumption of red meat was only 20 grams – about 2/3 of an ounce.
  • Different meat types were assessed (beef, pork, lamb, etc.), but not cuts of meat, or parts of poultry (legs have more heme iron than breast) or dietary fat.  Pork belly has lots more fat than pork loin, for instance.

With the difference between the highest fish-eaters and the highest meat eaters being only 20 grams of meat, the difference may be statistically significant but not clinically (“real life”) significant.  The “associations” these studies talk about don’t mean “cause-and-effect” but consumers don’t often understand that. and the headlines don’t help much. To get the facts you usually have to read beyond headlines.

My take-away from this study? Not a whole lot.    

And the authors pretty much agree with me, noting, “We do not perceive any reason for meat intake to be related to the likelihood of disease diagnosis in our study population.”  Simply put, this study failed to connect meat intake with type 2 diabetes.  Game over.

Seafood absolutely is great food, but meat and poultry are also nutrient-rich.  Some tips for eating meat and poultry well:

  • Go leaner whenever possible.
  • Keep portions real. Even 4 ounces of lean meat is going to be loaded with enough protein for your meal.
  • Keep half your plate veggies and fruits.
  • Include a whole grain or a starchy vegetable.
  • Keep added fat reasonable. Olive oil or canola are good choices, rather than butter or coconut oil.