Like Diversity? So Does Your Gut: FOUR Eating Styles to Help Out

I can’t count the timers people have said to me, “this is the way everyone should be eating.” RIDICULOUS. The world is round. And there IS more than one eating style that’s good for your health.

This study looked at four eating styles known for their healthfulness: 

• The Healthy Eating Index 2010 (HEI 2010), is based on the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It focuses on fruits, veggies, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy foods and lean meats and other proteins.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MED-diet-ideal.jpg
“Alternative” Mediterranean diet:
Less credit for red & processed meat

• The Alternative Healthy Eating Index (aHEI), based on HEI-2010 but de-emphasizes meat and dairy foods.

• The Alternative Mediterranean Diet (aMED) focuses specifically on markers of inflammation and cardiovascular health. Its score does not consider dairy intake or potatoes and gives credit for less consumption of red and processed meats.

• Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH diet), developed to reduce hypertension with diet, it encourages plenty of fruits, vegetables and low-fat/fat-free dairy foods but nothing is excluded.

The researchers wanted to compare each eating style’s impact on the gut and the diversity of healthy gut bacteria.

Drum Roll…The Results Showed…

If you REALLY build it,
the good gut bugs will come

ALL four eating styles benefitted the gut – and in mostly similar ways The authors found the results showed “strikingly consistent patterns.”  People with higher scores on all four eating styles had less “bad” bacteria – the ones associated with inflammatory diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, even colon cancer. 

Interestingly, the HEI-2010 – the more moderate of the eating styles studied and the one based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, was the only one of the four eating styles associated with lower amounts of harmful Escherichia-Shigella and Enterobacter, two species associated with diet-related conditions linked to systemic inflammation.

Higher scores on all the eating indices were also associated with a greater richness of beneficial fiber-fermenting bacteria in the gut.

For gut-geeks like myself, this study is incredibly interesting.  To consumers and “normal” people, here’s what it really means:

  • A healthy diet rules.  But not a single healthy diet.
  • There are at least four ways up the mountain to a healthy eating style.
  • It’s more about what you include than what you exclude!  Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains help grow the most beneficial bacteria, because they’re loaded with fermentable fiber. 

Why I like this study

  • It looks at diverse eating styles and their impact on gut diversity.  That is, how these eating styles positively or negatively impact our gut bacteria. 
  • The study used subjects with diverse ethnicities: Japanese American, Latino, Native Hawaiian, and African American, who were part of the Multiethnic Cohort Study
  • These were also senior citizens, average age: 69 years.

The study was long: subjects were enrolled between 1993-1996 and their gut bacteria were studied as of 2013-2015.

Study Weaknesses: 

All studies have limitations, but this one has fewer than most. Most observational studies like this look only at initial dietary intake and then analyze outcomes a decade or more later, not knowing if diets changed during the interim.  This study took dietary intake at the enrollment and also during a return visit in 2013-2015, at which time the subjecfts also provided a stool sample.

Cut-To-The-Chase Recommendations

The least “restrictive” of these four eating styles is a split between DASH and the regular HEI.  They don’t exclude anything, emphasize balance and are probably the easiest to follow. Best of all, they produce good gut health. 

Dear Tom Brady: You Won, Your Nutrition “Beliefs” Don’t

Tom Brady is a multiple Super Bowl winner.  He’s also a businessman, and he’s glommed onto the formula for marketing a diet regimen:

  • Be a celebrity, preferably a sports celebrity, because they’re instantly believable.  Not credible, but no one cares about credibility or facts, just that you’re believable.
  • Look good, have a killer bod.  People will think your diet is the reason. Hey, sexy sells.
  • Have an equally hot spouse or significant other who can endorse you. And when you say you get to bed early every night, no one would doubt you. 
  • Talk about nutrition “beliefs” and “philosophy”.  Facts aren’t good for business.
  • Exclude all the standard food commodities. They’re not elite enough (see below).
  • Have all the trendy “free-froms”:
    • No gluten.
    • No red meat.
    • No dairy.  
    • No white potatoes or any other nightshade vegetables either, like peppers, eggplant, or tomatoes.  They’re “inflammatory”. 
    • No GMOs.
  • Keep it as green as possible.  Heavy on leafy foods, but he also includes beans – I do like this part.
  • Go against the grains – at least the common ones, like wheat and corn – again, those commodity foods the masses eat, because you aren’t most people.
  • Have expensive “uniquely formulated” products to sell – only available from your web site.  It’s critical to eat like a wealthy, elite athlete, not a commoner.
  • ELECTROLYTES!  The ones he sells in particular — the TB12 electrolytes.  They’re part of his “alkalinizing” the body, a must for health in his book.  (NO science supporting this – none).  A 20-serving, 1.7-ounce bottle sells for $15 (plus shipping).  That’s 71 cents per serving.  A serving of milk gives you three times more potassium, plus protein, sodium, calcium, and other nutrients you  need after a workout, for one-third the price. This from someone who chastises food companies about “brainwashing” consumers.  Shame on you, Tom. 
  • WHEY PROTEIN POWDER?!  This dairy food is OK – IF it’s TB’s specially formulated one.  It’s $50 for 21 servings, or $2.38 per serving.  To get the same amount of protein from real milk would set you back only about 65 cents, and you’d get all the other nutrients in milk to boot. 

Keep Edgy: Diss the Mediterranean Diet!

Sweet red pepper: One of many superfoods
NOT allowed on TB’s diet!

No cooking with olive oil!  Swap it for coconut oil.  No scientific basis for this – coconut oil is way more saturated than any animal fat.

No yogurt, eggplant, tomatoes, or peppers!  No cheese!  Nutrient-rich foods that have fed and sustained Italians and Greeks for thousands of years have no place in this winner’s diet.  Fish only if it’s wild-caught.  Farmed salmon, while quite healthy and affordable, but probably not exclusive, elite, or expensive enough.

You’re Busted, Tom. Ditching Dairy Is Dumb.

Dairy foods – from milk to yogurt to cheese – have unparalleled qualities.  If you know your nutrition, this isn’t debatable.  It might be boring, but facts often are. 

He writes, “When I was a kid, the dairy industry rolled out lots of campaigns urging people to drink lots of milk.  But research today is pretty clear that we should consume dairy in more limited amounts. Our belief [there’s that word again] at TB12 is that dairy products are high in calories and lower in nutritional value than other foods.”

I don’t know what “research” he’s talking about (I’d bet he doesn’t either), but there is no drink that can match a glass of milk for nutritional value and affordability.  None.  Furthermore, a mountain of solid science verifies the benefits of dairy foods, including that a glass of low-fat chocolate milk after a workout is BETTER than sports drinks for repairing muscle mass and improving endurance in subsequent workouts.   Why? Probably a great carb-to-protein ratio and a great electrolyte balance, plus vitamins and minerals.  Of course, milk is a commodity, so it has to be out. 

No GMOs?

Tom seems to disagree with over 100 Nobel prize winning scientists who have attested to the safety and nutritional value of foods produced with genetic engineering. I wonder what he knows?

Cut-To-The-Chase-Advice

Nutrition advice should be grounded in science and facts, not beliefs or philosophies.  Using the word “belief” shouldn’t give you a pass to propagate nutrition myths and misinformation. 

Most of us don’t have personal chefs to cook our meals (and clean up afterwards).  Tom’s diet may not be harmful to the average person, but the DASH and the Mediterranean diets have far more science behind them and are solid, affordable, and sustainable paths up the mountain towards good health.  They don’t require expensive “website” foods and supplements or forbid foods either – it’s a matter of how much and how often.  Not sexy, just solid.  For my health, I’ll go there.  Sorry, TB.

Learn From a Baby About New Year’s Resolutions

Even a baby who hasn’t seen his/her first New Year can teach us something about making resolutions.  Babies may not think about their health, but this poll done in the UK found the top 3 resolutions for adults:

  1. Lose weight
  2. Get fitter
  3. Eat more healthy

Wisely, the poll also followed up with these people.  Nearly two out of three who made resolutions keep them and more than 4 in 10 broke a resolution within the first month.  Only 1 in 3 kept going for more than a month. 

Resolutions: They’re FOR the Year, so TAKE All Year

Imagine if a baby stopped trying to walk after falling?  Every single human would be immobile.  A broken resolution isn’t a failed resolution!  I wouldn’t even call it broken – just “in progress.”  The flip side is to expect 100% perfection 100% of the time, right from the start.  Ridiculous.  You get up, look at where you tripped up, and move on. 

This study found successful “resolvers” used more behavioral strategies, which, by nature, require more time, because behaviors change slowly.  Every road has a pothole or two, so if you encounter one on your journey, you’re typical and on schedule.  Keep it moving.

Ready, S.M.A.R.T., Go!  –Anytime

Learn from these guys

Never mind January 1, whenever you’re ready, the calendar will support it.  Just see a resolution as its own project.  Give it priority and treaty it with some respect.  This is you, after all.

S.M.A.R.T. is just an acronym for the components of successful goals and objectives, whether in the workplace or your personal space.   The letters have stood for different things over the years, but here’s where they stand now:

  • Specific: keep it simple, something you KNOW you can achieve. “I’m going to eat healthier” isn’t specific.  “I’m going to eat 1 cup of fruit and a cup of vegetables at least 3 days a week” is more specific.
  • Measurable: Note how far you walked, how many vegetables you ate, or whatever your specific objective is. Forget obsessing about every detail.  Again, simple is key here.
  • Achievable: Specific and achievable are two sides of the same coin.  THINK LIKE A BABY here.  Take baby steps!  Set a goal you think is achievable and then reduce the goal by 50% or more.    You can inch up later. 
  • Realistic: Meet yourself where you live.  If you can’t spare a whole hour a day for exercise – or if you’re not in shape yet for that – it’s OK.  I don’t care if you start walking for 5 minutes a day.  You’ll be at this the whole year and you’ll get where you need to go.  An easy goal is the best kind when you’re starting out. If you want to lose 10 pounds of body fat in 3 days, that’s specific but not realistic. 
  • Time-bound: TAKE THE WHOLE YEAR but set small time goals for the baby steps.  You’re building a habit here, and habits take time to become established. 

We want everything done immediately and easily sustained forever.  Let that concept go, because it’ll never happen – for anyone.  Most importantly, THAT’S OK. 

Baby steps & persistence!

Babies Have Vitamin “P”

Back to babies.  They’re loaded with vitamin P – persistence and patience!  Even better – they LOVE the journey and what they accomplish along the way!  Have you ever seen a baby’s expression when they crawl farther, learn to hold a spoon, or stand for the first time?   Give yourself a little credit for taking those baby steps.  They’re the best kind!

The Top 3 Diets: Why Do They Always Win?

WINNERS AGAIN – according to US News’ annual ranking of diets, the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, and the Flexitarian diet were the best diets of 2018. They’re likely top be the best of 2019, too, since they’ve been tops forsome time now.  This is NOT news to thoseof us in the field – they’re widely accepted as terrific examples of healthfuleating styles.

These diets are notable for two things:

  • The science about their healthfulness, and
  • They all push plant foods: fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts

What else I love about them?  They don’t push out any foods.   You can include anything; the only issue is how much and how often.  My kind of eating style, because it’s realistic. 

DASH to delicious!

DASH details:

So, what’s different about them? 

-Low-fat and fat-free dairy are featured

-Add AT LEAST one fruit or vegetable to each meal, but preferably more.

-WALK!  Just a little, about 15 minutes after lunch or dinner (do it anytime you can, but aim for at least 30 minutes a day).

Mmmmediterranean!

Mediterranean Momentum:

  • Olive oil is the fat for cooking and salads.  Canola is also good, but butter is rare. 
  • It’s nuts. Almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios are typical.  An ounce several times a week.  What’s an ounce?  Small handful – think “nibble” not ”shovel”. 
  • Something fishy? Yup.  Twice a week, and make it fatty – think salmon more than sole. (Hint for economy: canned salmon is a superfood and by comparison to fresh, it’s super-economical). 
  • Low in red meat – BUT, for red meat lovers, you CAN eat red meat on this diet and there’s good research to say so.  I have the details here.
Approaches vegetarian, but room for all

Flexitarian Features: 

  • Includes more vegetarian meals, especially plant-based proteins. 
  • Dairy and eggs? Both OK!  The diet just emphasizes including the plant-proteins, as well.
  • Meat?  Nota feature, but more of an, “it’s OK sometimes, too” approach. 
  • It’s not about strict anything, or it wouldn’t be “flex”.  You’re in charge about how far to take it.

Together is better

If there’s a downside to the Med diet, it’s the low-calcium content.  The 2015 US Dietary Guidelinesfor Americans endorsed both the Med diet and the DASH diet as excellent eatingstyles, but they acknowledged that the Med diet didn’t fully meet calcium needs.  The majority of people have diets deficientin calcium – the reason calcium is a “nutrient of concern”.  What to do?

Breaking New Research: The “MedDairy Diet.” 

An Australian study, just published, looked at the cardiovascular health markers of a Med diet, supplemented with four servings of dairy — one serving of low-fat milk; 40-120 grams hard or semisoft cheese; 200 grams low-fat Greek yogurt or 200 grams tzatziki dip.  Here’s what they discovered about the Med-Dairy diet’s effects:

The Med-Dairy diet improved cardiovascular health markers:

  • LOWERED blood pressure (both the top and bottom numbers)
  • LOWERED triglycerides
  • RAISED HDL-cholesterol levels (the good kind of cholesterol)

Talk about an example of “We’re better when we work together”! 

What I especially liked about this study was that it included full-fat cheese, a favorite of many, and it actually included a fair amount of it – about 1.5 to 4 ounces daily, depending on calorie needs. 

But RED meat…?

Yes, you can still have lean, unprocessed red meat on a MedDiet.  Indeed, this Purdue University study, blinded to even the investigators, found that eating up to 18 ounces of leanred meat was not only OK, but it was MORE effective than a Med diet thatlimited lean red meat to only 7 ounces per week.  Red meat lover?  You’re OK, within the context of a Med diet.

As for the WORST-rated diets?  Those that are super-trendy, alsosuper-restrictive (Keto, Dukan, and Whole-30 lead this pack).  Entire food groups excluded, rigid rules, demonizedfoods, and little science to support them – a red flag.  Don’t hate them, but give them a big hug andlet them go. 

Yes, Virginia: There Are 10 Ways to Have Holidays Without Weight Gain

So many people, clients, patients, co-workers over the years, have told me they’ve just given up trying to lose weight during the holidays – that food-festival parties, get-togethers, celebrations and general mayhem that spans the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

What is about holidays that cause weight gain? If you know the contributing factors, you can make a plan. Here’s what you’re likely to deal with until New Years:

Workplace food court: The constant brigade of popcorn bins, chocolates, homemade cookies, cakes and sweets, all available all day long.

Drinking: We love eggnog, but it’s the most calorie-laden drink of any year – about 330 calories in a cup. Over-boozing has calories, too – and leads to mindless eating.

Stress-eating: time is short, obligations are long, stress triggers eating whatever is within arm’s reach!

More fooding, less moving: whenever you need a little more time to get things done, it’s easy to borrow from your workouts and walks. It’s also just when you need to burn some extra calories. Ow.

Happiness can be depressing! Everyone seems to be happy but you’re so-so. You’re not alone, either. It’s easy to think food is your BFF during the holidays, and it can be – if you choose the right friends.

Good News

You probably won’t gain much weight during the holidays! This review published last year found that average holiday weight gain in adults ranged from about 1-2 pounds in various studies, not the 5-7 pounds you may have heard about.
But what about you? If holiday weight gain has been YOUR typical, changing that is easier than you think. Take it on as a project and like every project, it needs a good plan. Plans may take some of the spontaneity out of eating, but you’re trading up – for peace of mind and body. That’s totally worth it.

Planning means that you start every day assessing the meals and eating occasions you’ll have and the foods you’re likely to encounter. What does the “no holiday weight gain” plan look like? Here are 10 strategies that put you on a path to enjoying holidays without weight gain:

1. Eat modestly, but don’t skip meals. You’ll just end up being hungry and over-scarfing.

2. Weave in some fiber: Aim for 3 pieces of fresh fruit daily. Aim for 2 cups of veggies, raw or cooked. Think you can’t?  You can – fill up one of those plastic take-out soup containers with cut veggies and it’s two cups right there.

3. Discriminate! Is it a regular store-bought something-or-other that’s loaded with empty calories or is it really tasty? Hold out for something really special. You’re worth it.

4. Never arrive hungry to a party:Eat some raw veggies or a piece of fruit before going to a party or social function. When the edge is off hunger, your focus is on social fun.

5. Go pro: Lean protein keeps you feeling satisfied, and helps prevent blood glucose levels from spiking then plummeting later. About 100-150 calories invested in options like turkey roll-ups, beef jerky, fat-free Greek yogurt, even a fat-free latte will pay off later.

6. Get functional: it’s a social function, so keep the priority on socializing rather than eating.

7. Be the last man (or woman) standing…in line: Always be among the last ones in line for the food. It’ll look a little less appetizing (probably a good thing) and there’s less time to have second portions.

8. Get out of Dodge: Lingering to the end encourages more nibbling.  Be social, sample what you want, then move along.

9. ONE – a singular sensation!  When you see something you want, have it. But one portion. One is the magic number, not a lonely number.  But read #10.

10. Get “hospital-sized”:  Not to eat, just to look at portion sizes. When you’re thinking of a high-calorie food, whether it’s mac and cheese or the Buche de Noel pictured at the top, it’s one “hospital-sized” portion. Keep it there and enjoy it. There will be another treat another day.

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!

Believing Junk Is Even Worse Than Eating Junk

If you’re of a “certain age” you’ll remember “Vacupants.” You hook up a vacuum to the hole in the special “pants” and the fat melts off.  The idea was that it somehow “vacuumed” away the extra weight.

You might think this could never happen in the age of digital media but you’d be wrong.  It happens plenty, just differently.

The food, nutrition, and diet world is loaded with sensational and extreme headlines and promises.  We gravitate towards the sensational. The promise of a quick fix has a magical way of grabbing your attention and won’t let go.

It’s the modern-day version of the “snake-oil” sales pitch.  You’ve probably seen headlines touting:

• “Lose 10 pounds in 3 days without doing exercise or changing your diet!” (Similar to the Vacupants claim — see how much things have changed?)

• “Lose all the weight you want eating junk food!”

• “This miracle food speeds up metabolism!”

Most common now are diets that spout the total avoidance of a food or even entire food groups. Think about carb- and sugar-phobia that lumps empty-calorie foods together with great foods like beans and fresh fruit. Or the keto diets that demonize most carbs, including whole grains and most fruits and vegetables, and hold the state of ketosis on a pedestal. In truth, ketosis is something that should generally be prevented, not promoted.

Then there’s the scare-tactic approach:

  • “10 Foods You Should Never Eat”
  • “Your Body Can’t Process These 3 Foods”
  • “5 Foods That Cause Belly Fat”

“Absolute” Exploitation

These sensational promises, extreme claims, and headline-grabbers exploit people who are vulnerable, undereducated or just misinformed. Someone with a health issue, including someone trying to lose weight, is vulnerable, even desperate for a solution, making them easy prey for junk science purveyors.  Health issues are sensitive, lots of emotions are involved, making them vulnerable to quick-fixes, magic bullets, and instant cures – just the type of stuff that makes up fad dieting.

Educated people aren’t insulated either. “Vacupants” was marketed as a quick weight loss method.  Laugh if you must, I once had a patient, an educated woman, who admitted she’d bought this gizmo. No, they didn’t work. She’d have been better of if she’d put on some actual sweats and gone walking for half an hour a day instead.

We all like being told something that fits with our values or what we’d LIKE to be true.  Eating junk can be over in a flash but believing junk can continue for years.

10 Red Flags of Junk Science

Tufts University does a nice job of explaining these in detail, but this is the Cuttothechase version:
1. Promises of a quick fix. File “miracle foods” under this one, too.
2. Danger warnings of a single food.
3. Claims that sound to good to be true. Hint: they are too good to be true.
4. Simple conclusions from a complex study. Oversimplifying often indicates taking results out of context or omitting caveats.
5. Recommendations based on a single study. If it cannot be replicated, it’s probably bogus or at least cherry-picked. Pass.
6. Statements refuted by reputable health organizations. If they’re reputable, they require solid evidence. Key word: solid. If they pass on the claim, you should, too.
7. Lists of “good” and “bad” foods. #ridiculous
8. Recommendations made to help sell a product or supplement. This doesn’t mean it’s junk, but if it’s good, check for lots of evidence and organizations that agree.
9. Research that is not peer reviewed. Big red flag for research that’s badly done.
10. Recommendations from studies that ignore differences among individuals or groups. There can be differences between genders, smokers vs. non-smokers, young and old age groups, the works.

Growing Up With Cacao Trees in the Backyard?

Maribel Lieberman did, so it’s no wonder she went on to found MarieBelle Chocolate and Cacao Market by MarieBelle in New York. We were both guests together on the show “Nutrition and Exercise” on Doctor Radio, (Channel 110 on SiriusXM), and she agreed to chat with me later to tell more of her story.

Born in Honduras, Maribel said “It was usual to have cacao trees in the backyard, so yes, I grew up with cacao trees.”. Those trees weren’t a direct line to chocolate making however. “My mother was a very passionate seamstress and my idea was to become a designer and continue with my mother’s tradition.” This led her to come to New York’s Parson’s School of Art and Design, intent on becoming a fashion designer.

“When I arrived in New York, I was absolutely in love with the city and its culture,” and finding herself mesmerized by all the different food cultures that have always been part of the city. “This is when I started experimenting cooking with unfamiliar ingredients,” and how she learned to combine them into unique flavors.  As her interests evolved from fashion into food, she bought lots of cookbooks, learning to be a chef.  Maribel eventually started a catering company, maintaining it for 5 years.

It’s during this period that she learned a lot about chocolate. “I experimented making truffles and really loved it,” but combining and fusing different flavors with chocolate is what fascinated her even more.

Bean-to-Bar with Women Farmers

The vast majority of the cacao Lieberman uses comes from Hondouras, “although sometimes from Nicaragua or El Salvador, also.” Most of her cacao beans are Trinitario variety — a hybrid of the more common Forastero and the uber-delicate Criollo beans.  She travels to Honduras several times a year. “I have a relationship with the growers, most of them are women farmers, I have about 60 women that I buy cacao from,” but from other farmers as well. “I work very closely with the Fundación Hondureña de Investigación Agrícola.  The non-profit FHIA provides her with a wealth of knowledge about cacao, and “they help me pick the best quality bean.”

Maribel’s shop offers about 50 different flavors of chocolates and truffles. Spices figure prominently in her ganache chocolates, with the cardamom flavor being one of her favorites.  For me, a couple of her ganache truffles and a cappuccino make an excellent  dessert.  Not high in calories either (given their size, figure about 70 calories per truffle), and just enough indulgence.  With the cap (I’ll take a decaf, thanks, and I know I’m in the minority here) supplying some protein and dairy nutrition, it’s one way to make dessert or an afternoon snack really work.

Sugar-free chocolate her way 

She also entered the sugar-free market, sweetening her 70% bar is only with organic whole milk powder. “I think it works well” and I agree. It has the creaminess of milk chocolate, but the intensity you’d expect from a 70% bar.  Added sugar? Zero.  Protein?  Yes — a little over 5 grams in a 40-gram portion (about 170 calories).  She’s currently developing one sweetened only with raspberries and blueberries.

Her ganache chocolates have unique airbrush designs on them. Some are her husband’s designs, other are the work of her in-house designer. All are whimsical and have their own explanations that come with the “paperwork” in each box sold.  She’s obviously figured out that people eat with their eyes, too.  Smart.

Does all the “business” of cacao make her less interested in eating it? Not a chance. “I eat cacao every day,” she said happily. “Sometimes when I travel and didn’t bring any with me, I end up buying it at the local store.”

Chocolate fans, I’d say she’s “one of us.”

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!)