Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Dirty Little Secret(s) About The Microwave

Invented in 1946 (by the German's), the microwave became an instant hit in the United States and around the world for the convenience of fast cooking methods.

I have a microwave, as do millions of other people in the world. (I assume YOU - yes, YOU, who is reading this... do you have a microwave?) Do you hear that little voice in your head that tells you not to stand in front of it while it's on?  Why do you think that is?  Where did that come from? We hear little buzz words here and there, but let's chat first about what a microwave is, and what it does to your food or beverages. 

Microwave ovens create an electromagnetic field. They employ waves of electrical and magnetic energy in a contained space. The term "microwave oven" came from the term "microwaves" which are short waves of electromagnetic energy (also used in cell phones and radar detectors, to name a few..) that cause water to oscillate at an extremely high rate, creating heat. Microwave ovens work by passing microwave-band electromagnetic radiation over the food at 2.5 GHz. Molecules that are "electric dipoles", of which water is the most efficient, rotate back and forth in this field. The friction between them creates heat. This is called dielectric heating.
Food with the highest water content does heat up the quickest, so a food like a "Hot Pocket" (my son used to eat those) which feels slightly warm to the touch on the outside has scalding hot cheese and meat on the inside. (A reminder to be careful with some foods, as that is just asking for a dose of food poisoning..)

In studies, it has been found that by using the microwave to cook vegetables, you are losing more than 90% of the vegetables nutrients, especially if you had any water in them. The microwave radiation goes into the vegetables and destroys all but a tiny amount of the natural nutrients your body uses to fight disease, replenish cells and more. How can you fix this? 
STOP using the microwave to cook vegetables and steam them, bake them, broil them or serve them raw. 
Raw is the best way.

It has also been found that re-heating steak, hamburger or turkey in the microwave actually destroy all of the animal protein that the meat would have to offer if you didn't microwave it. The best way to re-heat your meal is just wrapping it up in foil and putting it back in the oven for a few minutes before you serve it. But in the world of fast, "I need it now", it doesn't happen as often as it should.

Take a look at your microwave? How old IS it? Older microwaves are known to leak radiation. Did you know your microwave should be CHECKED every two years to see if it is exposing EMF's (electromagnetic fields) to you or to the people in your household? How about those houses that still have a microwave from the 1980's? 
Am I starting to scare you a little? Would YOU stand in from of that one?

Another scary fact about microwave is the leakage factor. Did you know the leakage factor is about six feet in length while the microwave is running? Does that mean we should all run into the next room while the microwave is on?  (I'm thinking about that one now.)

And what about what you put in the microwave? Try to use glass. NOT Plastics. If you do, look at the bottom of the plastic containers. Look for numbers in the recycling arrow on the product. The numbers currently considered safe by the scientific community are #2, #4, and #5.  Stay away from #1, #3, #6 and #7. If you don't see a number, call up the manufacturer and ask what it is. Treat plastic gently; the more you bang it up, the more likely it is to leach its chemical components into our food. 

(I will write about this in the future.)
And, listen, you should never really put plastics in the microwave (even #3, #4 and #5) EVEN if it says "microwave safe". That just means how much heat it can withstand, not that it won't release its chemicals into your meal. Also scary, isn't it?

Are you heating up something tonight in the microwave?

More information on the Dangers of Microwaves: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/18/microwave-hazards.aspx

Monday, March 28, 2011

Cravings. Have any?

Everyone has food cravings. You've been there, yes? "I'm dying for Mexican food!" or "Is there anything salty in the house?" or the typical..."What I wouldn't give for a piece of chocolate!"
Have you ever driven to the store in the wee hours of the night to satisfy a food craving?  
I used to live next door to a family that would do "grocery store runs" for ice cream, brownies, chocolate sauce and whipped cream after nine p.m. on a hot summer night.  (Shaking my head in disbelief..)
Just recently I had a client pick up his phone to read a message from his wife asking him to stop on the way home for a "fast food" fix. Seriously? What happened to regular meals? And healthy snacks?

Food cravings mean that the body has its signals mixed up. When we are exhausted, sleep deprived, or blue, we have low blood sugar or even low serotonin, and the mind and body signal to the brain that it needs a quick fix. This signal starts the sugar and carb craving. I mention serotonin. What is that? I call it the "feel good hormone". If serotonin is low, we feel sad, lethargic and even depressed. Even hormonal imbalances can trigger the drop in serotonin. Eating simple sugars and empty (simple) carbohydrates release a short burst of serotonin. You'll feel good for a brief moment, but you'll soon return to the low serotonin state, then crave more sugar and more empty carbs. What a vicious cycle that becomes.

Thus the change we need to make in our diet. When I say "diet", I mean the WAY YOU EAT. Not a temporary fix. 

So I will veer off slightly and address the low-fat diet. The worst of the bunch, in my humble opinion. Just hearing the words "low fat" or "non-fat" makes my upper lip tremble a bit. (Low-fat means HIGH carbohydrate, in most cases.)
Insulin resistance is what is responsible for the low-fat, high-carb eater. I believe that the low fat dieter, after years of eating a low-fat and HIGH carb diet (and let's not forget the fad dieters) have become, or partially become insulin resistant. Insulin is responsible for maintaining stable blood sugar levels by telling the body's cells when to absorb sugar (yes, glucose) from the bloodstream. Being insulin resistant means your body stops responding to insulin, and instead grabs every calorie it can - and then deposits it as fat. Really! No matter how much you eat, it will be deposited as fat. Essentially, it's feeding your fat cells. This keeps the cycle of persistent food cravings active as your cells cannot absorb the glucose they need, so they signal your brain that you need MORE carbohydrates and sugars. Brutal, isn't it?

Toss out the junk food and restock your refrigerator and pantry with almonds and other nuts, cheese, fruits and vegetables. 
Purchase chicken, pork, beef, tuna, salmon, and keep plenty of meats in your freezer. Sometimes all it takes is one habit to change another habit, to create another habit, and so on.

What are you craving these days? It speaks volumes. Salty? Sugary? Is is about texture? Convenience? 
Let's first start to separate whether it is a low-fat empty carb or a healthy "whole" food.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Organic vs. Non-Organic. Where do you stand?

Did you know the number of organic farmers has more than doubled in the past decade? Still, there is so much controversy about organic vs. non-organic. What do you believe? Is it the same? What about the difference between organic meats vs. organic fruits and vegetables? Is one invariably safer than the other?
Here's what I know about the agricultural industry farming in the "land of organic" field of dreams.
There are a number of ways our foods are contaminated:
We use a plethora of pesticides and herbicides. Mainly to kill weeds and control the insect population on the crops themselves. The FDA has since banned many of the chemicals from being used in the United States, but since so many crops are imported, they come into our country, and still do contain these chemicals and toxins.
After the FDA banned toxic chemical spraying, we used sewage. (Feces, yes. Disgusting. Or is that just me?)  Initially, the idea of using human waste as fertilizer for non-organic crops was an easy fix, easy to obtain, but now the FDA states that by doing so, we have contributed to chronic illnesses in the general population.  I tried to research exactly WHAT the chronic illnesses were, but that remains a mystery as to why I cannot find published facts.
The next problem, and the one I have the biggest issue with is MEAT products. The use of hormones, antibiotics and even feeding the remains of animals to OTHER animals.
(Yes, scary but true. What did you think you were eating?) 
By using hormones, this was a way to fatten up the animals to have them pop up to "market size" for butchering (or milking) earlier than what was intended by nature. Hormones (the equivalent of human steroids, as we know them) are typically injected into animals to fatten them up fast, and create massive growth spurts. The antibiotics came into play in order to actually keep the animals alive. The controversy with this is, if we give the animal the antibiotics and hormones, and we slaughter them for food - aren't we getting a (un)healthy dose of antibiotics as well? Yes. Yes, we are. 
This is one of the fights in the organic community. We are becoming immune resistant to antibiotics and their bacteria fighting abilities because our bodies are ingesting them in quantities that the human body was never meant to adapt to!
I'm a little miffed at the "feeding of an animal carcass" to another animal. Did we learn nothing from the mad cow disease scares throughout the years? We don't still do THAT, do we?
Lastly, we've all heard about irradiation. Did you know that many of out foods are radiated to kill bacteria that may be present? Radiated.
This will be a topic I will revisit again in a future blog..
(Shaking my head in disbelief...)
There is a saying in the food industry, calling particular foods, mainly vegetables and fruit: "The Dirty Dozen". 
Do you know what that means?
These are the fruits and vegetables that are thought to contain the most chemicals and pesticides. You might be surprised.
Listed below are the TWELVE:
Apples. Peaches. Spinach. Kale. Bell Peppers. Strawberries. Nectarines. Cherries. Potatoes. Grapes. Blueberries... And the number one offender, CELERY.
Will you think twice the next time you shop at the store?
Organic? Or non-organic?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Why are we afraid of FAT in our diet? Case-in-point: HEALTHY FAT vs The Low-Fat DIET

Why are we so afraid of fat? I rant often on the silly low-fat dieting craze.

Have you ever met someone who always has a cold, a sore throat, an ache, low energy? 
Chances are, part of the problem is they don't eat enough healthy fat in their diet.

A few months ago, I was in Starbucks and overheard a woman commiserating with her friend how she is "cutting out the fat" in her diet.  (I cringed.)
She ordered a beverage high in sugar and then tossed out the words "non-fat" at the end of her drink order. 
In the same conversation, she coughed a hard phlegmy cough and blew her nose. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. 

The myth, too, of her "non-fat" order, is that she was doing something good for her body. In truth, the sugar-fest she ordered will be converted directly to sugar(s) and feed her fat cells. 

But what else does fat do?

What is fat? And why do we think fat will make us fat?

There are essentially two kinds of fat. UNSATURATED and SATURATED fat.. Unsaturated is the HEALTHY fat.  
(Pay attention - there will be a quiz.)  

Unsaturated fat is found in plant foods and fish and healthy oils. These are good for heart health. You want a healthy heart, yes?
The best of the unsaturated fats are found in olive oil, albacore tuna, salmon, avocado and nuts. 

Now to the "bad" fat". Saturated. Saturated fats are found in some animal products (non-organic), foods with palm oil and the like, and often used in commercial baked goods (the kind you buy at the store). Eating too much saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. 
They are from unnatural sources - or "artificial" sources.  (Think.. "manufactured food.") 
Most artificial saturated fats are created through a man-made chemical process and have been shown to increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol.
Examples of "BAD" fats are anything with partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, such as shortenings and margarines. (Been to a bakery lately?)

But here's the straight facts:
"HEALTHY" fat DOES provide needed energy. Are you dragging throughout the day? Are your workouts particularly difficult?
It is difficult to retain the energy you need on a high fat diet. A diet low in fat also may trigger food cravings.

Fat stays in your stomach longer, keeping you satisfied and preventing hunger between meals. Are you a constant snacker? What are you snacking on?

Fat is needed to prevent essential fatty acid deficiency and helps your body absorb the fat soluable vitamins A, D, E, and K. 
Since they are soluable in fat, they are absorbed by the body from the intestinal tract. They follow the same path of absorption as fat. 

(Do not confuse these with water-soluable vitamins. By contrast, water soluable vitamins dissolve in water and are not stored; they are eliminated in your urine. We need a continuous supply of them in our diets. The water soluable vitamins are the B-Complex group and Vitamin C.)

So what is the bottom line? We NEED fat in our bodies. Healthy fats. Fat provides flavor and texture as well to prevent food from being bland and dry. Fat provides back-up energy if blood sugar supplies run out, usually four to six hours without food. It also provides insulation in the skin from the heat and cold. Have you noticed your body's temperature gadge is off?

Did you know you need a supply of healthy fat in your diet to BURN fat?

Now take a look at your diet. How much healthy fat are you eating to keep your body running like the the efficient machine for which it was intended?

Tell me now which HEALTHY FATS are in YOUR diet?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Mystery and Simplicity of Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI is the common term given to Body Mass Index, a number calculated from your weight and height that roughly correlates to the percentage of your total weight that comes from fat, as opposed to muscle or bone. The higher your BMI, the higher the percentage of fat in your body. 
It comes down to this:
If your BMI is under 20, you might be underweight. 
Between 20 and 25, you are probably at a good healthy weight for your height. 
BMI over 25 is considered overweight, and over 35 is considered obese.

There is a simple tool to calculate a rough translations of true percentage of BMI, and a number of factors that might influence whether or not your BMI is a true reflection of your total body fat.

The calculation is pretty standard. Here is the simplified version from the Center for Disease Control:
(cut and paste into your browser)


Now REMEMBER muscle is denser than fat and takes up less space. Therefore, a heavily muscled person might weigh more than a same sized over-weight person, or two individuals with identical BMI might have widely different percent body fat. 
In this case, calculating your percent body-fat might require more sophisticated equipment, such as an immersion tank. (Under water. Yes, I did that. Not fun. Thought I was drowning.) Since fat is more buoyant than muscle, two same-weight individuals will not float at the same level if they have different percentages of body fat.

Women typically carry more fat (subcutaneous) than men do, particularly in the breast and hips, so their percent body fat may be higher without it necessarily being reflected in their BMI or having any adverse health effects. Very low body fat, which may or may not show up in a BMI, depending on the individual's musculature, might be unhealthy as well. Your body needs some stores of fat to draw upon for energy and if fat is absent, the body will begin to consume muscle mass to keep itself going.

Calculate YOUR BMI, and let's start there...

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Dilemma of Protein Bars

When is the last time you ventured down the protein bar aisle in the health food store or grocery? 
Brace yourself for what I'm about to write.
You imagine you are purchasing something healthy, aren't you?  <shaking you by the shoulders!>
That's why you are there, scanning the plethora of protein bar alternatives, isn't it? Searching for the healthy meal replacement or supplement?

Have you REALLY looked into the nutrition of that protein bar?

Chances are you're supplementing your diet with high fructose corn syrup and SUGAR, palm oil, and a plethora of chemical compounds..
Examples... Clif, Luna, MetRx, Lara...you name it..it's essentially garbage. Harsh statement, isn't it? (Sorry to those manufacturers. The truth hurts.)
Typically the main most potent ingredient is...  (drum roll...) sugar.  

Srpinkle in a few chemicals, a few unhealthy oils - or if you really want to add high sugar, ensure the bar is "binded" with fruit. 
That will jump up the sugar calories by double or triple.

Do you want to exercise hard, do well for your body in every other aspect of your health, and consume approximately 26+ grams of sugars?

But there is so much more to be said. While these bars appear to be a nutritional equivalent to a balanced meal, they don't take the place of a nutrition varied diet of natural, minimally processed sources of protein, fat, carbs, vitamins and minerals.  For example, many of these bars are fortified with the same vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables, but they don't contain the phytochemicals,  natural fiber and balance of nutrients, so their comparative health benefits are NOT the same.

Most of the energy bars contain hydrogenated oils or partially hydrogenated palm oil, so even though the fat content of these bars is within reasonable limits, the percentage of saturate fat in the bar(s) can be quite high.
But... if your choice is between a high fat, high salt typical fast food meal and an energy bar, you're better off choosing the protein bar, but they still don't contain the nutritional health benefits of a well chosen, varied diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, very lean sources of protein, nutrient dense complex carbs and good sources of fat.  Enough said.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Did you forget how to eat? Random thoughts.

If you answered "No" to the above question, I'd hate to be the bearer of bad news. (I will break the myth anyhow.) The answer is probably "YES". Remember in your early years.. the teens? The early twenties? Those were the years you could practically skate by on a poor diet. Your metabolism was faster. Your activity level was most likely higher. Fast food was easy. Slow food was a term that hadn't been coined yet.

There are just four random tips I want to pass along:

(Don't want to overwhelm you.)

1) Eat a diet of whole foods.  Rather than fall back on the ‘easy’ snack - convenience foods of today. What is WHOLE FOOD? Whole foods are foods that are unprocessed, unrefined, and modified as little as possible. Whole foods typically do NOT contain added ingredients. Examples of whole foods include fruits, vegetables, nuts, organic meats and organic (and even raw) dairy.  What is NOT a whole food? Crackers, chips, cereals, or frankly, anything in a BOX  (think macaroni and cheese). If it is in a box, it is NOT food.

2) Eat PLENTY of fruits and vegetables. The phytonutrients that come from a diet rich in vegetables and fruits have been shown to decrease blood pressure, as well as protect against cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. How many servings do YOU eat per day?

3) Don't be afraid of healthy fat! The first is to choose healthy fats over the unhealthy, saturated fats, when considering fat intake. Examples of healthy fats would be plant fats that have not been ‘hydrogenated’.  Plant fats, essentially. Plant fats would include nuts, avocados, and olives.  Raw nuts.. Not the nuts soaked in oil. (Insert gagging face here.)

4) STOP the sugar!  Refined sugar. Sugar can suppress the immune system. Sugar can upset the body's mineral balance. Sugar can contribute to hyperactivity, depression, concentration problems and a rise in triglycerides. It is the number ONE contributor to weight gain and obesity. Really! Need I say more?

The Upside Down Food Pyramid

Is it just me? Or are there "others" that see the Food Pyramid as completely upside-down-backwards.. and just plain WRONG?
Really? Grains on the bottom?
That is intended to be the bulk of your food calories? Why don't we recalculate the food pyramid.
I'd start with VEGETABLES and FRUITS on the bottom. Notice how I stated VEGETABLES first? Our FDA Pyramid states 6-11 servings of GRAINS per day. My response?
"Do you WANT to be fat?"
This, my friends, is the problem with the Food Pyramid. We eat these so-called "grains", but what they really are?  PROCESSED grains.
An example.. Cereal.  Good or bad?  What's your opinion? Let's just pick a cereal. How about the one with the wheat flakes and the sugar-coated raisins. You know which one I am referring to, yes?
Well, that ..."wholesome-healthy-whole-grain-cereal-with raisins" is a SUGAR party and a processed-carbohydrate land mine. How does your body metabolize this? By converting it directly to sugar.. on to fat.
Are we supposed to eat food that has vitamins (fortified, it states) that are SPRAYED on the flakes? Is that food? NO.
Why don't we spend some time reconstructing what the definition of FOOD is...
Here is the actual definition:
food  (fd)
1. Material, usually of plant or animal origin, that contains or consists of essential body nutrients, such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, or minerals, and is ingested and assimilated by an organism to produce energy, stimulate growth, and maintain life.
2. A specified kind of nourishment: breakfast food; plant food.
3. Nourishment eaten in solid form: food and drink.
4. Something that nourishes or sustains in a way suggestive of physical nourishment: food for thought; food for the soul.

Now tell me. Is the cereal real food?