Believe in Butter! And ditch the margarine.

The butter versus margarine debate still exists. Who do you trust more, cows or chemists?

A little history

The origination of butter scales back thousands of years to the early domestication of animals. Margarine, on the other hand, was first developed in the 1800s as an affordable substitute to butter. Fast forward to the 1900s and margarine’s ability to spread on toast boosted its popularity ranking among food lovers. After World War II, a butter shortage further increased the presence of margarine in kitchens. By the end of the 1970s, partial hydrogenation of vegetable oils became more and more common in foods, especially margarines, because they extended the shelf-life of this popular “health food.” See http://www.soyinfocenter.com/HSS/hydrogenation1.php for more information about the history of hydrogenation.

The confusing complaint

The popularity of margarine grew as people were convinced that the saturated fat and cholesterol in butter was causing heart disease.  Since margarine is made with vegetable oils (partially hydrogenated, also known as trans fat), no saturated fat or cholesterol is present, then therefore it must be healthier for our hearts. The problem here: saturated fat and cholesterol are not as harmful to our heart as partially hydrogenated oils are. This is when knowing your ingredients becomes more crucial than reading advertisements. It is proven that the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils found in margarine (due to their plant-based oils) are good for our hearts however, the package they are delivered in is not so fantastic. Poly- and monounsaturated fats can be obtained naturally in the diet from foods void of partially hydrogenated oils such as olive oil, avocados, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and olives.

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Believe in Butter

Still a little unsure about butter? Consider these facts for a moment:

  • Butter comes from cows and margarine comes from a laboratory.
  • Butter contains one ingredient, milk (unless it is salted then it contains milk and salt). Margarines often contain over ten ingredients, some of which can only be pronounced if spoken slowly.
  • Butter contains cholesterol which is necessary for cellular function. Margarine contains no cholesterol because it is derived from vegetable oils.
  • Butter contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are required for optimal health. Additionally, these are fat-soluble vitamins that are only absorbed when consumed with the fat that butter provides. Margarine contains none of the vitamins unless a synthetic form is added.
  • Butter has a natural balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids whereas margarine contains a higher concentration of omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Butter contains zero partially hydrogenated oils. Margarine does. Partially hydrogenated oils increase LDL cholesterol while lowering HDL cholesterol and completely ruin the marketed benefit of using margarine for heart health.

Your best butter

I recommend choosing butter from grass-fed cows because it contains a higher levels of cancer-fighting CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), vitamin E, beta-carotene (vitamin A precursor), and omega-3 than butter from cows raised in factory farms. Additionally, grass-fed cows are free of antibiotics and hormones. Remember that when choosing a Real Food diet, the closer your food comes from nature, the better.

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Mid-day Snacking: Why and What

Mid-day snacks. Are they necessary and what should you be eating between lunch and dinner?

A quality and nutritious afternoon snack has a few purposes: 1. To gently elevate blood sugars that have dropped since your lunch meal, 2. To prevent intense hunger at your dinner meal, 3. To create an opportunity to increase your protein intake for the day.

Are snacks necessary?

In my experience in working with individuals, a mid-day snack is necessary. However, not every single person is the same so there will be a population of individuals that survive fine without one. In order to identify if a mid-day snack is necessary for YOU, you must listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel your energy dragging 2 – 3 hours after lunch, if your ability to concentrate or to think and process information slows, if you become irritable and anxious, if you feel hungry, or if you’re ravenous as soon as you get home, these are signs that an afternoon snack will fit beautifully into your schedule.

Let’s take a step to the side and see what is happening inside your body as the clock hits 3:00pm. This is a given time based on a lunch time of 12:00pm. If your lunch was at 11:00am then you may feel the urge to snack around 3:00pm but if your lunch was at 1:00pm then the cravings may kick in closer to 4:00pm. As I mentioned, every body is unique  and will metabolize food at varying rates so timing is not exact across the board. Generally speaking, roughly 2 hours following a balanced meal of vegetables, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, your blood sugar will be returned to a normal level and your body will begin to use stored energy (fat) to keep you on your feet. Continue on an empty stomach for another hour or and your blood sugar will begin to dip below normal.  Since the cells require glucose (sugar) to keep your mind and body functioning, signals are sent from the cells to the brain to seek more sugar in an effort to raise the level of sugar in the blood again. The result: food-seeking activity begins. And the prime time to make a smart choice for your snack has been presented!

What should I choose for a snack?

About 3 – 4 hours after your lunch meal, the idea is to feed your body a snack that includes protein, carbohydrate, and/or fat. Which works best for you is only determined by doing trial snacks and taking your two previous meals into consideration.

If you lunch was skimpy on carbohydrates, such as a salad with grilled chicken breast and olive oil-based dressing, then I would suggest a snack such as a pear with 10 raw walnut halves, 1 scoop of protein powder blended with 1/2 cup of berries, or a can of tuna mixed with 1/4 cup of basil pesto hummus.

If your lunch included carbohydrates, such as two chicken tacos on corn tortillas or a flatbread sandwich, then I would suggest a protein and fat snack. Ideas for this snack are chopped chicken breast with 1/2 mashed avocado (photo below links to an awesome recipe), 2 hard-boiled eggs with sliced cucumber and zucchini, or beef jerky and 10 raw walnut halves.

Smart Snacking

If your goal is to shed a few pounds of body fat (as many people do) then smart snacking is the way to go. Some days you’ll have a super satisfying lunch that carries you over to dinner without the energy slump or ravenous cravings for chips once you hit home. Those days are fine. On the days where lunch is lighter and you know it will be hours before dinner time arrives, then plan accordingly and prepare time for a nutritious snack that will control your hunger and cravings so you don’t tear into the kitchen on a frenzy upon arrival at home. The majority of the time, when this happens, we begin snacking once we get home, overeat at dinner, and then continue to snack on more foods (i.e. desserts) until we head to bed. In this case we have consumed much more energy than we would have had a snack been eaten a few hours sooner.

Always remember to look at the big picture and stay away from white and black thinking when it comes to your dietary choices. Keep the Real Food Plate in mind when choosing your meals and remember the guidelines for choosing snacks based on your lunch meal. Try something and if it is great in managing cravings and hunger then you know you’ve found what works for you. If it doesn’t work, try to repeat the lunch meal again and experiment with a different snack. It takes a little effort and investigation to understand how your body responds to foods. You are your best detective and once you know your needs then eating well becomes a breeze!

Slay the low-fat snack dragon

What is the low-fat snack dragon?

This is the big idea that noshing on low-fat snacks throughout the day will save you calories, especially in the form of fat, and help you lose weight.

Wrong. Let me explain why.

Low-fat snacks like popcorn, 100-calorie packs of thin cookies and crackers, wheat thins, goldfish, flatbread crisps, dry cereal, baked chips, “skinny” ice cream bars, pop chips, pretzels, granola bars, fat-free pudding and yogurt, angel food cake, mini bagels, and any other boxed or bagged food marketed as low-fat. The list could go on for a while but I think that gives you a fine idea of what I’m referring to.

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These snacks are, in fact, low in dietary fat and total calories. Why? Because fat provides more calories than carbohydrates per gram and therefore by removing fat and replacing it with carbohydrates and sugar, the total caloric content is lowered. When we eat carbohydrates (otherwise knows as sugar, glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc) our body responds by releasing insulin from the pancreas. All is great because this is what is supposed to happen. However, if you’re just snacking on your low-fat goodies and sitting around, you aren’t using this quick energy source to do much of anything and energy that isn’t used is saved. As body fat.

So, in essence, a low-fat snack isn’t really addressing your issue of avoiding weight gain. In fact, it’s contributing to it indirectly. Additionally, it is challenging to stop eating just 1 cup of popcorn or 2 fig newtons so we continue snacking. And snacking a little more. The rapid rise in blood sugar level as a result of eating more carbohydrate than needed and without quality protein and fat to slow digestion and absorption then leads to a rapid fall in blood sugar. The next step? Hunger and cravings for more low-fat snacks.

There is much more involved in brain chemistry and hormones than what I’ve shared here but this is the main point I want to address for individuals that believe low-fat snacking is helping them lose weight and be healthy. Sometimes just understanding this component of the bigger picture is enough to change their habits. What is the bigger picture? It is eating a balance of protein, healthy fat, vegetables, and low-sugar fruits. When we feed our body processed, low-fat foods there is more hunger and cravings because these snacks don’t support optimal hormone balance or truly nourish the body.

Slaying the dragon with Real Food

A few ideas for snacks to use in place of your old snacks:

  • Carrot sticks dipped in 1/2 mashed avocado mixed with salsa
  • Organic cottage cheese with ground flaxseed and chopped nuts
  • Plain Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup fresh raspberries
  • Chopped chicken breast or Canned tuna in water mixed with 1/2 avocado, salt and pepper
  • 10 raw almonds and 1 small pear or peach
  • 1 scoop protein powder blended with 1 tablespoon organic almond butter
  • Plain Greek yogurt with 2 tsp organic peanut butter + Vegetable sticks for dipping
  • Bacon wrapped asparagus
  • Hard-boiled eggs with dijon mustard
  • Bison or Beef jerky (avoid HFCS and tons of ingredients)

The variety is endless when you open your mind to real foods and omit processed foods. What are some of your favorite real food snacks?

Grass-fed beef is best

It’s time to jump on the “grass-fed beef wagon” and begin reaping the benefits of this power protein source. “But why? What’s the big deal? Does it taste better? Is it healthier?”, you ask.

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But why?

When considering the why of making a change, it is important to also understand the reason to move away from what was being done before. In this case, if you aren’t eating grass-fed beef then you’re eating corn-fed beef. Corn-fed beef comes from cows that are fed corn (most commonly genetically modified crop) with the purpose of fattening them faster so they can move them to slaughter faster. These cows are usually raised with hormones and antibiotics while they are being fed their corn-based diet. Since cows are a ruminant, they are designed to eat grass, not corn. And when cows are fed corn, many unhealthy digestive problems begin to occur. Now think of your food chain. When you eat beef from a cow that has been raised on corn, the negative effects of the diet are passed on to you. For a more detailed explanation of the effects of a corn-based diet in cows, check out Michael Pollan’s interview with Frontline at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/pollan.html

What’s the big deal?

The big deal is your health and wellness. What you eat directly impacts how you look and feel both inside and outside. Grass-fed beef has numerous nutritional benefits in comparison to corn-fed beef.

  • Greater fatty acid profile of omega-3 fatty acid and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
  • Greater levels of precursors to vitamin A (carotenoids) and vitamin E (tocopherol)
  • Greater levels of cancer-fighting agents glutathione and superoxide dismutase
  • Lower fat content

Does it taste better?

Personally, I can’t tell a huge difference in taste but some people will say grass-fed beef tastes better than grain-fed beef. Flavor preferences are personal and you won’t know until you try it. Grain-fed beef has more marbling because the fat content is higher as a result of the cow’s diet. My suggestion: Purchase 1 pound of ground grass-fed beef and cook in into hamburger patties so you can get a true idea of how your taste buds respond to it. If you use it for pasta sauce or for meatloaf, there are too many other ingredients that can mask the flavor of the beef and make it difficult to determine if you notice a difference.

Is it healthier?

As I mentioned above, the nutrition benefits of grass-fed beef outweighs its grain-fed competition. Benefits of CLA include anti-carcinogenic effects by reducing cancer cell replication and inducing cancer cell death. CLA also has a positive effect on blood lipid profiles as well as blood sugar levels. CLA intake also contributes to a healthy body composition by reducing body fat while supporting retention of lean muscle mass. Although obtaining omega-3 in the diet is optimal when consuming fatty fish, incorporating alternative sources is helpful to create dietary variety. There isn’t a significantly greater amount of omega-3 in grass-fed beef compared to grain-fed but if you want red meat in your meal, grass-fed is still your best option. Grass-fed beef also has greater levels of beta-carotene (precursor to vitamin A) and alpha-tocopherol (an isoform of vitamin E). Vitamin A is required for vision, bone growth, cell division and regeneration, and maintenance of skin and membrane integrity. Vitamin E is an antioxidant responsible for destruction of free radicals in the body that may contribute to chronic diseases. Are you convinced yet that grass-fed beef is healthy?! Hang on, there’s more! Remember the cancer-fighting agents, glutathione (a protein that functions as part of an enzyme system) and superoxide dismutase (an enzyme), that I mentioned earlier? Glutathione is an awesome antioxidant that protects cells in your body from free radicals and prevent damage to DNA. Superoxide dismutase, in union with a second enzyme, catalase, work as another antioxidant to seek and destroy free radicals.


Bottom line.

At the end of the day, your food choices are yours to own. You can choose quality real food or you can choose the next best thing. Grain-fed beef isn’t going to kill you, but it doesn’t offer you the nutrition that grass-fed beef does. It is becoming more and more popular in grocery stores but can almost always be found at your local farmer’s market or through an online source. Bottom line is that you should always do what works for you and what you feel is important for your health and wellness.

 

Bhattacharya A, Banu J, Rahman M, et al. (2006). Biological effects of conjugated linoleic acids in health and disease. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 17(12):789-810.

Daley C, Abbott A, Doyle P, et al. (2010). A review of fatty acid profiles and antioxidant content in grass-fed beef and grain-fed beef. Nutrition Journal. 9:10.

McAfee A, McSorley E, Cuskelly G, et al. (2011). Red meat from animals offered a grass diet increases plasma and platlet n-3 in healthy consumers. British Journal of Nutrition. 105: 80-89.

Fruit smoothies: The not-so-sweet side.

Fruit smoothies.

You know, the smoothies loaded with delicious berries, a banana, maybe some pineapple and mango for added sweetness and blended with water or juice. These colorful drinks are easy to enjoy and don’t last long when enjoyed with a straw! I encourage you to take inventory of your ingredients and make a smart dietary choice based on your personal goals. I’m not “anti-fruit smoothie” but I do believe that they are a treat that should be enjoyed about as frequently as any other dessert. On occasion and not habitually.

Let’s take a look at your typical fruit smoothie: 1 banana + 1/2 cup cubed pineapple + 1/2 cup cubed mango + 1 cup mixed berries + 1/2 cup orange juice + 8 oz water. Sounds amazingly delicious! Now let’s take a look at some nutrition facts gathered from www.http://nutritiondata.self.com. Combined, this fruit smoothie contains 314 calories, 81 grams of carbohydrate (54 grams of that is sugar), and roughly 3 grams of protein.

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This is quite a bang for sugar intake at one meal! Since it is all in the simple forms of glucose, fructose, and sucrose, there is a rapid rise in blood sugar. The body doesn’t want elevated blood sugar levels so the pancreas will pump a surge of insulin in to the blood stream to shuttle the sugar into the cells for either energy production or storage in order to bring the level closer to normal. Sometimes, the insulin surge is greater than the need so the lowering of blood sugar is more drastic than necessary. The result, a low blood sugar level followed by signals to the brain to return it normal again.

If you have ongoing blood sugar issues (hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia) then fruit smoothies aren’t ideal for your diet. If you have a healthy metabolism and don’t experience high and low blood sugars following meals, then these smoothies may not be problematic for you. Bottom line is that you must take the following into consideration when deciding if you want to drink your fruit: how much fruit you’ve already consumed that day, how much added sugar you’ve consumed or will consume that day, how your body responds roughly 2 hours after drinking a fruit smoothie, does it satisfy you or make you crave more sugar, does it leave you feeling sluggish or energized, do you have poor blood sugar control, and do you have goals to decrease body fat stores?

If you’ve already eaten 2 servings of fruit in a day, a fruit smoothie is not recommended.

If you have eaten or plan to eat added sugars, a fruit smoothie is not recommended. I encourage everyone to limit added sugars (sugars that don’t occur naturally in your foods) to 24 grams per day. One teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to 4 grams of sugar. Therefore, a total of 6 teaspoons of sugar, or 24 grams, is the maximum amount of added sugars a person should allow themselves each day. For children, I encourage less than 16 grams of added sugar per day.

If you do drink a fruit smoothie and find yourself craving more sweet foods or feeling hungry before 2 hours have passed, I recommend avoiding them with the exception of changing the ingredients and adding 1 – 2 scoops of whey, pea, or vegan protein powder. The fewer ingredients (omit banana, mango, and orange juice because these are highest in sugar) and addition of protein will have two effects: decrease the amount of sugar that enters the body; and protein slows digestion of sugar into the blood stream.

If your goal is to decrease body fat stores, keep in mind that when insulin is present (released in response to carbohydrate intake) then fat metabolism is turned off.

Fruit contains amazing nutrition and can still be enjoyed with an approach that works for you. I encourage you to make choices that benefit your body and your goals by either avoiding 100% fruit smoothies, sharing one with a friend, or manipulating the ingredients to fit your personal health needs.

Note: Smoothie shops often provide nutrition information for consumers to help them make informed decisions. Read ingredients and nutrition labels. Ask questions. These smoothies are usually very high in sugar and should be treated as a dessert to be consumed on occasion.

 

Why low-sugar fruit?

Generally speaking, fruit is good for our body. It comes from nature and contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water, and fiber. All of the good stuff our body needs for optimal health! However, if excess body fat, diabetes or pre-diabetes, or cravings for sweets throughout the day is a problem for you, then there is a reason to limit fruit and make wise choices when you do enjoy it. I’m going to share with you why I encourage you to select low-sugar fruits mindfully instead of diving into the fruit bowl anytime of the day.

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Fruit contains both glucose, fructose, and sucrose, a 1:1 ratio of glucose and fructose. Glucose and fructose are two monosaccharides that are metabolized differently by the body whereas sucrose is a disaccharide that is metabolized similarly to fructose. Glucose is metabolized to first provide immediate energy to the body and then all excess is stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver. Once storage is filled, it is stored as fat in adipose tissue. One key point to remember is that glucose triggers the release of insulin because insulin is required to move glucose from the bloodstream into the cell for energy production and storage (via insulin-sensitive glucose transporters). Fructose, on the other hand, is sent to the liver for metabolism. Too much fructose leads to synthesis of triglyceride synthesis and thus storage in adipose tissue. Remember the effect of glucose on insulin? Fructose does not trigger an insulin release and therefore does not contribute to satiety signals in the body. Bottom line: glucose raises blood sugar levels, fructose does not. Glucose assists in “feeding” the cells thus signaling the brain to stop eating, fructose does not.

So where am I going with all of this glucose and fructose talk? When we’re making choices on fruit, it is important to understand overall carbohydrate content and how much of that carbohydrate is sugar. The remaining carbohydrate content of a food is based in its fiber, which is also important, but does not contribute to overall levels of sugar in the food. Recognizing fruits that are relatively low in sugar is key to selecting fruits. These include (based on a 100 gram serving that contains <10 grams of total sugar) avocado, lime, lemon, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, blackberries, cantaloupe, sour cherries, guava, apricot, figs, nectarine, orange, papaya, peach, plum, starfruit, tangerine, tomato, and watermelon. This is a large group of fruits to choose from so you need to never feel deprived. Additionally, 100 grams looks different for each fruit so do a little research and learn what 100 grams of figs looks like versus 100 grams of cantaloupe. All other fruits not listed contained more than 10 grams of total sugar for a 100 gram serving.

Now, to plug all of this fruitful information into your diet! Remember that 50% of your plate should consist of vegetables and low-sugar fruits. Once you’ve made at least half of that vegetables, then you can fill the other half with low-sugar fruit. If your goal is a low-carbohyrate diet then you would skip the fruit altogether and just nosh on your vegetables. If you’ve just finished a workout, enjoy 1 cup of fruit with a generous serving of protein. The body will quickly use the fruit sugar to refill glycogen stores with little or none remaining for storage in adipose tissue. As a general rule of thumb, I encourage you to be generous on vegetables first and then enjoy a maximum of 2 cups of fruit per day. The logic behind this is that if you’re dining on fruit at each meal and/or snack, then you’re removing opportunities to eat more fibrous vegetables that are naturally very low in sugar. Additionally, frequent fruit intake elevates blood sugar levels (sugar is sugar is sugar) and thus insulin levels are often elevated, too. Only so much glucose and fructose can be stored in the liver and muscles so therefore the rest is converted to triglycerides or stored as body fat.

Consider fruit as a healthy dessert that contains awesome nutrients. The vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants are all fantastic but just keep total sugar intake in mind when taking inventory of your total nutrient intake for the day. Two final notes: dried fruit and fruit stored in syrup is loaded with added sugar and should be avoided; and if you opt for high-sugar fruits, keep your serving size smaller than what you would serve for low-sugar fruits.

Blend and Sip: Green Smoothies do a body good

Quick Tip: Green smoothies are made from real food ingredients, are chemically broken down for easier digestion, and make life just a little simpler when you want to include for vegetables and fruit in your diet.

One of my favorite go-to drinks to feel great is a green smoothie. I know this sounds pretty wild to most people and interest in drinking a green drink is often slim. But I encourage you to give one a try and see how you like it. Green smoothies are packed full of all the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber that you would get if you sat down and ate at least 4 servings of vegetables. Except it’s much easier to drink those wonderful vegetables than chew and digest them all. So the green smoothie enters your life!

I enjoy a green smoothie a few times a week to bump up my vegetable intake, give my body some great nutrients, increase my fiber for the day, get my digestive track on key, and enjoy the glowing effects it has on my skin. I’m going to include two green smoothies that I like and want you to try, at least just once. Most of the time, any great blender will work, but I use a Vitamix in my kitchen for my smoothies. Everything is included is completely liquified and well blended. I’ve heard positive reviews on the Ninja and NutriBullet from individuals that own those blenders.

Green Goodness

2 cups raw baby spinach

1 cup chopped kale

1 carrot

1 cup frozen peaches

Fill with water to your desired thickness. Blend. Sip. Enjoy.

This smoothie offers 3.5 servings of vegetables and 1 serving of fruit. Spinach offers your body vitamin C, vitamin K, beta-carotene (pro-vitamin that is converted to vitamin A in your body), folate, and phytonutrients/antioxidants. Quick lesson on phytonutrients: They are food components other than vitamins and minerals that promote human health by seeking out reactive oxygen species in your body, these are bad guys, and destroying them before they wreak havoc on your body. Kale also offers vitamin C, vitamin K, and beta-carotene and is excellent for detoxification while offering risk-lowering benefits for some cancers. Go ahead, add a little extra to your smoothie, if you like. Carrots are rich in carotenoids, a group of phytonutrients, and beta-carotene. And lastly, peaches also provide vitamin C, beta-carotene, and other still more phytonutrients.

Red Ranger

1 cup raw baby spinach

1 cup chopped kale

1/2 fresh lime (include some of the peel if you enjoy tart flavors)

1 cup frozen raspberries

Fill with water to your desired thickness. Blend. Sip. Enjoy.

We’ve covered the greatness of spinach and kale above. Limes offer your body vitamin C, phytonutrients, calcium and folate. Raspberries are yet another source of vitamin C and contain amazing antioxidant properties.

Do you see the trend in the above ingredients? I didn’t list all of the vitamins and minerals but just trust that you’re doing your body good by including these foods into your regime at least twice weekly. And take inventory of how many times I mentioned phytonutrients! These are what we need to prevent cancers and premature aging. So drink up! And if you don’t like my recipes, let me know and I’ll help you find just the right blend.