Define: “Healthy Eating”
When I see patients in the office we often start discussing “healthy eating,” as if we both are on the same page! However, I follow-up my question by asking “What exactly do you believe is healthy?” The majority of the time, the conversation feels like we are speaking two different languages.
The truth of the matter is, everyone’s definition of “healthy eating” is different!!
Now, what exactly is “healthy eating” or “eating clean?” How can this be accomplished?
Although eating healthy comes in all shapes and sizes, I personally follow a “Personal Paleo Code” as described by Chris Kresser. This isn’t necessarily the only “eating healthy” lifestyle change that exists, but I do believe that a “Personal Paleo Code” is a good basis for people to start on. I have seen excellent results from friends and patients that adhere to the principles.
I believe that “eating healthy” starts on the premise of removing processed foods, sugar, and grains from someone’s lifestyle.
The biggest issue I find when I discuss lifestyle modification is the last part of this lifestyle change – the grains. People look at me dead in the face and say, “Why can’t I have grains?” Well, the short story is that bread, pasta, and any other grain-laden product is easily converted into sugar. Once this process happens (the Krebs Cycle, etc.), the laws of adiposity take hold. Insulin is released from the pancreas to regulate blood sugar. Once insulin is released, sugar is broken down into immediate energy where needed by the body, and into fat stores for the excess. People look at me and say, “Sugar makes us fat?” The simple answer is yes. Insulin is a “fat storage hormone” If our bodies can’t immediately use the energy from food (which is usually the case), we store the sugar as fat. This is the fat most commonly seen stored in our abdomen.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of coming home to Florida, and witnessing my family try and transition to a “healthy eating” lifestyle. I have seen some of the common pitfalls and that I will discuss a few of them in depth.
Juices (yes, even “Naked” smoothies) are a huge pitfall. The best way to tell if the juice is real juice is if you juice it yourself, or you look at the nutritional label to see how much dietary fiber is in the beverage. Most juices will have no dietary fiber – this means the beverage is simply pure sugar water. Avoid all juices unless you can reliably say that they have dietary fiber in them. In theory, fiber slows the digestion of the sugar in the intestinal tract so as to not inundate the pancreas with a huge amount of sugar for processing. Drinking beverages like the ones I described above are the same as, or even slightly worse than drinking a Coca-Cola or Pepsi.
Processed foods are generally laden with ADDED SUGAR. Check out my previous blog for these pitfalls. Take the time to look at the nutritional label, and if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, you probably shouldn’t eat that item. Companies like to break up the amount of sugar in the ingredients label by using sugar synonyms such as but not limited to:
Brown Rice Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cane Sugar, Coconut Sugar (just because it is from a coconut doesn’t make the sugar any better for you), Brown Rice Syrup, Sucrose, etc. This concept is discussed extensively in Robert Lustig’s book “Fat Chance”. My summary of his analysis of all the “Diets” of the 21st century breaks down to this:
All successful lifestyle modifications/diets have one thing in common, they eliminate SUGARS and PROCESSED FOODS from them!!
In general, labels with a laundry list of ingredients are usually processed and composed of unhealthy ingredients. The closer from the earth the item is, the better it is for you.
Since I will be publishing this just before we all gobble down a few pounds of Thanksgiving Turkey here is my method to having a healthy, fun, and fulfilling Holiday!
Number one priority: TURKEY (Probably a pound or two for myself… lol)
Number two priority: Veggies
Number three priority: Everything else
Fill up on meat and veggies before you get into the sugar laden sweets!!
Finally, just because the box says “low fat”, “low sugar”, or “low carb” doesn’t necessarily mean it is good for you. Always read the nutritional labels on the boxes!! “Low fat” typically = loaded with sugar!! “Low carb” or “Low sugar” may mean that the food is packed with fat. Fats can be good or bad (I will discuss this in a future blog), but sugar is responsible for the epidemic of obesity.
As they say, “Eat to live, but don’t live to eat!!”
Breakfast…No YOLKING around!!
Breakfast, while being the most important meal of the day, is often the most underrated meal of the day! When working on modifying someone’s lifestyle, my first question is, “What is your typical breakfast?” The response that I usually receive often reflects how little time most people have to prepare breakfast in the morning, since many say they either have a cup of coffee or a bowl of cereal.
Although these two options are common, they illustrate extremely unhealthy options for breakfast.
1. A cup of coffee, while not necessarily the worst option, due to the benefits of intermittent fasting leaves most people wanting more. Most commonly after their cup of coffee, I see people picking up something convenient, such as a muffin, bagel, granola bar, or some other carbohydrate laden food item. This adds numerous empty calories plus introducing more added sugars into our “most important meal of the day!”
2. A bowl of cereal, often results in patients consuming excessive amounts of sugar and carbohydrates, without any real nutritional benefits. If the cereal is at least eaten with whole milk, or raw milk, there would be a minor nutritional benefit. However, since our nation is hooked on reduced-fat milk, there isn’t much in it that would necessarily help provide a satisfying breakfast.
The lack of quality nutrition in the morning had me thinking on my drive into work the other day. I found myself pressed for time and needed to satisfy my belly. I started looking around and I realized just how difficult getting a good wholesome breakfast can be. Every on the go breakfast restaurant will give you powdered eggs (SEE ABOVE or BELOW) or low-grade bacon, with some high glycemic index carbohydrates (ie: Biscuit, English Muffin, Toast, etc.) to go with these options. By no means is this a wholesome breakfast. When I say wholesome, I mean a breakfast packed full of good fats, proteins, and some complex carbohydrates through vegetables.
What I recommend for Breakfast (when time isn’t an issue):
2-3 Slices of good quality bacon: Great source of saturated fat and protein
3-4 organic free range eggs: Great source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and protein.
-Please eat the yolks (All of the 13 micronutrients in eggs are found here!)
Half of an avocado- High in Monounsaturated Fatty Acids, especially oleic acid (MUFAs), and naturally low in sugar. Helps rid the body of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
Fats, especially saturated fats, along with protein, help stabilize blood sugar throughout the day.
If you lead a hectic lifestyle and are on the go in the morning, or can’t make bacon and eggs, here is my advice. Get a dozen organic free-range eggs from the store, and on Sunday night (or any night you have time) put all dozen eggs in boiling water for 10 minutes. This gives you a dozen hard-boiled eggs for consumption throughout the week. These are great for on the go in the morning!! Unsweetened full fat yogurt is another option for the on the go individual. This not only gives you plenty of active cultures for a healthy gut microbiome, but is full of good protein and fat.
Remember as the Abraham Lincoln once said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years!
Diet soda is okay though…Right?
In truth diet soda is the opposite of okay and may be more detrimental to your body than regular soda. This raises the most common question…how can diet soda be detrimental if it is “zero calorie” and/or “fat free?” These phrases are an example of a food/beverage industry that has very misleading national labels to the average consumer. Society has engrained in us that the more “zeros” on a nutritional label, the better. This could not be farther from the truth and the more you learn about real whole foods, the more you will understand. But let’s stay focused on the current topic.
First and foremost, diet soda leads to a state of mind that makes people believe that they are saving a little on the soda, so they can splurge more on other sweet indulgences. Wrong. Sweeteners are sweeteners whether in the form of sugar, aspartame, agave nectar, fructose, Splenda and the list goes on. There is no doubt that regardless of form or claim, these sweeteners are going to provoke a reaction from your body when consumed. There is evidence that suggests consuming artificial sweeteners only perpetuates the need to intake sugar. (1,2) Regardless of calories or effect on glucose levels, your taste buds are telling the brain you are consuming something sweet. The desire for sweet is not being eliminated but rather reinforced. There is a correlation that exists between a person’s regular intake of a flavor and the desired intensity or frequency to have that flavor (2). What America needs to do is eliminate the desire for “sweet” on a regular basis. It was never meant to be a daily staple in our diets!
So we can all agree that this is the extreme case, but what are artificial sweeteners doing to us that can have a short-term impact on our health? There is no question that diet sodas are causing an increase in the obesity rate. There have been numerous studies that have discredited strictly substituting artificial sweeteners for normal sweeteners such as cane sugar had no effect on weight loss (2). If anything these calories are negligible (empty-calories) and will never satisfy a nutritional need thus typically leading to the consumption of additional empty calories. I’ll toast some Doritos to that Diet Coke! This raises a question. Is the introduction of artificial sweeteners having a major influence on the current obesity epidemic in the United States? Let’s take a look at the graph below.
We can definitely see some correlation here. Artificial sweeteners became very popular in our diets towards the late 90’s and hasn’t looked back ever since. Neither has our BMI (body-mass index aka how much fat is on our bodies). A question I always like to ask is what is my food doing for me? I strive to answer this every time I eat or drink. This is not to insinuate we need to be fleshy robots that purely eat to fuel. There is always room for exceptions, but a good habit to form is questioning what the food or drink you are consuming is doing for you. Green tea for sure. Diet Soda, not a thing…
The cause for concern over artificial sweeteners is only growing and I haven’t even gotten into the detrimental effects that they can on our overall health. Hold tight though for more to come!
Pepsi and Coca-Cola killing us slowly?
I know that when I was growing up I had my friend’s houses that I always wanted to go to because the fridge was stocked with Pepsi, Coke, Mountain Dew, Orange soda, and/or Root Beer. I distinctly remember going back and forth from house to house on our sugar highs! Why did I enjoy these houses more than the others? The reason is simple, as a child you want to consume whatever tastes the best, and when the Smith’s were only serving us water, what kid in their right mind wants to go there?!? Sugar tastes amazing and we all wanted to consume as much as we could. Now as adults, we all still wish we could consume sugar all day and every day, but is this added sugar actually killing us?
In our society it is difficult to consume any products that don’t have any added sugar. Go into a grocery store or even your own pantry and look at the ingredients on everyday products. I sometimes find the word “sugar”, but a majority of the time I will find some common added sweeteners such as sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, acesulfame potassium, aspartame (which has more issues that I will touch on in another blog), saccharin, sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol) and newly added neotame. Take a look for yourself!
Why do we enjoy these sweeteners? We enjoy them for the same reason a child enjoys them, they taste great! However these added sugars are giving us empty calories. What are empty calories? “Empty calories” are calories that after consuming them, give us little to no nutritional benefit. The major problem with this “empty calorie” consumption is that our bodies yearn for nutrients. If our bodies don’t obtain these nutrients they remain hungry. Our hunger will not be satiated until our body has met these nutritional demands. Drinking Pepsi, Coke and any other sweetened beverages will supply the body with plenty of empty calories, but also leave plenty of room for additional calories to be consumed. These empty calories will supply us with either quick energy stores, or they will be stored in our bodies as fat.
Why am I asking the question about Pepsi and Coca Cola killing us? Recent studies have shown a direct link of added sugars to cardiovascular disease. (1) I am not saying we need to cut out sugar all together. I am recommending that we try to keep added sugar out of our food as much as we can. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends between 6 and 9 teaspoons of sugar in female and males diets respectively. As a country we average 22 teaspoons of sugar a day (2).
I find that a good way to accomplish reducing our added sugars is by cooking meals from scratch or getting fresh vegetables instead of canned ones, even frozen vegetables are better for us. The more processed our food is the more likely our food has added sugar in it. If we continue to consume this added sugar we will continue to see heart disease rise. We will continue to see our waistline as a whole increase. We will continue to fight the epidemic of obesity and diabetes, which go hand in hand. These chronic diseases are now starting to creep into our youth and as individuals we can stop this if we start by eating less added sugar.
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