Friday, May 11, 2012

She's A Brick...(Ow!) House

Oh yeah. I am still here.

It has been a very interesting stretch of time since my last entry. I won’t bore you with it*, but I do apologize for seemingly abandoning my post. During that time, I had the pleasure of being present on two separate occasions where the friend (two different friends) that I was with turned to another person and spontaneously began bragging on my blog to said person(blush!) It was just the kick in the pants that I needed to kick the crack pipe aside and get back to work!

In reflecting back on the difficulty that I have had making the time to write this entry over the past month, I realize that it is partly the subject that has made me drag my proverbial feet. It is one that I am very passionate about, but that does not usually win me any popularity contests. In fact, it got me in trouble just yesterday. I got called mean. By a Minister. Ouch.

In my last post, How to Eat So Your Kids Will Listen, we spoke about self discipline as a means of setting up a model for good habits in children (please review it…it’s been too long, and most of us do not have enough Omega 3s in our diet to remember). I promised you that I would continue our talk on discipline and how to teach children to not eat themselves into an early grave. Keep in mind for all of you wonderful people out there who do not necessarily have biological children of your own that I could mean children that are your nieces or nephews, or children that you teach in school, that are your neighbors, etc. My children interact with adults on a daily basis who offer them such a profound amount of junk food (the bank, liquor store, school you name it), that they need all of the positive role models that they can get wherever we go…

So now, how to help children eat better. This is the biggest question that I get from my many friends and clients, and my answers may frustrate the hell out of you, but it all comes down to you. Until they can get into a car and drive to the grocery store with several hundred dollars in their pocket, I’d say you have the upper hand in the situation. I have literally done a pantry makeover for a family, thrown out all of the junk cereal and processed foods in their closet, only to go back to their house the next week and see everything we threw away right back in there again (you know who you are!) I asked her if the parent who was not present was the offending shopper, ready to blame her husband for screwing up her plans to get healthier. And she said, “Nope, it was me.” This astounds me. If I do not want my children to eat something, they don’t get it from me (I can’t claim to have 100% control over them when they leave my house, nor do I wish to). Your kids will eat or not eat what is or is not in the house. Mine don’t eat cookies or ice cream more than a few times a year because that’s how rarely they are in my house. For my family, self discipline is about knowing we can buy these things or make them and choosing not to.

“But my kids really like dessert/Applejacks/Icecream/_____!” Tough! That’s like saying “But my drug addicted cousin really loves crystal meth.” Think that’s an extreme metaphor? It’s not. Sugar is as addictive to the body as drugs. So, love your kids enough to detox them. They need your tough love. And that means that you need to be a brick wall when kids push back on you. I get into a lot of trouble that way. (that’s why I got called mean last night). But I don’t give in to push backs. Push backs are not only to be expected, they are a test. Kids don’t really expect you to be a pushover when they push back on you, no matter how angry they are. You see, that is an aspect of child psychology that many people do not know. Even when children scream and rage against you, they are testing your foundation to make sure that it is strong so that they know that they are in a safe place. Are you passing the test? If you give in, and allow yourselves to be “pushed over,” then on the surface you might see a happy child with a cookie, but underneath the surface is the knowledge that their safety net is weak, or for you Christians, your foundation is built on sand, not rock. I learned this behavior with children who were chronically ill in the hospital. The children who had the best coping skills to manage their fear and pain were the ones whose parents would still discipline them and not let them act like brats to the staff, even though they were “sick kids” in the hospital. The Varucca Salts, who got away with murder, definitely suffered more psychologically and probably even physically. It's not a coincidence.

How you do food is how you will do Life. And how you do Life is how you will do food. So if you want your children to be happy and self-disciplined in school, sports, music, health promotion, illness management, business, relationships, marriage, etc, all of these lessons will apply. What are you going to teach them? That immediate gratification is more valuable than lifelong health and vigor? That self-discipline is hard and not worth learning? That long-term frustration is good enough for them, because you didn’t show them the value of delayed gratification to go for better things? If you think that I am making a mountain out of a molehill, that is the essence of what The Compound Effect (Darren Hardy) teaches us. Molehills become Mountains over time and we never see them coming until it is too late.

People need to listen to an idea 6 or 7 times before they really hear it. Children (and some adults) need to taste a new food/flavor/texture 6 or 7 times before they really taste it, get used to it, don’t gag on it, don’t hate it, however you want to spin it I don’t care. The goal here is putting nutritious whole food into your body and keeping processed carbs and sugar out of it. If you are just joining us, see some of my earlier posts about foods to embrace and foods to avoid. So, at the risk of sounding mean, (I’m a big girl, I can take it) I’m going to say this as nicely as possible:

Suck it up. Become a brick wall. You are 100% responsible for your health and largely responsible for the future health of your children until they can take over. And I say that to you with all of the love in my heart.
Currently Reading: Oh who I am I kidding? I have not read a damn thing. I am on autopilot these days. I have a stack of books a mile high next to my bed, but this summer we have very few obligations, and I intend to catch up on many of them.

*migraines. Lots of them.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to Eat So Your Kids Will Listen

I have been thinking about you guys a lot lately. My life has taken a very interesting new direction over the past few weeks, and while I have been occupied with that, I have also been eager to get another post up. So what’s new? My kids and I have joined the Awake Project, a program that Reverend John Crestwell of the UUCA has started to mentor a group of adolescent boys living in a housing project in Annapolis. In addition, I also go with him to the High School once a week and try to help a few boys stay out of jail who did not receive the benefits of said mentoring. My primary role, besides being a person who shows up and keeps her word to these kids, is to help nourish them and teach them something about how to feed themselves as a part of learning to be successful in Life. A tall order for ghetto kids. We stared out by having a family-style dinner for 18. I had to figure out how to feed us all for under $60, keeping in mind the pickiness of boys I don’t yet know. I have to say, it worked out pretty well: I made scrambled eggs with cheese, homemade wheat bread, raw almonds, carrots and cucumbers, and apples and Clementines for dessert. We drank water. They did a great job with the meal: I instituted the “No thank you bite” rule, and rewarded them with a certificate saying they tried something new plus their commentary about it. For some of these little dudes, this food was odd. My favorite quote of the evening was:

Kid: “Miss Ashley, the Mac and cheese is not very good.”
Me: “That’s because they are eggs.”

I thought that my bread was going to be the hardest thing for them, and they devoured 3 loaves, telling me it was the best bread ever (well, duh! my daughter said…) So, I relearned a lesson I repeat over and over in life which is to not assume anything about anyone.

Our purpose in bringing these boys together with mentors each week is to provide consistent relationships with successful people, who will teach them how to play the game of life and find success, even if that means simply staying out of jail. Revered John feels, and I wholeheartedly agree, that food is the foundation of this program, which may come as a surprise to some people. For me, Nutrition is not a piece of the puzzle: it is the table that it rests on. Without the proper fuel running through your veins, nothing will work right. How people can bring groups of kids together, and fill their brains with high fructose corn syrup and food dye, and then expect them to behave, is ludicrous. My 3rd grader started her state standardized testing last week. Every day her teacher handed out a different piece of candy to reward them, and luckily, she said no 1 out of 4 days on her own accord. (We’re still working on it…) I can recall countless days taking the bus to work in West Philadelphia, watching all of the kids eat their breakfast at the bus stop, which most often consisted of a coke and either a Little Debbie snack cake (only $0.25!) or a bag of Doritos. If I ate that, I would be comatose for the rest of the day. It’s not only athletes who need to think about this issue as it reflects on their performance. No matter who you are, and what you wish to accomplish in Life, Nutrition will either help you succeed, or become an obstacle in the way of failing energy, frequent illness, long-term body-image issues (my polite way of saying making a bad impression and/or losing self-confidence because you are overweight), or chronic illness and early death. I realize that I am prone to embellish, but I am dead serious about how extreme that may sound.

Another key facet to the Awake Project is good discipline, which these children lack. Good discipline should always have the eventual goal of self-discipline. Just as my daughter has been held on a tight leash by me for the past 9 years, when she is out in the world on her own, she is learning to just say no to the Tootsie pops. And that is why I chose to write about this, for we are not going to be able to move forward on our journey until we shed some light on this subject. If you wish to make healthier choices for you and your family (and I assume you do if you have stuck with me so far), you need to understand that without good discipline and self-discipline, no change will last. That is the bad news. The good news is that I believe that anyone can attain these things, and that mastering this skill will make almost anything possible for you and for them. More on that later. What separates the average American from the most successful people in the world is impeccable self-discipline, not “natural talent.” Natural talent in lazy people becomes a wasted gift. And Andrew Carnegie knew nothing about steel…I know a lot of people who are awesome at starting things, and very much less awesome at continuing them long-term. It’s practically the National pastime to join a gym in January and stop going by March. It is not hard to understand why this happens. We are a culture of immediate gratification. We like to be excited and entertained, and new things are usually both of those. But the cold hard truth is that success at anything “is determined not by how you start, but by how you continue over long periods of time” (-Darren Hardy, editor of Success Magazine). If this subject interests you, please read The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy and The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen. So what kind of a person are you? Do you never start anything because you know you won’t finish? Or are you a serial starter-stopper? Perhaps you are one of the rare individuals who practices consistent behavior over time (and no, getting really good at Angry Birds does not count). It is important that you know this, because it very much impacts your ability to discipline your family.

Your kids are watching you. “What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say” (-Ralph Waldo Emerson). Telling them to make healthy choices that you yourself do not make is absolutely pointless, because they will leave your house and have to govern themselves. I cannot tell you how many parents tell me that they feed their kids better than they feed themselves. The message that you send to your children when you eat differently than they do (not including dietary restrictions due to allergy and or meat preference like Vegetarianism) is either one of the following:

When I eat healthier than I make you eat, then you are not as important as me.
When I make you eat healthier than I myself eat, then 1. I am not important and/or 2. Good Nutrition is something painful that adults no longer have to do.

Since my days of educating newly diagnosed diabetic children in the hospital, I have implored the parents to feed the whole family the diabetic way, since it would make them all incredibly healthy long-term. When I help my clients detox for 28 days, I give them the same advice, telling them to make the foods they cannot consume an optional side dish for everyone else.
Family dinners are an absolutely essential component of long-term success in kids: they have done numerous studies on it. This is why we have made it a part of the Awake Project. If you regularly have a sit down meal, then pat yourself on the back. If you do not, start yesterday. It doesn’t have to be dinner: it can be breakfast if that is the only time you have. When you sit down as a family for healthy meals, you teach them how to eat right, how to converse, your values, manners…you teach them that unplugged family time is important (for God’s sake, don’t answer the phone!), and therefore that they are important. I love what Chris Rock’s Mom said about family dinner: “it is a fact-finding mission.” This is where your kids talk to you about the most important influences on their lives: their friends. It is your chance to maintain a modicum of influence over the choices they make when they are not with you. If you do not do the right things, they will not listen to what you say.

Discipline…To Be Continued!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Whole-ly S***

First off, I would like to thank all of my new readers for your enthusiastic feedback! I know there are more of you than it appears, because you read through my Facebook posts. I promise I will figure out how to notify you of posts when you sign up as a member of my site. And congratulations once again to Lori A. who won a phone consultation in my raffle! Another chance is coming in March, so keep reading and keep referring (and sign up, please so you can enter the raffle!)

In my last post, The F Word, we discussed the War against Fat, and how it has been about as successful as the War in Vietnam. Hopefully that has identified a whole gamut of food to not eat – but what to eat? Readers asked me to share what my kids eat for lunch. Menu ideas are going to be an ongoing part of this blog, but first we need to get on the same page. The fact is, whole food eating can be some of the simplest “cooking” that you do. So let’s talk about what a whole food is and isn’t.

Whole foods, as I define them, are as close to their natural state as possible. Vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, olives - things you can eat in their raw state, are the upper echelon of whole foods. Out of the ground or off a tree and into your mouth – it doesn’t get any better than that. In most cases, the less you cook a food, the more nutrient value it has (you see? dumping a bowl of raw vegetables on the dinner table is healthy, not lazy…). However, some foods need to be cooked, and that brings us to the second level: minimally processed.

Hummus and Baba Ganoush would be pretty close to whole, because legumes and eggplant need to be cooked to be eaten, but the remainder of the ingredients are whole or minimally processed (tahini is just smooshed sesame seeds). Meat, legumes, and vegetables that shouldn’t be eaten raw should be cooked, each according to their level of safety, in order to maximize flavor, retain the most nutrients, and minimize toxicity (foreshadowing: we’re going to discuss certain raw vegetables and legumes in upcoming posts) As a general rule, vegetables should be steamed or sautéed, not boiled, because boiling leaches out nutrients, and because it really improves the flavor. I usually sauté vegetables in some form of fat (butter or olive oil), garlic, and spice. I am a pseudo-flexitarian (A flexitarian is a person who eats mainly vegetarian with occasional meat.) I could never be accused of being a vegetarian, but I try to keep my animal fat in the proportion of a small side dish, balanced with lots of produce. I also would caution you to limit your meat portion to 4 ounces or less, and try to not eat meat every day. Luckily, naturally-raised
meat is self-limiting due to the expense, so buy good meat, but less of it or less often. (Meat eating is a health and environmental issue that warrants future discussion.)

Lastly, there are some healthy foods to be eaten in moderate amounts that by definition are not whole foods. Bread, cereals, crackers, cheese, yogurt and anything created with a “process” that involves altering the ingredients and or cooking it. Plain whole milk yogurt (preferably unpasteurized milk, but it makes for soupy yogurt) is somewhat close to whole, but is still a processed food. It should be eaten in moderation. And now, let me make my feelings on the matter perfectly clear: yogurt with fruit in it that you buy in little bottles, tubes or cups is NOT health food and should be treated as suspect! These products are loaded with sugar, and are at best a dessert. Low fat yogurt, or worse, low sugar (they use aspartame, a known carcinogen) are to be avoided. The American Dairy Council has done a very effective job of convincing you that you need to eat yogurt to get enough calcium and now even probiotics. There are better sources of both of these things. If you love the occasional yogurt, stick to Greek or whole plain and skip any low fat variety (remember: LOW FAT means MORE PROCESSED). Plain yogurt is a probiotic food, but it needs to be plain, because the sugar kills the good bacteria in your gut and feeds yeast. If that is not your concern, add fresh fruit to make fruity yogurt.

So, how do you expand your palate of whole foods? If you want introduce your family to a new food, learn the ideal way to prepare it. This is key to your success. I know some accidental flexitarians who rarely eat meat in part because they are lousy cooks! (You know who you are…) They cook meat to death and wonder why it doesn’t taste good. I don’t know anything harder to eat than dried out white chicken meat. Let your meat frequency be a choice and not a result of bad cooking! We are all aware of the risks of undercooking, but overcooking is not inherently better or safer. Overcooking vegetables kills the nutrients, and sometimes the flavor. If you overcook brussel sprouts, they become bitter. If you don’t, they are very sweet. When meat is excessively charred, it creates carbon blackening, and that carbon has been shown in studies to be a carcinogen (a substance that increases your risk of cancer).

How do I learn to prepare new foods? I mainly use the Internet: is one of my favorites, though it is for foodies and the recipes tend to be more complicated. Occasionally I will use, but there are way too many recipes that say “add 1 can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup…” for my taste. (Next!) One of the best resources is America’s Test Kitchen, whose show, books and websites teach you the best way to cook anything. Cooking shows are fabulous, family-friendly entertainment. My kids love to watch them with my husband on weekends – it exposes them to beautiful, whole foods, and the passion and work that goes in to preparing them. Having a loving relationship with your food is essential in living healthy – if you “hate healthy food” and battle your cravings for junk, then it will always feel like a War that you are losing.

OK, here is a list of some of my favorite whole foods that I use to create quick and easy meals, according to my memory which is faulty at best. Keep in mind, I always choose organic and I try to eat seasonally, but it is harder during the winter. In order of nutrient value and therefore quantity:

Raw Nuts & Organic Produce: all fruits, vegetables like cucumbers, peppers, carrots, celery, avocados, sugar snap peas, tomatoes, lettuce, raw walnuts, almonds, cashews, seeds (there is always a bowl of raw nuts on my kitchen table for unlimited snacking). And olives. Olives stuffed with garlic are like bon bons to me.

Minimally processed: Steamed or Sauteed Vegetables like spinach, kale, broccoli, mushrooms & onions, mung beans, artichokes, asparagus, frozen vegetables, artichoke hearts, roasted peppers, green beans, brussel sprouts, cabbage, sour kraut, roasted winter squash, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted nuts and seeds, nut butters. I will do edemame occasionally, which is a soybean in its true form. Otherwise, I avoid soy until I can learn more about how much of it is being genetically modified (we suspect it’s a LOT.)

Protein: Meat that is grassfed or has a high animal welfare rating (a whole foods rating system) with no antibiotics or hormones added, and no nitrates. Wild caught fish (not farm raised) with green sustainability rating (it’s tough! We don’t eat a lot of fish…) Wild smoked Salmon is a wonderful, quick food. When I ignore the environmental impact, I also stir fry shrimp and scallops. Our favorite special treat is sushi: the kids call it manna from Heaven…Hard-boiled eggs are a great fast food. I love chicken broth, and I have been known to drink it out of a coffee mug as I walk around. I make my own chicken broth by simmering chicken parts for a long time, and I do not skim off the fat or the gelatin. Beans are good, but I am moving away from canned beans (more on that later) and learning to soak. It’s been a rough start. And, full disclosure here, my kids and I are thoroughly addicted to Arbonne’s Vegan protein shakes (soy, dairy & gluten free). They are magic, and we consume them every day.

Grains: Whole wheat as much as possible (I sometimes bake my own bread, and usually do 2 parts wheat to 1 part white flour), Ezekiel sprouted grain sandwich bread (my kids’ favorite), polenta, millet, brown & wild rice, but even I do white rice sometimes because my husband prefers it. We eat minimal amounts of pasta (maybe once a month), and I prefer spinach, quinoa or whole wheat pasta. Stuffed grape leaves (with rice) are great fast food, but this is a canned and high sodium product, so it’s a rare treat.

Dairy: Plain Greek yogurt, raw cheese, goat cheese, butter (of course!), Almond milk, coconut milk, as for cow…well, we’ll address that later…in the meantime, remember that the lower the fat content, the more processed the milk, and it is not better for you. Drink less of the higher fat milk, avoid homogenized milk, and try to substitute almond or coconut milk as much as possible. (Yes, milk 101 coming soon…)

Fats: Butter, Nut oils (almond and walnut), olive, palm, sesame, coconut oils. I avoid “vegetable oil” (it’s 100% soy), corn, and canola. Oil lesson is on the list too...

Rare: Baked goods, sweets, food out of a box, or any pre prepared foods (but even I am a sucker for Trader Joes when I need a break from myself…)

So, what to feed your kids? Well, start by taking a hard look at what they are eating. Does it mainly come out of a box? How many of the things on my list do they eat? If you can, write out a list of what they typically eat with whole foods in one column and processed foods in the other. For extra credit, create a third column called Sugar and start to take stock of how many “treats” they get (for extra, extra credit, do it for yourself too). For example, “Nutrigrain bar” is a processed sugar food, and would go in the third column (yes!) Effective immediately, give them as much of the whole foods that they like, even if it is the same two or three things, start minimizing the processed foods, and make a plan to start introducing new whole foods to the family routine. If you need to use processed foods, at least make sure they are organic, or made with food--ingredients you can pronounce: NO food dyes, preservatives, or chemical sugars (high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, aspartame, splenda, etc.) Acceptable sweeteners to be taken in moderation are cane sugar, honey, agave nectar, stevia, xylitol. But cut waaaay back. In my house, dessert is given for excellent behavior and good eating no more than twice a week, and if they got a cupcake at school, that counts. Fresh fruit is always an option for a meal well eaten, and when kids aren’t hopped up on chemical sugars, this is a real treat. My kids eat berries like they are Skittles. How sugar is truly impacting your family is a big topic that is forthcoming. For now, treat it like Heroin, and put yourself and your kids on a rehab-like wean ASAP.

Parenting tip: In my house, we have a “no thank you bite” rule. You can only refuse to eat something when you take one bite of it. Every time. No exceptions. After 6 or 7 no thank you bites, it’s amazing what your kids will start to eat. But you need to set a good example! Picky parents will breed picky kids. So be transparent with them: let them know you are trying something new, learn how to prepare it, and don’t bite off more than you can chew...(ha, ha)
My kids are responsible for making their own lunch every evening. I got sick of hearing “I didn’t want that!” It works great, and I only need to interfere from time to time: “No, you can’t make a jelly sandwich...”

Today my daughter took leftover mashed sweet potato and an artichoke & olive chicken sausage in a thermos, a red apple, and a thermos of water. She had a bag of multigrain crackers for a snack.

My son made a raw honey and peanut butter "quesadilla" on a whole wheat tortilla, raw sugar snap peas, a Clementine orange and a sugar free coconut milk.

Currently Reading: Eat to Live by Joel Furhman. I'm seeing it through, but I have issues with it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The F Word

Poor Dana.*

(*I change the names of my friends to protect the innocent...)

I saw Dana in passing the other day, and she was very proud to tell me that she has lost a few pounds lately (great!) doing Weight Watchers (oh...) and was eating things like fat free cheese (GASP!) at which point my look of horror shut her down. In her defense, she had not yet read my second post (The Whole Truth About Googala, and if you haven't either, you'd better catch up, because the information train is rollin', people!). She was understandably frustrated and confused as to why I was admonishing her for something that she was actually paying money for people to tell her, and is considered common sense among many people who are trying to be "healthier."

Back to Marketing 101. If the advice is free, then it is less likely to have an agenda behind it. I do this purely out of the love in my heart for you. Now some of you may argue that there is no such thing as free advice, so if you wish to count the awesome feelings I get when I take the fat free cheese out of people's refrigerator, then consider it fair compensation for goods and services rendered.

So, Dana, this one is for you.

In my last post, I alluded to "nutritional theories" (to be exact, they are hypotheses at best) that have caused the extreme prevalence of Googala in many "diet foods," and the absolute best place to start is with the F word: Fat. Or rather the F-ing F word: Fat Free. The hypothesis is that eating dietary fat causes a person to be fat, and that if you remove the fat from food, people will get less fat. Unfortunately, Dana, and the rest of you, this hypothesis is what we in the Industry like to refer to as bull s***! Now, this post has taken longer than I would have liked to write, because I wanted to make sure I did a fair amount of research to back up my claims. It all started in the 1940s with Ancel Keys and the Lipid Hypothesis…

Uh oh. This is about to get very boring. OK look, I want to inform you, but this is supposed to be light and entertaining as well, so I am going to cliff note it for you, and for those of you who are sticklers for things like facts, I will give you homework…OK?

· Circa 1940: Lipid Hypothesis says eating fat and cholesterol causes heart disease.

· 1940s-present: Plethora of fake foods, rancid oils and margarines replace butter, raw whole milk, cheese, lard, etc. (Homework: go compare the labels of regular Hellman’s Mayonnaise and Fat Free Mayonnaise. Then for bonus points take a look at Mayonnaise made with “healthy” olive oil. Scary.)

· 1994: A girl in my college dorm told me she couldn’t eat avocados because they are “too fattening.”

· Present Day: Obesity rates in adults and especially children have skyrocketed. Diabetes Type II (a largely preventable disease) rates have skyrocketed in adults and children. And the CDC reports Life Expectancy on the decline (Google it. It’s all there)

· Conclusion: The Hypothesis is probably wrong!

If you wish to do your own fact finding, start with this foundation, which is doing very good work with whole food education: Then read anything by Michael Pollan (The Omnivores Dilemma, In Defense of Food) or watch his movie, Food, Inc. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution is a great show and he has cookbooks and a website to support his foundation. I am about to start reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, so I will be reviewing that for you, but I hear from many whole food enthusiasts that it is a must read. There are endless sources of whole food enthusiasts, as there are also endless sources of food religion zealots and Fat War proponents. Those of us who do not have the time nor the intellect to sift through this much conflicting data must step back from the rhetoric and try to use our common sense.

Some of you may be suspicious of the refuting of the Lipid Hypothesis due to in large part the number of medical people who tout it. As one who has participated in medical research in my past life, I will tell you that “evidence based medicine” is a lot less evidence based than you might think. Personal bias, cuts in funding, drop-out rates, poor data entry, understaffing, the size of the patient groups being studied, and most importantly who is funding it and what is their agenda can all affect the results. People hear a report on the news (“A new study showed that…”) or hear about it from a secondary source on the Internet or in a book and the idea is accepted as Gospel, without any knowledge of the source of the study or how good it was. Most of us are not qualified to judge scientific research, so as a basic guideline, if you hear of a study done in a major publication, such as the NEJM, Pediatrics, JAMA, then it is probably good science. If you are poking around on the Internet and come across someone’s blog (uh, except for mine…) then be cautious.

Doctors are so busy with disease, they have very little time to do good fact finding about Nutrition, and really, who is out there funding that research? The only people with the money to do that are the large AgraBusinesses who are creating all of the googala. Also, I know it’s hard to believe, but doctors have a hard time admitting they were wrong: it is hard to get into medical school but do you know how hard it is to get out? Very. Even bad doctors get saved to save face…(In case you are thinking I am a bitter ex-Nurse, many of these thoughts on the Medical Profession are the opinions of two of the best doctors I have ever known. I will be interviewing them in future posts…) Though many, esteemed heart surgeons are coming forth and admitting that the Fat Wars have failed us miserably, as of this date (2/21/12) the American Heart Association has still not made an official statement, and are still pushing their “Heart Smart” label on a lot of googala. I’m sure it has nothing to do with their being too busy cutting people open to deal with this issue properly. Baby’s got to eat, you know…In case you think I just hate doctors, I am not saying that doctors are bad: there are great ones and terrible ones just like every other profession in the world. I am saying that for many of them, Nutrition has not been a priority in their education (some schools have as little as 2 hours of Nutrition education) and so they simply do not know enough about it. They should therefore, refrain from addressing it. If your doctor tells you that eating Special K and Dannon Light are healthy for you…run.

But aside from the doctors, I have a very hard time trusting the results of actual Nutrition studies, even if they were done perfectly, when the people in them are eating fake foods! How can we claim to have a truthful understanding of the body’s natural response to a phenomenon, when they are consuming meat with hormones and antibiotics, produce with pesticides, pasteurized milk, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup and food dyes, etc… The sad truth is, we probably can’t. But what we do know is that things are getting oh-so-very-worse at an alarming rate, and we need to do something very different. And at this point, very different is re-training our brains to see that a paragraph of chemicals is not and I repeat NOT better for your body than good old fashioned butter, whole milk and cheese. Since I started eating whole foods I have lost weight, in case you are worried about jumping in.

BUT, keep in mind that you cannot eat these things every day, and sit at your desk all day, and expect to look like a runway model. Our ancestors moved around a lot! And we can’t fake the food just to avoid moving our tushies. We need to stick to whole foods, eat mostly plants and nuts and protein and less dairy and grains, and have the appropriate level of exercise in our lives to burn off the calories and keep us at a healthy weight.

And that is advice you can take to the bank…for free.
Latest recipe: I made the white bean hummus, and it was delicious, but I did not use Joel Fuhrman's recipe, because he likes to stick Dijon Mustard in everything for flavor. I used the Moosewood Cookbook's recipe with soaked white beans instead of garbanzo. It was delicious, and the kids inhaled it.

Currently Reading: Sigh. It's still Harry Potter with the kids. I promise to start something about Nutrition before my next post...

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Whole Truth About Googala

My daughter, excited to try the new fennel soup recipe, and said fennel trying to soften up. It's so pretty, but hard to beat into submission...

In order for us to take this journey together, there are a few things we need to clear up first. You may have noticed, in my inaugural post (Why blog, why now?), that I referred to a string of "food religions" that I have been exploring and comparing. What you may or may not have noticed is what was missing from that list, such as Low Fat, Low Cal, Portion Control, South Beach, Atkins, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, ________(insert latest diet craze here). This is because for me, and hopefully for you as well, these are not options of consideration. The nutritional theories that support these diets are much of the reason why googala is so present in supposedly healthy diets, and keeping well-meaning people fat, sick, and miserable. (By the way, this is a tell-it-like-it-is blog. Not for the overly sensitive...just FYI...) And so, dear readers, we must go back to the beginning. Back to the conversation that I had with my friend, when the word googala was invented.

My friend Erica is an extremely intelligent Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. She and I worked together in my past Life at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia on a Gastrointestinal and Endocrine unit. You would think that this makes us experts in food and nutrition, but sadly, it does not. Stay tuned for more on that one...But, I digress. Erica was experiencing skin breakouts, and I, being her Skin Care Consultant, was asking her what she had been eating lately. (Why, you ask? Oh readers, we have so much to learn together! Enjoy the journey.) She told me that she has been eating "reasonably well-balanced meals with enought fruits and vegetables, and treats in moderation." "But how much processed food are you eating?" I asked her. To which she responded why does it matter? If she is eating enough of the good stuff, why isn't she allowed to have a store bought cookie for dessert? And this is what I told her:

"This is not a meritocracy. Your body is a machine that was designed to run on whole foods. It doesn't recognize non-food, and it doesn't know what to do with it. When you eat an apple, your body says: "oh, an apple! I know how to digest that and what it's for." If you eat almonds, it says "I know what to do with that!" Your body recognizes the water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, etc. in whole foods, and handles them accordingly. Now say you eat a processed cookie with chemical dyes and sugars: your body says, "this is...googala...I don't know what to do with googala..." But it is very smart and resourceful, and it has a system for dealing with foreign matter or trash. So, the googala goes through and the liver and kidneys and the gut and skin do what they can to handle it. And on it goes: "Fiber, Vitamin, A, proteins...woah! Googala. Um, ok let's put that aside..." So it doesn't matter how much you feel you deserve to eat googala by offsetting it with other foods, the fact is, your body was not designed to thrive by digesting it. Our body is brilliant: it will handle the processing of googala every-once-in-a-while, without seriously taxing our machinery. However, are most of us using true moderation? (hint: it's not once a day, or even once a week!) No. Most people live on googala, with whole foods as the exception. And now they are living with an extraordinary gammit of illnesses that they are convinced is just "coincidence" or even "normal" for people of their age/race/gender/bone structure/fill-in-the-blank. It's like putting motor oil in your gas tank and saying, "What? My tank is full! Why isn't it running properly? Something must be wrong with my motor..."

OK, it's a goofy metaphor. But it worked: I enlightened Erica, and googala became a household name. I began to identify forbidden foods as googala for my children, and I made sure to take the time to eplain to them why foods they were previousy allowed in moderation were now forbidden and/or replaced. We will be talking more about this process in future posts, but I will leave you with a memory of one of the best conversations my kids and I had on this subject.

My son struggles a lot more than his sister with resisting the temptation of processed sugar, and one time he asked me, in utter frustration, "Mom, why do they make googala taste sooooo good?" Now, I have been discussing the concept of Marketing with my children, because I wanted to raise them with a lot of awareness about their status as a consumer, and how most of what we see and hear is designed to influence our emotions and part us with our money. If you haven't started this kind of education with your children, please do. It saves you a lot of "But why? I want it!!!!" conversations in the future...So when he asked me that question, I went straight to the Marketing answer: "Because if you knew how sick it makes you, you would never buy it. They have to make it taste really good in the hopes that you will ignore what your body needs." Was he angry that I was telling him he couldn't eat the crappy candy he got from school? No! With that explanation, he kissed me on the cheek, and said "I'm so glad you're my Mom."

It takes a lot of work, people, but aren't they worth it? Aren't you?

Latest new recipe: My own invention! Cauliflower, fennel potato soup. I love the look of fennel, but am struggling to make it tender enough to enjoy eating it. I sauteed it until soft, but very, very browned. I used it in place of leeks in a cauliflower, leek, potato soup recipe we love. It's a pureed soup, but I left the potatos cubed like a chowder. The flavor was very interesting...We liked it the first night, but it doesn't make for good leftovers. The kids ate some no thank you bites, and my husband said the flavor was good, the color was off-putting.

Currently reading: OK, I admit it. It's Harry Potter The Goblet of Fire. I love to read aloud to the kids in lieu of watching TV, and I have waited for years to get them HP ready. It has shoved Eat To Live to the backburner. But I will be trying the White Northern Bean Hummus recipe soon, and I even bought dried beans to soak so I can avoid the canned version, which has high levels of BPA. A new step for me...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Why blog, why now?

Let me explain the title of this blog.

I am what many people would refer to as a "health nut" in that I take steps to prevent or avoid illness via the food my family eats, and the products that we use in our home and on our body. However, I always found the term "health nut" to be a mostly positive one where the person in question actually enjoys the process. Oh sure, we all know how irritating these people can be, as anyone who lives by a strict code can be to people who don't "get it." But this form of self-satisfaction often comes from a place of smugness, when one believes oneself to have found The Answer, and bathes in the glory of the Light of Truth (cue heavenly shaft and angels singing).

I am not that kind of nut. I am the other kind. The crazy kind.

I started out believing myself to be the former, until I recently found myself drowning in conflicting information. For several years now, I have had one simple mission: discover how to feed my family. The irony of this dilemma is not lost on me. As Americans, we are no more than 20 feet from a snack at any given point of our day. Our grain silos are so full of corn and soy, we are having to invent new ways of using it. There is soy in your printer ink. Our grocery stores are so choked with options, that we give food to children to make arts and crafts with. (Here's a fun little game! Go visit a homeless shelter sometime and bring macaroni, paint, and yarn to teach the kids how to make necklaces. That look on their face? Shock.) No, I know I have options. Waaaay too many options. What I mean is, how do I feed them in a way that nourishes their body, does not contribute to excess weight, future heart disease/cancer/diabetes, maximizes flavor and nutritional content, stays in my food budget, and doesn't rape and pillage ethnic groups or the Earth in the process? Because there are a lot of opinions on that matter, and they are all in direct conflict with one another.

Whole Foods? Vegetarian? Vegan? Paleo? Flexitarian? Seasonal? Organic & Grassfed? Local only? And my personal favorite: Everything in moderation?

Each one has their scientific evidence to support their own particular brand of crazy. I have flirted with each of these "food religions," some longer than others, some with intention, and some accidental. Except now, I am dragging 3 people along with me, and they do not share my Holy Grail-type attitude about this quest.

Mothers have it hard these days. And I don't mean stalk it and kill it hard. Or hurry to gather it in an early frost hard. Or spend all day, every day in the kitchen hard. Or there isn't enough hard. I do have enough perspective to be very aware and grateful about the privilege of my status as a middle-class American, knowing that Mothers in Africa risk being raped and killed to walk several miles for water. But it is not like it used to be. Life used to be simple: you ate whole foods in a seasonal, local manner because that was the only choice you had. Sure the blueberries and tomatoes are in the store in January, but should you buy them? They will reduce your risk of cancer, but they are depleting all of the water in Mexico and taking out the Mexicans who grow them (Remember those people who some of us are trying to prevent from coming here? The ones who pick all of the produce because we won't take those jobs?) Also, many of us work full-time or at least part-time, and we all know that the plethora of convenience foods that have sprung out of the Feminist Movement are killing us slowly. Our generation of children are the first to have a lower life expectancy than we do because of food related diseases (aka preventable). Seriously. We may not be ignoring our kids all day to keep up with extraordinary tasks of survival, but man are we busy! Not too many of us have the time to be investing hours of research, shopping, preparation, and execution that many of these food religions seem to require. And yet, knowing that we may be responsible for the future slow death by disease of our families, how can we be nonchalant about this subject? "The 1992 Bogalusa Heart Study confirmed the existence of fatty plaques and streaks (the beginning of atherosclerosis) in most children and teenagers (Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman)." Yikes.

I was lucky to get 3 months maternity leave, work part-time on weekends, and have a partner with a good job to support me financially while I "womaned" the home front. I breastfed both kids well past 1 year of age, and ate what I considered to be a healthy diet (ah, the good old days!) Still, my children have had food sensitivities, food allergies, eczema, asthma, digestion problems (and that is all I am going to say about that!), and developmentally appropriate phases of "Eeeeeeeeeew! I am NOT going to eat that!" And it just so happens that my kids are not picky, and eat extremely well compared to the general population. I honestly do not know how some of you all do it! (Think you know picky? See my friend Emily's blog "Wheels on the Bus" for her experience with one of her three children. Her hilarious cookbook "Cooking on the Edge of Insanity" came from many of her posts.) The more I learn, the less I know, and the panic is starting to rise.

And this is where you come in. I am standing at a crossroads. I don't have the answers, though many of you turn to me for them. I am usually the one people ask advice of. I am the one who cleans out my friends' pantries when they can't take being tired and overweight another second. I am the one who was asked to take a field trip of people to the grocery store to teach them all how to read labels (I'm not kidding. There were about 10 of us...) And so, after much prodding from friends to post my food journey, I take this plunge to share with you my successes and failures. In particular, I will be addressing the unique challenges of waging World War III against all of the people trying to shove sugar down your kids throats wherever you go. Right now, my strongest tool is the "I can't control them but I can control you" (my child) theory. It works, but it takes will and commitment. My kids are the ones that politely say "no thank you" when they are offered candy wherever they go, and I don't even have to remind them that this is our stock answer anymore (well, most of the time). We even made up a word in my family: googala.

Goo-gah-lah: noun. Non-food. Chemical or fake. Example - Child: "Mom, can I eat this blue lolly pop?" Mom: "No, it's googala." Child: "Oh."

It's brilliant. It has reduced my argument to two irrefutable words. My children know that these words are my last. I have friends now who are starting to use the word in their homes. Go ahead - use it in good health. We're all in this together.


Latest New Recipe: Blue Apple Nut Oatmeal from "Eat to Live" by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. A fruit- heavy, grain-light hot cereal made with bananas, blueberries, chopped apples and walnuts. Oh, and plenty of cinnamon.

Reaction: Daughter ate the whole bowl saying "it's okay," son griped about the blueberries being "weird" when it was hot, but ate it when it was cool (he prefers cold oatmeal as a rule). I ate a bowl and agreed the frozen blueberries were a bit rubbery, but got through it all and felt satisfied. The walnuts definitely make the dish. Husband did not eat. Breakfast to him is bacon eggs and coffee. Or just coffee. Sigh.

Currently Reading: Eat to Live, Joel Fuhrman, MD. Interesting so far, but he has no concern for the environment, and advises us all to eat fruits and vegetables 365 regardless of location or season.