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Posts Tagged ‘health food’

How (and Why) To Cut Out Sugar

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably already aware of just how toxic sugar is in the human body. But if you’re not yet convinced, let’s review some convincing reasons to eliminate sugar from our diets.


Disease. We know that sugar causes Type 2 Diabetes and drastically affects blood glucose levels. Sugar also causes inflammation in the body, which plays a main role in nearly all chronic conditions. It depletes the immune system and makes you the victim of every cold and flu going around. And because your immune system is down, your allergies are likely to be worse. (I’m not talking about a fatal allergy to peanuts, but more like seasonal allergies.)

Daily Life. The alarm goes off. You’re tired. You have coffee, maybe breakfast if you’re lucky. An hour or so goes by, and you’re tired. You eat lunch. You’re tired, and still hungry. Tiredness and hunger are almost always a result of drops in blood sugar. Provided we got adequate sleep the night before, we should not be tired all day long. This only happens when our bodies are not running on appropriate fuel. Sugar, and foods that act like sugar in the body, constantly send our blood sugar plummeting leaving us starving and exhausted. Imagine a weekday where you’re alert, satiated, and a nap doesn’t even sound that appealing. It is possible! And what about stomach upsets? Bloating and gas are just a few of the stomach symptoms that are affected by sugar. Our digestive system is filled with bacteria, both “good” and “bad” organisms, that keep things running properly. When the “bad” bacteria takes control, it causes digestive distress. It should come as no surprise at this point that bad bacteria feed on sugar. Sugar and refined carbohydrates are a sure way to sustain these harmful organisms and make your digestive system weak and vulnerable.

The Addiction. Sugar is addictive. It sends our brains and bodies the same signals as heroin, cocaine, and nicotine. The more we have, the more our body craves it, and the more we feel that we can’t get by without it. Luckily, addictions can be broken. It’s not easy, but a sugar addiction can be beat much quicker than one to nicotine, and the rewards are endless.

A few more thoughts before we start. Don’t cry over over the fact that you’ll never be able to have your mom’s Christmas cookies again. Don’t mourn the loss of your favorite blueberry muffin from that cute bakery. Once you break the addiction, you can treat yourself now and then. That means once a week or every other week, you can have one poisonous item that you love. You’ll probably feel terrible afterwards, and it will be a sweet reminder of how nice it is to live without sugar.

Define “sugar.” Sugar is a carbohydrate, arguably the worst kind. All carbohydrates behave similarly in the body; they’re burned quickly and cause a blood sugar drop. How fast and severe the drop is depends on the kind of carbohydrate. Pure sugar is the worst offender. Refined carbs, like white bread (or any bread with white flour), pasta, and white rice, are the next worst. I would also put fruit in this category. While fruit is healthy, it is still sugar, and it is counterproductive to be consuming any of the addictive substance when you’re trying to break the addiction. Lastly, complex carbohydrates like whole grains and sweet potatoes spike your blood sugar the least. However, these are still carbohydrates and still spike your blood sugar. They should be kept in moderation. I am an advocate for a low carb diet overall for this reason, but I understand that everyone is coming from a different place on the journey to health. If sugar and refined carbs (which behave like sugar in the body) are all you can manage to eliminate, start there.

Week One: Withdrawal.
Your first week will be difficult. If you’re lucky (and not too addicted), the difficulty will end after that. You will experience withdrawal in the form of intense cravings. Don’t worry. It’s normal, and when it passes, the energy and vitality you will feel is priceless. The most important thing is to stick to your guns. Remind yourself that it is only one week until the cravings stop and you can survive one week.

Things to Avoid:
Anything that is obviously sugary. Candy, desserts, soda, pastries. These ones should be no-brainers. Also alcohol, which is pure sugar in the body. This means all beer, wine, and liquor.
Highly Refined carbs. These foods behave like sugar in the body. Pasta, bread that contains any white flour, white rice, bagels, pretzels, crackers, most cereals, etc. It’s easier to just avoid processed foods, but if you’re eating something with an ingredient list, avoid any kind of “wheat flour.” If it doesn’t have the word “whole” in front of it, it’s refined white flour.
“Health” food. Most things we consider “healthy” are laden with sugar. Fruit, while healthy in theory, is best avoided for the first week. You can have 1 serving a day of berries (which are low in sugar) if you’d like. Fruit juices and juice drinks are full of sugar; the fact that the sugar is natural is irrelevant. Granola bars and dried fruit are full of sugar. If you’re eating something with a label, aim for less than 5 grams of sugar. Natural sweeteners are out for now, too—that means honey, agave, brown rice syrup, maple syrup, etc.

It seems like nothing is left, right? Here are some ideas to get you thinking about what to eat without sugar in the picture. Focus on protein and fat to keep you from feeling ravenous and deprived.

Breakfast:
Skip cereal, toast, bagels, and pastries, and avoid sweetened yogurt (which is nearly all yogurt). Instead try: eggs, plain unsweetened greek yogurt with stevia (more on stevia in a bit), a piece of sprouted grain toast (I recommend Ezekiel bread, available in the refrigerated section at health food stores and many grocery stores) with almond butter or peanut butter. Or skip “breakfast” foods altogether and eat lunch foods for breakfast.

Lunch:
Avoid sandwiches on white bread. Look for 100% whole wheat, or even better, try sprouted Ezekiel bread. Salads (avoid sugary dressings), nuts, meat, avocado, fresh veggies, high-quality cheese.

Dinner:
Swap out white pasta for 100% whole wheat pasta or an alternative pasta like soba noodles (made from buckwheat) or brown rice pasta. Instead of white rice have brown rice or try a grain like quinoa. Be sure to include fat and protein (and plenty of veggies while you’re at it).

If you are desperate for sweetness, try stevia, a natural sweetener containing no sugar. It also has no effect on blood sugar and no known side effects. Steer clear of aspartame and sucralose (Splenda) which are poisonous and only increase cravings. Stevia is available at health food stores as a powder or a liquid. It works great in coffee, tea, yogurt, and pretty much anything else.

Need Relief? There are some things that can help you when you’re really desperate for something sweet.
– A cup of herbal, black, or green tea sweetened with stevia
– Dark chocolate, over 80%, a small piece
– Nut butters like almond butter, cashew butter, and sunbutter (made from sunflower seeds)
– A small serving of berries with cinnamon
– Plain, unsweetened greek yogurt with stevia, cinnamon, and berries

Be realistic. I am passionate about healthy eating and nutrition, so it’s hard for me to advocate certain foods. My recommendations may seem drastic depending on what your lifestyle is like. If you don’t consider yourself to be much of a health nut, remember that your main concern is cutting out sugar. If you make eliminating sugar/refined carbs your priority, you will be successful in beating the addiction. I wouldn’t encourage a diet of deli ham and string cheese, but it will theoretically be cutting out the sugar. You decide what you think you can handle.

Give it a week, then assess. I think most addictions can be beat in about a week’s time. You’ll know when you’ve done it because the cravings and lethargy will stop. If you suddenly feel great after about a week’s time, you can choose to slowly reintroduce some carbs depending on how much you’ve cut back. However, you might find that you feel so great with your new diet that you don’t want to add them back… and that’s the goal! If you are still having cravings and feeling awful after a week, unfortunately that means you’ll have to keep at it a bit longer. But it will end, I promise.

Disclaimer: As I mentioned, I am in favor of a low carb diet overall. I don’t like to condone the consumption of wheat (as well as many other grains) as it is highly inflammatory and irritating to most people’s digestive system. However, I suggest the whole wheat products in this post to encourage those who are not ready to give up bread to at least avoid white flour. This post is about giving up sugar and I wanted to keep the focus on that. If you are successful, there are many ways to go deeper and reach superior health, and I’m always here to answer your questions.

Sweetly,
Emily

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Everyone knows that “junk food” is bad for us. Many of us know that “processed food” is bad for us. But what really is the difference? Why do many health-conscious consumers shun potato chips but enjoy granola bars in abundance? Why do many health-conscious consumers refuse to buy soda for their child but purchase fortified “juice” beverages regularly?

Cereal

Processed food is food that has been heavily manufactured in order to be shelf-stable. Processed food rarely resembles anything from nature. Processed food fills the inner aisles of the grocery store; things like cereal, crackers, breads, bottled beverages, granola bars, and other snack foods. There is no question that these foods are not part of a healthy diet. When a food undergoes so much manufacturing, it becomes nutritionally devoid. An enormous amount of preservatives and other artificial ingredients are added to these foods to keep them “fresh.” In addition, a great deal of sugar and salt is often added to make these “foods” taste better. The healthiest foods are the ones closest to their natural state. Our bodies are not designed to consume these man-made concoctions that America has come to accept as food. When we eat shrink-wrapped, boxed, bagged creations, we will not reach optimal health and weight. Calories are irrelevant here; the food you eat is a lot more complex than calories. [For more on this, read my post Confessions of an Ex-Calorie Counter.]

There is rarely any dispute over junk food. The general consensus is that foods like twinkies, potato chips, and soda are not good for us. This is true, however, there are many foods just like these that the average family would consider a healthy addition to their pantry. Unfortunately, a great deal of marketing fools most consumers into believing items like granola bars or fortified cereals are a beacon of health, while in reality, they are much like twinkies in disguise. [See my posts The Truth About Granola Bars and The Truth About Vitamin Water for more specific info on this.]

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While these healthy substitutes may be certified organic and may not contain harmful ingredients like high fructose corn syrup or trans fat, they are certainly not the foundation of a healthy diet. Nearly all these foods are very high in sugar and are heavily processed. “Whole wheat” bread is one of the worst offenders; consumers think that a “whole grain” label is a sign of a truly nutritious choice. These breads are full of preservatives and often still contain refined white flour. [For more on this, read my post All About Bread.] While I recommend them over their more unnatural counterparts, I really don’t recommend them at all. A long ingredient list is always worth avoiding.

But perhaps the worst offender is functional or fortified foods. These are standard, processed foods that have certain vitamins or nutrients added to increase their marketability. There is always a new nutrient in the spotlight with incredible health claims and promises. Things like vitamin C, fiber, antioxidants, omega 3s, and probiotics are just some of the current health buzzwords. Food companies know that consumers are becoming increasingly interested in health, so they fortify their processed, cheap, junk food with these substances. These are healthy substances when found occurring naturally in whole foods. However, supplementing a nutrient-devoid, sugar-laden, chemically-ridden cracker with a certain nutrient won’t make it healthy.

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probiotics

Be a smart consumer. When considering your food purchases, don’t be enticed by health claims and packaging. Stick to foods that resemble something that may be found in nature and the nutrition will take care of itself.

Eat your vegetables,
Emily

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Eating right is of the utmost importance to me. I believe that good nutrition is the solution to almost any ailment and is the source of true well-being. I think eating right and fueling your body properly is essential to being a happy, balanced, and vibrant person. It is truly a tragedy that nutrition in America is lacking more than ever. The importance of a good diet can not be emphasized enough. Sadly, the standards for a “good” diet in America are very loose allow a great deal of unhealthy choices that can be counterproductive to your good efforts.

I have a plethora of reasons for eating consciously and thought I’d share some.

Weight Control
I mention this reason first not because it is necessarily the most important, but probably the most popular reason people start to eat healthy. I’ll admit that it is what initially got me interested in adapting a better diet. My first semester of college was filled with late-night pizza, pints of Ben & Jerry’s, and all-you-can-eat buffets for every meal. I gained about 15 lbs for the first time in my life and completely panicked. When I started fueling my body with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and other healthy foods, I watched the weight disappear. As many of us know, being overweight can lead to a great deal of disease and health problems such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. Maintaining a healthy weight is essential to good health. Plus, most of us feel better about ourselves when we are at our ideal weight and confidence is a beautiful thing.

Immune System Strength
Your body only functions properly when it is provided with all the necessary vitamins and nutrients. Besides making sure to get your daily recommended intake, it is also important to avoid foods high in sugar or chemical additives that weaken your body’s natural functions. When you eat a healthy, nutrient-dense diet, your immune system is strong. Even as a college student, I rarely get a cold or feel run-down nearly as much as my peers. Getting sick doesn’t just come from exposure to germs. If your body is running properly, germ exposure won’t cause you to catch a cold or get sick.

Energy
Another thing I notice with my [unhealthy] peers is that they always seem to be tired. They can sleep for 12 hours on the weekend and still walk around exhausted with dark circles under their eyes. Making sure to get the right balance of complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein provides stable energy throughout the day. I also strongly recommend eating four to six small meals a day instead of three larger ones; this keeps blood sugar levels stable and makes for more reliable energy. When you consume high quantities of sugar, refined carbs, and caffeine, you are going to feel exhausted regardless of how much sleep you get. The pick-me-up one gets from eating junk food is only temporary and leaves you in a slump when it’s over.

Skin, Hair, Nails
When you provide your body with essential nutrients, especially the omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, it truly shows. Your hair is shinier and thicker, your skin is clearer and more vibrant, and your nails are stronger. Diets high in sugar, additives, and grease make for break-outs, lackluster complexions, and brittle nails. What shows up on the outside is very much controlled by what’s going on inside. Before you splurge on an expensive new hair product or face cream, think about solving the problem at the source first.

Digestive Wellness
Digestive problems are far too common in America. It is directly related to our diet of chemically-ridden, over-processed foods that are devoid of nutritional value. Laxatives and antacids are among the highest selling over-the-counter remedies in the US. It is imperative not to look to drugs or pills but at the true source of these problems. A diet centered around vegetables and high in whole grains and fiber can alleviate digestive problems and keep your stomach and intestines running smoothly.

Mood
Many people equate their feelings or mood to specific things going on in their life. However, we all have those days where we feel unexplainably happy or sad. Emotions and moods are far more complicated than what is on the surface. Much of it is governed by brain chemicals like serotonin, which is a feel-good brain chemical, and cortisol, which is a stress chemical. Eating a diet that provides adequate nutrients and regulates blood sugar helps keep these chemicals in balance and regulate mood swings. Depression is actually a common symptom of a number of vitamin deficiencies. And remember, when you feel good about your weight, your energy levels are stable, your complexion is radiant, and you are feeling well, it is much easier to be a happy and pleasant person!

I think the best thing you can do for yourself and your body is develop healthy eating habits. “You are what you eat” is a very accurate statement. Your body is made up of cells. Your cells are created and reproduced by the nutrients that enter your body. Essentially, your body becomes the food you put into it. I urge each and every one of you not to turn to the medicine cabinet for every ailment. Take a look at what you’re eating (or what you’re not eating) and if you can regulate your body through making healthier choices. Everything we eat has some effect on our body. Determine if it is positive or negative and choose where to go from there. Do your own research, and gain the knowledge to empower yourself. Remember that health claims on products are for marketing purposes only. If you educate yourself on what a healthy food really is, you can make the best decisions.

You have the power to change and transform your life through what you eat!

If you find these articles at all interesting or helpful, please subscribe!

Eat healthy,
Emily

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I’m sure most of us couldn’t imagine a life without bread: sandwiches, toast, bread baskets, bread bowls, and so forth. It is an integral part of our food culture and seems to be a major player in every meal. However, with the rise of low carb diets, the concept of “good carbs” and “bad carbs,” plus the new offerings of “whole wheat” everything, it’s easy to get confused about which breads are healthy and which are not.

All the bread I’ll be talking about here and pretty much all commercial bread is wheat bread, meaning it is made from wheat. Some people confused “whole wheat” with “wheat,” but all regular bread is made from wheat. The difference is the refining and manipulation of the wheat grain.

Wheat Background
The wheat grain is made up of three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. The bran and the germ are the outer, fibrous layers of the grain that contain nearly all the nutrients and fiber.

Bread Making in America
However, in order to make white bread, these outer layers are removed, stripping the wheat of most of its nutrients. What’s left is the measly endosperm, containing no real vitamins or minerals. In order to replace some of what is lost, factories and bread manufacturers “enrich” their breads with arbitrary amounts of chemically synthesized vitamins. The fiber is not replaced. What is left is a product devoid of the natural nutrition of the wheat grain in order to make it more soft and fluffy. However, it doesn’t stop there. Commercial bread manufacturers then add a plethora of chemicals and additives in order to make the bread shelf stable and cosmetically pleasing. This refinement process, besides removing vital nutrients, makes bread very high on the glycemic index. This means it causes rapid blood sugar crashes and basically converts into your body as sugar. Refined bread is also higher in calories because the endosperm, the most caloric part of the grain, is most prominent.

Refined Bread… It’s Everywhere
It is obvious to most of us that a piece of white Wonder Bread is refined and therefore not whole wheat and lacking in nutritional value. However, in America, virtually everything is “white” bread unless otherwise specified: french baguette, ciabatta, focaccia, tortillas, hot dog and hamburger buns, and crackers. Even breads labeled “whole wheat” usually contain white (refined) flour as well and are merely supplemented with some whole wheat flour. It is imperative to read the label and see “100% whole wheat flour” and no mention of “enriched,” “bleached” or “unbleached,” flour is there. To make it simple: if it doesn’t say “whole,” it has been refined. Even home-made breads or bread fresh from the bakery is made with white flour unless otherwise noted.

“Whole Wheat” and “Whole Grain” as a Marketing Scheme
Whole wheat and whole grain have become terms that automatically mean “healthy” to most consumers. However, as stated before, many breads labeled “whole wheat” are mixed with a hefty amount of white flour as well. “Whole grain” is a somewhat meaningless term in the world of conventional bread; they may have added some “whole” grains (like rye) to the bread, but those grains could still be surrounded by white, refined flour. Again, check the ingredients, and when something claims to be “whole wheat,” truly investigate that is made only with whole wheat flour. Sometimes breads are even dyed to appear darker in color and look healthier.

How To Find A Good Bread
After ensuring you find a bread that is made exclusively from whole wheat flour, there are other things to look for. Breads often include the harmful additives high fructose corn syrup or trans fats known as partially hydrogenated oils which should be avoided at all costs. I suggest avoiding added sweeteners like honey or molasses as well as they are not necessary for making a great-tasting bread. And, a general rule of thumb: don’t buy something with a lengthy list of ingredients you can’t pronounce. Things labeled “to retain freshness” is their kind way of saying chemical preservatives. None of these things make for a healthy choice. It is the easiest to find whole wheat breads devoid of these additives at health food stores or natural markets. Chain grocery stores do not make at easy, but at health food stores you’ll have a number of choices. Bread is not a food that was originally designed to stay fresh for a week at room temperature. Real bread made from the whole grain is so nutrient dense that it spoils easily and usually does better in the refrigerator. When you want a piece, simply toast it for a minute or two.

A Superior Alternative: Sprouted Grain Bread
Sprouted grain bread is often made without flour. A number of whole grains such as wheat, barley, and spelt are sprouted by being submerged in water. The sprouted grains are then used to make a nutritionally superior bread to regular floured wheat bread without any additives. When these grains sprout, they produce a number of vitamins and minerals and are metabolized in your body more as vegetables than as bread or flour. My personal favorite is Ezekiel 4:9 bread, available at health food stores (and some really great chain grocery stores, too). It is almost always in the refrigerated section.

Ezekiel bread, which comes in a variety of flavors, combines wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt. The combination of grains makes for the proper balance of amino acids to provide a complete protein. One slice has only 80 calories but 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber, which is more substantial than even the best whole wheat breads. Oh, and it tastes GREAT. It may be made from sprouted grains, but it doesn’t taste like a veggie loaf. It’s a rich, nutty, and bread-tasting. My favorite flavor is Sesame.

Hopefully that clears up some of the bread confusion!

Eat well,
Emily

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Salad Making 101

Making a good salad is truly an art. Salads seem to be the epitome of health food, however, there are many big mistakes made that drastically reduce or destroy the nutritional value of your salad.

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Let’s outline the steps to making a fabulous salad both in taste and nutrition! We’ll use the salad I made for myself today as a guide.

The Base – Lettuce and Beyond: You need to start your salad with good greens. Forget about iceberg lettuce! It’s mostly water and has hardly any nutrients. You want to opt for dark, leafy greens which are a nutritional powerhouse (vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-cortene, calcium, folate, fiber, iron, and phytonutrients). I also cannot stress enough the importance of buying organic. Not only are you protected from harmful pesticides and chemicals, but new studies are showing that organically grown produce may actually be nutritionally superior than conventionally grown. Once you have your greens, you can make things more flavorful by adding chopped, fresh herbs like basil and cilantro. Who said lettuce had to be boring? This salad was made with Earthbound Farm Organic “Fresh Herb” salad greens, fresh basil, and fresh cilantro.

Add-ins – Vegetables: Once you’ve got your beautiful bed of greens, it’s time to add some vegetables. Here, the possibilities are truly endless. Never hesitate to try something new or unexpected… it’ll give your salad a unique twist! Some suggestions are: cucumber, onion, shredded carrot, zucchini, squash, tomato, avocado, asparagus, artichoke hearts, chopped green or red pepper, radish, alfalfa sprouts, celery, peas, broccoli, black beans, fava beans, chickpeas, etc. As you can see, the possibilities are ENDLESS… it’s all about what you like. And, don’t limit yourself to vegetables. Fresh fruit like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries make a great addition as well. Also, don’t forget to buy organic. This salad was made with zucchini, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and chopped carrot.

Add-ins – Non-vegetable: This part can be very fun, but it’s also where most salads go horribly wrong. Things like croutons and fatty cheeses destroy the purity and health of your salad. If you MUST have cheese, opt for something less processed like goat cheese or raw milk cheese. I love cheese but I steer clear of it in my salad… I like to keep it all pure, raw foods. A great addition to any salad is nuts or seeds. It turns your salad into a filling meal by adding protein and good, healthy fats. Try sunflower seeds, walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds, cashews, and pine nuts. If you roast your seeds, they become even more flavorful. I often just toss some pumpkin seeds on a pan and let them sit for a few minutes (no oil in the pan is needed). I also top all my salads with ground flaxseed, available at health food stores. It is one of the best sources of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). This salad was made with toasted pumpkin seeds and ground flaxseed.

Top it off – Dressing: This is another major place where salads go horribly wrong. FORGET about creamy ranch, thousand island, french, and even raspberry vinaigrette. The creamy dressings are loaded with fat and sugar and the flavored vinaigrettes have even more sugar. Commercial salad dressings are a major danger zone, especially because people assume if they’re eating a salad, they MUST be making a good choice. It’s common for restaurant salads to have just as many (sometimes more!) calories than non-salad choices just from dressing. You want a dressing that will enhance the natural flavor of your delicious vegetables, spices, and nuts. Now that you’ve prepared such an elaborate salad, you don’t need a dressing to provide all the flavor. The best classic dressing is extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice. The way to make this the most delicious is to buy a high quality, organic olive oil in a dark bottle (to protect it from light) and store it in a cool, dry place. Olive oils vary immensely in taste so it is definitely worth it to invest in a high-quality one. But don’t limit yourself to olive oil. Experimenting with other oils like toasted sesame, pumpkin seed, and macadamia nut can add a delicious flavor to your salad. My personal favorite is toasted sesame oil. It is incredibly delicious and flavorful but completely pure and devoid of the sugar, chemicals, and emulsifiers of commercial salad dressings. This salad was made with toasted sesame oil and lemon juice.

And there you have it! The steps to the perfect salad. When you’re done making it, you may want to put it on display just as much as you want to dig in.

Have any interesting or unique suggestions as a salad add-in? Let me know!

Eat your veggies,
Emily

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