YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
Ah, November–the time we round the year’s bend and start careening full-tilt toward the holidays. And of course Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah bring good times with family and friends–which often involve sitting around a cozy table or lavish buffet consuming copious amounts of food and drink. Fast-forward to New Year’s Eve, and at the magic stroke of midnight many of us resolve to stop indulging, steadfastly vowing to take better care of ourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Fast-forward again to the February blues, and– more often than not–our well meaning lifestyle resolutions have bitten the dust, and we’ve settled back into our old, comfy, not-so-hot habits.
Our relationship with food is complex. It is fuel for the body, yes. But it is so much more, and is often is linked to our sense of well being and self-worth. It seems many adults spend an inordinent amount of time thinking about what they want to eat, what they should eat, what they shouldn’t eat, and what they wish they hadn’t eaten–what a crazy cycle!
Health-conscious Boomers have a pretty good idea that “fast food” is not so good for us (whenever you get a craving to head to the drive-through, watch the DVD “SuperSize Me“). And we’ve made strides in understanding the chemistry of nutrition since the days of that first simplistic food pyramid–remember, it’s the one that was plastered on loaves of Wonderbread? But from McSomethings and the carb-heavy, imbalanced pyramid, we are now faced with a mind-blowing assortment of specialty and boutique diets. Just peruse the shelves of any book store and you’ll get dizzy deciding if you want to eat for your blood type, listen to Dr. Atkins, follow in Suzanne Somers footsteps, go to South Beach, and so on–the options are boggling!
You’ve probably heard the expression “You are what you eat.”… And in these days of record-high obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, we obviously have to consider what we put in our mouths and how it impacts our health. Dieting certainly has it’s place, but it is not a way of life; moreover, it can lead to weight gain/loss/gain “yo-yoing,” which is exasperating and depressing. And so, in honor of the holidays and the opportunity they present for binging and remorse, I spoke with two top nutritionists–Holly Ann Shelowitz, Certified Nutrition Counselor, and Valerie Crystal, MS, Clinical Nutritionist. These pros offer expert tips and insights on how we can eat well and nourish ourselves so that healthy eating becomes a lifestyle of making sound choices– not a revolving door of diets, deprivation, and food obsession.
IMPORTANT TIPS AND DECEPTIVE MYTHS
Holly is a big fan of home-cooked food, so not only does she counsel people in person and by phone, she also hosts “Nourishing Wisdom” cooking classes and published a fabulous cookbook of delicious, healthy recipes. “Life is full and busy, but we all have to eat every day, so it’s important to learn about foods and ‘tune into’ our bodies to discover what works for us,” she explains. “One person may feel great being a vegetarian, and another exhausted and have sweet cravings.” And while everyone is built differently, most people need to eat something every three hours or so to feel good and have energy–Holly recommends consuming high quality proteins and fats throughout the day. ‘If you have ‘brain fog,’ you’re not eating often enough, or not eating the right foods,” she says.
Holly also stresses the importance of eating breakfast, and cautions that some cereals–even the “healthy” ones–may be loaded with sugar, so read the packages. Her recommendations for busy folks are a banana and a handful of almonds or a smoothie–both of which are easy to take on the road. And to find what works best for your system, she suggests conducting a “breakfast experiment” by trying different things each morning–an apple and peanut butter one day, eggs the next, oatmeal the following day, and so on–then noticing how you feel. “Pay attention and ask yourself if your energy is different, and if your sweet cravings are less,” she says.
What about the notorious “3 o’clock slump?” The contributing culprits are sugar, caffeine, and lack of protein. Holy explains, “When you eat foods with sugar, it elevates your blood sugar quickly, then it drops dramatically. Caffeine does the same thing–your blood sugar goes super high then crashes super low, and you crave sugar. And if you have pizza, pasta, or a salad for lunch without a protein, your blood sugar doesn’t level off, so by 3 o’clock you’re feeling groggy.”
Valerie–who has a private practice as a nutritionist, conducts weight loss support groups, and co-founded the “Wild and Pure” line of chemical-free, natural body care and household products–also strives to educate clients on how to eat for sustenance and health. One of the trends she has seen is that many people fall prey to misleading marketing, doing things that they think are good for them but that are actually detrimental. The biggest offender: ALL artificial sweeteners. “Sucralose, commercially sold as ‘Splenda,’ was invented by an English scientist working to make a pesticide,” explains Valerie. “It actually has more in common with DDT than sugar.” Sucralose is made by binding three chlorine atoms with a molecule of sugar. Chlorine reacts with organic material to create chlorination by-products (CBPs) that can trigger chronic symptoms like fatigue, head aches, and that fuzzy brain-fog feeling, as well as reproductive and immune problems.
And, since sucralose/Splenda is found in nearly 4,000 food, beverage, and health-care products–from soda and salad dressings to vitamins and toothpaste–label reading is essential to avoid it. Ditto for any other artificial sweetner–the health risks are great. Opt instead for stevia ( a zero-calorie herbal sweetner) or Agave nectar ( a catus-based syrup with 1/3 the calories of honey).
Valerie is also a proponent of raw foods–including dairy products. “We cook things to death, and that kills enzymes–enzymes can only be gotten by raw foods. And we pasteurize milk, which destroys the enzymes that help us digest fats,” she explains. “It’s ideal if you know a farmer and can get raw milk so you can get the healthy enzymes.” And, like Holly, Valerie advocates for organic produce and dairy, natural poultry and meats (no antibiotics, no growth hormones, and preferably grass-fed beef), fish that are not “farm raised,” and whole grains and legumes. And by all means, avoid processed “convenience” foods as much as possible. Valerie advises “Shop the ‘outside walls’ of the super market for produce, meats, dairy, and skip the middle aisles!”
Another common error many folks make in an effort to eat healthy is to consume margarine instead of butter. Margarine–which is actually just one molecule away from plastic–is highly processed, loaded with chemicals, contains artery-clogging hydrogenated oils and transfats, and elevates cholesterol. Holly says, “Butter that is imported from Europe or is organic, coming from farms where cows are in pasture, is very beneficial. It has a natural deep yellow color–which is a sign of its mineral content–and is high in vitamins A and D. Butter is delicious, satisfying, and nourishing.” (I’d like to add that I’ve been in heaven since I discovered the Irish butter at my friendly neighborhood supermarket.)
Another food taboo that can be eased up is salt–in fact, I learned about the virtues of Celtic Sea Salt at one of Holly’s cooking classes. “Celtic sea salt is magical,” she says. “It’s gathered off the coast of Brittany in France and sun dried. It’s grey and moist and has an abundance of trace minerals. By using Celtic sea salt, we’re supporting our adrenals and giving our bodies important minerals. ”
THE SKINNY ON CARBS AND GRANDMA’S LOVE
Now for another hot diet issue: carbs. Carbohydrates have been maligned as “Public Enemy #1” of diets and just plain bad for us in general. But it seems that they need a good P.R. agent to set the record straight. In fact, a long-term carb-free diet can be harmful. Valerie explains, “Your body goes into Ketosis–an acidic condition. The body experiences no-carbs as starvation, so it starts to burn fatty acids for fuel.” Now, of course, not all carbs are created equal. “The body reads refined carbohydrates as sugar and spikes insulin,” explains Valerie. “You have to have carbs–so you want veggies, fruits, and whole grains.”
Holly concurs that there is no reason for fear of carbs, you just have to make intelligent choices. “Carbs are an important part of a healthy diet. There’s a huge difference between white pasta and brown rice–whole grains are delicious, hearty, nourishing, and satisfying, ” she explains.
Food preparation and sharing meals can be a lovely, Zen-like experience. ” When chopping veggies and stirring soup, we are putting things from the outside into our bodies–that is intimate. There is an aspect of sacredness to it,” says Holly. “When cooking, take deep breathes before starting so your energy is clear. Put in your loving attention along with high quality ingredients. Just remember going to grandmother’s and having a bowl of soup–it had a special energy.”
Valerie also expressed a respect for the divine, healing energy that can be imbued in food. “A piece of pie made with love by your grandmother is good for you because you’re ingesting love. I’ll eat anything made with love!”