Nutrition

Do You Have a Sweet Tooth?

do you have a sweet toothThe average American consumes 150 lbs. of sugar each year (1). It's extreme when you consider that the average person only had four pounds of sugar in the year 1700.

Even people who try to watch their sugar intake may struggle because it is hard to recognize what contains sugar. Food manufacturers sneak it into salad dressing, granola bars, protein powders, canned vegetables, and other “healthy foods.” 

Unfortunately, when we eat foods high in refined carbohydrates and sugar, our blood sugar response makes us crave it more. It is a vicious cycle leading many to feel powerless to break out of its grasp.

Let’s look at this problem and get some ideas to address it.

 

Why Is It a problem? 

The overconsumption of sugar wreaks havoc on the systems of the body. It replaces nutrient-dense food. And, since it has no nutritional value, it leaves the body lacking essential nutrients 

Sugar causes an inflammatory response in the body and an imbalance in the gut bacteria. These things directly impact our immune system leaving us vulnerable to infection and disease. Stress on the hormonal system caused by sugar may lead to adrenal fatigue and thyroid issues.

Many common ailments are caused or exacerbated by sugar. These include migraines, high blood pressure, heart disease, chronic pain, joint problems, arthritis, leaky gut, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and autoimmune disease.

 

Why is it Difficult to Stop?

Your body wants to maintain a steady blood sugar. When you consume sugar, your blood sugar level spikes. This signals your body to release insulin rapidly, so your body can store the excess sugar. The imbalance between the blood sugar level and the amount of insulin released causes a sudden drop in your blood sugar, often referred to as a "sugar crash." The body responds by craving sugar to balance the blood sugar drop, and the cycle begins.

Sugar's impact on the brain and body is similar to that of drugs. In animal studies, sugar causes cravings, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms similar to the effects of substance abuse. In one study, given the choice, rats chose sugar even over cocaine (2). 

 

How to Break the Cycle?

If you want to break this cycle, consider implementing these tips to beat those sugar cravings.

  • Drink water before eating when you crave sugar. 
  • Consume meals higher in fat and protein.
  • Read labels to notice hidden sugar (account for each serving size).
  • Distract yourself when you feel like eating sugar (go for a walk, call a friend, take a nap, or read a book).
  • Write about your motivations for reducing sugar.
  • Keep a food journal.
  • Drink spiced tea or infused water or a sense of sweetness.
  • Get support from family and friends.
  • Do a sugar detox to limit the blood sugar spikes that create cravings. 

 

Let me know if you are limiting your sugar intake and tell me how you are doing that. I'd love to hear about it!

Dr. Jamie

(1) Perspective: A Historical and Scientific Perspective of Sugar and Its Relation with Obesity and Diabetes - PMC (nih.gov)

(2) Intense Sweetness Surpasses Cocaine Reward - PMC (nih.gov)


 

Are Meatless Products the Best?

are meatless products bestSummer is a great time to grill out. It lets you enjoy the warm weather, keeps your kitchen cool, and makes clean-up easier. It is a fun and delicious way to quickly put dinner on the table, especially if you marinate your meat the day before.

My favorite things to make are chicken thighs, sliders, eggplant, carrots, and zucchini. But, are those things the healthiest choices or should we choose meatless options? My answer might surprise you.

If you have moral reservations about eating animal products feel free to jump down to the “plant-based” sections at the end of the blog. I will be focusing on evaluating these products from a physical health perspective.

Let’s evaluate meatless products, so you can make informed choices about what you put in your body. 



The Basics

Let’s first define what we mean by a vegetarian or vegan diet. Most people know that being vegetarian means that you don’t eat meat, while vegans don’t eat any animal products at all (no honey, eggs, milk, cheese, etc.).

It is important to note that not all vegetarian or vegan food is healthy. Just think about soft drinks, Oreos, potato chips, and candy. Many of them are free from animal products, but would not be considered healthy.

 

Meat Alternatives

Since vegan and vegetarian diets exclude meat, there is a big market for alternatives that mimic traditional diets. The plant-based foods became a $3.3 billion industry in 2018. You can find chicken strips, hamburgers, bacon, and sausage alternatives in stores today. 

Unfortunately, these products contain questionable ingredients. According to Sarah Keough (LDN), “Today’s popular plant-based meats barely support the word ‘plant.’ They are instead composed of protein isolates, synthesized nutrients, processed oils, and a host of other additives connected with various health issues.”

Marketing can make unhealthy food look healthy, check out the Making Anything a Health Food blog post. So, read the ingredient label to see for yourself what you are putting in your body. 

 

Questionable Ingredients

Canola or sunflower seed oils are often used in meat alternatives. They are high in omega-6 fatty acids which cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a huge factor in most diseases, so we must question the wisdom of consuming these products.

Another ingredient that may cause harm is the GMO Soy Leghemoglobin. It is what gives meat alternatives the meaty flavor and appearance. It is found in small amounts in nature, so it needs to be manufactured in a lab. It is fairly new for humans to consume it in any significant amount. 

It is always better to eat foods that are made in nature rather than products produced in a lab; the healthiest foods consist of simple real food ingredients. 

Read more ...

What You Need to Know About Protein

what you need to know about proteinAccording to livestrong.com, protein helps “build muscles, produce new cells, regulate hormones and enzymes, heal wounds, and promote immune function”. Since the body does not store protein, it depends on your diet to provide adequate amounts. 

Getting enough protein in your diet significantly impacts your health because every cell in your body contains protein. Since it contains amino acids that replenish and repair all the tissues in your body, it is considered the most important macronutrient in building muscle.

Protein is great for those wanting to lose weight. The added muscle mass it promotes can elevate your metabolic rate. It also helps stabilize your blood sugar and makes you feel full longer.

Let’s look at the healthiest ways to get this protein.

 

Animal Protein

Quality meat can be a wonderful source of protein. You can tell the quality of the meat by considering how the animal was raised and what it did while it was alive. Determining the farmer's practices is extremely important as it has a direct impact on your health. It is not just in the animals' best interest to be grass-fed or free-range; it is in yours.

A study done by Mother Earth News found that free-range eggs were much more nutritious than conventional ones. They had...

  • 2/3x more Vitamin A
  • 2x more Omega-3
  • 3x more Vitamin E
  • 7x more Beta Carotene

Grass-fed beef has also been found to contain higher levels of vitamins, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids than conventional beef.

  

Plant-Based Protein

Plant proteins are a bit tricky. They provide valuable nutrients but are not considered complete proteins because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Getting the nutrients you need through plant proteins is possible, however, you need to be strategic to ensure you get all your nutrients.

Many people rely on plant protein for health reasons, believing it is superior to animal-based protein. If you avoid it for this reason, consider that it would take 12 ounces of kidney beans with a cup of rice to get the same amount of protein in a 4-ounce steak. That would give you 638 calories (and 122 grams of carbs) compared to 181 calories from the steak.

As I mentioned above, getting enough protein from a healthy vegan diet is possible if you are intentional. The following are some good plant-based protein sources that can help you get what you need.

  • Whole, organic, non-GMO soy products such as tofu. (Please do NOT rely on products containing soy protein isolates or concentrates often found in soy burgers, meatless chicken, and protein bars.)
  • Nuts & seeds 
  • Beans & lentils (if your body tolerates them well.)
  • Quinoa, rice, and other grains
  • Some plant-based protein shakes may be useful if you struggle to get enough protein, but check the ingredients carefully.

This Vegetarian and Vegan Guide was created by Mark Hyman, M.D. It is a great resource for vegans and vegetarians trying to eat a nutrient-dense diet.

 

Buying Quality Protein

Companies spend a lot of money each year marketing their products. They may intentionally use terms to mislead their consumers into thinking something is high quality when it may not be. The following chart can help you decipher these terms, so you know what to look for when you shop.

*For more about these terms check out our Protein Guide.

 

How Much Protein

Consuming one serving of protein at every meal is a good place to start. One serving is roughly the size of the palm of your hand or a deck of cards. If you are reading labels, aim for at least 25-30 grams in each meal. 

Your body and activity level are unique, so listen to your body. It is the best indicator of how much protein is right for you. If you don’t eat much protein, consider adding some to see how it makes you feel. If you eat a lot of protein, ask yourself if it sits well with you. 

If you are unsure how much protein you need, this article may be helpful.

Read more ...

Making Anything a Health Food?

making anything a health foodOne of the things we are very conscious of in our house is reading labels. We do not pay attention to the buzzwords on the package or focus on the nutrition label. The valuable information is found on the ingredient list. 

Food marketers are tricky; they do a fantastic job of confusing consumers. Phrases like gluten-free, low-fat, heart-healthy, and all-natural give us the impression that the food is good for us.  

Many of these claims are unregulated making it easy for companies to make products sound healthier than they are. They hope this will draw our attention away from the ingredients that are less than ideal. 

Let’s explore some marketing strategies companies use to try to manipulate us. 

 

 

The Company's Bottom Line

We must remember that a company’s main concern is the bottom line. Its job is to make the most money for the investors, not the healthiest food for you. If it takes some tricky marketing to get you to buy their product, most will do so without question.

Most manufacturers try to make their food addictive. Companies combine sugar, salt, fat, and chemicals in ways that make us crave their products. These products create additive-type behaviors that are not seen with less processed foods. Then they keep their costs low by making the food's shelf life as long as possible so there is less waste. This may involve using preservatives and other ingredients that are not in our best interest.   

My goals are the opposite of these companies. I do not want to feel out-of-control cravings for processed foods. I want to choose nutrient-dense food made from high-quality ingredients. This often means that the food will go bad in a relatively short time. If it will last on a shelf forever it is probably full of chemicals to keep the bacteria away. 

 

 

Rebranding Products

Health food branding expert Matt Rosenman explains some ways marketing can be deceptive in his funny videos where he rebrands candy to look like a health food. Just click on the one minute videos below to see how easy it is for marketing companies to manipulate consumers.

 

  

 

My Bottom Line

If we want to eat healthy it is important to outsmart these corporations. A little bit of cynicism while reading the packaging is the first step. We cannot count on a glance at the package to give us an accurate assessment of the product.  

Ignore the buzzwords, since many are unregulated making them meaningless. Use caution when looking at the nutrition label. Companies tend to make serving sizes unreasonably small to give you the impression that the calorie and sugar count is lower than it is. 

Instead, go straight to the ingredient list. Look up any ingredients you do not recognize to see if it is something you want to put in your body. This is the key to cutting through tricky marketing and getting the information you need. 

 

 

My favorite packages are the ones with a few simple ingredients. It takes the mystery out of deciding if I want to put the food in my body.

Dr. Jamie


 

 

Holiday Breakfast Made Easy

holiday breakfast made easyIt is challenging to embrace the magic of holiday mornings when you are rushing around trying to make a special breakfast. You deserve to enjoy the morning and a delicious meal without stress. After all, it is your holiday too!

Planning and preparing ahead of time will free you up and allow you to focus on what’s important. Recipes that can be made the day before will be especially helpful. It won’t take much effort but can make a huge difference in your experience of the holiday. 

Let’s look at some great recipes that will set you up for a wonderful holiday!   

 

Avocado Boats

These avocado boats provide healthy fats and protein. It will balance out any sweet treats and keep you full until lunch. Preparing the ingredients ahead of time will make assembling them a snap. 

Cook the bacon ahead of time, and chop the toppings. In the morning you will just need to cut the avocados, assemble them, and bake (about 15 minutes plus time for the oven to preheat.) 

 

Paleo Breakfast Casserole

This unique breakfast casserole includes sweet potato and Brussels sprouts, as well as traditional eggs and bacon. It will keep you full until lunch and balance out the sweet treats that tend to be part of holidays.

Prepare the bacon and veggies the night before. In the morning, simply add the eggs and bake (about 25 minutes plus time for the oven to preheat). 

*Recipe from The Paleo Running Momma

 

Egg-Free Breakfast Bowls

Not everyone can eat eggs or likes them. Whether you eat eggs or not, this egg-free breakfast bowl will be a hit. It looks delicious and provides great nutrients to start the day.

Make or buy fresh guacamole and pico de gallo to make the recipe less labor-intensive. Cook the sausage, and chop the sweet potatoes and kale the day before. In the morning, throw the sweet potatoes in the oven (about 30 minutes plus time for the oven to preheat). While they cook, saute the kale before assembling the bowls. 

*Recipe from Paleomg

 

Oven Baked Bacon

Simple bacon is always enjoyed. It contains protein and fat which helps keep your blood sugar stable. However, it can be pretty labor-intensive to fry small batches in a pan. 

If you want to make a large amount of bacon, you can put it in the oven (about 15 minutes plus time for the oven to preheat).  Oven-cooked bacon turns out crispy every time. 

*Recipe from Nom Nom Paleo

 

Paleo Blueberry Muffins

Who doesn’t love a good blueberry muffin? But many packaged varieties have fillers that you may not want to put in your body. Even homemade ones can be loaded with sugar.

These Paleo muffins are made with clean ingredients, sweetened with maple syrup, and can be made ahead of time. There are sure to be a hit with everyone, including any kids that will be there.

*Recipe from Downshiftology

 

Healthier Peach Crisp

Fruit crisps are delicious, but tend to be filled with unnecessary sugar. This peach crisp is made with almond flour and a bit of maple syrup. You can make it with fresh or frozen peaches.

Make sure frozen peaches are defrosted. This can take around three hours at room temperature. You can make the topping the day before, then sprinkle it over the peaches in the morning, and bake (about 40 minutes plus time for the oven to preheat). 

*Recipe from Elana’s Pantry

Read more ...

Stress Eating During the Holidays

stress eating during the holidays 2023As much as we want to enjoy the holidays, stress can overshadow the joy. We may try to cope by eating the many sweet treats around us. Eating when you are stressed is considered emotional eating.

It is an attempt to fill an emotional need rather than a physical one. The surge of dopamine after a sweet treat brings temporary relief but doesn’t last. The stress will return and may be compounded by regret. 

Let’s take a look at emotional eating and how to handle it throughout the holiday season.

 

Building Awareness

Self-awareness is the first step to breaking the cycle of emotional eating. It is a skill to be able to identify when you are really hungry and when you are trying to meet an emotional need. 

Ask yourself if you are stressed, sad, lonely, angry, or bored before you grab a bite to eat. If you are experiencing a difficult emotion, ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you are trying to meet an emotional need.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell. The Mayo Clinic has identified some clues you can look for to determine if you are really hungry.

For instance...

  • physical hunger generally builds gradually after not eating, while emotional hunger can come on suddenly even if you have recently eaten. 
  • physical hunger is felt in the stomach, while emotional hunger is felt in the mind.
  • physical hunger builds gradually and there is patience felt in meeting that need, while emotional hunger tends to demand an immediate response.
  • emotional hunger often feels like it can only be satisfied with a specific type of food, while physical hunger can be satisfied with many different options.
  • emotional eating often makes you feel ashamed, while physical hunger simply leaves you satisfied.

 

 

An Intentional Choice

Once you recognize what is driving you to reach for food, you can intentionally choose a response. You may still choose to eat the treat even if you are not truly hungry. If so, enjoy every bite without guilt. Making your decision consciously is a great practice to develop. 

If you decide to skip the treat for now, here are some things that can help you stick to your choice in the moment...

  • distract yourself for a time (watch a show, read a book, etc.)
  • remove yourself from the situation (go for a walk, take a drive, leave the room, etc.)
  • reach out to a friend (make a phone call, send a text message, etc.)
  • lean into the difficult emotion (let it wash over you knowing it is temporary.)
  • comfort yourself through self-care (journal, create something, do something artistic, etc.)
  • rest or take a nap if you are tired (lay down for a nap, stare out the window, etc.)
  • exercise (even gentle movement can be beneficial.)
  • practice, meditation, mindfulness, or self-compassion exercises.

 

 

Enjoy the season. It’s okay to treat yourself to foods you might not otherwise eat. Make these choices intentionally, so you can truly enjoy them without regret!

Dr. Jamie