Have you heard about your microbiome? The trillions of microorganisms living in our bodies are called the microbiome. These helpful bugs are key to our overall health. They help us digest our food, and provide critical nutrients , train our immune systems, turn genes on and off, keep our gut tissue healthy, help protect us from diabetes, and even cancer. Other studies show that they play a role in obesity, atherosclerosis, autimmune disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and liver disease.
Sugar is an amazing substance.
It is pure sensation, pleasure in a crystalline form. We share as humans a desire for its innate sweetness, which begins at mother’s breast. This taste of milk sugars is the fuel that energizes all of life – white gold – pure carbohydrate energy that moves our bodies. The calories in a cup of breast milk are nearly 40% from sugar in the form of lactose. The deep and primal appeal of sugar is one of the reasons that sugar and sugar-filled foods are now among the most popular and commonly chosen edibles. In the past, sugar was expensive and rare, and consumption was limited to the wealthy and was reserved for the end of a meal. Now sugar is cheap and abundant, with manufactured sugars infused in nearly every packaged product sold in supermarkets.
Good in Moderation?
Like many dietitians and nutrition experts, I used to recommend that sugar be eaten in moderation. Now, I’ve changed my tune. Due to the ever present presence of sugar in our lives, and because of the insidious way Big Sugar (The National Sugar Association, a sugar lobbying organization) conspired to manipulate scientific studies about sugar’s harmful effects, I now say avoid added sugars. PERIOD.
Sugar is in everything
Added to nearly every packaged product and deliberately concealed by food manufacturers through its 56 different names, one cannot avoid eating added sugars. We have a long love affair with sugar, which is one reason why it is so hard to resist. The other reason is because it is hidden. In food as well as through deliberate concealment. More than 75% of the added sugar we eat is in food products, meaning that packaged food is by far and above the problem with our excessive sugar intake.
The National Sugar Association and Deliberate Concealment
Beginning in the 1960’s, the National Sugar Association made sure that consumers wouldn’t learn about the harm that excess sugar caused. They paid off prominent scientific researchers from Harvard University to turn attention away from sugar causing health problems, pointing the finger in many instances towards fat. You can read the scientific study here. For a brilliant editorial from one of my heroes, Marion Nestle, you can read her post from Food Politics. Dr. Nestle is an expert on the politics that affect some of the more unhealthy foods like soda, and how our own health interests are routinely thwarted by Big Food. I share her conclusion: “we would all be better eating less sugary foods and fatty meats.” Simple nutrition, expert advice.
Here is the Truth About Sugar
A recent study in a prominent scientific journal concluded that a high intake of added sugars increases the risk of weight gain, excess body weight and obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus; higher serum triglycerides and high blood cholesterol; higher blood pressure and hypertension; stroke; coronary heart disease; cancer; and dental caries. Foods higher in added sugars are often a source of empty calories with minimum essential nutrients or dietary fiber which displaces more healthful foods and lead, in turn, to simultaneously overfed and undernourished individuals. Meaning, we are fatter and less healthy.
We all know that sugar is in soda, fizzy drinks, and cakes and cookies. But do you know about the worst offenders?
- Salad Dressings
- Soups and Sauces
- Breakfast Smoothies
- Breakfast Bars and Yogurt
If you want to avoid diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other considerable health risks, stop blaming your genetics, and take charge of your eating. Once you know the truth about sugar, you can make a choice to change. It truly is up to each one of us to act as our own health advocate. Remember, Big Sugar is not your friend. In fact, the food industry acts just like Big Tobacco, and they market to us in just the same way. I think we all know how this story will end – in perhaps 10 or 20 years, following innumerable suffering and death, added sugars will be banned, or at least revealed for the health problem they are – and sugar will be considered as unhealthy as smoking.
I get calls from parents all the time interested in hiring me to help put their obese kids on a diet. My approach has always been and continues to be encouraging family education and health changes. Overweight and obese kids raise alarm bells. It is as if we cannot notice our own problems so we over focus on our kids. Some parents are not interested in this “family first” approach even when they are overweight. Rather, the child becomes the “identified patient” in the family where parental issues with food, eating and body weight roll onto the child. What do other experts in the field recommend?
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, a Canadian obesity researcher and physician writes the amazing Weighty Matters blog. He wrote in 2010 about treating children for obesity and his concerns include damaging the child’s self-esteem and body image. Imagine what it feels like for a child who needs an entire team of adult experts. Doctors and dietitians who are by their actions sending this message: “kid, you’re so fat you need a village to help you.”
My own observation working with kids under age 10 and shared by Dr. Freedhoff is they lack the sufficient emotional and cognitive developmental tool set to understand treatment and make independent changes. Writes Dr. Freedhoff: “the cause of obese kids are parents who have enabled the behaviors that led their kids to need help in the first place. The second big issue is the all-encompassing food environment in which we all live.”
Case in point: ME.
As a young single mother of an overweight child, I had my own issues with food, eating and nourishment. In particular, I loved to eat sweets, cool and creamy foods when under stress. Oh, and I was under stress all the time! It was the 90’s and we were all obsessed with fat. So, thinking I was a good mom worried about my kid’s weight, I overfed my son highly processed “fat free” foods that were loaded with sugar, artificial ingredients like dyes and “natural” flavors. Things like Fruit Rollups, Juice Boxes, Snackwell’s Cookies. From birth, my son was 99th percentile for weight and 25th percentile for height, which I now know might be due to my own poor eating habits while pregnant. When my son was 5, I remarried an amazing man who had a history of healthy eating. Living in the San Francisco Bay area, we chose an alternative practitioner to help us (and my son) with his severe behavioral issues diagnosed as ADHD. Her cornerstone of treatment were dietary changes: more protein in the morning for breakfast versus a bowl of cereal and fat-free milk and juice, the elimination of all cow’s milk dairy products, artificial ingredients and dyes, and the wider reliance on whole, fresh foods. Lots of plants. Lots of real food. No cake or candy at school, no soda, no juice boxes. And guess what? I had to change too. The family got on the plan together, we began building healthy breakfast, lunches and dinners and learning more about food and nourishment. The interdisciplinary approach became a family team approach, and we worked on environmental issues (school birthday parties, time with friends) together. While other little boys were going on Ritalin, our son was drinking homemade dairy free vegetarian protein smoothies. His behavior transformed in front of our eyes and his excess weight melted away. Here is what he is up to today.
Let’s face it – our experience is not usual. Most adults have trouble with nutritional compliance and struggle with the change process required to lose weight. It is hard work!
- Talk with your child’s school about introducing or enhancing nutritional education. Focus on “energy balance” (calories in) and encourage them to spread this approach throughout the curriculum.
- Demand that your schools post calories on menus.
- Get rid of the highly processed garbage that schools make available, or worse yet, sell to raise money inside your child’s school.
- Encourage mandatory cooking courses for kids which parents can attend.
- Advocate for your children’s health by encouraging elected officials to ban all advertising targeting children.
- Require and insist that restaurants post calories for all menu items, especially restaurants that claim to be healthy (are you listening, Flower Child??).
- Encourage healthy activity, focusing on joy, not competition.
- If your young adult child is in college, have them take my course, Sustainable Living and Mindful Eating (SWU 351). Offered on the ground and online through Arizona State University, students are experiencing transformational growth in their relationship with food, eating, stress management and sustainability. Or, buy the book and read it together as a family!
Let me know if I can help. Your health, and your children’s future depend upon this investment of time. Aren’t they worth it? Aren’t you?
Five things that dog training taught me about weight loss…
- Dog training is not about the dog. It is about the human. Dogs don’t need to be trained, we humans do! As we worked with our great dog trainer, we practiced, practiced, practiced. We bought special supplies, made sure we had the right equipment on hand, and did our assigned homework. Every day. It was the most important thing in our life, since we were interested in supporting our dog’s change process. Dogs learn well – so do humans. We can absolutely lose weight if we make sure we have the right equipment on hand, do our homework assigned by our human weight loss “trainer” (contact me for a quote), buy special supplies of food, and practice, practice practice. Losing weight is learned behavior. We absolutely can be trained!
- Dog training works best if you don’t use food as a reward. Dogs can learn things in the short term with treats; long term we create food motivated monsters! Never use food as a reward. For us, that is obvious. Think of all the times we say, “I had a hard day, I deserve a treat.” Hmmmm. Sounds like we are creating a monster? Anyone know this one?
- Dog training is about practice, practice, practice. Learning new skills requires repetition. We are animals, just like dogs. We require repetition in order to learn new skills. Want to lose weight? Give yourself every opportunity to practice your new skills. For example, our dog trainer had us do two sessions every day, twenty minutes each, for each dog. That was four twenty minute sessions every day for two months. WHEW! After two months, what did we get? Perfect dogs! Was it the trainer, the training, or the dog? Or the combination? It was amazing to get such great results. Want to lose weight? How about two sessions a day, 20 minutes every day of practice? Making new, fresh, healthy food. Shopping for food. Researching recipes. Healthful restaurants. Walking. Practice, practice, practice!
- Dog training is about calm, assertive energy. There is no room in dog training for fear, violence, or aggression. This just produces fearful or aggressive dogs. Calm and assertive energy creates respect and adoration. After two months, our dogs (who were pretty good to begin with) ADORE US. They listen, they are well behaved, and do great on leash (most of the time!) Losing weight is also about calm, assertive energy. Calmness and mindfulness inspire regulated blood sugar, and promote digestion and ease. Assertion is necessary when confronted with those people, places and things that sabotage our progress. Be a food whisperer!!
- Dog training is about forgiveness.
Forget about all the things that your dog did wrong. It doesn’t matter, since every walk, every training activity, every day with your dog is a new one. Does your dog chase bunnies? Forget it, forgive your dog, and move on. Don’t flinch every time you see a bunny! Just use your calm, assertive energy and move forward. Losing weight is about forgiveness, too. Sustainable weight loss takes time, patience and practice. We will succeed only if we can find the capacity to forgive ourselves for each slip, lapse of judgment, or any time we turn toward food and away from ourselves. Be dog like. Forgive, learn, and move on.
Need a weight whisperer to help you on your journey? Contact me. With nearly 30 years experience helping people of all ages lose weight and improve health, I know what works. I can’t wait to hear from you!
Based on scientific nutrition information, students are learning about the industrialized food system, highly processed foods and their effect on our brains, moods, and appetites. They hear from local and national experts generously speaking about how our food system works. Last semester, they learned about CAFO’s and how animal protein is raised in this country. Do YOU know that 98% of all animal protein consumed in this country comes from a CAFO, where animals live and die in misery? My students didn’t know that either. They learn how to put together three days of healthy meals on a budget. Some students ate for $1.45 a meal!
Comments from students on Sustainable Living and Mindful Eating:
Life changing learning. Judge for yourself.
“Research studies quoted by guest speakers are interesting, especially the connection between recovery time and a plant based diet.”
“I really want to inspire my dad to move towards plant based eating because of his disease.”
“I think that plant based eating program for diabetic patients is astounding.”
“It is very encouraging to hear from a Physician Assistant that a plant-based diet actually can heal your body.”
“I learned how changing your diet can help prevent diseases.”
In addition to learning about the benefits of a mostly plant based diet, they learned how their moods affect their eating. They learned the practice of Mindful Eating, and how to establish a mindfulness practice. Some comments:
“Whenever I have a busy day and don’t stop to take a break to eat, I overeat at night. I get to a point of being too hungry that I indulge when I finally get the chance.”
“Sometimes I feel that I need to have something sweet to eat every day.”
“I need to pay attention to my mindful eating so I don’t feel that its ok because it can count as my carbs. I choose to pay more attention to this habit.”
“Whenever I make pasta I make the entire box, so I can have leftovers. Well, instead of spacing out my meals over the next few days I tend to eat the pasta: breakfast, lunch and dinner until its gone. I also don’t always add sides to the bowls of pasta, so it is straight pasta! It is a really bad habit!!”
It is truly life changing to notice how habits affect your eating. This can help you improve your health, and even lose weight! You may not be able to take the course, but you can buy the book. Contact me for more information.
In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we focus in October on the second-most common cancer among women in the United States. In 2015 alone, an estimated 200,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed, and 50,000 U.S. women are expected to die from the disease. However, in the same year more than 2.5 million will survive due to improved treatment outcomes.
Factors that affect cancer risk
While there are many factors that influence your chance of getting cancer, scientists believe nutrition has a major impact. Over 30 years ago, the National Research Council published a report called Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer, showing the evidence then available linking specific dietary factors to cancer of the breast and other organs. Research since then has only confirmed the strong connection between diet, cancer and survival outcomes.
Breast Cancer by Geography
For instance, in Asian countries such as Japan, we see low rates of breast cancer, while Western countries have cancer rates that are many times higher. The protective difference is thought to be the traditional Japanese diet, which is low in fat and primarily plant-based. By comparison, the standard American diet is centered on animal products, leading Americans to overeat fat and under consume other important nutrients. Diets that are low in animal fat but high in fiber, carbohydrates and vitamin A seem to help cancer prognosis. For reasons that are not entirely clear, vegetables and fruits, and the vitamins they contain, help keep the cells of the body in better working order. Vegetables and fruits are not only important to help to prevent cancer, but also to improve outcomes following treatment.
Foods that Prevent Cancer
While no one food can prevent or cure cancer, the combination of foods you choose to eat seems to make a difference. Experts recommend a predominantly plant-based diet including a variety of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. A plant-based diet means eating mostly foods that come from plants: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains and beans. Plant-based foods are cancer-fighting powerhouses because they have less fat, more fiber and more cancer-fighting nutrients. These three elements work together in a synergistic way, supporting your immune system and helping your body fight off and recover from cancer.
Shifting to a more plant-based diet is simple!
Choose unprocessed foods, close to their original form. For a visual reminder, think of filling a plate at least two-thirds full of whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit.
Use these tips to enjoy more plant-based foods:
- Breakfast: Add fruit and a few seeds or nuts to whole grain breakfast cereal such as oatmeal.
- Lunch: Eat a big salad filled with beans, peas and combinations of veggies. Pile extra lettuce and tomato (plus any other veggies you can!) on sandwiches. Choose whole grain bread. Enjoy a side of veggies: Suggestions include carrots, sauerkraut and cherry tomatoes.
- Snacks: Choose fresh fruit and vegetables. Grab an apple or banana for snacking. Raw veggies such as carrots, celery, cucumbers, jicama and peppers are excellent with a dip such as hummus. Make trail mix with nuts, seeds and a little dried fruit, and eat in modest amounts (suggested serving ¼ cup).
- Dinner: Add fresh or frozen veggies to pasta sauce or rice dishes. Or top a baked potato with broccoli and low-fat yogurt, sautéed veggies or salsa. Replace creamy pasta sauces with sautéed vegetables or tomato sauce made with healthy olive oil.
- Dessert: Choose fresh fruit topped with Greek yogurt drizzled with maple syrup. A single square of dark chocolate is a healthy indulgence!
Enjoy this easy recipe featuring cancer-fighting dark green leafy kale, which is loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber. Plus, you’ll get added flavor from garlic, sea vegetables and sesame oil, which also are powerful cancer preventers. Enjoy this recipe hot or chilled.
1 large bunch kale
2 cloves minced garlic
2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted organic sesame seeds
1/8 cup dried sea vegetables (optional)
Prepare sea vegetables per package directions. Mince garlic. Wash kale, strip the leaves from the spines and tear into bite-size pieces. Heat sesame oil to medium; add garlic and sauté until lightly browned. Add kale, sea vegetables, water and soy sauce and cook until kale is just wilted, approximately 2 minutes. Be sure not to overcook. Add sesame seeds and serve.
Nutrition information: Calories per serving (1 cup): 181; Total Fat 12.6g; Sodium 311 mg; Total Carbohydrates 14.8 g; Protein 5.0 g; Dietary Fiber 2.9 g; Sugars 2.2 g; provides 181% daily RDA for Vitamin A; 24% Calcium.
A new report was released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and it ranks the State of Arizona as the 29th “fattest” because of the percentage of residents classified as overweight or obese. You can see me discuss the findings on Channel 12 news.