Category Archives: Whole foods

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Love the Message – Conflicted About the Messenger

Recently I stumbled upon an ad that Nestle’s Lean Cuisine brand aired earlier this year for it’s “Weigh This” campaign. The two-minute ad features women who are asked about their greatest accomplishments in life and their answers range from family and other important relationships in their lives to school, career and travel. The catch phrase is “if you’re going to weigh, weigh something that matters.” They also have a “diet filter” where you can sign up to have the word “diet” blocked from your media.

I love this ad and this message (haven’t tried the diet filter yet but like the concept). What’s not to love? I believe we (especially women) spend a ridiculous amount of time worrying about our weight. And because our culture has so completely fused the ideas of weight and health, if someone makes positive lifestyle changes that could improve their overall health and wellbeing, but they don’t lose weight doing it, they often give up on those changes. What’s the point if it doesn’t lead to weight loss, right? Ugh.

My dilemma about this ad is that it comes from a food company that specializes in frozen meals and has been solidly part of our “diet culture” for decades. Sure, this campaign is to re-spin the company toward health and wellness vs. dieting, but let’s be clear, pre-packaged frozen meals deliberately low in calories are still supporting a diet mentality and approach.

It is great that Lean Cuisine has reformulated their recipes and taken out some of the nasty or at least questionable additives that do a lot more for food manufacturers (via longer shelf life) than for eaters. It is also great that they are supporting a Girls Leadership organization. But I’d be a lot more excited about this ad campaign if it was put forth by a farm that produced high quality fresh food or a local farmer’s market. Sigh. (My farmer friends are now laughing hysterically at the idea they would have that kind of cash for advertising!) I prefer the trend towards eating more whole, fresh foods and preparing more of our own meals to buying packaged frozen meals. I realize however, that convenience is still in the top 3 reasons why people eat what they eat.

With a mix of optimism and trepidation I share this ad campaign. I do appreciate the small steps toward change. As I tell my clients “aim for progress not perfection.” I celebrate that at least someone (with a big advertising budget) is supportive of non-diet messages. The Lean Cuisine website states a goal to “ignite a relevant and authentic social conversation about weight and value perception among women” and that is a conversation I want to have more often!

 

“The Jungle Effect” as Antidote to Fad Diets

Many of you have heard me rant about various fad diets. I lament how easily these temporary promises of a better, thinner, healthier version of ourselves take hold in our often anxious and preoccupied minds. I know humans innately crave a mix of new experiences (and foods) as well as the comfort of familiar routines (and foods), so I get why at least some of these fads are appealing. We know at some level we will never look like the celebrity du jour touting this fad as the secret to her success. We understand that no matter how much we long for simple solutions to our problems, it is unlikely the complex layers of our issues will be unraveled simply and with minimal effort.

Yet we can’t help ourselves. The power of our imagination is so great that we enter each new fad wide-eyed with possibility. Maybe this time we will lose weight, gain health and self-confidence, and all of the problems we think are tied to our weight and appearance will magically melt away.

I am reminded of my favorite nickname of a hockey teammate in Seattle – “Dream Crusher.” Though I understand very well the myriad reasons all of us are attracted to different fads at some point or another (this extends beyond fad diets for those who think this post doesn’t apply to you), I am here to crush that dream. There are no quick fixes to solve complex problems related to weight and health.

Lucky for you I am not particularly comfortable with the moniker “Dream Crusher,” as appealing as it is for a defensive partner on the ice in the context of a hockey game. I prefer to inspire hope and to support the process of change that leads my clients toward their goals and whatever it takes for them to live in harmony with their values. So I have put together a class called “The Jungle Effect” to appeal to your sense of adventure while honoring your need for comfort and the familiar.

“The Jungle Effect” is a phrase coined by integrative physician Daphne Miller. Miller observed several patients who experienced health problems when they transitioned away from their traditional way of eating and adopted the ways of our modern, industrialized society. One client in particular spent time in a traditional community in the jungle as a child and when she returned to this place for an extended visit years later, many health issues she developed as an adult resolved.

Intrigued by this idea that returning to a simpler way of eating and living could reclaim health, Miller explores five areas in the world where populations still follow a mainly traditional way of life, including eating habits, and enjoy an unusually low incidence of various chronic diseases and conditions that plague much of the developed world.

There are many aspects of Miller’s approach that appeal to me. First, she uses stories of real people to introduce us to these exotic places and to give us ideas about how we can integrate traditional ways into our modern lives.

Next, there is a lot of nutrition myth-busting that occurs throughout the book, especially related to our annoying tendency to reduce nutrition to specific nutrients as a guide to a “healthy diet.” While she does introduce information about components in foods that have powerful health benefits like the omega-3 fats found in fish, she presents a broader picture of nutritional benefits. Popular ideas such as simply eating “too many carbs” is a general problem vanish as we learn that the people of Copper Canyon, Mexico eat a traditional diet that is composed of roughly 80% carbohydrates and enjoy one of the lowest rates of diabetes in the world.

Perhaps the best part of the book for me though, is that Miller provides a picture of each culture that extends beyond what they eat. There is no doubt the “what” is important, yet through Miller’s presentation of cultures as diverse as Crete and Iceland we are encouraged to look beyond what is eaten and contemplate how food is produced, prepared and shared, along with many other aspects of daily life in these communities that benefit their health.

“The Jungle Effect,” and more specifically the idea of pursuing more traditional ways of eating, is the closest thing I think we will find to a “simple solution.” By definition a culture that continues its way of life, including eating habits, over centuries is going to have a more simple approach than our post-industrial modern society.  The challenge then becomes reclaiming simplicity in a complex society, no small feat as many of you know.

Next week’s class through our local branch of Central Wyoming College is based on some of the important concepts from Miller’s book, complete with foods that represent these special places – Copper Canyon, Mexico, the islands of Crete and Okinawa, Cameroon, West Africa, and Iceland. We will explore some of the key concepts common to this diverse collection of cultures that contribute to good health and longevity.  Best of all, we will embrace the excitement that comes with trying something new while uncovering the comfortable, familiar aspects of this simple approach that require no special talents beyond our own inner wisdom.

Eating Beyond “Superfoods”

“A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”     – P. J. O’Rourke

Recently as I perused the produce department of my local grocery store, a man asked me if I knew anything about juicing – he pointed to a bunch of fresh beets and chunk of fresh ginger root in his cart. He wondered if the bunch of fresh  greens in his hand from a bin marked simply “greens” was okay for juice, or if he should use kale. Just then a produce employee arrived on the scene and informed us the mystery greens were mustard greens. So I explained to the man that all of the dark leafy greens were very nutritious and the mustard greens have a spicier flavor so the choice of greens to juice is more a matter of taste preference. The produce employee interrupted us to encourage the man toward kale because – “it’s a Superfood.”

Irritated on several levels, (and I am not proud of my next move) I pulled the “I’m a dietitian” card with the hope the annoying employee would go away, which he kind of did. But now the man holding the greens perked up and asked if I knew another dietitian here in town, and when I replied that I did know her, the man beamed as he pointed to his cart and said “she’d be proud of me wouldn’t she?” I agreed, and wished him luck with his juicing adventure. As I walked away, he tucked a bunch of fresh kale next to the bundle of beets and headed toward the cash registers, not realizing mustard greens are also “Superfoods” they just don’t have a publicist yet.

Sigh. Mustard greens are cruciferous vegetables in the Brassicaceae family – along with kale, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, brussel sprouts, Kholrabi (my husband calls this the “alien vegetable”), bok choy, and cauliflower.

This produce department incident is actually brimming with blog material but right now my focus is: “Superfoods.“ I know this isn’t a new concept. We live in a culture that LOVES superheroes, and celebrities, so it really isn’t a surprise we apply this concept to foods. In general there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to expand their culinary horizons to include whichever food currently has the best PR campaign or celebrity endorsement. Generally these foods are rich in beneficial plant compounds or some mix of nutrients we don’t get enough of, but somehow I find this trendy obsession irritating. I googled “celebrity kale” and came up with an Us Weekly headline “Stars Who Love Kale” followed by a long list of articles, blogs and websites where apparently celebrities gush about this leafy Brassica. Sigh again.

I  guess I should start with the fact that I have nothing against kale. In fact, I really enjoy kale – starting several years ago when I was a work-share for a season at the Cosmic Apple Gardens, a local CSA over in Victor, Idaho. Prior to that summer, kale was simply a popular garnish used in many of the restaurants and banquets I’d worked in my former food and beverage career. (Current kale enthusiasts would cringe at the thought of the millions of pounds of this vegetable superhero tossed in the garbage of restaurant kitchens after serving its aesthetic purpose.)

I was also thrilled to discover this member of the cruciferous family, a group best known for cancer-fighting powers, grows beautifully in the harsh soil and abbreviated growing season here in northern Wyoming. Even I, brown thumb who generally does best with plants like cactus that thrive on neglect, can grow kale!

But here’s the thing, if we focus on a narrow array of “Superfoods,” we not only miss out on the variety of tastes and textures that make eating pleasurable, we burn out on whatever the latest thing is. I mean how many times a week can you eat kale before you are over it?

Not to mention that I can buy broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts for half the cost of a bunch of fresh kale (especially if I go organic).  And, better still, incorporating more variety allows me to make a delicious cabbage salad with toasted pumpkin seeds to go with Mexican main dishes, broccoli (or even more fun – broccoli rabe) with pasta, a mustard greens and goat cheese omelet, and by the time I get to the kale and white bean soup I’ve been in cruciferous heaven for days! Admittedly I stumble a bit with cauliflower and brussel sprouts – not my personal faves. Though I have found ways to make these two palatable, it takes a bit of extra effort (and a lot of garlic – or a grill) so I choose them less often.

I guess my point is – it is difficult to find a vegetable or fruit that isn’t a “Superfood.” Nutrition research shows again and again that eating more fruits and veggies of all kinds (non-starchy anyway) offers a whole host of benefits from lowering our risk of heart disease and many cancers, to helping us achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Just because Gweneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston aren’t raving about broccoli (and let’s not forget George Bush Sr.’s anti-broccoli tirade) doesn’t mean we need to forgo the (broccoli) trees for the (kale) leaves! And what if broccoli actually had a PR campaign? Check it out http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/magazine/broccolis-extreme-makeover.html?ref=health&_r=2&

Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us

I am no stranger to the genre of Food Industry Horror Stories, both in book and film forms. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation was my first plunge into the seamy underside of our industrialized food system and its myriad cultural implications. Sadly many others have expanded on Schlosser’s work, including the latest contribution from investigative journalist Michael Moss called Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

Moss shares what he learned from food industry researchers and executives themselves about how foods are specifically designed to entice people to eat past the point of normal fullness; calculated “bliss points” are used for added sugars, just the right texture and amount of salt for a “flavor burst” to maximize the rush to the brain’s pleasure centers upon hitting the tongue, and fats that add both flavor and a quality called “mouthfeel” – a powerful combination that does not seem to trigger messages to stop eating.

For those of us who encourage our clients to work towards normal or “intuitive eating” rather than restrained eating, Moss’ reminder about the many foods engineered to derail this internal system is both frustrating and important. People who struggle with compulsive overeating, binge eating, or restricted eating that stems from fear they will not be able to stop eating once they begin, at some point need to know that their behaviors are not entirely emotionally based or a sign they are somehow bereft of willpower. This is exactly what food manufacturers want all of us to do – eat what they produce, in excessive amounts, and often. These so-called Food Giants also spend billions of dollars to market highly processed, ultra-palatable foods, and to make sure they are available nearly everywhere we go.

My hope is that the information in Moss’ book will help us be more aware when we eat processed foods, knowing they are deliberately hard to resist overeating. If this deeper understanding about how processed foods are made and marketed so we will eat more helps us let go of the guilt that often comes with eating these foods, particularly if we eat more than we planned to, then I am all for this type of consumer education.

I am concerned however, that yet another of these dire warnings about our food system will reinforce rigid all-or-nothing thinking about what we eat (or don’t eat) based on fear. It is one thing to strive for more whole or minimally processed foods that support good health and another to be so fearful of processed foods that when our options are limited and that is the only food available, we either don’t eat at all, or we are overly anxious while eating (not good for digestion or absorption of nutrients not to mention the increased release of damaging stress hormones).

I guess I’m a bit of an idealist in that I prefer to inspire change rather than jam it down people’s throats with a heavy dose of fear. But I have to admit, I like the idea that when we eat more whole foods and prepare more of our meals at home rather than outsourcing this important work to big food companies (restaurants, ready-prepared or frozen meals in grocery stores, etc.) we are effectively rebelling against a modern food system in dire need of repair.

Make Healthy Foods Taste AMAZING!

I saw this headline today “ADA Survey Shows More Families Eating at Home” and clicked through to read more. According to this survey of roughly 1,200 pairs of parents and children:

  • At-home family meals increased from 52 percent in 2003 to 73 percent in 2010.
  • Most families eat out less often, with an average of 57.2 families eating out less than once a week.
  • Aside from hunger, most children said taste was the main reason they ate, and said it would be easier to eat more healthfully if the food tasted better.

While I am encouraged by the first two points that contradict much of the trend data I have seen in recent years with respect to meals eaten away from home, the third point was most interesting to me.

This quarter I decided to audit the quintessential Bastyrian nutrition course “Whole Foods Production” taught by renowned author of Feeding the Whole Family Cynthia Lair. I have taught my own versions of whole foods cooking classes and incorporated whole foods cooking demonstrations into classes, community talks and events for several years but I have never taken a formal cooking class. I know from my experience both cooking and serving at different vegetarian restaurants prior to pursuing my nutrition career, that healthful food can taste amazingly good and often much more interesting than the standard American fare. I also know both from personal and professional experience, many people do not know how to make healthy foods in general and vegetables in particular, taste great.

What excites me most about the Whole Foods Production class is that the hundreds of students who take this class each year will go forward to spread the knowledge and skills (often with enthusiasm) related to making healthy foods taste great. When I go to a restaurant where the salad consists of iceberg lettuce topped with a few pale, mealy tomato slices, maybe a bland cucumber slice, and a few croutons sprinkled on top I think about how I, a longtime vegophile, would not eat vegetables the way I do if this was my regular option!

So here’s a question for all of you….what makes healthy foods taste GREAT to you? Do you already know how to make these foods taste good? Let’s get a conversation going to drive the trend towards eating better not because it will make us skinny or live longer (though these are certainly noble goals) but because we will enjoy eating that way!