Archive for April, 2012

To Eat or Not To Eat Organically

When you see a product labeled as “USDA Organic” (Europe: Euro Leaf seal) it means the product complies with the following governmental regulations: treated without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics and GMO feeds.  In June of this year, the U.S. and European Union will finally consider each other’s organic standards as equivalent (meaning, additional organic product options will be available on either side of the pond).  But don’t spring for organic “just because.”  (a) Does the product have the USDA or European Organic Seal of approval? (Otherwise it is not organic). (b) Is the food a “dirty dozen” food or a “clean 15” (Splurge on the dirty not the clean).  Bottom line: not a good idea to draw the conclusion that we MUST eat organic OR ELSE.  The benefit of eating a non-organic food greatly outweighs the risk of any pesticide exposure (and best to eat non-organic than not at all).  Visit the Full Engagement Center to learn some more tips.

What is the “dirty dozen” and “clean 15”?

The “dirty dozen” list of foods is considered to have the most pesticide residue (tough to clean off the fruit, and therefore, worth purchasing organic varieties). On the other hand, don’t splurge on the “clean 15,” (these foods are not exposed and/or do not retain high levels of pesticide on their skin).  The clean 15 are those whose skin we typically need to peel.

Regardless of whether it is “clean” or “dirty,” hopefully you know you still need to wash your produce before eating it (e.g., if you ate a mushroom before cleaning, your mouth would be caked with dirt!).

Here are the lists:

What about eggs, meat, dairy and fish?

Eggs, meat and dairy: spring for organic!

The sick ones: mainstream varieties of eggs, meat and dairy are classically known for being treated with hormones and antibiotics.  These animals eat genetically modified feed and are fat creatures.  Sick animals don’t have strong muscles, and some are too weak to stand — so weak that they wallow in their own feces.  The Agricultural Department has had to to reject “Downer Cows” (those who fell over from being so sick) from our food system, since it poses major public health and food-borne illness risks.

The organic animal products: lean, healthy animals are known to eat organic feeds, are not treated with hormones and antibiotics, and have able bodies.

Fish: there is no such thing as an “organic” fish

When a fish is labeled as “organic,” it really means “farmed.”  Farmed is okay some of the time, wild is okay some of the time – it really depends on the fish.  Best not to look for the term “organic,” but find out if the fish is healthy, low in mercury and sustainable.  How to know which seafood to buy and avoid:

(1)   Go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch site (an unaffiliated non-profit that helps consumers make sound choices)

(2)   Click on seafood recommendations

(3)   Download the mobile guide or print out (a nifty) pocket guide (trust me, it is super helpful when at a restaurant and deciding between fish!)



Guide to Eating Well: One Week of Food

Last night, I watched the rest of two documentaries on my to-do list, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” and “Forks over Knives.”  I highly recommend both films when you have time (I also have critique that I will readily express, if requested). The gist of these films: “increase vegetable consumption; avoid processed foods and animal products.” No doubt, a vegan diet that is properly prepared can meet nutritional needs and reduce the risk of a variety of chronic diseases. However, (I believe) following an animal-free diet is not essential to good health or toward achieving a healthy environment.  What is essential to good health and leaving behind a small ecological footprint is to (a) reduce processed foods, especially those with trans-fat, added sugar and added sodium, and (b) choose healthy grass-fed versions of animal-based foods when possible.  Read some more of my key takeaways at the Full Engagement Center (note: the post is not a formal critique of the movies).

Takeaways …  Jumbled with recommendations (that come from years of study and reading about nutrition!)

  • I believe (most) men associate “eating red meat and no veggies” with being manly (a mistake)
  • I believe our primary nutrition focus as human beings should be to increase consumption of vegetables and plant-based proteins (legumes, beans, nuts, seeds and grains)
  • I believe a plant-based diet (the majority thereof) versus an animal-based diet of meat/eggs/dairy (the majority thereof) will avert and also reverse many chronic diseases (including high cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease, cancers, etc) ALONGSIDE reductions in ALL processed foods, especially those with trans-fat, added sodium and added sugar
  • I believe when it comes to nutrition, we need to adopt the following mindset: once you realize you’re not depriving yourself if you reduce certain foods, but instead, depriving yourself if you do not reduce them, you have begun to understand the impact your food choices have upon your overall health and your ecological footprint
  • I believe it is best not to avoid but to limit eggs/meat/dairy (choose healthy grass-fed versions of each when possible)
  • I believe we should spread out dairy, meat and eggs throughout the week (i.e., it is best to consume some of each animal group throughout the week but not all groups at all meals everyday)
  • I don’t believe in “juice fasts” but I do believe it is ONE WAY to “get back on track” if necessary (I wouldn’t recommend the length of time suggested in FSND; 10 days should be the limit, if that, and the fast should be monitored by a doctor and/or registered dietitian)
  • I don’t believe we should limit fish, as FoK suggested – that is an asinine and misinformed recommendation; fish (namely the omega-3 fatty acids) are essential to good heath (vegetarians should consume flaxseed or algal oil or a DHA supplement)
  • I don’t believe increased meat consumption is linked to cancer; I believe increased processed meat and all processed food consumption (especially those with HFCS and trans-fat) are linked to cancer.

Menu of Options

These takeaways above led me to create my own version of what foods to include in your diet every week (depicted in the graph below).   By the mere act of listing it below, it means I DO recommend that you include these foods into your diet in the frequency specified.  If it is not listed, it means you should rarely if ever partake in the behavior (e.g., adding sugar and salt to food, drinking > 2 diet sodas/day, eating spam :)).

I made this version as straight-forward as I could, but there is (lots of) room to iterate.  How to read:

  • Dark blue boxes: specify how often to eat a certain food per week
  • Light blue boxes: specify how often to eat a certain food per day
  • White boxes: specify the certain foods to consume in the specified time frames

As mentioned above, it is okay to consume meat if it’s from a healthy animal; but most of the time we get meat products from local delis (Subway, Quiznos), and those meats are not only high in saturated fat and cholesterol, but are also full of the cancer-causing chemicals we want to avoid (nitrites) – more about nitrates/nitrites here if interested.

What a sample (and staple) day might look like:

  • Breakfast: Egg whites (one whole egg tops) mixed with favorite veggies and 1 slice cheese on grainy whole wheat toast. (optional: 1 pat butter) OR Greek yogurt with flaxseed meal, wheat germ and berries (optional: sprinklings of favorite granola)
  • Lunch: Salad (base: dark greens like spinach or arugula) with favorite veggies (onions, tomatoes, corn, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms) and beans/legumes (chickpeas, bean salad), olive oil and vinegar, whole wheat roll as a side.  (NYC: try Café 28, Tasty Café and ABG. Optional: can garnish with chicken, cheese or some croutons).
  • Snacks: Fruits, vegetables, plant-based spreads like hummus or peanut butter, Nuts, Kashi bars, Greek yogurt with flaxseed meal and wheat germ
  • Dinner: Grilled fish cooked in olive oil with steamed veggies and brown rice
  • Dessert: 1 piece dark chocolate and/or 1 cup Ronnybrook low-fat milk

Food Guide Pyramids

I have yet to create my own.  In the meantime, I recommend the following food guide pyramids to look through:

My recommendations promote meat/eggs/dairy a little harder than the Mediterranean, Fuhrman and Harvard, respectively.  My version limits the quantity of those foods by spreading them out over the course of the week WHILE focusing on the animal source, itself.

Bottom line from the above: spread out your dairy, meat and eggs throughout the week.  Best to consume some of each group throughout the week but not all groups at all meals every day.   Focus on fruits and vegetables as the base of your diet.

Self-Athletic Coaching: Effective Strategies

Ever wonder how you were able to skip a workout when you had every intention not to?  Instead of beating yourself up about it, be the most supportive coach you know.  Acknowledge that you have full autonomy over the decisions you make, such as whether or not you exercise.  Instead of, “I didn’t exercise today, I ruined it for my team and for the rest of the week,” try your athletic voice, “the extra rest today will make tomorrow that much better.”  The athletic voice trains your mind to think as an athlete would.  Every person has an athlete inside of him or herself.  Don’t believe it?  Ask yourself why you even exercise once a week and why you haven’t completely given up.  Your answer might surprise you.  It’s that answer that will help coach you through those days when you’re on the fence about exercising.  Lucky for us, our work environment and fitness challenge have taken care of the major obstacles of exercising (access and motivation).

Quell the Hunger Hormone with Exercise

This week’s Health Briefings focused on sedentary negatives.  It’s not a surprise that we find negatives in being sedentary (one of the reasons why we keep you active here).  As mentioned in yesterday’s post on how prolonged sitting can make you eat more, better nutrition is linked with being active.  To delve deeper, being sedentary increases the hunger hormone, Ghrelin.  Ghrelin tells your brain when it’s time to eat.  After a meal, Ghrelin drops, but the satiety hormone, Leptin, increases and says: “hey you, time to stop eating, I’m full.”  In active people, Ghrelin seems to be lower and Leptin is higher; in sedentary people, Ghrelin is higher and Leptin is lower.  What this means: those who exercise feel less hungry and increased fullness, whereas, those who are sedentary feel more hungry and less full.  What to do: don’t be sedentary.  Exercise (at least) 2-3x per week for 30 minutes to 1 hour and move around during the day.


When You Sit Around, You Eat More

Authors published a study last Friday in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism about the effects on appetite regulation in response to sitting all day (literally all day).  Not surprisingly, sitting for one day straight increased subjects’ calorie intake.  The decision to eat comes – not from part of the limbic system in the brain (if you were at Simon Sinek’s lecture you would get why!) – but from sensations of hunger, controlled by your central nervous system.  Appetite is slightly different than hunger.  Appetite is a motivation to eat – where sometimes a sense of satiety may go below or beyond caloric energy requirements.  The study showed how just the mere act of sitting (versus standing or walking around) can upregulate certain hormones that make your body prone to eating more.  What you can do: if you find that you are sitting at your desk for more than one meal, it is time to take a break and walk around or exercise.




What is “Detraining”? Can it Happen to Me?

Even the most serious of athletes can experience something called, “the detraining effect,” which is when the body loses both muscle and aerobic fitness due to a prolonged time of sedentary behavior.  As mentioned in a previous post about detraining, the detraining period of time can occur anywhere from 10 days to two weeks.  Luckily, the fitter you are, the longer it will take for your body to undergo the detraining effect.  For example, the phrase “use it or lose it” doesn’t exactly apply to a conditioned athlete.  A conditioned athlete (one who trains at least 2-3x every week) can take off from exercise for as long as three months – and still retain half of their original level of athletic conditioning.  Then again, losing half of your fitness level isn’t exactly something to aspire to, and is easily avoidable.  According to recent research (Aug 2011) by the Journal of Strength & Conditioning, those who partake in any form of endurance or resistance training over an “off period,” whether it’s during a holiday/vacation or resting from injury, observe training-specific improvements in their physical performance and body composition.  As expected, resistance training maintains better gains in strength for more prolonged periods after ceasing exercise than endurance training.  Bottom line: if you need to take off from exercise, best to incorporate small bouts of light cardio and resistance training to avoid the effects of detraining.  This week’s “M-Corner Theme” focuses on sedentary negatives.  Check out tomorrow’s post about how such behaviors can affects appetite.