Monthly Archives: July 2010

Are Carbs the Enemy?

These days, it seems like everywhere we turn we’re hearing about low-carb diets and zero-carb snacks.  My treadmill even has a carb counter so you can calculate the grams of carbs you are burning during each workout.  Many of you may have given The Atkins or South Beach diets a try at one point or another.  It’s definitely easy to believe that all carbs are evil!

But here’s the thing.  Before we mount an attack on this macro-nutrient based on what we’re seeing in the media or reading on food labels, I think we better make sure we really know what carbs are and what roles they play in our bodies.

What are carbs and what is their purpose?

When I say the word “carbohydrate,” what comes to your mind?  Most people probably think of high-starch foods like pasta, bread and cookies, but here’s the real 4-1-1 on carbs.

Chemically, carbs contain carbon and water, and they make up about 2% of our bodies.  Not only included in this food group are grains, breads and legumes, but also fruits, veggies and many sweeteners.  If fruits and veggies are carbs, why would we want to cut those out of our diets?  That’s right, we don’t!

You guessed it: Everything you see here is in the carbohydrate category!

So now that we know what carbs are, it would be tempting to do what so many people do and classify them into “good carbs” and “bad carbs.”  All bread is bad and all squash is good, right?  Wrong!  Instead, I suggest that we judge a carb based on quality, as in how it’s produced and if it’s whole. For instance, not all breads are alike.  A piece of high-fiber, whole-wheat bread is very different than a piece of white Wonder Bread!  And lightly steamed fresh squash is very different than squash fried up in hydrogenated oil!

While carbs are not essential for life like fats and proteins, they contain many vitamins and minerals that are essential, and they play many important roles in the body:

  • Provide fuel for the brain
  • Provide a quick source of energy for our muscles
  • Help regulate protein and fat metabolism
  • Provide a source of fiber, which helps with waste elimination
  • Help fight infections
  • Promote bone and skin tissue growth
  • Lubricate the joints

How do I know how many carbs I can eat each day?

As a general rule (some people can benefit from a bit more or a bit less), carbs should make up about 40% of your diet.  The other 60% should be 30% proteins and 30% fats.

  • The majority of your intake should come from low-glycemic veggies that are raw or lightly cooked.
  • Include 2-3 fresh, whole fruits each day (Juice does not count!)
  • Occasionally, include starchy carbs, but go for whole grains and breads, potatoes and brown rice.  Try to keep your intake of the starchy carbs to less than 15% of your diet.
  • Select organic products whenever possible (Hint: A Twinkie is not organic!)

So are there any carbs I should avoid all together?

Yes!  Stay away from carbs that are refined and processed, such as sugary, white-flour foods, whenever you can!  These are man-made concoctions and they’re stripped of their body-building nutrients, so they don’t support life.  Also, digestion of empty carbs depletes the body of it’s own reserves of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.  So not only do these refined foods not contribute to health, but they also take away from it!

These are not your friend!

If you’ve been looking at all carbs as your ultimate nemesis, then I hope this post encourages you to change your perspective and put more thought into the quality of the carbs you put into your body.  Be on your guard against fad diets that encourage you to cut out carbs all together, and remember all their beneficial properties.

Have a great Friday, and eat all kinds of nutrient-dense, properly prepared whole carbs this weekend!

How the $*@! do I Eat Organic?

Hi everyone!  Was it just me, or did that weekend fly by?  Nevertheless, it’s time to start another week, and that means another blog post!

Since I started my nutrition studies and got more serious about eating a more natural diet, Shea and I have had a couple of hot Friday night dates at the local Whole Foods Market (We like to rotate between there, Home Depot and Bed, Bath and Beyond!).  We’ll go and take our time perusing the aisles and eat dinner at the salad/hot bar.  Somehow, we always manage to spend around $100 for about ten items and leave shaking our heads.  Like most people, we just can’t afford to spend that kind of money on groceries on a weekly basis, so it’s reserved for special occasions.

In an ideal world, everyone would have the time and resources to be eating an all-organic, all-natural diet.  But let’s get real – we’re all so busy and we’re in a recession people!  Sometimes you barely have enough time to run into the Kroger to try to throw something together for that night.

After discussing this with a friend of mine over the weekend, I decided to do a little research on the world of organic food and share my findings with you. I think to many people, the term organic just translates to mean EXPENSIVE!  So how important is it that we eat organic and is it possible to do it without breaking the bank?

What exactly does it mean when a food item is labeled organic? The USDA’s Organic Foods Production Act went into effect in 1990 and has been updated many times since.  Certified organic production and handling prohibit the use of most conventional pesticides, petroleum or sewage-sludge based fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Organic meats, chicken and turkey come from animals that are fed organic feed, have access to the outdoors and aren’t given antibiotics or growth hormones.  Before a product can be labeled “organic”, an inspector visits the farm where the food is produced to make sure the farm meets USDA standards.

Are organic foods really superior? YES! Organic foods been proven to contain a higher percentage of nutrients, have no pesticide residue, generally taste better and have positive benefits on the environment and the people who farm them.

How popular are organic foods in the U.S.? Organic foods are the fastest growing segment of the food business in the United States.  Currently, organic food is a 14 billion dollar business, expected to grow to 23 billion dollars in the next several years.

Why are organic foods so flippin’ expensive? Yep, it costs an average of 30% more for organic goods than for regular products, and that’s because production is much more labor intensive. In addition, conventionally grown foods are often produced under subsidies from the government and chemical companies. Although priced lower at the grocery store, the regular food is produced at the expense of our health (not to mention the environment) and we’ll end up paying for it later!

Is it more important that we go organic with some foods over others? Earlier this year, the Environmental Working Group released an updated report that identified foods in the conventional, non-organic food supply that contained the highest number of pesticide residues. The worst offenders, which were nicknamed the “Dirty Dozen,” are listed below.  If you can only afford to buy a couple of organic items each week, make sure you pick from these.

Celery
Peaches
Strawberries
Apples
Blueberries
Nectarines
Bell Peppers
Spinach
Kale
Cherries
Potatoes
Grapes

You have less to worry about when it comes to the “Clean Fifteen.”

Onion
Avocado
Sweet Corn
Pineapple
Mango
Sweet Peas
Asparagus
Kiwi
Cabbage
Eggplant
Cantaloupe
Watermelon
Grapefruit
Sweet Potato
Honeydew Melon

Summer is the perfect time to bulk up on organic strawberries!

How can we regularly purchase organic foods without having to take out a second mortgage?

  • With produce, prioritize buying the organically grown version of the items featured in the Dirty Dozen.
  • Bulk up on the items that are in season, and take advantage of sales and coupons.
  • Buy locally whenever you can to save on the distribution costs of the food.  If you have a farmer’s market in your area, try to purchase your produce from there as often as possible. Even if farmer’s market produce is not labeled organic, (due to the expense of having a farm certified organic),  it is often grown using the same guidelines.
  • Prioritize the items that you think would benefit you and your family the most. For me, dairy products, produce and meat take precedence, and sometimes that’s at the expense of things like condiments, dressings and grains.

I’ll be the first to admit that Shea and I haven’t gotten our system down perfectly for buying organic foods.  Some weeks I only have time to make it to Kroger for our groceries, but luckily the one near our house has a huge natural foods section (but it’s definitely expensive).  I think it’s awesome that grocery stores have expanded their organic selections so much over the last few years.  I try my best to buy as much as I can from Trader Joe’s, since their prices on produce, cereals, condiments and cheeses are so much more reasonable (And you can’t beat the Two-Buck Chuck!)

The area where I think it’s the most difficult to buy organic is with meats.  It’s already so expensive to buy steak, and I’m often tempted to just get the regular kind.  I’m pretty good about getting the hormone/antibiotic-free chicken and eggs.  Ever since I read the book Omnivore’s Dilemma, this has become a bigger priority for me. I’ve also been meaning to watch Food Inc., but I keep moving it down my Netflix queue in order to watch old Lost episodes!  High-quality protein is crucial for building and supporting healthy cells, tissues, nerves, hormones, bones and muscles.  We have to select grass-fed organic animal protein whenever possible. It’s higher in beneficial fatty acids and vitamins and is just cleaner, leaner and much more humane.

If you want to learn more, this is a great resource for everything organic! I’m really interested in this topic and am still learning, so please feel free to contact me with any questions, suggestions or tips for buying organic on a budget!

Healthy Dinner on the Fly: Asian Lettuce Wraps

By JoAnna Anderson Brown, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner

Looking for an easy-to-prepare, healthy dinner for the whole family?  These Lettuce Wraps can be whipped up in minutes, and they are gluten-free and packed with nutritional punch.  Since I can pretty much throw in whatever veggies I have in the fridge, this has become one of my go-to supper solutions!

Ingredients:

  • A head of lettuce (I use romaine, but you can use iceberg, butter lettuce or whatever you have on hand)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 pound of ground chicken or turkey
  • 1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger
  • optional: 1 cup of cooked brown rice (I skip this to keep things light, but it can be helpful to make the dish go further for larger families)
  • Other veggie options: chopped celery, chopped water chestnuts (Both add a nice crunch!)
  • Seasoning Options: Black Pepper, Sesame Seeds, Gluten-Free Soy Sauce/Teriyaki to taste (Or spice it however you so wish.  You can’t mess this dish up!)  Garnish with Sriracha sauce if you like some kick!

Preparation Instructions:

  • Sauté the garlic, onion, and bell pepper in some oil over medium heat until softened (now your house smells amazing already!).

Lettuce wraps 1

  • Add in the ground meat and cook until golden brown.  Add in additional veggies and spices until everything is thoroughly cooked.

Lettuce wraps 2

  • Drain excess juices, serve into lettuce leaves, roll up and enjoy!
Turkey Lettuce Wraps served in Romaine Leaves

Turkey Lettuce Wraps served in Romaine Leaves

Lettuce Wraps would make a great appetizer for a dinner party. These are chicken lettuce wraps iceberg lettuce.  

And that, my friends, is how we roll, or in this case, how we wrap!  A healthy, gluten-free and delicious dinner can be achieved for your family in under 30 minutes!