Sugar, Carbs, and Whole Body Health

Hi friend, nice to see you again. How’s eating going for you? No, really, send me a message and let me know how your food journey is going!

I’ll kick this off by saying I don’t recommend any particular diet, and I don’t believe in eating for weight loss. If you’re carrying around an extra 20 pounds, stop worrying, unless you have labs that say you should make changes or you feel like you need to do something to feel better. Even then, don’t eat for weight loss.  If you’re carrying around an extra 200 pounds, stop worrying about eating for weight loss. Yes, seriously. I’m not saying don’t make changes, but when you stop focusing on eating being part of losing weight, the lifestyle changes you need will come more easily. Spend a lot of time checking in on how you feel when you eat certain foods, personally lots of simple carbs and dairy make me feel yucky. Doesn’t mean I never eat them, but I eat them sparingly and make sure to take some enzymes to help me digest them when I do. Funny thing is cutting out those two things, I eat a lot and I’ve lost weight.  I also feel better overall, it’s a small change, but it’s helped, and my partner is having the same experience. He says it’s getting older, I say it’s eating the way that works best for your body. You figure out what helps you feel your best, then eat that, at least most of the time.

Hold on, I’m going to do a 180 on you now. CUT OUT SUGAR. Yup, I’m on that bandwagon, because I feel the difference. Truthfully, I eat sugar occasionally because I do have a sweet tooth, but I feel awful afterwards. I do find that coconut sugar and xylitol don’t create the same issue for me, but I eat them sparingly. If you’re lucky enough to tolerate stevia, that’s a great option (I’m not a fan myself, here’s an interesting article about the genetic component to tasting sweetness). I mentioned in an earlier piece how dopamine levels are affected by sugar, this is an easy to follow TedTalk about how sugar affects the brain. Sugar is the number one reason to stop eating processed foods. Read the label, there’s probably sugar in there somewhere and those amounts add up quickly. Check our Sugar 101 on the American Heart Association’s website for a breakdown on sugar. Your recommended daily intake is 37.5 grams per day for men and 25 grams for women according to the AHA. Sugar behaves like a drug, increasing dopamine levels, BUT, over time you need more to achieve the same feeling.  Consume it sparingly, your body and your brain will thank you, particularly as you age.

To carb or not to carb, what should you choose? You can’t get away from carbs, they’re in pretty much all foods. “Glucose is produced when carbohydrates are digested or metabolized” and your brain functions on glucose. Too much glucose affects your cardiac function, the rates of cardiovascular disease are higher in diabetics. There is some evidence that people with Alzheimers have very limited use carbohydrates/glucose to power their brain function, but instead may still be able to use something called ketones. It’s something that needs more research, but it looks like preliminary research shows benefits from eating a very low carbohydrate diet.  It’s not uncommon for lots of people to vacillate between using glucose and ketones, when you don’t eat for an extended period of time and your liver has depleted the available glucose, the brain starts to use ketones. If you’ve heard of the keto diet or intermittent fasting, that’s a huge factor in why people choose to make those types of dietary choices.  It is theorized that when your brain is using ketones, it decreases brain fog and increases cognitive function. There are huge variations in the content of carbs in all foods. Cutting out carbs completely is not possible, but just like everything else, take a look at how you feel after eating certain foods. A lot of people agree eating carbs are fine, the key is to ask yourself, are you eating more than your body needs?

Your take away should be, cut back on simple carbs, cut out sugar, and eat whole foods. Don’t panic if you eat cake now and then, but do take a look at your habits. Your body is always telling you something and what you’re putting into it plays a huge role in that conversation.

Happy eating!

 

Additional References

https://foodinsight.org/background-on-carbohydrates-sugars/

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/mind-guest-blog/the-fat-fueled-brain-unnatural-or-advantageous/

https://www.alzdiscovery.org/cognitive-vitality/blog/paleo-and-keto-on-the-brain

https://www.beingpatient.com/ketones-for-alzheimers/

Nutrition: the beginning

Hey friend, it’s nice to have you back. This is the beginning of our talk about nutrition, based on my experience as a chef, a mom, and someone who grew up around farms and gardens. I currently work in the wellness field, with an emphasis on brain health. My current opinion is largely influenced by current research in that field. I am open to learning new information and having my opinion change, I recommend you are open to the same. That said, I highly value traditional food ways. From the Three Sisters to eating bison, emu, or salmon, using the whole animal when eating meat, or focusing more on eating plants. These are ancient ways of eating that are important to remember.

In our modern lives, food is one of the most confusing parts of our day. Where once we ate what was available, now we have hundreds of varieties of cereal, bread, and milk at every grocery store. So where do we look for answers on what we should eat? The USDA is often considered the leading expert on nutrition in the United States, they brought us the food pyramid, and now the “choose my plate” philosophy of eating. If you’d like to nerd out about some USDA guidelines history, click here, there’s some great graphics through the last hundred years. They’ve long had an affinity for grains, particularly wheat. The purpose for the reliance on these cheap carbs is they would fill you up when it was difficult to find other foods. Over the time the USDA has been around, large agribusiness has pushed for those guidelines to stay the same, even though current science shows reducing simple carbohydrate intake, as well as dairy, has a positive benefit for many people. Many argue there are different dietary needs based on your genetic make up, your ethnicity and national background is thought by many to impact these needs. For instance, African Americans and Asian Americans are thought to have different dietary needs that European Americans. My thought is, I’m not ready to jump on that clear cut of a delineation, but there certainly is something to your genetic makeup influencing your dietary needs.

Most countries have some sort of food pyramid, or graphic that shows the recommendations, I find Canada’s graphic particularly interesting and Finland’s pyramid shown on Mother Nature Network. Both countries recommend sustainable foods as a priority, there’s a lot of us on this planet these days, considering how your food choices affect your next door neighbor and your fifth cousin on the other side of the planet is getting more important every day.

Then there’s the diets, when I talk about diets, I’m not talking about weight loss. Losing pounds is a thing of the past. When you eat well, your weight is an irrelevant subject. I’m talking keto, paleo, Mediterranean,  Bulletproof, even Weight Watchers falls in this category these days, these are lifestyles that are designed to meet the nutritional needs of those that follow the rules set out by the plan. Our choices are so vast many people find having a community of like  minded eaters is the best support for staying on track to being healthy. What I advocate are the foods that are right for you. You may have seen me rail on about gut biome before, let’s talk a little more about that. Our bodies are full of bacteria, much of which are helpful to us. Our guts are teeming with these tiny organisms, and they run our bodies and our brains. The gut is often referred to as the second brain. Some even argue it’s actually our main brain and the one inside our skull is actually taking orders from the gut. Your gut biome affects your mental health, physical health, and your general brain function. How you feed your gut biome dictates your health, so pay attention to how you feel mentally and physically.

What does this mean for you today? Eat what makes your body feel good, I’m not talking the quick fixes like eating sugar, that increases your dopamine levels, but over time affects both serotonin and dopamine regulation, creating intense cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates. If one of the diets listed above makes you feel great, then do your research and follow it. If you make a choice about how you’d like to eat and one day you eat something completely off the parameters you set out, no sweat! Give yourself permission to be in charge of what, how, when, and where you eat. For most of us eating splurge foods now and again isn’t going to have a huge impact if we’re generally eating healthy. It’s how we eat the majority of the time.

It should be clear by now, that I am not a fan of relying on cheap carbohydrates for calories (I’ve been broke, I’ve been depressed, I know eating cheap ramen and sandwiches is the easy road. Trust me, you’ll feel better when you eat better, it’s real.) I’m also not a huge fan of eating sugar regularly. I have long been a supporter of eating local, seasonal, and making foods from scratch when possible. When you eat premade food there are a lot of sneaky ingredients in there. READ THE LABEL. Look at the sugar content. Can you buy all the ingredients listed at your grocery store?

Making your own food may mean spending a little more money in the short term, although over time, once you get in the habit and have a stocked pantry, it can actually get cheaper.  It certainly means more planning and spending more time in the kitchen. Building a habit takes time, but you can do it, I have faith in you. If you’re already on track, feel free to make some tweaks to what your doing, there’s always room for improvement. If you’re just starting your journey, be patient with yourself, the only thing that’s better than you, is a better you.

Happy eating!

P.S. If you’re just starting out and you need support, advice, or suggestions about where to start, please reach out, to me or someone for support. It can be overwhelming to start something new. You are important enough to start now.

 

References

https://www.iflscience.com/brain/here-s-what-happens-your-brain-when-you-give-sugar-lent/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201105/sunlight-sugar-and-serotonin

https://www.cdss.ca.gov/agedblinddisabled/res/VPTC2/9%20Food%20Nutrition%20and%20Preparation/Cultural_Consider_in_Nutrition_and_Food_Prep.pdf

http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/09/invented-food-pyramid/

https://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/usda-food-pyramid.html

Nutrition: why you should care

Hey there team, it’s been awhile! I’ve been doing all kinds of things, mostly food related, and haven’t been in writing mode for a bit, but I’m ready to get back at it. My newest interest is wellness, specifically gut biome, but generally how to use food for wellness. So, in that vein I’m going to do a series of pieces about different nutrients: where to get them and why they’re important. We’ll kick this off with a look at some basic nutrition information and why you should care about what you’re eating, now more than ever.

Food is less nutritional now than in the past. Wait, what? You read that right, based on current research the soil we’re growing most of our food in is creating foods that are lower in calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron. This is based on elevated levels of CO2 in the soil, which deplete minerals, thus causing foods to not create the same nutritional density as in the past. That soil biome is an important part of our health, so pay attention to where you food is coming from. Know your farmer, know your food; if that’s too big of a stretch for your situation, buy organic if you can. If those options aren’t available, use what resources you have to focus on eating foods you’re making yourself, it’s even more important for you to stay away from processed foods.

Last thought for the day, please be gentle with yourself. We are all doing the best we can with the knowledge and resources we have. If you eat something you shouldn’t today, don’t give up tomorrow. If you need to make some big changes in your diet, then don’t jump down the rabbit whole of whatever diet is big right now (in case you didn’t know, for 2019 it’s keto), allow yourself to make the changes that are sustainable for you in the long run. These are lifelong habits we’re developing, be realistic, and most of all be kind.

Happy Eating!

 

References:

https://www.bryanhealth.com/about-bryan-health/news/2016/associate-professor-bryan-college-health-sciences-climate-change/

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/may/15/foodanddrink.shopping3

 

Chocolate Cardamom Halvah

If you’ve never eaten halvah, your life is not yet complete. This delightful confection can be found from western Asia to the Middle East. It is an iconic Levantine dessert made with tahini (sesame paste), sugar, and a variety of flavorings. It is imperative to have a good candy thermometer when making this. Once you’ve mixed all the ingredients together it sets quickly so make sure you are absolutely ready to get it in the prepared pan once you commit to starting.

Chocolate Cardamom Halvah

Ingredients

  • 1 pound (16 ounces or 453 grams) granulated sugar

  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup or 114 grams) cold water

  • 1 pound (16 ounces or 453 grams) good-quality tahini paste (make sure it’s pure tahini)

  • 4 ounces (114 grams) dark chocolate

  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Method

Note: you’ll need a candy thermometer to make this recipe.

  1. Add sugar and water to a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat. Do not stir. Heat until a candy thermometer reads 248 degrees F.

  2. While your sugar mixture is cooking, microwave tahini in a large microwavable bowl for 30 seconds or until warm.

  3. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Stir in salt and cardamom.

  4. Once sugar reaches 248 degrees, pour the sugar mixture over the tahini and mix quickly until just mixed. Swirl in chocolate. Do not over mix.

  5. Line a small mold with plastic wrap and pour in the mixture. Refrigerate overnight. Cut and eat! Keeps well at room temperature, or in the refrigerator if it’s warm out.

Thanksgiving

Hi team! The internet, grocery stores, and caterers are aflutter with Thanksgiving food and ideas this time of year. I know for many of you the traditional green bean or hash-brown casserole is a staple on the table. Or the jello salad that may, or may not, get eaten by anyone. These traditions are important, don’t stop making grandma’s recipes! If you’re still undecided what to make, or bring, to your holiday gathering, there are a bevy of options to get you through not only Thanksgiving, but the rest of the holiday season as well.

Appetizers and cocktail hour

Gatherings should be about socializing, and what better way to bring people together than over one bite, finger foods and cocktails. Some of us are good with beer and cheese dip honestly, but there’s room to kick it up a notch too. Lemonade is light and refreshing, add a little carbonated water to make a spritzer, frozen berries are a nice way to keep it chilled. Add a sprig of rosemary, thyme or tarragon, and a shot of vodka or bourbon to make it festive. Cocktails can easily be modified into mocktails for the younger crowd, or those folks that have a little more common sense than the rest of us. If you want to impress your guests, make some crostinis, and top them with smoked salmon spread and sprig of dill, a slice of brie and an apple wedge, or black eyed pea pate.

Sides

I’m not really going to talk about turkey, other than to share this interesting article I just read on brining. What I want to talk about is sides, really vegetables, because that’s usually what I want to talk about. Don’t forget to eat them!

  • Roasted brussel sprouts are  quick, you can add bacon if you like, toasted or candied pecans are also a delightful addition. Toss them in oil, salt and pepper, 400 degree oven until brown and crispy.
  • Sweet potatoes: step away from the marshmallows! roast them whole in their jackets, mash them with butter and cinnamon and done. Peel them, slice thin, toss with oil and high heat roast until crispy. Toss with herbs, a little cider vinegar and thinly sliced green onion
  • Green beans: grill or high heat roast until just starting to brown, toss with gremolata, or just finely minced garlic and butter, toasted almonds work great here too.
  • Cauliflower: cut in to slabs, toss with oil, almond flour, parsley, lemon zest, and paprika, high heat roast until very brown.

Desserts

Ok, so obviously pie is essential. I’m always a huge fan of crostatas because they come together quickly and can be made ahead of time, frozen, and baked the day of your gathering. Apples, quince, and cranberries all make great pies this time of year, either together or separate. I’m a little obsessed with Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Pecan Pie this year. And if you’re tired of pumpkin pie (you’re crazy if you say that though), try a sweet potato pie

There are so many opportunities to create new traditions and include new family members and their traditions, keep your holiday favorites and bring in a couple of new ones. Holidays are about sharing.

 

Happy Eating!

Crostinis

A super simple vehicle for just about any topping, that can be made a few days ahead of time to lessen your work load the day of your gathering. I don’t ever measure any of the ingredients, you can play around with what works best for you, just remember you can always add more salt and oil, but you can’t take it out.

Crostinis

Ingredients:

  • baguette: it’s important not to use French bread for this, it’s too soft. The better the baguette, the better the end result. Slice into 1/4″ slices, many baguettes yield about 30-40 pieces.
  • oil: a blend of olive and a neutral oil, such as avocado or safflower is best. The amount will vary, I’d start with 1/2 cup, you don’t want them to be too oily, but make sure they all get some oil, a squeeze bottle is a great way to spread the oil around.
  • salt and pepper: you can skip the pepper, but I find a pinch is worth it. Start with 1/2 tsp of salt, these are a vehicle for toppings and you don’t want to distract from those.

Method:

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. line a baking sheet, or two with parchment
  3. options, there are two camps on how to make these, I tend to go with option one
    1. pour the oil on to the baking sheet and place your sliced bread in a single layer on top on the oil, dust with salt and pepper
    2. toss bread in a bowl with oil, salt and pepper, lace your sliced bread in a single layer on the baking sheet
  4. bake 12-20 minutes, maybe a little longer, rotating half way through. I understand that’s a wide range, your oven will really impact how long these take. If you’ve sliced them a little thick I recommend under baking them a little, you’ll want to use them within 24 hours in that case, but it’s easier to eat that way. If the thickness is just right, bake until crispy, but not overly brown.
  5. Once cooled store in an airtight container for a few days, although I generally find they don’t last that long.