Monday, February 28, 2011

Words To Live By

As we move into Lent, that time of year when we  take inventory of our lives through prayer and fasting, I am reminded of the steps I took one year to understand why -  why we fast and what it does for us both spiritually and physically.  A lot of us have philosophies that we live by.  And it should come as no surprise to you that one of my philosophies involves food and its place in our lives. 

While I was undergoing chemotherapy from November of 2001 to May of 2002, I did a lot of reading.  Much of what I read was for pleasure, but the books I read for instruction, well, they changed my life.  In fact, if not for them, I would never have become a Nutritionist and would never have even thought of starting a Blog (Now you know who to blame!).   

Father John Cassian, a priest who lived in the 4th century, probably had the biggest impact on me.  In his text "On the Eight Vices", the section entitled "Control of the Stomach" was nothing less than divinely inspired.   Yet it was brilliant in its simplicity.  Discussing some of the even-earlier church Fathers, he says "They have not given us only a single rule for fasting or a single standard for eating, because not everyone has the same strength;  age, illness, or delicacy of body create differences.  But they have given us all a single goal:  to avoid over-eating and the filling of our bellies."  His main point is that food is to be eaten in so far as it supports our life.  In other words, "eat to live, don't live to eat".  He then links the "sin of gluttony" with other "sins", saying, for example, that "no one whose stomach is full can fight mentally against the demon of unchastity.  Our initial struggle therefore must be to gain control of our stomach."  I like how he links weakness in one area of our lives with weakness in another.  It makes sense.  Being unable to control our appetite is a symptom of a larger problem, leading, more than likely, to lack of control in other areas of our lives, as well.  Conversely, controlling what you put in your stomach makes it easier for you to be able to fight off the other temptations that come your way. 

Regarding prayer, Cassian warns that if we have eaten too much, we are unable to guard our thoughts - primarily we have a hard time keeping our restless impulses at bay, or restraining our minds from shameful fantasies.  Can anyone relate to this?  I could!  I always used to find my mind wandering whenever I really made an effort to pray.  Either that or I would start yawning and have to fight off falling asleep.  All because I was weighed down with heavy food.  An early 5th century monk named Neilos the Ascetic summed it up pretty well: "Gluttony", he said, "destroys everything good.  Once it gains the upper hand, it drives out self-control, moderation, courage, fortitude, and all the other virtues".   

Entering a fasting period is a great time to take control of your appetite.  As I go through this Lenten period, I challenge you, whatever denomination or religious affiliation you are, to take this time to lighten your load - diet-wise.  You don't have to do it for the full 54 days, but try cutting heavy foods out (read "meat" or at least "fatty foods") for as long as you can and see how you feel.   If you are someone who prays or meditates, see if eating lighter doesn't help you to find spiritual clarity as well.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the results...

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

(Note:  Quotes are from The Philokalia, Volume One, pages 73-4, and 239.  The Philokalia are ancient spiritual texts that were translated from the original Greek in 1979.  They were written primarily as instructions for those who had sought the Monastic life, but if they are read carefully, are full of wisdom for those of us in the secular world as well)



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bye Bye Meat!

Today is what we Orthodox Christians call Meatfare Sunday.  It marks the beginning of a 54-day Lenten journey and is the last day we eat meat before Easter (April 24th). 

For me, it will be one of the last days I eat meat - period.  I have health issues that have plagued me since completing a grueling chemotherapy regimen almost 9 years ago.  And, even though I have made many dietary changes since then, I have always believed that giving up meat would be another step in the right direction. Especially since the hardest hits my system took were both cardiac and digestive.  Note that I said it would be "one" of the last days I eat meat.  With all foods, I have learned to never say never, well except for beef  - haven't knowingly touched it in 9 years (I have real issues with beef). 

In spite of my aversion to beef, though, I am a carnivore, so this'll be a challenge.  I enjoy turkey;  boneless, skinless chicken; an occasional pork tenderloin; and lamb.    If, after Lent is over, I slip down the road,  I will just get right back on track again the next day.  You can, too - with whatever it is that keeps you from eating what you know you should be eating  -  each and every day of your life.  Hang in there!  Temptations will always be there, but overcoming them makes you stronger.  I should know.  I have battled many of them over the years.  You're not alone...

Well that's it for today - the flu is still lingering - big time - and I need to rest.   Hope you all stay well!
Happy and healthy eating and happy Meatfare Sunday to all my Orthodox Christian friends out there.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Yikes! Not The Flu!

Well, it looks like I have come down with the flu.  Nasty thing, the flu is.  Fever, body aches, food not staying where it should after you eat it - you get the picture.  I have spent the better part of my day watching Season II episodes of Smallville under my quilt on the couch.  Could be worse, I suppose.

I wasn't going to post today, but decided to remind anyone out there who may also be under the weather, that it's true what they say - you need to make sure you stay hydrated.  And the "BRAT" diet works wonders if your tummy is off - that's Banana, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast.  I also add Broth and Green Tea to that mix.  More fluids, plus extra antioxidants and a little protein, too.   

During flu season it is wise to make sure you eat well.  Load up on those antioxidants and take extra vitamin C.  There's a good product out there called Emergen-C that I used to use faithfully (and will add back to my repertoire).  It's a powder that comes in little packets that you mix with water.  The one I recommend for women is Emergen-C Bone Health.  It contains 500 mgs. of Vitamin C and 250 mgs. of Calcium per packet.  And remember to make sure you are getting enough sleep (this is where I know I missed the boat this month).

Well, enough flu talk.  Time to get back to my quilt, green tea, and Smallville.  Martha Kent is pregnant (what's that about?) and Lex Luther is engaged (Huh?) - none of this was in the comic books I read, but I love it!!
As always, happy and healthy eating - and please stay well!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Brussels Sprouts Rule; Tofu Drools...

A couple of days ago, I triple dog dared you to make a Tofu recipe that I hoped would help turn you on to what too many of you viewed as a not-too-appealing food.  It was Chocolate Tofu Pudding and I made it last night. (See photo and critique on the right column of my Blog).  I still want to hear what those of you who took the dare thought of it..  I maintain that with more chocolate, it could be "pretty" good....

The second least favorite of the 4 foods I listed in my "Does Anything in This Life Make Sense" post was Brussels Sprouts.  And I told you of a recipe that I would try this week that had been rated as one of the two best recipes in the magazine from which I got it.  Well, I made it and it was DELICIOUS!   Yup, that's it in the photo above.  It is called Crispy Topped Brussels Sprouts and Cauliflower Gratin.  You can find it in the link for Cooking Light magazine if you scroll down under the photos on the right side of my Blog.  It is in the March 2011 issue.  O.K.  So it contains chopped bacon (was good with turkey bacon and I will try it with vegan bacon come Lent), and Parmesan cheese, sweet vidalia onion, and half 'n half.  But I have told you before - Brussels Sprouts sometimes need a little "dressing up" to be really good.  I highly recommend this recipe - you don't even have to tell your pickiest eaters that there are Brussels Sprouts in it.   And, yes, it is low-fat!

As for tofu, in all fairness, there really are some good recipes that incorporate it out there.  And again, come Lent, you'll be introduced to several of them. 

Until we meet again, happy and healthy eating!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How To Succeed In The Business of Eating Without (Really) Trying

Most "diets" out there fail because they are either unbalanced (leaving you with food cravings and going back to old habits as soon as you stop them), too restrictive (leaving you feeling run-down), too expensive (forcing most people to give them up after a while), or a combination of these factors.  When I said that the only way to lose weight is to cut calories, I meant it.  Think of the other things I have been talking about as a bonus - like eathing 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day, eating whole grains, cutting down on fats, making sure you are getting enough calcium, etc.   If your goal is to drop even a few pounds, you need to COUNT CALORIES.  And the way to do that is by keeping a food diary.  Yeah, I know. I've said it before, but I keep hearing excuses for not doing so.  Food diaries keep you accountable, but also help you to figure out what works for you diet-wise, as well as helping you to identify problem areas or pitfalls.

Besides the all-important calorie-counting food diary, there are a few other simple things you can do to help you lose weight or to simply eat healthier.  First of all, give up grazing (plan on eating 3 meals a day with one snack when you need that mid-day energy boost).  Plus, when you eat, sit down and take your time.  Make each meal an event.

You need to be ready to deal with the unexpected.  Either be prepared to say "no" to the birthday cake at the office party, or plan on eating it and compensate for it by cutting calories somewhere else either that day or the next.  (Again, it is important to count those calories).

You should also make it a hassle to "cheat".  Don't leave tempting snacks out where you can easily get to them.  If there are people in your house who eat them, wrap them up and put them away.  Better yet, don't buy such foods and get everyone to just eat more of the healthy stuff.

Lastly, find healthy outlets for your emotions.  We talked a while back about emotional eating.  When your emotions get the best of you and food seems like the only source of comfort, take some deep breaths, call a friend, take a walk, or soak in the tub.

I think a lot of the time we "fail" because we make eating healthy way too complicated.  Write down what you eat (it keeps you accountable), count those calories (you'd be surprised how quickly they add up), eat with a purpose, make cheating a hassle, and don't let your emotions get the best of you.  That's it. folks!

Until next time, happy and healthy eating! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Triple Dog Dare You To Try This Recipe!

Marianne (you know who you are), you inspired me to throw out the triple dog dare for this!  In e-mails, on my Facebook wall, and in the comments section of this Blog, I have been hearing a common refrain:  "I can handle trying the other 3 "yucky" foods you challenged us to eat, but not Tofu!"  Most of you have complained about the texture of it, which if prepared properly, should not be a problem.  Now, I don't believe in coincidences and so when I just happened to receive this recipe today in an e-mail, I knew it was kismet.  It is easy, incorporates chocolate - one of my all-time favorite foods -  and is healthy, too.  So, I triple dog dare you all to try this simple recipe.  I will make it tomorrow, since today is my son's 18th birthday and we're having cake.  : ) 

Plus, because we are going to celebrate my son's birthday in style (Nora's Lebanese restaurant - yum!), I am keeping today's Blog post short and simple: 

Chocolate Tofu Pudding
Makes 4 half-cup servings
1 pound soft silken tofu (16 ounces)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup maple syrup (to taste)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place all ingredients in a blender and process until completely smooth. Spoon into small bowls and chill well before serving.
Nutrition Information
Per 1/2-cup serving:
calories: 150; fat: 3.5 g; saturated fat: 0.7 g; calories from fat: 21%; cholesterol: 0 mg; protein: 8.4 g; carbohydrates: 22.3 g; sugar: 17.5 g; fiber: 1 g; sodium: 191 mg; calcium: 58 mg; iron: 1.9 mg; vitamin C: 0 mg; beta-carotene: 0 mcg; vitamin E: 0.2 mg
Recipe from Jennifer Raymond, found in Patricia Bertron’s book, Healthy Eating for Life to Prevent and Treat Diabetes

Happy and healthy eating to you all!!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Does Anything In This Life Make Sense?

I love butterflies.  They are one of Gods' most beautiful creations.  When I was little, I used to carefully sneak up behind them, gently grab them by lightly pinching their wings together and then run their little feet along the top of my hand or against my cheek.  (Of course, when I let go, they weren't always "able" to fly again, but I won't go there...)  Imagine my surprise - or shock was more like it - when I discovered what one of their favorite foods was last summer!  In the photo on the left, you can see 2 lovely butterflies (each a different type, by the way) feasting on something a horse left along a hiking trail.  Call me naive, but I always imagined they nibbled on the stamens of flowers or sucked on honeysuckle - you know, "pretty" things.  And they may eat those things too but, for variety at least, they seem to also enjoy - well - you know...

I often feel that when I suggest that someone try a new cuisine, like Indian or Ethiopian, or a vegetable like Brussels sprouts or okra, that they equate it to what those butterflies are eating (above).  I think of my friend whose husband literally will only eat beef and potatoes and realize that virtually everything I feed my family would be repulsive to him.  And it makes me sad.  With all the bounty God has given us and the myriads of ways in which to prepare them, how can anyone end up liking only beef and potatoes?  Our taste buds are wonderfully sensitive and are designed to distinguish between and savor a variety of flavors.  Our bodies require - not like, but REQUIRE - many different foods to function optimally.  So what makes a person like only 2 foods and simply abhor the thought of eating any others?  My mother made us eat everything that was placed on our plates.  And, even though you can be sure that I liked some things better than others, it did help me to learn to expand my boundaries - culinary-wise. 

The hardest thing I face in my line of work is getting people to try new foods.  And you can bet that when someone has diet-related health issues, it is because their diet is terribly unbalanced.  Being raised to eat whatever I was served, I was stunned to discover how many adults are really picky eaters.  So I'm going to take some of the most common "yucky" foods and try to remove the stigma surrounding them.

#1 - Tofu.  Come on guys!  How can you hate tofu when, in reality, it has no taste?  You stir-fry it, put it in a sauce, or blend it into a vegan quiche or dessert and it picks up all the flavors around it.  A lot of the time, you would never even know it was there if someone didn't tell you. 

#2 - Brussels sprouts.  O.K.  I'll agree that, alone, these little cabbage balls can be a bit bitter.  But slice them in half, saute them in a little lite butter and sprinkle them with crumbled turkey bacon (or other facimile thereof) and some Parmesan and - voila!   You have magically transformed something yucky into a delicacy.  Later this week, unbeknownst to my family, I am going to make a Brussels sprout casserole that was an award-winning recipe.  Don't worry - I'll share it with you all.  And, if I forget to do so then, I dare you to try it!

#3 - Bean Burgers - I have two recipes for them that we like a lot - one uses black beans, the other pinto beans.  Each has its own sauce and, when you serve them exactly like the recipe suggests, they are wonderful.  You'll be seeing both of these once Lent starts.

#4 - Curry.   There are many different kinds out there and, to me, all of them are DELICIOUS!!  I can see you not liking them when you were 5 years old and your taste buds were oh-so sensitive, but I honestly believe that if you hate all curries now, it is because you haven't tried them since you last watched and sang along with Sesame Street...

There are some foods that I think just shouldn't be eaten by any human being - like insects, tripe, or calves brains - but when we have been blessed with such an array of delectable foods, it just doesn't make sense to me that so many people have a diet that consists of maybe a dozen or so different foods.  When God gave His people manna in the desert, they complained because eating the same thing got boring day after day.  And on the other side of that equation, Eve had everything at her disposal in the Garden but just couldn't keep her hands off of that apple.  I think of basic human nature, and pickiness when it comes to eating, (at least as an adult) shouldn't be part of it.  I mean, if something as beautiful as a butterfly can eat horse "----", well, you can at least give tofu a try...

As always, happy and healthy eating!!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Be Prepared (More Than A Boy Scout Motto)

When it comes to dietary matters, I generally don't believe in absolutes.  Except in two instances: 1.) Never do your weekly grocery shopping without a list, and 2.)  Always lay out everything you need for a recipe before beginning to prepare it.

My husband teases me because I title every shopping list I prepare "List".  And I always use a sheet from one of those 3-1/2" by 9" lined note pads that stick to your refrigerator.   Before anything goes on my "list", I have made a weekly dinner menu and have all recipes laid out before me.  I divide my list into quarters, in the order in which I shop.  Produce goes on top, followed by non-perishables (including paper goods and cleaning products), then dairy (including soy milk), and finally meats (or fish) and frozen goods.  As I said, I have made a weekly "dinner menu" before preparing my list.  As for breakfast, I make sure I have a container of oats at home, as well as a variety of dried fruit, and a box of  high fiber cereal like Go Lean Crunch along with a carton of plain soy milk.  Lunches vary and may be black bean burritos in whole wheat tortillas, Greek yogurt with fruit, or white bean tuna salad on Romaine lettuce.  And then I have to make sure I remember the items I need for my boys' lunches and breakfasts....But you get the picture.

Before preparing supper, I lay out all items I will need (see the photo above from tonight's dinner).  I wash and chop all vegetables, covering some with plastic wrap to keep them fresh until I will need them.  I then pull out all the spices, measuring spoons and cups, and everything else I need before I start cooking.  I pretend I am Julia Child, Rachel Ray, or The Barefoot Contessa and really enjoy preparing 2 to 3 courses at a time with everything I need at my beck and call.

Some of you may be reading this and saying, "Big duh!  Who doesn't do this?!"  And if that's you, then I applaud you.  But from my experience of working as a Nutritionist, I know that there are many of you out there who do not prepare your shopping lists off of a weekly menu - who write a couple of random items on a sheet of paper and buy the rest as you go - deciding while you shop, and being hungry on top of it, what you will eat that week, and putting anything that "looks good" into your shopping cart.   And then you wonder why you are not eating right.  Working off of a menu helps you to vary your diet and to eat healthier.  Plan for a healthy week of eating and, with few exceptions, buy only what is on your list. 

Hope this is helpful - at least for some of you... : )

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Keep A Food Diary: After All, It's True What They Say - Confession Is Good For The Soul

If you are serious about losing weight, the only way to do so is by cutting back on the calories you eat each day.   And there is no way to know how many you are eating unless you keep track of them.  I remember when I first started keeping a food diary.  I was stunned to see how quickly the calories and fats I kept track of added up!  Because I was so used to eating heavy meals and picking in between them, I would sometimes find that I had reached my 1,400 to 1,500 calorie a day limit way before dinner!  And the fat?  I could consume almost a week's worth in one "off" day! Yikes!  The good news is that, by keeping meticulous track of what I ate, forcing me to face what I was doing to my body each day, I was able to, relatively quickly, change those bad habits.

In your diary, record everything you eat, and I mean everything - from the salad you had for lunch to the small handful of nuts you grabbed on the way out the door.  You'll be surprised how quickly the calories add up, especially if you are someone who "grazes" throughout the day, or includes fast, or processed foods in your diet.  Buy a book of Food Counts and get in the habit of recording the calories of everything you eat.  Or find a list of Food Counts on line and save it as a favorite. Keeping track of everything you eat will keep you honest, and hold you accountable, much like confession does for your spiritual well-being.

Confession (bringing those things that weigh your conscience down out in the open) helps you to stop repeating them because when you hear yourself say them out loud, you "own up to them" and can deal with them.  The exact same process is at work when you record everything you eat.   Not only will you want to stop eating the high-calorie empty foods you see splashed across the pages of your life, but you'll soon learn that you will actually want to eat more of the foods that are good for you, and you will feel much better when you eat them. 

At first, recording everything you eat will seem like a lot of work, but before you know it, you begin to memorize the calories of most common foods.  I don't even use my Food Counts book anymore - haven't done so in years.  I feel like The Terminator (in the original movie) when he's naked and scans all the people in the biker bar to see whose clothes will fit him best.  That's how my brain works when I scan a menu.  After all this time, I just "know" what to order and approximately how many calories and how much fat the meal will contain.  And it wasn't just the Food Counts book that helped me do this.  When you start subscribing to healthy magazines and use healthy cookbooks (see my February 19th Blog post), they contain nutrition information for every recipe in them, helping you to eventually translate that knowledge to things you order at restaurants and other places.

(Note that if you are concerned about hypertension, you might want to record mgs. of salt, as well.  As for me, with my history of cancer and resulting cardiac issues, I count fat grams and calculate the percentage of fat in my diet each day, trying to keep it to 15% or less of my total calories).

I've shared with you the importance of eating plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, of buying organic produce when necessary, of eating the right amount of fiber, how many calories you should be eating for your age, height, and weight, and much more.  Keeping a Food Diary is how you put it all together.  And it tells me that you are serious about eating healthier - about making 2011 the year that you take charge of your life.  Try it - and after a few days, get back to me and let me know how you're doing.

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Remember: Eating Healthy Means "Redefining" Food, Not Taking The Joy Out Of Eating

I love to eat.  I can't help it and I won't deny it.  And if you've been reading my posts, you've probably figured out that I am on a low-fat, relatively low-calorie diet, one that I have stuck to for about 9 years now.  I try to keep my daily caloric intake between 1,500 and 1,700, depending on how much exercise I get that day, and the fats I consume between 25 and 30 grams.

As I said in my very first post, however, when I first changed the way I ate, eating out was frustrating and difficult, and what I cooked at home became monotonous and boring.  But through the years, I changed that - big time!  I had to.  If I didn't, I could have never stuck with it.  It's funny, because before I started "watching" what I ate, my diet was way more monotonous than it is now.  After all, I hated fish, I hated most greens and too many other vegetables, always ordered the same greasy, sauce-laden foods on a menu, and over salted everything.  I realize now, that what I was doing was essentially burying the true taste of most foods!  I used to subscribe to a cooking magazine that included a couple of pages of "healthy recipes" each month and I always turned my nose up at them, not giving them a second glance.  When it came down to it, I was a picky eater!

You've been hearing me rant and rave about things you should eat more of, and things you should limit or avoid, and are probably thinking that, if you follow my advice, eating will never be enjoyable again.  But I found that the changes I made gave me freedom to explore new tastes and cuisines.  In fact, I finally discovered what most foods really tasted like.  And I found I liked most of them - a lot.  Things like carrots, spinach, cauliflower, chickpeas, lentils (especially cooked in a nice Indian Dal), eggplant, and even Brussels sprouts, are delicious if prepared properly.   I learned to cook some of the more challenging vegetables in ways that still kept them healthy but that complimented their unique flavors.

So, I cut out the foods I no longer needed in my diet:  beef, full-fat dairy, deep fried foods, sodas, and most conventional pastries,  and discovered, with much joy, the myriads of foods I should be eating.  I even learned how to make low-fat versions of family favorites like scalloped potatoes, candied yams, and several Greek, Indian, Italian, Mexican, and Asian foods.  When I reached my weight goal - which took about 6 months - I learned how to make low-fat desserts, which I "reward" myself with about once or twice a week.  Yes, I did look back now and then in the beginning, but I did not let myself give in to the temptation, knowing that one bite of one my "old favorites" would lead to another and another, until I was smack-dab where I started.  I was like an alcoholic who had successfully gone through AA.    

You know what your "addictions" are when it comes to food.  You and only you know what items you splurge on when you need comfort, or that you feel guilty about after you eat them.  And because I believe all of us, deep inside, are getting cues from our bodies regarding what we really need and are actually craving, we also inherently know what we should be eating.   If you follow the media in terms of dietary advice, you will go crazy!   You will see that sometimes coffee is good for you, and sometimes it's not.  The same is true for red wine.  We are told to start our day with a big breakfast and then we are told not to.  Garlic was shown to lower cholesterol, and then suddenly it didn't.   But three things remain constant, mainly because they are based on simple common sense:  1.)  As we get older, we need to reduce our caloric intake, and if we want to lose weight, the only way to do it is to cut calories,  2.)  A low-fat diet helps stave off heart-disease, eases inflammation, and is the number one step to take in decreasing your chance of contracting certain cancers, and 3.)  Exercise should be a daily part of your life. 

One of the things that really helped me to stick with my diet- and I HIGHLY recommend it - is subscribing to a couple of healthy cooking magazines.  The ones that have the absolute best recipes (hands down) are "Cooking Light" and "Healthy Cooking" (which used to be called "Light 'n Tasty").  During Lenten periods, I also enjoy many of the recipes in "Vegetarian Times".  And I have favorite Indian and Greek Low-Fat Cookbooks, as well.  You need to make sure that you have plenty of choices in your "arsenal" or else you will burn out - plain and simple.

And as for eating out, when you have learned the calories and fat content of recipes that you've been cooking at home, choosing healthy items on a menu becomes a breeze.  And never, never forget that at any decent restaurant, a chef can replace french fries with rice, fruit or the vegetable of the day, and all sauces can be served "on the side".   Omelets can almost always be made with egg whites and they taste great without cheese, especially when you load them with vegetables like mushrooms, asparagus, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, or onions.  I can glance at a menu and know that grilled fish, vegetarian - especially portobello - fajitas (hold the sour cream and cheese), a pasta with a vegetable-laden or marinara sauce, or linguine with red clam sauce,  Moo Shu Vegetables, several vegetarian Thai and Indian dishes, and lots of items on a Lebanese menu, are good choices. 

One of the places we love to celebrate special occasions is a Japanese Steakhouse (see photo above taken in Duck, NC).   And you can get a delicious healthy meal there quite easily.  Although I try, in general, to keep meats at a minimum in my diet, I order the grilled teriyaki chicken (since I am allergic to shrimp), eat the grilled vegetables, and order brown rice on the side instead of the fried rice the chef prepares.  Name a restaurant and I can tell you what you can order and still keep it low-fat and relatively low calorie.

Now is the time to make that change you've been meaning to make, and I can help you do it if you let me.  Next time I will introduce the infamous "Food Diary".  Until then, happy and healthy eating!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Breast Cancer - Don't Become A Statistic...

There are those who believe that since most young women who have abortions have them between the 8th and 11th weeks of pregnancy, they should be given an ultrasound to show them what they are "aborting".  The idea being that if they could see the little arms and legs and that tiny, little heatbeat, they would be less likely to choose that option.  I tell you, it makes more sense than protesting in front of, or bombing, abortion clinics.  Well, that same philosophy might hold true when it comes to convincing those who refuse to that they should change their eating habits. 

I spent the better part of my day yesterday at Johns' Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and have decided that with a low-fat, high fiber diet, since I have had cancer twice, I am still not doing enough for myself (and, by extension, my family) diet-wise.  I've made some positive changes, but know I can still do better.  Yes, spending a day at one of the world's foremost cancer centers can be very sobering.

 Besides sitting across from a woman who sobbed as she spoke to her husband about the lack of treatment options left for her, the halls were dotted with wheel-chair-bound (predominantly) women, one who had four IV bags attached to and hanging above her!  I couldn't even imagine why anyone would need four IV bags - at once!  I subconsciously found myself stroking my hair protectively as I saw women who had completely lost theirs.   I remembered how it felt to look in the mirror in the morning and see one stubborn strand clinging to an otherwise bald head.  I recognized the almost grey skin coloring that one attains after having received several rounds of chemotherapy, watched as once-vibrant women and men dragged their feet with the last remnants of strength they could muster, and I felt tears well up in my eyes.

I looked around at the bustling activity and reminded myself that 1 out of 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime.   Based on the latest statistics, that's what the experts say.  And that is just wrong!  We shouldn't allow it, accept it, or resign ourselves to that fate.  It's a good thing to donate to the various cancer funds out there, but it would be a better thing if we could actually prevent those 340,000+ cases of cancer in this country each year that the World Cancer Research Fund says are a result of poor eating habits and lack of exercise.  Breast, colon, and prostate cancers are among those that are most affected by poor nutrition and are probably among the 3 most common forms of cancer in this country.  Take a good look at your diet.  Are you getting the antioxidants you should be getting?  Have you cut down on fats?  Increased your fiber intake? Started checking out organic apples, peppers, strawberries and grapes?  Cut out artificial additives, colors, and other synthetic chemicals?  And are you at least walking 30 minutes or more a day, 5 days a week?  If you haven't already done so, do you plan to start implementing one or some of these changes in your diet?

1 out of 8.....Well, out of total population of about 307,212,000 people, if half are women, that would be about  153,606,000 women.  1 out of 8 would be 19,200,750.  That's 19 million, 200 thousand 750 women in the United States alone who, all things remaining constant, will statistically contract breast cancer in their life time.   (If the same statistics apply to the worldwide population, that number would be 428, 276,375!!  That's more women in the world getting breast cancer than the total population of the United States!).   Overwhelming?  I'm Sorry.  I like numbers.  In a previous life, I used to be a CPA. 

If you are still a junk-food junkie, need to lose weight but refuse to count calories, think low-fat food is yucky, high-fiber food abrasive, organics too expensive (even if you only buy the foods that really need to be organic), think you only have time to eat processed foods, and have no desire to make a change - after all, you're pretty healthy now - go visit your closest Cancer Clinic and just hang around the lobby and admissions office.  For me, that meant a 1 and 1/2 hour drive, and it was worth it.  I went to meet a friend who was seeing a doctor there, but will go back if I ever decide that I'm tired of counting calories and fat each day (I have done so for 9 years).

Writing that last paragraph, I realize that I have not yet talked about the importance of keeping a food diary.  Stay tuned - it's very important and will be coming up soon.  In the meantime, happy and healthy eating!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fiber - The Next Piece Of The Puzzle

Fiber is such an important part of a healthy diet.  But the very sound of the word conjures images of tree bark or straw.  The truth is that many of my  (and I bet your) favorite foods are rich in it - fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

I've talked a lot about the importance of eating a low fat diet.  But when it comes to certain, especially hormone-driven cancers, the other piece to the power-eating puzzle is eating high fiber.  Lignin, a form of fiber, actually has anti-estrogen effects in the body, and can be potent medicine in helping to stave off breast cancer.  Besides this anti-estrogen affect, it is believed that fiber can bind with carcinogens in the gut, rendering them harmless.  Recommended levels are 25-35 grams a day, which corresponds with the "5 or more a day" recommendation for fruits and vegetables, and the 5 or 6 servings per day of whole grains, cereals, and legumes. 

There are two types of fiber: insoluble fiber which increases bulk in our digestive tract and helps us eliminate impurities; and soluble fiber, which actually lowers the cholesterol in our blood and helps fight inflammation.  For that reason, it is important to make sure that you are getting both types in your diet.  The following lists contain common foods for each category:

Insoluble Fiber (Increases Bulk)
Green Beans
Brown Rice
Wheat Bran
Whole-Grain Products
Skins of Fruits and Vegetables

(The above items contain about 3 grams of fiber for Nuts (1 o.z), 4 grams for Green Beans (1 cup), 5 grams for an Apple with its skin, up to 6 grams for 1 cup Whole Grain Pasta, up to 7.9 grams for a cup of Brown Rice, and 8.8 grams for a cup of Peas. )

Soluble Fiber (Lowers Cholesterol)
Fruits, esp. Citrus
Oat Bran
Oats (a great way to start your day!)

(A medium Carrot has 2.6 grams, Corn has 4.6 per cup, a medium Potatoe with skin (sweet or regular) has almost 5,  1 cup Brocolli has 4.5, Oats have 3 grams per 1/4 cup serving (dry), but your power fiber comes from beans.  Black beans have 14 grams of fiber for a 1 cup serving!  Other beans have between 6 grams for Garbanzo beans to 8.6 for both Soybeans and Lima Beans, and 11.6 for Kidney Beans.)

As you can see, getting fiber into your diet is easy.  If you prefer to start your day with a cold cereal rather than oatmeal, an excellent and delicious high fiber cereal is Kashi's Go Lean, which comes in at least 4 different varieties, including Go Lean Crunch, Go Lean with Almonds, and Go Lean Crisp (which has berries in it).  A good-sized serving of beans or lentils can get you over halfway the daily recommended allotment of fiber.  And if you add some whole grains and fruit, you're there!  

A note on cholesterol and fiber - it has been shown that if you eat a cup of oatmeal every day for breakfast, it can actually lower "bad" (or LDL) cholesterol.  Add to that a cup of beans and you have powerful medicine.  I actually have a friend who lowered her cholesterol by sticking faithfully to such a diet. She did not want to take medication if she didn't have to - and succeeded!  Since there are different causes for high cholesterol, including purely hereditary ones, your results may vary.  But I promise you, making fiber a regular part of your diet can only help!

Until next time, happy and healthy eating!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Good Fish, Bad Fish

When I was little, I hated fish.  Unless it was deep-fried, or white albacore tuna from a can mixed with plenty of mayonnaise, I avoided it like the plague.  As I grew older, though, and my diet changed, my tastes changed as well.  And I began to expand my horizons to include salmon with marmalade glaze, halibut with peach salsa, swordfish with plum sauce, pan-seared tuna, and cod and orange roughy just about any way it could be prepared.  When I began studying nutrition, I was thrilled to discover that not only was fish tasty, but generally very good for us, as well.  After all, fish is the best source of Omega-3 fatty acids, a great addition to a cancer prevention diet, as well as, believe it or not, in helping to reduce the pain and swelling of rheumatoid arthritis.  But, all too soon, I discovered that fish, like too many other foods I had come to enjoy, had a dark side to it - "mercury". 

While reading a copy of my coveted "Eating Well" magazine (the Spring 2004 edition), I discovered with dismay that many of my favorite fish were some of the most mercury-laden varieties.  I read various other articles that served to confirm these facts.  And through the years, the news remains pretty much the same.  So, if you enjoy fish and think that all types are created equal, like I once did, here's a listing, beginning with the ones to avoid and ending with those that are safe to eat as frequently as you'd like:

The following fish contain high levels of mercury and should be avoided:

1.)  King Mackerel
2.)  Shark
3.)  Swordfish (pout...)
4.)  Bluefin Tuna
5.)  Tilefish
6.)  Farmed Salmon (actually contains PCB's and are given high levels of antibiotics)

Yes, in general, the larger the fish, the more mercury it contains.  Why?  Because big fish eat medium fish which eat smaller fish, etc, etc. etc,  And most fish contain at least trace amounts of mercury, so as fish eat fish, the added mercury becomes cumulative.

These fish are deemed safe to eat about once a month:

1.)  Halibut (pout...)
2.)  Bluefish
3.)  Pollock
4.)  Maine Lobster
5.)  Wild Sea Bass
6.)  Tuna steaks (double pout...)
7.)  Grouper
8.)  Marlin
9.)  Orange Roughy (no....)
10.) Red Snapper

The fish that are safe to eat once a week are:

1.)  Crab
2.)  Herring
3.)  Mahi-Mahi
4.)  Atlantic Cod
5.)  Canned White Tuna, unless it is pole or troll caught (see below)

And fish that contain trace amounts of, or no mercury, and are deemed safe to eat every day are:

1.)  Anchovies                      11.)  Squid
2.)  Catfish                           12.)  Striped Bass
3.)  Clams                            13.)  Tilapia
4.)  Flounder                        14.)  Trout
5.)  Mackerel (except King Mackerel)
6.)  Mussels and Oysters     
7.)  Wild Salmon                  15.)  Canned Light Tuna
8.)  Sardines                         16.)  Yellow fin, farmed Tuna
9.)  Shrimp                           17.)  Scallops
10.) Sole                              18.)  Albacore tuna, esp. pole or troll caught

If you are served, or just must have, one of the fish that should be avoided, keep in mind that mercury, PCB's and other contaminants concentrate primarily in the fat of the fish.  If you remove the skin and any visible fat and dark flesh from it before cooking it, it will help to reduce (but not completely eliminate) the contaminants from your fish.

When Lent begins, I will post recipes for some of  my favorite fish recipes, since I will be serving it about twice a week.   

I know that fish is still not a favorite food for many of you out there, but do give it a try.  As you can see from the above lists, there are many varieties that are safe to eat as often as you like.  And, please, if you have any favorite fish recipes,  share them with us!  

Until next time, as always, happy and healthy eating!

(Other Source:  "Eating Well" magazine, April, 2010)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

GMO's - It's Not Cross-Breeding - It's More Like Brundlefly Meets the Bionic Man

The last time I wrote to you all, I introduced you to GMO's (or Genetically Modified Organisms - read "foods").  I talked about the grape that was made stronger with the addition of worm DNA and the soybeans that contained Brazil nuts.  And I also mentioned that Monsanto created something called RR (or Round-Up Ready) seeds, which make Corn, Soy, Canola, and Alfalfa resistant to the weed killer (Round up) that kills the weeds that may threaten to choke them out of existence.  One of the unforeseen by-products of this, however, has been that RR Canola, Alfalfa, etc. can spread its seeds to weeds that are genetically similar to the original crop, creating - you guessed it - Superweeds!  Weeds that can not be killed with conventional herbicides.  Ooooops!   And I mentioned that organic farmers have had a problem with the RR pollen getting into their fields and contaminating their produce, rendering them unable to call their produce "organic" anymore.  Moreover, and you are going to love this one, Monsanto sued some of these farmers for "using their RR seeds without having paid for it".  Can you guess who won? 

Right now, no labeling is required in the U.S.  for GM foods.  In the European Union and other parts of the world, all food and any ingredients directly produced from a GMO must be labeled.  And some countries will not buy crops from U.S. farmers that have been genetically modified.  Organic foods do carry labels saying their foods are free of GM ingredients.  But the FDA and USDA are fighting the labeling of GM foods even for them because they fear it will give people the impression that the labeled food is in some way "different".  Duh???  In fact, the US pro-GM pressure group AgBioWorld has argued that GM foods have been proven safe.  Really?  How do they know?

Genetically modified foods are not the result of cross-breeding, like when you mate a horse with a donkey and get a mule.  Or when you cross a cocker spaniel with a poodle to get a cockerpoo.  This is more like Jeff Goldblum's character in the movie, "The Fly" - where the combining of the genetic material of Goldblum's character, Brundle, was mixed with that of a fly creating what he referred to as Brundlefly.  And, if you've seen the movie, you know how well that turned out!  In the case of Round-Up Ready crops, it's more like "The Bionic Man", where human tissue was combined with steel and other metalic alloys to create a superman of sorts. 

Why did I lump this topic together with those pertaining to cancer prevention?  I don't know about you, but if Round-Up is in the seeds of most of this nation's conventional corn, canola, soy, and alfalfa, I think there is some chance that it could end up in my system, too, doing God knows what to my body.  My youngest son, always the optimist, said, "Well, what if it turns out to be good for us?  Like the cure to cancer or something?"  I think that's a sweet thought, but as for me, Antioxidants and Organics, here I come!

(Sources:  "Supreme Court Lifts Ban on Planting GM Alfalfa", New York Times, June 21, 1010;  Los Angeles Times, 4/20/10; Plus check out the site posted on my FB wall by a friend pertaining to RR Alfalfa,  January, 2011)

Monday, February 14, 2011

GMO's - The Plot Thickens

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO's) were born out of good intentions.  They involve the insertion or deletion of genes, in particular, trans genesis, or inserting genes of one species into another species.  Monsanto took the lead on this new frontier partially in hopes of arriving at a solution to world hunger.  After all, if food could be transferred to faraway lands without its spoiling, and if crops could be developed to resist the ravages of bacteria and weeds, that's a good thing, isn't it?   As I said, the intentions were good.  But something went wrong.  After all, there wouldn't be so many people upset about them if they were harmless, innocuous organisms., would there?

GMO's hit the market in the early 1990's.  And since they were initially nothing more than the combining of one potentially edible organism with another, there didn't seem to be any risk of harm with the creation of them.  I mentioned the issue of possible unintended allergic responses, when, for example, the genes of a fish are combined with those of a tomato, or the Brazil nut finding its way into soybeans.  But there is no proof that genetically modified foods have any negative impact on those who consume the products beyond a potential allergic reaction.  The problem is, however, that there is no proof that they do no harm either because there was no testing done on them before they were marketed.  Nor have any epidemiological studies been done to determine whether such crops have caused any harm to the public since they were introduced.  They are an unknown quantity.  So you have to be the judge.  With that said, here are some GM facts:

Even though there have been no more GM animals on the market since July 2010,  in 2006,  a pig was engineered to produce Omega-3 fatty acids through the introduction of roundworm and spinach genes.  There was also a GM pig that could absorb plant phosphorus more efficiently so that the phosphorus content of its manure was reduced by up to 60%.  My favorite, however, was the pig that was given human genes for growth but ended up morbidly obese.  And then there was the salmon that were given bovine (or cow) genes for super growth.

In the plant kingdom, GM wheat, potatoes, and tomatoes are given genes from other (often unrelated species - such as the example of fish and Brazil nuts above, and my favorite, worms) to help them become more resistant to pests as well as making them immune to herbicides that control weeds.  How nice to know that some of the food we eat, by attrition, makes us immune to weeds!

To me, the most disturbing Frankenfood, as some of these creations have been called by their critics, is GM Round-Up Ready (RR) Seed.  Round-Up, if you recall, is a spray that, when applied to weeds and other  plants, destroys them on contact.  America's 3 largest crops are Canola, Corn, and Soybeans and all of them are now being farmed using RR seed.  RR seed has been altered in such a way that while Round Up kills surrounding weeds, it leaves the host plants intact.  Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?  The problem, however, is that, again, we do not know the long-term affects these crops will have on the animals and people who consume them.   Moreover,  there is the danger of cross-pollination. Pollen from these RR crops float away and settle into other farmer's fields, contaminating their crops.  And if those farmers should happen to be certified organic, they lose their certification because their crops are no longer "natural".   Unfortunately, these seeds have gone a long way - in terms of their use.  In fact, the Grocery Manufacturers of America estimate that 75% of all processed foods in the U.S. contain a GM product, mainly because of the prevalence of RR corn or soy by-products in such foods.

So, with that said, the stage has been set - the actors introduced, and the plot developed.  Tomorrow I will complete this story so that you, my health-conscious friends and consumers, can decide if GMO's are something to applaud or avoid...

Until then, happy and healthy eating!  

(Outside sources :  Eating Well Magazine, Spring 2003 and "Say No to")

Sunday, February 13, 2011

GMO's or "When is a Worm Not a Worm?" Answer: "When It's a Grape"...

In my last post, I posed the question, "Should we all buy only locally grown produce or join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)?  And, even though it wasn't what I originally intended to say, I felt myself type P-R-O-B-A-B-L-Y.   I looked at the word and considered hitting the backspace button, but my conscience wouldn't let me.   Eating naturally-produced fruit and vegetables, when they are in season, and are grown by local farmers is how it was meant to be. 

In much of the country, if we ate what we should be eating, it would be Kale, Collard Greens, Beets, Strawberries, and Asparagus in May and June; Tomatoes, Corn, Summer Squash, Peas, Bell Peppers, and all kinds of luscious fruit in the later summer months; and Squash, Pumpkin, Potatoes, and Apples in the fall.  What do we do In the winter?  We all starve!  Not really...  But my husband asked me that question and the answer is that, if canning or freezing is not your thing, we should transport produce from Florida, California, and other parts of the Western United States to the rest of the nation, keeping the rich farmland in our country productive and the farmers themselves in business.     

What we have done instead, however, to make sure that we have all the produce we want all through the year, while keeping the prices low, low, low, has been to develop 2 unfortunate trends:  1.)  importing produce from places like Chile, El Salvador, and Mexico who do not have the same regulations we do, and 2.) creating genetically modified foods (GMO's) or "Frankenfoods" as some like to call them.

GMO's scare me because, unlike when we introduce a new drug, no testing has been done on these genetically-altered products before putting them on the market.  To create a genetically modified food, a plant (or animal's) genes are crossed with another often non-related species or organism to create either a hardier variety (makes it easier to ship them to faraway places without having them spoil), a more resistant variety (are not as prone to bacterial disease or weed infestation), or a faster growing variety (feed more people for the same price).  

Sounds good, doesn't  it?  Well, not if you are severely allergic to fish and your tomatoes have been crossed with fish genes to make them last longer.  Or if you are vegan and your grapes have been given worm genes to help them fight off bacterial disease that is indigenous to grapes. And you are sure to love "Round-up Ready" Canola, Soy, and Corn, by Monsanto.  (It's just what you think it is....)

I know, I have some 'splainin' to do.....Tune in tomorrow for more on "GMO's and you".   In the meantime, happy and healthy eating!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

To Buy Organic or Not to Buy Organic - That is The Question...

When we think of buying organic foods, the first things that come to mind are fruit and vegetables.  And that makes sense.  Produce is one of the few foods we really have control over. We can choose exactly which apple, tomato, and squash we want amongst a "pile" of apples, tomatoes, and squash.  For that reason, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because it is the prettiest or the ripest in its group, it's the best.  But not all fruit and vegetables are created equal.  Non-organic ones are often sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides that contain ingredients that are harmful to living organisms and that often can not be washed or even peeled off.  This is especially a problem with produce imported from South or Central America. 

Organic produce are all produced naturally.  And unlike their conventional counterparts, they are part of a heavily regulated industry.  Besides being grown without harmful pesticides, in most countries, organic food can not be genetically modified either.  A down-side to organics, however, is that they are understandably more expensive than their non-organic counterparts.  So, the question is, should all the fruit and vegetables you buy be organic?  And the answer to that question is, "No".  Your next question is probably, "Which ones, then, should be?".  Because there is really no way to remove the pesticides from them, the most highly contaminated produce are:

1.) Apples                       2.)  Strawberries                    3.)  Pears
4.) Bell Peppers               5.)  Peaches                          6.)  Nectarines
7.) Raspberries                8.)  Cherries                          9.)  Imported Grapes
10.) Spinach

If your budget allows, the following produce should also be organic, since they need to be washed extremely well and/or peeled to remove any pesticide residues:

1.)  Carrots                2.)  Apricots                   3.)  Cucumbers       13.)  Green Beans
4.)  Tomatoes             5.)  Domestic Grapes      6.)  Lettuce and other Greens
7.)  Mushrooms          8.)  Potatoes and Yams   9.)  Winter Squash
10.) Blueberries         11.)  Plums                       12.)  Cabbage

With the following fruits and vegetables, it is your call.  It is usually safe to  buy conventional varieties as long as you wash them (or in the case of Bananas, Kiwi, Mango, Pineapple, and Avocado) peel them before eating them:

1.)  Papaya                    2.)  Kiwi                             3.)  Bananas
4.)  Brocolli                   5.)  Onions                          6.)  Asparagus
7.)  Mango                    8.)  Cauliflower                   9.)  Peas
10.) Pineapple              11.) Avocado                     12.)  Corn (unless it is a GMO variety)

In order for livestock or poultry to be organic, it must be raised with regular access to fields or pastures, and without routine use of antibiotics, or any use of growth hormones.

Processed organic foods must: 1.) contain only organic ingredients, 2.) contain no artificial food additives, and 3.) be processed without artificial methods, materials, or conditions. 

I know that it is not possible to always stick to the above recommendations.  For example, some stores do not carry organic versions of some of the produce we need.  Don't despair.  Like most things, in moderation, conventional produce will generally not harm you.  But, I'll be honest.  With some of the ones in the top list (the most highly contaminated ones), both my son and I, who are very sensitive to additives in our foods, will react if we eat them more than "once in a while"..  That tells me that the pesticides and such that they contain are pretty virulent and that scares me.  Should we all buy only locally grown produce (which is usually organic) or go out and join a CSA?  Probably.  It would not only be good for us healthwise, but would send a message to those "upstairs".  It saddens me that the regulatory agencies in our country are so lenient.  In Europe, for example, all foods, and even any ingredients in foods, that are directly produced from a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) must be labeled.  Here, the USDA is fighting the labeling of GMO foods.  My guess?  It's bad for big business...

I've always said that, when it comes to your health, you have to be your own best advocate.  The same is true with preventative health.  We need to make sure the water we drink is pure and that the food we eat is, as well.  Those who are supposed to be setting the standards and are "looking out for us" sometimes have someone else's interests in mind instead of ours, the "individuals".

I mentioned GMO's in here.  They are another big pet peeve of mine.  Stay tuned tomorrow for why...
In the meantime, happy and healthy eating!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cancer Prevention And Diet - Beyond Antioxidants

In my post titled "In Memorium",  I recalled the tragic consequences of growing up in a carcinogenic "hot spot".  Every family I knew in the neighborhood I grew up in had either battled with or lost someone to cancer.  Now I look around me and wonder if there are any places left in this country where we can get away from carcinogens.  Is there any pure water any more?  And just how "processed" is the food we eat?   My "list' of people I pray for with cancer keeps getting longer and longer.  Today - just today - I found out that a man we used to go to church with died from pancreatic cancer.  A very dear friend told me that her sister's cancer is resistant to all chemo drugs.  And another friend's brother-in-law has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. 

A few months ago I read a book called "The No Impact Man".  It was about a man who made sure that for one year he and his family would live in such a way that the decisions they made would have no environmental impact.  I thought he was extreme - I mean, he didn't use toilet paper or take out his trash - but he was definitely on the right track.  In fact, he inspired me to join a CSA (Community Supported Farm - or "Agrigulture"), something I will begin participating in this June.  And, when we start, whatever fruits and vegetables we get each week will be what our meals will be based on.   In other words, we will eat the way we were meant to eat - we will eat what is in season and it will be free of pesticides, preservatives, herbacides, and waxes.  But I digress...

I will cover "organics" for you in my next post.  For now, I will share with you 5 things you can do to be proactive in preventing cancer from hitting you or your loved ones.  Like I said, in this life we have no guarantees, but I believe in giving ourselves a fighting chance!  So here goes:

1.)  Eat more plant-based foods.  They have less fat and more fiber, as well as containing cancer-fighting nutrients.  Together, these 3 elements support your immune system, as well as battling carcinogens.  When you fill your plate for lunch and dinner, make sure at least 2/3 of it contains vegetables, whole grains, and fruit.  The other 1/3 can be lean meat, fish, or dairy (preferably low-fat or fat free).  Eat as many foods as you can that are in their natural form.  Limit processed foods and buy organic, when necessary.

2.)  Make sure you get enough fiber in your diet.  Fiber keeps food moving though your digestive tract.  It also moves potential cancer-causing compunds out before they can harm you. 

3.)  Avoid "bad" fats, like trans fats that were made in a laboratory and are added to oils to make them harder and last longer.  Limit saturated fats - found in animal products.  And avoid Omega-6 fats, such as safflower, corn, and peanut oils, and margarines.  Instead, use Olive oil, Canola oil (when olive oil would not be practical), consume fat-free dairy (or very low fat dairy in things such as cheese), and eat fish.

4.)  If you eat meat, cut down on or eliminate red meat, choosing preferably organic lean meats such as boneless, skinless chicken, and turkey instead.  And don't forget that beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber, as well.  Tofu, Seitan, and Tempeh are also excellent sources of non-meat-based protein. 

5.)  Exercise regularly - even if it is a 30-minute walk 5 days a week.

Take charge of your life, your health, and that of your family.  When my tap water was so poluted that it left a smelly, slimy brown residue in my sink, I trusted that if it was really that bad for me, the local government would do something about it.  Surely there were checks, balances, controls....I was 19 years old and very naive.  All the government cares about is keeping big businesses happy.  And don't believe for one minute that if it's on your store's shelves, then it must be healthy.  You really need to know what to buy these days.

In future blog posts, I will cover organics (as I promised above), what fish you should be eating and which ones should be avoided, fiber, and GMO's (or as I like to call it - Frankenfood).  Understanding all these topics (or concepts) will help you in making the right choices for your family. 

Until next time, happy and health eating. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Part II: Cancer Prevention 101 - Antioxidants: The "List"


I have received several e-mails from people requesting that I stop yammering and post the "list" of antioxidant foods on my Blog already!  The problem is that there really isn't a "one-size-fits-all" list.  All fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants - and I mean all!  But corn, for example, contains very little and only Vitamin A Beta-Carotene.  Virtually every other fruit and vegetable contains a mixture of Vitamins, the main ones being Vitamins A and C.  If you have been reading my last 2 Blog posts, you will remember that antioxidants all work in one way or another to squelch free-radicals before they can injure our body.  Vitamin C, for example, works with Vitamin E to stop free-radicals in their tracks, actually blocking the damaging chain reaction that can ultimately promote cancer (and even heart disease).  As promised, here's the list of the most common antioxidant foods, listed under the vitamin which they are highest in:
A (Beta-Carotene)                    Vitamin C                                    Vitamin E                
Carrots                                    Citrus Fruits                        Green Leafy Vegetables
Sweet Potatoes                   Cabbage-type Vegetables              Wheat Germ
Pumpkin                                   Tomatoes                            Whole Grain Products
Squash                                      Potatoes                                     Egg Yolks
Apricots                                    Peppers                                         Nuts
Peaches                               Dark Green Vegetables                                            
Broccoli                                  Cantaloupes                                    Seeds
Dark, leafy greens                      Berries                                  Vegetable Oils
Melons                                     Mangoes 
Corn                                           Kiwi
Plums                                        Papayas
                                            Grapes, and raisins

You should normally strive for between 7 to 9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  But remember that not all fruits and vegetables are created equal   Some contain mega-amounts of antioxidants and others about a tenth (or less) of the amount that the "big guys" have.   There is something called Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (or ORAC), which measures the level of antioxidants each food contains, with the highest levels found in Acai, Pomegranates, and Blueberries.  Ever wonder why there is so much hype about these 3 foods these days?  After that, you find a good amount in most other Berries, dark Grapes and Raisins, Prunes, Kale, Spinach, Citrus Fruits, and Peppers.   Bananas and Apples, probably the two most popular fruits in this country, contain a disappointingly low amount of antioxidants - so low that, in my Nutrition textbook, both of them didn't even make "the list".  Don't despair if they are your personal favorites - they are still very good for you, with bananas being one of the best sources of Potassium in your diet.
If you've been reading my Blog posts, you know that fruits and vegetables are not the only sources of antioxidants out there.  Other sources include red wine, and tea (especially green tea), and dark chocolate.  There are also antioxidants in several spices, including turmeric (an especially powerful source that I have covered in at least 2 other posts), oregano, cinnamon (another very good source), ginger, cayenne (or red) pepper, thyme, rosemary, and curry.

So that's it - antioxidants in a nutshell (or 2 or 3....).   Remember to load up on them!  By doing so, you will be engaging in happy and, especially healthy, eating!! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Memorium

I dedicate this Blog post to the memory of all those whom I have known and prayed for who lost their lives to cancer, but especially to Marge, Dom, Kathy, and Billy - the casualties of an onslaught of free radicals against which they did not stand a chance...

You know how you grew up in a neighborhhod where there were maybe 3 or 4 families that you were really close to?  In our neighborhood, it was the neighbors directly above us, below us, across the street from us, and around the corner.  In yesterday's Blog, I talked about the Mobil Oil refinery that poisoned our air (and more than likely our water, too) and how pollutants of all kinds cause - yes CAUSE - cancer.  Well, nothing lends voracity to a claim more than hard, cold facts.  Marge, who lived above us, was the first to go and she died of leukemia.  Dom, who lived below us, passed a few years later from a cancer somewhere in his digestive tract.  Kathy, whose sister I was very good friends with, and who lived around the corner from us, died from complications due to the chemotherapy she was receiving.  And Billy - my sweet brother Billy - died of pancreatic cancer in March of 2006.  None of them were old, none of them was obese, smoked, or drank very much.

Besides these casualties, 2 of the women who lived across the street from us have battled breast cancer, as did my sister, my mother, and me.  And these were only the families we knew!  Coincidence?  Absolutely not!!

Out here in beautiful, green Virginia, we may be safe from the ravages of oil refineries, but not their offspring.  Can we really get away from exhaust fumes?   It's a slower, more subtle attack, but an attack nonetheless.  And only God knows what chemicals lurk in our drinking water.  We know that a lot of the food we eat contains additives, preservatives, and artificial coloring and flavorings, but do we really know what they are doing to our bodies?  We have created things to eat that were never meant for human consumption.  I don't want to scare you.  Not really.  But I do want you to act - and to care enough to make sure that you and your loved ones are getting the biggest benefit from the fuel you provide for your bodies.  And antioxidants?  They're at the heart of your arsenal - some more powerful than others, but all doing their part to help stave off the free radicals that keep attacking your DNA.

A while back, I mentioned that turmeric has such powerful antioxidant qualities that it has been used with some promising results in cancer treatment trials.  But too many of you won't try it because you "hate" Indian food.  Well, not all Indian dishes taste the same (some are mild, some spicy, some contain curries, others just taste like a hearty stew), and there are other cuisines that incorporate turmeric into their dishes.  Red wine contains antioxidants, but too much of it can have terrible repercussions for your health.  The same goes for chocolate.  Later, when I post the list of the most potent antioxidants, I hope and pray that you won't turn up your noses at them - at least without trying them first.

Incorporate plenty of antioxidants into your diet, but more importantly, incorporate them into the diet of your children.  It may be too late for people like me.  While my cells were dividing, and my body was growing, forming, and developing, it was being continually bombarded with pollutants - both from the world around me and from what I put into my body.   Most cancers take years to grow...

I have some good friends who are Vegan and who feed their children - even their 2-year old - lots of lightened-up Indian food, and every vegetable you can imagine.  They buy their produce from local Farmer's Markets and avoid processed and junk foods.  I applaud them and wish with all my heart that I had been raised like they are raising their children.  I am still working on breaking a lot of bad habits - my diet is not perfect.   All I ask of you at this point is that you start with small changes.  I am sick to death of hearing that someone I have known and even loved is losing or has lost their life to cancer.  I keep a list of people I pray for who are struggling with the disease and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.  Will eating healthier gurantee you won't get the disease?  No.  There are no guarantees in this life.  But, I do know that eating healthier increases your odds of not getting it.  According to a study published by The World Cancer Research Fund last Thursday (the 3rd), about 340,000 cancer cases in the U.S.  could be prevented each year if more Americans ate a healthy diet, exercised regularly (even a 30-minute walk 5 days a week!), and limited their alcohol intake. 

Sorry about the length of this Blog - so much for trying to keep them shorter!  Until later, happy and healthy eating!