Michael Moss’ book Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us (2013) provides an inside look at something most people prefer to ignore: what’s in the convenient processed foods that make our lives easier. It’s easy to agree that we should eat less sugar, salt, or fat, but when it comes to actually doing it, few things are more difficult. I still cook in oil or butter, purchase full-fat food products, and I certainly give in to my enormous sweet tooth. But the big culprit isn’t baking cookies with too much butter or sprinkling salt on vegetables – it’s processed convenience foods that literally addict the people who eat them to copious amounts of salt, sugar, or fat.
I did an experiment earlier this year where I actually paid attention to food labels when I purchased food from the grocery store. (I live in blissful ignorance, guys!) I was shocked by the level of sugar in foods where I would never have expected to find it – fruit products for instance. I also found that nearly everything labeled “low-fat” was much higher in carbohydrates and sugar than their full-fat counterparts.
Just in the introduction to his book, Moss explains how it isn’t just consumers who have become addicted to these three ingredients, it’s the corporations, too, through their desire to achieve the best taste possible at the lowest price. He explains, “Sugar not only sweetens, it replaces more costly ingredients — like tomatoes in ketchup — to add bulk and texture. For little added expense, a variety of fats can be slipped into food formulas to stimulate overeating and improve mouthfeel. And salt, barely more expensive than water, has miraculous powers to boost the appeal of processed food.” (xxix) With that kind of lead, Moss ensures there’s only one conclusion for readers to reach: food corporations have used chemistry and biology to teach us to eat this way in pursuit of profit, and they must be held accountable for that.
One of the most telling observations Moss makes is that many executives from the corporations he investigated for the book “go out of their way to avoid their own products.” (p. 341) Despite attempts at government regulation and reductions in salt, sugar, or fat load in foods, the best option for everyday people is still boring old personal responsibility. “Only we can save us,” as Moss puts it, “we decide what to buy… [and] we decide what to eat.” (pp. 343-347)
The most success I’ve had to date in the realm of eating healthy (and as a side-effect, losing weight and keeping it off) is the simple notion that food is medicine and fuel for my body. (Not to be mistaken for those diabetes-heart-attack buffet binges). Paying attention to what you eat, why you’re eating it, and what the consequences are to eating are essential questions to ask yourself no matter your waist size.
So, I’m always on the lookout for books that don’t push “dieting,” but instead use common sense approaches to food and nutrition. Believe me, depravation and eating cardboard like substances is no way to live. In the same vein, there must also be a reasonable, attainable alternative that is – in fact – healthy.
Joyous Health: Eat and Live Well Without Dieting by holistic nutritionist, Joy McCarthy promises a celebratory approach to eating clean, delicious foods that don’t have extra sugars or dairy. This book provides over 150 recipes that could help your digestion, help you sleep better, lower your blood pressure, increase your libido, and (potentially) have you “feeling fabulous everyday.” I like the sound of that!
The book is plastered with beautiful, crisp images of McCarthy’s healthy creations. The recipes are easy to read and the instructions are just as easy to follow. The introduction is filled with lots of great wellness tips and sound advice to getting your body ready to eat nutritious foods. McCarthy even includes color coded dietary needs categories (e.g. vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free) to help take the guess-work out of who and how you might really benefit from these recipes.
My favorite recipes in here are not the kale chips( only because my friend makes the best kale chips ever). Though, this book provides at least three versions for you to enjoy. I do, however, absolutely love the “Farmer’s Market Bruschetta” (p. 205) which falls into the categories of detox, vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, and raw. Not to mention, “super easy” and “ridiculously delicious” in my book!
I also really like her version of the ever popular avocado toast that’s trending right now: “Avocado Kale Tartine” (p. 152). It’s vegetarian and packed with my favorite things: avocado, eggs, kale, bread, cucumbers, and radishes. C’mon, tell me that that doesn’t sound like a fantastic breakfast! The recipes are so easy to adapt. In fact, for the tartine mentioned above, you could substitute any crunchy vegetable you have on hand for the radishes and cucumbers. There’s also a “Joyous Tip” on this page explaining the misconception of egg yolks.
Again, I loved this book and the recipes were incredibly easy to navigate. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone who’s afraid to cook and/or to the person who wants to eat their way to a healthier relationship with food.
A few years ago one of my personal favorite regular Well & Wise contributors, the wonderful Farmers’ Market Chef, did a post on the seemingly impossible task of what to pack in school lunches. I thought this was very brave of her and found the books she suggested to be very useful (even though thinking of things to pack still feels like one of my most exhausting chores–and we’re only halfway through the current school year!). So, when I recently, noticed a book in the new nonfiction collection, I thought I’d check it out and see if it was worth adding to the FMC’s other great suggestions. I’m happy to report it is!
Weelicious Lunches: Think Outside the Lunch Box with More Than 160 Happier Meals by Catherine McCord is an absolute gem. First of all, it is a very visually appealing book (which makes sense considering that one of the early sections focuses on “Engaging All the Senses”). McCord discusses how parents have to think beyond just packing healthful options to what their kids will do when they’re in the cafeteria without Mom or Dad around. Parents not only have to battle with what school cafeterias are sometimes serving (she mentions the infamous pizza sauce as a vegetable Congress decision), but also what other kids are bringing to school (she aptly names it “lunch box envy”), as well we the many distractions kids face at lunchtime. She explains: “If you want raise great eaters you have to appeal to all your child’s senses. Sometimes half the battle of making sure your kids eat at school is ensuring that what’s inside their lunch box is as stimulating as everything you can be sure is going on come lunchtime outside of it.”
Secondly, the book takes into consideration all kinds of eaters and situations. For example, “Principles of the Perfect Lunch” addresses the need for balance in a child’s diet and, consequently, the lunch box. McCord offers up some useful options to fill your child’s fruit, vegetable, protein, and carbohydrate needs. She also provides specialized lists of the recipes in the book to offer up good lunch box combos, theme lunches, and ideas for those with food sensitivities and allergies. Speaking of which, she also provides a very handy “Weelicious Lunches Allergy Guide” to help you skirt gluten, nuts, eggs, and dairy as needed. There are also suggestions for incorporating dinner leftovers into lunches, a discussion of whether to pack hot or cold foods and what to pack them in, and (my personal favorite favorite) “Strategies for ‘Picky’ Eaters.”
Finally, the book has recipes, lots of lovely recipes. She divides them up nicely into the following categories: Salad, Soups, Sandwiches, Pizza (yep, 10 variations on the theme of pizza), PB&J (if you were impressed by 10 variations on pizza, try 11 takes on pb&j, including one promisingly called “The World’s Greatest PB&J”), Main Events, Veggies, Dips and Spreads, Snacks, and Desserts. Again, there are many beautiful pictures, and a lot of the recipes make me hungry just looking at them (of course this may be a testament to my immaturity).
Many of the recipes in this book translate to meals beyond the lunch box. There are also many great recipes and tips on the Weelicious website. But next I think I’m going to check out McCord’s older book Weelicious: 140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes. It also provides recipes; recommendations to turn your kids into good, healthy eaters; and, most appealingly, ways to turn dinner into a “one family, one meal” occasion. That sounds like absolute bliss to me!
Recent studies have shown that intake of artificial sweeteners may contribute to glucose intolerance. Those of us who enjoy diet drinks and cut calories by selecting foods with sugar substitutes may decide that the trade-off is not the healthy choice. We may want to think twice before satisfying cravings for Diet Coke and go for an unsweetened iced tea instead.
Glucose intolerance is a serious health risk because it can lead to diabetes as well as metabolic syndrome. Diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to produce insulin to process sugar intake. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that is needed by the body to regulate glucose levels. Metabolic syndrome is a set of biochemical changes that increases one’s risk for heart disease and diabetes. The physiologic changes in metabolic syndrome include glucose intolerance, abnormal lipid levels, insulin resistance and obesity.
The human intestines are filled with microscopic living organisms, the so-called “gut flora.” A normal intestinal environment is home to these organisms, most of which are bacteria. A study published in the 9/18/2014 issue of Nature described findings that intake of artificial sweeteners changes the composition and function of this flora. The researchers fed mice three of the most commonly-used sugar alternatives: aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet’N Low) and sucralose (Splenda). The mice drinking the artificially-sweetened water had altered intestinal bacteria and marked glucose intolerance. Antibiotics administered to kill this bacteria resulted in resolution of the glucose intolerance.
Additional research was carried out on a limited number of human subjects. Nondiabetic subjects who reported artificial sweetener use were more likely to develop glucose intolerance over time than were those who stated they did not use artificial sweeteners. These participants also were more likely to show changes in gut flora. The researchers gave seven human subjects high levels of saccharin over six days, and four of thee subjects then had abnormal sugar levels. The scientists theorize that the altered combination of bacteria causes a change in glucose metabolism, blocking the sugar levels from declining as quickly as they should.
Although the study’s authors point out that the percentages supporting their findings are statistically significant, they note that more studies are needed. Over the past several years, evidence has accumulated that intake of artificial sweeteners increases sugar cravings. Some studies have even shown that those who use artificial sweeteners are more likely to be overweight. Now with the possibility that these additives can have serious health effects such as diabetes, the support for decreased ingestion of artificial sweeteners grows. The research findings indicate that it might be time to cut back on total intake, perhaps drinking one fewer can of diet soda per day and selecting a snack of nuts or blueberries rather than sugar-free cookies. Limited consumption of products with artificial sweeteners could be important to limiting the associated health risks. Similar to other medical recommendations regarding nutrition and fitness, the guidance at this point is moderation.
You are diligent about taking your medication each day. But did you ever think that the bologna sandwich, grapefruit or glass of milk you have with it could be making your medicine less effective, or even dangerous? Read on for five facts you need to know about food and drug interactions.
- Beware of grapefruit. This popular breakfast fruit interacts with a variety of medications, including blood pressure meds, statins, and HIV and organ transplant medications, says Charlie Twilley, Pharm.D., a pharmacist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. The culprits are furanocoumarins, compounds found in grapefruit that block the enzymes in the intestines responsible for breaking down these drugs. This can make the drugs more potent, and raise the level of drug in your bloodstream. If you are a big grapefruit fan, talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out whether it is safe to eat with the medications you take.
- Dairy diminishes an antibiotic’s infection-fighting powers. Twilley warns that the calcium in milk, yogurt, cheese, ice cream and antacids can interact with tetracycline and the tetracycline group of antibiotics used to treat a number of bacterial infections. To make sure you are getting the full benefit of your antibiotic, take it one hour before, or two hours after, you eat anything containing calcium.
- Leafy greens cancel warfarin effects. The vitamin K in spinach, collards, kale and broccoli can lessen the effectiveness of warfarin, a blood thinner used to prevent blood clots and stroke. The darker green the vegetable is, the more vitamin K it has. “You don’t want to eliminate leafy greens from your diet, because they do have many health benefits,” says Twilley. The key is to be consistent with the amount you eat. If you plan to drastically change the amount of these veggies in your diet, talk to your doctor or pharmacist first.
- Beer, red wine and chocolate are dangerous to mix with some antidepressants. These popular indulgences may be a nice way to relax in the evening, but they contain tyramine, a naturally occurring amino acid that can cause an unsafe spike in blood pressure when mixed with MAO inhibitors. Tyramine also is found in processed meat, avocados and some cheeses. “This is a significant, dangerous interaction,” says Twilley. If you take MAO inhibitors for depression, talk to your doctor or pharmacist before eating anything with tyramine. Alternative therapy may be considered.
- Think before you crush medication in applesauce. Many people who have trouble swallowing pills like to crush them and mix them with applesauce or pudding. Always ask your doctor or pharmacist before you crush or take apart medication. “This method can dump too much of the drug into your system at once, or change the way the drug works,” says Twilley.
Also keep in mind that some medications are affected by whether or not you eat with them. Before you start any new drug, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about whether it is affected by food. “They can help you come up with a schedule that’s good for the drug and convenient for you,” says Twilley. Even over-the-counter medications and supplements can have food interactions.
For additional reliable information about common food and drug interactions, you can search for this topic in the Johns Hopkins online Health Library.
Childhood headaches or frequent constipation? They can sometimes be symptoms of poor nutrition choices. Here’s five tips to get your child’s diet on track.
Adults in children’s lives play a large role in a child’s nutrition and developing eating habits. “Kids are going to model what their parents do. If their parents are eating a lot of fast food and drinking a lot of soda, their kids are going to develop those habits,” said Michael Lasser, M.D., a pediatrician on staff at Howard County General Hospital. “It is really important families sit down and eat together. Not only to see how the child’s day was, but if parents are eating healthy food, that is what the kids are going to eat.” Check out the below slideshow for more tips to help your children make wise food and drink choices.