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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fast Food- rare treat?

Recently I read an article that kind of surprised me. It was on a website for vegetarian information, so maybe I falsely presumed that a website such as this would only encourage the healthiest of eating. The article was titled "How to deal with a night of fast food" and a picture of Wendy's fries and a shake accompanied it.

I guess when I think "vegetarian" I think "super healthy" and that there is no room for junk food. But is there? The writer says, "To get this out of the way right now, you should know that junk food isn’t the cause of food-related problems. The cause of food-related problems is the inability of the eater to know where the line needs to be regarding a snack, a meal, and a poor choice. " It goes on to give an okay to eat fast food once a week or less, and provides a how-to for recovery from eating it.

While junk food isn't the cause of food related problems, I do believe there are some things that have no place in a healthy diet. This might sound extreme, but in my opinion the pleasure of eating fast food, such as from McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's etc, is not worth the effects it has. The fact that this article is a how-to on recovering from a night of fast food indicates to me that fast food does awful things to the body. So I thought I should research such an idea before blindly claiming it, no? Ha. 

It is pretty common knowledge that consuming fast food increases the risk for heart disease, diabetes, obesity, digestive issues, etc. However, studies showing this are linking the risks to frequency of consumption. What if you only eat it once in a while? Some studies (albeit, preliminary ones) show that short term, fatty foods (like most fast foods) affect memory performance. (source) This might be because a diet high in fat can trigger insulin resistance.  The body becomes less efficient at using glucose (blood sugar) which is important to brain function. 

Another short term ill effect of fast food is on exercise performance.  The body reacts to high fat content in the blood by releasing certain proteins that essentially make the metabolism less efficient. This further proves that all calories are not created equal. This is of concern for people who think that since they exercise regularly they can treat themselves to fast food once in a while. (source)

Fast food is also a giant soup of GMOs. (source) You might be thinking we have bigger fish to fry than GMOs when it comes to our food system, but genetically modified ingredients have the ability to alter OUR bodies. They can trigger allergies and allergic reactions varying in severity. (source) Implications from use of GMOs are still widely unknown to be sure, but their use is all-encompassing: most conventional products contain them. By the time we know all of their effects on our health, it may be too late. Avoiding fast food is a good way to cut a good portion of GMOs out of the diet. 

Do you eat fast food? How often? Do you notice any ill effects immediately after eating it?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Coexisting as a vegetarian, a vegan, and/or a raw foodist

As I have mentioned before, my husband and I don't agree when it comes to diet choices. In fact, it is a debate we have often; specifically we argue about the absolutism of the idea that the raw vegan diet is THE best and healthiest way of eating. I am usually on the side arguing that if affordable and accessible, the raw vegan diet is best for health and longevity. Chris argues that there IS a place for animal protein, albeit a small one. (He is on board with most of my dietary beliefs; he only supplements occasionally with animal proteins, and he aims for it to be organic, grass-fed, free range, etc.)

Most recently he thought he had found a hole in my theory: Eskimos. The Inuit diet is composed mostly of animal meat- from seal, walrus, beluga whale, polar bear, birds, eggs, and fish. They do and can eat some plant material, but plants are not as widely available, and a plant based diet does not provide as many calories, nor does it keep the body as warm as meat. (source) HOWEVER, they also have the shortest lifespan in all of North America. (source) We had this debate on and off for several evenings (obviously marriage and parenthood has made us THRILLING), sometimes including our friend Meg.

After some thought, I agreed with him that veganism is not for EVERYONE. In some parts of the world, there are people so famine stricken they eat mud pies, as he pointed out. He goes on to say that is obviously not an optimal diet, but that is all some people have, and they're doing what they need to do in order to survive, as are the Eskimos. BUT, in our part of the world- the USA- where fruits, vegetables and grains are largely abundant and relatively affordable, veganism is best, and a large part of the diet should be raw, was my counter-argument. This is also the case in much of the rest of the world.

All this arguing, one might wonder how we live together. Here are my tips for coexisting with a significant other or family member(s) that does not see food in the same light as you:

1. Keep an open mind and accept that you might be wrong some of the time.
I do a lot of reading and research on nutrition. Soon I plan on making it official and getting a degree in the field. But, Chris feels very strongly about this- he doesn't think the raw vegan diet is best for everyone, for example. So, he does a lot of reading and research on it too. Sometimes he even proves me wrong on various points.

2. Use the opposing views to learn from each other.
Now that I am always bringing up topics and my views on diet at home, Chris is learning a lot from me. And since he is always trying to find holes in my arguments, he does a lot of research, as I noted above, so I learn a lot from him. While we argue sometimes, I welcome it. It gives me ideas for possible recipes, topics for the blog, insight into how to overcome roadblocks for future clients, and I develop theories about how our bodies work and the way they use the food we consume.

3. Sometimes, you will just have to make separate meals.
When I really feel I need to eat more raw, and especially when I want to stay all vegan, I just make myself a different meal. I offer my husband and daughter tastes of my food, but I don't push it. I tell myself that I am at least providing a good example to my kids, and it has already made a difference. Aurelia and Chris often have a green smoothie for breakfast along with me now. Chris ate completely differently when we first met, and as I have changed my diet for the better, he has in many ways as well. Having separate meals sometimes is not the end of the world.

4. Agree to disagree- there are some things you can't change about another person. Diet is very personal.
He loves coffee. It doesn't matter how much I point out the various effects coffee and caffeine have on the body. Chris will not be giving up coffee. I love chocolate, while he could take it or leave it. Sometimes I eat more chocolate than is necessary, and he doesn't chide me too much, since that would only put me on the defensive. Chris loves certain seafood, and he is a much more pleasant person if I just buy it for him and let him cook it than if I argue with him. Even if I refused to buy it once in a while, Chris would go out and buy it himself.

In our house, we aim to keep all members happy. We all eat a lot of the same things- fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, legumes. We focus on those things instead of the few things on which we disagree. This approach has kept the peace (for the most part) for several years now, and we are all healthier for it.

How do you handle your approach to food when it comes to people who see diet differently? Is it a point of contention for you?

Monday, May 28, 2012

Food Journal

Some people think it is really hard to eat vegan, raw or both. Yes, it may be easier to mindlessly order the #1 off the Wendy's drive through menu, eat it on the way home from work, and call that dinner. But I think most people agree that is the least healthy approach to food. Most people put more thought into their meals, at least most of the time. Dinner might be white rice, cooked on the stove or in a rice cooker, steamed broccoli (steamed in the microwave), and roast something or other- chicken, beef, whatever. This seems easy enough and sounds to me like an average meal for a busy American family.

But I firmly believe it can be even easier, AND more nutritious. I am not fully vegan or fully raw, but I would say I come fairly close a lot of the time. I have two kids under 2, I am working hard to start a business, and I have a hard-working husband. So, suffice it to say, we need easy like everyone else.

Here is an ideal food journal for me- this is what I ate this past Saturday.
(Note: Time is blurry because trying to eat with an almost 2 year old climbing all over you stealing your food and smearing what she decides not to eat all over the kitchen table and bench is... challenging.)

Breakfast around 8 or 9
Smoothie: 1 banana, 3 handfuls baby spinach, 1 1/2 cups almond milk, 2 tablespoons hemp protein powder
6 strawberries
giant cup of green tea

Snack around 11
Persimmon- I LOVE these odd fruits.
1/2 watermelon- blended with water into a juice, yum!

Lunch around 1
Salad: 3 handfuls Asian greens mix, half cucumber, handful blueberries, 1 tomato, sauteed shitake mushrooms, sprinkle of sunflower seeds, drizzle of pistachio oil, drizzle of balsamic vinegar. (The pistachio oil is a new treat for us- I found it at the farmers' market.)

Snack around 4
apple, spoonful of peanut butter

6 spring veggie rolls- super easy to make at home. You can find rice papers in any Asian market. Just wet them, roll various vegetables up in them, and dip in a peanut sauce. Mmmm. Mine were filled with carrots, yellow summer squash, and mung bean sprouts.)
About 1 cup homemade sauerkraut (so easy and quick to make at home!)

Later on I wanted something sweet so I had a few squares of 72% dark chocolate.

Now I know not everyone wants to eat like this. People have different wants and needs, but this is what works for me a lot of the time. Especially lately with the warm weather- who wants to fire up the stove if you don't have to? But these foods are so easy to have on hand and can be quickly thrown together. I only had to use my stove top for the tea and sauteing the mushrooms. There were no big pans to scrub clean- most everything was dishwasher safe, even. The only work involved was washing and chopping produce, and then cleaning the cutting board and blender.

One might say that this food journal only works when the weather is warm. While it is true that in colder months it might include heavier, denser foods, and more of it would be cooked, I still think it can be quick and nutritious, and heavy on vegetables. If in the winter a salad does not feel like enough to sustain, you could add a cup of cooked quinoa and steamed veggies. Grains like quinoa can be cooked on the weekend and then eaten all week, for ease and speed. If fruit like persimmons, blueberries and strawberries are not in season or they are simply too expensive in the cold months, you could have apples, clementines, kiwi, etc. Seasonality only helps when it comes to eating a varied diet.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Farm to Table: A Locally Sourced Salad

I love summer, but not for the things that come to mind when you think of summer fun. We don't get to the beach much, we don't have a pool, we don't even have a pass to a public pool. I don't sit out and tan. We don't own a grill, and we don't eat the typical grilled foods. 

I love summer for the super hot weather (most days, anyway), the thunderstorms and random downpours after it's been humid all day, and the abundance of fresh and local fruit and vegetables. 

This summer, I have made it an absolute priority to go to the farmers' markets we have locally. We have been trying to visit three different ones, Phoenixville, Collegeville, and Skippack. So far, the best one seems to be right here in Phoenixville, a quick walk right from my house, and it is mostly shaded, located under the Gay St bridge. It also has the most sellers and variety of offerings. I typically make buying greens for salads my priority (about $5), and then I use what cash I have left over to buy what interests me. Lately that has been baby beets, turnips, mushrooms, and once we bought a specialty oil, local artisan goat cheese, and a bottle of wine. The cheese and wine were mostly for Chris. Most of our farmers' market money goes to local produce. 

A friend also introduced me to a local farm (Maple Acres Farm) not represented at the market (thanks, Meg :). The one time I visited so far, I bought strawberries and asparagus- definitely going back to check out what else I can get there. 

This is a salad made from almost all locally sourced ingredients. It was delicious, and we have been making variations of it again and again depending on what ingredients we have. I have noted where the ingredients were bought, not the farm that grew them, because I don't remember specific names.

1/3 head Speckled Romaine- chopped (Collegeville Market)
1/2 bunch baby red beets- sliced thin (Phoenixville)
3-4 baby white (hakurei) turnips- sliced thin (Phoenixville)
the greens from both the beets and turnips I used- chopped
8 strawberries- sliced (Maple Acres Farm)
drizzle of pistachio oil (Collegeville)
drizzle balsamic vinegar (we buy it at Taste of Olive in West Chester, but it comes from Italy I believe.)
3-4 radishes- sliced (Collegeville)
3-4 chives- chopped (Phoenixville)
cracked salt and black pepper

I put everything in a huge bowl, and toss, toss, toss to coat everything in the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. 
I think dressing, whether it's a simple one of oil and vinegar or something more elaborate like pesto, can make or break a salad. Everything has to be lightly coated, but not drowned. I put the dressing on in the big bowl instead of serving the dry salad and putting the dressing on after it has been plated, just so I can toss it well. Here is a picture- it's not stellar photography but you get the idea. 

I should note, both the beets and turnips were raw in this salad. When they are small enough, they are sweet and tender, but as they get bigger they take on a woody texture and might not be as palatable raw in a salad like this. 

Buying from farmers' markets and local farms is important because the produce hasn't been shipped for miles and days, so it is the freshest it can be. Therefore, it has the highest nutritional content. Also, it hasn't been picked before it is fully ripe so that it can finish ripening while en route to its destination. What you buy at the farm or farmers' market was picked ripe and has the best flavor and color. Sometimes (not always) the prices are better since shipping costs are removed. There is less packaging since there is no need to store the produce longterm. Many small farms opt for organic practices because they know it is better for their land and crops, while also being beneficial to consumers. Simply ask farmers about pesticide and fertilizer use, even if they are not certified organic. Becoming certified can be expensive, so a farmer may be organic but without the label. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Where do you source your nutrients?

The other day I went to the vitamin store to see if they could give me any insight regarding natural sunscreens. As I walked out the door I noticed a stand holding many copies of two different magazines, both free. Never one to turn down free material on nutrition, I took one of each. I flipped through them on the way home (Chris was driving) and noticed why they were free- they were put out by two supplement companies. The articles were about studies showing that apple extract extends life span, benefits of B complex, etc. After presentation of the material, an ad would follow with the company's take on that nutrient in a pill form.

Then yesterday, I came across information about folic acid, of all things, being harmful. Folic acid- the same thing doctors tell pregnant women, those trying to conceive, and nursing moms to supplement! (source) (Turns out, our bodies need FOLATE, which folic acid is supposed to become in our bodies. Folic acid has always been tested on rats, which have the ability to change the folic acid.  We don't have the ability to do so to the same extent, and the excess folic acid can be somewhat toxic to humans. Yikes! Here are whole FOOD sources of folate.)

For a while, I have thought vitamins should only be supplemental to a nutrient rich diet full of fruits and vegetables, an "insurance policy" if you will. I do take supplements, but none are taken daily. I just feel my diet is high in most nutrients I need already. I stopped taking a prenatal every single day before my last pregnancy- I only take it occasionally when I feel like I need a boost. This wasn't always the case though; there was a time recently I took B complex, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, Omega 3 and 6 AND a multivitamin daily! I think it is safe to say, I was probably overdoing it.

So what do I currently take, and how often? Well, I use hemp powder in my smoothies, for the protein. I also use nutritional yeast a great deal- I make sauces and dips with it, and sprinkle it into smoothies and over salads. I use it as a source of B vitamins, mainly B12. However, I don't really consider either of these things supplements- they are really whole foods that just so happen to be high in key nutrients I need.

Sometimes- not more than twice a week maybe- I use supplements for vitamin D, vitamin A, Omegas, and Vitamin C, all of which are liquid/oil based. I just blend them into a morning smoothie if I feel I have been lacking in any of those nutrients.

I take probiotics, but not the way most would. The probiotics I buy come in a powder form that must be refrigerated. I make my own raw vegan yogurt with nuts and coconut and use this powder to ferment it. When I don't have yogurt in the refrigerator or I am not in the mood for it, I also make my own raw sauerkraut. I make both of these (instead of buying them) to ensure they are raw. I believe this is important because once something is pasteurized (like most yogurt would be) bacteria are killed, including the good bacteria known to us as probiotics. Conventional yogurt that has "live and active cultures" advertised is either a myth as that yogurt has been pasteurized, or manufacturers add probiotics after this process.

But could I save myself the trouble and just take nutrients in a pill form, thereby allowing myself to eat whatever I want? While my gut (ha) feeling is no, I thought I would do some reading on the subject and share my findings.

The biggest take away I came up with is that whole foods have enzymes and cofactors that are essential in assimilating the nutrients in our bodies. A supplement may contain as much vitamin C for example, as an orange, probably more so. However, that supplement won't have all the enzymes and cofactors it takes for the body to actually use that nutrient. (source)

Ever wonder why your urine is such a strange color when taking vitamins? I always reassured myself it was a harmless side effect- that it indicated my body used what it needed of the nutrients I just gave it, and is excreting the excess. After all, your body does not store extra away when it comes to all nutrients. Vitamins can be either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins (B and C) are not stored away for later- your body uses what it needs and flushes out what is left. Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) move through the body by way of the lymphatic system and the blood stream to be used where needed. Whatever is left is eventually stored in tissue, and generally stays there. So, one can have too much of fat soluble vitamins with dangerous side effects, but this is less common with water soluble vitamins. (source)

But when you see evidence of "excess" vitamins in your urine, it may not be excess at all. Cheap, low quality tablets have a coating that hinders absorbtion; the nutrient may not be fully released into your blood before you excrete it, or it is released in the stomach where the acids destroy it. When you drink a liquid form of a vitamin, it may be no better- the liquid enters the stomach and again, the acids destroy the nutrient. Your body may not have assimilated anything- and it may very well be money flushed down the drain.

So, if a supplement is necessary, it looks like a tablet form IS best. But only if it is a good quality tablet that survives the stomach acids and makes it to the upper intestine, where it can be absorbed into the lining and enter the bloodstream. (source)

All this means (to me, anyway) that I really can't fall back on supplements. All the more reason, in my mind, to pay very close attention to what we eat. This might take some work, but I think it is worth the effort.

Do you take any supplements? How do you ensure you get all the nutrients you need? Or do you eat a varied diet, trusting it is providing enough of everything? Discuss!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Food as Medicine: Sunburn

My husband (stubborn genius that he is) REFUSES to wear any sunscreen EVER. As a result he gets burnt. A lot. Pretty much at least once a summer. This means he has obvious stark tan (, burn) lines and looks ridiculous. He also feels that itchy tightness of skin from the sunburn.

Now, I am not one to wear SPF every single day, mind you. I don't think I will get skin cancer going about my day, exposed to the sun at short intervals, like from the house to the car, car to grocery store. In fact, I think getting some sun exposure is important. It can be especially important depending on your diet; vitamin D2 is most easily found in alfalfa and mushrooms while vitamin D3 is most easily found in fatty fish like catfish, salmon, mackerel, eggs and beef liver. (source) D2 is not a problem for vegetarians or vegans, assuming they eat alfalfa and/or mushrooms, but D3 can be. So I do take advantage of the easiest source of all- the sun- by going for walks with the kids, walking the dogs, jogging in the morning, and running errands throughout the week. After all, lack of vitamin D has been associated with actually contributing to cancer, causing softening of bones, and lower immunity. Vitamin supplements can be hard for the body to assimilate. So the best sources are foods rich in the nutrient, and the sun of course. (source)

However, if I know I will be in the sun (direct sun) for longer than 30 minutes straight I put on sunscreen, SPF 30 or higher. One, I don't want to deal with an uncomfortable burn. Two, whether or not it is true burns increase your chance of getting skin cancer, I do believe a sunburn changes the make up of skin cells, and over time those permanent changes have to manifest as something. 

But enough about me, back to the husband. Yesterday he was digging out what will eventually be our driveway, and my father in law was here to help. (By the way, can I just say I am SO excited to be getting a driveway! Very grateful :) Chris (my husband) as per usual wore no sun protection whatsoever. No hat, no sunglasses, no SPF. He didn't even wear a shirt. My father in law didn't wear any sun protection either, but I think his skin has adjusted to all the exposure he gets as he is pretty brown, even in the dead of winter. He never seems to be burned red, although that doesn't mean his skin has no permanent damage. 

They were outside in direct sun for at least 5-6 hours. Chris came in lobster red, unsurprisingly. I proceeded to berate him as he dug out the aloe vera gel from the bathroom closet. While applying a topical treatment like aloe can help to temporarily soothe the burn, that burn could have easily been prevented, I told him. (I know, I sound like a mom...) He of course used this statement and my passion for nutrition against me. Ha. He googled foods that help to protect the skin from the sun from the inside out, and has been gorging himself on those foods. Here is what we discovered. 

Certain antioxidants have the ability to prevent and treat damage from ultraviolet radiation, specifically vitamins C and E. Thing is, you have to have these nutrients in your body at the same time for them to do their work. (source) So what foods contain these vitamins? Well most foods only contain one or the other, not both, so some combining has to be involved. Foods high in vitamin C include strawberries, Acerola cherries, citrus, papayas, black currants, kiwi, bell peppers, and guava. (source) Foods high in vitamin E include various oils, seeds, nuts, and legumes (peanuts), as well as broccoli, spinach, kiwi, mango and tomato. (source) Almonds, being the best whole-food source of the nutrient, specifically have 35% of your daily value of vitamin E. (source)

Also, lycopene is powerful in protecting skin against damage from the sun, being an antioxidant and free radical scavenger. It is abundant in tomatoes, as well as watermelon, papaya, grapefruit and guava. (source) The catch with tomatoes is that it is bound to indigestible fiber in raw tomatoes. To get enough lycopene for it to have any true affect, one would have to ingest 3.5 oz of tomato paste a day. (I don't think that's all that much, but I love tomato sauce.) The reason lycopene is so good for skin is that it is fat soluble, and skin is a fat lipid-rich organ. (source)

To apply what he discovered in an attempt to treat his burn, Chris has been eating tomato, avocado, sunflower seeds, spinach, strawberries, mango and oranges. He made a salad of avocado, tomato and sunflower seeds. I made him a smoothie of spinach, banana, almond milk and strawberries. We also went to the store to pick up more avocado, papaya, mango and watermelon, so he can continue to feed his skin. (I should mention, he usually eats lots of fruit anyway. He is just focusing on eating to treat an ailment at the moment.) He does not like whole (or chopped) raw almonds, so he checked our almond milk and discovered it has 50% of your daily value of vitamin E in an 8 oz serving, so he drank 16 oz in one go. 

The thing is, while it is possible to consume enough of certain nutrients in order to prevent the damage, he is not eating enough of them regularly to make a difference that he could forgo protection altogether, and we probably eat more fruits and vegetables than most people. While eating like this won't turn back the clock and and reverse his sunburn, it can't hurt. At the very least, he is feeding his cells nutrients they would need for other functions, if not to repair and protect his skin.   'Course, I would still prefer he use some SPF on days when he is going to be out in the sun for hours at a time. One battle at a time. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Not all vegan food is created equal

That statement may seem obvious to some- it is true of any food genre, right? Yet many people become vegan thinking that by cutting out animal products, their work is done. Not so. Vegan does not always equal healthy.

Lots of candy and cookies are vegan, for example. gives an extensive list, broken down into categories like beverages, breakfast, snacks, etc. (source) Faux meat and the various products marketed to vegans and vegetarians as substitutes for their favorite meat dishes are often filled with GMO and highly processed corn, wheat, and soy. When it comes to your health, you're probably better off eating the meat than something developed in a lab.

In my opinion, for the sake of one's health, one would do better by declaring they are avoiding anything packaged or processed (where possible) in favor of food that is grown in the ground (plant-based) and altered (cooked) as little as possible. This would seem to have a higher success rate (in terms of health and sticking to a goal) than simply declaring veganism.

It would force you to expand your palette, for one. When I did this, I started trying foods I had never had before. For example, I had not always eaten a variety of leafy greens. I always loved broccoli rabe, sauteed/steamed with olive oil and garlic. But I never ate kale, collard greens, mustard greens, dandelion greens, swiss chard, or beet greens. As it turns out, some of those have much more nutritional value than broccoli rabe, and I was missing out. Plus, they can be prepared in a multitude of delicious ways- sauteed, steamed, parboiled, braised or just plain raw. (Here is a nifty guide with some great ideas to get you started!) Also,I used to forgo salad, thinking it was boring, in favor of less healthy options. Now that I have had so many kinds of salad greens, I have salad at least once a day!

When I crave something sweet (and dark chocolate won't cut it) I I try to make my own baked goods. And now, when I do have something packaged (maybe candy or a cookie) I am turned off by it. I have little desire to have more.

Embracing foods in the way they were intended by nature is often vegan and raw by default. And it forces you to become skilled in the kitchen, arguably the most important life skill there is. We should all be able to feed ourselves and those we love nutritiously.

Comments? Any vegan readers out there, how do you approach food now that animal products are off the table?

And if any readers out there know of any like-minded individuals who might be interested, please mention this blog or my business website! I love exchanging ideas with others! :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Dave Davies (NPR) Interviews Kelly Brownell About Obesity

The HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation is getting a lot of attention- just this week I read a Newsweek article about it (which I discussed here) and I heard an interview on NPR regarding the series and the obesity epidemic in general. I won't be watching the show (we don't have HBO. Drat.) but I have been getting a lot of insight just reading about it. 

Fresh Air's Dave Davies interviewed Kelly Brownell, a psychologist featured in the documentary who also directs the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale.The interview touched on various topics from the series,  but one really stuck with me. 

They discussed the notion that the government shouldn't intervene in our lives and personal habits. 

"As a country, we sometimes believe that certain health-related issues sometimes reach a certain point of importance where we believe government has a role. For example, we could teach people to drive at the speed limit and be safe and not fall asleep at the wheel — or we can put airbags in cars. We could hope people brush and floss, or we can put fluoride in the water. We could hope that parents get their children immunized before they go to school, or we can just require it. So the question is whether obesity has reached a certain level of crisis, like we felt we reached with tobacco. ... I obviously believe we're there, and I believe, more and more, the country is believing that." (source

This is a point of contention in politics of late- if the Democrats claim we need more oversight, the Republicans cry that the oversight costs tax dollars and grows the government, which should be kept small. Nothing is done and no one wins, as a result of all the infighting. 

But my argument is not whether there should or shouldn't be more involvement from the government. My argument is that that involvement- that oversight- already exists within the food system. It just needs to be redirected.  The industries of sugar, meat, corn, and dairy (to name a few) are highly subsidized. If the government took even a small portion of the monies directed to those foodstuffs and redirected it to the fruit and vegetable markets, it would create a domino effect. With more funding, produce agriculture would be better able to create ad campaigns to increase demand. (Think: the "Got Milk?" campaign championed by the dairy industry. Through efforts of the dairy industry and the government combined, parents everywhere were and still are CONVINCED that cow's milk is the only source of calcium and vitamin D for their children. This is a misinformed belief, but that's another post for another time...)

So, all it would take is a redistribution of sorts. But what about those that argue that NO industry should get subsidies, that the government should stay out of it altogether? It is my opinion that we are past that point. It may have worked before we became so addicted to sugar, salt, and fat- when families cooked and ate at home, primarily. We are now up to our necks in an epidemic, and the American people don't know what to believe when it comes to fixing the problem. We don't know what is good to eat and what isn't. We have been told different stories time after time, and we have gotten to the point where we tune it out and give up. 

It must be said that it is high time the government were involved. In the past when something was severely affecting a large group of Americans negatively (the Great Depression, the auto company bailout, the bank bailout, anti-smoking) the government stepped in. It would be in the government's best interest to do the same here. For one, medical and insurance costs would be drastically reduced. 

To imagine the effects of an "Eat More Vegetables" government campaign (I am sure they would come up with a better title than I have...) let us look at the effects of the anti-smoking campaign for comparison. KE Warner of the Department of Public Health Policy and Administration writes, "In the absence of the antismoking campaign, adult per capita cigarette consumption in 1987 would have been an estimated 79-89 per cent higher than the level actually experienced." (source)

An "Eat More Vegetables" campaign could involve commercials showing the effects of a diet void of vegetation, and a diet full of whole natural foods, including raw fruits and vegetables. There could be "Got Spinach?" posters in elementary schools. The possibilities are endless, and it doesn't even take much creativity to begin with. Using the same tactics we have used before would make a world of difference. (In fact, some small scale campaigns have already popped up. Bo Muller-Moore, known as the "eat more kale guy," started a business making t-shirts that read "Eat More Kale." He was sued by Chick-fil-A for copyright infringement. Rather than putting him out of business, all the attention sent his t-shirt orders through the roof.) (source)

How do you feel about government intervention when it comes to the obesity epidemic? How should the government promote diet changes for the better?

The Latest Battle in America's War on Weight

Losing weight all boils down to simple "energy expenditure," right? That's what the government would like you to believe, if we are to listen to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. If you burn more calories than you take in, you should lose weight. However, not all calories are created equal.

Newsweek ran a story this week called "When I Grow Up, I'm Going to Weigh 300 lbs. Help!" The cover may be cute to some, but I found it disturbing. 

The story is partly in response to a four part HBO documentary that begins airing Monday, May 14th (today), "The Weight of the Nation."

The article sheds light on an alternative theory that has been around for years, but it keeps getting brushed aside: that refined sugars and grains affect the hormone insulin, which regulates fat accumulation. This is why our fat cells get fat. And fat fat cells lead to fat humans. The same cannot be said of protein, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. (The article does concede that fruit does contain fructose, but in much lower concentrations than sugary drinks and baked goods. Plus, I might add, fruit contains large amounts of fiber. In my opinion, that fiber balances out the sugars. And if you are eating a piece of fruit, you are less likely to eat a pastry, candy bar, or drink a soda.)

The article also argues that health arguments against eating meat (that it contributes to colon cancer, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes) can no longer be defended. I was reading this article thinking, "Finally! The calorie expenditure theory is being revealed as debunked!" But then I came to this. The article says a diet rich in meat, eggs and cheese (as well as leafy greens) is the healthiest diet! All I can see coming of this is a new fad, another trend towards one part of the food pyramid- meat, at the expense of all others. 

Yes, whole grains are FAR superior to refined sugars and carbohydrates. Yes, protein is important. But meat is not the best source of protein for most people. The American public has already proven itself to be less than critical of its sources of food. After all, where would companies like McDonalds, Walmart, and Monsanto (to name a few) be without our unquestioning acceptance? But making blanket statements like this is irresponsible on the part of Newsweek and the article's author, Gary Taubes. Taubes does not discern between "good" meat and "bad" meat. He never mentions other sources of protein- nothing is mentioned about beans and other whole plant sources like quinoa, hemp or chia. Instead, he mentions that "the lowly cheeseburger is consistently targeted as a contributor to both obesity and diabetes," and he goes on to show us that these diseases are due to our love of refined grains, not our meat consumption. And then he seemingly gives the green light for that same cheeseburger.

I am not saying he is wrong about refined sugar's effect on insulin. I am not saying NO ONE should EVER eat meat. I am saying we are (again) missing  a much simpler approach. Just focus on eating vegetables and fruit first. FILL UP on produce, before even thinking about the other food groups. No one overdoses on leafy greens. Disease does not result from eating too many oranges. (If it is possible to get too much of a particular nutrient from a vegetable or fruit, it is most unlikely one would be able to consume that much of that particular vegetable or fruit.)

While this article brought to light the truth for many people who believed that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie, it should have stopped there. It finally set the record straight on that front. However, it may have contributed to a whole other trend or fad, one that we've seen before with the Atkins diet. My question is, when will we finally welcome a trend diet of mostly whole, raw (hopefully organic where possible) vegetation?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Raw, Vegan... Where I stand

Hello everyone! It seems there are readers out there, or at least one. That really means a lot to me, and it is very encouraging, so thank you!

Since I will be helping others to change the way they eat, I feel compelled to detail how I personally eat. After all, I don't want to come across as a hypocrite to potential clients. I am human too, and I have setbacks like anyone else. But with practice, preparation, and positive thinking, it gets easier and easier to get back on the horse.

I am not fully raw, nor fully vegan. Dun, dun, DUN! BUT, I strive to stay raw and vegan throughout the day, until dinner time. This works for me because I am currently a stay at home mom. I am in complete control of my meals, until Chris (the husband :) gets home. Now, I could have a raw vegan dinner every night, and some nights I do. But with two little kids to feed as well, and Chris coming home famished, sometimes it isn't worth the time to make different meals for us all. Toddlers like to assert independence, and my daughter often does this with food. She will decide she hates a food that she seemingly loved the day before. (Thankfully my son is too small for solids yet, and is still breastfeeding, so he eats what I eat and helps to simplify things, haha.) Chris isn't wild about all the food I have learned to make (although he will always try before he claims to dislike it, and there some things he loves.) So, to avoid an overflowing dishwasher, a cranky kid, and an endless "What's for dinner?" conversation, we usually all just eat the same thing. However, it is almost always a dish heavy on the vegetables, light on simple carbohydrates. And sometimes it just happens to be raw and vegan (like a huge salad.)

So, do I eat eggs, seafood, cheese? Occasionally. I would venture to guess it now averages about once a week that I have either eggs, seafood, cheese. And I don't beat myself up about it. It used to be that I had eggs about three times a week, seafood once or twice a week, and cheese EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. (I can't seem to turn myself off to the taste of cheese, for some reason. Eventually.) So to only have one of the three about once a week is not a sin, in my book. And food-associated guilt is not helpful no matter what your health goals are. Food should be enjoyable while also providing nourishing nutrition. I do notice a difference in the way I feel when I have any of the above things- I tend to feel... heavier. More tired, groggy, etc. I have the most energy when I focus on eating as much produce as possible, so I believe that if I continue on this path of eating more of the good stuff, I will leave less and less room for the rest.

What about bread and pasta? I used to CRAVE pasta. Often. I just love it. I can easily eat half a pound (which is about four servings) or more if I let myself. I also love bread- good crusty Italian bread only, though. I still eat both bread and pasta, but not nearly as much. Once I started eating to feed my body REAL LIVE nutrients from raw vegetables and fruit, I stopped having so many cravings. And when I eat pasta or bread now, I make sure it is the really tasty stuff, and I stick to one or two servings.

I completely avoid beef, chicken, pork, etc- it has been that way for the most part for several years.

I haven't had ice cream in over a month. I used to have it about twice a week. We used to get fresh filled cannoli twice a month. It's been two months. It's not that I have a hard time avoiding those things though, I just don't NEED them like I used to. I have found desserts to make at home that don't pack empty calories, and instead provide lots of nutrition. Plus, there is always fresh, ripe fruit (and occasionally super dark chocolate. ;)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

New Beginnings

Hello everyone! This is my new blog, Revitalize with Stefania. I have started a business, also called Revitalize with Stefania, in which "I am a health coach/nutrition consultant, working from home. I help people lose weight, fight disease, eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, etc, and eat less meat and dairy." ( This blog will be where I share my musings on health, nutrition, fitness, etc. However, this first post will not really be about any of those topics. This post is about how I got to this point. 

Last Friday, I gave my two week notice that I was not returning to my job once my maternity leave was over. It was a good job. With good coworkers. And good pay. With fully paid benefits (read: medical and dental coverage.) In the middle of a deep recession. 

I know you might be thinking, "Are you insane?" I thought it myself a few times. Let's face it, people are having a pretty hard time finding jobs. Medical coverage is getting pretty hard to come by, and I had it so easily. But I had to go with my gut, on several counts. One, we have two children under two years old. They don't stay small forever, and I want to spend more time with them. Two, while it was a great job, I wasn't doing what I was passionate about. So now, I am trying to both make money doing something I love, and be with my kids all day. It is so far proving to be difficult but not impossible. Where there is a will, there is a way, right? 

But what about the medical coverage? Well, I have been mulling this over for some time, even before I came to the conclusion I would quit my well-paying-job-with-benefits. Lately, medical insurance is a hot topic, both in and out of politics. Who should pay when you get sick is what it boils down to, and people seem to be on one of two sides of the fence. I think we are missing a big part of the picture, though. Instead of looking at sickness as inevitable, as something that only increases with age, and focusing on how to pay for that sickness, why don't we look at ways to prevent it, and put more money to that end? It seems simple enough to me, and yet there is an ongoing debate and our country is divided over this. There are new studies out everyday showing the power of various plants in our diet, and yet, of current government food subsidies, only 0.4% goes to fruit and vegetables, while 74% goes to meat, dairy and eggs. (Only 13% is for grains, 11% for sugar, oil, and alcohol, and a tiny 2% for nuts and legumes.) Essentially the government encourages a diet based on meat/dairy, thereby encouraging the diseases related to that diet. (

In my mind, we can't count on the government, either to help pay for the prevention or the treatment of disease. It is up to us. I truly believe many illnesses are preventable (some even curable) with diet. Specifically, a plant-based diet. 

Now, I am not advocating going without medical coverage (and we personally won't be.) But I am taking this opportunity to look at our family's health in a new way. We are doing everything in our power to stave off any possible illnesses with nutrition, and we are seeing excellent results already. And I want to give that opportunity and knowledge to others. 

If you are interested in changing your diet and life (a lot or a little) I am here to help! Whether you want to become raw, vegan, or you just want to introduce healthier options to your diet, even if you are not trying to stop meat/dairy consumption, I can help you make those changes. Until then, I will be posting bits of information here :). 


Friday, May 4, 2012

new moms/moms to be: want to go veg but don't know where to start? I can help-been there! moms pregnant
Moms and moms to be: Are you/baby having trouble sleeping? Our breastfed baby boy started sleeping longer when I increased my protein!
Hate grocery shopping? Don't know what to buy? I can do it with you or for you!
salad time! what's in yours? peanut sauce on mine! mmm whatieat lunch
Want some tips on what to eat? Looking for sound nutritional knowledge? Need to change your life? Revitalize!
having my morning smoothie! spinach, almond milk, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. mmmm. whatieat