Monday, August 22, 2011

Food Certitude

A commentary titled "Dietary Guidelines in the 21st Century - a Time for Food" written by Drs. Mozaffarian and Ludwig was published this month by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). In this thoughtful piece, the authors talk about the genesis of our current nutrient-based dietary guidelines which focus on consuming foods to provide an adequate amount of the nutrients (vitamins and minerals) our bodies need. They also point out how this system is flawed.

As with my blog post from Saturday and the article by Carlos Monterio and the downside of highly processed foods, there is a small but growing movement afoot that stresses eating real food and not counting calories. According to Drs. Mozaffarian and Ludwig this is precisely what we need to do.

I couldn't agree more. As a Health Coach, I am frequently asked by friends and family members how and what to eat and my advice is always the same. Eat real food. My definition of real food is "food as it arrives from nature" which excludes everything in a box or bag that can sit for weeks, months or years on the grocery store shelves. Unforunately, the vast majority of Americans mostly only eat things from bags or boxes or served in fast food restaurants. There is a direct link between processed foods and obesity (no matter how fantastic the health claim on the outside of the package).

If you want to get more healthy or lose weight, stop eating things in packages and start eating real food. Eat out less, cook at home more. As far as I'm concerned you're better off eating all of the real food you want instead of counting calories and worrying about serving sizes.

If you want to make the change, we have several ways to help. Real food is the basis of Move.Eat.Be. (our six-month wellness program), it is the focus of the food portion of our Wellness Wheel, it is the genesis behind The Real Food Label, The Real Food Hierarchy and The Real Food Plate.

Making this simple, yet profound change, could be the best thing you'll ever do for your health. And, if you're not now, do so starting tomorrow. And while you're at it, get some exercise each and every day. Lifelong, sustainable wellness isn't hard, doesn't require pills, mixes, supplements or magic. It only requires you. 

Happy real fooding!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Evidence Eventually

This morning, Mark Bittman retweeted Michael Pollan's link to an article in the newsletter published by the World Public Health Nutrition Association and written Carlos Monterio. Carlos is from the Centre for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition at the University of Sao Paulo and has written several articles about the faults with overly processed foods.

In this article, Carlos talks more about the problems with what he calls "ultra-processed" products and moreso these food-like susbstances that now include wild health claims. We've all seen them on the fronts of packages. Things like "added minerals" or "with antioxidants" and other such nefarious claims luring the unaware and trusting consumer to buy bad stuff out of boxes. Yes, according to US regulations these claims are legal though, as Carlos points out, the added good stuff is most likely also sythentic, overly processed chemicals stuff whose real health benefits are suspect, at best.

If you're interested in the details, read Carlos' article. While somewhat technical, he does a great job of explaining why this is a very real problem in our current battle against obesity.

If you don't have the time to read through what he has to say, the best thing you can do is only eat real food. You don't need a diet book or a degree in nutrition to do this. You don't even need to worry, too much, about how many calories you are consuming each day, IF and ONLY IF, you stop eating food-like substances which arrive overly processed in boxes and bags.

If you'd like some help understanding what we mean by real food, see The Real Food Hierarchy below which encourages you to eat at least 80% of your food from the Real and Almost Real food categories. Thank you to Carlos Monterio. Thank you to Michael Pollan. Thank you to Mark Bittman.

There is hope afterall. And remember, if you are patient enough, eventually the evidence will catch up to what makes sense.

The Real Food HierarchyTM

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fast Food vs. The Grocery Store

Today's Time shared a story by The Week and reported a fast food to grocery store ratio of 5:1. My first thought was, "Naturally, it is much easier, faster and less expensive to build a fast food restaurant versus a grocery store." Fast food stores are much smaller and sell far fewer products than the tens of thousands sold in most grocery stores today.

My second thought was, "Hey, there is an idea. Create a fast service, whole food, small footprint grocery store concept that could be built in a few months and placed all around the country in the food deserts" (defined as 20% of the people living below the poverty line and at least 33% of the people living more than a mile from a supermarket).

For purposes of writing this blog about it, I went to google maps and searched for grocery in Baltimore, Maryland. The map below shows the results.

View Larger Map

I must admit, I was surprised. There are many dots on the map when I really expected only a few. I started clicking on these dots and the vast majority of them are small, single site, and (presumably) locally-owned corner stores. The small business entreprenuers still exist!

I think did a search for fast food in Baltimore and got many fewer results (see below). Personally, I find this encouraging. I admit the results are not perfect as Google is not perfect and there may be some errors in the data. And, still. At least in Baltimore City residents have many more corner grocer options which, in many cases, would be more convenient than fast food. So....

View Larger Map

... what is going on? The full article in The Week went on to examine the issues more in-depth: price, taste preferences, ease, etc.

Maybe access to a grocery store/supermarket isn't much of a factor in obesity. Maybe it is the qualtiy, health and prices of food available in the corner store. I've been in a few and many of them sell the highly processed, overly preservatived, packaged food which make up the diet for far too many Americans.

Instead of a press release moment where The White House talks about how Wal-Mart has graciously agreed to put more fresh food in food deserts, why don't we create a new program through the Small Business Administration to help these mom n' pop, corner markets be a better resource for healthy food options in their communities? A combination of training for the store owners, subsidies to buy fresh foods (and bonuses for the fresh food they sell), plus education for the store owners and their customers on ways to eat healthy on a budget. We could have little cooking classes all across the nation.

This ground-up, community-based strategy could have a huge impact. It would bring people in a community together in support of better health. It would be a boon to the small stores, many of whom who struggle to remain profitable and open. It would encourage and support small, locally-owned entreprenuers.

There isn't really a need to re-invent the wheel, America (or rely on the big corporations to "save" us). We can simply recognize the resources we have and support them to do good for everyone.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Steps in the Right Direction

I’m a firm believer in getting out of bed each morning to do exactly what you’re meant to do in this world. No, this doesn’t mean sit around all day eating bon-bons and watching reality tv (which used to, by the way, be soap operas). It means hopping out of bed each day in the pursuit of your life’s mission. What you love. Your raison d’etre.

Some people are meant to lead. Some people are meant to follow. Some people are meant to cure. Some people are meant to create. There is honor is all of it, no matter how esteemed. The only thing that matters, in my humble opinion, is if you’re getting out of bed each morning and doing precisely what you love to do.

How do I know it matters? Because, well I do, and because I’ve spent a fair amount of the last few months doing something I don’t love and it is sucking the life out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I was paid well and the work was far less hazardous and unpleasant than what many people have to endure. But, my heart wasn’t in it and I didn’t believe what I was doing would make any difference in the world.

The impact? A slow, certain and consistent drain on everything else in my life. The first thought in the morning is dread. The last thought before the eyes go to sleep is relief. This is no way to live, trust me. I’ve seen the other side, too.

What I know for certain? If you’re not doing what you love to do, it is time to do something about it. You don’t have to quit your job today but I would suggest you take a step in the right direction. If you don’t know what the right direction is, take the first step to figure that part out. When you know what you’d love to spend your life doing, make a list of the 10 things you need to do to get you closer. It is possible that one or more of the things on the list are things that won’t really thrill you (go back to school, start saving more money, change who you spend your time with). I think you’ll find once you’re doing something you don't really love in pursuit of something you really love, the doing the icky part gets easier.

I am not suggesting you resign yourself to toiling away at a job you hate until you make it to retirement. There are plenty of things that can go wrong between here and there and there is really no point to waiting. Simplify your life. Get back to basics. Pursue your dreams.

What else is there?