Natural vs Natural?

6 Oct

The peaceful farm scene on the bag of crackers labeled “natural” looks as if the crackers were plucked from the cracker tree, at least thats what manufactures want you to believe, and millions of Americans are believing just that, natural must mean healthier.

It’s assumed by most consumers, that natural means no hormones, antibiotics, additives, food coloring, or synthetic substances. But given that the U.S. has no standards or a proper definition (other countries not only have a definition, but enforce it as well) for the word when referring to food, the word “natural” assures, well…nothing.

Natural is now a vague marketing tool alluring consumers into believing one product is superior over another. Maybe a particular product is, but with no regulations, who’s to know. So much so, that a very large portion of consumers (way over 50%) will actually purchase a “naturally” labeled product over its counterpart.

It’s difficult to come up with a proper enforceable definition when so much of our soy and corn is genetically modified (and in everything) and highly processed foods are almost the norm vs the exception.

But don’t get too comfortable because companies are pretty hip to avoid any scepticism. Terms like “simply” and “pure” are in line to replace the term “natural.” Always keeping us guessing (or maybe dazed) and confused.

And definitely don’t assume “natural” means “healthful.” Those two don’t go hand in hand. Chips are still chips and contain excess fats and cookies are still cookies with too much sugar (and who knows what else).

'Uh... did you say you are on a lead diet?' 'Dude... it's all natural!'

The take home: First, cook more and second, cook with more wholesome ingredients and avoid processed foods. Therefore you can avoid being the next Sherlock Holmes when it comes to deciphering food labels.

The best foods are the ones that make no claims.


The Snack Epidemic

31 Aug

School is starting and that means…an endless supply of snacks. If your kids are anything like mine, they become piranhas after school, scouring the fridge and pantry for the perfect after-school snack.

The overwhelming abundance of “healthy and/or organic” snacks on the market makes it almost impossible to determine what’s best. Of course, we’ve all been swept away by the organic world (I’m on board) but that doesn’t always equate to healthy. Sugar is still sugar, even if it is organic.  Most advertisers will promote whole grains or bean flours but the quantity is generally too insignificant to be count. Sugar is often disguised with confusing synonyms with the hopes of hoodwinking the average consumer: cane sugar, molasses, malt syrup, evaporated cane syrup, and rice syrup are a few of the more popular terms and all are sugar. And by the way, in case you were ever curious, fruit or veggie “concentrate” means no real fruits or veggies were added.

5 snacks rules I work off of:

  1. Real food. This is  non-negotiable in my book. Think whole grain along with protein and carbohydrates. A little fiber never hurt anyone, plus the added fiber will help fill your kids up. Whole grain cereal and milk is popular in our house. Hummus with whole grain pretzel crisps, carrots and cucumbers is another winner. String cheese and whole grain crackers also gets an A+. Hard boiled egg, seasonal fruit, beans and rice (I’m a Miami girl), and nut butters on whole grain English muffin are also excellent options.
  2. Get on a schedule. I find a proper after school snack at a designated time prevents over-eating.
  3. Snacks and treats are worlds apart. Try not to confuse the two. Kids and adults need to learn the difference. Ice cream, cookies, granola bars, protein bars (aka glorified candy bars), goldfish graham crackers, and chips are “treats”. “Snacks” are what’s mentioned in rule #1.
  4. Availability. If its ready (peeled, chopped, cut, diced, washed, portioned) they will eat it.
  5. Let them go hungry. It’s ok for kids to be a little hungry. It teaches them about appetite, satiation, and what it feels like to build up an appetite. Actually, thats a lesson many of us adults can learn as well.


Ever notice that your kids are never hungry at mealtime? Or why you have to beg them to eat? Its most likely because the minute your kids mention hunger, a snack is readily available, as if you were a human vending machine. Here’s what a typical day should look like: three square meals, 1 to 2 healthy proportioned snacks during the day. Done!


Ingredients on the Blacklist

12 May

Rule: If you’re wondering whether to purchase a certain product in the grocery store, read the list of ingredients. If you can’t purchase everyone of those ingredients to re-create that same item- don’t purchase. I’m an ingredient reader and although my list could take up about three blogs, I’d like to share 5 ingredients that you should absolutely avoid.

Sodium Benzoate: A preservative used to prevent food from molding. In a lot of foods- salad dressings, sodas, juices, cake mixes, to name a few. When mixed with vitamin C, sodium benzoate turns into benzene, a known carcinogen and DNA damager. Studies are also showing it may cause hyperactivity in children. Used very often in the U.S., but banned as an ingredient in Europe.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole ): Used frequently in processed foods that have a long shelf life to prevent food from spoiling. Although the FDA has it in the generally regarded as safe (GRAS) category, it has been shown to cause cancer in animals. So, whats it doing to humans? Check labels, if your consuming processed foods (number one- limit or cease that) your most likely taking in BHA.

Potassium Benzoate: A close cousin to sodium benzoate, it can form benzene, a carcinogen when combined with vitamin C, the ascorbic acid in juice and soda. Potassium benzoate shows up in places least expected like apple cider, low fat salad dressings, and jams. SO, once again, read labels.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Chinese food put MSG on the map but it doesn’t stop there. MSG is regarded as safe in small quantities (but us Americans don’t know the meaning of small) but it does cause adverse reactions like increased appetite (something else Americans don’t need), sweating, rapid heartbeat, swelling, abdominal pain, and numbness. Enough said.

Hydrogenated oils: Hydrogenated oils have been linked to diabetes, coronary disease and obesity. Hydrogenated oils turns into trans fats. Trans fats increase the “LDL” bad cholesterol while decreasing the “HDL” the good cholesterol. That combination increases your risk for heart disease. The real problem is that if a food has less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving, it’s not required to be on the label. And if you consume multiple serving sizes, the amount of trans fat you take in can rack up.

Simply put, avoid these harmful ingredients from ever being in your pantry — cook more and avoid processed foods.

Rise and Energize

19 Feb

If breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, why do one out of four adults skip it and one in six adults never eat it? In my practice, I’ve heard it all…not hungry, too lazy, no time, nothing in the house, not a morning person…sounds familiar?

Prior to my profession, I fell into the above no breakfast excuse category. Now, I am a proponent of breakfast. Not necessarily eggs benedict with a side of bacon, but a little something to get you going. Here’s why:

Break-the-Fast:  The word breakfast itself means to break the fast (from the night before). Skipping breakfast only slows the metabolism making it harder to shed those pounds. Fasting eventually puts the body in fat storage mode (not what we want with bikini season next in the seasonal line-up).

Eat more, weigh less:  Skipping breakfast only makes you more hungry at lunch (or before lunch, equaling mindless snacking), thus overeating and/or eating foods you wouldn’t normally eat. This is so very true (from personal experience and what I see in my office daily). Same theory for not going to the grocery store hungry.

Boost your mood: Eating in the morning improves your mood and may make you happier throughout the day. Going long periods without food (we all do this throughout the evening, during sleep) lowers your blood sugar which often has a negative effect on mood.

Increase Daily nutrients: Breakfast foods are excellent sources of nutrients such as calcium, iron, B- vitamins, fiber, and protein. Think about adding veggies to omelettes, whole grain cereals and steel cut oatmeal with berries and chopped nuts, or whole wheat toast with almond or peanut butter (my personal favorite- it’s perfect in terms of nutrition and as a bonus it’s quick when I’m rushing out of the house to get the kids to school).

Take two minutes to make breakfast or plan ahead the night before. Bring food to the office in the beginning of the week so your covered for the week. Eat a turkey sandwich if you’re not the breakfast type, but eat something! I refuse to believe you don’t have the time to coordinate breakfast yet the time to snack excessively.

White Hot Veggies

15 Oct

We certainly all know how important vegetables are in the diet (our parents have only been drilling it into our heads since we were kids). I’m no exception, I push them for my kids and clients as well. Vegetables, all kinds and colors, are loaded with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants.  (Just as a refresher, phytochemicals have protective or disease preventative properties and  antioxidants fight the pesky free radicals floating around in our bodies that contribute to numerous ailments and diseases).

Though colors like  green, red, and orange are often highlighted, the white vegetables have become the step-child. Studies show that we may be missing out.  Increasing the intake of white vegetables helps increase the intake of key nutrients (often lacking) in the diet like potassium, magnesium, and fiber….and it doesn’t stop there. Studies are finding that the white’s may help reduce the “bad” cholesterol promoting heart health and cancer protection.

Below are some of the more popular white vegetables I give the thumbs up to:

Cauliflower packs a punch with fiber, vitamins C & K, and glucosinates. May help boost immune system and lower inflammation levels protecting against cancer. I roast cauliflower at home and shave parmesan cheese just before serving. Big hit!

White Mushrooms may have multiple medicinal qualities by aiding in autoimmune disorders and improving immune defense. Their star nutrients are riboflavin, niacin, copper, vitamin D, and selenium. I make a mushroom soup with sautéed onions and shallots with vegetable stock. You would be surprised at how rich and creamy it is…without any of the cream!

White Potatoes have a bad reputation thanks to all the low carb diets. But in fact, they aid in cancer prevention and autoimmune  protection thanks to fiber (in the skin), riboflavin, niacin, selenium (an antioxidant), and vitamin D. Instead of forgoing potatoes, why not try eating one smaller than the size of a football.

Turnips, the less popular vegetable, have vitamin C (an antioxidant), fiber, and glucosinates. You can bake, steam, sauté, or mash them.

White Corn is my personal favorite. I love to grill it — brings out the sweet and smokey flavors. Aside from how great they taste, they contain a powerhouse combination of thiamine, folate, and vitamin B6. Corn may protect against heart disease and exhibits anti- inflammatory properties.

So, as a big Miami Heat fan (during basketball playoffs for the non-sports enthusiasts), go WHITE HOT…with your vegetables!

Evolutionary Eating

3 Jul

My Instagram blows up daily with photos of food. Lately, the hashtags are touting the latest “hunter-gatherer”  diet creations- chicken sausage with spinach and eggs, bef stews, filets with sauteed mushrooms and other animal proteins encompassing the majority of our 12″ dinner plates.

Ancient eating is certainly on the rise (mostly due to Crossfit- the gym concept that swept America faster than the Macarena).  The Caveman, Paleo, Stone Age, and Warrior diets are some of the most popular. Proponents believe that eating foods during Paleolithic era such as wild meats, fish, shellfish, nuts, vegetables (mostly root), and fruits is biologically and geneticaly how we should eat to bring us closer to optimal health, in terms of ideal body weight, and reduction in chronic diseases.

Is this just another diet d’jour? Or could there be some truth to evolutionary eating? Here are my thoughts.


The Industrial Era, including the introduction of refined foods, processed sugars, and fatty meats made a steep (negative) impact in the quality of our eating habits, compared to the minimally processed foods of our ancestors. Our ancestors also ate a wider variety of whole foods compared to our current highly processed (mostly corn) selections. I do believe that our bodies are not designed to process such low quality foods. Are the caveman diet lovers just loving the justification to eat more meat? It’s important to note that the meat of our ancestors were much lower in saturated fat and much leaner compared to todays feed lot, muscle lacking animals.

While I don’t fully condone the diet of our ancestors, we can take a few lessons regarding their diet pattern to incorporate into our modern diet. First, move more, much more (enough said). Second, there is enough evidence supporting a mostly plant based diet for better overall health (our ancient ancestors ate a wider variety of plants). Third, include more Omega 3 fatty acids (fish, nuts, seeds). Fourth, purchase grass fed meats. Lastly, avoid any and all processed foods – whole is the way to go.

Java Buzz

9 Mar

pantherHow about some morning coffee talk?  Scores of studies have investigated the health benefits of coffee and while none truly promote picking up the java habit (if you haven’t already), some certainly give java drinkers a reason to perk up. I’m a coffee

drinker- just one cup in the morning but it’s non-negotiable. Since it’s something I do religiously, I thought

I’d do a little research and blog about it.

One promising area of research is focused on coffee’s effect on type two-diabetes. Coffee seems to slow the absorption of carbohydrates into the intestines slowing the progression and maybe even preventing the onset of diabetes.

The relationship between cancer and coffee is another important area of research. While there may be a negative effect on some cancers (leukemia and stomach) there seems to be a potential protective effect on liver, colon, and rectal cancer. Its been suggested that the rapid transit of coffee and fast passage of stool aids in eliminating carcinogens from food as well as bile acids.

Like green and black tea, coffee has its share of antioxidants that show promise towards protection against certain cancers and cardiovascular disease. (Antioxidants are components in food that protect cells from damage caused by oxidation). One study found that coffee may be the leading source of antioxidants in the American diet.  Not because it’s the best source of antioxidants, but because we’re drinking so much of it.

Nutritionally speaking, a coffee cup label would look like a bunch of zeros. No fat, calories (too little to mention), cholesterol, sodium, or carbohydrates. There are trace minerals in coffee, for example, potassium, magnesium, manganese, thiamin, and niacin, all essential in varying amounts.

Coffee today is a mere shadow of what we were once filling in our travel mugs. The specialty drinks we now call coffee are loaded with extras like excess sugar, cream (including whipped) and any of the plethora of syrups at your request. Often closing in at 500-700 calories (not to mention the saturated fat) per drink and negating any possible health benefits. Dieters beware.

Coffee has almost as many terms attached to it as eggs do. Fair trade-certified coffee ensures environment sustainability and that the farmers were paid fairly benefiting their community and local environment. Organic coffee is grown with out pesticide, herbicides or any other chemicals.  Shade grown coffee is grown under existing trees protecting the environment and uses little to no chemicals.

Before you set your coffee machine on a 24-hour auto drip remember that caffeine is not advised for pregnant women and caffeine may exacerbate the effect of certain medications. Check with your doctor.

Americans love affair with coffee may turn out to be beneficial, but it’s definitely not a health tonic, despite health claims. Feel free to enjoy your morning buzz, in moderation of course.




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