Living Lite

Five So-Called Health Foods You Should Avoid

March 10, 2012

Eating healthy can be harder than you think, thanks to an enterprising food industry that wants us to consume more than we need. That’s because our country’s agricultural system produces twice what most people require - 3,900 calories per person per day - according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. This encourages creative marketing to unload the excess, much of it made with cheap ingredients, having long shelf-lives, and minimal nutritional value - the kinds of "food" with the highest profit margins.

As a nutrition consultant, I know that words such as “low fat,” “high fiber,” “multigrain” and “natural” can fool even the most sophisticated customers into believing what they’re buying is healthful. In fact,  food industry-funded market research indicates this.

What can you do? First, make a habit of reading the ingredients list, not just the Nutrition Facts panel. And remember the following products worth resisting...

Reduced-fat peanut butter

The oil is the healthiest part of a nut,* containing most of the nutrients, so there’s no advantage to taking it out. In fact, it’s worse because it robs the peanut butter of its health benefits. “Reduced-fat peanut butter has as many calories and more sugar than the regular,” says Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Instead: Buy regular peanut butter. Eating one or two ounces of nuts daily is associated with reductions in heart disease and cancer risk. A recent Harvard study showed that eating nuts is associated with lower body weights.

Enhanced water

Drinks such as Vitaminwater © are essentially sugary drinks with a vitamin pill. They are “unequivocally harmful to health,” says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “Whether vitamins dissolved in water have any benefit will depend on who you are and whether you are already getting enough. . . . Some people may be getting too much of some vitamins and minerals if they add vitamin water on top of fortified foods and other supplements.” A recent Iowa Women’s Health Study found an association between certain commonly used vitamin and mineral supplements and increased death rates.

Instead: Drink water, ideally from the tap (“Eau du Potomac,” as it’s known locally). It’s the best drink for hydrating your body, is naturally calorie-free and contains fluoride to prevent tooth decay. No supplement matches the nutrients in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

Energy bars

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Robin 'Poldark' Ellis Delights Georgetown with his Mediterranean Cookbook

March 8, 2012

I have gone completely gaga over Robin Ellis. British star of stage and screen, Ellis was the swashbuckling heart-throb Captain Ross Poldark in the classic BBC series, "Poldark." When I heard he was coming to D.C. to promote his new Mediterranean cookbook, with his wife Meredith's support, I jumped into action, and so did a group of generous, community-minded people who came together to give Ellis a warm Washington, D.C. welcome. Washington Fine Properties' Nancy Taylor Bubes opened her home and her heart to more than 80 guests, the American Institute of Wine and Food  co-sponsored, Bistrot Le Zinc Executive Chef, Janis McLean, demonstrated one of Ellis's signature recipes, and at least twenty guests and fans brought dishes from Ellis's book. 

Debbie Weil, Lisa Lambert, Hostess Nancy Taylor-Bubes, Roxanne Fleming (Photo by: Johanna Medlin) Debbie Weil, Lisa Lambert, Hostess Nancy Taylor-Bubes, Roxanne Fleming

Nancy Taylor Bubes' dining table was brimming with simple yet sublime Mediterranean dishes like "Roasted Eggplant Slices with a Walnut and Garlic Spread," "Grilled Lamb Chops with Rosemary," "Tzatziki," "Fennel Salad with Parmesan Shavings," "Minestrone," "Grilled Strips of Duck Breast Smothered in Walnut and Garlic Sauce," and "Rice and Spinach Torte."

Guests Enjoy Mediterranean Recipes from Robin Ellis' Cookbook (Photo by: Robert Arnold) Guests Enjoy Mediterranean Recipes from Robin Ellis' Cookbook

One of Robin Ellis' signature dishes, "Salmon Fishcakes with a Sauce of Yogurt, Mustard and Dill," demonstrated by McLean, was a crowd favorite.

Bistrot LeZinc's Janis McLean and Robin Ellis Demonstrating Salmon Cakes (Photo by: Johanna Medlin) Bistrot LeZinc's Janis McLean and Robin Ellis Demonstrating Salmon Cakes

For the past twenty years, Ellis has lived in the south of France with his American wife, Meredith Wheeler, and their menagerie of animals while honing his skills as an accomplished chef. I've been completely charmed by Ellis' website and blog, which he develops in collaboration with wife and partner, Meredith. Their evocative stories and photos of their lives in the south of France, their culinary experiences and travels, and even step-by-step recipe instructions, have been an inspiration for me and my clients, to whom I recommend his new Mediterranean cook book with enthusiasm.

Robin Ellis' Village in the South of France (Photo by: ) Robin Ellis' Village in the South of France

Ellis was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes twelve years ago and has managed to keep the disease controlled, stay healthy, fit, and even optimistic. "After a few weeks of shock, and 'why me,' the diagnosis became an opportunity to get into shape," said Ellis. "It opened up a whole new culinary path." His new book, "Delicious Dishes for Diabetics: Eating Well with Type 2 Diabetes" (Skyhorse Publishing, 2011) is for anyone who loves Mediterranean classics. It's written in simple language for a complete beginner, yet it is sophisticated enough for an accomplished cook; all will appreciate this fine book filled with recipe gems.

Robin Ellis with copies of his new Mediterranean cookbook (Photo by: Meredith Wheeler) Robin Ellis with copies of his new Mediterranean cookbook

Read more details and read the fascinating Washington Post story by Food Editor, Bonnie Benwick, about Robin Ellis' life, acting career, and his only Washington, D.C. appearance here in Georgetown.

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Sweets At Breakfast Help Dieters Lose Weight

February 27, 2012

My client Marcia was thrilled to read the recent New York Times headline: "Sweets at Breakfast May Help Dieters!"  "Could it be true?" she asked. "Wouldn't that be wonderful!" said I... as I went about researching the study to respond to her life-or-death question (what a heavy responsibility!).

The study:  The successful dieters ate a 600 calorie breakfast containing sweets, the unsuccessful dieters ate a 300 calorie breakfast - no sweets. Both groups ate a very low calorie diet overall. The study found the dieters who ate the 600 calories breakfast containing sweets were more likely to lose weight.

What's wrong with this picture? It is a huge leap to say the sweets caused weight loss or made weight loss easier. The difference in calories alone could account for the reduction in cravings and appetite for the 600-calorie-breakfast eaters, aiding their weight loss - not the fact that the 600 calorie breakfast contained doughnuts or cakes (claimed by the study's authors). Previous studies have found when people eat proportionately more calories earlier in the day, they eat fewer overall calories. This finding is verified through my 20-plus years of counseling people:  a large, balanced breakfast controls appetite and helps people lose weight. Weight maintenance studies also confirm the importance of breakfast for lasting results.

How should the study have been designed to find out if sweets help dieters lose weight? For a valid comparison, both groups should have eaten an equal sized breakfast (600 calories), with the only difference being that one would contain sweets while the other wouldn't. This is the only way the study's authors could have made their sensational conclusion (sweets at breakfast help dieters lose weight). Disappointing? I know! But the good news is: You can enjoy a large, delicious breakfast and lose weight.

A skimpy 300 calorie breakfast, coupled with a very restrictive eating regimen, which was the design of this experiment, is bound to cause overeating – and studies have been verifying that restrictive dieting doesn't work, particularly in the long-term... over and over and over. So, the fact that this group of dieters had trouble losing weight is not surprising. This is the only conclusion this study can draw: restrictive dieting backfires.

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