Food For Thought. Every Diet Needs This!

“Nearly four in ten women will develop cardiovascular disease (CVD) during their lifetime” (Srivaratharajah & Abramson, 2019). However, with sufficient dietary intervention, this rate can be reduced by 80%, “elimination of modifiable risk factors including unhealthy lifestyle has the potential for prevention of 80% of cardiovascular disease cases (Nielsen et al., 2017). As a weight loss coach, I understand how losing weight can have a significant impact on health and wellbeing. However, regardless of the amount of pounds you need to shed, there can be a downside to solely focusing on what you eat. Dieting, or therapeutic nutrition, can create a rift in the natural, holistic psychological approach to food, as well as the cultural benefits of breaking bread together. By merely perceiving the body as a machine and designating food as a modality for weight loss, you risk losing the holistic aspects of eating and succumbing to its shadow myths. For a person needing to lose weight, assigning to diet plans and the world of clinical nutrition can initially be beneficial. However, it is also important to incorporate a mindset that dieting and focusing on what you eat is is not the whole story.

Michael Pollan writes in his book, In Defense of Food, that current science of nutrition has, “confused us with three pernicious myths: that what matters most is not the food but the ‘nutrient’: that because nutrients are invisible and incomprehensible to everyone but scientists, we need expert help in deciding what to eat; and that the purpose of eating is to promote a narrow concept physical health” (Pollan, 2009, p. 8).  Dieting, clinical or therapeutic nutrition can temporarily aid weight loss, but it creates a narrow view of food, “we are becoming a nation of orthorexics” writes Pollan, (2009, p. 9). I suggest to anyone exploring weight loss, to evaluate clinical nutrition and diet plans as they would with all conventional medical avenues. By evaluating if the gain of overall health benefits outweighs the negative outcomes from the method. If you chose to diet or a therapeutic nutrition plan, remember that there are other vital holistic emotional components that still need to be incorporated into your relationship with food.

Pollan (2009) writes, “as long as humans have been taking meals together, eating has been as much about cultures as it has been about biology” (p. 8). Since the beginning of time, humans have broken bread together. We have innately known that it is not only what’s in the food that benefits our health and wellbeing, but the synergies of incorporating ritual eating with gratitude, abundance and joy, nourishing not only the mind and body, but also the spirit. I personally am caught in what Pollan describes as the “quel paradox” (2009, p. 9). I identify as a foodie, loving to explore the varied cultures of food yet find myself constantly conflicted with my proclaimed Nutritionista self. So now, I am exploring the culture of enjoying the whole experience of eating, trusting the holistic approach that good foods affect and satiate my whole mind and body. Eating a whole array of colorful vegetables, fish, some meats, nuts and oils, while eating just enough to feel content. No longer checking off lists of superfoods and macros etc.  I believe we have much to learn about the nature of eating, “not only physiologically but also historically and ecologically”, (Pollan, 2009, p. 11).

So, I would say to anyone wanting to lose weight, that while utilizing a diet plan for weight loss can be effective, prepare to be mindful of its shadow myths. Diet plans and clinical nutrition can create a rift in the natural, holistic psychological approach to food, as well as the cultural benefits of breaking bread together, by perceiving the body as a machine and designating food as a modality for disease prevention.  There is a balance in approaching the whole being and trusting oneself in what feels right when it comes to food. After all, humans have known what to eat for thousands of years. Nutrition science has a long way to go in understanding the holistic connection between mind, body, and food. All aspects of the human experience need to be present at the table.


Barriers to lifestyle changes for prevention of cardiovascular disease – a survey among 40–60-year-old Danes

Nielsen, J. B., Leppin, A., Gyrd-Hansen, D. E., Jarbøl, D. E., Søndergaard, J., & Larsen, P. V. (2017). Barriers to lifestyle changes for prevention of cardiovascular disease – a survey among 40-60-year-old Danes. BMC cardiovascular disorders17(1), 245.

Pollan, M. (2009). In defense of food: An eater’s manifesto. London: Penguin Books.

Identifying and managing younger women at high risk of cardiovascular disease.

Srivaratharajah, K., & Abramson, B. L. (2019). Identifying and managing younger women at high risk of cardiovascular disease. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne191(6), E159–E163.

Skip Breakfast to Be Smarter, Lighter & Live Longer!

Also published in Shop HQ Insider

Myth Buster Alert: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” NOT!

According to various scientific reports from the National Library of Medicine (NCBI); narrowing your eating window to eight hours, then fasting for 16 hours each day, can increase brain function (2), lessen overall body inflammation (3), increase HDL (good) cholesterol, lower blood pressure (4), weight loss(5), and finally, life longevity! (6). So, who wants to try Intermittent Fasting, or as the science community call it; Time Restricted Eating.

Time Restricted Eating has been extensively researched and is becoming a popular, easy lifestyle change due to its vast health benefits. Traditionally, after at least 12 hours of fasting, our body begins to convert energy from fat cells stored in the body.  As it breaks down the stored fat to release glucose, ketones are delivered into the blood. Once you have ketones in your blood, you are in a state of ketosis. You probably have heard of keto diets, which rely heavily on restricting carbohydrates in order to achieve ketosis. But if you want to enjoy your healthy grains, pastas and bread, Time Restricted Eating (Intermittent Fasting), can be an excellent and easier alternative to get those same ketones flowing and enjoy the following benefits.

Firstly, having ketones in your blood can improve cognitive function (PubMed). Ketones are one of the few substances that can cross the blood brain barrier. The state of ketosis has long been used to treat seizures in some patients, but in recent studies shared by Harvard Medical School, being in ketosis has shown a noticeable effect on various brain functions and improving certain brain diseases (HMS). So, by fasting each day, you can improve both brain health and increase memory function (HMS).

Secondly, ketones released in the body have shown to reduce overall body inflammation. As reported in the National Library of Medicine, fasting not only has a positive effect on tissue inflammation, but also on cardiovascular dysfunction (NCBI). For myself, I notice that my joints ache less when I fast. Also, in various experiments reported on, healthy cholesterol HDL-C, increased while blood pressure reported as being reduced (EC). Other reports from the Annual Review of Nutrition state “Pervasive benefits on multiple organ systems” (ARN).

Lastly, and most significantly, fasting each day can cause weight loss that is likely to stay off! By narrowing the amount of time in which you eat, you naturally consume less calories. Additionally, you will eat less at mealtimes as they’re closer together. According to Harvard Medical School, other low-calorie diets usually fail due to the body improvising and adapting to the lower calorie in-take. However, with Time Restricted Eating, these adaptions do not occur, creating more effective weight-loss as well as sustaining a healthier weight overall (HMS)

 So, what does the 16:8 Time Restricted Eating program look like for you? 

The 8-hour eating window can be anytime of your choosing. If you’d rather eat at 8AM, then finish your last meal by 4PM, that works. Other people wait until noon to begin eating, then finish their last meal by 8PM. It’s advisable to avoid eating within 3 hours before going to bed. This allows your body time to digest before sleeping, enabling better digestion as well as aiding in a better night’s sleep. I like to skip my breakfast meal then begin eating around 10AM, closing with my last meal by 6PM. You can eat what and when you want during the 8-hour window, but it is still advisable to make healthy food choices. Also, it is important to stay hydrated especially while fasting, so drink plenty of water. At least 64oz a day for everyone!  You can still enjoy your coffee or tea if you’re fasting in the morning, but don’t add creamers or sugar. So, have fun experimenting to find the best eating window time period that works for you. All that matters is that the body fasts for 16 hours each day, in order to reach the daily state of ketosis and receive all the wellness benefits.

It’s important to note that there are some health conditions that may not benefit from Time Restricted Eating. So, if you have any doubts or pre-existing conditions, please check-in with your physician before you start fasting. 

There are other fasting programs such as 12:12, in which you fast for 12, then eat for 12. This may be a better first step as you adjust to a regular fasting routine. Or there are more complicated programs which such as; 5:2, which involves eating regularly for 5 days, then fast for 2.  Alternate Day and 24 Hour Fasting are other options, where you eat solid foods every other day or fast for a full 24 hours, twice a week. 

So, pick the fasting window for your body to begin releasing daily ketones into your system. Then revel in higher energy as well as enjoying all the health benefits. Although this could be a small adjustment to your lifestyle, it can have a lasting and impressive impact on your overall health including; becoming smarter (NCBI), weight loss (NCBI), and living longer (NCBI).

Take The Sugar Challenge!

Take the Sugar Challenge! 

Just A Spoonful of ………

Sugar! An ancient, delectable, sweet sensation that unless consumed in moderation, puts you at serious risk for critical diseases, even death (American Heart Association AHA). In fact, the CDC is launching an extensive campaign to address obesity, a leading health risk in this nation often caused by excessive sugar consumption. So, if asked how many grams of sugar do you consume on a daily basis, what do you think your answer would be? 

Recently, I asked myself this same question and discovered my healthy, low carb lifestyle far exceeded the recommended amount of sugar! For 5 days I tracked my sugar intake and to my chagrin, I consumed double the recommended daily allowance. Food manufacturers have a sneaky way of inserting sugar, or forms of sugar into many foods and drinks. In fact, until I started reading labels, the foods and snacks I assumed to be healthy, such as high protein health bars, were actually sugar bombs in disguise! One of the goals of the US Dept. of Human ServicesHealthy People 2030 Objective, is educating and empowering people to take responsibility for nutrition by encouraging us to read food labels and know exactly what we are eating. Then, according to the CDC, by lowering our sugar consumption, we can reduce health risks such as: weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart and liver disease. Not only reduce the risk but feel better and create a positive effect towards our overall health and well-being.

So, how much is the right amount of sugar?

According to the AHA the recommended allowance of sugar for women is 25 grams (6 teaspoons), approximately 100 calories. Men are allowed 36 grams, (9 teaspoons), 150 calories. However, according to the CDC, the American male is consuming an average of 19 teaspoons of sugar, and women an average of 15 teaspoons. 

It’s important to note, that our bodies require some amounts of sugar. Sugarscience states, “sugar metabolism is the process by which energy contained in the foods that we eat is made available as fuel for the body.” Our body requires a little sugar to create energy and function properly but most of us are consuming far greater than what’s needed.

I discovered where my excess sugar came from by food journaling. For 5 days, after each meal and snack, I kept track of all the sugar grams I consumed. I found journaling to be the most effective way for getting a clear picture of not just how much but which foods and drinks contained the highest amount of sugar.  

I found using a nutrition macro counting app to be the most effective way to keep track of the  sugar grams.  I like the Lose It app but the Fitbit and FitnessPal apps are other user friendly options. These apps use a barcode scanner to accurately scan barcodes on food and nutrition labels, recording the total sugar count including the added sugars. You can also use a pen and paper to keep record. Look at total sugar and added sugar on nutrition labels then keep a ledger of total sugar grams after each meal, snack or drink. If you’re eating whole foods, like meat or fresh vegetables, google “sugar grams in….” to get approximate counts. The wonderful news is by mid 2021, according to AMA, food manufacturers have to report all the “added” sugars on nutrition labels. In the past, one had to keep a nutrition translator book handy in order to decipher the sneaky sugar additives not necessarily labeled as sugar.

The high sugar culprit in my diet was my tea latte that had no added syrups or flavors but still contained 37 grams of sugar. Most popular coffee shop tea lattes, either chai or green tea, contain on average 35 grams of sugar. This is 10 grams higher than the total daily allowance for women! However, my tea latte was a favorite afternoon ritual! I loved the tea, the texture of the frothy milk, not to mention the friendly smile of the barista. So, to get to zero grams of sugar, instead of asking for a “chai tea latte”, I asked for the brewed chai tea (loose chai tea with hot water), with steamed almond milk (my frothy foam), all served by my favorite barista! Essentially, I still enjoy my favorite tea latte but now with zero sugar. It also costs $3 less than the sugary alternative, so I’m saving money as well! This Sugar Challenge is not about giving up simple pleasures or making drastic lifestyle changes, but rather to get creative. If soda is high on your list, can a can of bubbly water with fruit flavor and 0 grams of sugar be the solution you’re looking for? However, I suggest not switching to “diet” versions of soda or using artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. 

According to Dr Ludwig in an article, “Sugar free but at what cost”,  from Harvard Medical School; “Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup”. Reports also in this HMS study share, the artificial sweeteners themselves can also be addictive. Initially, it may take a little time to find and make the adjustments needed but stick with it, because the benefits of lowering your sugar count can have great rewards including feeling like you’re back in control.

Feeling in control again can be very empowering. You have the power to decide if you do or don’t want to eat those sugar grams. On holidays or certain days when you want to enjoy wine or beer, you can bank sugar grams. For example, only consume 15-20 grams for 5 days, banking 5 grams each day to create a 25 gram excess which you can use on those special days or holidays. 

So, are you ready for the Sugar Challenge? It can be quite the discovery especially if you consider your lifestyle to be reasonably healthy. Perhaps you’re wanting to make a lifestyle change and not sure where to start? Taking the Sugar Challenge could be a great first step for making those small adjustments but having a large impact on your health and wellbeing. So, pick your app or get your pen and paper but starting counting those sugar grams to find out if your within the daily recommended allowance for sugar.  As the CDC states, by lowering our sugar consumption, we can reduce health risks such as: weight gain, obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart and liver disease. I can’t wait to hear about your Sugar Challenge and what you discover.  Make sure to leave a comment and let me know as love to hear from you!

By Helen Cameron-Zenobian

T.V Host, Nutrition Expert, Health Coach, Writer, Model

Studying for M.A Integrative Health & Wellness Coaching.