Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Carrageenan: Danger in your Almond Milk?

I’ve been wary of the ingredient Carrageenan for a while. It is used as a thickener and stabilizer in a lot of foods especially in the health food industry in milk and non-dairy milks like almond milk, coconut milk, hemp milk and non-dairy and dairy ice creams. Something about it has always given me a bad vibe though it has been used in all these supposedly healthy health foods.
I started reading research studies about the negative impact on carrageenan on gut health. Alarming results showed that carrageenan has:

-carcinogenic properties
- causes intestinal damage
- is pro-inflammatory
- can cause damage to gut health and associated with digestion and gut issues

There is a lot of controversy on the studies. For one, it is hard to transfer the results from rats and mice to humans. The results on the rodents varied from study to study. And some studies used varying forms of carrageenan. Some used undegraded carrageenan (allowed to be used in food) and some with degraded (not allowed in food).
A couple of months ago, I predicted that we would start seeing “carrageenan free” labels on foods in a couple of years. Pretty soon the health concerns would be exposed and we would start to be more cognizant of putting this stuff in our body.
And as I was walking the aisles of Whole Foods the other day, I saw it. I saw it way way sooner than I had predicted. But there it was staring at me in the face “No Carrageenan” right above the “No High Fructose Corn Syrup”.

I hesitated to even blog about this, in fear of instilling frustration. “What? I thought I have been doing the healthy thing by switching to almond milk, by eating coconut ice cream. How do I know what to eat?” …and as a result throw up your hands and giving up efforts to healthy eating.
That is certainly not my intention. My intention is to encourage you to read ingredient labels. If you don’t know what an ingredient is, decide if you want to put a foreign substance in your body.
The food companies will always come out with new ingredients to stick in our food to make it last longer on the shelves, be more palatable, more addictive, and more attractive etc. It is impossible to keep up and research all of these ingredients. Stick to foods that are whole and unprocessed then you don’t need to worry about it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

When did food become the enemy?

"What if you never had to worry about food again? For many people, on many occasions, food is a hassle, especially when trying to eat well....There are problems with the current state of food." 
This is the hook for the new product Soylent that is trying to raise capital to come to market. I saw my friend Mindy  post  an appropriate "Oh helll NO." on her Facebook page with the link to the site. I honestly thought it was a joke or something from The Onion when I first saw the headline "Tens of Thousands of People Want to Stop Eating Real Food."
When did we get to the point where food is the enemy? Have we gone so far off the deep end that we want to just drink our calories from a powder made in a factory to enable us to "function" everyday?
As I was writing this, I found myself criticizing the ingredients vs. the claims (Sucralose aka Splenda aka Poison, which alters gut microflora therefore not going to help you with weight loss/digestion etc... Really? That is in it and they are claiming WHAT?), criticizing the founders (no nutrition credentials among any of them... again Really?) , but then I realized that isn't the point. Many products hit the shelves everyday with junk ingredients that provide false health claims.
The point is that food is so much more than carbohydrates, protein and fat. It is even way beyond micronutrients of vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, organic acids and phytonutrients. 
 Food is nourishment to the mind, body and soul. Food is cultural. Food is something to be savored and celebrated. Food brings people together. It is the experience. It is the people with whom you are eating, with whom you are laughing. 
Savor the taste. Savor the moment. Savor the beauty. Savor the experience. And let us not forget that if we celebrate eating for all that it is, it will bring us more health, vitality and strength than any product trying to displace such a sacred thing. 
A memorable meal savored with my dearest friend, Lindsey after Ironman World Championships in Kona.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Kale. Is there really a dark side?

It is no secret I am a kale lover.

So when I saw the New York Times article ( and everyone posting about it on Facebook about the dark side of kale, was I surprised? No. Cruciferous vegetables (collards, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) provide HUGE health benefits, but also can take a toll on our thyroid if not consumed properly due to goitergenic properties.
Should you stop eating kale? Absolutely not. These articles are good to educate on the possible detrimental consequences of too much kale, but the last thing we want is to send people into a frenzy over eating a good thing. We have much bigger fish to fry on the nutrition scene than eating too much kale.
However, I love when articles start nutrition conversations. In a time of nutrition information overload especially focused on cleanses, detoxing, juicing, weight loss and diets as we enter into 2014 and set New Year's resolutions, it can be confusing as to what do listen to and what to do. The last article most of us expected to read was that Kale the "Breakout vegetable of 2013" was dangerous. 

Here are my 3 tips when consuming cruciferous vegetables:

1. Be curious when you food shop. Variety is the Key.
 Go to the grocery store or farmers' market and take a minute to look at vegetables that you have never tried before rather than going straight to your staple vegetable. Look at what is in season, look at what has the most vibrant energy. Instead of always reaching for the kale, put dandelion greens (they are bitter, so maybe mix with a more mild green like romaine) red lettuce or swiss chard in your cart. But keep rotating these foods. Because the next article you read will be about the dangers of oxalates in your beloved swiss chard. The key here is variety. Mix it up. Don't be a creature of habit.
Eating with the seasons is a great way to mix up what you eat. You get the most bang for your nutrition buck when you eat the foods that are in season. You will live more in sync with nature's and your body's natural cycles. Your body will thank you.

2. Cook your Cruciferous Vegetables
The raw food movement instilled the thought that raw is better. To keep all of the vitamins and minerals in tact, yes raw is better. However, f you are eating a lot of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, collards, mustard greens, bok choy, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, arugula), don't eat them all raw. Sure, you can still eat some raw, but mix it up and steam, roast, and sauté some of your servings. This will decrease the goitergenic properties that lead to thyroid issues.

3. Sprinkle with Sea Vegetables
 Iodine deficiency can be problematic for the thyroid. Solution: eat more sea vegetables. Like seaweed? Yeah, like seaweed. The next question: how the heck am I going to eat seaweed with my meals without eating sushi everyday? My favorite way is sprinkling a dash of kelp or sea vegetables on my salads or steamed vegetables. My favorite brand is Maine Coast Sea Vegetables. My clients are all familiar with sprinkling sea vegetables on food, not just to help with the thyroid, but as a good source of iron, and trace minerals. It is good to incorporate a natural source of iodine if you make a shift away from processed food and if you switch to a non-iodized salt like pink himalayan sea salt or celtic sea salt. 
So keep eating your kale.  Don't get overwhelmed with all the different nutrition information out there. Eat a varied diet and stick to unprocessed food. Over doing kale is a whole heck of a lot better than eating that twinkie.