The Societal Glorification of Being Busy

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Are you the type of person who never feels like you have enough time? Do you feel like you have to rush just to fit it all in? Do you get overwhelmed sometimes just thinking of everything you need to do?

We live in a society that glorifies being busy. Always having something on your plate is seen as a good thing. When someone asks you the question, “How are you doing?”, is you typical go-to answer “Oh, I’ve been so busy!”? I’ll raise my hand and say that this has been my answer many, many times.

Has anyone ever praised you for taking a break and sitting a few rounds out every once in a while? I didn’t think so, which is not okay.

I’m trying to change my habit of automatically responding to questions such as the one I just mentioned and automatically saying that I am busy. I don’t think it’s a respectable answer. If someone asks how I’m doing, I believe I should tell them how I’m doing and what has been going on in my life. Plus, I think that always being busy, whether physically (as in running around everywhere) or mentally (as in a running to-do list in your head), causes stress. Stress that is completely unnecessary and not healthy.

Of course our bodies are equipped to handle stress. Our sympathetic nervous system kicks into gear and our “fight or flight” hormones such as cortisol are released. In an ideal world, the stress is short-lived and after the threat has been diminished, our parasympathetic nervous system takes over, which helps our body “rest and digest” and get back to a balanced, calm state.

But if we are constantly busy and not willing to take the time to give ourselves a break, our body never gets to rest. It is in a constant state of red alert. Over time this can lead to digestive issues (ever noticed that your digestion is a bit wonky during stressful times?), adrenal fatigue, trouble sleeping, and a whole host of other issues. Prolonged chronic stress is like the first domino that can knock a whole bunch of other dominoes down and cause a chain reaction in the body. Not to mention that you will also probably be irritable and not a fun person to be around.

So how can we change all of the busy in our lives? It starts with examining our relationship with time.

Recently I have been doing just that and am focusing on how my thoughts around time impact my life. My main thoughts around time are past-based or future-based. Past-based thoughts are typically regrets about something that I chose to do or did not do. Future-based thoughts are dreams of various paths my life could take and what I should/should not being doing right now to put me on the path that I’d most like to go.

Focusing on past-based and future-based thoughts causes me a lot of stress. I tend to get upset about things from my past and overwhelmed about all of the things that I feel that I need to do to achieve my future vision. But these types of thoughts keep me from truly being present in my life today. And today is what matters. We can only change what we are doing right now.

When past-based thoughts rear their ugly head, I try to remember that the past has happened. It is done and cannot be changed. We can only learn from our experiences and let them guide us on the journey that is life. Our past has shaped us into the people we are today. It is a necessary step to get where we are meant to go in life.

And the future? Well, it’s just the future love and there is nothing you can do about that. Worrying about the future is a waste of time and will only take us away from the present. Believe me, if somebody could predict the future we would have found that out by now.

So now I am working to focus on living my life today and enjoying every moment of it. Making time for work and fun and everything in between. Stepping away from the “busy” paradigm and doing what fulfills me and makes me happy. I believe that if I do that, then the future will unfold just as it’s meant to be.

What is your relationship with time?

Photo credit: Image courtesy of kylesteed on flickr

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Scientists Paid to Downplay the Health Effects of Sugar in the 1960s

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This week NPR reported on an article recently published in Jama Internal Medicine about how the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists back in the 1960s to downplay the risks of consuming sugar. This article provides proof that the sugar industry actually did attempt to influence the scientific process which, in turn, most likely impacted the dietary guidelines that were released by the Federal Government during this time.

The Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), a predecessor of today’s Sugar Association, funded a research study that was a review of scientific studies and experiments about sugar and fat. The study, which had multiple faults that I will discuss, minimized the significance of any studies that had suggested that sugar might be linked to coronary heart disease. Instead, it concluded that fat should be cut from American diets to address heart disease.

The research study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, made no mention that it was funded by the sugar industry. The scientists from Harvard received the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s dollars to perform the research. One researcher, who was the Chairman of Harvard’s Public Health Nutrition Department, was also an ad hoc member of SRF’s board.

Holy conflict of interest, Batman.

The article highlighted a few key problems and inconsistencies in the research the scientists performed. Many of the studies examined were hand-selected by SRF. The scientists also applied different standards to different studies, looking critically at research implicating sugar but not those implicating fat (though they concluded that fat was the bad guy at the end of the day…). They dismissed some studies but used others that were the same kind of research of those they dismissed. Basically, they chose certain studies that would get them to the conclusion that they wanted.

The conclusion made by this week’s article was that the scientists back in the 60s based their findings on few study characteristics and no quantitative results.

Dietary guidelines were released by the Federal Government not too long after this study was published recommending that American’s decrease their consumption of fat. This led to the low-fat and fat-free diet crazes many of us were raised on. This recommendation was a boon to the sugar industry because when fat is removed from food, sugar is put into it so that it will actually taste good. Fast forward 50 years later and sugar is in almost every product on our supermarket shelves (I know this because I actually checked and then wrote about in The Hunt for Hidden Sugars). Heart disease rates have not gone down and obesity has skyrocketed.

Think the sugar industry is the only group that funds research? Nope. According to nutrition scholar Marion Nestle of New York University, who spent a year informally tracking industry-funded food studies, “roughly 90% of nearly 170 studies favored the sponsor’s interest.”

I don’t know about you, but that’ll make me think twice before I blindly follow the recommendations of food studies I read about in the news.

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Judy van der Velden on flickr

Improving School Lunch Programs

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As an educator of health and wellness, I get really excited when I read about organizations and programs that are making a difference in our world by reducing food waste, educating people on nutrition, working to improve school lunches and finding other innovative ways to improve our food systems and our health.

So when I read about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School program and Bay2Tray, I naturally wanted to learn more about what these programs are doing. I believe that learning about innovations in the health and wellness fields is important for everyone. Not only will it open our eyes to opportunities for our communities and families, but it may spark other ideas of ways to bring about positive change.

USDA’s Farm to School Program

This program helps child nutrition program operators incorporate local foods in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program. It is run by the Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Community Food Systems (OCFS) and was formally established in 2010 with the passing of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Farm to School is defined by the USDA as “efforts to bring locally or regionally produced food into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum.”

In 2013-2014, school districts purchased nearly $800 million from local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and food processors and manufacturers. At the national level, approximately 42% of school districts operated farm to school programs for the 2014-2015 school year and approximately 16% had plans to start in the future. There are also about 7,000 school gardens nationwide that grow produce for use in school cafeterias while also teaching students about where food comes from.

Eating locally sourced food is not only typically healthier, but it improves local economies, can save schools money and helps save the environment by decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation.

Bay2Tray

This program was created by Alan Lovewell of Real Good Fish, one of the first community-supported fisheries in Northern California. Bay2Tray has created a market for less-marketable bycatch fish in school lunch programs. Bycatch is a term used for fish caught in nets of fisherman who are aiming to catch other fish (i.e. the unwanted byproduct of normal commercial fishing). It constitutes approximately 40% of the world’s catch, a significant underutilized market that is normally just discarded.

Through Bay2Tray, this underutilized fresh fish is sold to school cafeterias. Schools who participate in the program now use fresh catch for fish tacos and salads instead of serving frozen fish sticks. This creates more revenue for the fishermen, provides schools with fresh, healthy food and supports sustainable regional food systems. It also teaches students of the importance of eating locally sourced food and that fish is an important part of a healthy diet. This is especially important in areas where unhealthy food is prevalent and financial constraints may make it hard for families to afford fresh seafood.

Bay2Tray currently works with the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and is expanding to other schools in California. About 138 schools and early education programs in the Bay Area participate in this program.

These two programs are making a difference in a big way. Their creation has brought local food economies to the forefront in areas where it wasn’t really considered previously, namely schools. What children eat at school every day is so incredibly important and it has a direct impact on how they perform in the classroom. Students crashing from a sugar high from their lunch or hungry all morning because they didn’t eat breakfast will not be able to concentrate on what they are learning.

It makes me happy when I read about organizations and programs that are making the world a healthier and better place. This day and age we often only hear about obesity rates and how the overall health of our country is declining, not enough of the good stories. The companies and programs who are fighting to beat this trend. I will keep my eye out and let you know of other ones that peak my interest.

Related Post: 5 Issues with American Food Culture and What We Can Do About It

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Liz West on flickr

What’s Really In Your Makeup Bag

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Did you know that The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no authority to require companies to test their cosmetic products for safety? Or that the FDA also does not review or approve the vast majority of products or ingredients in our makeup before they hit the shelves?

In fact, the FDA has little power to do anything with relation to the cosmetics industry. It has no authority to require recalls of harmful cosmetics, nor are manufacturers required to report cosmetics-related injuries or complaints to the agency (companies are relied upon to do so voluntarily…). Marketing claims on labels are also unregulated and companies are rarely, if ever, required to back them up. This means the claims written on your expensive “hypoallergenic” lotion made from “natural” ingredients may mean nothing at all. The term organic in cosmetics also has no legal meaning.

With the exception of 11 prohibited substances and color additives, companies may use any ingredient or raw material in their products without government review or approval and then make a claim on the front that they most likely will not have to ever support as being true. Ingredients such as formaldehyde, coal tar, lead and mercury are in products we use every day, including those used on children. In contrast, the European Union Health Commission has banned more than 1,300 ingredients from use in cosmetics and beauty products.

The regulations currently governing the cosmetics industry in the U.S. (an industry expected to top $60 billion dollars in revenue in 2016) are from 1930. WHAT?!? Talk about archaic. I’d say the beauty landscape has changed quite a bit since then.

You may think that ingredients in makeup, lotions and sunscreens applied to the skin will rarely get into the body. Not true. Our skin is the largest organ in our body and what we put on it will get absorbed into our bloodstream and our cells. We can also ingest cosmetic ingredients by breathing in powders or sprays and by swallowing chemicals on our lips or hands. A recent study in the United Kingdom found that women who use makeup absorb almost five pounds of chemicals into their bodies each year. Many of these chemicals are hormone disruptors and can wreck havoc on our endocrine system, which oversees thyroid and adrenal function as well as estrogen and progesterone, hormones necessary for a woman’s monthly cycle.

When it comes to finding healthy food I always stress the importance of reading food labels. But with makeup it’s unfortunately a bit more difficult. Federal law currently allows companies to leave some chemical ingredients off their product labels, including those considered to be trade secrets, and components of fragrance, that ubiquitous label you pretty much see on everything.

With all the push for transparency in the food we eat, I’m surprised we haven’t heard more discussion about cosmetics. I learned all of these astounding facts when I listened to a podcast recently from NPR’s On Point called The Battle to Regulate Cosmetics. There is a growing campaign out there for safe cosmetics and some big companies support regulation, though not all.

I personally don’t see what the holdup is. I think it is astounding that some companies are putting chemicals in our skin and beauty products that have been linked to cancer, hormone disruption and allergies and the government can’t do anything about it. Full transparency is a must! Companies should be required to register products, ingredients should be tested by the FDA, accurate labeling should be required and mandatory recalls allowed if a harmful substance is found in products on the market. The fact that cosmetic companies have gone so long without this being the case just blows my mind.

I think we’ll get there, but it will take some time (it’s the government we’re talking about folks…). So what can we the consumer do to protect ourselves in the meantime? There are some handy websites and apps out there that cut through all the cosmetic crap and give it to you straight.

  1. The Skin Deep Cosmetics Database from the Environmental Working Group – On this website you can search for over 62,000 products that have been tested and ranked by the EWG. This includes sunscreens, makeup, skin care, hair care, nail care, fragrances, oral care and products for babies and moms. The products with the best rankings get a 0 to 2, so if you want to go clean, focus on scores in this range. They also have great quick tips for safer cosmetics, FAQs and a guide debunking common myths about cosmetic safety.
  2. Campaign for Safe Cosmetics – This site provides safe cosmetic tips, background on concerning chemicals and backs it all up with science. It also has lists of cosmetic companies that have met their safety standards by product type.
  3. Think Dirty App – It’s free and and is an unbiased product-comparison app for cosmetics and personal care products. You can scan products right off the shelf (or in your own medicine cabinet) and see their ratings and further information on ingredients and their possible long-term effects. They provide recommendations in the category of the product you just scanned and to make it easier, you can even buy products from Amazon directly through the app. I scanned most things in my shower and medicine cabinet that I use every day and was astounded by some of the ratings on products I thought were fairly healthy to use (from Dove and Origins no less).

When it comes to our health, sometimes we’ve got to do the work. Don’t rely on a company’s claims when determining what is safe to put on or in your body. Being more proactive about it now may help you save money in medical bills down the road.

Sources:

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Mainstream on flickr

A Vision for Life

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Do you have a vision for how you want to live your life?  

Are you living each and every day in pursuit of that vision?

I know, I know, pretty heavy questions there.  But they are important because we don’t want to have any regrets in our lives, right?  I’m sure you all are in agreement with me in that you want to live life to the fullest and be the healthiest person that you can be so that you can enjoy said life.

Many people, myself included, tend to avoid hard questions such as those above.  The ones that make you really look at your life and the direction in which it is headed.  We are scared of the answers that we may find.  We are scared that we may want something different than what we currently have.  Scared that we will have no idea how to get where we want to be, or even where to start.  Scared of change, trying something new, going out on a limb, taking a chance.

I will be the first one to admit that I am scared of all of those things.  

But think of it this way…  What would your life be like without a vision?  The words lost and on a small boat in the middle of some fog come to mind.  How would you know which direction to steer to get where you are meant to be?  You wouldn’t.  You’d be on a boat without a paddle.  Yeah, you might make some decisions that move you in the right direction, but in the grand scheme of things, would you really be moving toward that vision? And could you get there sooner if you had something to guide you?

I watched a short video this week at work about how a vision is like an internal compass, constantly guiding you along in the direction you are meant to go in.  Setting goals that are in line with this vision can help to propel you closer to what you desire.  Think of these goals as wind in your sails.  Without them, you wouldn’t really move very fast.

I’ve been contemplating the vision of my life a lot recently.  I’m just touching the surface of it but really want to dive deep and think about the two questions I posed above.  I think they are so important.  I do know a few things…  I know that there are some things in my life that aren’t in line with my vision and I know that I want to be an entrepreneur in the health and wellness field.  But when I think too deeply about these things I don’t even know where to begin to try and tackle them.  I get overwhelmed with all the questions that pop into my Type-A brain.  Fear then rears its ugly head.

I’ve been writing on this blog for a few years now and while I love it, I want to develop this into something more.  I want my passion for holistic health, nutrition and wholesome living to be what I do every day.  Yeah, getting there will not be easy, but also continuing to do what I’m currently doing isn’t going to get me there either.  So time to take some steps…

Here’s what I’m going to do.  First, I’m going to make a vision board.  Get a big piece of posterboard and sift through magazines, cutting out photos that appeal to me and the vision I have for my life.  This includes home, relationships, health, activities, where I live, career.  I’m a visual person, so for me, having it all in front of me in picture form will really help propel me forward.

After this is complete, I’m going to make concrete goals that are in line with my vision. Like I said above, having goals that are in line with your vision or dream will be the wind in your sails.  I’ve been throwing a lot of ideas around in my head of what I want to do with my business, but right now it’s all abstract.  Floating around in my head like a rudderless boat.  I need to pick which ones are best for me and figure out a plan to achieve them.

And those are just goals for my career.  That’s what we talk about most; how we are going to get to the next level, get that raise and become more successful.  But I think life goals are just as important.  What good does a high-paying job do if you are miserable?  To live a balanced life we also need to take into account our home, who we spend our time with, what we do every day and how we take care of ourselves.

Lots to consider, but I am chucking my friends Overwhelmed and Fear at the door and moving forward.  Starting with my vision board and taking it one goal at a time.

What about you?  Are you living a life that is in pursuit of your vision?  Are your goals in line with this vision?  I encourage you to take some time this week to really think about the vision you have for your life.

Happy

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Gonna be a little honest here folks…  I’ve been a bit sad lately.  It’s really hard for me to admit because I have so much to be thankful for in my life.  But it’s the truth.  Somedays my path forward feels so dark and I get a little lost.  

I’ve always considered myself to be a pretty positive person, so when I go through these phases, as I have throughout my 31 years on this planet, it crushes me.  I have to work daily (hourly, by the minute…) to not let negativity and fear take over.  It’s exhausting.  Sometimes fear and negativity win, which crushes me again.  It makes me question who I am at my core.

Where do I go from here?  Well, I’m trying to climb my way out of it.  Taking care of my mind, body and soul by writing, doing yoga, eating well and getting enough sleep.  Confiding in those I can talk to about it and reminding myself that I am not alone.  And that I will survive and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel; a bright future ahead.

And by looking up quotes on happiness.  Here’s a few, in hopes that they too brighten your day and make you smile.

“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like and celebrating it for everything that it is.” – Mandy Hale

“Just because the process hurts doesn’t mean the results won’t be beautiful.” – Unknown

“Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.”

“You really are good enough, pretty enough and strong enough.” – Al Carraway

“It’s a good day for a good day.”

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if only one remembers to turn on the light.” – Harry Potter

“I’m stronger because I had to be, smarter because of my mistakes, happier because of the sadness I’ve known, and now wiser because I’ve learned.”

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and focus on what could go right.”

“Being happy doesn’t mean everything’s perfect.  It means you’ve decided to look beyond the imperfections.”

This blog is about health in all its forms.  Health of the mind, health of the body and health of the soul.  They are all interconnected, you see.  This blog is also a place where I want to be real.  And that means talking about the good and talking about the bad.  We’ve all had those times.  It’s how we pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off that matters.

Wishing you peace, love and happiness.  And if you struggle with depression remember that you are never, ever alone.

XOXO

Please visit me on my brand new website, wholesomebalancedwellness.com!

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Jason Hunter on flickr

Green Bean Salad

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Most of us know the importance of eating our vegetables, specifically our leafy green vegetables, which are lauded for their health benefits.  Green string beans are no exception.  High in vitamins A and C, immune-boosting antioxidants, and high in fiber and magnesium, both needed for healthy digestion, green beans hold their own in the company of vegetable powerhouses such as spinach, kale and broccoli.

An added benefit is that they are really reasonably priced.  In the summertime months in the mid-Atlantic where I live, green beans are everywhere.  I bought a pound of them at the grocery last week for less than 2 dollars.  I used this pound of beans to make the salad below, which will last me about 4 meals this week.  I eat A LOT of vegetables at my meals (they fill about half my plate), so this is saying something.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends that fruit and vegetables make up half of our plates during meals, with vegetables making up about 30-35%.  It is recommended that adult men and women eat between 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day (exact recommendations vary depending on age, sex and activity level).

The recipe below is a great side dish for any meal and is perfect to bring to your next picnic or potluck.  It super easy to whip up and doesn’t contain many ingredients (another money saver).

Makes approximately 4-5 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb green beans, rinsed with ends snapped off
  • 2 scallions, chopped with ends discarded
  • 20 grape tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • 15 kalamata olives, halved
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Steam green beans.  I use a basket steamer that fits inside a pot on the stove. Place the beans in the steamer basket, cover the pot and turn the burner to high. One pound of green beans takes approximately 10 minutes to cook.  They are done when you can stick a fork through them.
  2. While beans are cooking, combine scallions, tomatoes and olives in a bowl.
  3. When beans are done, pull the steamer basket out of the pot and empty it in the bowl containing the scallions, tomatoes and olives.  I use a fork and an oven mitt to do this.  Beware of the hot steam when you take the lid off the pot as it can be very hot and burn you.  I recommend turning the burner off, removing the lid of the pot and letting it sit for a few minutes to cool before removing the steamer basket.
  4. Toss entire mixture with coconut oil, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  5. To make the greens beans more bite-sized, I use a fork and sharp knife to cut up the mixture in the bowl.
  6. Serve immediately as a side with your favorite protein and whole grain.

Wholesome Balanced Wellness

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Dear Followers,

I am so thankful for you.  Whether you have been a follower of this blog since my first post back in the summer of 2014 or just joined recently, your support has been so important.  It has kept me going through the tough times and inspired me to continue to write from the heart.  I truly hope that my words have helped to improve your life in some way, or at least taught you something new.

Over the past few years I have thought a lot about the message I want to put out in the world.  What I feel like we need to make our lives better and more enjoyable; healthier and happier.  This blog has been a voice for these thoughts and a way for me to play around with my message.  Thank you for reading, listening and encouraging.

At its core, my message focuses on nutrition of the mind, body and soul.  How what we eat has a direct impact on not only our physical health, but our mental and emotional health.  It focuses on whole, real food originating in the earth and finding an ideal way of eating that is right for you.  It also stresses the importance that other aspects of our lives have on our health, such as our relationships, fitness level, quality of sleep, stress level and interaction with nature. 

There are so many fad diets out there, originating from someone else’s success story.  But I want to help others find their own success story.  Become their happiest, healthiest selves and find that inner balance and peace that I like to call Wholesome Balanced Wellness. 

So what is my framework for Wholesome Balanced Wellness?  It all starts with a belief that you will succeed and a strong intention to bring positive change.  Then comes learning about nutrition, fitness, rest and stress.  Next is evaluation of all aspects of your life, from what you eat to how you sleep.  After a thorough evaluation we can experiment with some positive changes.  Through experimentation we can discover what works best for you.  After discovery comes balance, which is putting it all into a sustainable, lifelong practice.

From the beginning it has been important for me to share my story and my journey.  I have shared how my own struggles with health originally got me on this path.  I have shared how I experienced first-hand the power of using food as medicine to heal.  I have shared my struggles with self-love and depression.  I have shared my highs and my lows.  Being as authentic as I can be has been hard but also healing.

I would love for you to continue on this journey with me as I take my business to the next level.  I have a new website, WholesomeBalancedWellness.com, that will soon be replacing this blog.  Please, please head on over to my new site and sign up for my weekly email list.  It is underneath my picture on the homepage in the box labeled “Follow Me!”.  It will be the same content you receive from me weekly now, just sent in a new, more sophisticated way. And don’t worry, if you get sick of me you can opt out at any time.  🙂

I am a yogi and a foodie at heart and have always dreamed big girl dreams.  Now is the time to pursue those dreams and see where this adventure takes me.  I hope to see you along the ride with me.

~Peace, love and dreams~

Picture courtesy of my awesome and amazingly talented sister

Fat Facts

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If you had the choice between a full fat product or the fat-free version, which would you choose?  Whole milk or skim?  Fat-free yogurt or 2%?  Low-fat cheese?  Be honest!  This is a judgment free zone.

If you are a fat-free or low-fat fan, I’m not surprised.  We have been told for years that fat is bad and eating large amounts of fat can cause heart disease.  But now the tide is changing and fat (good fat at least) is back in favor.  And guess what?  Studies have shown that eating fat actually doesn’t make you fat.  Well, how about that.

So how did fat become so vilified?  I’m a fan of history, so let’s to take a trip back in time to the 1950s and 60s.  During this time scientist Ancel Keys was conducting research to find the root cause of heart disease, a condition that was a big concern in the U.S. at the time (and still is, obviously).  From his findings, he concluded that saturated fat was to blame.  Though many scientists at the time called out flaws in his research (he only selected countries that would prove his hypothesis, only reported a small portion of the participants he studied and inaccurately interpreted correlation as causation), his theory took off and played a significant part in the rise of the low-fat/fat-free movement.

When Keys’ theory took off the food industry reacted by removing fat from its products.  But it’s important to note that when fat is removed from food it doesn’t taste too great, so the fat was replaced with sugar.  And what’s sad is that we didn’t get any healthier as a result of these changes.  In fact, they backfired.  Since the 60s heart disease levels have only increased and today we are experiencing an obesity epidemic of staggering proportions.

Recent studies have shown that good fats are not only beneficial, but necessary for optimal health.  Fat is filling, satiating, not addictive (unlike fructose in sugary products), and helps fuel our metabolism.  It is necessary for brain health (more on that later), helps fight depression and contributes to healthy skin, hair and nails.  It also is necessary for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (i.e. if no fat is present when these are consumed, the body cannot absorb them).  

So what is fat?  Fat is a basic building block of the body and has a direct impact on its function.  The body uses fat to build cell walls.  Considering there are 100 trillion cells in our body, I’d say that the health of said cell walls is quite important.  Healthy cell walls made from good quality fats are flexible and responsive. Those made from a diet of processed foods high in poor quality oils such as corn, soy or safflower are stiff and rigid. Stiff and rigid cell walls slow cellular function and make our cells more vulnerable to inflammation.  Chronic inflammation can lead to disease.

If you take anything away from this article, it is the type of fat that matters. Not all fat is created equal. Good quality fats are key to our health, all the way down to our cells.  So what are good fats and what are bad fats?  Let’s break it down:

GOOD FATS

  • Saturated Fat – I know what your thinking…  Really, saturated fat is good?  Research has shown no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease.  It helps us absorb those fat-soluble vitamins and calcium, improves immune function and is necessary for healthy cell walls.  Good sources of saturated fat include butter, coconut oil and animal fats.
  • Monounsaturated Fat – Monounsaturated fat has been shown to decrease breast cancer, reduce bad cholesterol, lower risk for heart disease and stroke, and aid in weight loss. A great source of monounsaturated fat is olive oil.  
  • Polyunsaturated Fat – Two types of polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6.  These are two of the most important fats for the body, though it is important that we eat a good balance of the two.  When our proportions of these fats are out-of-balance we are more vulnerable to inflammation and disease.  Right now, the general population eats waaaaay too many omega-6 fats, which are common in processed food, and are deficient in omega-3 fats.  Omega-3 fats help to decrease inflammation, decrease triglycerides (bad fats in the body) and boost good cholesterol.  Sources of omega-3 fats include cold water fish (salmon), omega-3 rich eggs, organic canola oil, walnuts, Brazil nuts and sea vegetables.  If you don’t have many of these things in your diet supplementation is also an option.

BAD FATS

  • Trans Fat – Trans Fat is created when polyunsaturated fats are damaged due to heat.  It is common in processed and packaged foods as it helps to extend shelf life and also fried food.  Beware of trans fats!  They are no good.  They are now specifically called out on food labels if they are present, so read your labels and learn what’s in the food you are eating.
  • Inflammatory Vegetable Oils – As mentioned above, these include oils made from corn, soy and safflower.  Also common in processed foods as they are cheap and abundant.

With the rise of Alzheimer’s and dementia, brain health is a hot topic these days.  Our brains are actually 60% fat, most of which is an omega-3 fat called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  DHA is needed to spark communication between cells.  Having a diet containing good quality fats boosts cognition, happiness, learning and memory.  Omega-3 deficiencies have been linked to depression, anxiety, dipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Below are some of my favorite sources of healthy fats:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts:  almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts
  • Seeds:  pumpkin, sesame, chia and hemp
  • Fish:  wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fats as well as sardines, mackerel and herring
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil are my go-tos in the kitchen (coconut oil has a high smoke point so is great for sauteeing)
  • Grass-fed, organic and sustainably raised animal products (eggs, beef, chicken and pork)

As always, a balanced diet is necessary for optimal health.  This includes a healthy amount of protein and carbohydrates as well as fat with each meal and snack we consume.  If you want to learn more about protein, check out my previous post on the topic here.

Sources:

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of lchunt on flickr

Lemon Potato Salad with Mint

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Looking for a delicious recipe for your next summer picnic?  Want a side dish that is super easy to whip up and has less than 10 ingredients?  And best of all, want to make something healthy that also tastes good?  If you answered yes to any (or all) of these then this potato salad is for you.

Now you’re probably thinking, potato salad?  How is that healthy?  Well folks, this one is the antithesis of those thick, creamy mayonnaise-based potato salads.  You know the ones that make you super nervous as they sit in the sun all day at your summer picnic?  And for those of you who can’t stand mayonnaise, I can vouch that this is the perfect yummy alternative.

The trusty potato is the most popular vegetable in the United States.  Not surprising really, given the amount of french fries and potato chips we as a nation consume.  Those processed foods give the potato a bad name.  If cooked without the added unhealthy fats, potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C and fiber.  They are also relatively cheap compared to some other vegetables and available year-round.

The recipe below is courtesy of The New York Times Food, but I do have some thoughts based on my experience making the recipe.  I used yellow potatoes for this recipe and cut them into smaller 1/2 inch chunks after boiling than what was called for (1 1/2 inch chunks are pretty big!).  I also personally feel like this recipe calls for too much salt.  I ended up using between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon and it ended up fine.  You can always add in more later if you want, but too much salt can completely kill a recipe.  Plus, most of us get enough sodium from the prepared foods in our diets.  I used regular ground black pepper in place of Turkish pepper and the mint leaves top it off perfectly.

Lemon Potato Salad with Mint

Source:  The New York Times

Yields 8 servings

Time 45 minutes (this includes boiling the potatoes)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds small waxy white or yellow potatoes, roughly the same size
  • Juice of 1 lemon, more for serving
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts, more for serving
  • 1/4 cup torn mint leaves, more for serving
  • 1/4 teaspoon Turkish pepper, more for serving
  1. Place whole, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot with enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until potatoes are just tender, 15 to 25 minutes depending upon size. Drain and cut potatoes into 1 1/2-inch chunks as soon as you can handle them.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive oil.
  3. Transfer hot potatoes to a large bowl and toss with dressing, scallions, mint and Turkish pepper. Let cool to room temperature, or refrigerate until ready to use. Just before serving, top with additional lemon juice, scallions, mint and Turkish pepper.

Happy Summer Cooking!

Photo credit:  The New York Times Food