Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How to Spot a Diet Guru in 12 Easy Steps

Think you've found the best "expert" for reputable nutrition and health information? You might want to double-check: if any of the following sound like your go-to source, run fast!

1. Alleges to understand nutritional science but rejects it--constantly referring to how they are SMASHING MAINSTREAM SCIENCE and DROPPING NUTRITIONAL TRUTHBOMBS!

2. Declares repeatedly that "calories don’t matter"!

3. Describes certain foods or nutrients as EVIL or THE DEVIL.

4. Frequently regurgitates pseudoscience from internet-born nutrition “experts,” health journalists, or people named Lustig, Taubes, Mercola, or Davis.

5. Personally follows a fad diet.

6. Can’t provide sound research when asked to back up a nutrition or health claim (and in most cases, they won't respond to you AT ALL when you question them!).

7. Shuns moderation in favor of extreme dietary restrictions (no sugar, no carbs, no wheat!) and extreme excesses (eat all the butter and meat you can get your hands on!).

8. Creates and follows arbitrary dietary rules like avoiding gluten when you don’t have celiac disease or gluten intolerance.

9. Frequently puts down conventional medical & actual nutrition experts and claims to have MUCH better insight and knowledge than they.

10. Refers to anecdotal evidence, n=1 experiments, testimonials, and “it works for me and my disciples!” more than scientific research.   

11. Claims that THE KEY to weight loss is all in tinkering with the hormones in your body, not simply eating less.

12. Conveniently has a book or product to sell you or else sells the dubious supplements that they HIGHLY recommend.

Have you ever come face-to-face with a diet guru? Scary, isn’t it?!

Monday, August 26, 2013

My Common Sense Eating Principles

There’s a mess of information out there on how, what, when, where, why, and with whom to eat. I certainly get confused (and infuriated) by it all from time to time, and I know there are many others not in the field of nutrition who get exasperated with the conflicting, erratic, and often bewildering array of nutrition and weight loss advice being peddled daily. Food fear-mongering is also running rampant these days—“don’t eat food X! Food Y will kill you! If you eat food Z you will die painfully within minutes!”—only adding to the confusion and intensifying our culture’s disturbing relationship to food (I have a lot to say about food fear-mongering but I’ve saved that rant for its own blog post).

To help counter all the back and forth dietary blather, I’ve come up with 23 common-sense eating principles, tips, and thoughts on how to eat for exceptional health, overall life balance, and even weight loss. These are principles that I’ve learned over time, have seen working for many people, use myself, and aren’t likely to change when the next scientific study comes out tomorrow. My hope is that this list will reassure you that everything is ok—healthy living with food doesn’t have to be hard—and a lot of times it comes down to good old fashioned common sense.

1. As long as you aren't eating the Standard American Diet (SAD) and ARE making changes towards eating a wide variety of whole foods—including lots of vegetables and fruits, you are already doing a lot to prevent diet-related chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Historically, humans have survived and thrived on a wide variety of diets—from really high carbohydrate diets to eating mostly animal blood, meat, and milk to diets highly comprised of just fat. The only diet that seems to really make people chronically sick is our own nasty Western diet (coupled with minimal physical activity), also known by some as the Standard American Diet, which includes lots of refined carbohydrates, highly processed foods, meat, added sugars and fats, and few fruits and vegetables.

2. Don’t wait until you are hungry to decide what to eat (that usually ends in an overeating disaster). Have a rough plan in your head, know what healthy options you have on hand, and consider getting into the habit of eating smartly every 3-4 hours (this works well for some people).

3. If you don’t want to play the fad-diet-of-the-month game, don’t. You’ll live, I promise (and be much better off, I might add!). Speaking of diet fads, JUST DON’T DO THEM. They don’t last long-term (usually only a few weeks to several months), nor do they create new, healthier habits—these diets and fad eating styles are merely band-aids on a wound, temporary fixes that might give you a motivating high for awhile but will inevitably leave you back at square one again. I’ve seen fad diets fail, again and again and again. Enough already! The healthiest way to eat is the way that you can eat for the rest of your life—a way that promotes health, keeps you satisfied, is pleasurable, and supports a positive relationship with food.

4. There are no superfoods. At least in the sense that one particular food is so amazing you need to spend an inordinate amount of money, time, or effort to acquire and consume it to the exclusion of other perfectly healthy foods. No one food will guarantee life to 102 or cure your cancer. Unfortunately, nothing like this exists. Now, are some foods “more super” healthwise than others? For sure! But, there will never be one superfood that does more for your health than a balanced, overall healthy way of eating and living. The hard truth is that superfoods are good business for health gurus, food manufacturers, and the media—not for you and me. Tell Dr. Oz to shove his Garcinia Cambogia and Acai berry. Don’t fall for the hype!

5. Eat food. Real, whole, basic foods. What do I mean by this? Whole fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, intact grains, fresh fish, poultry, and meat. Avoid the cheaply manufactured, energy-dense, sugary, and salty foods that crowd the supermarkets and beckon to us from the fast food menu board.

6. Rely heavily on foods that have few calories by volume—conveniently, these are most often the plant foods we should be eating a lot of anyway, as mentioned above. Eating this way is a very promising strategy in weight loss and sustained weight control for life. When you think about it, it’s common sense: if you feel more full (on fewer calories) for a longer period of time, you will be less likely to consume unnecessary, extra calories that can lead to weight gain. Best foods to help carry out this strategy? You guessed it: fruits and vegetables--the beneficial components being a high water and fiber content.

7. Eat strategically to promote satiety—along with a larger proportion of lower calorie/high volume foods, you want to include a modest amount of satiety-promoting foods with each meal and snack. Fat and protein do the trick here: think regulated portions of nuts, cheese, avocado, eggs, or lean meat and fish.

8. COOK. From scratch. Start with whole, fresh ingredients. Hamburger Helper and Panburger Partner are NOT your new kitchen assistants. If you find yourself staring with dread at or are wondering how a handful of basic food ingredients sitting on your kitchen counter could ever be as exciting and delicious as the Monster Thickburger, you probably need some assistance getting started with healthy cooking. Pour over healthy recipes on the internet (check out my own blog recipes or one of my favorite recipe idea sources, Cooking Light), hire a dietitian to help you prepare healthy meals, or take some healthy cooking classes. Cooking for yourself is an essential survival skill in the healthy living wilderness!

9. Eat at home 95% of the time--goes hand-in-hand with cooking. If you can't eat at home, at the very least, BRING your food from home. Once you let restaurants, food-sellers, and food manufacturers prepare even a moderate proportion of your meals, you lose control over your eating...and your health.

10. Whole dietary patterns over time are more important than single foods or nutrients. Consistency with your overall way of eating is key, so it’s not necessary to get overly obsessed with nutrient details. Our health relies not so much on the individual nutrients we eat as it does on the source of those nutrients (the whole food item) and the amount eaten. So the next time a food fear-mongering health guru shouts at you “...but that has FRUCTOSE in it!” just smile to yourself and eat on. You know better.

11. Most of what we need to know about what to eat (and what NOT to eat), we already inherently know; however, if you are still in doubt about whether or not to eat aerosol-can pancake batter, frozen pizza with over 90 ingredients, or Fruit Loops, use your common sense and remember Michael Pollan’s sound advice, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

12. Know how many calories you are eating in relation to how much energy your body needs. Yes, I strongly advocate tracking calories! I see the most consistent weight loss and lifelong weight maintenance results when people understand and use calories to their advantage. Determining caloric needs and tracking caloric intake will never be completely foolproof—and that is ok! Still, with close monitoring and subsequent tweaking over time, determining caloric needs for weight loss or weight maintenance can be very accurate. In fact, even having a rough estimate of how many calories you need and how many you are taking in is better than unawareness since the process helps you gain crucial knowledge and perspective about how the energy in food affects your weight. By monitoring caloric intake and needs in my own life, I have been able to keep my weight within three pounds of my goal weight for over 12 years.

13. Invest in food: you can’t afford to be cheap here! We spend countless dollars on clothes, jewelry, manicures, magazines, rent or mortgages, car payments, and other “stuff.”  Surely our health and our bodies (we only get one body, by the way) are more important than anything else in our lives. You really get what you pay for in most cases, and that goes for food, too! If you spend a little more for better quality food, you likely will treat that food with more respect—maybe prepare it with more care or even eat it more slowly. Higher-quality food often tastes better, too, and, as a result, you may need to eat less of it to feel satisfied.

14. Eat deliberately. When you are going to eat, EAT. Don’t do anything else.

15. Recognize that food has a dual purpose: it is nourishment for both body and mind. Somewhere down the line, too many of us became more obsessed with the biological importance of food and lost sight of the fact that eating is pure pleasure, enjoyable, and culturally significant. Eat guilt-free. ENJOY FOOD! 

16. How you eat affects the health of the planet. There's no skirting this issue anymore. With the health of humans’ only home (planet Earth) in peril, you can’t NOT think about this anymore and consider yourself a responsible or “healthy” eater. There are many ways you can eat to reduce our impact on the environment, but one of the most effective is to reduce your consumption of what Mark Bittman calls “inefficient food”—the most energy-intensive and “inefficient” foods produced being meat, dairy, and highly processed/packaged foods. Consider three powerful examples Bittman shares in his book Food Matters (a highly-recommended read) that illustrate the substantial energy toll meat-heavy diets take on the environment:
  • “...eating a typical family of four steak dinner is the rough equivalent, energy-wise, of driving around in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home.”
  • “If we each ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers a week, we’d cancel out the effects of all the SUVs in the country.”
  • “For a family that usually drives a car 12,000  miles a year, switching from eating red meat and dairy to chicken, fish, and eggs just one day a week—in terms of greenhouse gas emissions—is the equivalent of driving 760 miles less a year.”

17. Create an eating environment conducive to your goals. You wouldn’t put a tv, a bunch of your favorite magazines, and have your iPad open to Candy Crush on your desk at work and expect yourself to focus and get your job done, would you? So why would you expect that having a bunch of tempting, fast, easily-accessible crap food around your house and in your kitchen would help you commit to eating a moderate diet of wholesome foods? Get rid of the junk and surround yourself with better choices!

18. Don’t fear fat but DO eat the best kinds. If you avoid highly processed, manufactured foods and build your diet around mostly whole foods, eating the “right” kinds of fat becomes almost a nonissue. The best fats are found in nuts, avocados, olives, seeds, fatty fish, and olive oil. Embrace healthy fat!

19. You’re getting enough protein, trust me. Do me a favor: instead of worrying about whether you are getting enough protein, worry about getting enough vegetables. Any reasonably balanced, calorically adequate diet is going to give you plenty of protein. That’s not to say protein isn’t important or can’t be used to our advantage. When does protein specifically come in handy? Like fat, protein is great at helping us to feel full, which is why it is smart to include a little with each meal and snack.

20. Have a plan, and a back-up plan, and a back-up back-up plan when it comes to eating. You wouldn’t leave on a vacation without booking a flight, packing your luggage with essentials, planning sight-seeing opportunities, or knowing where you are going to sleep, would you? So why is ok to leave the house in the morning not knowing what, where, or how you are going to fuel your body? Always have a rough eating plan, and, along these lines, it's wise to carry healthy snacks with you. Never get caught with your proverbial pants down and “have” to resort to eating junk food or fast food. In other words, don’t let food "happen" to you; unfortunate as it is, in our obesigenic society today, it takes a conscience effort to make healthy choices, and planning helps keep you on the right path.  

21. Eat today how you want to feel tomorrow morning. Pretty simple, but very effective.  

22. Stop eating before you’re full. The Japanese advise to stop eating when they are 80% full. In India, certain traditions recommend only eating to a 75% fullness level while the Chinese specify 70%. The prophet Muhammad described a full belly as one that contained 1/3 food, 1/3 liquid, and 1/3 air (ie nothing). There’s also a German expression that says: “You need to tie off the sack before it gets completely full.”  Take your pick.

23. Everything in moderation, including moderation. You only have one life, live it wisely and keep health at the forefront, but don’t miss important opportunities to truly savor it, even if that means a few extra glasses of wine or two pieces of birthday cake instead of just one. :-)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

{Recipe} grown up tuna salad

This lunchtime classic often lacks excitement and flavor, so I've given the old tuna salad an overhaul by adding a few select extras. Don't forget: better ingredients make a healthier, better-tasting product, so I use premium canned tuna here. I prefer my tuna salad kicked up with a super hot serrano pepper, but you can use whatever kind of pepper suits your taste, or even some cayenne from the cupboard. 


Yield: makes 4 servings

1 (4.5 oz) can solid light tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1 (4.5 oz) can solid light tuna packed in water, drained
2 T capers, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped or thinly sliced
1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, finely chopped OR 3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp coarse salt 
1/2 tsp coarse black pepper
Juice from 1 lemon
Zest from 1 lemon
5 T Hellman's Light mayonnaise 
2 T quality brown mustard

Chop the capers, onion, and pepper. Put into a large bowl. Grate the lemon zest into the bowl and then add the fresh lemon juice. Add the tuna, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, and mustard and mix well. Divide into four equal portions.   

Tuna is a super protein source and also full of one of the healthiest kinds of fats--omega-3s! Each serving of this tuna salad has over 140mg of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Adding onion, pepper, and capers increases the volume of the salad which makes you feel more full without adding a lot of calories. I love tuna packed in olive oil because I think the taste is so much better than water-packed tuna, so to balance out the extra calories from the oil-packed tuna, I use Hellman's Light mayo versus the regular version. Feel free to use regular mayo, if you prefer, but realize you'll be adding a few more calories to my per serving calculation. :)  

Each serving contains ~167 calories.

Pro Tips
You can skip the bread (or at least make your sandwich open-faced) with this flavor-packed tuna salad. I serve it over a bed of spinach. Add some fruit and a small handful of nuts on the side and you've got lunch!  

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The "Everything in Moderation" Conundrum

I recently came across a post criticizing the often-repeated dietary and weight loss advice to eat “everything in moderation” and wanted to share my viewpoint on this topic. While I do agree that as a stand-alone, this recommendation is very fuzzy, it is not completely without meaning and value, and I don’t believe that the idea of moderation with eating should be thrown out the window. There is no doubt that moderation and balance with food is a critical part of long-term success with healthy eating and weight control; however, I think the “everything in moderation” mantra applies more to a healthy way of life than to the means in which we get there. To help create more understanding about what is meant by “everything in moderation” and to specify how and when this advice applies, I’ve drafted the following thoughts:
  • Undoubtedly, ill-defined dietary recommendations are hard to apply in real life, and I do believe that “everything in moderation” is one of “those” amorphous blobs of nutrition wisdom. Still, the principles behind “everything in moderation” are sound and include:
    • By avoiding excesses of any food, you create balance
    • Less-healthy foods can be eaten, but need to be moderated
    • If you completely avoid vast food groupings, certain foods you crave, or specific nutrients, there is bound to be a nasty relapse in which you end up overeating the foods you have been depriving yourself of 
  • At least in my practice, “Everything in moderation” doesn’t actually include everything. I don’t believe that a moderate intake of regular soda, junk processed foods, deep-fried & breaded foods, refined carbohydrates, trans fats, or even high-quality highly-decadent treats, to name a few, should be the norm. These foods should be rarities. For this reason, I propose that the advice mantra, “most things in moderation,” be used to provide better clarity.
  • In what instances is “most things in moderation” most likely to be unsuccessful? In my experience, people do better obtaining their health and weight loss goals when there is a good degree of structure. “Most things in moderation” may not work for people actively trying to reclaim their health, turn their dietary behaviors around, and lose weight. Some short-term avoidance of trigger foods may be necessary until better control is gained. Additionally, it is important to reset your taste preferences from an overabundance of salt, sugar, and fat back to unadulterated whole foods, and this is often best accomplished by steering clear of the old favorites for awhile. More stringent, less moderate dietary rules also can help overhaul a person’s eating behaviors more effectively, thereby reprogramming them to healthier behaviors.
  • When does a diet with “most things in moderation” work then? You are wrong if you think maintaining a moderate eating life boils down to having an amazing willpower or is contingent on luck. No doubt about it, being able to eat in moderation is the result of a lot of time, hard work, and lifestyle change. Clients and people I know (including myself) who have success with “moderation” have worked their butts off to get to the point in which this adage can be applied. Indeed, if you haven’t done the prep work, trying to eat in moderation will probably not end well. But if you have done the prep work, you will already:
    • Have reset your taste preferences to prefer quality, whole foods with less sugar, salt, and fat.
    • Have developed an understanding of the different reasons why you eat (true hunger, stress, pure pleasure?) and will be mindful of them.
    • Know which foods are ok in moderation and which fall into the “rarity” category.
    • Have learned the importance of planning your food intake versus haphazardly floating through the day letting food happen to you.
    • Have a conscious awareness of the caloric value of your portions.
    • Have defined for your individual needs what “moderate” actually means—once a week, once a day, every other month—and will be able to use good old common sense to determine what works best for you.
With these (and other) conditions in place, eating balanced and moderately does happen.
  • Bottom line: the advice to eat “most things in moderation” should be used along with other guidance, not as a stand-alone. In truth, “most things in moderation” isn’t best utilized as a weight loss strategy, but is what happens after you put in the significant time and effort to truly change your lifestyle and regain control of a healthy way to eat.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Selling the Supplement Story

I have a hard time accepting any health practitioner who dispenses both nutrition guidance and supplements, let alone one of my own kind, a Registered Dietitian, who advocates strongly for “healing” through a real food diet but (in case that doesn’t quite work out), is quick to point you to her online supplement store.  

As a Registered Dietitian, my job is to provide people with nutrition recommendations grounded in science, along with the accompanying assistance to help make lasting and effective health-improving lifestyle changes. Dietitians have an obligation to protect clients and the public from misleading, ineffective nutrition information and products—bearing this responsibility certainly rules out selling dubious supplements ourselves.

So why do some health practitioners still succumb to selling supplements? Understandably, many people today are seeking extra income, and this is one way to potentially garner a handsome little side profit; however, there are many serious concerns with health professionals, specifically dietitians in private practice, selling and profiting from supplements.

Conflict of interest and ethical matters

I think that recognizing the ethical shortcomings inherent in a dietitian’s sales and marketing of supplements is the first step, and it’s not hard to see the problem: having a financial stake in recommending any health product is a major conflict of interest. The dietitian’s opportunity for financial gain is perceptibly close—and this can easily drown out the voice of professional responsibility in favor of a sale.

Moreover, dietetics practitioners are unmistakably supposed to stay clear of any act that may affect their professional judgment, according to our Code of Ethics. Prescribing, then selling and profiting from supplements clearly challenges the dietitian’s responsibility to put the client’s interests in front of the possibility to pad her own pocketbook.

Evidence to support the supplement claims—belief versus science

I think it is important to point out that unlike prescription drugs, nutritional supplements do not have to be proved effective or safe before they go on the market. Additionally, their labels don’t have to warn about side effects, even for products with real hazards. This alone should give anyone pause before choosing to take a supplement. 

And while there are definitely some instances in which supplementation can be beneficial (consider women of childbearing years, pregnant women, vegans or strict vegetarians, or people who are malnourished, etc), there is a ridiculous number of supplements available touting benefits that have never actually been scientifically proven. It is the latter, in this case, that I am most concerned about. 

It’s easy for someone to say she recommends something because she “believes” it works. Actually, this makes me think of all the women in my life (including myself, sadly) who spend way too much time researching, testing, hoping, and eventually believing in the wrinkle-reducing face cream du jour, only to end up with wrinkles anyway. Why do we do it? Because we BELIEVE it will help, and heck, it’s better than the risk of doing nothing! Despite all the money and time spent, guess what? At 65, we’re going to have wrinkles!

So while it’s easy to believe something works, it is a bit harder to come up with solid research supporting why you “believe” people need to be popping pills for every life stage and condition imaginable. There’s really a bottle of magic for pretty much everything, folks. Here’s what one dietitian’s online supplement store is selling products for:

·       Healthy testosterone balance
·       Prostate & urinary health
·       Healthy libido & sexual function
·       Blood sugar balance and supporting sensitive blood sugar levels
·       Immune health
·       Joint/muscle/bone health
·       Metabolic detox remedies to help the body’s natural cleansing and filtering processes
·       Overcoming cravings and balancing brain chemicals
·       Pregnancy nutrition
·       Sexual health
·       Balancing estrogen and testosterone levels
·       Sleep
·       Sports nutrition
·       Essentials for weight loss
·       Healthy kids
·       Heartburn/reflux
·       General wellness
·       Digestion and gut health
·       Protein powders and supplements, and
·       Superfood & antioxidant formulas  

Why do people need to go to the doctor anymore if we have all this? Why are there people in the world still suffering from hot flashes, candy bar cravings, lack of libido, the common cold, being overweight, or digestive issues if all of these miraculous remedies for sale ACTUALLY WORK? COME ON, people!  

Another common method to justify selling supplements with questionable benefits is the “I use it myself” explanation. No scientific evidence to support the recommendation? No problem. “I take this myself and haven’t had a craving in 9 ½ years! And the best part is, I sell this pill right here in my office—for just $35 a bottle!”

Well isn’t that convenient?

Skirting the issue with the “high-quality” farce

One effective way to sidestep the big concern of “is this supplement actually PROVEN to provide advantageous health benefits?” is to frequently recount the importance of choosing only the highest quality supplements—the best of the best—and then handily offer those top-notch pills.

I had an experience with exactly this in my private practice a few years ago that may shed some light on the tactic at play here. I was approached by a chiropractor who sold a variety of supplements in his own practice, and was reaching out to other health practitioners offering them a chance to sell this line of supplements, too, thereby increasing overall sales. Though I had no intent to take the chiropractor/salesman up on his offer, I wanted to hear him out and learn from what he was doing. Despite the obvious ethical concern—most of the products to be sold were inefficacious—what I really found interesting were the marketing tactics encouraged. If I were to start offering these products for sale in my practice, the most profitable marketing message to drive home to my clients would be that these supplements were of the highest quality—they were the most well-absorbed and effective, not to mention completely free of contaminants, additives, or fillers.

Sound familiar?

Additionally, the money-making prospect this chiropractor laid out for me was divine. Describing how the supplement-selling program worked, he explained that he was on a 10-year plan and was to be making six digits in supplement sales (not counting his chiropractic work) at the end of this time period!

Needless to say, the warning bells were ringing loud and clear, and I couldn’t get away fast enough from this unscrupulous scheme.

So if you come across a dietitian selling her own supplements who really “feels” that her products are so much better than cheaper alternatives, or who says she truly “believes” that the only supplements good enough for her clients are the ones she is selling? Think twice. Either she has been hoodwinked by marketing, or she’s working on hoodwinking you—perhaps a little of both.

Food and lifestyle change first, unsubstantiated supplements never

Popping a pill when you have a sugar craving doesn’t teach you how to deal with cravings. It is a temporary crutch (one unsupported by science, I might add). There is no long-term benefit to supposedly easing your way through a craving with a pill—even worse, this makes you feel reliant on a quick-fix and doesn’t create any new, healthy habits that decrease the likelihood, frequency, or intensity of a craving. Is it too much work for dietitians to address the underlying habitual and environmental causes of cravings with their clients?

Reestablishing a healthy relationship with food has ZERO to do with popping pills and EVERYTHING to do with the much more difficult-to-sell long-term investment in lifestyle change.

Bottom line is this

If you are trying to improve your health and seeking the advice of any health professional, you should know that over the past couple of decades, study after study researching the health effects of large doses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other substances have found no significant benefits. Worse, some of these studies have revealed health concerns with taking these products. I can only encourage you to do your own research, seek out several OBJECTIVE health professionals (those who don’t sell supplements), and make an informed decision about what you decide to put into your body.

And if you are a health professional who “believes” in the value of unscientifically supported supplements, it’s time to choose which side of the fence you want to be on: client care, advocating, science, and teaching, OR retail, sales, and product marketing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

{Recipe} sausage & eggs with spinach, provolone, & basil

This version was modified for Meatless Monday ;)

An on-the-stove, skillet-type egg dish is a healthy "go-to" meal for me because I typically have all the ingredients on hand (or can easily vary the ingredients to suit what I DO have). This dish is quick to prepare (only a little chopping involved), and it is just good, healthy comfort food that hits the spot. 

Yield: makes 4 servings


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red or yellow onion, chopped or sliced thinly
2 jalepenos or other hot peppers, chopped (use red pepper flakes if you don't have jalepenos)
3 cooked red pepper & asiago chicken sausages, sliced or diced (you can vary the sausage you use--but for this recipe, you want to limit the amount of sausage you put in to about 300 calories)
1 large bag of baby spinach
4 eggs
4 egg whites
1/4 cup fresh basil, torn
3 slices of provolone cheese, torn
1/2 tsp coarse salt
1/2 tsp pepper


Get all your prep (chopped onion, jalepeno, sausages, torn basil & cheese) done first and set individual ingredients aside--this makes the cooking portion of the recipe a breeze. Combine eggs and egg whites. Stir basil, salt, and pepper into the eggs.

Heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped/sliced onion and hot peppers. Saute until onion is soft. Add sausage and cook until sausage is just starting to brown. Add baby spinach to skillet, a little at a time, allowing each portion to wilt. Continue stirring to combine.

Once all the spinach has wilted, pour the egg mixture into the skillet, stirring to mix all ingredients. When eggs appear to be mostly set, cover the mixture evenly with provolone slices. Stir cheese into the the mixture as it melts and continue to cook briefly until eggs are fully set.


This dish can be a meal in itself if you like because it takes care of all of your macronutrient needs-- fat, protein, and carbohydrates--AND is packed with one of the healthiest plant foods you can eat: spinach! Because the spinach shrinks down so much when cooked, you end up eating a significant amount without hardly realizing it. The fiber from the spinach and onion, plus the protein and fat from the sausage, cheese, and eggs will keep you satisfied and happy. ;-)

1/4 of this recipe will provide you with approximately 300 calories.

Pro Tips

While the mixture is still in the skillet pan, I divide it into 4 equal "pieces" or portions (kind of like a pizza or pie cut into 4 pieces). This makes plating the 300-calorie portion a cinch! (Although I usually end up eating 2 portions and my husband eats the other 2, anyway).


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Best Part of Wakin' Up...is BUTTER in Your Cup?

In case you’ve been wondering, the rumors are true: people are now cramming butter into their morning cup of coffee in an attempt to burn body fat, gain focus, and improve their brain function. This is the idea anyway behind “butter coffee,” which got started recently thanks to a coffee company executive and has been gaining popularity.

As a dietitian, little surprises me anymore with diet and food fads, but I am always curious about their origins, the benefits being touted, and if there are any grains of truth to what is being claimed.

Like other diet fads, spiking your coffee with butter has a defiant air—almost akin to the archetypal rebellious teen testing his wardrobe and behavior boundaries for effect. And, not surprisingly, the seemingly wacky combination itself of coffee plus butter is a big part of this fad’s “unconventional” appeal for some.

When I first got wind of the butter-in-your-coffee phenomenon, I was more curious about how it would taste than troubled by the potentially-negative health effects—truth be told, I thought it sounded kind of cozy, perhaps even tasty! Others I told about the trend responded a bit differently:

Person 1: “Butter? In coffee?!”

Person 2: “Gross!”

Person 3: “I almost threw up when you said that.”

Nevertheless, I wanted to find out what this diet fad was all about, taste it for myself, and most importantly, determine if the purported health and weight loss benefits were even plausible. Ready to wake up and smell the buttery coffee?

How did the butter-coffee get started and what exactly is it?

Interestingly, adding butter to coffee has been part of some cultural traditions for centuries. According to historical accounts, cultures in Ethiopia melted butter into coffee to increase the beverage’s nutrient density as well as add flavor. A similar concept, yak butter tea, is a daily beverage in Tibetan life, where subsistence farming and nomadic herding are common occupations—undeniably, putting extra caloric energy and fat into tea makes sense if your days include very intense physical labor.

But does an unnecessarily high-calorie morning drink seem sensible for Western cultures, where many people aren’t adequately physically active and actually need to lose weight? Apparently, it made perfect sense for Silicon Valley investor, entrepreneur, and coffee company executive Dave Asprey, who took the idea of this energy-packed traditional beverage and “upgraded” it into a business money-maker—“Bulletproof Coffee.” His concoction struck a chord in the hearts of low-carb and paleo diet crusaders alike (many who shun all sugar and dairy—except, conveniently, butter), since their diets are largely composed of animal protein and fat.

So what is butter in coffee supposed to do for you? Is it the magic elixir we’ve all been waiting for? It seems to be—according to Asprey, that is. The list of supposed benefits is pretty fantastic!

Adding a heck of a lot of saturated fat to your coffee will:

·      “...keep you satisfied with level energy for 6 hours if you need it.”

·      give you “boundless energy and focus”

·      program your body to “...burn fat for energy all day long!”

·      and, not to be outdone by the caffeine in coffee alone, Asprey’s custom fat and coffee mix is delightfully “cognitive enhancing.” 

BUT, as should be anticipated, Asprey is quick to point out that any coffee other than the one he sells will NOT provide the same “bulletproof” benefits. In this plea taken directly from his website, he states: “I’d really appreciate it if you tried my Upgraded Coffee beans. I created them for maximum mental performance and health, and they work...your brain really will notice the difference. Thank you.”

Convinced yet? I didn’t think so. Making your coffee “bulletproof” is no sleepy walk to the coffee pot, either. The standard recipe version requires several precise ingredients that, after grinding your coffee beans and brewing the coffee, need to be mixed in a high-powered blender until foamy at the top. All this before your first cup of joe!

Depending on which recipe you use, you will be packing anywhere from 200 to over 460 calories in your morning cup (just for comparison, 16 ounces of brewed black coffee has 5 calories). Here are the two most common recipes I found:

·      Dave Asprey’s original Bulletproof recipe contains about 2 cups of coffee, 2 or more tablespoons of grass-fed butter, and 2 tablespoons of his company’s MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil.

o   Asprey’s primary version will cost you upwards of 460 calories, and provide you with approximately 51 grams of fat (43g saturated fat). Ouch.

·      Simplifying the ingredient list a bit, another common butter coffee recipe calls for just 2 tablespoons of grass-fed butter and no MCT oil.

o   But even this “skinnier” version will cost you about 200 calories and provide you with 23 grams of fat (about 15g saturated fat).

·     Other recipe versions are complemented with raw eggs, hemp protein powder, antioxidant powders, and a myriad of other goodies, and will leave your kitchen counter looking like a disaster zone when you are done.

All that for a cup of coffee?

Alright, so we know what butter coffee is. Does it have a place in a healthy diet?

First, let’s talk about the obvious elephant in the room—that huge amount of saturated fat. If you are up on your low-carb and paleo diet dogma, you probably are aware that saturated fat (from butter, coconut oil, meats, cheese, eggs, etc) is pretty much synonymous with “the healthiest nutrient EVER.” Wait. What? Haven’t studies for the last 50 years found again and again that saturated fat is less optimal than the other unsaturated fatty acids? The answer to this question is yes. And the majority of research available still concludes that intake of saturated fatty acids is positively associated with higher total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, increased risk of heart disease, increased markers of insulin resistance, and increased risk of type 2 diabetes. While a recent analysis of studies seemed to indicate that saturated fat may not be as devilish as we once thought, this fat hardly deserves an angelic status just yet.

Because the science for single nutrients is complex and often contradictory, as has been the case with saturated fat, the waters are usually left a bit murky, invariably opening the floodgates for controversy. Nevertheless, the vast majority of expert committees STILL contend that we would reduce heart disease risk by keeping our saturated fat intake below 10% of total daily calories.

Bottom line here: fat is essential for good health, it’s tasty, helps us feel full, and you can even eat a whole bunch of it without getting fat (if you stay within your caloric limit). Are saturated fats dangerous poisons that should be avoided at all cost? Absolutely not. But, as with just about everything, moderation goes a long way.   

At issue next is what happens if you take a coffee company executive’s advice and swap your old-fashioned food breakfast for Bulletproof coffee: more than likely, you will be doing yourself a serious disservice. Relying on butter coffee for your breakfast nutrients is highly unbalanced (would you like fat, fat, or fat?), and it takes the place of other, much more well-rounded breakfast options.

In general, drinking our calories is unfavorable and has undoubtedly played a role in our current obesity crisis (sugary soda, anyone?). And, while calories alone are far from the only thing to consider when framing your healthy diet, they DO count for weight control. If you have butter coffee in addition to your favorite breakfast, you are setting yourself up for weight gain if those extra calories aren’t shaved off elsewhere. Indeed, if you must have butter coffee, I would strongly caution against the 460 calorie version (unless you are going trekking through the Himalayas after breakfast!) and suggest you try my “Bummerproof” way to enjoy butter coffee: only add a modest 1 tablespoon of butter. Because this version is much less calorie-intense, it leaves room for you to add some healthy carbohydrate, protein, and better fats to your morning meal.

I do think buttery coffee can certainly have a place in a healthy diet, if you really enjoy it, but you need to be mindful of the extra calories and don’t expect weight loss.

Are there any supplementary health benefits to putting butter in your coffee every morning?

If anecdotal evidence is your thing, then maybe. 

·      The energy-boosting and laser-beam mental focus claims of the butter/MCT oil/coffee blend is most likely a placebo effect—there is no evidence that this particular food combination or the faster digestion of MCT oil compared to other fats is a brain energy booster.

·      How about those fat-burning claims? I won’t mince words here: putting butter into your coffee is not a magic weight loss elixir, and drinking Bulletproof coffee will NOT independently cause you to lose weight.

·      Asprey and his butter coffee-believers also claim that flooding your coffee with butter will simply make you “feel better.” Asprey goes on to explain on his website that, “If you’re like most of my friends who try this, your body is so starved for healthy fats that you feel like you can’t get enough.” There might be a very tiny grain of truth here, pending one condition: if you are actually malnourished and NOT getting enough calories, let alone fat in your diet, butter in your coffee should help you feel A LOT better (however, this applies to nearly no one in the modern, overfed world).

·      The last claim is that butter-infused coffee will help you feel more full. I do agree that you would feel pretty full after consuming 23-51 grams of fat—fat is well-known for its satiety-promoting effects. Alas (we found one!), this claim is likely true.

Finally, how does buttery coffee taste and did it “work” for me?

Sadly, I was decidedly unimpressed overall with butter coffee. Tastewise, I didn’t sense any amazing improvement—it was still coffee, with a slight buttery flavor.  Although it was definitely more creamy than my usual black coffee, even that did not increase my affection for the beverage. And what about my mental state after drinking butter coffee? As it turned out, my focus and energy was so enhanced that I went and took an hour-long nap.

Well, bummer. As we’ve learned from the countless diet fads of yore, when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.