Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday eating and New Year's resolutions

The time around Thanksgiving and Christmas is difficult for people in so many ways, including dealing with food. With all the food preparation, parties, food gifts, holiday meals, travel, and visitors, it’s hard to maintain regular habits and you won’t be alone if you end up feeling guilty and unhappy with your behavior.

It might help to understand that this season really does require super-human behavior. We evolved to want to overeat whenever possible. Our brain is screaming at us to eat so that we’ll gain weight and survive any future famine.

If all the foods around you were healthy whole foods, eating wouldn’t be such a struggle. Of course this includes fruits, nuts, seeds, veggies, beans, soy, whole grains, and seafood. But did you know that eggs, pecans, macadamia nuts, peanut butter, mayonnaise, shrimp and even beef, especially if it’s grass-fed, are included in the healthy whole food category?

Instead of worrying about your lack of will power, give yourself a break and start the new year by making your environment healthy- surround yourself with healthy foods.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Is tap water still safe to drink?

In April 2009 I recommended in this blog that instead of using plastic water bottles people should fill glass bottles with tap water. According to an investigation by Charles Duhigg published in the New York Times yesterday, the quality of tap water in this country made a steep dive during the Bush administration as water pollution increased and regulation was lax.

Journalists like to make things sound as dire as possible, so I wish I had the time to read all of the scientific studies he refers to, as I would if this were a matter of nutrition instead of toxicology. But I’m glad that when our water started tasting of chloramine a few years ago, we started using a filter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tamoxifen in the news

In the Science Times today, Tara Parker-Pope tries to make the case that women are being illogical in not taking tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer.

I'm a scientist and the conclusion I draw from Ms. Parker-Pope's data differs from hers. Is it really logical to take a drug that when given to 100 high risk women, will lower the number of breast cancer cases from 1.9 to 1.0, but cause 8.5 additional cases of endometrial cancer, blood clots, cataracts, and sexual problems and 12 additional cases of hot flashes and irregular periods?

Are women really being illogical when they are willing to take birth control pills, but not tamoxifen? If the same 100 women were sexually active and not using birth control, 85 of them would become pregnant. Birth control pills would reduce this number to 1 to 8. If the pill were as ineffective as tamoxifen, women would be in big trouble.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Enjoy pasta without feeling guilty?

I just had a great lunch of leftover pasta with tomato sauce.

The pasta was Barilla Plus spaghetti, which contains such healthy stuff that you would think my family would hate it, but amazingly, it cooks up in only 10 minutes to a perfect al dente and my family likes it.

(I am not paid by Barilla, but if you know someone there please let them know of this win-win opportunity).

Anyway, it contains some ground lentils and flax, giving it more protein, higher quality protein, and omega-3 fats.

If you would like my yummy adaptation of Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce III, just Email me (

Friday, October 16, 2009

Are your vitamins and supplements contaminated?

When you go to a health food store and buy some vitamins or some other supplement, hoping that it will give you energy or build muscles, the last thing you expect is to be self-administering toxins. But, as described by Dr. Pieter A Cohen of Harvard Medical School in the October 15, 2009 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, supplements may not only contain toxic contaminants that the manufacturers are unaware of, but may contain dangerous drugs that the manufacturers don’t list on the label.

Weight loss products are some of the worst offenders, since they add illegal amphetamines and other drugs that have caused addiction, dehydration, high blood pressure, and suicide. The bottom line: buy supplements from reputable companies.  Don't expect miraculous or overnight results. 

Friday, October 2, 2009

Nuts are good for you. Does this include Brazil nuts?

People are finally realizing that almonds, walnuts, and peanuts are health foods, but still think that Brazil nuts, cashews, and macadamia nuts can’t possibly be good for you. All of these nuts are great in slightly different ways.

Almonds have more protein than the others and plenty of monounsaturated fat, the kind that’s in olive oil. But macadamia nuts, cashews, and Brazil nuts have a lot of monounsaturated fat too. Walnuts are my personal favorite with lots of cholesterol-lowering polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 fats. But Brazil nuts also contain polyunsaturated fats.

Don’t worry about these minor differences- enjoy a variety of nuts and you’ll get all the healthy fats you need, together with minerals, vitamins, protein, and as a bonus, plant sterols that will lower your blood cholesterol.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Had gastric bypass for weight loss? See a nutritionist.

I keep reading in scientific journals about serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies caused by gastric bypass surgery for weight loss. Does this make it to the popular press? It must not, because otherwise people who’ve had stomach surgery would know to work with a nutritionist to prevent these deficiencies. Symptoms- anemia, fatigue, weakness, night blindness, etc. etc.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Should we avoid gluten?

I was asked what all the fuss about gluten is about, and whether we should all try to avoid gluten. Gluten is just a particular component of wheat that some people react badly to. It’s quite serious, resulting in chronic diarrhea that can deplete the body of calcium and tons of other nutrients. Diagnosis hasn’t always been swift, with people usually suffering for years before they figure it out. If you are truly gluten intolerant (also called celiac disease), you need to avoid even the tiniest amounts. For most of us, there is no known value to eating less gluten, although like milk, we probably didn’t evolve to eat the huge amounts of wheat we tend to eat now.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ignore the rumors- soy is a great food

Because the Japanese traditionally eat soy products and have low rates of breast cancer along with generally good health, we think that soy is probably a good thing. Tofu, edamame, and soymilk have all withstood the test of time.

If you like to engage in ‘nutritionism’, evaluating food on the basis of known nutrients (from Michael Pollan), you might base soy’s benefits on it being rich in protein, iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium potassium, B vitamins, and healthy omega-3 fat.

Why have people heard that soy might not be great? Some people are allergic, some are intolerant, some abused it by eating it 6 times a day, but you could say the same of whole wheat. Don’t become obsessive about any one food.

Next time you order a cappuccino, try it with soymilk. Instead of letting milk’s evil saturated fat clog your arteries, you’ll be lowering your cholesterol with soy’s healthy unsaturated fats and plant sterols. Yeah, I know the taste is an acquired one.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

No more trays in cafeterias- we really don't need that much food.

I read in the news that more and more college cafeterias no longer offer trays for you to put your dishes on. Various reasons have been given- one is that it makes the cafeteria seem more home-like and another is that it saves water since trays no longer have to be washed.

An added benefit seems to be that it reduces food waste. You can pile a lot more food on a tray than you need. And, human nature being what it is, once that food is in front of you, you are pretty likely to eat more than you need. Have you ever noticed that you eat too much at an all-you-can-eat buffet?

The solution? Not using a tray is a good one. Otherwise, try not to serve yourself too much food. If you do make the mistake of taking too much, don't make a second mistake and justify eating it by saying, "I can't stand to waste food". Better to compost the food than to make your poor body deal with it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Green- it’s good for the planet and for your health

Check out this excellent 12 minute video made by 2 students from Gunn High School-

You’ll get to see me (in a small role) talking about eating fresh, local, unprocessed foods for your health and for the earth’s health.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

What kind of water should you drink?

When you’re thirsty, hopefully you reach for plain water, not a sugary, calorie-rich vitamin water, soda, or even (unless you need the calories) real juice. But should you turn on the tap or open a bottle? It's unfortunate that fear of pollutants has made us avoid drinking tap water, which on average is safer and cleaner than bottled water.
Another good reason not to drink bottled water is that plastic bottles contain chemicals called plasticizers that leach into the water given time and heat. If you want a water bottle to carry around, just use a glass one, i.e. a used tonic water bottle, or dump the plasticizer-rich water out of a plastic bottle and fill it with fresh tap water.
Of course now the water isn’t sterile, and bugs will eventually grow, so just refill your bottle with fresh water every morning. Don’t leave your water bottle in a hot car for a long time- if the bottle has been opened, the heat will encourage bugs to grow, and opened or not, heat will help leach plasticizers into the water.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Do cravings derail your plans to eat healthily?

Have you ever decided to give up unhealthy snacks like cookies or ice cream, but ended up eating them because of a strong craving? You aren’t alone and it isn’t your fault- blame it on evolution resulting in irresistible forces causing you to eat if you are hungry or if you are losing weight. But you can counter these physiological forces with some simple strategies of your own design.

What you eat for breakfast, whether you sit down at 6 a.m. or scarf it at 10 a.m., determines whether you’ll have cravings in an hour or two, and the same goes for lunch. It’s not necessarily trivial to design meals that you like and that incorporate the healthy fats and protein foods you need for long lasting steady energy- but I’ve found in my work with people of varied sizes and needs that it can be very effective. You probably already know that eggs for breakfast are more satisfying than cereal- you may just need some help reconciling all the nutritional & psychological effects of foods in designing menus that work for you.

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Healthy Winter Salad

I never knew what to do with kale until my son made this delicious salad for me. Kale will give you the iron and vitamin C you need to fight off colds, as well as the potassium you need for a healthy heart. To get all the ingredients in one quick stop, try Country Sun, a store on California Ave. in Palo Alto that requires much less time and $ than Whole Foods.

Noemi’s Kale Salad With Apple, Date, and Tahini

• ~ ½ bunch curly dark green Lacinato (or dinosaur) kale
• 1 apple, preferably organic so that you can leave the peel on
• 2 Medjool dates
• 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
• 1/6 cup seasoned brown rice vinegar
• 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)

• Wash the kale by dipping it in a large bowl of cold water, then thoroughly dry it in a salad spinner. Cut the leaves lengthwise into 2-4 strips, discarding the stem. Chop the strips into ¼ inch pieces. You should have about 3 cups of finely chopped kale.
• Cut the apple into quarters, remove the core, slice each quarter into 3-4 slices, and chop each slice into ~ 6 pieces.
• Remove the pits from the dates, slice the dates into pieces ~ ¼ inch wide, and then cut these into small chunks.
• Combine the above ingredients in a salad bowl, separating the date pieces as much as possible.
• Measure olive oil- if you add seasoned vinegar to reach the ½ cup mark, that will be 1/6 cup.
• Add tahini to oil + vinegar, mix with a whisk or fork, and gradually add to salad, tossing to mix well, until kale is well coated with dressing. You will probably have leftover dressing.
• Serves 2