Gut Health

Let's Talk About Meat Baby

I think a lot of people are confused about meat, especially red meat. One day it’s bad for us and clogging our arteries, and one day it’s bad for the environment. Just like anything else, these blanket statements are not telling the whole truth. We really need to take a deeper look at where and how your meat was sourced to know about it’s impacts on you and the environment. While I don’t advocate for a vegetarian or vegan diet, because as a nutritionist, I understand it is impossible to get enough of certain essential nutrients like vitamin B12 (1), omega-3 fatty acids in their most usable form (DHA) (2), heme iron (3) without supplementing, and hard (but not completely impossible if you are very diligent about it) to get nutrients like vitamin D3, iodine (4), and amino acids that make up our connective tissue and gut lining like glycine, glucosamine, L-glutamine and proline (5). However, I have vegetarian and vegan clients and I support them in their decision and will always try to use my knowledge to help them optimize their health on a plant-based diet. I am also not trying to convert vegetarians or vegans into meat-eaters… do your thing! This post is to educate any meat consumer on how they can make sure the meat they are eating is good for them, the animals, and the environment.

plant-based vs. plant-centric

This is an example of a plant-centric meal, not plant-based. There is a diversity of plants, but also some 100% grass-fed meat.

This is an example of a plant-centric meal, not plant-based. There is a diversity of plants, but also some 100% grass-fed meat.

I am also not advocating for a meat-centric diet in this post. There are actually some cultures who live off exclusively animal products, like the Maasai in Tanzania, and have very low incidences of cardiovascular disease (CVD), diabetes, obesity and live long and vibrant lives (10). So it is possible that eating only meat can be good for you. However, these cultures eat the whole animal (blood, bone marrow, organ meat) etc. so it is like they get the nutrient diversity of eating plants as well. I digress… what I am advocating for is voting with your dollar to do yourself and the entire market a favor by purchasing quality meat.

The last P in my PFFP magic foursome (read more about that here) stands for phytonutrients (which are the compounds that give plants their colors and have amazing super powers for those who consume them). Clearly, I am a big fan of plant foods! I think they should make up the majority of your plate at every meal and snack if possible. And therefore meat/animal products should not be the majority of your plate. This is a plant-centric diet. A diet centered around plants, but that includes animal products as well. I believe this is optimal from a nutrition standpoint because of some of the nutrients mentioned above, protein absorbability and other reasons, which, I can get into in a separate blog post (11). A plant-based diet differs in that it does not include any animal products. However, it is really important to talk about and take a deeper look at the types of animal products we consume.

myth 1: meat is bad for us and red meat specifically causes heart disease

When eating properly raised red meat (not CAFO raised pro-inflammatory meat) in the context of a diet with diverse nutrients and without inflammation, meat does not increase risk factors for heart disease. It’s about WHAT meat not no meat.

When eating properly raised red meat (not CAFO raised pro-inflammatory meat) in the context of a diet with diverse nutrients and without inflammation, meat does not increase risk factors for heart disease. It’s about WHAT meat not no meat.

The problem with most of the studies that demonize meat in terms of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, is that they are correlative studies that rely on food frequency questionnaires. However, there are several large issues with relying on this data: 1) correlation does not prove causation and 2) food frequency questionnaires are not accurate, people either forget or lie about what they eat and 3) a lot of these correlative studies took place in the era when meat consumption, specifically red meat was being recommended against by health officials, so people who were eating red meat were in fact less healthy. And any CVD or other diseases they had were not necessarily caused by the meat (however, the quality of meat is VERY important, more on that to come), but other confounding factors (they exercised and slept less, they smoked cigarettes, drank more alcohol etc.) There are actually no strong clinical studies that show causation with saturated fat (which often comes from meat) and heart disease (6).

In fact, saturated fat, which, can be found in fatty meat, dairy, eggs etc. is actually important for overall health, and if we eat the right kinds it is great for us. It makes up all our cell membranes, is vital for brain health, can improve HDL cholesterol, and is the building block of hormones and neurotransmitters (7). By the way, one of the best ways to reduce your risk of CVD is to increase your HDL cholesterol. A high HDL has actually been proven to be a better predictor of lower CVD risk than a low LDL (8). LDL cholesterol really becomes a problem in the face of inflammation, which, can often result from a diet high in processed foods and yes this includes conventional meat, however, it is not the meat inherently causing the problem. More on what type of meat to buy below. Inflammation can damage our arteries, which is where LDL cholesterol comes in to patch them up. When there is too much LDL patching them up, it can cause a clog and therefore contribute to CVD (7). None of this will happen without the arteries being damaged in the first place (which can be caused by a pro-inflammatory diet). ….So that is the truth behind where LDL got such a bad name.

Moral of the story, it’s important to recognize the studies that link meat consumption to heart disease are not telling the whole picture and we really need to update how we look at cholesterol since it is outdated and is not doing a good job of preventing CVD.

truth 1: conventionally raised meat can wipe out our micro biome and throw off our hormone balance but properly raised meat can be extremely nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory

Cows are ruminants, their stomachs have 4 compartments, and the way their digestive system works, actually more efficient at converting certain vitamins into the usable form. So cows take foods we can’t eat, like grass, and get all the nutrients out, and then we benefit from those nutrients when we eat grass-fed/pasture-raised meat (9). In many cases, we can actually get more of vitamins A, D, and K than we can from just eating the plants themselves. Most of the nutrients are stored in the fat tissue from meat, so eating fatty cuts of meat can be great for us, as long as we are picking the grass-finished stuff (12). The fat in animals is also where the toxins (like antibiotics and exogenous hormones) are stored (this includes dairy fat), if you are not choosing properly raised meat.

When poultry/fish/cattle are raised in factory farm settings (also known as CAFOs, confined animal feeding operations) (19), they are not raised in conditions natural to the animal’s optimal health. What happens? The animals get sick. To combat this, the farmers need to give them antibiotics to fight off the illness, these antibiotics also make the animals grow larger than they naturally would (but they also use growth hormones for that) (13). Then, the consumers eating the meat are getting unwanted antibiotics, and guess what this does? Wipe out their good bacteria (in their gut, on their skin, in their mouths). Since our gut is in charge of our immune system and is where most of our serotonin is produced, this can have unwanted negative implications on our immune systems, our anxiety/happiness, and wiping out our oral micro biome can impact oral health (hello cavities).

Factory farmed cattle are also given hormones to grow faster and produce more dairy. The FDA has approved many of these hormones so they are totally legal and could be hiding in your conventional meat and dairy (13). However, legal, does not mean good for us. I think most of us would say “thanks but no thanks” to the exogenous cow hormones if we knew we were eating them.

So what can we do?

We can vote with our dollar! The more we all purchase properly raised animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) the more the demand for these products will go up, The more the demand goes up, the more the market will have to respond to the demand and increase the supply, hopefully pushing some of the CAFOs which are the worst offenders to the environment, the animals, and to our own health, to change their practices to become more sustainable for all parties involved. As the supply for properly raised animal products increases, the price will also go down, so the consumers will be rewarded in the long-run.

What to look for:

Some good ol’ organic poultry (with the fat/skin on) since I knew this chicken was raised properly, the fat tissue is actually more nutrient dense. Again, in the context of plenty of plants!

Some good ol’ organic poultry (with the fat/skin on) since I knew this chicken was raised properly, the fat tissue is actually more nutrient dense. Again, in the context of plenty of plants!

Poultry:

Looking for “organic”, “hormone-free”, “antibiotic-free” are all important. There are several different types of ratings and classifications for poultry, so see which ones you can find at your local supermarket. The USDA has a branch called the Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS) which has the following ratings for poultry:

  • Free Range: This just means the chickens were allowed out of the coop at some time. There are no guidelines for how long they get to be out or what they are fed. It also does not say anything about antiobiotics and hormones.

  • Cage Free: The cage-free label is something that is relevant only for egg laying hens, which, are caged to make egg collection more efficient. It has nothing to do with raising poultry for meat and yet you'll still find the cage-free label on a whole lot of poultry products. It may sound more humane, but it's really just an advertisement of the practices all poultry producers are already employing anyway. Under the AMSdefinition, cage-free simply means that the birds were able to "freely roam a building, room, or enclosed area." So they can be out of a cage but still in a coop the whole time.

  • Antibiotic Free: The AMS identifies this as birds who were not given antibiotics from birth to harvest. When you find this label, it is much more likely that the birds were raised in better conditions than a CAFO (confined animal feeding operation). Since animals raised in these large factory settings are subject to getting sick, and cannot make it to harvest without antibiotics. Many farms also use antibiotics to make the poultry grow bigger even if they are not sick, as I mentioned, antibiotics will be passed on to the end consumer.

  • No hormones: Hormones for poultry has been illegal since 1959, after it was discovered that humans consuming the poultry were having numerous side effects from the poultry. However, you will still see a lot of manufacturers put this on the label.

  • Naturally Raised: this means the poultry was not given hormones or antibiotics AND was only given vegan feed. Vegan feed is not always necessarily better for the poultry (for instance pasture-raised poultry will eat bugs that aren’t vegan) but that is what this classification means. These chickens were only fed corn/grain/soy/wheat/barley/oats etc.) This is different than “natural” poultry which just means that the poultry you are buying is only poultry and no additives (but says nothing about how it is raised). This classification also does not specify that the feed is non-GMO (and 95% of corn and soy in this country are GMO)

  • Organic: like other farm animals covered under the national organic program (17), this means the poultry are “naturally raised” and have not received antibiotics or hormones AND their feed is all organic and therefore non-GMO and not raised with pesticides or chemical fertilizers. To qualify, birds must be raised this way from their second day of life until slaughter (18).

You can also look at the GAP (global animal partnership) step rating (this is in addition to the USDA rating). The GAP rating will only appear on poultry raised by GAP standards, and lots of poultry on the market is below GAP standards, so if you don’t see it, that’s most likely why. Here are the ratings and what they mean:

  1. Step 1: No cages, no crates, no crowding - baseline standard of 100+ standards to meet. Includes things like space to be chickens and items like straw or bails attached to their barns for pecking and exercise.

  2. Step 2: Enriched environment - this includes everything from step 1 and more. These chickens have two different types of enrichments like straw/bails and hanging branches for pecking and exercise. These chickens must also have natural light.

  3. Step 3: Enhanced outdoor access - these chickens are given different types of enrichments in their barns and have natural light and go outdoors seasonally.

  4. Step 4: Pasture raised - chickens have access to pasture and the outdoors all year round.

  5. Step 5: Animal centered - these chickens are kept in small groups and are always on a pasture.

  6. Step 5+: Entire life on the farm - exactly the same as step 5, except the birds are processed on the farm (14).

In my opinion, if you can buy organic poultry, that’s your best bet. If it’s also step 3 or above I think that’s even better. It is hard to find step 5/step 5+ poultry but not impossible. Remember, it will cost you a little bit more now, but you can save a lot of money down the line in medical bills.

I took this photo while on a bike ride in Stowe, Vermont, where I got engaged and married and revisit all the time. Stowe is all about sustainable agriculture and livestock and grass-feeding is extremely common there.

I took this photo while on a bike ride in Stowe, Vermont, where I got engaged and married and revisit all the time. Stowe is all about sustainable agriculture and livestock and grass-feeding is extremely common there.

Beef:

the classification system can also be confusing. The USDA grades beef as prime, choice, or select, which, just tells the type of beef and not the manner in which it was raised (15). Within these classifications, the beef can be further classified to tell you more about how it was raised:

  • Certified Beef: this just says that whatever the classification is, it has been certified by the USDA.

  • Certified Organic Beef: means the USDA has certified that this beef has not been subject to the use of growth hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified feed, or animal by-products in raising the livestock.

  • Grass-fed Beef: Without human intervention, cattle would eat grass their whole lives. However, these days, most cattle—including those raised to qualify for the organic label—are brought to feedlots and fattened up on grain and other feed (their stomachs are not meant for grains and soy, so this is another reason the animals can get sick). Cattle that are exclusively grass-fed, have a more nutrient dense meat that is actually lower in saturated fat and higher in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Grain-fed cattle have a higher proportion of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

    • The USDA labeling for grass-fed is voluntary. Anything that says “USDA grass-fed” has only been fed grass and hay. Cattle farmers can also voluntarily do third party verification for "100% grass-fed” or “grass-finished” beef. This is required to be verified by a third party like the American Grassfed Association, which, is not a government association but still guarantees that the cows have only been fed grass and hay their entire lives.

    • Feeding cows what they are meant to be fed means a healthier animal, more nutrient dense meat (as I mentioned) AND less need to give them antibiotics and hormones, wow, what a concept!

  • Natural Beef: The USDA defines “natural” and “all natural” as beef that has been minimally processed and contains no preservatives or artificial ingredients. Since this should be true of all fresh meat, this label is relatively meaningless.

  • Humanely Raised Beef: Different groups have developed standards for the humane treatment of animals. Humane Farm Animal Care (HFAC) Certified Humane and Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) have the strictest standards and are the most transparent. USDA/Organic, American Humane Certified, and Global Animal Partnership are other organizations issuing humane treatment labels.

  • No Antibiotics and No Hormones: Producers must submit documentation to the USDA that the cattle were not administered any antibiotics or hormones to use these labels. Note that there isn't any third-party verification or testing for these labels (16).

My recommendation is to look for 100% grass-fed or grass-finished organic beef. This way you know you are doing the best thing for yourself and the cows and like I said, you can think of the incremental difference in price as an investment in your health as well as the health of our planet earth (more on that below). However, if that’s not available to you, do the best you can using your new knowledge. Knowledge is power!

myth 2: producing meat is bad for the environment

I agree with the statement that CAFOs and other factory farming methods of raising meat, are terrible for the environment (as well as the animals and the consumers). However, raising meat is not necessarily worse than harvesting plants. A pound of traditionally raised beef (not 100% grass-fed) takes about 410 gallons of water per pound to produce, this is the exact same amount of water as it takes to produce a pound of rice, and very close to a pound of avocados and cane sugar (20). However, the amount of water required to produce a pound of grass-finished beef is only 100 gallons, less than a quarter of traditional beef and many crops (21).

Rotational grazing, which is how cows should be grass-fed (not left to eat on one pasture and deplete it) can actually improve soil health, and cow manure is an important fertilizer to grow healthy crops. Scientists are actually developing a microbe that can be put into soil to mimmick the benefits of cow manure for growing any kind of plant. When cows go to the bathroom, it adds microbes to the soil, the microbes increase biodiversity underground and help carbon sequestration. Cattle walking on ground can make holes in it for water pockets and allow for natural seed germination. Cattle grazing stimulates grass growth, which is also good for the pasture. Dr Jason Rowntree of Michigan State University reported that regenerative grazing of cattle can produce a 30 – 40% improvement in soil carbon compared to where there was no grazing at all. He also cites that more intensive grazing proved better for soil health than less intensive (22).

The Journal of Soil and Water Conservation actually published several articles and figures that showed if more people employed AMP (Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing) which is a type of rotational grazing, it would actually greatly contribute to a large net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (23). Meat production is not the only place where we need rotation, crop rotation is extremely important for greenhouse gas reduction and overall health of the planet. Our current abundance of mono-crops (mostly corn and soy) are producing emissions just as bad as many livestock operations, however, studies have shown this can be reduced with rotational cropping (24).

truth 1: crops can be just as bad for the environment as meat and when meat is raised properly it can actually be good for the environment

Another pretty picture of meat with plants to leave you on a positive note :)

Another pretty picture of meat with plants to leave you on a positive note :)

I am not saying we should stop eating plants! Like I said, I encourage people to get many diverse, colorful plants on their plates when they can. If you are able to shop seasonally and locally, even better. However, plants can be just as detrimental to our environment as raising animals (if not done properly) and unfortunately so much of the United States is now mono-cropped. A recent study done at Tufts showed that a plant-only diet is not the best environmental use of land nor the most efficient to feed a growing population, since some land can only be used for grazing and is not suitable for crops (25).

As meat has been vilified in recent years, we have spent less and less of our grocery money on meat, but is this really making us healthier? In 1982, about 31% of the average American grocery bill was spent on meat vs. 21% in 2011. Where did that extra 10% go? Well the 1982 grocery bill was about 12% processed foods and sweets vs. 22% in 2011… there is your 10% right there (22).

Conclusion

Hopefully this post will make you think twice and do your research on where you buy your meat. Again, I want to emphasize I am not trying to say anyone’s values are wrong if they decide not to eat meat, everyone can make that decision for themselves. However, knowing that part of the population WILL eat meat, let’s make it the right stuff! One of my absolute favorite resources on this topic is Registered Dietitian and sustainable farmer Diana Rodgers, here is a link to her website.

references:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/vitamins-and-supplements/getting-enough-vitamin-b12

  2. https://chriskresser.com/why-vegetarians-and-vegans-should-supplement-with-dha/

  3. http://www.irondisorders.org/iron-we-consume/

  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-supplements-for-vegans#section6

  5. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002222.htm

  6. https://sustainabledish.com/coconut-oil-wont-kill-listening-american-heart-association-might/

  7. Axe, J. (2019). Keto diet: Your 30-day plan to lose weight, balance hormones, boost brain health, and reverse disease. London: Orion Spring.

  8. https://chriskresser.com/the-diet-heart-myth-cholesterol-and-saturated-fat-are-not-the-enemy/

  9. https://sustainabledish.com/am-i-less-woke-because-i-eat-meat/

  10. https://www.livestrong.com/article/293306-masai-tribe-diet/

  11. https://sustainabledish.com/protein-better-protein/

  12. Hyman, M. (2018). Food: What the heck should I eat?New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

  13. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-drug-resistant-bacteria-travel-from-the-farm-to-your-table/

  14. https://globalanimalpartnership.org/5-step-animal-welfare-rating-program/chicken-standards-application/

  15. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/01/28/whats-your-beef-prime-choice-or-select

  16. https://www.thespruceeats.com/types-of-beef-what-beef-labels-mean-4159782

  17. https://www.ams.usda.gov/about-ams/programs-offices/national-organic-program

  18. https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/02/what-is-organic-free-range-chicken-usda-poultry-chicken-labels-definition.html

  19. https://www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/sector_table.pdf

  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8478283

  21. Niman, N. H. (2014). Defending beef: The case for sustainable meat production. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.

  22. https://sustainabledish.com/meat-is-magnificent/

  23. http://www.jswconline.org/content/71/2/156.full.pdf+html

  24. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167880918301221?via%3Dihub

  25. https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/

Top 7 Nutrition Books of 2018

There is always new research going on in nutrition, and sometimes it can seem overwhelming to keep up with. One day canola oil is the most “heart healthy fat” the next day we find out that’s a lie the food and marketing industries have fed to us and that canola oil is GMO, inflammatory and should be avoided (1, 2) but butter is good for us, even though we were told not to eat that previously. AH! It can definitely be confusing.

That being said, I think there are a lot of junk nutrition books out there, mostly people who just write about their own opinions without references to the peer-reviewed clinical research. So just because something is in a book, does not mean it’s true. However, there are a lot of amazing books out there trying to make people LESS confused about nutrition and basing their claims on FACTS. So here are some of my personal favorite nutrition reads of 2018 (note: not all of these books were released in 2018, they were just books I read during the year).

Oh and PS… I usually listen to my books so that I can “read” while I’m driving, taking Claudette for a walk, doing dishes, cooking etc. So if you don’t have time to sit down and read, all of these came in audiobook form too! And none of this is sponsored, just my favorites. See below in alphabetical order.

The Big Fat Surprise by nina teicholz

big fat surp.jpg

The author of this book was formerly a journalist who reviewed restaurants. However, as she aged and felt pounds packing on, she began avoiding the foods that all the best restaurants used (butter, meat, and cheese) only to find her weight increasing. This was frustrating to her, and once she started embracing the fatty foods in high end restaurants, she actually began losing weight. This prompted her to investigate the science between the low-fat-diet theory and whether saturated fat is really that bad for us.

Nina takes a scientific approach at analyzing fat in the diet throughout history and throughout cultures and gives solid evidence as to why so many of our current dietary guidelines are misguided. It’s interesting to hear the evidence from a former restaurant-reviewer’s perspective. I personally loved a lot of the evidence about different tribal cultures, that I never would have known about, that live off of mostly fat and their various health markers. This book challenges conventional wisdom and is definitely worth a read!

Brain Maker by dr. david perlmutter

brain maker.jpg

This book is admittedly the most “science-y” of the reads on this list. So if you aren’t into nerding out over nutrition science, I don’t recommend it. Perhaps this is why I loved it so much, but I admittedly had to take breaks while listening to it, and have “podcast days” where I’d listen to one of my favorite nutrition podcasts because my brain just could not handle the information in this book.

Anyways, the book in a nutshell, is an in depth look at the gut brain connection. Perlmutter goes into what’s in our gut, how it works and how that impacts the brain. The book goes into everything from depression, anxiety, autism, ADHD, chronic fatigue, Alzheimer’s, dementia and other brain related disorders and how these relate to what’s going on in our gut. Perlmutter also offers actionable items about how to make sure your gut is in tip top shape! Reader beware - you will learn a lot but the information is dense.

Perlmutter (who also wrote Grain Brain) is a renowned neurologist, lecturer and has been published extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals (gold standard for research). So the guy is smart. Which, is why this book can be a little too “brain-y” for some people.

Eat Dirt by dr. josh axe

eat dirt.jpg

This is definitely my favorite book I’ve read so far on gut health. As most of you have heard me say, the gut is truly the root of all health so it’s an important one! The book is not as science-y (I know that’s not a real word but hey, you know what I’m talking about) as Brain Maker or some of the other books on gut health. Axe makes the gut and gut health easy to understand for the average individual who does not have a science or nutrition background but he also offers a ton of great information so if you do have a background in either of those fields, you will learn a lot from the book.

The book starts out with a personal story about how Axe helped his own mother beat cancer by giving her a gut-healing protocol. Josh also goes into a lot of the everyday things we do as a society to make us “healthier” and shows how these are actually harming us (hello hand sanitizer and avoiding dirt from pets). He gives actionable things anyone can implement through out the book, as well as little quizzes to help you evaluate your own gut health. I think most people could learn a lot from this book.

Dr. Axe is a chiropractor, doctor of natural medicine and certified nutritionist. He’s young, vibrant, and knows a ton! I also love his products Ancient Nutrition (you have probably seen me post about them on instagram). Mainly, I trust his products because I know there is science behind them!

Eat The Yolks by liz wolfe CNTP

eat yolks.jpg

This is another super informative book that starts with the author’s personal health journey. Liz takes you through her teens and twenties and a history of trying every fad diet, counting calories, hiring trainers, but nothing working. She then discovered the paleo diet through a trainer, and began feeling great. This prompted her to do her own research on our current national nutrition recommendations and what is truly healthy for us. She goes into the research and proves wrong so many conventional guidelines and tells you what you should eat and why. The book is in no way restrictive or didactic, it’s just informative and relatable. Liz also is hilarious (anyone who has listened to her Balanced Bites Podcast) knows this. So you’ll be learning and giggling the whole time.

Liz Wolfe is a Certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, co-host of the Balanced Bites Podcast, mother and creator of the Balanced Baby-Making and Beyond program (which I have also done). This book is another great read for anyone, whether you are in the field of nutrition or not, you’ll get a lot out of it and laugh while doing it.

Food - What the Heck Should I Eat? by dr. mark hyman MD

If you are going to read ONE book on nutrition in your entire life, make it be this one. Dr. Hyman takes a no nonsense approach to clearing up all the confusion about nutrition. Each chapter covers a different topic and tells you what you should know about it. The chapters include “meat”, “poultry & eggs”, “milk & dairy”, “fish & seafood”, “vegetables”, “fruits”, “fats & oils”, “beans”, “grains”, “nuts & seeds”, “sugar & sweeteners” and “beverages”.

food.jpg

Dr. Hyman tells you what you should look for, what you should avoid etc. and he does everything in laymen’s terms. This is the holy grail of eating for optimal health, in my opinion. The book shows you food is medicine, which is one of Mark’s core principles, but it also shows you how many of our modern food choices are perpetuating disease. He backs up all his claims extensively with research yet keeps it easy to understand (as I said). Dr. Hyman is opinionated, and that is a criticism of his work sometimes, but he backs his opinions up with facts so I like that he takes a stance on everything. I’ve recommended this book to clients, family members and friends and have gotten great feedback from all of them. You won’t leave feeling like you can’t eat anything, you’ll leave feeling empowered with knowledge. And, it’s a great resource to reference back to.

Dr. Hyman is a practicing family medicine doctor, functional medicine doctor, and founder of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, The UltraWellness Center and is on the board of the Institute for Functional Medicine. I also love his podcast, “The Doctor’s Pharmacy” in which he interviews guests that talk about various topics that show food is medicine.

Genius Foods by max lugavere

genius.jpg

Another book written with a personal agenda at heart. Max Lugavere was formerly a film-maker and political journalist working for Al Gore’s TV station. However, when his mother’s neurological health started to degenerate (they later found out she had Alzheimer’s), he decided to switch gears and use his investigative background to research brain health and what the average person can do to preserve theirs.

This book takes you on an informative narrative that might make you cry (hearing about him watch his mother decline) but at the same time gives you information about what you can eat for your own future as well as your loved ones. Lugavere specifically drills into what dietary patterns make our brains work, what can stop them from working, and how you can improve your own cognitive function even if neurodegenerative diseases run in your family. Max gives you his 10 genius foods that anyone can incorporate and even gives you some genius meal plans at the end of the book. Max’s narrative voice is young, and relatable. He teamed up with a neurologist to write the book, so there is plenty of scientific data backing everything up. Max also has a podcast, The Genius Life, that is one of my favorites.

Real Food For Pregnancy by lily nichols, rdn

real food for pregnancy.jpg

I have read this book two times in entirety and have gone back to reference it countless more times. It is a refreshing break from the outdated, under-researched, overly-restrictive nutrition guidelines given to pregnant women today. I really like my Obgyn, but I have to say I was extremely underwhelmed with the advice they gave to me around eating. In fact, I think it was just a sheet of paper with, you guessed it, some outdated advice that is not based on research (don’t eat sushi or deli meat or raw eggs) … well turns out not all of these things are bad for pregnant women, and many of them are actually good for pregnant women. There was also no information on what you should be eating during pregnancy (aside from folic acid, which is actually a less bio-available form of the B vitamin folate) more on all this to come in a separate blog post (3).

If there is one thing Lily is good at, its RESEARCH. You can trust this book (probably more than your OB) because she gives you all the scientific data behind every single thing she recommends. I know my doctor doesn’t do that. Although Lily is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, she goes by the data, like I said, which means she often challenges the advice given from the American Dietetics Association. Her unconventional approach is refreshing but also full of truth. So whether you are pregnant, or think you might like to be some day, you will learn a ton from this book. She goes into a whole foods approach for pregnancy (and provides meal plans at the end) and also has a chapter on exercise, which, I found extremely useful.

Lily Nichols is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator and mother herself! I felt like Lily was a friend of mine after reading the book twice, and to be honest, I wish she was. Goals…

references:

https://www.canolawatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/20110309_FPJ_Aut11_Beckie.et_.al_.pdf

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1186/2190-4715-23-10

https://chriskresser.com/folate-vs-folic-acid/

Don't Fear Fat

Fat gets demonized in our culture. Both on our bodies and fat that we eat. And there is the common misconception that eating fat will make our bodies fat. I am here to tell you that neither dietary fat or body fat should be put in a blanket category as “bad”. I would also like to put out that dietary fat does not make our bodies more fat!

Fat doesn’t make us fat

The real scientific name for dietary fat is lipid (1). The real scientific name for body fat is adipose tissue (2). Lipid does NOT equal adipose tissue. End of story. So we can all get the eating fat makes us fat narrative out of our heads. In fact, eating fat can do just the opposite, if you read on I will tell you why.

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The thing, or hormone rather (since hormones control everything), that causes our bodies to store fat is insulin (5). And there is only one macronutrient that does not cause ANY insulin response when eaten - fat (3). So therefore fat is not what is making us fat. Insulin is released in response to glucose (blood sugar) (4). Carbohydrates cause the largest insulin response, and protein causes a small insulin response but as I said, fat causes none. This is not to say you need to avoid carbohydrates and protein altogether, it is merely to show that fats need not be limited and feared especially for people who are aiming for weight loss or want to avoid weight gain. In fact, this clinical study showed that by pairing a potato (mostly carbohydrate) with butter (fat), it actually lowered the postprandial insulin response of subjects (6).

Eating Fat helps our bodies function optimally

Not only is fat not to blame for if there is extra fat tissue (adipose tissue) stored on our bodies, but it actually helps our bodies function optimally:

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First of all, half of the vitamins we eat are water soluble (the B and C vitamins) and half are fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K) (7). So if we aren’t eating adequate dietary fats, our bodies can be nutrient deficient, even if the rest of our diet is very nutrient dense. Because our bodies won’t be able to properly absorb , store and use these fat soluble vitamins from all the healthy foods we are eating if we don’t eat enough fat too. The beautiful thing about eating fats from nature is that you get the fat soluble vitamins WITH the fat so you don’t need to worry about anything. For example: grass-fed dairy is a great source of vitamin D (but when we remove the fat and make it fat-FREE dairy, we then have to fortify it with extra vitamin D, seems a little counterintuitive, right?). Another example is pasture-raised egg yolks are rich in all of the fat soluble vitamins (A, D , E and K) and they are also full of essential fatty acids to help your body absorb them. So why did we start eating egg whites again? A third and final example (there are many more but I want to move onto other dietary fat benefits) is almonds and almond products (butter/flour etc.) These are rich in vitamin E and guess what, they are fatty to help our bodies absorb the vitamin E! Yay vitamins and yay fats!

Fats are crucial for brain clarity, cognitive function, mood boosting and to prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, ADHD, epilepsy and more. Omega 3 DHA fats are a crucial part of a developing baby’s brain (11) but their importance does not stop at childbirth. They are crucial for the rest of life and by giving the brain fuel, reducing inflammation in the body and the brain and enhancing something called “brain derived neurotropic factor” or BDNF (12). BDNF is a protein that promotes the survival of neurons (or nerve cells) to keep our brain healthy (13) (so we want more of it and thus want omega 3 fats). Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have even been shown to help treat depression, this meta-analysis (analysis of 40 relevant studies) shows these beneficial effects (14). However, it’s not just omega 3s that have beneficial brain effects. Coconut oil can help prevent memory loss and has even been shown to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms (15). Egg yolks are rich in choline, a B vitamin, which among other things, improves cognitive function (16). Olive oil improves learning and memory (17) and avocados are rich in vitamin A & K (which help prevent blood clots and therefore strokes) and also can boost memory and cognitive function (18).

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Fats are crucial for physical and mental satiation. Just picture eating a piece of plain toast. You would probably be hungry shortly after. Now picture eating an avocado toast, or even better, an avocado toast with an egg (whole egg not egg white). Now you’d DEFINITELY be full for at least a few hours. So what’s the difference? Fat. Fat slows our digestion so other nutrients release more slowly into our bloodstream. This is especially important when paired with carbs, because it prevents a large insulin spike (AKA signaling body to store glucose as adipose tissue) and crash subsequently after (AKA cravings & jitters central, ever been “hangry”?… yeah, fats will help with that.) Fat is actually negatively correlated to post-prandial (which means after eating) insulin response (8). This means that the more fat you eat the less your insulin rises so fat has a stabilizing effect on your blood sugar! Many studies have also shown that dietary fat can increase Peptide YY (PYY, a satiation hormone), increase Cholecystokinin (CKK, another satiation hormone) and decrease ghrelin (a hunger hormone) (9, 10).

What kind of fat should I eat?

Simple answer is all types of fats that have not been chemically altered by man. For instance cold pressed olive oil or avocado oil has not been chemically altered by man. It has merely been squeezed out of a fruit without changing the chemical makeup. Canola oil, however, actually goes through an industrial extraction process using hexanes that changes the chemical makeup of the oil (19, 20). So when you are thinking about what fats to include in your diet, think of if you know how they were made. Avocado - safe, grass-fed butter - safe, egg yolk - safe, coconut milk - safe. However, removing fats from these items can alter the nutritional value of these naturally nutritious foods. Choosing fat-free versions of these foods is essentially the same as choosing fats that have been chemically altered. I will do a separate post on types of fats to avoid but for now, we can drop the fat fear and enjoy our fatty food from nature!

references

1) lipid. (n.d.) Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. (2003). Retrieved March 14 2019 from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/lipid

2) https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fat

3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=American+Journal+of+Clinical+Nutrition%22%3B+An+Insulin+Index+of+Foods%3B+Susanne+Holt+et+al%3B+1997

4) https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/8812.htm

5) https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-shows-how-insulin-stimulates-fat-cells-take-glucose

6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7882816

7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/

8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=American+Journal+of+Clinical+Nutrition%22%3B+An+Insulin+Index+of+Foods%3B+Susanne+Holt+et+al%3B+1997

9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23688821

10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30550892

11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29316994

12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30867119

13) https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/BDNF

14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013121/

15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3437664/

16) https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/egg-nutrition

17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21955812

18) https://draxe.com/15-brain-foods-to-boost-focus-and-memory/

19) https://thecoconutmama.com/how-canola-oil-is-made/

20) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2015/04/13/ask-the-expert-concerns-about-canola-oil/

Why Safe Beauty & Self-Care Matters

These are some of my favorite brands that have cleaner beauty.

These are some of my favorite brands that have cleaner beauty.

Our skin is the largest organ in our body (12) AND it’s a part of our microbiome AKA closely tied to our gut. Skin health, gut health, and emotional/brain health all go hand in hand believe it or not. I know most of my followers and readers of this page are healthy eaters and conscious of the food they put IN their microbiome, but what about what goes ON it?

That’s where clean beauty and skincare come in. Most over the counter makeup and skincare contain tons of toxins. If you want to check your products, you can measure them on the Environmental Working Group “skin deep” database. The FDA requires no premarket review of the safety of cosmetics. Instead, the cosmetics industry is supposed to “self police” through its Cosmetics Ingredients Review Panel. Over the 36 years that this has been in place, the panel has rejected only 11 ingredients (1). In contrast, the European Union has banned hundreds of chemicals in cosmetics (2). Most of my makeup comes from Beauty Counter, which takes the utmost care in its ingredients (not sponsored), and I have an instagram post outlining some of my other favorite brands. Feel free to email me with any questions about Beauty Counter products, I’m happy to answer!

Remember, the containers we use to store food and water can contain these harmful compounds too, and they can leech into our food. This is why I recommend stainless steel and glass.

Remember, the containers we use to store food and water can contain these harmful compounds too, and they can leech into our food. This is why I recommend stainless steel and glass.

Personal care products are manufactured with over 10,500 unique ingredients, many of which are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors), known toxins and more (3). For instance, a common ingredient “phthalates”, has been shown to interfere with proper reproductive function in babies whose mothers were exposed to it during pregnancy (4, 5). Phthalates can be found in personal care products (READ YOUR LABELS), they can leech into food when microwaving food in plastic containers, they are found in soft plastic and vinyl products as well. You can read how the National Institute of Health warns about phthalates (6), and other endocrine disruptors in our environment (7).

Even fragrances, which can seem innocent, and are added to SO many products, can contain numerous hidden chemicals. Because of the labeling laws for fragrances in the United States, companies do not have to list individual ingredients of their “fragrance blend”. Therefore, companies will just lump any harmful ingredient in the category of “fragrance” so that they do not have to disclose it. A 2010 Environmental Working Group study found an average of 14 chemicals not listed on the label in the top products containing any kind of “fragrance” (10). What makes this all worse is that skincare products are not made to stay onto the surface of the skin, they seep into our skin and can even enter the bloodstream (3).

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Hopefully the above information will make you think twice about what you put on your skin daily. However, it’s not just our skin and beauty care that bad chemicals can sneak into. It can also be what we brush our teeth into, some of which, is ingested every day. Two ingredients to look out for in toothpaste are SLS (sodium lauryl sulphate), which has been shown to irritate skin and even cause cancer in multiple studies (8, 9) and fluoride, which, is also often added to water. Fluoride has been linked to everything from thyroid issues, bone and joint disorders, neurological issues such as ADHD, reproductive issues and more (11). It’s scary to think that most conventional drugstore products can actually be dangerous for us. But considering we use these products daily, it is worth another look. I use this Dr. Bronner fluoride and SLS-free toothpaste (it’s made of all ingredients you recognize) and this Hello charcoal activated mouthwash.

What now?

The point of this blog post is not to scare you or send you into a frenzy. It’s merely to educate you so that the next time you are buying a personal care item, you can make a more informed purchasing decision. You also don’t need to feel like you need to throw out 100% of your products and buy new ones overnight. This is daunting, expensive and time consuming. However, if you want to do it, be my guest. A more approachable way to conquer this task is every time you have a product you used up, replace it with a cleaner alternative. You can use the EWG “skin deep” site or app to help you. I think this is especially important if you have children or are ever planning to have children. We can give the next generation a better chance than we had because now we have more knowledge.

references:

  1. http://www.fda.gov/Cosmetics/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/CosmeticsQA/ucm167234.htm

  2. http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/sectors/cosmetics/documents/directive/#h2-consolidated-version-of-cosmetics-directive-76/768/eec

  3. https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/2011/04/12/why-this-matters/

  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16079079

  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19919614

  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/supported/assets/docs/j_q/phthalates_the_everywhere_chemical_handout_508.pdf

  7. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/endocrine_disruptors_508.pdf

  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30784350

  9. https://www.nicnas.gov.au/chemical-information/imap-assessments/imap-group-assessment-report?assessment_id=184

  10. https://www.ewg.org/research/not-so-sexy

  11. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154164.php

  12. https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/picture-of-the-skin#1