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Living Low Carb in a High-Carb World

"Low-Carb Lifeboat" by  Anne Lopez Studios

"Low-Carb Lifeboat" by Anne Lopez Studios

New on the Eat the Butter blog... a practical guide for sticking with your real food plan while living in the real world! This post first appeared on the awesome low-carb website, Diet Doctor, but was written by ETB! It is perfect for anyone trying to navigate a real food, low-carb life in our mainstream (and often pretty junky) food culture. 

Living Low Carb in a High-Carb World

Ahoy, low-carb eaters! Rough seas lie ahead.

Take a look at your surroundings. Cheap calories are everywhere. Lousy, outdated ideas about diet and health dominate. Clueless doctors and dietitians supervise. Lame government health officials put their heads in the sand. It’s a perfect storm.

The cruise you didn’t choose

America, like most modern nations, is like a bad cruise ship headed into bad weather. The buffets on-board are overflowing with processed food — sugary drinks, starchy snacks, and meals dominated by additives, refined vegetable oils, and more starch. The restaurants are always open and the all-you-can-eat buffets encourage large plates piled high with food.

The cruise director promotes the ever-present food and drink over the ship’s loud speakers, reminding you to head on over to the restaurants, anytime. Whether you are hungry, bored, or lonely, the answer is a visit to the ship’s bars, buffets, and snack stands. Occasionally the Captain ruins the mood — he picks up the microphone and admonishes, “Passengers should eat less and exercise more.”

And so it goes — the endless cycle of heavily marketed and ubiquitous bad food, weight gain, ill health, misguided scolding, and guilt. This is our crazy (dare I say hellish?) world.

Abandon ship

Living low carb means abandoning the cruise before it takes you down. Once off the ship, you can avoid the buffets that set you up for failure.

Your low-carb lifestyle doesn’t just save you from the storm. It can help fix the broken system. The example you set each day matters. If enough people catch on, we can change the world.

Low-carb living requires extra planning and an independent spirit. But we know you can do it. This post is designed to make low-carb living in a high-carb world easier.

Here is your five-part guide to swimming upstream.

  1. Provisioning Your Low-Carb Home
  2. Living Low Carb in a High-Carb Home
  3. Living Low Carb Away from Home
  4. Parenting Low-Carb Kids
  5. Knowing What You Are up Against


1. Provisioning Your Low-Carb Home

low carb fridge

A low-carb home is like a lifeboat bobbing alongside the enormous cruise ship that holds our toxic modern food environment. When you hop off the cruise ship and come home to your lifeboat, you can surround yourself with delicious real food, eliminating the highly processed choices onboard the cruise.

Provision your lifeboat with the best food you can afford. Time well spent in the grocery store is the most crucial step for setting yourself up for low-carb success. Shop wisely. And remember, if you don’t buy it, you won’t eat it.

Build your basic grocery list

You know what to buy — meat, fish, seafood, eggs, full-fat dairy, colorful vegetables, tart fruit, and nuts. Plus butter and olive oil, of course! Here is a more detailed grocery list organized by section of the store. Print it and bring it with you when you shop.

Master online grocery shopping

Some of us live in rough food environments. Your local grocery store may not offer the delicious fresh meats, tantalizing vegetables and the healthy low-carb extras you seek. Fortunately, online grocers are expanding. Here are a few who might deliver in your area:

Amazon for next-morning service
Amazon Fresh offers next morning delivery to many locations.

Instacart and lookalikes for speedy deliveries
If you live in a major metropolitan area, Instacart might provide speedy grocery delivery to your home. Their model is grocery delivery in under an hour. Local players like this one offer similar services in many large or mid-sized cities.

Walmart and regional grocers for curbside pick-up
Walmart offers online ordering and curbside pick-up in many markets. Many regional grocery chains are also offering on-line ordering with curbside pick-up. This saves time and is usually free.

Safeway, etc. for home delivery
National supermarket chains like Safeway will accept online orders, pick out your groceries, and deliver to your door for a fee. See what is available in your area.

Thrive Markets for organic-ish non-perishables at a discount
As Fortune put it, “If Costco and Whole Foods had an online baby, it would look something like startup Thrive…” If you want to stock up on low-carb staples like macadamia nuts, jerky, dark chocolate, coconut products, and lard, all delivered to your door at prices that are better than Amazon’s, Thrive is a good option. Note that there is a membership fee of ~$60/year, but you can try it for a month free of charge.

Postmates delivers from grocers and restaurants
Whether you want groceries or a gourmet meal, Postmates is on duty, 24/7, in many markets. They promise speedy, courteous delivery in under an hour.

Consider a meal delivery service

Cook new recipes with fresh ingredients shipped to your door
Like to cook but hate to shop? Like variety? Upscale meal delivery services are newish and en vogue. They package whole food ingredients for meals, along with a recipe, and mail them to you in an insulated box. You do the cooking.

Perhaps you have heard of the mainstream choices – Hello FreshPlated, and Blue Apron. You could try one of these and simply throw out the starch and add some healthy fat from your refrigerator or pantry.

Better yet, for a meal service that is closer to low carb, check out the options at these three subscription services:

  • Green Chef (scroll down to paleo offerings)
  • Sun Basket (click on paleo tab for offerings)
  • Chef’d (many options — look for low-carb offerings)

Try completely prepared low-carb meals
For ready to serve low-carb meals that you don’t have to cook, delivered to your door, check out these national options:

Search for local Paleo meal services
Many enterprising chefs scattered about our country offer fresh, ready-to-serve Paleo meals that might satisfy your low-carb needs. Although these services may not deliver, multiple pick-up points can make them convenient enough to justify a weekly stop. Even mid-sized cities in the Rust Belt have local options, like Pittsburgh Fresh!


Atkins offers a line of frozen meals that can be purchased at a discount online as the Frozen Foodie Meal Kit, which includes 14 individually packaged low-carb frozen dinners. You also may be able to find Atkins’ frozen dinners in grocers near you.

Take advantage of farmers’ markets

If you have access to a farmers’ market, it can be a terrific place to shop. Most of what farmers sell is real, unprocessed food, so you will not be dodging aisles of processed snacks while picking out locally grown produce, meat, and dairy.

You might pay a little bit more at these markets, but you are supporting both a healthy local foodshed and the local economy with your food dollar – hard to do at most grocery stores.

Assemble meals without (really) cooking

Everyone has busy days and needs an easy meal. And some of us don’t like to cook and need an easy meal every night.

Diet Doctor's guide, “How To Stay Low Carb When You Don’t Want To Cook” can be a great resource for simple, low maintenance meals from items on your grocery list.

Understand organic and other labels

Should you buy organic? It depends. Is it available? Can you afford it? Focus on the food first and the pedigree of the food second. Organic is a nice extra, but it is not required for healthy eating.

For more on prioritizing the potential upgrades such as grass-fed/free range/wild-caught, this page addresses them all and suggests what matters most.
 

2. Living Low Carb in a High-Carb Home

Consensus is not always possible, even in loving families. Many of us share our homes with —gasp!— higher-carb eaters. Living with people who eat a high-carb diet can be challenging.

Here are six tips that will make it easier:

Control the grocery list

Keeping your refrigerator and pantry stocked with low-carb favorites is an absolute requirement. You must have healthy, full-fat real food on hand to make low carb work.

If your partner buys the groceries, a list of staples that you would like to always have on-hand can help spell out your needs. If cooperation is not enthusiastic, add a stop at a well-stocked market to your weekly routine. Here is a link to an LCHF grocery list for weekly basics.

If possible, eliminate the most tempting carbs

It is really hard to say no to temptation, night after night. Cooperation from family members is a huge bonus. Perhaps you want to discuss your goals and what you’re trying to do, and ask if they would consider supporting you so that you’re able to reach your health goals.

This could mean preferably not eating cookies, chips or ice cream when you’re spending time together. If your family really wants to do everything to support you, perhaps they could even imagine not having that kind of foods at home.

How hard to push depends on how hard it is for you to resist this sort of temptation. If you’re really addicted to sugar or junk food, then it’s an absolute requirement to get it out of your house in order for you to succeed.

Add fat to eliminate the starch

If your family dinner is a classic mix of meat, starch, and vegetables, you know what to do — skip the starch and ask for extra vegetables. But that might leave you feeling a little hungry. Adding fat to your meal is the ticket to great taste and complete satisfaction.

If your refrigerator and pantry are well stocked, you will have lots of options. A drizzle of olive oil. A spoonful of sour cream. Diced bacon. Grated cheese. Melted butter.

For more delicious ideas, check out our guide, The Top 10 Ways to Eat More Fat.

Freeze bread, buns, and treats

Storing sliced loaves of bread, hamburger buns, and dinner rolls in the freezer keeps them on-hand for the high carber in the family but makes them less tempting for you. Frozen bread stays fresh for months, which eliminates waste. Bread can be warmed when needed by others.

Add enjoyable sides to your low-carb meal

If you are doing the cooking and making a low-carb meal, it can be easy and inexpensive to add a starch for a high-carb eater in your midst. Keep it simple, small, and not necessarily too appetizing:

  • A frozen dinner roll or biscuit
  • Single-serve mashed potatoes, stuffing, or mac and cheese
  • Single serve precooked frozen rice

This way, you won’t add much extra work in the kitchen.

An even better way is to cook low-carb sides that your family likes equally well. For example cauliflower mash or cauliflower rice or another delicious low-carb side dish. This way you can cook the same food for everyone – no extra work at all, and everybody is happy.

Generally, you can make low-carb meals so satisfying, they won’t even miss the bread or side of potatoes. The best way to achieve this is to start with a delicious recipe designed with low carb in mind.

Say thank you

If your partner has gone out of his or her way to make a delicious, low-carb recipe like meat piecreamy chicken casserole, or bacon mushroom cheeseburger lettuce wraps (yum!!), a little gratitude goes a long way. Express your appreciation for his or her efforts with lavish thanks and compliments to the chef.

A household with a mix of different dietary preferences really is doable if you work together to keep everyone on-track and satisfied.

 

3. Living Low Carb Away from Home

travel low carb

You can’t spend your entire life on your lifeboat. You will want to venture back to the cruise ship for work, play, and social engagement. Fear not. Your low-carb habits travel with you like a life jacket. They can protect you from crappy food, anywhere.

Here’s how to survive dangerous food environments:

At Work…

Office environments can wear you down.

Vending machines sell mostly junk; break rooms are full of cookies, crackers, and microwave popcorn. Some companies even offer refrigerators stocked with free soda. Then, there is the classic bowl of candy sitting on the receptionist’s desk, tempting everyone all day long. Ugh.

What is a low-carb worker to do?

Set a firm rule of no carbs at work
Commit to never eating the food at your workplace except in the rare instances that it is something completely safe, like cheese. Nibbling on freebies from the office is a slippery slope. A little bit here — a little bit there. Before long, you have ruined your eating plan for the day. Instead, draw a line in the sand and never cross it. No questionable office food. Period.

Pack your own food
Bring in leftovers from last night’s low-carb dinner for your lunch. Keep low-carb snacks on hand in your desk or in the refrigerator. When hunger strikes, you won’t be tempted by the high-carb offerings. Instead, you can feast on your own delicious food.

For more ideas for snacks, check out Diet Doctor's guide: Low-Carb Snacks — the Best and the Worst.

Choose drinks with care
Often working means finding focus and energy even when you are bored or tired. It is key that you find a way to avoid drinking sugar-sweetened beverages as a mid-day pick-me-up.

Here are a few ideas to make this easier:

Craft your story
Be prepared for curiosity, concern, and perhaps even amusement from your office colleagues who watch you eat. When you are questioned, be ready to share your story.

Think through the basic narrative. What caused you to switch to a low-carb diet? What problems has it solved? Why does it work for you? Here are a couple of example:

“I was always hungry and had to work out constantly to not gain weight. Plus, I had pretty severe acne. As soon as I cut back on carbs, my skin cleared up and my hunger has changed — I’m just so satisfied by the food I eat. And, although I still exercise, I don’t need it to keep my weight stable.”

“I always struggled with my weight, even as a kid. I was ‘officially’ obese for 20 years. When my doctor told me I was diabetic, I knew I had to do something. After finding LCHF, I completely changed my eating habits. I lost 50 pounds and haven’t looked back. And the best part of my story is that my diabetes is in remission — no meds!”

Practice your story a few times. Knowing what you are going to say makes these encounters less awkward. It can be fun to share your path to improved health! Perhaps you will spark an interest and change a life.

When dining out…

You can enjoy a low-carb meal almost anywhere — ethnic restaurants, buffets, or even Aunt Martha’s. Enjoy yourself without a setback by mentally preparing for your meals away from home.

Common sense should rule — say no to bread, and ask for double veggies instead of the starch with your main course. Sometimes a large salad with protein is the easiest way to go; choose olive oil and vinegar dressing. For a boost in fat, melt butter on your cooked vegetables and protein. Choose coffee or decaf instead of dessert.

Drink mostly water — champagne, dry wine, light beer, and straight spirits are okay in moderation. (Diet Doctor's guide to low-carb alcohol is worth consulting.)

For more detailed tips on how to order and enjoy low-carb meals at restaurants, check out our guide: How to Eat Low Carb When Dining Out.

Don’t miss the section in this guide entitled At a Friend’s Place — perfect to consult when you are invited to dinner at a friend’s, colleague’s, or relative’s home. It also works for an invitation from your boss!

When traveling…

Are you headed out of town on vacation or do you have a business trip coming up? Don’t let travel interfere with your commitment to low-carb eating. With a little planning, you can stride through airports and hotel breakfast buffets with confidence.

As always, packing low-carb snacks can be a lifesaver. Eating well before you leave helps, too. In addition, you can use coffee to stave off hunger. You can even pack butter to add to your coffee in this BPA-free soap dish!

For a complete guide to hitting the low-carb road, please read our guide, How to Eat Low Carb When Traveling.
 

4. Parenting Low-Carb Kids

low carb kids

As a parent, letting your well-fed child venture from your lifeboat into the big, bad high-carb world can be challenging. Sometimes you’ll just have to let go and accept that perfection may be unattainable. Concentrate your energies on the recurring situations that you can control, like the food environment at home.

Almost everywhere they go, sugar and starch will be served. Your children need to learn to make their way in this environment. Fortunately they will have a giant head start, due to the example of their parents and their food situation at home.

Teach your kids to peel back the carbs

For kids, carbs are often layered, one on top of another:

Preschool Snack ⇒ apple juice | animal crackers | pretzels or Goldfish
School Lunch ⇒ submarine sandwich | French fries | lemonade | pie
Birthday Parties ⇒ pizza | cake | ice cream | a bag of candy to bring home
Soccer Games ⇒ Gatorade | Doritos | gummy fruit snacks

This happens everywhere — even at seemingly safe places like public schools. (Especially public schools, actually.)

Consider talking about our bad food environment with your child – especially if he or she is a bit older – and see if there are things to do to avoid excessive bad carbs when away from home.

Can she or he reduce carbs by eliminating the sugar-sweetened drinks and substitute water? That is probably the most effective single thing to do. If it’s not possible, you can always fall back on serving only water at home.

Suggest that she come up with her own plan. Empower your child to figure out what she really wants to eat and how to say “no thanks” to the rest. But remember it has to be her own choice.

Don’t fight every fight. Accept that there will be some bad carbs eaten at birthday parties and other social situations. Try to focus on what gets eaten every day.

Pack lunch for daycare and school

You can minimize the amount of conventional food kids eat by packing lunch for them to take to school. If your child attends a school with unusually good food, this may not be necessary, but in most cases, it is a commitment that really pays off. Packing a lunch gives you greater control and is usually cheaper, too.

Here is a nice guide to 30 kid-friendly low-carb lunches.

Plan for official high-carb advice

To top it all off, your kids are likely to be taught about the dietary guidelines in school, so they will have to endure lessons about the ‘importance’ of drinking skim or low-fat milk and eating only lean meats. They will learn about the ‘importance’ of eating plenty of whole grains and vegetable oils for heart health.

Prepare them for these lectures, explaining that you believe many people still have it wrong; in your family, you see and do some things differently, because it works better.

Remember YOU are your child’s biggest influence

Your kids are watching YOU. What you eat is the best predictor of what they eat. The science backs this up. Eat well for your own health, and your kids will follow your lead, naturally.

Take comfort in the good news

Before you decide to homeschool your children and never let them leave the house (obviously a poor choice!), consider the good news:

For kids, it’s low carb, not no carb

Kids are usually pretty insulin sensitive. Youth is on their side. Although the conventional food they will eat outside your home is not ideal, chances are it will not ruin their health.

Sugar is public enemy #1

One area where you will find common ground is avoiding sugar. Almost all adults agree that sugar is bad for kids, especially sugar-sweetened beverages. Increasingly, even sports drinks are getting called out as unnecessary for most kids. This trend fits well with low-carb objectives.

Many mainstream parents agree that sport team snacks should be reduced

Talk to other parents about eliminating unnecessary snacks and sugar-sweetened drinks at weekly practices and games. Most children do not burn anywhere near the calories in these treats while playing their sport for an hour.

If every parent brings water instead of fruit punch to soccer practice, that is a gift you give to all the families on your child’s team. Here is a thoughtful post about how to start these conversations in your community.

Let teenagers be teenagers

For teens, grabbing a soda and handfuls of potato chips can be part of blending in with the crowd. Or it can be part of the natural rebellion against whatever habits their parents might want them to cultivate. Either way, go easy — too much of a reaction may backfire. Your years of sharing a carefully stocked low-carb home with them were not wasted. It is a phase. They will find their way back to higher-quality food before long.

More on feeding your kids

Low carb is delicious. You can make it fun, too. Here is a family-friendly collection of low-carb recipes.

If you have questions about low carb and kids, consult Diet Doctor's guide, “How to Raise Children on Real Low-Carb Food.

If you are new to low carb and want to transition your children from a conventional diet to a low-carb lifestyle, check out Diet Doctor's guide, How to Help Transition Your Children to Low-Carb Real Food.


5. Knowing What You Are up Against

swim upstream

Look around. Crappy food is everywhere. And with it, we see the crappy results one might expect — raging rates of chronic disease and an always hungry, always snacking, population of over-fed, undernourished citizens.

Knowledge is power. If you concede that mainstream food and ideas about food are deeply flawed, all the appalling junk food and junk science that surrounds you might drive you a little less crazy.

Realize people are woefully misinformed

The problem goes so much deeper than the piles of junk food in every grocery store and every office break room — the very ideas about food and health that dominate public discourse are compromised.

Turn on the news and you will hear our nation’s unconfirmed ideas about diet relayed as established facts. Understandably, your neighbors, colleagues and family members have been swayed by this barrage of misinformation.

Take saturated fats. Almost everyone believes these naturally occurring fats in intact whole foods are bad, while vegetable oils, which are industrially extracted from seeds that aren’t traditional foods (and some of them, like cotton and soy seeds, were actually once considered waste by-products), are healthy. It’s backwards.

Most people in your social circles are likely to have believed in the health benefits of eating a grain-heavy, canola oil infused, low-fat diet for so long that they may think you are a little crazy when you skip the ‘whole-grain goodness’ and drop a tablespoon of butter into your coffee.

Understand that our authorities are dogmatic

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
— Mark Twain

Worse, the authorities we trust — our dietitians, doctors, scientists, journalists, and public health officials are stubborn. The abject failure of low-fat dietary guidelines has NOT led to a ‘back to the drawing board’ moment. No.

Instead, bad ideas are tweaked and massaged into slightly less bad ideas. We started, back in 1992, with a recommendation of 6-11 servings of grain each day (in the original Food Pyramid). Today, we dutifully fill slightly more than a quarter of our plate with processed whole grain products (if we are following MyPlate, introduced in 2011).

Terrible results cry out for a food revolution, not minor modifications, but the establishment is so sure its old, bad ideas are correct, it can give us only same-old, same-old advice.

Know that what you do matters

A low-carb lifestyle is your lifeboat. You must navigate next to the cruise ship full of bad food, bad ideas, bad advice, bad science, and sick passengers. Stay out of its wake and set your course. Ride through the storm.

And know that you are a key part of the solution. Your commitment to low carb matters. Grassroots movements like LCHF spread by word of mouth. As you share your success with others, some will come on board.
 

 

 

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Five Lunchbox Favorites Masquerading as Nutritious Food

Today's guest post comes from Heather Martin, N.D. -- a naturopath, mother, and wellness blogger from Eastern Canada. Heather is a curator of all things awesome on her excellent blog, The Acorn -- Wellness, Inspiration, Beauty.

 

 

It may come as some surprise that many of the biggest lunchbox villains are marketed as healthy choices for kids. These companies, after all, want to make money, not feed your kids nutritious food. Labels like ‘low fat’, ‘sugar free’, or ‘all natural’ are purposely deceptive. A quick perusal of a food’s ‘Nutrition Facts’ often bears out a far different story than the one being trumpeted in splashy print across the front of the box.

The following childhood standards are widely viewed by parents as nutritious options. And who could blame them; the marketing budgets behind these products could fund some small countries. Remember, packaged food is BIG business - whereas an apple is just an apple.

 

1. Granola Bars

With names like ‘Nutri-Grain’, ‘Oats n’ Honey’, and ‘Fibre One’, you would expect granola bars to be packed with good stuff for your kids. The reality is that they contain anywhere from 9 to 20 grams of sugar. To put that in perspective, 5 grams equals roughly 1 teaspoon of sugar. At the top end of the spectrum, that little bar contains a whopping 4 teaspoons of sugar. Let’s call a spade a spade: at this point, it’s a chocolate bar.

Swap for a homemade version or high-energy snacks, like nuts or a banana.

 

2. Luncheon Meats

This sandwich staple should be avoided at all costs. Freshly sliced cold cuts from the deli counter are fine if they are nitrate-free. But pre-packaged meats, unless you can find an organic brand, are usually loaded with preservatives, sodium, and most problematically, nitrates, a known carcinogen.

Swap for canned salmon, hard boiled eggs, leftovers, or fresh, nitrate-free cold cuts.

 

3. Yogurt Cups

Yogurt cups are, quite simply, dessert masquerading as a healthy lunch staple. Even when they’re devoid of questionable preservatives, the sugar content is sky high. At 19 to 29 grams per cup, flavored yogurt manages to make even granola bars look good. That’s more sugar than a Twinkie!

Swap for plain kefir or plain, whole fat yogurt.

 

4. 'Low Fat’ and ‘Fat Free’ Foods

First, if it advertises this on the label, you’re automatically buying a processed food. Second, fat is often replaced with sugar, which your body ingests and then turns into fat. Third, there are many, many, healthy fats, and your brain (amongst other organs!) needs these healthy fats to function. Last but not least, naturally occurring fats help us digest our food; once removed they can cause all sorts of digestive issues. Do not, I repeat, do not fall prey to this marketing gimmick. It’s making us all sick.

Swap for real food from your kitchen. Do your best to avoid packaged and processed.

 

5. Juice Boxes

Back to those pesky added sugars again. Any label that reads ‘fruit punch’, ‘fruit blend’, or ‘all natural flavour’; beware. This is Kool-aid in disguise, my friends. Even 100% juice contains all the sugar and none of the fibre or vitamins of a piece of fruit (that part has been processed out).

Swap for fruit and a reusable bottle of water.

 

Knowledge is power: learning to steer clear of these ‘healthy’ imposters in your grocery aisles gives you the power to opt out of a system that enriches itself at the cost of our well being. Far from making your kids healthy and happy, these products are high in preservatives, sugar, sodium, trans fats, and ingredients no normal person can pronounce. In other words, the very things that are making our kids sick.

Author and naturopath Heather Martin blogs at  The Acorn Wellness .

Author and naturopath Heather Martin blogs at The Acorn Wellness.

When packing their lunchbox, keeping it real is your best bet. If you stick with whole foods, you’re already way ahead of the curve. Think hummus and raw vegetables, a homemade bean salad, or almond butter and an apple. With a little advance planning, it’s easy to get into the habit of swapping lunchbox villains for real food favorites. A very little extra effort will pay off in a delicious, nutritious meal to help your family feel their best, both in and out of school. 


 

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Protein -- Are You Eating Enough?

Most American women don’t eat enough protein.  Surprising, in an affluent nation such as ours, isn’t it? But, the facts don’t lie. Here, before you, are the facts, from the Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee:

All those black bars on the left of the graph…  those bars show the shortfalls, which are markedly greater for women than men. Now, some of this shortfall is caused by economic realities; protein-rich foods can be pricey. But, some of this shortfall is due to our nation’s move toward a plant-based diet. If you have, perhaps, convinced yourself that broccoli has as much protein as steak, you might want to check out this post by the brilliant and no-nonsense-yet-amusing registered dietician (and MPH) Adele Hite, who will set you straight.

Adele and I had a chance to sit down, over pork chops, and discuss 'adequate protein,' and how fundamental it is to a healthy diet. In fact, adequate protein (not high protein -- just enough) should be a key priority in the dietary guidelines. Just how much protein is enough? That is very hard to say. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is 46g for women and 56g for men. It is based on about 0.36g of daily dietary protein per pound of body weight. So, if you weigh 130 pounds, the math (130lb x 0.36g/lb) suggests a minimum of 46g of protein each day. This is low – most affluent populations eat more protein – perhaps 70-100g per day.  However, according to the Institute of Medicine, the keeper of the RDA’s, 46g of protein is enough to prevent malnutrition. A little more would be better, especially since protein tends to be filling and can help with keeping weight gain at bay.

Looking at the chart, above, we learn that 70% of high school girls and 70% of elderly women do not even manage to consume 46g of protein each day.  Between age 19 and 70, about 50% of women are not getting enough protein. Obviously, there is plenty of room for improvement here.

Are you eating enough protein? What does 46g of protein look like, you might ask?  (And remember, 46g would be a minimum daily intake for a 130 pound adult.)

Examples of food that contains roughly 46g of protein:

  •  7 or 8 large eggs
  • 5-6 oz of skinless chicken or turkey breast
  • 5 cups of 2% milk
  •  2 ¼ hamburger patties (each made from ¼ pound 85% lean ground beef)
  •  1 ½ cups almonds (about 180 nuts)*
  •  2.5 cans of pinto beans*
  • 3.5 cups (7 servings) Grape Nuts cereal*

* With the vegetarian sources, care must be taken to make sure the protein is complete. (For more on that, see the latter half of Adele’s post.)

Why is protein important? We use protein to build and repair our tissues. (This means active women need more than sedentary women.) We use protein to build babies and manufacture breast milk. (So if you are in that stage of life, eat plenty of protein!) We use protein to make hormones and enzymes. So, if you want to keep your body in good shape (in repair and running smoothly), you need high quality protein.

For more on protein, check out this piece from Authority Nutrition.

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Fruit Vs. Veggies

fruit vs veggies.png

Fruits and vegetables… almost universally lauded as part of the path to healthier eating. But are all fruits and vegetables created equal?  No.

Eating fresh fruits and vegetables means eating plants. There are other plant products, like seeds, grains, legumes, and nuts – all seeds, really. But usually, when a dietician tells you to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, she is referring to other parts of the plants – the root (carrot), the stock (celery), the flower (broccoli), the leaves (lettuce), the pod (green beans), and the fruit (apple). Obviously, pods and fruit contain seeds, so this gets a little blurry… bear with me.

Speaking of blurry, distinguishing between fruit and veggies can be tricky. Are olives vegetables? No. They grow on trees and have pits like cherries! So are olives fruit? Yes, but don’t put them in your fruit salad.  What about tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and squash? They grow from flowers and have seeds inside like melons.  So they are also fruit, although they go better with vegetables, don’t you think? Confusing, I know -- let’s just keep calling them veggies... Then, there are avocados. Vegetables? Nope. They grow on trees with a pit, like a mango or maybe even a peach, so they are fruit! Again, confusing.

In the overlapping world of fruits and vegetables, perhaps the main thing to ask yourself is, "Why am I eating this?" Are you looking for mostly vitamins and fiber – a healthy accompaniment to a meal? Are you looking for something green on which you can pour melted butter or olive oil to add variety and healthy fat to your meal? Or, maybe you are looking for energy (calories)? Or, perhaps you are looking for dessert or a treat? It is cheating if you are pounding bananas and skipping the lettuce all the time. I know – you love bananas – they taste sweet – of course you like them. But they do have a lot more sugar and starch than, say, a cucumber.  If you are clear about what you are looking for, the choices should be easier. 

Regardless of your choices, with all fruit and veggies, you will be getting micronutrients, fiber, and a much lower dose of sugar/starch than you would get from modern inventions like cookies or crackers.  So eat your fruit and veggies – they’re vintage! 

BUT, But, but…  if you are insulin resistant, pre-diabetic, diabetic (more than half our adult population, people!)… and/or, if you are trying to lose weight (a whole lot of people, too) you may want to ease off on or even skip the last two categories (below the line). 

Micronutrients and Fiber But NOT Many Calories

  • Tart fruit – berries, limes, lemons, grapefruit
  • Veggies that grow above the ground – greens, celery, cabbage, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprout, asparagus, etc.
  • Fruit passing as veggies – tomatoes, zucchini, peppers, cucumbers

Balanced Energy

  • Fatty fruit -- olives, avocados, coconut (well, coconuts are nuts – the world’s largest seed, actually -- but let’s count it as a fruit!) 
  • Maybe we can sneak in cacao, too… yum!

Starchy Energy

  • Root Vegetables – carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tubers
  • Fruit passing as veggies – winter squash, pumpkins, plantains
  • Grain passing as a veggie – yellow corn
  • Legumes passing as veggies - peas, lima beans (vintage...  does anyone still eat these?)

Dessert/Sweet Treat

  • Sweet fruit – pineapples, apples, bananas, oranges, grapes, pears, melons, mangos, peaches, plums, cherries, figs, dates, etc.

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Triage In Your Local Grocery Store

Balancing vintage sensibilities in a modern supermarket is challenging. Avoiding all the refined carbohydrates and refined oils in the grocery store really cuts down on options.  Let’s face it:  sugar (in all of its many forms), flour, crazy corn derivatives, and vegetable oil have made it into almost all processed food.

Part of the trick to shopping vintage is TRIAGE – knowing what is important and what can be ignored (at least for now). Some modern foods need to be avoided, but others can remain.  With practice, you will get good at avoiding most of the ‘bad’ stuff, while still enjoying some of the most delicious modern inventions, especially family favorites.

For many families, vintage eating is more of a direction than a strict regimen. Many people who eat this way follow the 80/20 rule…  80% vintage, 20% modern. For some, vintage eating just means more real food and less processed food.  So which processed foods stay, and which ones go? The answer is influenced by your health and goals, as well as your personal preferences in the realms of convenience, cost, and taste. It also depends upon available substitutes.

Ask yourself these questions about any processed product before putting it into your grocery cart:

  1. Does my family love this?
  2. Do we need this? (If it is a dessert or sugar-sweetened beverage, the answer is 'no.')
  3. Will we consume only small amounts of this?
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute?

If all of your answers are 'yes,' it probably should make the cut. If there are no’s in there, you will have to weigh whether it is delicious, important, convenient and irreplaceable enough to ‘cheat.’ Deprivation vs. guilt, right?

Here is an example.  In my house, one of the processed foods I still buy is Hellmann’s Mayonnaise. (Hellmann’s, like all commercial mayonnaise, is full of refined vegetable oil, so it doesn’t qualify as vintage.) Why do I still buy it?

  1. Does my family love this?   Yes. Especially my husband, and I want to stay married ;-)
  2. Do we need this? Yes. No reason to live without mayonnaise. It is naturally low-carb and sugar free!
  3. Will we eat only small amounts of this? Yes. We are not huge mayonnaise eaters.
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute? Yes. I tried substituting with homemade olive oil mayonnaise… The taste was heavy and unacceptable, and it wasn’t quick and easy to make. (It involved getting out the food processor, which means extra cleanup.) Plus, this unpopular substitute only keeps for about a week, so it would be a regular hassle and lead to extra spoilage/waste.

In contrast, although I used to use store bought salad dressing, I now make my own. (Most prepared dressings don’t qualify as vintage – they are full of vegetable oils like soy, corn, canola, and/or cottonseed oil. Many are full of sugar, too, which is unnecessary and not where I would choose to splurge on sugar. Remember: triage!) Why did I cut out this convenience?

  1. Does my family love this? Yes. Especially Hidden Valley Ranch ;-(
  2. Do we need this? Yes. We eat salad almost every day and dressing adds fat to our meal and makes them more satisfying and delicious.
  3. Will we eat only small amounts of this? No. We go through a lot of salad dressing.
  4. Is it hard to find an acceptable real food substitute? No. I make dressing in a few minutes with olive oil, vinegar, salt, herbs, and mustard. It lasts for weeks and saves a few dollars. The taste is stronger than the lighter, refined oils, but it is still delicious. I also occasionally make creamy dressings with real sour cream.

In this case, the quantity we go through and the easy and delicious substitute swayed me to eliminate commercial salad dressing from our fridge most of the time.

Another example would be pizza versus pasta. We love pizza, there is nothing quite like it, and it is cheap and convenient. So we still eat it – just less often – perhaps once or twice a month. But pasta… we don’t really love or need it, and I can still make Bolognese sauce which we either eat like chili or put on just a few noodles. So for us, pizza (in moderation) makes the cut, whereas pasta doesn’t.

Knowing when to splurge on modern favorites can help keep the peace and make vintage eating more doable for your family!

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Thirst Quenching 101

Soda. Juice. Snapple. Gatorade. Energy Drinks. Lemonade. Diet versions of all of these...  what is a mother to serve?

Here is a basic way to think about hydration. Every mammal on earth drinks water. Carnivores, like wolves, drink water. Herbivores, like deer, drink water. Primates, like gorillas drink water. Humans are primates and mammals. So, if you or someone in your family is thirsty, water is your go-to drink. If family members are drinking something to accompany a meal, think of this as hydration, and go with water.

What if my child is playing soccer? Should he drink a sports drink like Gatorade or Propel? Probably not. Water is the best drink to replenish fluids during and after athletics. Water does not contain extra and unnecessary sugar and salt. Are there exceptions? Yes. Is your child playing soccer for more than three hours straight? Or, is your child playing soccer in extreme heat? Unless your child is engaging in endurance athletics or you are concerned about hot weather to which your child is not accustomed, water is best.

What about milk? I like to think of milk as food - something to drink when you are hungry, not thirsty. So, if you are looking for a snack, whole, unsweetened milk might be a good choice, assuming you or your family member does well with dairy. But for thirst, go with water. (If you have an underweight child into whom you are always trying to sneak calories, maybe milk is a good choice anytime.)

What about alcohol? If you are thirsty, drink water. If you want to get a buzz on, drink alcohol. If you want to get a buzz on while maintaining your weight, avoid adding sugary beverages to your cocktails, and try to keep an eye on how many drinks you consume each week.

What about soda, lemonade, Snapple, Sweet Tea, fruit juice, and other sugary beverages? Again, if you are thirsty, drink water. If you are choosing a beverage to accompany a meal, drink water. If you are celebrating a special occasion, perhaps you might choose to splurge and have a soft drink. And, when you drink it, think of it as special treat, not a daily privilege. (Note to self: keep these celebrations to once or twice a month.) For day-to-day hydration, drink only water. 

May I flavor my water with citrus, berries, tea, herbs, or other unsweetened additions?  Sure. Although unnecessary, it adds variety.  Go for it.

It seems we are so sophisticated and so affluent that the obvious choice of what to have to drink - water - has been eclipsed by the multi-billion dollar beverage industry's menu of enticing, expensive, and health degrading choices. Many people think water is boring. But it is also a critical step on our collective path back to health. We are lucky enough to live in a country where clean, drinkable water flows at almost no cost from our taps. Let's start turning the faucets and filling our glasses.

 

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Whole Grains - Do We Need Them?

No.

(Hmmm... Stop there or elaborate a little?)

People have been eating grains for thousands of years. But, before that, people thrived for hundreds of thousands of years without grains. And, there are (and were) many traditional societies whose diets are (and were) completely grain free. So, it would seem that, no, a healthy diet does not NEED to contain grains.

But what about nutrients? Aren't grains a wonderful source of vitamins and minerals? Not really. On a per-calorie basis, when you compare grains to an equal serving of non-starchy veggies, the vegetables are a much better source of nutrients. Check out this chart from Jonathan Bailor's blog. Even vitamin enriched whole wheat flour pales in comparison to veggies.

But what about fiber? Although whole grain products have twice as much fiber as, say, a doughnut or Wonder Bread, they don't measure up to non-starchy veggies. A serving of veggies with equivalent calories has seven times the fiber of whole grains. So if you want fiber, load up on veggies (with butter, of course)!

And, if you like skeptical musings, you might enjoy this post, entitled 'Fun with Fiber: The Real Scoop' from Mark Sisson's blog, questioning the very notion that fiber is important in a healthy diet.

Whole grains. Traditionally, that meant the whole grain. As in, the whole kernel. Think: pearled barley, wheat berries, steel cut oats, farro.  Grains were soaked, boiled, fermented (like beer), and sprouted. These are the whole grains that have been consumed for thousands of years. Modern eaters tend to turn to whole grain flour. Let's look at the difference, from the perspective of the glycemic index (GI) -- a measure of how quickly those grains turn into glucose in our blood:

  • White Bread 73 GI

  • Whole Wheat Bread 71 GI

  • Coco Pops 77 GI

  • Grape Nuts 75 GI

  • Special K 69 GI

VERSUS

  • Wheat Berries 30 GI

  • Pearled Barley 28 GI

As you can see, when whole grains are pulverized into flour for breads or cereals, they lose all of that 'whole grain goodness', at least from a blood sugar perspective, and perform very much like white flour. But who wants to eat wheat berries for breakfast? (Maybe porridge? That's vintage.) The reality is that our love affair with grains is almost entirely a love affair with highly processed food - the breads, cereals, crackers, chips, pastas, and pizza crusts made with flour.

So why do we keep hearing so much about “heart-healthy whole grains”? Observational studies. That’s right. Almost all of the science that looks at the benefits of whole grains is based on weak associations (and imprecise food frequency questionnaires). With any epidemiological study, the “healthy user bias” creeps in… after all, who eats whole grains other than health-minded people who have many healthy habits that improve their outcomes? So if you read a headline about whole grains, check to see if the reported result is an actual experimental result or just an unreliable observational association.

Bottom line -- whole grains are a great source of CALORIES. And whole grain flour is a great source of the kind of calories that spike your blood sugar. So, if you need more of that, go for it!

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Fat is Not Fattening - Weird, But True

The most common reaction to the big news - that saturated fat does not cause heart disease - is one of confusion and doubt. Sort of an, "Are you sure?" But the next thought tends to be along the lines of, "Well, maybe not. But so what? I am not going to eat it anyway because eating fat will make me fat." This is a powerful fear that we need to address if we are ever going to eat our way back to health.

We think we know that fat is fattening. Most of us have lost weight, usually temporarily, on a low-fat diet. And, fat has double the calories per gram of carbohydrates, so it must make us fat, right? And, the word itself: f-a-t... surely there is truth in the name? 

The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn but to unlearn.
— Gloria Steinem

Here are a few reasons to 'unlearn' the idea that eating fat makes you fat. Hunger is a powerful force, especially over the course of a few years, not just a couple of weeks. You want hunger on your side. And, it turns out that fat can tame hunger in ways that carbohydrates can't. After you eat, fat receptors in the stomach and intestine dial down hunger, so fat is going to do a great job of keeping you feeling full between meals. It is uniquely satiating... probably why we think of fatty food as 'comfort food.' Secondly, insulin is your fat storing hormone, and is required for managing carbohydrates, and to a lesser degree, protein. But not fat. So if you eat more fat and fewer carbohydrates, your body will produce less insulin and spend less time in fat storing mode. (More on this here.) Moreover, insulin tends to mess with another hormone, leptin. Leptin makes us feel full and satisfied. But in an insulin-rich environment, leptin signals don't always get through. So, again, keeping insulin levels in check will make your natural appetite suppressor, leptin, kick in. It is always easier to have nature working for you, not against you.

Perhaps this is why, when you look to the science, high-fat diets out-perform low-fat diets for weight loss over and over and over again. Yes, even in this 2014 NIH funded clinical trial

Bottom line -- yes, when you dig into the details, it is extremely complicated. Way beyond our pay-grade. But simple calories-in-calories-out ignores the intricate, hormone-intensive balancing act that goes on in your body. A low-fat, calorie restricted diet can send a signal of 'lean times' throughout your body, turning down your metabolism so you burn fewer calories each day. And it makes you really hungry, which just sucks, doesn't it? So eat ample fat, without counting calories and starving yourself, and help keep your metabolism in a higher gear. And reduce refined carbs. Yes, even the whole grains. Why not check out these real-food-more-fat vintage diets...

 

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Dilute Your Carbs

When you reach for a snack for yourself or your child, make it a balanced one. So many snacks today, even 'healthier' options, are carb-heavy (almost exclusively carbohydrates). Crackers. Cheerios. Goldfish. An apple or banana. A glass of juice. And that piece of banana bread.

With meals, it is usually easier to balance it out - to get some fat and protein into your body. But with snacks, it is harder. Let's face it: carbs are convenient, crunchy, and shelf stable.  

At Eat the Butter, we love the idea of diluting carbs with fat and protein, even at snack time. It is not a new idea - bread and butter - crackers and cheese - peaches and cream. And it still works. So, when your daughter reaches for those apple slices, offer her a slice or two of cheddar to go with them. When you are munching on whole grain crackers, grab a hard boiled egg to accompany them. Or, let nature do the balancing:  skip the carb-heavy snack altogether and grab a handful of nuts. It may seem like more calories, but your snack will keep you full longer, reducing future grazing or perhaps reducing what you eat at your next meal. This will also help keep you off the blood sugar roller coaster, as the protein and fat in your snack will slow the rise in blood sugar that follows any snack or meal with carbohydrates

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A Universal Law

Most of us would rather buy a used car from the little old lady down the street than the 24-year-old drag racing dude from around the corner. Why? Because we know that the drag racer has been slamming his foot on the accelerator every chance he gets... and the little old lady? She has been using her car with great care. So her car will last longer.

When you wake each morning and consume a carb-heavy breakfast, low in protein and fat, YOU are that dude slamming your foot on the accelerator. Your blood is quickly flooded with the glucose from the sugar and starch in your fruit, breakfast cereal, and skim milk (or your oversized bagel, low-fat cream cheese, and orange juice), so your pancreas scrambles to pump out insulin to keep you from slipping into a hyperglycemic haze. Your blood sugar spikes, your insulin levels spike, and you begin a roller coaster of a day, slamming on the accelerator and the brake from a blood sugar perspective. This is not easy on your body - your pancreas, your tissues, your teeth - high blood sugar and high insulin levels are just not good for any part of you.

Look here for a graph of blood sugar levels after two very different breakfasts...  eggs vs. cereal.

Take it easy on your body. It is your home. Use it gently.  Eat real food.  Eat more fat.

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