I love eating the types of natural whole foods my grandparents grew up on: a wide variety of meat and seafood, eggs, cheese, yogurt, fresh vegetables, nuts, and berries. Overall, I consider myself whole-foods based and concerned about food quality. However, for me, avoiding processed food is secondary to keeping carb intake very low, protein and fiber moderate, and fat fairly high, as this controls my blood sugar and makes weight maintenance easier as I age. As I mentioned in a previous post a few months back, I don't really identify as Paleo, Primal, or Ancestral. Carbohydrate restriction has had such a positive impact on my own life and that of countless others. I know many of you follow a Paleo/Primal way of eating, and in many respects I do as well. A typical food day for me is quite whole-foods based, as you can see from my intake yesterday:
Eggs and kale cooked in coconut oil
Berries with ricotta cheese
Coffee with cream
Arugula with Greek yogurt, avocado, olive oil, and sea salt
Hot cocoa tea
Salad made with diced turkey, cucumbers, tomatoes, olive oil, and vinegar
Square of unsweetened chocolate
Hot cocoa tea
But there are some decidedly non-Paleo items in my diet and lifestyle as well. Here are my food "confessions," although I don't really like using that term here because it implies I've done something wrong. If any of you can think of a better word, let me know, and I'll change it.
I use saccharin every day.
I mentioned using erythritol when I bake in the post referenced above, and explained that baking is a rare occurrence for me. I do have a cup of coffee and a few cups of sugar-free cocoa tea every day, though, and I use saccharin to sweeten them. But instead of Sweet 'n Low, which contains dextrose (sugar), I use Nectasweet, pure saccharin tablets with no carbohydrates. Saccharin has been around for over 100 years -- it was the original sweetener used by people with diabetes prior to the discovery of insulin -- and there is no evidence whatsoever that it increases cancer risk in humans. Each Nectasweet tablet provides the equivalent sweetening power of 1 teaspoon of sugar, at a cost of only a penny per serving. Yes, stevia comes from a plant and is therefore "natural," but we know less about its long-term safety than we do about saccharin, and it's much more expensive.
Here's my delicious and easy "Hot cocoa tea" recipe:
Pour boiling water over tea bag of choice (I like Rooibos red or vanilla) and let steep 2-3 minutes. Add 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 Nectasweet tablet, and 1 tablespoon heavy cream or half-and-half. Stir and enjoy.
I make my husband low-carb Cheez-its from processed cheese.
I have Laura Westman, Dr. Eric Westman's daughter, to thank for this one. I was telling her that one of my clients had asked about a substitute for crackers. "Have you heard about low-carb Cheez-its?" she asked. "You make them from American cheese, they're super easy, and they taste like the real thing!" Googling "Low-carb Cheez-its" led me to this recipe for Crispy Cheese Crackers. I've never been much of a Cheez-it fan, but I made a batch for my husband. He said they were very good, "pretty close" to the original, and I could make them again sometime, which I've done. That's high praise coming from my extremely finicky (but otherwise wonderful) husband. Yes, American cheese is technically a processed food, but it's not much different from regular cheese in terms of ingredients, and apparently none of them are controversial from a health perspective.
I like Shirataki noodles better than zucchini noodles.
I love zucchini. One of my favorite ways to prepare it is sautéed with mushrooms and onions topped with spicy beef chili. But while some people enjoy substituting zucchini and other vegetables for pasta -- by julienning them manually or using a "Zoodler" or other device intended for this purpose -- I'm not wild about the results. Although I rarely crave pasta the way I imagine some people on low-carb diets do, occasionally I enjoy making low-carb noodle entrees like Thai Chicken and Noodles and Beef Stroganoff. In my opinion, Miracle Noodles are ideal for these dishes and many others. Shirataki (also called glucomannan) comes from the konjac plant, which is native to Japan. It's essentially all fiber and contributes less than 5 calories and 1 carb per serving, yet provides a lot of volume. There's some evidence it may promote weight loss and reduce high cholesterol levels. Maybe it would actually be Paleo approved because it's not really processed other than being ground up and formed into strands before being packed in liquid. At any rate, I enjoy eating these sometimes.
Tip: Rinse Miracle Noodles really well and pan-fry them without oil or other liquid in order to remove as much water as possible. The less water that remains, the better the texture will be.
I use mayo on beef patties.
Conventional mayonnaise is made with soybean oil and a little bit of sugar, although the amount of carbs in a tablespoon is less than zero. Yes, this is the type of oil that's made from GMO soybeans and is high in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). I'm not saying it's healthy and I don't eat it that often, but if I'm getting a protein-style burger and there's no guacamole around (which is usually the case), I'll top it with mayonnaise without a second thought.
Sometimes I eat nuts roasted in peanut oil, cottonseed oil, etc.
Peanut and seed oils are high in omega-6 PUFAs as well. I usually have raw almonds, macadamias, hazelnuts, and pecans on hand at home. But my husband likes the roasted type, and let's face it: They do taste better. So sometimes I'll grab a few from his stash and eat them instead of the raw nuts. I eat a lot of sardines and salmon -- usually about four fish meals per week -- so I'm definitely getting plenty of omega-3s for balance.
I'm not a fan of Cross-Fit.
In all honesty, I'm about as far from a Cross-Fitter as you can get. I realize not everyone who follows a Paleo diet does Cross-Fit, but enough do to mention it here. I prefer walking and doing Ellen Barrett's Pilates, yoga, and light resistance routines to stay fit and energized. From my understanding of what Cross-Fit entails and online reports of people (particularly women) developing problems when combining it with carbohydrate restriction, it appears that the two aren't compatible.
I reheat food and beverages in the microwave.
I've read articles online cautioning people about the dangers of microwaving food, and at least a few have been from members of the Ancestral community. I need to see convincing evidence for the assertion that microwaving alters food in a different way than occurs in other cooking methods. This article is one of several that explains why microwaving is safe for cooking and reheating foods and beverages when guidelines are followed (i.e., no metal, plastic tubs, etc.).
So now you see the way I truly eat and live. Particularly in the context of my balanced, very-low-carbohydrate diet, I really don't think any of these behaviors will do me any harm. In fact, I hope you can relate to a few of them.
March is National Nutrition Month, and March 12 is National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day. So around this time of year, I get a lot of emails offering special deals on promotional items like nutrition posters, handouts, food models, games, books, etc. I rarely purchase them because their message is so far removed from my own nutrition philosophy, but I still look at them. One of the "teaching tools" promos I received this week was the banner to the left. It's the USDA MyPlate logo covered with specific foods from each of the categories: grains, fruits, vegetables, protein, and dairy.
I've never been a fan of MyPlate and wasn't a fan of MyPyramid either (really the same information in a different graphic), and it upset me to see the possible combinations of food I"m supposed to be promoting as a "healthy meal" for individuals across the board with few exceptions (i.e., less protein and sodium for people with renal disease). To anyone who argues that MyPlate does not constitute a high-carbohydrate diet (I've seen this argued by dietitians and CDEs many times), I take issue with that claim. Half the plate is automatically made up of high-carb food from the fruit and grains sections. The vegetables could be low in carbohydrates, but not if corn, carrots, and peas are chosen. (Quick aside: At a local restaurant, I recently ordered steak tips without the noodles. My server asked if I wanted extra vegetables. Instead of asking what the vegetables were (always ask!), I said yes. Of course, I was served corn and peas.) Most protein options are low-carb, but legumes are listed as being interchangeable with meat, poultry, and fish. The dairy on the side of the plate could be cheese, but most people looking at the blue circle would probably believe that milk is the best choice. And really, who could blame them? Also, fat isn't anywhere on the plate at all. At least the Food Pyramid used to have a tiny sliver of yellow to represent fats and oils. And according to MyPlate, cheese is considered empty calories because it contains solid fat.
I understand that some people can eat according to MyPlate and stay healthy; several members of my own family can and do eat a large portion of their diet as carbohydrates and maintain a good weight, normal blood sugar, and good energy levels. But for many others, including people with diabetes and other metabolic issues, this plate just isn't appropriate. When I read diabetes magazines, the recommendation most CDEs make is to follow MyPlate or to "eat the same balanced diet recommended for everyone else" -- essentially, to follow MyPlate.
MyPlate is based on the USDA's Dietary Guidelines, which are set to be revised in 2015 by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Committee. So far, I've heard that they will likely place an emphasis on plant-based diets, the Mediterranean Diet, and the Dash Diet. From the evidence I've reviewed (both anecdotal and many well-designed studies), these three diets are too high in carbohydrates for many people, with the exception of a low-carb version of the Mediterranean Diet such as Dr. Steve Parker's Low Carb Mediterranean Diet and Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet. So why isn't carbohydrate restriction being given consideration as well in formulating the nutrition guidelines designed for the entire US population?
Dr. Richard Feinman and Judy Barnes Baker have drafted a petition to change the way the Dietary Guidelines are created by having independent experts review all available nutrition-related studies in order to formulate guidelines that are truly evidence based. The petition needs 100,000 signatures by March 20. As of today, it has only 943. I'd like to ask all of my readers to please sign the petition (if you haven't done so already) and share the link with others who disagree with the one-size-fits-all recommendations in the US Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate. It only takes a couple of minutes to register and sign, so please do it. The only way we can change nutrition policy for the better is by taking action like this. Thank you very much.
Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE