The Skinny on Fat: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

You’ve been hearing a lot about FAT in the news these days. And what’s out there is really confusing. So I’m going to break it down real easy for ya.

Fats have gotten a bad rap these days. Many of those who want to achieve a healthier weight, clean up their diet, or lower cholesterol levels may consider cutting out dietary fat as the first step. Any who could blame you? It’s been drilled into us for years that if you eat fat, you’ll be fat. However, dietary fat is actually ESSENTIAL to our health — it plays a critical role in almost every function of your body’s metabolism.

Decoding Healthy vs. Unhealthy fats:

The TYPE of fat you eat is just as important, if not more so, than the amount of fat. In fact, many fat sources may actually IMPROVE heart healthy, support healthy immune function, and help food to be more satisfying, making it less likely you will overeat at your next meal. Talk about a win-win! Fat falls into 3 general categories: unsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fats.

Unsaturated Fat “The Good Guys”

Unsaturated fats include both monounsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats. Both types lower disease risk, improve cholesterol levels and have anti-inflammatory properties. Unsaturated fats are found in nuts and seeds, plant oils, avocado, soymilk and fatty fish. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in walnuts, canola oil and fatty fish) is a type of polyunsaturated fat well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3s have been found to lower blood pressure and heart rate, lower triglycerides and prevent the development of atherosclerosis.

Saturated Fat and Trans Fats “The Bad Guys and the Really Really Horrible Guys”

Saturated fats are found in animal products such as meat and poultry skin, as well as high fat dairy products and butter. These items should be eaten sparingly, as these are the ones linked to increasing total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and may increase your risk of developing type 2 Diabetes. Trans fats are artificially processed fats that are often listed on food labels as “partially hydrogenated oils” and are found in packaged/processed food, fried foods and stick margarine. Saturated fats and trans fats tend to be solid at room temperature as opposed to liquid mono or polyunsaturated fats like olive oil or canola oils. Now think what that’s doing in your arteries! Trans fats in particular, have been found to be the most dangerous category of fat in terms of its effect on raising cholesterol, increasing inflammation in the body and causing plaque buildup in the arteries.

How to get more healthy fat in your diet

Now here comes the fun part – how do you get to eat all this great stuff! Here are some tips for incorporating more healthy fats in your diet.

  • Sub chopped walnuts, almonds, or pepitas for salad croutons to add crunch and flavor
  • Keep a small handful of mixed nuts in a Ziploc bag for a filling on-the-go snack
  • Swap out mayo for mashed avocado or guacamole as a sandwich spread (my personal favorite!)
  • Use plant oils such as olive oil, instead of butter when cooking (but mind your portion sizes here — 1 tbsp is worth 120 calories, so a little goes a long way. Lightly coat your veggies in oil but don’t smother them!)
  • Eat a fatty fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel once a week (no canned tuna DOESN’T count)
  • Use soymilk instead of cream of half and half in your morning coffee

Yum!!

Nutrition Myth-Busting Part 2: Attack of the green juice

imagesGreen juice is no longer a trend. It’s everywhere. These magical potions are touted for their health benefits – after all, look how many pounds of kale can fit into a tiny bottle! And it seems to be a healthy, convenient way to get your nutrients, in a portable, easy package, right??

Wrong.

I hate to rain on your juice parade, but green juice ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. The main reason – FIBER! Unfortunately, a big part of the juicing process is removing fibers that are naturally present in vegetables. Fiber is provides structure to a fruit or vegetable. Fibers are like the beams that hold up a house – without them, the house will fall down.

Why is fiber so important? Fiber is best known for its contribution to intestinal health. Certain fibers slow intestinal transit time, meaning that food moves through the digestive system more slowly. This allows your digestive system to absorb more vitamins and nutrients and has the added benefit of giving you more satiety from your meal. What you may not know, is that fiber also helps control blood sugar. Because fibers help food move more slowly throughout the digestive system, sugars that are naturally present in fruit and vegetables are more slowly incorporated into circulation, which leads to a mild rise in blood sugar, rather than a sharp spike. This not only helps you stay more energized throughout the day, but over the longterm, may help prevent Type 2 Diabetes.

Fiber also helps mop up excess cholesterol that is floating in your body’s circulation. This prevents reabsorption of cholesterol, which in turn lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol and reduces your risk for developing heart disease. 

Which brings me back to my original point. When you drink juice, you’re drinking plenty of vitamins and nutrients, but you’re also drinking a lot of sugar. Because the fiber is taken out to create juice, this sugar is digested much more quickly, leading to a sharp spike in your blood sugar.

My advice? A green juice every now and then won’t kill you. But try drinking it with some fat or protein on the side – like a hardboiled egg or a handful of nuts. Protein and fat both help slow digestion. When you have the option, go for a green smoothie instead. The best idea?? If you really want to get all the fabulous fiber benefits…. 

EAT YOUR GREENS!!

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p.s. Just a side note to my lovely readers! I have heard through the grapevine that some people who were subscribed before I updated my site are now unsubscribed!  What a bummer!! But have no fear — if you want to get my blog as soon as it is posted, just click the blue link right below my picture on the upper right corner that says “Follow the Gotham Skinny”. Now you’re all set.

Nutrition Myth-Busting Part I

Every day, I feel like I am assaulted with nutrition advice, whether it be at the supermarket, on my television, or on the web. I get an ulcer just thinking about all the new “nutrition rules” that are constantly being flung around. That’s why I consider it my mission to help cut through the BS and give you all the real deal (as in, information that supported by real scientific evidence).

That’s why for the next month or so, I’m launching a series on dispelling all these nutrition myths, and helping clear up all that confusion. Starting with….

 

MYTH #1: You shouldn’t eat carbs at night.

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First off, I’m sick of demonizing carbohydrates. Carbs are good! They are a great source of energy, fiber, and essential vitamins and nutrients. Carbohydrates aren’t just in bread — they are in fruits, some starchy vegetables, grains, beans and even dairy foods. So cutting out carbohydrates means that you are missing out on a lot of healthful foods.

Second, carbohydrates will not make you fat.  I cannot stress this enough. There isn’t a magical “fat burning switch” that turns off after 4 pm. What’s more important to maintaining a healthy weight is the amount of calories you are consuming OVERALL. It’s easy to subscribe to the high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet for weight loss, however, while this type of diet may help you lose weight in the short-term, much of the evidence shows that this effect is often short-lived.

I like to look at eating carbohydrates in a common sense kind of way. Sprinkling carbs throughout your day, rather than eating a huge amount in one meal, is a much more effective strategy to maximize your energy and stay healthy. When you have a small amount of carbohydrates in each meal, you keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day, rather than that post-lunch afternoon slump that has you reaching for caffeine or sugar to get an energy boost.

Depending on your schedule and when you will be MOST active, you may want to consider tapering your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. If you are most active earlier in the day, eating your largest portion of carbohydrate in the morning is a good strategy. However, if you have an evening workout planned or you are more active in the afternoon, an afternoon snack with some form of carb (an apple and almond butter) will help keep you fueled for the rest of the day.

It goes without saying that some carbohydrates are healthier than others.

Giving-Up-Refined-Carbs

Here’s your cheat sheet….

Healthy Carbohydrates = NATURAL AND UNPROCESSED

  • Whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, barley, whole grain cereals such as oatmeal and oat bran
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole wheat pasta and bread
  • Low fat dairy products
  • Beans and legumes
  • COMPLEX carbs break down in the body less quickly which leads to more stable blood sugar levels

Unhealthy carbohydrates = REFINED AND PROCESSED

  • Anything white: white breads, pizza crust, pretzels, hamburger buns, and giant muffins and bagels
  • Anything with added sugars: baked goods, cakes, candy
  • Soda
  • Simple carbohydrates break down quickly in the body leading to a sugar “spike” and eventual crash.

That’s it folks! Keep munching on that quinoa and stay posted next week for more myth-busting!

 

xo,

GS

Multivitamins – should you be popping these pills?

With so mImageany supplements and vitamins on the shelves these days, it’s pretty easy to get flustered. One of the areas that I personally have found to be pretty confusing over the years is the subject of Multivitamins.  Why should we be taking a multivitamin? Is it safe? Have no fear, your questions are about to get answered.

1. What is the purpose of taking a multivitamin?

Multivitamins contain most of the essential vitamins and minerals needed to meet your daily requirements. They are intended to make up for the potential gaps in a person’s diet and make sure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals they need to be healthy. So multivitamins CAN be a good nutritional insurance policy…IF you aren’t eating a very balanced diet. It can also be helpful to those that are on very restrictive diets, such as vegans. Many sources of essential nutrients come from animal products, so it is important that vegetarians and vegans take a daily multivitamin to ensure that they don’t become deficient in vitamins like B12.

2. Are multivitamins safe?

Sometimes you can get TOO much of a good thing. If you are eating a balanced diet, which most of us are (and this recent CDC survey proves it), getting additional vitamins and minerals on top of what we are already ingesting, could lead to toxicity. Especially considering how many foods are being fortified with nutrients these days (milk with vitamin D, eggs with omega-3s, grains and breads with folate), you could be getting much more than you even realize. Getting way too much of a vitamin like Folate, has been linked to certain cancers such as colon, breast and prostate. One article on this subject states, Getting enough folate from natural foods may keep tumors from starting by repairing errors in DNA, but synthetic folic acid may feed tumor development and promote  carcinogenesis”. The jury is still out on that one, but excess folate is definitely not a good thing.

The best way to get in your nutrients really is food. And by food I mean lots of colorful, vibrant fruits and veggies, moderate amounts of lean meat, nuts/seeds/other healthy fats and whole grains. Your body is much better at absorbing and breaking down vitamins and minerals in real food than it is in synthetic products. After all, that’s what it’s made to do!

3. So are there any vitamins/minerals that I should be taking?

Yes! I feel VERY strongly that everyone should be taking probiotics. Probiotics increase the amount of healthy bacteria in your gut (not all germs are bad!). Studies have demonstrated that probiotics can improve digestive health, immune function and may even help with diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis. But be careful about which probiotics you take, because not all are created equal. I take Culturelle, which is the probiotic that most hospitals provide, and it’s worked pretty well for me. Probiotics available in most large pharmacies and Whole Foods/Trader Joe’s are reliable as well. You can also get a good boost of probiotics from yogurt, kefir and other fermented foods like sauerkraut! Pretty sweet.

As far as other supplementation, it really depends on your diet and lifestyle. One vitamin that is being increasingly linked to cancer-prevention and good immune function, is vitamin D. Unfortunately, vitamin D isn’t present in many foods (food sources are egg yolks, fatty fish like salmon or tuna, and fortified milk or cereals). If you haven’t been getting a lot of sunlight lately, and you’ve been skimping on these foods, you may want to get your vitamin D levels checked out.

Another supplement that I think is great are omega-3 fatty acids. We all know that they have a host of heart-healthy benefits, but they also can give you stronger nails and shinier hair, which is fine by me! If you already eat a lot of fish, walnuts or avocados, you may want to skip this supplement. While omega-3s are anti-inflammatory, sometimes inflammation is a good thing – like when your body is fighting a cold, so too many omega-3s may dampen your immune system. Yuck.

Of course, if you are deficient in a vitamin or mineral, you should be taking a supplement if you can’t get to optimal levels with food. This goes without saying, but do NOT self-prescribe. If you are going to start taking a supplement, do so under the advice of your doc. Be smart people!

Bottom line: Pills should not substitute having a balanced, varied diet. That’s really the best way to get all the vitamins and minerals you need!

have a great weekend!

GS

Why the Paleo Diet is a dinosaur

The Paleo Diet. When I hear this diet mentioned I think this:

Image“WHYYY???”

Every few years, a restrictive new diet like this becomes popular, promising its practitioner’s quick weight loss, freedom from disease and endless energy. But before we get into the nitty gritty of why I think this diet is just another fad without any basis in science, let’s define what the Paleo diet actually is.

The diet is based on the premise that our agricultural diet today contributes to our high rate of chronic diseases and that this type of diet does not mesh with our biological makeup. So in order to achieve better overall health and live longer (and also achieve an ideal weight), we need to abandon our current agriculturally-based diets and eat like our ancestors in the Paleolithic period, about 10,000 years ago.

Diets like Primal Blueprint promise to literally “ reprogram your genes in the direction of weight loss, health, and longevity by following 10 immutable “Primal” laws validated by two million years of human evolution”

The Paleolithic diet is:

  1. Meat-based
  2. Vegetables and fruits supplement the meat
  3. Some nuts and oils are also thrown in there 

What is excluded from this diet:

  1. Grains (especially processed grains)
  2. Legumes (peanuts, lentils, beans, peas)
  3. Dairy
  4. Any processed sugars (honey is ok)

This all sounds well and good, right?? Well, actually…..

According to archeologists, this type of diet has no basis in the actual archeological record. (OMG they made it up to get people to buy their product!!)

  • Humans are well adapted for plant consumption. We actually have no genetic or physiological adaptations for meat consumption!
  • Examples that support this include the fact that our bodies cannot make vitamin C, however all carnivores can make vitamin C by themselves. We must eat vitamin C in order to absorb this beneficial nutrient. And guess where vitamin C comes from…..plants! 
  • We also have molars which are made for shredding fibrous PLANTS, not sharp fangs for shredding meat like carnivores have.
  • Our anatomy and genetics HAVE changed since the stone age. Take milk consumption. In the past 7,000 years, humans have actually developed lactose tolerance. Lactase, the enzyme that breaks down milk sugars, originally stopped being present in the body after infancy, however as dairy foods became more prevalent in our food supply, genetic mutations caused lactase to continue its action throughout life. But as with any other genetic mutation, not everyone has it today, hence lactose intolerance.
  • You don’t actually want to live like a Paleolithic person, because they didn’t live very long. Most Paleolithic people didn’t make it past 40, and many didn’t even survive past the age of 15! An article in the Scientific American states: recent study in The Lancet looked for signs of atherosclerosis—arteries clogged with cholesterol and fats—in more than one hundred ancient mummies from societies of farmers, foragers and hunter–gatherers around the world, including Egypt, Peru, the southwestern U.S and the Aleutian Islands. A common assumption is that atherosclerosis is predominately lifestyle-related, and that if modern human beings could emulate preindustrial or even preagricultural lifestyles, that atherosclerosis, or least its clinical manifestations, would be avoided. But they found evidence of probable or definite atherosclerosis in 47 of 137 mummies from each of the different geographical regions.”

Not to mention, avoiding grains, legumes and dairy means you are missing out on a whole swath of important nutrients and health benefits (calcium, fiber and plant protein to name just a few). And just as the Atkins diet proved, a diet primarily composed of meat is a surefire route to many chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

While I don’t recommend the Paleo diet for its nonsensical restrictiveness, there is one thing it does get right: limiting your intake of highly processed foods, which are chock full of not-so-yummy chemicals, preservatives, sodium and added sugars. Foods like white bread, processed meats and cheese, chips, packaged cookies, sugary cereals and packaged diet “foods” are mainly empty calories, any nutritional benefit they might have had is usually lost in the processing.

If you really want to live like a Paleolithic person, here are my two tips:

  • Eat LOCAL. Hit up that farmers market, COOK for yourself, and avoid processed foods. 
  • Get MOVING. While we aren’t being chased down by lions and wildebeest, living an active life is one of the best ways to ensure longevity and good health. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise 3-4 times a week. And don’t forget that “active” means active all the time – standing at your desk, walking more, taking the stairs – these all count too!

Until next time…

yours truly, 

GS

It’s time to get REAL

Hello my dear readers….it’s me, GS. I’ve been gone a while, learning new stuff to share with all of you! But first things first, I’m gonna get REAL with you.

I started this blog in May 2010 (WHAT! that’s so long ago!) because I wanted a place to drop some serious knowledge on y’all. I wanted it to be a place where we could all discuss anything and everything health-related. And in the past 4 years, this amazing thing happened…people really started to CARE about wellness.  And not just you folks, but across our country, there has been a major groundswell of interest in eating local food, moving (thank you Michelle Obama) and just all around treating your body like a temple…which it is.

But, with all that knowledge comes a LOT of confusion and quackery (yes I did just use quackery in a sentence). Not only are we constantly confronted with conflicting information, but nutrition “experts” are capitalizing on this and selling their product or diet, whether it is scientifically proven or not. And many of these fitness fads actually end up damaging your metabolism or can be DANGEROUS to your health!

But fear not fellow Gothamites, you’re safe with me! It is my personal mission to cut through all the health-related BS and give you some serious, realistic tools to achieve your most balanced, healthiest self. NO GIMMICKS, NO FADS…this is the real deal.

Have a great weekend and stay posted next week for my take on Paleo diet…

 

Signing off,

GS

 

p.s. if you have any health-related questions you want answered, post in my comments and I will feature it in my next post (anonymously of course!)

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