Sunday, August 5, 2018

Yes, You Can Cook

I've heard it said before, "I can't cook.  How do you expect me to eat healthy?"  If I had a nickel for every time a patient had told me this, well I'd probably be a millionaire.  Okay, maybe not, but you get what I'm saying.  It's a common problem.  I completely get it.  Cooking can seem overwhelming and intimidating in the beginning.  But I am here to tell you that anyone can cook.  All it takes is a little time, patience, and practice.  There will be mess-ups (we all have them, even I do to this day).  But as you begin to practice, you'll see that with a little quick assembly of items, you'll be on your way to eating healthy, great-tasting food!
Proof in the pudding - all of these are easy peasy!

There was research done to show that cooking at home improves people's health.  Said summary of study can be read here.  But then more recently they looked again at this cooking at home to see if in fact it really did lead to a cause and effect of improving health.  You can read this study here.  Their conclusion was that while it did lead to overall improved dietary quality and lower adiposity, i.e. obesity.  The study went on to say though that in order to identify if cooking at home really did have causal effects on diet and health more studies would need to be conducted.  Okay, so there went the proof that I so proudly boasted to my patients now blown out of the water.  Or did it?  I included these studies here because this is nutrition.  It's a science and we always want the proof with research.  But I can tell you that by seeing patients one-on-one for many years, people's health improved when they simply began to eat healthier, one change at a time, whatever that looked like for each individual.  And for some that meant simply cutting back on the frequency of meals that they were eating out.  
Having a go-to sauce to add to food can take a meal from ordinary to out-of-this-world.  Ingredients for homemade chimichurri.
And part of that conclusion goes back to the original reason for my post - people didn't think they can cook.  There were other reasons as well, i.e. time, time, and no time - I mean isn't that the truth??   But the biggest complaint I would get is people would just want me to tell them what to eat.  They didn't want to have to think about it.  Creating menus back in my college days was the bane of my existence.  While I did love creating general menus, making a menu for someone in particular is not so glamorous.  How am I supposed to know what each person is going to eat/have time to make?  And the whole point of a menu is to make sure that they are nutritionally sound.  If you have someone that isn't willing to vary his vegetables up, then Houston we have a problem.  It all goes back to what I like to think is the most important part of my job.  Giving patients the tools in order to be able to fly on their own.  I teach you and you put it into motion.  Am I right?  Unless you want to hire me as a personal dietitian and chef (for a nice sum of money) then we can talk.  Until then, let me educate away.

So this is what I thought I would do.  I'll take you through a few steps of how to make a simple wrap with a few step-by-step pictures.  I definitely want to do videos in the future, but until then, this will be a start/new feature I think that people have been asking for and also need.  How's that sound?  Are you ready?  Here we go!

As I've said before, my keepers may not always be your keepers, but that's the beauty of cooking.  Finding what you like in flavor and bringing it to life.  So, here we go.  

Kale and Mushroom Wrap.  The hardest part of this recipe is prepping the kale.  No, seriously.  In total this recipe took me about 30 minutes to prepare including all of the chopping and cooking.  I doubled this recipe today in order to use the whole bag of kale and also to have enough (that kale does shrink down like spinach does to almost nothing) for a few wraps this week.

Step 1 - Thinly slice your leek.  If you're not sure what a leek is, it has a more mild flavor than an onion.  But you can definitely use an onion if you prefer.  Remember I am making double and this is actually two leeks (I just forgot to take a picture of the whole leek).  Cut off the green leaves of the leek.  Slice in half so you can slice them in these round moons.

Step 2 - Thinly slice a shallot.  Shallots are also a part of the onion family.  Less abrasive in flavor, but again you can simply use an onion in place of the leek and shallot if you like.  I think that the leek and shallot do provide a little more flavor than just onions.  But you do you.

Step 3 - I wanted all baby bella mushrooms but alas they weren't on sale.  I opted to get one of each as I was going to be making double.  I use a damp paper towel to clean the mushrooms.  If you use too much water to clean them they do absorb the water.  Paper towel for cleaning it is.  Then I diced them into tiny pieces.  My preference.  You can always just slice them as well.  8 oz of mushrooms total.

Step 4 - I bought a bag of curly kale this time.  If I buy lacinato kale then I use the whole bunch.  But this bag of kale is 16 oz. and it is a lot of kale.  This recipe only needs about 8 oz. of kale.  I sift through the kale and pick out the hard rib pieces (over on the left side there) and leave only the curly part.  This is what I told you is the time consuming part.  But to me it's worth it.

Step 5 - I used my dutch oven pan here instead of a non-stick skillet.  This had a white bottom and it actually helped with pictures, but you can definitely use a non-stick pan, but you still need the olive oil.  Heat over medium-heat for a minute or two.

Step 6 - Add the shallot, leek, mushrooms, and a dash of black pepper to the pan. I typically never use salt in my recipes.  Occasionally I will, but never the amount called for in a recipe.  I find it too salty.  You can add some here if you like, but I'm used to less sodium in my food.  Less sodium doesn't mean less flavor.  This kale/mushroom mixture will be placed in a wrap.  Typically bread has a lot of sodium and it can all add up.  I think the mixture has enough flavor all on it's own.

Step 7 - Cook the shallots, leek, and mushrooms, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft, about 8 minutes.  The first picture is when it began to cook.  The second picture although steamy from the heat is after it has cooked for 8 minutes.

Step 8 - Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 8 minutes.  Looks like a lot, but it will shrink aka cook down.  Totally a technical cooking term. Ha!

Step 9  - Once the kale has cooked down, add in 1/4 cup of chicken broth (or vegetable broth).  Sprinkle with a few dried cranberries.  I used the dried cranberries here, but almost never used dried fruit.  I thought about it after, but I should have just used fresh cherries (and not cooked them) and then added them into the wrap.  Didn't think about it quick enough.  For next time.  The broth will come to a boil and you'll scrape the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.  If you thought you were burning the leek and shallot mixture, that was really just another way to add more flavor to the dish.  

Step 10 - Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 oz of goat cheese.  Divide the filling among your wrap.  I ate mine like an open-faced sandwich.   So even though the picture shows my filling in the center of the wrap, I ended up spreading the mixture all over the wrap and eating it with a fork and knife.  Sorry, didn't take a shot of the final final.  I was too hungry.  

And that my friends is how to cook a kale/mushroom wrap.  Voilá.  I didn't do an exact cost analysis for this recipe, but I did use the whole bag of kale as I mentioned earlier in order to avoid food waste.  I could have used the leftover kale for a salad during the week, but I opted to have more filling for the wraps.  In quickly doing a rough estimate for the cost, each wrap would cost $4, making enough for 4 wraps and still having one flatbread leftover.  And yes, I know the time it took me to go to the store, cut/prep all the veggies, etc. were not included in this "cost", but I will tell you this.  I had a $10 salad the other day that definitely wasn't worth $10.  (I ate out for social interaction once again, but hear me when I say I will NOT pay $10 for a salad ever again in my life that I could make for a fraction of the cost.  Nope.  Not gonna do it...well, maybe if it's for recipe inspiration, then maybe).  

The morale of the story is that Yes, You CAN cook.  Start with simple recipes that make you feel like a rock star.  Use Instacart to deliver your groceries if that will help cut down on time you don't have to go to the store.  What might even be better are some of those meal delivery services that bring the ingredients with a recipe to your house.  Yes, you have to cook them, but they're giving you tried and true recipes that people have already taste tested.  Not to mention they're giving you recipes that you can use over and over.  Bonus.  I know we don't have a recent study for proof to tell you that if you cook at home you'll improve your overall health status.  But I'm here to tell you that you will.  Not to mention in the long run you'll end up saving yourself money - eating out is expensive and doctor visits/medicines are expensive.  Invest in yourself now!  And as I said earlier, I'm not here to tell you that you have to cook every meal at home.  Remember, baby steps.  Maybe it's simply cutting back on the frequency of your meals eaten out.  And just remember, you CAN cook.
Just a little more inspo in case you needed it.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Summer Is Flying By

Summer Is Flying By

It’s already late July.  Where does the time go? It definitely feels like the summer is flying – or is it just me?  Either way, one thing I do know is that it is H-O-T hot!  Yes, I know it is summer in Miami, but it doesn’t make the days any easier when it is this hot out.  I’m constantly reminding people to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  I went for a walk this morning from 7 am – 8 am and I was thankful there was some cloud cover.  Still hot, but the best time to fit in a little exercise.  

Using nuts to make a vegan version of “cheese”.  I’m of the notion that I don’t like calling a food something that it’s not.  You feel me?  I will never call cauliflower rice or a steak because it is neither of those two things.  Which is why I’m not really sure what to call this recipe I’m about to share with you.  It’s where I take a nut, i.e. almonds, cashews, ANY nut, and turn them into a replacement of sorts otherwise known as “cheese”.  You will see these many times classified as nut “cheese” but once again I hate to call something that it’s not.  So, if you have a good name, let me know! 

I make different versions of this simply by changing out the nut, almonds and cashews are the most versatile, but the one I made with macadamia nuts might have been my favorite!   I typically use this spread, if you will, as a replacement where cheese would typically be used, but only where it doesn’t need to be cooked.  I did recently put it on top of my lasagna, but it was only to warm it up – I personally find that it doesn’t cook well, but to each his own.  And btw, this one is more like a ricotta version.  You can change the consistency by adjusting the amount of nuts and/or liquid you are using.  And even better?  you can make a sweet version using dates.  Delish! 

p.s.  I am not vegan, nor do I like putting a title on what I am.  I eat.  Period.  But I DO love trying out new recipes and taking on the challenge to find a replacement for people that may want to follow a vegan diet.  You’re welcome.

-          ½ cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 1 hour
-          1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
-          1 teaspoon mellow miso
-          1 garlic clove
-          1 tablespoon lemon juice
-          ¼ teaspoon onion powder
-          Dash of salt and pepper, to taste
-          ¼ cup water

Drain and rinse the cashews.  In a food processor combine the cashews, nutritional yeast, miso, lemon juice, garlic, onion powder, ¼ cup water, salt & pepper to taste.  Pulse the mixture until the cashews are finely chopped.  Then run the motor on high until you have a smooth, lightly textured ricotta-like mixture.  Add 1 teaspoon of water at a time (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons) if necessary to reach the desired consistency.  Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl.  Check ricotta for seasoning – some like a salty ricotta, so add more salt here if you like.

So there you have it.  A vegan alternative to cheese made with nuts – too long a name, but you know what I mean.

Intuitive Eating (IE)– I could write a whole blog post on this very topic, but I’m not.  Suffice it to say there are quite a few books written about this topic as well as many dietitians on social media talking about this very topic.  I just want to say a few words in general about IE. 

I will start off by saying that I have always been an intuitive eater.  I never needed it to be defined as I truly believe that I started off in my childhood with the ability to have all foods fit and never feel as though that food should/could be restricted.  I carried this on into my teens, college years, and now beyond.  I am thankful to my mom for instilling in me this very healthy relationship with food.  As I was in college and studying nutrition I saw how apparent it was that many people around me did not have a healthy relationship with food.  So, I get this whole online movement that many in my profession are trying to educate people about IE.  I do.  In case you are not familiar with IE, here a few key points:

1    Reject the diet mentality.  Throw out the false ideas of losing weight quickly and stop looking for a quick fix.  This leads to feeling like a failure if/when the diet fails and then gain the weight back.

Honor Your Hunger – Keep your body biologically fed to help offset the trigger to overeat (by waiting too long it can trigger a primal drive to overeat).

Make Peace With Food – Give yourself unconditional permission to eat.  There are no cheat days and there is no “good” or “bad” food, there is just food.

Challenge the Food Police – The Food Police are there to monitor the unreasonable rules that dieting has created – and there are some unreasonable rules.

I could continue, but that’s not the purpose of this post.  You can read more about IE here.

Recently I have seen many a picture of donuts, ice cream, and fries with the notion of spreading the word about IE.  Along with a few words such as these:

“You do you. When you want ice cream eat the damn ice cream.” 

“I used to think donuts were nowhere near “healthy” enough to eat for breakfast.  That starting the day with a ‘sugar bomb’ would somehow control the rest of my day and food choices.  Now, I understand the value of eating the donut when I want the donut, and that it has absolutely no effect on how I eat the rest of the day.

Those are just two posts of many that I’ve seen recently online.  I am ALL for all things intuitive eating stands for.  I truly am.  It’s how I was raised, and it was just innately in me.  And it’s my hope that everyone can make peace with food and ditch the diet mentality and food rules and yes, eat intuitively.  Kudos to all the dietitians out there preaching this message.  But here’s the thing.  I think some of this real talk and in your face education about intuitive eating needs to meet people where they are at.  It’s not always as easy as they’re making it out to be, do, and/or practice.  What do I mean?
Watch this video by Dr. Robert Lustig to see a whole other issue that we’re facing:

How are these people to eat intuitively if they must eat more and more just to have that feel good feeling and truly aren’t able to stop?  Obesity is a complex, multi-organ disease.  To say it’s complicated is an understatement.  It isn’t as easy to teach people to eat intuitively if their brain doesn’t allow them to shut off and make that connection (i.e. Leptin tells your brain you’ve had enough.  But when your brain doesn’t get the leptin signal, your brain thinks it’s starving).  I know people want to eat intuitively, but we need to consider these biochemical issues that are real and affecting many people, just look at the obesity stats in America.

And that’s not to say that my fellow dietitians haven’t taken this into consideration.  My point is this.  Showing pictures all throughout your feed of donuts, ice cream, over-portioned burgers and fries isn’t the way to teach intuitive eating to everyone.  There are many people that even though they know the concepts behind IE aren’t able to eat intuitively – “No one can exert willpower over a biochemical drive that goes on every minute of every day.”  ~Dr. Robert Lustig  Seriously go watch the video with the good doctor.  He has done lots of research and is not a quack.

Social media - Instagram, Twitter, Facebook - has created this mecca of learning that I think can be helpful to us but also hurtful all at the same time.  I guess my hope is that we start early on teaching kids how to eat healthy, embrace food for all that it is – fuel but also fun, and obviously ditch the diet culture.  Yes, I am all about intuitive eating.  But my hope is also that we get to the root cause of why someone is struggling with food, like I mean really getting to the cause (because it never is about the food).  Dig deep.  Find the reason and heal.  And more importantly my hope is to really understand the biochemistry of the brain.  Clearly the signals are NOT working – because at the end of the day, it isn’t about willpower.  It’s SO much more complicated.  All the endless pictures of donuts and words telling people to eat the damn donuts isn’t going to help.  In my humble opinion.

Sunday, July 8, 2018


It's the old battle royale.  Kids versus parents:  Getting your kids to eat their VEGGIES!  First, know that you are NOT alone.  Parents all over the world have this same exact struggle.  You might think you are alone, but alas, you are not.  I joke, but only to make light of the situation, because otherwise you might cry at the dinner table and we don't want the kiddos seeing that.  They may think they've won this here battle and well, we can't have that.  To help turn your veggie loather into a veggie lover, here are a few tips and tricks, otherwise known as probably what you've already heard before, but may just be what you need to hear again.  

Set an example.  I know this probably goes without saying, but ‘tis true.  You are the ultimate role model for all things, food included.  If you aren’t eating veggies your kids aren’t eating veggies.  I know many people didn’t grow up eating veggies and that’s the said excuse.  But I will be 100% honest with you when I tell you that kids do form their eating habits at an early age.  It’s best to get them started at an early age as this will set the tone for their adult eating habits.  Even if veggies weren’t your thing, aren’t your thing, you best start making them your thing.  Eat veggies, not only for your kid’s health, but also YOUR health. 

Make food fun.  I’m not sure when cooking turned into being such a dreaded chore.  Oh yeah I do.  That moment when everyone at the table complains about the food on the table night after night.  Oh yeah, that’s why.  We’ve lost the fun when it comes to food.  Kids are a great example of tapping into our inner child-like spirit of make believe and games.  They love to pretend.  So use that “pretending” with their veggies.  Maybe they are a dinosaur that needs to eat miniature trees in order to outrun Tyrannosaurus Rex.   Yes, I know you just got through with a long day at the office and the last thing you want to do is entertain your kids in this manner.  But guess what?  Odds are they might buy into this game and try to eat some miniature trees.   You never know until you try.  I am not saying it will work each and every time, but start thinking like a child and you might be surprised what other creative ways you can come up.  Keep reading if you’re still not sure.

Get them involved.  This goes along with why cooking became a dreaded chore, dinner always seems for some reason to fall on one person in the house.  Cooking dinner should be conquered with teamwork, a division of duties if you will.  Get EVERYONE involved – kids take ownership in things they prepare and are more likely to want to eat food that they prepare.  Yes I know it will be messier to have the kids involved in the preparation, but remember what I said at the beginning?   This is a TEAM effort.  That means they too are involved in the clean-up process.   And taking this a step further, have the kids involved in deciding what foods are eaten during the week.  Allow them to have choices – and no I am not saying mac-n-cheese with chicken nuggets every night, but I do believe they may have some insight into what veggies they do like and what veggies they might be willing to try (yes, they need to help with this also).  Additionally as kids get older have them start finding recipes online that might make them more willing to try a veggie.  One other area of involvement, if you’re into this kind of thing, is to have them grow their own food, yes that’s right, plant a garden.  What better way for them to see the food from the ground to the table and how much work it takes to grow what they’re eating.  That’s a whole other level of involvement, but if you are into gardening, definitely get the kids involved.  And if you don’t have a green thumb (like me) take the kids to farmer’s market and/or u-pick fields where they can see how food grows.  Involve them in their food selection, growth, and preparation; it will change their outlook on food.

Grown in Mom's backyard.  Once you see how long it takes a pineapple to grow, you'll definitely appreciate them more!

Enforce a “one-bite rule” – And if you don’t agree with me on this point, see my next point below as to why this is a “rule” versus the next point (and if you’re confused just read on, you’ll see what I’m talking about).  Research does consistently show that when children initially reject a food they must be exposed to it at least 8-10 times in order for them to ultimately accept that previously rejected food.  Take a second to breathe all of that in.  8-10 exposures?  That’s a lot of rejection.  Just another reason why food isn’t fun anymore.  I really am trying to make light of this a little bit and you should as well.  Your job as a parent is to expose children to the food.  Children’s jobs are to eat the food you prepare and provide.  It doesn’t mean they will always like what you prepare (or they even start helping to prepare) but the fact remains you have to keep exposing the kids to these foods in order for them to start possibly accepting them (who knows what day that will be, but keep the faith and keep on serving veggies!)  And this all starts with just one bite.  That’s right.  Encourage your children to at least take one bite (an established rule before sitting at the table, not to be an argument when at the table to disrupt discord while at the table).  One bite, that’s it.  No ewww, yuck, or gross, just one bite.  They may like it and they may not, but at least they’ve tried it to find out whether they do or not.  And that leads me to my next tip:

Don’t force them to finish.  I know it’s tempting to make them have to finish everything on their plate.  Maybe that’s the way you were raised or maybe you’re using it as a form of punishment because you were the only one that prepared dinner and now no one is even eating what you made.  No, that’s not the reason, surely not.  We want a positive eating experience not a negative one (and yes, I know they may have ruined your dining experience by making it such a difficult chore to have to eat their veggies) but keep in mind this is also part of a control/independence situation where they do ultimately get to control what they are eating.  You cannot force them to eat their veggies as much as you would like to.  It creates a not so great eating experience and can end up reinforcing picky eating habits that you’d rather just went away.  So, go back to my previous point and stick with the one-bite rule.  It’s much easier for you to have a better dining experience for all at the table.  Promise. 

Explain the importance of veggies.  Once again, obvi, but often forgotten.  Instead of “eat your veggies, because I said so”, bring light to the reason why those veggies are so important to eat.  Create a conversation as to what goodness/benefit/function they are getting from each and every vegetable.    I think every kid wants to perform better at their sport, grow bigger and stronger, and/or “be like Mike” and that all starts with eating their veggies aka those vitamins and minerals are so important for us to function at our peak performance.  Which leads me to my next point.

Offer a variety of colors.  Kids do love colors, so this is helpful when it comes to eating veggies.  You can expose them to more colors by adding different vegetables to their plates.  Just keep in mind that while adults like their flavors to mingle, kids do not.  Make sure to keep their vegetables separate.  Get creative in the way you offer the veggies.  Even though kids may like their vegetables separate, you can create patterns with their veggies and/or even create shapes with their food.  Always keep it light and fun, this helps the overall atmosphere at the table too.  Yes, make food fun again!

Flavor, flavor, flavor.  Ever had a not so great experience with food?  Unripe papaya would be the first that comes to mind for me.  I love papaya, but if you cut one open too soon and it’s under ripe, you won’t catch me eating it anytime soon.  So, consider this when offering veggies to kids.  They have to have flavor (once again, obvi I know, but sometimes is lost in the struggle to get our kids to eat veggies).  No bland veggies.  Please and thank you.  I think one of the ways to think about this is to offer one vegetable in a variety of ways to allow kids to choose which way they may have enjoyed it the best.   Reiterate that there is no ew, yuck, or gross at the table, but if there was a thumbs down, maybe try offering that same vegetable prepared in a different manner.  That’s right, just because they didn’t like it one way doesn’t mean they won’t like it another way.  It really truly is all about flavor (and keep in mind kids’ taste buds grow as they grow.  This is an important point to remember…so, yes, one day they will like veggies.  We don’t know when that day will be, but one day they will!)

Stick with it!  Consistency really is the key.  Some children are more difficult than others and will require more effort and patience (yes, you know which children they are, just don’t let them know which ones they are).  Kids are developing their eating habits at a young age, so it’s important to know that these habits do stick with them through adulthood.  Whatever you do, don’t throw in the towel. 

Here are just a few more ideas of ways to get kids to eat veggies.  And as I said earlier, I'm not here to perform miracles, (I wish) these are simply some ways to help have kids exposed to veggies.  There might be a way you hadn't though about previously that will inspire you this week.  

Kids LOVE to dip their food.  What better way to expose kids to veggies than with different dips?  
Hummus, tzatziki, guacamole, salsa, ranch dressing (made with yogurt) - there are more dips than this, but these are a few examples to get you started!

Roasted Potatoes with Chimichurri - definitely a sauce worth trying.

Veggie “Fries” – Let’s be honest, kids love fries.  Why not turn zucchini into a fry? (and I’m not talking fry it like a real fry, I’m talking roast it with a panko bread to make it taste fried, but not be fried.  It works, I’ve done it.  Really any veggie can be turned into a “fry” – butternut squash, green beans – it’s all about the coating and the high heat. 

While these aren't fries, these are zucchini "chips" - cooked at a low-temperature for a very long time.  They totally taste like chips, but are zucchini.

I’m not about tricking kids and putting veggies in foods that they don’t think are there.  I want the kids to be exposed to the veggies, but there are ways to expose kids to veggies in foods that they are familiar with:  broccoli in their mac-n-cheese; spinach in their quesadilla; kale in a quinoa patty; carrots in their spaghetti sauce.  The kids may pick them out (my nephew surely does) but at least the exposure is there and no trickery has gone on.

Pasta is always a great one to have included (not hidden) veggies in - again, be open and tell the kids what is in the sauce.  Odds are they won't even notice.
Try spiralizing different veggies – beets, sweet potato, zucchini – sometimes kids like noodles.  And yes, they don’t taste like pasta, but kids might like slurping their “noodles” up.

These are just a few tips and tricks to try with the kiddos (or adults for that matter - adults you know who you are).  My final parting thoughts:  Keep food fun.  Stay consistent.  Keep offering those veggies.  And whatever you do, delete this page from your search history - we can't have the kids knowing we were talking about them.  
Just a little fun with food.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Health Channel - Heart Health

South Florida WPBT2 and Baptist Health South Florida have collaborated to bring you The Health Channel  - a TV channel connecting you with medical and health professionals in real time.  Cardiology, Psychology, Dermatology – are just a few of the specialties covered.  This past week I had the privilege to record my 1st episode on “All things heart health”.  This coming week I’ll be featured with my two co-workers discussing “Smart Snacking/Hydration for the summer”.  If you weren’t able to tune in, here’s a re-cap of some of the topics I discussed.

One question as a dietitian I’m always asked is “Do I need fat in my diet?”  Throughout most of the years that I have been in the field of nutrition fat has been vilified.  However, in more recent years it’s now being embraced.  So it’s understandable that there can be some confusion.  First, the reason why we need fat in our diet and then what kind of fat we should be having:

Role of Fat – Fat is an essential nutrient in our diet.  Fats provide energy and help support cell growth.  Fats protect our organs and keep our body warm.  Fats help our body absorb some nutrients and even produce important hormones as well.  Fats provide flavor and help our food taste better.  We need to replace the saturated with the unsaturated fats.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has a graphic to help you understand which fats to include more of and which fats to use less of.  I’ll explain it a little more, but first things first.

Unsaturated fats are found in plant-based foods.  They are liquid and therefore do not stick.  They are the healthier fats and the ones and the ones we should LOVE!  Unsaturated fats can be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.  Unsaturated fats are found in olive oil salmon, walnuts, almonds, avocado, and more.  Unsaturated fats help lower cholesterol and triglycerides and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  Unsaturated fats are what we want to replace the saturated fats with!  And as a side note, keep in mind fats both saturated and unsaturated are highly concentrated in calories.  If your end goal is to ultimately lose weight, you will want to watch the portions of the fats you are utilizing.  But portion control is key in everything.
Unsaturated Fats 
Saturated fat is mainly found in animal-based foods (there is some saturated fat in plant-based foods but I’ll explain more on that in a minute).  Saturated fats are solid and therefore easy to remember that they stick, ultimately this can lead to clogged arteries.  These are the fats that you’ll want to limit:  animal-based products such as bacon, cheese, & butter.  Saturated fats increase the CVD risk as well as raise the LDL or lousy cholesterol in our body.  And what I would add to this is simply to check portion sizes when it comes to protein consumption.  The quality of your protein is not only important but also the quantity.  Too many times I see people eating a healthier cut of meat, but still are consuming an excessive amount of protein.  Both quality and quantity are important when it comes to protein intake to help with your overall heart health. 
Saturated Fats - solid & stick
Last but not least are the fats that we need to lose.  These fats that we need to lose are the artificial trans fats and tropical oils.  Small amounts of trans fats do naturally occur in some meat and dairy products.  However, there haven’t been sufficient studies to determine whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same unhealthy effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.   Industrially manufactured trans fats often appear in products as partially hydrogenated oils.  Trans fats raise our LDL (lousy) cholesterol while lowering our HDL (healthy) cholesterol.  That’s definitely not what we want to happen!  But here’s some good news.  As of 6/18/18, manufacturers can no longer add partially hydrogenated oils to their products.  They are no longer recognized as safe.  We’ve known this for a while, but to have them removed has been years in the making.  Consider this a nutrition victory!!  There will be a transition time until 1/1/20 if the product was created before this date, however, they will no longer be able to add it to products.  Bye, bye trans fats!  Hello, heart health!

 And the last note to make is the part that says “tropical oils” – while they are a plant-based source, they do contain saturated fat (what is typically thought to come from an animal), so again think coconut oil.  What has been embraced recently as healthier is one of these examples of a tropical oil that while it’s a plant-based oil does have saturated fat.  The buzz started recently due to a science advisory from the American Heart Association that recommended against ingesting coconut oil.  Take a read if you haven’t already in this article here.  
In this advisory they discuss the study that was done showing a type of fat in coconut oil that can increase metabolism and boost weight loss.  That ingredient is called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs.  This study reported that MCTs are processed by the body differently than other dietary fats.  The often-overlooked part of this study is that the oil used in the study was a special 100% medium-chain coconut oil – translate, no one uses this coconut oil in the mainstream.  In order to get that quantity of MCT oil you’d have to use 10 tablespoons of coconut oil in a day.  No one should take in that much, nor should they – why?  Back to the saturated fat issue.  One tablespoon of coconut oil adds up to more than 11 grams of saturated fats, which is nearly the daily limit of 13 grams.  So yeah, no one food is the magic cure all.  People often try to latch onto the next thing that will make all the weight disappear or “speed up their metabolism” (don’t you think we would’ve bottled that up by now if we knew what it was?) 

Here’s a clip of a recent video I did with The New Tropic regarding this very same question.  Enjoy!

 What's the value of coconut oil? via New Tropic's website.  And here's the same video via their Facebook page.
Trying to think of how to tell the people that coconut oil does have saturated fat.

So how much saturated fat should one be consuming?  Keep in mind the recommendation by the AHA in general for saturated fat is to replace your saturated fat with unsaturated fat.  Can you use olive oil instead of butter?  Can you include nuts, i.e. sliced almonds, chopped walnuts, to top your salad instead of cheese?  Easy switch outs, but in the bigger picture it’s replacing the unhealthy fats with the healthier fats.  Next, I would then recommend for you to check the portion size of your protein at meals.  In general people are over consuming protein.   The general recommendation is a 3-4 oz piece of lean protein at meals – it’s that side dish on your plate, it’s not the main event.  Start there – begin to cut back or minimally verify how much animal protein you’re taking in.  Obviously make sure it’s lean vs high fat, but in general we need also to cut back on our portions.

If you’ve been told you need to lower your cholesterol by your doctor, the AHA recommends limiting your saturated fat intake to no more than 5 to 6% of your total calories.  For someone eating 2,000 kcal/day that’s about 13 grams of saturated fat.  It’s strict but is proven to help lower cholesterol.
Cashews turned into "cheese".  Vegan.
I talked about it a lot on PBS.  It’s underrated for all the benefits that it contains.  It’s my favorite “F” word besides, food, family, and fun.  It’s FIBER!!  I know, you’re wondering how I can get soooo excited about fiber.  But here’s the thing, it helps our bodies so much more than just going to the bathroom that I think we need to start talking about it more.  Hence why I commonly refer to it as the “fiber factor”. 

Here are the known benefits:

-Regularity.  Yes, this is true.  Not only does it help normalize bowel movements, but it also increases the weight and size of our stools.  People will often ask then is there such thing as having too much fiber?  Not really – I mean, you just have to increase your water intake due to the increased fiber intake, otherwise you can get gas and bloating.  I always say, the more fiber the better!

-Lowers cholesterol levels:  lowers LDL, lousy cholesterol, as well as other heart health benefits of lowering blood pressure and inflammation.

-Improve blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.  Fiber is the part of the plant that you don’t absorb.  So naturally if you’re not absorbing it, it helps slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates, ultimately leading to an improvement in blood sugar control.  So, fiber is a dual benefit in those with diabetes, improved blood sugar control and improved heart health (people with diabetes are twice as likely to have a cardiac event).  I call that a winner if you ask me.

-Aids in achieving a healthy weight:  high-fiber foods tend to be more filling than low-fiber foods.  Odds are you’ll eat less and stay satisfied longer.  Also, high-fiber foods are less energy dense – fewer calories for the same amount of food – and can take longer to eat.

-Reduce the risk for some cancers.

So yes, fiber goes beyond just regularity.  Dub it the fiber factor – don’t worry about how much you need, just eat more plants.  You’ll notice the benefits.  Trust me.

 And finally, one of the most commonly asked questions, “How many eggs can I eat in a day?”  If it were only that simple, I’d have an answer for you.  But alas, it is not.  No, I am not trying to evade the question, the truth is it all depends on your total saturated fat intake for the day. 

Eggs contain cholesterol and while cholesterol in food alone does not raise blood cholesterol levels, the concern is more with the saturated fat.  Think about eggs – what do we often pair them with?  Bacon, cheese, and butter – all sources of saturated fat.  It’s this synergistic effect that then raises the cholesterol levels, it’s not the poor egg’s fault but rather those he’s associating himself with.  Eggs inherently are lean and healthy.  It does boil down most times to what we are combining them with.  And as I mentioned in the beginning it does matter your overall total saturated fat for the day and how it fits – I am a vegetarian and the number of eggs I’d be able to eat might be more than someone who is also consuming other sources of animal protein.  It all goes back to not only the quality of the protein you’re consuming but also the quantity.  It all adds up.  Make sure it’s lean and not paired with high saturated fat condiments – that bacon and butter will get you.  (Yes, bacon and butter may be consumed in moderation, as I believe all foods will fit.  However, also do not misconstrue what I’m saying and give yourself liberty to consume bacon and butter more often just because you said I said so.  Got it?  Okay good.)

So, there you have it.  A round-up from my latest episode of PBS’s Health Channel.   It will re-air this Tuesday, June 26th, at 8 am.  Tune in or DVR it if you can.  Know that you can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease – or slow its progress – by taking prevention to heart.  Making small, gradual changes can make a BIG difference in your health.