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54062182It is only the third week of September, and yet so far I have seen the Pumpkin Spice Latte return early, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin beer… you get the idea. And don’t get me wrong, I like pumpkin thinks – pumpkin pie is a classic Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin beer is one of my favorite parts of fall (although if you guys could wait until it was actually a little cool, that would be great -I do not want to drink pumpkin beer in a sundress. End rant), and pumpkin seeds toasted with a little bit of salt and cinnamon are the best fall snack. And pumpkin is pretty good for you, as it is:

  • High in key vitamins like vitamin A, C, and B complex
  • Low in calories and fat but high in fiber and antioxidants
  • Rich in minerals the body needs like copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorous
  • Seeds are a good source of heart healthy fats
  • Seeds are also high in zinc (important for wound healing and immune system strength) and iron

Pumpkin Spice V. Pumpkin

The thing about pumpkin is, it’s not all that delicious raw. It usually needs some salt, sage, or other herb, or on the flip side some cinnamon, sugar, and/or pumpkin pie spice, which is made of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice to make all the delicious pumpkin-y things we love. Which is totally fine – I have no problem with pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, or roasted pumpkin because they actually CONTAIN PUMPKIN.

Pumpkins!

 

My philosophical beef is with the pumpkin posers – most importantly the Starbucks “pumpkin spice latte”. The PSL contains espresso, steamed milk, whipped cream, pumpkin pie spices atop that whipped cream, and pumpkin coffee syrup, which contains pure cane sugar, water, natural flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate (to preserve freshness), and caramel color. Of course I don’t know what these “natural flavors” are, other than that natural flavors are generally any product of or derived from spices, herbs, vegetables and other things found in nature. So, the only pumpkin thing about the PSL is the pumpkin pie spice on top of the whipped cream, and maybe some derivative of pumpkin or pumpkin pie spices hiding under that “natural flavors” moniker. The PSL is also 380 calories and 49 grams of sugar for a 16 ounce serving. Ouch. 

As for pumpkin beer, that’s somewhat in the gray area. According to Beer Advocate, some brewers hand cut pumpkin and drop it in the mash, or use pureed pumpkin, and most brewers use the pumpkin pie spices. It seems other brewers may opt for flavorings instead of real pumpkin. 

Get Your Pumpkin On The Right Way

There are lots of delicious and healthy things to make with pumpkin. I have a pumpkin soup recipe that I love making every year. There is a whole Pinterest thread dedicated to paleo/primal things one can make with pumpkin, and as a bonus, roasting the seeds after you’ve used the rest of the pumpkin makes a very tasty snack (there are too many great recipe variations to link to just one, so Google it yourself). Just remember:

  • Make it with a real pumpkin
  • Avoid adding too much sugar

What pumpkin-y things do you like to make?

Photo 2 c/o Jeremy Seitz

17 Sep 2014

It’s Chili Time!

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IMG_0507I’m generally a little sad this time of year, as summer and warm weather turns to crisp mornings and changing leaves. But there are enough things about fall that I love to help me get by. Chili is one of those things. I love my mom’s chili as a kid, I loved when she made a whole batch, froze it, and drove it to Gainesville on track meet weekends to put in my freezer. And now I love having a meal that, while a bit laborious, gives me lunches and dinners for days. 

A few great thing about home-made chili:

  • All those vegetables! My pot of chili has 5 bell peppers of varying colors, 4 hot picstitchpeppers, 2 onions, as well as a bunch of tomatoes in different forms (sauce, salsa). 
  • Iron – chili is generally made with red meat (we made ours with grass-fed beef, but you can also use bison, humanely raised sausage, venison, etc). Most red meat has iron, a component of hemoglobin, which is responsible for transportation of oxygen throughout the body. 
  • It makes your house smell awesome – I don’t think I need to explain this.
  • It’s super adaptable – in its normal state, chili is basically paleo. But it’s easy to adapt for vegetarians, vegans, those avoiding red meat (just add turkey), etc.

How do you make your chili?

Patrick and I made chili last night, using his recipe, which I’ve posted on my Wicked Good Nutrition Blog. Lots of vegetable chopping but totally worth it!

How do you make your chili? Post your recipes!

Shannon Flahive liked this post
10 Sep 2014

Why Running Makes You Go

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277844911_92897c47b1_zSince half marathon/marathon/spartan race season is upon us, I thought a little post on running and GI issues was in order. I think many habitual, sometimes, and “only if a bear is chasing me” runners alike probably know the feeling of having a perfectly beautiful run (or 5K test, whatever), and then BAM you gotta go. I have even heard the joke that you’re not a real runner until you’ve gone to the bathroom in public. But why does this happen?

More often than not, the source of stomach pain and bathroom breaks on a run is because of food choices, and the biggest culprit is sugar. Many runners use sugary chews, goos, or snacks to stay fueled during the run. This is smart, obviously – readily available carbohydrates at periodic times during an endurance activity will help you maintain the activity longer. So what’s the problem?

IMG_3168Osmosis is the problem. Remember from biology class that osmosis is the movement of water molecules between a semi-permeable barrier to the side with higher solute concentration so as to equalize the concentration on both sides. Your body likes to maintain a particular balance – known as homeostasis – and osmosis helps it do this. So when that high carbohydrate, low everything else fuel item of choice is digested very quickly in the stomach, it moves to the intestine. Now the intestine has a high concentration of “solute” (the sugar. Osmosis kicks in, and water is drawn into the intestine, which makes stool (that’s health professional speak for poop) looser. And I think we all know where this is going.

How Can You Fix It?

There are a few ways you can try to fix this. Of course, everyone is different, so it will likely come down to some self experimentation. 

  • Avoid corn sugar. According to a blog post on constipation by Dr. Reddy, an Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at the Western Michigan University School of Medicine, corn syrup – along with apple, pear, and prune juices – is not absorbed very well by the intestine, and have a stool loosening effect.
  • Space our your fuel – intend of eating a whole bag of chews (for some, up to 45 grams of sugar) all at once, eat 2-3 chews (or about 10-15 grams of carbs) every half hour. This will result in slower infusion of sugar to the intestine, which will avoid the large osmotic response. 
  • Don’t over hydrate – it’s good to drink water, of course. But water IN the intestine is kind of the problem. So having a lot of water at once, especially with your fuel, could cause the same issue. Try to sip water throughout the run/race, aiming for about 8 -16 ounce an hour. 

Image 1 c/o Vicki Wolkins

03 Sep 2014

The Politics of Diet

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I’ve noticed that diet has become quite political these days. Many people feel very strongly about their chosen diet, and love to share news articles and studies supporting their particular view. And boy was everybody tweeting about that low carb v. low fat diet study yesterday. 

 

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 8.11.47 AMScreen Shot 2014-09-03 at 8.11.28 AM

I hadn’t had time to read the study, but I did get to read Dr. David Katz’s take on it (he’s the Director of the Yale Prevention Research Center, so I guess he’s kind of smart) and I’m glad that was the first thing I read. It highlights how important it is for us (well, our journalists should be doing this but they sadly rarely bother) to read these studies. Nutrition science is still new and there are still a lot of challenges, but we don’t need to muck it up further by conducting and publishing truly crappy studies. 

Since Dr. Katz essentially wrote everything I would have – and likely better – I’m going to yield the floor to him now.  From Dr. Katz on LinkedIn:

 

Diet Research, Stuck in the Stone Age

You cannot get a good answer to a lousy question.

The current diet study making headlines purportedly asked, and answered this question: which is better for weight loss and improving cardiac risk, a low-fat or a low-carb diet? For starters, that is a truly lousy question, resurrected from something like the Stone Age. I doubt even the Paleo clan find the question attractive, since they like prehistoric food; not prehistoric research questions about food.

Why prehistoric? Because it is long known and well established that dietary fats run the gamut from good to bad to ugly. No good diet should willfully exclude the monounsaturated fats and omega-3s in nuts and seeds and avocados; I’m pretty sure everybody not stuck under a boulder knows that.

There is on-going debate today about specific effects of specific fats, but the wholesale cutting of dietary fat intake was pretty much yesterday’s news yesterday. The relevant concept today would be plant-based eating, which at the extreme of veganism, tends to be low in fat- but as an effect rather than an objective. This was not a study of a vegan diet.

The concept of low-carb is also terribly outdated, and was silly when it was first spawned. Everything from lentils to lollipops is carbohydrate; why on earth would anyone want to treat such a vast expanse of the food supply as if it were just one thing? Sillier still, all plant food is a carbohydrate source. A truly “low carb” diet is, of necessity, low in all plant foods- including vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, beans, and lentils along with whole grains. This is directly at odds with everything we know about diet and health across the lifespan.

Read more.

PS If you like reading about a common sense approach to health and would like to read about it more often than my once weekly blog, use the link above to follow him on LinkedIn.

Vermont_cowWell, that is, if you are drinking milk. A while back I wrote a post on organic produce, the point of which was essentially “Meh, nutritionally organic and conventional produce are very similar”. But that’s not gong to be the point of this article. The point of this article is that if you put dairy products into your body, they better damn well be organic 99% of the time. 

How Milk Is Made

Conventional dairy farming can be a nasty business. Cows live in close quarters, are fed corn/grains (not the natural diet of a pastured animal) and receive antibiotics (scary fact: somewhere around 80% of antibiotics produced in the US are given to animals). None of these things is particularly healthy for the cow. And I haven’t even gotten into the pooping – how much, where it goes, and what that does to the environment. I’m not going to either, there’s enough on that circulating the web. (Or, if you’re interested in a comprehensive book on industrial dairy and meat production in the US, check out Animal Factory). 

In contrast, the standards for organic livestock include:

  • Organic feed
  • Access to outdoors
  • Ruminants must have access to pasture during growing season (at least 120 days)
  • Preventive healthcare plan
  • Prohibited use of antibiotics, growth hormones, genetic engineering, or cloning

Source – Extension 

Why It Matters

849495f62ae31738eeeb06ec3e3a6c85The biggest reason organic dairy matters is the antibiotics. Hold on, I”m putting on my public health hat for a minute.

OK there we go. Antibiotic resistance and superbugs are a HUGE HUGE HUGE problem that is continuing to grow. The more antibiotics are used when they shouldn’t be (like for prevention in all of our livestock, or when you have a virus like cold or flu), the more opportunity bacteria have to build resistance. And bacteria we can’t kill leads to disease and death. Can you imagine dying because you cut your foot at work? Before antibiotics, it happened. If you want to read something terrifying about antibiotic resistance, read this article on a post antibiotic era.  

Another benefit of organic dairy is the actual nutrition, and there’s some evidence to back it up.

As far as dairy is concerned, several studies demonstrated the superiority of organic dairy compared to conventional. A review conducted in Germany added data from the last three years to an existing pool of data and found that organic dairy products are higher in protein and omega-3 fatty acids and have a higher omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acid ratio than conventional products. Typically, the Western diet is high in omega 6 fats and low in omega 3 fats, but a higher omega 3 to omega 6 ratio is thought to reduce inflammation and risk of heart disease. The authors suspect that these results are due to the differences in the way organic and conventional dairy cows are fed. (Palupi E, Jayanegara A, Ploeger A, Kahl J. Comparison of nutritional quality between conventional and organic dairy products: a meta-analysis. J Sci Food Agric. 2012 Mar 19. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.5639. [Epub ahead of print])

Another study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture looked at the fatty acid and antioxidant profiles of various input levels of conventional and organic milk found that “highest concentrations of nutritionally beneficial compounds were found in the low-input organic system. Adapted grass-based feeding strategies including pasture offer the potential to produce a distinguishable organic milk product quality.” (Kusche D1, Kuhnt K, Ruebesam K, Rohrer C, Nierop AF, Jahreis G, Baars T. Fatty acid profiles and antioxidants of organic and conventional milk from low- and high-input systems during outdoor period. J Sci Food Agric. 2014 Jun 5. doi: 10.1002/jsfa.6768. [Epub ahead of print]).

How To Choose The Right Dairy

3417003146_cffee297fa_zLook for the organic label. Bonus points for grass-fed. And to avoid sugar, stick to plain dairy – no Strawberry milk, fruit on the bottom yogurt, etc. Also remember to look for organic when you are buying cream for coffee, too.

 

 

 

 

Photo c/o http://www.pinterest.com/hamcohealth/infographics-posters-memes/

Photo 2 c/o Mica Monkey 

photo-3Sometimes deciding what to blog about is hard, so I love when you guys ask me questions and give me some inspiration! Shout out to Shannon Flahive for emailing me  a question on olive oil v. canola oil to get this blog rolling. If you’d like me to answer a nutrition question in the blog, email me at [email protected] 

Canola oil has been making headway in the US as a “healthy oil”. Multiple sources cite it as having the following benefits:

  • Less saturated fat (only about 6%) than any other oil
  • Omega 3 fatty acids
  • Higher level of mono-unsaturated fats (observed to be good for cholesterol) than any oil except olive

But what really IS canola oil? There is, after all, no such thing as a “canola” plant. And is it really healthier than other oils, like olive?

Rape Oil

13976697616_6fe78de2a2_zNo, really. Canola oil comes from the seeds of the rape plant, in the same family as mustard, radishes, and cauliflower. Rapeseed had been used in Asia and Europe as lamp oil, and later cooking oil, and later became useful for lubricating steam engines on large ships. The oil from the rapeseed was not ideal for eating because of high contents of eurcic acid, which has been linked to heart muscle damage, but in the 1960′s and 1970′s Canadian plant breeders used traditional cross-breeding practices to mostly eliminate the eurcic acid (subbing in oleic acid instead) and create an oil fit for human consumption. Canola Oil – an abbreviation for Canadian Oil – replaced rapeseed oil production by the 1980′s and is produced in Canada. Canola oil is most often used for cooking or salad. dressings.

Olive Oil

903447_10104168548671861_461021652_oOlive oil is – obviously – produced by pressing tree-ripened olives. Olive oil is produced in a variety of places, and the taste can vary based on origin. There are several types of live oil: extra virgin (the result of the first press of the olive and has less than 1% acid  - this is widely considered the best type), virgin olive oil (also first press, but higher acid content of up to 3%), Fino oil (a combination of extra virgin and virgin olive oil), and simply “olive oil” (a combination of fino and virgin or extra virgin oils). In the US, we also have light olive oil, which is simply olive oil refined to create a lighter color and less intense flavor (the calorie and fat numbers are the same as regular olive oils). 

Uses

Olive oil has a smoke point of 375 degrees F, making it best suited for lower temperature cooking like sautéing. The light olive oil has a smoke point of  468 degrees, making it more suited to frying (or baking, given its light taste). Canola oil’s smoke point at 400 degrees also makes it good for frying. Imagine that – a “healthy” oil ideal for frying.

Many food companies and retailers are using canola oil in their products, likely because it’s supposedly healthier and more versatile given that it is flavorless and has a high smoke point. 

Health

Isn’t this the big question? There have been some scares about canola oil circulating the internet, but so far I didn’t find much to be worried about. 

Olive – A litany of research has shown olive oil to be beneficial for health, and a Mediterranean diet including olive oil has been associated with lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, and lower cholesterol numbers.

Canola – A quick review of PubMed turned up nothing remarkably scary or miraculous. A review from 2013 in the journal Nutrition Reviews found “substantial reductions in total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, as well as other positive actions, including increased tocopherol levels and improved insulin sensitivity, compared with consumption of other dietary fat sources”. 

The Verdict

image-2From what I can tell, Canola oil isn’t terrible for you. It may also not be great for you. Just because it is lowest in fat does not make it healthiest. It’s worth pointing out that olive oil has been around since before Jesus was cool, but Canola oil has only been around since ZZ Top was, so olive had a bit of a head start (and a longer proven record) than canola. 

If you’re looking for a new oil to cook with, well… why ? Olive oil is fantastic for sautéing and makes everything (in my opinion) more delicious. Coconut oil or grass-fed butter are good for the limited amount of baking you should ideally be doing. And if you need to fry something – I guess Canola oil works. But so does light olive oil.  

If you find canola oil in your Whole Foods Hot bar or other prepared or packaged food, it’s fine in moderation. But you’re better off cooking for yourself with an oil that wasn’t derived from what was once engine lubricant :)

Sources 

Statistics Canada: Canola Oil – A Canadian Success Story

About.com Food Reference: Smoke Points of Fats & Oils

Photo 1 c/o Massmo Relsig

Shannon Flahive liked this post

55928950_6a535def18_zI’ve heard a couple of people over the past few years talk about cutting out carbs and sugar to such an extent that even the usually neutral fruit was eliminated. I’ve heard people reference bananas and grapes as “very high in sugar”, and something to be avoided. Now we all know sugar is the opposite of awesome for you and that cutting back on carbs and sugar can produce weight loss. But do you really need to cut the bananas to achieve or keep a healthy body?

 

Fruit vs. The Rest Of ‘Em

There is a fundamental difference between the sugar in fruit from the sugar in grains, baked goods, and sweetened beverages: FIBER. Yep, that fiber – the “gluten free” of the 1990′s. The thing is, fiber (along with protein and fat) modulates the rise in blood sugar following the consumption of sugar. (If you don’t recall the glycemic index, this should refresh your memory). Basically ,eating sugar alongside fiber slows the uptake of sugar by the body, thus lessening the insulin required to deal with it all at once. That burst of insulin needed to deal with the flood of sugar is what leads to insulin resistance. 

There is also the point that the sugar in fruit is 100% natural and not added in or processed in any way.

photo-2The bottom line is, human beings still need carbohydrates to survive (yes, I know some people can function in ketosis. But that’s a lot of work and sounds pretty miserable to me. Right now I am talking to the 99% of people at the gym who want to be healthy without going bananas – pun intended). And whole foods like fruit, starchy vegetables, and the occasional unprocessed whole grain or plain dairy product can be a great source of those needed carbohydrates. Bananas make a pre WOD breakfast, grapes and watermelon are deliciously hydrating after a workout, and I find apple (with a little PB added) to make a satisfying snack. (Side note: I have warned about eating too much fiber before a workout in the past. The beauty of fruit is that while it has some fiber, it doesn’t have as much as green vegetables or fortified cereals or bars, so most people can generally eat some within 30 minutes of a workout and not experience any discomfort). Although, obviously, I wouldn’t recommend eating 10 bananas at the same time. 

So basically – keep eating fruit guilt free. It’s almost peach season. 

What are your thoughts on fruit? 

Photo 1 c/o Chuan Chew

06 Aug 2014

Gluten Free Just Got Legit

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I have always shared my birthday (August 5th) with Neil Armstrong, and now, I share it with a new friend: the Gluten Free Label. That’s right, as of yesterday, the term “gluten-free” (as well as “without gluten”, “gluten free”, and “free of gluten”) is regulated by the FDA. So, what does this mean for you?

Some Background

6722574677_1ef9d4c2b2_zGluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, barely, and other hybrid grains. Gluten is usually safe for most people, but about 1% of the population has a condition called Celiac Disease, which is a gluten allergy. When these people eat gluten, their body has an autoimmune response that ultimately leads to damage to the lining of the intestines, which then leads to nutrition malabsorption (as well as other symptoms like bloating and frequent illness).  The only treatment for Celiac disease is a gluten free diet.

However, gluten free has also become popular among people without any allergy to gluten. People go gluten free for a number of reasons, including weight loss and just trying to feel better. As more people went gluten free, the food industry clamored to meet their demands. However, this was still confusing for people who truly needed to avoid gluten, as “gluten free” had not legitimized, regulated definition. 

The Regulation

In August 2013, FDA announced it would begin regulating the term “gluten free”. As of August 5th, 2014, any food labeled “gluten free” must – according to FDA –  either be inherently gluten free (like nuts) or does not contain any of the following:

1) a gluten-containing grain (e.g., spelt wheat)

2) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has not been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat flour); or

3) derived from a gluten-containing grain that has been processed to remove gluten (e.g., wheat starch), if the use of that ingredient results in the presence of 20 parts per million (ppm) or more gluten in the food.

In addition, any presence of gluten in the food must be less than 20 ppm. The FDA used 20 ppm because there is currently no available technology to allow them to measure levels below that.

This label is voluntary, so for example, Diamond is allowed to label their raw and salted almonds “gluten free”, but they don’t have to. 

You can read more on FDA’s website

What This Means For You

1292854_10104168503357671_368462039_oIf you have Celiac disease, this means that you may now shop with confidence, knowing that foods labeled “gluten free” or anything similar are in fact, as far as modern technology an detect, free of gluten. This is also helpful for anyone (schools, hospitals, parents, babysitters, dinner party hosts, etc) who may need to feed someone with Celiac disease in the future.

But, for the general population, this doesn’t mean as much. Often times foods like pretzels and bread which would normally have gluten but are processed to have it removed have no added benefit for someone without gluten allergy. These foods are often no healthier than the original and are twice as expensive. Gluten free grain foods are usually made with a mix of potato, tapioca, and rice flour.  If you’re trying to eat healthier (or fewer) grains, my advice is to choose 100% whole wheat and cut back on how much you’re eating by adding more vegetables. You can also substitute some grains for vegetables altogether, like spaghetti squash in place of pasta or chopped cauliflower in place of rice. 

Photo 1 c/o Roses daughter 

035Usually when I’m talking about protein foods, I mean foods like chicken, beef, eggs, and other foods whose primary macronutrient is protein. But this time, I’m talking about the other “protein” foods. The Cheerios Protein and high protein bread. This trend of adding protein to all sorts of food should be great news, right? I mean, protein is so good for so many reasons – helps build muscles, keeps you satisfied, important part of DNA, aids recovery for athletes… the list goes on. Unfortunately, throwing protein powder into every possible consumable is not the answer, and here’s why.

1. More processing – if you thought cereal and bread weren’t processed before, they sure are now. The best breads involve grinding down wheat and other grains, packaging them up to send to a baker, the baker mixing them with water, yeast, and whatever other ingredients, baking, and packaging. Now you are adding to that process isolating and dehydrating cow’s milk protein (99.9 times out of 100 NOT a grass-fed, humanely raised cow either) or dehulling and defatting soybean meal to create soy protein isolate, and packaging that up too. The macronutrient label may now reflect a more balanced food item, but the ingredients list will tell a different story.

2. What kind of protein is that again? Let me just say that I have minimal faith in the food industry to use quality ingredients. Even the brands that claim to (looking at you, Naked Juice) are owned by brands (like Pepsi) who only give a crap about profit. Even I don’t know where most of the protein powder on the shelf at GNC comes from. 

3. $$$$$$$ -  Adding a trendy component to your product = increased price. To be fair, I have not had time to check a supermarket, so I will stand corrected if someone tells me protein cheerios and protein bread aren’t more expensive than the regular variety. 

4. Raw protein powder tastes like crap – which means to make it palatable, the protein variety requires a  whole bunch more sugar. This is also why there is always some small amount of artificial sweetener in your Progenex. The good thing about artificial sweetener is that because it’s so much sweeter than regular sugar, you only need a small amount of it. Either way, just compare the nutrition label for Cheerios and Cheerio Protein Honey Oat. The regular Cheerios have 1 gram of sugar per cup, while the Protein version has 14 grams per cup and twice the total carbohydrate (42 grams compared to 20 grams). And while we’re being honest, who eats only the serving size? To get 7 grams of protein, you are adding 13 grams of extra sugar. Honestly, I’d rather see you drink a glass of milk, make an egg, or even eat 2 TB of peanut butter. Both of those will provide more actual nutrition (I’m talking the vitamins and minerals here) than processed cereal with protein powder in it. 

Now, this isn’t a knock on protein powder. That has a couple of specific, evidence based uses for somephoto-10 people (you can learn more about that in another blog post). What I’m knocking is taking a food that is OK but not great for you (Cheerios, whole grain bread, etc) and trying to dress it up as the newest health food while actually making it kind of worse. Going back to the Cheerios example, both Banana Nut and Chocolate Cheerios would be a better option than the Cheerios Protein Oats and Honey (fewer ingredients, fewer types of sugar, half the total carbs, a little less sugar), despite the fact that they sound like desserts. 

The bottom line is  your protein should come from natural sources like eggs, grass-fed/pasture raised meat and dairy, and nuts and seeds. If you’re a vegetarian, even Tofu and some protein supplements are leaps and bounds better than adding protein powder to cereal and other grains. And if you’re looking to add convenient sources of protein to your diet, options include jerky, hard boiled eggs, nuts, deli slices, etc.

Have you tried protein enhanced foods? What did you think of them?

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 8.20.34 AMRaise your hand if you haven’t heard at some point in your life that you need 3 servings of dairy (or low fat dairy) to maintain strong bones. Let me guess, no hands.

Now, milk is a pretty decent food. It has calcium and is fortified with vitamin D, both of which are good for your bones. As a bonus, (low fat) dairy consumption has also been associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes and is associated with lower blood pressure. In addition, milk contains a mix of protein and carbohydrates that make it a good post workout recovery beverage (or part of one that includes added protein). 

But do you need to drink 3 cups (8 oz glasses) of it per day? No, you don’t. So where did that recommendation come from?

A Brief History of Milk In The US

Back in the 1940′s and 1950′s, everyone drank whole milk. It went in cereal and accompanied dinner. But somewhere around the 1950′s and early 1960′s, people started hearing that whole milk was bad for your health. That it could increase your risk of heart disease. So people stopped drinking it. In the meantime, the Dairy Industry kept on producing at high numbers, creating a surplus. This lead to the formation of the Dairy Checkoff Program, which according to Dairy Management Inc. works in the following way”

Dairy farmers pay 15 cents and dairy importers pay 7.5 cents for every hundred pounds of milk (or the equivalent thereof) they sell or import into a generic dairy product promotion fund – familiarly called the “dairy checkoff” – that DMI manages along with state and regional promotion groups. That money – with USDA oversight – is used to fund programs aimed at promoting dairy consumption and protecting the good image of dairy farmers, dairy products and the dairy industry.”

So basically, the dairies pay the USDA, and the USDA promotes milk products for them. Totally legit, right? Now to be fair, it is recommended adults consume 1,000 mg of calcium per day, and a cup of milk has 305 mg. So while the 3 cups per day DOES meet those calcium needs, I think framing this in consumption of dairy alone (without more focus on other calcium containing foods) is underhanded. 

Now as educated adults, we might be able to figure this out and recognize that while dairy isn’t bad for us, we also don’t need to consume a gallon of milk a week per person, either. But not everyone knows this information. In addition, according to a new report called Whitewashed: How Industry And Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods:

  • About half of all milk is consumed either as flavored milk, with cereal, or in a drink;
  • Nearly half of the milk supply goes to make about 9 billion pounds of cheese and 1.5 billion gallons of frozen desserts–two-thirds of which is ice cream;
  • 11 percent of all sugar goes into the production of dairy products.

For more see Eat Drink Politics.

So, the government is promoting all this dairy, and much of it is in the form of things like sugary Boston Cream Pie flavored yogurt, strawberry milk, and to accompany fruit loops. 

What Can We Do

My recommendation is to consume dairy as it fits into your life. I eat Nutty Nuggets cereal every morning, and on alternating weeks enjoy it with 2% milk or almond milk. I eat yogurt and cheese every now and again. But I don’t enjoy drinking milk, and I don’t add cheese or milk to most foods. I do, however, use Greek yogurt as a sub for mayonnaise in chicken or tuna salad. However, I know some people (ahem, Martin) drink a lot of milk regularly. And that’s fine too.

Here are my basic tips for dairy:

  • Choose milk that is grass-fed and from humanely raised cows.
  • Choose Whole or 2% milk or plain Greek yogurt. It’s actually pretty hard to have too much on a regular basis if you’re eating rich, plain dairy (at least I find).
  • Avoid ice cream, processed cheese, etc as primary sources of calcium.  The benefit of calcium from a box of Kraft Mac ‘N Cheese is not worth the cost of what else is in the food.
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