Hello followers, friends and colleagues!
Like you, I have been experiencing a very unusual 2020. My travel plans were all cancelled, work has shifted to remote only, and health has been of utmost importance. I have been fortunate to continue to teach online courses as well as counsel clients via video chat (the newly popular practices of tele-health and tele-medicine work with nutrition as well as doctor appointments!). At the same time, I have struggled to feel well, brushing it off for months as the fatigue of all things pandemic-related. But paying closer attention to my body helped me determine that I cannot tolerate gluten.
Having to follow a gluten-free diet was never something I aspired to. Raised on spaghetti and bread, I love carbs more than anyone I know. And as a dietitian, I have warily watched the trend of going gluten-free for all the wrong reasons (weight loss, improved athletic performance, cleaner eating – none of which are scientifically supported) but have also worked with many clients suffering from gluten-related disorders, namely Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance.
My mission for 2021 is to focus on this topic while sharing my journey with you. Together we will explore the latest research, examine different gluten-related disorders, figure out steps for diagnosis, look at how to improve quality of life, and of course, manage a gluten-free diet. I can’t wait to continue this conversation with you and connect you with all kinds of other resources. Until then, get plenty of fresh air, sleep well, be mindful, maintain your physical activity, and eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
Best in health,
Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Morocco. Mauritius and St. Helena. Brazil, Spain, and Netherlands. Japan, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, India. And of course the United States. These are the places I will be visiting over the next 18 months, studying food and culture along with nutrition, health, and sustainable farming. I will be keeping a journal and teaching students along the way, but taking a break from blogging so I can focus intentionally and mindfully as I travel the world.
Thank you to all of my readers who have kept this site so popular over the past two years! I can't wait to update you when I log back in!
Students in New York are learning about food systems and all the effort that goes into getting food items from the farm to their plates. They are also discovering the impacts of food waste, fast food, advertising, and other topics. You can learn more, too: Eating as Part of the Natural World.
Just One Thing: Think about how your food is connected to the environment, culture, farmers, ranchers, and other producers.
This Friday is National Cocoa Day! The main ingredient of chocolate, cocoa contains compounds called flavanols, which have many health benefits - including protecting the heart, lowering blood pressure, preventing blood clots, and reducing inflammation throughout the body. They also have been shown to improve thinking skills by helping brain cell connections, as discussed here: Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain?
The benefits of cocoa extend to its food products, including cocoa powder and dark chocolate. Too much butter fat and sugar found in café hot chocolate drinks will outweigh the benefits, so try making your own hot chocolate with dark cocoa powder, skim milk and enough sugar to sweeten but not overwhelm.
Just One Thing to do: Enjoy a cup of flavanol-full hot cocoa.
Many clients have told me over the years that they start unhealthy eating habits around Halloween and continue right through December 31. But a new month is always a good opportunity for a fresh start. Use the next few weeks to give your body the food it deserves!
First, clean out the refrigerator. Toss your Thanksgiving leftovers – the mashed potatoes and gravy are past their expiration dates, anyway, and any pie or whipped topping lurking in the freezer are better off in the trash.
Second, review the food groups. Your body is probably craving vegetables, even if the weather is cold. Use a slow cooker to prepare a chili, stew or soup that is rich in vegetables and beans; these will fill you up, provide hydration and fiber, and satisfy you in a comforting way that cold chips and cookies cannot.
Lastly, have fruit visible and easily accessible. Apples and oranges are in season, and frozen fruit that is gently heated makes a great topping for yogurt and oatmeal.
Just One Thing to do: Start each meal with a vegetable or make vegetables the focus of your meal with homemade chili, stew or soup.
Wherever you are, whatever the weather, going outside is good for your health. Sunlight and fresh air help manage and prevent anxiety, improve sleep, boost immunity, and stimulate your thinking skills. Adding some physical activity to the mix will burn calories and lift your mood.
If it's cold, be sure to bundle up - wear warm socks and sturdy shoes while covering your head, face and hands. Warm or cold, wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
Just One Thing to do: Head outside after lunch to walk around the block and take deep breaths of fresh air.
My recent blog about self-care generated a lot of emails, and I’m so happy to know it was the reminder many of you needed to take care of yourselves. In this crazy time, we need to pay attention to our mental and physical health.
Along those lines, I want to continue to encourage nutrition self-care with intuitive eating. This is an approach to food and health that says do not diet, do not deprive yourself, and do not feel guilty about eating. An intuitive eating philosophy says you know your hunger and your fullness signals – or at least you can learn to. This makes it possible to honor your body without outside influences from others, from social media, from the scale, from diets.
Do you want to get started eating intuitively? Start by making peace with food – it is supposed to be nourishing, not the enemy. It is ok to eat a variety of foods, and if you stop thinking of a food as forbidden or off limits, you will be less likely to crave it and binge on it. So listen when your body says it is hungry, and just as importantly, listen when it says it is full. The more you practice paying attention to hunger and fullness, the more you will trust your body.
For additional steps to take, visit the experts’ 10 Principle of Intuitive Eating here.
Just One Thing to do: Use Intuitive Eating to trust your food choices.
The National Institutes of Health designates November as National Diabetes Month, and this year its focus is on the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease (see information here and the image below) because individuals with diabetes are likely to have heart disease or stroke.
In addition to encouraging you to see your doctor for an updated exam and lab work, I like to highlight the good news: Did you know diabetes can be managed to prevent complications? Increasing your physical activity just a little bit, making just a few healthful food changes, and monitoring your blood sugar can make a huge difference. I know sometimes people get overwhelmed thinking about the “should’s” of diabetes management: I should exercise, I should go on a diet, I should skip holiday dinners. But it doesn’t have to be that hard.
If you have type 1 diabetes, talk to your doctor and dietitian about balancing your insulin, food and activity with your lifestyle to maintain your blood sugar.
If you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, determine if you need to lose weight. Just a 5% weight loss can reduce your blood sugar and your cardiovascular disease markers; that means losing 10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds. To me, that is certainly more reasonable and realistic than thinking about needing to lose 20, 30 or even 40 pounds. If you do need to lose weight, add a 30 minute walk daily along with smaller portion sizes at every meal and snack. Those, too, are reasonable and realistic changes!
Just One Thing To Do: Instead of being overwhelmed, focus on small, reasonable lifestyle changes to feel better and prevent complications.