turmeric tips, blizzard-approved “golden milk”

hello from blizzard land! In addition to snow (ugh, it won’t stop falling here in nyc), there’s almost always “something going around,” this time of year. Aside from frequent hand washing, I’m a firm believer that good nutrition can go a long way when it comes to warding off the sniffles. I always pay extra close attention to the foods and nutrients I’m eating during the colder months to help give my immune system a bit more oomph, because being sick is the pits. I frequently research immune-boosting foods and nutrients for work, as well as common nutrients that are thought to have possible “anti-cancer” affects (or vice versa). There is one that is pretty popular in the oncology world and also quite “on trend” in the health world lately, and that’s turmeric. Or more specifically, its compound curcumin (which is what gives it the yellow hue that is SO HARD to get out of pretty much anything).

what is turmeric?
turmeric comes from the root of the curcuma long plant and kind of looks like a ginger root, except the inner flesh is a much more vibrant orange-yellow. It’s most frequently used in ground form for things like curry dishes and can be found in the spice section of the supermarket.

how is turmeric used?
in addition to delicious curry dishes (this one is my favorite), turmeric has long been used in Eastern cultures as somewhat of a “healing” spice due mainly to the high antioxidant content of curcumin. It can be added to teas, soups, stews and even smoothies to boost both flavor and nutrient content, and because it seems to be the “it” spice of the moment, there are tons of great inventive recipes available around the internet. I’m eager to try this golden savory cake (yum!). Turmeric and curcumin are also sold as a dietary supplement, and though many scientific studies have been performed on its use in this form, I would not currently recommend taking it as a dietary supplement. Just as I tell my patients, dietary supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so there is no way to know what’s actually in them and how it may affect us.

can turmeric boost immunity? prevent cancer? chronic disease?
as I mentioned, curcumin is a very potent antioxidant and known anti-inflammatory compound, and can help reduce oxidative damage to cells and neutralize free radicals. A diet high in antioxidants such as curcumin is important for the prevention of chronic disease and some cancers. When it comes to immunity, the role of curcumin has been extensively studied, with current findings point towards its enhancement of the activation of immune cells important for fighting infection. Whether increasing turmeric in your diet will prevent you from getting sick is a question I can’t definitively answer, but it certainly can’t hurt in most cases.*

Because of these immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is also being studied for possible protective benefits against the development and spread of some cancers. Currently, it is being researched in breast, pancreatic and colon cancers (to name a few), inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis as well as Alzheimer’s disease. It’s all quite fascinating, especially its potential role not only in the prevention of cancer, but in the spread of already existing tumors. As with so many topics, though, more research is needed before any changes are made to any of the (and my) current recommendations are made.

so what are my recommendations? 
try to incorporate turmeric into your diet* – a small amount (1/4 tsp, even!) can go a long way -by making any traditional Indian curry dish, throwing a bit of the spice into a smoothie or trying this recipe for “golden milk” – perfect for a cold winter night or sensible weekend blizzard.

Turmeric “Golden Milk” Recipe
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 cup water
2 tsp honey
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
Pinch black pepper (this enhances absorption of curcumin!)

Instructions
Add all ingredients into a small saucepan and bring to a light boil, stirring to combine ingredients. Simmer on low heat for 10-15 minutes. Transfer to mugs and serve warm, topped with an additional pinch of cinnamon as desired.

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*turmeric may interact with some medications, especially blood thinners, pain medications and some chemotherapy agents, so always consult with a doctor if you are thinking of incorporating larger amounts into your diet. As I mentioned above, I do caution against the use of turmeric as a dietary supplement and instead advocate for its use in foods and beverages (in moderate amounts!).

what the new dietary guidelines are trying to tell you

most people won’t read the new dietary guidelines that came out last week. And that’s ok – they are presented in somewhat of a confusing format and it takes a while to navigate through and yank out important details. Part of my job is to translate these details into my practice, and also to clear up the frenzy of misconception that usually occurs thanks to the media/social media world – you may have seen headlines to the likes of “cholesterol is GOOD” or “sugar is BAD.” Yeah, there’s a bit more to it than that.

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eggs and cheese – good?

But to make things more confusing, the dietary guidelines tend to go back and forth from recommending certain foods (e.g., leafy greens) to discussing more general nutrients (e.g., saturated fat). Marion Nestle and my friend Jackie said it best here and here  – this is likely because the government is trying to protect their ($$$) relationships with the big soda, sugar, dairy, meat, etc. industries by not coming out and saying “stop eating/drinking X.” Lucky for them, though, I can say that, and with gusto. My takeaways:

replace soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages (like juice) with water, flavored seltzer, unsweetened iced teas, etc. the new guidelines suggest limiting intake of added sugars (so, not natural sugars like fruit) to ten percent of your total calorie intake for the day. This means that in a 2,000 calorie diet, only 200 should come from sugar. That’s about 50 grams of sugar, or about 12 teaspoons. To put it in perspective, one 12 ounce can of soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar! So really, the recommendation here is to stop or severely limit the soda/sugar-sweetened beverage intake. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – soda is the one thing I think has no place in the diet as it has been linked to obesity and chronic disease and is void of any beneficial nutrients. Cutting out soda as well as other sugary beverages, packaged candies, cookies and cakes should be at the top of most Americans’ to do list.

some dietary cholesterol is ok, but keep red meat at arms length. I mentioned this in a recent post, but previous limitations on dietary cholesterol (300 mg/day) have since been removed from the recommendations due to the lack of sufficient evidence linking consumption to elevated serum cholesterol. That said, cholesterol is found in animal products, many of which contain high amounts of saturated fat – think whole milk, meats, cheese – which the guidelines continue to recommend limiting to ten percent of total calories. So the takeaway here is that cholesterol-containing foods that are not high in saturated fat – eggs, shellfish, for example – can be somewhat regulars in the diet and the foods higher in saturated fat – red meat, full fat dairy – should still be limited. I myself am warming to full fat dairy in moderation, but that’s probably a whole different post.

cut out the processed crap. The guidelines suggest limiting sodium intake to 2300 mg per day, which is about one teaspoon. Most Americans consume at least 50 percent more than this each day, largely due to a high intake of processed foods. In fact, more than half of the foods, period, in the average American diet are processed. Kale is crying somewhere, I’m sure of it. Or maybe that’s me… Anyways, the best way to stay within these sodium limits are to eat more real, whole foods, and if you’re picking up the occasional can of soup or frozen dinner (we’ve all been there), read the labels and try to choose ones that say “reduced” or “low” sodium.

let’s also look at the big picture. One thing I liked about the guidelines is the mention of “eating patterns” – or, the diet as a whole and food combinations we choose over time. There is no one food that is the sole cause of obesity, chronic disease, etc., but rather our typical eating patterns in the long haul. As it stands now, most Americans exceed the recommendations for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium and about 75 percent do not eat enough fruits, vegetables or healthy fats. And what’s more, of the vegetables Americans do eat, 21 percent are potatoes (possibly in the form of French fries) and 18 percent are tomatoes (possibly in the form of tomato sauce on pizza and pasta). Which brings me to…

eat more vegetables, darn it. This is what so much of this boils down to, and probably the thing I say the most to my patients and clients. I’m talking spinach, swiss chard, arugula, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, squash, mushrooms, tomatoes, bell peppers – the more colorful your meal, the better. If you eat at least five of fruits and vegetables per day (or ideally, even more), you wouldn’t have so much room for the other crap (both literally on your plate and in your stomach – these fiber-rich foods are filling!).

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my favorite veggie-palooza macro plate from souen

running updates & boston training

it’s been a while since I last talked about running on this here blog. To be honest, my head hasn’t really been in the running/training game game since starting my new job and I’ve had what seems to be a bit of residual burnout since the NYC marathon. For the last month or so, my runs have been pretty blah, I’ve felt sluggish and had a mostly terrible 15K race in mid-December – not the best combination, to say the least. After that race (I think it was December 12?) I felt SO DRAINED and took it as a sign to back off for a bit. The timing was pretty good, actually, since I really wanted to focus on my work and the holidays were right around the corner. So I ran less, did more yoga and some spinning and tried not to have too many irrational fears about having to walk the Boston Marathon in April.

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absolute favorite boston pic – Meb on his way to winning the 2014 race. EPIC

just when I started to wonder if maybe things weren’t going to get better (like, last Tuesday), the feeling started coming back slowly – you know, when running feels good, the endorphins kick in and you just go. I went out for a long run of 12 miles on Thursday and managed to do 2×2 miles at goal marathon pace (~8:00/mile) without feeling that awful, get me home feeling of recent longer runs and wasn’t totally wiped the rest of the day. I’m considering this a step in the right direction, but also have not a whole lot of interest in increasing mileage that much or changing what I’m currently doing. Right now I’m at about 45-50-ish miles per week with one day off and try to get in yoga almost every day, which I love and think really helps physically and mentally. During past training cycles I’ve gotten up to 70+ miles per week – though last year I think I peaked around the low 60s – but probably won’t come close to that this time around (or maybe ever again? it’s tiring). I’m becoming more and more a fan of being a well-rounded runner – so, getting in a decent amount of miles (for me) but also doing other things I enjoy like yoga and the occasional spin class, even if that means running a bit less.

That said, I should probably start doing more regular workouts as this marathon is not going to run itself in 14 weeks and it’s kind of an important one. And one that I’ve wanted to run for what seems like 213958273957 years. So, some thoughts:

hills and reverse hills
love me a good hill repeat and typically this workout is: 6-10 (depending on progress) repeats up Cat hill in Central Park (about 1:45). Upon talking with Baker (and founder of my team The Battalion), I may also do some reverse hill repeats given those famous and pounding Boston downhills. This would pretty much be running a fast but controlled downhill with a slower uphill on Cat hill – haven’t tried it yet but will report back when I do.

400s and 800s
before I get into longer tempos, I think a few shorter speed workouts like this may help with turnover and also get those fast twitch muscle fibers working again as I think they have been hibernating for a while. Typically, I do 10-12 400 meter repeats with equal rest and 6-8×800 meter repeats with I think (?) 400 meter rest.

mile repeats up and around harlem hill
this is a pretty specific workout, but I did it a lot leading up to the san francisco marathon last July and think it paid off in spades (and a BQ). It’s basically a one mile repeat starting at the bottom of the gnarly (counter-clockwise) harlem hill and continuing down and over the 102nd street transverse, which contains another smaller hill, while maintaining a fast, mile repeat pace. The rest is about 0.25 miles and I do it 4-5 times.

long run workouts
these have never let me down – doing some sort of marathon pace workout within the long run helps me get used to the feel of the pace and gives a ton of confidence that I can maintain it for longer period of time, even on tired legs. Usually this is a tempo of sorts and depending on how far the training cycle and long run is, can range from 4-12 miles at goal marathon pace. Usually goes something like x miles easy, x miles at marathon pace and then a few miles easy to finish the run, depending on how long it is.

yoga (#yogaeverydamnday)
if I don’t go to yoga, my muscles feel noticeably tighter (and also my brain), so if I can make it happen on most days I do. Sometimes this may mean not running as much or at all, and I’m ok with that. Not to totally jinx it, but I haven’t been injured in more than a year and attribute a lot of this to a bit less mileage than in the past and my growing yoga practice. Current favorite pose: bird of paradise.

so when it comes to running and where I’m at right now, the end goal is to get to the starting line in one piece with some confidence that I’ll have a good race. The fact that this particular starting line is in Hopkinton still (and will probably always) gives me all the feels. I think we are now about 100 days away, and when the going gets rough (it probably will, we haven’t actually had a winter yet), all I need to do is think about turning right on Hereford and left on Boylston on April 18 and remember why the hell I’m doing this.

nutrition trends for 2016 (my list)

There are a ton of different articles and lists going around on the “[insert number] hottest food trends of 2015” or “predicted food trends for 2016” and so on. I love reading that stuff – it helps to get some different perspectives on nutrition-related topics and to see what people are buzzing about. That said, there are always things that don’t make the lists that I think should, and vice versa. Here are a few:

the benefits of eggs (or, #putaneggonit) – eggs are one of the most inexpensive sources of high quality protein, and are also packed with a ton of vitamins and minerals like choline, vitamin A and B12. They’re super versatile and easy to throw into salads, scramble with some veggies or eat alone as a quick protein-packed snack. Their reputation as a high cholesterol food has waned a little, but I still get questions from patients all the time on whether they should avoid eggs because of cholesterol concerns. My answer is almost always no, but do try to choose organic or at the very least, cage free if possible. Word on the street is that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will not enforce the previous recommendations on limiting dietary cholesterol intake (currently no more than 300 mg/day) when they finally release the updated guidelines this year because most evidence shows the relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol to be nil.

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sprouted grain english muffin, mashed avocado, hard boiled egg + greens

an end to the term “clean eating” – if there is any term in the health, food and nutrition-related world that drives me a little nutty, it’s “clean eating.” It has no real definition, but insinuates that one way of eating (presumably, the opposite of “clean”) must be “dirty.” Putting this kind of negative spin on any type of diet, food or foods is not my jam, and depending on how it’s defined, can set an impossibly high standard of only eating whatever is thought to be “clean.” Terms like this can often serve as a gateway to or mask existing disordered eating habits, because they can make the diet super restrictive and are not reflective of real life (which, in my opinion, should involve cake and cookies from time to time). Here’s a great post from a fellow RD who echos my thoughts perfectly.

instead, a focus on whole, real foods – this is part of what the term “clean eating” seemed to start out as – diets rich in whole, real foods and less processed stuff – before it blew up into a cult-like diet plan of sorts. There is nothing better for the body than fresh vegetables, fruits, minimally processed whole grains, nuts/seeds and legumes as well as organic and/or local lean proteins and dairy (in moderation). Reducing packaged, processed foods in the diet and focusing more on these whole foods fuels the body with more quality nutrients. This is beneficial to overall health, the prevention of chronic disease and some cancers as well as athletic performance. So really, you can’t go wrong.

bowl love – bowls packed with nutrient-dense foods from kale to seaweed, acai to oats and toppings from avocado to hemp seeds, I love this trend and think it will continue to grow in 2016. These are a great way to spice up any meal and can be really easy to put together with a little planning (e.g., roasting veggies ahead of time, making a big batch of quinoa or beans, chopping kale). When I make a bowl, I always try to include leafy greens (1-2 cups), another cruciferous veggie or two (like Brussels sprouts or cauliflower), a whole grain or complex carbohydrate like sweet potato or quinoa and a protein source like egg, wild salmon, tofu or beans. These combinations make for a super filling, satisfying and nutrient-packed meal.

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this bowl – kale, quinoa, sweet potato, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bell pepper, black-eyed peas, avocado + hemp seeds

mindfulness – I talked about this in one of my previous posts, and think it’s worth repeating here (much to the pleasure of my yogini self). Mindful eating – that is, using physical cues like hunger, taste, texture, smell, etc. instead of emotions and being more “in the moment” when eating – can be extremely helpful both for weight loss and weight management. Slowing down during meals (and heck, during life) also brings a whole new level of enjoyment to the eating (and living) process.

i’m pretty pumped for what 2016 will bring on the nutrition research front (just think of all the news in the past year!) and what it will mean for all of us. #yaynutrition

healthy holiday thoughts & truffles

it’s an interesting time of year to be a dietitian – especially if you work in the field of weight management. And even more so if weight management is a crucial component to the prevention of disease or the reoccurrence of disease. The holidays can be a lot of different things if you’ve had or have a serious health-related issue – full of joy or heartache. And almost always, full of seasonal treats.

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favorite holiday granola for gifts (adapted from this recipe)

most of my patients and weight management clients in the past couple of weeks have been looking forward to this time of year, but with trepidation. A lot of them are on a great path towards a healthy lifestyle and have lost some weight. They’re looking forward to spending this time with family, but a bit wary about the prevalence of holiday cookies, cakes, candies, parties and atypical meals affecting their great progress. It’s my job to help them navigate their way to January 1 and beyond, and I’ve broken my priorities into a few key points:

enjoyment
the ladies I now counsel are some of the most courageous and inspiring people I’ve met, and their enjoyment of the holiday season is important to me. Often, this means indulging in a few favorite treats. I rarely label a food as “off limits” or “bad,” but with breast cancer prevention I have been a bit more strict when it comes to certain items (sugar, saturated fat, alcohol and to an extent, dairy). Still, going through the holidays feeling deprived or missing out on all seasonal treats is not the goal, so…

balance
we try to strike just the right balance when it comes to eating – always, but especially during this time of year. Want a few cookies? Totally fine. Enjoy one or two, and then make your next meal full of the plant-based, colorful foods we’ve been talking about during our sessions and group meetings. The holiday season doesn’t have to mean abandoning all vegetables, lean proteins, fruits and whole grains and replacing with high calorie, less nutritious items for every breakfast lunch and dinner. What it does mean is a little extra work balancing out a healthy diet to leave room for a treat or two. Learning this balance – knowing you can indulge during a special occasion without losing control or going overboard – is crucial to sustaining a long-lasting healthy lifestyle.

with some healthy tweaks
i am always an advocate for tweaking recipes, snacks and meals to include more nutritious, whole foods and less junk. Learning to do this is also an important part of a healthy diet and key for reaching whatever goals you’ve set, from weight loss/management, performance enhancement or disease prevention. A few of my favorite tweaks this time of year:

  • low fat greek yogurt instead of cream or butter in mashed potatoes
  • this recipe instead of stuffing
  • raw veggies with hummus instead of cheese and crackers
  • frozen, thawed berries on pancakes or french toast instead of syrup
  • applesauce or pumpkin puree instead of butter or oil when baking (1:1 ratio)
  • and always, make 1/2 your plate vegetables (especially in a buffet-type situation!)

sometimes I find teaching healthy tweaks best comes with an example, so when searching for what holiday treats I wanted to take into work last week, I landed on the truffles below. The ingredients are super simple, high in antioxidants and a bit of fiber, and now I know, completely patient-approved.

dark chocolate orange truffles
makes ~10-15, depending on size (recipe from Julie Morris’ Superfood Snacks cookbook)

ingredients
2/3 cup cacao powder
2/3 cup Medjool dates
2 tbsp orange zest, divided (1 orange will make just enough)
2 tbsp orange juice (squeezed fresh, 1 orange from above is enough)
1/4 cup coconut oil
pinch sea salt
2 tbsp coconut sugar

instructions
mix together all ingredients except 1 tbsp orange zest and coconut sugar in a food processor until smooth. In a separate bowl, mix the other tbsp orange zest and coconut sugar together. Then, begin removing dough from food processor in about 1 tbsp amounts, roll into balls and press lightly into coconut sugar/orange zest mix. Cover truffles in a container and place in freezer for at least 30 minutes. From there, they can be stored in the fridge until use.

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enjoy!

new beginnings and healthy fats

this week, I started a new job. Well, sort of. I’m still at the hospital, but have taken a new position as the dietitian at our breast cancer center. And it’s awesome. My patients are lovely, and I get to spend more time with them during appointments to really get into nutrition education and developing a nutrition plan that will work for them in terms of management of treatment symptoms (e.g., chemo), weight loss (if applicable) and prevention of breast cancer reoccurrence (these often go hand in hand).

since I did not focus solely on breast cancer in my inpatient units, I’ve spent (and will continue to spend) a lot of time nerding out on the latest research related to breast cancer and nutrition. And really breast cancer in general as there is so much to learn (am currently reading this book by our co-director and chief of breast surgery).

in a nutshell, a plant-based, Mediterranean diet with some limits on animal protein, dairy, starchy foods, sugar and alcohol is what I’ve been focusing on as this is what the research is pointing to be most beneficial for a myriad of reasons. This type of diet – rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts – is also the most commonly linked to reduction in chronic disease and can help reduce cellular inflammation, control blood sugar levels and manage weight.

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one component of this type of diet, and something I’ve been making an effort to have more of as well, are healthy fats. Even though the low fat diet craze seemed to peak in the 80’s and 90’s, I still have patients and clients regularly express a fear of fat or consume diets with a lot of those “light” or “fat free” foods that are actually filled with tons of junk. I always steer them in the direction of having more healthy fat-containing whole foods instead. Here are a few reasons why:

(healthy) fat promotes satiety
fat takes longer for our bodies to break down and digest, which helps us feel fuller, longer. Consuming healthy fats with a meal or snack (say, 1 tbsp nut butter with an apple or 3-4 ounces of salmon with a veggie and brown rice) is going to be more satisfying than one of those 100 calorie packs or a lean cuisine. These healthy fat-containing, balanced meals and snacks may have more calories initially, but will not cause the persistent hunger pangs that make it really easy to overeat later in the day and tend to come with “diet” foods.

(healthy) fat reduces risk for chronic disease and helps control blood sugar
foods rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help maintain steady blood sugar levels, which are important for the management and prevention of diabetes as well as breast cancer. These fats have also been shown to help reduce cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.

(healthy) fat helps with cognitive function
the brain composed largely of fat, and nerve cells depend on essential fatty acids for signaling. Essential fatty acids must be obtained from the diet because our body cannot make them. Not only does a diet rich in healthy fat help us, well, think, but it may also prevent dementia and cognitive decline as we get older (unless you’re like me and refuse to age any more, dammit).

(healthy) fat gives you healthy skin
maybe more on the vanity side, but since essential fatty acids are the building blocks for all cell membranes, this includes the skin. A diet rich in healthy fats can help the skin stay hydrated and reduce dryness and inflammation.

i’ve mentioned in previous posts that there is new research on saturated fats (so fats that are solid at room temperature, coming largely from animal sources) and findings that it may not be so “bad” after all. I definitely indulged in them when I was in paris, and maintain my belief that aside from more research being necessary, there is no one single nutrient at fault for the obesity epidemic and chronic disease (though, added sugars, I am giving you the stink eye currently). Specifically in terms of breast cancer prevention, though, it’s still important to limit foods high in saturated fat as the research does point to the possibility of an increased risk in disease and reoccurrence in people whose diets are high saturated fat containing foods.

here are a few ways to incorporate more healthy fats into your diet:

  • swap mashed avocado or hummus for mayo as a sandwich spread or when making tuna salad
  • instead of butter on toast or cream cheese on bagels, use 1 tbsp nut butter
  • sprinkle 1 tbsp hemp, chia or flax seeds on yogurt, oatmeal, salads, etc.
  • dip whole grain breads and saute veggies in extra virgin olive oil
  • make these salmon cakes (but excuse the old blog format)
  • two words: avocado toast
  • swap french fries for steamed edamame

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steamed edamame, tuna fresh rolls (i don’t know how that beer got there…)

 

paris part deux (the french paradox)

two quick things first: thanksgiving week (how did that happen so fast?). it’s one of my favorite holidays (because of the food), but can also be hard to navigate if you’re working in weight loss or weight maintenance (because of the food…). Check out Miranda’s recent post on The Crunchy Radish for tips from six wonderful RDs (including yours truly) on having a healthy holiday. And also make all of her recipes because they are amazing. second: thanks for reading my last post :)

the beauty of paris is like something I’ve never experienced before – it even overshadowed the food, which is a pretty hard thing to do!

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taken on an early morning run (11/16/15)

But oh my goodness, the food.

now, I love a good kale salad as much as the next RD, but I definitely didn’t go to paris for the leafy greens. I wanted to experience the cheese, meats, pastries, and wine while observing how the French ate and structured their meals. I could almost call this “work,” as the eating habits of other cultures fascinates me and there is so much research on different diets and their affect on our health. The “French paradox” – or, the finding of a low incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) in the French despite high intake of saturated fat (think butter, cheese, higher fat meats) – was at the top of my mind for a lot of my eating adventures here. The term was conceptualized in the 1980’s, but now, thanks to media and some non-scientific literature, I think may also be associated with glamorous French women who consume rich foods and regular wine but remain thin (and of course, glamorous).  I’ve always hypothesized some of the reasons for these phenomenons are due to smaller portions (even if the food is rich), less processed foods and red wine. But, as most things, more specific research would be helpful to clarify current findings and inform any big changes in my recommendation to patients and clients.

Scientific research aside, though, I definitely fulfilled my goal to see (and taste!) what this idea is all about.

day 1
cafes: le nemrodbar de le croix rouge, boulangerie famille delattre
I went out and got a pan au chocolat pretty much as soon as my plane landed, and ate it on the go as I was too excited to sit still and not walk around. Like new york, paris is definitely a walking city, and it bustled with people heading to work, running errands and going about their days. After roaming around for a few hours, my stomach was growling (hi, no sleep and total body confusion), so I sat at a cafe near the eiffel tower and ordered my first french meal – croque madame, salade and a cafe creme. A croque madame, I learned, was basically a grilled ham sandwich with a very generous amount of gruyere cheese and a sunny side up egg on top.

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delicieux

after an insane amount of more walking along the champs-elysees (this was the day of the attack but before it happened, so the holiday shops were open and it was quite magical) and a short nap at my hotel, I had a dinner of roast chicken, salade and french fries. Kind of simple but it really hit the spot. I also had a glass of wine (a bordeaux, I think) and another with some chocolate cake at a different cafe before heading back to my hotel for some sleep (but not really, because then everything happened later that night).

day 2
cafes: le flores, le trait d’union
as I mentioned in my other post, this was definitely a strange day. After walking (cautiously) around outside for a bit, I stopped for lunch at a random cafe and had another croque madame – these may be my new favorite thing ever. Here I learned that if you don’t ask for the check (l’addition, s’il vous plait), the servers won’t bring it automatically because that is considered rude. It was weird (in a good way) to not have servers breathing down your neck with the check and to almost be encouraged to relax and enjoy meals. For dinner, I wanted to stick fairly close to my hotel and was in the mood for something a little lighter after having all the cheese for lunch.

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salade with smoked salmon, tuna, veggies and poached egg

day 3
cafes: robert et louise, les deux magots
after having breakfast in my hotel and wandering around the cathedral de notre dame (so, so beautiful!), I ended up in the marais district on a really cute street called rue vieille du temple. A friend had recommended a restaurant in the area that grilled meat on an old fireplace right in the middle of the restaurant, and I hit it up for lunch to refuel from my walking adventures.

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rib eye, fried potatoes, salade and a glass of red

this place was super cute and rustic inside, and i literally watched my meat being cooked. A perfect meal and atmosphere – I was a happy camper after this one. Since this lunch was a bit on the heavy side, I went for another salade with grilled chicken and green beans for dinner (and more wine, because… wine) at les deux magots, a very historic cafe near my hotel.

day 4
cafes: cafe de flore, le rousseau
cafe de flore is right next door to les deux magots, and I really wanted to check it out as well (partly because my sister said it was one of ina garten’s favorites). I planned to go for a late breakfast after a run, and once again couldn’t resist the melted cheesy deliciousness of the croque madame. This by far was the best I had had (total count being a respectable three), and the coffee was also superb – very strong and flavorful. I loved the atmosphere here and the morning vibe of the city just waking up.

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there is so much cheese under that egg

after this meal, I once again walked around the city for hours, meandering my way through the marais and the bastille, les halles, jardin du palace royal, place vendome, the jardin des tuileries and back to saint germain. I didn’t really have a lunch but rather a nutella and banana crepe from a street cart, followed by a cappuccino and some macarons, which were all delicious and probably satisfied my sweet tooth for the next decade. For my last night in paris, I wanted dinner to be something I like but usually don’t eat – one last indulgence. I ended up at le rousseau, a super cute and very classic french cafe and paired duck breast fillet with some bread, salad and a great (big) glass of cotes du rhone. It was perfect and the best way to end my trip, which again was everything I had no idea it would be (and more).

observations
aside from a new but deep love for paris, I think I got what I came for in the whole “learning about the food and culture” category. Some things really stood out as compared to my observations and experiences eating as a dietitian and new yorker. People in Paris eat and drink outside a lot, even in the cold (every cafe has heat lamps!), facing out onto the streets to enjoy the scenery and people watch. This paired with slower service conveyed more of a “relax and enjoy your meal” kind of vibe, and once this crazy new yorker got acclimated, I really dug it. I’ve talked a little bit about mindful eating before, and I think that may come into play here as people may take the time to be a bit more in tuned with hunger levels and therefore less likely to overeat.

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le deux magots (morning, 11/15/15)

portions were never enormous at the cafes (aside from my giant rib eye), which differs greatly from the typical western diet (think cheesecake factory here). So, even though a lot of french meals are fairly rich and higher in saturated fat, they’re also simple, small and satisfying without a lot of processed crap. Meals around me consisted largely of bread, cheese, meat and some vegetables like my salads above. Wine was on almost every table – a combination of red and white, but mostly red, which has been linked to a lower incidence of CHD and packs a very potent antioxidant punch.

so while I will always be a big proponent for a plant-based diet (both for myself and my patients), paris gave me a new appreciation for cheese, meat, good bread and red wine*, and reinforced my nutrition philosophy that indulging every now and then is an important part of a generally healthy diet.

*wine in moderation! the current recommendation remains no more than one glass per day for women and two for men

five days in paris

last Thursday, I went to Paris. At first I was excited about the potential to write about the different foods I was going to try, my observations of the French culture and that whole “French paradox” thing. I spent my first day there, Friday, November 13, in a sleep deprived awe of just how beautiful the city was and how I was never too far from the now familiar scent sweetly wafting from the patisseries (can we bottle that somehow?).

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zero hours of sleep, too excited to care (11/13/15, morning)

After walking around the city for hours, sitting at the cafes for dinner, dessert and wine, I went to bed early, hoping to get some good sleep for another day of exploring. I always put my phone on silent when I go to bed, but with the ringer on if my dad, sister or mom calls because to me, that would usually signal something important.

around 11:30 p.m. Paris time my dad calls and I’m awoken from a dead sleep. He asked if I was ok because “I’m watching the TV and they’re saying people are being attacked in Paris.” Now, my dad tends to exaggerate things so I assured him I was fine, in my hotel room, everything was great. It wasn’t until we hung up and I realized a ton of missed text messages, Facebook messages, tweets, Instagram comments, etc. were waiting for me that I knew something was very wrong. What? Why is everyone asking if I’m ok? Paris is under siege? Terrorism? What are all of those sirens? The news headlines hit me like a ton of bricks. I wasn’t familiar with Paris yet and didn’t know where the bombs, shootings and hysteria were in relation to me and had no idea if it was over or just starting. It was terrifying.

long story short, I spent the next several hours refreshing news sites, messaging with family and friends and calling the U.S. Consulate to figure out just what I was supposed to do. The basic message; listen to French authorities and stay inside. I slept a few hours and woke up to a Paris forever changed. I didn’t know if we were allowed to go outside, though news that many (or most?) of the terrorists had died was somewhat comforting. I nixed my plan for a morning run and had breakfast in the hotel to assess the situation and figure out what to do next. Though the mood was somber, I started seeing people on the streets and decided the only thing I could do was stay, support the city, and most importantly, not be afraid.

I put on my running shoes without much of a plan other than to be careful (or “watch my six” as my dad told me) and see things. Museums and some stores were closed, but a lot of cafes and shops were open and I meandered my way around Saint Germain des Pres to the Eiffel Tower and then along the Seine, stopping for lunch at a warm café and then some hot chocolate. I never felt unsafe and could tell the Parisians (and other tourists) had the same idea as me – we are not afraid. To me that sends a strong message to any and all who are watching.

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#love (11/14/15, afternoon)

the strong feeling of solidarity continued throughout my stay, and reminded me of how Boston, and the whole country really, came together after the marathon bombings. It all culminated during a mass of which I happened to stumble upon at the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris on Sunday. Not a religious person in the least, the mass had just started and the beautiful music and cathedral itself drew me in. Maybe it was a bit of sleep deprivation, but as I took my seat I felt a release as my “survival mode” clicked off. The tears soon followed, and kept spilling out for the people and the city of Paris, and really life in general, which I am reminded again is all too precious.

I’m completely overwhelmed by the messages of concern and caring via all forms of social media, texts and calls that I got while away – as independent as I am, it really helped to know I wasn’t truly alone.

yeah, I didn’t mention this before, but I went to Paris totally alone. Ironically, I did it in an effort to see and experience more of the world, something that has largely escaped me up until now, usually due to in part to fear. When fear takes over our lives – whether it’s fear of flying (ME), trying new things, traveling alone, telling people how you feel – we can miss out on SO much. And as it would be, these are the things that matter the most. Back when I booked this trip a few months ago, it was a pledge to myself to see everything I’ve been missing out on for way too long. I knew it would change me, but had no idea at the time just how much.

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cathedral notre dame de paris on a beautiful day (11/15/15, afternoon)

*don’t worry, I’ll talk about the food in my next post :) 

snacks and super foods (nutrition and info)

like a lot of RD friends, I love a good super food. But as per most things, there are ongoing debates on what exactly constitutes a “super food” as opposed to a “healthy food” or just a “food.” Like the term “clean eating” (which I really dislike), super foods do not have a hard and fast definition, so what they are is fairly subjective.

so what is a super food?
as an expert in the field of nutrition, I use the term “super food” when talking about foods that have high levels of multiple nutrients with proven health benefits – antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, complete proteins, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals. Basically, foods that give you a lot of “bang for your buck.”

a lot of times when the term super food is used, it’s linked to antioxidant content of a food – think blueberries, rich in the flavonoid anthocyanin, and with good reason. These nutrients inhibit inflammation, increase detoxification, and upregulate some antioxidant enzymes, and studies have shown people with diets high in antioxidant-containing foods may have a lower risk for chronic disease and some cancers (though the research is very much ongoing, and fascinating). As I said in my last post, eating antioxidant-rich foods after a tough workout or race can also aid in recovery because of the above functions.

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eat the rainbow!

that said, though, most of these super foods high in antioxidants are also high in other important nutrients, which in my mind, is what makes them super foods.

how can I incorporate super foods into my diet?
the most important thing to know about tweaking your diet in the name of super foods is that it doesn’t have to break the bank. Sure, the latest and greatest trends like maca, acai, goji berries, spirulina, cacao are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but man are they pricey. Instead, go back to basics and focus on having a variety of colorful fruits and veggies at every meal first. The deeper and darker the hue, the greater the antioxidant content is likely going to be, and you’ll also benefit from the vitamins, minerals and fiber found in all fruits and veggies. Some of my favorites of late:

raspberries (get them frozen this time of year – cheaper and fresh tasting!)
cauliflower
pomegranate
sweet potatoes
microgreens 
beets
enoki mushrooms

seeds and powders can also be a nice way to add a “super food” boost to a meal, and although initially on the expensive side, can last quite a bit of time. I usually pick one or two that I use a lot and buy in a larger package (like hemp seeds and chia seeds), and use the bulk bins at whole foods to experiment with smaller amounts of different items (like goji berries, cacao nibs) to manage the budget.

super food snacks
lately I’ve been into making different types of “super food” snacks and treats (mostly from this book) as a way to mix things up in the kitchen and experiment with different flavors. Obviously, the dietitian in me also nerds out at the nutritional benefits, which are pretty impressive.

these new and improved rice crispy treats below are a great source of omega 3 fatty acids with a bit of protein due to generous portions of hemp seeds, pack a potent antioxidant punch via cacao powder and other healthy fats, protein and fiber with the almond butter. Because of the agave and coconut sugar, these do contain some sugar, so I will definitely keep them in the treat or dessert category for the most part.

almond butter, cacao, hemp crispy treats (adapted slightly from Julie Morris’ Super Food Snacks cookbook)
makes about 16 squares, depending how big or small you cut them

3 cups organic crispy brown rice cereal
2 tsp cacao powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/2 cup almond butter
1/3 cup maple syrup or agave nectar
3 tbsp coconut sugar
1 tbsp coconut oil
1/8 tsp sea salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 chopped dark chocolate chips

instructions
line a 9 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper. Combine the crispy rice cereal, cacao powder, cinnamon and 2 tbsp of the hemp seeds. Then, combine the almond butter, maple syrup (or agave), coconut sugar, coconut oil, sea salt and vanilla extract in a small sauce pan heating to medium heat. Stir constantly for about 5 minutes, until all ingredients are melted well together. Pour the hot mixture over the dry and mix until the cereal is completely coated. Pour this mixture onto the baking pan/parchment paper and spread evenly (I press thoroughly with a spoon or spatula). Sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 tbsp hemp seeds. Refrigerate this for about an hour.

Then, heat the dark chocolate in a small sauce pan and once melted, drizzle over the top of the crispy rice treats. Refrigerate for another 30 minutes or so, then cut into squares and enjoy, because these are DELICIOUS.

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marathon recovery nutrition (with) kitchen sink granola bars

marathon recovery starts the second you cross the finish line. Yeah, I’ve heard this one before too and still have taken exactly zero ice baths after all of my 26.2s. Typically, recovery isn’t as at the top of my thoughts post-race as celebrating the accomplishment as soon as the radiating pain throughout my body subsides.

usually I come to my senses after a cold beer or two (seriously, is there anything better post-marathon?) and do a little stretching at some point before bed to loosen up tight muscles. My appetite can be all over the place after a long, tough race and can range from ravenous to nauseous, so if I can get some kind of carbohydrate and protein source in, I’m happy.

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something like this (pizza with pesto, ricotta, veg and red wine) tends to go down pretty easy by race night

ideally though, refueling with carbohydrates and protein in that 4:1 ratio within 30 minutes of finishing a race is key to help rebuild broken down muscle fibers and replenish glycogen stores (just like you do after a long run). If this isn’t totally possible – race away from home, nausea, beer – all is not lost. Nutrition is still essentially important for marathon recovery in the days following the race. Here’s how I tend to break it down:

protein
it takes a while for your muscles to recover from such an effort, and they need protein to do so. Making sure that every meal you have includes a good protein source is key – eggs, Greek yogurt, lean turkey, chicken, fish, beans, nuts and nut butter all help make your muscles a bit happier. For meats, try to have at least a palm-sized portion, about 1/2-1 cup for yogurt, beans, 1/4 cup of nuts and 1-2 tbsp nut butter.

antioxidants
studies have found antioxidant-rich food sources can also help with muscle recovery by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation. My favorite antioxidant sources are colorful fruits and veggies, though lately I’ve been experimenting with more potent, concentrated options like cacao nibs, goji berries, dried tart cherries (or tart cherry juice) and raw, cold-pressed green juice. A lot these are really versatile and can be tossed on top of salads, oatmeal, yogurt or added to smoothies.

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berries, Greek yogurt, granola, green juice and coffee

carbohydrates
glycogen stores are pretty depleted after a marathon, and it takes a while to replenish these back to a more normal level. The body is super sensitive and most efficient at restocking these stores less than 60 minutes following activity, so if you can get something down (even if it’s Gatorade, fruit or pretzels) do it and you’ll feel a difference. If not, try to include a complex carbohydrate source next to your protein at each meal once you’re able to eat. Some of my favorites are oatmeal, quinoa, sprouted grain toast and sweet potatoes. Carrot cake totally counts too.

fluids and electrolytes
after a marathon, it can take a few days to replenish fluids and electrolytes lost in sweat. Keeping a water bottle nearby at all times is helpful, and listening to your body is key as it will probably tell you how thirsty it is. Salty snacks are also incredibly helpful, especially if you’re the type of runner who usually ends up with a crusty salt ring around your face post-race. Tortilla chips, cheeseburgers, french fries can all be life savers and are also a perfect post-race treat. As I said earlier, there is nothing that tastes better after a tough race than a cold beer… But! It’s still dehydrating, so limiting yourself a bit or alternating brews with water could save you a big headache the morning after (the inability to walk down stairs is enough of a pain!).

snacks
it’s normal to feel super hungry during recovery week – your body is scrambling to repair itself and running for 2-6 hours (depending on your speed!) burns a ton of calories. Satisfying, nutrient dense snacks can be super helpful to quell crazy hunger pangs and further help recovery. I’ve been making my own granola bars lately to fit this nutritional bill, and these are a great blend of complex carbohydrates, protein and antioxidants – perfect for marathon recovery.

kitchen sink granola bars (adapted from Julie Morris’ Superfood Snacks cookbook)
makes ~10 bars

ingredients
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup coconut sugar
2 tsp cacao powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped, salted & roasted almonds
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/4 cup goji berries
1/4 cup chopped walnuts and/or hazelnuts
2 tbsp coconut oil
1/4 cup smooth almond butter
1/4 cup agave nectar or maple syrup

instructions
line an 8×8 inch pan with parchment paper. Then, mix together the oats, coconut sugar, cacao powder, sea salt, cinnamon, almonds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, goji berries, chopped nuts in a medium sized bowl.

In a large skillet or pot, heat the coconut oil and add in the almond butter and agave nectar (or maple syrup) and stir until combined. Pour the dry ingredients and mix well until all liquid is gone. Then transfer the mixture to the pan with parchment paper, spread evening and press firmly with a spoon or spatula. Refrigerate for at least 60 minutes, then cut into squares and enjoy!

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