This article was originally printed as my 2/10/10 Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.
Pop quiz alert! Get ready to test your health knowledge with this quick quiz. Are the following statements true or false?
1. Cutting calories is the best way to lose weight.
2. Soy is a health food.
3. If I can drink coffee any time and it doesn’t affect me, it’s OK to drink it.
4. Fat makes you fat.
1. FALSE. Our bodies work more like a complex chemistry lab than a simple bank ledger. So many factors influence our weight: the state of our metabolism, our hormones, our age and the kinds of food we eat. Does it really make sense that the same number of calories in a nutritious meal or in a few doughnuts would have the same effect on your body? Of course not! Cutting calories drastically may cause an initial weight drop, but then we adapt, our metabolism slows down, and we go into fat conservation mode — exactly what you don’t want. So worry less about calories, and learn how to make healthier choices instead.
2. FALSE. Although there is still some controversy on this, evidence is pretty strong that soy isoflavones are suppressive to the thyroid and have detrimental estrogenic effects. For many people, soy contributes to inflammation, meaning achy joints and stomach upset.
If you’re going to make soy a part of your diet, keep it minimal and stick to fermented forms such as miso, natto, tempeh and tamari. Avoid soy milk (highly sweetened and processed).
And please don’t feed your sons lots of soy: While none of us should be having soy estrogens on a regular basis, I particularly worry for developing boys.
3. FALSE. If you drink caffeinated coffee and don’t feel a thing, it means your adrenal glands are exhausted, or “burned out.” Caffeine is an artificial way of inducing the “flight or fight” response, and if you do it often enough, your body loses its capacity to respond.
To heal your adrenals, begin cutting back on caffeine, particularly after 3 p.m. Allow yourself to feel the fatigue, which is the truth the coffee is masking. That may mean more sleep and more rest for a while, and that’s one of the kindest things you can do for your overall health. There are many different herbs, nutrients and complex formulas that support the adrenals, but extra vitamin C is one of the safest and simplest.
Although decaf can be cut with regular coffee, it has been implicated in raising cholesterol levels. Better to switch to tea: It’s healthier overall.
Make the change slowly: Caffeine is addictive, and you don’t want withdrawal headaches. Try to get down to a single, reasonably sized cup of coffee in the morning. In the long run, you will have much more energy without the coffee.
4. FALSE. Lose your fear of fat. It is essential for healthy brain function, healthy skin, a healthy nervous system and a healthy metabolism. I don’t recommend a high-fat diet, but low-fat and no-fat diets are just as unhealthy. Including a little healthy fat with every meal and snack helps you lose weight, and stay healthy. Fat is also a great appetite suppressant, helping you feel fuller longer.
What are some healthy fat sources? My favorites include seeds, nuts and nut butters, avocados, olive or walnut oil, coconut milk and fresh or dried (but not sweetened) coconut.
Why haven’t I mentioned fish? Unfortunately most fish is no longer very healthy. Grain-fed farmed fish does not have the attractive nutrient profile of wild fish, and wild fish — if you can afford it — is often contaminated with mercury. Perhaps the safest choice is small, short-lived fish at the bottom of the food chain, such as sardines, herring and anchovies.
And now for some homework …
Now that you’ve taken the quiz, here’s a little homework assignment. Try incorporating some healthier choices into your snacks. A few of my favorites include:
1. A bowlful of berries. Buy frozen bags this time of year, and enjoy them with a little coconut milk and a handful of some chopped, unsalted nuts.
2. Apple or pear slices with nut butter. Peanut butter is less expensive, but tree-nut butters such as almond, cashew and walnut are healthier.
3. Whole grain (or gluten-free) crackers with avocado and small fish such as sardines, herring and anchovies. Add a little dijon mustard to spice it up.