Madrona Nutrition and Fitness: Recipe and Nutrition Guide

Madrona Nutrition and Fitness:
Guide to Wellness through Holistic Diet
and Lifestyle

Rachel Fiske
Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant,
Certified Personal Trainer

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Real Deal on Cholesterol, Saturated Fat, and Cardiovascular Health

Writing on this subject and being able to share this life saving information with you both excites me to no end, yet also gives me a bit of anxiety. This anxiety comes from the fact that so many people, no matter how many times they may hear the true story on the effects of cholesterol and saturated fat on their body and heart health, on some level can't believe it. And the reason they can't believe it is because we have been lied to our entire lives by bad science, mainstream medicine promoting this bad science, pharmaceutical companies, and the media. And when people can't believe the truth despite the hard evidence, it simply kills me. But in reality, its killing them.

You might think this sounds dramatic. But cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in America (even more so for women). Cancer is the second. If you read my blog awhile back on good fats vs bad fats, you've heard that the fats we have been told are "healthy" (canola oil, margarine, etc) are the ones that are actually responsible for a myriad of health problems. Since the 1950's when the low-fat diet craze became popular, people have been gravitating towards low/non-fat foods like snackwell cookies, low fat granola bars, nonfat milk, etc. Even many of the "health" foods we buy make health claims because they are low in fat and low in cholesterol. So why is it then that the American Institute of Clinical Nutrition discovered in a clinical study that saturated fat is not linked to raised incidences of heart disease? Or that the Annals of Internal Medicine Journal found in another clinical study that people on a higher fat, lower carb diet decreased their blood triglyceride levels, lowered their LDL ("bad" cholesterol) levels, and raised their HDL ("good") cholesterol levels? Or why is it that the French who eat exponentially more saturated fats and smoke more cigarettes have dramatically lower levels of heart disease than Americans? Same goes for the Swiss, Spanish, and pretty much every other country. We are #1 in cardiovascular disease worldwide. Yay us!

So lets look at some basic science behind these studies. What is cholesterol, what is its function in our bodies, and why is it not to blame for cardiovascular disease (CVD)? Cholesterol is a waxy substance (a steroid metabolite, to be exact) that is produced by the liver and found in our cells. It serves many important roles, such as maintaining cell wall structure, forming bile (which aids in fat production), transporting fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K. It is also the precursor to all of our hormone production. It is carried through our bloodstream in the form of lipoproteins (protein+fat), because cholesterol on its own is sticky and cannot flow through the bloodstream on its own, so therefore has to be "packaged" with some other compounds. It comes in 2 main forms (although there are sub-forms too that I will not get into here): LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein). HDL has more protein than cholesterol, moving more freely through the body, and LDL has more cholesterol and can potentially cause more problems. The most important part is that we have a proper balance of HDL to LDL. Additionally, LDL comes in two main forms, small and large. The large molecules are not so worrysome, as they are able to "float" by arterial wall damage with no problem. The smaller, denser LDL molecules can cause problems, however.

When our arterial walls become inflamed and damaged (I'll look at causes for this in a moment, but think smoking, eating sugar and refined carbs), cholesterol is delivered to these sites to repair the cell damage. Thats its' job! What happens though overtime, is the small density LDL molecules get stuck in pockets of arterial wall damage, creating a sort of scabbing effect. Then, white blood cells passing by get stuck on top of that, and this combination leads to plaque build up, and eventually clogged arteries. It was never the cholesterols fault, it just happened to be on the scene of the crime so "science" formed a bogus hypothesis that it must be the culprit.

Lets look at what is actually the culprit! According to Tom Naughton in his documentary, "Big Fat Fiasco" (which I will give a link to later and plead with you to please watch!), sites the main sources as smoking, disregulated blood sugar, and emotional stress. These are the factors that cause inflammation of our arterial walls, therefore leading to above mentioned plaque build-up. And what causes high (or low) blood sugar, both toxic and dangerous to our health? Of course...sugar and refined carbohydrates (and I'd throw in trans-fats)! So now we know that not only are these the things that are making us fat due to insulin resistance (see my previous posts on fat and hypoglycemia), but also are what make us the leader in heart disease. Why have our cholesterol levels risen dramatically since we started the low fat craze?? Because we publicized the "science" before the research results had proven otherwise, and the institutions advocating a "heart healthy diet" which contains low fat, low cholesterol food-like products are getting rich off of the American public's growing addictions to these processed "foods."

So what does this mean? Well first of all, its great news. It means we can get back to eating real foods, including eggs (yes, with the yolks! Dietary cholesterol actually improves total cholesterol in our bodies), grass fed butter and meats, coconut oil, even nitrate free, natural bacon. As Michael Pollan states and I've probably quoted before, if your great Grandparents wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it!!

Another crucial thing to consider is if you yourself or friends and family are taking statin drugs (cholesterol lowering drugs), there are many dangers that come with these. This could be an entire book (and is), but I will recommend you check out some resources. is a site specifically on the dangers of statins by Dr. Duane Graveline, M.D., author of Statin Drug Side Effects and the Misguided War on Cholesterol.  Also check out The Hidden Truth of Cholesterol Lowering Drugs by Shane Ellision, M.Sc.

The final resource I BEG OF YOU TO WATCH is this 5 part series that can be found on You Tube titled "Big Fat Fiasco." This is a talk given by Tom Naughton, a man of many talents, both comedian, scientist, writer, and director. He wrote, produced and directed the film "Fat Head: You've Been Fed a Load of Bologna." This talk that I urge you so strongly to watch is the most amazingly clear and profound way I have ever heard the issue of cholesterol, saturated fats, and cardiovascular health explained. It will take up about an hour of your life, but could also save it. You can find it here:

If you are taking statins, please work with a health care professional (perhaps your primary doctor along with a holistic nutrition/medical professional) to consider some important supplements like CoQ10, which your body needs for heart and muscle health yet is impossible to produce once you start taking a statin. I am by no means working against mainstream medicine, but keep in mind that many medical doctors (thankfully more and more are seeing the light) have been educated under the low-fat, low-cholesterol diet model, and simply are not aware of many of these dangers. Also, consider working with these same professionals to perhaps slowly transition from these drugs to food and lifestyle changes that will profoundly effect your well-being in the short and long term.

As always, feel free to contact me with any further questions. And here's to our health!

Friday, January 28, 2011

"The American Fast Food Syndrome"

Happy Friday everyone! Apologies for not having written much recently, I've been studying nonstop for my Personal Trainer Certification coming up in mid-February. But not to worry, a post is soon to come on cholesterol and all of the myths associated with a high cholesterol/high fat diet=high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. Hint: its a big lie!!!

For now, I wanted to respond to a very interesting article I recently read by Kristin Wartman, food writer for a sustainable agriculture nonprofit, Civil Eats. Wartman discusses the phenomenon prevalent in US society today, where organic, sustainable, local, whole foods are considered "yuppie" in nature. Now make no mistake, these types of food are, in many cases, more expensive. Sadly and paradoxically, the foods grown locally are more expensive than those frozen, shipped thousands of miles, thawed, refrozen, etc, while in the process having lost most of their nutritional value. One of my goals as a nutritionist is to dedicate part of my practice to changing this, and making not only good quality food more affordable, but also expanding education to populations who need it most.

However, what Wartman talks about specifically in her article, and which I have definitely seen, is the group of people who can afford good quality food, but choose not to, based on the viewpoint that these are "yuppie," not "real Amerian" foods. Consider this:

The preferred food of the rich is now considered elitist and scoffed at by many Americans. In fact, there is data to suggest that even though many Americans can afford higher quality foods, they chose to eat cheaper and less nutritious foods. Jane Black and Brent Cunningham recently wrote about this in the Washington Post: “Many in this country who have access to good food and can afford it simply don’t think it’s important. To them, food has become a front in America’s culture wars, and the crusade against fast and processed food is an obsession of ‘elites,’ not ‘real Americans.’”

So processed, refined, crappy food is the shining cultural icon we Americans are so proud of? And does this mean we are also proud of the billions of dollars in health care costs we pay every year in treating chronic disease linked to these eating habits? In 2009, the American Heart Association reported the cost of Cardiovascular Disease to be $475 billion, including medications, health care services, and lost productivity. Regardless of how much we are personally paying for the food in our kitchens, we ARE paying the price!!! Another important point to understand is that our obsession with processed foods is not up to our own taste preferences, instead we are choosing these foods because huge corporations and  media tell us to, and because they are chemically, neurologically addictive. Going off refined carbs and sugars is like going off alcohol (why do you think alcoholics gain so much weight upon quitting? Because alcohol is replaced with sugar...alcoholism is a sugar addiction).

Its true, going to Whole Foods and buying all of our groceries is something reserved for a privileged group of our society. But this isn't the only option. Farmers Markets, co-ops, your own garden, CSA (community supported agriculture) shares....these are all possible! And if you can't afford to buy everything organic, check out this list from the Environmental Working Group for the top 12 most pesticide-laden produce items, and start with making these your priority:

I have a background in Social Work, and my last job consisted of visiting clients in their home. It was here that my interest in natural health and nutrition grew exponentially, as I was exposed day after day to wonderful people who had layers of medical issues, were taking one medication to cover up the symptoms of another medication, and so many of their issues could have been prevented, and drastically improved by changing their diet from processed to whole foods. And yes, I understand that for them, economically that was not always an option. But for those of us who can afford quality foods, I appeal to you to please make this a priority in your life. Consider it an insurance plan for our present and future health. And as we know, we the consumers are what drive the cost of goods by popular demand. As Wartman eloquently notes:

"...there’s some perverse logic at work here and it strikes me as vaguely similar to the Stockholm syndrome—a paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express adulation and positive feelings towards their captors. While Americans are not experiencing a physical captivity, they are deeply mired in a psychological condition in which they’re captive to industrial food products and the corresponding ideologies that are ultimately harming them. Call it the American Fast Food Syndrome."

Please read her entire article here:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Why is breakfast so important? And what should I eat?

At this point, most of us have heard all about how breakfast is "the most important meal of the day," as they say. Who is they? I don't know...but I do know that even those individuals who recommend shockingly unhealthy breakfast menu items understand its' value (even if they don't know what to eat).

Being an extreme morning person myself (just ask former boyfriends/ this rate by the age of 70 I'll be going to bed at 6pm and getting up at 2am), I have always loved my breakfast/morning routine. Until relatively recently, I would go to bed looking forward to arising early, making a grain-based, sweet breakfast, and accompanying it with a fresh cup of coffee. Basically, I wanted dessert for breakfast, as many of us do. I still have the coffee, but have forced myself to change my tastes and ideas of what is "breakfast food." Although throughout my almost two years of formal holistic nutrition education this has been the one habit I have refused to reconsider, as of late I realized it was setting me on the wrong foot for the day to come. That is, it was setting me on the foot of craving carbs and sweets.

But oatmeal?? We have all been taught this is so healthy! And its not that its unhealthy, I promise. And by all means, if your first step in changing your breakfast routine consists of switching from lucky charms to oatmeal, go for it! And for some of us, whole grains might work in the morning. But if you are like me and feel yourself getting hungry a couple hours later, and then craving sweets/carbs throughout the day, its probably a good idea to have a more protein and fat based breakfast.

If you read my previous post on blood sugar regulation and hypoglycemia, this might be review. When we eat carbohydrates, our blood sugar spikes. Then, our pancreas releases insulin which escorts the glucose in our blood to our cells, where it can be used for energy. Excess blood glucose is stored as fat to be theoretically used as reserves and later burned for energy, however since most of us are never wanting for carbs in our diet, this in reality leads to obesity and a myriad of health problems. Of course, eating whole grains and vegetables slows this process down greatly, due to the fiber and other nutrients encasing the carbohydrate. Crunchy, leafy vegetables are not going to spike our blood sugar, what I am referring to here are more starchy foods like sweet potatoes/potatoes, squash, fruit, as well as grains (rice, quinoa, etc).

And these are exactly the things that I craved every morning! For years I would start the day with a bowl of cereal, thinking I was making a healthy choice by eating Kashi Go Lean Crunch or something touting itself as being whole grain like Bran Flakes, Raisin Bran, etc. Yuck. Once I realized that these were not real foods, but were instead processed, refined food-like products that offer very little nutritional substance, I switched to a breakfast of oatmeal or quinoa with nuts, seeds, maple syrup, sweetened yogurt, etc. Now this isn't necessarily unhealthy, but it was a sweet replacement for sugar cereals, and it left me hungry and craving carbs/sweets in the early afternoon because my blood sugar had dropped. It also didn't do me any favors in losing the ten pounds I had put on the summer before (thanks summer camp!), as I got into the cycle of craving/eating carbs and storing extra glucose as fat. One great new rule of thumb I've learned is due to EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) the time we should really eat carbs (especially if we have a goal of weight loss) is 3 hours post exercise, when our body can most efficiently burn it.

So...lets look at some foods to eat for breakfast!! As a meat eater, I have incorporated much more meat (organic, grass fed whenever possible) into my morning, along with eggs and non-starchy veggies. If you are a vegetarian, focusing on eggs (an amazing source of protein) is a great idea. This morning for example, I had about 4 oz. of ground beef, 1 egg mixed with a splash of whole coconut milk, and sauteed with onions, garlic, chard, and beet greens, along with 1/2 cup of raw sauerkraut for its incredible probiotic benefits. Also, keep in mind that breakfast really should be your biggest meal of the day, and meals should get progressively smaller as the day continues. Your morning meal is what fuels you most, so don't be afraid to fill up! Also, it will keep you satiated and therefore eating more reasonable portions throughout the day. Lastly, experiment with how much actually fills you up. If you ate 3 oz. of meat and 1 egg and were really hungry 2-3 hours later, try eating a bit more. You should be able to sustain yourself for 4-5 hours without being starving by lunch. Here are some other ideas:

*3-5 oz. protein (preferably grass-fed meat, or if a vegetarian you could do tempeh once in awhile, but please stay away from tofu! More to come on this later). Along with this, add a ton of leafy, crunchy veggies! Mix meat with eggs, or just do one or the other. Saute with coconut oil, butter, or ghee for healthy fat which will also sustain you.

*Frittata, omelette, or scramble with or without meat

*If you do dairy (if not substitute whole coconut milk), try a smoothie with whole milk yogurt or milk (raw if you can find it), 1/2 cup berries, 1-2 tbsp. flax seeds, 1 tbsp. coconut oil, and a pinch of raw leaf stevia. You can even include 1-2 raw egg yolks if the eggs are farm fresh and from a reliable source.

*Almond-meal pancakes (1 ripe banana, heaping tbsp almond butter, 1 egg, cinnamon, other spices to taste). Mix together and cook in coconut oil or butter.

*Veggies, eggs, and nitrate-free bacon

*Anything you had for dinner last night! That does not, of course, contain tons of carbs.

Again, if whole grains work for you in the morning (not whole grain cereal, but quinoa, rice, whole oats, etc), then more power to you! But if not, try making a change and, like any changes we make to our diet, see how your body feels!