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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Proposed "Label Plan" may be misleading...

Recently, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report which concluded that traditional nutrition labeling on packaged foods are difficult to read by the general public and lead to misinformed food choices. Now, along with the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture, they are recommending a simplified food labeling system be mandatory for processed and packaged foods. In theory, some sort of system along these lines could, in fact, be helpful to those buying these foods. However, the proposed labeling guidelines are a bit skewed (which shouldn't be surprising considering the big government agencies that are behind it, and typically have the interest of food manufacturers instead of public health at the forefront of their decision making...but this is another subject entirely).

A New York Times article written on the subject recently stated that, "In a report...the IOM called for a simplified label that would go on the front of food packages that would show the number of calories per serving and contain zero to three stars or checkmarks to indicate how healthful a food was." But the question is, who is defining 'healthful' here??

Foods will be rated on 3 anti-nutrients: Sugar, Sodium, and Saturated and Trans-fats. The sugar part, I agree whole-heartedly. As I've written about in the past, refined sugar (along with refined flour, especially), is the number one contributor to cardiovascular disease, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and all types disease and systemic inflammation in the body. As far as sodium goes, if you are eating a diet high in processed/packaged foods, you are most likely getting too much sodium. However, if you eat a whole foods diet, adding some sea salt to your diet (especially Celtic or Himalayan) will ensure (among other things) that we maintain a healthy potassium/sodium balance.

Lastly, the Saturated and trans-fats category is the one I have the most trouble with. First of all, the fact that these two are even in the same category is troublesome. Without a doubt, trans fats reek havoc on our bodies, as they are man made compounds produced because they have a longer shelf life (aka, cheaper) yet our body has no way of processing them. Alongside the above-mentioned refined carbs and sugars, trans fats are right up there on the list of causing disease. However, good quality saturated fats are healthful and necessary for brain and cell function, and can actually work to balance our cholesterol levels and reduce our risk of heart disease.

So, the proposed labeling plan may not be all bad, but it is too simplistic. Lets look at a food they would give a 3-star rating (the most healthful):

Wheat Bread: yikes. Its true that grains have been the base of the USDA food pyramid for years, and this is largely due to catering to wheat manufacturers (one of the biggest cash crops in the US). If you've read my past articles, you now know that processed grains contain compounds that interfere with critical mineral absorption (such as zinc which is vital to immune health, and magnesium that is essential for heart health and relaxation). Common whole wheat bread is really not much different than white bread. Wheat bread generally contains processed wheat, the germ and the brain have been removed for shelf-life, leaving only the starchy endosperm. If you are going to eat bread, opt for whole grain, sprouted varieties. The Ezekiel brand has some good options (but remember the last article about grains!).

Raisin Bran: This gets 2 stars (next best). Ingredient list:


Need I say more?? 3rd and 4th ingredients are sugar and high fructose corn syrup. And this food gets 2 stars by this labeling system...can you imagine what gets 1? 

In short, yes, there are many changes that need to be made to our current nutrition labeling system. More than anything, more education needs to exist around how to really read food labels. General rule of thumb: if you can't pronounce it and/or couldn't make it in your own kitchen, probably not the best choice. Stick to the perimeter of the store as far from the processed and packaged foods as possible, and you won't have to worry about decoding silly rating systems in the first place.

Further Reading and Resources:

NY Times Article:

IOM website:

Saturday, October 8, 2011

So what about GRAINS??

Over the course of my nutrition education, grains have become less and less a part of my diet. Initially, I can probably chalk it up to laziness. Upon learning how essential it is to soak all grains for 8-12 hours before cooking to break down the phytic acid which binds to minerals and makes them unavailable for absorption ( on this topic later), I decided this was simply too much work. However, slowly over the course of the last year I have intentionally phased out grains for good, and this tends to baffle people! We have been raised on the notion that whole grains should be the staple of any healthy diet. They're the base of that good old USDA food pyramid! Like so many myths that need debunking in the land of nutrition (please say you're all eating lots and lots of good fats at this point!), grains is another big one. So lets take a closer look...

Pre-grain (aka, pre-agricultural) Civilization and Health:

No one can really argue that our ancestors did not have a grain-based diet. Aside from a trace amount of wild grains here and there, grains were not a feasible food source. These populations lived on wild meats (all by nature free range and organic, of course), available vegetables (veggies such as tubers not so much due to their high need for preparation), nuts and seeds (again, raw), and fats mainly derived from the above mentioned sources (animal meat, nuts and seeds). Many people will argue that "sure, but these people had a notably shorter life-span, so it must be nutrition based!" This topic will be saved for a future article, but I will say that these "statistics" are skewed due to an array of variables, for example the average lifespan of our ancestors is generally averaged and this includes infant mortality (much higher) and death by emergency situations like animal attacks. Generally, if an individual survived these 2 main variables, their lifespan was just as long as ours is today, however without the "wonders" of modern medicine keeping us alive (Mark Sisson, The Primal Blueprint).

Phytic Acid:

More and more people are familiar with phytic acid, which is a substance found in grains and legumes. According to Nora T. Gedgaudas in her book Primal Body, Primal Mind

"Phytic acid actively binds minerals and eliminates them from the body, which results, with increased grain consumption, in widespread deficiencies of minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc...grains and legumes also contain goitrogens, or thyroid-inhibiting substances, as well as "foreign proteins" like gluten and gliadin, and they are an extremely common source of allergies and sensitivities that can lead to both physical and mental or emotional disorders, even when the best preparation methods are used" (pg 29). 

Gedgaudas goes on to talk about one problem we face with grain-fed animals (an unnatural food source used because its cheap and fattening) being a deficiency in the amino acid L-tryptophan which allows us to produce the essential hormone serotonin (the "feel-good" hormone), and serotonin deficiencies can be the cause of depression, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, mood and other psychological disorders.

Glutenous vs. Non-glutenous Grains:

Many grains are gluten containing, while others are not. Gluten is the protein (it actually consists of 2 proteins: glutenin and gliadin) which gives bread its doughly, sticky, chewy quality. Gluten-containing grains include: rye, barley, spelt, kamut, wheat, durum, semolina, graham, and oats due to cross-contamination. I have already posted about the dangers of gluten on our digestion and overall physical and mental health, so please re-visit this earlier post. Remember, gluten is very hard for humans to digest, and after years of consumption (which is pretty much the standard american diet) it can lead to intestinal permeability (aka leaky gut syndrome) by breaking down the lining of our gut, letting in undigested proteins that should not be entering our bloodstream, which can lead to chronic inflammation and degenerative and auto-immune disease. Serious stuff.

It is also important to understand that while other grains are not gluten-containing (for example brown rice, quinoa, gluten-free oats), they still have many of the same or similar properties of the glutenous grains that block mineral absorption and contain various "anti-nutrients." Basically, we use more of our stored nutrients just trying to digest them than the nutrients they actually provide us with. If you are going to eat grains, they should be soaked, fermented, and sprouted to minimize this impact.

Well What Can I Eat, Then?!?

I'm not trying to break any hearts here, just giving some important information. Mark Sisson goes by the 80/20 rule, which I can get behind. This means that 80% of the time we eat the whole, nourishing foods that we know to be nutrient dense and bioavailable, and the other 20% can be a little looser! There is a lot to be said for letting go and enjoying life. Now, hopefully this 20% doesn't include loads of refined sugar and carbs (or even any!), but if you have grains every now and then, you'll probably be fine (unless you have an auto-immune or irritable bowel type of condition). They just should not be the staple of your diet. Instead, focus on grass-fed, organic meat, poultry, fish, raw nuts and seeds, lots of delicious, satiating good fats, and whole vegetables and fruits (seasonal and organic whenever possible). I can pretty much guarantee that not only will your health improve and you'll experience increased energy and a sense of well-being, but if weight loss is your goal, this will get you there.

Here's to our health!