Welcome to my Blog about Food and Well-being!

I am often asked to share my knowledge of food and recipes. After changing my diet four years ago from a typical "Western" diet to a mostly whole-foods and plant-based diet, I have seen incredible changes in my health and well-being. I have spent countless hours researching and love helping those who are ready to feel better. The underlying theme? YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. Read on to find out more.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Hidden Sodium and What It's Doing to Your Body

I've been asked to present a nutrition and wellness seminar and have been doing my homework. I love to read and research, finding tidbits of info and cross-checking with other sources to determine which angle I want to believe. Part of my presentation is about ingredients to avoid if you eat processed foods. 

The American Heart Association recently released their findings that sodium (found in salt and baking powder/baking soda) contributes to 1 out of 10 deaths in the U.S. Up to 75 percent of sodium is found in processed foods. If you've read my previous blog posts, you know how I support a "whole foods" diet free from processed foods. This is just one more reason why.

So what's the harm in a little sodium? While some sodium is necessary for metabolic health, Americans consume WAY more than what is needed. One teaspoon of salt or baking soda has 1,000 mg of sodium. Amounts over approximately 2,000 mg a day can do more damage than you think, such as:

  • increase fluids in your system to balance the salinity of your blood, therefore increasing blood pressure, which:
    • increases your risk of cardiovascular disease
    • increases your risk of having a stroke
  • leech calcium from your bones to buffer the acid from salt, leading to osteoporosis
  • increase your risk for stomach cancer
  • increase your risk for kidney disease
While I don't eat or serve my family many processed foods, I was shocked to learn how much sodium I was still feeding them with "healthy" baked goods. I try to not eat much gluten, a protein found in wheat. Instead, I mix flours from quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth, teff, and other ancient grains. When you take away the gluten, however, you take away the binding ingredient that holds baked goods together. What many gluten-free recipes use to bind the non-wheat flours together is baking powder or baking soda, up to 2 Tbsp per recipe. 

I've happily made my kids buckwheat/quinoa pancakes (and even have it as a recipe on my Recipes page, now updated) without realizing how much sodium was in the recipe. It calls for 1 Tbsp of baking powder and 1/4 tsp of salt. No problem, right? WRONG! I calculated my batch of pancakes had more than 1,500 mg of sodium! That's nearly an entire days worth of sodium...FOR BREAKFAST. Yikes. If you use baking soda instead, it would be nearly 4,000 mg of sodium!

If you have kidney or heart issues, you are told to eat a low-sodium diet because sodium is so hard on both organs. Most of these people aren't able to eat many baked goods. Now we know why. There are sodium-free baking powders that use calcium carbonate instead of sodium carbonate, but I haven't tried them yet. They get great reviews online, so that is #1 on my list of things to buy the next time I go to Whole Foods (Ener-G is the recommended brand).

Try to keep your daily intake of sodium to under 2,000 mg. If you read the labels on your processed foods packages, be sure to keep track as you will likely find you are eating a lot more sodium than you thought. If you eat out much, be aware that restaurants generally use LOADS of salt to make their food taste good. Ask your waiter for low sodium options or to have the chef prepare you dish without salt. You can always add a few dashes yourself if needed.

I know how hard it is to give up salt. I am a salt person. I prefer salt over sugar any day of the week. It's almost embarrassing how fast I can put down a bowl of guacamole and salty tortilla chips. Now that I know what harm it's causing, I will be smarter the next time I buy chips, opting for "no salt" varieties. I'll also start using sodium-free baking powder. And as usual, I'll stay away from as many processed foods as possible. My heart and bones will thank me for it!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Eating Outside of the Box

The term "thinking outside the box" is used to describe situations in which someone thinks outside of the norm, or is innovative or unique in their thinking. I'd like to suggest we all need to think this way, in more ways than what I'm about to discuss. 

With respect to this food and wellness blog, the "norm" in our society is to go for convenience. We are busy, I get it.  But I believe convenience foods have become one of the major culprits to our nation's declining health. 

Convenience foods are pre-packaged, prepared foods that are usually manufactured in large facilities by machines. In order to be shelf-stable (not decompose), they must contain preservatives. They come dressed in pretty bags, boxes and cans with all sorts of claims - natural, healthy, whole grain, fortified, nutritious are just a few of the clever words printed on them to convince us that they are as good as what you would make in your own kitchen. But turn the package around and read the ingredients. Do you have monosodium glutamate, partially hydrogenated soybean oil or hydrolyzed corn protein in your pantry? Me neither. 

I believe with every fiber of my being that If we were to "eat" outside of the box, we would be a much healthier population. Don't get me wrong - sometimes you need something that is packaged. I stress the word "sometimes." If the bulk of your diet or the diet you feed your children requires a can opener, microwave or recycling, you might be setting yourself (and your kids) up for a higher risk of health problems, not the least of which is obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Why? Packaged foods are generally higher in sodium, sugars, fats (the unhealthy kind), calories, chemicals and food dyes - all of which are contributing factors to diseases. They have also been linked to learning and behavioral disabilities, ADD/ADHD, autism, mood swings, depression and fatigue. 

You'd be hard pressed to find any doctor, nutritionist or health expert that would tell you that you don't need a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean meats. We all know we should be eating more of these food groups, especially the fresh veggies. So why don't we? Convenience. Ugh. There's that word again. How convenient is it to be sick? To be in a doctor's waiting room? To monitor blood sugar? To fill yet another prescription?

As spring is about to push forth an abundance of new veggies and fruits, I urge you to use this time as a springboard to better health. Once you eliminate the packaged foods and dig in to what is growing in your area, you will be amazed at how your tastes change. You will taste the sweetness of a carrot, the bitterness of collard greens, the spiciness of a radish and the creaminess of an avocado. You will poop more and whine less. Yep - diets rich in veggies clean out your intestines and make you feel great. Your skin will glow, your energy will improve and you'll start healing your body from the inside out. I can't think of one boxed food that can promise that - and mean it.

If you don't know where to start, I suggest taking inventory of your kitchen. See where you can substitute fresh, real ingredients for packaged foods. Pick up some new cookbooks or search online for new recipes. Start cooking more and appreciate the blessing of having access to fresh foods. Join a local CSA (community-supported agriculture) to have veggies delivered to you or start frequenting area farmers' markets. See what the land has to offer. I can promise you it will be better for you than what comes from a factory.

If you're wanting recipe ideas or ways to make the switch, comment on this blog and let me know! Don't forget to check out my Recipes page!