Is Japanese food Healthy?

I can’t believe today is the last first day of school I will ever have (at least in the near future). There are only the 15 weeks (one semester) standing between me and a master’s degree! With my last “official” summer as a student behind me, I can’t go without talking about my summer adventure to Japan.

I just got home from the steaming hot country last week and had an incredible time! We did lots of walking (definitely hit my 10,000 steps every day), lots of sightseeing, and of course, lots of eating. I checked out tons of local grocery stores and had to try almost every street food we passed.

All of the sushi, ramen, rice, fish, and Japanese omelets were so delicious — I could hardly get enough! However, by the last few days of our two-week trip I was definitely craving some vegetables (that weren’t fried into tempura!). My body wasn’t use to all the starchy rice and ramen noodles. I felt like most of the food I was eating was heavy and “unhealthy”.

I put unhealthy in quotations because there is not one definition of healthy. We, in the United States, are conditioned to believe that noodles and rice (among all other starchy, high-carb foods) are “unhealthy” and cause weight gain. With that messaging, you would think that everyone in Japan would be obese, but guess what?…I didn’t notice a single Japanese person that was severely overweight.

The obesity rate in Japan is a mere 3.5% compared to over 35% in the United States! How could it be possible that Japanese people constantly eat “unhealthy” food for several meals a day but aren’t overweight?

Quite timely as I returned from my trip, I received an email with an article from SELF Magazine entitled “Our Idea of Healthy Eating Excludes Other Cultures, and That’s a Problem”. A Registered Dietitian whose family was from Trinidad wrote the article, and she discussed how our portrayal of “healthy” food is very Eurocentric and makes people think that foods from other cultures are “unhealthy”.

Think about it, most people say their night out at a Mexican restaurant was “unhealthy” – and while maybe there were a few too many chips and margaritas, this Americanized version of a Mexican meal makes us (and potentially Mexican Americans) label Mexican food as “bad”. This same notion goes for Japanese food. Obviously the Japanese are doing something right if their obesity rate is just a fraction of ours.

All of this made me realize that, as a Dietitian and health professional, I need to be more aware of different cultures and their dietary habits, and as an American society, we can’t label peoples’ cultural foods as “good” and “bad”. We also can’t expect people to give up their culture, heritage, and ancestry to eat what the stereotypical Eurocentric “healthy diet”.

Just some food for thought 🙂

Interested in reading the SELF Magazine article? Click here!

 

A few meals and treats from my trip

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Advertisements

5 Tips for a Healthy Summer BBQ

Can you believe it is almost July?!? I sure can’t.

I hope your grill is hot and your tummy is grumbling for some barbecue because the 4th of July is right around the corner.

In lieu of this festive holiday typically filled with hotdogs and s’mores, I thought I would share some of my favorite tips and tricks for a healthy 4th of July (or any summer night) BBQ.

  1. Load up on veggies – If your cooking, grill a bunch of kebabs full colorful peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli. If you aren’t the one cooking, bring a big veggie tray with hummus or guac and fill your plate! Vegetables provide so many vital vitamins and minerals, plus they help fill you up without breaking the calorie bank.
  2. Cut the carbs in half – Yep, I’m talking about the (whole grain!) bun. This one is tricky if you are having a hot dog, but if you go for a hamburger, go open face so you only get half the bun’s carbs and calories. Or, if you are feeling super healthy, try two big pieces of lettuce for your bun.
  3. Water, water, water! – I know pop, lemonade, and iced tea are BBQ classics, but you can easily save 200+ calories by only drinking water. And an extra bonus – water will help keep you hydrated with all the extra salt you might be getting from that hot dog and side of potato chips.
  4. Choose fruit for dessert – ‘Tis the season of nice, juicy watermelons and delicious fruit salads. Take advantage of natures candy and munch on some nutrient filled grapes and berries instead of reaching for the bag of marshmallows.
  5. Get moving – Go for a walk and enjoy the weather after dinner, or play with the kids in the back yard. Planning an activity for after the meal can help prevent overeating (since nobody wants to run around on an overly full stomach). Exercise also helps your food digest better – not to mention you burn a few extra calories in the process.

Happy Grilling, Happy Summer, and Happy (early) 4th!

Turmeric & Golden Milk

If you don’t have a trail of this yellow/orange powder around your kitchen, you might be missing out. Turmeric is a hot topic right now and for good reason – it has tons of health benefits.

Historically, turmeric was used in Ayurvedic, eastern medicine for pain and fatigue. Turns out they were on to something… Recent research has found that curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, has some serious anti-inflammatory effects.

Why is “anti-inflammatory” a good thing?

In a few cases, inflammation is a good thing – like healing cuts or wounds and fighting foreign pathogens in the body. However, when there is a chronic, low level of inflammation in the body it can increase risk for heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and Alzheimer’s, among many others. Stress, environmental toxins, and chemicals and preservatives in our food can all cause some of this chronic inflammation, which turmeric can help counteract.

Does turmeric sound appealing now?

If adding turmeric into your diet sounds more appealing now, here are a few things to consider:

  1. Whether you’re adding turmeric to your stir fry, eggs, golden milk (see my favorite recipe below!), salads, or soups, make sure you add some black pepper – this boosts absorption of the curcumin in turmeric up to 2000%
  2. While it is more of a pain to cook with, raw turmeric root more potent than the powdered spice form of turmeric

Remember…

Just like any other food or supplement, turmeric is not a magic pill. In order to get the real anti-inflammatory benefits of turmeric, it is also important to be eating a diet rich in whole, real foods (not the processed stuff), fruits and vegetables, and fiber.

My favorite turmeric recipe – Golden Milk

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 11.55.46 AM.png

 

Emotional Eating & Food as Fuel

This past Sunday was commencement at Case Western, and even though I wasn’t graduating, I still got to do a lot of celebrating because two of my best friends from undergrad were graduating. What I really mean by celebrating was going out to a lot of nice and yummy restaurants. My friends’ families’ were kind enough to include me at dinner on Saturday and lunch and dinner on Sunday.

If you know me, you know that I love a good meal out at a restaurant (especially if it is somewhere I’ve never been), but this weekend was a lot… I am not use to going out so much! I stuck with healthy choices (mostly protein and veggies) at my meals and shared some dessert, but the whole weekend got me thinking about how we view food as a culture.

In the caveman times, food was merely fuel to keep us going. Today, we eat to celebrate (graduations and birthdays, for example), we eat when we are sad (cue the break-up pint of ice cream), we eat/munch out of boredom (like the popcorn while watching TV), and we eat when we are stressed (you should see the university library during finals!).

As you can see, we strongly associate food with emotions and feelings…no wonder so many people struggle with emotional eating! If you think about it though, most of us are conditioned from a very young age to associate food (usually unhealthy food) with our emotions or actions. For example, say little Billy keeps crying as he gets a shot at the doctor so he gets a lollypop to cheer him up or his mom says he can have ice cream if he quietly and patiently waits while she buys the groceries. In these cases, Billy now associates (again, unhealthy) food with unhappiness/pain and with doing something good/behaving.

Why do we always use unhealthy foods as rewards? That’s because sweet and salty foods cause our brains to release dopamine, the hormone that makes you feel happy. While this sounds great (of course we all want to feel happy), dopamine is also the hormone that can create addiction – just one of the reasons why so many American’s are addicted to sugar and salt. Also, remember that although those foods may cause immediate happiness, sugar and salt are ultimately not good for you. They can lead to high blood pressure, inflammation, and even throw off all sorts of hormones that could cause anxiety or depression (the exact opposite of the initial feeling of happiness!).

So while almost everyone may struggle with emotional eating (including me!), it is important to think back to what food is really for – to fuel our bodies. I don’t think you would intentionally put fuel in our car that you knew would clog the pipes, so the next time you are reaching for the bag of chips or box of cookies, ask yourself, is this fueling my body with good, healthy nutrients that won’t “clog the pipes”?

And if you are a parent of little kiddos, try not to use food as a reward or use food to fill a need other than hunger. It is, of course, part of life to have cake and ice cream on your birthday (don’t give that up!!), but try not to use foods (especially sweet and salty ones) as bribes or treats for desired behaviors. It can help prevent some of those food-emotion associations later on.

My Experience on Whole30

Don’t mind me just sitting over here indulging in a big bowl of ice cream.

The cycle of restricting foods (and dieting) and then binging on “unhealthy” or “forbidden” foods has never been as clear to me as it is right now. That’s because I just completed day 30 (the last day) of the Whole30 diet.

After my experiment as a vegetarian for a month, I thought I would try out another diet. The lucky winner- Whole30. Whole30 is a diet designed to “end unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system”. Sounds great until you hear what is involved. On Whole30 you aren’t allowed ANY grains, legumes, sugar, sweetener (including things like honey), dairy, soy, or alcohol. What does that leave you ask? I have pretty much spent the last month eating only meat, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. It got real boring, real fast to say the least.

If you catch my drift, it was not an enjoyable experience. If you have read many of my previous posts or know me well, you know that I am not one to cut any foods out of my diet – you name it, I’ll probably eat it (yes, even as a nutrition student and future dietitian I eat (and love) chocolate, ice cream, buttered popcorn, and even a loose with chili cheese fries from Detroit’s Lafayette Coney Island), so having to cut so many things out of my diet was a challenge.

In theory, sticking to a diet made up of whole foods is great, but not allowing any wiggle room leads to overeating all of the “forbidden foods” later on (aka the big bowl of ice cream I am having). Cutting out foods can create an unhealthy relationship with food, it is restrictive, not sustainable, and most of all, it isn’t fun.

So, how was Whole30?

Like I said before, it is really boring because there wasn’t a lot of variety. It was also very difficult to go to restaurants or gatherings with food since there were so many things that were off limits.

Do I feel better?

Honestly, I don’t feel any different – aside from the fact that all I want to do is eat dessert, bread, and a big chipotle burrito bowl. But also remember, my diet was pretty rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins before. It wasn’t like I was starting out eating McDonald’s on the daily.

Would I recommend Whole30?

That would be a big fat NO! I see no reason why you have to cut out things like whole grain bread that is packed with fiber, beans that are a good source of plant based protein, and dairy products that are full of calcium and protein. I actually think you end up in an even worse situation after Whole30. Think about the restricting and binging cycle I mentioned — after 30 days of restricting, all you want to do is overeat/binge on the foods you avoided for a month. (It has even been difficult for me, someone who is very aware of these restrict and binge patterns, to resist eating an entire pint of ice cream and a loaf of bread right now.)

On the other hand, I do think the emphasis of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is great! Everyone could benefit from eating a few more of these and a few less sugary and starchy foods (since they make up the majority of a standard American diet). Note that I said “a few less”, not “eliminate” the sugary and starchy foods. There is no reason why pizza and chocolate can’t make there way into a healthy, balanced diet.

I think this pretty much sums up my thoughts on Whole30. Have you done Whole30? If so, what are your thoughts?

Coconut Oil

This week’s topic brought to you from the family dinner table last weekend.

It seems like coconut oil is everyone’s favorite oil right now. It is encouraged by the recently popular clean eating, paleo, and ketogenic diets. Why is it so popular? There may be some great health benefits of coconut oil, but there are still some fuzzy areas that need more research. When asked, most coconut oil users can’t tell you why they use it or why they think it is healthy, so I thought I would share some insight.

Cholesterol

There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is considered the bad kind of fat which increases our LDL (bad) cholesterol. Unsaturated fat is known as the good or healthy kind of fat, which can decrease LDL cholesterol. Both saturated and unsaturated fats can boost your HDL (good) cholesterol a tiny bit, too.

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat (which is more than the 65% saturated fat in butter!). Therefore, coconut oil, just like other saturated fats, increase that bad LDL cholesterol (not good!). However, coconut oil is unique in that it seems to give your HDL a little extra boost compared to all other fats.

This is where it gets confusing. Right now, when you go to the doctor, they test your blood for the amount of LDL particles and the amount of HDL particles in your blood, but they don’t look at the size of those particles. There has been some new research showing that the size of these cholesterol particles might be a more accurate measure of heart disease risk rather than the number of particles.

Here is where coconut oil comes in…while coconut oil increases the number of LDL particles (just like other saturated fats), it might increase the size of these particles, which could mean good news for your heart disease risk (the bigger the better!). But remember, this is still new research and we don’t consider this 100% fact yet.

MCTs

Then there are the infamous MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) that coconut oil is known for. MCTs don’t need to be digested the same way as other fats and are a readily available energy source for your cells. For this reason, they have historically been used as a therapeutic agent in people with fat malabsorption, cystic fibrosis, and epilepsy.

Most fat digestion requires the fats you eat to be transported to the liver via triglycerides in order to be used, but because MCTs don’t go through the normal digestion process, there are some studies showing they can decrease triglycerides and aid in weight loss. MCTs also have some anti-inflammatory properties, which is also good news from a health perspective.

Conclusions

While all of this sound great, I would still be a little skeptical. Much of this is just preliminary research, there are few research studies, and the results are inconclusive. So while coconut oil is fine every now and again, choosing oils high in unsaturated fats, like olive, sunflower, and avocado oils, are definitely the best choice as far as we know.

When you are stuck in a rut…

When I was planning my blog post for the week, I had in my head that I was going to do a Dietetic Internship update and talk about all of my exciting National Nutrition Month activities from this month. I’ll definitely do a post on this but it is going to sit on the back burner until next week.

As I have shared here on my blog several times, I have a lot on my plate working as a Dietetic Intern and going to graduate school. Between work, school, assignments, papers, and everything in between, it feels like this semester has sucked the lift out of me. I felt like my mantra was “work, sleep, homework, repeat”. I wasn’t feeling like myself and I even skipped out on going to the gym for two full weeks (which is 100% not like me- exercise is my stress reliever and boost of energy)

This lack of motivation and “blah” feeling really hit me a few weeks ago. I had to get back to my workouts to relieve some stress and give me a jolt of energy. Clearly my typical routine of going to the same gym everyday after work and doing my Kayla Itsines BBG circuit training wasn’t working so I decided to try something new.

In the past, I have found group fitness classes are much more motivating than working out alone. The energy of all the people around me always motivates me so I thought this would be a good place to start. I frequent yoga and spinning classes, but in order to pull me out of my rut I had to jump outside my comfort zone. The solution: find every fitness studio in Cleveland that offers a free first time class and give it a shot.

…And that is exactly what I have been doing. In the last week I went boxing for the first time (something I never thought I would do) and tried out a climbing class on a versa-climber (which, holy s***, was the hardest 30 minutes ever!). Since the weather has been a little bit nicer this week (ie. The sun made a few appearances), I have also been able to go for a few runs outside. Boy, does fresh air do wonders for your mood and energy.

To be completely honest, the last week has been amazing. I feel like a new person, I have so much more energy, my friends can’t get me to shut up about my new favorite workout classes, and I also happened to get some exciting news this week (tune in to next week’s post to find out!).

What is the point of all this and why should you care about my rut?

Well, because I think I can confidently say that everyone falls into a rut at some point. We are all busy with dozens of responsibilities being pulled in dozens of directions that sometimes cause us to get burnt out and lose motivation. Maybe you lose motivation to workout (like me), but maybe it is your schoolwork, job, or something else.

If you get stuck in a rut, don’t just sit down there. Figure out how to pull yourself out. There is no way that we can all be motivated all the time. Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. If what you are doing now isn’t working then try something new…something that excites you or makes you feel good. Even just stepping outside for 30 minutes a day to get some fresh air can completely change your mood. It might not be easy to step outside your “normal” but it can definitely be worth it!