Thursday, January 31, 2008

Food: More than the Sum of Its Parts

A recent study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine showed that selenium supplements, taken to help prevent cancer, may actually cause more harm than good. This is not unlike the study done many years ago that showed that beta-carotene supplements which were intended to ward off lung cancer actually increased its likelihood. Why is it that anytime a food correlates with wellness, scientists try to pinpoint the nutrient responsible and then repackage it as a supplement? Is it because we as a society are used to improving our health with pills?

Perhaps it's easier for us to pop a Vitamin C tablet than to peel and eat an orange. And it's definitely more profitable for the food industry to sell us supplements, tinctures, and fortified foods than to forfeit their profits to the produce section. But, in the end, can you really improve upon mother nature? For reasons that science has yet to identify (but which commonsense seems to dictate), food is more than the sum of its nutrients. You may be able to pinpoint and isolate all of the antioxidants found in a carrot but you can't beat the health benefits to be reaped when these nutrients are consumed in their original packaging.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Finally, A Simple Guide Eating Well

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Such begins Michael Pollan's latest book, In Defense of Food. This deceptively simple phrase does a better job of communicating the essentials of healthy eating than an entire shelf of diet books at your nearest book store. Healthy eating should feel as intuitive as walking and not involve laborious lists and schedules. Of course to truly "eat food," one must first distinguish it from what Pollan calls “edible food-like substances.'’

In his book, Pollan discusses what he calls the great American paradox: The more we worry about nutrition, the less healthy we seem to become. A brief Q&A with Pollan in The New York Times is peppered with gems like the following: "A lot of us are intimidated by cooking today. We watch cooking shows on TV but we cook very little. We’re turning cooking into a spectator sport. This process of outsourcing our food preparation to large corporations, which is what we’ve been doing the last 50 years, is a big part of our problem." To read the entire interview, click on the headline above.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Curbing Emotional Eating

Most of us derive a lot of pleasure from food. However, if we find ourselves eating as a constant coping mechanism it may be time to rethink our eating habits. If you struggle with emotional eating, here are a few strategies to help you gain more control over what and when you eat:

1. Learn to distinguish true hunger from a desire to be soothed.

2. Uncover the emotional situations that trigger your food cravings.

3. Develop other avenues for comforting yourself. Try other activities that you find soothing such as a bike ride or a phone call to a friend.

4. Plan ahead by stocking your kitchen with healthy snacks instead of temptations like ice cream or chips.

5. Eat regular meals that nourish you so that you are less susceptible to constant snacking.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Make Resolutions that You Can Keep

If you find yourself making some of the very same resolutions that you've made in past years put down your pen. When a resolve to change something becomes an annual plea, it's not you but the resolution that needs changing. Maybe it's not something you really want to do but feel you should ("I will stop drinking coffee" or "I will run for an hour every morning.") Ask yourself what's the motivating force behind your resolution and then see if there's a more palatable way to achieve it. For example, if you want to reduce your caffeine intake but love the taste of coffee, initially try switching to half-caf coffee in the morning. And if the reason behind running everyday is to get in better physical shape, consider alternatives such as yoga or swimming that might be more palatable. Uncovering paths of lesser resistance can help you to reach your underlying goal.

More commonly, we make resolutions that are too broad or abstract to be of use. Take the popular resolution "I will lose weight." Research shows that most people abandon this particular resolution before February. Goals can be great motivators if they are specific and measurable, providing the momentum that comes from incremental gains. If you set a goal to lose 1 lb. each week for the first four months and you weigh yourself weekly (not daily) you may find that the lost a pound provides a great incentive to keep going.

This brings us to resolutions' worst enemy, reality. It's important that you are honest with yourself as to how realistic a given goal is. Using the examples above, you could ask yourself how realistic is it to quit caffeine completely during the winter when you already have trouble waking up in the dark or, if you are a new mother with an erratic sleeping schedule, is an hour of intense exercise feasible? This isn't to say that you should abandon the desire to improve your health, only that by making these goals more realistic and tangible that they are more likely to succeed. After all, a small step toward your ultimate goal is more likely to lead to another. Better to tiptoe forward than to jump in place.