Monthly Archives: September 2013

Navigating Fast Food Choices

It’s the end of the day, you’re tired, your boss was angry, you have to pick up your child from a late soccer practice, you’re starved and have no dinner plans, and you drive by a Burger King on your way home.   Do you stop or do you pass by and put together something quickly at home?  44% of Americans go to a fast food restaurant once a week.  14% of Americans go three or more times each week.  What is it about fast food that attracts consumers?

Fast food is high in fat and carbohydrates and stimulates the release of endorphins.  Endorphins are hormones that make us feel physically good.  Dopamine is another hormone released that calms us and drives us to want more foods high in fat and carbohydrates.   Couple this with the visual cue of driving by a fast food restaurant and feeling tired, and you have the perfect case for having it your way.  But do you really know what you are eating?

Burger King Versus Subway

A Whopper with cheese has 760 calories with 47 grams of fat – 16 grams being from the artery-clogging saturated fat.  burger-king-A small order of French fries has 130 calories, 15 grams of fat and 49 grams of carbohydrates.  Couple this with your burger and you have 900 calories with 102 grams of carbs and 62 grams of fat.  That is your daily allotment for fat and nearly half your calories based on a 2000 calorie diet.  And we haven’t even considered the drink.  A small chocolate milk shake has 580 calories, 17 grams of mostly bad saturated fat and 97 grams of carbs.  A small coke has 39 grams of carbs coming from the sugar.  Both would shoot up your total grams of carbs to either 200 grams for the meal with the milk shake or 140 for the meal with the soda.   Either one is way too high, well over half of the recommended amount for a 2000 calorie diet.  And the total calories for the meal with the milkshake is nearly 1500 calories and for the meal with the soda over 1000 calories.  We haven’t even discussed sodium for these choices.  A whopper with cheese has 1410 mg of sodium more than half of the recommended daily amount of 2400 mg.  Use this link to determine your Burger King choices.  Use this link to learn more about nutrition facts.

Healthier Choices at Subway

Although Subway is fast food, there are more healthy choices and fewer unhealthy choices. subway If you choose from the low fat menu you can make a healthy choice.  Order either a 6″ sub with baked chips or a full foot long(although depending on your choice the sodium can go up to over 1600 mg) without chips you can still keep your calories under 500 and your net grams of carbs at 82.  The best choice would be to order a 6″ sub with the baked chips and ask for extra veggies to make it even healthier and more filling.  Avoid regular sodas or sweetened teas;  they are very high in carbohydrates due to the sugar that will only spike your blood sugar and make your pancreas work extra hard.

General Tips to Cut Down on Fat and Calories At Fast Food Restaurants

If you have few choices where you live and you choose to eat out then at least use these guide lines to make it healthier.

  1. Order your sandwiches without cheese – it will save you about 100 calories, lots of sodium and about 7 grams of fat.
  2. Skip the mayo and use mustard or a little bit of ketchup instead.  Ordering the Whopper this way will save you 17 grams of saturated fat and 160 calories.
  3. Ask for extra veggies.   They are low in calories, are filling and have healthy vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.
  4. Choose grilled, baked or roasted instead of fried.  This will save you about 250 calories and about 25 grams of fat.
  5. Choose water, diet sodas or unsweetened teas and bring your own sugar substitute like Stevia or add just a squirt of lemonade for sweetening.
  6. Eat baked chips or split an order of small fries or regular chips to cut down on calories.
  7. Choose whole grain rolls or buns whenever possible to get more fiber which enhances the fullness factor.
  8. Eat slowly, taking at least 15 minutes, so that your stomach has time to register fullness and you are less tempted to go back for more with all the aromas wafting in the air.

Urge Splurge versus Planned Splurge

The above scenario requires further exploration.  You have to ask yourself what is behind the desire to eat fast food.  Is it because you don’t have anything at home to eat?  Is it because you are tired and fast food is comforting and calming?  Is it because you had the visual cue when your drove past the restaurant?  Or is it because you really haven’t eaten out for a few weeks and you would really enjoy eating some fast food.  I tell people that there is a difference between a planned splurge and a urge splurge.  The first splurge you are in control.  The second, the splurge controls you and often leads to guilt and wasted calories.  In a planned splurge you are more apt to make healthier choices; in a urge splurge you are less likely.

Even better than stopping at a fast food restaurant is to have something ready at home to eat or to put together quickly.  Planning ahead keeps us from failing.  Looking ahead each week makes it easier to anticipate hectic days and have something easy to reheat or prepare.  Setting up a meal in the crock pot the night before can eliminate all preparation for dinner the next day.  Making extra sauces, soups or casseroles and freezing makes it easy to just take out and heat up.  Steam some veggies and you have a complete meal.  Another quickly prepared meal is to take a can of chicken soup, add a half can of beans like cannellini or kidney and a bag of frozen veggies.  This can serve four and takes about 10 minutes from putting together and to serving up.  One of my favorite quick meals is chili. It is all done in one pan or could be done in the crock pot.  In a large soup pan I cook a pound ground chicken breast and then add one jar marinara sauce, one 28 oz. chopped tomatoes, one bag of chopped frozen spinach or broccoli, one can of rinsed kidney beans and chili powder to taste.  I simmer it for 30 minutes or it can be done in the crock pot on low setting in the morning.

No matter what your choice, fast food or eat at home, making a conscious decision to eat healthier is possible in both scenarios.  Understanding the motivation behind the choice helps us to conquer impulses and take control of our health one step at a time.


Exactly What Is Chronic Inflammation?

In terms of health, chronic inflammation is brought up often as a contributor to chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and even autoimmune diseases and cancer.  You might be wondering what is the difference between this inflammation and the kind that happens when you get a cut.   Inflammation of both kinds is initially a life saving response meant to heal damaged tisssue but when the damage happens over and over as in Crohn’s disease or GERD or even plaque forming atherosclerosis, the bodies response becomes detrimental.  Inflammation can be acute like when you cut yourself, or it can be chronic like when your body has to deal with a gradual accumulation of plaque in the arteries.

Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation signals our body to send out the troops to heal the injury.  It is a healthy protective response involving plasma and white blood cells that then orchestrate a cascade of events involving proteins and chemical mediators that work together dilating blood vessels, increasing blood vessel wall permeability to improve access and clotting proteins to seal off the injured area.  This is why injuries swell, feel warm, become red and painful and can limit function temporarily.  The inflammation response happens quickly and then either gets better, develops into an abscess or becomes chronic.

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic inflammation happens when there is repeated exposure to pathogens, toxins like tobacco and other foreign substances, or a overactive immune system (like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma to name a few).   The same inflammatory response occurs as in acute inflammation but with time there is a gradual shift in the type of soldiers sent as the troop reserves are depleted.   The outcome, over several months or years, is the destruction of tissue, thickening and scarring of connective tissue, and death of cells or tissues.  It is important to address the cause of the underlying chronic inflammation in order to prevent scarring and tissue destruction.

Example of Acute Inflammation Becoming Chronic Inflammation

Take the example of intermittent episodes of heartburn.  Heartburn is caused by acidic stomach contents going into the esophagus where the tissue is more sensitive.  Microsoft PowerPoint - 59.pptxThere are several lifestyle and diet choices associated with it.  Combined with stress, being overweight and perhaps wearing tight fitting clothes, the perfect environment exists for heart burn.  If this is happening more than once a week this warrants seeing a healthcare provider.  When the esophagus is repeatedly exposed to the acidic stomach contents, it may be a problem Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD.  GERD causes chronic inflammation and scarring that can lead to problems with swallowing and even Barrett’s esophagus – a type of cancer.  This is an example of how an acute inflammatory episode can become a chronic inflammatory condition leading to scarring and cancer.  Other examples can be untreated asthma, irritable bowel disease and even atherosclerosis to name a few more.

Obesity, Sedentary Lifestyle and Inflammation

Visceral fat, or the fat around the waist, (for women having a waist circumference greater than 35″, for men greater than 40″ – and that is not just your pant size!) is linked to low grade inflammation.visceralfat   The fatty deposits around the belly triggers an autoimmune response causing a release of inflammatory chemicals.    These inflammatory chemicals interfere with normal metabolism and have been linked to type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis and even cancer.   Research indicates that there is also a link between abdominal fat and  and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).   The silver lining is that research also supports that with weight loss these inflammatory markers are decreased.

The Layering Effect of Lifestyle Choices, Health Conditions and Chronic Inflammation

When unhealthy lifestyle choices are combined with certain physical conditions it becomes exponentially more hazardous.  Imagine the obese person who smokes, has uncontrolled asthma, eats a lot of fried foods, overeats, has frequent heart burn, doesn’t sleep well, is sedentary, stressed and always tired.  Doesn’t that sound like someone you may know?  Now imagine if that person stopped smoking, stopped eating so many fried foods, ate healthier foods in smaller amounts and then started going for walks during the day.  Imagine how he would probably sleep better, feel less stressed, start to lose weight and have more energy.  Imagine how this would decrease those inflammatory markers and give him a better quality of life for the present and the future.

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, he said:

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

It comes down to lifestyle choices and being able to make gradual changes, one step at a time.







Literally Stranded In The Land of Bland? Use These Spices and Herbs To Boost Health

When you add spices are you only comfortable with salt and pepper, and perhaps garlic and onion powder?  There are good reasons to expand beyond these, particularly salt since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommend no more than 1500 mg of sodium a day.  With the average person consuming about 3000-4000 mgs of sodium a day it’s no wonder that 31% of American adults have high blood pressure.  Getting sodium levels down to recommended levels can be more effective than taking a blood pressure medicine to decrease blood pressure.  Moving from salt to stronger flavored spices can help with this transition.  And there are some spices and herbs that will not only jazz up your food but will give your health a big boost as well.  These five powerhouses are high in antioxidants and phytochemicals (earlier post) that will help your body fight off cancer, boost your immune system and decrease inflammation that leads to diabetes and heart disease.   Consumed on a regular basis, you will be doing your heart and your health a favor while tickling your taste buds!


Turmeric is from the ginger family and provides the beautiful yellow color used in curries.  Turmeric’s active substances, curcumin, has strong anti-inflammatory properties.  Turmeric boosts the immune system, is known to prevent Alzheimer’s Disease and can help with stomach pain, liver and kidney problems.  It has a mild flavor, warm and slightly bitter.  It goes well in bean soups, rice, curried chicken as well as hummus and dips.  I love it in my lentil soup recipe.


Garlic is an herb effective for slowing down the process of atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries and for lowering blood pressure.  Allicin, the active health promoting substance in garlic, has been used for diabetes, cancer and even to kill certain bacteria like E coli.  Garlic should be stored in a cool, dark place (though not a refrigerator) and can be kept for several weeks.  The more it is minced, the stronger the flavor.  Allicin diminishes over time so for maximum health benefit it should be as fresh as possible.  Garlic fits perfectly in Mediterranean recipes or can be slow roasted and spread directly on bread or crackers.  Keep in mind the stronger the flavor, the more health benefits.  I put minced garlic in anything involving tomatoes including soups, sauces and salsa.  I sauté veggies with it most days of the week and I add it to meat loafs, hummus and pesto sauce.  The opportunities are endless for garlic!


Lab studies have found that cinnamon may reduce inflammation, has antioxidant effects, and fight bacteria.  There have been some studies suggesting that it may lower blood sugars in those with diabetes.  Taking too much of it can be toxic to the liver but it is considered safe to have 1/2 to 1 teaspoon daily.  There are some drug interactions that you should have checked out with your pharmacist.  The darker form of it, cassia, is thought to be more effective.  Cinnamon is wonderful when added to hot cereal and in spice cakes, breakfasts breads and even added to plain yogurt or cottage cheese.

Chili Peppers

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers, has been linked to lowering blood pressure as well as killing cancer cells.  Although eating too many or ones that are too hot can cause some heartburn, this can be neutralized by following up with some yogurt –  and why not yogurt with cinnamon!  You can roast them with some garlic, stuff them, grill them or make salsa with them.  Roasted and pureed, they make a wonderful topping for a steak or hamburger or an addition to a dip.  I add them to my sausage and tortellini soup for a little extra kick.  You can even roast and puree a bunch of them and freeze them for later use.


Oregano is one of the herbs with the highest amount of antioxidants – the cell damage repairer.  It is high in vitamin K, manganese and iron.  It is best eaten fresh and can be stored in the frig in a damp paper towel or in an airtight container in the freezer to extend freshness.  Add it late in the cooking process for maximum taste.  It is great added to pizzas, olive oil, salad dressing, omelets, frittatas, and sautéed veggies.

All In A Day

So what might a typical day’s worth of meals look like in order to get all of these powerhouses?  For breakfast have one teaspoon of cinnamon mixed in with one cup of hot old fashioned oatmeal.  You could make a frittata and add in 1/2 cup minced fresh oregano.  For lunch you could have chili made with some sautéed and pureed chili peppers or top a veggie burger with some.  Sauté some broccoli or green beans with a few cloves of fresh minced garlic for dinner and serve with curried chicken made with turmeric.  IMG_0468You could complete the list by making my lentil soup recipe for dinner which calls for lots of minced garlic and turmeric along with a splash of pureed roasted chili peppers for some added heat!  As a do ahead step you could roast your peppers and mix with as much fresh garlic as you can handle in the food processor or blender and freeze in ice cube trays to keep around for future recipes.

Stranded In The Land of Bland? Ready to Expand?

ClingAre you feeling like you are in a rut?  Clinging to old habits?  Bored with your life?  Our preference is for stability and predictability in our life but in reality that eventually becomes boring.  Life is a balance between comfort and adventure.  Comfort is safe but when we never get out of our comfort zone our lives become boring, we become boring and we stop growing.  Our closest relationships in our lives are not with loved ones; they are with our thoughts.  When we open our minds to adding new activities, thoughts, and routine, we add adventure.  Adventure is unpredictable and can make us fearful, but helps us to change the way we think about ourselves.  Getting out of our comfort zone gives us the opportunity to master something new which gives us confidence and willingness to change.   Expanding out of our comfort zone shifts our perspectives, makes us more creative, and makes us more open to all the possibilities in life.

Shifting From Bland to Expand

It can be scary moving from old routines and deciding to try new things.   Start small with some of the ideas below and become mindful of what you notice.  Notice compliments, the feeling of adventure and excitement you feel when you take the risk of doing something new or changing your thoughts, the curiosity of doing something new and the feeling of control of your life.  These are some suggestions on how you can move out of the land of bland and begin to expand?

  1. Do something new each day.  For example:
  • try a new recipe
  • set the alarm 20 minutes earlier and do something for you
  • wear an outfit in your closet that you’ve never worn before
  • go silent – turn off all music, TV and radio for a day
  • pack a lunch instead of eating out
  • drive to work a different way
  • eat dinner by candlelight
  • eat a meal with your eyes closed and be silent
  • go for a 10 minute walk after a meal
  • take a hot shower right before bed

2.  Stop spending time thinking about the past.  Time spent in the past makes us connect with old emotions, excuses and justifications.  If an old thought comes in to your head, don’t attach to it, just let it go for now.  Replace it with thoughts of a new thing you can do tomorrow.

3.  Tell someone that you care about, but may struggle with, that you love them.  This tears away negative emotions and allows the opportunity for the relationship to expand.

4.  Forgive someone who may have disappointed you.  There is nothing more freeing than letting go of past hurt and all the negative emotion associated with it.   You can verbally express forgiveness or do it inwardly by choosing to see a painful situation from the other person’s perspective and letting go of all the disappointment and pain associated with that person.  If you struggle with this, then start by thinking of the good things about that person.

5.  Do something nice for somebody.  And do it anonymously, for the pure good of it.  I’ll never forget the feeling I got from buying two glasses of champagne for a young couple celebrating their anniversary at a restaurant.  We left the restaurant before the champagne was delivered but I can imagine their faces.

6.  Say “no” to an impulse.  I was waiting in line at Walmart and my favorite candy bar, not one you see very often, was there.  A Zero bar.  I can see and smell it now.  But I said “no” telling myself it would take only 5 minutes to eat and an hour to stew on it afterwards.  I was triumphant and that feeling lasted longer than any taste in my mouth.

Life Can Be An Adventure, You Can Create It!

The more we shake up our routine and jazz up our life, the more positive feelings we develop and the more we expand emotionally, physically and spiritually.  Start small with some of the ideas listed earlier.  Notice how you feel when you break up your routine.  Notice the sense of fun, the feeling that you have many possibilities ahead of you, the feeling of energy and confidence.  Yes, it’s a bit awkward, but it is rejuvenating.  This is where lasting happiness lies.