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The Italian Experiment

italiaThis April, we spent 10 days in Italy. Best. Trip. Ever. And we ate. Everything. Cheeses, oil soaked veggies, gelato, pizza, bread, pasta…All of it. The entire week, I did not have one stomach ache (typically I average 1-2/day) and I lost weight. Truth spoken people.

Aside from moving to Italy, there is a lesson in this – and it’s two-fold.

  1. Pure, unprocessed fresh food is good for your body. Period.
  2. Fat is good.

1st point – Italians barely use a refrigerator and do not load their pantries with snacks. Most of them use the college-sized dorm room versions our kids take to school. Everything is bought and made fresh daily. They do not manufacture or consume processed foods.

Now let’s focus on the 2nd point. As I’ve written about before, we have been taught to be afraid of fat and told “fat will make you fat”. I am here, as a witness, to tell you… that is a myth.

More and more we are learning that higher fat diets help balance hormones, make vitamins (A,D,E,K) more absorbable, promote skin, hair, cardiovascular & brain health, prevent diabetes and… help you lose weight. All calories are not created equal. That is a farce. But there is more to it. Some pure logic – some scientific.

The fat you will find in a frappuccino or a milkshake (kinda the same thing), in a processed protein bar, in frozen dinners, in cookies or even in over-the-counter cheese is not the fat I am referring to. These processed fats are not pure, fresh or organic. They are simply that – processed. And your body does not know what to do with them – so the chemicals are converted to fat in your body.

Enter the scientific: The hormonal effect of food is a much bigger part of the equation and is the most important factor when it comes to fat loss. Namely, insulin (the fat-storage hormone, not fat-releasing). According to Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS – author of Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight. Get Healthy Now, “the American high-carb, low-fat diet…causes a lot of insulin to be released. When insulin is high, the fat cells lock their doors and won’t release their goodies…and fat can’t be burned for fuel.”

Here’s the kicker. Carbs and protein effect insulin levels. Fat? Not-at-all. And it produces more energy per gram than any other food group. And this all works when you eat “smart fats.”

Smart fats include:

Extra virgin olive oil (hello, Italia)
Fish oil
Wild salmon
Nuts
Coconut, palm & nut oils
Dark chocolate (Italia, there you are again)
Free range, organic eggs
Fats from grass-fed organic meats

Toxic fats include:

Factory farmed meat on a grain-fed diet
Man-made processed fats and foods
Processed omega 6 veggie oils (corn, soybean, canola)
Fats damaged in cooking (see previous blog: Best Oils To Cook With)

So, the high-fat, high-fiber, high flavor, moderate protein-rich foods consumed in Italy proved to be the winners.

Try it. See how you feel and if you notice a difference. And always remember to source your fruits, veggies and proteins organically as much as possible.

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  • Sonja Gamgort

    A+ post! Should we skip the store bought packaged pasta then? Would love to look deeper at the case for eating grass fed meats versus grain fed!

    • Debra

      Organic fresh pasta is your best option. Definitely avoid grain fed meats if possible.

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When Things Get Itchy

You’ve got that New Year’s itch. “This year is going to be different.”drunkwaffles-300x300

As suspected, the most common new year’s resolution is to “lose weight.” According to Newsweek, there is a 12.1% hike in new gym memberships sold in January. “There are 54 million people in the U.S.—approximately 17 percent of the population—who are members of some type of gym or fitness center. A disproportionate number of them join shortly after the guilt of a gluttonous December sets in.”

Aisling Pigott, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, says many people allow themselves to binge over Christmas on the promise that they will fast in the new year. Unsurprisingly, this is not the best way to start, she says. “People need to think about moderation all the time. Weight loss involves adjusting lifestyle, diet and calorie intake, whilst overcoming the psychological barriers too.”

When that new year hits, so does the sinking feeling “I gotta do this now”. The idea of getting healthy can be overwhelming and is mostly psychological. The language we tend to use is “I’ll never be able to eat that again” … it becomes an all or nothing. Which just sets you up for failure.

It’s important to not see food as an enemy – but more of a method of fuel – a way to keep your body healthy and in optimal form. Rather than making eating a stressful experience, try to make it an enjoyable part of your day.

Make small adjustments – not trying to do everything at once. Looking for that quick-fix 10 pound unsustainable weight-loss is not realistic. Diet pills and shakes will not get you where you want to be. Remove yourself from the scale, stop over-thinking what you are ingesting and eliminate your fear of food.

Some tools to use:

  • Stop thinking about food 24/7 – make a list of healthy food choices you can pick from for each meal – takes out the guess work.
  • Know your trigger foods – what makes you feel awful after you eat it and only crave more? Remove those from your diet.
  • Don’t eat in front of the TV – it sabotage. If you must – dish out one serving and don’t return for more.
  • Try to stop eating at least 2 hours before you go to bed…you will feel so much lighter in the morning.
  • Add a probiotic to your daily routine…it works miracles in balancing out your gut and building your immune system.
  • Drink water. Chug a glass first thing in the morning to start your day flushing out your system.
  • Try to eat a salad everyday. Easy on the toppings, less on the dressings.
  • Cut out the processed foods and eat more non-GMO and organic.
  • Cut sugar from your diet – this alone will create a huge difference in bloating and energy levels.
  • Add more exercise – if you are a beginner, start small and build up.

You have to make each small commitment realistic and achievable. Always remember – it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.

And on the weekend, have that burger, sans fries. Just keep your daily routine in check. And, Happy New Year.

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How To Become GI Jane

GI Jane“Don’t eat carbs!” That’s what we are told. But why the hype?

It’s the carbs you are eating. There are three basic forms of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. When you eat or drink something with carbs, your body breaks down the sugars and starches into a type of sugar called glucose, which is the main source of energy for cells in your body (fiber passes through your body undigested).

How does your body use this fuel for energy?

In the most simplistic terms:

  • When you ingest carbs – the hormone insulin is released and moves glucose from your blood into your cells to use for energy.
  • If your body takes in too much glucose and releases an abundance of insulin, your body can’t use all of the fuel – and it become stored as fat.

But let’s take this one step further. The carbs you are eating make a difference.

Every carb has something called a GI (glycemic index)

A food’s GI affects how quickly your body digests it and how quickly glucose enters your bloodstream. The source of the carbohydrate is especially important – foods that contain more processed carbohydrates have a greater effect on blood sugar levels than whole foods. Foods made with intact whole grains typically have a lower index. Foods high in fiber, especially soluble fiber, lower the GI index. Fiber slows down the digestion of food and therefore, the release of sugars into the bloodstream. Fiber (and fat) lower the GI of a food.

Examples of foods with low, middle and high GI values include the following:

  • Low GI: Green vegetables, most fruits, raw carrots, kidney beans, chickpeas, lentils and bran breakfast cereals
  • Medium GI: Sweet corn, bananas, raw pineapple, raisins, oat breakfast cereals, and multigrain, oat bran or rye bread
  • High: White rice, white bread, potatoes, pretzels, popcorn

Here’s a simple guide on the GI for popular foods: http://www.the-gi-diet.org/lowgifoods/

So what do I do with this information?

It’s important to understand how your body uses the fuel from the food you ingest.

The first source of fuel your body uses is carbs (glucose/sugar), then fat, then protein. So if you are taking in an abundance of processed carbs that your body can’t burn, the extra glucose is converted to fat – so you are never using your stored fat for energy, but only building more.

A food’s ranking on the glycemic index doesn’t necessarily indicate whether it’s a good or bad choice. It’s just an additional guide (it is much more complex than what is presented in this blog). It goes back to what we already know: as a general rule:  whole, unprocessed foods are the superior choice.

Another added bonus – the more active you are and the more muscle you build, the less you need to worry about how foods affect your blood sugar. Exercise uses the glucose stored in your muscles. Your body takes glucose out of the bloodstream to your muscles where it’s packed away for future use. This helps reduce blood-glucose levels quickly. More muscle gives you a larger storage area for glucose.

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