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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
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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Surprise, surprise.

In my many discussions with clients over the past few months, I continue to find common misconceptions about certain foods. You may be surprised to hear the truth.

Let’s clear up some confusion:

Chocolate milk is the perfect post workout drink. The initial thought behind milk as a replenishing snack post workout is actually pretty solid. It’s a great source of natural carbs and proteins and can help build and repair muscles after you sweat it out. The “chocolate” part? Not so much. It’s just added, refined sugars that have no benefit. There is natural sugar in NesquikChocolateMilkmilk – there is no need to add more. Yes, cocoa has been called a powerful antioxidant – but most chocolate milks contain a minuscule amount. Common brands of chocolate milk (ie. “Nesquik” which I often see kids drinking) are full of artificial ingredients and chemicals: Reduced Fat Milk with Vitamin A Palmitate and Vitamin D3 Added, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Less Than 2% of Cocoa Processed with Alkali, Nonfat Milk, Sugar, Calcium Carbonate, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Guar Gum, Salt, Carrageenan. This is not chocolate milk. You are much better off with just plain milk. And Nesquik went so far as to claim their chocolate milk beverage as the “official beverage of AYSO and USYS” soccer leagues. No wonder we have issues with the American diet and obesity with our children. Thank you, Big Food companies.

American cheese is good for you. As one of the most commonly used cheeses in food establishments, American cheese is actually not really cheese. It is a processed factory creation that includes milk fats, solids, whey, emulsifiers and food coloring and is high in fat. It was once made from a mixture of cheeses, but now that it is fully processed, it cannot be legally called “cheese” and has to be labeled as “processed cheese”, “cheese product“, etc. Sometimes, instead of the word cheese, it is called “American slices” or “American singles”. Check it out in the supermarket and notice it doesn’t say “cheese”. Under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, American cheese is a type of pasteurized processed cheese.

A food labeled “Natural” is better for you. The word “natural” is actually a marketing term and is not defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It can mean almost anything. Even products labeled “all natural” can be highly processed and contain high fructose corn syrup, pesticides, GMO’s, antibiotics, growth hormones and much more. Just because it sounds good – don’t buy into it. It’s all hype.

Wheat bread is always better for you. Next time you are in a supermarket, pick up a package of whole wheat rolls or breads and you are most likely to see ingredients like: Enriched Bleached Flour, Modified Wheat Starch, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Mono- and Diglycerides, Datem, Caramel Coloring, Guar Gum and Gum Arabic. Not so appetizing – especially when you can’t pronounce them. In actuality, healthy bread should say “100% whole grain” or “100% whole wheat” on the package: that means the bread is made from unrefined wheat, which has more than double the fiber and is also higher in selenium, potassium, and magnesium. There are even healthier options available like sprouted bread. To really be safe, purchase bread that is organic and made with minimal ingredients. Your body will thank you.

Diets shakes are going to help me lose weight. Enter Isagenix, Special K and Shakeology. It’s the same story – once you go off of these shakes, your body will be unable to regulate itself and you will most likely gain the weight back. It is unsustainable. And the ingredient list is mile high and includes additives like guar gum and gum arabic. You are much better off eating real food vs. processed food shakes.

Microwave popcorn is healthy. Popcorn, maybe – microwave popcorn is a whole notha animal. Almost all microwave popcorn varieties come in a bag lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). This chemical is the same toxic stuff found in teflon pots and pans. It can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. When heated, this chemical has been linked to infertility, cancer and other diseases in lab animals. No long term studies have been conducted on humans, but the EPA lists this substance as a carcinogen. Not to mention, most microwave popcorn brands include ingredients like hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and added colors. Stick with organic popcorn in a bag or, better yet, make your own.

Yogurt is healthy. Well, yes, organic plain Greek yogurt is healthy for you. However, most of the yogurt consumed is flavored with sugar and come with toppings. For example, a Yoplait strawberry yogurt has 170 calories, 15 g fat, 33 grams carbs, and 27 grams of sugar. And the kid varieties of YoCrunch include options like m&ms, Crunch bar, Reeses Pieces and Oreos. Let’s call it what it is…dessert.

All organic foods are healthy. Organic foods have to adhere to strict regulations by the USDA on how foods are produced to earn the organic seal of approval. However, you still have to watch the ingredients and read the nutritional facts. For example, Nature’s Path Organic Frosted Cherry Pomegranate Toaster Pastries are a glorified organic Pop Tart with 200 poptart2calories per pastry, 3 grams of saturated fat, 37 grams of carbs and 17 grams of sugar. The ingredient list is also a mile high. Be sure to read the labels.

Gluten free foods are better for you. “Gluten free” is the latest buzz word in the food industry. Gluten free does not necessarily mean healthier. Gluten free products are often made with white rice flour, milled corn flour, even potato or corn starch and typically include carbs with less fiber and higher glycemic indices than the original foods people are trying to avoid. There is a small percentage of people that it is a medical necessity to eat gluten free as they have celiac disease – an autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine. Millions of others may have a diagnosed gluten sensitivity that causes inflammation throughout the body. Research suggests the epidemic of sensitivities is a result of the refined, GMO processed foods that our bodies are unable to digest. Gluten free is not necessarily a solution to a healthier diet or weight loss.

Foods marked “Whole Grain” are healthy. Companies actually pay fees to belong to the Whole Grains Council, which administers the program.  A food only has to have 8 grams of whole grains to bear this stamp. For example, a 2 oz serving of pasta (56 grams) with 8 grams of whole wheat could actually come with 48 grams of white refined flour. You will commonly find the whole grain stamp on sugary cereals like Lucky Charms – giving a false sense of what is healthy.

The best thing you can do for yourself is learn to read food labels and nutrition facts. They often give all the insight you need into making healthy choices.

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What Are We Feeding Our Kids??

This past weekend was the daddy-daughter dance at my daughter’s school and I was on the set-up crew. My kids have often relayed the food choices they are given for lunch in school, butSchool-Lunch that day…I finally got a first-hand sneak peek as I was gathering the “home-made” contributions from the families into the cafeteria (the items that were brought in is a whole ‘notha entry).

I find it fascinating there is this strong push to get the general population to eat healthier – incorporating more “whole” and “responsibly sourced” foods, organic options and removing non-processed foods from our diet, YET, there is a major juxtaposition of this messaging in the schools. We are teaching kids the options they are given are “healthy”. No wonder as our children get older, it is more and more difficult to remove these toxins from their diet – they are programmed and conditioned mentally and physically to think what they are eating is responsible and reasonable. After all, it’s what’s provided in schools – so it’s good for them, right? It is time to educate children.

According to the CDC, “Childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years.” I confirmed how this is happening when I took a little stroll through the cafeteria. Here is what I found among the packaged offerings:


Low-calorie G2 Gatorade

Ingredients: Water, Sugar, Citric Acid, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Salt, Sodium Citrate, Monopotassium Phosphate, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Colour

Our children have no need to ingest Gatorade, let alone a low calorie version with artificial flavors and sweeteners.

Chocolate Milk

Ingredients: Low-fat milk, high fructose corn syrup, cocoa (processed with alkali), cornstarch, salt, carrageenan, vanilla, vitamin A, palminate and Vitamin D3

The combination of sugar and calories does not lead to a healthy option.


Sugar, sugar and more sugar. 40 grams to be exact. In one serving. Not including the additional sugar-spiked selections they will choose as they make it through the food assembly line.


Doritos, Cheez-Its, Lays Potato Chips, Pirate Booty, Onion Rings, cookie packs…need I go on? Oh wait, they do also offer churros (fried dough pastry dipped in sugar).

And there’s a large freezer of ice cream to choose from – the kind you get out of the ice cream trucks on the streets. Ya know, Good Humor? Humorous it is. I think writing the ingredient label for one of those would take up the entire length of this blog entry, so I thought it best to refrain.

“Healthy” Morning Cereals:

Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Mini-Wheats, Fruit Loops.

Let’s look at just one ingredient list for Lucky Charms: Whole Grain Oats (that’s what they boast!), Oats, Marshmallows (sugar, modified corn starch, corn syrup, dextrose, gelatin, calcium carbonate, yellows 5&6, blue 1, red 40, artificial flavor), Sugar, Oat Flour, Corn Syrup, Corn Starch, Salt, Trisodium Phosphate, Color Added, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Vitamin E (added to “preserve” freshness).


Hot Entrées

I did not get a chance to observe the “hot entrée” options on this month’s menu first hand, which the food service provider, Pomptonian, says their primary goal is to “offer a program that meets not only the likes of the students, but also provides sound nutrition.” Sound nutrition. Hummm.

I do happen to have a handy print-out of the menu. Here’s what the first two weeks of February look like as part of what they refer to as “American Heart ‘healthy’ Month”.

Week 1

Monday: Pizza Crunchers

Tuesday: “All-Beef” Hot Dog wrapped in a Blanket with Cheese

Wednesday: Cheesesteak on a Whole Wheat Hero

Thursday: Baked Ziti with Marinara Sauce & Garlic Bread

Friday: Coppola’s Cheese Pizza

Week 2

Monday: Popcorn Chicken with Dipping Sauces & Corn-on-the-Cob

Tuesday: Hamburger or Cheeseburger on a Whole Wheat Bun with Smiley Fries

Wednesday: French Toast Sticks with Syrup, Sausage

Thursday: Coppola’s Cheese Pizza

Friday: Thank goodness there is a break from this heart-attack ridden menu for winter break.

So what?

As per the CDC, “Overweight and obesity are the results of “caloric imbalance” – too few calories expended for the amount of calories consumed.” If I ate this food on a daily basis, my cholesterol, BMI and intestines would look like a battle-ground and I would be sleeping every hour on the hour. Why is this ok for the schools to feed our children? Why isn’t anyone protesting?

Here’s my dilemma. Why should I care? I feed my children food from my home on a daily basis with my version of healthy food choices (it’s not perfect but I’d bet a million dollars my choices are better options). Once in a while, they will buy the grease-ridden pizza on Fridays, but every mom needs a break from packing lunches once in a while. Buying lunch for my children at school is generally not an option based on their selection. Is it worth mine or other mom’s fight if they are in the same boat? Or do we all think it’s just too big of a fight to fight?

I have stayed pretty low key about this topic for the most part – considering I am pretty opinionated about food choices. There was one incident where the PTA decided to sell sugar donuts as an afternoon snack as part of their fundraising efforts, which I brought to the attention of the VP. He was extremely receptive – however we both knew our conversation would not go any further than his office.

Here’s the problem: “children and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults and are therefore more at risk for adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer, and osteoarthritis. One study showed that children who became obese as early as age 2 were more likely to be obese as adults,” cites the CDC.

Ultimately, my goal is to help people be aware of food choices – for the good of our children’s future. Think of the chemicals they are ingesting on a daily basis. Think of the ramifications in the long run on health, medical costs, age expectancy and overall demeanor of our future leaders. How can we raise clear thinking leaders with kind and thoughtful treatment toward others if chemicals have taken over their brains and the way their bodies function?

At some point…the madness has to stop.

If anyone is interested, I offer a home service that offers guidance on food selections. If this is something you are interested in, please contact me directly: dakarrat@yahoo.com. If I can help one family at a time – sign me up.

To leave a comment on this article or any other blog entry, please fill in the “Leave a Comment” box under each blog entry on our site: Heels to Laces

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