What I Learned from Joan

Guest Blogger: Rob Szalapski

§ Why am I writing this?

I’m not a dietitian, but I have lived with one for many years. I have always been concerned with healthy eating, but Joan has really helped me to improve. I have seen her help so many people who were struggling with a variety of dietary challenges. Some surprisingly simple ideas capture so much!

§ Summary

“Protein, carbs and healthy fat at every single meal and snack!” I won’t even attempt to estimate the number of times that I have heard that phrase, but I will say that it captures the foundation of healthy eating. Protein, carbohydrates and fat are your macronutrients, and you want to be getting appropriate quantities at every feeding. This is important for having a good energy level, feeling satisfied rather than always feeling hungry and being generally healthy. You have probably heard a lot about micronutrients like vitamins, minerals and amino acids. I’m not really going to say anything about micronutrients except that if you are varying your sources of macronutrients prepared from fresh unprocessed sources, then most likely you are well on your way to getting it right. Your dietitian can help you make adjustments towards the ideal.

§ Healthy Fat

Fat is really important especially for brain health. Fat is also a good source of energy, and if I don’t have some fat in my diet, then I am insatiably hungry! There was a long-term trend to villainize fat, and that led to all sorts of problems including, ironically, excess weight gain. The fat in the olive oil in your salad dressing helps you to absorb all of the important fat-soluble micronutrients in your salad, and you will miss out on many of those healthy benefits if you choose a fat-free dressing. (With a lot of background in chemistry I simply cannot resist that factoid!)

So what are sources of healthy fat? Olives and olive oil, avocados, salmon and nuts and seeds are all excellent sources. Egg yolks were maligned for a long time, but it turns out that they are pretty healthy. With regard to meats, stick with lean choices. Prime rib isn’t the type of fat that you want to actively seek. A healthy diet is largely plant based, so consider focusing on those plant-based sources of healthy fat.

§ Protein

The primary activity of the cells in your body is the production of proteins. Proteins are built out of amino acids, and those amino acids come from the protein sources you eat. If you’re not eating protein, then you will not feel satisfied after eating, and worse, your cells cannot perform their vital functions. (My background in science is just irrepressible!)

Meat, fish and eggs are popular sources of protein. I like to have an egg or two as a part of my breakfast every day; the egg white gives me protein, and the egg yolk gives me needed fat. While most people are aware of these animal-based protein sources, not everybody is as well informed about the plant-based forms. Nuts contain protein. Additional important sources include your legumes such as lentils, chickpeas (garbanzo beans) and pinto, kidney, black and red beans, etcetera. Remember the importance of eating a plant-based diet. Always consider ways to replace a bit of meat with something plant based. I like adding more beans to my chili while reducing the meat. I love Indian food which has many choices that include legumes.

§ Carbohydrates

Let’s go with the simple definition here. If it’s a plant, then it’s a carbohydrate, and it’s an energy source. You especially want to go with the choices that don’t contain a lot of starch and sugar. Non-starchy/non-sugary choices include things like lettuce and leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, zucchini and such. For breakfast I like to stuff omelettes with spinach, broccoli, mushrooms and peppers to make sure I am getting healthy plant sources without a lot of empty calories. At lunch and dinner I like to eat salads with plenty of romaine lettuce which is nutrient rich, but again it doesn’t have a lot of calories.

When eating grains, go for whole grains. I love the taste of pretty much all of the grains, but I have Celiac Disease, so I need to avoid wheat, rye and barley. I like brown rice, and my favorite grain is quinoa. Joan really likes kañiwa. With the grains it is important to consider portions, between one-half cup and a cup cooked. Processed grains should be minimized. Bread, pasta and cereals metabolize much too fast, and they promote carbohydrate craving rather than satiety. For myself it’s dangerous to eat a corn chip because I am likely to eat the whole bag!

Next we come to the starchy carbohydrates including such things as carrots and squash. These are good in moderation. With potatoes, yams and sweet potatoes are the better choice. While it’s a good idea to minimize white potatoes, at least eat the skin. French fries are popular, but they really aren’t the best choice. Most of your fruit choices will contain a lot of sugar. Fruit is on nature’s dessert menu. I like to enjoy some, especially when it is in season locally. Berries are among the better choices for a variety of reasons. Eat the whole fruit and avoid juices.

In this section I have been progressing from the better choices towards the better avoided. The worst choices include added sugar, artificial sweeteners, juices and corn syrup. Notice how many good choices are available. I should also mention that milk contains sugar, and so it contains all three macronutrients.

§ What Else?

Lifestyle matters. If you are getting good sleep and are regularly active, then you have a good start. A high-stress and low-sleep lifestyle is where things fall apart for many people. Taking the time to prepare a meal at home and sitting down to eat with family and friends is a great place to start. Joan can help you with taking steps towards a healthier you.

If you are cooking with simple foods that you could get directly from a farmer, then you are on the right track. When shopping in the grocery store, look for those simple plain ingredients. When purchasing grains, get whole grains and slow-cooking varieties, not the fast-cooking and instant varieties. Avoid the prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals. Healthy eating in restaurants is very challenging.


The case for purified fish oil: superior omega-3 healthy fats.

Healthy fats are an essential part of the diet, and omega-3s are especially important.  The best type of omega-3s are found in fish, but most people cannot get enough without consuming fish oil.  Because our oceans are polluted, contamination concentrates in fish and then in us limiting the amount of fish we should consume.  To get the healthy benefits we need while avoiding those unhealthy toxins we turn to purified fish oil.

Why Omega-3s?

Fat is an essential nutrient along with protein and healthy carbohydrates.  Fat has gotten a bad rap since it is dense in calories and people associate the fat they eat with the fat on their bodies.  Healthy dietary fats support brain and spinal cord function, the immune system, your eye sight and much more.  It also helps to control hunger and balance blood-sugar levels.  Some  sources of healthy fat would be olives and olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts, seeds and sea food.  We want to avoid trans fats in processed foods and some margarine and limit saturated fat from fatty meats, fried foods  and full-fat dairy products.

Omega-3s are one very important subcategory of healthy fat.

Why fish oil?

Not all omega-3s are the same.  The omega-3s from fish are different from those found in plant sources.   Those found in fish are especially powerful and are anti-inflammatory at the cellular level.

Plant sources such as walnuts, flax, chia seed, hemp seed, sea vegetables and some leafy greens are also important sources of omega-3s, but not the same as those found in fish.  It’s good to have sources of both.

There have been efforts to find cheaper and more plentiful sources of omega-3s.  Once again, not all omega-3s are the same.  There is no reason to believe that substitutes will be as healthy as fish oil.

Why purified fish oil?

On the one hand, we need the healthy benefits of fish and fish oil.  On the other hand, we are at the top of the food chain, and toxins, including those from  man-made pollution, concentrate as we move up the food chain.  The solution is purified fish oil from a reliable and trusted source.

For more information, see Barry Sears, PhD.  Dr. Sears is the leading source of scholarly research on the science behind fish oil and omega-3s.  In particular I appreciate his book Toxic Fat, When good fat turns bad, ISBN 978-1-4016-0429-5.  (I have many of his other books too.  Some are great sources for recipes.)

Pure and Powerful Zone

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It’s more than healthy eating

Joan's Wellness Wheel

Choosing the foods you eat and the beverages you drink is only part of the healthy lifestyle puzzle.  In my professional day’s work, people routinely ask me for the perfect diet that will be their saving grace.  I am always happy to help patients develop meal  plans that will suit their food preferences, budget and medical needs.  However, nourishing oneself is not just about the food.

What nourishes you?  I’m talking about more than just food.  Look at what I call the “Wellness Wheel”.  This is my version, but you could make your own.  At the core are things most people would agree are vital for life such as air, food, water, sleep, etc.  These provide for your most basic needs, but  our human species needs much more.

Notice how the wheel has spokes to support the core.  Each spoke must be present and strong for the wheel to optimally function.  For example, in my practice I often find that people compensate for a lack of intimacy with poor eating choices.  Likewise, being stuck in a job that restricts ones talent and self-expression may lead to excessive or unhealthy intake of food and/or drink.

What does this mean for you?  Naturally we should look at your diet, what you eat, when you eat, and how you eat.  However, the wheel may be used as a tool to assess stressors and why you eat.  Of course food should be comforting, pleasurable and a part of your social activities, but it cannot fulfil these other needs.  I invite you to spend some time thinking about the spokes in your own Wellness Wheel.  Your openness to addressing these other areas, whether individually or with qualified  healthcare providers, plays an important role in your success.  With me as your dietitian we can explore the what, when and how of your eating.