Main Nutritious Intent Website

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Eating Together - More Than Just a Good Idea

It's a Wednesday night and the volume is rising.  The kids are laughing and eating together around the kitchen island and we adults are trying to carry on a conversation at the nearby table.  What brings us together for such a cheery, cacophonous meal?  A windfall of salmon.  My parents received a gift of salmon caught in Alaska by a fishing-addicted relative, and so we got together to share it.
The kid's love loading up school lunch trays and sitting at the kid's table where there is just as much laughter as eating.

Our crazy, yet tasty potluck: salmon, chicken, tomato-basil panzanella, sourdough, apples, bean and pasta salad, fried green tomatoes, roasted potatoes, spaghetti squash and apple cobbler.

What makes this happy, yet chaotic meal not just important but essential to relationships as well as health?  Here's are few of the benefits we can't afford to pass up that came together on this Wednesday night meal that can be applied to your family:
  1. Eat together as a family.  As a nuclear family we eat dinner together 5-6 nights per week, and as extended family, 1-2 times per week (Sunday dinner is a big family tradition).  This not only keeps everyone connected and aware of each other, it helps children especially see beyond themselves and think of other people for a while.  I love being able to eat with multiple generations so that my kids can benefit from the completely different perspective and experiences that grandparents or older family members provide. Numerous studies provide evidence that eating together as a family not only strengthens the family unit, but children do better socially and academically as well.  If you don't live near extended family, invite some friends and neighbors over occasionally for similar benefits.
  2. Eating together provides better health and teaches healthy habits.  Again, there is a large amount of research that supports the idea that the benefits of eating together extend beyond the social to the physical as well.  Lower risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and associated health problems, plus healthier life-long habits make eating together essential.
  3. Cooking.  My son helped his grandfather prep and cook the fish, a nephew contributed a pasta salad, another nephew requested cut up apples, and although it may have been a rather eclectic, potluck menu, everyone shared in the prep and the finished product was a delicious, nourishing, from-scratch masterpiece.  
  4. Variety.  With everyone contributing their own recipes, there was an abundance of flavors and textures.  It's a little easier for kids to want to try new foods when there is a fun, light-hearted environment with others trying foods for the first time as well.  Watching others try new foods helps kids feel more comfortable trying new foods themselves.  Plus, let's face it - life is too short to be limited to the same 10 dinner choices over and over.  
  5. Time.  Eating with family, especially extended family teaches that spending time with family and spending time eating is a priority and a healthy habit.  It wasn't grabbed on the run at a drive-thru, or inhaled in the car on the way to some practice or mindlessly consumed in front of the TV.  Slower, social eating leads to a healthier weight, and a healthier relationship with food.
You may not live close to family, or have a large family of your own, but don't let that stop you.  Include roommates, neighbors, coworkers and friends over regularly for a shared meal and you'll reap similar benefits.  Our dinners may not have the ambience of a quiet table in an upscale restaurant, but I'll take this any day.  

Friday, November 6, 2015

Red and Processed Meat – Separating the Health from the Headline

There is a lot being said, tweeted and otherwise digitally shared about the latest announcement regarding processed meat, red meat and cancer risk.  Here’s why you shouldn’t give in to the media’s scare-tactics.

First: keep terminology in mind: association, link, and risk.  An association or link between one food and a disease condition is still a somewhat fuzzy terms and do not mean definite causation.  Being raised by a statistics professor, I was taught to always question the way study results are presented in print and other media.  A group of findings or research studies often get generalized and misapplied in the interest of generating buzz.   A little skepticism will serve you well when trying to decipher the hype in the headlines.  If it makes a big media splash, you’d be better off waiting until the media smoke clears before you weigh in and make drastic changes.

Second: there is a difference here between processed meats and red meat.  

Processed meats contain nitrates and nitrites which under certain conditions form nitrosamines which since the 70s it has been recognized as carcinogenic to animals.  So for quite a while we’ve known that  processed meats should be limited in a healthful diet.  

Red meat falls into the category of “probably” carcinogenic.  There are a lot of beneficial nutrients to be found in red meat, so don’t completely blacklist the entire category of food.

Third: there is an elephant in the room which is neither processed, nor red meat.  True, those may be a few of many animals in the room, but let’s not forget the elephant – the American diet (which is slowly spreading worldwide).  Sedentary lifestyles, excessive amounts of prepackaged, processed foods, and too little produce is the real problem.  Don’t let hype over one tree take your focus from the forest.  It is the big picture of how much, how often and how balanced these foods are with other elements in your diet that truly determine your state of health and the best way to see that whole picture is to meet with a Registered Dietitian. 

Take home message:
1.     Eat More Plants – half of what goes into your mouth every time you eat should be plants.
2.     Moderation and Portion – a plate-sized steak or 5 strips of bacon for breakfast every day are not the way to go.  However, a few strips of bacon at a weekend brunch, or the occasional 3 oz. steak are very doable in a healthful diet.
3.     Variety and Frequency – Going vegetarian a few days a week, mixing up your protein sources to include beans, fish, poultry, dairy and eggs will help moderate your risk from any one food. 

Fear and guilt is what sells, so be wary.  At the end of the day, it is the solid, non-flashy, non-headline habits that lead to life-long health.