Differences Between the Diets: Vegan, Plant-Based, Keto and Mediterranean

Dear Friends,

Later this week we’re getting to the good stuff — how to customize your own diet so you will have something manageable that you can stick to for the long haul. Ahead of that I wanted to do a post where I talk about some of the most common diets out there right now, and compare them to their healthier alternatives.

First up — Vegan vs. Plant-Based

When you step back and look at the basics, these appear to be the same thing. The root of each diet is total elimination of all animal-based foods. No meat, no dairy, no eggs. However, there is a pretty big difference between the two.

The traditional vegan diet does mean no animal-based foods are allowed. Another major point to the vegan diet that does not necessarily apply to the plant-based diet is that the use of leather and fur in clothing are also not allowed, as well as choosing only products that are not tested on animals. The reason for this is that veganism has as much to do with protection of animals overall as it does with health and nutrition.

From a health perspective, the vegan diet may fall short of the plant-based diet for one major reason — it isn’t focused on nutrition. With a vegan diet, you can technically eat as much junk food and processed food as you want, so long as it doesn’t contain meat, dairy or eggs. You can pound potato chips, eat Oreos every single day, and chase each meal with soda if you wish. They also make very expensive meat and cheese substitutes/replacements that are geared toward the vegan community, most of which are usually highly-processed.

With a plant-based diet, the focus is on a well-balanced diet that provides your body’s much-needed nutrition, and eliminates animal products due to their negative impact on health. Chips, Oreos and soda are all on the chopping block of a plant-based diet, because processed foods, added sugars, and foods fried in oils are not a part of this diet. Instead, meals are centered around beans, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and fresh veggies and fruits. Meat and cheese replacements can absolutely be a part of this diet as well, but the focus is less on replacing meat and cheese with something that looks and tastes the same, and more on eating as many whole foods as possible.

There is no reason these two diets can’t be blended. A vegan who cares strongly about animal rights can absolutely be a plant-based vegan who cares just as much about nutrition, for example. I’m not hating on the vegan community by any means, I just wanted to point out the differences specifically for those focused on getting their health and nutrition on track. Also, if you choose to go entirely vegan or plant-based, it will be worth it to look into some B-vitamin supplements as well, as that tends to be the main nutrient that gets short-circuited on a fully plant-based diet.

There is no reason you can’t eliminate animal proteins entirely and be completely nutritionally-balanced. In fact, it is my belief that a completely plant-based diet is the healthiest diet you can follow. The only reason I don’t follow this one myself is because I really like cheese and seafood, and I believe that consuming those things in moderation will not be detrimental to your health. I also believe that a diet that restricts you from things you love 100% of the time will create a struggle and may ultimately lead to failure.

Next up — Keto vs. Mediterranean

Just to be clear out of the gate, these two diets are definitely not as closely linked as vegan and plant-based. In fact, in their primary purpose they are quite opposite.

The main goal of Keto (or Atkins, etc.) is to reduce carbs and increase fat. The specific reason for this with Keto is to shock your body into burning its fat for energy, or in other words put your body into a state of ketosis. The Mediterranean diet, on the other hand, is very much carb-friendly, with one caveat — the carbs have to be whole grain and minimally processed. These carbs are high energy producers and have a lot more fiber than their counterparts, meaning they are processed more quickly by the body, used for the fuel they are intended to provide, and most of what is unused is expelled as waste. It is not converted to glucose like simple carbohydrates are.

When it comes to fats, both diets are strong proponents of fat. However, on Keto, any fat goes. That includes saturated and trans fats. You can eat a double-bacon-cheeseburger drowned in ranch dressing, for example, as long as you don’t eat the bun. On the Mediterranean Diet, your fat is comprised of healthy fats, meaning they are high in mono- and poly-unsaturated fats that help lower your cholesterol and keep your circulatory system clean and healthy. So a fatty meal on this diet may consist of a salad with olive oil and vinegar dressing, topped with sliced avocado and a piece of salmon. Olive oil and avocado are excellent sources of the afore-mentioned fats, and salmon is the best source available of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

So similar to the vegan diet, the focus of Keto is not on health or nutrition. Rather, it is a weight-loss plan that is not intended to be followed long-term. The Mediterranean Diet, on the other hand, provides excellent weight loss assistance while also focusing on nutrition and long-term maintenance. It is largely centered around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts (just like the plant-based diet), but also allows for healthy oil, seafood, and poultry and dairy in moderation; red meats and sugar are minimal.

So if you are following Keto for weight loss, my recommendation would be to follow Mediterranean overall, but keep the grains and fruit minimal upfront until you’ve had some good weight loss success. This way you aren’t compromising your health in order to lose weight – you can have the best of both worlds.

Wrapping Up

This post is more brief than the last have been, but I felt it was pretty easy to get to the point on this topic. Next up on Thursday this week — we will discuss how to customize a diet that fits your needs!

After that:

  • Mediterranean Monday (recipe to be determined)
  • Meal planning, creating a shopping list, and prepping food
  • Decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy products
  • Breaking patterns to learn how to cook and eat healthy
  • Resources to help you find products and recipes, so you can get on track and stay on track

I will see you again on Thursday!

Love,
Loren

Diet
Photo Cred: Harvard Health

What My Diet Looks Like and Why I Chose It

Dear Friends,

Welcome to Get Healthy Month! Sundays are not a normal publish day for me, but I really wanted to kick this off on the first day of the month. If you didn’t catch my last two posts, then let me fill you in. Starting today, I am dedicating this entire month to helping you learn the basics to starting a healthy diet and lifestyle. My goal is to provide real information about diet and health that you won’t get from the USDA, and to help you customize a healthy diet that works well for you, that you can stick to for the long haul.

If you didn’t catch my last two posts, I urge you to please go back and read them because they are loaded with important information that is a must-know before planning your diet. The first one explained in-depth the relationship between diet and chronic illnesses. The second one broke down the process of cancer formation and growth. Knowledge is power, and if you don’t know the “why” behind dietary and health recommendations it makes it tough to adopt healthy habits. Understanding, not motivation, is the key to change. Motivation fades, but knowledge is forever.

Now then, let’s talk diet

pyramidbigWhat does the USDA recommend? If you’re around your mid-30’s like me, then you grew up on the food guide pyramid, to the right. Dairy two-to-three times per day. Protein includes beans and nuts, but also meat, poultry and eggs. Grains makes up the largest category, with no mention of making them whole grains. It’s a decent start, but doesn’t provide much detail.

my plateNow, after receiving flack from the plant-based movement that has picked up in the last several years, the USDA has modified their recommendations a bit with My Plate, to the left. They now suggest more lean proteins, and tell us to make half of our grains whole grain. And still include three servings of dairy, with the new disclaimer that it should be low fat or fat free.

You might wonder, what is wrong with this picture? Doesn’t it seem reasonable? Well, it is certainly a step closer to the right direction. So let’s break it down.

Grains

All grains should be whole grains. Why? If you’ve done your homework and gone back to read my two introductory posts to Get Healthy month, then you know that simple carbohydrates found in enriched white breads, pastas, etc. are processed as glucose during digestion, which is the same as eating sweets and sugar. That means it adds to fat stores in the body, raises the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and also is one of the two leading food sources for cancer cells.

Whole grains are extremely important to the diet because they provide one of the main sources of energy for our bodies, promote healthy brain function, aid in digestion with dietary fiber, as well as antioxidants that help your body with cell and tissue repair (remember the first step to cancer is DNA damage that doesn’t get repaired).

So those fad diets that are low in carbs and high in fat, like Atkins and Keto? While they may prove beneficial in accelerating weight loss initially, they are not great for your health overall because high levels of fat means increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and is also a primary feeder of cancer cells. If your fat and protein are coming mostly from plant-based sources, then those diets certainly become safer. However, I would still strongly urge you not to cut the carbs long-term, because they are vital for normal and healthy functions of the body.

Protein

This is probably the biggest place of misinformation in a healthy diet. If you ask people what the best source of protein is, they’re probably going to tell you meat. Because that is what has been perpetuated for decades, ever since the importance of protein was discovered back in 1838. Plant-based proteins usually just get a footnote, if they get any mention at all. The highest source of protein is chicken, followed by meat and fish. That much is true. But also high in protein are nuts, beans, seeds and legumes.

In order to get a healthy amount of protein in the body, you should be eating a wide source of proteins, and not relying solely on animal-based sources. In fact, I will take it a step farther and say that the best thing for overall health is to make plant-based protein sources your primary source of protein, and make animal-based proteins the footnote. I will tell you why, and it’s three-fold:

  1. Plant-based proteins actually fight against DNA damaging free radicals in the body, whereas animal-based proteins produce those free radicals.
  2. Plant-based proteins do not contain the fats found in animal-based proteins that feed cancer cells, nor do they create the hormone 1GF-1 during digestion like animal-based proteins do that also feed cancer cells and accelerate the process of cell proliferation.
  3. Plant-based proteins not only do not add unhealthy fats to the bloodstream that raise cholesterol, put strain on the heart, clog your arteries, and keep glucose in the bloodstream that leads to type 2 diabetes like animal proteins do, they actually put healthy fats into your blood that lower your cholesterol and reduce inflammation. Not to mention they are also an excellent source of fiber.

Dairy

I want to start this category by addressing the low fat dairy recommendation. If fat feeds cancer cells and clogs your arteries, and the dairy is low fat, then how is it bad? What happens when you remove the fat from dairy products, is the concentration of protein becomes higher. What do we know about animal-based protein? It releases free radicals that damage DNA, leading to gene mutation and then to the production of cancer cells. Animal protein also causes the body to produce high volumes of the growth hormone 1GF-1 that should be relatively low in adults, which both feeds and accelerates the proliferation of cancer cells.

Milk and ice cream are two big culprits of osteoporosis and loss of bone density as well. Why? Because they increase acidity and inflammation in the body. The body then draws calcium out of our bones to neutralize the acid and bring our PH levels back into balance. Cheese and butter actually do not have those acid-raising properties, but are two of the highest-in-fat foods you can find on the market. Cheese averages 70% fat and butter averages 80% fat. This increases your risk of cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease.

My rule for dairy is this — not three times per day, but three times per week. Or, if you are happy with a plant-based diet, then not at all…I just happen to really like cheese! We really do not need dairy at all in our diets, because we can get more than enough calcium from plants — something else that people often don’t know because we’ve been told by our government agencies that calcium comes from milk. Well sure it does, but it comes from many, many other places, too. The difference is, there isn’t a plant industry out there lobbying the government to spread propaganda to make sure people are buying their products…but that is exactly what happens with the dairy industry. Therefore, the USDA tells us dairy is where calcium comes from, and excludes every other calcium source available.

So, about my personal diet…

How did I choose it? Now that you’ve read all of the information above, as well as in my two previous posts about how diet impacts your health, and where cancer comes from, you will be able to more easily understand how and why I chose my particular diet.

I began this process about a decade ago, and kept amending my diet as I gained more information on the impact of food on our health, in particular on cancer since my grandmother’s chronic lymphocytic leukemia diagnosis is what set off my research. It took a few years to get it fine-tuned, and to a place I could firmly believe was the healthiest way to eat. What that meant for me was limiting all of the things that have been linked to cancer — animal proteins including meat, dairy and eggs, and also sugar.

What I will throw out there right now is that the overall healthiest diet you can possibly eat is a plant-based, vegan diet. But that is not how I eat, because I don’t believe in total restriction, and also because there are benefits to eating poultry (amino acids) and fish (Omega-3 fatty acids) in moderation. What I didn’t know is that there was actually a diet already out there that was the mirror image of how I was eating, and that is called The Mediterranean Diet.

In January 2018, I found an article about the top diets of 2017, and it ranked 38 diets in order from healthiest, to the least healthy. The number two diet at the top of the list was The Mediterranean Diet, which up until that point I had never heard of, and in 2019 has moved to the #1 top spot. So I clicked on it, started reading, then went, “holy shit, that’s exactly how I eat!” That’s really exciting to me, because now I have a much simpler way to explain my diet to others, and have the added benefit of truthfully saying “it’s ranked number one among all diets”. I even found a Mediterranean food pyramid, below:

e4ef4-mediterranean-diet-pyramid

Quite different from the food guide pyramid and my plate illustrations above, isn’t it?

Vegetables

This is the base of all of my meals. They are rich in veggies, especially greens such as a variety of different dark green lettuces, spinach, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts. I also eat a lot of peppers, garlic, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets (these are actually my favorite veggie), tomatoes and cauliflower. Any time I make a tomato-based sauce, like pasta sauce or enchilada sauce, or even in my chili, I will usually blend a sweet potato and some spinach in too, just to amp up the antioxidants then get my kids to eat them without even knowing that they’re eating them!

Fruits

My eldest child is picky about his vegetables, because he doesn’t care for the texture of cooked veggies…which makes life difficult. He’ll eat salads and veggies in ranch, but that’s about the extent of it. However, both of my kids love fruit, thank goodness! Hunter, my oldest, especially loves oranges. Logan, my youngest, really loves peaches. My personal favorite is grapefruit. But for health value, the best fruits are citrus and berries, because these contain the most antioxidants and immune-boosting properties.

Berries and lemons are a staple for antioxidants, which promote the production of enzymes that repair DNA damage that helps prevent cancer cells from ever even forming. They also help keep those pesky viruses at bay in the winter months.

Grains

You already know from above that I only eat whole grains. Finding whole grains, however, can be tricky. A lot of the “whole wheat/whole grain” breads in the store are not really “whole” grain. They have whole grain in them, but also enriched flours, chemical additives intended to soften the bread and make the dough pliable, preservatives so it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, and sugar…because Americans have a serious love affair with sugar and don’t tend to like bread that isn’t a little bit sweet. You’d be surprised to find that every loaf of bread on the super market shelf usually has two grams of sugar.

My favorite bread is Ezekiel bread, which can be found in the freezer section of major supermarkets, and I actually buy in bulk from Azure Standard (more on that later this month). I also exclusively buy whole wheat pastas, brown rice and rice noodles, brown rice or seed crackers, organic multi-grain tortilla chips, sprouted wheat bagels, and whole wheat tortillas. Carbs get such a bad rep, but when I know they are truly completely whole grain, I never feel guilty for eating them, nor do I ever feel heavy or bloated after eating a normal-size portion.

Proteins

Fish and seafood! When it comes to animal-based, I will choose this above anything else. The reason is the level of high-value fatty acids, like Omega-3 and Omega-6. Fish and seafood is high in cholesterol, yes. However, Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids actually raise good cholesterols and lower bad cholesterols, which balances out the cholesterol issue in the fish itself. And they also are a huge antioxidant, which protect our cells from damage, aid the DNA repair process, and block free radicals from environmental hazards and food digestion, especially digestion of animal-based foods. I try to eat these a couple of times per week.

Poultry. I do eat chicken breast and ground turkey, or sliced turkey processed without nitrates. However, I eat them in moderate amounts, which to me means a couple of times per week as well.

The rest of my protein. I will go ahead and let it be known now that I do not eat red meat. Well…that is not entirely true. I will eat beef about twice per year. And I will eat some sort of pork, such as bacon or prosciutto, about once per month. Why not never at all? Well, because I really love bacon and prosciutto, and I don’t believe that a diet that is completely restrictive of the things you love is one that you will be able to stick to. And that is something I want you to keep in mind for later this month when we talk about how to customize your own personal diet. It is my belief from all that I’ve read, studied, watched and researched that eating those things on occasion is not going to be detrimental to your health.

The rest of my protein is plant-based, which means a couple of times per day for me. Beans, nuts, seeds, legumes, and even veggies…because anything living contains protein. Every single work day morning for breakfast I eat oatmeal that has some sort of nut and chia seeds in it. I may or may not eat a protein at lunch, depending on my plans for snacks and dinner, because the body honestly does not need as much protein as we’re often lead to believe, and it is typically pretty easy to get enough in your diet. Granted if you are someone who does a lot of working out, or a lot of physical activity in your job, you will want to eat more than I do. So lunch will either be something bean-based, or just veggie-and-grain based. Then dinner will sometimes be fish, sometimes be poultry, and sometimes be some sort of bean. I mix it up each evening.

Dairy

I give myself a limit of three times per week. Why not never at all? Because just like bacon and prosciutto, I love cheese! And I don’t believe in total restriction. Also, where dairy is concerned, the best dairy you can really eat is dairy in fermented form such as cheese and yogurt. That is because, even though it may have fat and protein, they at least do not cause inflammation, or increase your body’s acidity. So I can get a little calcium, a taste of something I love, and do less damage than drinking milk or eating ice cream.

When it comes to milk, that one is easy for me — I use almond milk. Plain, unsweetened almond milk can be used in anything that cow’s milk goes in. And unsweetened vanilla almond milk tastes great in iced coffee and baking. Soy milk I will tell you, only buy organic. Soy is one of the things that is highly processed and exposed to herbicides during production in the major farming industry. So the only way to guarantee you’re not swallowing a cup full of carcinogens with your soy milk, is to make sure it’s organic. Even with that aside, from a taste perspective, my preference is almond milk because it has a thinner consistency that is more like cow’s milk. It also has a high amount of calcium to boot. In fact, my morning oatmeal made with almond milk and chia seeds gives me the majority of the calcium I need in a day just from that one meal!

The Rest

Sweets are eaten sparingly. I basically limit this to birthdays, holidays and special occasions. If I make baked goods at home, I turn recipes for things like donuts and muffins into something with whole grains and no added sugars. I keep lots of stevia in the house, as well as oats and whole wheat flour. I also always have almonds, which are great to toss in the food processor and grind up for use in baked goods as a flour replacement, that delivers a little extra protein as well. Even though ice cream is dairy, it is also a sweet, so it goes into this category for me.

Drinks. For me it’s basically black coffee and water. I’ve also been making what I call antioxidant water a lot lately. I toss berries and sliced lemons or limes in a carafe of water to let it infuse. That way I can hydrate and take in some vitamins and antioxidants all at the same time. I also recommend green tea, unsweetened or sweetened with stevia, because it is a great antioxidant too.

And then there is dry red wine. Why red? While this is not true at all for any other type of alcohol, red wine has been shown to boost the immune system when consumed in moderation. It also is commonly known for having positive effects on heart health. But remember, alcohol does produce a carcinogenic chemical during digestion, so you do not want to go crazy with alcohol. I stick exclusively to a small glass (about 3-4oz) of red wine at home probably five days per week on average, but also drink a beer or two sometimes when I go out with friends.

Believe me, I do get questioned often about why I don’t drink much. Mostly it’s because I have a sensitivity to all alcohol except for wine, which makes this pretty easy for me to stick to. I cannot drink liquor at all without getting extremely sick. But even if I could, I wouldn’t. I have a pretty outspoken and confident nature, so when my friends occasionally tease me about my drinking habits I don’t hesitate to stand right on up for myself, and it absolutely never persuades me to change my healthy habits…not for anything or anyone!

Oils. I use primarily olive and coconut oils. I keep it minimal in cooking, because heating oxidizes oil and makes it carcinogenic. I basically use just enough to keep food from sticking. But using healthy oils in raw form in salad dressing or on plant-based dishes is a great source of healthy fats!

Eggs. I do still use eggs in moderation too. What I typically do to eliminate fat, cholesterol and calories is rely mostly on egg whites. I will do two egg whites instead of one whole egg in baking. And if I’m going to eat eggs I will usually scramble two egg whites and one egg yolk to get the texture I like with half the fat and calories, then wrap them up in a whole wheat tortilla with a drizzle of hot sauce and maybe some spinach, kale, or some other veggie I have in the fridge.

How I Did It

It started with knowledge — knowing the difference between what is healthy and unhealthy, which hopefully you are beginning to understand now as well. It also took opening my mind to completely re-learning how to plan a meal and how to prepare food (things I will teach later this month). Because like most Americans, I was raised on the typical meat-and-potatoes diet, which means I learned to cook meals with the focus on the meat, some sort of starchy side dish, and if there was a vegetable it was usually canned and cooked with some sort of animal fat, like bacon. So I had to disconnect my brain from that thinking and focus instead on the ingredients.

The biggest thing was focusing on the plants. Instead of thinking about a slab of meat as the center of the meal, I started thinking of how I could use vegetables and/or whole grains as the centerpiece, with protein as a side. It was admittedly tough at first, because as I said before it required completely breaking my old habits and thought patterns. But once I started finding simple plant-based recipes, the options really started to open up. It took a few months of looking up recipes and making ingredient replacements, then it started to get easy. I was gaining experience with plant-centered cooking, and as I did, it started to come naturally. I even started coming up with my own ideas for meals, and now share them here on the blog.

Another challenge for me was finding things that truly were healthy. Produce is easy, and whole wheat pastas and brown rice are pretty simple to find. So is almond milk, beans, nuts and seeds. What is more of a challenge are breads and snacks. Even more of a challenge than that was finding safe personal care and cleaning products, which is a topic I will be covering next. I had to work at it to find those things and come up with ideas. But don’t worry…I will be sharing my secrets to all of that later this month, as well as excellent resources to help simplify all of it!

Up Next on the Blog

Throughout the month of September, I am going to teach the basics of getting healthy on the blog, so that you can have the tools you need to really know and understand how to establish healthy habits, one step at a time. Thursday I will dive into personal care products and household cleaners, which are also an important component of an overall healthy life.

After that will be:

  • The difference between the diets: vegan, plant-based, low carb/high fat, and Mediterranean
  • How to customize your own diet that will work best for you
  • Meal planning, creating shopping lists, and prepping whole food
  • Decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy foods
  • Breaking patterns to learn how to cook and eat healthy
  • Resources to get you off on the right start

Feel free to subscribe if you’d like to follow along. You can also get to the blog’s Facebook page through the social links at the top right next to this post (or continue scrolling below this post if you’re mobile) where I will be sharing information, inspiration and tips daily throughout the month of September.

Here’s to your health!

Love,
Loren

 

Cancer: How It Happens, and What You Can Do About It

Dear Friends,

We are on the verge of beginning a new month, and I really love new beginnings! September is going to be Get Healthy Month on the blog, where I will share with you the basics of beginning a healthy life. I have already added a new subcategory under the Health tab for easy access. I will discuss different diets, how I chose my diet, how you can customize your own diet, how to choose safe personal care products, how to decode the mess of supermarket shelves, and even how to plan and prep meals each week. The goal is not weight loss, but to help you learn how to embrace a healthy and well-balanced life. Weight loss will merely be a by-product.

To finish out August, I am taking this final week to talk about the hard stuff. Yesterday I shared with you some important dietary factors that have a negative impact on health. Factors that we hear about often, but are rarely broken down and fully explained. If you missed yesterday’s post, you can get to it here. Please go back and read it, as it is full of information that will be vitally important to the upcoming month!

For today, I want to expand on cancer. If you have been fortunate enough in life to not have experience with this disease, then you should certainly count your blessings because it is rare that a person can say that in today’s world. As we get older, we are met with more and more friends, family members and co-workers who have been hit with this life-altering news; if not you, yourself. In the last half-century, cancer rates have exploded. Medicine has made many advances in treating cancer, which has delivered hope and good end-results to so many. What it doesn’t do, however, is address why this epidemic has spiraled out of control, or teach us how to prevent it from happening. And that is precisely what this post is going to tell you.

Cancer has been my primary focus on health over the last decade, due to my grandmother being diagnosed with CLL. I guess you could say cancer prevention is my “specialty” when it comes to making food, product and lifestyle choices. In the beginning it was for the sake of helping my grandmother keep her cancer maintained, but it expanded on to my own life from there.

The more I learned, the more I realized that the best cancer treatment is prevention, and that comes from the choices we are making right now, this very minute, long before a cancer diagnosis is made. I also realized that with my grandmother having CLL, as well as a couple of her siblings and at least one niece having other immune system cancers or diseases, my likelihood of getting one myself is higher than the average person. That meant I needed to really understand cancer. Where it comes from. What causes it. How it grows. How our decisions impact it.

That is what I am here to share with you now. I’ll start with:

Where Does Cancer Come From?

Everything in our body is made up of cells, including cancer. Cancerous cells are abnormal, and the reason they occur, grow and multiply is due to a gene mutation. Gene mutation occurs as a result of DNA damage. So what is important to know about cells, first of all, is the cellular makeup. What it looks like is this: DNA –> Gene –> Cell. There are a couple of other components involved in cellular makeup, such as nucleus and chromosomes. But to keep this basic and understandable, I’m going to give you just what you need to know pertaining to cancer.

DNA Damage

DNA Damage occurs thousands of times per day inside our bodies. Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But rest assured…almost all of that damage is located and repaired by enzymes within our bodies. There are some cool videos on YouTube if you are interested in seeing how DNA repair works, because there are many different ways that repair happens, depending on the type of damage the DNA has suffered.

The most harsh source of damage to DNA is UV rays. So all of that advice you hear about staying out of the sun, wearing sunscreen, if you spend your time baking in the sun now you’ll regret it later…it is all spot-on. Not only will it cause irreversible aging to your skin that will make you dislike your physical appearance as you get older…but more importantly it is causing damage to your DNA that is much more of a challenge for enzymes to repair. That’s because the damaged portion of the DNA is longer, and often much more misshapen, which causes the enzymes to need to cut out and replace large sections of the DNA, and the possibility of error is greater.

Another cause of damage is radiation. Have you ever had an x-ray at the hospital and wondered why they put so much protection on the parts of your body not being scanned, and the techs themselves hide behind glass in another room away from the x-ray machine? It’s because exposure to radiation is another cause of pretty major DNA damage that is tougher to repair. A good example of this that most are familiar with is the number of people who came down with leukemia after the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan at the end of WWII.

Then there is chemical exposure, which is much more common than one might think. In fact, I primarily blame this for the explosion of cancer over the last several decades. Of course there are the herbicides and pesticides we use in our homes and on our yards. But there are other sources that many people don’t know or think about. The first thing that comes to mind is something that has been in the news lately — Round-Up. New studies have been released linking Round-Up to cancer. To me, this was a big fat “duh” moment. But to many unsuspecting people out there, it was a surprise.

The trouble with chemical herbicides and pesticides is, even if you don’t use it to kill weeds in your yard, the farmers are using it on their corn and soybeans, which are then being turned into food. Either food for animals that we then turn around and eat, or processed foods like cereals and breads and snacks at the supermarket, not to mention is sprayed on all of the produce that isn’t organic. It’s in our food, it’s in our water sources thanks to field run-off; it even gets into the air and is caught by the wind.

Also in those processed foods at the supermarkets are preservatives and chemical additives, so many of which are carcinogenic. They get a free pass because they are considered safe in small quantities. The trouble is, we aren’t getting them in small quantities, because in the new standard American diet almost everything we eat is processed with those chemicals. Which means although it might be low when looking at one product, when you total up all of those products people are eating every single day, that number becomes pretty high.

Another source of chemicals is our cleaning products. Most of the things that we use to clean our homes are either bleach or ammonia based, and both are harsh chemicals that cause DNA damage. A lot of our cleaning supplies also contain fragrance to make our homes smell good, whether it’s an actual air freshener or scented cleaners, and fragrance is also toxic to our DNA. Something you may be surprised to know is that the air inside our homes is much more toxic than the air outside.

We bring so many toxins inside with us, which then settle onto floors and furniture, and get circulated through the whole house by our HVAC systems. And if you have carpet, rugs, or soft furniture with foam padding and covered with basically any fabric besides organic wool, the chemicals used to make it get released into the air. This is especially true of carpets and furniture made from the 1970’s up until just a few years ago, which had a flame-retardant spray that released formaldehyde, a pretty big toxin, into the air. Not to mention those soft surfaces are masters at trapping dust particles, which are another big source of toxin distribution inside the home.

Then there are our personal care products. Shampoos, conditioners, soaps, lotions, toothpastes, shaving creams…all of these things are loaded with chemicals. The chemicals that are especially harmful are sulfates, parabens and PEG’s, as well as fragrances in these products too. And most of these are completely unnecessary.

Sulfates, for example, are added as a foaming agent to give you that lather that you mistakenly think is what is getting you clean. It isn’t. When you use real shampoo, it doesn’t suds up like the mass-produced chemical stuff does. Because real soap might get a little bubbly, but it isn’t foamy. You’ll also notice that real soap strips dirt and oils from your hair better, and you aren’t left with a slimy residue in your hair that you think is conditioning, but is really just a chemical blend that soaks into your hair and is carried around with you everywhere you go.

Another common source of DNA damage is alcohol and tobacco use. That probably isn’t a big surprise since it’s fairly common knowledge that smoking causes lung cancer and drinking causes liver cancer or disease. Red wine is touted as great for your heart, and good for your immune system. While that may be true in moderation, alcohol in general is an immune system suppressant, which makes it harder for your body to fight cancer (especially if you have an immune system cancer like my grandmother does). Also, when we digest alcohol, it produces a chemical in the body that causes DNA damage, making it a carcinogen.

Probably hard to hear for you daily drinkers out there, but the truth usually is. The consensus is that one alcoholic beverage per day is safe, and I drink a small glass of red wine most days myself. But the key is definitely moderation. If you have cancer or are at high risk for cancer — avoid it like the plague.

Last but not least — animal proteins. Again, if you haven’t read my post from yesterday, I encourage you to go back and read it because it explains this more in depth. For the condensed version — as the body processes animal proteins, it releases free radicals that cause DNA damage, as well as produces a hormone called 1GF-1 that accelerates cell division and stimulates cancer cell growth.

These are all some of the most common sources of DNA damage, all of which are largely avoidable if we are conscious of them.

Gene Mutation

So what happens to the DNA damage that doesn’t get repaired? Well, that is where gene mutation comes in. Abnormal DNA causes mutation in the gene. That mutated gene leaves the cell unprotected, which is what allows it to become cancerous. As cells grow old and die off, new cells are generated to take their place. This happens through a process called proliferation, which is basically the division and multiplication of a cell. This is great when the cell being replicated is healthy. But when that cell is cancerous and it goes through proliferation, it is multiplying the cancer. And cell proliferation actually occurs more rapidly when the cells are cancerous. Cancer cells feed and multiply at a greater rate than normal, healthy cells, making them harder for the immune system to get in check.

In Summary

It goes like this:

Body is exposed to a carcinogen. Carcinogen damages DNA. DNA that doesn’t get repaired causes abnormal mutation in the gene. Mutated gene leaves cell unprotected and it becomes cancerous. Cancerous cells divide and multiply, eventually creating a problem too big for the immune system to handle, thus becoming detectable cancer as we know it.

If we break it down back to the very beginning, we know that exposure to carcinogens is the very first step. And that is something that we can take action against. We can choose safer products and foods. We can protect ourselves from the sun. We can use protective clothing and gear when handling chemicals.

DNA damage is also something we can take action against. There is nothing we can do or eat that will repair DNA damage in and of itself. But, a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants will help your body to produce the enzymes it needs to repair DNA. So the link between diet and cancer really starts there, with assisting your body in its essential DNA repair function.

Something that may surprise you given the alarming rate of cancer in modern times, is that it is rather difficult to get cancer. I began by saying that DNA damage occurs thousands of times per day, because in addition to environmental factors, it can also be damaged by things like infections or viruses, and even our normal daily metabolic functions. Our bodies are masters at healing and repairing themselves. So in order for cancer to happen, we have to really be exposing ourselves to carcinogens at a high volume. And in today’s world, it is sadly easy to do that without even realizing it.

We are exposed to carcinogenic chemicals that are added to our foods and personal care products to keep them cheap. We are exposed to a high level of animal proteins in our diets because of heavy support of the meat and dairy industry by our government. We are exposed to herbicides and pesticides because of food production, and even through use in our own homes. Our modern-day way of life and our need for convenience and low cost has exposed us to far more carcinogenic agents than our ancestors ever were prior to the high-speed changes that began in the mid-1900’s.

Now here we are in 2019, a nation of ever-increasing sickness and extremely high medical costs. We have millions of people being treated every day for chronic illnesses, diseases, and cancer. And yet the knowledge of how these things are occurring is limited. Our healthcare industry is deeply focused on medicine and treating disease, rather than on prevention. Prevention comes from one thing — living a healthy life. And so few people know what a healthy life looks like, because the information out there is conflicting and often misleading, because it comes from sources with an agenda.

Please…take our government’s recommended dietary guidelines and throw them out the window. The government agencies responsible for promoting those guidelines are in bed with the farming industry. They will tell you to have dairy three times per day, when it really is not safe more than about three times per week. They will push foods made with corn and soy. They tell us that protein is of major importance, which has caused Americans to consume it in quantities that are two-to-three times more than our bodies actually need.

A secret about protein that I wish wasn’t so secretive: it’s easy to eat enough! Proteins are vital, but our bodies do not need high quantities of it. 15-20% of the diet is usually enough, depending on gender and stage of life. The other big secret is this: meat is not the only source of protein. Again, this is the product of government agencies promoting an industry that is lobbying them. Protein is found in all forms of life, including…plants!! Every fruit, vegetable, bean, nut, and legume you eat has protein in it, which means it is not only easy to get enough protein, but you do not need to rely solely on meat to get it!

In reality, meat should be consumed in moderation (unless you are actively fighting cancer or disease, in which case you really should eliminate it altogether), and in appropriate portion sizes. What is an appropriate portion of meat? In general — 3oz, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Riddle me this — when was the last time you went to a restaurant and saw a 3oz sirloin on the menu? The smallest I’ve ever seen is 6oz, which is a double serving. Most are more like 12oz, or four times the amount you need! When it comes to chicken you usually get a whole breast, which is also a double serving…and sometimes you even get two whole breasts.

The trouble is, people in general do not realize that this is way more than a serving, and way more than is healthy or safe to consume. This is a huge factor in the amount of obesity running rampant in this country, as well as chronic diseases and cancers. It isn’t that people don’t care…it is simply that they don’t know, because it isn’t talked about enough or made common knowledge. And the FDA and USDA prefer it that way, since it keeps the farming industry going strong and the dollars flowing into their pockets.

When eating out, this is my advice: whatever you order, eat half and take the other half home for the next day. Because unless you are dining at one of those five-star restaurants that are ridiculed for tiny portions that are actually correct portions, you are getting at least twice the amount of food that you should be eating on one plate.

Now then, after that little segue into diet, let’s get back to cancer:

The best way to stop cancer in its tracks is to catch it before it starts. Prevention! And the best way to stop cancer if you already have it, is to starve it to death. What I shared yesterday about cancer cell growth is this: the two primary sources of fuel for cancer cells are fat and glucose. The highest source of glucose in the diet is sugar, or sweets and desserts. But the other high source of glucose in the diet is simple carbohydrates, or bleached and enriched flours, breads, pastas, crackers, etc. They are all processed into glucose during digestion, meaning that real, true whole grains are the key to carbohydrate consumption.

The highest source of fat in the diet is animal products…meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, etc. So if you are actively fighting cancer, especially an acute or aggressive cancer, the first step to eating a diet that will help you in your battle is to immediately cease eating any and all animal-based foods and go completely plant-based.

Not your favorite thing to hear? Believe me, I know. It is likely a huge change from what you’ve been used to, and change is hard for most people. But remember this — what you’ve always done is what has brought you to this point. If you want the best chance to beat this and go on to live a healthy life, then it is direly important to make those changes.

You can do this, and I promise you it will get easier and easier as you learn more and begin to adjust to the changes. There will come a day when you look back and wonder why you didn’t do this years sooner. There will come a day when you don’t miss the meat and dairy. In fact, there will even come a day when you eat one of those things again and you will feel absolutely physically rotten afterwards and never want to eat it again.

Not fighting cancer, but are looking to find a healthy diet that will help prevent it? In that case it isn’t necessary to fully eliminate animal products from your diet. I know the vegan and plant-based communities will not agree, and I fully sympathize because I myself know the benefits of a plant-based diet and consider myself to be plant-centered, meaning that plants are the primary focus of my diet, but I do consume dairy, poultry, and fish/seafood in moderation as well.

From a perspective of cancer, it is not necessary to go extreme and eliminate animal-based foods completely. There is the question of amino acids, which is something else we need for cell and tissue repair, and there are certain ones that can only be derived from animal proteins. They key is to keep animal-based protein sources below 5% of your total diet. This level has shown to have no effect on cancer cell growth. However, if the full 20% protein we generally need in our diets comes entirely from animal sources, then cancer cell growth explodes.

So…total elimination is not necessary (again, unless you are actively battling cancer and trying to starve those cells), but limiting it to an occasional part of your diet and looking to plant-based sources for the bulk of your protein is the most important thing you will do for your overall health.

Up next on the blog:

Get Healthy Month: Learning the Basics begins on September 1st! The entire month will be a beginners guide to adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. I will spend the month helping you learn the basics so that you can customize a path to health that works best for you, rather than following a fad diet. The goal is an overall lifestyle change that you can stick to for a lifetime.

What will be covered:

  • What my diet looks like, and how I chose it
  • Choosing safe personal care and cleaning products
  • The difference between vegan, plant-based, Mediterranean, and low-carb/high-fat diets
  • how to customize a diet that works best for you
  • meal planning, creating shopping lists, and prepping whole foods
  • decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy foods
  • breaking your old patterns to re-learn how to cook and eat healthy
  • resources to help you get and stay on a healthy path
  • daily informative posts to the blog’s Facebook page (there is a social links button on the above right if you’d like to follow along), and frequent posts on my Instagram account for those who do not use Facebook

I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and I look forward to getting started with you on Sunday!

Love,
Loren

 

 

 

 

Trying to Get Healthy? Knowledge is Power, so This is Where to Start

Dear Friends,

I am a firm believer in knowing the method to the madness. Of inserting a “why” before everything I set out to do, followed by a “how”. We hear all the time what we “should” be doing for our health, but what is usually left unsaid is why we should be doing it. Or if we do hear the “why”, it is usually basic and uninformative. But I am a believer in information, because if we have all of the information then we can formulate both an opinion, and a plan. It is very difficult to find motivation to make important life changes just because someone says we should. But if we have all of the information and thoroughly understand it, then making that change becomes so much easier.

So, here we are, talking about health. Maybe you want to lose weight. Maybe you want to lower your cholesterol, or your blood sugar. Maybe you’ve recently had a diagnosis that is hard to swallow. Maybe your doctor told you that you need to eat healthy and exercise, or that you need to cut certain things out of your diet…but didn’t really explain why or where to start. If any of this sounds like you, then you came to the right place.

First, I want to tell you a brief story about cancer. My grandmother was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia about a decade ago. The doctors gave us all of the information about the disease…what it does to the body, what to expect going forward, what treatment options will be and when to start them, and even lifestyle changes to make. She has a fantastic doctor at Siteman’s Cancer Center at Barnes Hospital in St Louis. Siteman’s is one of the top 10 cancer treatment centers in the country, and we are fortunate to live close enough to have access to it. Her doctor has been nothing short of amazing, and the information we’ve been given has been wonderful.

And yet…it wasn’t enough. Not for me. I am the kind of person who needs to get to the root of things. I need to dig deeper and deeper until there is nothing left to uncover. Sometimes that brings me undue stress…because when dealing with people, we often can never get to the root of things or understand their thinking or why they do things. But when it comes to cancer…I can get to the root of it. So that is what I did.

“This most likely comes from exposure to a harsh chemical, like herbicides and pesticides.” “There is a strong link between nitrates/nitrites in processed meat and leukemia.” This wasn’t good enough. Sure, that might be what set it off…but why do those things cause cancer? I researched how cancer begins (damage to DNA that doesn’t get repaired, then mutates, leaves cells unprotected so that cancer begins to grow), what causes DNA damage (chemical exposure, UV exposure, environmental hazards, infections and viruses, even normal metabolic functions…it’s a long list), what repairs damaged DNA (enzymes in the body), and most importantly…what feeds cancer cells once they are already formed after gene mutation (that is what I will get to).

Moving on to diet. In the last 10 years I have done enough research on the links between diet and cancer, that I could write a pretty profound thesis if I needed to. In the process, I have learned a lot about the way our bodies metabolize food, what nutrients, chemicals, hormones, etc. are released in digestion, and the way those things are absorbed by and interact with our bodies. Not only do I know how diet effects cancer, but also how it leads to heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Things that we often think of as hereditary, like type 2 diabetes, are almost entirely based on diet and lifestyle. A genetic history does not mean you are going to get it, so you may as well throw up your hands, say “oh well”, and then “pass me the fried chicken”. A genetic history means you are more able than the average person, due to gene functions inherited from your immediate family, to get whatever your parents have…but it is not a guarantee that you will. And if you live a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, the odds are extremely high that you never will. This is especially true in cancer – only 3% of the time does cancer happen no matter what you do. The other 97% depends entirely on how you live and what you eat.

The thing is, what we eat, drink, and put in and on our bodies doesn’t just effect one thing. It effects everything. Every cell in our bodies from the hair on our heads to the toenails on our feet are effected by our diet and lifestyle. Which is why if you are sick in one part of your body, then you are sick everywhere. That’s why you don’t want to just treat a symptom with medication…you want to treat the body as a whole with a proper diet and lifestyle.

Moving on to the nitty gritty. Doctors often look to medicine to treat illness, and when they give diet information it is usually vague and rarely contains a “why”. In my grandmother’s case, she was told not to eat red meat, dairy or sugar. That was it. Just don’t eat them. She was also told not to eat honey or mushrooms, and no more than three eggs per week with the yolks fully cooked, because these things contain bacteria. The assumption was made that she would just “know” that the reason she needs to avoid those bacteria is because she has a compromised immune system (CLL is an immune system cancer) that can’t sufficiently fight bacteria. But it was not explained.

The connection between red meat, dairy and sugar, and cancer, was something I was able to shed some light on for her.

Meat

I am including all meat, because my research has shown that animal protein in general, not only red meat, does all of the following:

Heart and cholesterol – Meat is high in cholesterol, and in fat (as compared to plant-based proteins). It increases the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, while doing very little to boost the good. High cholesterol and high fat causes damage to your blood vessels and your heart, creating a risk for heart attack (inflammation and your heart working overtime) or a stroke (blockage in the arteries from high cholesterol and fat that dislodges and flows to the brain).

Diabetes – Diabetes is commonly misconceived as an inability to regulate sugar, which is true in a way. But once again, I would rather get to the root of the problem – fat. Diabetes is caused by a high fat diet. Having a lot of fat in your blood inhibits your body’s ability to absorb glucose through the walls of your blood vessels so that it can be stored in your body as a reserve energy source. This means more glucose is being left in your blood than is normal, so your pancreas begins cranking out more insulin to try to combat the high glucose. Eventually, your pancreas can’t keep up and it “breaks”, no longer able to produce the amount of insulin needed to regulate your blood sugar, and diabetes is born. So you can see that the underlying culprit is not sugar, but fat.

Cancer – this one is a doosey. Red meat, or meat in general, is not good for your overall health. But where cancer is concerned, that is where it really earns a bad rep. This is where we get into what actually happens in your body as it begins to break down and process meat. Yes, it puts bad cholesterols and fats into your blood stream, which coat your vessels and make your heart work overtime, and contribute to diabetes, not to mention feeds cancer cells. But it does much more than that.

During the digestion process after eating meat, free radicals are released that cause DNA damage. Equally important is a hormone that is produced in abnormally-high levels when we eat animal proteins. It is called 1GF-1 (more information here), and it is a growth hormone. It is high in children who are experiencing accelerated growth, but it drops drastically in adults. When we eat a lot of animal protein the liver cranks this hormone out in high volume and it stimulates cell growth, but not the good kind. In adults, it causes rapid proliferation of cells which increases the likelihood of gene mutations. It also stimulates accelerated growth in cancer cells that already exist in the body.

So why is red meat such a strong focus over other meats when it comes to cancer? That is honestly a bit of a mystery to me, because everything I’ve read about red meat is also true of all other meats. Red meat is higher in fat than poultry, and since fat is a main feeder of cancer cells that is likely why it’s placed above poultry…but poultry does contain quite a bit of fat as well and should not get a free pass, especially since protein is as big a cancer culprit as fat, and poultry actually contains more protein than red meat.

The only other thing I can come up with that makes it worse than the rest, is iron. Red meat is especially high in iron, which can become oxidized in the same way that fats in meat can (this is also true of preservatives in processed meats), which makes it more carcinogenic. Another thing you will sometimes hear if you have cancer is to not eat fried foods — which again, fats, such as oils used in deep frying, become oxidized during the cooking process making them carcinogenic.

Dairy

In all honesty – just take everything I said above about eating meat, and transplant it here. Because everything above also rings true for dairy, as it is an animal protein.

However, dairy takes it a couple of steps further. Let’s talk:

Osteoporosis.

We hear it all the time — a diet high in dairy protects your bones! I am here to tell you that is misinformation at its finest. Is dairy high in calcium? Yes. Do we need calcium for bone health? Yes. Totally makes sense then, right? Eat more dairy!

Here is the problem. Dairy, especially in its unfermented form such as milk and ice cream, raises acidity and inflammation in our bodies. (Pause here to say that cheese and yogurt, which are fermented dairy products, actually have not been shown to do this) So how do our bodies neutralize this acidity? By drawing calcium out of our bones!! This is why America, one of the highest consumers of milk in the entire world, also has among the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world! If it is true that drinking lots of milk protects our bones…then osteoporosis in America should be virtually non-existent. But it is actually very much the opposite.

Cancer

My least-favorite six-letter word. You read above how meat contributes to cancer, and the same is true for dairy. Except it takes one step further. There is a protein specifically in dairy products that has been shown to stimulate cancer cell growth, called casein. Add that to the already carcinogenic properties of consuming all animal proteins in general, and dairy actually packs a one-two punch on the cancer front.

Sugar

First of all, what is sugar? Let’s step outside of the box a little bit and think beyond cookies, cake, and tiny white crystals. Sugar = glucose, and that is what you really need to know. The reason you need to know this is because sugar leads you to think of sweets, but glucose goes deeper than that. Any carbohydrate that has been stripped of it’s nutrients and highly processed to make it white, soft and pliable, becomes glucose when it is digested. That means white bread, white pasta, white rice, white crackers…any carbohydrate that is not a real, true, whole grain (and let me tell you that most “whole grain” products on the store shelves are actually only pretenders) you can just go ahead and add to the list as sugar.

Diabetes – I explained the root cause of diabetes above, but now I will address the symptom that we actually see; high blood sugar. Eating sweets is the quickest way to send a surge of glucose into your bloodstream, which is why people with diabetes are told to stay away from it. But eating simple carbohydrates like those I mentioned above, while they take longer to process and break down than sugar does, also become glucose in your bloodstream.

Cancer – The link between sugar and cancer is pretty simple. Glucose is one of the two (the other being fat) primary feeders of cancer cells in our bodies. And remember, sugar = glucose. More glucose in the body means more energy for cancer cells to grow and multiply.

Politics

Surprised to see this as a category? You shouldn’t be, because it is directly related to what Americans believe is healthy. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity — all of these things have spiraled out of control. In fact, over the last 40-50 years the occurrence of each has increased at an astounding rate. Why? Environmental factors (have you seen the round-up stuff in the news lately?), and a diet and lifestyle born of both convenience, and the good ol’ government feeding us dietary recommendations based on subsidies and lobbying of the farming industry rather than what is actually good for us.

Think about the ads you’ve seen on TV. “Milk; it does a body good.” “Beef; it’s what’s for dinner.” What about those really annoying corn syrup commercials that were floating around 10-15 years ago? But riddle me this — when was the last time you saw a commercial promoting asparagus? Sweet potatoes? What about blueberries or quinoa? The answer is, you haven’t. Why? Because there is not big money or lobbying linked to any of those foods. The standard American diet is the product of corruptive influence over government departments (which then give us dietary guidelines to follow based on that influence), lobbying, and subsidies (which is why highly processed corn-and-soy based foods, as well as foods full of corn syrup, are so much cheaper than fruits and veggies, and why you don’t see such vast supermarkets like ours in other Western countries).

We have all been duped and misinformed. But the real information is out there, and I’ve found it. I didn’t much care about my diet and what I was consuming until, like most, I had a reason to. My grandma’s diagnosis was a wakeup call that lead me to learning the facts about diet and what our bodies need. And if you stick around, I will share that information with you and help you find your way to a healthy life.

Up next on the blog:

I will get deeper into the things that cause DNA damage and lead to gene mutations, as well as how DNA damage is repaired, and how your diet can help that process. That post will be primarily about cancer, but is an important component to overall health, and helps explain how I chose my own personal diet.

Also coming up on the blog:

  • what my own diet looks like and how/why I chose it
  • how to choose safe personal care products and household cleaners
  • how to customize a diet that works for you and your lifestyle
  • decoding the grocery store to choose safe and healthy foods
  • meal planning, creating a shopping list, and prepping whole foods
  • plant-based vs. vegan vs. Mediterranean diets
  • how to break free from your defaults and re-learn how to cook and eat healthy

I’ve always shared healthy recipes on the blog, but due to recent events my focus at home has shifted, which means it is also shifting on the blog. I want to dig deeper with you on health and lifestyle, and share tips and tools on how to achieve a healthy life as opposed to just giving you recipes (which I will still be sharing, don’t worry!). I hope you like the changes. I can’t wait to grow in health with you!

Love,
Loren

Healthy_Lifestyle

 

 

 

 

Cooking with Fresh Produce: Fridge to Table in 20 Minutes!

Dear Friends,

What a super sleepy day! I obeyed my bedtime alarm last night and was in bed at 9:30, but I woke up so many times that it feels like I didn’t sleep at all. I never wake up at night once I’m out, so I have no idea what was going on — but it was definitely a struggle to make it through today. And I had to do my grocery shopping this evening (I normally do it on Wednesdays) because my kitties ran out of food last night, and battling crowded stores always wears me out. Some people can plow right through their day on little-to-no sleep, but I am definitely not one of those people!

In happier news, I just had my annual health screen yesterday and my lab results showed me in the normal range in every single category for another year! I love to have a health screen every year so I know my body is truly getting everything it needs, and I know that what I’m eating is right for my body.

When doing diet research at the first of the year, I found out that I am basically following the Mediterranean Diet, which I talked about in My Be Healthy, Keep-Away-the-Cancer Diet, Explained. This doesn’t mean that I’m only eating Greek dishes and cooking Mediterranean recipes. It means that I follow the same basic diet that those living in Mediterranean countries do. So if I were to build a food pyramid based on my diet, it would be like this:

A large quantity of vegetables would be at the bottom of the pyramid, making up the largest part of my diet. Whole grains, nuts, beans and seeds would be right on top of that. Then comes fresh fruits and healthy fats, such as avocadoes, olive oil and fish/seafood that is high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The smallest food group for me is poultry, eggs and cheese (I don’t consume any other dairy, except the occasional sour cream or ice cream with my kiddos…I just really love cheese!). I eat sweets and pork in moderation, and I never eat red meat, save for a steak about once a year.

I borrowed this photo of a Mediterranean Food Pyramid from Mama’s Legacy Cookbooks (via Google Images), which pretty closely mirrors what I described above:

When I first changed my diet, it was in a quest to avoid processed foods. That led me to eating a lot more produce, organic foods whenever I could, and locally raised meat as much as I could. Eventually even the meat was greatly reduced or cut out altogether. It took a few years to get my diet down to an art, and while at first it seemed restrictive and difficult (change always does, doesn’t it?!), as I got the hang of it I realized how much more simple it actually is than the way I ate before.

Since I have a budget that I stick to every week, I always write out a shopping list and take it with me to the store. In order to help me make the list, I plan out at least a few meals each week that I want to make so I can be sure to get the ingredients for those. In addition to that, I always have the “staple” food items that I like to keep on hand, and some extra produce, beans, fish, rice, pasta, poultry and sandwich fixin’s on hand to whip up meals on a whim. I will do another post later detailing what these staples are! I love to have a variety of produce so I can “mix-n-match” meals and don’t get bored eating the same thing all the time. I also always keep a bowl of salad mix in the fridge that I make using a combination of romaine, iceberg lettuce and spinach.

Life Hack: Keep your salad greens submerged in a bowl of water in the fridge and they will last at least twice as long. Mine will usually last two weeks, if we don’t eat it all first! Leafy greens are a moisture-loving veggie, so the water keeps them full of life. I’ll just dip out a handful, lay it on a towel and squeeze it dry over the sink before making a salad.

I wanted to share with you the meal I made last night, because it was really quick to put together and cook, and tasted SO good! This was actually one of those “mix-n-match” meals that I tossed together with ingredients I already had on hand. It was a shrimp & squash stir-fry over brown rice.

I bought zucchini and summer squash from Aldi last week and hadn’t gotten around to using it yet, except for one of the zucchini that I used to make a chili boat over the weekend (I cut in half a zucchini, scooped out the seeds and baked it, then filled it with leftover chili and baked some more). So I started the rice in a pot on the stove, put the shrimp in a bowl of warm water in the sink to thaw, then sliced up one of the zucchini, two of the summer squash and three green onions (I always have to have these in the fridge because my boys love them), and scooped a couple of teaspoons of minced onion from the jar I keep in the fridge. Seriously…I use garlic in everything!

While the rice was cooking and the shrimp was thawing, I started the squash sautéing in some olive oil. I put a lid over it to help it soften with the steam that was naturally rising from it for about five minutes, then I tossed in the onion and garlic. I didn’t want to do the onion and garlic first because it browns pretty quickly and I was afraid it would burn before the squash got soft enough. I let it cook for about another five minutes, and by that time the shrimp was thawed and ready to go in. I laid it on a towel and blotted it dry, then tossed it in with the squash. I seasoned it with salt, pepper, parsley and Old Bay seasoning.

Shrimp only takes a few minutes to cook through, so I went ahead and drained the rice, salted it, added a little soy sauce, and scooped it onto the plates. Then I pulled the shrimp and squash from the heat and scooped it directly onto the rice in the plates. And it was ready to eat! It was about 20 minutes from the time I set the pan of rice on the burner to the time I served the plates. I often see on Pinterest these pins about 30-minute-meals. But seriously…these fresh, whole foods cooked up quicker than that with only a few ingredients and I didn’t even need to follow a recipe. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

This is just one of the things I love about cooking with fresh produce! Because heaven knows we are all too busy to spend hours in the kitchen, but still need to feed our families healthy meals. Should I do a series of meals following the Mediterranean Diet? If you would like to see more of these quick dinner ideas, please let me know and I will plan a series for the future!

Love,
Loren