Food & Nutrition

we need a better food system

I just read a great article on Huffington Post by Dr T. Colin Campbell about his research regarding nutrition providing cures to many of humankind’s diseases. He makes a strong case for the need for an agency that would further the study and awareness of the health benefits of nutrition. The current food system in America does not provide healthy nutritious food in general, and an agency like this is long overdue.

Walk down the aisles of a supermarket and start looking at the ingredient lists on all the different “food products”. Most contain corn in one form or another. The “corn industry” has long been subsidized, and has taken over American farming. We turn corn into thousands of “food products”, we feed it to the animals we eat, and we make thousands of non-food related products from it as well. It makes for big business, but it doesn’t make good food, it is essentially poisoning us. This is one of the biggest problems with our current food system.

For there to be more affordable healthy choices, this entire food system must change. But it will only change if we, as citizens, can educate ourselves about what healthy nutritious food is, make the changes we can afford to, and become more vocal about the need for a better system. I urge everyone to read Dr. Campbell’s article and comment, it’s both informative and inspiring.

Nutritious food and regular exercise is the ultimate health care.

Want to Eat Good? Learn What Good Food Is and Stop Eating out

The simple fact is that if you want to eat a healthy and nutritious balanced diet in America today you need to do two things.

1.) Perform your own research on food, nutrition, and the food products available in your area.

2.) Avoid all restaurants like the plague.

As the documentary “Food Inc.” points out, out of the tens of thousands of food products available in supermarkets, most are just “clever rearrangements of corn”. Yes, a balance of the right foods is essential, and that might vary from person to person. But unfortunately, most people in Western civilization have no clue about what nutritious food or a healthy balance might be, and this, in part, has led to our current obesity epidemic.

The information available to the public about nutrition and the makeup of foods is tainted. There is no one accurate source. Even the USDA food pyramid greatly contradicts itself within its own documentation. My wife and I have spent the last 10 years conducting our own research in an attempt to self educate ourselves about what “good food” actually is. With this knowledge we can go through a supermarket and selectively pick out what we have deemed as the healthiest foods to consume, but most Americans do not have the tools or information they need to do this.

We need a complete overhaul about the way we think about food and health in America and this starts with individual action. Research the nutritional makeup of foods and look for this information in as many different places as possible. One great resource I have found is the Center for Science in the Public Interest and their nutrition action newsletter. As a nonprofit organization their information is unbiased. See the documentary “Food Inc”. Read Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivores Dilemma ”.  Also, there is a great deal of information that was the result of our own research available at “Do It the Hard Way”. Base your conclusions on a combination of your research, the way you feel after you eat, and good old-fashioned common sense.

And as far as restaurants, most in this country put taste and value first and health last. When you walk into one, you are entering the unknown. To get a real eye-opener about the extreme amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium in most restaurant foods, I highly recommend checking out the CSPI’s website for some great perspective. The way I see it is – if you don’t buy the ingredients fresh and cook them yourself, you have no way of knowing what you’re putting into your body.

I Want My Country Back Too

While growing up in America over the past four decades I’ve heard the common patriotic anthems repeated over and over again. Slogans like “America is the the greatest country in the world”, “American pride”, “Americans are the hardest workers”, and of course “America – land of the free”. But are we all these things? Do we live up to this legacy? While the economic downturn, the disaster in the Gulf, immigration reform, and political infighting and scandals occupy the media and most kitchen table discussions, the obesity epidemic that is ravaging literally every socio-economic group within our society has shifted into high gear.

In the recent report “F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2010” it was revealed that “More than two-thirds of states (38) have adult obesity rates above 25 percent. In 1991, no state had an obesity rate above 20 percent.” This is an alarming increase and one of the biggest threats to our quality of life and national security. On our current path this epidemic will bankrupt the healthcare industry in the next few decades. It is well documented that almost 1/3 of American children and teenagers are overweight or obese. And whose fault is that? We are concerned about leaving them a legacy of debt, when in fact what we have created is a “legacy of fat”

When I was in elementary school in the 1970s, there might have been one fat kid in every class. The fat kids were the standouts and everybody made fun of them. This is essentially the same when I was in high school in the 1980s. But now it is the children that aren’t overweight that are standouts, and often ridiculed as being too skinny. I moved from New England to Tennessee in the year 2002 and made a visit home last summer with my last previous visit being five years prior. Several of my friends had gained considerable weight, some who were only a little overweight five years ago were now literally obese. They made comments to me like “You look so skinny, you need to eat more.” But the truth is that I weighed almost exactly what I did when I last saw them. In fact I had actually put on a couple of pounds in the form of muscle due to some recent workouts. Being at a healthy optimum weight made me the standout.

It is a well-documented fact that the majority of agricultural and meat production workers are illegal immigrants. They are working hard physical jobs for substandard wages. If immigration reform changed tomorrow and we literally threw all of these workers out of the country, could American workers actually fill these jobs? Have you ever seen an agricultural worker in the fields of California? They are not fat. Even if these jobs were to suddenly pay real wages, I doubt that the majority of our overweight citizens (which is about two thirds of the population) could physically even do these jobs.

Are we really that great if we have allowed ourselves to reach this point in our evolution? Obesity is now the second leading cause of preventable illness, second only to smoking. This is a burden on our health care system, our work force, our security, and this is a legacy we are now passing on to our children. Are we really still “America, land of the free”, or have we become slaves to the health care system, big food, the media, and immobility?

It’s time to stop. The buck stops here. While government policies implemented over the last several decades combined with the greed of big agribusiness are partially responsible, it is we as citizens of this country that must now act. I want to have some pride in this country that I still love. I would like to see America be the greatest country in the world. I want my country back too, but the country I want back is one that is not fat.

Dove’s “Real Women” Ads

I read an article today in The Huffington Post about a casting call for the Dove “Real Women” print campaign. The ad asked for the women who applied to be “Well groomed and clean…Nice Bodies..NATURALLY FIT…Not too curvy Not too Athletic”. What bothered me were the comments that followed this article. The majority of commentors were upset that Dove was not looking for BBW (read: overweight) models.

I know that in this world today, the majority of people are overweight or obese. But does that mean that this is what we should desire to be? People, women and young girls in particular, look at magazine and TV ads and desire to achieve that “look”. For many that means purchasing the make-up, clothes, or even the perfume shown in the ad. Sometimes it also means striving to achieve the body type of the model. Too often, in the past, models have been unnaturally thin with more pronounced bones than muscles. I am thrilled to see that changing. But, I don’t think it should change to the opposite extreme.

Being underweight is unhealthy. Being overweight is unhealthy.  Models, like it or not, are very often role models (at least physically) for many young women. These models being fit and of a healthy weight is a good ideal of which to aspire.

One of the comments to the Huffinton Post article said: “Not many “real women” have midsections like the ones shown on the picture of those “real Dove women”.” Really? Yes, I guess that is a very unfortunate truth in today’s world. It does not have to be true. I am going to be 51 on my next birthday and my midsection does look pretty close to the women in those ads. Not as close as I’d like, but I’m working on that. It’s called exercise and healthy eating. I don’t want to look at ads of overweight women with rolls where muscles should be, and think that it’s OK. It’s not, it’s killing us. The second leading cause of preventable death (after smoking) is being overweight and under fit.

Shouldn’t healthy and fit be the role models that we want for ourselves and our kids? I’m so saddened when I see kids as young as 3 or 4 that are overweight.  They are starting out life with an unnecessary heavy burden (pun intended). Give your kids (and yourself) a better chance at feeling good today. Get up, get moving, take a walk, buy some real food and cook it with your family!

I’m not a big fan of Dove products, but I do think their “Real Women” campaign is a great, albeit small, step in dispelling the old saying “thin is in”; but also promoting the fact that “fat is not where it’s at”.

Taking care of your body is just like maintaining your car

I’m right in the middle of my second week of round one of the P90X workout, and I must say, it’s a bitch. These workouts are not for the faint of heart. But I will say this, regardless of how I feel before the workout, or how miserable I am in the middle of it, when I’m done I always feel better than I did before I started. I’m 42 years old, and although in good overall physical condition, I can feel the effects of aging. Occasional tendinitis flare ups,  intermittent backaches, repetitive motion injuries – fix one problem and another arises.

The human body is kind of like a car, lots of moving parts that slowly wear out over the life of the vehicle. To maximize the lifespan of your car, you give it regular tune-ups and oil changes. You feed it good gas. You baby it more in its later years to milk a little more life out of it. Well our bodies work on the same principle. Regular exercise and physical activity are the oil changes and tune-ups, and good nutritious food is the gas. And just like a car, more maintenance is required the older you get.

So today, I performed my body maintenance by way of the P90X legs and back workout; an hour-long routine consisting of sets of squats, lunges, and calf raises, interspersed with eight sets of pull-ups, and followed by the dreaded ab-ripper. Kelly and I did this at the end of our work day and it was hard to get motivated to press play on the DVD player. The workout was grueling, but by the time we finished and showered we both felt considerably better than we had prior to the workout.

The second half of the equation to our ‘Do It the Hard Way’ approach to healthy living is putting good gas in the car. Speaking of good gas, we just got home from picking up our weekly CSA basket from Buffalo Valley Farms comprised of red lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, and basil. For dinner we are going to have some baked cod, a house salad, and some garlic toasted pita bread.

Well that’s it for today, it’s time to head into the kitchen.

P90X Meets Do It the Hard Way; A Match Made in Heaven

The essence of my “Do It the Hard Way” concept is that there is no easy way to acquire and maintain optimum health and wellness. To be healthy and fit you simply must work hard, and this is an ongoing, day by day battle. While a big part of this concept relies on understanding, preparing, and eating good healthy food, and equally important part of my plan is getting regular exercise. Enter P90.

Last week Eric and I dug into week one of this 90 day marathon workout plan, and boy is it hard. This will be our fourth attempt to make it through this grueling, no holds barred plan for fitness. We began our first round almost a year ago to the day, and all of our three previous attempts went fairly well, with the exception of our inability to stay on course for the duration. It seems like we would come out of the gate hard and get a good first month in before life would start to get in the way. As we both work on the road for several weekends out of the year, our touring schedule interfered with our ability to get in a daily workout. Our schedule this summer is fairly light and we are hoping to stay on course and complete the program in 90 days as it is intended.

So far so good. We took the fitness test last Monday, used Tuesday as a recovery day (which was badly needed, as the fitness test itself is essentially an extreme  workout), and officially began day one on Wednesday. We worked out Thursday, left Thursday night for a weekend of shows, and still managed to get in a workout on Friday in hotel room using resistance bands. Life on the road can be draining as the hours are often less than optimum, so Saturday didn’t lend itself for a workout. But we did manage to get back on track when we got home Sunday, and in spite of the 13 hour bus ride home, we still crammed in some yoga late in the afternoon. And today we are about to dig into the legs and back routine followed by the dreaded ab-ripper.

These workouts are extreme, hence the X, and require a significant amount of mental effort and discipline. As Tony says “I hate it, but I love it”, and I couldn’t agree more. No matter how hard the workout is, when the workout is over, I always feel better than I did before I started. Sometimes the first few minutes of the workout cause us to both wonder if we will make it through the full hour. We usually do, but sometimes stop at a halfway point when our bodies tell us to. This brings up another one of Tony’s great mottos “Do your best, and forget the rest.” You do the best that you can, and that’s all you can do. I am not a highly conditioned athlete, and I have to be realistic. If I push myself too hard, I can develop injuries, and this will cause me to miss workouts.

This is where mental conditioning is so important, as a significant amount of willpower and discipline is essential not only do these workouts, but to do them right, and to do them daily. Ultimately, this is the thinking behind the concept of Do It the Hard Way as well. It is a daily routine involving healthy eating, rigorous exercise, and mental conditioning, and it requires actual work. Hard Work. You get out of it what you put in to it, but at the end of the day you feel better because of it, and your overall quality of life is greatly improved. I guess it’s time to stop procrastinating and go press play on the DVD player.

How I started to Do It The Hard Way

Growing up in a small town in Southern Maine, I was never very athletic. I didn’t like gym class and preferred watching movies and listening to music to playing outside. When I was in my early 20’s, after a few years of marriage and the birth of my son, I realized that time, genetics, and gravity were not my friends. This was in the early 80’s and the fitness boom was in full swing, so I jumped on the bandwagon (with the help and encouragement of my husband, who had been a high school athlete).

I began by attempting to run. I started with a half mile. Before I got to the halfway point I thought I was going to pass out; however I slowed down and pretty much crawled the rest of the way. I was thrilled when I finished and felt that I was now a “runner”. I continued this ritual every day adding a little distance every week and within a few months I was up to 4 miles every day. I then started adding some weight lifting. This, again, was due to the advice of my husband, who was now running 5-8 miles every day and had bought a gigantic home gym, complete with bench and squat rack. Over the next 10 years or so I was quite dedicated to working out and thought I was eating a pretty healthy diet.

Then in the early 90’s my world got turned upside down when my husband died suddenly. This required me to get a job that would support me and my son as well as finding a more affordable place to live. So we packed up and moved from the small town we had grown up in to a city a couple of hours away. I had a few friends there, but the lifestyle was completely different than my previous 15 years of “soccer mom” existence. So, of course, my fitness routine was the first thing to go.

Fast forward 10 more years. My son is grown, I am re-married to a wonderful man (Eric), and I now live in Nashville. In our years together, Eric and I made moderate attempts at fitness and healthy eating, like so many people do. Living in Nashville was a whirlwind of new experiences and we would jump on and fall of the health wagon regularly. Then in 2003 Eric began working on the Toby Keith tour and I was left with a lot of time on my hands. We were living near a gym and I purchased a membership. It was at this time that I also began researching recipes, ingredients, and all aspects of nutrition. What I learned was mind-boggling.

The first thing I discovered was that there was no one place to go (either in a book or on-line) to find the answers. I would find conflicting points of view, depending on the background and/or sponsor of the articles’ author. So I began digging deeper and found that most of what is readily available for information is at best incomplete and more than likely very inaccurate. The deeper I delved into nutrition, food labeling, restaurant menus, and food company advertising; the more I realized that what I had thought was a healthy diet was far from it. I began putting together some common sense guidelines derived from my research. I created and cooked recipes based on truly healthy ingredients like whole grains (no more garbage white), fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, good oils, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and lean meat.

As my recipe collection and research grew, I felt I needed to do something more with it. So, being a website designer by day, I decided the logical thing was to create a website, thus, was born. I came up with the name “Do It The Hard Way” because that’s what it really is. To really eat healthy, it takes learning what ingredients are truly healthy, learning to read the ingredient list of a food label – not the hyped up lies on the front, taking your time in the grocery store to pick out the right ingredients, sometimes doing the shopping at more than one store, and bringing that food home and cooking it. It is harder than ordering a pizza or heating up some prepackaged products and calling it a meal. Being healthy takes work, it’s hard. It’s also worth it.

It’s now 2010. I have expanded the Do It The Hard Way website to include a cookbook of some of the recipes I’ve put together over the years. It is far from complete, but I have a goal of having it ready for sale sometime next year. In our journey down this healthy path, Eric and I recently discovered P90X, a fitness routine like no other. It is a 90 day “boot-camp” style workout which requires 1 – 1/2 hours 6 days per week. We began this 90 round on June 9th, a mere two days ago. I’ll be back to blog more about that soon!

Do It The Hard Way – it’s not real quick, it’s not real easy, but it is real – and it really works.

Reading Labels

When walking down the isles in your local supermarket you are faced with pretty packaging featuring glossy photos and carefully worded slogans and catch phrases. Understanding food labels is not as easy as you might think. The regulations on what companies can and cannot say is weak, at best.

You need to read the “ingredient list”. Don’t just believe what the front of the package is telling you. “Light”, “Healthy”, “95% Fat-Free” ; these and other claims are not always what they seem:

· Free: Example: fat-free. This means that the food product has an “insignificant amount” (less than .5 gram per serving).

· Low: Example: low-calorie or low-fat. This means that the food product does not have much of a certain nutrient, but it has enough to make a difference in your diet. Specifically, low-fat means 3 grams or less of total fat; low-saturated fat means one gram or less; low-cholesterol means less than 20 milligrams; and low-calorie means 40 calories or fewer per serving.

· Lean: This term refers to meat. Lean means one serving has less than 10 grams of total fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, and 95 milligrams of cholesterol.

· Extra lean: This term also refers to meat. This means that one serving has less than 5 grams of total fat and 2 grams of saturated fat.

· Less: This means there is 25 percent less of a certain ingredient or nutrient as compared to a similar product.

· Reduced: This means the product was nutritionally altered to meet a health claim.

Ingredients are listed in descending order according to their quantity in that food. The first three or four ingredients listed usually make up most of the product. Keep in mind, however, that fat and sugar come in many different forms; even if they are not one of the first three ingredients, the food can still be very high in fat and/or sugar.Read the ACTUAL ingredients and know what those words mean. Yes, it takes longer, but it’s worth it!

Pay close attention to these details on each label:

· Serving size: The amount of food the information refers to.

· Servings per container: The number of servings in the entire product or package. – This one is VERY important. One package or can or bottle does not always contain one serving. For example, take a look at the next bottle of soda you pick up and notice how many servings it contains!

· Percent daily values: Shows how a food fits into an overall daily diet based on a daily intake of 2,000 calories.

· Calories: The total number of calories in one serving of this food.

· Calories from fat: The total number of calories from fat in one serving of this food.

· Total fat: The weight of fat (in grams) in one serving of this food.

· Saturated fat: The weight of saturated fat (in grams) in one serving of this food.

· Trans fat: The weight of trans fat (in grams) in one serving of this food.

· Sodium: The weight of sodium (in milligrams) in one serving of this food.

· Protein: The weight of protein (in grams) in one serving of this food.

· Total carbohydrates: The weight of both complex and simple carbohydrates (in grams) in one serving of this food.

· Sugars: The weight of simple carbohydrates (in grams) in one serving of this food; to find out how many complex carbohydrates are in the food simply subtract sugars from total carbohydrates. 4 grams = 1 teaspoon of sugar.

Try this link to easily convert cooking quantities

Words to Look For
Words to Avoid
  • An ingredient list that has the fewest ingredients is usually your best bet.
  • whole wheat
  • whole grain (words that mean whole grain)
  • olive oil
  • canola oil
  • soybean oil (not hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated)
  • skim
  • low-fat
  • fat-free
  • low sodium
  • If the ingredient list is a paragraph full of words you can’t pronounce or understand; it’s best to avoid it.
  • hydrogenated
  • partially hydrogenated
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • enriched flour
  • cottonseed oil
  • coconut oil
  • palm oil
  • lard
  • sugar (words that mean sugar) Sugar does not have to be avoided completely. However; keep added sugars to a minimum. Once you start reading labels you’ll be amazed at how many foods are full of it!